Super Wednesday 13/03/19

March 13, 2019


SUBJECT/S: Labor’s push to give Australians a living wage, Nationals Leadership Chaos, Angus Taylor’s coal projects, Brexit

DAVID BEVAN, HOST: It’s a Wednesday which means it’s time for Super Wednesday. In our studio, Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator from South Australia. Good morning to you.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG, GREENS SENATOR: Good morning, thanks for having me.

BEVAN: And on the phone line, Simon Birmingham, South Australian Liberal Senator and Minister for Trade, good morning to you.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM, LIBERAL SENATOR: Good morning, good to be with you.

BEVAN: And Mark Butler, on the phone line, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Labor Member for Port Adelaide, Labor Candidate for Hindmarsh.


BEVAN: Mark Butler if we can begin with you, because you’re almost certainly going to be in government in a few weeks’ time, sorry, Simon –

BIRMINGHAM: I don’t agree, but ask your question anyway.

BEVAN: The issue of wages, now Bill Shorten wants this election to be about wages. Can you explain to our listeners, the Fair Work Commission, is Bill Shorten going to legislate to direct the Fair Work Commission to increase peoples’ wages?

BUTLER: Well the first thing I’d say is we have made it clear we need a new approach to wages in this country because millions of Australian workers are being left behind with very flat wages and their living costs going up and up. The ABS, the Bureau of Statistics, has published a three-monthly index on wage increases back since the 1990s and it shows that the 20 lowest quarters of wage increases have all occurred under this government. And Mathias Cormann said it last week, keeping wages low is a deliberate policy of this government and on that measure you have to give them credit, they’re the Don Bradman of governments keeping wages low. Well we think we need a new approach so that people who are stuck on the minimum wage and on award wages, and there are millions of them, particularly working in relatively low-paid service sectors, should have a living wage rather than this thing that pretends to be a safety-net –

BEVAN: So that’s the reason you want to do it but to ask the question again, is a Bill Shorten Government going to legislate to direct the Fair Work Commission?

BUTLER: Bill’s said over the course of yesterday that we’d provide more detail on this over the coming weeks as people think about the next election but what we have indicated is we think the guidelines for the Fair Work Commission which sets minimum wages should be at least changed to reflect the need for, particularly the minimum and award wages, to reflect a living wage for people. Years ago I think it was thought that this would be a safety net and people would move between short stints on the safety net or the minimum wage and higher paid enterprise bargaining agreements, that certainly hasn’t been the case under this government and we (interrupted) need a new approach.

BEVAN: To ask you the question for the third time, will a Bill Shorten Government legislate to direct the Fair Work Commission?

BUTLER: Well Bill said yesterday we’d be making our position clear in coming weeks on this –

BEVAN: Is that because you’ve got a position, you’re just keeping it to yourself or because you haven’t worked it out yet?

BUTLER: Obviously before people start to come to thinking about how to vote at the next election, all of our policies will be clearly laid out before them. We’ve started to make the argument for a new approach on wages, Bill did that over the last week, or ten days, we’re making that case, particularly for the very low wage outcomes Australian workers are getting under this government, the 20 lowest quarters on record, on top of 700,000 workers in the retail and hospitality industry losing their penalty rates –

BEVAN: So you’ve already worked out your policy, you’re not making it up on the run, you’ve already worked it out, you’re just not going to tell us until you’re good and ready?

BUTLER: We’ll make it very clear well before the election what we intend to do in this area as we will in all the other policy areas the people are focused on in the lead-up to this election.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, what are you going to do to put more money into our listeners’ pockets?

