Topics: Citizenship of Parliamentarians; Enterprise bargaining

David Bevan: A big ABC Radio Adelaide welcome to Amanda Rishworth, Member for Kingston, Labor Member for Kingston, the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education. Good morning to you.

Amanda Rishworth: Great to be here.

David Bevan: Rebekha Sharkie, Member for Mayo with the Xenophon team, SA Best. Good morning to you.

Rebekha Sharkie: Good morning, thanks for having me on.

David Bevan: And on the phone line is Federal Education Minister, Liberal Senator, Simon Birmingham. Good morning to you.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning everybody.

Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham, we’ve been following this horrific story out of Sydney. We got news through that two eight-year-old boys had lost their lives after a car had ploughed into their school classroom. You put out a statement about that yesterday. Why was that important to you?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I think as Federal Education Minister, it’s important that on behalf, frankly, of the nation. I speak of the pain and suffering that we are understanding that people at that school, that school community, must be going through. The love of the nation really is extended to everybody at Banksia Road Primary School. It is unimaginable to think that parents who turn up and drop their children off at school, that they suffer such tragedy, that teachers doing their best at a school and hard-working situation would have to deal with such tragedy. And of course, we know that the New South Wales authorities are doing everything they possibly can to support the students, the staff, the families affected, and we really do grieve with them and hope the best for all of them.

Ali Clarke: Could something like this prompt an audit of safety and access areas in and around schools, given that this wasn’t a car driving past the school. This was a car actually in a school car park.

Simon Birmingham: Well, this does appear to be a freak accident as the New South Wales Police authorities have described it. Now, school authorities around the country I’m sure will take stock of their individual circumstances. The New South Wales Premier has indicated that she’ll get the expert advice from the police, from other authorities, about any safety implications, and obviously, if schools do need to take additional precautions, then I am sure they will.

David Bevan: Moving on to other issues. It is very sad, but moving on to other issues. There’s now talk of maybe three elections in South Australia. Can one of you explain what is going on? We know we’ve got a state election in March, but talk of a lower house, House of Representatives election brought on by the citizenship scandal, and then sometime after that, we have a half Senate election. Who wrote this constitution, Simon Birmingham?

Simon Birmingham: Well, of course it was written around 120 years ago now, David Bevan. I thought this is what the ABC paid Antony Green for, to answer these questions. I was thinking this morning – to paraphrase the wonderful Roy and HG – that perhaps this is a case of when too many elections are barely enough. But seriously, we don’t anticipate this situation unfolding that way. Of course we’re going to go through, as we discussed yesterday morning, a thorough process where MPs disclose all of their circumstances to hopefully draw a line under this issue. But yes, technically if there were to be a House of Representatives election right now, that could not be held with a half Senate election as would normally be the case. And therefore, you’d have the House and the Senate out of kilter, and that would result in a situation where you’d have to have a separate half Senate election at a later stage.

David Bevan: Amanda Rishworth.

Amanda Rishworth: Well, you’re actually forgetting the council elections as well.

David Bevan: Yeah, but you don’t have to turn up to those.

Amanda Rishworth: I don’t, but I vote in them because I like to have a vote. I use my democratic rights every opportunity I get. But, look…

Simon Birmingham: Amanda – vote early and vote often – Rishworth.

Amanda Rishworth: Well, not often, just early. Just early. But look, I guess people are really in a state of confusion about this rolling citizenship crisis, and I think day by day, Malcolm Turnbull’s authority is being completely eroded and the Government’s authority is being completely eroded, and Labor certainly has expressed some concerns. While Bill Shorten will be sitting down with the Prime Minister today to see if we can help him through this mess. I mean…

David Bevan: You’re here to help?

Amanda Rishworth: Well, we’ve been sort of flagging some constructive ideas along the way, but what we’ve seen is, really, the proposal put by the Prime Minister is to try and push it off beyond Christmas, to try and – I guess, with the John Alexander and concerns around his citizenship – try and push that off so that his leadership is not threatened. So I think a lot of people would think: gee, this government is in chaos, and there is no clear path to resolve it.

Ali Clarke: I mean, having said that though, there’s a piece in The Guardian this morning that Labor MP Justine Keay has admitted her renunciation of her British citizenship was actually not effective until after she was elected in the 2016 election. So, she and another ALP colleague are relying on these reasonable steps. You said- you started by saying essentially that the public, we are confused. I don’t think we actually are, we just want it all to get sorted out.

