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Doorstop – CPO – Perth



Subjects: National wage case, border closures

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good afternoon everyone. Good to go? So, just here to provide a summary and perhaps a few observations on the national minimum wage case decision that was made by the Fair Work Commission today. As everyone would be aware, the decision was the award of an increase of 1.75 per cent to the national minimum wage and award wages, and that decision will take effect on 1 July of this year - 2020. There is something unusual about this decision in that it represents a staggering of the application of that increase. So the decision will take place immediately, have immediate effect, which is to say 1 July 2020 for wage rates and awards covering frontline health care workers, social assistance workers, teachers and childcare workers, and other essential services. Then, the second phase will be the application of the increase on 1 November 2020 for awards covering construction, manufacturing and a range of other industries. Thirdly, the third stage will take effect on 1 February 2021, which will cover awards in accommodation and food services, arts and recreation services, aviation, retail trade and tourism. So I think you can see from that, that the last application is to the industries that are, I think, clearly in the most distress, the industries that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, by way of some observations around that decision obviously it's an independent decision made by the Fair Work Commission. It would appear to me that what the Commission has done is tried to balance, I think, three factors; two of those usually needing to be balanced in these circumstances with the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in, I think they've been dealing with a third factor as well. The first is obviously the fact that we want to see people better paid no matter what industry they're in. The second is obviously at the moment, there are many industries in serious distress in terms of their revenue and turnover because of COVID, and the addition of increased costs to running that business including wages is going to put extra pressure on those businesses, and could easily have a negative effect on job growth. Now those two things are often balanced in these decisions, but a third and important feature it seems to me reading the decision that the Commission has tried to balance is that there is an issue of confidence in the economy. So the Commission has done its level best to try and balance those three issues. Now whatever balance you strike in the extraordinary circumstances that we're in - some risk would attach to the way in which you choose to balance those three issues - wage growth - business costs and the issue of confidence in the economy at large. So we'll have to monitor this decision very, very carefully. But what I would say is that the decision reflects something that the Government feels very strongly about, is that there is a sectorial application of the effects of COVID-19, and there are some sectors - I think they've been very well identified by the Fair Work Commission - accommodation and food services, arts, recreation services, aviation, retail trade, tourism, that have been very, very heavily affected, in some cases devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now those industries are obviously also going to be the industries where there'll be a very sharp focus of the Industrial Relations working groups looking to try and reform in a way that can assist those industries in the most distress. So I think the decision does its level best to balance three competing interests, and one of those - confidence - is very important. There are always going to be some risks no matter what balance you strike amongst those three things because the circumstances we find ourselves in are absolutely extraordinary. I think the staggering of the increase of 1.75 per cent so it goes last to the businesses in most distress recognises the fact that those businesses need every single assistance that can be given to them, which again is the very focus of the working groups on industrial reform that we have initiated, and which in actual fact, will start in earnest next week.

That final pay increase of 1.75 in those most distressed industries as I said will happen on 1 February of 2021. And I think that's a very important marker in time, in effect, the start of next year. If we can engage in this working group process to have (inaudible) reforms in the simplification of the awards that attach to those distressed industries, in the enterprise agreement making process that attach to those distressed industries, we actually give them greater opportunity to grow, bounce out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and employ Australians at a time when the single biggest challenge that we face now and probably will face for many years, is growing jobs.

QUESTION: What impact do you think this will have on the rate of economic recovery, do you think it will mean it will be a slow one?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well this is an independent decision but it seems to me that they have looked at the issue of confidence and wanted to ensure that too-high a wage increase - the cost for business feeds back into confidence because they can't employ or their business cost means that they employ less; too little and that people lose confidence as wage earners to spend. So the Fair Work Commission have done their best to balance, and that is a very, very difficult exercise.  But what it does go to show is that this alone is one, one small part and not unimportant part, but a small part of many parts of an agenda of reform that we need to engage in to try and ensure that businesses can grow their way out of the recession that the pandemic has put us in.

