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Joint Press Conference, Release of the Final Report into Trade Union Governance and Corruption
PRIME MINISTER: I would like to thank the Honourable Dyson Heydon, his Counsel Assisting and all of the staff of the Royal Commission for their work. This has been a monumental effort, completed under enormous pressure of every kind, including unwarranted and baseless attacks on the Royal Commissioner himself. Now let me say this about the Royal Commission report, the Royal Commission's report has uncovered many weaknesses in the trade union movement, but if its recommendations are substantially adopted, if the lessons of this report are learned, the trade union movement will emerge much stronger.
Trade unions have never represented such a small percentage of Australian workers as they do today. This report, if it is heeded, if its recommendations are implemented - and we will describe how we will seek to do that, how we will do that, if that is done - then the trade union movement will be stronger. The members that it represents will have greater confidence in their officials and other workers will have greater confidence to join it. So right at the outset, let me say this, this report uncovers practices which have been long known to exist.
It is a real watershed movement- a real watershed moment for the Labor Movement, for its leaders, for Mr Shorten. They can take this opportunity to support these recommendations and undertake real and lasting reform of the trade union movement. The beneficiaries of that reform will be their members, and other Australian workers that may in the future seek to join the union movement. And right across the board all Australians will benefit from a more confident, capable, competent, honest administration of unions right across every sector in Australia.
This is an opportunity for Mr Shorten. This is an opportunity- a test of his leadership and he should seize it and rise to the occasion and recognise that it’s the interests of his members that is at stake here, the interest of ordinary working men and women of Australia who have been so let down by so many officials of the union movement. Now, let me turn to the report itself. The report finds, as we know, many examples of misconduct, of illegality, of corruption, of wrongdoing. Some of it is thuggery, some of it is theft.
There have been some very improper practices, which I will turn to in a moment, but an important point to bear in mind, as you consider- as we consider the attacks on the Royal Commission that will come from the Labor Party today, is that as the Royal Commissioner observes, almost all of the underlying facts have been established by admissions to the commission, incontrovertible documents, decisions of courts and tribunals or well corroborated testimony. This is not- these are not volumes of opinion. These are volumes of findings based on fact.
Now, let me deal with one particular example of the Australian Workers Union, the example of a company Cleanevent who employed cleaners, the- and I quote from the Royal Commission report. It's paragraph 63. In exchange for $25,000 per year, the Victorian branch of the AWU in substance agreed for three years not to seek better terms and conditions for its members employed by Cleanevent. It would not have been difficult to obtain better terms and conditions, but the Victorian branch of the AWU preferred to take the fairly paltry sum of money for itself. For the workers employed by Cleanevent, the outcome was appalling. The members of the Cleanevent management team- this is the employer- involved in the deal describe it as saving the company amounts ranging from $1 million to $2 million.
All involved benefitted from the deal except the people the union was supposed to be representing. That's in the Royal Commission report. It is a fact. Yet this practice has been defended by Labor and by the union. Now, in the light of this, surely who would argue with Recommendation 48 that requires that a union receiving such a benefit to disclose it to its members before they vote on an enterprise agreement? How could that be unreasonable? You would think that would be common-sense, and yet we've had to have a royal commission to find a recommendation of this kind.
As the Commissioner Heydon found, unions had become concerned not with their role as the instrument through which to protect the interest of its members but with self-interest, and that is what the Royal Commission report seeks to bring to an end , to ensure that unions act in the interests of their members, not in the interests of officials or the interest of unions - the union itself Now, I note and I hasten to add that most union officials across Australia- and there are thousands of them, are diligently seeking to represent their members and doing so honestly and capably. We recognise that. But nonetheless, this is not a case of a few rotten apples spoiling the whole barrel. There are many union officials and widespread cultures of impropriety and malpractice as set out in the report.
