Address - National Press Club
THE HON TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: Thank you very much, Laura. Thank you to the Press Club. I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we’re on and their Elders past and present. Also, I acknowledge all the members of the gallery and everybody who’s back for the start of the year and, of course, the Secretary of my own department, Natalie James, and the members of the department who are here.
I want to start by giving you a statistic that you haven’t heard before – 61 hours. I give you that statistic as an example of the way governing and the use of Parliament has changed with the change of Government.
61 hours. In any ordinary parliamentary week, there’s 23 hours of Government time. During the life of the previous Government, that Parliament spent 61 hours voting that people be not allowed to speak; 61 hours of people being flown around the country, Clerks of the Parliament, all the resources that goes into here. We had figures that I’m reluctant to rely on from Paul Fletcher – given the way the Leppington Triangle figures turned out – but the figures from Paul Fletcher where he says a million dollars a day for the Parliament to sit. 61 hours dedicated to making sure no opposing voices were heard.
You will have people say what it was like to work with the previous government when consultation is talked about now. Back then, what the previous mob were requesting was confirmation and if you didn’t deliver confirmation, you were given confrontation. The consultative approach that we have applied to the Parliament itself and to the way we have governed is of itself not just a difference in the way Government functions. It also delivers a difference in the quality of the outcomes. I want to be able to refer to quite a bit of that.
In terms of legislation, for the same number of sitting days as we had last year, we had 25 extra hours of debate. The legislative achievements for that time, for last year, ensured we enshrined the climate change targets in law; we implemented the recommendations of the Respect@Work report; we delivered on our commitment to the early childhood education sector for cheaper child care; we established the National Anti Corruption Commission; we established world-leading paid family and domestic violence leave; we restored dignity in aged care; we made medicines cheaper with the first decrease in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in its 75-year history; we had the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill; we provided energy price relief for families and businesses; established Jobs and Skills Australia and expanded the Commonwealth Seniors Card. In all of that, there was a consistent guarantee that different opposing views were part of the debate. I’ll get a bit later as to what that meant in terms of changed outcomes.
For the year ahead, though, it’s not like with all of that agenda our job is done. Some people after the talk of so called small target during the campaign, then quickly said “This agenda is big” and now have said, “Oh, did you get it all done in the first six months?” No.
The year ahead: in the autumn session alone, we will be progressing the establishment of the Housing Australia Future Fund, the legislation required to hold a referendum in the second half of this year to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament in our Constitution, to guarantee superannuation as a right under the National Employment Standards and to affirm beyond any doubt that temporary migrant workers are entitled at all times to workplace protections. Establishing the National Reconstruction Fund, delivering – and this will be one for next week – delivering on our commitments to extend paid parental leave, reform of the safeguard mechanism to enable Australia to meet our new emissions reduction targets of 43 per cent by 2030 and net zero by 2050 and, of course, the changes to cultural policy that the Prime Minister and I announced only on Monday, establishing Creative Australia – and I acknowledge the presence of Adrian Collette here, the CEO of the Australia Council. Establishing Creative Australia, including within it Music Australia and a Centre for Arts Entertainment Workplaces in legislation in the coming months.
We will be dealing next week with the legislation to protect what was thought to be presumed and that is the recommendations of the Bell inquiry into Scott Morrison’s secret ministries to make sure that it never happens again. Later this year, there will be further legislation to abolish the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and replace it with an administrative review body that actually serves the interests of the Australian community. To implement a new package of national environmental legislation, as outlined in the Government’s Nature Positive Plan. To deliver on the remainder of our election commitments in my own workplace relations portfolio, and I’ll say more about that a little bit later, and to set obligations for streaming services to make sure that there are Australian content obligations whether you are watching your television through free to air, on the public broadcaster, whether you’re watching through cable television or whether you’re watching through a streaming service.
The way the Parliament conducts itself has changed in two key ways. It’s changed as a result of the recommendations from Kate Jenkins and it’s changed as a result of some standing order changes and a different approach that this Government has taken to the Parliament itself.
The Kate Jenkins recommendations are seen right through to the sitting calendar itself. The fact that we are now not sitting during school holidays makes a real difference for a Parliament where more of its members look like modern Australia. The fact that there is one week of school that we are avoiding, quite deliberately – this week – is because we want it to be possible to be a member of Parliament and still to be around on the first day of school with your family – notwithstanding that I’m here!
We’ve also, for example, when somebody goes on leave of absence for parental leave, the Parliament formally votes that they’re on leave of absence, but then as a result of that, they have no way, traditionally, of being able to continue to engage or to represent their electorate during that time. The Federation Chamber, the second chamber to the House of Representatives, will now be available where members who are on official leave – that’s been voted on by the Parliament – will be able to deliver speeches from their electorate office, beamed into the Parliament so even while on parental leave, they’ll still be able, in a way that’s effective, to get the comments that they need to get into the Hansard on behalf of their electorates.
We also, of course, are establishing the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service, and next week, on Wednesday, the Annual Statements will take place to the House of Representatives, and a similar process in the Senate, in terms of party leaders and members of Parliament being able to update the House on making sure that not only are we delivering a better Parliament, we are also delivering a decent workplace for the people who work in the building.
