November 30, 2016




JOURNALIST: Nick Xenophon, after much chest beating have you wimped it on the Murray?


SENATOR NICK XENOPHON, LEADER OF NXT PARTY: Absolutely not, what we have now for the first time is a commitment that the Murray Darling Basin plan will be dealt with by the Prime Minister, by Premiers, by the Chief Minister of the ACT, it’s a commitment that didn’t exist previously -  there are new accountability measures, there is a commitment by the Prime Minister in writing that the plan will need to be delivered on time and in full. The many discussions I’ve had with Premier Weatherill and Prime Minister Turnbull over the last few days indicate that there is a renewed commitment to the plan and there are accountability measures in place that didn’t exist previously –


JOURNALIST: What about Barnaby Joyce’s view that he doesn’t want the 450gl to be delivered in full to the Northern Basin. You’ve secured that have you?


XENOPHON: Well this is now a matter for Ministers, for the Prime Minister and for Premiers to determine –


JOURNALIST: Well Barnaby Joyce is Deputy Prime Minister.


XENOPHON: And Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister and last time I checked, Malcolm Turnbull is a rank above Barnaby Joyce.


JOURNALIST: Now does the plan still involve the provision that if it can be shown that communities are hard done by, that they’re suffering hardship as a result of the plan, the 450gl’s can be withheld.


XENOPHON: What the plan says is that you need to show that there won’t be a negative impact –


JOURNALIST: Well how is that different from what was there 24 hours ago?


XENOPHON: No, no the difference is that it is how been elevated to the level of the Prime Minister and Premiers –


JOURNALIST: Yeah but you’re still working to the same rules and that is if you could show there is hardship then the Government can say well you don’t have to return that 450gl to the River?


XENOPHON: There cannot be hardship in my view because $1.78 billion have been set aside for the 450gl. Including, $200 million to deal with constraints that is when you get more water flying through the river number one. Number two, this is about on farm water efficiency measures. If irrigators can do more with less in terms of having drip irrigation instead of the open channels they are still doing near the Hay Plane for rice farms, for rice patties, those sorts of changes will make a dramatic difference in getting more water back in the river.


JOURNALIST: And you’re now supporting the ABCC legislation as a result of this?


XENOPHON: Well not so much as a result of, there have been a number of other changes the Government has agreed to in the context of the ABCC legislation in terms of protecting sub-contractors, which is a big issue and also the biggest changes we’ve seen in Commonwealth procurement rules to basically ensure that Australian standards are maintained, that Australian standards are audited and for the very first time in Commonwealth procurement rules to ensure that the economic benefits to Australia of a procurement decision must be considered. That is a massive change in no less than the Shadow Industry Minister Kim Carr, former Industry Minister, Labor Industry Minister, was practically gob smacked in the Chamber last night when he saw the extent of these changes.


JOURNALIST: Anne Ruston, Liberal Senator resident from the Riverland and Assistant Minister for Water Resources, has Nick Xenophon achieved anything to save the Murray?  


SENATOR ANNE RUSTON, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR WATER RESOURCES: Look I think one of the things we’ve achieved over the last few weeks with this discussion is just to re-establish that the plan is going to be delivered in full, we are going to restore river health but we’re not going to do it by smashing river communities. Not just river communities in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland but the river communities you right point out that I live in. So I think any public debate can serve to reinforce commitments in Government –


JOURNALIST: Let’s be frank here Anne Ruston, Barnaby Joyce would be pretty happy with this outcome would he not because the key caveat is in place that he was planning to use to reduce the water allocation from the Northern Basin and that is if they can prove economic disadvantage or community disruption even?


RUSTON: I think we’re looking at this all out of context. The reality is if you have a look at the legislation and the inter-governmental agreement everyone sat around the table and in 2012 we all agreed. Not just Nick Xenophon, not just the Labor Party but the Liberal Party and the National Party, every state, the ACT, we all agreed with what we were going  to do and I think what we all need to do is just calm down, let’s stop playing games with something that is so tremendously important, including the lives of people that rely on the river for their income and let’s work out how we’re going to deliver the plan and we’re going to deliver it in such a way where we don’t smash people who live in River communities.


JOURNALIST: Have the rules in anyway changed?


