Sky News First Edition – Industrial Relations Bill, National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill



Subjects: Industrial Relations Bill, National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Back to Canberra now, and joining us live is Labor MP Peter Khalil and the Liberal Senator James Paterson. Good morning gentlemen. Peter I’ll start with you, new data out this morning forecasting 56,000 businesses to be hit with “industrial mayhem” involving businesses between 15 and 200 staff. Do you accept that figure?

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: First of all Pete, Angus Taylor is like Chicken Little, you know; the sky is going to fall in because some Australian wage earners are going to get increase in wages after 9 years of wages been suppressed by their own policies – by the Liberal Party’s policies. Let’s just have a bit of a fact check here; what the opposition don’t tell you about those numbers is that many businesses, many small businesses, already pay their workers above award rates, because they value their workers; that’s what small businesses are about. The fact is that the bill itself has a section in there which allows individual workforces to vote to opt out of any multi-employer bargaining. Multi-employer bargaining already exists, this is about making it work better and frankly the reason we are committed to this is the Australian Government, the Labor Party, went to the election saying we’re going to get wages moving again. We backed in a 5% increase to the minimum wage with the fair work commission, and a 15% increase for aged care workers, a feminized workforce, gender pay gap, getting that closed. We’re continuing that commitment because wage earners, millions of Australians want their wages moving again, cost of living pressures are real, they impact people, it might not be so important for some of the Liberal Party who don’t want to back workers, but we back workers. We back millions of Australians who, you know, need their wages moving again.

STEFANOVIC: Ok James will it really be industrial mayhem or is that a bit dramatic?

SENATOR JAMES PATERSON: Peter, everyone wants to see higher wages for Australians, nothing is more deserved, particularly in the face of the very high inflation that families are facing. What we don’t want to see is more strikes and a return to the 1970s, 1980s style workplace where union activity and intimidation shutdown many Australian workplaces and made doing business in this country very difficult and as a result of that 30 years of industrial relations reform remove what used to be called pattern bargaining which the government is now trying to re-introduce in the form of multi-employer bargaining. Peter talked about what they took to the election, but one thing they didn’t take to the election was multi-employer bargaining. If it was such a great idea, why didn’t they tell the Australian people about it only 6 months ago when they took a policy to the election? It is clear that they didn’t take this to the election because Australians would have understood that this would have increased union power and dominance in the workplace, in a time in which it is just not relevant for most Australian workers and most Australian business, representing less than 10% of workers.

KHALIL: So, let’s just get this straight, wages which have been suppressed for years are not relevant to millions of Australian workers James? You’re usually pretty good on the facts.

PATERSON: Thanks Peter I said the opposite, I said unions are no longer relevant because they represent less than 10% part of Australian Workers.

KHALIL: Ok unions represent workers and workers rights and that’s an important part of our civic society and I will just say this, multi-employer bargaining already existed under your government, it was in the act, it already, it’s already there. What we’re doing is we’re improving it; we’re making sure that we can get wages moving again. This is about wage earners who have had their wages suppressed for 9 years, literally 9 years and policies by the previous government contributed to that suppression. And by the way, Angus Taylor going on about cost-of-living pressures. The gall I mean seriously, that you know the cost-of-living pressures are real for millions of Australian’s, wages increasing and getting wages moving actually addresses that the inflationary pressure is coming from the war in Ukraine and energy prices, constraints on supply chains. There is no evidence whatsoever that wages increasing will have that impact or a very insignificant impact if it does.

STEFANOVIC: We are starting to see green shoots on that point however, so is there a need to actually change anything if we are starting to see some momentum now on wages Pete. 

PATERSON: Look the Reserve Bank Governor has said very clearly he is concerned if we get into a wages prices spiral, where we try and chase higher prices with higher wages, which then feeds into permanently higher prices, that would be very dangerous for economy, It’s the last thing we want to see. We need our wages increase based on productivity increases, and nothing in this act is going to make the Australian workplace more productive, in fact it’s going to do the opposite, because it’s going to return higher strikes and more industrial dispute action to the workplace and we know that’s toxic for productivity.

KHALIL There is no evidence of that.

STEFANOVIC: Just on that point James, do you have faith that the Fair Work Commission will be able to arbitrate and stop that from happening? 

