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In Parliament


John Setka - Grievance Debate

   Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Mr T SMITH (Kew) (15:28:34): I grieve for the people of Victoria. I grieve for the lack of moral fortitude of this Labor government led by the Premier, who has steadfastly refused to call out John Setka’s appalling litany of crimes over many years but more recently his pleading guilty to two very serious charges relating to family violence. Now, I take the Premier at his word, and indeed this government at their word, that he is committed to alleviating the scourge that is family violence, but the complete hypocrisy of the situation—it took the federal Labor leader to finally call out John Setka and move for his expulsion from the Australian Labor Party, where the Premier has only put out this very brief statement: Rosie Batty is a person of great courage who has fundamentally changed the way our country views and acts on family violence. She is rightly admired by all Australians. For the record, I completely agree with the Premier’s comments here. The comments made about her by Mr Setka are disgraceful and his refusal to apologise for them is appalling. I agree with that too. They cannot be defended in any context and I support the actions that Anthony Albanese has taken. The question is, Premier, why did it take you so long to put out that relatively mild statement compared to other statements that have now been made by union leaders? On 23 May Mr Setka pled guilty to harassing women and breaching a court order. On 27 May we asked in question time about the Premier’s views of John Setka and him remaining a member of the Australian Labor Party. We also asked the Minister for Women for her views about Mr Setka and whether or not he should remain a member of the Australian Labor Party. They would not call out John Setka; they would not mention his name. This total hypocrisy must be called out, and members of the labour movement are calling out John Setka. Finally, Sally McManus has shown some courage on this matter and has called out John Setka and said that he is no longer fit to lead the CFMEU. At estimates on 31 May we revealed that Mr Setka had been appointed to a government board for the construction industry. On 4 June our leader, the Leader of the Opposition, continued to call out John Setka and his membership of the Australian Labor Party. The Premier at this point had still said nothing. It was not until 11 June, a few weeks after Mr Setka had pled guilty to those very, very serious charges, that Anthony Albanese finally came out and called for Mr Setka to be removed from the Australian Labor Party. Why? Because of allegations that Mr Setka had slandered Rosie Batty at a CFMEU meeting. Why not earlier when it became apparent that Mr Setka had done something very wrong—in fact very criminal—that he had indeed pleaded guilty to? Why no comment from this government that lauds itself and its record on family violence? No-one today in this debate from the government benches has done the decent thing and said, 'Well, yes, Mr Setka has been a longstanding member of the Labor Party; he has been a longstanding member and a leader of the labour movement’. Not one Labor MP in this place today has said, 'John Setka has no future in the Australian Labor Party’. I think that is an utter disgrace. Many Labor members come into this place and quite rightly attack various elements within the Liberal Party for some of the ridiculous and insensitive and intolerant things they have posted on social media. Do you know what we do on this side of the house? We call them out. We say, 'It’s unacceptable, they should be investigated’, and in certain instances, 'They should be removed from the Liberal Party’. I have said that many times. I have said it many times at the doors. I have said it many times in this chamber. But not so Labor. This vehement tribalism seems to excuse all manner of illegality because 'Oh he’s one of us, he’s one of the boys. He’s one of us’—this really ugly, very old-fashioned, collectivist view, despite Mr Setka being a convicted felon who has been charged with 60 crimes and convicted of 40 of them—'But don’t worry about that. He’s one of us. He’s one of the boys. He sticks up for the workers against the bosses. Therefore he’s beyond reproach’. Well, we on this side of the house do not believe in that; we actually believe in individual responsibility. Even if one of our own does the wrong thing, we call them out, and sometimes you have got to cut them loose. That is very hard in politics—to say to allies and friends and people that you have served with or have been on the same side of politics with, 'You’ve done the wrong thing and you should be called for it’. Because you have to provide moral leadership when you are governing a state or you are a major political party purporting to want to govern the country, the state or anywhere else, and Labor has failed this test. It has been a moral test and the Premier has failed it dramatically. The labour movement was so slow to come to terms with the gravity of Setka’s crimes, and they are very serious crimes, what Setka has done: using a carriage service to harass a woman—and we all know who we are talking about as well, let us just be honest—and then breaching a family violence order. Let us not forget that there were 30 charges—quite violent charges—that were laid on John Setka in this domestic incident, and they have been withdrawn. I am not going to run a commentary as to why that has occurred, but I think to all of us in this place who know something about the psychology of family violence that should be of great concern, because we all know what is going on there. Today the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) is threatening to audit federal and Victorian Labor MPs for any history of domestic violence allegations in retaliation for the ALP and unions moving against Victorian construction union boss John Setka. The Australian reported as of an hour ago: ETU Victorian secretary, Troy Gray— I have never had the pleasure of meeting Mr Gray— a close ally of Mr Setka— he must be a real charmer, this fella— said today the