Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC News Breakfast with Michael Rowland


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

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Let’s bring in now the Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke in Canberra. Minister, good morning to you. 


ROWLAND: Now, as you would well know and as we’ve been reporting, business groups are most concerned about multi-employer bargaining suggested by the Bill. And they want amendments. Are you open to listening to them and possibly changing the Bill to factor in their concerns? 

BURKE: Yeah, behind the scenes the conversation's a bit more constructive than they’ve been through the media I’ve got to say. I actually flagged in the speech when I introduced the Bill yesterday some of the areas where there’s consultation happening right now that’s likely to result in Government amendments. So there’ll be some things that the business groups are calling for that we won’t be willing to do, but there’s some pretty constructive conversations behind the scenes there. 

ROWLAND: How much changes will revolve around – potential amendments will revolve around the multi-employer bargaining model you’re putting forward? 

BURKE: Look, there’s some specific things about voting methods, for example. We want to make sure, for example, if you have an individual workplace where the employer doesn’t want to be part of a multi agreement and the workforce don’t want to be part of an agreement that they don’t somehow get included in it. So there’s some principles there that we’re working through that are pretty sensible. But where we won’t shift is on the concept that we need to get wages moving. And we know to get wages moving we need to get bargaining and agreement-making moving again. 

We’re down now to around 14 per cent of the workforce now, is on an agreement that is in date. Now, these have always been the best way to get outcomes for pay rises that also result in productivity improvements for business. And it’s just fallen away – fallen away terribly. So there are a series of changes, some to single employer agreements, which will still be the main form of agreement. But particularly for feminised sections and low-paid sections of the workforce, multi employer bargaining is the key way that we have some chance of being able to get wages moving for those workers. 

ROWLAND: Okay, just to clarify one of those potential changes you’re talking about, as you know, one of the big concerns put forward by employer groups is if a company, the bosses and, for argument’s sake, even the workers did not want to be part of multi-employer bargaining they shouldn’t have to. So you’re looking at allowing those companies and employees, employers to opt out? 

BURKE: Yeah, I flagged that in my speech yesterday that that’s one of the ones that we’ve had detailed conversations with different stakeholders, and we’re working through that. 


BURKE: There’s a process that happens in my portfolio where the peak bodies all get a full day to look through the legislation. And that happened last week. And so as a result of that the discussions started back then. But because they haven’t been resolved I respect that business organisations will still be calling for it publicly. 

ROWLAND: Okay. Well, you’ve just said constructions are more constructive behind the scenes. 

BURKE: Yeah. 

ROWLAND: What do you make of the public campaigns by the people you’re dealing with, you say constructively behind closed doors? 

BURKE: Look, there will always be when you’re wanting to get wages moving the various peak bodies will have a series of their members who say they don’t want to be paying more for their workforce. I get that. But, you know, when we have inflation with a 7 in front of it and wages figures with a 2 in front of it, people are going backwards. And some of the cost of living stories about prices, that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing with cheaper medicines and reducing child care costs. But some of that has to be to get wages moving. 

And, you know, we don’t have centralised wage fixing in Australia. When this bill goes through we still won’t have centralised wage fixing. But agreement-making and bargaining where both workers and employers have some agency in being able to come to agreements and where you’ve got an umpire that’s capable of doing something, that’s the key path to getting wages moving. And that’s why when people say, “Can’t you go more slowly,” we’ve gone for 10 years with wages flatlining. There’s always been an excuse, “Oh, let’s not do anything now.” But the conversations around every household, they expect the Government and the Parliament to do what we can to get wages moving, and this is a big part of it. 

ROWLAND: Okay, a couple of other issues before we leave you. The Opposition Leader Peter Dutton gave his budget address-in-reply speech last night. He accused the Government of breaking faith with Australians over that promise to cut power prices by $275 by 2025. Now, we can prosecute what the Opposition did in Government up hill and down dale – 

BURKE: Pretty significant – they did change the law to hide the price. 

ROWLAND: Yes, but I’m asking you – you’re in the Government now. You, the Prime Minister, others made that promise repeatedly. To dredge up an old political phrase, Tony Burke, isn’t that $275 promise now dead, buried and cremated? 

BURKE: The facts are that renewables are cheaper. Renewables are the cheapest form of power. Nuclear is the most expensive form of power. And where you look at the policies that Chris Bowen is putting in place, they’re all about getting downward pressure on energy prices. We are starting at a higher point both because of what’s happening in the war in Europe and also because of the prices that were hidden when the previous Government changed the law to hide price increases that were already – 

ROWLAND: Okay. Can Australians expect $275 off their power bills by 2025 still? 

BURKE: Look, we stand by the modelling that was done. The modelling that was done was obviously done before the war in Europe happened. The Government’s doing everything it can to be able to put downward pressure on prices. The speech last night that you referred to also went specifically to nuclear power, which is the most expensive form of energy. 

ROWLAND: Tony Burke, appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us. 

BURKE: Great to talk.