E&OE - PROOF ONLY
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE: Thanks very much. Well, Scott Morrison this week attempted to tear down the trade union movement with his so-called Ensuring Integrity Bill. He has left with his integrity in tatters. He’s misled the House of Representatives, misled the Parliament, I think on four occasions. And he’s spent four days defending the indefensible with the Tailor-made scandal instead of focusing on convincing Senators about the merits of this attack on working people and their representatives.
Well, the Senate has not accepted the Prime Minister’s attack on working people and their representatives. The Senate has resolved to negative this Bill and that is a good thing. But the fact remains this week is a week where we see the Prime Minister with his integrity in tatters, demonstrated again this afternoon with the vote in the Senate. I’ll hand over to Brendan.
O’CONNOR: Thanks, Penny. This is a week that is a very bad week for the Prime Minister. As Penny has made very clear, and she’s absolutely right, this Bill may be entitled the Integrity of Registered Organisations but it has nothing to do with integrity. It is about diminishing the capacity of working people in this country to be properly represented. And it was always about that. And for that reason, the Senate have got this right. The Senate – and I congratulate those Senators who understood the motive behind the Government and the Prime Minister in seeking first to diminish the ability of registered organisations to represent working people. And there was always a second step to this, and that was if they were successful here they would then have gone after the conditions of employment of working people in this nation as they have always done. As they have always done.
And so this is a very important decision by the Senate. This has shown that the Government’s motives have been exposed and as Penny has made quite clear, it’s not about the integrity of the union movement. This has been, this week has been in fact, about the integrity of the Prime Minister. Intentionally or otherwise, misleading the House on four separate occasions. In fact, correcting a mislead to mislead again. The Prime Minister this afternoon showed an arrogance and a disregard for accountability.
All we’ve sought to do this week in the House is to ensure that the Minister who has acted – it would appear improperly – account for himself. The Prime Minister has not allowed that to happen. There’s an investigation of a Minister of the Crown by the NSW Police, and yet the Prime Minister chose to stymie the proper processes that should come with that investigation – namely, standing aside that Minister.
And for the last four days in Parliament, Scott Morrison has refused to accept the ministerial responsibility that should apply to government, by holding his Minister to account and, further to that, has compounded the problem by misleading the Parliament on four occasions.
This is a very bad week for the Prime Minister, but the Senate absolutely got it right. And working people in this nation would have been exposed if this Bill had been passed by the Senate. And frankly, not only Labor but I do pay tribute to those cross-bench Senators who saw behind the comments of the Prime Minister, saw the true motives of the Government in seeking to diminish the capacity of working people to be treated properly. And as a result they have, quite rightly, voted this Bill down.
JOURNALIST: Has Labor secured commitments from Jacqui Lambie and One Nation that they will not vote for this Bill? Or have you just got a victory today that could be undone next week or next year?
WONG: Well, the Parliament is always able to vote on things that the Government brings forward isn’t it? But what I would say – and I saw Mr Porter having a go at the crossbench, telling them why they were wrong after this decision was made – but I would say this: if he does beat his chest and bring this forward next week my question would be what’s changed? It’s still the same bad Bill. It’s still a bill which is about attacking the representatives of working people because this Government ultimately wants to go after wages and conditions. They’ve already refused, refused to support people’s penalty rates, refused to protect penalty rates. And let’s remember, we asked Senator Payne twice this week in the Parliament to rule out any watering down of the unfair dismissal laws, to rule out any watering down of the Better Off Overall Test, to rule out the watering down of the industrial relations system and she refused to do that. Well, I think that said something very clear to the crossbench, to the Senate: this Bill was the first bill but the next bills were all about the working conditions of working Australians.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that Pauline Hanson is just waiting to get the Queensland election out of the way and then she will change her tune?
WONG: Am I concerned?
WONG: The reality is that the Senate resolved today to negative the bill. That doesn’t happen very often, certainly it was something we have been advocating for for some time, for the reasons that Brendan has outlined.
JOURNALIST: Are you shocked? And can you shed any light on what happened One Nation and who was there at the last minute?
WONG: Well, the Senate resolved to negative the Bill and ultimately there were a few changes in numbers on various divisions and on the key one we got a tied vote that negatived the Bill. And that is a good thing for working people in this country.
JOURNALIST: What do you think it means for the IR review that Christian Porter is undertaking?
WONG: Well we know what Christian Porter’s agenda is. His IR review is all about making sure that wages and conditions are worsened in this country. His IR review is about reducing protections, Senator Payne made that clear. A Government that was not about reducing protections for working people would have ruled out watering down unfair dismissal and watering down the protections in the Act. They did not.
JOURNALIST: WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle yesterday said union officials sometimes have to break laws to get an outcome, do you agree with that?