Now, the Government's commitment to reform is absolutely unwavering. The Registered Organisations Bill, many of whose recommen…many of whose provisions are mirrored by recommendations in this report, has been twice rejected by the Senate. Senator Cash will shortly describe how a new Registered Organisation Bill will now be prepared which includes the recommendations of the Heydon Royal Commission because the Royal Commission sets out the reasons why the Government's own Registered Organisation Bill does not in fact go far enough. At the same time, the Australian Building Construction Commission Bill, the ABCC Bill which has been rejected once by the Senate, will be re-introduced in the first sittings next year.
We are utterly committed to this exercise in law reform. It will not weaken the union movement, it will strengthen it and it requi…but it requires real leadership, not just on the part of the Government, not just on the part of the Parliament, but on the part of the Labor Movement itself. Now, the Labor Party has claimed that the Royal Commission is a witch-hunt, they claim that they've acted to strengthen union governments while in government, and that they've been proactive in suggesting new policy. Well, the facts speak for themselves. These events, these appalling examples of misconduct, many of which have been the subject of referrals to other authorities, are not ancient history. This is current. This is what's happening now. This is what's happening during the administration of leading figures in the labour movement.
The Deputy Leader of the Labor Party Tanya Plibersek said we all know that this Royal Commission was designed to achieve a political outcome. Well, let me say to the Labor Party, the only political outcome of the adoption of this report would be a stronger union movement, a union movement which more workers were likely to join, a union movement which the members of that union movement would have more confidence in, that would believe in, that would know that their funds were being properly administered, that there were not secret deals being done with employers, with payments being made to the union behind their back.
So this is a real test for Mr Shorten, Ms Plibersek and all the leaders of the labour movement, both the industrial wing and the political wing, the Labor Party. This is their time, their chance to renovate, to reform the union movement in a way that would strengthen it and perhaps arrest the decline that it has seen over many years.
Now, often the industrial struggle is seen as a battle between workers and bosses. Well, here the conflict revealed is plainly between the workers, the members on the one hand, and bosses, yes, but the bosses of the unions, the bosses of the unions who variously live high off the hog from the contributions of some of the lowest paid workers, as we've seen most spectacularly, most horrendously in the case of the HSU, and then in other cases sold those union…sold those members out by taking undisclosed payments back to the union from the employers in return for trading off the workers' conditions. So, we commend this report, it is a very, very important one. We thank the Commissioner and I would now ask the Employment Minister to elaborate on the recommendations.
MINISTER CASH: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. Ladies and gentlemen, today is D-Day. Today the denial stops and today the distraction stops. Today marks the commencement of fairer and more transparent future for workplaces across Australia. Union members need to be confident that their hard-earned membership fees are being expended lawfully, but more importantly in their interests, in their best interests, and not in the interests of a few who sit at the top. You will have had a chance to review, in part, the thousands of pages of the Royal Commission's final report. Well, what does it find and what does it identify? It identifies widespread and systemic misconduct and numerous actions favouring, and I quote, the interests of the union leadership over the members.
None of this is consistent with an organisation which its purpose is- it has been set up to represent the interests of its members. The report also outlines appalling examples of what can happen within organisations when there is ineffective financial transparency and a lack of regulatory oversight. I think it's very important as the Prime Minister has stated, though, to recognise that the report finds and I quote, the serious problems of fraud and other corrupt behaviour identified by the commission are not the fault of the rank-and-file union members who themselves have become the victims of corrupt union leaders, who have systematically set out to rort and defraud the very members they were meant to support.
The report goes on to say, it is clear from the actions of some union officials and leaders that they believe that they are above the law, and that they have little regard for their legal obligations. The Royal Commission has also damningly found that this conduct has taken place amongst a wide variety of unions and industries and that the aberrations cannot be regarded as isolated. They are not the work of a few rogue unions or a few rogue union officials. The misconduct exhibits great variety, it is widespread, it is deep-seated. Quite frankly, it does not get much more serious than the report which we have tabled today. The Government, the Prime Minister, we will not stand by and allow this scandalous behaviour to continue to occur.
