10 July 2015

Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News Agenda, Canberra


SUBJECTS: Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption, Greek debt crisis

This is a transcript of the Hon Bruce Billson's interview with Kieran Gilbert. The main topics discussed were the Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption and the Greek debt crisis.


Returning to our earlier story and Bill Shorten's two days of appearances at the Royal Commission.

With me to discuss this, this morning the Acting Treasurer Bruce Billson. Mr Billson thanks for your time. What is the Government's view on what the Royal Commission found if anything, against the Opposition Leader?


Well the Commission is continuing its work Kieran. It was an interesting performance from the Opposition Leader. It left you wondering what else was going on around some of these arrangements that seem to be taking place where unions who were involved with a deal on one side with the employees and a deal on the other side with the employers and left a little bit confused about who was doing what for whom.

The Royal Commission will deliberate over the evidence that Mr Shorten provided and arrive at its own conclusions.


But in terms of donations paid by employers, cannot the same thing be said of the Liberal Party? Big business donates, like banks, like the miners and what do they expect in return? How did the bank customers feel about the Liberals getting hundreds of millions in donations?


I think if you have a look at political donations big business tends to be rather ecumenical about it all and make donations in reasonable proportion to all sides of politics.

I think what is different and what was interesting about yesterday's evidence was that you have got the unions making deals in the interest of employees but at the same time seeing some benefits coming back to the union from employers.

It is a bit like if you had a trusted mate Kieran going out to buy a car for you and then you find your mate is actually getting a sling back from the guy selling the car. You are left wondering whether you have got the best outcome you possibly could have.

We think the important thing is to recognise we need a Registered Organisations Commission, some machinery that enables aggrieved workers that are unhappy with what the union may or may not be doing to actually have those things investigated.

That measure, an election commitment we took to the last election and giving the Australian Building and Construction Commission the powers that it needs – I think that is what is necessary and the sorts of transactions that were the focus of the Royal Commission, that there is no machinery in place to be able to investigate those if an employee or a worker is very unhappy about what their union may or may not be doing.


I know as a Minister for Small Business, in fact as the Member for Dunkley around Frankston in Victoria, you are well aware of the complaints of the Victorian construction sector about the CFMEU, the militant unions. Then you have a moderate union leader doing deals that were praised by the respected businessman Tony Shepherd, for example Thiess John Holland, and now he is copping flak for doing these deals. Is it a bit rich?


I would not have thought so. I think the issue is, and there was some discussion about the quality of the deals in the evidence that was provided by the Opposition Leader to the Royal Commission yesterday, some questioning about what kind of deal it was for the workers.

What the issue was here was concurrent with those deals or in the close proximity to those deals there were funds heading from the employer to the union as well and that is what I think has left workers bewildered.

What was going on there? Was it the best deal that could have been arrived at or was there other objectives at play to bolster the union strength, to bolster membership numbers, and as evidence was tendered yesterday, to help Labor candidates electioneering?

My volunteers that generously donate their time to our election campaign- I think they were a bit staggered to hear that there were paid campaign directors with the money coming from business for Mr Shorten's campaign.

They were some really curious pieces of evidence that were tendered and I think for the workers that look to their unions to give clear and uncompromised advocacy on their behalf, they might be wondering what else has been going on.


So do you think he has done anything immoral or unethical?


I know if it was me representing a group of people, if I was the union advocating for the employee I would pretty much want to make sure that it was clear who I was working for and that there was no constraint on my representation and I would not leave this cloud of just who was working for whom and on what basis were payments being made by employers to the unions when the unions were supposed to be out there advocating for the employees.

That was the bewildering thing out of yesterday's evidence and that just underlines the point Kieran that we need the Registered Organisations Commission so that if you are an employee or you are a worker who finds yourself a union member and you did not even know how that happened or you were concerned about the conduct of the unions – and we saw this with Craig Thomson and other examples, there is nowhere for you to go to actually have those concerns advocated.  What we need and what Labor needs to do…


You would not compare Bill Shorten to Thomson though surely?


No and I am not saying there are direct parallels there. I am just making the simple and undisputed point that where there are concerns about union conduct there is not adequate machinery in place to actually have those dealt with in a timely way and ensure good governance, accountability and transparency.

The best thing Bill Shorten and Labor can do to show they are bona fides is to get behind the Coalition's election commitment to create Registered Organisations Commission. That way the machinery is there to have concerns properly dealt with in a timely way, in a transparent way and that will build confidence in that industrial architecture and the people that have a very protected and privileged position within it.


Finally, as Acting Treasurer I need to ask you about this developing news this morning.

Greece has submitted a detailed bailout request and a reform plan to its European creditors just before the deadline was about to be hit. Do you welcome that development?


Absolutely. I said some days ago Greece and its leadership needs to bring forward a proposal that is satisfactory to the creditors. The European community, the European Finance Ministers have been saying 'well bring a proposal'.

The election result made it clear what the Greek community did not want in terms of the arrangements for ongoing financial support. What they need to find is some common ground so that the funders, those that are being asked to lend money can be happy with the terms and the undertakings that accompany further provision of finance.

Sunday is an important day. European finance leaders will come together. They will analyse the Greek proposal and see if there is solid ground on which further finance and further support might be able to be provided.


Mr Billson thanks for your time.


Thanks Kieran.