Interview on SKY News with Kieran Gilbert
Registered Organisations Commission; Australian citizenship rights; Child care and workforce participation; ACOSS report on poverty  

Kieran Gilbert: First though I spoke to Cabinet Minister Simon Birmingham on this and other matters but begin by talking about the Government’s focus on unions this week and well those two pieces of legislation which formed the trigger for the double dissolution election.


Simon Birmingham: Well Kieran we were very clear in the election campaign. In fact we called a double dissolution election on the basis of getting the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the Registered Organisations Commission legislation through the next Parliament which of course is now this Parliament. And Labor were in fact the ones who ran scared during the campaign on these issues. They didn’t argue against the Government’s policies, they sought to distract by talking about any other issue and that of course is because they know that the evidence is clear and with more than 100 CFMEU officials facing different criminal charges, with huge degrees of fines that have been levied, there are real issues across the construction sector. There are real issues as to why we should have the same standards applied to trade unions and employer organisations as we expect to be applied to companies which is what the Registered Organisations Commission does, and this week we enter the debate period in relation to the Registered Organisations Commission and it comes at a time when Bill Shorten’s acquiescence to the union movement is most on display through the appointment of Kimberley Kitching to the new Senate vacancy.

Kieran Gilbert: So, let’s focus on this funding argument though that the CFMEU has funded the Greens and Labor to the tune of $2.3 million since 2010. This isn’t that much of a surprise though is it? We’ve known that the unions and the Labor Party and the Greens link for that matter, for many many years.

Simon Birmingham: Well we’ve known that the union movement has given a lot of money to the Labor Party for many years. But these are staggering sums of money that are being handed over nowadays and we see a Labor Party that basically has candidates and members and senators who are entirely selected by the trade union membership and the trade union leadership, and then funded entirely by those same trade union organisations. So the nexus in a sense there is very very tight and it is remarkable to see Bill Shorten now defending and even promoting people such as leaders in the Health Services Union who have been the most condemned trade union in the country…

Kieran Gilbert: [Interrupting] But was it- in relation to Kimberley Kitching’s new Labor Senator is it- she was post the controversy wasn’t she, as part of the clean up effort?

Simon Birmingham:
Well Kimberley Kitching it’s understood was cited in relation to the Royal Commission report. It’s been widely reported to that effect and we have a candidate here where even Labor people in terms of the Victorian pre-selection have condemned the idea that somebody from the Health Services Union, somebody with that track record, would actually then be appointed to fill a casual Senate vacancy, not just with the acceptance of Bill Shorten, but with the endorsement and enthusiasm of Bill Shorten.

Kieran Gilbert:
Now to another issue. An Australian jihadist set to be stripped of his citizenship, the name not referred to in the News Corp coverage this morning which has broken this story, but the Immigration Department reportedly confirming that there is a case, ready to go a test case of these laws. Is the Government’s legal advice that they will hold up to any challenge?

Simon Birmingham:
The Government’s confident in its position. We of course have put in place a range of different legislative reforms to tighten the measures around national security and to make sure that we are able to combat terrorism everywhere, anytime that we possibly can. And these laws that allow us to ensure that people who have acted contrary to Australia’s interest, having engaged in terrorist activities overseas, who are not Australian citizens originally, can be stripped of their citizenship, are important changes that are just part of a range of measures that come with increased funding, strengthened laws, increased capacity for our national security organisations to keep all Australians safe.

Kieran Gilbert:
And we’re seeing the security agencies quoted in this report in the Daily Telegraph that they’re worried that they’re running out of time to get the test case through to get these laws implemented in real terms because of the fact that IS has been rolled back in the field, that they can then expect some of these foreign fighters to return home.

Simon Birmingham: Well we’re seeing good progress made but of course there’s still very hard work required in relation to the situations in Iraq and Syria, but importantly absolutely every possible element of the Turnbull Government’s activities is focused on keep Australians safe and that is what comes from having increased funding, strengthened laws, greater capacity for financial and security agencies to do the types of things that are necessary and this is one part of a very comprehensive armoury that we’ve put in place. 

Kieran Gilbert: And Minister finally I want to ask you about the report released by ACOSS, the Council of Social Service yesterday, more than 700,000 children in Australia living in poverty. What’s your reaction to that report?

Simon Birmingham: Well it’s always very concerning to see children living in circumstances where they have no role models in the workforce, where parents are not engaged in active employment because- and that of course heightens the prospects of intergenerational welfare dependency and that’s why as a government we are seeking to shift the focus in areas of welfare payments to give greater support, to pay the childcare costs of low income families. Our childcare reforms for the lowest income Australians, we’ll increase the rate of subsidy from around 72 per cent up to 85 per cent of their child care cost which will make it easier and more effective for people to engage in the workforce and of course it is just so, so critical in those circumstances to have that workforce [indistinct].

Kieran Gilbert: [Talks over] Sure, but hundreds of thousands of kids living under the poverty line in modern Australia is just unbelievable isn’t it?

Simon Birmingham:
Well it’s always a concern to see children in unfortunate circumstances and it is why we need to focus relentlessly on growing our economy and we’ve seen around 180,000 jobs created over the last 12 months, but also then making it easier for people in such circumstances to engage in the workforce and by picking up a greater share of the child care costs for low income families, it becomes much easier for people to make that transition from welfare into work.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister, I appreciate your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much Kieran.

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