Transcript: Jenny McAllister On Sky News On Penalty Rates

5.00pm | February 23, 2017




SUBJECT/S: Cuts to Penalty Rates

LAURA JAYES: I want to give a bit of history to you. Bill Shorten set up these rules in 2013 and wanted these decisions to be reviewed every four years by a fair independent body. But this is a body that you believe hasn’t given you the decision you want.

JENNY MCALLISTER: We do not accept the decision that’s come down today and we don’t accept the reasoning that underpins it. There are many things that have happened in the last couple of years that might have changed this decision. For example, we have seen Coalition members of parliament stand up every week and talk about the fact that they believe penalty rates out to be cut. There’s been an enormous advocacy from members of the Government to cut penalty rates. There’s also been no intervention by the prime minister, by his workplace relations minister, into this case, to argue to protect penalty rates. I think trying to point to the process is something of a distraction.

JAYES: But how is it a distraction? This could look like you only accept the advice of an independent body when it suits you.

MCALLISTER: The independent body is set up to receive input, guidance and information from all of the parties in these processes. What I am saying is that the Labor Party has been very consistent about our view on penalty rates over the past couple of years while the Commission has been considering this issue. That cannot be said for Coalition.

JAYES: But how can you blame the Government for a ruling from an independent body such as we had today?

MCALLISTER: Because they had the opportunity to intervene, to make the case to protect the working conditions of some of Australia’s lowest paid workers, and they chose not to.

JAYES: So you think if the Government made a submission to the Fair Work Commission it would have changed today’s decision?

MCALLISTER: Absolutely it is possible for governments to put a view to the Commission about what they think is in the national interest.

JAYES: We’ve had 140 witnesses, a lot of research gathered, this decision has taken two years. Do you really think a Government submission, from the conservative side of politics would have changed all that?

MCALLISTER: I think that the Government is in a very strong position to influence cases like this by putting a view, a very well-grounded view, about the national interest. They chose not to do so. In fact what they chose to do was send person after person, members of the parliament from the Liberal and National parties out in public to argue for a reduction in penalty rates on Sundays. And I think they ought to be held accountable for that.

JAYES: It is not the homogenous view of all Australians that penalty rates should not have been cut. We have many small businesses that have been lobbying and advocating for penalty rates, particularly on a Sunday, to be brought in line with Saturday, so what do you say to small businesses?

MCALLISTER: We need to understand that when you take money out of the pockets of the very families that spend at the small business, at the café, that this is not a recipe for economic success, it’s not a recipe for economic success in small towns and it’s not a recipe for economic success more globally in the economy. One of my really great concerns is that, by taking money away from people on low incomes, by reducing confidence from working and middle income families, we will see an economic effect. We are already dealing with very low wage growth, very flat wages over the last couple of years; we’re seeing the Reserve Bank Governor express his concerns about what that means in combination with high levels of household debt and the cost of housing. We have real challenges about maintaining demand in our economy.

JAYES: You cite the Reserve Bank Governor but he’s also advocated for a cut in company tax, which Labor does not agree with. The cynical person would say there’s a lot of politics being played and small businesses are not really getting a voice from you. You’re not really advocating on behalf of small business.

MCALLISTER: To your first point, we are having a public debate, many experts will put their view forward, and the Labor Party has been upfront, we don’t agree with today’s decision, and we don’t agree with the arguments that underpin it. Some of these arguments include the idea that we now live in a 247 economy and Sundays aren’t special. The truth is that only about 30% of Australians work irregular hours. Most people do work a Monday to Friday job. And most Australians do understand that Sunday is special, Sunday is for family. And if you’re going to give up time on Sunday, you should be compensated for it. To your other point, about being an advocate for small business, it is my honest belief that our economy thrives when we have working class and middle class families with money in their pockets. The effect of today’s decision is a wage cut, there’s no getting around that. The Commission acknowledges it in its own judgement. I do not believe that a wage cut is good for small business and I don’t believe it’s good for the Australian economy.

JAYES: Labor has flagged that it will change the Fair Work Commission rules when it is in Government, is there anything you can do more immediately? Will you introduce legislation for the Government to intervene?

MCALLISTER: We’ve indicated that we’ll be making submissions in the further round of consideration that the Fair Work Commission signalled today. As to legislative responses, we’ve said that we will consider the judgement very carefully, and we will consider options to protect the pay of low-paid workers. We are not in a position to say what those options are today, but we will certainly be studying this very carefully.

JAYES: Thank you for your time.