Topics: Wages; renewable energy; Snowy Hydro 2.0; Brexit.
David Bevan: It’s a Wednesday so Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator from South Australia. Good morning to you.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Good morning thanks for having me.
David Bevan: And on the phone line, Simon Birmingham, South Australian Liberal Senator and Minister for Trade, good morning to you.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, good to be with you.
David Bevan: And Mark Butler on the phone line, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Labor member for Port Adelaide soon-to-be Labor candidate for, well you are the Labor candidate for Hindmarsh.
Mark Butler: Good morning everyone.
David Bevan: Mark Butler if we can begin with you, you’re almost certainly going to be in government in a few weeks’ time, sorry Simon…
Simon Birmingham: I don’t agree, but ask the question.
David Bevan: Mark Butler, the issue of wages. Now Bill Shorten wants this election to be about wages. Can you explain to our listeners the Fair Work Commission, is Bill Shorten going to legislate to direct the Fair Work Commission to increase people’s wages?
Mark Butler: Well the first thing I’d say is that we have made it clear that we think we need a new approach to wages in this country because millions of Australian workers are being left behind with very flat wages, and their living costs going up and up. The ABS the Bureau of Statistics has published a three monthly index on wage increases back since the 1990s. It shows that the 20 lowest quarters of wage increases have all occurred under this Government and Mathias Cormann said it last week, keeping wages low is a deliberate policy of this government and on that measure you have to give them credit. They are the Don Bradman of government keeping wages low. Well we think that we need a new approach so that people who are stuck on the minimum wage and on award wages and there’s millions of them particularly working in relatively low paid service sectors should have a living wage rather than this thing that pretends to be a safety net (indistinct).
David Bevan: So that’s the reason you want to do it. But I ask the question again, is a Bill Shorten government going to legislate to direct the Fair Work Commission?
Mark Butler: Well we’ve said, Bill said over the course of yesterday that we would provide some more detail on this over the coming weeks as people think about the next election. But what we have indicated is we think that the guidelines for the Fair Work Commission which sets minimum wages, should be at least changed to reflect the need for particularly the minimum and award wages to reflect a living wage for people. I think a few years ago I think it was thought that this would be a safety net and people would move between short stints on the safety net or the minimum wage and higher paid enterprise bargaining agreements. But that certainly hasn’t been the case under this government and we’ve been asking we need a new approach.
David Bevan: To ask you the question for the third time, will a Bill Shorten Government legislate to direct the Fair Work Commission?
Mark Butler: Well Bill said yesterday we’d be making our position clear in the coming weeks on this…
David Bevan: Is that because you’ve got a position and you’re just keeping it to yourself or because you haven’t worked it out yet?
Mark Butler: Well we’ve said that obviously before people start to come to thinking about how to vote at the election, all of our policies will be clearly laid out before them. We’ve started to make the argument for a new approach on wages, Bill did that over the last week or 10 days, we’re making that case particularly for the very low wage outcomes Australian workers are getting under this government the 20 lowest quarters on record on top of 700000 workers in the retail and hospitality industry losing their penalty rates.
David Bevan: So you’ve already worked out your policy, you’re not making it up on the run, you’ve already worked it out, you’re just not going to tell us until you are good and ready.
Mark Butler: Well we will make it very clear well before the election what we intend to do in this area as we will in all the other policy areas that people are focused on in the lead up to this election.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, what are you going to do to put more money in our listeners pockets?
