Subjects: Proposed minimum wage increase, small business, Question Time
BEN FORDHAM: Albo, Good afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day. It appears we are now sponsored.
FORDHAM: By Audi Alto Artarmon. Didn’t you guys receive the free Audi as part of the deal? You didn’t get the Audi?
PYNE: No, we didn’t get the Audi.
ALBANESE: Not even a toy one.
PYNE: I think you kept the Audi there for you and 2GB. Probably being driven around by the PA.
FORDHAM: I don’t have a PA Christopher. But I will sort out the little toy Audi to go your way.
PYNE: Well, you should have a PA.
FORDHAM: Now, Mr Pyne, good afternoon to you as well, Sir.
PYNE: Nice to be with you.
FORDHAM: This s the last chat we will have for some time because you are heading into the, well, what is it six weeks holiday until the Budget? Is that right Christopher?
PYNE: If only, if only. No, the House does rise this Thursday or Friday depending on the Senate’s behaviour and then we have the break for the Budget. I certainly won’t be having a holiday other than Easter, which I think most Australians have as a holiday. But the job of an MP or a Minister or a Shadow Minister never ends really. It’s an 80-hour-a-week task.
FORDHAM: All right. Things tend to get a little bit hairy on the day leading to that break don’t they Albo? So I’ll be watching everyone’s behaviour during Question Time.
ALBANESE: I’m always well behaved. I’ve morphed into a statesman.
PYNE: If he does say so himself.
FORDHAM: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wants to lift the minimum wage. He says Labor will make a submission today for a fair increase to the minimum wage. This just happens to follow the Secretary of the ACTU, Sally McManus, saying exactly the same thing. Albo, your boss wants to be Santa Claus does he?
ALBANESE: Well, I would have thought that you as well and overwhelmingly most of your listeners …
FORDHAM: But I don’t decide these things. The Fair Work Commission does.
ALBANESE: Of course they do and they take submissions. And it is the normal practice. Often governments and oppositions make submissions to the Fair Work Commission or its forerunners, making suggestions. And a lift to the minimum wage would obviously benefit not just those receiving it but importantly benefit the economy as well because if you are a low-income wage earner, you are not making savings; you are spending that money creating jobs and stimulating the economy. And that’s precisely what the Reserve Bank is saying is needed.
FORDHAM: Obviously those businesses would have to pay more in wages which would affect the businesses involved. Christopher Pyne, is this something that Malcolm Turnbull the Coalition team are going to welcome with open arms?
PYNE: Well of course the minimum wage is a matter for the Fair Work Commission – always has been, always will be. Governments rarely make submissions in these cases and the minimum wage; an increase to it needs to reflect the capacity to pay of business and the value to the business. So obviously the Fair Work Commission will take those matters into account. I notice that Sally McManus, the new ACTU Secretary, who is particularly left wing, she wants a $45-a-week increase to the minimum wage, which is a pretty dramatic increase. And I think, you know, business said today that the ACTU should stop treating businesses as ATMs. I think that’s a reasonable point because if the business goes out of business, nobody is employed.
FORDHAM: It’s a populist kind of policy isn’t it Albo, to take to the electorate, not that there is anything wrong with that. But can we afford it? Can business afford to pay an extra $45 a week, per employee?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s not our submission of course. Our submission we will make and release when Bill Shorten thinks that is appropriate. But in terms of an increase in the minimum wage, there tends to be increases in the minimum wage each year. That is what happens. If there’s no increase of course, that means a real cut because inflation, of course, even though it is small, is still present. So the normal course of events is there will be an increase. It’s a matter of what the size of the increase is and, as I said, at a time where the Reserve Bank are basically saying that they’ve done all the heavy lifting with lowering of interest rates. That’s had a positive impact, but it’s also had some negative consequences in terms of housing affordability by creating a whole lot of speculation in that side of the economy and they’re saying that we need to increase economic activity and one of the problems they have identified is the low wage growth. We’ve had effectively flat-lining when it comes to wage growth in this country.
