Sky News Interview: AM Agenda: Minimum Wage Increase, International Inquiry into Coronavirus


SKY AM Agenda with Tom Connell     

SUBJECTS: Minimum Wage Increase, International Inquiry into Coronavirus  

TOM CONNELL, HOST Gentlemen, thanks both for your time today. Why don’t we start with this wage push from the ACTU. Is it really the time to have the same sort of call for a minimum wage increase Peter Khalil? 

PETER KHALIL MP: Well Tom, I mean it is pretty clear there has been a bit of a theoretical economic argument going on between those on one side saying putting stimulus into the economy, increasing the minimum wage is actually good for recovery. Because frankly those on a minimum wage will spend that money in the economy. They are going to be, they are not going to be putting it into a sock under their pillow given everything that they need to purchase, to just live day to day. So there is a strong, practical argument that the minimum wage should increase so that that money can flow into the economy and actually aid economic recovery. There is lessons from the Great Depression, when you restricted wages or cut wages, it actually made things worse, because there was even less spending- 

CONNELL: But that is very different from an increase. So if you are talking about the impulse to employers, yes, increase wages, there will be some extra spending. But clearly an employer is not going to get all the money back. Shouldn’t there be some inclination to listen to business right now? We know how much they’re struggling Peter Khalil, this is not the normal wage negotiation process surely? 

CONNELLSo this is going to be an enormous and big package. Just on the detail here, Dave Sharma, obviously this will be announced tomorrow and it’s at a Cabinet level, but do you think the government should be prepared to go twice and make some, you know, really monitor the impact that this first announcement has to ensure that the economy is kept stimulated and is activated given what we’ve seen in the wake of Coronavirus? 

KHALIL: Sure, look one of the big costs for small business and businesses in general are the wage costs- but they’re not the only costs. There are other costs in running a business, and so if you are really making an argument in that a small business that is starting to do well, people are coming to spend their money there at a café or wherever it might be. They are going to be putting people on and they are not going to stop putting people on because the minimum wage is a couple of dollars more. Because business is going well. This circular point that, you know, when you have got money in the economy, flowing in the economy, people are going to go to cafes and restaurants. The very same people that are getting that minimum wage are going to spend that money at business across the economy. So I think it is a really important step that needs to happen and of course the Fair Work Commission needs to look at it. 

CONNELL: Alright, before I go to you Trent, we will just have a brief listen in to Steven Miles the Health Minister. We will just have a listen to his update on coronavirus. 

[QLD health update] 

HOSTI just interrupted my political panel, I’ll go to you now Trent Zimmerman on this minimum wage push. If it is a no for now for workers, what can be offered, perhaps a goodwill gesture about an increase, a decent one, once it is affordable for business?  

TRENT ZIMMERMAN, MP: Well I think the first thing to be said, that is as we go through what is obviously a very dark period for the economy and for the employment market because of the coronavirus. We do need employers and employees, business organisations and unions, working together and we have seen that happening to date. I’m not convinced that with so many businesses, particularly small businesses, on their knees that now is the right time to be pushing for a major wage increase. Because really the priority has to be getting people back into work as we emerge on the other side of this and I’m not sure that a significant minimum wage increase is going to be the best way to achieve that. But obviously, supporting wages, supporting incomes during this period will be important that’s why maintaining things like our program of personal income tax cuts will be important as we go forward.  

CONNELLInteresting from the Prime Minister, on the front pages of the Australian today, talking about a new sort of grand accord bringing together unions, employers and workers as well. Is Scott Morrison the sort of figure that can be unifying in that way do you think Trent Zimmerman? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well I think that’s what we have seen so far during this crisis and that’s happened at the political level, through the national cabinet, where we are seeing the states and the commonwealth working at historically positive levels, if I can put it that way. But it has also happened across the economy and across the community so if we can marshal and corral some of that spirit to continue as we emerge from that, then I think that can be really important.  

CONNELLWhat do you think Peter Khalil? Is Scott Morrison capable of doing a Bob Hawke? 

KHALIL: *Laughs* Well he is certainly no Bob! Bob was a historic accord, obviously in the 80s we have been looking back as some what of a golden age. In the Australian, being an Australian I wish the Prime Minister all the best in working cooperatively and constructively with the union movement and business to replicate if you like, some of the successes of that golden age no doubt. But the point is, you know, the national cabinet has worked fairly well during this crisis and that’s something that we should look at with some pride. And that includes, state premiers, Labor and Liberal working with the Federal government. There has been some differences as you would know Tom, but there has been a really good level of coordination. That I think is good for Australia, I think, in the long term.  

CONNELLOkay, I wanted to ask you about this push for an inquiry into COVID19. It seems to be gathering some pretty strong support right around the globe, including some unlikely allies even Russia on board apparently. Peter Khalil does this show that the Australian government’s approach has been a pretty good one? 

KHALIL: Well as you know Tom, I have been calling for an international inquiry on this program or on Sky, a couple of weeks before the Prime Minister made that announcement and as many others of my colleagues have. We had to find a way, into the origins of this coronavirus, the emergence of it, so that we can learn the lessons and make sure it never happens again. My own, so I agree with the Prime Minister, as Labor did, provided bipartisan support for having an international inquiry. My only criticism was in the manner in which he initially went about it, which was not actually working with the international community and China, and sort of going out and jumping out of the trenches and running into no man’s land without having done the diplomatic hard yards. The good news is, it seems that they have started to really work well over the last couple of weeks with the international community. You see that the EU is supporting this motion, many other countries are supporting this motion. There is some negotiation over the next 24 hrs. But the inquiry, an independent, comprehensive inquiry is necessary because that is what is critical to ensure that this kind of pandemic doesn’t happen again. And that we learn the lessons from this. And that it is not against any particular one country, although China, has to be accountable with respect to its actions, like every other country has to be accountable. And that is why the international community has every right to conduct this inquiry.   

CONNELLAnd your thoughts on this Trent Zimmerman, I mean it appears there could be consequences. Is now the time to not to worry about them too much, what’s your message, for example, out there to farmers who might be concerned around tariffs? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well look firstly I want to congratulate the government, Marise Payne and Greg Hunt for the great job they have done in corralling support for this motion at the World Health Organisation assembly. We have seen a large number of nations across the planet get behind our push, and the Europeans, they are taking up the charge as well. And hopefully we will get a consensus outcome and the point we have made all along, and this comes to the your, the thrust of your question is that, this is not an inquiry about a blame game. This is an inquiry that is about learning the lessons from the pandemic, how it started, what we can do better across the world. And therefor any country that has experienced this pandemic, including China, has a stake in its outcomes. And we have to learn from what’s happened. So my message, I suppose, to Chinese authorities is that we want a cooperative relationship with China on this and other issues, and this should not be seen as a threat.  

CONNELLWhen you say that it is not a blame game, that is not what the inquiry seeks to do. But if it finds in some way, that China deliberately covered up information about this, there will be blame to apportion won’t there? 

ZIMMERMAN: Well I think there are going to be important lessons for all of the international organisations and some of the national governments about the level of transparency and maybe there is an opportunity to look at the protocols that are in place for reporting outbreaks like this. But really it is looking forward, how we can learn from this. It is looking at the causes. So, did wildlife wet markets trigger this? Is there a role for closing wet markets, selling exotic animals and wildlife, down so that there are not sectors for diseases like this. Transparency, the international action, the supply chain, the health supply, are going to be very important for us to look at. And the role of the World Health Organisation itself.  

CONNELLPeter, where do you sit on this? I mean, if it emerges that it wasn’t just errors but cover ups, then does Australia have to go another step further and be willing to apportion some blame? 

KHALIL: Well, look I agree with much of what Trent said, and I think it is, as a matter of principle, important for us as a nation to stand firm on principles like having independent, comprehensive inquires of this nature and doing it with the international community. Because it is in our common interest with so many other nations and for the global economy that this kind of thing is mitigated in the future, pandemics in the future. With respect to, you’re asking a hypothetical, with respect to what the inquiry finds. We don’t know that yet, that’s why we-  

CONNELLWell it’s also based on a lot of reports we have seen already. So it’s not a complete hypothetical. 

KHALIL: Ah look, yeah but some of the reports, for example, from the US administration, our own Prime Minister has, you know, said is not quite accurate. For example the emergence of the virus from a lab, which has been pushed by US Secretary of State, Pompeo. Well our Prime Minister has said there is no evidence for that, based on our understanding. So everything is up for evaluation, I think is the point here, and the principle of having an international inquiry is first and foremost, and not blaming anyone in particular, but doing this independently.  

CONNELLOkay, Peter Khalil, Trent Zimmerman, thanks for your time, talk in a couple of weeks.