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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker


Subjects: Minimum wage, workplace safety, Ben Roberts-Smith defamation hearing

GARETH PARKER: The Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations, Christian Porter, joins me on Wednesdays. Christian, good morning.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah, morning Gareth.

GARETH PARKER: Thank you for your time. So look, there's a bit to talk about and we'll come back to the issue of COVID safe workplaces. But the minimum wage case this year, union pushing for a $30 a week increase, about 4 per cent. Good idea bad idea?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I think that that is an idea that would come at the expense of job creation and Australia has the highest minimum wage in the world. The highest in the world. So to argue right at this point of time where businesses have come under enormous strain, decreased profits, decreased turnover, where we're basically digging ourselves out of a very deep hole that's been created by COVID-19, to argue right now that the highest minimum wage in the world should be increased by a not inconsequential amount I think would ultimately come at the cost of job creation and preserving employment, and rebuilding the position we're in before we experienced COVID-19. So I don't think that it's a submission that has got much power or weight behind it.

GARETH PARKER: So, should there be any increase in the minimum wage or should it be frozen?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, we don't make specific recommendations quite like that to the Fair Work Commission, but what our submission, the Federal Government's submission, has said is that their priority should be in job creation. And look Gareth, we've had 29 years of uninterrupted economic growth in Australia, essentially a world record, and then we lost a million jobs in five days for five weeks. So, you know, we've got a, an enormous amount of work ahead of us and a huge challenge to not only get those million jobs back and get people back working, but we've got a challenge to try and take the most of what advantages present to Australia by virtue of the fact that we've handled the health response as well as any country on earth. So, the absolute priority right now should be job preservation, job growth, growing the economy, preserving employment and taking advantage of opportunities that might arise.

GARETH PARKER: Listeners, I would like you to weigh in on this by the way, 92211882, if you are a minimum wage worker, I'd like to hear from you. If you employ minimum wage workers, I would like to hear from you about what the minimum wage setting should be this year. There has been a lot of talk Christian during this pandemic about the importance of essential workers including people like cleaners, including people who work in supermarkets. Now not all of those will be minimum wage workers, some will be minimum wage workers. If the submission from the federal government is that those people shouldn't get a big pay rise. Does that make some of the words that have been spoken about the the importance of those workers in recent weeks a little hollow?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I think one of the things that in those industries that you've spoken of, there are a few examples where there has actually been higher demand for people, so obviously in health industries, in some of the grocery market industries, there's been higher demand. And you would expect that that will actually allow for people to have the wages increase through their arrangements with their employers. But again, I think there would be a very serious risk at one of the weakest moments that the Australian economy has ever experienced, that if you had the very significant jolt to the economy of an increase of the type suggested by the ACTU to the minimum wage, that you are going to cause real problems in terms of your ability to regrow employment when you've lost a million jobs over five weeks.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. 922-11-882 if you'd like to talk about that this morning. My guest is Christian Porter, the Industrial Relations Minister and the Attorney-General. Staying with the IR hat on, you announced yesterday a whole range of things that are happening to try and, I guess, is it work within occupational health and safety laws to try and get businesses reopened again?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah, essentially that's it. I mean, the occupational health and safety laws are drafted in a way that they place responsibilities on employers and employees to maintain a safe work environment. Now, that might mean different things in different contexts, we now have obviously the context of COVID-19 as a disease which is infectious, which can cause enormous damage to the economy and to our nation's health. So, the question arises, if you're a cafe or an abattoir or you are manufacturing swimming pools, when you come back to re-enliven your business and starting producing your good or your service again, how do you do it in a way that you conform with your health and safety obligations in the post COVID-19 economy? And that means that you need to be able to understand what is the social distancing rule that applies in your state at a given point in time, how you might maintain hygiene, how you deal with customers, how you deal with employees, what you'd do if someone does test positive to COVID-19, what are the cleaning regimes, what's the difference between cleaning and disinfection, what are the most effective disinfectants, are they alcohol-based, are they ammonia-based - and all these sort of practical questions. So, what we have done is rebuilt the Safe Work Australia website, and we've tried to accommodate for all of these different applications of the law in different industries and the rules in different industries, so that they can reopen and get a head start by understanding what their obligations are. So, we had about a million visits to that website in April when we started getting into the COVID-19 constraint period. So, people have got, quite understandably, this enormous need for information - how do you deal with these radically changed circumstances? So, we want to pre-prepare business for this re-enlivening of the Australian economy.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. I'm going to talk to the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, about that a little bit later in some more detail in terms of the economy. But this will ultimately be a call for the Prime Minister, the premiers and the National Cabinet on Friday when they talk about the, I guess, the roadmap to reopening things. I- this is my opinion; my opinion is that we are in better shape now in terms of controlling the infection than we thought we were going to be even just a few weeks ago. Do you think that the states, particularly Western Australia, your home state, can set a more aggressive path to reopening?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I think WA will be a leader state in the re-enlivening of the Australian economy. I think it will show a path and act as a precedent for how that can happen and that'll be to the great advantage of West Australians. And still, the COVIDSafe app is a hugely important part of this - we've had 5.1 million registrations as of 9:30 this morning. And just, if I can take the advertorial for those of your listeners who haven't downloaded the app, I'd simply say it's not just about looking after your own family, and it's not just about allowing our economy the best chance of restarting, but vulnerable people are protected - older Australians, grandparents - you're protecting people who are battling cancer, or MS, or other diseases, younger Australians, people with compromised immune systems. So, download the app and encourage your family and friends to download the app. And that is a big part of re-enlivening the economy. But I think because WA has had some serious natural advantages, some good governance and has been a part of good overall Australian decision making, it is in a strong position not merely to re-enliven aggressively but also to take advantage of the fact that Australia now probably has as good a health response and outcome as any country on earth. There are going to be some pretty serious challenges in for many industries that rely on international movements of people and goods but here are going to be enduring challenges for some period of time. But I think WA is in a fantastic position. These are decisions for National Cabinet and premiers will have to assess all of their own circumstances. They'll discuss it in National Cabinet, drive as much consistency into the response as possible, but I think WA is in a pretty uniquely strong position to be very forward leaning in coming out of this.

