Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC RN Breakfast with Patricia Karvelas


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


Subjects: Secure Jobs, Better Pay legislation.


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: The Workplace Relations Minister is Tony Burke, and he’s our guest this morning. Minister, welcome.


KARVELAS: You’ve made several changes to the bill after just a week of consultations, including requiring a majority of workers from each employer to join a multi-bargaining arrangement. Doesn’t that alone demonstrate this Bill shouldn’t be rushed, that there are obviously significant changes still to be made?

BURKE: We’ve shown good faith in terms of the consultation. And, you know, there’ll be further work that’s done as a result of the Senate inquiry as that process goes through. But last week, you know, I’ve met – I spent pretty much the whole week dealing with largely business organisations. There was also some feedback that came from the ACTU as well. But some of those business organisations we met with three times during the week working our way through different amendments that were constructively put and that improved the legislation.

But, you know, I think it would be – I don’t think we should get to the point where a government listening and acting constructively like that is seen as a weakness. I think that just strengthens legislation.

KARVELAS: But you say listening; some MPs are saying they were ambushed. Are you prepared to make more concessions?

BURKE: After a Senate inquiry process you always end up with amendments on this sort of legislation after the Senate inquiry. So I suspect something – I suspect there’ll be more to come. But, you know, that’s pretty standard with the legislative process.

If I was, you know, the previous government there’d be times where they just went at it like a bull at a gate, refused to accept any amendments, refused to have any consultation, and I think for a lot of people operating this way they see how this government operates, and it’s new the fact that you’re willing to look at amendments to work things through.

KARVELAS: David Pocock, who is a key vote you need to get on board if you want to be successful, says he supports two of the three streams for multi-employer bargaining but wants you to hold off on the single-interest stream. He said this way you get wages going for low-paid workers in the supported stream but allow him more time for the most contested area. Will you do that?

BURKE: Yeah, can I say I’m grateful with the way David Pocock has been engaging. Certainly, that position that he’s put is a big improvement of where he was even a week ago, for example, where the talk was for all of the multi-employer bargaining streams to be held off. As we’ve worked through the consultations so far section by section of the Bill, he’s had more comfort with. Some parts he’s wanted amended. Some of these amendments that have been announced overnight are amendments that were specifically at his request.

And so what I’m hopeful is over the next couple of weeks that I’m able to give him more comfort on the single-interest stream. The single-interest stream is still important. You’ll get – and not only for workers; you’ll also, for example, get a series of employers – take industries like sheet metal or air-conditioning where the industry standard is well above the award and multi-employer bargaining allows the different competitors to have an agreement where they’re not competing on a race for the bottom on wages, where people aren’t just undercutting each other, that standard above-award industry standard gets reflected and then they compete on quality and everything else. So there’s significant parts of the economy where that single-interest stream is still important, and I’m certainly not giving up on it yet.

KARVELAS: Okay, you’re not giving up on it yet. I liked the word “yet” because I can really go somewhere with it – yes.

BURKE: Don’t get too excited by that. My hope, my determination – obviously you’re in the hands of the Senate once the legislation gets there – but my determination is I really have a sense of urgency in wanting to get this legislation through this year. And I know that means everybody feels pressure. It does mean members of Parliament, there’s pressure on them on getting across the legislation. It puts pressure on –

KARVELAS: With respect, they say there’s just not enough time. In fact, I spoke to the Master Builders before. They said if you look at the Gillard government, for instance, when they introduced industrial relations reform, they spent a lot more time consulting. Why are you sort of barging this through?

BURKE: Well, first of all, I heard the interview with Denita Wawn. Denita Wawn didn’t even support proposals that were put forward by Christian Porter under the previous government. There’s an industrial relations view that comes from that particular organisation that’s always going to be more hard line than the other business organisations. And that’s just their perspective.

There’s a reason for urgency. And the reason – what I was starting to say before about the pressure that there is on members of Parliament on getting across the detail – is because that’s nothing compared with the immense pressure that is on households right now. It’s real. What’s happening and the decisions that households are now being forced to make as inflation is going up and up and up while wages are not moving for so many people is a real pressure where we have to act.

And so once this legislation goes through one of the first things that will happen is businesses that don’t want to be part of multi-employer bargains will start again to negotiate with their staff to get single enterprise agreements moving. That will always be the main form of enterprise agreements, but that means for those businesses, they’ll get the flexibility, and they’ll get the productivity improvements, and for the people who work for them those pay rises will start to flow.

