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Transcript of interview with Tom Connell: Sky News Weekend Agenda: 24 November 2019: union laws; John Setka; Angus Taylor; Chinese spy; end of Parliament

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SUBJECTS: Union laws; John Setka; Angus Taylor; Chinese spy; end of Parliament.

TOM CONNELL: Tony Burke good morning. Let's begin with the Registered Organisations Bill.

Some key elements have been removed courtesy of the crossbench of course including any

referral power for any person with a sufficient interest. This does seem on the surface to be at

least more palatable for Labor and the unions.

TONY BURKE: Well let's have a look at where the Bill now stands if all of those amendments

are carried. One of the arguments that the Government used when they brought this Bill in was

corporate equivalence and some of the crossbenchers say that that would be their test as well.

Last week we saw a bank be found to have broken the law 23 million times and Mr Morrison's

response was ‘Well that's a matter for the board’. Under this bill, after the amendments, if a

union puts its paperwork in late or fails to put its paperwork in three times, the entire

organisation can be deregistered. If you're a bank 23 million breaches of the law and it's a

matter for the board. nothing to see here. If you're a union, three breaches of paperwork and

the entire organisation can be brought down. Now if that's meant to being corporate

equivalence, I'm not sure how 23 million equals three. But 23 million if you're a bank - three

paperwork breaches if you're a union.

CONNELL: Key language there is “can” be deregistered - that position is up to a court to be

convinced. And the Commissioner would have to satisfy the court that those paperwork

breaches as you referred to would be sufficient grounds to actually registered a union. I mean

that's a pretty easy case for a union lawyer isn't it?

BURKE: Well two things there. First of all, the premise of it is the union after three paperwork

breaches is dragged before the courts. And the union members’ money, paid by ordinary

workers, paid by nurses, paid by cleaners, paid by firefighters, then has to go to fight that

claim. But the second thing of course is, if we don't think it's reasonable don't leave that ground

in the bill. It's not enough to say look we think it's unreasonable but we will leave the ground

there and we'll hope that the Federal Court later on might fix it. No. If it's not reasonable you

take it out and there is no corporate equivalence for getting rid of an entire organisation for

three paperwork breaches. That's what they put in front of the Parliament. If the government

doesn't believe that's reasonable, why have they put it in front of the Parliament? I think we all

know the answer to that Tom. The reason this Bill is in front of the Parliament is that they want

to bash unions. Unions are the organisations that fight for better pay, that fight for safe work

conditions. And this Government has said that low wages are a deliberate design feature of

their economic plan. Well this is part of how you deliver it.

CONNELL: What do you believe should happen to Westpac? The board, the CEO?

BURKE: Well you've asked me in terms of Ensuring Integrity and what I'm making clear is

there is no corporate equivalence here. And that's the point I'm making with respect to laws on

the banks and how those penalties function, there's a different shadow responsible for them.

What I can say is with this Government there is no doubt at all they are putting forward one

rule for corporate Australia and a completely different rule for the organisations that represent

workers. And we have to think about the sort the types of offences that I just referred to Tom.

One is paperwork breaches, where they want to come down like a ton of bricks. The other

breaches that attack the laws the money laundering laws that deal with anti-terrorism, that deal

with protection against child sex exploitation. These are serious breaches. 23 million of them.

And that gets the tick. Three and you get thrown out.

CONNELL: Well it doesn’t get the tick. But is there an inherent issue with corporate law that

those offences were entirely up to the board and the CEO as to what they would do. Is that a

problem? Would Labor address that?

BURKE: Well it's the opposite of what they're saying for the unions. What I'm pointing to here

Tom is the hypocrisy. What I'm pointing to is if the Government wants to claim that the Bill

before the Parliament right now - and the Bill before the Parliament right now is not about the

banks - the Bill before the Parliament right now is to change the laws for workers’

organisations and they say that they’re doing that to make it equivalent to where the banks are

and it doesn’t do that at all.

CONNELL: But is there an inherent issue as well with corporate law when these offences

happen and it's entirely up to Westpac as to if there is anyone losing their job or any personal

punishments meted out? Is that an issue?

BURKE: In terms how that operates I'm sorry you got the wrong shadow out front. The laws

that I'm across, that I'm fighting in the Parliament, that it's my role as Shadow Industrial

Relations to deal with are the ones that will affect working Australians.

