20 August 2015
Transcript - #2015046, 2015

In the role of: Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer [23 December 2014 - 20 September 2015]

Interview with Kieran Gilbert and Nick Champion,
AM Agenda, Sky

SUBJECTS: Victorian Liberal Party; Royal Commission; foreign investment in residential real estate; Cabinet leaks.

GILBERT:

Good morning and welcome to the programme. As we've been reporting this morning the Victorian Liberal Party is investigating the disappearance of up to $2 million. With me here this morning to discuss these matters, Victorian Liberal MP, Member for Higgins Kelly O'Dwyer and also Labor frontbencher Nick Champion. First of all these reports as we've been having on air throughout the morning – front page of the Herald Sun – quiet extraordinary claims.

O'DWYER:

Completely extraordinary and completely outrageous. The full force of the law ought to be brought to bear on anyone who has dishonestly stolen funds. It's as clear as day. I'm completely distressed to read of these things. The thing about the Liberal Party is if we see something that's wrong we call in the cops. We don't sweep it under the carpet. We get to the bottom of it. I congratulate the president Michael Kroger and his administrative committee in doing just that.

GILBERT:

Michael Kroger realised that there was some overspend. He looked at the accounts and thought where has all this money gone and you've done the internal investigation and it's been referred to the police.

O'DWYER:

That's my understanding. We haven't received a formal briefing as yet but that's my understanding. It is an organisational matter and I have full confidence – and I know my colleagues have full confidence – that it will be investigated in full. As it should be.

GILBERT: When you look at the timing as well – and as we say these are allegations at the moment – nothing's been proven yet but they are very disturbing within a political party. Particular well, at any time, but in an election year when you're seeking re-election. $2 million it's a lot of campaigning, it's a lot of money to be spent.

O'DWYER:

It's an outrage. I am so angry to read about this.

GILBERT:

Nick Champion, your thoughts on this? We've seen this happen today, the ongoing drama in the unions yesterday- the one time whistle blower, now well, exposed as a hypocrite, liar, anything else you want to add to that in terms of this finding against Kathy Jackson?

CHAMPION:

Well look I guess the point I'd make is that these are matter for police and ultimately for the courts to decide, they're not matters that we should really be throwing around in the political spectrum because the truth is, it doesn't matter if you're a political party or a charity or corporation or union, from time to time these matters come up in organisations and they're more about individuals I think than the broader construct. So I won't…

GILBERT:

It's brazen there…

CHAMPION:

I won't… well I guess the thing about it is that there's a real lesson here for the Liberal Party and that is that these are matters for the police, for the law authorities, for the courts, and that's the best way to address these issues, you don't want to be throwing them around in the political arena. That's what we used to do in this country – we used to leave these matters where they belong – to police and courts, and that's what I'd urge everybody to do and we'd have a better body politic, because we'd let the police and the courts do their job and we'd do our job which is to talk about real people's jobs and real people's issues.

GILBERT:

That's fair enough I guess but you're not really letting the Royal Commission do its job right now are you?

CHAMPION:

I guess my response to you Kieran would be that this is a political construct you know? It was put in place for a political reason. Every Liberal Government since the time of man has had a royal commission into the unions. They've been always very topical. They've never had the political outcome that the Liberal Governments wanted. And you go back to the Costigan Royal Commission which revealed tax avoidance on a massive scale…

O'DWYER:

So you're saying that there's no problem in the building and construction industry, that there's no problem with kickbacks, superannuation funds…

CHAMPION:

No Kelly.

O'DWYER:

… Union officials who are superannuation liaison officers who get around $93,000 for two days work. You think there is no problem whatsoever. You're going to sweep it under the carpet.

CHAMPION:

Well if we're going to have a royal commission there we better have a royal commission into the financial planning industry where exactly the same matters have been raised. Exactly the same matters. But you won't have a royal commission there because you're a hypocrite…

O'DWYER:

No.