PATERSON: Well even if the fair work commission does its job perfectly, if it’s dealing with more arbitration and more disputes and more union activity that is going to slow down our industrial relations system. That is going to come up the system and is going to affect workplace productivity, we’ve seen this story many times before. When you have more strikes you have less productivity, it is a one-to-one relationship. If that’s all we see how this which I believe we will, then we will rue the day that we agreed to it.

KHALIL: Can I just, I reject the premise of both the question and the part of the answer, that there’s an assumption that there’s going to be an increase in industrial disputes, the numbers that have been flying around. When there is another story that Australia had. We saw it in the 80s as well where employers and employees can work effectively together, increase productivity, and get wages moving. Alright, so multi-employer bargaining already exists, we are refining it, we are making it better, we’re giving opt out for individual work forces who, you know, they may have already got their increases above the award rate, they don’t want to be involved in that particular bargaining as well, they can vote to stay out of it. There’s a lot of catastrophizing by the government, there’s a lot of hyperbole.

STEFANOVIC: Just on that, there’s a lot of businesses out there concerned, it’s not just government, the businesses out there are legitimately concerned, particularly small businesses.

PATERSON: Every employee group in this country is concerned about it.

KHALIL: So, I saw some of the reporting around, representatives of the food industry and so on. You know what it was really interesting because in there, in the story it also said a lot of these business are already paying above award rates. Small businesses, small businesses, value their workers. They do pay them. That’s part of a family, you know if you talk to your small businesses, I don’t know James does in his local area, but you talk to them, it is like a family, it’s important that they value their workers, sometimes they pay them above award rates. In fact, lots of small business I talk to are doing that as well. So, I think that the catastrophizing that’s coming from the government is a bit chicken little, you know the sky’s going to fall in. Instead of assuming that employers and employees can work constructively and bargain to get good outcomes for their workers, they’re going straight to worst case scenario, which is unlikely.

STEFANOVIC: Ok. Just a final one here, we are running out of time gents, but James I do want to ask you, Kevin Rudd, he’s claimed in a speech overnight that we could be at war with China by the end of the decade unless growing strategic tensions are managed. Now, Kevin Rudd he does know China better than most. Is he accurate?

PATERSON: Look it’s a very sobering warning from Dr Rudd, and I think we should listen to it carefully, particularly because Kevin Rudd only a few years ago was attacking others for saying the same thing memorably in August 2019. He launched a pretty personal attack on Andrew Hastie, and by implication others like me who had been warning about the strategic risks posed to our region by a rising and more assertive China and he said we were being irresponsible and neither of us talked about a 5 or 10 year deadline, which is now talked about. So, if he’s come around to our worldview, and he now shares that worldview and wants to warn the Australian people about that, then I welcome it because I think we need to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

STEFANOVIC: Ok a thought from you Peter on that point, I mean despite all the G20 pleasantries, is this proof that we still need to be careful moving forward? 

KHALIL: I didn’t know he was a Dr Rudd now, but anyway Dr Rudd’s points were valid in and around the point that we need to maintain some sort of managed strategic competition, everything that we do, whether it’s in diplomacy, defence, development assistance, you know the 3 D’s of statecraft is aimed at deterring state actors, whether it be China or others or non-state actors from diminishing that international rules based order, and moving towards confrontation and conflict. Defence capability is a very important part of that, diplomacy is a part of that, but on James’s point, I think the criticism that Dr. Rudd made, was that there was a lot of chest beating by the opposition, a lot of you know bellicose remarks, which wasn’t effective. We’ve been practicing a much more nuanced diplomacy, it’s part of those three D’s to try and reduce tensions, to try and deter others from using force, and moving towards, from competition to conflict. And that is the objective and it’s in our national interest to do so. It’s not in our national interest to have been talking up in the way that the previous government was, conflict and so on because it actually adds to tension.

STEFANOVIC: We will leave it their gents, I was surprised by that too a couple of days ago when I saw that he’s now Dr. Rudd, but it’s happened somewhere along the way, but there you go. James, Peter,

PATERSON: You should read his PHD, it is on Xi Jinping thought. Thanks.

KHALIL: Bedtime reading.