Interview on ABC Radio AM with Chris Uhlmann

  • Leader of the Government in the Senate
  • Minister for Employment
  • Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
  • Senator for Tasmania

[E&OE transcript]

CHRIS UHLMANN: Labor’s Fair Work Act is set to be reviewed by the economic hard heads at the Productivity Commission and this morning there are the first signs of just how sweeping that inquiry will be. Fairfax Media’s published the inquiry’s draft Terms of Reference and they include examining penalty rates, pay and conditions, unfair dismissal, enterprise bargaining flexibility and union militancy. But the report says the inquiry is to be framed around fair and equitable pay and conditions for employees, including maintaining a relevant safety net. Eric Abetz is the Employment Minister.

Eric Abetz, can you tell us what is in the Productivity Commission inquiry’s Terms of Reference? Can you confirm that it will include penalty rates, pay and condition, enterprise bargaining and the like?

MINISTER ABETZ: What we said in our policy, we are not doing anything more, we’re not doing anything less other than undertaking a comprehensive and broad review of the laws and a thorough analysis which is exactly what we promised and we said we would task the Productivity Commission with doing that. That is what we are going to do and I would simply remind your listeners that it was the Productivity Commission that recommended the National Disability Insurance Scheme, showing that the Productivity Commission is both economically robust and socially sensitive. Labor promised to have a review but they only had a Clayton’s review, so we went to the people at the last election promising a thorough review and that is what we’ll do.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Certainly, but the Terms of Reference have been distributed to the states as you say and they now have been leaked—at least the draft Terms of Reference—and on seeing them, the ACTU President, Ged Kearney has said the Government appears to be putting the entire workplace relations system on trial. Is that a fair comment?

MINISTER ABETZ: What we’re doing is giving an independent body that has a reputation for social sensitivity and economic robustness the opportunity to advise as to the future direction for workplace relations laws. So that will allow organisations like the ACTU to have full input into the future direction and might I add, the ACTU has been part of the consultation process.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And is, as they say, everything up for grabs—awards, penalty rates, enterprise bargaining, protection from unfair dismissal?

MINISTER ABETZ: As you would be aware I’m not in a position to pre-empt what is going to be in the Terms of Reference other than to say we did promise a comprehensive and broad review of the laws.

CHRIS UHLMANN: We do see a growing drum beat from business and indeed your own backbench that’s calling for penalty-rate relief and it’s calling for it now, isn’t it?

MINISTER ABETZ: Look, there is a growing demand that we have a look at certain aspects of our workplace relations laws, might I add, joined in by Paul Howes from the Australian Workers Union and a former president of the ACTU, Martin Ferguson. And so, a number of Labor and union officials are starting to realise that the Labor Government’s previous reviews of the Fair Work Act simply didn’t do the job and we are now undertaking that, which the former Labor Government should’ve done.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Now this Productivity Commission inquiry is due to report back in April 2015. The Federal election of course is not due until about August 2016. Is there any prospect that the Government will do anything from this report before the next election?

MINISTER ABETZ: The Coalition has been very clear that all that we will seek to do in this term of government is to implement our policy. Any proposals that might arise from the Productivity Commission review will be considered and if we adopt them, we will take them as part of our policy platform to the next election.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Employment Minister, Eric Abetz.





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