ALBANESE: And that’s a problem, particularly at the lower end.
FORDHAM: All right, can I make a suggestion when it comes to increasing business activity and I’m wondering who is going to step up to the plate on this one. Who is going to say, right-oh to big business you must pay your bills in a reasonable amount of time? We’ve been discussing this for a long period of time on this program. We chatted yesterday to Kate Carnell, the Small Business Ombudsman, about it who has been taking submissions about this issue. But you’ve got multinationals who, in some cases, stretch their payment terms out to four months; 120 days until they pay their bills. A lot of smaller businesses don’t want to speak up about it because they feel like this is an imbalance in the relationship. There’s a power imbalance there for the big business and the big business will just say well stuff you, we’ll buy it from someone else. Who is going to say to these bigger businesses, Christopher Pyne, can you start paying small business on time?
PYNE: Well Ben that’s something we definitely need to look at and what the Government has done is try to lead by example. So we’ve introduced our own policy which if you don’t pay on time you have to pay interest, which means all business invoices for contracts valued up to $1 million have to be paid within 30 days or the Government pays interest to the small business. And what that’s meant is that we now have a compliance rate of 97 per cent with that policy so the Government is doing its part but I couldn’t agree more. When Kate Carnell hands her report to the Government, we will closely examine her recommendations and if big business is ripping off small businesses and we can do something about it, I’ll be the first person to say we need to act exactly like I was on the effects test in the Trades Practices Act to make it harder for big business to hurt small business and to make it easier for small business to take big business to court over unfair competition.
FORDHAM: Albo, where does the Labor Party stand on this? Whenever I mention it you get these horrible emails from small business people saying thank you for mentioning this because we’ve been suffering in silence and we just feel like there’s a gun to our head and we just have to agree to these ridiculous terms. 90 days, 120 days to be paid.
ALBANESE: Well it’s common sense and I certainly would support any Government action. This should be a bipartisan issue because we all know that in today’s economy as well a lot of, when we talk about small business, we’re talking about in a lot of cases businesses that are essentially mum and dad businesses doing work as contractors for major companies and they don’t have the ability to carry debt for a period of time and they should be paid in a prompt manner.
FORDHAM: All right, lastly, considering it’s the final sitting, we believe, tomorrow of this Parliamentary term leading up to the six week break before the Budget, let’s start a book here; how many people will be kicked out of Question Time tomorrow?
PYNE: Well plenty I reckon because they had about a dozen go today because Labor was, as usual, out of control. Not interested in good debate, just interested in shouting.
FORDHAM: You had a dozen kicked out today Albo?
PYNE: It must have been close to it.
ALBANESE: I wasn’t counting. There were a few.
PYNE: A very big number.
ALBANESE: There were a few.
PYNE: And Tanya Plibersek is one of the worst offenders. She was thrown out again today.
ALBANESE: You’re a protected species though Christopher as Leader of the House. You’re one of the worst behaved.
ALBANESE: You get warned all the time.
PYNE: Anthony and I are two of the best behaved people in the Chamber and it’s not true that we once both held the record for being thrown out more than anybody else in the Parliament.
FORDHAM: We’ll all be watching you both tomorrow.
ALBANESE: We will be on our best behaviour; we can’t speak on behalf of all of our colleagues.
FORDHAM: Thank you both. We’ll be watching, have a good break.
ALBANESE: I wish it were a break.
FORDHAM: I don’t mean a break as such; I mean a break from Parliament and a break from us.
ALBANESE: Indeed well have us on during the recess.
FORDHAM: I would never do that to my listeners.
ALBANESE: Come on.
PYNE: It’s your choice. Your choice to push us out.
FORDHAM: It would be cruel and unusual punishment.
ALBANESE: You’ve pinched our car and now you’re doing that.
PYNE: You can’t afford us; that’s the problem.
FORDHAM: I will find a toy car from Audi Alto Artarmon. Have a good afternoon.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.