SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER
Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
Minister for Women
Date: Thursday, 1 September 2022
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Katy Gallagher is the Finance Minister and Minister for Women and our guest this morning. Minister, welcome.
SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Morning PK.
KARVELAS: The Australian Industry Group says this agreement between the BCA and the ACTU isn't news for anyone participating in the summit. How significant is it from the government's perspective?
GALLAGHER: Look, I think it's a fantastic agreement in the sense of the purpose behind the Jobs Summit has been to find areas of agreement across government, industry, unions, business, civil society. Where there are areas where there are shared views or agreements to be reached, we want to use this opportunity to progress them. And in that instance, I think the agreement between the ACTU and the BCA is an excellent example of exactly why we wanted to hold this summit and why we're optimistic about the outcomes of the summit, following two days of discussions.
KARVELAS: This summit is the start of a process and will be followed by an industrial relations white paper. What concrete outcomes are you hoping to achieve over the next two days?
GALLAGHER: Well, I think in a range of areas I'm hoping and we're all hoping – I think everyone has been putting a lot of work into this and I'm not talking just about government members, I'm talking about everyone who's coming to the summit, plus all of the people who've participated in the more than 100 roundtables and meetings before the summit – are hoping that there are some areas where we can show immediate progress where there are areas for agreement and that might be in industrial relations, it might be in the area of skills and migration, where we've seen some progress in discussions today. I don't want to pre-empt the sessions that are happening starting in just under half an hour. But we are hoping that there will be a series of outcomes that are essentially agreed at the summit. And then as you say, there may be some areas where we have to do further work in the employment white paper, but also for me in the area of say, my Minister for Women's hat on, where we get the Women's Economic Equality Task Force to do some further work as well. So we accept, you know, there's no magic wand, we're not going to solve all of the significant economic challenges in the next two days. But we are hopeful of some progress and then where there are ones that require further work, that we do that in the next 12 months.
KARVELAS: Minister, the government is considering the call from unions to be allowed to engage in industrial action in support of multi-employer bargaining. The Australian Industry Group who I spoke to before, says that's a huge concern for business. And indeed, that's a red line issue. Should unions be able to engage in industrial action over multi-employer bargaining?
GALLAGHER: Well, I think industrial relations is the area where there is a lot of different views. We're seeing some progress again, with small business and the agreement that's been reached between COSBOA and the ACTU and now the BCA and ACTU about some areas. And you know, we will have those discussions. I think Minister Burke's areas are up in the first session and everyone will have the opportunity to put forward their views. In terms of industrial relations, you know, we want to make sure that there's a balance of improvements for working people, but of course, we also want to listen to industry groups as well. Some of these issues aren't straightforward. You know, we have pretty tight laws around industrial action in this country.
KARVELAS: We do, let me just put something to you specific because, with your Minister for Women hat on, this really affects the sector that is very feminised and has huge impacts on women who use child care, to actually get back to work. And Innes Willox said to me that, he said imagine in child care if big parts of child care shut down over a dispute over a bargaining agreement. He said that would be a ridiculous situation in this industry wide sort of model. Would you be concerned about a scenario like that?
GALLAGHER: Well, in fact, I think there is a strike or an industrial action next week for child care workers who are campaigning for better pay under the arrangements that currently exist. I think there's definitely an issue in the care economy, where it's a highly feminised industry, plagued by low wages where the bargaining system has not worked for them. And we absolutely have the responsibility to look at ways to strengthen the bargaining system to make it applicable and relevant to those industries where we are going to see massive growth in the future, and where the bargaining system has not worked for them to date. And I don't think anyone would put their hand on their heart and say the bargaining system works in the care economy. It doesn't. And so we absolutely need to look at that because if we don't, we're not going to attract enough workers into the sector. We're not going to be able to deal with the quality of care, standards of care, the professionalisation of that sector, unless we deal with some of these issues around pay and conditions. That's the simple and honest truth.
KARVELAS: Let's go to some specifics which very much affect you in your portfolio as Minister for Women. The BCA and the ACTU want to increase Commonwealth funded paid parental leave to 26 weeks to lift participation and to specifically narrow the gender pay gap, which your government wants to do. Are you open to it?
GALLAGHER: Well, these are the issues that have come up in the roundtables. Definitely the issue around child care, around PPL, around improving gender pay are certainly the main areas – we've got that kicking off on the first session today, is actually a panel on that. The Treasurer has made sure that women and women's economic equality is front and centre of this summit and that it not only gets dealt with upfront, but that it informs all of the other parts of the program. And absolutely, we will look at them. But I'm not pretending that we, again, with my Minister for Finance hat on, some of these big changes while absolutely full of merit are going to be a challenge to meet in the context of the budget.
KARVELAS: I don't mean to be rude and cut across you but you need women to get back into the workforce at greater numbers, greater hours, we are having so many shortages in the workforce. Also, there are clearly benefits for children and women according to the research. One clear solution, you say you're looking for solutions, is 26 weeks of paid parental leave. The BCA and the ACTU, right, polar ends so to speak, both think it's a good idea. Why not just do it?
GALLAGHER: Look, and I accept that there is the widespread agreement around improvements to PPL. In the election campaign, we put our largest investment into child care which is the other side of looking at addressing women's participation in the workforce, that's going to be delivered in the October budget. That's a $5 billion investment. It's not insignificant. I'm trying to deal with a whole range of good ideas right across government at the moment. And I'm also, the Treasurer and I, are also absolutely cognizant of the fact that we have massive deficits and a trillion dollars of debt. So yes, we are looking at all of these, Patricia, I wish I could fund every good idea that had merit.
KARVELAS: So there's a way you could and that is re-looking at the stage three tax cuts. According to the data, men earning over $180,000 are the biggest winners from the stage three tax cuts. Men. Men overwhelmingly are the beneficiaries of these cuts, of the tax cuts. Does that sit comfortably with you?
GALLAGHER: Look, Patricia I mean we tried to make amendments to stage three when they were debated in the parliament and we lost that debate. The government hasn't changed the position we took to the election on stage three. And I would say my focus and I think the Treasurer's focus at the moment is on things we can do right now.
KARVELAS: Yeah, but as Minister for Women, to revisit the same question, does it sit comfortably with you that the overwhelming beneficiaries of those tax cuts are disproportionately men?
GALLAGHER: Well, it's the reality that men earn more than women and are over-represented compared to women in those higher income thresholds. And so, in that respect, they will get a larger share of the stage three tax cuts. That's the reality of, you know, the labour market at the moment.
KARVELAS: The government-set reality and you say, you know, it's not easy to fund everything like for 26 weeks of PPL. That's an obviously a gendered issue. If you look at those two comparisons, governments are about priorities, why not change your priorities?
GALLAGHER: Well, what I'm saying to you is we haven't changed our position on stage three, and what we're focused on is – and those stage three tax cuts don't come in until I think July 2024. It's, you know, a fair, fair bit of time away. Jim and I are focused on what we can do right now. The decisions we need to take in the Budget right now. I'm introducing gender analysis of budget measures and government policies as Minister for Women so that we can, when we are making decisions, have that gendered analysis before the cabinet. That's a big change. It hasn't happened before. And so we are doing that. But my priority right now, aside from the Jobs Summit, and the work that's going on there is to deal with the immediate challenges and the immediate pressures that are being faced by people. And that's why we're focused on what we can do, reasonably and responsibly do, during the October budget.
KARVELAS: Minister, good luck today. I think the whole country kind of wants some success at a forum like this. Absolutely. Thanks for joining us.
Thank you. We're very optimistic and thanks for having me on, Patricia.
Media contact: Pat Cronan 0432 758 224