Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Tuesday, 7 April 2020
QUESTION: It appears that the Government and unions have struck an agreement for the JobKeeper payment. Can you just elaborate on what those negotiations were like?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Christian Porter has worked very hard and engaged in constructive discussions with the ACTU. It is important that we are able to make adjustments, temporary adjustments, to the Fair Work legislation to ensure that employers from businesses in financial distress who want to make the $1500 payment available to their workers can do so in a way that complies with our industrial relations legislation. Agreement was reached on drafting principles. Drafting will be finalised this morning. The Opposition and others will receive relevant briefings soon thereafter.
QUESTION: How will you make sure that employers don’t do wrong by their employees with these changes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is what we are seeking to do. This is about making sure that employees can receive their $1500 payment a fortnight from their employers in a way that is legal on behalf of the employer. We want to ensure that employers for businesses in financial distress are able to hold on to as many of their workers as possible, but to make that $1500 payment in a way that complies with our laws. Yes we do want to ensure that the right safeguards are in place. That is why we have engaged in constructive discussions with the ACTU, to ensure that the legislation as we propose it is appropriately stress tested. We believe it has been. We are quite confident that the drafting of the legislation will be able to be finalised today.
QUESTION: The Government keeps saying that we are all in this together. What about the hundreds and thousands of casuals who will miss out, only because they have been working for a new company, or haven’t been working there for more than a year. Those are people who are really feeling left behind by these payments.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is just wrong. They do not miss out. The JobKeeper payment is about keeping employees connected to their place of employment, where there has been a comparatively longer term association. In terms of long-term casuals, they are covered by the JobKeeper payment. That is a definition that is already covered in the Fair Work Act. Long-term casuals are those that have been associated with a business for more than twelve months. They will receive the $1500 JobKeeper payment, which is taxable. Anyone who does not qualify for the JobKeeper payment and is out of work, qualifies for the JobSeeker payment, which is not taxable. The JobSeeker payment, as a welfare payment also comes with a whole range of other payments attached to it, like rental assistance. Most people on JobSeeker payment would qualify for family tax benefit payments and so it goes on. It is not a matter of leaving anybody behind. It is a matter of making sure that the appropriate safety net is in place to give the best possible opportunity for all Australians to get safely to the other side.
QUESTION: So does that safety net include employees that have concerned that their business may be ripping them off they can Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Commission can look at their complaint.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will let Christian Porter as the Minister for Industrial Relations take you through all of the detail when he is in a position to do so. But as a matter of principle, we do want to ensure that the right safeguards are in the legislation. Our objective is very simple. We want to ensure that businesses who want to hold onto their employees by taking advantage of the JobKeeper payment can make that payment to their employees in a way that is legal and does not put them in breach of industrial relations laws. That is why there needs to be a temporary adjustment to ensure that can happen. We do not want anyone to be ripped off. The opposite. We want people to be supported through this period so they can get safely to the other side. The drafting will reflect a desire to ensure that the appropriate safeguards are in place.
QUESTION: On another note, just with the modelling to be released today, what exactly can we expect to learn from that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The health mission for the Government and for governments around Australia is very clear. We want to save lives by slowing down the spread of the virus. I think that the official data shows that we are heading in the right direction. We cannot take our foot off the brake so to speak in terms of slowing down the spread of the virus. But the trend is our friend. We just have to keep at it and hope that we will continue to be able to bring that curve down.
QUESTION: Why can’t Parliament continue to sit throughout this crisis? And shouldn’t it sit, given the huge volumes of money we are talking about and the fact that the public want to see politicians working together try and overcome this.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The logistics of bringing Parliament together at this point, in the context of the health crisis gripping the nation are pretty challenging. Even now we are bringing a minimum amount of Members of Parliament to Canberra from around the country by Air Force planes. To do that on a weekly or regular basis is perhaps not entirely practical. It is probably not entirely practical to have this mini Parliament sit on a regular basis. If there is an urgent or important requirement for the Parliament to sit, of course we will do so. Let me also just say we are supporting the establishment of a Senate Select Committee, which will have the job to scrutinise and question all of the initiatives and measures taken by the Government in responding to the coronavirus crisis.
QUESTION: All right Senator thank you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Thank you.