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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: Chinese trade, Fair Work Commission and minimum wage decision

GARETH PARKER: The Attorney-General, Industrial Relations Minister, is Christian Portan- Porter, Christian Porter. Excuse me, Christian, good morning.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Not as important as you think.

GARETH PARKER: Thank you for your time this morning. So, in the phrase of Marise Payne, China is bringing that economic coercion to bare. Will Australia drop its demands for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, of course not. I mean, I think the Prime Minister's descriptions about the calls for an independent inquiry into the causes and administration of the coronavirus is perfectly correct, and he's described it as unremarkable. I mean, how could anyone other than support an independent inquiry into those circumstances which have caused so much devastation in Australia and around the world? But-

GARETH PARKER: [Interrupts] It's a good question, but here we are. We've got the Chinese now threatening West Australian barley farmers, threatening Australian beef farmers with the promise of more to come.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I mean it's not a question the Australian Government can answer. I mean, we think that the requirement for such an independent inquiry is unremarkable, completely necessary and to be expected, and the only reasonable and responsible course that any nation could call for given the devastation that's been wrought. But of course, you know, our relationship with China is not going to be defined by the call for that inquiry just like it's not going to be defined by one issue that rises over barley or an abattoir, and these things do happen from time to time. They don't define the nature of a relationship which has been mutually beneficial for many decades, which has been growing for many decades, which both sides of the trading relationship operate in a friendly and reciprocal way in which benefits both sides.

GARETH PARKER: But there's increasing evidence to question that proposition, isn't there? Given the way that China have reacted to this fairly straightforward, as you say, call. You know, these things happen from time to time. This is- these things don't happen from time to time, this is a deliberate strategy to get Australia to drop the issue.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I mean people might draw that conclusion or commentators might make that case, and that's a matter for commentary. But if you have a look at things like the barley dumping investigation, that's been running for 18 months, like, it's actually not new. And the labelling issues-

GARETH PARKER: [Interrupts] Right. But they've pulled that out of the back pocket at a particular time for a particular reason.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, but it hasn't actually been pulled out of the back pocket, because this is part of a process that's been ongoing for 18 months. And you know, the labelling issues that have arisen with respect to abattoirs this week or have been reported this week, you know, they- these things have happened before, very similar to what occurred, with respect, to Australian meat producers in years past. So, these things do happen from time to time but I think the important point is that people will form a view about context. But the longer context is that these things occur, and I think you have to treat every matter on its merits. Now, our meat production is of the highest quality of anywhere in the world. We're absolutely confident that these producers are doing the right things and that that'll be shown in due course.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. Yesterday, Josh Frydenberg the Treasurer, gave what I think was a pretty remarkable, sobering assessment of the economy in the June quarter. Like, we've gone 29 years without two quarters of any negative consecutive growth. And then we have the June quarter down 10 per cent, household dwelling investment down 18 per cent, business investment, the non-mining sector down 18 per cent. The calls from parts of your backbench to unwind JobKeeper just seem ridiculous.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I'm not sure that that's exactly how I would characterise some of the statements that have been made. But I think the two things that I would draw from Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer's speech yesterday, and from statements from the Prime Minister, are first of all that we are in the middle of the emergency situation, and we still have a massive job of work to do on the health response. But of course, parallel to that health response, we're trying to have a balanced, staged, but forward leaning reanimation of the economy, because we can't go on like this economically for too long. It's just- it's beyond the capacity of any economy to survive like this for too long. And so, you've got this parallel job of work on the health response, but also in getting our economy reanimated and getting people back into jobs. And secondly, as you point out, you know, people of our generation, Gareth, we've enjoyed 29 years of uninterrupted economic growth. And then we witnessed the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs literally in days, not seen since the Great Depression which was basically mythology from our grandparents when we were young. And there's no one left who actually recalls, really, the wildness and uncertainty of that period. Now, we don't want to have a return to the long recovery of that great depression era. So, we are engaged in planning, at both a state and federal level, for the reanimation and reengagement of the Australian economy so that the recovery can be as quick as possible. But, there's no denying the fact that to bridge businesses and therefore preserve jobs from the start, towards the end of the health response, we have had to spend unprecedented amounts of taxpayer's money. Now, we did that, not because we intend to do that forever, but because we thought that that was the thing you had to do, to preserve businesses. So at the end of this, you can have a recovery that's actually led by businesses and regrows employment, because the Government can't stay involved in the Australian economy like this for too long.