Simon Birmingham: Well David, Australia has the third highest minimum wage by OECD standards. The last is the Fair Work Commission decision in terms of wage increases was the largest rise in eight years, contrary to that type of rhetoric you’re hearing from Mark there. It was a very valiant effort by you David, to try to extract an answer there from Mark Butler, who says Labor believes that there should be a living wage but the Labor Party won’t define what the living wage is. He won’t say whether or not they’ll actually amend the Fair Work Act, they won’t actually say how much they think wages should go up by. This is all just virtue signalling from the Labor Party it’s about trying to create a bit of class warfare. You saw Bill Shorten go out there yesterday attacking business leaders and throwing mud and names at them to try and create the class warfare rhetoric but absolutely zero detail in terms of what they will do. What we’re doing is trying to grow the economy as fast as we can for which we’ve seen Australia continuously outperform most other are we seedy or G7 nations try to create as many jobs as we possibly can for which we generated more than one point two million jobs since we’ve been in office and we know that the more we do that, the more pressure it puts on wages to go up.
David Bevan: So you’re saying people should be happy with their wages right now?
Simon Birmingham: No I understand everybody will always want to see their wages go up as fast as they can. But I know they also want to ensure that they have a job, their kids and their grandkids have a job. We’re going to keep pushing as hard as we possibly can to grow the economy to keep creating more jobs.
David Bevan: So what’s your offering, what you’re offering is more of the same?
Simon Birmingham: More job creation? Absolutely, more job creation will see more pressure on wages growth.
Ali Clarke: Sarah Hanson-Young.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Well I said what’s the point of keeping people in these jobs if the job doesn’t pay for the rent, if it doesn’t pay for the food on the table? The truth here and this is what this campaign from the ACTU is about is that those people on the lowest incomes are really really struggling. If you’re on the minimum wage now you’re living in poverty and we’ve got to do something about that. And everyone knows that wage growth is sluggish and has been way too slow. Even the RBA now is arguing that we need a wage rise because we need something to give them a bit of a shot in the arm of the economy. The best way to do that would be to lift the wages of those who are on the lowest incomes they will spend the money in the economy, it is a win win for business and a win win for those on low incomes. So the Greens are supporting the ACTU campaign and we hope that the Labor Party over the next few weeks come out very clearly and back it as well, because low income people right across the country have waited long enough. We know that they’re not going to get any more support from the Liberal government, it’s time they deserved and need a change.
Ali Clarke: So would you call employers fat cats?
Sarah Hanson-Young: I think what employers know and understand is that their businesses do well when people have money to spend and the people on the lowest incomes need a wage rise so that they can actually pay for the things they desperately need. It keeps the economy ticking over.
David Bevan: So you think 43 dollars a week increase is a good idea?
Sarah Hanson-Young: I think increasing the minimum wage..
David Bevan: But that is was the ACTU have asked for.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Yes yes that’s 60 per cent of the median wage, I think that’s absolutely important.
David Bevan: Mark Butler, forty three dollars a week increase, is that a good idea?
Mark Butler: Well we haven’t fixed upon a particular figure and we’ll have more to say about that. We think the Fair Work Commission should be able to do its job but there should be some clearer guidelines in place to make sure that the wage increases that people particularly on the lowest incomes in the community are getting, are keeping pace with living costs. So as I said we’ll have more to say about that in the coming weeks.
Sarah Hanson-Young: The other the other point to throw in here of course is that it’s not just important to lift the minimum wage to a living wage that people aren’t in poverty. We also have to do something about lifting the rate of Newstart and the Greens want to see a 75 dollar increase to Newstart as well that is really really important. If we want to get people into work, they have to not be living below the poverty line beforehand.
Ali Clarke: That is the voice of Sarah Hanson-Young Greens Senator of South Australia. We Have Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for Climate change with us as well and Simon Birmingham Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment as part of your super Wednesday.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce says he’s the elected Deputy Prime Minister. He’s clearly signalling that he’s entitled to that job because the people put him there, what’s your message to Barnaby Joyce?
Simon Birmingham: From what I see he’s made very clear he’s not challenging for the job. The National Party has a leader, its Michael McCormack, he is doing a fine job and that’s the end of the story.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Happy families over there.
