Press conference – Parliament House, Canberra – Prime Minister of Australia

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: I would like to start by congratulating my friend Daniel Andrews on an extraordinary result in Victoria. Winning a third term with an absolute majority is an extraordinary achievement. Daniel Andrews has led Victoria through difficult times, in particular the pandemic. But he has also been rewarded for having a vision for the future: a vision about better infrastructure, a vision about better hospitals, better schools, free kindy, additional free TAFE places, and a plan for Victoria going forward, including the recreation of the SEC and a plan for a clean energy future. Daniel Andrews and his team deserve a big pat on the back for the work that they’ve done. And I’m very much looking forward to continuing to work with Dan. I have a good relationship with all of the State Premiers and Chief Ministers. We’ve done good work in coordinating federal and state relations, and I look forward to that continuing into the future. And I congratulate Dan and his entire team.
Of course, there was another big win last night as well, the Socceroos. And I congratulate them on the win over Tunisia. It means that the destiny of the Socceroos is now in their own hands for their third match up against Denmark. And it was a terrific match, extraordinary defence in the second half and they thoroughly deserved, their victory. And I congratulate Graham Arnold and the entire team, including, of course, Matt Ryan, who saved a number of goals in that period where they were defending their lead.
On industrial relations, today is a huge day for working people and the decision by the crossbenchers to back Labor’s bill, which will guarantee more secure work and better pay, is the right one. We went to an election saying that we wanted to get wages moving again. We said the low wages that we’d seen over the previous decade wasn’t a result of bad luck, it was bad policy. The former government said that low wage growth was a design feature of the economic architecture, and they certainly delivered that, low wages for year after year after year. This is a sensible proposition and Labor has been prepared to sit down with business, with unions, with the crossbench, with civil society, to work through the legislation to ensure that any improvements that can be offered have been taken up. That’s the way that we intend to deal with legislation as a principle going forward, and I thank in particular Senator Pocock for his constructive engagement with the government.
Additionally, Labor will establish a new statutory advisory committee to review approaches to boost economic inclusion and tackle disadvantage. That is consistent with what I said before the election that each and every budget that Labor hands down will always give consideration to what we can do for those people who are doing it tough, for those people who are marginalised. It’s what we did the last time we were in government. It is what we will do. An expert advisory group to give that advice to government will assist that process and the delivery of that commitment that I gave. We do have, though, a very big week coming up in the Parliament with the National Anti-Corruption Commission legislation as well. On that, I would say that we need to make sure that we get it right. We believe we have got the balance right and we’ll continue to pursue that. I know that there are some suggestions of amendments being got together. If need be, we will continue to sit as a parliament to make sure that we get those details right.
TONY BURKE, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks, Prime Minister. Very grateful to the crossbench for the negotiations that have led to today. The government had a very strong view that we wanted the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill to be through this year. People waiting ten years for their wages to get moving have waited long enough. The decision that gets taken this week means that we will have a pathway to secure jobs, we will get wages moving, and we will be taking action to close the gender pay gap. All of that is made possible through the legislation going through this year. And for the negotiations, both the ones that finished yesterday with Senator David Pocock and the work that’s also been going on with both Adam Bandt and Senator Barbara Pocock, we have legislation where every section of the bill is still there. There are amendments which improve it in various ways, but the bottom line is there will be a pathway now for wages to get moving again in Australia. It will be a deliberate design feature of how we manage things.
JOURNALIST: Central to what David Pocock was saying today was that he says that one in six children live in poverty. Do you accept that? And if so, why wait for an independent committee to tell you need to fix it?
PRIME MINISTER: Because it’s government that makes decisions. And government will continue to make decisions. But it should make decisions based upon the best possible advice and putting out the facts there, which this committee will be able to do, and making that advice to government, which will be made public, will assist our decision-making processes. We have committees on a range of things. We have an Infrastructure Australia board that will give advice to the government based upon the highest productivity benefits going forward. There are a range of other sources of advice, this will be an additional one. I said before the election, I repeat it again: there’s more we would like to do. We do have fiscal constraints, and we do have to make sure that any action of the government bears in mind inflation and the economic circumstances which are there. This committee, I think, will add to the amount of information and the quality of the information which is out there.
JOURNALIST: So you accept that one in six children live in poverty?
PRIME MINISTER: I accept that there are far too many people in Australia living in poverty and struggling to get by. I accept that.
