ABC774 Drive ‘Fight Club’ Interview with Rafael Epstein

Release Date: 
7 October 2015

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Alan Tudge joins us. He was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. He now is the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister. He is also the Assistant Minister for Social Services and the Member for Aston in Melbourne. Is that right Alan? You were Parliamentary Secretary and you’re now Assistant Minister?

ALAN TUDGE:  That’s exactly right Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Same rank, different title?

ALAN TUDGE:  Basically.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Same pay grade?

ALAN TUDGE:  Basically.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Okay. No problem. And Mark Dreyfus joins us. He is the Shadow Attorney General and the member for the seat of Isaacs, part of Bill Shorten’s opposition. Mark, welcome.

MARK DREYFUS:  Very good to be with you. Hello Alan.

ALAN TUDGE:  G’Day Mark.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  I might get into the general change of the tone of government in a moment. However, first penalty rates seem to be pretty clearly back on the table. You tell me. The Treasurer, Scott Morrison, was having a very friendly chat this morning with Fran Kelly on Radio National about whether or not penalty rates, especially Sunday penalty rates, would be changed.

[plays excerpt]

SCOTT MORRISON: What we want is more young people, particularly young people, being employed. We need flexibility in the system which means people with disabilities, people with long term unemployment, can get a go in the labour market. I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to consider anything that wouldn’t achieve those sorts of goals.

[end excerpt]

Alan Tudge, does the government want to get rid of Sunday penalty rates or not?

ALAN TUDGE:  We’re proceeding very carefully with this as you can understand and appreciate. We know that some people need their Sunday penalty rates to make ends meet. At the same time however, we know that there are businesses across the community which literally do not open on Sundays because of the penalty rates.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Is there hard proof of that?

ALAN TUDGE:  I’ve met business owners who say they don’t open on Sundays. We know that there are cafes who no longer open on Sundays when they used to open on Sundays for example. Now, who does that benefit? Clearly it doesn’t benefit the worker because they haven’t got a shift. It doesn’t benefit the business owner because they aren’t making any money. And thirdly it doesn’t benefit the everyday customer who wants to go and have a coffee or a meal or something.

We’ve got to take these things into account. At the end of the day of course as the Prime Minister has said, it is the Fair Work Commission which will settle this matter. But I do think we need to have a fair dinkum, sensible, constructive conversation in relation to it.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Is it worth looking at, Mark Dreyfus?

MARK DREYFUS:  Labor will fight to defend people’s penalty rates. I want to be really clear about this. There’s 4.5 million Australians. It’s all very well for Alan or Scott Morrison to talk about the hospitality industry, but I’m thinking ambulance workers, firefighters, nurses and the other 4.5 million Australians who depend on penalty rates as part of their pay packets. It’s about making ends meet.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Can you fight for it? To be honest, I’ve tried to [inaudible] this question. Alan mentioned the Fair Work Commission. If it’s something that is decided on by Fair Work, Labor would need to dramatically change legislation to wind that back. Is that right?

MARK DREYFUS:  As I understand it, what Alan’s talking about is this is a Liberal government that’s going to go in and make submission to the Fair Work Commission, it is going to argue against penalty rates and it’s just entirely not the future Australia wants.

We are looking for a high wage future for Australians. It’s apparent that this Liberal government whether it’s led by Tony Abbott or by Malcolm Turnbull wants a low wage future.

ALAN TUDGE:  That’s not right Mark.

MARK DREYFUS:  That’s what it means.

ALAN TUDGE:  That’s not right Mark. You’re putting words into our mouths there. All we’ve said is that if there are businesses which are closing on Sundays because they can’t afford to be open then we need to have a look at that.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  I’m not sure I’ve seen a significant body, I mean you can ask people ‘would you open’, you can ask people if ‘you’d like to pay people less on Sunday’, but I don’t know that maybe objective evidence isn’t available. But I haven’t seen anyone present a significant body of work saying ‘this is holding us back.’

ALAN TUDGE:  As I said, I’ve spoken to business owners themselves who have made that particular comment or they’ll say that they will go and do the additional shift on Sunday rather than employ other people. But just going back to Mark’s comment; at the end of the day the person who actually changed the Fair Work Act to give the authority to the Fair Work Commission over penalty rates was Bill Shorten back in 2012. He made that amendment so it squarely sits within the Fair Work Commission on the basis of that amendment of Bill Shorten. That’s where the decisions will be made.

