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Transcript of interview with Kieran Gilbert: Sky News: 23 April 2018: unions; ABCC; 31st Newspoll loss

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SUBJECTS: Unions; ABCC; 31st News Poll loss.

KIERAN GILBERT: With me now the Shadow Employment Minister Brendan O’Connor. A warning from Kevin Rudd - don’t get too close to some elements of the union movement. And, in the context of the report in The Australian today, what do you say? I mean, obviously you are very close to one particular individual in the CFMEU.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Well, I think we need to make sure there is balance in workplaces. We think it’s no longer balanced in many workplaces. People are having difficulty making ends meet because wage growth is at its lowest in a generation.

We’ve said all along we will never tolerate criminal behavior. In fact, you go back some years it was Bill Shorten who announced that, if need be, a taskforce comprising of crime fighting agencies - if there is genuine systemic criminal conduct in any part of our society, we’ve got the Australian Crime Commission which we can call upon, if we are talking about crime.

As for industrial relations, well, we need to make sure it’s balanced, and that’s what we are looking to do. We want to ensure that people have security of work, that people get a pay rise. Companies make profits - we’re happy with that, but it means also that workers get a decent wage rise. There’s nothing wrong with that.

GILBERT: The Australian reports today that some of your colleagues have expressed concern and that Mr Shorten is too close to unions like the CFMEU. What do you say to those concerns?

O’CONNOR: All I have done as the Shadow Minister is to present things to the Caucus and Shadow Cabinet. There has been no dissent in our position taken in relation to repealing the ABCC. There’s been a consensual view by federal Labor that we need to make sure there is one set of laws for everybody, not special laws vis-a-vis others.

For that reason, we opposed the introduction of the ABCC in 2013 - that was when it was first introduced into the parliament. Fatalities went up during the last life of the ABCC. It doesn’t produce productivity. It actually creates anxiety, and cowers workers into not raising health and safety issues, and that’s why we have opposed it.

GILBERT: I guess the question really is would Mr Shorten stand up to the likes of the CFMEU if they demand their pound of flesh after the next election? Would he be willing to do that?

O’CONNOR: Our policy will be based on evidence, and will be based on what is fair and reasonable in workplaces.

As I have said before, and I’ll say again - we will say no to unions if it’s not in the national interest of this country. We are, at the moment, engaging with employers and unions-

GILBERT: Mr Shorten would do that?

O’CONNOR: Of course.

GILBERT: Because the concern is he would not, if there was a demand he would say yes.

O’CONNOR: I think as a leader, you have to make sure that you reconcile differences - you need to make sure that you act in the national interest, and I believe our policies do that.

We don’t tolerate-

GILBERT: Even you, as Minister, to say no to your brother - because he’s the head of the CFMEU?

O’CONNOR: People have familial and commercial potential conflicts of interests all the time. I mean you have Malcolm Turnbull with all of the commercial interests he had in communications when he was the Minister. We deal with these issues time and time again.

When I was last a Minister, dealing with anti-dumping, I referred a particular matter to the Attorney General because I thought it was better for someone else to deal with it given the organisation involved. We will deal with those things.

The difference is, we will present our policies before the next election for the Australian people to make a decision. We’re not hiding anything. We’re presenting-

GILBERT: Things are close in the Newspoll though, it shows that it’s back to a contest, very much - 51-49.

O’CONNOR: Well firstly, they’re just fortnightly events. It’s the 31st Newspoll loss in a row for the Prime Minister. If he wants to pop champagne corks because he’s still behind, that’s up to him.

GILBERT: Mr O’Connor. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

O’CONNOR: Thanks Kieran.