Amanda Rishworth: Yes, you do. I think the public does want it to get sorted out. In terms of the ALP – and I’ve said this many times – there is very, very strict processes to go through, and taking reasonable steps is a decision that was made by the High Court in terms of renouncing one’s citizenship, you need to take reasonable steps and the applications – Justine Keay has publicly stated and this has been explored a number of times before – that she put that application in before she nominated. So I think that there’s a lot of discussion about this, but the High Court has identified that candidates are to take reasonable steps, and that is what Justine Keay has said.

David Bevan: Rebekha Sharkie, Xenophon team member. You’re on the record for saying that you’ve renounced any citizenship that might come via one of your parents from the UK.

Rebekha Sharkie: Yes, that’s correct.

David Bevan: But your other parent is from the United States.

Rebekha Sharkie: My mother is from the United States, but I ensured before I put my hand up that I knew that I had no possibility of US citizenship, and that’s because my mother never met the residency requirements in the US. So she left the US as a child, lived in England, married in England. My grandparents separated, so at the age of 11, my mother went to live in the UK with all of her sisters. Under the US laws, in order for me to get citizenship, she would need to have spent at least two years post her 14th birthday. So it didn’t happen.

David Bevan: So you’ve investigated this thoroughly, and you’re absolutely sure there’s nothing that’s come in from the United States?

Rebekha Sharkie: Absolutely.

David Bevan: So Uncle Sam’s not your uncle?

Rebekha Sharkie: Uncle Sam is definitely not my uncle. Actually, one of my cousins in the UK – because all of my mother’s sisters stayed there – she actually went into the US Embassy to try and get US citizenship, and I think she had a bit of a tanty there and they politely asked her to leave. So I definitely know that both US and UK struck off.

Ali Clarke: Okay. And if you had to show that proof that you are not a UK citizenship to anybody, while we’re just dotting I’s and crossing T’s.

Rebekha Sharkie: Look, I’ve got it in my office and it’s the- The Australian’s had it, I’ve taken it to Sky, I should have brought it in here this morning. Look, you know, I did not send an email. I actually paid my £265 at that time.

David Bevan: Okay. Now, onto a topic that does affect a lot of people who are listening right now and that is penalty rates. Now, Labor and the Xenophon Team have both been at war over the issue of penalty rates. We have a story in The Australian today: Stacker takes Coles down, down – which is kind of a nice headline. Basically, this young woman, who’s a shelf-stacker, challenged the agreement – quite cosy agreements – that had been reached between the big supermarket and the Shop Assistants Union, she was being ripped off, she’s now got to be paid.

How do you answer that, Amanda Rishworth?

Amanda Rishworth: Well, what I answer is that it is good that in this country we have a strong safety net that ensures that enterprise bargaining is above that strong safety net. I was a shelf-stacker at the time that John Howard originally got rid of part of the safety net and I tried to negotiate with my employer at the time and I didn’t get very far. So I think what it underlines is that we need a strong safety net in this country …

David Bevan: More it underlines is that you can’t relies on the Shoppies union. Here is a shelf-stacker who has taken her own initiative and she’s managed to get more than the Shoppies union delivered for her.

Amanda Rishworth: Well, companies bargain in good faith and I’ve only just read that article so I don’t know any of the back story but from reading that article, not only are the penalty rates equal to the award, but that the majority of employees are actually getting above award entitlement. So what it has shown is that the safety net has been identified and enforced, the union and Coles have gone back to the drawing board and it’s resulted in a better outcome than the award for workers.

David Bevan: But how could the union sign up for a deal with the major supermarket which doesn’t respect the penalties that these people should be paid?

Amanda Rishworth: Well, enterprise bargaining …

David Bevan: Isn’t that an indictment on the union?

Amanda Rishworth: Well, look, enterprise bargaining often involves a higher base rate for other trade-offs. But the key element here, which Government has a role in, is a strong safety net to make sure you can’t go below that …

David Bevan: But what’s the role of the union?

Amanda Rishworth: But, with the union- if you were relying on the award, there would not be a higher than award base rate. I mean …

David Bevan: Well you wouldn’t want to rely on the union either. I mean, frankly, I’d be giving Penny Vickers a call …

Amanda Rishworth: I tell you what if there weren’t unions here and there wasn’t a safety net- I know what I was getting paid when I was asked to sign an individual contract at the retail worker where I was stacking shelves, and I tell you what, it was not a very good deal and that was under the Liberal Party’s plan to rip the safety net away. We need a strong safety net in this country, a strong minimum wage and enterprise bargaining plays a role above and beyond that.

David Bevan: Rebekha Sharkie, the ALP ran a very targeted campaign against Nick Xenophon over the issue of penalty rates; do you take any joy from this at all?

