6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker
Subject: IR reform.
GARETH PARKER: Began the programme talking to Sally McManus this morning and she had this to say when I asked her whether the good working relationship that she had forged with Attorney General is Christian Porter during the pandemic had been damaged or it would come to an end:
Sally McManus: I will commit to doing everything I can to continue to work with the Attorney-General so that in the end there’s an outcome that doesn’t hurt working people. That’s my job, I’m prepared to do that and I also have found the Attorney to be reasonable. I do understand that what’s come forward, I’d imagine, has been a collective decision of their party room and I don’t think they’ve thought through all of the implications. They certainly didn’t discuss this particular issue with us and I will sit down with him and fix this Bill so it doesn’t negatively affect working people.
GARETH PARKER: The Industrial Relations Minister and Attorney General is Christian Porter. Christian, good morning.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah, morning Gareth.
GARETH PARKER: Okay. So it's been a big week as you've sort of teased out the detail of this new IR bill you're introducing into the Parliament. Sally McManus says she's been blindsided by the changes to the better off overall test and will strongly oppose them and urge the Labor Party to do so. How do you respond?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah. Well, I think that Sally's right. I mean, she and I will continue discussions and negotiations and consultation and this bill now goes into committee. I don't agree with her interpretation of this one particular change in the bill. But like all other things in the bill, there's a necessity to consult, to receive people's views now that the bill is out there. But it does a lot of different things and obviously it provides a pathway to permanent employment for casuals that hasn't existed. It fixes the fact that we've never had a definition of casual. It fixes the fact that people don't get offered extra hours at ordinary rates if they're permanent part-time employees. It deals with Greenfields agreements in WA, which are very important to our economy and the Australian economy. So it does a lot of different things. This is one section that's got a bit of early focus, but I'm sure that there'll be a lot of discussions over a long period of time.
GARETH PARKER: Okay. The bill that you introduced, is it a sort of a take it or leave it proposition, or are you open to negotiating on various aspects of it?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I mean the history of omnibus bills with a lot of different matters, making a range of different changes, is that there's almost invariably amendments and changes on the way through, particularly with the Senate as it is structured at the moment. So it's certainly not a take it or leave it situation.
GARETH PARKER: So you're open for business on this?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah, of course. I mean, we've been open for business from day one of COVID. If the outcome of the business is to help jobs growth, help businesses survive in these exceptional times, I mean - and we're willing to look at new ways of fixing old problems and doing that as consultatively and as cooperatively as possible.
GARETH PARKER: The employer groups always argue for flexibility. For a lot of workers, what they hear is insecurity or they say, well, flexible, does that mean I actually get to keep all my current pay? Does it mean that I have to change my roster? What's the overall sort of driving principle that you're trying to achieve here with these reforms? Like, what's the main game from your point of view?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, we're not trying to rewrite the fundamentals of the system, but we're trying to fix a bunch of problems that have existed, that have prevented better cooperation between employers and employees that lets businesses grow and jobs grow. So, you know, this isn't about changing the fundamentals of the system; it's about fixing problems. And if I use one example, perhaps, Gareth, in the retail industry, unlike a lot of other industries, there's an inability for an employer to offer and an employee to accept, so for them to agree, on a permanent part-time employee working an extra four or five hours over the fortnight, unless it's at overtime rates, which more often than not means that the boss is not offering that because they can't afford to pay it, even if the person working there would like those extra five hours at their usual rate of pay. In a range of industry sectors, you can do that. You can't do it in retail. And here's retail getting absolutely hammered during the COVID-19 pandemic, why wouldn't we try and fix that employment structure problem for them? Now, that is, I think, a flexibility that genuinely helps both the employer and the employee, and making that part of the system more flexible is to everybody's mutual benefit.
GARETH PARKER: The Greenfields agreements, I think, are really important. You alluded to them and the importance for WA, but if you've got a big mega construction project on a resources project that's going to take six years to build, you can now do a deal that says: right, here's six years of wage certainty. How big an influence do you think that is on whether the - and they are invariably international companies with international partners - decide to go ahead with these projects or not?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, that's not the only thing that turns a decision but we've heard from a lot of these companies in the working groups and it is a very important thing, and it's hard to quantify because they make these decisions at an international board level and they're commercial in confidence. But they will look to where they might potentially invest billions of dollars and they look between projects in different countries. And often, the projects are very different. But what they do look at is their sort of ratings about how difficult it is to do business or engage in construction in a given country. And the more things we can make less difficult, the more chance we have of attracting that investment and the difference that that investment makes when you get a Gorgon or a Wheatstone and the massive amount of job multiplication that goes on down the line from the Pilbara down to Perth and into Melbourne. These megaprojects are so valuable; why wouldn't we do this thing that clearly can assist in tipping those decisions our way?
GARETH PARKER: We've seen another huge wage underpayment case revealed yesterday. The owner of hundreds of childcare centres across the country, G8 - might be as much as $80 million of wages underpaid. Why does this keep happening?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I think that a lot of large businesses haven't been paying attention to payroll. And, you know, as part of this legislation, we're sending the clearest possible message that if you don't attend and pay attention and properly resource payroll and get it right and pay people the right amount that they're owed, then you're going to face some very serious penalties. And not merely does this bill have a criminal penalty of wage theft, it also introduces a new penalty for civil offending, which is a penalty of benefit gained, and so, that is a calculation of how much the underpayment was. And so potentially you can be fined, if you like, two times the value of the underpayment or even three times the value of the underpayment. If you're a large corporation and you have systemically underpaid people in a serious way, then you're going to face penalties which represent even more in terms of the fine than the actual underpayment. So, we think that that's an appropriate response. But my answer to you is I don't think that a lot of large corporations have been paying enough attention to it.
GARETH PARKER: Funny how the bosses never seem to underpay themselves.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I mean, there's been underpayments, there's been overpayments. It's been in small and big business. But a lot of those big businesses, you would absolutely expect better.
GARETH PARKER: The CFMEU seems like it's headed for divorce and it seems like you're quite happy to facilitate it.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I think that there is one part of the CFMEU that has behaved appallingly. There are other parts of the CFMEU, particularly the mining division, who probably share that view to an extent. I don't think that their members, the workers in the mining industry, are being well represented by people who behave appallingly on construction sites in Victoria and elsewhere. And it would appear that they want to leave that union and the present rules would never allow them to do that. And, you know, I brought legislation in and it'll pass through Parliament this week, which will allow people to vote their way out of a union that they're unhappy with and set up their own union. And I think that's better for them. It's certainly better for the Australian economy. Imagine a mining union with better management that's more orthodox, that's more sensible, that has the best interest of their members, that's more cooperative with the mining industry and their employers. Given how important the sector is for WA and for the Australian economy, imagine getting rid of that CFMEU militant element from negotiations and cooperation between mining workers and mining companies. That would be a massive thing for the Australian economy.
GARETH PARKER: Christian, it's been a big year, a tough year. Very tough at times, and very unusual right throughout. I appreciate you fronting up in the good times and the bad times each week, and I hope that you get some time off and enjoy your Christmas and New Year.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: You as well. And all the best for the new slot next year. Hopefully I might turn up from time to time, mate.
GARETH PARKER: I'm sure we'll talk again.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Okay. Cheers.
GARETH PARKER: Good on you. Christian Porter, Attorney-General. And it has been a very, very tough year for everyone and an unusual year for him. The range of issues he's had to deal with. We had the Four Corners hit-out and that was... you know, he did front up to his credit. He didn't have to. He chose to. And it's been polarising at times, I think. The Palmer border battles is another one that comes to mind. He's always fronted up. He's always answered the questions.