Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview - Australia Today with Steve Price

Ministers:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business
Acting Minister for Education and Youth

Topics: Religious Discrimination Bill, Scott Morrison meets trainees, jobs market

E&OE-------------------------------------

STEVE PRICE:

Stuart Robert is the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business joins us on the line after a very long night in Parliament. After two years of COVID I wonder why- I just can’t work it out, I need you to explain this to me. Why is there so much attention being paid to this Religious Discrimination Bill. I know, at the last election Scott Morrison said it would be a Bill his Government would pass. But why is this so important?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It’s an election commitment we made, and we want to keep faith with the Australian people. We want to keep faith with, approximately, 14 million Australians who have religious belief. We said we would actually protect those that are covered by the Religious Discrimination Act, and we’ve kept faith with the people, and kept faith with our promise.

STEVE PRICE:

Are there not appropriate state laws that give that same protection? Why do we need a federal law to overlay on top of those?

MINISTER ROBERT:

There aren’t state laws that go to the extent. So, things like the Sexual Discrimination Act, Racial Discrimination – all of those are federal statutes, so they cover the whole country. State laws, of course, are very patchy and they vary markedly between states. So that’s why, when it comes to discrimination, it’s generally done at a federal level.

STEVE PRICE:

Critics of this law say that it is the Federal Government, your Government, pandering to Western Sydney to keep the various religious groups happy.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, before the last election, we made it pretty clear that ending discrimination on the ground of religious belief was important. So, we’ve ended discrimination on the grounds of being male, female; on the grounds of race. This is a logical extension so that people can express their religious belief without be vilified and without being discriminated upon. So it’s very sensible.

STEVE PRICE:

[Interrupts] But is that discrimination rampant? Are we seeing a lot of people discriminated against because of their sexuality in schools – whether it be teachers or students? Is it a common thing?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Discrimination-

STEVE PRICE:

[Interrupts] I mean, you see where I’m going with this. I mean I- when I look at your portfolio – jobs, Skills, Small and Family Business – that’s what’s important, isn’t it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Oh, massively. And if you think through the entire work of the Parliament and all the things we've been doing, that's what we've been focussing on. So this was one 24 hours of looking at a particular election promise. And it is important. It is important we protect beliefs right across the spectrum when it comes to discrimination, hence the Parliament dealt with that last night.

STEVE PRICE:

And now it'll go to the Senate, so it’ll take up more of the Parliament's time. What's the likelihood of this being heavily amended again when it gets to the Upper House, and then it comes back to the Lower House?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, of course, that's democracy. The Australian people send their representatives to Parliament, and you deal with the Senate you've got. So there’s a range of independents, of course, in there, and the Party of the Greens who will do our best to negotiate sensibly. But you get what the Parliament gives you.

STEVE PRICE:

You are one of Scott Morrison's closest allies. You've told me before on this program that you and he are great friends, great mates - you've got a lot of respect for him. I played, just a moment ago, a promo for a 60 Minutes, Channel 9, inside the kitchen at Kirribilli House that will go to air Sunday night, with the PM washing the dishes and making dinner; his wife’s there with him. We saw him last week washing someone's hair at a hairdressing salon, which I thought was ridiculous. Does he actually, as a mate of his, do you think he does have an image problem with women?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Not at all. This is a bloke that's got a beautiful wife, two beautiful daughters. I mean, I’ve lived with him for few years. He would cook curries on a Saturday night and before parliament it was curry time. Loves his family, always have. He's just a typical Australia-loving dad – a netball dad, if you like. No, I don't believe so. 

Now, I understand Labor, and the left, have gone out of their way to try and vilify Scott Morrison, and they're doing that writ large because they see it as a political tactic. I think it's shameful. They should actually represent the bloke as he is – an extraordinarily decent Australian who loves his country.

STEVE PRICE:

How many blokes do you know, go to women's hairdressing salons to wash people's hair?

MINISTER ROBERT:

In the world of politics, when you want to send the message that we've got 220,000 more trade apprentices now - the highest level at any time in Australia’s history - and that includes hairdressers; and to encourage more and more people into apprenticeship, the best way to go along is to visit. And my understanding - because I was with him in the morning - was that when he was there the young ladies there asked the Prime Minister, would you like to give it a crack? And when an average Australian says, give it a crack, no problem. If it was the bloke with a forklift, we wouldn't be having this conversation, Steve. So why are we having a conversation when it's a lady washing hair? Come on.

STEVE PRICE:

It just looked odd, that's why, because I'm a…

MINISTER ROBERT:

[Talks over] It looked like [indistinct]…

STEVE PRICE:

… I’m a bloke in my late 60s, I've never gone to a women's hairdressing salon and had a crack at washing someone's hair. I mean, it's a political stunt, Stuart, that I thought made the Prime Minister look silly.

MINISTER ROBERT:

No. I couldn't disagree more, Steve. If he'd gone and driven a forklift, or jumped in a big truck, no one would say a thing. And by the way, after he left that, he joined me at KOR, which is a waste disposal mob, and he did jump in the truck. So no one questioned him jumping in the truck and talking to trainees, but they questioned him washing hair with another tradie, being a hairdresser. Come on, Steve.

STEVE PRICE:

I think it's a reasonable point that I make, but we can disagree on that. Josh Frydenberg, just finally, Minister, said that Australians should take advantage of the great reshuffle to score a pay rise in a hot labour market. Is that a reality? Are there actually higher paying jobs out there for the taking?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We track an index that looks at how people transition or transfer from role to role to role, and you get an indication of how the economy is going if the transfer rate's very low - well, it tells you that the job market is fairly tight. But right now we've got the internet vacancy index with jobs at a 14 year high - so you are getting a competitive tension. People are moving work, and for the most part, they move to something they either enjoy at different location or indeed for a pay rise. So the Treasurer’s quite right.

STEVE PRICE:

Well, let's hope that's the case, because we've had wage stagnation, as you know now, for a very long time – COVID hasn't helped that. Just what- Just before you go, there's going to be a debate today about the borders being thrown open. Feb 21, which I think is a great decision by your Government. ATAGI’s looking at the issue of whether you need to be triple boosted to come into the country, whereas double boosted is what we thought would happen - and that's what the New South Wales Premier wants to happen. Isn't it acceptable that, if you've had a double dose of the vaccine, you should be able to come here? Given we've got pretty high rates of Omicron.

MINISTER ROBERT:

And that's the point we've made. We'll always look for and consider the medical advice. My understanding is that that advice is coming through today-ish in terms of National Cabinet - I could be wrong on that. But it'll be coming through shortly, and we'll consider it like we have the entire pandemic.

STEVE PRICE: Good on you, try to get some sleep before 9:30.

MINISTER ROBERT: Love your work, thanks Steve.