Release type: Transcript


Doorstop, Parliament House


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

SUBJECTS: Government submission to the Annual Wage Review, religious discrimination, Newspoll. 

TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: Really pleased that we've announced now what we'll be doing in the Annual Wage Review. This Government, pretty simple principle: we want people to earn more and keep more of what they earn. A big part of that's the Annual Wage Review. When we first took the approach that we're taking this year, which we announced during the election campaign, the other side of politics said we're a loose unit, they said it was very dangerous. Truth is the decade of low wage growth had to come to an end. We needed to start that with a really simple principle, which is people low wages should not go backwards.

JOURNALIST: There have been concerns, we've already heard this morning, about the impact the minimum wage rise might have on small business. Is small business suffering in this country and could they absorb the minimum wage rise?

BURKE: Small business also needs to make sure that their customers are buying from them. These things work both ways. One argument that often gets put by our political opponents and that I think we need to reject out of hand, is this concept that somehow workers are to blame for inflation. As though we can ignore international pressures, we can ignore supply constraints. All of that can be put to one side and just sheet home the blame to workers. I think it's a ridiculous argument. It's a gaslighting of workers. People need to be able to keep pace with cost of living. For the last three quarters, we've had real wages growth. We hadn't had three quarters in a row of real wages growth for five years. So, the fact that we've started to turn the corner doesn't mean that people are, after ten years of wages, flatlining, suddenly feeling that they're now ahead. It takes a while to turn things around. But it's also the case that getting real wages growth wouldn't have happened without the changes of these policies and these submissions to the Annual Wage Review. This is the cornerstone of getting wages moving in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Will your submission to the Fair Work Commission be simply whatever the monthly inflation figure is at that point in time? That's the number we want to see?

BURKE: We're using the same principle we've used the last two times, which is while, obviously across the board, we want people to be keeping up. The most important principle is that people on low wages should not be going backwards. People on low wages are the most affected by inflation. People on low wages have the least savings as well. That's the principle that we've applied the last two times. We'll be applying that again this time and can I say that's a principle that's resulted in us getting these last three quarters of real wage growth in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Opposition is saying they support lower wages going up, but when there's a cost of living crisis those increases eaten away very quickly? Is that an argument that you buy or how do you respond?

BURKE: I'm yet to see a situation where we do anything on getting wages moving that the Opposition supports. Here's the simple thing: the highest quarterly inflation figure happened under their watch. Since then, inflation's been moderating. But what were wages under their watch? Roughly half of what they are now. The simple thing is Peter Dutton wants people to work longer for less. That's their policy. That's what they did for a decade. That's what we're now turning around. I'm not surprised they're opposed.

JOURNALIST: Religious discrimination, how soon do you want to see that bill passed? If the time frame sort of middle of this year, end of this year, what's the Government's thinking?

BURKE: The key thing is whether or not there's bipartisan support. Australia doesn't need a deep, divisive debate at the moment. So, in good faith, we provided the draft legislation to the Opposition. They'll work it through and we'll see what they come back with. It's in Australia's interest that the legislation be dealt with, but we've given it to the Opposition in good faith and we don't want it the way it was handled previously under the previous government, where it was just a dragged out, ugly debate. It's not what Australia needs.

JOURNALIST: Is that a concrete document or is that a take it or leave it proposal or are you willing to negotiate?

BURKE: It's been provided to the Opposition. Those discussions are very much between them, the Prime Minister and the Attorney General.

JOURNALIST: The polls today, not great for Labor. What do you make of them? Or are you just going to say –

BURKE: I think the most important thing for us is that we continue to make sure that this is a Government that wants people to earn more, keep more of what they earn. The combination on the 1st of July will have, on the same day, the tax cuts will come in and the outcome of this Annual Wage Review that we've just made the submission to, will come through and start being seen in people's pay packets. That's really important. It's important that people see the plan that we've been following starting to make a difference into the money that's going into their bank accounts each week.

Thank you.