QUESTION: Do you think workers will notice the extra 1.75 or is it too little?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think the, the thing that workers are most concerned about at the moment is - do they have a job?  Is their job in jeopardy? And if they've lost their job, where's the next job coming from? So wage increases is obviously something that we all want to see, but wage increases naturally are at their largest when there is more demand for businesses and greater competition for jobs. Now we've seen from the figures that were out yesterday that we have gone through a recession - we're in that now. That has caused massive job losses, particularly in distressed industries. People are most concerned about the security of their job. And if they've lost their job which hundreds of thousands of Australians have, they're concerned about where their next job is going to come from. So, the Government's focus in all of its policy areas is job growth - it's as simple as that.

QUESTION: Do you see this wage increase having any impact on the JobSeeker and JobKeeper packages

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I mean obviously this is one small part of a much broader economic analysis that we will engage in. And that will feed into the review that's being conducted into JobKeeper, but obviously that's going to be something that we will look at amongst many other things.

QUESTION: Tourism is classed as group three happening in February, would you not think that tourism is more of a group one or two sector for the increase?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, I wouldn't say that. Group one sectors are the sectors where I guess you could say, the demand-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have not been as severe - so demand has held up. So healthcare, social assistance workers, teachers, childcare workers. The third group represents those industries that I’ve described as distressed industries where the demand has in some instances, decreased marginally - in other instances decreased massively. So I think it was wise, of the Commission, whatever the determination of an increase they set, to try and stagger that so it goes into the industries at most distress last.

QUESTION: What does that mean for workers in that area some of which have been hardest hit themselves?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, the message to those workers is that we are focusing all of the levers of policy that we have at our disposal to try and create the environment that will allow their businesses and their industries that employ them to bounce back as well as they possibly could. So for instance, one of the working groups that we've commissioned is on award simplification for the awards in those types of industries – retail, tourism hospitality. Now many of the businesses tell us that these awards are, at once, the awards applicable to the industries in most distress; secondly the most complicated awards amongst the 120 odd awards that we have; and thirdly that that complication impedes businesses abilities to employ more people. So, if we can help simplify those awards and generate greater job growth that's obviously going to be in the best interest of people who want to keep jobs, get new jobs and see competition for jobs increase wages.

QUESTION: Some of the workers’ unions in terms of the overall amount have said it is just too little. Is it something they are just going to have to bare?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I've read all of the press releases that shot out immediately after those decisions are made and many employee groups and unions have said it's too little; many business groups are focusing on the risk of having a 1.75 per cent increase noting that at the time of the GFC there was an actual decrease in the national minimum wage commissioned by the Fair Work Commission. So the fact that you've got differing views about whether this was too high or too low, whether it was staggered too quickly or too slowly, I think goes to show that this is a very very delicate balancing exercise and whatever decision you make in striking that balance carries risk with it. But what we can do as a government - because we don't make this decision - what we can do as a government is try and control the things that are controllable and try and fix problems that exist, particularly in these distressed industry sectors so that they can grow back harder and faster than they otherwise would do out of COVID.

QUESTION: Getting on a different topic if that’s ok? At the Prime Minister’s first press conference this morning he spoke about that cyberattack on government and business. I guess what's your words for workers who might be concerned that they can be affected by this?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I've not got terribly much to add to what the Prime Minister said this morning but obviously the scale of it was was very large. Our resilience is, by and large, very good. But part of the point of the Prime Minister alerting all Australians to the fact of this having occurred is so that businesses, employers, companies, organisations - public and private - are on notice that this is not something new, but its scale is increasing and you need to understand how to make yourself best resilient so that you can actually protect the information and interests of the people who work for you, your employees, and your clients, the people that you sell products to. So I think part of part of the Prime Minister's announcement is about trying to increase awareness about the fact that this is something that we are living with on a weekly basis - it's not going away. We are very resilient by international standards but there is still an enormous amount of work to do in both the private and public sector to counter the types of malicious activity that we've seen.