GARETH PARKER: Do you think that the state premiers - and I ask you specifically about Mark McGowan - have been sufficiently ambitious, in trying to reanimate the economy as you put it? Given the status of the health situation at the moment.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I think Western Australia provides a good example of the more forward leaning approach. And you know, there are things that Western Australia uniquely provides to the rest of Australia, which are going to be completely critical in our recovery. The mining industry, the construction industry; we have to make sure that these parts of our economy are the first to refire and can absorb some level of unemployment and grow strongly over the next six, 12, 18 months. So, you know, I think that Western Australia provides a great example; both of the health response, but also of the way in which you can stage cautiously, but also, with some level of forward leaning, a reanimation of the economy. We don't wait too long, and I think WA is actually providing a good example. Look at what's happened with schools in WA. I think that is an excellent example of the fact that this is an economy that is gearing up again, ready for the normal operation, or as normal as we can make the operation of the economy while still taking into account social distancing, changes to occupational health and safety. The fact is that life's going to look a little bit different for some time to come, but right across the economy at a business level, state government, federal government level, we're having to come up with work arounds and institute them as quickly as possible and do as best we can.

GARETH PARKER: Well, we spoke last week about the minimum wage and about the union's submission for a 4 per cent increase in the minimum wage. The president of the Fair Work Commission, who will ultimately make the decision is sort of making the point today: well, look I can't delay this decision beyond 30 June, that's when I have to make my decision despite all of the uncertainty. Is there anything- do you attach any significance to that?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I mean, I understand the position that he's in and he does have a statutory requirement to deliver the decision. But, I think, also without prejudging his decision and we've made our submission that jobs and preserving jobs has to take priority here. I think that in providing a decision, he can have the circumstances even extraordinary as they are, compensated for in the terms and nature of his decision. I think that is- that ability exists in terms of the types of decision that you make and there are a number of options before Ian Ross, as President the Fair Work Commission here. So, you know, he will consider those options dutifully carefully. We don't think that the right option here is the very significant increase in the minimum wage that the ACTU and the union movement are asking for. Australia already has the highest minimum wage in the world. So, to propose a very substantial increase to the world's highest minimum wage, at precisely the time that businesses are at the weakest point, perhaps ever in Australia's history, I think is just a wrongheaded submission. You know, in my convivial conversations with Sally McManus, I put that view which is alternative to hers. And our submission to the Fair Work Commission has been that the absolute priority in the terms of its decision should be preserving jobs so that when we come out of the health response we've got as much of the architecture of the Australian economy left as we can preserve, to regrow, rebuild and get government out of the economy.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. Josh Frydenberg had a coughing fit yesterday. He's negative for coronavirus, which is fantastic. Anyone else with any coughs or sniffles around Parliament house?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Not that I'm aware of, Gareth. My travels are from my office down to the Chamber and back. It's not like I'm getting out a lot, but yeah, it was really unfortunate for Josh yesterday and these things happen from time to time. But, he's fine and I think, you know, he said he wasn't feeling unwell beforehand, he just lost his voice and coughed and took some water down the wrong way at the dispatch box. So you'd always hope that doesn't happen, but it's over now. Dog's barked, caravan moves on and we're all being very cautious here in parliament. Like every enterprise across Australia, we're just having to do things differently. And it's pretty strange- like, we had a party room meeting for Liberal National parties in the Great Hall here. It was like sitting on desks in an exam room, you know?

GARETH PARKER: Like Winthrop Hall?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah, absolutely. It was just- it was weird, but you know, that's just a work around that we've developed in every business and enterprise, and Australia is going to be doing the same thing. You know, we can get through this with planning and logistics. And what's great about the business community is that they're looking at about how you solve yet another problem that businesses solve. Now, this is a big problem. But in approaching it as a problem to be solved in accordance with social distancing rules, health responses, occupational health and safety - that's the right approach; because we can't just sit back and wait for it to blow over or wait for a vaccine. We've got to get the economy back and operating within whatever constraints the health response requires us to adopt.

GARETH PARKER: Christian, thank you for your time.