They’re the Jenkins recommendations, and we’ve been responding to all of those. But the second part is to make sure the Parliament itself is allowed to do its job. If you ask anyone, “What’s the job of Parliament?”, it doesn’t start for anyone with that 61 hours of spending time making sure that voices are not heard. The whole purpose of a Parliament is meant to be to allow the cut and thrust of debate. When people offer “Why can’t the Parliament be kinder?”, there’s an extent to which we’re just up front. When it’s an argument and it’s when it’s fierce, and when it’s real, is one of the functions of Parliament. It’s not our job to be constantly agreeing.
It is the fact that you want the conflicts and different views that exist around the nation to be brought from 151 different places into the one room to be battled out. That’s a healthy thing to happen. That’s a democratic thing to happen. Every time we silence voices, we lose that, the very reason that a Parliament exists. The methods that we’ve changed here have been in a few different ways.
First of all, the all-night sittings we’ve gotten rid of. If you take two conscience votes that have happened, we had one on Territory rights last year. We had one the year before with respect to the Religious Freedom Bill. Under the previous government, the way to deal with a conscience vote, because you can’t gag a conscience vote – no one’s tried that and nor should they – was to simply keep everyone there until 5.00 am for a Bill that was not ultimately proceed with anyway. What we did this time with the Territory Rights Bill was list that and nothing else in the Federation Chamber. Everybody who wanted to make a speech made a speech. It was dealt with and ready for the Senate after a week. Similarly, we’re making sure that at 6.30 pm, after that there’s no divisions so that people who have family responsibilities are able to be a member of Parliament and know that if they need to leave the building, they can. Having that has had a couple of impacts. One of which is it has been a way of more people leaving at 6.30 pm at a more reasonable hour and that has been one of the impacts on the drinking culture that historically has existed in the building.
We have also – and this is something that can’t be enshrined in standing orders; can only be done with the goodwill of a Parliament that wants to work with the Parliament – said the Senate is not only place you’ll deal with amendments. We had, for example, on the Climate Change Bill seven different amendments which were moved by the crossbench which became part of the law. On my Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill, there was a set of amendments moved by the crossbench. On Respect@Work there was a set of amendments moved by the crossbench carried by the Parliament. We can’t have a situation where the different voices are only heard in a hung Parliament where they need to be. People are elected with a range of views representing Australian citizens. They have every right to make sure that when these views are put, they are heard, listened to and where the Government can agree, it does agree.
That said, we still had plenty of occasions where it’s been argued it’s the exact opposite. Plenty of occasions where it’s been argued that somehow nothing has changed in the Australian Parliament. When we have had an urgent bill, what we’ve been doing is saying, “Okay, Parliament can continue into the night. People who need to leave at 6.30 pm can. We’ll do all the votes in the morning and everyone who wants to make a speech can make a speech.”
We had then – in a parliamentary procedural sense I find this amusing though I may be alone in the room – we had a series of speeches where people would then argue that they were being gagged and prevented from making a speech while making the speech! Keith Pitt, for example, said “There’s 151 members in this House who have just been gagged by the Labor Government. I will go on to speak about …” and continued. He continued for another 10 minutes. The debate continued for another three and a half hours.
My favourite was Colin Boyce, the member for Flynn: “It is an attack on the democracy of Australia. The people of Australia put people like me here to speak on these things and for the Government to guillotine this debate by calling it an emergency bill is just absolutely appalling.” He was objecting to not being given the full 15 minutes speaking time because we had shortened the debate to 10 minutes. After eight minutes he ran out of material and sat down.
So, the mechanisms we’ve been using, while there will always be the arguments from our opponents, “Well, nothing’s changed”, the truth is a lot has and people are being given the chance to speak. There will be times I suspect – and particularly after this speech, the Opposition will be taunting me into trying to create times – where we have to make resolutions to try to get through debate more quickly. But 61 hours of time in Parliament, of public money being wasted, simply making sure that people couldn’t speak. Sometimes there were more votes, more times spent on voting to stop people from speaking on a particular bill than there were speakers remaining on the list in terms of their speaking time. It is an irresponsible and undemocratic way to run things.
Question Time itself, I’m often asked about in terms of, “Well, have you changed the culture of Question Time?” It will always be the cut and thrust and it will always be a mixture of information and performative art. That’s what Question Time will be. I do find it interesting though, the silence that we’ve had. I do find it interesting that while every Minister has answered questions, every backbencher on the Government side has asked questions, senior frontbenchers such as Luke Howarth, Dan Tehan and Alan Tudge are yet to say a word during Question Time. Some of our Ministers, Minister for Education Jason Clare; Communications, Michelle Rowland; Ed Husic; Pat Conroy – yet to be asked a question by their opponents.
In terms then of workplace relations and a bit about the agenda going forward. When the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill reached in the House of Representatives the time to discuss amendments, after consultation with business, I moved amendments 1 to 100. Government amendments where we already had the numbers in the House for the bill, but amendments being moved as a result of the consultation, principally the changes of different things that business had asked for; some had come from the union movement as well. My political opponents, at that time, were saying, “You’re losing control.” I actually take it as a strength that we had been listening, consulting and where changes could be made – even before it got to the Senate and you had to make changes to reach a majority – those changes were occurring.
The agenda for this year for workplace relations will involve a lot of the election commitments that we hadn’t dealt with last year. We have time this year and so while there will be some legislation that comes up in the first half of the year, the more controversial parts of our election promises that we haven’t yet dealt with will be in the second half of the year. The consultation will start next week. Next week I’ve now called a meeting for Wednesday with both the leading business groups and unions: so it will be ACCI, AiG, the BCA, Master Builders, National Farmers, the ACTU and COSBOA I’ve invited as well. To be able to start the consultation now on legislation that won’t be introduced until the second half of this year.
