Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Special Minister of State
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 29 November 2019
QUESTION: Senator, have you been played by Pauline Hanson?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The reason we brought the ensuring integrity legislation on this week the way we did is, because we had received firm undertakings of support on the back of amendments that we as a Government negotiated in good faith. We are very disappointed that in the end One Nation decided to vote against the ensuring integrity legislation at the final hurdle in the committee stages. We are disappointed for the Australian people, because the Australian people will now continue to incur the cost of militant unionism on the economy. Militant unionism adds up to thirty per cent to the cost of construction. That is money that would be much better spent on more roads, more schools, more hospitals. But Pauline Hanson last night decided to let law breaking militant unions imposing significant additional costs on Australians off the hook. Yes, we are very disappointed with that.
QUESTION: Ms Hanson said part of that was that the banks needed to be dealt with as well. And it seems that you are tarring the unions with the same brush, which is part of Senator Lambie’s problem as well?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We completely reject that proposition. It is not something that has been put to us. What has been put to us by One Nation was that they would be supporting this legislation based on the amendments that we negotiated. In relation to the banks, there is very strong action in response to law breaking by the banks. In relation to Westpac, they will be on the receiving end of very substantial, very substantial fines. There will be very substantial compliance action. We have already seen consequences in terms of some of their own personnel. As far as Jacqui Lambie is concerned, she publicly stated that she would vote in favour of the ensuring integrity bill if John Setka continued as an official of the CFMEU in Victoria. John Setka is continuing as an official for the CFMEU in Victoria. So Jacqui Lambie has to explain why she made the decisions that she has.
QUESTION: Well she has. She said that she would prefer that her amendments that she put to you be put through or to amend the bill so that we would be going after the worst of the unions rather than all of them.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The legislation is designed to go after militant, persistently law breaking unions, absolutely. That is the way that the legislation is designed. Unions that are law abiding and do not consistently and persistently break the law in a way that harms our economy have absolutely nothing to fear from our ensuring integrity bill. The amendments that Senator Lambie released extremely late in the piece, based on all of the advice that we have, were entirely unworkable, would have made the legislation unworkable. That was not something that we were able to support. The truth is that even without Senator Lambie supporting the legislation based on all of the very firm indications we had from other crossbenchers, we had a reasonable expectation that the legislation would pass yesterday. That is not what happened. Others will have to explain their actions.
QUESTION: Pauline Hanson said she doesn’t want to be taken for granted by the Government. What do you make of that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We did not take her for granted. Christian Porter spent a long, long, long time, his team spent a long, long time talking through amendments. Amendments that One Nation put forward, amendments that we put forward. There was agreement reached. In the end, that is all you can do. We addressed every single issue that Senator Hanson and One Nation identified with us. Every single issue that was identified with us was addressed. We dealt with them comprehensively through amendments. The indications that we had, very firm indications that we had were that all of the issues that Senator Hanson wanted to see addressed in the bill had been addressed, that One Nation would be supporting it. Something happened. Only Senator Hanson can explain properly what actually happened.
QUESTION: Have you spoken to her since it happened?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have had a text message exchange. I sought to give her a call last night, but in the end we talked by text.
QUESTION: How would you describe the tone of that conversation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to provide commentary on private conversations. Let me just say that the Government on behalf of the Australian people is very disappointed today. We will be putting this legislation back to the Senate early next year. It is not actually unusual for contested reform legislation to have to be presented to the Senate several times. When we first sought to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission that legislation failed on a number of occasions. Ultimately we were successful in getting it through. The difference is that when contested reform legislation failed to pass the Senate in the past, everybody had a clear indication, openly and transparently where everybody sat. Whereas yesterday, clearly we were led to believe that there would be support. Ultimately when it mattered there was not.
QUESTION: What is the lesson learned from this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will continue to engage with Senators in relation to reform legislation moving forward. That is our job. We as a Government respect the right of every individual Senator to form their own judgements. What we do expect though is for those individual Senators to engage with us openly, constructively and in good faith. If anyone tells us that they cannot support a piece of legislation we have to accept and respect that. But to be told that the support is there based on the agreements that we have already reached on amendments and then to find yourself in the situation we found ourselves in yesterday afternoon is very disappointing. It is a very difficult way to do business with each other when there is a lack of openness and transparency along those lines.
QUESTION: Jacqui Lambie has put a condition on her support for medivac. Will you consider that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will not make any changes to the medivac repeal legislation. We will not make any changes to the way we are dealing with the legacy case load that we have inherited from the Labor party. We have just about dealt with the mess that Labor left behind. But there is still a bit more work to be done. We will do that consistent with approaches that we have set in train. Labor’s Medevac legislation has exposed Australians to unacceptable risk. Senator Lambie will have to make a decision on Monday when this legislation comes on, whether she wants to support stronger national security or whether she wants to stand by the weakening of our national security and border protection arrangements that Labor put in place.
QUESTION: After being blindsided over union-busting this week, how are you feeling heading into the Medevac vote next week?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end we will take every piece of legislation one by one. We will continue to make our best possible case, but in the end every individual Senator has to make their own decisions. They have to, ultimately, take responsibility for their decisions and the implications of those decisions for the Australian people. The implication of the decision that Senator Hanson made yesterday is that law-breaking militant unions have been let off the hook and hardworking Australians have to pay more for the cost of construction all around Australia. That will continue to harm our economy. It will continue to cost jobs and it will continue to divert money that should be invested in more schools, more hospitals and more roads into paying the price for militant unionism.
QUESTION: Apologies if this has been covered, but did Senator Hanson explicitly tell you that she would be voting for the bill last night?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes.
QUESTION: How would you describe the week the Government’s had?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Every week we work to progress our agenda. Every single day we do the best we can to put Australia on a stronger foundation and trajectory for the future. This week, we had a very important legislative reform success on Monday in passing the legislation which endorses our free trade agreements with Indonesia, with Peru and with Hong Kong. That was good news. and later in the week we had some disappointing news. We would not have spent this entire week dealing with ensuring integrity legislation if we had not received firm indications of support from One Nation on the back of the agreements that we had negotiated with them in good faith.
QUESTION: What does that do to your relationship moving forward working with One Nation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will have to continue to work our way through this. We have a responsibility as a Government to continue to engage in good faith and constructively with all Senators to advance our agenda in the public interest. But I would say, from our point of view, we are always prepared to engage in good faith, openly and transparently, but we would expect the same in return.