NATASHA EXELBY, HOST: Welcome back. Around 2.8 million Australians are set to get a pay raise today when the Fair Work Commission’s annual wage review comes into effect. Joining us outside of the Sydney Commonwealth Parliament office is a very chuffed Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Burke. Minister, thank you so much for your time. The increase to the minimum wage is $40 a week –
TONY BURKE, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: Hi, Nat.
EXELBY: Yes, good morning to you also. Sorry, I should have left time for that. How rude of me. Let me start again. The move, the increase to the minimum wage is $40 a week but the fact is it’s not just people on the minimum wage struggling right now with inflation. What does the government plan to do about that – everyone else?
BURKE: Well, the minimum wage itself is fewer than 200,000 people, but there’s also that $40 a week increase goes through a whole lot of – millions of people on the award system as well. So – and, in particular, the people I’m happiest for I’ve got to say are the people who were the heroes of the pandemic who, you know, couldn’t work from a laptop. They had to turn up to their work, often in community-facing roles, whether it be in retail, whether it be in the care economy – you know, 60 per cent of the people who benefit from this increase are women – and they were turning up in those roles long before we had a vaccine, putting themselves in harm’s way.
So, it’s a lot more than just the people on the minimum wage, and it is the biggest increase we’ve had for many, many years. Now, you know, after what people have been through over the last few years we needed a change where a government would start to fight for their wages again. And, you know, I know it was very controversial during the election campaign when Anthony Albanese answered absolutely to that question about, you know, making sure that low-paid workers didn’t go backwards, but the pay rise today, this is what happens when you get a government willing to fight for wages. It’s not the end of the story. There’s still more that needs to be done, but it’s the first instalment of turning around a decade where a government was deliberately trying to keep wages low.
EXELBY: Inflation is one of the number one problems in the country right now, and politicians have just enjoyed a pay rise. Your boss has an extra $290 a week in his pocket. So how can you argue that wage rises will push up inflation when you’ve just had one yourself?
BURKE: I don’t argue that wage rises push up inflation. In fact, one of the arguments that I think has been appalling that’s been made by a lot of people is some people have been out there wanting to argue that somehow a decent pay rise for the lowest-paid workers is the cause of inflation in Australia. Inflation is caused by a few impacts of what we’re dealing with at the moment. We’re dealing with overseas impacts, particularly the impacts that have flowed on from the war in Ukraine. And, secondly, there are some domestic issues, but they’re not the fault of low-paid workers; it’s 10 years not dealing with energy policy which has caused the problems that we’re seeing in the spike of energy prices and also failing to train enough Australians, which has caused us to have the skills shortage that we have.
So, you know, while some people will want to blame low-paid workers for inflation, the truth is we know that wage growth is not the cause of inflation because we don’t have high wage growth in this country. At the moment we’ve got a headline inflation rate of 5.1 per cent and the wage price index, wages have been running on average for people at around 2.4 per cent. So wages are well behind. Inflation is a concern; we do need to watch out for it. But we should never blame the workers for what we’re currently seeing. It’s other factors that are causing inflation.
EXELBY: And just quickly, finally, Minister, the biggest story in the world right now is NATO, and China has certainly been served up an absolutely scathing report, which the Prime Minister has absolutely stood by. But do we really want to pick a fight with a nation that we’re exporting over $100 billion a year worth of resources to?
BURKE: The first job of any government is national security. It’s sort of the most sacred role that any government has. And Anthony Albanese’s been making clear that the government of Australia has changed but in terms of, you know, there are values that we hold and share with our allies and with other democracies around the world that don’t change. And, you know, the need to engage with like-minded countries around the world was made clear when we saw the agreement that was struck with the Solomons under the watch of the previous government. You know, these issues we need to be resolute on. We need to be clear. It doesn’t mean you go out needlessly out of your way trying to aggravate anyone. But Australia’s got a set of values here and we need to be clear on them, and that’s exactly what the Prime Minister has been doing.
EXELBY: Tony Burke, it is a very busy day ahead for you today, so we are very grateful for your time. We’ll leave you to get on with it. Thanks again.
BURKE: Great to be here. See you.