Transcripts → 2023


Radio interview - ABC Canberra Breakfast

Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
Minister for Women


Date: Friday, 29 September 2023

APS pay negotiations; Michael Pezzullo; Qantas

ROSS SOLLY, HOST: Katy Gallagher is the Minister and joins us, good morning to you Senator.


SOLLY: Apologies for making you listen to that Rolling Stones

GALLAGHER: No, I was enjoying the banter.

SOLLY: It's quite nice, isn't it? It's quite a nice song. I will go back later and listen to the entire seven minutes. I'm sure you enjoyed that more than you enjoyed listening to Melissa Donnelly talking about industrial action. What were your thoughts about this?

GALLAGHER: Well, look, I'm hopeful that we can reach agreement as soon as possible. I acknowledge unions and the role they play and that they have options available to them, including taking industrial action if they choose. But I still am an optimist at heart and I am hopeful that we'll be able to reach agreement as soon as possible. I think from you know, the government's point of view we have revised our pay offer after feedback from the Union, we have worked really hard to improve the conditions and their substantial improvement to conditions in this package. And the pay offer we've got on is more than double the pay offers that were given in the previous decade. So I feel like we have come to the table and put a good package on it. And I'm hopeful that we can reach agreement as soon as possible.

SOLLY: That’s the issue, isn't it though Senator, that they're saying that they've been left behind for so long and you've just confirmed that this offer now is much more than they were before. So there's a lot of catch up that has to take place. Can you understand then why the members, or some of the members not the majority, but some of the members are saying well 11.2% doesn't cut it given the poor pay rises that we've had in recent times.

GALLAGHER: Well, I certainly accept that we're trying to clean up the mess of the last decade in the public service. And part of that is trying to put in place a much better arrangement for the employees of the APS, which is what we're trying to do with this agreement. But I would also say we cannot, you know, recover, I guess an entire decade of failure to engage from the previous government. So we're not seeing this just in APS, in a whole range of areas whether it you know, climate and energy policy, in aged care, there's all these areas where we're having to clean up the mess. But you know, this is the affordable and reasonable offer that we can provide at this point in time. And, you know, I will continue to work with the unions to reach agreement as soon as we can because, you know, there's some really some of the low paid workers that we're trying to fix up in terms of pay parity in this agreement, you know, there they could get up to around 20% through this deal. And I don't want to see them wait any longer to get some of the fairness that they deserve?

SOLLY: It's not a big majority, but it is a majority of the members have voted in favour of the offer that's put on the table. Is it responsible then of the union to turn around given 51.9% of the members are saying, "yep, let's have it, we're happy for this to go ahead." For them to turn around and say, "nope, we're not listening to you. We are going to take industrial action."

GALLAGHER: Well, I guess it's a matter for them. I mean, you know, they're responding to pockets of their membership, I imagine, and I have to do that. But I would say --

SOLLY: But should the minority outweigh the views of the majority?

GALLAGHER: Well, again, that's I can't control that. I was hopeful that with the majority vote and you know, I'm not pretending it wasn't a slim majority, that we could have proceeded to put this and finalise this agreement, but that's not the case. And so now we need to work through whatever happens next. And you know, I will be certainly urging the CPSU in particular, to outline what is the pathway forward because you know, at the moment we had the bargaining team met yesterday, it was, as I understand it, a very short meeting. But at this point in time, other than having some industrial action in Services Australia, there isn't a clear path forward about how we are going to resolve it and we need to resolve it so that people can get their pay and access improved conditions.

SOLLY: Have you got some loose change kicking around in the in the back pocket that you can throw on the table or not?

GALLAGHER: Well, this is you know, we have revised the pay offer in terms of in responding to their request from the original pay offer. So I mean, I've tried to be as reasonable as I can, I've tried to find the money that we can find to ensure that we are able to pay these pay increases without, you know, other implications in the APS and I would say at the same time I'm doing this, I'm responding to Union and other concerns about rebuilding the capacity within the public service. So, we have employed thousands of new staff to deal with areas where the union has campaigned for many years. So that comes with a huge cost to the Budget as well. So, you know, the public service reform work can't just be seen in the views of the enterprise agreement negotiations. There is a whole lot of things that we’ve responded to, unions and others and doing the right thing in the APS to make sure that it's able to do the job that it needs to do and it is a bigger public service responding to those and that comes with a cost as well.

