Release type: Transcript


Doorstop interview - Parliament House, Canberra


The Hon Tony Burke MP
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Minister for the Arts

TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: Great outcome for Australian workers today. Once again, we have a decision under the Annual Wage Review that means 2.6 million Australians are getting a pay rise. Let's not forget when we came to office, for a government to argue that real wages should not be going backwards, for a government to argue that our lowest paid should be at least keeping up with the cost of living was viewed as a dangerous policy from the Liberal Party. Even today Jane Hume was in the media criticising and saying what a disaster it would be if wages didn't go backwards.

I'm pleased to say that wages have moved forward again today in the decision of the Annual Wage Review. The Government welcomes the decision of the Commission. What this means is 2.6 million Australians who are reliant on the award system get to see their pay go up. It means the minimum wage continues on the trajectory that's happened since we came to office. Let's not forget, this is again evidence of what happens when Government says the days of low wage growth being a deliberate design feature are over. Under this Government, we said we'd get wages moving and we're seeing more of that today.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] is slightly higher than CPI. Aren't you concerned that this will contribute to inflation and make the situation worse?

BURKE: First of all, if I can deal with how significant the increase is. Let's not forget this is an increase in pay that comes at the same time as a cut in tax that comes at the same time as continued delivery of cheaper medicines and better deals for students. All of that happens at the same time. I've heard this argument about inflation from Jane Hume this morning. I think it is disgusting for anyone to blame 11 per cent of the nation's payroll on the lowest wages in the country and to say inflation is their fault. That is the most appalling case of just punching down. What we have here are people who have less room to move with cost of living and we're making sure that their wages keep up. It's what the Government asked for in the submission. It's why we've also got the cost of living relief in the Budget. It's exactly what the Fair Work Commission has independently decided today, and I welcome the decision.

JOURNALIST: The Commission says that the statutory tax cuts were considered in its decision. Are you concerned that all the tax cuts may have prevented wages from lifting any higher?

BURKE: No. The issue is the Fair Work Commission will always look at all the impacts across the economy. You can't expect them to do anything else. But some of the business groups and some of the commentators said those tax cuts should be in place of a wage increase. Some argued that those tax cuts should be an excuse for wages to fall and the Commission didn't accept that argument. What the Commission has decided is you get a wage increase and you get the tax cuts, and you get the cost of living relief. That's exactly what the Government hoped for.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what did you make of the Commission's decision to set up a separate group to look at feminised industries, whether they should get an extra pay hike?

BURKE: What the Commission has decided with respect to gender equality is a direct result of changes we made to the law in 2022 and the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill that the Coalition voted against. A lot of people might have missed it because a lot of - most of the arguments were about bargaining. But one of the things that I put in that legislation was for the objective of the Act – the Fair Work Act – and the objectives of the award system to include job security and gender equality.

We are now seeing that change in the law find its way through the award system. There's a series of highly feminised industries where their awards have always been artificially lower than the awards that are dominated by men in terms of the workforce. The Commission have now set down a process with timelines, prioritised the most feminised awards and we will see a shift. Under this Government, and because of the legal changes we've made, we've already got the gender pay gap down to the lowest it has ever been since the records began. What the Commission announced today is that more is yet to come on that pathway as we get to next year's Annual Wage Review.

JOURNALIST: Unions wanted 5 per cent, business wanted less. Do you think the balance is right, or given what you said about - that it's not inflationary, do you think that it could have been higher?

BURKE: We welcome the decision. We don't second guess the decision. I don't think you'll ever find a wage review that has ever taken place without the unions having requested more and business having requested less.

JOURNALIST: The Commission expressed some concerns about sluggish productivity growth. Do you accept that that is limiting how much wages can be increased, and how do you get that moving again?

BURKE: There's a whole lot that the Government's doing to improve productivity. It's work that should have been done a decade ago. It's work about investing in skills. It's work like the Future Made in Australia, making sure that we've got industries here. It's one of the consequences going for a decade where Australia had no energy policy, something like 26 different attempts, and none of them ended up being implemented. All of that has added to the productivity challenges in Australia. What the Commission have said is, effectively, as productivity improves over time, that opens up more opportunity for wage growth. It does, but only, I might add, because we changed the law. Because let's not forget, for a long time we saw wage growth basically flatlined because the laws weren't updated, and we had a government determined to keep wages low.

JOURNALIST: Minister, a Senate hearing has heard today that the number of people in your department that have been underpaid has doubled from 99 to 201, and it's taken nearly a year to fix that problem and pay them all back. Why has it taken so long?

BURKE: Well, I'll start with as long as it's one person who wasn't paid what they're entitled to, it's unacceptable. I've made that clear to the Secretary. There is a particular situation here where there was a matrix in a system that would apply to no other employer in the country, where it was part agreement, part award that had to be cross referenced. That's no excuse, though. That's no excuse. I simply expect that people are going to be paid properly. And the number - until the number is zero, I won't be satisfied.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you were elected on a platform to get wages moving. In the last seven quarters that you've been in Government, only two of those have actually had wages price index outstrip the CPI. I mean, last quarter CPI again outstripped wages growth. I mean, when are we going to see constant, you know, wages growth outstripping CPI quarter on quarter?

BURKE: I'm so glad you asked, because throughout all of that time, wages growth has - before I get to real wages, nominal wages growth has been higher than it was under the previous government.

JOURNALIST: And so’s inflation.

BURKE: I really will answer your question. Under that entire time, nominal wages growth has been higher than it was under the previous government. The highest quarterly figure of inflation was the last quarter we received under the previous government. Not as you just said when you interrupted at that moment. That was the highest quarterly figure. What we've been seeing is two things happen simultaneously. Wage growth, because of the changes we've been making, has been ticking up over time, and at the same time, inflation has been moderating. You look at the trajectory of each of those lines and it's exactly what you'd expect from a government that's determined to get wages moving that wants to see real wages growth and is engaging in responsible economic management.

JOURNALIST: Minister, do you have a reaction, some of your colleagues, their offices being vandalised in Victoria? I think the NSW Premier's office today splashed with red paint. Pro-Palestinian phrases written on those. Is that inappropriate?

BURKE: Any vandalism, anything designed to intimidate and anything that involves destruction of property is unacceptable, disgusting and inexcusable. We have a way of dealing with issues, no matter how passionately they're held in Australia, and people should deal with those issues civilly.