GARETH PARKER: Do you think regional borders is something that needs to be progressed as a priority? I mean, it seems as though that is really the great hope of the regional tourism industry in particular.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah. I think we'd like to see where there is an absence of international tourism that that market is fuelled by domestic tourism. I think the Prime Minister was asked the question in our press conference yesterday: is there a high premium placed on interstate travel being re-enlivened, and his answer was yes, because of course that's going to be part of filling in that gap left by international tourists. So, I think the answer is yes, but the WA Premier and his cabinet will be in the best immediate circumstances to judge when and how that occurs. But yeah. I mean, I think if you want a WA tourism industry up and running, then you want people in WA to travel in and about WA, but ultimately, you want people from other states who might have otherwise been going to Europe, or America, or Indonesia to come and holiday in some of the best places in the world in Western Australia. And-

GARETH PARKER: Just to- sorry, go on.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, there's going to be a lot of opportunities like this in Australia right? And Nev Power, in the commission, has made the point that a whole range of industries like in chemical production, and fertilisers, and pharmaceuticals, we previously demanded slightly cheaper overseas products, but now we've had an experience where there's been massive continuity of supply problems and there likely will be ongoing continuity of supply problems. So, a likely upshot of that is that there's going to be greater domestic demand, maybe even willing to pay a slightly increased premium on price for the continuity of supply for products produced in Australia. So, ensuring that we've got the right IR settings, regulatory settings, and investment settings that Australian businesses can jump into that demand and try and get a foothold in those markets is a way in which we can take some pretty serious advantage. And that will be across those types of manufacturing industries and tourism and other things. So we've got to try and constantly look for the upsides and the advantages that we've got by virtue of our health response here.

GARETH PARKER: Just briefly on another matter, we run a system of open justice in this country. Ben Roberts-Smith, former VC winner, former SAS soldier, has sued Fair- or what's used to be called Fairfax newspapers, they're now called Nine newspapers - and full disclosure, that's the company that now owns this radio station - for defamation over a series of articles that Nick McKenzie and others have produced about what Andrew- sorry, what Ben may or may not have done. I read reports that you may seek to have some of the details of his defamation case kept secret for national security concerns. Can you elaborate on that?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: So, look, some of the headlines have, I think, placed it way too high. Like, some of the headlines have said: soldier's hearing in private. This is a civil trial so it's not a trial that the government is a plaintiff or defendant in - it's a defamation trial as you've noted. But it involves a former SAS officer and of course they deal with matters of sometimes some secrecy. What happens here is that there's a thing called the National Security Information Act. My department and Defence provided advice to me that said that it was possible that there was a potential that because Defence had been subpoenaed that some of the information that the parties to the action sought to obtain from Defence might have involved matters of national security importance. Sometimes, things are simple but as important as the identity of someone whose identity is protected, and we have a responsibility, and I have a responsibility, to ensure that if that information is being sought, that it will be dealt with by the court in a way that might, in the example that I've just given you, still protect the identity of the person whose identity should be protected. So, it's not as if the trial is going to be conducted in secret or anything like that - it's an open trial. But where Defence has been subpoenaed for information and some of that information might need to be treated in a particular way by a court to protect national security or people safety, then we'll consider that on a- on an information by information piece basis. But it's still an open trial and those two parties can get at it.

GARETH PARKER: Alright. Thank you very much for your time.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Okay. Thank you.