As the Prime Minister has stated, this government will take firm and swift action, we will act upon the findings and the recommendations of this report. In terms of the existing laws, what the report makes clear is that the existing laws and the current legal framework are not adequately protecting the hard-working union members and they have not been effective in dealing with and stamping out the blatant misconduct and alleged criminal behaviour that has been identified.
I just want to also make the point that again the Prime Minister has made, for those who will continue to seek to deny the report's findings and recommendations, for those who will continue to seek to distract from the report's findings and recommendations, almost all of the underlying facts have been established by admissions to the commission in incontrovertible documents, decisions of courts and tribunals or well documented testimony. The report outlines alleged unlawful and dubious behaviour that has been allowed to flourish for years and years in trade unions. Some of this behaviour includes the payment of secret commissions, the selling out of workers and alleged bribery, extortion and blackmail and the ripping off of honest workers by some dodgy union bosses who stand accused of using the union members' funds and third party funds for their own personal purposes.
I think all Australians would agree that union dues are meant to be used to promote the interests of the workers. They are not to be used by dodgy union bosses as their own personal piggy bank or their own ATM machine, as numerous case examples in the final report show. This mindset is wrong. I think all Australians would agree with that. No-one is above the law. It does not matter who you are, and this is a government that is going to ensure that the laws are robust and are sufficient to ensure that this type of behaviour cannot occur. In terms of the registered organisations, the report recommends new laws that are stronger than the Registered Organisations Bill that is currently before the Parliament and has been rejected by the Senate three times by the Labor Party and the Greens and some crossbenchers.
I can announce today that the Government will act to introduce stronger and more effective legislation to deal with the lack of accountability and transparency in registered organisations. It is of the utmost importance that there is a strong, independent regulator to oversee and enforce the high standards of governance for both unions and employer organisations. In terms of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the report confirms, disappointingly, the continuing and ongoing problems of industrial and criminal lawlessness within the construction industry.
The report also endorses the Government's approach to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission as an independent specialist building and construction industry regulator with strong powers and strong laws. To quote the report, the sustained and entrenched disregard for both industrial and criminal laws shown by the country's largest construction union further supports the need for such a body. I also announce today that the Government will re-introduce the ABCC legislation in the first week of Parliament in 2016 and seek to have it passed by both houses of Parliament by the end of March. The case for the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission is now undeniable.
The only people who will continue to deny, who will continue to distract are those who are prepared to put the interests of those rogue unions first, ahead of those hard-working men and women who work in the construction industry and just want to get up in the morning and go to work in a workplace that is free from fear, free from intimidation and does not have the attitude that the law does not apply to us. If the Senate is serious about addressing these vital issues, the Senate will pass these bills as soon as possible. There can no longer be any doubt about the need for appropriate legislative reform to ensure that there are strong, independent regulators enforcing effective laws that will clamp down on corrupt, illegal and unethical conduct. Australians will expect nothing less and this Government will deliver on this. Thank you. Attorney-General.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, thank you very much, indeed, Senator Cash, thank you Prime Minister. The minister has outlined the law reform consequences that follow from this report. I want to say a few words about the investigative consequences. If you look at Appendix 2 to Volume 1 of the report, you will find that the Royal Commissioner has made 93 references of 93 specific named individuals and entities for further investigation, in 48 cases for further criminal investigation, and in 45 cases for breach of the civil law. That's in addition to the 24 references that were made in the interim report of the Commission.
Significantly, of all the persons and entities whom the Commissioner has referred for further investigation for breaches of the criminal and/or the civil law, the largest number, some 14, is the AWU. That doesn't include the 11 recommendations in relation to Mr Cesar Melhem and other recommendations in relation to individual officers of the AWU. Of the 14 recommendations in relation to the AWU itself, seven are for breaches of the criminal law involving the offences of corruption and the offences of false accounting, and seven are for breaches of the civil law.
