19 February 2014



Subjects: Liberal hypocrisy on multiculturalism; Manus Island; Abbott Government abandons manufacturing jobs; Craig Thomson; Health Services Union

CHRIS HAMMER: We’re joined now by Michelle Rowland, the Labor member for Greenway in Sydney’s west and also Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. Michelle, good morning.


HAMMER: Now I hear you’re a little concerned the Liberal Party has started the Multicultural Liberal Business Club as a fundraising vehicle, well what’s wrong with that?

ROWLAND: Well they can do whatever they like Chris, but it’s a very hypocritical move. On one hand they cut over $11 million of grants to local multicultural groups. With one hand they rip things away, with the other hand they put out the collection plate saying please donate to the Liberal Party, thanks very much. What a pack of hypocrites.

HAMMER: So you don’t think they may not get too many donations?

ROWLAND: Who knows what they’ll get, but I would just point out to any multicultural group who is considering supporting this little venture they should be aware of exactly the kind of people they’d be giving money to.

HAMMER: Okay, if we could turn to the big news story of the day, which is the events on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. As I understand it the detainees there became upset when they were informed that they may be held, if you like, in limbo for many years to come. Is it sustainable to keep the Manus Island detention centre going for many years to come?

ROWLAND: The fact is that having these offshore processing centres and these regional arrangements in both Manus Island and Nauru underpins the entire policy framework that was initiated in July last year. So really it is in an Australian policy interest to make sure that these work. Let’s not forget what’s happened here. It has been an absolute tragedy. At least one person, I understand, has died and there have been substantial injuries.

We need to make sure that this is maintained and maintained properly. I won’t say it, but I remember when Labor was in government and incidents, similar to this happened and we would be accused of Scott Morrison and the Liberals of having “blood on our hands” and all the rest of it. I would just say that this is a tragedy, but it also underlines the fact that we need to make sure they are properly resourced. One thing I will say: if Scott Morrison put a bit more energy into making sure that these places were properly staffed and resourced – we actually don’t know how properly staffed and resourced they are – and maybe a bit less time with the secrecy and acting like he’s in opposition, then that would probably be a good start. But, it’s a tragedy, and we need to make sure that these centres work properly.

HAMMER: Well Australian, the Australian policy forces are well trained in riot control, they’re well equipped, they’ve been taught how to use non-lethal force, is it too much to expect the same from the Papua New Guinea police force given that it is a developing country?

ROWLAND: Well I’m not fully aware of how much training has been given to the PNG police force, but I think you make a good point. Given that this is a domestic policy issue that Australia is essentially contracting with other countries to assist us with, then one would think that we would want to do everything we can to make sure that those obligations are carried out properly. I fully respect that Australian forces have had a lot to do in this situation and I’ve full confidence in their capabilities and their professionalism. And if they determine that’s something they need to do, then certainly that’s something the government should look at.

HAMMER: Now to another subject, one that’s been running for a couple of weeks now and that’s the fate of manufacturing in Australia. Manufacturing has been hit by a perfect wave of events, everything from a high dollar to falling rates of return. Should the government be doing more to help manufacturing and if so, what?

ROWLAND: Firstly I think they need to have a plan. We were having a chat a week ago and I made the comments there that we’ve had a very haphazard approach to where industry assistance is provided, the way this government views manufacturing in general. This news about Alcoa is tragic, not only for Victoria, but also for Western Sydney where a number of people are employed and there’ll be flow-on affects from that. So another week later and still no sign of a plan. I think this is most disturbing for the Australian people that we don’t have an industry policy in place to actually put into action.

HAMMER: And there seems to be a disconnect between the Liberal Coalition government in Canberra and the Coalition governments in New South Wales and Victoria.

ROWLAND: Well they should sort it out. I mean it is one thing to have disagreements on issues of policy and policy direction. Both New South Wales and Victoria are of course sensitive because they’ve got elections coming up shortly after one another. But, we are talking here about people’s lives and people’s lives don’t revolve around state elections. Sort it out. Get an industry plan in place and make sure that we have a sustainable manufacturing industry in Australia, because that is entirely possible if we have the right settings into gear.

HAMMER: Okay Michelle, the Craig Thomson affair finally seems to be coming to an end, him being found guilty to a number of charges. Does his behaviour smear the reputation of all politicians, but particularly Labor politicians with union affiliations?

ROWLAND: I would hope that’s not the case. I would also say that the opinions that people have about politicians – I’m not telling you anything new – are right down there with some other professions which I won’t name. I used to be a lawyer in a past life so I won’t name that one.

HAMMER: It’s okay, I’m a journalist. I don’t think we rate highly either.

ROWLAND: Look I think it’s very important to recognise the people who were represented in the Health Services Union are in fact some of the most trusted people in our community. The nurses, the ambos and so forth. I’m actually really pleased, and this isn’t really getting a lot of media traction, but I will say it here: the people who took over in the HSU after Craig Thomson’s demise have actually worked very hard to turn the place around. They’re decent people and they’ve managed to get hold of the membership again, actually start serving their members, and let’s face it: they’re going to need it with this wave of industrial reform, WorkChoices under another name. I’m glad that this is behind us and I think that all people can move forward with confidence in the HSU today.

HAMMER: Okay Michelle Rowland thanks for joining us this morning.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.