Release type: Transcript


Press conference, Parliament House, Canberra


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


SUBJECTS: Wages, inflation, enterprise agreements, industrial action data, non-compete clauses.

TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: Morning all. We have three days to go now – three days until 2.6 million workers get a pay rise. Three days until the responsible cost-of-living relief kicks in and three days until every Australian taxpayer gets a tax cut.

I’m really pleased today that there’s new data, some of which is analysis that you’ve already seen, some of which gets released by my department a little bit later today. It goes to wages and it goes to agreements.

In terms of wages, the government, for three consecutive annual wage reviews has done something that Australian governments haven’t done for a long time, which is turn up to the Commission and advocate that people needed pay rises, to advocate that it was really important that wages do not go backwards.

The results of that have seen annual wage review outcomes fundamentally different to what Australia has seen for a decade. Through those three consecutive annual wage reviews, we’ve seen the full-time minimum wage now go up by $143 a week. That is $7,451 a year in pay rises in just over two years for workers on the minimum wage.

In terms of what goes into their bank account, a full-time worker before tax was being paid $772. In just over two years that’s gone up to $915. And remember, for these workers where the annual amount that they’re being paid has gone up from just over $40,000 to more than $47,000, they’re also getting an $850 tax cut that starts in three days’ time.

But the other part of the analysis that the department’s done is not just for minimum wage workers but what happens for the average across the whole of the award system. And across the whole of the award system, through these three annual wage reviews the average increase in pay for an award worker is $10,400 a year – more than $10,000 extra in annual pay, and that’s what happens when a government turns up and wants to get wages moving instead of the previous government that deliberately wanted to keep wages low.

The data that gets released a little bit later today by my department goes to enterprise agreements. Now, enterprise agreements have been put forward for a long time, including from arguments from the various business groups as well, as the best tool to be able to cooperatively make sure that you’re delivering wage increases and getting productivity outcomes at the same time.

In the March quarter we had the highest number of workers coming in on enterprise agreements that we’ve had for a decade. The March quarter figure of additional coverage of people being covered by new enterprise agreements was 364,996 Australian workers. That means we now have – you think the entire award system covers 2.6 million workers. On people with conditions that have all had to pass a better-off test against the awards, that now covers 2.14 million workers covered by enterprise agreements. More than 2 million workers, and starting to catch up to the figure of the number of people who are covered by awards. That’s 480,000 more workers covered by enterprise agreements since we came to office.

When I introduced the first tranche of the major workplace relations changes that we had, the first change we put through was the family and domestic violence leave and the first of the very large bills that covered a whole section of workplace relations was the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill. We argued at the time that the impact there would be, we would be getting wages moving by there being more enterprise agreements. There are now 480,000 additional Australian workers covered by an enterprise agreement with better conditions, with better pay, and businesses they work for, with an agreement that is tailored to the needs of that enterprise.

This has all happened at the same time that we’ve had a record sustained period for, you know, numbers that you haven’t had for a very long time, some of which in terms of the monthly figures that have been completely unprecedented of good outcomes with respect to unemployment – good outcomes with respect to unemployment. Of all the figures of the new jobs, I think the one that I’m probably most proud of, yes, we do have the 870,000 new jobs created under this government, which is the best of any first-term government. But the figure that really stands out is more than half a million of those jobs are full time – more than half a million. When we said that we would deliver secure jobs and better pay, we are seeing far more people now with job security and with pay increases as a result of us being willing to change the law.

And the one criticism and the argument that Peter Dutton and the opposition kept making the whole way through was they said, “Oh, this will all lead to problems with industrial action.” They said there’ll be coast-to-coast strikes, that would be the outcome. We’ve recently had the latest quarterly figures come through on industrial action. For the last quarter the number of days lost to industrial action was 16,800. By way of comparison, the last quarter under the previous government, 128,100 days. Days lost to industrial action were seven and a half times higher under the Coalition‘s final quarter compared to our most recent quarter.

All this means that when we talk about people earning more and keeping more of what they earn, it’s exactly what’s happening. At a time when people are under pressure, it would be unthinkable to imagine how much worse that pressure would be if Peter Dutton had had his way. If this legislation and our approaching the Fair Work Commission had not gone ahead, could you imagine how much worse the pressure would be on Australian households if they were dealing with the different pressures that are out there without the increases in pay.

