Transcript: ABC Afternoon Live 21/5/20

10.35am | May 22, 2020



SUBJECTS: Federal Court decision on job security, China relationship, State border restrictions 
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my panel this afternoon, Liberal MP Tim Wilson and the Shadow Cabinet Secretary on the Labor side of politics, Jenny McAllister. Hello and welcome to both of you.
TIM WILSON: Thank you for having us. 
KARVELAS: I want to talk briefly about this casuals ruling because it's quite significant. On the Federal Court ruling regarding Federal entitlements firstly to you, Jenny McAllister, what do you make of the decision?
MCALLISTER: This is a really important decision. It essentially says if you are working in a regular way, if you've made a forward commitment about the hours you're going to commit to this employer, then your employer needs to treat you as a person who is employed on a permanent basis. And that means if you're providing that employer with security, you're guaranteeing you're going to be available to them, they need to provide you with security, that means leave entitlements, annual leave, sick leave, all of the ordinary things that make for a good secure job. It's a really important decision.
KARVELAS: And of course, the government won't rule anything in or out but Tim Wilson it is possible that legislation will be on the cards. The minister warning that this is bad for business. What's your view? You're a Liberal backbencher, would you like to see legislation to try and stop this?
WILSON: I think the government's taken the appropriate response which is to say that they're leaving options on the table. They're waiting in part to see how the parties involved in this dispute seek to appeal it or not. But I think we need to get to the point of what's happening. People are getting higher loading associated with their employment to cover things like annual leave because as a casual they're not entitled to it. The court has then recognised they continue to get those benefits and the loading but they also get a separate benefit as well so. You're getting a double up and that's where there's an issue for business because it effectively makes more some people more expensive to employ and could have an impact on jobs.
KARVELAS: Are you arguing that business can't afford this right now? Is that your argument Tim Wilson?
WILSON: I think a lot of businesses are struggling all over Australia and a lot of businesses that are struggling don't need more costs and more burdens, but I think the decision has to be considered very carefully. I think Christian Porter, the Attorney-General, has got his approach right, both to see what the parties do and then in the court decision and whether it's going to be appealed to the High Court and then to make an assessment about what response may come from that because the idea you can have some employees entitled to benefits in place of taking certain types of leave or annual leave and also getting annual leave isn't just costly, it's actually unfair to other workers who aren't entitled to the same benefits.
KARVELAS: Jenny McAllister, you've made the case for why you think this judgement is important and a good judgement but how about that argument this is not a good time for business in the wake of COVID-19?
MCALLISTER: Well, I think Tim's fundamentally misstating what's at stake here. This employer chose to improperly employ this person as a casual when in fact they were a permanent, and surely, surely the government does not believe that that is widespread. If that's widespread across the industry, if that's wide spread amongst employers, we have a very serious problem. This employer was not following the law in terms of how this employee was supposed to be categorised. They were entitled to permanent benefits and instead their employment had been deliberately structured to deprive them of those benefits, and that's wrong and it's not fair. 
KARVELAS: Let's park that issue and talk about one of the biggest stories of our time and that's the relationship with China. In fact, I spoke with the Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, he was on this program a little earlier and he told me an inquiry into COVID-19 was inevitable and I think directly said so Australia didn't need to be out in front there offending the Chinese. I'll start with you, Tim Wilson. What's your response to that? Was an inquiry ultimately inevitable, that Australia took a risk by playing it so publicly rather than diplomatically?
WILSON: I don't how you can argue it was inevitable when the Chinese were resisting a push for an independent inquiry. And then for Joel Fitzgibbon to say something has offended the Chinese. What is it that is being said that's offensive and also ultimately is that now the position of the Labor Party, that our Prime Minister, for calling for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 is now offensive to the Chinese? We know at the start of - if that's what he is arguing then that's a pretty radical departure from the position I think a lot of his shadow ministers have been taking. But I have to say I have deep scepticism about the motivations of Joel Fitzgibbon. He previously took undisclosed trips to China from Chinese interests at a time when Kevin Rudd should have frankly sacked for that conduct and now saying that our Prime Minister has offended the Chinese government without any basis, evidence or outlining what the problem is and -- and saying the investigation was inevitable is farcical.
KARVELAS:  Jenny McAllister, it is a different line than other Labor frontbenches, do you agree with Joel Fitzgibbon that Australia didn't need to be out in front offending the Chinese? 
MCALLISTER: Look, we have said from the beginning we would have done this differently. We said it would have been better if there was diplomatic support lined up before we announced our intention to pursue this, and we have also said the emphasis should have been on understanding not on blame. And that it was actually  in China's interests and in the world's interests that we get to the bottom of the origin of the virus and how it was handled. I think that's pretty straightforward. I think that Joel quite understandably is a passionate advocate for the sectors that he represents  as a shadow minister. He's very close to the producers in the agricultural sector and a lot of them are hurting right now. But Labor's very clear about this. We think it is a good outcome that was obtained to have an investigation initiated...
KARVELAS: Sure, but I want -- wanted you - sorry, I'm going to be sneaky and get back in here because I asked you directly on the language. So, he says, "So Australia didn't need to be out there in front offending the Chinese."
MCALLISTER: I think our view is that we ought to have obtained diplomatic support before...
