Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
ANDREW BOLT: One of the big election battles started this week, union power. The government says Bill Shorten is just a frontman for union bosses and the lawyer for the ACTU, the peak union body, told the royal commission into union corruption on Friday he essentially agreed.
EXCERPT FROM ROYAL COMMISSION: But the underlying premise that the unions have the ability to exert great control on the Labor Party ought to be taken as a given.
ANDREW BOLT: Now, Labor is not just covering up union corruption, it is also backing a union campaign against a free trade deal with China, which the CFMEU claims will let Chinese workers steal Australian jobs. It's a line that Labor MPs now parrot.
LISA CHESTERS (EXCERPT): Semi-skilled Chinese workers will have the opportunity to come here and work in this country without there even being labour market testing.
PRIME MINISTER (EXCERPT): Why is the Labor Party supporting the CFMEU in its dishonest campaign to sabotage your future?
ANDREW BOLT: Joining me is Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Thanks for your time. How big an issue is union power at this election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Union corruption hurts our economy. It costs jobs, it imposes massive additional costs across the economy. That is why we initiated the Royal Commission into union corruption, in an effort to get rid of that sort of corruption which is holding back our country, which is holding back our economy and preventing jobs being created across the economy.
ANDREW BOLT: Labor and the unions have called on Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon to resign. He's considering that request. Should he?
MATHIAS CORMAN: He is considering the submissions that were made last week. The Labor Party has been desperate right from the word go to undermine the credibility of this very important Royal Commission. Just look at the evidence that has come forward in the course of the Commission proceedings. Bill Shorten himself provided evidence that he received undeclared benefits from employers with whom he was negotiating on behalf of his members. Highly questionable conduct. And dozens and dozens of union officials have been referred for further law enforcement investigations and prosecutions. Clearly the Royal Commission has been discovering a lot of very concerning stuff that has been going on out there. This is all part of cleaning up these parts of the economy that need cleaning up so that we can continue to strengthen growth, create more jobs and make sure that everyone across Australia has the best opportunity to get ahead.
ANDREW BOLT: Sure, sure. But should Dyson Heydon quit?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I'm not going to give him advice. He is considering these matters. He is a highly distinguished Australian. He has a great reputation for integrity and ...interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: Yeah, in that case, say don't quit.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I'm going to let him make that judgement early next week.
ANDREW BOLT: Alright. Now, one of the other issues where Bill Shorten and the unions are singing from the same song sheet, the free trade deal with China. The Prime Minister this week was criticised by some journalists, what's new, for calling Labor's campaign against this free trade deal racist. Now, why is it racist and not just, say, concern for workers' jobs?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is racist. It is dishonest. Clearly Bill Shorten is too weak to do the right thing by our country. By saying nothing, he is effectively supporting this racist and dishonest union campaign against what is a very important free trade agreement for our country.
ANDREW BOLT: Yeah, but you've just used the word racist yourself. What's racist about it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Clearly Bill Shorten and the union movement are trying to run this racist dog whistle against China, which is extremely damaging to our national interest. It is based on a lie because the allegations that are made that somehow the free trade agreement allows Chinese workers coming to Australia without the usual safeguards in our Migration Act being deployed are just plain wrong. These assertions are plain wrong.
ANDREW BOLT: Yeah, you're right. You say Labor claims the free trade deal with China lets Chinese companies bring in Chinese workers without checking if Australians can do those jobs instead. But as far as I can tell from the project agreement rules that apply to this deal, Australians must have first opportunity to employment and labour agreements to bring in Chinese workers won't be approved if qualified Australians are available. But I guess maybe the question is, you know what is the Government doing to check those rules are actually applied?
MATHIAS CORMANN: All of the usual checks and balances, all of the migration processes, all of the safeguards in our 457 arrangements that would usually apply, apply in the context of any project that is pursued by a Chinese company in Australia in the context of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. There is absolutely no watering-down whatsoever of the usual rules, including in relation to labour market testing, including in relation to making sure that, if any such proponent wants to bring in workers from China, to first make sure that these jobs can't be performed by an Australian, that these jobs have first been offered to Australian workers. So all of the usual safeguards are maintained in the exact same form.
ANDREW BOLT: But what I don't understand is, if this is an agreement good for workers, why are unions against it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That's a very good question. I guess that is a question that I can't answer on behalf of the union movement. I suspect that the union movement is essentially just trying to take a generally protectionist approach, trying to hold back our economy in some sort of misguided view that this is better for their members. But it ain't better. It is not better for their members. It is ... interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: They're not stupid, why would they be against it if it was good for their members?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Maybe they are stupid. Certainly, I can't talk for the unions. What I can say, though, is the alternative Prime Minister of Australia, in Bill Shorten, should have the strength of character and should have the integrity to stand up for the national interest. If he doesn't, then those good people inside the Labor Party that understand what is going on here should pull him into line. Bill Shorten clearly doesn't have the strength of character to do what needs to be done in our national interest in relation to this. He is supporting a racist dog whistle by the union movement, which is self-serving and which is based on a lie.
ANDREW BOLT: Mathias, you're from Western Australia. The Liberals this week started their campaign there for next month's by-election for Canning, following the death of Don Randall. You have a margin of about 11 per cent. If you lose this seat, will Tony Abbott survive?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We're fighting to win the trust of the people of Canning again. We're fighting to win the seat. We've got an outstanding candidate in Andrew Hastie, who has provided distinguished service to Australia as part of the SAS, fighting for our way of life overseas. He will now be fighting for the people of Canning in Canberra. That is what he is aiming for. He is seeking to obtain the trust of the people of Canning to represent them in Canberra.
ANDREW BOLT: I want to ask you something very quickly about Andrew Hastie before we run out of time. The first question, you lose the election, does Tony Abbott lose his job?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We're working to win.
ANDREW BOLT: OK. Yesterday, a pro-Labor newspaper, the Melbourne Age, ran this front-page story attacking your candidate, former SAS captain Andrew Hastie. It said the officer in command of a troop being investigated for chopping the hands off dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. What did you make of that story?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It was a shameful front page. If you go right to the bottom of the story, it says that Captain Hastie was not involved in the incident and wasn't even there. But of course, ... interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: In fact, he was later cleared.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Indeed and they give him this sort of front-page treatment. It is disgraceful. Quite frankly, the editors of The Age, who are responsible for this should hang their heads in shame. They should hang their heads in shame. Andrew Hastie provided distinguished service for Australia overseas. He put his life on the line on behalf of Australia. He put himself in harm's way. He doesn't deserve that sort of treatment from a newspaper in Australia.
ANDREW BOLT: Mathias, spot on. I'm going to run his response at the end of the show. I hope viewers watch it, because it was great. Mathias, thank you so much for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to be here.