Skip to main content

Doorstop - Yanchep



Subjects: Casual employment; China iron-ore; border closures

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: ...we have been waiting on the decision because whichever way the decision went it was going to have a very serious and significant impact on Australian business and on Australian employment. It was always our intention that as soon as the decision was made that we would be consulting on what may or may not need to occur as a result of the decision. Now that consultation will occur necessarily very quickly, because there are some surprising elements to this decision which could have a very, very significant impact on business, and that consultation obviously is going to have to occur on a relatively urgent basis. But one point I would make is that a path forward won't be determined instantaneously inside 24 hours and we want to embark on a genuine process of consultation with employers and employees to best understand the impact of the decision and we won't be engaging in an old style rule-in rule-out policy path forward inside 24 hours of the decision being made. The other point is that obviously that consultation is going to have to occur in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Business probably faces its greatest challenges and employment faces its greatest challenges perhaps in our nation's history. So the timing of this decision clearly is not ideal and we'll have an urgent consultative and cooperative response to try and work out what is the best path forward. But as I say that will not be a rule-in rule-out exercise. There's a couple of points about the decision that should be made from the outset.

The first is that it would be wrong, I think, to characterise the decision as an argument about entitlements. Everyone accepts whether you’re employees, employers, the government, I presume the opposition, everyone accepts that if you're a full time or part-time permanent employee you must be paid your proper entitlements sick leave, long service leave and things of that nature. If you're not a permanent employee, you must be paid the significant increase in loading in lieu of those things. And there's no argument that people should be paid either the entitlements of permanent employment or significant compensatory repayments if they're a casual employee. There shouldn't be any argument about that particular issue so we don't conceive this as an argument about entitlements.

The second point is that there is a great imperative and value on certainty at the moment. During the COVID-19 challenge we obviously face enormous hurdles going forward to regrow employment and this decision is unfortunately a driver of uncertainty into the employment market. And I'd add to that that the fact that we even need a decision which in effect redefines the long-accepted nature and basis for engaging individuals as either permanent or casual employees and how they'll be paid inside one structure or another structure; the fact that we have a decision that needs to clarify that and has, in effect, produced very substantial changes in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when Australian business, particularly small business, probably faces its greatest-ever challenge in Australian history indicates that there are some very significant shortcomings in Australia's industrial relations system and that it's been operating with a degree of uncertainty for some time. And obviously part of the Government's response is going to be to consult with unions and employer groups to try and drive certainty into the system.

The third point is that finding that path forward has to be about genuine consultation and I think negotiation between employer and employee groups.

The fourth and final thing is that part of that consultation negotiation has to be around what's known as casual conversion. Now, for many casuals. There is a right, if they have been in the same position for a considerable period of time to request a conversion from casual to permanency - but that right is not universal. And it seems clear to the Government without anticipating any particular result inside 24 hours of the decision - that part of the negotiations and consultations that have to now occur on an urgent basis with employers and employees is around the issue of casual conversion and a greater clarity and certainty and universality to that right of request.

QUESTION: Is there any chance the Government will bring forward an appeal to the decision?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well we wouldn't be the appellant to the High Court that would be, presumably the party Workpac. I can say that if there were an appeal we would absolutely intervene because it is a matter of great importance and there was some surprising parts of the decision. So, we wouldn't be the appellant but if there was an appeal we would definitely be intervening.

QUESTION: What about legislation...?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's one option and one that we'll consider and we're not going to rule that in or out and look I noticed from the Opposition spokesperson’s comments today that they've ruled that out. They've said that that's wrong and that somehow that would reward small business who have done the wrong thing. That characterises small business I think very unfairly. Small businesses have operated for the last decade inside a pretty widely accepted understanding about how you engage someone either as a permanent or a casual and the fact that they'd have one sort of entitlement or a compensation if they're a casual in the form of loading. Now that was a pretty well accepted feature of the system that has in effect been overturned now - quite surprisingly to many - but what we will do is consider a range of options and part of this is considering what is the potential cost impact on small business of this decision? And if the cost impact is so great that it would cause a lot of small businesses during what is their most challenging time to fold or go into liquidation or have to stand people down, that’s not an outcome that's in anyone's mutual interests. So we have to talk very quickly to business and to employee groups and understand whether or not the financial impact of this decision over the next six, nine, eighteen months actually puts businesses in jeopardy and if it does then we need to consider ways that we could strengthen businesses, so that we preserve jobs. Because if this decision were handed down six months ago it would have been a very, very different scenario. At the moment the greatest premium in the economy is employment, generating employment and saving jobs.

QUESTION: China has put out a notice announcing it’s going to change how it does...iron ore inspections. Chinese state media is describing this as a warning to Australia. Is this a sign of how far China is going to go in its trade war and was the Government aware that these changes to iron-ore inspections was on the cards?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I understand from Simon Birmingham, the Trade Ministers releases today, that this is something that had been in the pipeline for a while and that there was foreknowledge that there would be changes to this process and they are changes of process. Now, media whether it's Chinese media or otherwise might seek to read something greater into that but we have said, with great regularity, that we are looking at every part of the trade relationship first of all for the way in which it can be mutually beneficial, but secondly taking every issue on a case by case basis. Not reading into it some wider conspiratorial inference that some people might place on it - that's certainly not the case here and not what we're doing here.