JOURNALIST: Just on that committee. It will obviously put a lot of pressure on the Treasurer. Was the Treasurer a part of the discussion about the committee?
JOURNALIST: This is a very watered down version of your election promise, what the government was passing this week.
JOURNALIST: There’s been further concessions made today with these negotiations. Isn’t this not an extremely watered down version of what you promised at the election? And just on the Victorian election, what’s your reaction to the Greens, doubling their numbers and the Teals picking up seats?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that’s a premature declaration, frankly, from what I hear of the election results. So we’ll wait until people count their ballots. I do find it rather extraordinary in some of the commentary that a party that wins 50 seats gets told by a party that wins a handful that the lesson behind this election is not that the party that won 50 seats has had a success, but the party that wins a few have a big success. I’ve seen that before. It’s something that’s replicated consistently. And the fact is that I know that some will declare that the major party’s process is somehow not ever going to be successful again. I lead a majority Labor government. Daniel Andrews has just been elected for a third term with a majority Labor government, and I believe that is entirely appropriate. On wages, we went to the election saying very clearly that we would put in place measures to increase wages. That is what we are doing.
JOURNALIST: What does Dan Andrews re-election mean for how you will progress your agenda in Victoria? And what is your message to voters there?
PRIME MINISTER: Voters always get it right. And voters were faced with Daniel Andrews, who has an agenda for the future and a scare campaign run, not just by the Liberal Party, but I think anyone who looks at some of the commentary that’s been out there would suggest that Daniel Andrews didn’t exactly cop a fair assessment going forward. Voters can see through this and voters made their decision. It means someone who has been a friend of mine for a long period of time, who I trust completely, I’ll continue to work with. I’ll work with any government that’s elected. That’s my job. But Daniel Andrew’s result is quite extraordinary.
JOURNALIST: Just to bring you back to the creation of the advisory committee and the comments you’ve made just now, that sounds to me like the clearest signal you, as Prime Minister, have given that JobSeeker and other welfare payments are likely or will increase in the next federal budget. Is that correct? And secondly, just on the censure motions, I believe Cabinet will discuss that tomorrow. The censoring of the former PM, could you talk to that point, please? Will your government proceed with that?
PRIME MINISTER: On the first item of your question: no, that’s not correct. It’s consistent with what I have said totally, which is that each and every budget Labor will consider what we can do to provide further assistance to people, but we will do so in the context of the economic circumstances that we face, so we’ll do so responsibly. I would always want to do more for people who are disadvantaged. That’s the Labor way. We don’t like seeing circumstances whereby people are doing it tough. But what we know is that we need to be responsible. Hence, in the lead up to the budget that the Treasurer handed down earlier this year, just a couple of months ago – or to put it this way, two questions from the Shadow Treasurer to the Treasurer ago – we would have liked to have done more. We chose to do the right and economically responsible thing, which is to return 99 per cent of the revenue growth that had occurred to the budget, because that’s what the economy needed at this point in time. So we will always make responsible decisions, but we’re also not scared of having proper processes established. And this process of the economic inclusion advisory committee is something that indeed the Treasurer and the Finance Minister were engaged with, as was the Social Services Minister, Amanda Rishworth.
On the censure, I, unlike my predecessor, run a proper government. And we will have a Cabinet discussion tomorrow. We will make a decision there about the six recommendations of the Bell Inquiry. I will take a submission to the Cabinet which will be supportive of adopting those recommendations. But on the Parliament, I’ve been contacted by parliamentarians already, not just Labor Parliamentarians, who want the Parliament to express a view about the usurping of Parliament that occurred, that’s outlined in the Bell Inquiry. You had a shadow government operating in an unprecedented, extraordinary way. You had a Prime Minister who was standing up in Parliament and not telling his own side, or not all of his side knew let alone the Parliament as a whole, who held what portfolio and who was responsible for decisions. As the Bell Inquiry makes very clear, that undermined the faith in our parliamentary processes. There’s a reason why, under the Westminster system, ministers are held accountable by the Parliament. It wasn’t possible to hold ministers to account because people didn’t know who the ministers were. I believe that the Parliament is likely to want to express a view on that. We will have a discussion of it and we will let you know once that decision is made.
JOURNALIST: The IR bill will pass this week. How long until real wages go up?
