6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker
Subjects: Workplace death, Gladys Berejiklian, Commonwealth Integrity Commission, IR reform, borders
GARETH PARKER: On Wednesdays we speak with the Attorney-General and the Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter. Christian, good morning.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Morning Gareth.
GARETH PARKER: So, look, clearly a workplace accident in Western Australia is not in your patch but as the Federal Attorney-General and the Federal Industrial Relations Minister, I'd be interested whether you think that safety on building sites is taken seriously enough.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean this is just an absolute tragedy to lose the life of a young apprentice and hear the sorrow of the family and friends, it's just terrible and condolences to the family and also to the families of the people that have been injured. And we can never work hard enough to make workplaces safe. I mean, this is now under investigation as I understand it from the state-based regulator, so I just don't have any of the specific details of that investigation. But it will obviously need to be extremely thorough because this is a really quite remarkable event to have a collapse of a structure of that scale on a construction site. And clearly, that is not good enough, as something absolutely catastrophic has gone wrong somewhere in the chain, supervision or in the structural reports. I mean, this is not something that we see very often thankfully, but it needs a very, very thorough investigation.
GARETH PARKER: The expectation has to be that people are entitled to go to work and come home safely. I mean, that's just the absolute fundamental baseline, isn't it?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Completely. I mean, of course. And yeah we have come a long way but there is obviously a long way to go.
GARETH PARKER: Yeah. Is Gladys Berejiklian in strife? Should she go?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The commission's obviously working through the evidence of Maguire today. My view based on what I've seen is that I would answer that question no, but there's obviously evidence that's been put out today. I mean, she had been an exceptional Premier in every respect. Yesterday’s evidence that she gave about the nature of her relationship, I can't see what it is in that evidence that would be the basis of her no longer being Premier. I must say, I feel that it's worth her echoing the Prime Minister's sentiments, where he said the state actually needs someone of her calibre more than ever. Her guidance during this crisis, her stewardship of the state has just been absolutely exceptional.
GARETH PARKER: I think everyone agrees with that. But the problem for Gladys is that her boyfriend was a bloke who, it appears by his own admission this morning, was selling access to the highest levels of government for cash while he was an MP.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, leaving aside Maguire's testimony today which is still ongoing, yesterday the Premier put her answer on the nature of her knowledge about Maguire's activities, and as I say I didn't see anything in that yesterday that would warrant her no longer being Premier. And balanced against that is the fact that she's simply been outstanding.
GARETH PARKER: It does rather put the spotlight upon the lack of a federal corruption commission federally, though, doesn't it?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, we're committed to that body. We've had a very long paper on design principles out, legislation did go to cabinet before COVID hit. That process is being restarted now. It's probably also worth noting that in the last budget, the budget that was just gone, the first stage of that plan towards a federal ICAC effectively took shape with the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity being granted greater jurisdiction, over a greater number of departments, having a funding allocated, getting an additional 38 staff there to undertake those functions. So, the first stage of our plan for a national Commonwealth Integrity Commission is under way, and we are committed to it. And the legislation will come out.
GARETH PARKER: When?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, soon, but we have been dealing with circumstances that we absolutely did not foresee. As I say, the first stages of that process to developing the Commonwealth Integrity Commission actually occurred in this Budget. What we've always said is that there should be two halves: one half which investigates law enforcement agencies which would be built around the existing Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. And then the second half, which would look into the public sector more broadly, which would have powers of at least equal to, but in several respects stronger than a royal commission. The first half of that plan, which expanded the jurisdiction of the law enforcement side is actually happening now. It didn't get much reporting in the Budget, but it's happening now. And the legislation to affect the second part has been to Cabinet and I would expect that that process of a public consultation around that legislation will happen soon.
GARETH PARKER: Okay. The roundtable's process with the employer groups and the unions continues. We've seen a little, few spot fires and outbreaks of public commentary of what had previously been a very tightly held process. Sally McManus, the ACTU Secretary, made some comments earlier this week that she thought that some of the employer groups were trying to go around the process. That they couldn't get their preferred proposals up in the process, so they were going around the process and lobbying directly. Can you confirm that's the case?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, can I confirm that unions and employer groups lobby the government? Yes, I can confirm that. That happened before this process started. It happened during the process, it'll happen after the process, it'll probably happen until the end of days. But, the process itself was so extensive that there's very little that I think can be said at this point that wasn't there inside the process and across those five working groups. The job now is to try and excise a legislative product, that perhaps not everyone is going to be enthusiastically cheering for, but fix the problems and doesn't exact very, very strong negative responses from any of the particular stakeholders. There will be things in that, the actual final product across the five working groups in an omnibus Bill that some groups will fight very much and more than other groups and more than other things. But it's always got to be about exacting a level of balance, and being practical about fixing problems. No definition of what a casual worker is in Australia at the moment in Commonwealth statute and that creates massive uncertainty for businesses who would otherwise want to employ people because they don't know whether or not they need to be paying them the 25 per cent loading in lieu of sick leave and long service leave, or the long service leave or sick leave. And there's also a risk that they could end up paying for both. Now, that is a major inhibitor, just one example, to employment growth when we need it more than we ever have. And it's something that's got to be fixed, and that fix will necessarily have elements of compromise. But most important thing is that you create certainty in that area. And that's just one example across many areas. So, yes, lobbying continues and I'm sure it will always continue.
GARETH PARKER: At this point, do you think that the West Australian hard border to other states is primarily about health or is it about other things too?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's honestly hard to say. I mean, there are obviously comments from the Premier last week about the fact that he takes the view that there's economic advantage in keeping people in WA and preventing them from going interstate and spending their money anywhere else other than in Western Australia. I don't think that can ever be a valid reason for keeping hard borders up because the human side of having hard orders is up that you don't get people able to visit their families or travel for healthcare. You don't have the ease with which people can come in and work FIFO in WA without massive disruptions to their family life. Like, these are the actual human costs that accumulate. For 120 years in Australia, we have structured every part of Australian life, our families, our healthcare, our businesses, everything around a fundamental right that we all have as Australians to leave our home state and come back without threat of sanctions from our state government. Now, there will be from time to time reasons to limit that right, but they have to be based in health and they have to be based in evidence. And I think the reasons for the existence of that right and it only being limited in certain circumstances, for instance, when there's a cogent health reason, is that the right is so fundamental and so important because that's the right that allows grandparents to see grandchildren. Families to be united and reunited. For people to work across state borders. So, again, I think the key here is having the plan publicly known as to how this staging out of the hard border would happen. And I know it's a popular policy, but I think that we need a plan back to a situation where people's fundamental rights to leave their state and come back into their state get restored.
GARETH PARKER: Christian, thank you for your time.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Okay. Thanks, Gareth. Cheers.
GARETH PARKER: Attorney-General Christian Porter.