Radio Interview - ABC Melbourne Mornings with Virginia Trioli

28 Nov 2022
Prime Minister
Victorian state election; Victorian politics; Dan Andrews; Liberal Party; Industrial relations; Secure Jobs, Better Pay bill; rail dispute in NSW; industrial action; wages; cost of living; energy prices

VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: Good morning, Prime Minister.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good to be with you, Virginia.

TRIOLI: Were you chipping a Labor win of this magnitude here in Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I was hopeful that Daniel would get the result that he and the Labor team deserved, which was a resounding victory. They put forward a positive vision for Victoria's future. The recreation of the SEC dealing with clean energy, their plan for kinder to be free, their plan for additional health spending, the largest public housing investment by any state government that we have seen. They had a real vision for the future. And they were up against a Liberal Party that just ran a negative campaign. And some of the media who, of course, ran, in my view, a quite appalling campaign, including, of course, having exclusive interviews with a group of stairs, and ridiculous stories that were not relevant for Victoria's future.

TRIOLI: Is the Liberal Party a spent force in Victorian politics as a result of this particular election? Now, three in a row for Daniel Andrews and his Labor Government. What does that mean, do you think, for the Liberal Party down here?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you never write off major political parties, that's my view. So, that sort of hyperbole is premature. What Daniel has said he will do, and what I'm certain he will do, is just get back to work. It's a good Government. It's a Government that have seen Victoria through very difficult times, but done so in a way that has always had its eye on the future. And that's why they got such strong support. Daniel has a very good team. We have seen a change with regeneration, a number of senior ministers retire, but good people coming through. And of course, Jacinta Allen, I've known for a very long period of time, we served as ministers together when I was last in Government. So, it's an experienced team. It's a good team. And you have an outstanding Treasurer as well, who has served Victoria well and will continue to into the future.

TRIOLI: So, what do you think this signifies for progressive politics here in this country? There's a state election coming up in New South Wales. I'll ask you about that in just a moment. But does it make Victoria an outlier when it comes to progressive politics? Or is this a more widely experienced political and social phenomena now across the country with so many Labor governments?

PRIME MINISTER: One of the things that we're seeing, I believe, is an alienation from younger voters from the Coalition. When you have a position where you have senior members of the Coalition can't say that climate change is real, in spite of the floods and bushfires, and all of the evidence of the heating of the planet that we're seeing, let alone anytime something is put up, to take action on climate change, they dismiss it. And since the Federal election, remarkably, I believe Peter Dutton has actually gone backwards on climate change from where the Morrison Government was, of sitting on its hands over almost a decade with no energy policy, over 22 years. We had in the Parliament last week, in the Senate, the Coalition voted against cheaper electric vehicles. It's just extraordinary that they don't seem to have got the message on that. They don't seem to have got the message on gender. They remain a party that seem incapable of selecting women to contest numbers to represent their population. I lead a Government that has 103 people in the Caucus, 54 of whom are women. And that contrasts with Peter Dutton's team that's actually gone backwards. And so, they’re just two issues going forward. The Liberal Party don't seem capable of saying that they want constitutional recognition for First Nations people in our nation's birth certificate with a Voice to Parliament. That is something that has overwhelming support of people who look at the detail, who want Australia to progress in a way that creates an inclusive society. Daniel Andrews represents that. The Liberal Party have failed to come to terms with modern Australia. And they continue to cuddle up to some far-right elements in a political system. You can't run a major political party by listening to what fringe elements are saying. You need to be in the mainstream. That's where the Labor Party is positioned.

TRIOLI: Anthony Albanese is with you this morning, Prime Minister of Australia. And we're just about to talk about the big win over the weekend. You've managed to get your IR legislation across the line, getting the support of Senator Pocock and the Greens on that Secure Jobs, Better Pay bill. I'm interested in the agreement that you made to new multi-employer safeguards for businesses with fewer than 50 employees with the onus on unions to prove common interest before firms have to bargain over a number of workplaces. How are you going to guarantee then that you actually get wage increases for those workers who are members of those smaller workplaces? What's the guarantee there to them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we're doing is changing the system so that there is better bargaining across the board, so there's better bargaining and so that we create a culture where there's a recognition that it is in employers and employees interests to sit down and to negotiate in a fair way to achieve win-wins. That's what we want to do. That's the basis of what we've set out if we're going to see wages move again. There's a range of measures in this legislation, including measures to close the gender pay gap, measures to promote job security, measures to assist both employers and employees over a period of time.

