Subjects: Parliament, Newspoll; welfare recipients, Gender pay gap.
OLIVER PETERSON: We welcome back to Perth Live the Odd Couple and I speak of the Defence Minister Christopher Pyne and the Opposition Infrastructure and Transport spokesman Anthony Albanese. Christopher Pyne, good afternoon to you.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Ollie thank-you for having me. It’s nice to be on again.
PETERSON: It’s nice to have you back. Anthony Albanese, hello to you. Commiserations on South Sydney’s loss in the finals series in the rugby league.
ALBANESE: It was very sad. I fled to Rockhampton.
PETERSON: Fled to Rockhampton?
ALBANESE: To get away from Roosters supporters.
PETERSON: Sydney has become a very, very lonely place I can imagine while we are all flying high here hoping the Eagles can destroy Collingwood this weekend. Christopher let me start with you. Last night on 60 Minutes Julie Bishop has claimed that the way that you lot carry on in Question Time makes you no better than school children, Has she got a point?
PYNE: Well before I answer that, Anthony was a little overconfident on Friday morning saying that they would be having chicken on Saturday night, the Rabbitohs.
ALBANESE: Mate, I was I was confident when we didn’t make the finals for 20 years. I was confident. It’s called loyalty.
PYNE: I understand, the Redlegs, my local SANFL team lost on Sunday in the Grand Final against North Adelaide actually so we were very disappointed about that too. But I must admit that I am supporting the Eagles at the AFL. Of course, I would as a South Australian, especially against Collingwood. But in terms of Julie Bishop, well you know I do think that people are thoroughly sick and tired of politicians talking about politics. I think they want us to talk about issues that count for them – education, health, incomes, jobs – and that is what I intend to focus on. I think the weeks of talking internally about introspective issues are not changing one thing in the Australian public’s minds about who is putting them first. So I am just not talking about that any more.
PETERSON: OK. Well, put the personalities to the side. That’s fair enough. But when you sit back and have a look at Question Time, whether it be your side or whether it be Anthony’s side and what not, we look at the rough and tumble, the bear pit, of the Federal Parliament during Question Time in particular and just say that is how it is, that is the way that you all carry on and behave. But is there a problem with that? Is it the way that we might view that from the outside that in the end that you are all looking like school children just mucking around in the yard during recess or lunch time?
PYNE: Well Ollie, politics is a robust business. It is very, very competitive. Labor wants me to lose. I want Labor to lose. It’s not for the faint-hearted. That doesn’t mean you can’t be respectful and see good in the other side. I mean Anthony and I do your show, we do several other shows around the country on a regular basis. We manage to disagree on issues – not all issues but plenty of them – but we manage to maintain a respectful friendship and I think that is not a bad model quite frankly.
PETERSON: All right Anthony Albanese I will ask you. Scott Morrison is obviously narrowing the gap with Labor. It is now 54-46. But as the preferred PM question your leader Bill Shorten is about as popular as a Collingwood fan in Perth today. So what is wrong with Bill?
ALBANESE: Well what today’s poll shows is that Labor would win in the order of 25 to 30 seats if an election was held today. And the interesting thing I found about today was the question that was asked: “Are you more likely to vote for the Coalition now that they have changed Leader’. And the answer overwhelmingly is no. And I think going back to the Julie Bishop interview, where I think she made some salient points, one of the things that she said that I think the Australian people are saying as well as former or current foreign ministers to Julie Bishop, is they don’t know why this change happened. And I understand Christopher’s point about inside the beltway but I do think that the Australian people are owed an explanation for why Malcolm Turnbull was removed by Scott Morrison.
PYNE: Ollie I think the poll that Anthony was most interested in today was the preferred prime minister poll which showed that Bill Shorten was preferred PM for one week in the last five years and Scott Morrison has been ahead of him for five of the last six weeks because of course the public have worked out Bill Shorten. They don’t trust him, they think he is a phoney and they don’t want to vote for him. And so if the Government can put together the policies and the record that convinces the public that we are the people they want to keep in Government, I think Bill Shorten will be very much the Achilles heel of the Labor Party and Anthony knows it. That is why he has been circling for some time.
