Transcripts → 2022


ABC RN Breakfast

Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
Minister for Women


Date: Monday, 27 June 2022

Staffing allocations; Gender pay gap; Roe vs Wade decision.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: The Finance Minister Katy Gallagher joins us now on RN Breakfast. Minister, welcome.


KARVELAS: David Pocock says the staffing cut was made at the whim of the Prime Minister for his own political advantage. Why is he doing this? Why has he put the crossbench offside before Parliament even sits?

GALLAGHER: Well, the Prime Minister isn't trying to put anyone offside. What happens when a new parliament comes in and a new Parliament's elected, the Prime Minister goes through – the Prime Minister of any government – goes through and has a look at staffing allocations. I think it's fair to say many of us were surprised to see that independent members got essentially eight staff working for them where other backbenchers got four. And the Prime Minister's readjusted that, he thinks one personal staff is an extra allocation on top of what other parliamentarians get and then boosting the Parliamentary Library is a fairer way to deal with this inequity in resource allocation.

KARVELAS: Okay, you say that he you know, he didn't try and get them offside.


KARVELAS: They're furious.

GALLAGHER: Yes, we've certainly been getting that feedback since Friday. I think the Prime Minister has been getting it and I've certainly had some discussions as well. But I think we're open to constructive discussion with the crossbench. We don't want to put anyone offside but we also need to have a sustainable staffing arrangement and it's just it's not fair that the crossbench gets four additional staff on top of what every other parliamentarian who's not a shadow or a minister gets.

KARVELAS: You say that, but let's go to the differences because unlike other backbenchers, independents don't have the machinery of a major party behind them. In fact in your party, you can't even cross the floor, you don't need the resources because you can't act independently even if you wanted to. So it's a really different paradigm they're working in, even with a few extra dollars from the Parliamentary Library that you've just mentioned, how do you expect them to do their jobs properly if they don't have expert advisors to help them through the maze of really dense legislation?

GALLAGHER: Okay, so a couple of things there PK I mean, every member of parliament works hard. It is a hard job. That's what we put our hand up for, the hours are long, the work is long, and we rely heavily on our staff. That works across the board. But I've heard independent members saying that, you know, talking about backbenchers of major parties as some rubber stamp or that they don't work or they just tow the party line — that shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of an MP. First they're a local member or a senator. They also sit on committees, they also have to engage on every bill and then have that discussion in our caucus processes through you know, and it's the same in the Coalition so it's just not right to say that backbenchers —

KARVELAS: No but they have the machinery of government or opposition behind them. And they have a raft of staff for every ministers' office that they can get information from. 

GALLAGHER: Well, as individual MPs they have to engage on all of the issues that independents do. Now, we recognise that independents have a harder, higher job in the parliamentary chamber and that's why they've been allocated an extra staff member. We also have resources in the committees. Committees are resourced, the parliament library is resourced and the chamber is resourced also to support the work of every member of parliament. And we have said and we'll engage with the crossbench on how they see this best working for them in additional resources going into the Parliamentary Library to support them. They already do that work, but more needs to be done there and we'll provide those resources. But that is a fairer way of doing it rather than just doubling the staff allocation for a small group of MPs and not allowing that across the board.

KARVELAS: If you're just tuning in the Finance Minister Katy Gallagher is my guest and you're listening to ABC RN Breakfast. Minister, how much will this save and is it worth the loss of goodwill, which could mean Labor's struggles to pass its legislative agenda, such as the Integrity Commission, which Helen Haines says could now be delayed?

GALLAGHER: Well, again, we would hope that and through our respectful and constructive engagement with the crossbench that we are, you know, this does not come with any, you know, go slow or refusal to engage on legislation.

KARVELAS: You say it's respectful, but they were told, they were told this is just the way it is. Where's the respect there?

GALLAGHER: Well, they were sent a letter and which is the normal way of doing things. They've then reached out either to the Prime Minister or I think probably to Tony Burke and to myself as the managers in the chamber and we are having ongoing and constructive engagement with them and we'll continue that and I'm sure when the Prime Minister returns from Europe, he will continue that as well. So that's the first thing that we would want to continue that and ensure that, you know, legislation does pass through. I mean, people of Australia have voted for this parliament, it's up to this parliament to make it work. And I would find it extraordinary that there would be sort of, you know, threads essentially to withhold the passage of legislation based on a disagreement about resourcing a parliament office. I mean, people, all of those crossbenchers will get five staff, one extra in the Parliament, and then all of the additional resources that and we'd like to talk to them about that in the Parliamentary Library. But I would also say we have cut our staffing budget by $1.5 million, so we have taken a cut as well. The Greens have maintained their staffing allocation, despite them having extra members elected to the parliament. So everyone is taking a hit here because we are trying to make it sustainable and fairer across the parliament. 

