Sky News – Peta Credlin
Subjects: IR reform, Victoria-China, state border closures
PETA CREDLIN: Quite a bit on the Attorney General's plate – he's also the Minister for Industrial Relations and Christian Porter joins me now from Perth. Minister thank you for your time we'll get into the detail of the Prime Minister's speech but just on the point of this ensuring integrity legislation the Prime Minister today said he'll put that to one side while you go through this quite rigorous and short timeframe roundtable process. The PM said however, and I'll quote him 'we are committed to ensuring that this this meaning lawful behaviour, happens in the simplest fairest and most effective statutory form possible which we will consider going forward.' Now what does statutory form mean? What does he mean by that?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I think the PM's point was in the context the fact that he believes people need to lay down arms so that we can have a cooperative, consultative approach to a range of known problems that are holding back job growth. And we are the first and major party to lay down those arms and he said very clearly that there won't be a vote on the ensuring integrity bill in the Senate. And that bill I think quite properly was designed to apply right across the union movement and prevent the sort of unlawful behaviour that we've seen particularly inside the construction industry. The PM also noted that as a matter of principle we won't tolerate the type of rampant unlawfulness we've seen from the CFMEU in the construction industry. And that I think Peta particularly would be very damaging to Australia's economic recovery if it were to continue because construction is going to be so important to our economic recovery and the PM stated clearly that we will look at the simplest clearest fairest way to deal with that unlawfulness on construction sites.
PETA CREDLIN: You had a good response from the union leader, Sally McManus, today. I think you got certainly plenty of comfort from business about at least engaging in the process but Labor was quick to call JobMaker, Job-faker. Now you can have all the consensus you like, but business and unions in the end don't have a vote in the Parliament. How do you plan to get Labor to take this reform push seriously?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well it's enormously disappointing that they've chosen straight off the bat not to take a constructive approach but I'll leave that for them to explain to the Australian people.
What we think is that there are known problems inside the industrial relations system that are holding back job growth, productivity growth, economic growth at the time when we need it most. So we've identified five groupings of those issues and the task is to try and generate a product, now it may be that in some of those working groups we can't generate a product that unifies and creates agreement around a final product - in other working groups we may be able to do that. But even where a final product can't be agreed on, the Government obviously reserves the position to take a solution to a known problem into Parliament. But ultimately if you've exposed the solution and the generation and the production of that solution to this type of process - short, sharp albeit that it will be, you probably I would guess, are going to have a stronger product in terms of trying to be able to divine a path through Parliament and particularly with the crossbench in the Senate. So nothing can be lost for a period of good faith negotiation, cooperation and consultation around trying to find solution to known problems. And if Labor want to, you know, kick that into the long grass within two seconds of the whistle being blown I think that's disappointing.
PETA CREDLIN: Well talk to me about casual workers too – we had the Federal Court decision last week, casual workers who already get a loading in lieu of entitlements like annual leave, sick leave and others - they'll now get that and the loading. Now you said last week the decision has immediate practical implications for the bottom line of many Australian businesses - I know they agree with you - I've spoken to them on this show. You indicated that if there was an appeal – you were going to consult of course - but if there was an appeal, you were open for the Commonwealth to be involved. Now is this going to be something you continue with or will it move to the roundtable phase?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well the legal process will run parallel to our roundtable phase but of course on the issue of the definition of casual, which was never defined in the Fair Work Act and has caused enormous confusion on the issue of the extent to which the ability to be paid twice - once in the loading and then once if you are mischaracterised for the leave that you should have got -are clearly going to be issues that we need to resolve in the working group that deals around permanency of employment, the casual definition of employment. And you know what? Whether you're an employer or an employee you both suffer from the fact that there's enormous confusion because the term was never defined in the Fair Work Act and has come to be defined and redefined through a court process and everyone will benefit if we can drive certainty into that definition and into the very marketplace that generates employment. So it makes sense, I think, to talk to the people who are affected – both employers and employees - and see if we can construct some kind of working definition and some kind of process so that people know the basic tenets of what is a casual employee and what is not; when someone is a casual employee and when they are not and what their remuneration is, as between casual and permanency. And if we can get some basic construct and agreement around that then that will, of course, remove a major barrier to job growth.