PETERSON: We will turn to policy in a moment. Anthony Albanese, how does Bill Shorten become more popular if he is, as Christopher Pyne says, the Achilles heel of the Labor Party when it comes to polling time and people just think you know what, I just can’t vote for Bill Shorten, but I want to vote for Labor. Then is there somebody in your owns ranks who might be a little bit more popular? Maybe yourself?
ALBANESE: What they are saying in today’s poll is precisely that they will vote for Labor to the tune of 54 per cent. I mean get some perspective here. When the polls were for about two months were Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberals on 49 and Bill Shorten’s Labor on 51 that was so catastrophic apparently that they had to remove an elected Prime Minister for the fourth term in a row. But today the polls are on 54 for Labor and 46 for the Coalition and you would have us believe some of the Coalition commentators, the spin doctors, that that somehow that is terrific. I mean it does not make sense. The fact is that Australians have marked the Government down because they have a range of policies that are bad policies for the country and the latest result of trying to end the debate on education by adding to the division that is there – I fully support Catholic schools, particularly poorer Catholic schools getting more funding, those that are in need. But public schools have missed out here and the Government I think has shown yet again that they are about creating division rather than creating harmony and moving the country forward as one.
PETERSON: So that point Christopher Pyne, is the Government creating division or is it trying to make the education sector a more level playing field when it comes to the announcement regarding school funding last week?
PYNE: Well Ollie I think Anthony is sounding very over confident and the public, the Australian public in particular, don’t like overconfidence in their footy teams or in their political teams so Labor would want to be very careful. We thought we were going to win in 1993 very easily and the public could see that we were over-confident and they didn’t elect us. They elected Paul Keating again. To your question about education, well the truth is that we are increasing spending on public schools by about $6.2 billion. So there is a huge amount of money going into public schools. There is also a lot more money going into Catholic and Independent schools because that has been part of our education reform. We asked Michael Chaney from Western Australia to do a review of the formula about how schools get funded. He did that review and he came back making recommendations, all of which we have accepted and that has meant more funding to poorer Catholic schools and smaller Christian schools who the formula had been disadvantaging in the past when Labor was in office and when we’ve been in office. So we have actually fixed the problem that existed under Labor, that existed under us and Michael Chaney from your own Western Australia helped us with that through the report that he gave us about six weeks ago
PETERSON: Anthony let me ask you about a policy announced over the weekend to target welfare dodgers and say you can’t travel overseas. So they might be stopped at the airport before they clear up their debts with the Government. That seems like a wised idea, doesn’t it?
ALBANESE: Well people who owe the Government money legitimately should have to repay it and you shouldn’t be taking an overseas holiday if you owe the Government money. If you are saying I can’t pay back my debt but I am off to Europe for three months, there is obviously something wrong there. The thing is though is the Government got it really very, very wrong when it came to the Robodebt Scandal at the beginning of last year. What we saw was that every single constituent who came to me and asked for assistance – and there were dozens of them – either got their debt reduced to zero or reduced substantially because this Robodebt system they had frankly had got it wrong. Now I am for prudent fiscal policy when it comes to Government money. I want to see the Government be as hard in chasing after corporate tax cheats who seem to be never mentioned by the Government. So if you are cheating on welfare or you owe money to the Government of course you should pay, but what we have seen is that the Government hasn’t been very good frankly at being accurate about that and I hope that they are starting to get it right because we need to.
PYNE: Well I am glad to hear Anthony say that because when Labor was in office they didn’t do this once. They didn’t collect a welfare cheat’s debt leaving the country or refuse to allow them to leave the country on any occasion. This has been something that the Coalition Government has introduced and it is really bearing fruit.
ALBANESE: You know you have been in government five years Christopher.
PYNE: Yes and we are doing it. You didn’t do it once. So I am glad to see that you have actually changed your mind about it.
ALBANESE: But you weren’t doing it a fortnight ago.