CONNELL: And just on equivalence, if John Setka were a CEO he'd be gone wouldn't he?

Isn't that an inherent issue with unions, that they're a law unto themselves at the moment

because if their union members agree with the head, well they'll stay in their position.

BURKE: Well well hang on. The whole John Setka part of this has been very clever marketing

from Scott Morrison. It's not what the Bill’s about. If the Bill was about the construction union

they would in fact be an amendment to a different act of Parliament, because it's a different Act

of Parliament that deals specifically with the construction industry. The whole point of this Bill,

the reason that it's an amendment specifically to the whole of registered organisations, is

because they want to make sure they go after all workers organisations. And let's not forget

what the biggest ones are. The biggest union in Australia is the nurses. And what this law will

affect will be the nurses’ union. It will affect the firefighters. This Bill will affect cleaners. This

Bill will affect shop assistants. And most of the people who are on the management

committees of these different organisations are themselves volunteers. Now that's a world

away a world away from the spin of the government. It’s the real life impact of what’s in front of

the Parliament this week.

CONNELL: It does still cover the CFMEU, so I put this to you: if there were a CEO in corporate

Australia that had been convicted over harassing his wife, threatening to publish names and

addresses of the ABCC, harassing them and their children was part of the threat, punching the

windscreen of a Grocon van, and also talking to a Grocon manager in 2003 saying “you just

effing watch yourself, I'll get you I swear on my son's life you watch I'll fix you up”, that CEO

would be gone but John Setka’s still there.

BURKE: Well we've got CEOs of organisations at the moment where the organisation has

committed 23 million breaches and I've got to say if you started reading out those breaches on

this interview you’d still be going tomorrow morning. You'd probably still be going in a week's

time. So you want to put that forward as some equivalence - so to be honest I don't think

stacks up.

CONNELL: But do you do you disagree with that prospect? That if another CEO had that rap

sheet they would be gone, that there would be action taken whereas John Setka still has the

approval of his union members despite the rap sheet.

BURKE: We've got CEOs who's who presided over the theft of their workers’ money. We have

CEOs who have presided over breaches of anti-terror laws. He have CEOs who have dealt

with a whole lot of those issues. Make no mistake. You've seen how strong the action against

John Setka has been from the Labor Party - he is no longer a member of the Labor Party. And

if I was a member of the CFMEU I wouldn't vote for him to be my leader. But that's a matter for

the members. It's a matter for their decision, for who they are to be their representative. That's

by definition what a representative organisation is meant to do.

CONNELL: We will just move on, we’ve got a couple of things to cover. You've made it clear

you'll pursue Angus Taylor over this letter to Clover Moore. He has apologised unreservedly

and he said information came from a previous version of the website which nobody has been

able to disprove as yet. So what are you after exactly here?

BURKE: Well. One of the only rules left - and there's not many rules left in the way Scott

Morrison handles the parliament - but one of the only rules left is the fact that you can't mislead

the Parliament. That you're not allowed to directly effectively lie. Now, Angus Taylor told the

Parliament that the document with the fake information had been drawn from the website of

the council. Now the council’s produced the metadata to say that, no they never changed the

document. The National Library in its Trove website the Trove information that's available from

the National Library of Australia verifies that this information has never been changed. So all

the public evidence says that Angus Taylor has misled the Parliament of Australia. Now it's for

him to go to the Parliament and either explain that he gave information that was wrong and

apologise or somehow explain that there's a piece of evidence here that everybody else has

missed. But on the face of it, he's misled the Parliament and you don't get off the hook for

misleading the Parliament of Australia by writing a letter to Clover Moore. You have to front up

to the Parliament and you have to explain

CONNELL: He has done so and he says this was done by a staff member. Are you after their

details or a personal statement from that staff member?

BURKE: Well on the public evidence that can't be true. On the public evidence you can't

download a document that didn't exist. And this is no small matter. This is a Minister in the

Australian Government says that a document with fake numbers in it was downloaded from a

webpage directly to his office. Now the City of Sydney Council has been willing to pass on to

journalists all the metadata to show that from their perspective that cannot be true. Angus

Taylor is refusing to allow the same sorts of searches to be conducted on the metadata of his

office. But at the end of all of this, you end up with the question can we believe a word they


CONNELL: He said that a staff member downloaded this and that's what happened and that

was taken from a previous version and that was obviously that time not saved in any form so

that the documents they have sent on to the media don't have that metadata because it wasn't

saved per se. Again if that's what Angus Taylor is saying he's staff member did, are you saying

you want the staff member’s personal account or their details?