SOLLY: Just on that, Senator Gallagher, I think you would agree that the public service at the moment there are a lot of broken hearted people in there. There are a lot of broken people in there that public service has, unfortunately not been able to grow and prosper in the way that we've maybe expected over many, many years. What do you think the revelations in the past week or so of Michael Pezzullo does to the mindset and the feeling of people, or public servants here in the ACT and generally?

GALLAGHER: Well, if I put that matter aside, Ross, because as you know, it's under investigation by the APSC by the Public Service Commission, so I'm reluctant to provide any commentary on that and just allow that to go on the course that has been decided there. But more broadly, you know, obviously, as Minister for Public Service, I've been working with public servants for a long time. And I think one of you know, their, you know, the way the public service has been treated and some of the issues including the Royal Commission into Robodebt no doubt has effect on morale across the APS. But it's not just one thing, I think that affects morale, it's been a whole range of decisions, including the fact that it wasn't able really to do the job it was being asked to do through lack of staffing and lack of respect under the former government and we are trying to rebuild that but you know, the APS also has had some pretty, you know, shining moments particularly through COVID when you know, people realised just how important the APS was. But you know, the IPS reform work, building capability, having integrity at the centre of everything that the APS does, ensuring there's trust in the public service with the Australian community. They're all big parts of the work that are underway and being led by the APS reform team.

SOLLY: Without then naming names or it talking about anyone specific. Do you believe that there are some public service heads and some people near the top of the Public Service who probably need to go, Katy Gallagher, because the mindset is wrong and that maybe some of them have got too close to people and maybe there is, and I'm not referring to anyone in particular, but do you think that there are some who probably need to consider their future and where they are at the moment?

GALLAGHER: Well again, Ross, I really don't want to get drawn into contemporary matters that are currently being considered by the APSC. But I would say leadership is incredibly important in the APS. You know, what, what the leadership does, whether it be at the senior executive level or above, flows through right through the institution itself. And, you know, clearly that has to be a focus going forward. I know it is for the Prime Minister. It is for the work I do. The commissioner for the Public Service understands that, and the reform work we've been laying out really has had leadership at front and centre and that is going to continue to be a focus.

SOLLY: Just on one other matter before I let you go Senator Gallagher, and that is the behaviour of Qantas. Quite unbelievably, we're now in a situation where Alan Joyce has been threatened with jail, which I thought I would never see the data that would happen, but put that to one side. Can you believe given all the publicity, everything that's happened in the past couple of weeks that even last night Qantas was still cancelling flights from Sydney to Canberra? I mean, Katy Gallagher, how do we stop this? What do we have to do to change this and is Qantas it's taking us all for a ride and not the sort of ride we want Qantas to take us for.

GALLAGHER: Well, certainly Qantas has a big job ahead of it under the new CEO, Vanessa Hudson to repair community relationships. You know, I think the reputational damage that has been done to the national carrier over the last year or so has been significant. I think the CEO understands that and there's a big job ahead of her to repair that. I've certainly advocated as has Canberra Airport on the issue of flight cancellations in Canberra. They are enormously frustrating. I've been given a letter back from Qantas saying that they are looking at fixing that. But you know, I know many Canberrans including myself quite often choose to drive to Sydney now because it's at least a, you know, you can guarantee you're going to get there in the time that you want to and I think for the business travel, for the price of tickets, for all of that it's enormously frustrating for Canberra travellers.

SOLLY: And the fact that they're even cancelling flights last night after everything that's been said just shows surely there's a bit of tone deafness going on, isn't there somewhere here?

GALLAGHER: Well, you know, I guess I've got to leave that to Qantas. Obviously, I think they understand the sort of the reputation and the damage that has occurred in the last few months and you know, the frustration with customers and good customers that have been loyal for many years are not happy with how they've been treated. So it's definitely something the company needs to address.

SOLLY: Senator Gallagher, good to speak to you this morning. Thank you.

GALLAGHER: Thanks very much Ross.