Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Press Conference, Parliament House

21 March 2016

Parliament House

Prime Minister


PRIME MINISTER: Our economy is successfully transitioning from the mining construction boom to a new and more diverse one – fuelled by innovation, the opening of new markets, and more investment in Australian enterprise.

My Government’s Economic Plan is supporting this transition, to drive economic growth, and create new higher paying jobs in the future:

From our innovation and science agenda – to bring more great Australian ideas to market, to provide tax incentives to invest in start-ups so they can survive and thrive; and to help prepare our children for the jobs of the future by boosting participation in science, engineering, computers and maths.

To our defence industry plan – to secure the nation in the 21st century, to support and create innovative Australian companies – small, medium and large – to back local advanced manufacturing and hi-tech jobs, particularly in regional Australia.

From free trade agreements with China, Japan and Korea – to give our farmers a competitive edge through the removal of tariffs; and to open doors into expanding markets for our services, including tourism, education,  architecture, engineering, financial services and aged care providers. 

To the landmark reform of Australia’s competition law – to help small to medium companies compete with larger established ones, and to ensure they’re not shut out of markets unfairly by the big players.

From taking media reform out of the too hard basket – by announcing long-needed changes to ownership laws, in ways that will help secure regional newsrooms and save local media jobs in country towns right across Australia.

To last Friday’s historic reform of electoral laws for the Senate – to ensure that voters get to decide who they want to send to Canberra, and stop backroom deals from undermining our democracy.

And of course the upcoming Budget will include more elements in our Economic Plan, ensuring Australia’s tax system is backing jobs, growth and investment in Australian enterprise.

My Government is directing every lever of policy to secure our nation’s prosperity and economic security for the 21st century.

The time has come for the Senate to recognise its responsibilities and help advance our economic plans – rather than standing in the way.

The construction industry is vital to the transition to the new economy.

The additional costs of construction in this country due to the frequency of industrial disputes and standover tactics by militant unions are a serious handbrake on economic growth.

When the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) was in force, productivity in the sector grew by 20 per cent.  Since it was abolished productivity has flatlined. The days lost to industrial disputes have increased by 34 per cent.

Two thirds of all industrial disputes in Australia – at the highest level since 2010 – are in the construction sector.

Unlawful conduct on building sites around Australia is holding back our economy – costing investment, productivity and new jobs in a sector that employs more than one million Australians and should employ more.

Australians will not be able to afford the infrastructure of the 21st century unless the rule of law returns to the construction industry.

Labor, the Greens and some of the crossbench have been under enormous pressure to oppose the re-establishment of the Commission not least because the construction unions are big supporters of their political machines

From 2007, the CFMEU alone has donated over $7 million to the ALP and are, as you know, a very substantial donor to the Greens as well.

The restoration of the ABCC is a critical economic reform. It will mean more investment, more infrastructure, more construction, more jobs in construction, more and more affordable housing.

It is time for Mr Shorten and Labor to behave responsibly in the economic interests of Australia.

His only contribution to the construction industry has been relentlessly to defend or ignore the lawlessness that is costing us jobs and growth, that is making housing and infrastructure more expensive.

And, of course, we must not forget that Labor will not allow Australians to negative gear any asset – that’s offsetting investment losses against their wage or salary – except a new dwelling.

The indisputable facts are these:

  • Residential housing represents the single biggest asset class in Australia.
  • Labor’s proposed ban of negative gearing on existing dwellings will cause up to one third of those investors to withdraw from the market in the future.
  • When one in every three buyers vacates the field, demand falls, and so will prices.
  • So who loses:
    • Home owners whose house values will drop
    • Tenants who will pay higher rents
    • Every day hardworking Australians who will now be actively discouraged from investing to get ahead.

And at the very time we need more investment to create jobs and growth, Mr Shorten wants to increase capital gains tax on investments by 50 per cent.

He is also blocking the road to good economic policy – his ties to the CFMEU led to him abolishing the ABCC when in office; and, now, he is using the Senate to block legislation to reinstate the ABCC and help improve the competitiveness of the construction sector.

The time for playing games is over.

The Senate has already once rejected the Bill to re-establish the construction industry watchdog. It has twice rejected the Registered Organisations Bill.

Today, I called upon His Excellency the Governor General to advise him to recall both Houses of Parliament on April 18 to consider and pass the Australian Building and Construction Commission Bills and the Registered Organisations Bill and he has made a proclamation to that effect.

I make no apology for interrupting Senators’ seven week break to bring them back to deal with this legislation.

This is an opportunity for the Senate to do its job of legislating rather than filibustering – the go-slows and obstruction by Labor and the Greens on this key legislation must end.

The Senate will have an additional three sitting weeks to deal with the ABCC and Registered Organisations legislation – plenty of time to pass these important laws.

If the Senate fails to pass these laws, I will advise the Governor General to dissolve both Houses of Parliament and issue writs for an election.

Because such a double dissolution must be done on or before the 11th of May, the Government will be bringing the Budget forward to Tuesday 3rd of May so that Mr Shorten will be able to deliver his reply on the Thursday in the usual way.

