PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 23334

Interview with Jon Faine, ABC 774, Melbourne

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/03/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23334

Subject(s): Royal Commission into trade union governance and corruption

JON FAINE:

Mr Abbott, good morning to you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Jon, it’s nice to be with you.

JON FAINE:

I understand you’re announcing the Terms of Reference of the Royal Commission into industrial relations today .how extensive will they be?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they’re fairly extensive. George Brandis, the Attorney-General, will be doing this later on today. Basically we want to get to the bottom of corruption and poor governance inside industrial organisations. This is something we took to the election; we said there would be a judicial inquiry into union corruption, into the use of slush funds and that’s what’s happening.

JON FAINE:

Why not just have a royal commission into the ALP? Why not just have a royal commission into Bill Shorten, which seems to be what you’re hoping to achieve? You’ll save everybody a lot of trouble.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, Jon, it’s important that we get to the bottom of this. I think we owe it to honest workers and honest unionists to ensure that these organisations are as clean as they can be.

JON FAINE:

But that’s the political intent is it not, to make as much trouble for the Labor Party as you can?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the intent is to try to ensure that we get a better system. The intent is to try to ensure that we have honest unions. Now, this is a problem for the Labor Party and I accept that because for too long, too many members of the Labor Party have been defending the indefensible.

We’ve had people like Kathy Jackson heroically – heroically – say that enough is enough, it’s all got to stop and I think that the honest people inside the union movement, the honest people inside the Labor Party will welcome this Royal Commission.

JON FAINE:

What does it achieve Prime Minister? There’s been several – in fact, multiple – attempts at exactly the same thing in the past and they come, there’s a bit of, you know, a few people get carted away in handcuffs, sometimes it must be said as much property developers and business figures as it is union leaders, and then everything just sort of muddles along afterwards.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m not sure it’s as quite as depressing as that. Yes, sometimes the people who are exposed in these royal commissions are developers who’ve done the wrong thing and that’s as it should be.

The other point I should make, Jon, is that there was the Cole Royal Commission into the commercial construction industry back a decade or so ago when I was the workplace minister and as a result of that, we established the Australian Building and Construction Commission and that delivered something like $6 billion a year in additional productivity in this sector. It was a watershed for the commercial construction sector.

Unfortunately under the former government many of those important reforms were wound back. The thuggery - it seems - has started again and it’s important that we get to the bottom of that. The last thing we want is organised crime active on building sites.

JON FAINE:

So this is declaring war on the CFMEU and they’ll have to undoubtedly, and they will defence their patch as best they can. There’s nothing quick in a royal commission as you’re already aware, Tony Abbott, so is the timing to try and have all of this crystalised in time for the next federal election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the hope is that the Royal Commission will report by the end of the year. Now, it is ultimately in the hands of the Royal Commissioner. If he wants more time, he can always ask for it, but we want this to be over by the end of the year and we want to try to ensure that the results of this Royal Commission are acted upon as quickly as we humanly can.

But this isn’t declaring war on anyone, Jon. It’s declaring war on wrongdoing. It’s declaring war on corruption. It’s declaring that there are certain standards in our society and whether you’re a company official or a union official, you’ve got to obey the law and you’ve got to use the money that you are entrusted with honestly.

JON FAINE:

Then why not have a national anti-corruption body? You’ve got state based bodies in pretty much every jurisdiction but there’s nothing federally. Are you looking towards eventually coming up with a federal anti-corruption commission?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let’s see what the Royal Commission recommends. It’s not the policy that we took to the election and generally speaking we’re in the business of doing what we took to the election, not other things.

JON FAINE:

No, but if someone comes up with a good idea and there’s a glaring and obvious need for it – and I’d say there is – how can a country with an economy as sophisticated as ours not have a standing anti-corruption body?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well as I said, Jon, that’s a fair question and we’ve got them now in most of the states. Let’s see what the Royal Commission recommends, but the fundamental point I ought to make is that good unions have nothing to fear from this Royal Commission and good union officials have nothing to fear from this Royal Commission. It’s only people who have been doing the wrong thing that this Commission obviously will be looking at.

JON FAINE:

What’s the definition of a good union? One that rolls over and has its tummy tickled by the Abbott Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t know which one that might be! Jon, a good union is one where members’ money is honestly administered and which is out there trying to ensure that its members aren’t oppressed, which is out there trying to ensure that its members’ jobs are maximised and look, I think everyone is in favour of that kind of unionism. Sadly, not all unions basically conform to that kind of ideal.

JON FAINE:

Given that on Saturday there are two state elections in South Australia and Tasmania that will give you almost unanimity, leaving out just the ACT from COAG. You’ll have conservative governments in power in Canberra and almost everywhere around the country. Is that the sort of reform then that you could put through – some uniform laws about corruption or about union excesses whilst you’ve got the numbers right around the nation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well a couple of points, Jon – first of all there’s no likelihood of the ACT becoming a Liberal territory any time soon and second, I don’t think we should take anything for granted here. I was looking at some polling and The Advertiser says that in key marginal seats the Labor Party is ahead in South Australia, so I don’t think anyone should take anything for granted.

I suppose the final point to make is that it’s not the complexion of the state government which counts; it’s the competence of the state government which counts. The problem we’ve had in South Australia and in Tasmania is that we’ve got very long-serving state Labor governments which are well past their prime.

In the case of the Tasmanian Labor government, they’re basically repudiating the last four years because they say that this whole alliance with The Greens was a terrible mistake.