KARVELAS: The crossbenchers were put in the parliament by nearly 1/3 of Australians who voted for minor parties and independents. If the crossbenchers lack the resources to get the job done, because that's what they say, David Pocock, the new senator for the ACT was crystal clear with me he doesn't think he can do his job properly. How is that doing politics differently in this country, which you've promised? 

GALLAGHER: Well, we have recognised that they've got extra responsibility so they'll get that extra staff and we will put extra resources in the Parliamentary Library and we will engage with them as we have been over the last few days. So we do want, we do recognise that Australians want a different style of politics, and we are working with the crossbench to make that happen. But that doesn't mean that you just accept that because they had four staff under a deal done with Scott Morrison, it seems, that that is the way things continue.

KARVELAS: Let's go to the detail. You say you're open for discussions, the Prime Minister will return,  discussions will continue. One allocation could it increase to two which is the Rudd/Gillard model?

GALLAGHER: Well, ultimately, that's above my paygrade, Patricia, but I would say we would want to continue to engage in a constructive and respectful way.

KARVELAS: Is that on the table?

GALLAGHER: Well, that's a matter for the Prime Minister, ultimately, and he will have those direct discussions with the crossbench. But our starting point was four, which is unsustainable. We thought one additional resource was a reasonable response. The crossbench have responded to that pretty forcefully and we will continue discussions with them.

KARVELAS: Okay so it could return to two? That's clearly an option.

GALLAGHER: I'm not saying that. It honestly, it's not my job, Patricia.

KARVELAS: No, but your jobs is to provide advice. You're in the Cabinet. You're the Finance Minister. Will you look at that option given that's?

GALLAGHER: I know that over the next week and I'm sure I'll be speaking to people this week, we will continue to engage with them. I'm particularly interested because the Prime Minister has given me responsibility to you know, to finalise what extra resources look like in the Parliamentary Library.

KARVELAS: Quickly on the Budget. The deficit has more than halved to $33 billion for this financial year. That's on the back of soaring commodity prices and company profits and low unemployment. Do you expect the windfalls to keep rolling in?

GALLAGHER: Yeah, so that was in the monthly financials for May. So it does show an improvement on the Budget and we will certainly welcome that because it's in pretty rough shape. I think where we're seeing improvements is in those areas that are highly volatile, so as you say around commodity prices, and we've seen some softening in those in the last week. So you know, we don't expect that it will continue at this rate. We welcome it to this point, but we also acknowledged that the challenges facing the Budget structurally remain and that's why Jim Chalmers and I are working so hard on looking at how we can make some sensible savings and adjustments heading into the Budget in October.

KARVELAS: You're also the Minister for Women. A new report today shows that the gender pay gap gets worse as workers get older, it widens to about $40,000 a year for employees aged above 45. You are the mother of daughters, you are a feminist, do you fear they will never have wage parity in their working lives?

GALLAGHER: Well, this report is again, really stark, isn't it? It shows that women are behind in terms of pay at every stage of their working life. It gets worse, of course, when they're having children or caring having caring responsibilities and disadvantages part-time women and women getting managerial opportunities. So there is a lot to do there. Patricia, in terms of trying to address this. Obviously things like childcare are important, feminised industries getting adequate pay is important. But also looking at flexible arrangements at work and how, you know, being part time shouldn't actually disqualify you from having more senior roles in your workplace. So we've got a big plan ahead to try and address women's economic security and gender pay gap and I've already had some good discussions on where to start and how to do that. The job summit will be an important first step I think.

KARVELAS: Minister just finally, we know about the sort of outrage around the world from so many women at the decision by the US supreme court to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Could it embolden pro-life movement and further stigmatise women who want to end their pregnancies here in Australia?

GALLAGHER: PK, I think that decision over the weekend in America was devastating for many women. I mean, obviously it directly affects women in America and we're seeing some of that on our TVs at the moment. And I know that many women who've reached out to me over the weekend feel the impact of this decision here locally and right across the world. I think it's been really fortunate here in Australia that this issue hasn't been front and centre in our politics. You know, legislation is in place in every jurisdiction at a state and territory level to provide women with access to safe and legal termination of pregnancy and abortion services. And I think the message to me from that decision in America was the need to remain vigilant because you know, hard fought for wins before our Parliaments can be taken away easily. So I think vigilance is the message to make sure that women in Australia have access to safe and legal abortion and that that matter is resolved between her and her medical practitioner.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us Minister. 

GALLAGHER: Thank you very much, PK. 


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