KARVELAS: Okay. So as I say, David Pocock, key vote, which is why I’m really focusing on the things that he’s saying for our listeners to understand, because it seems like you’ve got the Greens, but you need David Pocock because Jacqui Lambie is really more concerned with more elements. He wants the single-income stream, as I say, carved out. You say you’ll give him more comfort. What more comfort can you provide? What can you tell us?

BURKE: Well, this is where, you know – as you go through the different sections, as we’ve worked through them, so the low-paid stream, it’s been important to work through with the Senate crossbench and the Reps crossbench as well for that matter, who are the people affected by each of the streams. So the low-paid stream, very much the feminised sections of the workforce.

The cooperative stream, very much those small businesses that would like a simpler document than an award. And they don’t have an HR department. Multi-employer bargaining is the only way to get that for them.

For single-interest streams it’s those areas in particular where you can get industry standards that are above the award and you’re wanting to make sure that they’re not constantly being undercut. And so a big part of making sure how the different legislation is understood is for people to be able to see and understand exactly what the workplaces are, who the workers are, where this will make a categorical difference for them.

KARVELAS: Okay. But wouldn’t you just carve it out if you had a sense of urgency about getting wages moving? Because that would you achieve your aims immediately.

BURKE: Well, not all of them. Like, it’s not like –

KARVELAS: Well, not all of them, but that’s politics, isn’t it? You kind of can get quite a bit through with David Pocock. He wants that taken out. Why not let it happen?

BURKE: Because we’re – this won’t be voted on for a few weeks yet in the Senate. And I want to get wages moving for as many Australians as possible. That’s what I want to be able to do. And that’s what the government went to the election – we didn’t say we’re only going to get wages moving for this person or that person. We talked about –

KARVELAS: But you didn’t take multi-employer bargaining to the election, did you?

BURKE: Hang on, the Prime Minister squarely put bargaining on the table and said that to get wages – it was at a speech as an ACCI meeting in Sydney during the election campaign. And he said we need to get wages moving. The key to getting wages moving has always been bargaining. And he put bargaining squarely on the table for the Jobs and Skills Summit. At the Jobs and Skills Summit, we had that conversation, and this Bill and the elements of this Bill are a direct result of that Jobs and Skills Summit. So, you know, that’s an exact process that was committed to during the election campaign that’s been followed, and that’s why we have the legislation in front of us now.

KARVELAS: I don’t know about the dimensions, though, being multi-employer bargaining. That was not on the table. That’s been introduced since. If the Bill –

BURKE: No, no, sorry, I need to stop you there. Sorry. We committed that bargaining would be on the table for the Jobs and Skills Summit, and from the Jobs and Skills Summit there is no doubt whatsoever that one of the conclusions there was multi-employer bargaining. No doubt about that.

KARVELAS: Well, you knew at that forum, but we’re going to have to park it. Not everyone was thinking it was a great idea. So there’s obviously a range of views. If this Bill does pass by Christmas, realistically how long does it take for the first worker to get a pay rise?

BURKE: In terms of the movement of negotiations for single enterprise bargaining you’re probably looking at the – at the fastest probably a couple of months before you start to see any movement there. On multi-employer you’re looking at longer. And those lag times just make the sense of urgency now greater. I don’t think we can say that because – and I’ve heard some people raise this argument – that somehow because the day after the legislation goes through wages don’t immediately go up that gives us an excuse as members of Parliament to delay even further and push their pay rises even further back.

The pressure that is being felt is real. The sooner we act the sooner pay will go up. And that’s why I’m doing everything I can to try to make sure we can get those wages moving for Australians this year.

KARVELAS: Jacqui Lambie says it will be a miracle to get it passed by Christmas. Is she right?

BURKE: That’s what I want to see if I can work out.

KARVELAS: You’re trying to figure out if you can deliver a miracle?

BURKE: In terms of – in terms of getting Jacqui over the line on this, she’s made her own views there really clear. And I don’t think anyone’s got a better turn of phrase than Jacqui Lambie when it comes to the Parliament. There have been lots of occasions where things have looked to be impossible, and the Parliament has ended up finding a way. And I’ll tell you – if there was an issue where we should be trying to find a way right now, it’s at the core of the cost-of-living challenges. A whole lot of the inflationary pressures are international. There’s some we can do things about; there’s a lot that we can’t. We can do something about wages, and we really need to.

KARVELAS: We’re out of time, but thank you for joining us this morning.

BURKE: Always great to talk.

KARVELAS: That is the Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Burke.