Interview with Hamish MacDonald, ABC RN Breakfast

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Transcripts

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Transcript
  • Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations
  • Minister for Women

E&OE

Subjects: Industrial relations; Gender pay gap; Seat of Mallee; Andrew Broad

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Industrial relations is emerging as a key battleground at the coming federal election after the ALP National Conference cleared the way for an increase in union power. Employers are alarmed it seems that Labor plans to return to industry wide pattern bargaining and possibly, stronger right to strike provisions, which could see entire sectors stopping work in support of better wages and conditions. The focus on workplace laws comes as the government faces more heat over its so-called women problem, following the resignation of course of frontbencher Andrew Broad who became embroiled in this sugar-daddy scandal.

Kelly O’Dwyer is the Minister for Industrial Relations; she’s also the Minister for Women. Good morning to you Kelly O’Dwyer.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Good morning Hamish.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Under a Labor Government, pattern bargaining would replace enterprise bargaining which Bill Shorten says has failed. It is simply – in his words – not doing the job for wages in this country. He’s right, isn’t he?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well no, Christmas has come early for John Setka and his union boss mates yesterday at the Labor conference because Bill Shorten and his team have given the green light now for industry wide strikes, something that Paul Keating, when he was Prime Minister said was not good for the economy and something that under his term he actually wound back. The reason it is so economically damaging is that industry wide bargaining cripples small business, shuts down essential services that people rely on like schools and hospitals, and we know our farmers in the past have seen their produce rotting on the wharves. Now, when we have…

HAMISH MACDONALD:

[Interrupts] Sorry to interrupt you Kelly O’Dwyer. We do have a problem with wages growth; you acknowledge that, don’t you?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well certainly wages have not grown as quickly as they have in the past. But wages have still kept pace with the cost of living. Now, we want to see wages grow, but when we talk about wages growth, what we’re really talking about is putting more money into Australian people’s pockets. And we are doing that through our tax plan to ensure that people keep more of what they earn. Labor of course, will do the opposite. They’re going to hike taxes on people, more than $200 billion worth and counting, everything from housing taxes through to retirement savings taxes.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Right. I appreciate that you want to have a conversation about taxes, but I’m trying to talk to you about wages here and this issue of pattern bargaining. Labor is only talking about pattern bargaining in low paid industries like hospitality, childcare, cleaning, security. Can you understand why for people that are low income earners, the idea that this might return and that they might have better capacity to increase their wage somewhat – don’t forget that the budget update has revised down wages growth to just 2.5 per cent – this might seem attractive?

KELLY O’DWYER:

The first point I’d make is you can’t ignore taxes, because people pay taxes, and the higher the spending of governments, the higher the taxes that apply to people, ordinary hardworking people. It is definitely part of the conversation.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

[Talks over] Sure, but I begun this interview with Bill Shorten’s quote about whether or not enterprise bargaining had worked.

KELLY O’DWYER:

I’m happy to come to your point, which is – is the current system working? The current system was set up by the previous Labor Government. The Fair Work Commission today, has the capacity to vary awards, there is an annual minimum wage increase that is looked at annually, where you consider the minimum wage and that is something that will be looked at early next year. Again, we have seen that increase quite substantially over the past couple of reviews. We know from the words of the RBA governor and the deputy governor that as we lower the unemployment rate, we will see wages increase and that we have seen promising signs with recent data. And we have lowered the unemployment rate during our time in Government – it’s down to five per cent. It was much higher under the previous Labor Government. We have increased the number of jobs that are actually available to people – around 1.2 million new jobs created for people. That’s new opportunities for people to be able to earn an income and to be able to provide for their families and to create a better life for themselves. These are all very positive steps. But if you have industry wide bargaining you potentially shut down whole industries. It’s not simply about people potentially getting increased wages; you’re talking about people being able to strike for whatever reason.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

[Interrupts] But to be clear though, to be fair, Labor is yet to decide whether to give unions the legal right to strike in support of those multi-employer claims.

