ABC Weekend Breakfast – unions, Australian Signals Directorate, Men’s Health Week

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Television interview, ABC Weekend Breakfast

SUBJECTS: Unions, Australian Signals Directorate, Men’s Health Week

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: And to discuss this, we’re talking to Jason Falinski and Amanda Rishworth. Thank you both for your time this morning. Amanda, I will start with you, we have seen the tensions blow over with the CFMEU. Is it time for the Labor Party to reassess its ties to the union movement?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Obviously the Labor Party has a strong connection with the union movement, and in particular protecting workers’ rights. There’s bad behaviour in all walks of life. Including in business and in unions alike. But in terms of protecting workers’ rights, ensuring that workers get a good deal and decent pay, conditions, can go home safely at night, unions play a really important role. And the Labor Party has traditionally had a connection to make sure we are also standing up for workers’ rights and this is in stark contrast to the coalition that cheers on any cuts to workers’ rights, including the penalty rate cuts that are coming on in the first of July.

JOSH SZEPS: But Amanda, that’s different to the question specifically of John Setka’s behaviour and the concern in the wake of the election that the Labor Party may be tied in voters’ minds too closely with the sort of old fashioned bother boy attitude in trade unions.

RISHWORTH: Trade unions represent people across a range of industries; retail workers, early educators all fighting for better pay and conditions. When it comes to specifically- as I said- bad behaviour, there should be no tolerance for that. I think that Anthony Albanese, our Leader, has made that quite clear that when can comes to the Labor Party, and membership of the Labor Party, that he is seeking the Labor Party to move when it comes to this individual. But let’s not denigrate a whole movement and a whole group of people that stick up for workers, that fight for things like penalty rates, and decent wages, conditions, keeping workers safe, with the bad behaviour of a few. Otherwise we would be denigrating every business for those few that do not pay their workers their superannuation or under pay their wages. You got to be very clear about, you know, calling out the bad behaviour, but not necessarily applying it to everyone that works hard in that – representing workers.

NICHOLSON: Jason, Amanda is saying there’s no tolerance for bad behaviour, but there’s a place for unions for advocating for workers.

JASON FALINSKI: Amanda is right to say that. It would be easy for me to kick John Setka while he’s done but the fact of the matter is, if you want to defend people’s rights to say what they want to say- if what Mr Setka is reported to have said it correct, I don’t know why this is such a big deal. He has a right to hold unpopular opinions and voice them.  I think though there are some limitations to that. One of them is defamation of someone’s character and reputation and incitement to violence. In the past, John Setka has encouraged people to take action- physical action- against people doing their jobs and also against their families. Why Sally McManus and Bill Shorten at the time didn’t think at the time was serious and didn’t want associated with them, I don’t know. Why they have chosen this particular issue to get upset about, I don’t know. Amanda is right; people should be voluntarily allowed to join unions. Unions have a place in our work environment to negotiate people’s awards. Equally, I think t individuals should be able to do that. It’s all about freedom. And it’s all about getting better outcomes for people in the working environment.

SZEPS: It’s very big of you Jason, not to kick John Setka while he’s done. So congratulations on that. Well, rhetorically I understand your point. I want to get to the substantive question of the ensuring integrity bill, which is the name of the bill your government would like to pass. Which would basically deregister unions that break the law and union officials for misconduct, right? Why isn’t this sort of thing something that shouldn’t be handled by the union itself? Why codify into law a standard of behaviour that frankly doesn’t apply to businesses or parliamentarians like yourself?

FALINSKI: The answer to that question is pretty simple. It’s not just about unions. It’s about registered organisations, so it applies both to unions and employer organisations. It’s simply trying to bring the same standards that apply under the corporations law to company directors and company office holders to people who are members of organisations- so it does apply the same standard, in fact some view it as lower standard than what is contained in the corporations law. The third point, is a good question as to should we allow companies and registered organisations to self-govern in that way? The view is that markets and organisations are most efficient when there are integrity measures that community has imposed on them. So that people don’t need to worry about the by-laws of every particular company and registered organisation they join. They know that there’s a level of standard the community has imposed on every organisation that they can rely on and that saves people time and money that join the organisation.

SZEPS: Amanda, what is so wrong about that? That doesn’t sound like an attack on unions.

RISHWORTH: We have got to see the details of what the government is putting forward. It did not pass the Parliament last time because there were concerns that it did go much further than what is applied to companies. In terms of the standards that it was applying and it did seem like a political attack particularly on unions. As I said, there’s bad behaviour. The amount of people that come to me, their companies have not paid them superannuation, for example, there’s very little recourse for them to go and get that super repaid. That has a big impact on their lives. Under payment of wages, for example, so there’s a significant difference between what seems to be applied to companies, as applied to unions in this bill. Obviously, we’ll take a look at what the government is proposing. But if it’s the same bill that was rejected by the Parliament last time, then there are significant concerns that the whole Parliament had when it came to specifically targeting unions.