QUESTION: Completely out of left field a prominent West Australian is proposing to build a 90m dinosaur metal sculpture, standing about 90m high outside of Elizabeth Quay. As a prominent West Australian, what do you make of that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Too small.  If you’re going to do dinosaurs do them big. I mean I think the idea of having big ideas for big things that can drive tourism and retail and hospitality in Perth is fantastic. I personally love dinosaurs. My kids love dinosaurs. I think it's a great idea. And I just think that when we look at things that have happened in Perth like Bell Tower and Elizabeth Quay, like you should never make the mistake of thinking small. So, usually if you think that you've got the right size for something, double it and you are probably about right.

QUESTION: Ninety metres, that is bigger than the Statue of Liberty.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Nothing wrong than getting bigger than the Statue of Liberty, being bigger and better than New York.

QUESTION: I've just got a couple of other issues if I can? A woman is listed in the Magistrates Court today charged over early access to super offences. Is it disappointing people are doing that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, there's always a level of misdeeds that occur, whether that's inside JobKeeper or the access to super. I think one of the pleasing things is that our public agencies and our investigative agencies appear to be, not merely taking this seriously which of course we expect that they would, but actually very good at picking this up at early stages. So it is disappointing but it's not unexpected.  But I think what people can take from this is that where people are doing the wrong thing, they're being been detected that there's a very serious consequence to that which I think goes to show a general deterrence that people should be very very cautious in how they do these applications and make sure that when they fill out an application that they're doing it properly and lawfully.

QUESTION: Can I also just ask has there been any progress on the Commonwealth's intervention on the border battle if you live with WA and Queensland?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Not, not, other than the fact that last week I agreed to what are known as the Section 78 notices that allow for the Commonwealth to intervene in the matters. I understand they’ve been remitted down for some factual inquiry to the Federal Court but we would expect that process to happen as quickly as possible. But our job is where there is an application by individual citizens - plaintiffs - that argue that a state border closure is unconstitutional is to put the view of the Commonwealth. Now, the view of the Commonwealth respectfully is that they are unconstitutional - the border closures - and that's the view that we'll be putting before the High Court when the hearing comes.

QUESTION: Given the outbreaks in Victoria that we have seen in the past week and being a West Australian yourself, do you still support the reopening of the border?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I mean there's obviously a balancing exercise here between the need to ensure the health and safety of people in a given state, particularly Western Australia, but also the constitutional principles and the economic principles and these are a question of balance. Yes, there's been a spike in Victoria - some of that appears to have been the result of the protest marches in Victoria and that is very, very regrettable because it was very, very avoidable. But nevertheless you've got to look at the balance and we are bringing the actual pathology of the disease under control in Australia and I think that now our minds need to be shifting very firmly to the fact that there are people suffering in their businesses, in retail, in tourism, in accommodation. There are people suffering who rely on employment in those businesses and if you keep the borders closed for too long you prolong the suffering of those businesses and the people that work for them. And some of those businesses, if you make them suffer for too long, won't come back. So that is a decision that all premiers have to make and obviously it's not an easy one. But when the High Court challenge comes we'll be putting a view and that view is essentially that as things presently stand they’re unconstitutional. Okay, one more.

QUESTION: How important is the role of international sort of counterparts in helping catch people who do child exploitation offences? A 35 year old man’s been charged with possessing child abuse material.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We have excellent cooperative relationships not merely amongst the Five Eyes intelligence sharing partners, but much more broadly in our region. And sadly many of these events occur in Southeast Asian countries with whom again we have very close law enforcement cooperation. I would simply say that this is a very, very strong focus of the AFP as it is domestic state police forces in Australia, and now after three years of trying, we've equipped the system with, with minimum mandatory terms of imprisonment, with presumptions against bail, with stronger maximums (sentences) because we are detecting more and more of this both onshore and offshore, online and offline. And we have to make sure that where we invest quite considerable resources of state and federal police forces to detect, to build briefs, to prosecute, and then have convictions, that the convictions are real and serious penalties that deter people from the behaviour. So I think the missing piece of this puzzle hasn't been law enforcement or the efforts or energy or money put into the investigations or prosecutions; the missing piece of the puzzle has been the penalties and after three years of trying the Liberal-National Government has passed the legislation that's going to fix that part of the system that wasn't working.

Okay. Thanks everyone.