Transcript: Jenny McAllister on the NBN, the minimum wage, rising inequality and company tax

8.15am | March 29, 2017





SUBJECT/S: Report on the Coalition Government’s raid of Senator Conroy’s Office, NBN, minimum wage, inequality, company tax

SENATOR MCALLISTER: Good morning everyone. I wanted to make a few remarks about the report that was handed down yesterday by the Privileges Committee in the Senate. The report has found that in executing raids, during an election, in the offices of a sitting Senator, Senator Conroy, to recover documents in relation to the NBN, there was improper interference in the functions of the Parliament. Now the Senate has done its work looking at these essentially legal and technical questions, but the findings of this report raise further serious political questions.

We have to remember that the raids were undertaken to discover who the whistle-blowers were, blowing the whistle on the failures of the NBN. Malcolm Turnbull, as everyone will recall, was the Minister for Communications responsible for the NBN, the person who set the direction for the NBN when Labor lost government. On his watch we saw the cost of that project blow out to fifty billion dollars. We saw a promise from Mr Turnbull that every Australian household would have access to the NBN by 2016 and, of course, at this point in time more than seven million Australian households are still waiting. In the last year alone we’ve seen complaints about the NBN blow out by one hundred and fifty percent.

This is a failure of enormous proportions. It is hard not to see the relationship between that failure, the Prime Minister’s responsibility for that failure, and the extraordinary decision during an election campaign to initiate a raid on the offices of a sitting member of Parliament who had been pursuing that failure.

It is now time for Mr Turnbull and his Ministers to make clear their role in this process and to answer all questions about their role, in particular whether they knew about the raids beforehand; whether they gave direction about the approach NBN ought to take in pursuing this matter, and the broad direction that was given by Mr Turnbull, or any of his Ministers, to the NBN company about how they ought to treat this.

JOURNALIST: Sally McManus is giving a talk today about a forty five dollar minimum wage rise. What do you think of that?

SENATOR MCALLISTER: Taking it from first principles, wages growth is flat and inequality in Australia is rising. From a first principles perspective, I see no reason why any Australian should object to our lowest paid workers receiving a pay increase. There is a well-established process that we go through to establish what the minimum wage ought to be and Labor will take part in that as that unfolds. We would support a fair and reasonable increase to the minimum wage.

JOURNALIST: Her recommendations are a fairly substantial increase. Is it too much do you think?

SENATOR MCALLISTER: We’ll work through the process and we will certainly support fair and reasonable increases to the minimum wage.

JOURNALIST: Is dealing with the minimum wage the best way, or one of the most effective ways, of combating inequality?

SENATOR MCALLISTER: Certainly. One of the most interesting things about the Australian situation is that we have been greatly supported in our efforts to contain and address inequality by having a wage system that supports wage fairness. It’s much more straight forward to tackle inequality by addressing it through wages than it is through redistribution, and any person who is interested in maintaining a fair Australia ought to pay attention to the wages and conditions of all Australians, but particularly Australians at the lower end of the income spectrum. It is one of the reasons we are so exercised about the Government’s decision to support a cut to penalty rates. It is essentially a cut to the pay of some of Australia’s lowest paid workers and it ought not to be contemplated for those questions around inequality but also for the stress it would cause to those workers.

JOURNALIST: On 18C. Has the Government indicated – or are you aware of what the amendments will be?

SENATOR MCALLISTER: I understand the Government have circulated some amendments and we are working our way through the implications of those. The broader question of course is that, as the Government likes to point out, this is a debate that has been going on for some time. It seems extraordinary that they would bring on the legislation for debate, as they did yesterday, without circulating any amendments and without giving the parties in the Senate an opportunity to properly examine those before we commenced our speeches or provided a response in the chamber to that legislation.

JOURNALIST: Have you seen any of those circulated amendments?

SENATOR MCALLISTER: I have not personally had the chance to examine them, I have been working on other questions, but I know our team is working its way methodically through those amendments.

JOURNALIST: So the Government is going to have to work out how best to split up its company tax legislation. How do you think – or what is a more likely move for it to make there?

SENATOR MCALLISTER: I think those are questions for the Government. They will determine doubtless their preferred strategy for dealing with the company tax legislation. The Labor position is very clear. We do support tax relief for small businesses but we think that a business of about two million dollars is about the right size to define a small business. We think a ten million dollar business can hardly be defined as a small business and we don’t support the changes that the Government is proposing to that threshold.

JOURNALIST: Thank you.