Transcripts → 2022


Radio Interview - ABC RN Breakfast

Minister for Finance
Minister for Women
Minister for the Public Service


Date: Monday, 21 November 2022

Additional Senate sitting days; Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill; National-Anti-Corruption Commission; price of energy bills; territory rights.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Reforms to workplace rules and a national anti-corruption body are key planks of Labor's plans. Now the Government has just a fortnight to try and get the legislation through before the end of the year. The Finance Minister and the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Katy Gallagher, will be key to those negotiations in the Senate. She joins me now from our Parliament House Studio. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.


KARVELAS: There's a big legislative agenda your Government is hoping to pass, but the crossbench members say they don't have enough time. Now, I know both you and the Prime Minister say that you're welcome for to, you know, you're open to more sitting days or more time, but it's ultimately up to the Senate. Have you got the agreement, you've obviously got the, you'll have the numbers if you get the Greens and David Pocock. Have you got the Greens on board for that extra sitting time?

GALLAGHER: PK I'm talking to all of the crossbench around the sitting program and whether or not we can secure some extra days. And I think, I'm pretty hopeful that might look like a Friday this week and a Friday next week. And we'll see where we get to at the end of the first week. We've got a lot of bills to get through. And the Senate is going to be a pretty wild old place for the next fortnight in processing legislation and debating legislation. So I think we will end up with extra hours. We haven't locked everybody in on that yet. But I think the Government's position is we'd like to sit we'd like to sit to get a whole range of bills done. And if the Senate agrees, then that will occur.

KARVELAS: Okay, so you're talking about two extra days, the two extra Fridays essentially, right?

GALLAGHER: Yeah, at this stage, so obviously --

KARVELAS: Will that be enough?

GALLAGHER: Well, the Senate is master of its own destiny, so you know, there is a lot of hours in the week to debate bills, we often debate other things as well, like, and no doubt there will be other business aside from Government legislation. But there is a fair bit of time allocated. It's how the Senate approaches that task, obviously, and without having the numbers to force particular processes or to bring votes to be held, we do have to negotiate with the crossbench and the Coalition as well if they're up for that discussion about how to progress legislation through. When we were in opposition, we often worked with the former government to get a lot of bills done because there usually is a bank up of bills, particularly after Senate Estimates where the House has a week and the Senate sits in committee and so isn't there to debate bills on the floor. So it's not that unusual that we're at this point where we've got a stack of bills to get through. I'm hopeful we can negotiate, you know, whether it's with the opposition or the crossbench to get those bills done and IR and the National Anti-Corruption Commission bills are important ones to get done by the end of the year.

KARVELAS: So IR and the Anti-Corruption Commission, do you see those as bills that the Government must pass by the end of the year? Are they the two priorities?

GALLAGHER: Well, we have some, there's a stack of bills, Patricia, there's, you know, childcare, there's electric vehicles, there's the appropriation bills, we definitely need to deal with those to make sure we got money flowing to departments. So, all of that needs to be done. But yes, then these, I see the National Anti-Corruption bills and the industrial relation bills, the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill, as ones where the Senate will you know, quite legitimately, want time to debate and time to look at amendments. And so where I am, is trying to look at what we can do in the first week to make good progress on the other bills, and then allocate the second week, if possible, to deal with, or have substantial time for those key pieces of legislation. And I don't think it's any secret that the Government would like to deal with both of those by the end of the year.

KARVELAS: If you can't get Senator David Pocock over the line this week on the industrial relations bill, will you consider splitting the bill so that the majority will pass this year and the more contentious elements, such as multi-employer bargaining can be debated in the new year?

GALLAGHER: Well, that hasn't been our approach to date. I mean, I would say that I leave the negotiations on the bills to Tony Burke to have with the crossbench. So he's doing that. And then I support those, you know, managing those negotiations through the Senate, but so he's dealing with those. Our preference and, in fact, our position is not to split the bills. They are interconnected. I know people would like to separate out the sort of what they see is the more contentious bits around bargaining but when it is all about getting the bargaining system working, and particularly for low wage industries to make sure that we've got the system in place and if you take out a reasonably sized piece of that system, then, you know, what you're trying to achieve with the bill will be compromised. And it would be, you know, I think you're taking out a controversial thing to deal with on its own. The likelihood of that being bogged down, I think is real, you know. So I think it's --

KARVELAS: Level with us, you're saying you just don't think you'll pass the other part, ever?

