Sky News Interview: First Edition: Ports Industrial Dispute, Fruit Picker Announcement, US Presidential Debate



SUBJECTS: Ports industrial dispute, fruit picker announcement, US Presidential debate. 

PETER STEFANOVICHOST:  And joining us live now is Labor MP Peter Khalil. Pete, good to see you. Thanks for joining us. We’ll start there. So, the Prime Minister called that action extortion. How would you describe it? 

PETER KHALIL MP: Well, Pete who is telling the truth? That’s my question. You know, you’ve got the union clearly saying that there are not 40 ships waiting. I’ve also heard that they’ve made the point that, the only industrial action they’ve taken is a four-hour stoppage. They’re claiming there’s only two ships out there and the usual sort of waiting period. They also made the point that Patrick actually closed down the wharves for longer than their own stoppage, and that they’ve been working nonstop – or the wharfies have been working nonstop during COVID-19 – throughout this pandemic period. The point I would make to the Prime Minister is, why is he taking sides? There’s a fair work commission, and that matter is before the fair work commission – that’s appropriate that we still respect the outcome of that legal process or that mediation process. And rather than trying to politicise this, the Prime Minister should probably respect the process of the Fair Work Commission, which, as your reporter just mentioned, there is a further effort by the union to sit down and finalise the negotiation. I understand that their claim if for a 2.5% pay-rise, and that’s what they want to negotiate with the employer. So look, I don’t want to see this type of action being taken, particularly during this pandemic period, but I would probably advise the Prime Minister not to politicise this and respect the legal process. 

HOST Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask you. I mean, would you concede that industrial action right now, given what’s going on in the world? Is it tone deaf? 

KHALIL: Well, it’s interesting because the way you shape the story in the media, you get out quickly. And Patrick obviously has done that pretty effectively in all the newspapers today and made claims that they were asking for 6%. 

HOST: But they were, they were asking for 6%, but that was at the higher end. 

KHALIL: That was a while ago. The 2.5% has been on the table for a while. But the thing is you can shape a story in a particular way to try and get an outcome. And that looks to me what has happened. If the MUA is fair dinkum about their negotiation – it sounds like they want to get this over and done with as quickly as possible and that’s why they’re making these move to sit down with Patrick. For both, the employer, and the union? Get on with it because this story is probably not what Australians want to be looking at right now. 

HOST No. So, do you support what the union’s doing? 

KHALIL: Well, I think that – I support the fact that the union and their members can have a negotiation with their employer on their work and conditions and their pay. I mean, they’ve been working flat out since this pandemic, they haven’t stopped. They’ve been doing their work on the wharves during COVID-19. So, they’re entitled to have a matter raised with their employer and go before the fair work commission around their rights and their work conditions. 

HOST: Okay, a few other issues to get to some help coming for farmers, supposedly in the form of fruit and vegetable pickers. There’s some extra help on its way basically to encourage people – students and people who are on welfare – to head out to the regions to help the farmers. Do you support these incentives that are being offered today? 

KHALIL: Well, I wish I was 20 years younger, Peter, I’d be putting on my backpack and heading over to the farm and doing a bit of seasonal work. Look, there’s been a problem with labor shortages for seven years, really. It’s been exacerbated – labour shortages in many regions for a while now. Sorry, it’s been exacerbated by the pandemic, and really highlighted dependence on seasonal workers from overseas to cover in our agricultural sector and the fruit picking season. So it’s really important. The other thing I would say apart from the incentives that are going to be announced by the government, is that the main issue is really the closed international borders, because of that heavy reliance on international workers or seasonal work. So, that is something that obviously we can’t address right now because we don’t know when international borders will reopen. And so for this next season the government is having to fill these gaps, so whatever needs to be done, we’ll have a look as a responsible opposition. And if it’s something that goes before parliament, then obviously we’ll consider. 

HOST: It looks as though the workers are going to be able to earn $300 a fortnight before they start losing some of their welfare entitlements. Do you think that is enough or do you think they should be allowed to earn more? What’s your view of that? 

KHALIL: Well, that’s a good question because that goes to the crux of it, Peter, because if you are a young worker going up there, you’ve got expenses, you just don’t want to see young people be exploited in their work. You’ve seen sort of some exploitation in the backpacker visa scheme, all that kind of thing. But for Australian workers going up, they’re having to travel, they’ve got expenses. How does that all work? Who’s going to cover all of that. And suddenly you might be out of pocket, and it doesn’t quite make sense for you financially to leave the city and go there for however long. So, I want to make sure and look at the figures and make sure that that cut off point where incentives – the payments – are actually there for the workers. 

HOST: But on the face of it at the moment, do you think 300 bucks is enough per fortnight plus their extra, but that’s until they start losing their, their other entitlements? 

KHALIL: I don’t know, because, are the farms organizing the buses up? The transport? Food? What about accommodation? Who covers accommodation? 

HOST: Yeah. Okay. Alright. Well, Michael McCormack coming up a little later in the show, I’ll be able to put those questions to him. Peter, I was hoping to talk to you about the debate. We’ve run out of time, unfortunately, but just quickly give us 15 seconds. Who do you think’s going to win? 

KHALIL: Well, big debate, heavyweight clash, Trump under a lot of pressure, because he’s fitted out Biden as someone who can’t string a sentence together. So, if Joe Biden can actually be as articulate as you and I, he might be in a bit of trouble. 

HOST: It is true though, he sometimes has difficulty putting a sentence together. 

KHALIL: Well, but if he does it really well, it’ll put all the pressure back on Trump. 

HOST: Okay. All right. Well, we’ll be watching. Peter Khalil, good to chat. Talk to you soon.