O’CONNOR: Firstly, I’m not sure the context in which those comments may or may not have been made. The fact is, people should comply with the law. The Labor Party believes in changing the law through the Parliament. And today, the Government sought to bring in laws that were unfair to working people, and the Senate rightly repudiated those laws. So people should comply with the law. But you know what, today if the laws had changed it would have been harder for working people. But the Senate showed the wisdom to repudiate Scott Morrison’s attempt to make it very, very hard for working people. Let’s remember Scott Morrison is presiding over the lowest wage growth in history. We have wages going backwards in some sectors of our economy. People are struggling to make ends meet. We have a Government that just wants to continue to find ways to attack the representatives of working people, but ultimately to attack the conditions of employment. So make it clear and comply with the law, that’s what Labor thinks, but we had a chance today to put our case as to why those laws should not change adversely to workers and the Senate has rightly vindicated that position.
JOURNALIST: A lot of the success of this government, practically speaking, hinges on its relationship with the crossbench. As a leading Senator, what does this afternoon tell us about the relationship the Government currently has with One Nation and Jacqui Lambie?
WONG: Well I think what this reminds us of, or what this shows, is that the Prime Minister spent more time defending Angus Taylor than convincing the Senate of the merits of this legislation.
The reality of this week: we’ve had the Prime Minister starting out the week saying that 23 million breaches of Australian law by a bank, in terms of the CEO – the leadership of that organisation – that was a matter for the board. But workers: different standard for them in his Bill. He never convinced the Senate as to why that double standard was fair.
And then he spent the last four days defending Angus Taylor, really for things which are not defensible and making it worse, misleading the Parliament and calling Police Commissioners. So it is unsurprising that his focus on defending the indefensible has led to a situation where the merits of his legislation, from his perspective, were not convincing to the crossbench.
JOURNALIST: He should have been lobbying for it?
WONG: It’s not up to me to tell the Prime Minister what to do, I am saying the Prime Minister’s behaviour is not consistent with the standards he says this Bill is about. Now I don’t think this Bill is about those standards. I think this Bill is clearly about seeking to weaken the trade union movement so he can go after wages and conditions. I was here for WorkChoices, I handled that legislation many years ago. And this is the same ideology.
JOURNALIST: Can you rule out that Labor offered anything to One Nation or Jacqui Lambie to secure their opposition to this Bill?
WONG: They made clear on the floor of the Senate their views about the legislation. Jacqui’s been clear about her views for a long time. They made their decision on the merits of the legislation, but you’d have to speak to them.
JOURNALIST: Does Labor still think that Australia’s industrial relations laws need to be reformed?
O’CONNOR: Of course you can always reform laws to improve them and nothing stands still. The economy, the labour market continues to transform. I mean we’re witnessing the fastest change in the labour market, possibly in human history. So of course you have to keep up and modernise laws. And in fact, if we had been elected, we would have been looking to do just that. However, when I talk about changing the law, it’s about changing the law to ensure it reflects the modern economy and ensures that working people have some powers to negotiate fairly with their employers.
This is not the motive behind this Bill that was defeated today. The motive behind the Bill today was firstly to attack and diminish the ability of representatives of working people to bargain fairly for their members. And of course the second step was, having diminished that capacity, go after the conditions of employment, as they did under WorkChoices, go after those conditions of employment. That was the two-step approach that the Government has been contemplating.
Well, they’ve fallen at the first hurdle because the Senate rightly has rejected the arguments that have been put forward by the Government about this Bill. This Bill was never about so-called integrity. In fact, it calls into question the integrity of the Prime Minister and of the Government – to attack organised labour and to treat working people fairly.
JOURNALIST: Senator Wong, were you surprised by the One Nation decision to vote with Labor at that final moment? Did you know they were going to do that?
WONG: One thing about this Senate – and one thing about the previous Senate, to be honest with you – there are a lot of votes where we’re not entirely sure what’s going to happen until the votes happen.
JOURNALIST: Just noting you didn’t rule out that Labor had offered something to One Nation and Jacqui Lambie.
WONG: No, I’ve been really clear. And you should confirm this with them. Both Jacqui, and as I can see One Nation, were very clear about their views about this Bill. So it’s a decision that the Senate has made. We were really clear about our opposition to it.
JOURNALIST: So them voting on the merits mean that you didn’t offer them anything?
WONG: I have been really clear. We are voting against the Bill and we wanted their support on amendments. We got their support for some things; we didn’t get their support on others. But luckily we got their support on–
JOURNALIST: Do you think this means that the Government doesn’t have a hope of getting their changes to Medevac either?
WONG: It’s not my portfolio so I’d probably leave that to Kristina Keneally to respond on that.
JOURNALIST: You are involved in the negotiations in the Senate.
WONG: You know but it is Kristina’s, so I’ll leave her to deal with that.
JOURNALIST: The truth is though it’s a very fickle situation isn’t it?
WONG: I think what today has demonstrated is what I said earlier, that you often don’t know which way the vote will go until the vote has actually happened.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.