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Transcript of doorstop interview: Canberra: 2 March 2017: Fair Work Commission; Senate Estimates



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SENATOR THE HON. ERIC ABETZ LIBERAL SENATOR FOR TASMANIA

TRANSCRIPT

02 March 2017

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW CANBERRA

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E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………………………

Subjects: Fair Work Commission; Senate Estimates

QUESTION

Can you run us through what your proposal is regarding changes to penalty rates?

ERIC ABETZ

The Fair Work Commission decision on penalty rates is a correct one. It will ensure that the underemployed and unemployed people in Australia have a greater opportunity to be part of the economic well-being of our nation and benefit from that personally, however there are people that are currently employed that rely on this income of these penalty rates and as a result I’m suggesting those that are currently employed should be grandfathered and protected, that new entrants into the workforce should be able to enter the workforce on the basis of the new rates. Keep in mind this is the decision of the independent umpire the Fair Work Commission. They have come to the realisation that they set the penalty rates far too high and that is why they’ve come to the realisation that they need to reduce them and so that has to be kept in mind. It was a Fair Work Commission under legislation established by Labor, five Fair Work Commissioners all appointed by Labor, headed by a former Assistant Secretary of the ACTU, they have all been mugged by the reality that these high penalty rates are costing jobs, stifling economic activity and we owe it as a nation to the unemployed and the underemployed to give them an opportunity. That’s what the Fair Work Commission’s decided. I believe that decision should be maintained and allowed to operate on the basis that the Fair Work Commission has determined, but by protecting the workers that currently rely on the penalty rates.

QUESTION

Won’t your suggestion make more work for small businesses, like it will create more administrative details and excess work that they shouldn’t have to do?

ERIC ABETZ

What small businesses are telling me overwhelmingly is that they are unable to employ people and that they themselves therefore have to work on Saturday and Sunday because they cannot afford to employ labour. That’s the determination the Fair Work Commission has come to and that is why we do need this change and there will be a period of transitioning, and whether you have a transitioning rate which has also been suggested, that will also cause difficulties for small business, but they are minor in comparison to the cost of labour, which has been mitigating against people getting into employment.

QUESTION

You’ve said the workforce is by and large a casual workforce, what’s to stop an employer under your proposal sacking the existing employees and hiring people on the cheaper rate?

ERIC ABETZ

Look, overwhelmingly people in these sectors are on Enterprise Bargaining Agreements, so Bill Shorten’s lie has been fully exposed in that regard and then a lot of those people that are employed under awards, they are potentially only working one Sunday a week, so let's get everything into perspective but at the end of the day, if you sack a worker and replace them with another worker on a lower rate, there are such things as adverse action and I'm sure the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman would deal with those matters.

QUESTION

Basically the proposal from Fair Work Australia as you said at the moment is simply too harsh for existing workers?

ERIC ABETZ

No, because the Fair Work Commission is yet to determine how it is going to transition and they will be making a determination about that in the near future and as part of their consideration, I have put forward this proposal to be fair to the unemployed and underemployed so they can get into employment but also fair to those that currently benefit from those rates.

QUESTION

What’s to stop employers instead of just sacking all their workers, just not rostering the existing workers on a Sunday and only using the new employees for Sunday shifts?

ERIC ABETZ

Well, most of the employment opportunities will be in situations where there currently are no jobs - where cafeterias, delicatessens, etc. will be able to open on Sunday because of the more affordable wage rates. Now in relation to sacking and then replacing, I just mention adverse action and other matters there protect workers and I'm sure the Fair Work Ombudsman will deal with those situations when and if they arise. Keeping in mind that quite a few of the current employers are saying that they will maintain the current penalty regime, chances are because that is under the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement or because that’s what they’re doing already. What this is about is giving an opportunity to the underemployed

and unemployed and this is an - this is part of the equation with respect, which the unions, employers and often the media simply don't talk about and that is why I think it’s such a good forward step for the Fair Work Commission to have finally recognised that if you set a wage rate too high you in fact disenfranchise from the workforce many men and women of Australia who are either unemployed or underemployed and that is something we’ve got to factor into our considerations. I’ll take one last question.

QUESTION

Just on a small business you focused on earlier in the week, the Aussies Café for about 20 minutes there is Senate Estimates, how is that a good use of your time as a Senator for Tasmania?

ERIC ABETZ

Well I am a Senator for Tasmania, you are quite right, but there are a number of issues and there are principles involved as to how government, or in this case the Department of Parliamentary Services, deals with small business and I think everybody knows that I have a big heart and concern for small business and when we were given information at Senate Estimates, which was clearly wrong, and as a result I had to go back and ask more questions and expose that the answers that were given were wrong, in those circumstances I think it was a time well spent to ensure the protection of a small business and might I add I raise many questions at Senate Estimates. Just recently I raised questions about a post office in my brother’s electorate in Western Australia; I asked questions about a Mail Centre in Adelaide. When you’ve got a profile such as myself, you do sometimes get a request to ask questions at Senate Estimates about all matters.

QUESTION

Just on Senate Estimates, do you now concede that the rainbow flag is not the flag of a hostile nation?

ERIC ABETZ

Thank you for asking that question and those journalists that have reported it in this manner should be ashamed of themselves, even Buzzfeed did not misrepresent me and if even Buzzfeed does not misrepresent me, you have to ask what is the agenda of those journalists that deliberately seek to do so? Read the Hansard, at the very end I said ‘and on a lighter note’ or ‘to inject some humour’, words to that effect, ‘do you realise that…’ and so it was not said seriously and for the media to deliberately and dishonestly misrepresent a bit of injection of humour as a serious comment doesn't reflect on me, it reflects on the standard of journalism. The principle here is that all public service buildings should be free of any activist type flags, rainbow or otherwise, that was the clear case I was making and might I add, after having made that case at Senate Estimates, I got a number of e-mails from Finance Department employees saying how oppressed they felt, including from a Muslim worker who had to walk past that flag morning and night and found it “deeply uncomfortable” to use his words and another employee who said that they felt that they couldn't talk about the flag or complain about it because of the culture. So this is an issue of principle as to what the public service does with the publicly funded property, so I stand by what I said, but to mischievously and dishonestly report what I said as a joke, and people laughed, I would

simply invite you to have a look at the Hansard, at the footage and you will see that it was not a serious point, the serious point was the independence of the public service and the importance of not identifying a public service with any campaign, no matter how good, bad or indifferent we might think that particular campaign might be.

Thanks a lot.

[Ends]

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