AM Agenda – IR changes, foreign relations bill

Monday, 07 December 2020

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Welcome back. A big final week in Parliament, industrial relations is on the menu. Joining me now, Amanda Rishworth from the Labor Party and Julian Simmons from the Liberal Party. Thanks both for your time. So the announcements, we will have the full news conference from the Minister today. But we’re getting a fair indication, including the headline act if you like Amanda, the ability for workers after a year at a single workplace and six months of continuous rosters if you like, they get this trigger, if you like a near automatic trigger to get permanent work. This does go into what Labor has been saying is the big issue, and that is casualised workforces.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: It is obviously something we need to see the details of, we haven’t seen the detail, we’ve just seen a leak to the paper. But of course with this government, the devil is always in the detail. We’ve got to see what they announced to what actually they deliver. And there is some concern that indeed, this could be taking away rights of casuals that have been effectively working permanently and being called a casual. Their right to then access leave, that right which has been established in a number of court cases, will be actually taken away. So rather than making it better for casuals, it actually could make it worse, replacing that right to access leave with the right to just go and ask your employer, with no recourse if they say no. So there are questions about this, the devil is always in the detail with this government. So we will need to look at the legislation very carefully.

CONNELL: That’s fair enough. But you’ve just said with no recourse to say no. What do you base that on?

RISHWORTH: Well from the reports, I mean that’s what we’re hearing, that someone can go and ask their employer if they can be made permanent, instead of being able to go to the tribunal and say “look, I’m going to prove that I have been working as a permanent, therefore I should get access to leave”, they now can go to their employer who has the right to refuse. The question for the government is what happens then.

CONNELL: Well, let me say what, and I understand you want to hear from the government and not me as your source, but the government is telling us workers will have the ability to appeal to the Fair Work Commission. So is that a sensible step?

RISHWORTH: Let’s see the details. What they tell you is not often what they deliver. I mean their announcement –

CONNELL: – that there is some sort of appeal process there, that’s what you called for. So if that’s there you’re happier?

RISHWORTH: Well, the other point is about the penalties. At the moment what this is effectively saying is rather than the current situation, where an employer can say “you’re casual, but we’re going to treat you like a permanent”, but there is a penalty that exists that you then can go and access your leave, that effectively you’ve been acting like a permanent employee, and you should get access to that leave. It sounds like – once again I don’t know the details – that option could be taken away. So it leads to the option of getting around the rules again. So look, we’ve got to see the detail on this. Of course I want to see the end of so much insecure work that drive down certainty for employees. But let’s just see what is actually in the detail because, of course, what the Government often announces or leaks to the paper, and then when you see the details and the delivery, the two do not match.

CONNELL: Julian, what’s your response to a couple of those concerns outlined?

JULIAN SIMMONDS, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR RYAN: Well Amanda has just given you the ACTU talking points, and that’s fine. But the reality is this fixes a significant oversight in Labor’s Fair Work Act, which is to have a definition of casual so that you can then prompt that conversation with your employer, and the employer knows where they stand. This is all about making sure that we have the flexibility in the workplace to create jobs as we come out of the COVID-19 recession. Now, the Attorney General will be announcing the detail shortly. But you know what, here’s my tip Tom, I think we’ll get a bit of criticism from the unions, I think we’ll get a bit of criticism from employer groups, and I think that’s a sign that we haven’t had anyone’s vested interest at heart in this process. We’ve only had the vested interests of Australians in terms of getting them back into work at heart, and we threaded that needle and found that balance, and we would hope Labor would support us in that to get Australians back into work and get past this COVID-19 recession.

CONNELL: Is there still a bit of an issue with, there is a definition of a casual worker, but at the start this sort of, you know, who that rests with, who decides initially, will still most likely be the employer. And whilst there’s this provision now that within 12 months you get a right to go permanent, that’s a long time to sit in a job if you wanted to be permanent, if you believe your role is a permanent one, but you’re a casual. 12 months is a long time isn’t it?

SIMMONDS: Yeah but I don’t buy into this Labor narrative that all casual jobs are bad. This is about creating flexibility in Australia’s workplace. Because for some Australian families, a casual job with the higher loading, with the flexibility on shifts, will be a better way to support their family. For other families, they’ll want the security of part time and full time work. So we as a government are not about telling Australian families how to support, how to provide that support, or employers how to provide those jobs. But 8 out of 10 jobs are created in the public sector, sorry, in the private sector, and we want to make sure that there is the flexibility in Australia’s workplace to create more jobs out of the COVID-19 recession.

RISHWORTH: Let’s be clear, we are not dealing with people that want to be casuals. We’re dealing with people that are employed as casuals, but treated like permanent employees, where the employer is going to get  –

CONNELL: Well some people want to be casuals.

RISHWORTH: Yes some do. They’re treated like permanent employees, and the employer gets the benefit of that, so I think we’ve got to be really clear. We’re not talking about all casuals across the country, we’re talking about a class of casuals, that they’re effectively losing rights.

CONNELL: I want to ask about this latest Foreign Relations Bill that would give the Government veto powers, if you like, on deals between states, non-government organisations, universities and so on, with foreign governments. Amanda what’s actually happening here? Labor is calling it “half baked”, is it going to support this without amendments or not?