BIRMINGHAM: Well David, Australia has the third highest minimum wage, by OECD standards, last year’s Fair Work Commission decision in terms of wage increases was the largest rise in 8 years, contrary to the type of rhetoric you’re hearing from Mark there, it was a very valiant effort by you, David, to try and extract and answer there from, Mark Butler, he says that Labor believes there should be a living wage but the Labor party won’t define what a living wage is. He won’t say whether or not they’ll actually amend the Fair Work Act, they won’t actually say how much they think wages should go up by. This is all just virtue signalling from the Labor party, it’s about trying to create a bit of class-warfare, you saw Bill Shorten go out there yesterday attacking business leaders and throwing mud and names at them trying to create the class-warfare rhetoric but absolutely zero detail in terms of what they will do –

BEVAN: But are –

BIRMINGHAM: What we’re doing, what we’re doing is trying to grow the economy as fast as we can, for which we’ve seen Australia continuously out-perform most other OECD or G7 nations, try to create as many jobs as we can, for which we’ve generated more than 1.2 million jobs since we’ve been in office and we know that the more we do that, the more pressure it puts on wages to go up. And that’s going –

BEVAN: So you’re saying people should be happy with their wages right now?

BIRMINGHAM: No, I understand everybody will want to see their wages go up as fast as they can but I know they also want to ensure that they have a job, their kids and their grandkids have a job, we’re going to keep pushing as hard as we possibly can to grow the economy, to keep creating more jobs –

BEVAN: So what you’re offering is more of the same?

BIRMINGHAM: Most job creation, absolutely –

HANSON-YOUNG: What’s the point of the job if it can’t pay for your rent?

ALI CLARKE: Sarah Hanson-Young, do you want to repeat your point?

HANSON-YOUNG: Well I said what’s the point of keeping people in these jobs if the jobs doesn’t pay for the rent, if the job doesn’t pay for the food on the table, the truth here and this is what this campaign from the ACTU is about is that those people on the lowest incomes are really, really struggling. If you’re on the minimum wage now, you’re living in poverty and we’ve got to do something about that. Everyone knows that wage growth is sluggish and has been way too slow. Even the RBA now is arguing that we need a wage rise because we need something to give a bit of a shot in the arm of the economy, the best way to do that would be to lift the wages of those who are on the lowest of incomes, they will spend the money in the economy, it is a win-win for business and a win-win for those on low incomes. So the Greens are supporting the ACTU campaign and we hope that the Labor party over the next few weeks come out very clearly and back it as well because low-income people across the country have waited long enough, we know that they’re not going to get any more support from the Liberal Government, it’s time, they deserve and need a change.

CLARKE: So would you call employers fat cats?

HANSON-YOUNG: I think what employers know and understand that their businesses do well when people have money to spend and the people on the lowest incomes need a wage rise so they can actually pay for the things they desperately need and it keeps the economy ticking over.

BEVAN: So you think $43 a week increase is a good idea?

HANSON-YOUNG: I think the increasing –

BEVAN: Because that’s what the ACTU are asking for

HANSON-YOUNG: Yes, that’s 60 per cent of the median wage. I think that’s absolutely important.

BEVAN: Mark Butler, $43 a week increase, is that a good idea?

BUTLER: Well we haven’t fixed upon a particular figure and we’ll have more to say about that, we think the Fair Work Commission should be able to do its job but there should be some clearer guidelines in place to make sure that the wage increases that people, particularly on the lowest incomes in the community, are keeping pace with living costs and as I said, we’ll have more to say about that over the coming weeks.

HANSON-YOUNG: The other point to throw in here of course is that it’s not just important to lift the minimum wage to a living wage so that people aren’t in poverty, we also have to do something about lifting the rate of Newstart and the Greens want to see a $75 increase to Newstart as well, that is really, really important. You want to get people into work, they have to be not living below the poverty line beforehand.

CLARKE: That is the voice of Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia. We have Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for Climate Change with us as well and Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment as part of your super Wednesday.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce says he’s the elected Deputy-Prime Minister, he’s clearly signalling that’s he’s entitled to that job because the people put him there, what’s your message to Barnaby Joyce?

BIRMINGHAM: Well I see he’s made very clear that he’s not challenging for the job, the National Party has a leader, it’s Michael McCormack, he’s doing a fine job and that’s the end of the story.

HANSON-YOUNG: Happy families over there.