The ABCC Bills were reintroduced in the first week of Parliament this year – the reason they have not yet been voted on in the Senate this year was the decision of Labor, the Greens and the crossbench to send the bills to a committee for yet another review. 

This was the fifth review the bills have undergone – the committee came to the same conclusion it had on the last time it considered them. Nothing new was raised or considered. It was just a delaying tactic.

In four weeks’ time Labor, the Greens and the crossbench senators will be given a further opportunity to make the right decision for Australia.

The re-establishment of the construction industry watchdog will ensure the construction sector can perform competitively and effectively as a key contributor to Australia’s future economic growth.

If the Senate passes this important legislation – the ABCC Bills and the Registered Organisation Bill – there will be no double dissolution.

We are getting on with the business of Government – now it is time for the Senate to do its job and pass these important economic reforms.

JOURNALIST: Mr Turnbull, you've lost a little bit more ground on a personal rating in today's Newspoll. What makes you think that your threat of an election holds any real force?

PRIME MINISTER: Well this is a very important economic reform. We're getting on with the business of Government. And the time has come for the Senate who have been given the opportunity of an additional three sitting weeks to deal with these bills and pass them.

JOURNALIST: If it's so important why didn't you put it before the Parliament in the four weeks of sitting this year?

PRIME MINISTER: The ABCC bills have been before the Senate in the four weeks this year.

JOURNALIST: Mr Turnbull, will you be seeking to have or to have your Ministers having any prior negotiations with the crossbenchers before Parliament reconvenes and presumably the Governor-General's action overrides the Senate's ability to resist coming back. Is that right?

PRIME MINISTER: The latter part of your question is that under Section 5 of the Constitution, this is the power which the Governor-General is exercising to prorogue the Parliament and summon it back – yes, all of the Senators and Members will be summoned back here on 18 April.

JOURNALIST: And the first part of the question, the negotiations before this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Ministers, particularly the Minister Michaelia Cash, Senator Cash, will be obviously in discussion with the crossbenchers. We strongly urge them to support this legislation as we have done for some considerable time now.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] will you consider any amendments to the bill that they suggest?

PRIME MINISTER: The time has come to pass the bills, Lenore. There has been a lot of game playing in the Senate - I think you have all seen it and you have all witnessed it, and you have seen what has been going on with respect to the ABCC Bills is an elaborate exercise to delay and obfuscate and filibuster with the intention of ensuring that the Senate does not, is not seen to fail to pass within the meaning of the Constitution. Now what we are doing here is giving the Senate ample time – this is three weeks – this is plenty of time to consider the ABCC Bills and pass them.

JOURNALIST: Ricky Muir, the Motoring Enthusiasts Party Senator for Victoria, described the threat of a double dissolution election to wipe them out as being akin to the kind of tactics that you want to see stamped out within the construction sector?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, with all due respects to the Senator, Section 57 is part of our Constitution. We have two legislative chambers the House of Representatives and the Senate. Broadly speaking they have the same power. So they are, there is always the potential for a deadlock – what happens when they don't agree? The founders of our Constitution wisely included in the Constitution a mechanism for resolving a deadlock between the two Houses. And that is the double dissolution mechanism. Its intention is to resolve deadlocks between the House and the Senate. That's what it's there for, that's what it's been used for in the past. And if the Senators – the Senate does not pass the ABCC Bills and the Registered Organisations Bill, in the very considerable time that have now been allotted to them, then we will be heading towards a double dissolution, which will resolve the deadlock one way or the other.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when did you decide on this course of action? Has the strategy been in your mind all along? And confirming you’re talking about a July 2 double dissolution?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I've been aware of Section 5 of the Constitution for quite a long time and the decision to proceed with this advice to the Governor-General, the final decision to do that, was taken last night.

JOURNALIST: You're talking about July 2?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, July 2 if we do proceed to a double dissolution, the election will be on Saturday the 2nd of July.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can I just check with you, clarifying what Lenore was saying, will you accept any amendments proposed by the Senate to the ABCC Bill?

PRIME MINISTER: Chris that is a hypothetical question. The bill has been before the Senate before. Our intention, our determination, is to have the bill passed. We are very alert to the way in which Senate procedures have been used, and you saw it all last week, to frustrate the business of Government and frustrate reform. Now I make – I simply make the observation, the Senators are entitled to do that, if they want to, if they don't want to pass the ABCC Bills then they should resolve to reject them and then the decision will be left to the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Will you publish the advice that you gave to the Governor-General? Because in the past, when it comes to double dissolutions, it has been a practice.

PRIME MINISTER: Of publishing the advice – yes. Yes, all of that correspondence will be published.

JOURNALIST: Just a technical question – is May 3 set as the Budget date or could that change if the bills pass?

PRIME MINISTER: No – May 3, the Budget will be delivered on May 3.