Simon Birmingham: None of this speculation helps to create more jobs or to keep people’s taxes lower or all those sorts of things that we’re focused on, and that’s you know, I am and the Prime Minister and the team are completely focused on those policy issues, to make sure that Australians don’t find they’ve got a Bill Shorten government sucking another 200 billion dollars of taxes out of their pocket.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Don’t you just wish he would go away Birmo? I mean what a pain in the backside Barnaby Joyce has been for everyone and now he’s out there you know making life difficult for you guys whilst spruiking coal as his big kind of moment in the sun.
Simon Birmingham: Look Barnaby has always been somebody who shoots from the hip, that’s of course part of the Australian democracy. It doesn’t change what the government’s focused on and that is our track record, 1.2 million jobs as we were talking about before, lowering taxes for small businesses and also for wage earners and making sure that we don’t see retirees, renters, home owners, all paying higher taxes in the future which is what the Labor Party proposes.
David Bevan: Should a future coalition government subsidise the coal fired generator?
Simon Birmingham: No, a future Coalition government will only subsidise power sources if it’s required to sustain reliability in our grid to get the extra capacity in and we’ll only do that where it’s commercially viable. And of course, along with our targets to meet our emissions reductions obligations.
David Bevan: Under those terms is it possible that a future Coalition government could end up subsidising a coal fired generator?
Simon Birmingham: Look I wouldn’t have thought so but of course if technology breakthroughs occur that would allow low cost, low emissions generation to occur. Well that would be a game changer.
Mark Butler: The Energy Minister confirmed over the last couple of days that there are 10 coal projects on his table that he’s considering underwriting. Matt Canavan, the Resources Minister said as much and its not just Barnaby Joyce running these lines, as much as Simon wants to talk about job creation and taxes. I mean the only thing that Coalition ministers and backbenchers are mainly focused on is whether or not to subsidise new coal fired power stations.
Simon Birmingham: No that’s manifestly untrue.
Mark Butler: Angus Taylor said there are ten projects…
Simon Birmingham: We are (indistinct) renewable energy through the Snowy Hydro2.0 scheme, that’s going to dramatically lift energy capability out of hydro power through Snowy and in doing so underpin much of the renewable investment that has happened in a much more reliable way in the future.
Mark Butler: But Angus Taylor says there are 10 coal projects on his desk. Snowy has made it utterly clear that any new coal project destroys the business case for snowy2.0, Tasmanian Hydro has said exactly the same thing about The Battery of the Nation project, your own energy minister says there are 10 coal projects on his desk that he’s considering underwriting.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Let’s not forget it was Scott Morrison who brought the lump of coal into parliament. Today’s Prime Minister, I mean this government is obsessed with coal. Barnaby Joyce wants us building new coal fired power stations. The rest of them want us spending money keeping them open.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham before you leave us, as Minister for Trade we do need to ask you regarding the failure of Theresa May to get her motion through the Parliament and that’s happened in the last few hours. So it looks like yet again Brexit has stalled, and the the the UK Parliament is gridlocked. As Minister for Trade, what’s your take on that?
Simon Birmingham: We do appear to be headed towards one of two scenarios, either a no deal Brexit which means that the UK separation from the EU will happen on March 29, in just 16 days or thereabouts. Or there’ll be a delay to Brexit of some indefinite duration. Now that’s a matter for the UK to work out. We have done, we think everything we can to the government, to prepare for any possible scenario. We’ve applied new laws, written new agreements with the UK to make sure that, so far as we can, trade will flow seamlessly between the UK and the EU. But there are a range of considerations for Australian businesses who trade with the UK or the EU. We have advice available on both the Austrade and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website, and I would encourage businesses to look at that advice, to seek their own commercial information. These do create uncertainties for many trading businesses and we are doing all we can to make sure that they have the best available advice and the best legal frameworks we can have in place, given the uncertainties that exist.
Ali Clarke: We have to leave it there. Thank you very much, Simon Birmingham.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you.
Ali Clarke: Mark Butler and Sarah Hanson-Young thank you.