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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: Coronavirus – Artania – JobKeeper - Parliament

GARETH PARKER: I've just learned that Seven West media staff, Seven West media staff are going to take a 20 per cent pay cut until June 30 – that is senior staff.  Non-senior staff are going to be reduced to four days a week, which is effectively a 20 per cent pay cut. So that news has just come to me.

The Attorney General, the Industrial Relations Minister is Christian Porter.  Christian, good morning

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah good morning to you I hope all your listeners are staying safe.

GARETH PARKER: Absolutely. Lots to discuss.  The economic package we'll come back to in a moment because you know, I said yesterday that was a very good piece of policy and we spoke to Mathias Cormann about it but there's obviously a fair bit still to talk about with that. To start I know this isn't your portfolio we've been in contact with Peter Dutton’s office but the situation with the Artania - we need to get this ship out of Australian waters, don't we?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, we do and we will but obviously it's about timing. I've spoken with Peter this morning. And look, I think…let's look at what's been achieved so far. So Commonwealth Government’s facilitated the repatriation of approximately 850 passengers on charter flights back to Germany, from the Artania. Now just keep in mind that two or three days ago there were a lot of voices in the sort of publicly, public commentary sphere who said that that wasn't possible – and that was too risky and people should be moved to islands and all this sort of stuff. So let's just keep in mind that in a calm, responsible, humanitarian and safe flight, we've moved 850 passengers off the vessel, bussed them out chartered them off; low risk; the right thing to do. Now the vessel is the subject of an order to leave. And they don't have to do that tonight. But they are subject to an order to leave. My information is that there are still 12 passengers on board some of whom are very unwell. And their level of either illness or frailty is such that they cannot get in a plane.

GARETH PARKER: So 12 passengers are still on board?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: So that's that's my briefing but that’s, is changeable. But there's also the crew. And passengers who are too unwell or too frail to fly and the crew will have to go home in the boat back I presume to Germany. Now we've got a responsibility to those passengers to ensure that the West Australian health system gives them the available attention to ensure that they don’t, if I can put this bluntly, die on the on the voyage home because they've not received proper attention before that voyage commences.  And that is just a humanitarian responsibility that I think that we have. And if you have a look at the way in which our passengers on vessels in places like Japan were treated, we wouldn't want to treat people any less well than that.  We have an humanitarian obligation, so yes, it has to leave, we also have an obligation to make sure it leaves with people in decent enough condition that they survive the journey back.  And so that's a balancing exercise. And I think it's one that's been worked on cooperatively between customs and our Government and WA Health and the WA Government. Yes, of course, they've got to leave, but they've got to leave in a way that is safe and fair and as humane as all of us circumstances can accommodate.

GARETH PARKER: Can you shed any light on why the ship would have requested to stay at Fremantle until April the 15th?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I don't know but I would be suspecting that that is about the condition of some of the passengers on board, but I don't have a specific briefing about that. But based on the briefings I've got, I would say that that is about people getting some form of basic health assistance that will allow them to undertake the journey.

GARETH PARKER: The overriding concern is obvious though, isn't it? You've got already 13 crew in Joondalup Hospital with COVID symptoms - there are 450 crew remaining on board and we know how this ship, cruise ships incubate and transmit this virus now

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Correct when they're full, they do when they're full, right?


ATTORNEY-GENERAL: But this is now an empty cruise ship. So one of the difficulties that was had on the cruise ship that was off the coast of Japan and then in a Japanese port was that it was completely full with its passenger manifest, so you're right - isolating people on a full cruise ship is very, very difficult. But when you've got 850 odd of the passengers off the cruise ship and back in Germany, it becomes a different matter. Everyone agrees that the cruise ship has to leave and it's under a direction to leave. The timing of that has to be a judgment around health of some of the passengers who are unwell or frail and that's a matter of health assessments and us doing the best that we possibly can in all the circumstances. But you right. I mean, there there are timing issues here.

GARETH PARKER: All right. There's obviously ….

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: …..but I think it's very important to keep in mind that a couple of days ago, a whole range of people were saying that it was impossibly unsafe to move 850 passengers from the vessel out to the airport, and we did that.

GARETH PARKER: I have already said this morning that we clearly have humane obligations to people humanitarian obligations to people and that that operation in particular was well executed. So I acknowledge both those points.  The rescue package that Prime Minister and the Treasurer announced the JobKeeper plan, I think is brilliant. I think it gives us a fighting chance to get to the other side of the crisis.  Can you just take us inside the discussions that sort of led to that because it's, you know, you've been on this program the last two weeks and I've been asking you about a program of this nature and the view was, well, look we'd rather not because we'd rather use existing delivery mechanisms. Now the delivery mechanism is the payroll system which is a good solution.  Is this going to save jobs?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, I mean, look the type of programs that have been undertaken in the UK, as I said last week are putting all of your eggs in one very complicated basket. I think the UK system suffers from the major problem that you're actually incentivising the stand-down of employees.  Like people get 80 per cent of their wage up to a capped amount once they've been stood down. This package’s strength is in the fact that we've been able in short time to design something that incentivises you to keep connectivity with your employees – and that connectivity is obviously through a $1500 subsidy to their wage. Now, it's not uncomplicated, like it's not easy to put these things together. But trying to find an existing delivery mechanism was the hunt that we were on for the intervening two weeks and the delivery mechanism is through the ATO essentially and using existing corporate and business payrolls to deliver a payment to staff to keep them connected through that employment and of course, give them a safety net at the same time.  Because obviously, many of those employers are going to be working with distressed businesses and you know what the target there is - if you've received a 30 per cent decrease in your turnover under $1 billion or 50 per cent over $1 billion you meet the definition of distress. So I think the strength is there's some simplicity, it complements the welfare response, it uses an existing delivery mechanism, it's not overly complicated in that you're trying to calculate 80- per cent of what could be 100 different pay ranges in a single business, which is monstrously complicated. So we believe this will work. We think it complements what we've already done. We think it's necessary. It took a couple of weeks to get it into a shape that we think meets all the KPIs and markers that we want to try and meet. But you know, we're in completely uncharted territory here - completely uncharted and we’re trying to cover every single base. So you've got a wage response, you've got a welfare response, you've got individual responses to businesses and in the health system, we believe they can all complement each other.  And it is of course   massive expenditure - I mean, it is just astonishing, but it's necessary.