CHAMPION:

…You only want to get stuck into the unions. And I've tried to be very very charitable…

O'DWYER:

…It's not about getting stuck into the unions.

CHAMPION:

Yes it is, yes it is…

O'DWYER:

…No, no, can I just explain to you – you're not a lawyer – let me explain to you how a royal commission works right.

CHAMPION:

Oh. Thank you Kelly. Thank you. I really need this lecture.

O'DWYER:

I'll explain because you don't understand.

CHAMPION:

I've missed you. I've missed you. God I've missed this.

O'DWYER:

I've missed you too Nick. Let me explain. A Royal Commission has a Royal commissioner who listens to evidence that's presented before it.

CHAMPION:

Mmmmm.

O'DWYER:

He makes some findings.

CHAMPION:

Really?

O'DWYER:

And then you have got the police and others who see whether or not that leads to charges being laid. Already from this royal commission arrests have occurred outside the doors of the Royal Commission itself because there are serious matters that are being investigated. Now the Royal Commission has powers to compel evidence. That is very important in circumstances where there is thuggery and intimidation particularly on building sites where people feel that they cannot speak out or speak freely.

GILBERT:

Ok Nick your response? You talk to anyone in the construction sector particularly in Victoria where…

O'DWYER:

Bikies are in control.

GILBERT:

The CFMEU you know are militant…

CHAMPION:

I'll give you the perfect answer about why you don't need a Royal Commission because we have a body called the Australian Crime Commission which is set up to look at organised crime and has the powers to compel evidence. Right. That is already an Australian institution. So if there's a problem with any sector in Australian Society, whether it be business, or unions or bikie gangs or anybody else, we already have the law enforcement instrument to compel that evidence. The problem you've got Kelly is that you want to set up a political royal commission.

O'DWYER:

It's not a political.

CHAMPION:

Which…

O'DWYER:

It can look at not just the unions…

CHAMPION:

and you know it…

O'DWYER:

It looks at business…

CHAMPION:

You know it and I know it.

O'DWYER:

It can look at any illegal activity.

CHAMPION:

You know it and I know it that this is a political construct. It's Tony Abbott's political pick and that's why it's a matter of contention…

GILBERT: You think a High Court Judge… Nick, Nick let me interrupt please. You think a High Court Judge is complicit in this political construct. That's your accusation this morning.

O'DWYER:

That is an outrageous slur.

CHAMPION:

What I'm saying is, this is Tony Abbott's Royal Commission and it was set up for a political purpose.

O'DWYER:

So all of the evidence that's been uncovered, you say, is just what? False?

CHAMPION:

Well no. What I say to you is…

O'DWYER:

Sweep it under the carpet? False? Made up?

CHAMPION:

Well what I say to you is we already have the Australian Crime Commission, the police, the Courts, we already have all the tools to deal with criminality.

O'DWYER:

So explain to me why it is we are uncovering new evidence of systemic problems within particular sectors, particularly the building and construction sector. We saw a Cole Royal Commission that occurred a number of years ago – it was because of that Royal Commission that we were able to put in place the Australian Building and Construction Commission…

CHAMPION:

How many people…

O'DWYER:

Which lead to less days, less industrial strikes, less days off work…

CHAMPION:

That's not a criminal matter is it? It's an industrial matter.

O'DWYER:

It's a criminal matter when…

CHAMPION:

No, no because you've criminalised strikes. You seek to criminalise industrial action. You seek to criminalise trade Unisom. That's what you want to do.

O'DWYER:

That's not true.

CHAMPION:

You just referred to the Cole Royal Commission, and then you seamlessly go from the coal royal commission which had no convictions come from it, no criminal convictions, and then you go straight onto the ABCC which made ordinary industrial action a criminal offence.

O'DWYER:

No that's not correct.

GILBERT:

Let's move on to the union campaign against the Abbott Government. That's going to be $30 million spent in marginal seats. This is like a re-run of work choices is that right?

O'DWYER:

Protection racquet.