Indeed, the Royal Commissioner's discussion of the AWU runs for more than 600 pages through the bulk of Volume 4 of the report. It is notable that for most of the period under scrutiny, Mr Shorten led the AWU. For that reason, because there are so many references and so many matters of concern which the Royal Commissioner has identified, I'm announcing today that the Government has decided to extend Taskforce Heraclesher Cleese. You will recall that when the Royal Commission was established some two years ago, a joint Commonwealth State and Territory Police force was established- taskforce was established to support its work.
It was originally anticipated that that taskforce would wind up at the time the Royal Commission presented its report. However, plainly in view of the many outstanding matters that have been identified by the Royal Commissioner, that would not be appropriate. Therefore, Taskforce Heracles which will be a Commonwealth-led joint Commonwealth State and Territory Police taskforce comprising some 26 officers, will be extended until 31st December next year to pursue the lines of inquiry identified by the Royal Commissioner.
The many breaches of the law identified by Mr Heydon are not merely breaches of the criminal law. He identifies some 45 significant breaches of civil law which would attract various forms of civil penalty. For that reason, and in order to pursue those lines of inquiry, I'm announcing the establishment of a specialised cross-agency working group of 11 Commonwealth departments and agencies, led by the Department of Employment and including Commonwealth agencies including AUSTRAC, the Australian Crime Commission, ASIC, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Taxation Office among others to pursue those breaches of the civil law.
In conclusion, may I join the Prime Minister in thanking the Royal Commissioner, the honourable Dyson Heydon for his work. Mr Heydon is one of Australia's most eminent jurists, in the view of some, Australia's most eminent jurist, a person who has given a lifetime of public service to the law and through the service to the law, to the people of Australia. This very significant body of work is yet another significant piece of public service by Dyson Heydon who was the subject of disgraceful attempts to smear his personal and professional reputation during the course of this inquiry. But I can tell you that when we chose Mr Heydon to lead this Royal Commission, we chose him not only because we knew of his eminence, but also because we knew of his unimpeachable integrity.
As the Prime Minister pointed out, however, we don't have to rely on what Mr Heydon has had to say because this report speaks through the words of the witnesses, the more than 500 witnesses who gave evidence of over 201 days of public and private hearings. Most of that evidence came from trade union officials and trade union members. It was in almost all cases un-contradicted largely in the form of admissions. The result of the courage of those who were prepared to come forward, as well as the diligence of the Royal Commissioner, has given us the opportunity to have a once-in-a-generation reform of the Australian trade union movement, to protect the integrity of trade unions and to protect the interests of their many members.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, you said that most union officials have the interests of members at heart. How can you say that corruption is widespread?
PRIME MINISTER: Well the Royal Commission has said that corruption- though they found the evidence is there that corruption is widespread, but we are not suggesting that all union officials, or even most union officials, are corrupt or lacking in diligence. But are many- this is not a case. So look, I know what the union, the ACTU will say, and they will say these are just a few rotten apples and these are exceptions and it’s unusual. But the- there is too much evidence for them to get away with that. There has been a culture in a number of unions which has lent itself to malpractice, and there have been practices which have been not simply criminal in the sense of corruption; in the sense of theft; in the sense of threats and menaces of the kind that's been talked about in the building industry in particular, but you have practice as I described – as the commission described – with respect to Cleanevent where members were basically being sold out by the union in return for undisclosed payments of money to the union itself. Now, those practices apparently have been defended.
Now that- that is- what we're doing, we’re doing what Labor has not done. We're doing what the unions have not done – we're standing up for the members who are entitled to know if there is a payment from the employer to the union. If there is, that should not be a secret payment. It's wrong. It's unlawful. It should be out in the open.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, Senator Brandis noted that Bill Shorten was head of AWU during much of this period, but the report doesn't make any recommendations against him. What does this report say as Bill Shorten's time as a leader? Has it cleared him of any wrongdoing while he was running the AWU?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, what the Attorney said is absolutely correct. These- many of these events that have been described, and are so described in such an unfortunate way, unfortunate for the members of the AWU. The AWU is one of the oldest unions, I think it may actually be the oldest union in Australia, and to think that it would be doing deals of this kind – secret deals with employers, trading away the conditions of low-paid workers in return for what the commission describes as a paltry sum, a payment to the union itself – well Mr Shorten's got to- he's sought to defend all that.
