Senate QT today - MV Portland: Sterle V Cash

Senator Glenn Sterle went head to head with Employment Minister Michaela Cash regarding what the minister knew about the removal of the MV Portland Crew

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tvBHfHo0-0&feature=youtu.be

  Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (14:42):  My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. I refer to evidence in estimates that the Department of Employment knew in advance of the plan to replace the Australian crew of the MV Portland with a foreign crew and set sail the following day. I also refer to evidence that the minister and her office were informed in advance. Once informed, what action did the minister take to defend Australian jobs on the MV Portland

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:43):  If Senator Sterle was listening to the evidence at estimates, he would know that it is always the case in these types of disputes that the department is made aware of them. But in terms of what occurred on the MV Portland, that is a matter for the company, nothing more and nothing less. In relation to the issue of Australian jobs, I see that Senator Sterle, a great defender of the actions of the MUA—and just remember in this case, the MUA members held that ship hostage for months. They sat on that ship in breach of orders that came out of—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT (14:44):  Senators on my left. Order on my left! Senator Wong on a point of order.

Senator WONG (South Australia—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:44):  Mr President, a point of order on direct relevance. I know Senator Cash does like to hit any union she can in any opportunity, but she was actually asked about what action she took. She was asked: 'I refer to evidence that the minister and her office were informed in advance and once informed what action did the minister take to defend Australian jobs on the MV Portland'?

The PRESIDENT:  The minister did explain that she believes it is a matter for the company and the employees. I will allow the minister to continue answering.

Senator CASH:  As I was saying, the MUA workers on that ship were in breach of orders made by the Fair Work Commission. Those orders had been challenged in the Federal Court, and the Federal Court had referred them back to the Fair Work Commission. So, Senator Sterle, you and those on that side of the chamber may come in here and defend the unlawful actions of the MUA, but I will not.

I will tell you what I will defend. I will defend the small business owners in Portland who did not get business because you held the ship hostage. I will stand here and defend them. More than 2,000 people are employed directly and indirectly by the aluminium smelter in Portland. Those jobs have been saved because of the actions of Alcoa. I will not come in here and defend unlawful action by the most militant union in Australia. It held a ship hostage and almost destroyed the jobs of small business owners in the town of Portland.

Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (14:46):  Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer to confirmation that the minister's department was aware that security guards would be present on the MV Portland during its midnight replacement of the Australian crew. Was the minister or her office aware that guards would be present, and does she support the use of security guards to forcibly remove Australian workers?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:46):  Again, I am absolutely gobsmacked. Senator Sterle comes in here to defend the actions of the MUA, who were themselves in breach of—

The PRESIDENT:  Pause the clock.

Senator Sterle:  Mr President, I rise on a point of order. My question clearly had two parts. I asked very clearly: was the minister or her office aware that guards would be present. Then I asked: does the minister support the use of security guards to forcibly remove Australian workers? She has gone nowhere near that question. She is avoiding it.

The PRESIDENT:  I remind the minister of the question.

Senator CASH:  I will remind Senator Sterle and those on the other side that the context of the MV Portland setting sail was there were three orders of the independent umpire that were being ignored. The decision to remove the employees from the ship was made by the company. The company made that decision after its ship had been held hostage by the MUA from a number of months.

The PRESIDENT:  Pause the clock.

Senator Wong:  Mr President, I rise on a point of order on direct relevance. I refer you to the statement that you made at the commencement of this session's settings where you made some comments about ministers' relevance to the question. Today you have done as you said you would in that statement, and that is to remind the minister of the question. There was only one question. It was on whether or not the minister or her office were aware that guards would be present and whether she supports the use of security guards to forcibly remove Australian workers. So a rant about the MUA, with respect, cannot be directly relevant. 

The PRESIDENT:  I will remind the minister of the question.

Senator CASH:  I say to Senator Sterle that the context around the people going on the ship to take the MUA members off and the MV Portland setting sail was that there were three orders of the independent umpire being ignored.

Senator Sterle:  Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I cannot say it any clearer. There were two parts to my question. The minister only has to answer my question with a yes or no. I am not asking for a rant against any union. It is either a yes or no, Mr President. With the greatest of respect, she is not being relevant to the question.

The PRESIDENT:  As previous presidents have often said—and I did indicate this in my statement at the beginning of this session—I cannot direct a minister how to answer, but I can inform the minister whether he or she is being directly relevant. In this case, I will remind the minister again of the question that has been asked.

Senator CASH:  Again, I will not stand here and defend the unlawful actions of the MUA.

Senator Sterle:  Mr President, I rise on a point of order. That is twice now they you have asked the minister to answer the question and she has refused to do it. I would like to ask the question again in case there is some confusion.

The PRESIDENT:  You have a final supplementary question available, Senator Sterle. It is your right to ask it if you wish.

Senator Sterle:  I wish to ask my first supplementary question again because it was not answered.

The PRESIDENT:  It still fits within the definition of a supplementary question, so you can ask that again if you wish to.

Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (14:50):  Mr President, I ask a final supplementary question. I ask my first supplementary question again. I refer to confirmation that the minister's department was aware that security guards would be present on the MV Portland during its midnight replacement of the Australian crew. Was the minister or her office aware that guards would be present, and does she support the use of security guards to forcibly remove Australian workers?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:50):  If you listened to my previous answer you would know I did answer that question. I have nothing further to add.