SUBJECT: Industrial Relations; China; Cashless Welfare Card.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Welcome back. Final week of parliament, final time, I have the pleasure of talking to Andrew Wallace, Liberal MP, and Peta Murphy from the Labor Party here in the studio. Thanks both for your time this morning.
CONNELL: We're talking industrial relations. It's been a steady drip of policy, but we've got it all now, I think. And the BOOT is getting the boot. This is the better off overall test. It's basically gone. This will mean workers can be worse off under new deals over the next two years. That's, that's a pretty strong call, isn't it?
ANDREW WALLACE, MEMBER FOR FISHER: Well, I’d challenge that, Tom, that it's getting, that the BOOT is getting the boot. There will be exemptions to the BOOT where both the employer and the employees agree and where the particular business has had adverse consequences brought about by the covid, so, you know, I don't think that's a broad scale booting of the BOOT.
CONNELL: But it is effectively suspended for two years. The way the BOOT works, is workers need to be better off. Under this, there will be able to be workers, there doesn't seem to be a specific number on it, that will be worse off. So pay and conditions worse off for some employees in these agreements. It says it takes into account the extent of the support of the agreement. So maybe if you have sixty five per cent of people happy, thirty five unhappy, the deal happens anyway, and that's what would happen to those other workers.
WALLACE: Tom, I think what you've got to do is bring this back to basics. This is a common sense approach to dealing with the industrial relations landscape brought about by the worst pandemic since over one hundred years. So it's important that we keep as many businesses online and in business as possible. This is all about job creation as we, as we pull through this pandemic.
CONNELL: Is it a greater good call? So you're saying this will help keep more people in jobs?
WALLACE: Absolutely.
CONNELL: But are you going to be up front and say some workers will be worse off as a result of this? Can you be direct?
WALLACE: Well, the better off overall test will not apply in all circumstances. So that's the reality. What we want to do.
CONNELL: The reality is some workers will be worse off as a result.
WALLACE: The reality is the better off overall test will not have, be applied in all circumstances, provided that there is a broad agreement between the employer and the employee. And the employer can demonstrate that there's been a significant impact on the business brought about by covid.
CONNELL: The most infamous example of the BOOT was when it was an agreement to cover several thousand, and it might even have been tens of thousands of workers and one worker under that was going to be worse off and the deal couldn't happen. That doesn't seem like a sensible approach to IR.
MURPHY: But that's not what this bill, as I understand it, is fixing. I mean, Andrew says go back to basics. When we say better off overall, we're saying better off than the award, which is supposed to be the minimum standard, the safety net and the better off overall test is to negotiate pay and conditions that workers are better off overall then what the safety net is. So what this legislation will do is allow workers to get pay cuts. It's another pay cut. And it's two years, it’d be pretty hard to imagine a business that hasn't been affected by covid. So it's a pretty wide application. In 18 months, there can be an agreement struck, which, as you say, doesn't have everyone agreeing to it, certainly has a number of workers who will get worse pay and worst conditions than the award and the agreement could have a life of three years, but it struck within this two year period. This is under the cover of covid, an attack on workers’ pay and conditions.
CONNELL: What's the logic that the BOOT is so sacrosanct? I mean, the old rule was no disadvantage. That would seem to make sense. So if you strike a new deal, no workers worse off, they're getting the award, as you mentioned, and others, at the very, they can be as well off or better off.
MURPHY: There was an old WorkChoices test, and that's one of the reasons the Australian public rejected the Howard government because of its attack on the ability to negotiate and the requirement that it be better off than the minimum. (Inaudible)
CONNELL: But it doesn't undercut the award if it's no disadvantage.
MURPHY: That's the point of being able to negotiate. The awards aren't, should not be the standard. The awards are the minimum safety net. And that's the issue with this, so when you add attacks on superannuation, you know what we've seen in the last week and a half in terms of Newstart to go back to forty dollars a day, the cashless welfare card and now this. It's the ideological underpinnings of the Morrison government, attacks on workers pay and conditions.
CONNELL: Quick response before we move on.
WALLACE: Look, even your own author of the enterprise agreements, Paul Keating, is recommended for the scrapping of the BOOT, as I mean, that’s the reality.
MURPHY: Not the scrapping of it. It can be, it can be looked at to be fixed, but this is not about fixing it. And what you've just said, Andrew, is the scrapping of a....
WALLACE: That's what Paul Keating wants.
CONNELL: Would it be a good idea to scrap the BOOT?
WALLACE: Look, there are there are obviously some changes that need to be made. What we are all about is ensuring that we keep as many people in work as possible. But hang on, the enterprise bargaining agreement is undergoing significant difficulties at the moment because in the last 10 years, we've gone from twenty five thousand agreements being reached down to ten thousand seven hundred. So more than half over the last 10 years. And the reason why that's the case is because we've seen a great deal of complexity coming into these arrangements. We’ve seen a great deal of complexity the way the Fair Work Commission assesses these arrangements. What this will do is it will cut through that and it will make the process
CONNELL: I have to jump in. And we've just got to go briefly, Simon Birmingham giving a speech in the Senate addressing trade tensions with China. Let's have a listen in.