MARK DREYFUS:  The industrial commission, the Fair Work Commission, has always had authority over penalty rates. It’s been part of people’s awards, it’s part of people’s pay packets and I don’t know quite what point Alan is trying to make there. The point I’m trying to make is we will fight to preserve Australians’ wages.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  1300222774 is the phone number. Interested to know what you make of it. You might want to put a question to Mark Dreyfus or Alan Tudge yourself. Just a quick point on rhetoric Mark Dreyfus. Was it smart politics for Bill Shorten to say that penalty rates make the difference for many people about whether or not they can send their kids to private schools? It was castigated by some.

MARK DREYFUS:  It was part of a list of matters that he was making a clear point…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  I can’t imagine that’s top of the list for most people who rely on Sunday penalties.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  He said yesterday he was talking about low fee Catholic schools. But it was part of a long list. I think his next point was about people paying the mortgage. Of course, that’s what needs to be understood. It’s the difference, just to take firefighters or the ambulance workers as an example, their base pay may be in the order of $60,000. With penalty rates, it’s going to be $75,000 or $80,000. They depend on payment of penalty rates to make ends meet and live the way they want to live.

It’s about the alternative future for Australia. This is a really important point. I’m amazed that we’ve still got a Liberal government here in 2015 saying ‘we want to bring about a drop in wages’. That cannot be.

ALAN TUDGE:  We’re not saying that. Again Mark, we’re not saying that. We’re not advocating that penalty rates be cut. All we’ve said is let’s have a discussion in relation to this. We’ve asked the Productivity Commission to look into it.

At the end of the day, it’s not our decision, it will be the Fair Work Commission.

I tell you who did cut penalty rates though and that’s when he was a union leader. That was Bill Shorten. I mean, he traded away penalty rates for other benefits.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  That deal was lauded by the IPA.

ALAN TUDGE:  That was for cleaners where penalty rates were traded away. They were, Mark, you’re shaking your head but it’s absolutely on the record and you can take a look at that.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  I want to go to a call but a quick response Mark Dreyfus? That’s one of the issues that came up at the Royal Commission.

MARK DREYFUS:  Every industrial agreement is different. You’d have to look at what was the trade.

ALAN TUDGE:  So he traded away penalty rates.

MARK DREYFUS:  But for what would be the question in the particular example.

ALAN TUDGE:  So that was okay was it? So if they are traded away for something else…

MARK DREYFUS:  Let’s take another Bill Shorten example and that’s him negotiating the highest pay ever for construction workers on the East Link freeway.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Let’s ask Robert what he thinks. He’s calling in from Mitcham. Robert, you’ve got Alan Tudge and Mark Dreyfus there. What do you want to say?

CALLER ROBERT:  G’Day Alan. It’s just a bit of a statement with regard to Alan. If you’re representing all of these businesses that can’t open on a Sunday because they have to pay the penalty rates part of it, the business that’s operating is not exactly operating on a great business model if they can’t operate purely just because the penalty rates there.

What I’d like to put towards you, Alan, is instead of going on about this, why aren’t you attacking the people that are paying those people, those farm workers who are getting paid $1 an hour, or is that maybe what you want the workers to get paid, $1 per hour? That have been done over by those sort of companies there in Shepparton and towards that area, and all those 7/11 workers who have been ripped off.

But instead what you’re going to do is you’re going to attack the lowest paid people in the community. I want to know what your response is to that, Alan.

ALAN TUDGE:  Well, if people aren’t paying according to the award, then they should feel the full force of the law. Full stop. They absolutely should. There are people who are there to enforce the law. If you’re aware of it, you should report those people who aren’t paying proper wages.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  What about the lack of a viable business?

ALAN TUDGE:  The issue here isn’t the lack of viable businesses. A business may be open Monday to Saturday and it has a choice as to whether to open on a Sunday. If it opens on a Sunday then there are more shifts available for people to get work. If it’s not open on Sunday, customers can’t buy their coffee or their meal and there are no further shifts and the business owner can’t make additional profit.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  I want to go to more calls but let me ask you, what is a fair test? Is it reasonable for people to say to the government ‘show me the evidence for why we need to have businesses open on Sundays?’ or is it, and I know a lot of politics is simply about values, ‘we believe if we do this, that would be better for the economy.’ What is the fair way of testing the proposition?