RUSTON: No but I think that was the point. The point that we needed to reinforce was that the rules haven’t changed. I think that is the key thing. Jay Weatherill and his Minister Hunter sought to make people believe that in some way the rules have changed. They haven’t changed what we’ve done over the last few days and the comments that have been made and the letter that has been written by the Prime Minister is that they haven’t changed. That is the point.


JOURNALIST:  Mark Butler, Labor member for Port Adelaide, Shadow Minister for Climate Change, do you accept this now?


MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, MEMBER FOR PORT ADELAIDE : No, this is a terrible outcome and after beating his chest, particularly over the weekend Nick Xenophon has delivered nothing out of this negotiation. Malcolm Turnbull barely had to raise a sweat. Only two days into the last final sitting week when Nick Xenophon and his political party had real potential influence in the senate, he’s given that up for a letter from Malcolm Turnbull and an agreement to have this on the agenda of very busy COAG meetings. There is nothing, nothing that’s has been changed around the –


JOURNALIST: Well the agreement hasn’t been changed and isn’t that the important?


BUTLER: The problem here is that Malcolm Turnbull gave responsibility for delivering the plan to Barnaby Joyce. We know that Barnaby has never supported the plan, he was sat on, he was forced to keep quiet while the plan went through the Parliament in 2012, but he never supported it. He said that if South Australians have a problem with the way in which the River Murray was operated we should all move to where the water is. Malcolm Turnbull took a decision that John Howard didn’t take, that Rudd and Gillard didn’t take, and not even Tony Abbott took. Before then the plan was under the oversight of the Environment Department because at its core the plan is about redelivering health to the River because good food and fiber industries, sustainable communities and a good environment all depend on the river being returned to health. Barnaby Joyce has made it crystal clear even in Parliament yesterday and the day before, where he said using his words, “there was not a hope in Hades” of the 450gl being delivered.


JOURNALIST: So Mark Butler would you move the social and economic suffering provisions from the agreement?


BUTLER: No, that was the agreement that we put in place –


JOURNALIST: If those provisions are there it can be used?


BUTLER: Well what they depend upon is the Commonwealth, a Minister for Water who is willing to take serious action to press states particularly the upstream states of New South Wales and Victoria to put forward projects in line with their commitments to the plan. And that’s what we don’t have with Barnaby Joyce. That’s why we said at the time Malcolm Turnbull put him in charge of the plan that this was going to end in tears. And it is ending in tears.


JOURNALIST: Well he’s not in charge of that anymore –


BUTLER:  He is.


JOURNALIST: It’s the Prime Minister.


BUTLER: That’s rubbish. Absolute rubbish, it’s going to be on a COAG agenda every few months at a meeting . To pretend that Malcolm Turnbull now has hands on responsibility for delivering this plan is utterly fanciful. And it’s nothing more than a fig leaf for Nick Xenophon being stared down by the Prime Minister in negotiations over the last couple of days and now voting for the Building Construction and Commission Bill.


JOURNALIST: If we could come back to you Anne Ruston, it now appears that the Australian Building and Construction Bill with Nick Xenophon’s support, Pauline Hanson’s support and so on will be passed. But it will be meaningless will it not if the Government doesn’t get its proposed new Restrictive Industry Code, which has to be put separately after the ABCC Bill goes through to drive the changes the Government wants, correct?


RUSTON: Well I mean obviously you need to take everything one step at a time, we got the ROC Bill through last week. This week we’re obviously focusing on the ABCC Bill this week, and you know obviously that’s the next stage in the process. So I think we need to not get ahead of ourselves here.


JOURNALIST: But is it correct that under this proposed new code, if the Government does make any concessions, hundreds of companies will soon be immediately disqualified from bidding for Federal building work because they have agreements that do not comply? According to Ewin Hannan, Workplace Editor of The Australian who has done a thesis on this, the Government said any enterprise agreement structure tabled 2014 will have to comply with the new code for companies that get Government work. But most of the 500 agreements struck by the unions (CFMEU) would be in breach, because they contain clauses not allowed by the code. Does this sound to you like a mess in the making?


