Topics: Industrial relations bill; Foreign relations bill; Australia-China trade relations




Peter Stefanovic:          Well, casual workers earning greater rights to permanent employment will be among proposed changes when the Government unveils its industrial relations bill this week. Joining me live now from Canberra is Simon Birmingham, Minister for Finance, Trade and Tourism. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for joining us this morning.


Simon Birmingham:     Pleasure.


Peter Stefanovic:          So how much of a battle do you think it’s going to be to get these workplace reforms passed?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, it shouldn’t be a battle. We’ve gone through a very consultative process, the Attorney-General and Workplace Relations Minister working with unions and business organisations to try and find as many areas of consensus as possible. But importantly, even where consensus isn’t there, to listen carefully to both sides and to present what is a very balanced and carefully thought through package of reforms that give workers greater certainty in relation to when they can transition from being a casual employee to permanency that create though more certain environments as well for employers and investors to be able to create jobs.


And ultimately, that’s what this is all about – job creation. We don’t want the IR laws of this country to be a handbrake upon jobs growth. We’ve seen more than 600,000 jobs created since our Government worked over the last few months as part of the COVID recovery period, and we want to make sure that we continue that strong flow of getting Australians back into jobs, which was such a strong factor in our resilience coming into this global economic crisis.


Peter Stefanovic:          Well, not everyone is happy about it. Sally McManus says today that she believes it will only entrench casual work.


Simon Birmingham:     Well, what we are putting forward here is a clear definition around casual employment, something that the Labor Party failed to do when they touched workplace relations laws and amended them. We want to put this definition in place to remove some of the ambiguity and uncertainty that is there. We currently have a situation where, because of courts making decisions over these questions, we’ve seen an environment created where close to $40 billion worth of risk hangs over many small businesses of Australia, that they may be faced with having to make payouts that effectively relate to a double dipping of entitlements – we want to make sure that that is cleaned up.


But also that employees get the certainty they deserve. That if you have been employed for more than 12 months, and for a period of at least six months, and your pattern of hours and employment clearly resembles that of a permanent employee, that you then have certain rights that are provided for you to be able to make that choice of transitioning to permanency.


Obviously, there is always a trade-off there between the additional loadings that come for casual employees, versus the greater security that comes for permanent employees – and that’s a choice that many people choose either side of that ledger. But we want to create the certainty of pathway for employees, but also create far greater certainty for employers as well in terms of how the system works and where their exposures lie. Because it’s ultimately them knowing that they can manage the risk of taking on new employees that gives them the confidence to employ additional people.


Peter Stefanovic:          Okay. Another bill this week – when the foreign relations bill passes, are you expecting blowback from China?


Simon Birmingham:     No look, the foreign relations bill applies equally to all nations. There are more than 130 of these sorts of agreements that states and territories have with foreign governments around the world-


Peter Stefanovic:          It’s China, though. This relates to China, let’s be honest.


Simon Birmingham:     This bill is about- well, this bill is about making sure that every one of those is consistent with Australia’s foreign policy settings and our national interest. And that’s the way those who wrote our Constitution envisaged it, that the Australian Government, the national Government, would be the one responsible for our foreign policy settings – and we’re making sure that that is absolutely the case.


When it finally passes, as I trust it will this week, states and territories will have three months to provide the details of all of the agreements that they have in place, and then the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will carefully, methodically go through and evaluate all of those different agreements, and the Foreign Minister will ultimately make, make a determination on each of them, fair and square, based on the evidence of each individual one.


Peter Stefanovic:          Should Victoria’s Belt and Road be the first on the chopping block?


Simon Birmingham:     It should be submitted within that three-month period, like all other 130 plus agreements, and considered alongside them all in a fair way, as I’m sure it will be.


Peter Stefanovic:          I refer back to my original question, though, I mean, the timing isn’t great given what’s going on with the tensions between Australia and China at the moment. When that bill passes, are you expecting any kind of extra tariffs placed on any other sector when it comes to Australian trade?


Simon Birmingham:     No, because this is Australia just behaving as any other country, including China, would. Making sure that agreements with the world are overseen by the national Government, that they are in the nation’s interests and according to its foreign policy settings.


And so, this legislation is being telegraphed for some period of time; it’s been before the Parliament for some period of time now. The fact that it passes shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody, and the fact that it will be applied in a way, as I say calmly, consistently, methodically and even-handedly to all nations is exactly the approach that, that everyone should expect from a country like Australia.


Peter Stefanovic:          Okay. Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us.


Simon Birmingham:     Thank you, my pleasure.