08 December 2020


SUBJECTS: Industrial relations; Mr Fluffy compensation scheme; Territory representation; Sydney to Canberra seaplane.


ROD HENSHAW, HOST: Tuesday morning. Time for our Tuesday panel and this morning we welcome Alicia Payne, Labor Member for Canberra and Zed Seselja, ACT Liberal Senator and Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral matters. Alicia, Zed, good morning to you. Welcome to the new day.
SENATOR ZED SESELJA: Good morning, Rod. Morning Alicia.
HENSHAW: Ah, what a lovely chorus.
PAYNE: Good morning, Zed.
HENSHAW: All together now? Good morning, Rod.
SESELJA: Good morning, guys.
PAYNE: Good morning.
HENSHAW: Industrial Relations. Let's start with that. The Coalition is urging Labor to support its industrial relations reforms in Federal, Federal Parliament this week. Zed, what's at the heart of this? And why, why is this the right time?
SESELJA: Well, Rod, these are, I think, very simple, but very important reforms to industrial relations. And they go to this issue around casual employment, and having a proper definition, having some certainty around casual employment, ensuring that when we give it a proper definition, but then also give the opportunity where there is a very regular pattern of work, we would require employers to make an offer to turn a casual employee into a permanent employee. So these are really important, it's important that we get casual employment right. It's important to the workforce, the flexibility of casual employment is valuable. But also, we want to make sure that workers rights are protected. And so whilst it will make it easier for someone to become a more permanent employee, it will also ensure that we don't burden small businesses, in particular, with this issue around back pay and double dipping for those who have had a casual loading, but then are also entitled to some form of leave requirements.
HENSHAW: So, Alicia, where do you stand on this? I think you sort of, correct me if I'm wrong, for goodness sake, but I think you're sort of prepared to back it to a degree but you have a few misgivings.
PAYNE: Well, we still haven't seen the legislation, Rod. They haven't, the Government haven't shared it with us. But we've said that we will support new laws that create secure well paid jobs. And we're keen for the Government to show us whether, whether this meets that test. But it's clear that the proposal does take rights away from casual workers, while doing nothing to fix insecure work. Well, we still haven't seen the legislation, Rod. They haven't, the Government haven't shared it with us. But we've said that we will support new laws that create secure well paid jobs. And we're keen for the Government to show us whether, whether this meets that test. But it's clear that the proposal does take rights away from casual workers, while doing nothing to fix insecure work.
HENSHAW: Now, what about what about the double dipping that Zed referred too. How does it address that, as far as you're concerned?
PAYNE: Well, it's not clear that it does. We have, we haven't seen it. But you know, this is the party that brought us Work Choices. And it's also the party that left casuals completely out of their response to COVID-19. And so we're very concerned about the impact on, on casual workers. And we keen for the Government to show us the legislation and then explain to us how they think it will deliver well paid, secure jobs.
CENATIEMPO: Zed, when does Alicia and her people get to see this legislation? Why haven't they seen it up till now?
SESELJA: Well, the Attorney-General's obviously handling that process, but if I can respond briefly to what Alicia said, she claims that it takes away rights. In what way does it take away right? I can only assume she's saying that by dealing with the double dipping issue, that that takes away rights. Now, what that does is it recognises that casual employees get a loading on top of their hourly rate, which has traditionally been to take into account the fact that you don't get annual leave in the same way that a permanent employee does. So there's a trade off. That's known when you're a casual employee versus a permanent employee. And a court ruling brought a lot of confusion into that and potentially would saddle small business with a massive multi billion dollar back pay bill. And so that's what this bill seeks to address, it's to deal with that issue. So that..