QUESTION: [Indistinct] or is he clear? What’s …
PRIME MINISTER: [Interrupts] Well the- Mr Shorten has got to answer for this. Look, the opportunity for Mr Shorten is plain. He can be part of an exercise of reform. He can pretend- or he can pretend that there's nothing wrong, that everything's fine, that all of these practices were okay. He can argue all of that if he likes, but he won't persuade anybody because his members, ordinary working men and women, members of the AWU, were sold out. There's no way you can describe it in any other fashion.
Now, that should not happen, and there are recommendations from the Royal Commission of disclosure, as there are many other recommendations, which would ensure that workers could have real confidence in their union, just as in the corporate world shareholders should be entitled to have real confidence in the directors of a public company.
Now, what we're seeking to do here, what we've been seeking to do with the Registered Organisation Bill, which as the Minister said has been rejected by the Senate, by Labor and the Greens and a number of cross-benchers three times. And what we're seeking to do with the ABCC bill to restore order to the construction sector; to bring lawfulness back into the construction centre, what we're seeking to do is to adopt measures which would have the consequence of giving members, workers confidence in their unions.
Now, this is a battle between workers and the bosses, but it's a battle between workers and union bosses, and Mr Shorten's got to decide whose side he's on.
QUESTION: What hope have you got of actually getting these strong amendments through Parliament, given the Senate has voted down weaker versions of these very laws? Have you begun conversations or discussions?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, why don't I ask the Minister to answer that?
MINISTER CASH: Well certainly, there are a number of cross-benchers who have already supported the ABCC legislation and the Registered Organisations legislation – obviously not enough for them to be passed. The cross-benchers who had not, in the first instance, supported the legislation, had indicated that they were awaiting this final report.
QUESTION: Have they seen the report now?
MINISTER CASH: It has been obviously uploaded today online, so they certainly now have the opportunity to view that report. And I've always indicated I would then seek to sit down with them and discuss those two pieces of legislation, so that is exactly what I will be doing.
QUESTION: Do you have any confidence at all that you will be able to get them on side, given the concerted lobbying effort of the CFMEU and [indistinct] …
MINISTER CASH: [Interrupts] Yes, I do. Because I think what the report today shows, and in particular the fact that you cannot deny the evidence. This, as the Prime Minister said, this is not a Mr Hayden or Justice Hayden making something up himself. The evidence that he has made his recommendations on, a lot of it has come from the unions themselves, from members of the union. So the facts cannot be, you know, in any way disagreed with. So I would hope the cross-benchers read the reports in that vein and then sit down with us and have appropriate discussions.
QUESTION: [Indistinct] the Prime Minister talked about, and I think all of you did, the conflict here between the workers and the union bosses. But are those union bosses untouchable? I mean, we've had recommendations in the interim report for example against CFMEU New South Wales boss Brian Parker who was referred to the authorities in the interim report for perjury – nothing's happened. Nothing ever happens with these bosses, despite the litany of evidence, the findings of the Federal Court. Are they untouchable? Can you hope to bring them to justice?