TRIOLI: Look, I see that. But the point is, and it seems to me that this may be around the wrong way when it comes to protecting those who are most vulnerable, the onus switches to the employer when the headcount goes above 50, in order to argue that workplaces can't argue together. But in those smaller businesses, where you've got fewer than 50 employees, they are probably the employees who need the greater protection, probably less likely to be members of unions, and therefore less likely to get the benefits of legislation like this.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we've done as part of the negotiations on this particular element is to empower the Fair Work Commission to remove a business from a single interest authorisation where the business has fewer than 50 employees. That will enable the parties to have an opportunity to express their views. And it will get to that point if a majority of relevant employees have voted in favour of the removal. So, it is about empowering the Fair Work Commission, but it's also about empowering employees. We want to make sure that this isn't something that is imposed. We want to make sure that both workers and business have an opportunity to have a fair input into the industrial relations system. The problem at the moment is that you can have agreements that expire, essentially, then there's almost an incentive in there to not bargain, to allow agreements to expire, then you have no bargaining, no proper negotiation. We've seen that in New South Wales, where I do notice on the weekend, as well, the rail dispute in New South Wales, which has gone on and on and has seen industrial action, has finally been settled by going to the umpire, if you like, to have arbitration. That's the settlement. Now, one of the things that this legislation will do is encourage bargaining, but will also enable the Fair Work Commission to have greater power to intervene to actually stop industrial disputation dragging out, to provide an incentive to unions but also to employers to sit down cooperatively.

TRIOLI: How does your bill, though, which at its heart aims to lift wages, how does that sit with warnings from the Reserve Bank Governor that we best not, it's the phrase he uses, that we best not see wages increase if we want to control inflation? And do you agree with him?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Reserve Bank Governor, of course, was saying, as we're all the economic commentators for a long period of time, that one of the things that was holding back our economy was the wages going backwards.

TRIOLI: So, is contradicting himself then, in your view, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: No, the Reserve Bank Governor is entitled to put forward his views. And those views are always respected. But we're a long way, as the Reserve Bank Governor has said himself, from wage or inflation spiral. We're a long way away from that. We need to make sure that wages can get moving. Over the last decade, one of the big differences between my Government and the former Government is that they said that low wages were a key feature of their economic architecture. I want to see an economy that works for people, not the other way around. I recognise that so many working people are struggling to get by, working multiple jobs, unable to have any security of employment, and their wages not keeping up with the cost of living. That's something I made very clear during the election campaign that we would act on. We have acted with this legislation. I think it gets the balance right. And I do notice that the employer organisations I've heard comment in criticism of this legislation seem to be saying on the one hand, 'No, it won't get wages moving', and on the other hand, 'It'll get wages moving in a way that's too fast'. Well, they can't have it both ways. I think it gets the balance right.

TRIOLI: Let's go to the other key issue before I let you go. The Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, is with you this morning. And the Premier re-elect, Daniel Andrews, said over the weekend that he was urging you to quickly impose a domestic gas reserve or some other mechanism to control prices. His quote was, and you can hear the pressure in this, I think, Anthony Albanese, 'My good friend, my very, very good friend, Albo, is a partner to do that work'. So, he's leaning on you heavily there. What will would you do?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, one is, I'll continue my friendship with Daniel.

TRIOLI: No doubt.

PRIME MINISTER: And that's a good thing. He cooks a very good barbecue, I can assure you of that, Virginia. And I'm looking forward to having a barbie at his place.

TRIOLI: If it is a gas barbecue, we need to find out how much that gas is going to cost. Will you impose some sort of reserve price there?

PRIME MINISTER: We have said very clearly that what we will do is, before Christmas, have a position which we're working through at the moment. We have further discussions and meetings this week. But we'll continue to work it through. We have set Christmas as a deadline to make sure that we can deliver fairer are prices other than those which have been foreshadowed for both business and for households. We're working through those issues. And Daniel and the other premiers are all conscious of that. Because one of the characteristics of my Government is that we consult and we work with governments, state and territory, of both persuasions, across the nation in order to pursue our common interest.

TRIOLI: Anthony Albanese, good to talk to you this morning. Thanks for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Virginia.