What I’d encourage – and what this means for 2.6 million award workers, for a whole a lot of people on enterprise agreements where the 1st of July is often the pay rise day, and for every worker getting a tax cut, if they look at the – if you’re working the same job and the same hours this month to next month, there’ll be a difference in how much money goes into your bank account. It couldn’t come at a more important time for people. But no-one should presume that this is guaranteed.

It’s a higher amount because the Albanese Labor Government chose to make sure that every Australian is getting tax cuts when the opposition didn’t want us to. Because the Albanese Labor Government chose to get wages moving when the opposition didn’t want us to. The results of those changes are now in - in terms of statistics, and they’ll be in people’s bank accounts next month.

JOURNALIST: Minister, could I ask about the workforce implications of the merger between ANZ Bank and the Suncorp Bank? I think there’s a number of conditions preventing branch closures and net job losses for three years. How do you allay concerns of regional communities beyond that point when branches might close and jobs might [indistinct]

BURKE: Yeah, look, on the specifics of that, I’m not in a position to be able to give you a detailed commentary right now. The general thing that I would say is we are wanting to make sure that there are good outcomes for jobs around the whole of Australia. You can have situations from time to time where even when the national numbers are good, you have regional pockets where there’s particular problems. You’ve referred to some in the finance sector. There are a number of others where the government is engaging in very specific planning where notice is given for different plans that reach their expiry dates. So the issue raised is the right issue. The specifics of the example you’ve offered, I can’t offer more than that.

JOURNALIST: Minister, we’ve seen CPI go up again quite recently. Do you see any relationship between these quite successful figures and the rise in inflation recently [indistinct] Just secondly, you’ve gone through a whole – multiple tranches of industrial relations legislation throughout this term. Could you give us a bit of a flavour around what you’ve got in play for [indistinct] the election essentially?

BURKE: Okay, first of all, in terms of the major industrial relations changes that we believe we needed to make to get wages moving and to improve job security, those changes have now been put through the parliament. Each time we brought them through – brought them forward - there was a lot written by everybody about the concept that they were apparently doomed and had no chance of getting through the parliament, and they’re now law. Provisions were all amended, but every aspect of the legislation made it through. And that’s now making a real difference in people’s lives.

In terms of workplace issues, you know there’s significant work being done by Treasury at the moment in terms of non-compete clauses. I’m watching that work closely. But that work hasn’t yet completed, so I don’t want to sort of get in front of that. But I would say that I’m always concerned when someone has a clause that prevents them from going to the next job. But that work is being done by Treasury; it’s not being led by my department.

You raised the issues with respect to inflation. When we first started pushing for wage increases there was some fairly hysterical commentary from our opponents saying it would cause a wage price spiral, that somehow 11 per cent of Australia’s payroll – which is what we’re talking about here; 11 per cent of Australia’s payroll – was somehow going to be to blame for inflation. The reality is people on more modest incomes and people on low incomes are the people who are under the most pressure whenever inflation goes up. I’m glad that inflation has come well down from where it was at when we came to office. It had a 6 in front of it and we have an inflation figure now in the quarterly figures that has a 3 in front of it. But what the government strategy has been, we want people to be in work. We want wages to be increasing, and we want to take sensible cost of living relief where we can, which helps inflation moderate. The experience so far has been of all those issues happening together.

JOURNALIST: Minister, obviously inflation has been a bit stickier than the government would like. We’ve seen the increase this week. Many companies, for instance, might see that as a bit of cause for concern with lifting of wages for its workforce, for instance, they might be hesitant to do that. What would you say to, I guess, those companies or businesses or especially workers in these places where they’re not necessarily going to get a pay rise on July 1 because their companies might be holding out, for instance? Is there any concern there that there’s still lots of people who’s pay isn’t necessarily keeping up with inflation?

BURKE: Yeah, look, what I’d say is people know they have a government that wants to get wages moving, and for the vast majority of Australians that is what’s happening in terms of their wages. The wage price index at the moment is running at 4.1 per cent. The average under the previous government was 2.2. So, the shift in terms of wages is real, that is happening.