That legislation will deal with a number of election commitments. It will deal with a number of issues but effectively, if I put it in summary this way: last year’s legislation with the title of the bill was about taking significant steps on job security and getting wages moving. This year’s legislation and the election commitments we have to get to are about closing loopholes that can undercut the principles that we put through last year.
The issues that we’ll start the consultation on Wednesday and some of the consultation my department has already got moving on last year, but this will be the beginning of it with me directly involved; same job same pay, the definition of a casual, employee-like and how do we deal with the gig economy, wage theft, safety principles and minimum standards for long-haul drivers, having a low-cost jurisdiction at the Fair Work Commission to deal with unfair contract disputes for independent contractors, stronger protections against discrimination and the need to act on the dangers that are becoming increasingly obvious to everyone with respect to silica dust.
That consultation will commence, but obviously Wednesday’s meeting will just be the start of it and there will be a detailed process as we work through before we get to introducing legislation in the second half of the year. I have no doubt, whatever I might have in my mind as the legislation right now, will progress and be better as a result of that consultation that will be taking place and starting on Wednesday.
So, allow me now just to also point to – while I’ve focused on consultation helping us through with respect to legislation. It also helps us through with respect to policy development generally. The National Cultural Policy that I’ve released on Monday, was very different to what I had in mind when I was in Opposition. Lots of people said to me, “Well, if you’re serious about National Cultural Policy” – and some journalists would ask, “Why don’t you write it out now and make it an election commitment and have the mandate for it?”
The simple fact is this: conducting consultation with the full resources of Government and the support of the Australian Public Service gets you to better policy than you can ever get to on your own.
There are a number of issues in Monday’s launch of Revive that were not on my radar nor of my department until we had opened the process of consultation. Music Australia, which has received so much publicity over the last couple of days came from that process of accepting that not all the good ideas come from Government. Industry came forward with it. There will be legislation to establish it from 1 July this year; the money will be there and it will start work.
Similarly, for here in Canberra, the concept of sharing the collection for the National Gallery of Australia came from a submission from the National Gallery. What that will mean from the submission from both Ryan Stokes and from Nick Mitzevich, is that a collection where 99 per cent of it – it’s all great but 99 per cent of it is always kept in darkness at any one point in time will start to find its way to galleries around the country on long-term loans. Not “Here’s the National Gallery on tour” but “Here’s a work which you have for a period of something like 10 years that makes your gallery a destination and gives you a destination exhibit.” It’s a completely different way of using the national collection, but it’s a lot more useful than works being kept in darkness.
The third one that has received a lot of publicity that came from consultation is the National Poet Laureate. As I mentioned in a speech last year when we were just talking about the concept before the Government had committed to it, we’re not the first to do this. Governor Macquarie beat us to this with Michael Massey Robinson who in the articles that you’ve read over the last couple of days it’s been made clear that he was paid to be the Poet Laureate with two cows. What’s not often mentioned is he was a convict actually sent here and his crime was for writing rhyming couplets. He was sent for the crime of poetry. He’d been bagging out a politician that he then tried to use as blackmail. This is the risk that every Minister knows you have with artists! But, yeah, he was paid in two cows. We think, “What a silly little payment.” Let’s think in terms of authors today. The annual average income for an author in Australia is $18,200. In today’s dollars, that’s nine cows – half a bull. That’s the current rate. So, what this will mean in terms of elevation of the sector in treating all of our artists and arts workers as workers, as being part of a real industry and a driver of the economy as well as something that touches our soul is something that warrants the attention of a national policy.
Looking forward, the consultation will continue though, and the area of consultation that’s probably most significant is what we have to do with respect to streaming. Streaming – and some people say, “Will you commit to the 20 per cent? Where are you at?” The reason we haven’t committed to a number is because the consultation is real and there’s a few moving parts here. One of the moving parts is: what do you define as Australian stories and Australian content? Some people have put together statistics where they’ll say the streamers are already meeting 20 per cent; nothing to worry about. I saw the movie; I loved the movie, but very few Australians watch Elvis and think, “I’m watching an authentically Australian story.”
There are two issues that we need to work through here. To what extent are the quotas about Australian jobs and to what extent are they about Australian stories? How we work those principles through affects what percentage we land at. That consultation will be happening. It will be led by Michelle Rowland and myself, and we will be working through those principles and introducing legislation in the second half of the year.
But what I’ve largely spoken about today is how we benefit from listening to views. We benefit from listening to good new ideas and we benefit from listening to people who are opposed to us. If you don’t have the courage of your argument to be willing to listen to the opposite argument, then it may say something about the argument you’re advancing as well. But I also – not as Leader of the House, but as Australia’s Arts Minister – just want to remind you as well it’s not only the ideas and views that we benefit from.
Some of you will remember back to the days of the Hawke and Keating Government when Paul was Treasurer and he had a house at Red Hill that used to be a diplomatic residence. On a Sunday afternoon he would bring colleagues around – John Button, John Dawkins, a series of them – and they’d talk about Cabinet agenda. One day he stops the proceedings with his friends and said, “I just want you to listen to this.” He had a Mahler album of Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” and put that on, played it and everyone had to be silent. At the end, it stopped and Paul looked at them all and said, “So, what does it mean?” And the answers came back, “Oh, yeah classical music.” “No, what it does it mean?” “It’s a good recording.” And no one either had an answer or had an answer that satisfied Paul. And Paul then said, “It means we have to do better. How can you listen to something that elevating and then just walk away with the lowest point of compromise?” National Cultural Policy, if we get it right, and we start to go through with the vision that the Prime Minister released on Monday, I think should remind us that the voices we need to listen to and be willing to be affected by and advanced by don’t just go to opinion, don’t just go to policy but go to those who touch our hearts and soul as well.