CONNELL: We're going to leave that there. Keep watching if you want to keep. Look, Simon Birmingham there speaking to a motion. Essentially he was made to talk on this by Rex Patrick, who was raising concerns about Australia's reliance on China, measured criticism, but criticism nonetheless of the Chinese Communist Party and their handling of the free trade agreement with Australia. My panel is still here. They haven't been listening. They've been reading what he's saying via the magic of instant transcripts. This is as I said, it's measured criticism. Simon Birmingham is saying China is not adhering to the terms of this agreement with some of the tenuous claims. And they also are breaking the supposed inbuilt review instruments. We can't even get a phone call from Chinese ministers. He's right, isn't he?
MURPHY: Well, as you said, I couldn't hear it. But the government has clearly been saying that for quite some time, they haven't been able to get a phone call from ministers. And clearly, there's real problems in the relationship. And China's posture has been much more aggressive for quite some time now. And it's obvious that Australia and this government needs to think very carefully and strategically, not just about this relationship, but, of course, how to diversify our export markets.
CONNELL: Which is what's going on at the moment. But his point around this is China not abiding by the free trade agreement. It's true, isn’t it? It can’t just not abide because of trade tensions.
MURPHY: Well, I mean, the point of entering into agreements is to abide by agreements.
CONNELL: Do we know what the government's plan is, aside from obviously trying to open up other markets? Can we do anything? Do we just sort of sit here, make careful criticism and hope that the Chinese ministers pick up the phone eventually?
WALLACE: Well, look, communication is a two way street, and you've got to have someone to receive the information. And unfortunately, at this point in time, the Chinese government is simply not accepting phone calls from our ministers. I think that that is entirely regrettable. We have not changed our position as a government on trade, on defence, on any of these issues. This, the actions of the Chinese government are indeed regrettable for Australian businesses who I know are hurting as a result of this. In fact, I have a business in my own electorate that is a meat supplier. In fact, they are a Chinese owned and they have been blocked, which seems somewhat strange. But look, we'll continue to try and have open dialogue, but it's very difficult when someone won't pick up the phone.
CONNELL: Let's talk about the cashless welfare card finally. This legislation seemingly on a knife edge. The government wants to make it permanent in the trial sites. Why those communities? Why not anywhere where someone is on Newstart? If this is a benefit to those communities, why isn't it of benefit to others?
WALLACE: Well, I think that the prime minister or the government is looking to expand these programs where it's appropriate. There's no doubt and look, I'm a fierce advocate for anti gambling. I have a real issue with the problems that is caused by gambling in our community. We see tens of billions of dollars wasted in gambling each and every year in Australia. So where we have a situation where people are the recipients of Social Security, where by that the very nature of that, they are doing it tough. I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to restrict the amount of money that they may or may not be spending on gambling.
CONNELL: Would you be happy with a form of this in your electorate?
WALLACE: Look, I would.
CONNELL: You would?
WALLACE: I would. I would support anything which would see less gambling in in Australia across the board. And it's not just about gambling of course.

CONNELL: Ok, well that’s interesting though, we are big gamblers, in Australia,
WALLACE: We are.
CONNELL: So what else should the government be doing then? Because a lot of people just gamble with their own money, is that
MURPHY: Should stop the early access to super scheme because a lot of that's been spent by young men on gambling.
WALLACE: Before you jumped in there. I was just about to say this is not just about gambling. I mean, what it does restrict is the access to alcohol, the purchase of alcohol, cigarettes and gambling.
CONNELL: I understand that. But are you sort of saying in particular on gambling, what you have an issue with how much Australians gamble?
WALLACE: Absolutely I do. I'm on the record for saying that.
CONNELL: What should happen?
WALLACE: In my own electorate, my local council wanted to build a casino on the Sunshine Coast and I led the charge against it, not on my watch. You know, there's far too much gambling. And as a result of far too much gambling, the societal ills that come from that or are causing all sorts of problems in our communities.
CONNELL: What about a version of this card in your electorate?
CONNELL: Why would that not work?
MURPHY: My community don't want it and I don't want it. And at the moment, this card systemically is racist because it applies to First Nations people disproportionately. And the extension that's proposed in this legislation would also do so in the Northern Territory
CONNELL: It's in communities rather than individually on indigenous Australians, though, right?
MURPHY: Well, that's the definition of systemic racism. Yes, on the face of it it might not identify indigenous people, but that's how it applies. (Inaudible)
WALLACE: But it’s not targeted at a specific.
MURPHY: But that's how it applies. Disproportionately it applies to First Nations people in this country. More than sixty eight percent of the people that will be covered by this card if this legislation goes through are First Nations people, it's communities like Ceduna that are going....
CONNELL: Alright, we’ve got the bells ringing. So I have to let you both out. Saved by the bell or not.
MURPHY: Ahh, I had a lot more to say on that topic.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.