CHAMPION:

Well I mean, I've been very kind to you right. When allegations are raised about the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party, I could have cheap shots but I don't. This is ordinary Australians campaigning in the community and if the Liberal Party don't like it or are panicking about it well they should because they're out to get people's penalty rates – cutting peoples rates on Sundays by 37 per cent…

O'DWYER:

Sorry where have we said that?

CHAMPION:

Well your productivity commission report.

O'DWYER:

So an independent report that is making recommendations to the Government is what? Government policy all of a sudden?

CHAMPION:

Well Tony Abbott said it was a good idea.

GILBERT:

Let's hear Kelly's response now.

O'DWYER:

The Labor Party are very keen to run a scare campaign. The Labor Party are very keen to protect Union bosses and it's no wonder why when you consider Bill Shorten, the former head of the AWU, when you consider the entire frontbench of the Labor Party almost all of them have been former senior union officials who rely upon union donations in order to fund their…

GILBERT:

But these are – as Nick said – aren't workers. These are individual members who are going to be making their case in the workplace and they're going to be doorknocking. This is all above board. Why not?

O'DWYER:

The point I would make is that part of the reason that the Labor Party are so keen to dance to the tune of union bosses is because they select them and appoint them and fund them. This is why we are seeing a rear-guard action from the Labor Party when it comes to the Royal Commission. There is no problem with any individual in the community making a case. That is part of our free expression and part of our democracy – but most union members haven't signed up to their funds being used to support the Labor Party in a political campaign. What they want their funds to be used for is to make sure that their rights are protected and that they are properly looked after. Now what it has become is that union funds are being used separately as part of a political campaign to support the Labor Party.

GILBERT:

Is that right Nick? Because $30 is going to be a hell of a lot of money to be spend on the campaign.

CHAMPION:

I used to work in retail. I joined the union because my employer at the time wasn't paying my penalty rates. That's why people join the unions, to protect their working conditions.

O'DWYER:

What about 70 per cent of the Australian population?

CHAMPION:

They'd be a lot more of them if people had a free choice and there are a lot of people who like having the unions around because they protect…

O'DWYER:

We don't have a problem with unions.

CHAMPION:

You do. You spend all your time…

O'DWYER:

We have a problem though with corruption in the unions.

CHAMPION:

You spend all your time with a selective and myopic view about "oh we're going to get stuck in the unions, we're going to get stuck into the unions" all Question Time about it. Nothing about jobs, nothing about future and it's all this desperate clawing, this desperate clawing, at what are fine institutions which serve Australian workers.

GILBERT:

This is AM Agenda thanks for your company. To some breaking news now, QANTAS has just unveiled its results with a profit of $975 million for the year 2014/15. It's a huge improvement from last year's loss of $646 million. The dramatic improvement being attributed to the airline's cost cutting program, lower fuel prices and as I say the $900 million profit from the last financial year. More on that coming up at 9:00 eastern time. In the mean time we have the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Kelly O'Dwyer, and Labor front bencher Nick Champion. Let's look at a few different other issues. I want to look at something you have carriage for and that is foreign investment in real estate – you're introducing some legislation on that. Can you talk us through the details.

O'DWYER:

So the legislation is about to be introduced – just after 9:00 today – the legislation is fixing loopholes that currently exist when looking at foreign investment in residential real estate. There were loopholes that basically said that if a foreign investor came in, didn't go to the Foreign Investment Review Board, purchased an existing home, we found about it, sold up their home on them, they were still able to make potential windfall gain if that property had increased in value. We've said absolutely not. We are not going to allow people to profit from the illegal purchase of residential property. We're closing those loopholes.

GILBERT:

How wide-spread is it?

O'DWYER:

This is part of the issue. The House Economics Committee looked at this. It's very difficult to say how wide-spread it is because those people who are not doing the right thing clearly don't tell people about it. This is why we have also strengthened the Australian Taxation Office powers to make sure that they can go in and audit. We are going to be doing audits of purchases that have been made. We're going to be going to real estate agents and looking at their books. We are also making sure that people can dob in suspected illegal purchases and we are increasing the penalties. And we have given additional resources to the Australian Taxation Office to do just that and to data-match so we can find the people who are doing the wrong thing.