QUESTION: aware that Andrew Hastie’s come into criticism for his is rhetoric on China, some people described it as inflamed... and there’s a petition at the moment calling for pushback. Have you signed the petition and you agree with that sentiment?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm not aware of it, so I haven't seen it, I'm not sure who described Andrew Hastie’s comments as inflamed. But look, there have been some comments recently and Tim Pallas unfortunately has been key amongst them that have been extremely unhelpful. I think that the approach is best described as I have described it, as looking at every challenge that exists in a trading relationship on its merits, in its own compartment, which is what we always do. But ultimately the trading relationship between China has for many decades been of enormous mutual benefit to both countries. Now there's no reasonable expectation of that changing in a significant way in the future but that's not to say that there won’t be challenges arising from time to time.

QUESTION: As Attorney-General can you say any legal issues when it comes to states keeping their borders closed past national health advice?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well there are clearly legal issues that arise here. But health advice isn't determinative on its own of whether or not a border closure would be determined to be constitutional or not. That would turn on all of the facts and circumstances of every individual case. These aren't easy decisions for state premiers to make but there's a health imperative, there's an economic imperative and there are strict constitutional rules around what is permissible and impermissible.

Now, the difficulty I think is ultimately how you balance the health needs at a given point in time and they are evolving with the economic imperatives. But I think one thing that needs to be considered by all state premiers and I'm sure they are considering this, that if we want to for instance revive our domestic tourism industry we are going to have to rely on domestic patrons. So Australians who were going to Bali are going to be looking for somewhere else to go on holidays and there's going to be a serious competition as to whether or not they go to Margaret River or up here at Yanchep or whether they go to the Gold Coast. And I think that every state wants to be a part of that revival in that market. Now they need to do that in a balanced way but if you were too late in opening your borders you're going to miss out on getting a really important market and pivoting tourism to the domestic market.

QUESTION: So would you like to see the interstate borders re-opened then?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I think everyone would like to see them reopen. That is obviously a matter for Premiers based on best advice to make final determinations on. I'm simply making the point that there's constitutional issues, economic issues and health issues. And in my own state of Western Australia I would hate to see us miss out on producing jobs and reviving jobs in our retail and hospitality and tourism sector.

QUESTION: But can you see the WA Premiers points from a health point of view but why he's keeping the border closed?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think my answer to you demonstrates that I understand that it's a balancing exercise. But I think you'd have to reassess that balancing exercise if not on a daily basis, with high regularity at the moment because the situation is evolving.

QUESTION: Some of the other state premiers believe that there's been bullying by the New South Wales Premier, I guess. Do you agree with this or have you seen any evidence of this?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I don’t think that Western Australia’s ever been bullied by another Premier that I’ve seen.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s unseemly.....(unclear)

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, not that long ago we'd call that competitive federalism. You know states have competed against each other for hosting sporting events like Grand Prix and now there's going to be a competition in a sense for who could make the best-balanced decision to balance the health impact of changes to border closures with the economic uplift that you could get to your retail, tourism, hospitality sector. And look, I guess this winds back around to the issue that we were discussing earlier. At the moment, the most valuable thing in Australia is job growth. That is what the federal government's completely committed to. And so we are looking at this recent Federal Court decision as to how it can impact our path out of the COVID-19 pandemic and job growth. And we need to on an urgent and speedy basis talk to employer groups, talk to unions, understand the effect of the decision on job growth because no one benefits if the cost impact of business is such that businesses fail and jobs are lost.

QUESTION: Do you have an idea of how many employees it covers and cost to business (unclear)?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well business groups have previously estimated a cost up to $8 billion. Now, that was a pre COVID-19 cost – that type of assessment needs to be scrutinised but getting an actual fundamental measurable understanding of what the effect is in terms of the cost for businesses potentially over time periods - nine months, 18 months, two years, three years, is part of what we need to do over the next days and weeks to understand what is the best approach. Now, Labor’s ruled out a whole range of approaches. But what if an approach is necessary to ensure the survival of thousands of Australian businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs? Why would you rule that out inside 24 hours of hearing the 297 page decision has been handed down? So I think we need to understand how it is going to impact on business, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 and business facing its greatest challenges and more than a century before we rule something in or rule something out.

QUESTION: Just on the Andrew Hastie’s petition, I have it here it says the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the true cost of relying too heavily on an authoritarian regime like China for our economic security and prosperity. It goes on to say our sovereignty and independence will be diminished if we don't continue to push back. Do you agree with those sentiments?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, as I said, I've not received the position, the petition I'm sorry. What I believe is this and what the Government believes is this: that we have a fantastic mutually beneficial trading relationship with China. But equally from time to time, there will be disagreements. You know there was clearly a disagreement at the early stages at least with respect to the formal nature of an inquiry into the origins and administration of the COVID-19 pandemic. These differences arise from time to time. I think the Government is quite right in its approach which is to deal with issues that arise from time to time as singular issues. But the overarching context here is a mutually beneficial trade relationship which I think all Australians want to preserve.