Release type: Transcript


Interview - Greg Jennett, ABC Afternoon Briefing


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

GREG JENNETT: Tony Burke, welcome back to the program. 


JENNETT: It's a difficult time of day, I know, for you, in sitting weeks, to make it to a place like this, so we're all the more appreciative. Now, it's hard to go past, isn't it? The Prime Minister's engagement to Jodie Haydon. We've done our research and I can't find any example of any Prime Minister ever having been engaged or married in office in this country. So, we're breaking new ground. But more interesting than that, you were there at the beginning.

BURKE: I'm so happy for them, and congratulations to both of them. I was there the night they met. So, I was at a function and the PM, he was Leader of the Opposition at the time, and he's giving a speech and we're in Melbourne and he makes some reference to rugby league and the Melbourne crowd looks a little bit lost about it sometimes. And he says, "Oh, come on, there's got to be Rabbitoh's supporters here, there's always some in every room", and over in the corner I see someone who hands in the air saying "Rabbitohs!" That was their first conversation.

JENNETT: Jodie Haydon really was then and now a genuine Rabbitohs fan.

BURKE: Oh, that's right, right from the start. So, at the end of the speech, the PM went over to say hi and now, we are where we are, and good on them.

JENNETT: The rest, as they say, is history. Does that mean you automatically qualify for an invitation?

BURKE: Well, even Peter Dutton was trying to get one in Question Time today.

JENNETT: At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, that's what we do in the media - 

BURKE: We're not going to stay on that topic the whole interview?

JENNETT: I am, actually. Does the timing of the nuptials need some political calculus around it? I mean, let me spell that out. We've only got about a year left in this Parliament. You wouldn't want members of the public saying the Prime Minister's distracted, would you?

BURKE: No, no, stop no. He proposed, they're getting married, it's wonderful. And I just don't think any Australians would put any cynicism like that on it. This is two people, as I say, I was there when they met. They're going to be so happy together and have made a decision like that, I think these things just bring people joy.

JENNETT: All right, well, you're probably correct on that and I'm sure your application for an invitation is being noted somewhere down in the Prime Minister's office.

BURKE: Added to the thousands.

JENNETT: Exactly. Why don't we move on? Tony Burke, your campaign, I think that's what we could describe it, to get wages moving again has had some moderate success, but now we're seeing inflation come down faster than expected. And as of today, unemployment going up again above 4 per cent for the first time in a couple of years. Is it now time to start moderating workers expectations, planting in their minds the idea that these double digit wage claims of late won't be appropriate before too long?

BURKE: Let's not forget the wage claims, some of them that have looked high have usually been over a number of years, and they're often after the last couple of years where wage increases have been lower than inflation. It'll depend industry to industry. The one thing I don't want us to get into - because there's been different times over the last couple of years - where people have kept wanting to blame workers for inflation and this argument of somehow wage price spiral. What we have seen is gradual increases in wages as a result of the changes to the law that we made, at the same time that inflation is moderating, at the same time that unemployment has been at historic lows. We have proven you can do these things together. That's why for the last six months, people have had real wage growth. Now, that won't be every person, obviously, if you're in aged care, the wage increases have been higher than some other sectors. But we want people - 

JENNETT: The economic conditions aren't going to be there to press even 6 and 8 per cent wage growth claims are they under these conditions?

BURKE: I'm not going to get into each individual claim, as I say, there'll be different contexts each time. What we mustn't fall into is the argument that somehow inflation is always workers' fault; it's never international factors, it's never the profit share that a company might take, it's never what a business might do with their own pricing, it's always the worker's fault - I think people have had enough of that. And I think the last two years, the evidence is now in that that's not what's been happening. We've been able to get wages up while inflation is moderating.

JENNETT: Can I ask you about an associated element that hasn't actually been on your IR agenda, but it does go to the issue of productivity and wage growth, and it's the use and creeping use of non-compete clauses in employment contracts. Now, the ACTU, via an Allan Fels cost of living report, called last week for these anticompetitive clauses to be removed from contracts. Now, another organisation, e61 Institute, finds these are a barrier to job switching, and through job switching, pay rises that often comes on change of jobs. Are you up for outlawing these non-compete clauses?