BIRMINGHAM: None of this speculation helps to create more jobs or to keep people’s taxes lower, all those sorts of things that we’re focused on. I am, and the Prime Minister and the team, are completely focused on those policy issues to make sure that Australians don’t find they’ve got a Bill Shorten Government sucking another $200 billion of taxes out of their pockets.

HANSON-YOUNG: Don’t you just wish he’d go away though, Birmo? I mean what a pain in the backside Barnaby Joyce has been for everyone and now he’s out there making life difficult for you guys whilst spruiking coal as his big moment in the sun.

BIRMINGHAM: Barnaby has always been someone who shoots from the hip, that’s of course part of the Australian Democracy, it doesn’t change what the government’s focused on and that is our track record, 1.27 million jobs we were talking about before, lowering taxes for small businesses and also for wage earners and making sure that we don’t see retirees, renters, home owners all paying higher taxes in the future, which is what the Labor party is proposing.

BEVAN: Should a future Coalition Government subsidise a coal-fired generator?

BIRMINGHAM: No, a future Coalition Government will only subsidise power sources if it’s required to sustain reliability in our grid, to get the extra capacity in and we’ll only do that where it’s commercially viable and of course along with our targets to meet our emissions reduction obligations.

BEVAN: Well under those terms is it possible that a future Coalition Government could end up subsidising a coal-fired generator?

BIRMINGHAM: Look, I wouldn’t have thought so but of course if technology breakthroughs occur that allow low-cost, low-emission generation to occur, well that would be a game changer.

BUTLER: The Energy Minister confirmed over the last couple of days that there are ten coal projects on his table that he’s considering underwriting. Matt Canavan, the Resources Minister said as much. It’s not just Barnaby Joyce running these lines, as much as Simon wants to talk about job creation and taxes, the only thing that Coalition ministers and backbenchers are mainly focused on is whether or not to subsidise new coal-fired power stations.

BIRMINGHAM: Well looks, that’s –

BUTLER: There are 10 projects, Angus Taylor said there are 10 projects on his desk.

BIRMINGHAM: (inaudible) renewable energy through the Snowy Hydro 2.0 scheme, that’s going to dramatically lift energy capability out of hydro power through Snowy and in doing so underpin much of the renewable investment that has happened in a much more reliable way in the future.

BUTLER: But Angus Taylor says there are 10 coal projects on his desk, Snowy has made it utterly clear that any new coal project destroys the business case for Snowy 2.0, Tasmanian Hydro has said exactly the same thing about the battery of the nation project but your own energy minister says there are 10 coal projects on his desk that he’s considering underwriting.

HANSON-YOUNG: Let’s not forget it was Scott Morrison who brought the lump of coal into Parliament, today’s Prime Minister, I mean this government is obsessed with coal. Barnaby Joyce wants us building new coal-fired power stations, the rest of them want us spending money keeping them open.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, before you leave us, as Minister for Trade we do need to ask you regarding the failure of Teresa May to get her motion through the Parliament and that’s happened in the last few hours, it looks like yet again Brexit has stalled and the UK Parliament is gridlocked, as Minister for Trade, what’s your take on this?

BIRMINGHAM: We do appear to be headed towards one of two scenarios, a no-deal Brexit, which means that the UK’s separation from the EU will happen on March the 29th, in 16 days or thereabouts, or there will be a delay to Brexit of some indefinite duration, now that’s a matter for the UK to work out. We have done everything we can as a government to prepare for any possible scenario, we’ve applied new laws, underwritten new agreements with the UK to make sure that, so far as we can, trade will flow seamlessly between the UK and the EU but there are a range of considerations for Australian businesses that trade with the UK or the EU, we have advice available on both the AusTrade and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade websites and I would encourage businesses to look at that advice, to seek their own commercial information, these do create uncertainties for many trading businesses and we are doing all we can to make sure they
have the best available advice and the best legal frameworks we can have in place given the uncertainties that exist.

CLARKE: We have to leave it there, thank you very much Simon Birmingham, Mark Butler and Sarah Hanson-Young. Appreciate your time.