PAYNE: Can I just respond to that? Yeah, so no, that's not what I'm talking about, Zed. I'm talking about under from what we've seen that this will enable employers to label someone as casual even when they're doing a permanent, ongoing job with no repercussions or penalty. And then a casual will have the right to request a permanent position after 12 months, but an employer can refuse that request. So where are the rights?
SESELJA: Only in certain circumstances, of course, and what this Bill importantly does, is it requires employers to offer that after that period of 12 months, something that's not there at the moment. In the legislation that Labor put in when you're in Government, you didn't define casual, and that's created a lot of uncertainty. And fundamentally, if we have ongoing uncertainty in this area, if we have the prospect of massive amounts of back pay, what it will do is it will affect the jobs recovery, which we all want to see coming out of the COVID recession.
HENSHAW: Okay, well let's move on because that's going to be before the parliament this week obviously. But Mr Fluffy, now I know this is a Canberra-type thing, but it does have Federal consequences or implications. The ACT is considering a compensation scheme for Mr Fluffy victims who suffer health effects from exposure to loose fill asbestos but the Territory and former owners say the Commonwealth should contribute, saying the insulation scheme happened under their watch. Both Governments, both sides of politics, Alicia, both sides of politics have presided over this problem. Should the Federal Government provide some compensation, or at least be in with the ACT or not?
PAYNE: Well, first of all these stories that we've seen this week are absolutely heartbreaking, obviously. And my sympathies go to their families of Mr Wallner and also the story in Canberra Times today about Paula and Nicholas Blandford. This is just an incredibly awful situation. And the ACT Government has stepped up with an act of grace payment to James Wallner and his family, but also looking into a broader scheme. And it does seem to me that the Government, the Federal Government, does have some responsibility, given they were in power. You know, we didn't have an ACT Government when the Mr Fluffy installation was put in, and then a very new one in the 80s when the Federal Government oversighted the clean up then, which obviously wasn't successful. So I do think that some responsibility certainly lies with the Federal Government.
HENSHAW: What do you reckon, Zed? It would seem that Alicia has a point there. And I think a lot of people would agree that, you know, they were both sides of politics, so, presiding over the problem?
SESELJA: Well, Rod. The first thing I would say is, these are absolutely tragic stories, and people dealing with obviously some tragic loss and very serious health conditions. I think there is a reasonable discussion to be had about exactly where responsibility lies, I think it is a good thing that the ACT Government had a scheme to support victims.
HENSHAW: But they're doing all the heavy lifting at the moment. What about the Feds?
SESELJA: Well, if I can just finish, I mean, I've certainly raised this issue with the Health Minister, Greg Hunt. I think it is something that does need to be carefully considered to look at where responsibility lies, because obviously, these things go back many decades. And there's all sorts of you know, legalities around when the ACT Government took over self-government in 1989. And the Commonwealth responsibilities before that time. So it is an issue that I've raised with the Health Minister. He's obviously very sympathetic to particularly victims of mesothelioma in the like. But it's a it's an ongoing discussion I'll be having, with my, with my colleagues in the Government.
HENSHAW: Just briefly, you've spoken to Greg Hunt, what, what's his initial reaction? Is he sort of saying, yeah, or is he more worried about getting vaper's off the, off the e-cigarettes?
SESELJA: Well, look, I put, I put it in writing to Greg. And so we'll, we'll obviously have ongoing discussions about the issue.