LAURA TINGLE: Thanks so much, Minister. The Voice is obviously going to be a really dominant issue in Parliament as well as in the national conversation. I thought it might be useful to ask you if you could explain to us the processes that will be involved in Parliament. We’ve got the machinery of Government – well, the machinery-of-referendum bill, the referendum question itself. Is it possible for you to just lay out for the audience what’s involved in getting a referendum sort of through the Parliament, what are the opportunities for debate and what’s the timeline?
BURKE: Okay. So, there are two different pieces of legislation. The first is the machinery of Government to be able to conduct the referendum itself, and that’s before us now. The second piece is the legislation that contains the actual question and the changes that would be made to the Constitution. The first piece of legislation needs to be dealt with before we can contemplate having a referendum because you need to update machinery of Government principles. But once the second piece of legislation goes through, you’re then on a very strict timeline. I don’t have the dates in my head, but there’s a set number of weeks within which you cannot have the referendum and a set number of months within which you must have the referendum. So, the moment that second piece of legislation goes through, the window will become very clear for when the referendum will be held. The Prime Minister has been making clear the second half of this year, but there will be a tighter frame that will be clear once that legislation goes through.
TINGLE: But the crucial issue being that the Parliament will actually have the sign-off on what the question is and what the constitutional changes are.
BURKE: That’s right. Every word of the question and every word of the changes to the Constitution will have gone through the Parliament itself.
TINGLE: Tom Connell.
TOM CONNELL: Tom Connell from Sky News. Casting our mind back to the election, we had an inflation figure of 5.1 per cent and Labor saying despite any concerns that wages could contribute to more inflation, that real wages should not go backwards. Inflation is now 7.8 per cent. Does Labor still hold that view?
BURKE: The Prime Minister answered this yesterday, which is: we’re going through a Cabinet process and I accept absolutely that for these sorts of issues Cabinet processes have been rare over the last 10 years. But part of us going through due process is that we make a collegiate decision. Obviously, no one ever wants anyone’s wages to go backwards. No one ever wants that. And so we – in terms of the timing of that though, people have been asking this at a bit of a pace at the moment but let’s remember two things. One, the decision itself doesn’t take effect until 1 July, so we’re in January at the moment. But, secondly, the Fair Work Commission hasn’t even started its process. There’s no capacity at the moment for anyone – for that decision to be made. But the principles that the Government will apply will be worked through collegiately. That’s the right way to do it and it’s something that Australia hasn’t seen for a very long time.
TINGLE: Rosie Lewis.
ROSIE LEWIS: Rosie Lewis from The Australian, Minister. Your Government has proposed laws to criminalise wage theft which you referenced in your speech. When caught out, employers often argue their conduct was inadvertent or they seek leniency. Do you expect any bosses to actually be jailed under your proposed law and what would the bar for jail time be?
BURKE: These are issues that will be part of the consultation that I just described and that consultation is real. There’s three different categories that we need to be able to work through as we put these laws together. The first are the people who inadvertently make a completely honest mistake. The second group are the people where it might not have been deliberate, but they were reckless to the extent of really not making an effort to do the proper checks and they had the capacity to do so. The third group are people who it’s absolutely eyes wide open that they are ripping staff off.
So, what we will be working through is how do you deal with those three different categories and, you know, certainly for the final group, criminal penalties are clearly applicable there. How do you then work through the rest? Because the other thing you want to do is you want to make sure that you keep an incentive for businesses to find out themselves and come forward and say: “This has gone wrong and I want to fix it”. So, you want to keep those incentives in place while also creating enough of a disincentive that people are really strict on making sure that people aren’t being ripped off in the terrible situations we’ve seen.
Some of the examples that we’ve seen, you know, probably the most glaring was 7-Eleven, but there’s, you know, we can’t – I’ll put it in these terms. We can’t continue to have a situation where if the employee steals money from the till, it’s a criminal offence and if the employer steals money from the worker, it’s not. We’re fixing that this year.
TINGLE: David Crowe.
DAVID CROWE: Thanks, Laura. Thanks for your speech, Minister. David Crowe from The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age of Melbourne. Given the way inflation is going at the moment, real wages simply aren’t going up; they’re going backwards. Wages were such a big theme at the last election. You did promise to increase wages. You’re now talking about getting wages moving again. Are you now grappling with the reality or, sorry, actually I’ll rephrase that. Do you think that by the end of this term, by the time you get to the next election, you will be able to point to wages going up in real terms for workers or will you have to explain to workers that even though despite the promise at the last election you won’t be able to get real wages higher?
BURKE: Every worker knows that we are fighting to improve their wages. We did that from the moment we were in with the submission to the Annual Wage Review. Now, we made our commitments to that before we were in Government – where obviously we didn’t have the resources of Government which we have now. We have the processes of Cabinet which you do not have in Opposition, and you have now. The second thing we did was with respect to the submission on the aged care pay and the third part was the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill. Secure Jobs, Better Pay is having an impact already and there are businesses that had refused to bargain that are back at the table now negotiating with their staff and those negotiations will result in pay deals. So, people are already seeing a fight for their wages.