union would conduct the audit of Labor MPs 'to make sure they’re clean’— whatever that means— if they were going to be 'judge and jury’ about Mr Setka’s conduct. Mr Setka has said he intends to plead guilty to harassment charges… et cetera— 'If people are going to try and do a political hatchet job on a union official then we will be looking to see if people have skeletons in their closet,’ Mr Gray told The Australian. There have been a few audits that spring to mind in recent times. The last audit that was spoken of in the media was the audit that Mr Setka himself is now trying to do at the CFMEU headquarters. The Age reported that: A meeting of the CFMMEU’s Victorian construction leadership endorsed a series of inflammatory motions on Monday including launching an investigation to target 'cowardly’ leaks. Besides launching their investigation they also demanded that the union’s national office appoint an independent investigator to uncover leaks to the Age. That proposed probe would target members of the CFMMEU’s national executive while the union’s own probe would target its staff and even the union’s lawyers, Gordon Legal, with the Setka-led branch demanding access to records to see if they were involved in any of the leaks to the Age. That would involve a 'forensic IT and phone audit of all employees, branch officials and national officers of the union, with access to the private documents’. Well, John Setka must be taking a leaf out of the Premier’s book. Do you remember the phone audit a couple of years ago when, to stem the torrent of leaks that was coming out of the then cabinet, the poor old Premier and his mate the Leader of the Government in the other place—who I have referred to on a number of occasions as the Cardinal Wolsey of the Victorian government, or indeed the Victorian Parliament, which he himself finds quite amusing—decided that enough was enough and they were going to start auditing everyone’s phones as well. Members interjecting. Mr T SMITH: Yes, indeed. So we have now got the CFMEU investigating their own and the ETU threatening to investigate all Labor MPs. It would be fair to observe that it is not going so well for the comrades at the moment. There is much concern and angst amongst the comrades; they are not a happy family. Divorce is always difficult, but clearly the broad left CFMEU and those great law-abiding characters in that union are not happy with their leader; they are trying to get rid of him—and, frankly, good on them. I think he should go. I think John Setka should be never heard or seen from again. The man is a grub. And, frankly, quite why state Labor MPs and this Labor government cannot call him out is beyond me. Anthony Albanese—he is not the toughest bloke in the world, old jellyback up there, and he will not last long, but at least he has done the right thing. At least he has done the right thing, and he dragged the Premier of Victoria kicking and screaming. I do not know why this Premier will not call out these union brutes. I saw Peter Marshall in the vestibule last night, and I saw the Minister for Police and Emergency Services scurrying away relatively quickly as soon as she saw me, frankly. The fact that Peter Marshall still has not been censored in any way, shape or form by this Labor government is disgraceful. He is a brute; he is a bully. He threatened to put an axe into the head of Jane Garrett of the other place, and yet nothing from this Premier. Why won’t the Premier take on these bullies in his own movement? Why won’t he? What do they have on him—or is he just weak? I would not necessarily have described the Premier as a weak man, but in this instance he has shown a profound lack of moral fortitude to call out those in his own movement that have done the wrong thing. It will be revealed in the weeks to come the extent of Mr Setka’s crimes, because he will be sentenced. Obviously it is before the courts, and I will not say more on that matter. I suppose it comes down to money. As my friend the member for Ferntree Gully said earlier, the CFMMEU have donated literally millions of dollars to the Australian Labor Party, particularly here in Victoria, over recent years, and they will continue to do so because of the sweetheart deal that this Labor government did with campaign finance reform last year to ensure that the unions can still contribute. And, yes, the CFMMEU funds the Labor Party. Whereas Setka used to come after everyone’s preselection when he did not like them—he used to come after bosses too and he used to come after police officers; I believe he assaulted one of them once—he is now threatening to, I suppose, turn off the tap of the funds that fund the Labor Party. All I can say is from my perspective: well, I hope he does that, obviously. But the Labor Party should have the decency to say, 'We don’t want your money whilst you’re the leader of this organisation, John Setka, because, John Setka, you are a grub, you are a crook, you sully the name of the Labor Party by your presence’. The fact that the Premier will still take their money, that the Premier will not do what Anthony Albanese has done and call out this shocking litany of crimes—very serious domestic violence crimes that this man has committed—just shows you that factionalism and a brutish culture of union organisers still very much pervades this Labor Party. He may try and put on the face of, I suppose, being a trendy hipster in his blazer and his tight jeans out there on the weekend in Fitzroy, having faux beers with Bill Shorten and all that sort of stuff— Members interjecting. Mr T SMITH: That was funny. I did actually say at the time that was nonsense, and it turned out to be so. In conclusion, the Premier needs to show leadership on this matter. The Premier needs to come out and unequivocally denounce John Setka—not use the weasel words he has been using for the past few weeks. He has got to show leadership within his own movement, but particularly within his own party, because no-one doubts all people of goodwill in this country are trying to eradicate domestic violence, but when you have a perpetrator in your own midst, in your own movement, and you do nothing about it, you just sound and look like a fraud.