KARVELAS: Is that because we didn't want to offend the Chinese?
MCALLISTER: That's incidentally the approach suggested by Julie Bishop, too, a long-standing coalition...
KARVELAS: But is it about trying not to offend the Chinese? That's my question.
MCALLISTER: I think it's about being effective. It's a good outcome. And we welcome the establishment of an inquiry. It's not the outcome that the government originally said they were seeking, which was an investigation independent of the World Health Organization. But it's a good and important outcome. It was signed on to I think by 137 countries. That is a good outcome. And we welcome it. 
KARVELAS: Tim Wilson, in the past week China has banned some Australian beef exporters and slapped this 80% tariff on barley and there's speculation that China is draining up a hit list of Australian imports, maybe wine and dairy. Are worried that that Beijing is targeting Australia?
WILSON: Well I think the approach Australia's taking in this entire discussion is to stand up for our national interests. There'll be countries that will respond and consider how we're doing so. That's why the Prime Minister, despite what Jenny says, the Prime Minister's approach has been very considered, which is to take a clear, public position on issues like the independent investigation and then to rally other countries to support the cause that we are pushing because it's in our national interests, it's in the global community's interests and it's utterly defendable based on what we should want to achieve as a nation. In fact, it's been a huge success in terms of the middle power diplomacy that Australia has been able to project to the world. Now, of course, China can be responsible for its own conduct, but none of us would like to see a scenario where we trade less with our products. We want to continue to export them to China and to be able to see the benefits from mutual cooperation with them. But ultimately that's a decision for them, and of course, justifiably when they overstep the line we take these matters to the World Trade Organization and seek independent investigation. 
KARVELAS: Let's talk about borders. Internal borders. Big question really. First to you, Jenny McAllister. Are borders, internal borders, now our new schools debate? I feel now Victoria's going back, I have two weeks left for anyone who cares, but, you know, we were having this big debate, it was an argument between the federal government and the states. Now that seems to be settled. School will begin. But internal borders are a huge issue. Do you believe that some of these states, Queensland for instance, should open their borders?
MCALLISTER: Well, I think it goes to the tenor of the national debate, doesn't it? Scott Morrison was very pleased to work with the state governments in the - at the outset of this. I think it would be a shame if the Federal Liberal Party, the Federal coalition, wanted to return to business as usual, slanging matches with Labor premiers. It is quite sensible for Labor states to make their own judgements about what's in the interests of their state and their population and they are doing that on the basis of the health advice that's provided to them. I think it would be better if the Commonwealth turned their mind to the issues that are confronting the economy overall. We have very serious numbers on the table this week in relation to job losses, to unemployment. There is no sign that the economy is going to snap back in September. We're yet to hear a plan from the federal government about their plan for the economy at the end of September. I think it would be better if those frontbenches in the Liberal government turned their mind to those questions rather than picking fights with state premiers.
KARVELAS: Tim Wilson, is there another sort of example of picking fights with state premiers, because the government federally, the Attorney-General, for instant, now Peter Dutton, have been putting a lot of pressure on the states, particularly Queensland, to reopen those borders.
WILSON: Well, everything Jenny, just said was farcical. We started this interview talking about how we had Labor shadow ministers attacking the federal government. What our focus has been is on making sure we work with the states successfully, to reopen the economy in a staged and managed way based on the evidence. All Dutton has done is turned around and asked basic questions of the state government about its rationale and the evidence base for continuing to close the borders to other states for Queensland. We know particularly in the middle of the year and later in September, during the school holiday, period, Queensland and tourism operators and the Queensland economy, the point that Jenny just raised that we should be focused on, are heavily dependent on interstate migration, particularly Victorians trying to escape the bad weather outside and get to warmer temperatures. They say it's beautiful one day, and perfect the next. Victorians are looking forward to that in Queensland. But you can’t do it if you close your borders. There is nothing wrong with asking legitimate questions and for the state to explain the and evidence base that sits behind them.
KARVELAS: Is this part of the issue, Tim Wilson, and I'd love to hear from you, too, Jenny McAllister that, we have this disconnect between the local advice that's been provided by the scientists, by the health officer in Queensland and then federally and then of course the state says they're choosing their own health advice. Well, things just went dark in Melbourne let tell you. It is bad weather outside. I didn't think it was that bad. We’ve lost Tim Wilson so I'll ask Jenny McAllister because it went black. I know my home state doesn't always have great weather but it's not that bad. Jenny McAllister, can you pick up on that one? 
MCALLISTER: Look, I think that states are going to make a judgement based on the health advice they're receiving and also the particular circumstances, economically in their own communities. I would make the point that there's been a lot of questions directed to Daniel Andrews, and Annastacia Palaszczuk, from Liberal frontbenchers. I don't see many questions directed towards the premier of South Australia or the premier of Tasmania. I do think that the Commonwealth ought to keep its eye on the game that they're responsible for. They are responsible for a range of questions in relation to the economy. And they're yet to provide any serious answers. I think they ought to return their focus to that. 
KARVELAS: Tim Wilson, I think we have you back. We don't have you back. I got that completely wrong, he's still in darkness in the bad weather which he wants to get out of to go to Queensland. I'll let you both go. Thank you so much for joining us.