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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: ADF and WA borders, IR reform

GARETH PARKER: … the State Government have apparently sent an urgent plea for another 40 Australian Defence Force guards, or Defence Force personnel to guard Perth quarantine hotels. Meanwhile, the Defence Force have said and told the Government that the troops who have been operating on the land border from Eucla to Kununurra in various positions are to be withdrawn. The Attorney-General and the Industrial Relations Minister is Christian Porter. Christian, good morning.


GARETH PARKER: Will those resources be provided?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: So, as I'm informed through Defence, there are 140 personnel supporting quarantine assistance at Perth Airport and six metropolitan hotels. I understand that very recently, the last day or so, a request has come in for more support with respect to the hotel quarantine. So that'll obviously be considered by the Defence Minister through her department. There was an existing agreement for ADF personnel on hard borders, so like, on the land border, and that agreement expires on 30 September. So, obviously, the potential extension of that is a matter for Defence and the Defence Minister to consider with the West Australian Government. But at the moment, there's one live request in, which is very recent and that's with respect to the metropolitan hotels.

GARETH PARKER: It should be ticked off, shouldn't it, given the Prime Minister has made clear to the states that any requests from the ADF would be agreed to?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, that's the general position but I think that's a matter that has to come through Defence. They have to look at the stretch of their personnel, what they're doing, whether or not they're needed and necessary, but I'm assuming that the request was made because there is some necessity, particularly with respect to the six metropolitan hotels. And as we've discussed previously on this show, the metropolitan hotel quarantine is the quarantine that allows travellers, in effect, to come back from overseas, which is very important to the State and the Commonwealth Government.

GARETH PARKER: Yeah. Good point. Very important. It seems as though there's a lot of political capital expended by both sides of the argument last week to get that cap lifted to what I would say is still a modest level. Is there a more- is there thought been given at federal level to a more sustainable strategy to rebuild our aviation links to the rest of the world and allow Australians to travel into and out of the country safely?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, that is longer term planning, to be frank. I mean, you're right. There was a process which was robust last week but ultimately, that got a result. Now, you can call the result modest but that modest result means that more Australians who were in distress overseas can come in and be quarantined in Australia, returned to their homes in their home state to await result, but there needs to be gradual consideration of how you increase that. And of course, the question of- as to how we increase our interface with the rest of the world is going to be one that we need to consider based on medical advice, and that is a very complicated set of advice and questions and there isn't an answer for that right at this point of time.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. The industrial relations roundtable process, which we've talked about several times over the last few months, it had all been very quiet until last week, when there seems to be an outburst of disagreement. Is the process derailed now?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well the process is winding up, as it was all going to at this time, and then we, the Government, will take away and consider where there has been agreement, where there hasn't been agreement, where there's been disagreement inside the business and employer community which has arisen on some issues, and we'll try and kind of synthesise all of that into a product in each of the five streams. But over literally hundreds and hundreds of hours of meetings, the discipline and rigour that the process was engaged in is actually quite remarkable. So, yeah, there are a few people who had complained publicly towards the end about a particular issue, but I mean, I was quite amazed at the level of good faith, the discipline, the abiding by the rule of keeping matters discussed in the room in the room. As these things go, it was a very, I think, healthy, useful exercise. But obviously, at the end of the day, the Government legislates and the Government makes policy and we've got to try and look at all of the different angles- approach that we've put in these meetings and try and build them into a product that can A) grow jobs and B) make its way through Parliament, and ultimately, the only thing that matters is growing jobs.

GARETH PARKER: So, can you give us a sense for where you feel that the areas of agreement are most aligned? And just give us a steer in the direction towards you're likely to head with this process next in terms of delivering those outcomes. Like, what's the lowest hanging fruit? Where is there the most agreement?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, there's a lot of agreement around the problems. There's imperfect agreement around solutions. But if you have a look at- I mean just- there are literally hundreds of problems in the industrial relations area, but if you have a look at one of those, just as an example, there's an issue that very often arises with part-time work where a part-time worker might otherwise be offered extra hours by their boss but never actually gets offered those hours because under the relevant award, to do the extra hours, they'd have to be paid a very significant overtime amount. And what does that mean ultimately? It means that the part-time worker might be willing to do those extra hours, might want to do them that at their normal rates of pay. The employer might want to offer them at the normal rates of pay, but they neither get offered nor did they get worked because of the overtime rate that would be applicable to that part-time worker. Now, that's bad for jobs and job growth. That's bad for the business. It's bad for the employer. So, it's one of these many, many problems that has arisen in the system. Now, quite naturally, people will have slightly different views about how you might approach and fix that problem. We've now exhaustively heard all of those and our job is to work out what type of solution you'd put in place in that situation that is mutually beneficial for the employer and for the employee and fixes the problem. I think there's ways and parts through that.

GARETH PARKER: We spoke yesterday to the Council of Small Business Organisations' Mark McKenzie, who detailed what I thought was a very simple proposal - and simple is good in my opinion - that for small and medium business, you have basically one award with a single pay rate from Monday to Friday, a single pay rate for the weekends. It's probably 117 per cent of the existing pay rate from Monday to Friday, maybe closer to 170 on the weekends. The problem is always when you change something, there's winners and there's losers and you try and minimise the losers and maximise the winners. But is something like that just too simple to succeed?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, again, the problem is agreed that there's a whole bunch of awards, particularly in these industries who are in distress like retail, restaurants, hospitality, and very often, they'll have seven or eight different classifications and then pay rates inside the classification. That causes a lot of complication, administration, regulation of the businesses. Whether you would tackle that by having yet another award that layers over the top or whether or not you'd work inside the existing award structure is another secondary question. Sometimes, things that sound simple produce their own complications because you're layering extra awards on top of already complicated awards. But these are the questions and we've listened to everyone's different answers. Very often, the answers are different. And COSBOA's answer is slightly different from the answer that another employer group might give and different again from the unions, and our job is to try and bring all of those disparate strands together and try and work out what is the best compromise. But ultimately. Nothing is going to be considered unless there is a clear common-sense view that it can grow jobs. Because it's not just people who have maintained their position in the workforce that we need to be of concern about here; it's the many, many hundreds of thousands of people who've lost their jobs.

GARETH PARKER: As a matter of principle, is it proper for politicians to have taxpayers fund defamation actions?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, at the Commonwealth level, that doesn't happen. So, I can tell you that at the Commonwealth level, there's no funding for proceedings that would be initiated by a Member of Parliament or a member of the public service. There is funding where members of Parliament and senior members of the public service become themselves subject to certain litigation, which might be negligence, or in some instances, that can be defamation. But it doesn't work the other way round. So you can't use taxpayer funds at a Commonwealth level to initiate proceedings.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. I'm obviously referring to the Mark McGowan case on the front page of the paper. It does seem as though it's a counterclaim as part of Mark- as part of Clive Palmer's defamation case. Does that- well, how do you interpret it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Look, I can't- I mean I did know some time ago, I just can't recall exactly how the rules in WA work but it may be that this falls inside the general principle because it's a counterclaim. But I just- I'd…

GARETH PARKER: Fair enough.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: …That's something that needs to be directed at the State Government.

GARETH PARKER: Alright. Christian, thank you for your time. Appreciate it.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Okay. Cheers, Gareth.

GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter, the Attorney-General, Industrial Relations Minister.