For people who want to say, “Oh, you can’t have a wage rise because of inflation,” can I just say this: there are two arguments that are sometimes put, and they’re very regularly put by my political opponents, where they will say the two things that you need to do to get inflation down are – is to cut people’s pay and get more people sacked. And every time we come through with good wages figures someone said, “Oh, but won’t this be a disaster for inflation.” Every time we come out with good figures on the number of people who have jobs we get told, “Oh, is this an inflation problem?”

I think Australia as a nation has to be mature enough that we’re not blaming 11 per cent of the payroll and the Australian workforce for inflation. We do not have a wage price spiral in this country. There are a whole range of issues – and the Treasurer is better versed than I am, Jim Chalmers, to be able to go through all the different pressures that are there with respect to inflation – but the evidence is in what has happened. What has happened at the same time that wages have got moving – inflation has been falling and moderating. And the budget measures that were taken were deliberately designed to be able to provide sensible cost of living relief while moderating inflation.

JOURNALIST: Minister, can I ask a few questions about Fatima Payman? First, yeah, so, firstly –

BURKE: You give all the questions and then I’ll give my response.

JOURNALIST: Firstly, are you comfortable sitting in the same caucus as her? And, secondly, there’s been a number of MPs – and I’d imagine you’d be among them – whose constituents have been putting pressure on their local MP to be more vocal about this. Are you concerned that Senator Payman’s stance will increase those expectations from those constituents and lead them to ask the question, “Well, if she’s doing it, why can’t you cross the floor and support the Greens on motions such as these?”

BURKE: They’re all the questions?

JOURNALIST: They’re all the questions.

BURKE: Okay. So, first of all, I work very well with Fatima Payman, and I’m very glad she’s a member of the Labor Party and a member of the Labor caucus. Secondly, in terms of the public understanding as to what happens in the parliament – and I’m a House of Reps person so I don’t speak Senate in the usual way – but if I can put it in these terms: one of the challenges that we’ve had with the coverage of what’s happened is there was a moment in the Senate when Penny Wong moved an amendment. That amendment would have been the first time that you had a formal parliamentary resolution in that way that very specifically in the Senate was calling for Palestinian recognition through a two-state solution.

For reasons I do not understand, both the Liberal Party and the National Party and the Green party all voted against that happening. Had that amendment been carried we would have – instead of having a motion that was defeated we actually would have had something that would have been carried and would have been quite significant. So I’m disappointed that that didn’t get over the line. And there are many comments I’ve made over the years, and with respect to us wanting to get to a point of Palestinian recognition, and Penny Wong has outlined a pathway for that. I support the pathway that’s been put, and I’m sorry that the Senate didn’t carry that.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly on – just on sort of both those issues, actually, just on inflation, I’m just wondering if you can sort of crystallise your argument. Is it that the wage rises we’ve seen is – because they only cover 11 per cent of the population are so insignificant they aren’t fuelling inflation? Or is your argument that the answer to inflation can’t be suppressing workers’ wages, or is it sort of a combination of the two? That’s the first one. And can I come back to Fatima Payman? Or do you want both questions now?

BURKE: We’ve got results here. Okay, just to say, we have results here that affect every Australian worker. They are great results. They are hitting the pay packets of workers across the whole country. And I appreciate there is a fascination in this building with Labor Party rules. But I don’t want to miss the chance to be able to have a very serious conversation about what is going into the pay packet – what is going into the bank accounts of every Australian worker.

JOURNALIST: So just on that, on that inflation question, though, which is it? Is it that inflation is not being driven by wages or that inflation might be driven by wages but that’s okay because we can’t suppress workers’ wages?

BURKE: The answer is we look at the evidence as to what’s happening. And the facts are these: while unemployment has remained low, inflation has been moderating and wages have been going up. That’s what’s been happening. We were told at the start of this that the exact opposite would happen. It hasn’t. My point is the results are in.

JOURNALIST: Has Fatima Payman – is that issue dealt with now? She sits out of caucus for a week. Is there any further disciplinary action or is that it? Are you happy with that outcome?

BURKE: The Prime Minister has answered this question today, and I’m completely happy with what he said. We’ll leave it at that. Thank you.