ABC Capital Hill

22 November 2022


SUBJECTS: Disaster/flood payments; Extending sitting days; Industrial Relations; Territory Rights; National anti-Corruption Comission.

HENRY BELOT, HOST: Okay, it's time for our political panel. And joining us today is the Labor MP Alicia Payne, and we've got the Shadow Minister for Resources, Susan McDonald. Welcome both of you to Capitol Hill. Alicia, I'll just start with you. We heard the PM there talking about disaster relief payments. They're $1,000 for people, but they haven't gone up for many, many years. Do you believe that they need to?

ALICIA PAYNE MP, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Well, first of all, I would just like to say that my thoughts are really with the people in New South Wales. Again, affected by flood. And particularly those who've devastatingly lost a loved one. And, of course, the Prime Minister has been there this morning, standing with people, listening with people. We are trying to get support to people as quickly as we can. And as the Prime Minister has said, we're providing support to both businesses and to individuals. So yes, it is $1,000 for an individual and $400 for any children that they have. And it is a really tough time for all Australians at the moment with cost of living and particularly those facing a natural disaster. But we're trying to get people support and support them as much as we can at the moment,

BELOT: The Australian Council of Social Services says it's been at this rate since 2006. Of course, we have inflation hitting almost 8% before the end of the year. Is this something that you want to see the government consider quite seriously?

PAYNE: Well, I think these disasters are still unfolding. The flood peak is still moving through, and we've not seen the full extent yet. And obviously, this is something that the government's taking very seriously, listening to people on the ground in those affected areas. And providing as much support as we can.

BELOT: Okay, Susan McDonald, are we heard that announcement there from the PM these grants of $50,000, for small businesses. $25,000 of that can be expedited with the rest coming with paperwork. Is this welcome supporting small business?

SENATOR SUSAN MCDONALD, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Well, it absolutely is. And unfortunately, Australia has a huge amount of experience in supporting Australians through natural disasters,. In my part of the world, in the north, northwest Queensland, when we had the floods in 2019. And then in Townsville. It really became the blueprint of how to very quickly mobilise and provide services and support and financial assistance to Australians. And I'm pleased to see that this is a program that has continued by this government is above politics. These people are desperate and we need to be getting them assistance as soon as possible.

BELOT: And what about that disaster payment for individuals? The $1,000, not increased in the last couple of years when the Coalition were in power? Do you think it's worth revisiting that now with inflation high?

MCDONALD: Well, I'm sure that the minister will be looking at that, will be getting plenty of feedback on whether or not that is the right amount of money to be paying. Because it does have to get families back on their feet. It's got to pay immediate bills, ensure that they have food and able to pay their mobile phone bill or whatever it is most urgently assists them during this time. So I'm sure the minister will be getting plenty of feedback that he will assess.

BELOT: Okay, well, unlike Alicia, you're in the upper house where there is a massive amount of legislation that's coming your way this week and next week. What's your view on extending sitting days or potentially having another week? Do you think that's necessary to try and get through everything that's before the Senate?

MCDONALD: Well, I think it absolutely is necessary. I am really concerned to see the amount of legislation that's been put forward. It has been recommended by the government that a large amount of it will be guillotined. This is bad government. This is bad process. The Senate in particular is the only place of review that we have to allow a deliberative, practical review of legislation. Because if it doesn't happen, we know that next year, we'll have omnibus bills that go through and correct unintended consequences, drafting mistakes, and issues that could have been picked up with a better process through the Senate.

BELOT: So what's necessary then? Another week?

MCDONALD: Well, I think it means more sitting times. The government has introduced family friendly hours. Well, you know, we're not meeting those deadlines. It just demonstrates that there is more work to get through than the sitting sitting hours have allowed for. We're waiting to see what next year's agenda looks like. Let's hope it's got enough days in it.

BELOT: Alicia, there's clearly a massive amount of legislation to go through. Something that's quite important that you've spoken a lot about is territory rights. Are you worried that there's not going to be enough time set aside for this given that we've got industrial relations, we've also gotten a national anti-corruption commission bill as well.

PAYNE: No. We are a government that is not wasting a second and we are trying to get through an ambitious agenda of many things that are addressing the needs of the Australian people right now. So it is really important that we get these things through this year. And we are a government that has been, as we should, consulting and listening to everyone. So I just reject that this is bad government and we're rushing things through because the building question, industrial relations and the national anti-corruption commission, are things that we've been talking about for a very long time ....

BELOT: Not before the election on industrial relations.

MCDONALD: Not before the eleection. The Treasurer did commit that there would be no multi-employer bargaining legislation which would come forward.