BURKE: I've got to say, a couple of years ago I would have just presumed, as I think some people presume, that you hear about these things for CEOs and you think, oh, yeah, that makes sense. But now, and I'll freely say this has only been brought to my attention in recent months of the extent to which this has spread. You'll find whether it's a doctor at a GP clinic of some sort is being told, well, once you've worked here, you're then not allowed to work anywhere within 50km. But not just doctors. It's being done to hairdressers, being done to a whole lot of people where effectively your existing job is telling you you're not allowed to get your next job unless you move home. Now, we're still at the stage and the Competition Taskforce is looking at it, so I'm not in a position to raise what the policy answer is, but I'm really concerned. I want people to have their obligations to their employer when they're with their employer. But I'm really concerned if your employer is able to prevent you from getting the next job, particularly if you're on modest ordinary wages.

JENNETT: I know what you're saying about other bodies of work that the government is continuing with and that Andrew Leigh work on competition is one - 

BURKE: And Andrew was the first to raise it with me.

JENNETT: Okay, yeah, I see it also has crept into occupations like yoga training or yoga instructing as well. But have you actually examined whether this is legislatively within the power of Federal Cabinet?

BURKE: What's happening right now is very much the evidence gathering. There's some limits on restraint when you move from one job to the other that you understand you're not allowed to poach the customers deliberately as you go because you've got them through the work, there'll be work product rules and things like that. But this concept that you're not allowed to shift jobs at all, it has a whole lot of impacts. It's bad for competition. It stops you getting pay rises. It effectively puts you in a relationship with your existing employer, which is way beyond the employment relationship because effectively they're governing your next employment as well. There's a whole lot here where I think once Australians start to see - and I've only been getting fully across this in recent times - how quickly this is growing, I do think there's a case being made that that's just an unreasonable way to operate in an employment context.

JENNETT: So, this e61 Institute has tried to crunch some numbers around it and I think they found that on a median wage, this restraint that comes with these clauses might be costing someone $5,700, I think it was, in potential income. Would you ask your own department to try and come up with something tangible before, obviously, making any decisions on this?

BURKE: I'm not about to make decisions on it, so I'm not flagging it in that way. Right at the moment, the evidence is being gathered and that Andrew Leigh work that you referred to and the Competition Taskforce, that's very much where it lives within Government at the moment. You're the first to ask me in any interview and I'm just really happy to just put out there on all the evidence I've seen so far, and I've only seen the beginnings of the evidence, I'm really concerned about this. I don't want people to be in a situation where your existing employer prevents you from getting the next job.

JENNETT: All right, thank you for flagging that. We'll watch future developments. Quick one, changing your hat to the arts. Local content laws, which are proposed to be expanded to streamers, of course, applying to the production of drama and other Australian made content. You've only got about half a dozen sitting weeks left between now and when you want this new regime to begin in July. When are we going to see these laws?

BURKE: Look, it's the old rule; if you do no consultation, you can do something quickly. When you're doing lots of consultation, it takes longer. The endpoint that we want to achieve effectively, anyone watching this show right now, they're on the ABC, if they go to iView, they're guaranteed to get a whole lot of Australian content - we're actually on the set of Total Control where we're doing this at the moment - the Australian content's there. They flick to commercial TV, there's guarantees of Australian content. They go to Foxtel, guarantees of Australian content. They go to any streaming service at the moment, there's no guarantee of Australian content. 

What I want to make sure is the relationship, no matter where you take your remote control - between the lounge and the screen - whichever platform you're on, I want there to be a guarantee that Australian stories are part of it. We're consulting with the platforms. You can't do it identically to how you do it with TV because it's an on-demand method so, there's complexity to doing it. But certainly, we're getting much closer to decision points.

JENNETT: We'll put that on our watch list too Tony Burke and thank you for offering an answer that didn't include references to Nemesis. I know you showed no such restraint in the Parliament over the last fortnight or so.

BURKE: Love a good documentary.

JENNETT: Tony Burke, great to catch up.

BURKE: Great to be back.