BURKE: Well what I'm saying is how can that be true? I don't understand how that could be

true. If the document he’s saying his staff member downloaded never existed. I don't see how

that can be true. And unless he can verify that it's true, he's misled the Parliament of Australia

in one of the most direct clear-cut examples I think I’ve ever seen.

CONNELL: Well he’s saying he passed on what he's been told by a staff member so isn't that

where the next logical point of call goes?

BURKE: He hasn't just said I'm advised that this happened. He's said it. He's put it on himself,

and said this came directly downloaded from the council's website. And all the public evidence

says that cannot be turned. So it’s for him. It’s not for him to throw a staff member under the

bus. Tom, I’ve have said on each occasion that on all the public evidence that cannot be true.

Now if there is evidence that's not public, that somehow says the metadata from the City of

Sydney Council was wrong, the trove sourced from the National Library of Australia was

wrong, if all of that information is somehow available then by all means he should stand up in

the Parliament and say that. But you know I reckon it's probably not what happened. And

anyone looking at this logically - you know there's a reason why Angus Taylor has become the

most accident-prone minister in this government and it's because there's lots of front like Mr

Morrison. There's lots of marketing and careful messaging but when you get to the substance

there's no plan and it looks on the face of it from the evidence that we've got like there's no


CONNELL: There is a defecting Chinese spy, Wang Liqiang living in Sydney at the moment.

Does he deserve Australia’s protection?

BURKE: It's a really serious set of allegations that have emerged today in the news. Anthony

Albanese as our leader has said that Labor will be seeking briefings to be able to get the

details from the Government. It's clear from the reports today that our authorities are still going

through the veracity of the different claims and that's a really serious thing to be teased out. So

the Government holds all the information on this but certainly from what's been reported, we're

talking about extraordinarily serious claims that may well give rise to to what you said. But the

veracity of it all needs to be worked through first and we'll be seeking a briefing of all that


CONNELL: Whatever happens, if we were to offer protection it would earn the ire of China.

Should that worry Australia or not?

BURKE: We've as a nation we've always met when we've dealt with protection issues, dealt

with them strictly according to law and the legal tests are pretty clear on this. And you'd expect

the Government would deal with that. But I I think we're a few steps away from that at the

moment. The first stage from the reports today is certainly for the veracity of the claims to be


CONNELL: Just finally you've been at the forefront of a few Parliaments now. What are your

reflections early on of this one?

BURKE: Well there's been a change in how we've handled the Parliament since the election.

In that our questions, it's not just they're shorter - but they’re really tight, really simple.

Sometimes you will throw one in that's really long to make a case but effectively we've gone to

short, sharp questions that demand a simple answer. And we've seen a Government that can't

give a straight answer to a simple question. You see a lot when Parliament's on about Mr

Morrison's character. You see a lot when Parliament's on about the fact that they can't talk

about any issue without getting about 30 seconds in and suddenly they want to hammer Labor.

And you can have a look at that politically. But it actually shows something deeper. And if they

had a plan for Australia they'd be talking about it. And when everyday we hit with questions

about the economy and every day they respond by just wanting to talk about their political

opponents. Now that shows that there is no plan from this Government and at a time where

growth is the slowest it's been since the global financial crisis, where unemployment's up with

nearly 2 million Australians either looking for work or looking for more work, where wages

growth at an all time low, profits growing six times faster than wages. These are big economic

challenges that are hitting every household in Australia. What's the Government’s response?

CONNELL: We're nearly out of time but there were also problems on the horizon during the

election and you had a massively bigger tax impost ready to tackle that.

BURKE: We've already we've already dealt with the review and at the next election, you know

Anthony Albanese will be taking forward a different set of policies. You've got to work on the

basis if you go back with the exact same policies you’ll get the same answer and we've got to

work our way through all of that. And Anthony Albanese with the vision statements has been

making has been hitting the mark. But right now we can't wait for the next election for there to

be a plan for Australia. The Government needs to do it now and all they've got is a marketing

plan for politics.

CONNELL: Tony Burke, thanks for your time.

BURKE: Great to be with you.