KELLY O’DWYER:

It is absolutely clear, from the green light that was given yesterday at the conference that the Labor Party will cede to any union demand. And this was something that has been trumpeted by…

HAMISH MACDONALD:

[Interrupts] Do you have any evidence that they’re actually going to do that? That they are going to agree to give unions that right?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well they’ve said in their broad statement that they agree that there should be industry wide strikes. Now, they’ve said that they will look at exactly how that should apply, that is code for ‘we will apply it in the way that Sally McManus has demanded and the way that John Setka has demanded’. These strikes happen not just because of wages, but because somebody might be annoyed at something that’s happened in a particular workplace and that incident at a particular workplace can impact every other workplace within that particular sector or industry. Now this is a return to the industrial disputation of the 1970s, where the strike rate was 40 times higher. The economic impact of that is very real for people. It would lead to lower living standards for people because of course, you are talking about people not getting wage increases, but potentially losing jobs as industries grind to a halt.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Given… sorry, but given that they have not decided on that, aren’t you just scaremongering by using these sorts of allegations?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well no, I’m using the words of the very political Sally McManus and the words of John Setka.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

[Talks over] Who is not an elected politician in the Labor Party.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well let’s be really clear here, the ALP is just the political arm of the union movement. They have rights over pre-selection, they dictate funding to the Labor Party and they clearly know that they will be back in charge with Bill Shorten. Bill Shorten said that he still thinks like a union boss. He was a former union boss himself. We’ve had John Setka, yesterday, a leading figure at the national conference – who, by the way, did refer to a previous Prime Minister in language that I won’t repeat on the radio – a man who has been convicted of assaults against police, someone like that now is going to be put in a position where he is helping to determine the industrial relations policy of the Labor Party. And I think people would be very concerned to hear that.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

The Labor conference also adopted measures to try and close the gender pay gap, mainly through the Fair Work Commission. The latest report from the World Economic Forum – I’m sure you’re familiar with it – has found that worldwide it will take something like 202 years for women to reach pay parity. Here in Australia, 73 per cent of the gap has been closed but we still only rank 39th in the world. Would you match Labor’s proposals to give women a fairer deal?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I think it’s a bit rich that Labor are talking about gender pay parity when under their government we actually saw the gender pay gap increase to 17.2 per cent. Under our Government it’s come down to a record low of 14.5 per cent. So, good on talk, not very good on delivery is the first point I’d make. The second point I’d make is that I do welcome the fact that the Labor Party finally started talking about the economic engagement and empowerment and financial security of women, I think it’s long overdue. But they’ve got to follow up that talk with real action. All they announced yesterday were measures that currently exist within the Fair Work Commission. They’ve got all of the powers that were discussed yesterday. What we have done is that for the very first time of any government we have delivered a women’s economic security statement, with very practical measures to ensure that we can not only close the gender pay gap, but help women to be able to build their financial security so that we can have true gender equality, which isn’t about pitting girls against boys or women against men but simply about saying that women and girls deserve an equal stake in our society and in our economy.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Sure. Another one of your male colleagues, Andrew Broad, has quit in disgrace, he won’t contest the next election. Would you like to see a woman run in the seat of Mallee? And would you like to see Bridget McKenzie run there?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well, look, I’ve got a great regard for my colleague Bridget McKenzie but these issues around pre-selection in the National Party are questions for the National Party. And obviously I’ll let Bridget and the leader of the National Party actually make comments about that.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Do you think that the government needs to have moral authority to run the country?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I don’t fully understand your question.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Well, I just wonder what has been lost through this whole moment. I mean, there’s a discussion about how relevant his private life is but I wonder whether the government is losing its moral authority given the position – the strong position – that people like Andrew Broad have taken on social issues.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well look, I think there’s no doubt that Andrew Broad has not behaved in a way that has met the standards that he himself would set for others. And I’m not going to defend bad behaviour. But I’m also not going to get into a commentary that would cause further pain to his family. He’s made a statement that he’s going to be leaving the Parliament. I think that we should probably leave it at that. But I do think that all governments, no matter what their political stripes, need to be able to set a very high standard. I think that’s right. I think the men and women that go into public life need to set high standards and need to be held to a high standard. And I think it’s fair and right for the Australian people to expect and demand that.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Kelly O’Dwyer, thank you very much.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Thanks, Hamish.

[Ends]