ALAN TUDGE:  This is precisely Raf why we asked the Productivity Commission to look into this question and provide advice. The Productivity Commission is very well respected organisation at arm’s length from government and they are going to provide some fair, objective advice to us.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Mark, a quick response? Alan’s had a fair bit of the airways there.

MARK DREYFUS:  The life we live now in 2015 sees businesses, particularly restaurants and entertainment businesses, opening at the weekend. I don’t see any shortage of restaurants, entertainment venues opening at the weekend.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  In fact the numbers have continued to grow.

MARK DREYFUS:  Yes, and I would agree with our caller that if your business is crushed by having to pay penalty rates on one day of the week, you might like to think again about the way your business is organised.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Dave has called in from Murrumbeena. Dave, what did you want to say?

CALLER DAVE:  Good afternoon gents. Well I haven’t worked for a few years now, but during my working life work that carried penalty rates became part of your weekly wage and it became a necessity. I don’t want to see people being underpaid.

I think the labour movement has to be pragmatic about this and start thinking ‘well we’ve got to come to the party and look at some kind of way of raising the minimum wage and trying to avoid the necessity for overtime.’ Because the Coalition, they want it both ways. They don’t want to raise the minimum wage and they always keep rolling out this stuff…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Although I think the Treasurer, Dave, sorry, he did say that they are about trade-offs, so I’m not sure that’s precisely true to say that the government don’t want to raise the wage [inaudible].

ALAN TUDGE:  We want to see higher wages…

CALLER DAVE:  What we hear from business is that it’s always unit costs, i.e. labour, and we all know that the hospitality industry and the retail industry, the wages paid to these people is among the lowest in the country.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  I know there are big issues there. A quick response from both of you and we’ll get a traffic update.

ALAN TUDGE:  We absolutely want to see higher wages. We want to see more jobs and we want to see higher wages and you get that by having a productive economy at the end of the day. We saw that under the Howard-Costello era where wages from memory increased by 13 per cent in real terms but actually had flat lined under the Hawke-Keating era.

We want to return to that strong wage growth because businesses are viable, they are strong, they are employing people, and that’s our core objective.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Mark is it possible do you think, Scott Morrison has talked about it I think it was yesterday, some sort of trade off for penalty rates. Maybe if we do shift the awards up, would it be reasonable if people were getting paid on average at an hourly rate significantly more, could you trade that off for penalty rates?

MARK DREYFUS:  As long as we are not talking, and the government makes this clear, this Liberal government makes it clear it is not talking about lowering the wages of the lowest paid third of the Australian workforce because by and large, those 4.5 million people who are getting penalty rates or are eligible for penalty rates are the lowest paid third of the Australian workforce.

We are aiming, I’ll say it again, for a high wage future for Australia, not a low wage future.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Hopefully high wages for us all. Let’s get a quick traffic check with Chris Miller. Hi Chris.


RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Alan Tudge is with me from the Government. He is the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and to the Minister for Social Services. Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General.

Mark Dreyfus, I might actually start with you as you’ve have responsibility for ASIO in the past. Three of the people arrested in Sydney over last Friday’s terror attack have come to attention before- they’ve been arrested before. I’m not sure if they’ve been charged, I’m sure they’ve been arrested.

A lot of the questioning of the police today was had they dropped the ball? Is it fair to at least ask that question publicly? Should ASIO have kept a closer eye on someone who has been arrested before? Is that a fair question?

MARK DREYFUS:  I’d say straight away, we don’t know that ASIO were not keeping a close eye on these people- or the AFP as well. People are too quick to criticise our law enforcement agencies. By and large our security agencies, our police forces are amongst the best in the world, they do fantastic work, particularly in the counter-terrorism area and they will always be criticised- with hindsight- when it’s thought that ‘well now we see you could have picked that person up’.

It’s been suggested that some of these men have been picked up and been released. That would be because there was insufficient evidence for them to be charged with a criminal offence. Really, the police force and security agencies, it’s really damned if we do, damned if we don’t. I think they are always doing their best. I will not be in any sense making a criticism for having picked up those people on a previous occasion and then letting them go.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Alan Tudge you’d probably agree but I want to ask you this, the Government and actually the New South Wales Government- federal and state- are accused of not calling out the problem enough, not saying that it is a radical Islamic problem. Is your language wrong on this?