GALLAGHER: Well, there's always these process arguments that come with bills. And it's a way of sort of not saying, you know, saying, well, that's controversial and I don't know how to deal with it at the moment. We would like this bill dealt with in its entirety, the way it's been drafted is that, you know, that it would make it difficult to carve out a particular bit. And, you know, it is all interconnected, if you're looking at sort of the approach we've taken on women and improving women's access to bargaining in those low wage industries, taking out that section would compromise that ability to do that. So I don't think it's unreasonable that the Government say, look, this is our bill, this is how we'd like to deal with it, we're prepared to sit extra hours so that you can debate it and have all your amendments dealt with. And but we would like it dealt with by the end of the year.

KARVELAS: The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is launching an advertising campaign against the bill today, warning it will cost companies and jobs. They're not the only ones, the resources industry is looking at doing the same. They're putting up a big fight. Are you ready for that fight?

GALLAGHER: Well, we'll fight for this legislation on its merits. And I think we've been doing that, since the legislation has been released. And, you know, that's whether people spend money on advertising campaigns is, you know, their decision. You know, some will argue that that money could be better spent on other things, but that is their decision. Our position and where the Government can meaningfully make a difference is to continue to argue for the legislation that we have put forward. You know, it's everybody's right to argue against things. That's the democratic world we live in, in Australia, which is great. But we won't be distracted by an advertising campaign. And we will continue to advocate on behalf of working Australians by getting wages moving, which is what this is all about.

KARVELAS: But at the heart of their argument is that your legislation will cost jobs, that they'll have to lay off workers. Can you guarantee that there won't be any job losses as a result of this bill?

GALLAGHER: Well, you know, the single biggest issue that's been raised with me when I go around boardrooms of Australia, and talk with stakeholders, is actually finding labour to employ. At the moment, we've got a very low unemployment rate, we've got labour shortages, we've got demand for workers, which is pretty high. So that's, you know, and our legislation is about getting a fair crack for working people in terms of wage increases. That's the point. You know, we see it as a way of bringing business and workers together to fix up the bargaining system that's broken, and ensure that, you know, working people are getting a fair wage rise, which is something they haven't had for a decade. So we don't see this as legislation that's meant to be divisive, or picking a fight or anything like that. We want to improve the industrial relations system. It hasn't been working in the interests of working people. We want to bring business to the table. And you've been seeing us do that through the Jobs and Skills Summit, and in just continuing discussions about this bill. So, I would, I don't accept the position that businesses are putting. I'm not surprised that they would want to have, might be funding an advertising campaign, because this has been one of those issues in Australian political history that's been fought over for years. IR reform has been and often is contentious. But that is not the aim of this legislation and we will continue to argue for it.

KARVELAS: There have been reports that your Government is considering taxing gas and thermal coal to subsidise people's energy bills. Are you considering those taxes?

GALLAGHER: Well, Patricia, I think we've talked before and certainly the Treasurer has talked with you about the work that's underway before the Government. I mean, obviously, we're dealing with these really significant increases in energy prices. We are looking at a whole range of options. Our preferred option is looking at regulatory responses, looking at the voluntary code and making that mandatory. I think the Treasurer has been clear on that. That is our preferred way through but we are looking, you know, it's also sensible to have a look at other options that are being put forward and take advice on those, understand the impacts of those and make some sensible decisions when we're in a position to do so. The timeframe for that is towards the end of this year. Ministers are continuing to work hard on it. Departments are working hard on analysis and advice to Government and we will work through it in a responsible and measured way.

KARVELAS: The bill to give the ACT and the Northern Territory the right to vote on voluntary assisted dying will also be debated this week and you are actually an ACT Senator, I know this affects, you know, the people you represent. There are concerns if this doesn't come to a vote this year, momentum will be lost. And there have already been several senators who have changed their minds. As a Territorian, I know you support the bill. Will you ensure it comes to a vote in the final sitting fortnight of the year?

GALLAGHER: Yes, we will. And that is, that is a clear commitment from us. This is something I've been fighting for for 10 years. The House of Representatives dealt with the bill in a timely way. It was overwhelmingly supported there. We will sit until that bill is resolved.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

GALLAGHER: Thanks very much Patricia.


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