MINISTER CASH: I will answer that in the first instance and then I will defer to the Attorney-General. The answer is they are not untouchable. They may have been in the past, but what that shows is the laws that are in place have not been sufficiently robust to ensure that rogue union bosses are held accountable for their actions. Those actions, of course, to put it bluntly, are in many cases ripping off the workers. This Government is going to ensure that appropriate laws are put in place that will ensure that this type of action does not occur, and if it does, the appropriate penalties are put in place. I defer to the Attorney-General on the police(*) taskforce.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well it’s- I'm not going to comment on individual cases that are before the courts for obvious reasons. But as the Minister says, the success of prosecuting wrongdoing depends on what the law defines as wrongdoing. And I think there's been a great deal of impatience among the Australian people, and among trade union members, as is obvious from the report of this Royal Commission. That there are certain practices, there are certain practices engaged in by trade union officials which appear to be in a grey area, which is why we do need stronger laws so that those inappropriate practices are unlawful. Now Senator Cash, as the Minister responsible, has foreshadowed some of the areas of law reform that she intends to lead on the basis of the recommendations of this report.
We should look at this report essentially in two ways. It discloses widespread misconduct: the 93 instances or references that by name Mr Hayden refers to the DPP or to Fair Work Australia. But it is also a plan for law reform: it sets out a basis for law reform so that these kind of inappropriate practices cannot be engaged in, and if they were to be engaged in, they can be successfully prosecuted.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, why did you and Mr Brough wait until yesterday to announce he was being stood aside? What has changed between your utmost support for him last month and yesterday?
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks for your inquiry. Now, have we utterly exhausted questions on the Trade Union Royal Commission?
QUESTION: Can I ask just with Heracles, is that designed to uncover the rest of the iceberg that Hayden alludes to, and thereby essentially continue the task- the Royal Commission's work? Or is it to look at purely allegations that he has uncovered?
PRIME MINISTER: Perhaps I'll ask George to deal with that.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Primarily the latter. As I say, there are 93 specific findings, or references I should say, for further investigation, 48 of which are in relation to breaches of the criminal law. Now, I can't eliminate the possibility that Taskforce Heracles, in pursuing those inquiries, may uncover other matters which it would be appropriate for it to pursue, and where appropriate then refer to the DPP.
And in relation to your question, if I may, you speak about Mr Shorten. The scheme of Appendix 2 is to identify entities and persons. The AWU is an identified entity, in respect of which there is a conclusion that there have been seven breaches of the criminal law by the AC- by the AWU, I should say, during the period under review in this report, which includes the period of Mr Shorten's leadership. Now, whether those investigations by the Victorian Police; by the Victorian DPP disclose matters that touch directly on Mr Shorten is a matter that awaits to be seen.
QUESTION: Are you saying that Mr Shorten could ultimately be accountable for any- I think it's breaches of Section 89 of the Victorian Crimes Act? [Indistinct]
PRIME MINISTER: I'm not making that allegation. What I'm saying is that the Royal Commissioner has referred a number of named individuals for further criminal investigation, and he has referred a number of named entities for further criminal investigation. The principal entity which has been referred for further criminal investigation is the AWU. During some of that time Mr Shorten led the AWU. The extent of Mr Shorten's involvement is a matter which remains obscure.
QUESTION: So just as a lawyer, does the national secretary of a union have any personal accountability for the crimes of that union while he was …
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: [Interrupts] It all depends on the extent of their involvement and the facts of the particular case, and I'm not going to speculate on hypotheticals.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, to what extent can you justify the $80 million that's been spent so far, and the millions that will be spent?
PRIME MINISTER: Well can I just say … beg pardon?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, $45.9 million, the Attorney-General corrects you. Well under budget, but still a very substantial amount of money. So let's not argue about the numbers, although they are very critical. $45.9 million is the figure the Attorney advises has been spent.
Let me say this. The union movement, while it is diminished in numbers from what it was several decades ago, nonetheless represents many, many Australians, millions of Australians. It is- in some industries; in some sectors it is an absolutely vital part of it. Frankly, the lawlessness in the- from a number of- practiced by a number of union officials and, of course, the disregard for the law practised consistently by the CFMEU, undermines- or it confronts the law, but also considerably undermines our economy. The construction sector is a very substantial part of our economy, its productivity is absolutely important for jobs, for economic growth. So right across the board, whichever way you look at it, having a union movement that is competent, that is honest, that deals with its members' money honestly and professionally, that doesn't do deals behind its members' back, that complies with the law, obeys orders of courts – in other words behaves in the way everybody else is expected to in Australia – a union movement that does all of those things, having that is of enormous importance, not just to the members of the union but to all Australians, because it has – they have – a big part to play in the economy.
