SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER
Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
Minister for Women
Date: Sunday, 28 August 2022
JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: This week representatives from the business, union and community sectors will be descending on Parliament House for a major summit on jobs, wages, unemployment, worker shortages and migration levels will all be up for discussion. Equal pay and the participation of women in the workplace will also be front and centre. Let’s speak now to Finance Minister and the Minister for Women, Katy Gallagher. Thank you for your time this morning. Now, Labor campaigned hard during the election campaign on lifting wages. Now you are in government you are dealing with rising inflation, rising interest rates – it doesn't look like wages will be going up, at least not until next year, possibly the year after as well. The ACTU secretary, Sally McManus, said this week that the government was elected on a mandate of getting wages moving. So why isn't that happening sooner?
SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Good morning, thanks for having me on. Well, certainly as a government we are doing everything we can to support wages growth. You're right, we are in a — we have inherited a high inflation environment which is presenting some additional challenges but I think since we have been elected we have supported wage claims before the Fair Work Commission, we are supporting the aged care claim before the Fair Work Commission and are looking at changes we can make, particularly in the space for me as Minister for Women, where we can improve the gender pay gap and pay equality across the board. But this week's Jobs Summit gives us another opportunity to talk about wages, to talk about skill shortages, labour shortages and some of the other challenges that businesses and union want to discuss with us at the Jobs Summit. So, it's a great opportunity being held as soon as we could in terms of being a new government, and I think it will pave the way for some of those additional areas of focus to make sure we are supporting wages growth, but dealing with some of the other challenges in the economy as well.
NICHOLSON: The gender pay gap, pay equality, women's participation in the workforce, that's reliant on wages getting moving. Take for example early childcare workers. There is a big shortage in early childcare workers and until wages are increased that won't change. So, is the wages issue getting in the way of the government delivering on the other issues that it's keen to make change on?
GALLAGHER: Well, I think there's a number of issues in relation to women and work. Obviously, we need to improve that gender pay gap. It's still too high at 14% and that's – you know, that means women are working for less than men across the board. That's not fair. We want to change that. We've got a policy around child care to make child care cheaper so that women can work additional hours – or primarily women as they are the main caregivers – so, they can work additional hours if they choose and not be disincentivised. But yes, in the care economy it will be a huge point of discussion at the Jobs Summit because you are right, it's a highly feminised industry, it's plagued by low wages. And at the moment we have got a few things going on. We have a claim for aged care wage increases, which we are supporting but we need to make sure we are not taking the focus off early childhood educators as well and I know I have met with the union and some workers around some of the challenges there. The care economy presents a huge opportunity for us not to just deal with women's workforce participation, but also to build a workforce for the future because it's a massive area of growth and is going to continue to be so. So, that will get a real focus at the Jobs Summit as well.
NICHOLSON: The ACTU is seeking to return to sector-wide bargaining – the idea that it would be strengthening workers who are wanting to pursue pay rises, but there has been some criticism of that. The Australian Industry Group's Chief Executive, Innes Willox, says it’s a throwback to the 70s. Who is the government siding on that side of the debate?
GALLAGHER: I just couldn't hear the end of that question, Jo, but I think the point you raised about industrial relations more broadly is I think all sectors agree that we need to make improvements particularly around enterprise bargaining but that will be a topic of discussion at the Jobs Summit to see where there are areas of agreement that we could move on quickly and where there are other issues that are going to take a bit longer to talk about. But I think there is universal agreement that the enterprise bargaining system isn't working as it was intended. But this discussion we are having at the Jobs Summit is a discussion about today's economy and today's challenges. So I don't support the idea it's a flashback to the 1970s. This is really about how do we set up the employment framework for a modern economy with new challenges, and to make sure it protects the rights of working people but also allows business to flourish as well. I'm not saying it is easy but the Jobs Summit is there for the discussion. That's the purpose of it and I think it is going to be a really good week.
NICHOLSON: But would you be open to sector-wide collective bargaining?
GALLAGHER: Well, this is something that I think the Minister for Industrial Relations is talking to both the unions and employers about. I don't want to get ahead of some of those discussions at the summit but there are going to be discussions about improvements that can be made to the industrial relations framework. We have made no secret of that. What's possible in the short term and what's possible in the longer term, that's a matter for the summit to decide.
NICHOLSON: On another issue, businesses are facing major skills shortages on labour shortages. Will there be a lift on the cap of skilled migrant to fill some of those gaps?
GALLAGHER: Again, I don't want to get ahead of the Jobs Summit and I'm not trying to avoid your question, Jo, but this is another area of intense focus. I can't go to a meeting in the business community without skills and access to labour being raised with me. And that's why it's on the Jobs Summit agenda. I think what we need to do is get a balance between the skilled migration program, access to permanent residency and don't take the eye off the ball of training local, you know, young people or training everybody for the jobs and opportunities of the future. And I think that's where it's got a little bit out of whack over the last few years is people have seen the migration program as a way of importing skills without having the focus on training local Australians for those jobs and those opportunities. And that's the balance that we need to strike and that's the conversation we need to have at the Job Summit.
NICHOLSON: I understand you don't want to get ahead of yourself with the Jobs Summit coming up, but is the government open to upping that cap on migrants?
GALLAGHER: Well, I think you have seen some of the commentary. The business community, you know, would like to see it increased. I think there's an acceptance from unions that there's definitely labour shortages at the moment and we need to deal with them in the short term, but what comes out of the summit, really, we will have to wait for Thursday and Friday. It's a matter that is certainly on the government's agenda. I know my colleagues Minister O'Neil and Minister Giles have been dealing with this and looking at it closely and hopefully we can have some outcomes later in the week.
NICHOLSHON: The Greens say they will be using this summit to push for wage rises for women and for the lowest paid workers. They say they will use the position in the Senate, they have a strong position in the Senate, to push for those changes in exchange for any legislative proposals that come from the summit for their support on those. Will the demands from the Greens be met and are you banking on their support for whatever comes from this summit?
GALLAGHER: Yeah, I saw those reports this morning. Obviously, we work with the Greens in the Senate. In fact, we work with the entire Senate. It's a minority chamber so in order to get legislation through you need to negotiate with other senators. That's the approach I take as manager of that chamber, we have good communication, we work together closely across the board. I would say this: one of the issues we have at times is pre-determining outcomes of the Senate and saying this what's going to happen and trade-offs and the rest of it. How about we see what comes out of the summit, see where there is opportunities for agreement and where there are disagreements – let's work on that down the track. But I think the opportunity this week is to bring unions, business, NGOs and the government and members of Parliament, because there's a number of other members of Parliament attending the summit, together to have a good discussion about these challenges and pave the way forward. If we can do that all working and pulling in the same direction, excellent. If not, we can deal with that later.
NICHOLSON: Alright, Katy Gallagher, the Finance Minister and Minister for Women, thank you for your time this morning.
GALLAGHER: Thanks for having me on.
Media contact: Pat Cronan 0432 758 224