GILBERT:

Nick Champion you'd welcome that?

CHAMPION:

Well it sounds like Kelly's been doing good work on the House Economics Committee but the Government didn't always receive her reports with acclamation. I think that they were a bit lukewarm at first…

O'DWYER:

They accepted all the recommendations!

CHAMPION:

At first blanch so we will wait to see how this legislation goes but it's good to see Kelly doing good work. I guess it' interesting to hear you talking about the Australian Tax Office and increasing the resources they've got. Maybe they could increase the resources the ATO's got to say, enforce workers getting their superannuation or they could give some powers and some money to the Immigration Department to stop, you know, illegal workers working on our work sites, often in contravention of their visas.

GILBERT:

Well that takes us to the Chinese Free Trade Agreement which you, kicking up a stink about, but to me, from what I can read from the ALP conference through to today, despite all the hot air, Labor's not really going to block it; you're not going to vote against it. If it comes up for a vote you're going to support it.

CHAMPION:

Well I guess the only things that come to the parliament are the tariff reductions—it's important to recognise that—these are deals that are essentially between two governments. But look the big problem is the labour mobility issues and what we don't want to see is the diminution of labour market testing. What we don't want to see—

O'DWYER:

Well we're not changing it.

CHAMPION:

Well you are.

O'DWYER:

We aren't!

CHAMPION:

Well that's not what the ABC says on the Fact Check and that's not what the experts say, Kelly.

O'DWYER:

We're not changing it. They were your rules, we're doing the same thing.

CHAMPION:

Well the truth will, the truth will out on all of this and what we know is the Government's made significance concessions on Labor mobility and…

O'DWYER:

You're running a scare campaign.

CHAMPION:

Well it's not anything about a scare campaign. What we'll deal with—

O'DWYER:

Do you know who some of the biggest users of the 457 visas are?

CHAMPION:

Oh come on.

O'DWYER:

The union movement. The union movement. You're importing people…

CHAMPION:

Oh come on, Kelly. That's not true. It's the health sector. It's the health sector. And you know it.

GILBERT: So what's the problem? What's the problem in terms of the market testing? Because just for our viewers' benefit it's basically a test for the labour market to test whether Australian employees…

CHAMPION:

I'll tell you a couple things. I'll tell you a couple things about the 457 visas. First of all this is not skilled migration where someone moves here and lives here and brings their skills here and the family here. This is really a guest worker scheme. That's exactly what it is. Their visas will last for two years and they'll always have the visas hanging over their heads. So they're always at a weakness in the workplace. The second thing is, is there any labour market testing and do employers actually do it properly because what it involves is advertising for Australian workers. Now we all know that people can, you know, game that sort of testing so we need to make sure the labour market testing actually has integrity…

O'DWYER:

Michaelia Cash had a big win just recently.

CHAMPION:

…and, and the problem… And the problem…

O'DWYER:

She actually found the people who had done the wrong thing and cracked down on them.

CHAMPION:

Well, it would have been a first.

O'DWYER:

…Big win. You should congratulate her.

CHAMPION:

It would have been a first 'cause I can tell you in my electorate, I can tell you in my electorate I've got plenty of evidence—seen plenty of evidence—where things have not…

O'DWYER:

Well bring it to Michaelia Cash.

CHAMPION:

…where things have not exactly the right way.

O'DWYER:

She's got the runs on the board.

GILBERT:

So you're going to report it to the minister?

CHAMPION:

Well, I already have.

GILBERT:

Okay

CHAMPION:

I already have.

O'DWYER:

You've already presented it?

CHAMPION:

Yes.

O'DWYER:

Oh, I'll follow up with her.