So yes, there is a very big public interest in a reformed union movement. Of course, there is a very, very big interest, particular interest, in a reformed union movement on the part of the members of the union movement, and frankly on those people, those men and women in the
labour movement who want to see the unions stronger; who want to see them grow; who want to see their influence stop diminishing and start growing again. They've got a vested interest in reform because if members can't- don't have confidence in the way the unions are run, why would they join?
And this is, you know, this is one of the reasons why there needs to be a separate regulator for registered organisations, of course principal amongst which are trade unions. And of course, that is one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission; it's one of the objectivities of the Registered Organisations Bill of which we've discussed.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, given all of that, shouldn’t we be expecting then to see ringing endorsements for the Government's approach to workplace reform from law-abiding sectors of the union movement? And could you indicate which parts of the union movement endorse the Government's approach? If you're interested in strengthening the union [indistinct] …
PRIME MINISTER: Well I think that’s really a question you should be putting to the union leaders rather than us. I can't speak to them. I can give …
QUESTION: [Interrupts] [Indistinct].
PRIME MINISTER: I will leave you to do your research on that. Now, just …
QUESTION: [Interrupts] When you say that you're not wanting- when you said that you weren't wanting to wage war on the unions, does that mean you are prepared to wage war on the union leadership if they want to fight these changes?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, I'm not really interested in- all of these military metaphors are fine, but let’s just ...
PRIME MINISTER: Okay, right well they were fine at the time. But the point- the simple point that we're making is that what we're seeking to do is to protect the interests of the members. That's what this is all about. It's the members …
QUESTION: How willing are you to fight for this?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are willing to fight, we are willing to fight an election on this, this will be- if this is not passed- if these- if we cannot get the passage of this legislation through the Senate, then in one form or another it will be a major issue at the next election and we will be going to the members of the unions and we will be saying to them we want you to get a fair deal, we want you to know what deals your union bosses are doing with your employer, we want you to be treated with the same degree of disclosure as the shareholders in a public company.
That's what we will say. And, you know, maybe I'm too optimistic. I think there will be many members of unions that will say that sounds like a fair thing. And they will say to Mr Shorten, why aren't you in favour of that? And they will say to Mr Shorten, are you on our side or are you on the side of the union bosses? And that is the real issue. That is the fundamental issue as to whose interests are being protected. And let me make one- I want to make one point about- which is a very important one, I think, about trade unions and companies.
Trade unions and corporations, public corporations, for example, are obviously very different but there are similarities. The sense that union officials, directors of unions have for duty obligations to their members, just as directors of company have obligations to act honestly and diligently to their shareholders. Now, there is a lot of law and ASIC and so forth that ensures that companies- seeks to ensure that companies are run honestly and responsibly, that accounts are true and diligently prepared and so forth. But at the end of the day one of the biggest disciplines on company directors is the fact that their shareholders, or some of them, might sue them. So it is actually the civil action in the courts that is one of the big disciplines on company directors.
With a trade union, which might have hundreds of thousands of members, none of those members have, by themselves, a sufficient interest to justify themselves hiring lawyers, going to court, doing- going through all that procedure. So there is an even greater obligation on the part of government and the part of the law, to look after the members of the unions because they don't have a sufficient interest, financial interest, in and of themselves, to act in the way say a large shareholder, a superannuation fund or so forth might proceed with a public company whose directors were running off the rails. So this is a very important task for government.
Of course, we can't do it alone, we need the support of the Parliament but if the Parliament does not provide that support then obviously we will appeal, as we should, in a democracy, to the people.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]…
PRIME MINISTER: We're finished with the unions? Right okay, right, fine Chris. Fire away.
