SUBJECT: Penalty rates
JOHN LAWS: I spoke this morning about Malcolm Turnbull’s popularity in the polls. It seems he’s able to breathe, well, a sigh of relief, a gentle sigh of relief for now. We’ve seen some disastrous figures in the last few months with the Coalition’s popularity taking a nose dive, mostly over penalty rates I’ve got to say, but this morning it’s Bill Shorten who’s in the firing line over award rates after it was revealed that his union backers signed off on deals that would leave young workers with less money in their pockets. Do young workers need less money? No.
Joining me on the line now is Employment Minister Michaelia Cash. Good morning and thanks for giving us your time.
MINISTER CASH: Good morning, John, and an absolute pleasure to be with you and your listeners.
JOHN LAWS: OK. Do I say your name correctly when I say it, Michaelia?
MINISTER CASH: You said Michaelia, 10 out of 10, well done!
JOHN LAWS: It’s a lovely name, Michaelia.
MINISTER CASH: Thank you. It’s one of those names where I almost answer to anything because it’s often quite difficult.
JOHN LAWS: No well, it’s still a very nice name. Union pay is substantially lower than the award rate, so why is Bill Shorten up in arms over cuts to penalty rates?
MINISTER CASH: Well, you know, that’s a very good question, John. Because Bill Shorten is happy to stand up for big unions and big businesses when they do deals to slash penalty rates, but when it comes to the thousands of small businesses in this country – and let’s face it, they are the backbone of the Australian economy – he does not want them to have the same ability as big unions and big businesses. The reality is these thousands of small businesses have been competing on an uneven playing field against big business and the decision of the Fair Work Commission, what it does, is just even up that playing field.
JOHN LAWS: Michaelia, aren’t they the very people that the Labor Party purports to care about?
MINISTER CASH: Well, that again, John, that’s exactly right! When you look at the history, say, of the Labor Party and what they’ve opposed since we’ve been in government, in relation to the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, they stood up for the TWU and the big union against the tens of thousands of mum and dad truck drivers across Australia who were going to lose their jobs. The Turnbull Government stood up for them. In relation to the Country Fire Authority, tens of thousands of volunteer fire fighters in Victoria, who does Bill Shorten side with? He sides with Peter Marshall and the United Firefighters Union. In relation to the Building and Construction Commission, Bill was happy to stand up for the CFMEU and the big end of town…
JOHN LAWS: But he’s a union man through and through, you’re never going to change that.
MINISTER CASH: And this is what’s his problem. He’s a union man through and through. He has a very narrow focus. I’m actually tired of defending big business. I will stand up for the thousands of small businesses who don’t get a fair go, who have been competing on an uneven playing field against big businesses, any day of the week. And the Prime Minister, he’s doing the exact same thing.
JOHN LAWS: Yeah. The Prime Minister isn’t in particularly good shape at the minute, is he?
MINISTER CASH: Look, the Prime Minister is focused on delivering for the Australian people. And in particular, you look at the energy game changer, the announcement in relation to Snowy Hydro 2.0. This is a once in a generation infrastructure project that will provide energy security for your children, for your grandchildren. That’s what the people of Australia are looking for. They are looking for a visionary Prime Minister who has the national interest at heart and that’s what you’re getting with Malcolm Turnbull. Not someone who just from day to day goes around ensuring that everything he does is to back big unions and big business and forget about the 95 per cent of businesses in this country which are small businesses. Let’s start calling a spade a spade, calling Bill Shorten out and standing up for small business in Australia.
JOHN LAWS: Why doesn’t he do it? He couldn’t do both?
MINISTER CASH: Who’s this? Bill Shorten?
JOHN LAWS: Yeah.
MINISTER CASH: Because again, he is a union man through and through. And don’t take my word for that; remember before the election, he openly said to the Australian people, he will govern like a unionist. Look at his stance in relation to the pieces of industrial legislation we’ve put through, he has never ever stood up for small business, for mum and dads, for the average working Australian. But what he has stood up for every single time without fail: big unions, big businesses doing deals which disadvantage the worker and ensure that small business is on an uneven playing field.
JOHN LAWS: Michaelia, what did you expect?
MINISTER CASH: Unfortunately from Bill Shorten, not much more. But I have to say, one of the things the Prime Minister and I have literally just done, John, is we have announced the Corrupting Benefits Bill which is banning secret corrupting payments from employers …
JOHN LAWS: Good.
MINISTER CASH: … this is to unions, and requiring disclosure of any legitimate payments. And I call on Bill Shorten, if you honestly believe in the worker, if you believe in transparency, then this legislation which holds both employers and unions to account should go through the Parliament in a non-controversial manner. This is a real test for Bill Shorten and Labor. Put your money where your mouth is and stand up for the worker.
JOHN LAWS: Every four years penalty rates are reviewed by the Commission. What’s to say next time around these rates won’t be slashed again, it’s possible…
MINISTER CASH: Look, OK, so in relation to that, that is why you have an independent commission looking at these issues. The independent commission spent over two years looking at the evidence, they received over 5,000 submissions. Based on all the evidence from unions, from employers and from employees, they made the decision that in relation to Saturdays and Sundays, and in particular Sundays – Sundays are no longer what they were 30, 40 years ago, that sacrosanct day of the week – and basically to ensure that small business is competitive with big businesses and big unions, they have moderately changed penalty rates. But at the same time, John, the Fair Work Commission did acknowledge that some would feel hardship and that’s why the next phase of the penalty rates decision is to look at how to implement the reduction in penalty rates and ensuring that those affected have any hardship lessened. So that’s the next phase of the decision.
