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Transcript of interview with Marius Benson: ABC NewsRadio: 2 February 2016: Liberals' trade union royal commission; Malcolm Turnbull's plan for a 15 per cent GST on everything

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SUBJECTS: Liberals’ trade union royal commission, Malcolm Turnbull’s plan for a 15 per cent GST on everything

MARIUS BENSON, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.


BENSON: I’m well. The Government has until now been saying you can’t see Dyson Heydon’s report, but now it says: “we’ll give you a redacted copy, we need to take out the names of witnesses to protect them, we need to make sure that police investigations aren’t jeopardised. So this reduced copy can be given to you, but just one of you.” What is Labor’s view on that offer?

PLIBERSEK: Well it’s either a confidential report or it’s not a confidential report. I think the fact that the Minister has been out offering this report to crossbenchers in the hope that they’ll vote for her proposal shows that the commission continues to be used by the Government in a partisan and political way.

BENSON: But if the offer now is: “it’s not a completely confidential report - there are some confidential parts we must preserve but other parts can be seen by the Labor Party - but just one person in the Labor Party,” how does that go with you?

PLIBERSEK: Well even in the way - Marius surely listening to yourself say it you must realise how ridiculous it is to have a Government that says it’s a confidential report but it’s not confidential but maybe someone can see it, we get to choose who and which bits. It is absurd. I think we need to go to the substance of the issue, the substance of the issue - it is plain that there are problems in the building industry and they should be investigated. They should be investigated by the police, by the Australian Crime Commission; the proper agencies that are already set up to investigate these sorts of matters. We need to look at also worker exploitation in the building industry because we know that in many cases people have been underpaid, particularly workers brought from overseas, and we made some announcements about better worker protections yesterday. I don’t think anyone should pretend, when these matters come out about union corruption, that we don’t have a responsibility to investigate them. But the commission itself and the proposal that the Government has for a separate body that will have coercive powers to get people in, to interview them secretly with no legal representation and no right not to participate, and that is, again, a political exercise from the Government targeting one particular area and frankly getting in the way of the police and crime-fighting organisations doing their work.

BENSON: But doesn’t Michaelia Cash have a point when she says there’s no prospect, she said earlier, well there’s no point in giving a report to Labor because there is simply no prospect of Labor ever voting for these tougher powers against unions?

PLIBERSEK: Well in fact we are the people who are most interested in seeing unions well-run and representing their members. We care about the same people that unions are representing and that’s why in 2012 we tripled penalties for breaches of the Fair Work Act, we required officials of registered organisations to undergo training, we required disclosure of officials’ remuneration. And we proposed a whole range of other changes to the Government just before Christmas - changes that would give greater powers to ASIC and that would increase penalties for criminal offences under the Fair Work Act. We want tough action against the minority of people who are doing the wrong thing in the labour movement because we want their members to be well represented and to be proud of being in the labour movement. We know that this is a tiny minority of people and we have no sympathy for anyone who is doing the wrong thing in the labour movement because we want union members to be well represented.

BENSON: Can I move from one acronym, the ABCC to another: the GST. Because I was speaking to Mathias Cormann, the Finance Minister, earlier this morning and he was repeating that the Government will have its full tax reform plans out - including whatever it plans with the GST before the election. But the Government seems to have moved away from the promised green and white discussion papers to precede that. Is that an issue of concern?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s extraordinary that two years in, we have a Government that doesn’t have a tax policy, doesn’t have a tax plan. We’ve heard so much talk - it seems like everything is on the table with Malcolm Turnbull - he keeps saying things are “on the table”. What we know is that Australians are staring into the face of GST, a 15 per cent GST on absolutely everything: all the food they buy, their gas, electricity,

phone, internet bills, all of the things that they have to buy day to day to send their kids to school. You’re talking about billions of dollars that would be raised with a GST on fresh food or about $10 billion with a GST on fresh food, $7.5 billion for schools and education if the GST is applied to that. And at the same time, this very same Government continues to refuse to act on multinational tax avoidance, refuses to join Labor in saving up to $14 billion by slightly reducing the very generous tax concessions for high income people putting money into their super. And the choice here is a 15 per cent GST that every Australian will pay on everything they buy versus greater crackdowns on multinational tax avoidance and very high income super. It is extraordinary that we’re going into the final few months before Scott Morrison’s Budget and he still hasn’t decided the characteristics of this GST.

BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, I’ll leave it there. Thanks very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Marius.