JOURNALIST: You have one other trigger in the CFC Abolition Bill and there’s a number of bills before the Senate which are part way towards becoming a trigger, on important things like higher education, changes, etc. Are the only triggers you would consider using the ABCC and the registered orgs?

PRIME MINISTER: I want to be very clear about that, Lenore. If the ABCC Bills are passed by the Senate and the Registered Organisations Bill, which as you know has already been rejected twice by the Senate, is passed by the Senate, then there will not be a double dissolution.

JOURNALIST: Is that the same bill that you put before on registered orgs, because you wanted to update that?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes. No, we will be presenting the same bill.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can I just ask about a strike that’s happening today in your own Department, but also others including Medicare, Centrelink. The unions are saying this is the largest strike in a two year period. Have you failed to negotiate that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I'm not directly involved in any negotiations there, so I can't really comment on that.

Are there any other questions on the subject matter of my remarks?

JOURNALIST: So what would your message be to Australian voters if you must go to an election on July 2?

What's your message to voters going to be about why they’re going to go to the trouble and expense of this double dissolution election?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, my message is that we are calling the double dissolution election because we need to secure support in a double dissolution election from the Australian people for important economic reforms, which in this case relate to the construction industry, and of course, union and employer organisations more generally.

These reforms will ensure that unions are more accountable, more transparent, managed in the same manner – transparent manner – that public companies should be managed. That's essentially what the Registered Organisations Bill is entitled – aimed to do. And really, the question – and then as far as the ABCC is concerned, as I said, the construction industry is a huge part of the Australian economy. We are paying a very high price for the lawlessness and the high level of industrial disputation in that sector. Having a strong construction industry watchdog, the ABCC, we know – this is not theory – when it was in place, until Labor abolished it, there was a significant increase in productivity. Since it has been abolished by Mr Shorten, in fact, he was the minister who procured its abolition, the level of disputation has increased, lawlessness has got worse, productivity has not improved. And what...

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] eight weeks of a single issue election campaign?

PRIME MINISTER: The election campaigns, David, are fought – double dissolution election campaign is obviously fought on the bills that are the trigger for the election. But they're fought on the overall economic agenda, whatever other issues may be there at the time.

In terms of the election overall, and this will be the case whether it is on July 2 or in the case of the Senate passing the bills, on a later date – the issue in the election is who do you believe is best able to continue successfully to manage Australia's economic transition? Who has the policies and the leadership that will ensure there is more investment, more innovation, greater productivity, and better jobs for your children and grandchildren? That is the question. Every single policy we have set out is calculated to deliver those outcomes. They are essential elements in our economic plan. Our economic plan is more growth and jobs, fuelled by innovation, productivity, competition, open markets.

What the Labor Party is proposing are measures that are absolutely, certainly calculated to limit investment, to limit investment in housing or infrastructure, construction, to limit Australians' ability to invest in companies, in start-up companies, in big companies. It is right across-the-board. The Labor Party's policy, so-called negative gearing policy, and capital gains tax increase policy, is a massive handbrake directed at the Australian economy, and I do not believe the Australian people want Bill Shorten to be in power and pull that handbrake on this strong economy.

JOURNALIST: Do you categorically rule out accepting any amendments to the Registered Organisations or the ABCC Bill? And does that mean that the senators – the crossbench senators and other senators – walking into the chamber essentially have their hands tied behind their backs for these three weeks?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, we – no, I'm not going to be… you're asking me about amendments which you're hypothesising, you don't know what they are, I don't know what they are. I suspect the senators you're talking about don't know what they are. Our commitment is to getting the bills passed.

JOURNALIST: Had you communicated your intention to the frontbench about the Budget? Because an hour ago, Scott Morrison was still saying it was on May 10.

PRIME MINISTER: We've just had a Cabinet call just now.

JOURNALIST: The Clean Energy Finance Corporation, if there is a double dissolution, you win, there's a joint sitting, would the Clean Energy Finance Corporation also be part of the Bills that you would put to...?

PRIME MINISTER: No, what I've said is that if the ABCC Bills and the Registered Organisations Bill are passed, then there will not be a double dissolution. If they are not passed, the bills that will be the subject of the double dissolution will be the ABCC Bills and the Registered Organisations Bill.

JOURNALIST: Your view that the ABCC and registered orgs bills are the biggest threat to the economy of all the issues that the Senate has blocked or frustrated since the Coalition came to power?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Lenore, I wouldn't put a ranking on them. These are clearly very big issues. They are bills or proposals, policies that we took to the last election. The need for them has been strongly reinforced, if anyone was in any doubt, by the findings of the Heydon Royal Commission. But you're right to identify that there have been other reforms that have been blocked by the Senate but the ones that are clearly in the frame at the moment are these two Bills – ABCC Bills and the Registered Organisations Bill. It’s a double dissolution trigger exists in respect of registered organisations, ABCC Bills. Now is the time for the Senate to vote to support the ABCC Bills and if they do, registered organisations, in that event, there will not be a double dissolution and the election will be held later in the year in the normal way.

And on that note, I thank you all very much for your attendance.