GILBERT:

Well we'll report the update here on AM Agenda on a Thursday, with Nick and Kelly. Let's ask you finally about the leaky, well the headline in the Fin Review says it all "We're not leaky says Abbott leak". That's essentially what it was wasn't it. These talking points that say "everything's marvellous, everything's great" following on from all the leaks. It was not great timing yesterday.

O'DWYER:

I don't really know what to say. I'm not in Cabinet so in terms of what goes on in Cabinet that's clearly not something I have any insight into. What I do know is that we are focused every day, not on these distractions, but on actually building a better Australia…

GILBERT:

Jobs, growth and community safety.

O'DWYER:

On building a better Australia.

CHAMPION:

Don't you just send the lines out to the Press Gallery and that's what they may as well do now because they're leaking that badly. They're that chaotic. I think we had a cabinet meeting the other night with no papers, I mean that must be the first time in the history of Federation that's ever happened. When the orderly processes of Government have just completely stopped…

O'DWYER:

You guys are the experts…

CHAMPION:

Well whatever you say about us, Cabinet always worked. Cabinet always pumped through the material, always pumped through the legislation. It was there in the House, there going through Cabinet. Whatever you say about the previous Government, this Government, the ordinary business of Government has ground to a holt while they sort of all hedge their bets for who might be captain but I hope whoever's captain Kelly, I hope they promote you to Cabinet. I hope they promote you to Cabinet…

O'DWYER:

Oh very kind Nick.

CHAMPION:

…Because then we'd see some action. Just like we've seen some action on foreign real estate purposes because we've seen this great action…

O'DWYER:

…Oh dear, I'm being damned with faint praise…

CHAMPION:

…So when there's a new Prime Minister, whether it be Scomo, whether it be Bishop…

GILBERT:

…Nick. Stop Nick. If you really are friends with Kelly, don't provide a reference, it won't work.

CHAMPION:

Let's give Kelly a promotion. Or as I said in the house yesterday, an O'Dwyer Government.

O'DWYER:

[laughs]

CHAMPION:

I'm all in favour and we can keep this going and hopefully it will do good things for me too.

GILBERT:

But Nick is there a level, there must be a level of schadenfreude now from you when you look…

CHAMPION:

A level!… [laughs] I don't know about that. I'd prefer Australian politics to be productive. I really would.

GILBERT:

Sure.

CHAMPION:

I'd prefer to be debating policy with my Liberal opponents but this Government has revealed itself and this Prime Minister has revealed itself for the sort of hollow log that it is and you know while they go around the place trying to scratch the union's eyes out in desperation and yesterday we saw law-fair where they declared war on a Howard Government Act, I mean it's just become a farce.

GILBERT:

The problem I guess, and we've done a bit of policy today which is good, I'm pleased that we've done that. In terms of the internal issue within the Liberal Party, when you've got the likes of Senator Eric Abetz calling his colleagues gutless, and that sort of stuff, how does that work?

O'DWYER:

Well I respect all of my colleagues and I think that all of my colleagues present the case for the Government in the way that they should – which is that we have been able to have many successes. We've got three Free Trade Agreements that are going to expand opportunities for our goods and services overseas, we have record investment in infrastructure - $50 billion – which will also create new jobs in the construction and building industry. We have seen huge successes in the reduction of red tape – more than $2 billion…

GILBERT:

But what about the pugilistic sort of language from Senator Abetz?

O'DWYER:

Well, I…

CHAMPION:

Condemn it Kelly…

O'DWYER:

I respect Senator Abetz, as I respect all of my colleagues. I don't think it helps for me to get into a commentary…

GILBERT:

Let's hope our Aussie batsman can use the same sort of straight bat as Kelly.

CHAMPION:

… it's a super straight bat…

GILBERT:

…nice bit of work…

CHAMPION:

…the Cabinet bat is what it is.

GILBERT:

Let's wrap it up there. We're out of time. Nick Champion…

O'DWYER:

Oh geez.  I'm completely doomed after that [laughs]

GILBERT:

Thank you very much. A quick break, back in just a moment.