Subjects: BP worker sacking, Religious Freedom, Perth City Christmas celebrations
GARETH PARKER: The Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister is Christian Porter, who joins us each- well, most Thursdays. Christian, good morning.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah. Morning, Gareth. Morning to all your listeners.
GARETH PARKER: Now, you are in Sydney continuing to consult on this religious discrimination bill, which we'll come to in a minute. But just on the- with your IR hat on, you've seen this story about the BP worker who got sacked for making a Downfall parody video?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah. Look I have seen the story. I haven't read the decision, which I'm going to try and do later today, because there's a - it's at least unusual enough I think to - as a Minister - read the decision and try and understand. Because often there's more context around it than it appears sometimes in the necessarily limited words in a newspaper article. I mean, I've seen a fairly large number of variants of the meme around that Downfall video. I mean, it's like those Star Wars memes, everyone's face gets posted on it from time to time.
GARETH PARKER: Well I saw one about the Government you used to be in. There was one with Colin Barnett as Hitler.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well that sounds desperately unfair, I must say, Gareth. But look, I think that you've got to be careful that we all don't get too thin skinned about all of these things, but as I say, sometimes these decisions got a lot more context to them that appears in the necessarily limited words of a newspaper article.
GARETH PARKER: Yeah. But it is interesting, isn't it-
CHRISTIAN PORTER: It's unusual enough to warrant to read.
GARETH PARKER: Okay. Well perhaps we'll check in with you once you've read it, but it's amazing how, like, some of the decisions that come out of the Fair Work Commission about what is and isn't acceptable behaviour and uphold the sacking or not. Like, we had a bloke using all sorts of foul language some months ago, dogs C, and all this sort of stuff, and that was considered okay, that didn't get you sacked, but if you make a video of this nature, you do get sacked. What- how do we draw a line through it? Does it depend on the individual policies in the workplace?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well all contexts are different. I mean, one of the complaints that I get a lot from small businesses, I've been going around and consulting with stakeholders and IR is that a lot of small business people say that even in circumstances where people are turning up drunk to work, or there's really serious misbehaviour by one staff against another staff, they find that the dismissal process for them is incredibly difficult. And then of course, you hear that and then you read decisions like the one that we're discussing now. It's always great virtue for decision makers, even in a body as big as the Fair Work Commission, to be as consistent as they possibly can be in applying laws. But this is one of the issues that we're going to look at as a review of the industrial relations area. You know, we'd do this basically issue by issue, in discussion papers and try and treat each of these issues separately and sensibly and see what consensus can be built around any rational reforms that actually make life better for employees, build better businesses, and help the economy.
GARETH PARKER: Okay. The consultations; so you released the bill this day - or a week ago today. You're now- today talking to religious leaders. What are they telling you?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: It's actually been going pretty well. I mean, we're running a series of consultation sessions right across Australia. So usually 12 or 14 representatives in each room, but it's a process where you've got Christian churches sitting next to Jewish churches, next to Islamic churches, and then with LGBTI groups. So there is an enormously broad sort of spectrum of views being put.
I would say largely it's going pretty well, there's a lot of very informed people who've read the bill very carefully who take great care and interest in these things. Some people want more, some people want less. There's been a lot of contribution as to how individual clauses might be improved in particular drafting, but it hasn't really thrown up anything radical or surprising, I've got to say. Yeah, we've tried to divine a middle path that protects Australians who are religious from discrimination that we've heard through the Ruddock review can and does occur. But we're trying to do that in a way that balances against a range of other values. So not everyone will always be perfectly happy, but the degree of unhappiness at either end of this debate is not quite as bad as I thought it would be.
GARETH PARKER: Okay. The Israel Folau clause, if I can put it that way, is the interesting way. You've got large businesses who if they can demonstrate a material detriment to their revenue, they can sack someone for their expressing religious beliefs. I'm summarising that. But …
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well not automatically. They have to prove that that was reasonable in all the circumstances.