The legislation this year will deal with how do you – even if you get those agreements moving, how do you deal with the different ways that the system gets undercut through different loopholes? We will be closing those loopholes in the legislation that we deal with in the second half of this year. People know that we are fighting for better wages, better pay for them and for them to be going forwards. Obviously, there are issues with inflation that are international that we have no control over. But we do want to see people moving ahead in real terms in their household incomes. So, the timeline you’ve given I certainly hope that’s true and people will know that we have been fighting to deliver a better wage outcome for them from the day that we were elected.
TINGLE: Ron Mizen.
RON MIZEN: Mr Burke, Ron Mizen from the Financial Review. Union leaders have called for the Albanese Government to bring in fees to cover non union members given support from EBAs to solve the so called free rider or – that’s the phrase. Is that something you’re contemplating and I’ve also just been asked to see whether you’d clarify which of your IR legislation is for the second half of the year and which is for the first half of the year?
BURKE: Okay. On the first question, I’ve gone through the list of what we’re contemplating and that one is not on the list. But, you know, unions are free to argue whatever issues they want for their members. I’m not critical of them for arguing that. But it’s certainly something that is not on our list that’s – you know, I’ve given you the agenda I’ve gone through it. It’s not there. Sorry, the second part, Ron, was?
MIZEN: Just in relation to managing –
BURKE: All of those ones that I went through that I will be consulting about on Wednesday, they are all for the second half of the year. All of those. So, the issues on the first half of the year are issues such as superannuation being able to claim through the Fair Work Commission if underpaid. Things like that. It’s much more straightforward issues. We’ve kept the controversial stuff for the longer period of consultation, but it’s overwhelmingly issues for the second half of the year that were election commitments that we didn’t get to last year.
MIZEN: Thank you.
TINGLE: Anna Henderson.
ANNA HENDERSON: Anna Henderson, SBS World News and NITV. Some of your most vocal critics in the No campaign for a referendum are questioning why Labor wouldn’t put forward legislation on urgency to set up a Voice to Parliament now and then hold a referendum, but be upfront about what an initial structure would look like and eventually stress test it ahead of a big national vote. What is your argument for why you are not taking that approach?
BURKE: That’s not how the Constitution works. It’s just not. The Defence power doesn’t list how many submarines we’ll have. The way the Constitution works is you establish what are the things the Parliament should deal with, and it’s for the Australian people to decide whether or not we should do the two things that the Government will be putting to them. Whether we should be recognising first Australians in the Constitution, and, secondly, whether we should consult with people on issues affecting them.
For the First Australians, recognition and consultation are the two things that will be in the Constitution, and what we are putting to the Australian people is exactly the full detail of what we are asking them to consider whether or not they want to change. The Constitution is their document. The Parliament will be in control of what legislation goes through if the Australian people make that decision.
But it’s a very straightforward issue of the two things and what the – look, one thing that I’ve noticed is I’m yet to hear an argument from the No campaign that is actually about voting no to the question that will be put forward. I’m yet to hear that from the No campaign. It’s either been about issues that are nothing to do with it or issues that would be determined by Parliaments in decades and years to come if this constitutional change is made.
The constitutional change is really simple. Recognition and consultation. That’s what we’re asking the Australian people to decide on. That’s what the Uluru Statement of the Heart has requested in a really generous and gracious request and I’m hopeful that the Australian people respond with the same generosity.
TINGLE: Andrew Probyn.
ANDREW PROBYN: Mr Burke, Andrew Probyn from the ABC. In his monthly essay, Jim Chalmers has talked about values-based capitalism and re-imagining and redesigning markets. Could you define for us what’s values-based capitalism – in your own words? And, secondly, would you explain how your definition of values-based capitalism would apply itself to workplace reform, whether it’s more intervention and the like?
BURKE: Well, in terms of the second principle, I think you can get that answer by what we’ve already done in terms of the argument that has been used for so long, which is “Oh, look, we can’t give people a wage rise because inflation is low. We can’t give people a wage rise because inflation is high. Productivity – if business profits go up, wages will automatically increase.” All of those arguments were put and the truth is if you value and you have the principle that you want people to have a better chance of being able to pay their bills, then Government has to pass laws that help people get more remuneration. That, in terms of principles, make a difference to people’s lives at home is huge and it is exactly what we’ve been doing and what this year’s agenda in terms of the legislation I went to will go to as well.
The only other thing I’d say in terms of the first half of the question with the different comments that have been out there, I think you can actually find a lot of these values in the mission statements of major companies. You can actually find some pretty strong values in the various mission statements that are put forward by the BCA itself. So, I know there’s been a rush to say, “Oh, how could we deal with anything like this?” Have a look at what a whole lot of major companies put in black and white as the principles that they espouse as mattering. It’s a lot more than the bottom line. For Government to be backing those concepts, it is right and proper and I’m really glad that Jim’s written the essay.
PROBYN: So, in your own words what is values based capitalism?
BURKE: No, I have given you the answer. You get one go. I have given you the answer and I explained it’s not going to be in the terms that you want. But I have given you the terms of my answer and I hope you loved it!
LAURA TINGLE: Thank you, Minister, for imposing that discipline. It’s obviously your parliamentary experience. Ben Westcott.