GARETH PARKER: Yeah, beats 30 per cent-plus unemployment and the new Great Depression, which is what the trajectory we could have been heading on without it.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think that we've got to consistently understand as the Prime Minister has consistently said that we're fighting a health battle and an economic battle here and the two things just can't be perfectly separated or de-linked.  If we ruin our economy and ruin our economies that have key workers providing key and essential services, then that will limit our health response and any limitation to our health response will compound and reverb right into worsening economic effects. So you have to get both of these things right.  And I think, you know, it is very, very hard because it's uncharted territory, but we are slowly dampening the curve of the pathology of the virus, we’re I think making good decisions through the National Cabinet and the way in which we're slowing down the economy spread to stop the spread and slow the spread of the virus is considered. It's not just dropping a samurai sword through the economy, like it's doing it in a considered, staged way. And we're constantly trying to balance those two things and reach the bottom-out point where we can start reviving the economy.

GARETH PARKER: How much did Sally McManus and Greg Combet have to do with it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: They’ve been very helpful, but they're not involved in cabinet discussions ERC discussions. They've been very helpful both on the IR front but I think if you asked both of them, they have not been involved in the key discussions around this, this payment. But again, Greg Combet is sitting on the Advisory Commission with Nev Power, to the Prime Minister and his and many other people's expertise will be called on in drafting the legislation that will make these $1500 payments to what look’s like 6 million workers a reality.  But these are individuals in a sea of people who are offering advice and assistance to government and this was a decision of the Treasurer, the Prime Minister the ERC and the Cabinet. It was a government decision and it was being planned for some time.

GARETH PARKER: The Parliament will obviously need to meet again to ratify it, debate it, there may well be changes at the margins to the package as well. What are the arrangements for that? You're in charge of the House. What happens with Parliament?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I am.  Well you know, I've been working with our Cabinet team on the on the actual package itself. Now I'm turning my mind to how we reconvene Parliament so that we can deliver the legislation which makes those $1500 payments reality.  We want to that obviously as quickly as possible. There's some pretty significant drafting that's got to be done before we can get back to Parliament to actually pass the drafting. So that's being worked on furiously at the moment. The last time we had Parliament there were about 90 people there, I think you would expect to see less than that.  The legislative quorum for a Parliament is 31 Members, so you'll certainly see more than that. But we've got all these added complications of border closures between states and quarantine rules around people moving from state to state. So it'll probably be the most complicated Parliament that's ever been called in terms of how the logistics of it work so that we can actually get enough people in the Parliament voting and have its procedures as regular and as orthodox as possible in all the circumstances. So
there have been easier Parliament's to convene I’d have to say but we'll get there.

GARETH PARKER: Will MPs have to, you know, go into self-isolation when they return from Parliament to their home states?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well each of the state's rules are a little bit different on these things? Probably South Australia, I think, from my recollection is the strictest at the moment. But you know, we've got a big country and we've got a lot of MP’s out there. And I think we'll be moving them in from the places where we think it's safest to move them in from - and where the rules that allow them to move into Parliament are sort of conducive enough to have that happen. So we've got 150 people who are out there and we'll make sure that we get the people that we need in Parliament and we want to do that in a safe way.  And one of the risks of course with Parliament is we’re flying people from all around Australia, and they're all in the Parliament building and then we're flying them all back to other parts of Australia. So we have to try and do this in a way that meets all of our constitutional and legislative requirements that provides fair scrutiny - that operates like a normal Parliament, albeit with less people – and we do it in a safe as possible way for all the people that come here and all the people in our communities that we go back to. And none of us want to be coming and traveling and then coming back to our communities that were elected to serve and doing that in a way that promotes any risk. So we'll be doing this very, very cautiously, very safely. We managed to do it a couple of weeks ago, this will be a little bit harder again, but it'll get done. And at the end of that process is $130 billion worth of wage subsidies to Australians plus the massive welfare response plus the response, the individual businesses, plus the health response. And we've made ourselves pretty resilient on an economic and health basis to this. I would argue as resilient and robust a response as anywhere in the world and we’re probably doing better than just about anywhere in the world at the moment so let’s hope that we can keep this going because there’s got to be another side to this and we want to all get out of it and get this economy cranked back up and fire out of it as hard as we can.