GARETH PARKER: Sure, but that's the one that sort of, you know, that's contentious, isn't it? Because you've got some people saying, well that just means that businesses can sack anyone, others are saying well, businesses, we don't know what we can and can't do.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah. I think that the observation that that clause means that as long as a business can show such a simple thing, they can sack anyone, is an incorrect observation. I mean, what businesses, and this applies to businesses with a revenue over $50 million, more often than has previously been the case, these larger enterprises are getting into the business of prescribing what their staff can do in their spare time by way of things said or written on social media or you know even in public gatherings, Twitter, Facebook and the like. Now, that's a fairly new-ish phenomenon in Australia. I don't know whether employees appreciate it very much but there may be sometimes legitimate reasons for doing that. When you look at the rationales offered from large businesses to why they feel the need to do this, very often, their rationale is that there are some things which, if said, would actually cause, because of the nature of their business, serious commercial damage to them. What we are saying is that if that is your rationale, before you even get to the point of having to prove that it's reasonable in the circumstances, you should be able to demonstrate that there is such a thing as serious financial loss that you're suffering or will inevitably suffer.
GARETH PARKER: Right.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: I think the people who …
GARETH PARKER: So you can't just assert it's bad for business, you've got to prove it.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Correct. And I think that people who have observed that that somehow gives a licence to business are missing two points. First of all, businesses are doing this already, right?
GARETH PARKER: Yeah.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: It's happening right now. But I think that it wouldn't be the easiest thing in the world for a business to prove that something set in a religious context, when 14 million Australians by the way subscribe to one or other religions, that something said in a religious context was somehow damaging their business. But if that's what's being asserted and that's the rationale, then I think it's fair that a large business be put to the proof of that. But I don't think that would be the simplest thing to do and I think by virtue of the difficulty in doing that …
GARETH PARKER: Okay.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: … then greater protection is offered to people to express their religious beliefs …
GARETH PARKER: Alright.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: … in their spare time.
GARETH PARKER: Sure. In your meetings with all of the multi-faith groups and the Christians and the Muslims and the Jews and everyone else, has anyone ever expressed any discomfort around Christmas with you?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: No, not particularly. I was talking about the City of Perth stuff that's going on.
GARETH PARKER: Yeah.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah. Look, I mean, I actually read that press release today. I reckon the most interesting line in that whole press release is the person who said: action is set out in the cultural plan were long term visions, and any significant changes would happen after detailed consultation with the community. I sort of take the view that City of Perth's job is to create a vibrant, safe, commercially prosperous place in the CBD for work, for visitors, for retail, for tourism. That's the knitting here. And my great complaint about something like this is not necessarily based on the cultural engineering or religiosity of it. It's just that nothing ever seems to happen by way of concrete improvements, I mean, long term visions and significant changes after consultation….it isn't much more than a motherhood statement press release. I think …
GARETH PARKER: Yeah.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: … there are real issues with the City of Perth that require really careful, practical analysis and some quick and swift actions to bring back vibrancy and commercial and retail success and make it a much better and more attractive place for people to visit. I mean, it's the hub of tourism into WA and it really needs some significant improvement, I think. I'd like to see the City of Perth being a little bit less cultural, theological and philosophical, and a bit more practical.
GARETH PARKER: Okay. To focus on your knitting, basically, deliver the service. I mean-
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, focus on making it a great place to visit.
GARETH PARKER: Yeah. And I think- the thing from my point of view that that really frustrates me is that poor, old minority religious groups and non-religious people sort of get blamed for this stuff when they're not asking for it.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: No, I wouldn't have thought so. I mean, the thing is that as the City of Perth notes, about half the people in its catchment …
GARETH PARKER: Yeah.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: … are Christians. There are about a third who don't ascribe to any religion, and then there's a whole range of other faith traditions: Judaism, Islam and a range of others. But everyone gets something out of Christmas in the CBD because it's a beautiful place to take your kids to see parades and lights, but everyone gets something out of it if it's a really high quality product.
GARETH PARKER: Okay.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Like I think that what the City of Perth need to be doing is deliver better and higher quality products for people to enjoy in the city. I mean, the last truly great city event, if I might say so, harking back to Colin's days was when the giant puppets walked through it. That was crowds…enormous crowds. Like those types of things that bring vibrancy to the city do us all well because they make Perth an attractive place to visit; people come here, spend their dollars in retail as tourists. There's a lot of work to do but I don't know whether this is getting that work done.
GARETH PARKER: Okay. Christian, thank you for your time.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Cheers.
GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter, the Attorney-General, Industrial Relations Minister.