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2GB Live with Ben Fordham

Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash


Subjects: Ports disputes, Jenkins Report

BEN FORDHAM: It's 18 minutes after seven o'clock, and it's about time the federal government is finally doing something about the disgraceful state of our ports. The wharfies are now on notice over their selfish behaviour in the lead up to Christmas. We've been telling you they're holding Port Botany to ransom, the Maritime Union has been holding random stop work action at the terminal operator, Patrick. This has been going on for two years now. Patrick wants the dispute to end, they're offering a 10.5% pay rise. But the union has got this extraordinary demand and I can't believe that you would even ask for this. They want at least 40% of new hires to be from a list of family and friends. It's jobs for mates. While this continues, small business and farmers are being hit with delays of more than a week, the cost of a shipping container has gone from $2000 to $8000. We have been urging the government to get involved in fixing this up. The Prime Minister now says we must protect our economy from serious harm caused by this ongoing industrial action. But it looks like all they're doing is asking for an inquiry. So there'll be a report. It'll take about six months. Well, that's way too slow. The federal Attorney-General is Michaelia Cash and she's on the line. Good morning to you Michaelia Cash.

MINISTER CASH: Good morning, Ben. And good morning to your listeners.

BEN FORDHAM: It's nice to know there's a bit of movement, but please tell me we're not going to have a review and a report that's going to go on for six months because the business community needs help now.

MINISTER CASH: No, look Ports, as I think we all know, they are the gateway for the economy. And if you have an inefficient port system, it's a tax on all of us. There are two separate issues, what you're talking about. In terms of the Productivity Commission Inquiry, that is actually long overdue. It is absolutely needed and we need to look at that overall picture of the efficiency of our maritime logistics system. I am actually very pleased that we have been able to make that announcement. In relation to the Patrick's dispute which you are referring to, I can assure your listeners I have been keeping, and the government has been keeping a very close watch on the potential for industrial action to disrupt your even further economic activity. Now at this point in time, there is a hold on the industrial action until at least the 10th of December. I have always said to Patricks and to the unions, we encourage you sit down and negotiate in good faith to resolve their issues. But I can assure you, I can assure your listeners, the government will take action if needed to protect the Australian economy from serious harm.

BEN FORDHAM: When you say action, let me just ask you about that action. Because this is not just Port Botany, it's Melbourne, Brisbane, Fremantle, there are eight day delays in Sydney. We can't go through this Minister every time the union has a new bargaining agreement, particularly when they're saying we want to give jobs to mates. Now John Howard was willing to get involved in 1996 with the waterfront dispute. You're the Industrial Relations Minister, are you tough enough to do the same?

MINISTER CASH: Well, I can tell you right now, in relation to, you mentioned Fremantle, on two occasions now I have advised the Western Australian government that I will back them in if they intervene, or alternatively, we would intervene as the Federal Government. On both occasions, the MUA has backed down, and there has been no need to intervene. So I can, I am absolutely prepared to do what we can, and as the Prime Minister has said, I think he gave a speech yesterday, the Government will take action if needed to protect the Australian economy from serious harm. I mean, there's continuous instances of industrial action at a port, you know, it causes further disruption and economic harm. We are coming out of COVID-19, we're actually faring better than so many in the world, and then you have the MUA, who were a critical time in our economic recovery are saying we'll take action at Australia's busiest ports. And you know, you're right, Ben, what about the poor small business person out there who just wants to get their life back together post COVID, who just wants to do what we as the government want them to do and that is just keep their business going, grow their business and if they can employ more Australians. So no, we've put the MUA on notice. We've said to Patricks and the MUA, sit down, negotiate in good faith, and resolve your issues. But I have now a watching brief, you've got until the 10th of December, but after that we will take action if needed. But it's in the interest of mum and dads out there, protecting the Australian economy from serious harm. Enough is enough.

BEN FORDHAM: Well, we remember the then Industrial Relations Minister Peter Reith, and then Prime Minister John Howard, they didn't muck about, they sent a very strong message because they went in there and said no more. Now on another issue, we had this report handed down yesterday suggesting that one in three women have suffered harassment in Parliament House and one person described an MP jamming his tongue down her throat while others were laughing. We're also trying to tell Aussies that we need to behave ourselves online when it comes to trolling. But yesterday in the Senate while Jacqui Lambie was talking, there was a Liberal Senator allegedly making dog noises and growling sounds. This was heard by the Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and the Labor Senator Penny Wong. You're in the Senate. Did you hear those noises?

MINISTER CASH: I didn't, but I understand the Senator concerned did actually make an unreserved apology last night in the Senate. He did say, he did not make the sound as alleged. But he did say yes, he was interjecting, interjecting is disorderly, and on that basis, he made an unreserved apology. In relation to the Jenkins Report. It is a privilege, as you know, Ben, you get us on your station, all the time. It is a privilege to work at Parliament House, and every single person who works here, every single Australian, they have a right to feel and to be safe at work. This is an important review, it's a sobering review. And as the Prime Minister, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Women, Marise Payne said yesterday, you know, we will now work with the opposition, the minor parties in the crossbench, this is something you do across political parties. You don't do it just as the government, we need to work together as we've done to date, a multi-party approach and put in place action, in fact build on the action we've already undertaken, to make this a much better workplace.

BEN FORDHAM: We always appreciate you jumping on the line and we'll talk to you again if we don't talk to you before Christmas. Have a great break.

MINISTER CASH: Great and Merry Christmas to your listeners as well.

BEN FORDHAM: Good on you, Michaelia Cash, the Industrial Relations Minister and the Attorney-General.