JOHN LAWS: Okay, well we should make it clear however that those decisions are not made by the Government, those decisions…
MINISTER CASH: Absolutely not. There is a very good reason you have an independent commission. And I’ll give you another example…
JOHN LAWS: Just before we go on, who appoints that commission?
MINISTER CASH: Well, basically, this is the Fair Work Commission as set up by Bill Shorten. And, in fact, the president of the Fair Work Commission, Iain Ross – hand picked by Labor to do this job. So what Bill is now saying is, I set up the commission, I set up the rules, I instructed them to review penalty rates, I had my handpicked president and his panel look at the issue, but I don’t like it anymore and so I’m throwing a tantrum and what I’m going to do is I’m going to change the law.
Your listeners might want to ask Bill Shorten this. Is he also going to move a bill in the Parliament that says that the Reserve Bank can never ever lower interest rates again? This is where it becomes very, very dangerous and there’s a reason you have independent bodies making these decisions free from politics. The last thing Australians want is politicians debating this on the floor of the chamber because, quite frankly, you would never hear the end of it.
JOHN LAWS: That’s right, it would go on. The latest Newspoll shows that you have recovered some lost ground but you’re still trailing behind Labor with two-party preferred figures 48 to 52. What does the Coalition need to do to get back on track because it’s got to do something?
MINISTER CASH: It’s a long way until the next election. I speak to the Prime Minister regularly and I can assure you he is absolutely focused on the national interest. He’s focused on ensuring that small businesses have an even playing field to play on when it comes to big business and big unions. He’s focused on ensuring that electricity and the lights stay on in Australia. Lights out under Labor is what we’re seeing. He’s focused on ensuring that we have electricity 24/7 at the cheapest possible rate. So he’s very much looking at decisions in the national interest. In terms of child care, you know I’ve travelled around Australia for so many years now in the women’s portfolio talking to families about what type of policies they need from government. The constant answer I get is: Australians want better and more affordable child care, and that is something we’re determined to deliver.
The child care model we have at the moment, John, is broken. And the reason it’s broken is it reflects working days of the past, very much when we worked nine to five. In 2017 I don’t know too many people who do work nine to five. And we’re looking at changing that model. So we’re focused on the national interest, not on playing petty politics, which is unfortunately what Bill Shorten just gets caught up in.
JOHN LAWS: Yeah, but Malcolm is raising the odd eyebrow here and there. He’s also raised some eyebrows when he posted a series of tweets denying pension cuts and labelling Bill Shorten a liar.
MINISTER CASH: I have to say I saw that and my response to that would be I would hope the Prime Minister calls out Labor’s lies in every possible platform. Labor are very, very good at lying. They have a history of lying.
JOHN LAWS: Do you remember a man called Tony Abbott?
MINISTER CASH: I obviously do. Well, in relation to Malcolm Turnbull though, very…
JOHN LAWS: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I’m saying do you, you know, talking about people telling lies, he had a fairly good record of it and he was on the other side to Bill Shorten.
MINISTER CASH: Well, at the end of the day, Tony delivered on so many of his promises when he was Prime Minister, in particular in relation to border security. But looking at the comments over the sort of 24 to 48 hours, all I would say is I hope the Prime Minister continues to call out Labor’s lies in every medium possible because Australians, they need to know the truth and we need to call out those lies.
JOHN LAWS: Yeah. You don’t think he went over the top when he called Bill Shorten a liar?
MINISTER CASH: Based on what I’ve seen, Bill Shorten, unfortunately, often is a liar in so many things. Just look at the 'Mediscare' campaign. Just look at that. Labor like to tell untruths. It’s a little bit like, you know, Labor and penalty rates. They’re happy for penalty rates to be traded away when it’s a big union and a big business, they couldn’t care less and, in fact, Bill Shorten, of all people in this Parliament, Bill Shorten himself when he was the head of the union and he was charged with looking after the worker, he did the exact opposite. He traded away their penalty rates. You know, again, he stands up for big business and big unions but says he stands up for the worker. Well, let’s start standing up for those small businesses, the 95 per cent of businesses in this country who employ millions of Australians who are workers, let’s start giving them a fair go.
JOHN LAWS: Michaelia.
MINISTER CASH: John.
JOHN LAWS: Do you always tell the truth?
MINISTER CASH: I try to tell the truth absolutely at all times.
JOHN LAWS: Well, that’s a bit of no brainer answer. You try to; do you sometimes not achieve it?
MINISTER CASH: No, no, no, no, no. I would always tell the truth. How that is sometimes interpreted by left wing media is quite different, unfortunately. But certainly there’s one thing that I’m very proud of is that we basically - we put forward arguments based on fact, not based on scare campaigns. Labor are very, very good at completely forgetting about the facts and utilising a scare campaign and unfortunately that’s not what the national interest and Australians deserve. Australians deserve the facts presented to them so they can make their own decisions. Not scare campaigns.
JOHN LAWS: OK, Michaelia with a pretty name. It is a nice name. The more I look - I like the way it’s spelled too.
MINISTER CASH: It’s the traditional way.
JOHN LAWS: Yeah, it’s lovely.
MINISTER CASH: I often say my parents wanted a boy, Michael with an I A. And they got me.
JOHN LAWS: They got you. Well, I think they did alright.
MINISTER CASH: That’s very kind.
JOHN LAWS: Thank you very much for your time.
MINISTER CASH: It’s great to be with you John.
JOHN LAWS: Nice to talk to you. OK, good bye. Thank you very much. Interesting woman. Bright too. The Employment Minister, Michaelia Cash. And she’s certainly got the courage of her convictions, prepared to say it and I think is saying it pretty well because a lot of them are being bloody stupid.