NICHOLSON: We also wanted to cover another story that is in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, about a potential greater role for the Australian Signals Directorate. A government spokesperson has said the government’s position hasn’t changed on this. Is there room to boost the role of the ASD?

FALINSKI: I’m sure there is. Obviously counter cyber-terrorism is the big thing that needs to occur at the moment. All of these things need to be done – the Parliament needs to ensure any action taken by any government agency is done within a control set of a court of law and undertaken by rule of law and separation of powers. No state can start imposing its will on the community and invade someone’s privacy. They would need to be important judgments.

NICHOLSON: According to this report, it could also sit within the networks of major Australian power, water, telecommunications and other critical infrastructure companies to help defend against foreign cyber-attacks. Is that something that is being explored?

FALINSKI: Under Malcolm Turnbull, that is something we invested a lot of time and energy into. It is not something the parliament talks about because security matters are best not spoken about openly. But, cyber-terrorism is now obviously the big issue that people are facing. The New York Times ran a story recently about the city of Baltimore, has essentially come to a standstill because cyber hackers are basically ransomwaring that entire city. This is a city with record gun crime, it’s lost $18 million, people can’t complete property transfers, they can’t pay water bills, they can’t pay electricity bills. They think it’s out of Iran but they’re not sure-

SZEPS: But Jason, the response of the United States will not be to throw away the Bill of Rights and start inserting FBI snooping devices into Baltimore as a response. There is a concern- what we are talking about for people who do not follow the story- the Australian Signals Directorate, that’s Australia’s big spying – electric spying agency. Up until now, it’s only been able to spy abroad, never to turn its eyes on domestic citizens and what your government wants is for it to turn its eye on domestic citizens. The Liberal Party is supposed to be the party of liberty, does that sound like liberty?

FALINSKI: No, but you can’t guarantee people’s liberty if you can’t guarantee their safety. Under the Turnbull Government we setup of a Senate for Cyber Security which was to look at essential services like power, electricity, etcetera and banking for example; imagine if the banking network went offline for 24 hours-

SZEPS: Well you can put us all under 24 hour surveillance, constantly living in a totalitarian dictatorship and none of that would be a problem?
FALINKSI: That is going from one extreme to the next and totalitarian states in the past have created problems of their own which we would live to avoid too. That’s the point, all of these things must be done within ensuring the purview of people’s private lives.

NICHOLSON: Amanda, what do you think of this? What does this sound like to you?

RISHWORTH: I have only seen what is in the reports. Of course we know that cyber-terrorism, cyber-crime, is an increasingly complex problem and does put us all at risk. At the same time, we need to obviously get the balance right between protecting our national security and indeed, protecting the liberties of the Australian people. So, there would be a lot of questions, I imagine, about the powers and about oversight and about the offensive nature of this. What we’re talking about is not fixing or addressing a crime after the fact, or investigating a crime after a fact, it’s actually an offensive power to stop something before it happens. So, I think there is a lot of questions that would have to be worked through incredibly carefully and it would need to confidence of the Australian people. I think we’ve seen in recent days around the AFP raids on journalists, and the ABC, a dwindling confidence of the Australian people about; can they trust their government? And I think any issue like this needs to be worked through, not only with the right oversights, but ensuring that you give confidence to the public that it would be used in a way that is in their interests, and not necessarily to harm Australian citizens.

NICHOLSON: We finally just also wanted to touch on this morning, it’s men’s health week this week and according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the leading cause of death in men between the ages of 15 and 44 is suicide. That’s really shocking. Amanda, how can we do better in this area?

RISHWORTH: We do need to work very hard at this issue. It is absolutely shocking. And I would have to say that one suicide death is one too many. I think there are a number of issues; I think men often are more reluctant to ask for help. And not necessarily engaged in help seeking behaviour. That’s where we need to have approaches that really are responsive to men to ask for help. One great example of that is ‘mates in construction’. It’s a program that encourages colleagues and men that work alongside each other to look out for signs and ask do you need some help? But we need to be making sure that suicide and destigmatised. That people feel, when they ask for help, they can get help. But importantly, support work colleagues and the broader community. Look out for signs and symptoms, and make sure they’re extending a hand and the services are available. We do need a very coordinated response that is tailored particularly to men who don’t often actually seek help when they need it.

SZEPS: Jason, one of the things we’ve been talking about across men’s health week is the sort of crisis of masculinity, I suppose, when you’re raising young boys, we live in an era of MeToo and a lot of awareness about how fantastic women’s contribution to society is, and sometimes they can leave men in an uncertain place. What can we do about that?

FALINSKI: There’s some fantastic programs: gotcha for Life, Tomorrow Man. I agree with absolutely everything Amanda said. There’s also an issue with young people, especially young men, who feel detached from their identity. It’s not typically part of our identity to talk to each other about that. And Tomorrow Man goes into schools and tries to get people to get boys to start talking to each other about what is acceptable. Otherwise it comes out sideways. And that’s where the MeToo movement starts. It’s not what being a man is about.

NICHOLSON: We’ll have to leave it there. Amanda Rishworth and Jason Falinski, thanks for your time.

ENDS

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