BEN WESTCOTT: Thanks very much for your speech, Minister. Ben Westcott from Bloomberg. You spoke a lot about consultation in your speech and obviously during the first few months of the Government there was the Jobs and Skills Summit, which was a major point of consultation, but over the following months there were some complaints, particularly from business leaders, that the consultation had not been as thorough when it came to multi-employer bargaining; and then later on when it came to the gas price cap there were complaints from business it didn’t feel like it was being listened to. You talk about now, next week, you’re going to meet with business and union leaders again. How can business be sure that your consultation is genuine?
BURKE: For any of the criticism that was made last year, you would be hard-pressed to find a business leader who says that the previous government consulted more than we did – even on that Bill. So, notwithstanding that, business have asked for there to be a higher level of consultation than there was last time. I think that’s reasonable. We’ve got time to be able to do it and so, rather than just focus on the non-controversial areas that we’re dealing with the Bill in the first half of the year, I thought it’s right and proper; let’s start the consultation now on what the Parliament won’t be dealing with until the second half of the year. That won’t change the fact that we – consultation doesn’t mean what it meant for the previous government, I’m not asking for confirmation. If people disagree with me, they’re not going to suddenly discover they’ve got confrontation.
What will happen though is different issues will be put where there will be a case where we think, “Yeah, we can make that adjustment and it will work better.” For example, from the first draft of the legislation to what happened becoming law on Secure Jobs, Better Pay, a lot was changed to make sure we kept a primacy of single-enterprise agreements. That’s part of why we’re now seeing people come to the table in ways that they didn’t used to. The push for that primacy of single enterprise agreement came from the business organisations. It improved the bill. It caused me to move amendments in the House and there were further amendments to do exactly that in the Senate. So, I think you’ve certainly got three stages. You’ve got the lack of consultation that used to happen under the previous mob, you’ve got the Jobs and Skills Summit and the genuine changes that did happen last year and you’ve had a higher level of consultation and engagement which business have requested for this year and they’ll get it.
TINGLE: If I can pick up that point about consultation and higher wages, what’s happening with the implementation of the aged care Fair Work decision and what role is the Government playing in that?
BURKE: So, the Government has made – the Fair Work Commission came out initially with an interim report, with a 15 per cent pay rise concept there. They have then asked the parties to come back on how that might be timed. The Government’s submission has been made on that and is public in terms of 10 per cent and five. That will be sorted through in the Fair Work Commission, as to what the commission determines on that timing. Then the Fair Work Commission will do more work in terms of – particularly for other people, ancillary staff in aged care, who weren’t necessarily assisted by that first decision – and where they land on that I don’t know obviously, but that’s the further process that will happen.
TINGLE: So, what sort of timetable are you looking at for people who are still just sort of hanging out for some more money?
BURKE: Yeah, it is reasonable to presume that this year – normally pay increases come around 1 July so normal time that these things happen, but it’s in the hands of the commission when they take the next round of evidence to be able to set exact dates on that. There is no doubt that aged care workers will during the course of this year end up being paid significantly more than they otherwise would have had, because there’s been a change of Government and a Government that was willing to advocate a pay rise with the commission.
TINGLE: Catie McLeod.
CATIE McLEOD: Hi, Minister. Thanks for your speech. Catie McLeod from the NCA NewsWire. You spoke today about how your Government is changing Parliament and delivering a decent workplace for the people in the building. How is it then that the Commonwealth is facing legal action along with an Independent MP from a member of staff who claims that her boss tried to sack her for allegedly working unreasonable hours? Does the fact that this has arisen six months from the election reflect the fact that there’s more work to be done to improve conditions for workers in Parliament? And just on this particular case, could it have been avoided if the Albanese Government hadn’t cut the number of staff that Independents are allowed to have?
BURKE: Thank you for the question. First of all, no one in the room, me included, knows the facts on this particular case. None of us do, and so it’s difficult for me to really offer much other than there’s a system to be able to deal with it. Secondly, we have followed through on the recommendations from Kate Jenkins. We’ve established, as I said in the speech, the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service, so various changes have been made. There is no level of changes that anyone can make that will eliminate all disputes. There will be occasions where there are disputes so I don’t think zero disputes should ever be the test as to whether or not a system has improved. There’s no doubt a lot has been done and when you hear the speeches on Wednesday from the party leaders, I think it will be pretty clear some of the changes that have been made. But that said, I don’t think any of us can comment on in any detail, really, on that particular case because none of us know the facts.
On the final part of what you’ve asked in terms of number of staff, I don’t think there is a single office Government backbencher, Opposition backbencher, Minister, frontbencher or crossbencher office where all the staff aren’t working incredibly hard. But certainly we made a decision on the number of staff for the crossbenchers based on the original ask was that the crossbenchers would receive more additional staff than the Assistant Treasurer would have, and certainly that was something that was viewed as simply not tenable.
McLEOD: Thank you.
TINGLE: Paul Karp.
PAUL KARP: Thanks very much for your speech. In answer to Ron’s question, you said that bargaining fees are not on the list for the Industrial Relations Bill this year. Can I please ask why? Is it because you don’t think free riding is a problem or this is the right solution or you don’t want to imperil a bill to pass your election commitments but you could come back to it alert?
BURKE: All my focus and all the Government’s focus has been about getting people better job security and about delivering on getting wages moving, and that’s been what our focus has been. There’s been no discussion within Government on this issue at all and we will be flat out on the different issues that we’ll have to deal with to be able to get wages moving. Be in no doubt; after we put through the closing loopholes bill, which, hopefully, makes its way through both houses of Parliament this year, someone will try something new. Someone will go to the courts and try to find a new way of undercutting wages. Someone will come up with a new model to try to see wages run down. We’ll come back trying to close further loopholes.