PAYNE: This is something that came through the Job Summit, a very much a consultative open forum with business, unions, a whole range of representatives of the Australian community. There have been submissions, there have been a lot of discussion on that. But to come back to territory rights, sorry, we have been, I know this is something that is very much among those important things that we want to address in these last final weeks. And Katy Gallagher has said that this is definitely something that the Senate will get to before closing,

BELOT: So more sitting hours, more sitting days, in your opinion necessary to make sure this does happen?

PAYNE: I think that's probably what is going to happen and, as I say, we are happy with that, because we need to get these things through.

BELOT: You mentioned the Industrial Relations Bill as well. Yes, came about and talked about since the Job Summit, not before the election. It's still a pretty short amount of time. Why doesn't the government just go with what has been agreed? We heard Jacqui Lambie and David Pocock saying they support 80 to 90% of this. Why not just support that and then come back to the other contentious bits?

PAYNE: Because Australians have been waiting too long for a pay rise. And this is something we talked a lot about before the election because it is a key part of our agenda to get wages moving, again, for Australians who have been waiting over 10 years. And we're in a cost of living crisis and people need to see wages moving. And part of that is moving our workplace relations system into the modern era. So I don't want to go back to my community and say that we have to wait because we can't work this out now. This is something that, as I say, as we should we have been listening, we have been having constructive conversations with business, with unions, with the Senate. And I think it is something that we should be able to get through because people have been waiting long enough.

BELOT: Susan McDonald, do you accept that wages have been low for so long and that there is an argument that this is necessary as a package to try and boost that up?

MCDONALD: Oh, no, I don't accept that. Because what I'm hearing right across Australia is the massive workforce shortage means that people are being paid 15-30% more. I know my ex-industry of butcher shops. They're certainly saying that it will add to the cost of living. But it is important that people are paid appropriately. But there is a real shortage of workers. And I think this is the wrong time to be introducing legislation that Hawke and Keating got rid of, because it did lead to more industrial relations, more strikes, the mining industry is predicting up to 33,000 job losses from a very well paid sector. We're going to see the sort of Industrial Relations disputes that capture small business, medium size business, when they're caught up in the argy-bargy between unions and the big employers.

BELOT: Certainly the unions, for their part, would contest that this is about strike action. But do you think there is some concession here, perhaps if the definition of a small business was boosted up? I think there's some talk of going up to 100 staff, is that something you'd consider?

MCDONALD: Well, the reality is, is that once you start having action amongst the big employers, when there is a workforce shortage, it will flow through to all workplaces. Regional universities are incredibly concerned that they will be caught up in actions on the sandstone universities in the city universities, that will put upward pressure on them to compete in an environment that they can't compete in. So certainly, I think that this is going to result in really unintended consequences. We've already touched on, this wasn't something that was taken to the election. I did not hear this come out of the Jobs and Skills Summit. And certainly COSBOA and employers that I speak to are speaking very strongly against this legislation.

BELOT: I think the ACTU has been speaking about this for some time, when the coalition were in power as well. But I take your point on the election. That's something that we've discussed already. Can we go to some one of the other big issues as well, the National Anti-Corruption Commission. We heard from the Greens Senator David Trubridge, earlier today, saying it should be made clear that former politicians cannot be the commissioners. Is that something that's reasonable and should be made clear?

PAYNE: Look honestly, that's not my understanding of the model that we've proposed. My understanding is that any person who is seen to be aiming to compromise Members of Parliament is within the scope of the commission.

BELOT: Yep. Okay.

PAYNE: That's my understanding.

BELOT: And I'll get your perspective on this as well. Just before we go, do you believe that the Coalition is going to swing behind this and support it? We heard from Bridget Archer yesterday who's confident that the party will. Is that your understanding as well?

MCDONALD: I think the leadership team has been clear that this has got bipartisan support, so long as there are appropriate checks and balances. We know that in South Australia, there had to be bipartisan agreement to come back and amend parts of that legislation. We're very keen that people who come before the committee are given appropriate protections. They're allowed to have support people, that they're allowed to see transcripts of their evidence. And we're also keen that they'd be bipartisan appointment of the of the commissioners. I think that that is fair and reasonable. And with those kinds of protections in place, then I think we'll see that go through.

BELOT: Alicia, will this be done by the end of the year, national anti-corruption commission for Christmas?

PAYNE: Well, it's another thing that is well overdue. As people are aware, the previous government committed to it and never delivered the legislation into the parliament. And this is something that Australians, particularly in my community, people talk to me about this a lot. People are really concerned about the state of politics and they want to see this happen. And this is a piece of legislation that we want to see all members of Parliament's support. And we have been consultative we have put that inquiry into it and in the Senate with bipartisan membership, which we have today, accepted all of the amendments recommended universally by that bipartisan committee.

BELOT: Well, it sounds like you might get that bipartisan support as well, but we'll we'll leave it there for now. Susan McDonald, Alicia Payne, thank you very much for joining Capital Hill.