HENSHAW: Okay. Well, Territory representation. Now, the Government has introduced legislation to safeguard the representation of the two territories in Federal Parliament, this goes back to, well it looked like the the Northern Territory was going to lose a seat at one stage. Zed, what does the Bill mean for start? And then we'll get Alicia to comment on that.
SESELJA: Well, look, I think it's a really good outcome of what we've come up with. And what it does is, it takes into account that is whether it's the Northern Territory or the ACT, if you're in a very small jurisdiction, a very small difference in the number of residents can mean a very large difference or a shift in the representation. So, in the Northern Territory's case, maybe from one to two. In the ACT, from two to three. And I think it's a vastly superior piece of legislation to what the Labor Party put forward and supported, which would have put the Northern Territory in a better position, compared to the ACT. It would have guaranteed a minimum number of two seats for the Northern Territory and only one for the ACT. So, I'm not sure why that was supported by Labor representatives in the ACT, given it disadvantaged Canberra over the Northern Territory. But where we have landed, I think, is a very fair process. It's fair to the Northern Territory, it's fairly ACT, and it will, and it's also very, very robust. So it doesn't lead to unfair situations, either for good or bad.

HENSHAW: Alicia, you wouldn't have any problem with that, would you?
PAYNE: No, so I'm not sure that's right, Zed, that it would have, the Bill that was proposed by Labor was about the Northern Territory in particular, not about reducing representation in the ACT, because of course, we wouldn't support that. But it was my colleagues from the Northern Territory and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Luke Gosling, and Warren Snowdon who really were advocating for the Northern Territory to maintain proper representation, because obviously, it would be unworkable for one person to represent the entirety of the Northern Territory. And that would mean that people in the Northern Territory were not receiving, you know, proper representation in the Parliament. So that was, so they advocated very strongly and I supported that very much here as a fellow territorian. To see proper representation and we will support the bill that's, that's been put forward. Because it doesn't damage representation in the ACT.

HENSHAW: Yeah, I remember in the Northern..
SESELJA: But Alicia, your Bill, your Bill that you supported, the the Labor Party put forward specifically would have had a higher minimum for the Northern Territory than the ACT. And I think that is fundamentally unfair. I think if you're going to deal with the right territories and territory voters, then you would have the same rules for the Northern Territory and the ACT. And that's what we've done in our Bill.
PAYNE: But the Bill wasn't changing anything for the ACT, it was trying to create a minimum for the Northern Territory.
SESELJA: Which was higher than the ACT's minimum. And why would, why would they get a higher minimum than Canberra?
PAYNE: Well, they wouldn't because we already have three seats.
SESELJA: No, no, but the minimum, the minimum in the legislation would have been, would have been two would have been double what it is in Canberra.
PAYNE: But it wasn't changing what it was for Canberra. Anyway.
HENSHAW: All right. Well, I just, I just have memories back in the 70s when the Northern Territory and had one member for the whole Territory, his name was Sam Caulder, based in Alice Springs. Then we got actually got two senators, Bernie Kilgariff was one of them, I can't remember, Ted Robertson was the other one. And, you know, that was a big thing for the Territory. But I mean, the Territory, the Northern Territory is a vast landscape. The ACT, you know, it pales into insignificance compared and as far as the landmass is concerned you'd agree?
SESELJA: Well, that's that's true, Rod. But that's not what this was about. It was about territory representation. But if we went on the size of an electorate, well, I've got a colleague in Melissa Price, who has an electorate that's bigger than all of the Northern Territory. So if we start dividing things up like that, which Labor Party seem to have an odd view on, then I guess, maybe Melissa would have a colleague to help her look after that vast landmass.
PAYNE: I don't know why Zed's trying to suggest that we wouldn't support greater representation for the ACT, obviously we absolutely do. And aside from the landmass, the population, obviously, is the key issue. And if you compare the ACT to Tasmania, which is roughly about the same population, slightly less in the ACT, you know, they've got 12 senators and five members of the House of Representatives. So they are, you know, we are vastly underrepresented in comparison to that.
HENSHAW: Okay, got to finish up but just before we do on a lighter note, and I think I'm quite excited about this, but to both of you, what do you think about this idea to introduce a seaplane service from Sydney to Canberra? Zed?
SESELJA: Yeah, look, I think it's quite innovative. And I think it'll be really interesting to see how it goes because obviously it can't take too many people but I think the idea of getting on a sea plane from Lake Burley Griffin to the water on Sydney is is quite exciting. I don't know if you've ever been on a sea plane, Rod, but it's not a bad way to travel. I did. I did it once overseas, and it's lovely.
HENSHAW: Well, most sea planes do go over seas, Zed.
SESELJA: I was, I was in Canada at the time, and it's a beautiful, it's a beautiful way to travel. So, look, I look forward to seeing how it goes. I think it's quite positive.
HENSHAW: Okay, Alicia?
PAYNE: Well, I'm going to agree with Zed on that one. I think it sounds really exciting. And I look forward to seeing it come, getting off the ground or getting off the water.
HENSHAW: Getting of the water. Yes, we could go to all sorts of puns on that one. But look to both of you. Thank you so much. And we'll be back with with Stephen next week. Next Tuesday morning. Alicia Payne MP, the Member for Canberra. Zed Seselja, ACT Liberal Senator and Assistant Minister of Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters and it's a hell of a mouthful. To both of you, thanks so much.