Release type: Media Release


Press conference, Sydney International Airport


The Hon Tony Burke MP
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Minister for the Arts

TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: Morning. Thanks for being here. When Parliament returns, on behalf of the government, I'll be introducing legislation which will allow the manufacturing division of the CFMEU to have a vote and decide whether or not they want to remain in that union or whether or not they want to leave. This issue is something which has previously been available to the mining division of the CFMEU, and they chose to leave, and they are now functioning as their own union. The manufacturing division had tried under previous legislation to leave and there were technical reasons why they weren't able to get out.

For some time, talks have been happening between the manufacturing division and the construction division and I was hopeful they'd sort it out themselves. It became clear when we saw John Setka's comments about the AFL that the construction division at the moment is not behaving in a way that lends itself towards constructive outcomes. The construction division, while we'd been considering what we might do, that attack on the AFL really made the decision clear and made the timing immediate. We're not going to have a situation where we have members in the manufacturing division compelled to be part of an organisation that they don't want to be part of. That's then engaging in the opposite of what unions normally do. Every other union and including even that one for a lot of its work, is about trying to get job security for their members, not pursuing vendettas and trying to destroy someone else's job security.

That's the behaviour that we've seen. And when we saw that attack on the AFL, effectively the government decided it's time now to draw the line. It's time to no longer say, let's just wait and see if they sort it out themselves. Let's bring in legislation and make the decision now that the manufacturing members deserve a vote. The manufacturing division includes people in the textiles industry, an overwhelmingly feminised sector. To associate those members with the attacks on the AFL, that was someone's previous employment based on an organisation that's still abolished. For that to somehow be a priority for an organisation, instead of looking after its members, just beggars belief. The government's having none of it. The government's drawing the line and I'll be introducing legislation to allow the manufacturing members to have a vote when Parliament returns. Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: We've already gone into a little bit of this detail, but I was wondering if you'd go into a little bit more? Can you just explain what the connection between today's announcement and the job sector's comments about the AFL is?

BURKE: Okay. So, ever since Jacqui Lambie had raised the issue as to whether we should legislate, we'd been considering whether or not we should - I'll just pause for a moment. Who would have thought we'd get aircraft noise here?

So, ever since Jacqui Lambie brought forward that amendment, we've been considering if we were to legislate what that legislation might look like. But in the meantime, we've been encouraging the manufacturing division, construction division to sort it out between themselves. Once the AFL attack was made, our patience came to an end. And when the attacks on the AFL were made, we just decided that we were not going to leave the manufacturing division in a situation where they would be expected to remain part of an organisation that was deciding their big public issue was the opposite of what unions normally do. Their big public issue was about trying to get someone fired rather than trying to provide people with job security. It has been a ridiculous piece of attempted bullying. The Fair Work Ombudsman obviously is watching it very closely. They are a highly professional regulator and I've got confidence in how they'll handle it. But the patience of the government came to an end the moment the attack on the AFL happened.

JOURNALIST: Yes. Thank you. So, John Setka says his proposed actions are within the law. But you say differently, who's right?

BURKE: The actions that John Setka has proposed, he has basically given the exact public description that they are bans. There are also a series of other protections that workers have against this sort of action. There are a series of different ways in which this is contrary to the Fair Work Act. I'm not going to stand up and provide him with legal advice. Suffice to say, the Fair Work Ombudsman is a serious regulator. They are watching this for a reason.

That said, John Setka is somebody who has already announced that he's not going to be around for the long haul within that organisation. And my message to that organisation is really simple. Keep to what unions are meant to do, which is look after their members, the organisations that promote job security – not organisations that are obsessed with vendettas and personal attacks trying to get someone fired.

JOURNALIST: Some have observed that state and federal ministers, all ministers, have been very tentative in their criticism. Why are they so reluctant to criticise John Setka and CFMEU?

BURKE: Well, we're not. And I suspect the people who've made that call are principally people like Michaelia Cash who might have a particular incentive to make a judgement like that that are hardly impartial leadership. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was the person who drove John Setka out of the Labor Party. We have drawn very clear lines in terms of the professionalism that we expect. And what we are seeing here is just the opposite of the rest of the trade union movement. The rest of the trade union movement is doing extraordinary work in making sure that wages are now moving again. We've changed the law to provide opportunities for secure jobs and better pay and that's what's happening. And we have always drawn very clear lines on this sort of behaviour.

JOURNALIST: Is today's announcement a rejection of the heavy-handed tactics of the CFMEU, particularly in Victoria?

BURKE: Completely. The period of the government waiting to decide whether or not we take this action ended the moment the AFL fight began.

JOURNALIST: Are you disappointed in the fact that Labor - backing unions - the fact that this is not what they're doing, it's a big union like this?

BURKE: My frustration is that some people will see this sort of behaviour and think it's representative of the Australian trade union movement and it's not. It's simply not. What the government wants is what most people, including a whole lot of the workers who are working behind us at the airport today, who've decided to take out the insurance of being union members. And that's - they want job security, and they want better pay. They don't want media statements about vendettas, they don't want bullying, they don't want thuggery. They just want their job security and better pay and that's what the government wants as well. And can I say around Australia, that's what's happening. I'm very pleased when people get their July pay packet, they'll be able to look at it and there'll be more money going into their bank than there was in June. And that's because if you're an award employee, that's when your pay rise comes through. And for every Australian worker, that's when your tax cut comes through. We're wanting to make sure that people are seeing more money go into their bank accounts. Every pay packet, that's what the general cause of trade unionism is as well. And these petty vendettas just speak to the opposite of that.

Can I also just say, in terms of the contrast that we have here with the announcement that's being made at another media conference at the same time right now by Peter Dutton. Effectively, it's an announcement to push electricity prices up. That's what it is. And we have a really clear contrast at a time that Australians are feeling pressure, we want to get wages moving and that's happening. We want to be able to provide price relief wherever we can. And we're doing that. Peter Dutton wants to cut wages and increase the cost of your bills. It's a very clear distinction that we're heading to at the next election.

JOURNALIST: Why does the government think that the only way is renewables?

BURKE: It makes sense that the energy that you lean in on is the energy that is cheapest for Australians. That's the sensible thing to do. And the silliest thing of all would be to do something that provides no energy for more than a decade and then when it starts to provide energy, provides the most expensive of all the options. That's what Peter Dutton's opted for. There's only one thing that happens when you do that. Energy prices go up. At the same time that he's in that he's advocating policies that mean wages would be cut. Cutting wages, increasing power prices is what Peter Dutton is now calling for. We stand for the opposite.

JOURNALIST: Under your government, the prices have already gone up?

BURKE: The downward pressure that is there through more renewables being in the system is exactly what we've been doing. And in the Budget we provided energy relief. And that $300 in energy relief is being provided by this government. We provided energy relief. Previously it was opposed by Peter Dutton, at every opportunity, whenever he has had a choice to bring energy prices down - at every opportunity, when Peter Dutton had a choice to bring energy prices down, he said no. And now when he announces his policy, what does it do? It's about pushing energy prices higher, cutting wages, making your bills more expensive. Labor wants to get wages moving and that's happening. And we want to put downward pressure on prices, which we're doing.