RISHWORTH: We have supported the principles and the objectives of this. We have supported this through the Parliament. What we, in addition, are saying that we would like to see some oversight. This gives enormous power to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister themselves gets to veto this. And so all we are saying is sensibly making comments around oversight. But look, we’ve said we will support this legislation, we have said we support the objectives. And indeed, it has been through the Parliament.

CONNELL: The issue here is of oversight Julian, so this is being called for in particular by universities. They’re worried they get a deal, for example, that might be collaborating with a Chinese University, that is suddenly vetoed by the Minister and they get no grounds for appeal. It might be crucial, it might be you know, something that happens at the last minute they’re relying on for income. Can you see the concern here?

SIMMONDS: Well, let’s go to the nub of what this legislation does. It allows the democratically elected Federal Government to speak on behalf of Australia when it comes to foreign policy. You think that would be something that the Labor Party would support –

RISHWORTH: And we have Julian.

SIMMONDS: It’s another one each way, now they want to criticise, just like Albo wanted to support us when we defended our troops against this malicious Chinese tweet, and then he backed away from it.

RISHWORTH: Oh that is not true at all Julian.

SIMMONDS: How can they be happy with Albo’s leadership when they see this, even on something as important as foreign policy? We have a free press we have in this legislation, we have a review process in a couple of years. So the idea that there won’t be scrutiny is completely farcical. It is simply an excuse for the Labor Party to have a bob each way –

RISHWORTH: Well why don’t we get rid of parliament Julian, we just have a Minister in charge? I mean we are asking for incredibly reasonable oversight. We have been very clear that we support this legislation and for you to be trying to make politics out of this and trying to make a political argument about this, when really –

SIMMONDS: No shock horror when it comes to important national security decisions and foreign policy decisions, is it unreasonable for the Foreign Minister not to want to detail to foreign governments all of the reasons for those decisions?

RISHWORTH: Hang on, surely we are in a situation in a democratic country where an Opposition can provide constructive ideas for amendments, while still suggesting that –

SIMMONDS: I think more important is foreign relations.

RISHWORTH: – and try and make a political point of it, is really very irresponsible.

SIMMONDS: The point I’m making is this Amanda, it’s an important time in foreign relations. It’s important that other nations see that there’s no in the Australian Government when people are speaking on behalf of Australia, and the fact that the Opposition, the Labor Opposition, keeps wanting to create that is an indictment on Anthony Albanese.

RISHWORTH: That is absolutely not true.

Inaudible

CONNELL: What Richard Marles has said about this today, for example Amanda Rishworth, is “we reluctantly supported this”. So don’t you either support something or not? If you’re reluctant, don’t let it pass the Parliament, stick by amendments that go further if that’s the sort of deal breaker for you.

SIMMONDS: Australian Government –

RISHWORTH: Hang on Julian, I think it’s my turn to speak, you can have a break now. Quite frankly, to suggest that we would not provide constructive amendments to a piece of legislation, that has been done through many foreign interference bills, many national security bills through the Joint Standing Committee. And most of the time, the government has accepted that, they haven’t played politics with it, they’ve accepted Labor’s constructive amendments. So to somehow suggest that Labor’s being obstructionist or Labor is playing politics with this, clearly it’s the Government. The Government introduced this legislation when it was trying to cover up its failures in aged care.

SIMMONDS: When you’ve got the Deputy Leader saying something is half baked, and you’ve just voted for it, it does seem a bit of a mixed message, doesn’t it?

RISHWORTH: No because we have said that we support the principles, but we would like to see improvement.

CONNELL: No but you supported the bill as it was and you believe it’s half baked. You’ve supported –

RISHWORTH: No we have suggested amendments, we want to work constructively with the Government. It is the Government that seems to be playing politics with this, that doesn’t have the national interest at its heart to work in a bipartisan fashion. And quite frankly, it’s pretty irresponsible. When I go out and speak to people, they want us to work constructively and that’s what we have tried to do.

CONNELL: Has the government made the case why there’s no judicial review on this, Julian again back to the point around universities. Can be pretty important these deals. And the other thing was sort of a sovereign risk, I suppose, when you’re talking about deals that fall over at the last minute, and people think, well let’s not do this deal with the Australian state or council or university because it might get shut down at the last minute.

SIMMONDS: Yeah, well look, I think the message that we want to send is the fact that if you want to make deals with foreign – if it’s a nation to nation deal, then it should be with the Australian Government. And I don’t think that’s an unreasonable position to have, there will be plenty of scrutiny on this, but this –

CONNELL: This doesn’t ban all such deals? What are you saying just don’t do deals unless it’s country to country?

SIMMONDS: Well, whether those deals make an influence on Australia’s foreign policy, then it’s up to the Australian Government to stand up for our sovereignty. That’s what we do in this legislation. I feel sorry for Amanda that her leadership team has sent her out here to defend, you know, their position –

RISHWORTH: It’s news to me that universities cannot do research collaborations with other countries.

SIMMONDS: – Australia’s foreign policy when you do this Amanda.

RISHWORTH: I’m surprised that you don’t actually know that universities will still be able to make agreements and we hope that they can, because that international collaboration is quite important.

CONNELL: Alright, we’ll leave it there. For the record, both of you front up of course on a regular panel spot to defend the party views of the day. If you ever feel like having a go at your own party, you’re entitled to of course as well. Julian, Amanda, all the best on this final sitting, talk soon.

ENDS

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