SUBJECTS: CFMEU, infrastructure spending, Labor’s Permanent Gas Export Control Trigger.

KIERAN GILBERT: Scott Morrison on 2GB this morning, let’s go live to Labor’s Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Communications Minister. I want to get your thoughts on this first of all, Michelle Rowland. You hear what Scott Morrison said about John Setka, the Victorian CFMEU Leader, using his children in that post to send that message to the Building and Construction Commission – he says it’s sickening. Do you agree with him?
MICHELLE ROWLAND MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well, firstly, John Setka, does not speak for the Labor Party. In my view, it was highly inappropriate to use Father’s Day in that way – a day of celebration and thanks for dads, that’s my view. I also would like to point out that whilst Labor opposes many of the workplace relations issues and policies that this government has advocated, we prosecute our case in a decent way, we ensure that we do that within the Parliament, we ensure that we argue that policy on its merits.
GILBERT: In relation to that though, and I understand your criticism of this, but is it time for Mr Shorten to go further and distance himself from that union, and consider disendorsing that union as well?
ROWLAND: Well, the reality is Kieran, this has been part of the ‘Kill Bill’ strategy of this government over a couple of years now. In fact, since 2013. They had a Royal Commission into Bill Shorten, essentially being part of the union movement. If this Government wants to go down and prosecute that, that is their prerogative. We will continue to stand up for working people in this country, we will continue to ensure that we speak to their needs, in everything from penalty rates, to ensuring we address declining wages growth and we’ll continue to do that in a very methodical, but also a very respectful, way and on its merits.
GILBERT: Given this sort of behaviour, doesn’t it highlight the need for the ABCC, the Building Watchdog, to stay in place – to hold these unions to account, particularly the CFMEU, which the building industry says is guilty of bullying on a daily basis?
ROWLAND: Well, if that’s the case, the relevant authorities bring their action against those relevant individuals and organisations. I actually think that Labor has made it very clear that we don’t condone bullying in any form, including in workplaces. But if the government considers that this is something that they want to prosecute, that is their prerogative. But I would caution them on this point: if they seek to tarnish Labor with the actions of individuals such as this, then they should be prepared to also put their names to, and defend or distance themselves from, their donors and their mates at the top end of town when they make decisions that are not in the interest of workers.
GILBERT: Well, that is the point though isn’t it, because the CFMEU does provide the Labor Party with donations, significant donations, every year, and that is the key point here isn’t it, because you’ve got to be held accountable to a union that you’re affiliated to, don’t you?
ROWLAND: That’s the point I’m making. If this government wants to argue that Labor should do certain things because of where donations come from, then we are very happy to have a look at their list of donors, Kieran, and see if they agree with or are accountable to them.
GILBERT: But you’re trying to get rid of the watchdog which monitors unions like this very union, which is described in various ways, but militant I think is very much a fair one to describe elements of the CFMEU, highlighted by Setka’s post just yesterday. Why not keep the watchdog in place?
ROWLAND: I think we’ve made the case very clear about the ABCC being a political thought generated by this government when it came into power. We actually made it very clear that these sorts of powers were not going to be utilised to what we thought were proper. And look, if this government wants to talk about the utilisation of powers and the relevance of individual watchdogs, then please bring forward everything we need to know about Minister Cash. Let’s reflect on her actions over the past 12 months, and where she stands in relation to these matters and where she stands in relation to the specific organisations that this government’s set up.
GILBERT: Let’s turn out attention to a report in the Herald Sun newspaper in Melbourne. Nearly $8 billion committed by the former Turnbull Government – the Coalition Government of course included Scott Morrison as Treasurer in that, so he made those decisions as part of the leadership team – 5 of the projects we’re talking about in terms of the infrastructure spend of nearly $8 billion, 5 of them are in Queensland. Obviously, Mr Morrison would have liked to announce these one by one in the lead up to the next election, but clearly this is a potent infrastructure plan from the government, and it’s fully funded because as the Herald Sun reports this morning, this was included in the budget under the bracket ‘decisions taken but not yet announced’.
ROWLAND: Well, it’s very telling Kieran that already within the first fortnight of this so-called “new government” we have such leaking on a grand scale. This certainly robs the government of what it would have seen as political announceables to be made in key seats during an election campaign proper. So, you have to ask yourself who’s got it in for Scott Morrison? And I think that the list would be as long as your arm.
But I think that it also points to the fact that this is clearly, as we can see from this list, a government that is playing catch up. Labor has announced several of the measures that were in this list – announced or supported in principle – and in particular, I look at one that is close to home and that is the North-South Rail Link where several months ago, Bill Shorten made an announcement of $3 billion funding towards that as being essential as part of maximising the benefits of the Western Sydney Airport. But, I’ll also say this Kieran; it speaks volumes for this government that they look at this purely in terms of electoral gain. This is what the public are sick of. These types of infrastructure projects need to be undertaken, not only to address specific needs now, but also to grow regions in the future, and you can see the short-sightedness of this government.
GILBERT: I know that, and in a perfect world, you’re right. But every political party does time announcements when in government to suit itself and obviously this not been not exactly as Mr Morrison would have wanted it, but he can claim ownership of these commitments, whether they be in Queensland or the ones in South Australia or elsewhere around the country, because he was a key member of the economic team that approved these projects.
ROWLAND: Well, the timing of the announcements is one thing Kieran, but as I said, several months ago, Labor made the announcement to fund to the value of around $3 billion the North-South Rail Link which will benefit all those residents and businesses arriving from the Western Sydney Airport. Now, rather than coming out at that time and saying “yes, the government realises this is a good idea, all of Western Sydney is calling for this, we should ensure that this is matched”, instead, they choose to have their own set of announceables. And this is what the public are absolutely sick of. You need to do investment because of what it generates for people, not what it gives to specific Liberal Party seats.
GILBERT: Well, the Prime Minister will have to deal with the energy issue. He’s got Angus Taylor monitoring that to get prices down. Mr Shorten, for his part, in Brisbane today is going to be announcing a commitment to put a target on gas prices, and if the producers exceed that, to put limits on their exports. Is this needed, given those producers like Shell, like Origin, have pledged to increase their domestic supply?
ROWLAND: Well, a pledge is one thing Kieran, but actually having the force of law and regulation is another, and this announcement that we are going to make about a Permanent Gas Export Control Trigger is one that is absolutely necessary. It is necessary for manufacturers; it’s necessary for power generators in order to, in the long term, get prices down. And I think that it’s very telling that while this government continues to be focused on itself and its own internal bickering; it’s got a lot of talk and a lot of rhetoric about getting prices down. It takes Labor and Bill Shorten to actually formulate these kinds of policies that will have the positive impacts for consumers in the long term.
GILBERT: But does this make your relations with the business community even more difficult than what they already are?
ROWLAND: I think the reality is Kieran that this is a policy that is formulated with very sound economic principles and very sound national security principles. We know that a key function of gas prices is supply and demand, so ensuring that we have enhanced powers for the ACCC as a regulator that that’s done on a transparent and well-known basis, I think that that will go a long way to achieving the objective.