Release type: Transcript


Interview - Weekend Today with Jayne Azzopardi


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

SUBJECTS: South Korean stampede, IS families return, Secure Jobs Better Pay bill.


JAYNE AZZOPARDI, HOST: There are fears that the death toll in South Korea will rise after a stampede in the country's capital killed at least 146 people. Let's bring in Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke and Nationals leader David Littleproud. Good morning to you both. Tony to you. This is absolutely horrific. Do we know yet whether any Australians have been caught up in this?

TONY BURKE, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: No, we don't. It's chilling to see that story as it's come across. Our embassy officials there are highly professional and they'll be working that through and making contact at the moment. The Korean government would still be working through the details and, as you said, the death toll that we're looking at at the moment, it seems fairly inevitable that that's likely to rise.

AZZOPARDI: David, we know the country's president has called an emergency meeting. This could be about to get a lot worse.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD, NATIONALS LEADER: Yeah. Look, our thoughts are first and foremost with the families. This is just a tragedy and I think there are lessons to be learned. But in the immediacy, I think it's about making sure we give the support we need to those families. Obviously, the Korean government will take the lead on that, but if there are Australians over there, I'm sure our embassy officials, who Burkey’s right, do an amazing job, will make sure that they work not only with the Korean officials, but also families back here impacted. I think we just need to watch, wait and let the Koreans get on with the job and let them know that our thoughts are with them and their communities at the moment.

AZZOPARDI: Absolutely. Look, another big story here at home at the moment. The families of Islamic State fighters have spent their first night home in Sydney. The top secret operation to bring them back does remain highly controversial. Tony, we know these women now face days of questioning before being returned to the community. We also know there is a lot of anger in that community that they've even been brought back in the first place. Are you confident that the right safety measures are in place?

BURKE: Every individual case has been assessed individually. The government has made these decisions after being informed by the best national security advice. We need to remember the individuals we're talking about here are Australians. And you need to just make sure that you're not taking risks, that there's a high degree of supervision that happens. And all of these decisions, nothing's been taken lightly.

AZZOPARDI: We had the Mayor of Fairfield on the program yesterday, extremely passionate about his community. There are a lot of refugees from Syria and Iraq in his community. People who fled Islamic State who feel like this is a bit of a slap in the face to them. What would you say to those communities?

BURKE: We need to remember a lot of the people we're talking about here are children, some of the women that we're talking about were tricked in terms of their own personal circumstances. My community is quite similar to Mayor Carbone’s community, and everybody wants to make sure that we take every precaution for people's safety. The government's doing that.

AZZOPARDI: David, do you support the move to bring these families home?

LITTLEPROUD: Well, look and when government didn't get comfort in bringing these people home for security reasons. And there comes a time where governments need to make decisions for the greater good, not for individuals. And if you've got Australian citizenship, as these individuals do, with that still comes responsibilities. But you've got to make sure that you protect Australians first and foremost, and that sometimes takes some big decisions. In particular, those families, those families that have fled this, that have sought refugee status here in Australia. To have this trauma put on top of that is something I think we need to understand. These were bad people, ISIS were doing some very ordinary things to other human beings. And I don't think we should underestimate the gravity of what these people did and what these refugees fled from. And I think sometimes governments have to take tough decisions, have to do it for the greater good rather than individual. And I just hope that that can be translated to the Australian people, that they get comfort, that these people have come back, pose us no risk into the future.

AZZOPARDI: I think we're all hoping that now. I just want to move on to one final issue. Been a big issue in Canberra this week. The government appears to be on a collision course with some business groups, thanks to new laws on workplace agreements. Tony, these laws are your baby. You say they're going to raise wages for a lot of people, but there is concern that you're giving unions too much power. Is that the case?

BURKE: Look, the discussions with business groups behind the scenes are somewhat better than happening through the media at the moment. And there are some constructive conversations I flagged in the speech when I introduced the bill that there's further amendments that we're open to and looking constructively at. The thing that I won't compromise, though, on is the need to get wages moving. People had their wages deliberately held back for ten years, and now if you look at what's happening with inflation, we just have to get wages moving again. And that's my concern.

AZZOPARDI: But should unions be able to have a veto over all of these multi employer bargains?

BURKE: The thing is, we're going into extra territory to try to really focus on providing extra leverage, particularly in feminised industries. The areas that have been held back are areas like childcare, areas, like aged care. They're not militant workplaces, they're the ones that this reform is very squarely aimed at.

AZZOPARDI: David, will the opposition be pushing for changes to this bill?

LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, I was one of the ones that went to the job summit and Burkey and the Labor Party have done business over. They brought them into the tent and then did them over and did them over well. This is just going to put all the power back to unions. In fact, I sat there and listened to the CFMEU boss say, this was our time, we are back up and we expect the Labor Party to give us back the power they want. Even with the ABCC construction –

BURKE: They’re excluded, David.

LITTLEPROUD: Hold on, brother. Let me tell you, they know that they're high up in the stirrups. 

BURKE: They’re excluded.

LITTLEPROUD: This means not only the CFMEU, but other unions. Let me just make this clear that the unions across the country are expecting to get a lot of payback. Now, we want to see wages go up, but there's a responsible way to do that, and that's through the Fair Work Commission in making sure that they can determine that. And that's been an independent umpire that the Labor put in place. Now, we're just saying, let's get the balance right. Let's not let the pendulum swing too far one way, because what will happen? What will happen is invariably the cost of living will go up even further, because you'll see strikes across the country that will mean that not only does productivity go down, your unemployment rates will go up and unfortunately, you're going to see the cost of living goes up with it. This is really something that I think Australians should take a good hard look at and the business sector, obviously were playing nice, but now, when they've seen how far Labor has gone, it's put a chill down their spine, because ultimately, they are the ones that employ people, not governments. You’ve got to understand that business are the ones that will employ people and they're the ones that will say, well, we won't employ as many if we don't get the balance right. And that's what we want as a balance.