Radio AM Radio transcript

Subject/s: Penalty rates, Benjamin Netanyahu visit, George Brandis and the Bell Group case









Subject/s: Penalty rates, Benjamin Netanyahu visit, George Brandis and the Bell Group case


SABRA LANE, HOST: Joining me now to discuss this and other issues is the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Mr Dreyfus thank you for talking to AM this morning. The ALP set up the Fair Work Commission. It established the rules and it appointed many of the Commissioners. It is a Labor creation. How can Labor now oppose its ruling?


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We don’t want to see penalty rates cut. We don’t want to see a drop in wages Sabra, for the lowest paid workers in Australia and if the system is capable of producing that outcome - and that appears to be what happened yesterday - then the rules need to be changed. We will do everything within our power to make sure you can’t get these outcomes from our industrial relations system. Labor could not be clearer on this.


LANE: You’re implying though, that the Tribunal Commissioners cannot think independently. It was set up at arm’s length to government for this very reason – to make decisions free from politics.


DREYFUS: This is not about politics. This is the way in which our system works. I don’t think anyone in Australia would think it is fair for the lowest paid workers in Australia – retail, hospitality workers, fast food workers, who have just been told yesterday by the Fair Work Commission that they are now in line to lose pay – up to $6000 a year. That is not an outcome we want from the industrial relations system. The government can’t be heard to say anything about this. They actually abolished an entire Tribunal that was setting rates for drivers, safe rates for drivers –


LANE: Again, I’m sorry Mr Dreyfus, this is a body that was actually put in by the last Labor government. The rules have not changed. The Australian Industry Group’s Innes Willox, says if the decision had gone the other way, employers would have been disappointed but they would have honoured the verdict. Now many voters would be wondering why is Labor now being such a bad sport about this?


DREYFUS: We don’t want a system where workers, particularly the lowest paid workers in Australia can have their wages cut. That’s the effect of this decision yesterday and that’s why we need to look at the system again. By all means, we can have a system which looks at changed conditions, which sets conditions for negotiations, which looks at the way in which wages are set. We provided in the Fair Work Act for the possibility of there being additional pay for working on Saturdays and Sundays, for working unsociable hours. It was not our intention ever, that this could produce an outcome where workers’ wages – particularly lowest paid workers – would have their wages cut. 


LANE: Bill Shorten said before last year’s election that Parliament should not be responsible for legislating specific penalty rate outcomes. What has changed?


DREYFUS: We are looking for a system that does not produce these outcomes Sabra. I can’t be clearer…


LANE: But it’s the independent umpire again I’m sorry Mr Dreyfus you’re saying that the ref has got it wrong?


DREYFUS: I’m saying that we’ve got a system here which is able to produce this outcome and there is something wrong with the system. This is not in any sense, an attack on the independent umpire. It’s an attack on the rules that we’ve set. And this is an outcome which needs to be changed. We need to make sure that everyone else who is on awards, everyone else whose pay is under consideration in the future cannot be exposed to this outcome.


LANE: You’re meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today. How strident will Labor be behind closed doors in criticising him for the lack of progress in failing to recognise a Palestinian state?


DREYFUS: The Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten, our Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Penny Wong, and I will be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu later today. I am not about to canvas with you on air and publicly what we will be talking about but I think in particular, Bill Shorten has made it pretty clear that he will have some constructive propositions to put to Prime Minister Netanyahu. We come to this meeting as the Opposition in Australia, a country which has a 70-year friendship with the State of Israel. We will be offering the kind of constructive criticism that friends can offer to friends. And of course, we will be reflecting concern not just in Australia, but right across the world, at the lack of progress towards peace in the Middle-East.


LANE: 7:30 raised claims last night that the Attorney-General George Brandis knew about a controversial WA bill seeking to cut the Commonwealth out of a lucrative long-running case, the Bell case, a month earlier than he’s previously said. And he’s said he’s got no recollection or record of this conversation. Is that a reasonable defence?


DREYFUS: No. This is an extraordinary revelation last night, on the ABC that again, the Attorney-General has lied to the Parliament.


LANE: That’s a strong claim to say that he has lied.


DREYFUS: Well, what he told the Parliament, in what was supposedly a full explanation, was that his first personal involvement was in early March. Last night the ABC has shown very, very directly that not later than a month before that and possibly earlier, George Brandis knew about what was a dirty deal that the Federal Government did with their Western Australian Liberal mates - to dud the Australian taxpayer of  $300 million. Because let’s not make any mistake about that. This is what this deal was about. The Attorney-General wanted to prevent there being a Commonwealth case put to protect Australian taxpayers against this dirty deal, he wanted to prevent that happening in the High Court of Australia. Happily, the excellent Solicitor-General, now no longer with us, Justin Gleeson, gave different advice, and that ended up being the position the Commonwealth took in that case. But before that, this Attorney-General actively worked to prevent that from happening. He’s trying to cover up what he did and if it wasn’t for the fact that the Prime Minister was so weak, he would be demanding a proper and full explanation, and that the Attorney-General stop trying to cover up what he did.


LANE: Mr Dreyfus thanks for talking to AM this morning.


DREYFUS: Thanks very much Sabra.