QUESTION: Why did you delay- why choose yesterday, as some [indistinct] said, between the Christmas/New Year period, a low news time, everyone’s attention diverted elsewhere, to make those announcements?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it hasn't diverted your attention. You're here. No, the announcement about Mr Briggs was made on the first business day after Christmas and the decision was taken just before Christmas. So the process that we went through following the complaint about the incident becoming known was a proper due process, very much in accordance with the code of ministerial standards. That was undertaken and that came to its conclusion just before Christmas and the announcement was made just after Christmas.
As far as Mr Brough is concerned, he- his lawyers advised him and he came to the view, based on what his lawyers had told him, that the investigations or the inquiries were not likely to be completed any- before Parliament came back in February, in other words. They were not going to be completed as quickly as perhaps he might have- as he hoped earlier. In the circumstances, I think his decision- I agreed with him that his decision to step aside was the right one. It's a political decision but of course he hasn't been charged with anything, let alone found guilty of anything, so it's essentially a political judgment. It's one that we agreed on and the appropriate time- and it was a perfectly appropriate time to announce it at the same time as the announcement about Mr Briggs' resignation was made.
QUESTION: Mr Turnbull, on Mr Briggs, what actually happened in Hong Kong? There have been some reports that Mr Briggs tried to kiss this woman on the cheek, some people say on the neck but we've lost a minister of the Crown here. What actually happened on that night?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, I'm not able to add to any of the detail other than to state that as you know, from Mr Briggs' own statement and from my press release, that there was- ministerial standards were breached. His conduct did not live up to the standard required of ministers and as a consequence, he reflected on that and made a decision to resign, offer his resignation which I accepted and it was the appropriate course of action. But I don't propose to go into any further detail.
QUESTION: But you do know the detail? You know the details of what happened, you know what he did that breached that particular standard?
PRIME MINISTER: I'm not proposing that- the matter was considered- this is a serious matter. It was considered very carefully with due process, consultation with senior colleagues- it was considered very, very carefully but I'm not going to go into any further detail beyond that which has been in Mr Briggs' letter.
QUESTION: Are you of a mind to return Tony Abbott to the Ministry [indistinct]?
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. The composition of the Ministry is a very important job of the Prime Minister and clearly the most important criterion is ability and talent. Equally, the Coalition is a broad church, we have Liberals and Nationals, we have Liberals from Queensland, from Western Australia, we have men and women, it is- and all of those considerations have to be taken into account. And I'd simply note that one of the most important considerations to take into account is the need for renewal and the need to bring in new talent into the ministry.
QUESTION: Do you have concerns- an accumulation of concerns about Jamie Briggs' behaviour before this incident?
PRIME MINISTER: Again, I'm not - I don't want to say any more about Mr Briggs' resignation than that which I have said. So. Yeah, please?
QUESTION: You were talking about renewal in Cabinet, would that indicate that you would not consider Tony Abbott?
PRIME MINISTER: The- it indicates no more than that which I said, which is that the bringing new talent up is- fresh talent is very important. Bringing- if- unless people move on you can't bring new people in. Unless some of the men retire or leave the Ministry, you can't bring the women in and any dynamic leadership group, whether it is in government or in the corporate sector, has to have renewal and I just leave you to contemplate the example that one of our greatest executives, Gail Kelly, chief executive of Westpac, Gail, who retired not so long ago, resigned as CEO, Gail could have run Westpac for another decade at least. But she didn't.
She chose to retire and of course that meant that Westpac could renew its leadership team and that is- it's a vital part and I've renewed my leadership team and I have got- I am so lucky to have so much talent in the ranks of junior ministers, in parliamentary secretaries and on the backbench. We've got more talent than we can get into the Ministry. So my focus in the future is bringing that new talent forward. Now on that cheerful note, may I wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2016. Thank you very much.
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