Presenter: We're joined now by the new Employment Minister Michaelia Cash. Michaelia Cash, welcome to the program.
Minister Cash: Great to be with you, thanks for having me.
Presenter: Workplace reform, is that unfinished or untouched business, and do you think you need to go to the election arguing for a mandate for serious workplace reform?
Minister Cash: Well, you'll be aware that at the last election we gave a commitment that we would ask the independent Productivity Commission to undertake an independent review of the workplace relations system to ensure that the Fair Work laws work for everybody. The Productivity Commission has of course released its draft report following an independent evidence-based inquiry into the workplace relations system. That draft report was an extensive report - I think it was in excess of 1,000 pages. But what we also appreciated was it was based on broad community input.
So what we saw was more than 20 unions, including the peak Australian union body the ACTU, participating in the review. We saw in excess of 255 submissions and contributions from the broader community. So that is now, again, out for consultation, and I am now awaiting the final report, and any final recommendations - and look, if there is a good case for sensible and fair changes to bring balance to the Fair Work framework, these will be clearly outlined by the Government and taken to the next election to seek a mandate from the Australian people, and that is exactly what we promised in the election policy, and it is a commitment that we'll keep.
Presenter: And that could include changes to penalty rates in particular? Because that is certainly one of the things that business is looking for, isn't it?
Minister Cash: Look, the penalty rates conversation is a very interesting one, because in the first instance, I do need to make it very clear, there is no recommendation to remove penalty rates at the moment. I welcome a debate in relation to penalty rates, and in particular, the fact that there is an argument now that they were set a number of years ago, they certainly seem to deter weekend work, and we have more and more people wanting to open on weekends. But at the end of the day, it's not the Government that is currently debating penalty rates. There are currently two places where penalty rates are being actively considered, and they are of course the Productivity Commission, and the Fair Work Commission, and I do...
Presenter: Sure, but it is part of the broader discussion, isn't it?
Minister Cash: And that is why I welcome a debate about penalty rates, but the point I do want to make is that the Productivity Commission and the Fair Work Commission, both of these commissions are independent of Government.
Presenter: Okay, well business argues that on penalty rates in particular that perhaps some reform should see Sunday penalty rates reflect, go closer to Saturday penalty rates, because they say it's better to have more people working for a little less than less people working for more, do you agree?
Minister Cash: Look, at the end of the day, as I said, this is not something that Government is involved in. There are two places in which penalty rates are being considered, that's the Productivity Commission and the Fair Work Commission. I understand that the Fair Work Commission has already lowered the Sunday penalty rates, I think the restaurant industry award back in May 2014 for some employees. And it does need to be noted: this was following on from its review of all awards that was commissioned by the previous government, so it was as a result of a Labor government initiated review that penalty rates were actually lowered. The point is...
Presenter: Sure but I guess the point is that the lack of progress in this is one of the criticisms made against the Abbott government by business, isn't it?
Minister Cash: But at the end of the day, it is the Government that does not set penalty rates, the Fair Work Commission is not the Government, it's an independent tribunal, and as I said, I welcome debate about penalty rates. At the end of the day, I'm not going to draw any conclusions at this point in time. I am awaiting the outcome of the Productivity Commission's final report. I will review that report calmly and methodically, and if there is a case for good and sensible change to bring balance to the Fair Work framework, these will be clearly outlined by the Government and taken to the next election to seek a mandate. But again, I just want to make it very clear to your listeners, there is no recommendation at this point in time to remove penalty rates. The only recommendation that is currently being looked at is to make each day of the weekend have the same level of penalty rates in a few industries. That's what's on the table at the moment. That's it.
Presenter: Sure, but do you worry that you're inviting a campaign from the union movement in particular, like the one we saw against Work Choices?
Minister Cash: Look, I think it's very sad that the minute you mention penalty rates, the minute you mention industrial relations, the unions are there with a campaign that is, more often than not, based on fear and based on a deliberate, a deliberate misrepresentation of what is going on. As I said, there is no, there is no recommendation to remove penalty rates.
Presenter: Sure, but it is being discussed as we've said.
Minister Cash: Absolutely, by two independent bodies. These bodies are independent of Government, and so when the unions say that the Turnbull Government is going to strip your penalty rates, quite frankly, that is an outright lie.
Presenter: Presumably it will be discussed at the economic reform summit the Prime Minister has called for tomorrow, that's going to be discussing ways of driving growth and jobs, and this would have to be part of that discussion, wouldn't it?
Minister Cash: Well I would hope that everything is on the table at this discussion, and in particular because I understand that a number of the unions have been invited to the discussion.
The focus of this Government is on making our economy more competitive, more productive, and more innovative, and that is why Prime Minister Turnbull is going to meet this week with a selection of people from business, from the community and with union leaders. This is an across the board meeting of all people from all spectrums with all different views, and what they're going to do is they're going to sit down and discuss policies to grow the economy. Michael-
Presenter: You won't be there. Do you think you should be?
Minister Cash: I was absolutely invited, but I had a commitment in relation to domestic violence, which I have not been able to change, so whilst I have been invited to be there, my commitment to undertake a forum on domestic violence has had to be given precedence to.
Presenter: Okay. You were one of Malcolm Turnbull's backers. Yesterday Tony Abbott was out talking to commercial radio; he says the policies of the Turnbull Government are no different from the policies of the Abbott government. Now look, clearly it's early days but are we going to see a difference?
Minister Cash: Well certainly the Prime Minister has indicated the policies remain the same until they change. We are having a very open and transparent Government. If there are any changes, they will be taken to the Cabinet, the Cabinet will agree to them, and then we will announce them, and that is the position-
Presenter: There is an expectation there will be some changes though, isn't there?
Minister Cash: No, absolutely not, our policies at this point in time are our policies, and until they change there's not going to be any announcement, but I don't, at this stage, I'm not anticipating any changes, certainly in my portfolio.
Presenter: Well why change leaders, if you won't change policies?
Minister Cash: Because at the end of the day a decision was made that our message was not getting through. But Michael, I'm not going to look and dissect the past. We have a new, fresh Government. We have a Government that is focusing on building a prosperous economy, building business confidence, and in particular, promoting innovation. I'm part of that Government, I'm looking forward, I'm not looking backwards.
Presenter: Okay, we'll leave it there, thank you very much Michaelia Cash.
Minister Cash: Great to be with you, thanks for having me.
Presenter: Employment Minister Michaelia Cash.