PYNE: The truth is this is working. We’ve had people with debts of tens of thousands of dollars of debts if you can believe it to the Commonwealth trying to leave the country to go on overseas business trips and as soon as we refuse the opportunity to leave, miraculously they have been able to repay some of their debt, or all of their debt and start repayment plans, Now I am glad we had to take this harsh measure – I’m not glad – I am delighted we have taken this harsh measure because it’s not right that everyone who wants to do the right thing doesn’t get rewarded and those people who do the wrong thing have been getting away with gaming the system for too long.
PETERSON: My guests are Christopher Pyne, the Defence Minister and Anthony Albanese, Opposition Infrastructure and Transport spokesman. Should companies have to reveal their gender pay gap?
PYNE: Look I don’t think that is a relevant step for companies to be required to do. What we have done in the past five years is reduce the gender pay gap from 17 per cent under Labor to 14.5 per cent under us. It blew out under Labor. It was about 14.5 per cent. It went up when they were in Government. What we have done is there are now more women in work than ever before in Australia’s history and more women in full time work we’ve seen it before and the gender pay gap has been reduced. Now we look at every measure to try and reduce the gender pay gap. But we also don’t want a situation where people are sitting in the same workplace and wondering whether the person on the other side of the desk got a pay rise and they didn’t, not because of their ability but simply because of their gender. We want to reduce the gender pay gap, but we also don’t want to create two classes of workers in the same workplace.
PETERSON: Anthony, what would this achieve? If Labor wins government, what do you think it achieves in the companies? Why are they going to be more open and transparent?
ALBANESE: What we have found is that when you have had the reporting about numbers who are executives – same as the numbers, a focus on how many women there are in Parliament as a proportion, when you have that focus, that can often be a very good first step to remedying the situation and getting greater equity in the outcomes. The reason why people are concerned about wages at the moment is they are flat-lining or they are going backwards in real terms. Real wages have been in decline. That has been identified by the Reserve Bank of Australia and other economists as being a real problem for our national economy and I can’t understand why companies wouldn’t jump on board this and say yes we support being transparent about any gender pay gap that is within our companies because we know it is out there, so why shouldn’t there be transparency in it as one way of overcoming …
PETERSON: But isn’t everybody’s own salary confidential information? If I asked you now what do you get paid, you are not going to front up and tell me.
ALBANESE: Yes I am. It is s published. Every time we make a phone call it’s available to you Ollie. And the fact is that transparency can make a difference. We are not talking about information that would say Mary Smith works at the Commonwealth Bank and she gets $10,000 less than John Smith. What we are talking about here is that the Commonwealth Bank has 10,000 employees and on average the men receive X dollars greater than the women who work for the Commonwealth Bank. So that’s the sort of transparency that I think would be appropriate. There’s all sorts of reporting now about numbers of employees, the gender of them and different issues. There is no reason why this shouldn’t be reported in a transparent way.
PETERSON: All right gentlemen. We will wrap things up. Christopher Pyne, you have already told me that you will be an honourary Eagle this weekend. Anthony Albanese, will it be Eagles or Collingwood?
ALBANESE: I’m hoping for a very good match, I am not going to jump on either team.
PETERSON: You can’t sit on the fence!
PYNE: That’s outrageous!
ALBANESE: I can because I still depressed about my Rabbitohs.
PETERSON: Whichever audience you are talking to you will just pick whichever team. You told me last time you were the honourary minister for Western Australia.
ALBANESE: I didn’t give a different message. Christopher will be on 3AW tomorrow and he will say: “Go the Pies’’.
PYNE: No I won’t, because Collingwood is Bill Shorten’s team. No wonder you in fear. You are in fear of Bill Shorten.
ALBANESE: I have good friends who go for both teams. Stephen Conroy is very excited about the Pies and my mate Ollie Peterson and all the team here are very excited.
PYNE: Well you have lost every vote in Perth you have every put together.
PETERSON: Yes that’s right, all that hard work, the 10 visits you have been here this year – undone, Gentlemen, thank you very much.