Rebekha Sharkie: Look, I don’t take joy from it. But the Penny Vickers case is very interesting and it’s about the better off overall test and what we know is that a lot of SDA agreements – and other unions that have negotiated with big business – have ensured that workers who work primarily on weekends are worse off. They’re not getting penalty rates and really, if they were on the award, they’d be getting a better deal. So ultimately, I guess, this is about unions working harder to negotiate a better deal for workers because no worker, I think, should be getting less than what the award would give them.

Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister, your thoughts?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the story’s a little reminiscent of that fabulous Aussie movie, The Castle here, isn’t it? Where an individual employee who’s self-represented herself and managing to undo a backroom sweetheart deal between the very powerful Shoppies union and Coles. Now, it’s a reminder really of the fact that we’ve got a perverse arrangement that’s been operating at present where big unions and big business have done deals to trade away conditions that unions have set aside, but small businesses have been left paying a very high cost that has often made trading on Sundays unviable for them. Pleasingly, these matters all seem to be coming closer into alignment thanks to some of the decisions that the independent Fair Work Commission is making.

Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham, I’ll just interject here because you actually couldn’t see Amanda Rishworth’s face. At this stage I will remind people we are Facebook Live-ing this at the moment during that comment. Do you want to respond to that?

Amanda Rishworth: I do, because I’m wondering if Simon Birmingham is seriously suggesting that we should abandon enterprise bargaining in this country, because that’s what it sounds like he’s suggesting. I would be very, very interested about the response around from workers and employers who would think that this government actually wanted to go back to centralised wage fixing and abandon enterprise bargaining. That is something that has been brought in, has resulted in productivity improvements, I can’t believe that a Liberal member of parliament is saying that they honestly want to throw away enterprise bargaining.

Simon Birmingham: I’m not suggesting that at all Amanda.

Amanda Rishworth: I think you are.

Simon Birmingham: I’m absolutely suggesting that the Labor Party should have supported the Turnbull Government’s measures that would have made the types of sweetheart arrangements that happen behind the back room, closed doors, between big unions and big business, public to their members so we don’t see little sweetheart payments made to union …

Amanda Rishworth: They have to vote on the enterprise agreement. It hasn’t come in yet.

Simon Birmingham: Not on the payments to the union they haven’t had to.

Amanda Rishworth: They have to vote on the enterprise agreement Simon. You are trying to invent a monster in the room.

Ali Clarke: One at a time.

Simon Birmingham: We’re making those things public, those backroom payments to unions that appear to have been an incentive for unions to sell out their members through EBA arrangements. They’ll now have to be public so that unions are forced to actually act in the interest of their members and it’s astounding that the Labor Party opposed those changes.

Ali Clarke: There’s a private members bill in the House at the moment, initiated by George Christensen, that not only protects penalty rates for workers, but also looks at those enterprise bargaining agreements and ensures that there’s a better overall test there that’s for the individual and not just the collective and that’s what we’ve seen with these enterprise agreements is that there are many workers who have been worse off because of the agreement. So I’d be really keen if we could get that up and have some debate on it, and I think from what you’re saying Amanda is that’s something that Labor would support?

Amanda Rishworth: Well certainly we would have to look at it in the context of the enterprise bargaining. But I will take us back to the point is that enterprise bargaining is collective and there is a vote on it, Simon [laughs], and I think you might be missing that point. I don’t want to see a situation where we have individualised contracts again. The old AWAs that John Howard brought in which left workers worse off. They did. And there’s no…

David Bevan: But when those workers are asked to vote on it, the union comes to them and says look this is the best deal we can get; it is reasonable for the workers to say well okay if the union- nobody is going to get a better deal than the union. They’re going to get the best deal for us. And that clearly wasn’t the case.

Amanda Rishworth: Well plenty of union negotiated agreements get voted- that workers vote no.

David Bevan: You’re not blaming the workers are you?

Amanda Rishworth: No, not at all.

David Bevan: I mean they signed off on this.

Amanda Rishworth: No, they vote no and the unions go back and negotiate. But it is about collective enterprise agreements and what I do not want to see, which we experienced in the Work Choices scenario, is the safety net being ripped away, individuals having to negotiate their agreements one on one. I was a shelf stacker at that time and I know what that led to and that was worse off pay and conditions across the board.

Simon Birmingham: Nobody’s taking the safety net away. Nobody wants to take EBAs away but it is perfectly reasonable that when union members vote on these things, they should know as to whether or not the union is getting a side payment which the likes of Bill Shorten have negotiated in the past without union members’ knowledge.

Ali Clarke: Well on that note, we will have to leave it there. That was the voice of Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister. Amanda Rishworth, thank you very much and Rebekha Sharkie member for Mayo as well for coming in.