Getting wages moving and delivering job security in a country where you have an extraordinary number of people without any access to leave is a huge task, and so in terms of priority it simply isn’t on this year’s list; it’s not on any list that I have.
KARP: Is it a loophole that employees get the benefit of union-negotiated pay rises if they are not union members and don’t make any contribution?
BURKE: No, no, I hear your point. I’m not critical of the unions for making the argument. I’m simply saying there is no Government policy about to happen, happening, that goes down this path.
KARP: You rule it out then?
BURKE: I’ve said there’s no Government policy that’s about to happen or happening here.
TINGLE: Julie Hare.
JULIE HARE: Mr Burke, thank you for your speech. Julie Hare from the Australian Financial Review. Labor frontbenchers, including yourself, have some of the most multicultural electorates in the country. Is the Voice among the top issues raised by your constituents and are you confident the people of Watson will vote yes?
BURKE: First of all, I’m not going to presume on the people of my electorate. They will make their own decisions. I will be encouraging them to vote yes. And, you know, there’s been some occasions when there’s been national votes where they’ve voted yes. There’s been occasions when they voted no in my part of Sydney. As a multicultural nation, though, people have – particularly when you consider some of the places that people have fled, in my part of Sydney they have a very good understanding of how there should be occasions where the first peoples of the land end up doing really badly and if they were consulted and respected and spoken and listened to, then the outcomes might have been different. Certainly, the lived experience of many people in my part of Sydney is the lived experience that exactly points to why we would want to vote yes.
HARE: When you talk to your constituents, what’s the feeling you get?
BURKE: In terms of you asked, “Is this the number one issue?”, no, it’s people’s wages not keeping up with their bills.
HARE: Is it on the –
BURKE: That’s the number one issue. But I can also say I have had people raise this with me. I wouldn’t pretend it’s a scientific poll. Maybe the people who disagree are avoiding the conversation. But certainly, I’m yet to have somebody come up to me and complain about it. I’ve had plenty of people coming up saying how important it is, some of whom have linked it back to experiences in countries they might have been born in.
TINGLE: Maurice Reilly.
MAURICE REILLY: I’m asking this question on behalf of our director Tim Shaw who’s out there watching. Minister, can you rule in or out 20 per cent of streaming quota plans are new Australian stories and not – and doesn’t include reruns of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and Number 96?
BURKE: If I were to – well, the answer was in the speech is the answer to the question. There is a whole lot of moving parts here. One is the percentage, which is what most people have focused on, but the other, as this question focuses on, is what do you include in the Australian content. Is it all new? Is it not? Of what’s new, how Australian does it have to be? These are all principles which have been dealt with in a different way with respect to free to air. Now, with free to air, you’ve got a different way of doing things because you have it got set broadcast times. You can say at this time of day, as we used to, this time of day has to be children’s, this time of day you’ve got various Australian content. You used to have a guarantee of scripted drama that the previous government got rid of it. With free to air, you can do it that way.
With streaming, we have no control over what time people watch or, ultimately, what they choose to watch so you have to approach it in a different way. I know that the Shadow Minister said, “This will mean we’ll end up having three different systems.” We already have three different systems. We have a system on free to air TV of particular quotas. We have a system on Foxtel of a dollar amount and we have no system at all on streaming. Complete free for all. That can’t go on. So, what we announced on Monday is from 1 July next year there will be Australian content obligations for the streaming services. First half of this year, Michelle Rowland and I will be working out exactly what the formula, exactly how you cut it, what that is, with genuine consultation, with all three stakeholders. You know, there’s three groups that have a lot at stake here. You’ve got people who produce the content and the actors and all the people in the industry, you’ve got the streaming companies themselves and you have got the Australian audience that is a right to make sure that they see stories that reflect them on their own screen in their own home. Second half of the year we’ll have the legislation.
TINGLE: Tom Connell.
CONNELL: Second go at it. There’s been a few warnings over the past few years around domestic gas supply in Australia. Since coming to power the one decisive action Labor has taken is to make domestic gas supply less profitable. What has the Government done to increase domestic gas supply?
BURKE: On this one, as part of a Cabinet Government, I’m just going to refer to the relevant Minister. I’m not going to give a half-answer on that.
CONNELL: Nothing at all?
BURKE: We’ve got the appropriate Minister. It’s a serious issue. It’s a very serious issue. And I’m just not going to offer it.
LAURA TINGLE: Rosie Lewis.
LEWIS: Minister, just following up on your earlier response to wage theft, you made clear that only the most egregious cases would attract a criminal penalty. Could you confirm – I understand consultation will get underway shortly – that the criminal penalty would include jail time? And do you foresee that there would be people captured and jailed under such laws or do you think such laws would be enough to prevent that behaviour?
BURKE: The objective – well, first of all, in terms of the way I described it, I said for that worse category, that’s where they would have to apply.
LEWIS: So, they could apply to the earlier categories?
BURKE: That’s something we haven’t made a decision on. But certainly, if you’re going to talk about criminalising, you have to talk about the worst category. That’s part of the consultation we’ll work our way through. I don’t want to imply I ruled it out, but certainly for that third category it would have to be there.
The hope with criminalising anything is the law doesn’t get used because it has a behavioural effect. That’s always the hope. Reality often is that sadly you have a couple of high-profile uses of law before the behavioural effect takes place. I hope that’s not the case.