PRIME MINISTER: The IR bill will ensure that there is a more level playing field. That the sort of gaming of the system that we’ve seen where there hasn’t been an incentive to have enterprise bargaining because people can just wait for the expiration of arrangements, they can then tell workers that they’ll fall back on the award so you’ll have considerable wage cuts. Has led to, over a period of the last decade, a decline in wages. My government acted very quickly to ensure that we had the increase in the minimum wage of 5.2 per cent. That was something that was opposed by the Opposition, that was opposed by the then-government prior to the election. They said that it was irresponsible and reckless and dangerous. And guess what? The sky hasn’t fallen in. Just like we need to increase the wages in aged care.
MINISTER BURKE: The thing that will happen straight away is that there will be some businesses that don’t want to be part of multi-employer bargaining. The way that they avoid it is by making sure they bargain with their own staff on single enterprise bargaining. And that process will start straight away. So you will find there’ll be some very quick movement from some businesses in wanting to initiate single enterprise bargaining for two reasons. One, because a lot will be quite comfortable with multi enterprise bargaining, but there’s some who’d been public about not wanting it. Single enterprise bargaining is the way through, every one of those agreements results in a pay rise. The other thing that’s been causing them to not be engaged is that the Better Off Overall Test has just been horrifically legalistic and complex. And that will now be workable and fair.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Scott Morrison responded to the Virginia Bell report by saying, quote: “I’m pleased this matter has now concluded.” Do you think that if he showed more of that self-awareness that you referred to on Friday that he could avert a censure if he apologised?
PRIME MINISTER: I note that there’s been a discussion about Scott Morrison and his relationship with Josh Frydenberg. That’s kind of interesting to some. What I’m interested in is the relationship or lack thereof between Scott Morrison and the Australian people. The Australian population deserves and our democracy requires an apology for this. I didn’t see any contrition in Scott Morrison’s statement last Friday, and I find that just extraordinary, that anyone can read the Bell Inquiry and not be embarrassed if you’re the subject of it. It’s also the case that Scott Morrison said he’d fully cooperate with the inquiry but he chose to talk through his lawyers. That, of course, is his right to do but I’ll leave people to draw their own conclusions there.
JOURNALIST: Just further on the Victorian election, despite the win there’s a trend we’re seeing in terms of votes going away from the major parties, both major parties. So is there a lesson here for Labor? What do you take away?
PRIME MINISTER: We always need to campaign to get more votes, and to engage with more people. That is why my government is attempting to represent all Australians, we’ve been engaged across the board. My simple message is this: the idea that major political parties are done is a self-interested claim that doesn’t stack up. Daniel Andrews has just won a majority in their Legislative Assembly with a third term government. That’s a remarkable result. So people are, of course, entitled to vote whatever way they want. My perspective has always been that the reason why I’m in the Labor Party is one I was born into it. But secondly that, from my perspective, it’s governments that make decisions. I want to be around a Cabinet table that makes decisions not waiting for decisions to be made to decide whether I’ll support it or oppose it or protest against it. Governments make decisions, and governments are made up of the major parties, and I’m pleased that the Labor government will be in a position to make decisions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, given that David Pocock, has only been in Parliament for only a couple of months, and yet he’s having very detailed discussions with both yourself and relevant Ministers, so what does this bode for potential future contentious legislation? And given that Senator Pocock has been advocating for a raise in JobSeeker and other welfare payments, the committee doesn’t have a guarantee that it will recommend to increase the payments or not. So is this kicking the can down the road on the issue?
PRIME MINISTER: No. This is an important process being established that will assist government decision-making, but will also assist transparency. I take David Pocock at his word, as I do others as well. I meet a range of crossbenchers. I meet government members, obviously, regularly through our structures, but I also meet Opposition Members who ask for meetings as well. I believe, as Prime Minister, I have a responsibility to engage. I hadn’t met David Pocock, I’d watched him on the football field but hadn’t met, before his election as a Senator. I have met him, actually, in a dressing room once but that doesn’t quite count. We certainly hadn’t had a political discussion. And I think he’s someone who is honest and straightforward, and will put forward his views and someone who the government can work with.
JOURNALIST: Just on the theme of governments making decisions: will we see a decision this week on any intervention in the gas mark and response to rising energy prices? Can we expect that this week?
PRIME MINISTER: Certainly we will be having further discussions this week. We’ve said that our timetable is to make decisions this year, prior to Christmas, and that remains the timetable.
JOURNALIST: So for businesses with more than 50 employees, does the onus now shift to the responsibility of the employer to be showing why they shouldn’t be roped into multi-employer bargaining?
MINISTER BURKE: That’s right. That’s right, the single interest rate.
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Prime Minister of Australia
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