PETA CREDLIN: Just quickly before I go onto another issue, if a business goes to the wall because they can't pay this back pay, if this decision stands as sort of a whole of economy-wide decision on casual workers, if the business goes belly up and then the casuals have now all these new loadings and entitlements coming their way, does the Commonwealth GEARS scheme or whatever it's called now, the Commonwealth entitlements scheme, does the taxpayer then have to foot the bill here?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: You're talking about the FEG – the Fair Entitlements Guarantee – well when Australian companies fail, if they have put themselves in a position where they're not able to pay entitlements then the Commonwealth has a liability there. But in answer to your question, I think the first point is we don't want to see businesses fail unnecessarily because a class action is brought against them to pay a group of employees both the loading that they received as a casual and if they were mischaracterised in their employment the additional benefits without being able to offset that amount. I mean that would be a terrible result.
PETA CREDLIN: No I understand that. I understand that but if they do fail - if businesses go to the wall and they then can't pay these entitlements - as the court decision stands – does the federal taxpayer have to pick them up?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well potentially but we want to try and negotiate an outcome where we ensure that the businesses don't fail. I mean imagine being in the greatest economic challenge Australia's ever been in, getting a Federal Court decision that says that where an employee was mischaracterised in their employment, you can't even offset the loading they paid them, you paid them in lieu of sick leave …
PETA CREDLIN: I know, it was an extraordinary decision.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: …yeah and so let's sit down and fix it.
PETA CREDLIN: I've got to ask you about Belt and Road, you are the Attorney-General, this is not your IR hat, the other one – just as important. How is it that a state can sign up with another nation-state another country an agreement that the national government here in Australia have advised them not to go ahead with?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I guess the question is more should, rather than how. I mean it's been done. I think there was some wise experienced comments made by Colin Barnett, whom I used to work for in state politics as Premier about this. But that's something that the state government's done. Certainly I think that the Federal Government's view is that having consciously made a decision not to sign on to that initiative that that is a decision that should be reflected consistently across all jurisdictions. But nevertheless the Victorian Government has formed an alternative view.
PETA CREDLIN: Did Victoria get a briefing from your intelligence and security agencies in Canberra?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I'm sure that there'd be briefings about the general prospect of that occurring. I mean, that's something that you'd need really to direct to the Victorian Premier.
PETA CREDLIN: Did you often briefings though Minister?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well look I don't offer those briefings. I don't have line agency control in foreign affairs or ASIO - I have oversight and integrity control of ASIO, so I just can't answer that question for you.
PETA CREDLIN: So there's nothing at a Commonwealth level that you could do or the Prime Minister could do in order to stop this agreement going ahead at your, in your, you know, level?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I don't know whether that question was ever investigated in a legal sense and what type of forewarning there was again I can't give you general advice as to that. But we would obviously prefer that state governments stick to their patch - that the Federal Government controls in a consistent way the foreign position in foreign matters of the Commonwealth of Australia. I think that it's not a particularly fortunate outcome that's been engaged in. I think Colin Barnett's comments are very true – it probably represents a state government treading into the space that isn't theirs, but these things happen from time to time.
PETA CREDLIN: Right, talk to me about this brouhaha with state borders too. A lot of people are saying that you're to blame and this was the words of the Deputy Opposition Leader today, that somehow the PM's to blame for the border closures. That's not how it works. Why are they closed we know we are told it's health advice what can be done about opening those borders up and what's the likelihood do you think of a constitutional challenge by people like Pauline Hanson?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah well the Opposition has never been more opposite than what they're being at the moment. I mean blaming the Prime Minister for the closure of state borders that is, that is novel I've got to say. But that is a decision clearly that's been made by state premiers. There are constitutional issues that feed into it, health issues and I think predominantly economic issues. So in my own state of Western Australia I would hate to see our state's tourism, retail, hospitality industry miss out because we kept borders closed for longer than they needed to be closed. And I guess a lot of people in Queensland feel precisely the same way. And those two states will be competing against each other for Australian tourists who might otherwise have gone overseas will be looking for somewhere to go and spend their hard earned money in Australia. So there's obviously a balance to strike here; Premiers are making their own determination about that balance. I think that's something that'd have to be reassessed on an almost daily basis. There are staged ways to look at this as well. I mean look, South Australia and Western Australia have both got low cases of COVID-19 and yet the border is closed between the two jurisdictions. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense at this point in time.