RUSTON: No, not at all. The mess in the making is already out there on our construction sites and I think what we are trying to do is trying to restore the productivity of this extremely important sector so that we can actually get on with building Government buildings, building hospitals –


JOURNALIST: Will the Coalition give ground on the 2014 or will it Grandfather this clause?


RUSTON: Look I can’t answer that question but I’m certainly happy to get back to your listeners to give you an answer.


JOURNALIST: Do you know what I’m talking about?


RUSTON: Yes, yes I saw the paper this morning just like you did and sat through the chamber last night with a whole heap of discussion. I mean obviously as I said we focus on dealing with this in the first instance and the issues that come out of the passing of this view which we will hopefully do this week with the support of the crossbench, we can then work out how we are actually going to deliver that on the grounds so that we can get on with the job of –


JOURNALIST: You haven’t figured it out yet, it’s a bit like Brexit isn’t it?


RUSTON: Oh look not at all, we have to get the structure in place first.


JOURNALIST: Nick Xenophon what’s best sorted out here, do you need this code to make any sense of the bills you have agreed too?


XENOPHON: Well you do because that is what is meant to drive cultural change in the sector. But the information I have is that a few minutes ago, when the Bill comes up in the Parliament in thirteen minutes time that there has been a compromise reached as I understand it with Senator Hinch. There will be a two-year lead in time for the code to apply so those companies that have got agreements have got two years to renegotiate. There’s a much longer time frame, then the nine months that was initially –


JOURNALIST: So that means that the two years would be meaningless almost. But does that take us to after the next election?


XENOPHON: No it won’t be meaningless because there are different penalties in place, there are rules in place that deal with the issues of course but I’m about to move amendments on safeguards so the ABT, the Administrative Bills Tribunal, has a role so it won’t be –


JOURNALIST: So you know more about this than Anne Ruston?


XENOPHON: Well to be fair to Anne she’s not the Minister for Industrial Relations


JOURNALIST: Nor are you. But you are able to tell us that in 13 minutes time with Derryn Hinch’s support, the Government is giving ground on the key component of this.


XENOPHON:  And again, to be fair to Anne she hasn’t been involved in negotiations. She’s not the Minister.


JOURNALIST: She’s only a Government Minister –


XENOPHON: It’s not her portfolio.


JOURNALIST: It’s not yours either. But anyway –


XENOPHON: Well it has to be mine for the purpose of this debate


JOURNALIST: Mark Butler is this a significant concession?


BUTLER: Well yeah, we read about this concession this morning as well and it is true that the few years the Government has been trying to get this legislation through, employers and unions have been in good faith bargaining under the existing laws. So the idea that they would seek retrospectively to punish a group of workers and particular companies for having at the time abided by the existing law seemed even more outrageous in the context of a pretty outrageous bill. So as we understand it, there is this agreement with Derryn Hinch but the bill is still fundamentally we think a piece of overreach against one group of workers, singled out from the community.


JOURNALIST: Well workers who have in some cases, well not necessarily workers is it, it’s really some of the big unions who have adopted sometimes tactics of thuggery on workplaces. We’re not talking about workers are we?


BUTLER: No we are.


JOURNALIST: Mark Butler are you happy to defend the CFMEU and its worst actions?


BUTLER: We’re particularly talking about workers here and the position that we’ve taken and I’ve expressed a number of times on your show goes to the suspension of long standing civil rights for ordinary construction workers. I’m not talking about the Union Secretaries or the National Secretary, ordinary construction workers who can be pulled into meetings without representation, without the ability to even tell their partner, their wife for example, where they have been for several hours of meetings. It’s a suspension of civil rights that not even criminals or people who have allegedly committed very serious crimes in this country. That’s what we’re objecting to.


JOURNALIST: Nick Xenophon, is there an erosion of civil rights here?


XENOPHON: No there isn’t because when Labor was in they agreed and I quoted a speech from Bill Shorten who was Industrial Relations Minister that said this is requiring people to answer questions in exceptional circumstances, exist for the ACCC for ASIC, for Corporate Regulator, for APRA, the Financial Services Regulator. It’s not unusual, I’ve got amendments that I’ve moved and will be moving that will give safeguards to people, appropriate representation and the like and I think it trikes the correct balance. But these cohesive powers that are used in exceptional circumstances also exist in other pieces of legislation