JON FAINE:

What’s the take-home message from yesterday’s job figures from Tony Abbott’s perspective? We’ve seen particularly in Victoria the manufacturing base of the car industry smashed, job losses with Qantas, state government retrenchments. In Victoria there’s a feeling of great pessimism about jobs and then yesterday’s figures suggest indeed that maybe the rest of the nation’s going in a different direction.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well obviously, Jon, they’re encouraging figures. We had something like 47,000 net new jobs created in the month and fulltime jobs growth is quite strong according to the statistics. That doesn’t mean though that we should be complacent about what’s happening in some of our large and iconic business.

The point I keep making though is that in a dynamic market economy some jobs will end, other jobs will start and the point of government is try to ensure that you’ve got the conditions in place so that people can go from good jobs to better jobs if need be.

JON FAINE:

Sure, and in this state there’s tens of thousands of jobs that are going and little expectation that the era of entitlement approach that you and Joe Hockey take will mean that you’ll do much to replace them in Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Jon, as I said, I understand that people are apprehensive in Victoria and my job is to give them confidence and that’s one of the reasons why I’m so, so committed to the East West Link. The first stage of East West Link will create nearly 3,500 construction jobs. I’m talking to Premier Denis Napthine about the second stage of East West Link, because if we can do the two concurrently, obviously that’s another 3,000 or more jobs.

JON FAINE:

Although most of the people listening are now starting to shout at the radio that they wish you’d fund Metro Rail rather than just more and more toll roads.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I want to see better Metro Rail too, I really do…

JON FAINE:

Then pay for it.

PRIME MINISTER:

The metropolitan rail systems are owned and operated by the state governments and if we’re helping the state governments with road projects, that frees them up to work on the rail projects.

JON FAINE:

But toll roads are run by the private sector and you’re kicking money into that – why not kick money into public transport instead of private toll roads?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because the important thing is that we get the infrastructure that we need. That’s the important thing and…

JON FAINE:

We need Metro Rail.

PRIME MINISTER:

… and each level of government should do what is its responsibility.

Now, I want to make sure that it’s easier for the state government to get on with building the most important single infrastructure project in Victoria, which is East West Link, which will help this city and this city is the greatest economic asset that Victoria has. It will be of enormous benefit to anyone trying to move around the great city of Melbourne, so that’s what I want to see happen as quickly as possible.

Now obviously, if we’re tipping billions of dollars into East West Link it makes it a lot easier for the state government to then get cracking with Metro Rail.

JON FAINE:

It has been said to me by one of your backbenchers – a Liberal Victorian backbencher – that Queensland has got Barnaby Joyce who can throw a good tantrum for Queensland around the Cabinet Table. Christopher Pyne is pretty good at thumping the table for South Australia and Eric Abetz does a great job for Tasmania but Victoria doesn’t have anybody that gets your attention – nobody who forces Victoria’s case. We’ve got Greg Hunt who is a very effective Environment Minister, Kevin Andrews and Andrew Robb but we haven’t got someone who grabs the Cabinet Room by the throat and shakes it to get what Victoria needs - fair criticism or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think a little unfair because you have named three outstanding Cabinet Ministers all of whom are doing an excellent job. Look, I spend half my life in Melbourne. Melbourne is a great city – Victoria is a great state. I accept that it’s had some bad news lately but I think the people of Victoria are very resilient and I think they’ll come through this. I’m likely to spend even more time in Melbourne in the months ahead because my middle daughter, Frances, is an enthusiastic new Melbournian.

JON FAINE:

Maybe when she gets your ear that will change things. Now, time is limited, I understand that you are not fussed with the departure from the top of Treasury of Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson and you’re quoted in one of the newspapers today saying that you are quite happy to stamp your authority on the nation’s economic agencies. What happened to fearless, independent advice from public servants?

PRIME MINISTER:

I very much support the traditional Westminster concept of free and frank advice, frank and fearless advice from the public service. Martin Parkinson has been an outstanding public servant – a very effective, very powerful head of Treasury. We said when we came in that we did want to stamp our authority on particularly the economic agency.

JON FAINE:

But does that mean getting rid of anyone who doesn’t see the world the Tony Abbott way?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it doesn’t mean that at all Jon – it doesn’t mean that at all. I’ve worked very constructively with Martin Parkinson. Joe Hockey has always got on with Martin Parkinson. He is an outstanding public servant of international standing. He really is a very good public servant and I am looking forward to working with him for quite some time to come because he has got a lot to contribute to our nation.

JON FAINE:

But meanwhile you will rep[lace him with someone who sees the world your way and that means you eventually you end up, you surround yourself with people who are a mono-culture and the Government suffers from the lack of contestability of ideas. We have seen it happen before: we have seen it happen with Labor Governments, we have seen it happen with conservative Governments it doesn’t matter - it’s never a good look.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m not sure if you listen to the economic debate in our country, watch the media debate in our country, anyone would say that the Coalition has got it all its own way. I mean we plainly don’t have it all our own way and look we get advice from a wide range of sources but the point that I make is that I am looking forward to working with Martin Parkinson for quite some time to come and I suppose everyone moves on eventually, but when he does move on as all of us must eventually he’ll certainly go with the respect of the Government and ought to go with the gratitude of the Australian people.

JON FAINE:

And Prime Minister you’re on your way out of Melbourne at the moment on your way to the airport. Are you coming back for the Grand Prix, for the Formula 1 Grand Prix on the weekend?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, it’s not in my diary and like…

JON FAINE:

But we’re told it’s the number one networking opportunity for business in power in Australia.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there you go. It’ll have to happen without me this year, but I don’t think very many years will go by without me being at it.

JON FAINE:

People will draw whatever conclusions they want. Thank you for your time this morning; look forward to maybe seeing you in the study with a chance for talkback next time you’re in town.

PRIME MINISTER:

I look forward to that as well.

JON FAINE:

Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia.

[ends]

Transcript - 23334