You sort of have two worlds. One world is where people continue to be ripped off and people get jailed, while that’s bad for the people getting ripped off and it’s not so great for the person who suffers a criminal penalty. The alternative world is one where the mere fact of criminalising gives a behavioural change. Think of it in these terms. People say, “Oh, it’s too complicated.” People are used to the fact you have to comply with tax law. You make sure you get your tax return right and you get some advice to make sure you’re getting it right. People are used to the fact that you have to comply with planning law. If you’re undergoing a major build, you get some advice to get your planning law right. There’s been an attitude for too long that you can second guess your employment law.
That’s part of the story of the underpayment scams that we’ve seen over the last few years, that there’s been a view that, “Oh, yeah, we don’t have to take this as seriously paying our workers as we do paying the Commonwealth or as we do complying with Local Government.” I want to see that behaviour change and I have no joy, to be honest; of all the things that we will be dealing with, I’m least excited about criminalising wage theft. I have no joy in doing it or that we have to do it. But from what I saw, particularly during the last term, I have no doubt whatsoever that it will take something like this to deliver behavioural change.
TINGLE: David Crowe.
CROWE: Thank you, again, on arts policy, Minister, a quick question on one of the things you spoke about last year that there’s been some reaction to this week. Setting perhaps in legislation a minimum pay for performers. I know the Greens want that in law. Do you think you would put that into law and while we’re on laws, you want a poet laureate. Who do you think should get the job? Could it be Paul Kelly, could it be Sia, could it be Nick Cave? You’re a muso. I personally don’t think Bob Dylan should have got the Nobel Prize, but do you think a muso could be the poet laureate?
BURKE: Let me deal with the poet laureate. What was the first one?
CROWE: The first one was about minimum pay for performers.
BURKE: I’ll deal with that first because the second part is fun.
BURKE: On minimum pay, I have not ruled out that we ever get there. I wasn’t able to get there in the seven months that we were consulting on National Cultural Policy because you want to make sure that you don’t end up with perverse outcomes. For example, if we think of the volunteers at various festivals, if someone’s getting their tickets and they’re performing as part of getting their tickets and their accommodation, to what extent are they a volunteer? To what extent is that a payment? How do you deal with that? What should the rate be? What does that mean in terms of smaller venues? Working all that through is complex and it’s not something I would rush through.
I am deeply frustrated and always have been at the presumption that every artist when they’re asked to help with something it’s presumed that they’ll do it for free or that exposure is their payment. They’re workers – on many occasions, musicians – who have put this request put on them; some of them have been training in their craft since the age of three or four. We talk about how long doctors train. Musicians and the work and discipline that’s gone into their craft is extraordinary. To have them on such low rates of pay is horrific. Exactly how you fix it, I wasn’t confident that we had landed on the right answer yet. Establishing the Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces, a lot of its work will be about delivering safe workplaces, but there will be questions of remuneration that the centre works through as well.
On the poet laureate, I think everyone was really moved by Sarah Holland Batt at the launch on Monday. Her poems – I’ve listened online to quite a few of her poems about her father and they’re just beautiful, elegant works of poetry. I read a poem out loud every day. I’ve done so since I was 18. Today was Peter Carey. Typewriter Music. Sorry, David Malouf, Typewriter Music. But great poetry – you mentioned musicians. Great poetry already has great music to it. It already does. I’ve been very determined with the cultural policy that there’s never a decision about artistic merit taken by the Minister so you’ve named a whole lot that I love.
CROWE: So, you won’t get a say?
BURKE: No, I won’t get a say. But as the member for Watson, I’ll remind people of the Bankstown Poetry Slam being the largest poetry gathering in Australia and let’s not just think of the famous published poets. There is a culture out there of young people putting their words to paper and then to the microphone with the audience clicking in time when they hear something they like that’s become one of the most wonderful ways that words are using used in Australia. It’s going to be exciting. I don’t know who they’ll pick, but I won’t be the one doing the selecting.
TINGLE: If I could just ask finally, we’ve talked about video streaming. You and the Prime Minister are obviously major contemporary music tragics. What’s going to happen about music streaming, things like Spotify and getting decent returns for artists from them?
BURKE: There’s two issues for streamers that are principally Spotify and Apple, but there are other services as well. Dealing with video streaming is complex but easier than music. The challenge with – the reason it’s easier with video is the producing of the work is – it can be done directly by the streaming service itself, whereas Spotify or Apple aren’t actually involved in the producing of the music. So, it’s a different mechanism. It’s one of the things that by having Music Australia as very much a corporate body, not simply dealing through peer review but being able to make strategic decisions in ways that the Australia Council traditionally couldn’t, will be able to provide advice to Government on this.
When people think about Spotify or Apple music, for example – I’ll give you a simple example, we all think about it in terms of, “How can you have quotas there because I choose what songs I like and that’s my business and I don’t want the Government telling me what I choose?” Of course. But play an Australian album on one of those and have the feature on that it keeps choosing music for you after. By the third or fourth song if you haven’t gone to North America in the choices that it’s taken you to, then you’re getting a different experience to what I get. The streaming services do not only have available what you might choose; they also push music to you. Getting inside those algorithms and getting a better deal for Australian music will make a huge difference for Australian artists. But I need the expertise and the advice of Music Australia for us to be able to take that next step.
TINGLE: Please thank Tony Burke for his time today.