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Transcript of interview with Tom Elliott: 3AW: 22 August 2016: new laws to protect volunteer emergency workers from union takeovers

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22 August 2016


SUBJECT: New laws to protect volunteer emergency workers from union takeovers.

TOM ELLIOTT: Anyway, speaking of political parties, our next guest has promised to solve the stoush between the Country Fire Authority and the United Firefighters Union.

The Federal Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash, good afternoon.

MINISTER CASH: Good afternoon, Tom, and good afternoon to your listeners.

TOM ELLIOTT: Okay, now you and the Prime Minister popped up a few weeks ago saying that you had a remedy for this stoush that has so split the Country Fire Authority and the United Firefighters Union. What is the remedy; what is the legislation?

MINISTER CASH: As you know the Victorian Government is pressuring the Country Fire Authority, or the CFA, to enter into an enterprise agreement with the United Firefighters Union that will significantly and detrimentally limit the ability of the CFA to manage its volunteers.

They’re negotiating an enterprise agreement, an enterprise agreement is negotiated under theFair Work Act.

What we propose to do, it’s a very simple amendment, is amend Section 12 of theFair Work Act and Section 12 contains a list of objectionable terms.

So if an agreement has an objectionable term it cannot be certified and all we will do is add an additional term known as an objectionable emergency management term so that any clause in an agreement that restricts or limits, say, we’ll call it the CFA’s ability to engage or deploy its volunteers would be rendered void.

TOM ELLIOTT: So, if you change the legislation, then the Fair Work Commission which must follow theFair Work Act …


TOM ELLIOTT: … would have to, you believe, strike out the current enterprise bargaining agreement as is currently phrased?

MINISTER CASH: What would happen is the legislation was to go through and we would hope it will go through and the 60,000 volunteers aren’t undermined.

Any agreement that is made after the legislation goes through cannot be given the tick off by the Fair Work Commission whilst it has an objectionable clause.

TOM ELLIOTT: [Interrupts] Okay, but this agreement is … well, it’s already gone through, so …

MINISTER CASH: [Interrupts] No, it hasn’t. That’s the whole point.

This agreement has not yet gone through and in fact the CFA are currently in court in relation to the agreement so, no.

The agreement is in draft form at the moment.

TOM ELLIOTT: Okay, so you’ll try and get this legislation changed to theFair Work Act while the CFA’s court action against the agreement is holding it up. So, that way …

MINISTER CASH: [Interrupts] That’s exactly right because this is not just about this situation; this is to ensure that we want to make changes to theFair Work Act to make sure that proposed enterprise agreements, and in this case it’s the CFA, cannot be used in a way that means management, the CFA management, is unable to deploy and manage volunteer firefighters properly.

We made a commitment, as you know, to the 60,000 volunteer firefighters during the election.

We said we would stand with you and we would ensure that we took the necessary steps to make sure that this cannot occur and we are now delivering on that promise.

TOM ELLIOTT: Now, minister, I mean, to get this amendment through the federal Parliament, it has to go through both houses, correct?

MINISTER CASH: That is correct, yes.

TOM ELLIOTT: Okay, so you’ve got a slim majority in the lower house, you don’t have a majority in the upper house.

I’m assuming the Labor Party is not going vote with you on this.

MINISTER CASH: I think the Labor Party have made it pretty clear that they will stand alongside Daniel Andrews.

TOM ELLIOTT: Right, okay, so will you be able to convince enough independents like Nick Xenophon, Pauline Hanson, a few others to get this through the upper house?

MINISTER CASH: I would hope so because this is all about protecting volunteers and as we all know, volunteers are part of Australia’s DNA.

These are people who give up everything; they’ll put their lives on the line [indistinct] …

TOM ELLIOTT: I agree, but have you spoken to Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon. You need, I believe, nine extra votes.

MINISTER CASH: We need nine- that is correct.

TOM ELLIOTT: Pauline Hanson stands for four, Nick Xenophon three. So then you’ve got, what, Bob Katter or … no, he’s in the lower house.

MINISTER CASH: No, because remember it’s the Senate we’re talking about ..

TOM ELLIOTT: Sorry, the Senate. Yeah.

MINISTER CASH: … [indistinct] the Senate, exactly.

TOM ELLIOTT: So, you’ve Andrew Wilkie in Tasmania?

MINISTER CASH: No, we’ve got Jacqui Lambie from Tasmania in the Senate.

TOM ELLIOTT: Oh, that’s right. Jacqui Lambie, sorry, yeah.

MINISTER CASH: Derryn Hinch.


MINISTER CASH: Bob Day, David Leyonhjelm, the four One Nation senators and the three Xenophon senators.

TOM ELLIOTT: So, you’re confident that amongst all of those you can get the nine votes needed?

MINISTER CASH: I would hope so.

A number of them are already on the record in relation to this issue.

But, we’ve released the legislation today and, obviously, if they want to pick up the phone and talk to me I am absolutely there to answer any questions that they have.

TOM ELLIOTT: Okay, now you wrote an article about this in today’sHerald Sun and in it you said that one of the provisions of the agreements to which you objected was this idea that seven paid firefighters have to be present before a fire can be fought.

Now, Adam Bandt of the Greens has said that’s not true, it’s actually they’ve got to be dispatched but they don’t actually have to have arrived.

He has said that you need to resign because you’ve lied about this issue.

Do you agree that you’ve lied about it?

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely not.

I’m not surprised by Adam Bandt’s comments. They’re entirely predictable,

I think many people would know that Mr Bandt was the United Firefighters’ lawyer for a decade.

Peter Marshall attended Adam Bandt’s maiden speech, Adam Bandt specifically thanked Peter Marshall for all of his support in his maiden speech so not surprised that Adam Bandt is siding with the unions and he’s got every right to support a hostile union takeover but come and appear before the 60,000 volunteers and tell them why you are prepared to support them in terms of undermining their autonomy and undermining their authority.

You know, as the volunteers themselves, Tom, have told me, this undermines the ability for CFA volunteers to act autonomously as they have done so successfully for 60 years.

60 years they’ve been out there protecting Victoria, for 60 years.

Why suddenly does Daniel Andrews and Bill Shorten want to give the UFU much greater control over the operations of the CFMEU that currently exist; why?

TOM ELLIOTT: Well, that is a very good question. We’ll leave it there. Thank you Minister Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Employment.


Media contacts:

Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash: David De Garis 0427 019 692; Brooke Vitnell 0447 743 835.

Department Media: