Sky News Interview: First Edition: Industrial Relations Reform, Tax Cuts, Vocational Education



SUBJECTS: Industrial Relations Reform, Tax Cuts, Vocational Education 

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOSTGood morning. Thanks for joining us. So is this an uneasy truce? 

PETER KHALIL MP: Morning Pete. Well, it’s interesting Pete because, you know, the Prime Minister can try and emulate Bob Hawk all he wants, I think you asked him that question this morning if he’s taking a page out of Bob’s playbook. But you know Bob spent years leading up to the accord and the work and the relationships that he built with both unions and business. So my question really is this, is this another marketing ploy by Scotty from marketing or is it really genuine? Because if it is genuine, there is going to be, has to be, some serious commitment by the Prime Minister to make compromise. It’s not just about getting the unions and the business in the same room. It’s about actually making some big calls and having to actually make some genuine, uh, compromise and some commitments to actual reform. So that’s my big question around that.  

The second point I’d make on it, is while productivity is important, this is the gambit he is making, the need to create jobs through improved productivity and agreements between unions and business. There are broader structural reforms, economic reforms that this country needs. We’re in a transformative period in the global economy with the upheaval around Covid-19. There needs to be a look at big issues like manufacturing in Australia, like sovereign capability, issues around reform for the economy with respect to full employment. All of these things need to be considered as well, productivity is just one narrow part of that broader reform that’s necessary to set us up for the 21st century in our economic recovery.  

HOSTWell, what about business tax cuts? Would you support that? I mean, business tax cuts across the board?  

KHALIL: Well, we’d have to look at, I mean, that’s a very broad thing. I supported tax cuts for working and middle-class Australians last year. I was on the record about that. I thought we should have brought forward those tax cuts for working Australians. Whether it needs to be extended to businesses? At what level? You know, there’s potential reform around GST and tax cuts with respect to, sorry, tax reform with respect to, even small businesses having to pay their GST every quarter. What about giving them some relief around cash flow? There’s a lot of stuff there that can be looked at and that needs to be dealt with. All I’m saying is, I hope that it’s not just spin over substance. That it’s not another sort of marketing ploy. Because this is going to be a big, big effort.  

HOST: Well you did mention that the Prime Minister should be making compromises. Compromises on what?  

KHALIL: Well, when you get to a point where you’ve got business and unions in the room, everyone has different solutions, about what they think needs to happen with respect to industrial relations. It’s obviously not agreement Pete, I think you’d understand that between elements of business and the union movement, and even the Government with respect to this. In fact, the Government’s been very ideological about this, until this sort of about face or this pivot that we’ve just seen in the last 24 hours. So there’s going to have to be some compromises made by all parties. That’s what happened in the Accord, back in the eighties. People had to work together, they had to engage. And the business community and the unions had to come to certain agreements, made certain sacrifices. So that’s going to apply to the Government. Now, are they going to turn around their whole party room? Which, by the way, for ideological reasons, has killed reform on energy policy, for example. Are they going to be able to make those compromises with respect to moving forward? Even if you get agreement from the unions and business on a whole range of things, in industrial relations; around fixed employment and casuals and rights at work and all of these issues, is the Government going to be able to actually move forward and get that through as well, and make those calls and make those compromises which is against its own ideological, part of history, if you like.  

HOST: Well what about, a couple of other parts of the announcement, that has been talked about a little bit and I’ll get your views on it. You know, increasing the education and skills around trades that was talked about yesterday, but also, the boost to housing construction? This was talked about yesterday afternoon too where large grants can be given to buyers of new homes. I mean, does that have merit?  

KHALIL: Well, to just to answer your question about the vocational skills training first. This is a Government, when I talk about ideological positions, they have cut $3 billion from TAFE and training and skills. So they’ve been a real skills killer in many respects. 140,000 apprentices and trainees have gone under the current government. So I think that’s what I’m talking about with making this big ideological shift for this Coalition Government on something like this. So they’re going to have to really change the way they do things and the way they see things. We’ve been calling for more support and funding for skills training and up-skilling and apprentices for years. Obviously as a Labor party, that’s what we do.  

On your question about the housing market, obviously, you know, you noted some support for bolstering the housing sector. Obviously there’s going to be some, uncharted territory that we’re heading into where the economic slowdown and the high levels of unemployment, how that impacts the housing market is going to be, I think, significant. Not sure exactly how bad it’s going to be, but I’m sure it will be a significant impact. So of course there needs to be policies around looking at how to make sure that the housing market doesn’t collapse. So there’s a whole suite of economic reform and economic policy that needs to be looked at. And that’s why the point I made earlier about this effort to try and improve productivity by getting unions and business and government under the same tent. Great, but not withstanding the ideological problems that I raise. But there are a whole range of other things that need to be dealt with structurally. And you mentioned some of them just then, on vocational training and the housing market. So it can’t just be about productivity. 

HOST: So do you reckon September’s too ambitious?  
KHALIL: Well, it’s a pretty short runway, isn’t it Pete? I mean again, this is what makes me nervous. I want to Australia to succeed, obviously. So, you know, I’m trying to put aside our partisanship. We want the best for Australia. We want better rights and conditions and working conditions for working Australians – absolutely. Are you going to be able to come to all those major decisions and come to an agreement within four months? That is a really short runway. And that is another red flag for me with respect to this. And this why I’m trying to give the benefit of the doubt, but I’m questioning whether this is more Scotty from Marketing, doing a marketing ploy to look like he’s riding the crest of the wave of being the leader during an epidemic, and having the national cabinet be quite successful and sees the benefit in consensus politics, which we’ve been calling for for a long time now, whether it’s on energy policy or any of these things we’ve been calling for him to come to the table. So is it a road to Damascus moment for the Prime Minister? Is he a true convert Pete or is this just another marketing ploy?  

HOST: Peter Khalil, I appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.