ALAN TUDGE:  It’s always very tricky to get the right language in these situations but I think Malcolm Turnbull has actually got it right and we want to…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:   Did Tony Abbott get it wrong?

ALAN TUDGE:  We want to say very clearly what the nature of the problem is, be truthful in relation to it, but at the same time we don’t want to tarnish an entire group of people by being associated with a particular label.

That’s the careful balance that we have to have. Now in this particular instance unfortunately there was a brutal murder which occurred last Friday and we believe it was because a young Muslim boy had been radicalised over the course of perhaps the last year.

There is obviously a full investigation into that. We’ll understand what happened, where the linkages were and what further can be done to prevent such a thing happening again.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  We’ve been speaking about penalty rates as well and Fi has called from Paterson Lakes. What did you want to say?

CALLER FI:  Hi Raf, I personally disagree with actually taking (inaudible) off the penalty rates because it will all turn to businesses like 7-11, they prey on some poor students desperation. Of course some people would not work on Sunday but you have to keep it in line. Lots of people are working on Saturday, Sunday because they have little children at home. I have a young neighbour, they have a little kid, so she is a nurse, they are paying the mortgage. We (inaudible) people are counting on that money. Does it really make a difference if you don’t have your Sunday coffee in a coffee shop if you can find it? I think a lot of coffee shops are open. I don’t think it is realistic that there isn’t enough coffee shops or enough restaurants. I find it very unfair but it is again my view.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Ok, quick response Alan Tudge.

ALAN TUDGE:  I think there’s many people who are in exactly that situation that she described who are working on weekends to make ends meet. I say good luck to them for doing that. Of course we don’t want to see any diminution in their take home packets.

All we’re asking for really is just to have a sensible conversation into the nature of this. Could youth unemployment be lower by doing things slightly differently, by having some of the trade-offs that Mark alluded to. They’re some of the things I think we should be legitimately asking about.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  I want to ask you both to make a guess about the future. When everyone from George Christensen on the Government’s right to some of the left-wing people here in Australia, Bernie Sanders on the left in America, through to Donald Trump on the right…

ALAN TUDGE:   I’m not sure where this is going Raf!

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Well they’re all condemning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, they think it’s a rip-off, it’s not going anywhere. I know the Government is a big believer in it, it’s got to pass twelve different legislatures- twelve different countries parliaments. Is it actually going to survive its birth? I might start with you, we don’t know, Mark Dreyfus, quite what Labor’s position is, but is it going to become real?

MARK DREYFUS:  I’ll tell you what Labor’s position is. We’re in favour of preferential trade agreements. We think Australia as a trading nation benefits from trade agreements. We prefer to see them as multi-lateral as possible…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  This is pretty multi-lateral!

MARK DREYFUS:  On this one we want to see the detail as my colleague Penny Wong has said and Bill Shorten has said, we need to see the detail, the Australian people need to see the detail as soon as possible.

I’d say on whether or not it’s going to be approved by the other eleven countries, President Obama, a key country- the United States- has a pretty good record of getting really contentious things through the congress. I’d back him to get it through but we want to see the detail.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Alan Tudge, will it survive?

ALAN TUDGE:  It will survive. This is a phenomenally good deal for Australia. It eliminates 98 per cent of all tariffs on our exports to those twelve countries who are signatories. Those twelve countries represent 40 per cent of the global economy.

What that translates to is greater wealth and more jobs for Australians. That’s what this is about. A phenomenally good deal for us, better access for our agricultural products…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Will it survive twelve different countries?

ALAN TUDGE:  … (inaudible) manufacturing products. What was that?

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Is it going to survive twelve different countries parliaments?

ALAN TUDGE:  I think it will. Mark alluded to the United States, it’s the most important country because it’s the biggest economy. Japan absolutely will implement it. Malaysia, Peru, some of the others, I have confidence they will be able to implement it also.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Alan Tudge is the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Social Services, Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General, thanks to both of you.

MARK DREYFUS:  Good to be with you.

ALAN TUDGE:  Thanks Raf, thanks Mark.