Subjects: Tony Abbott; Newspoll, electricity supply, penalty rates
HOST: Back on deck Chris Pyne and Anthony Albanese for another edition of Two Tribes. Good morning to you both.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning gentlemen.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
HOST: We’ll start with you of we can Chris. Now look obviously the last week has been a bit of a difficult one for the Turnbull Government with Tony Abbott, the man who promised no sniping, appearing to do plenty of sniping since he made that speech at that book launch last week. There seem to be three paths that your Government could take with him. One is to try to accommodate him by bringing him back into Cabinet. The other is for Malcolm Turnbull to call a spill, which would expose the very low level of support Mr Abbott has in the party room. Or the third is just to ignore him and knuckle down and get on with it. Which one is the government going to take?
PYNE: Well David the truth is that we’re not going to be distracted by the different views of you know particular backbenchers. One of the strengths of our party is that we don’t take a Stalinist approach to internal views being aired publicly. We believe that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been the most successful political party in Australia’s history in terms of electoral success and the Government and the Cabinet are getting on with the job of doing the things that the Australian public expect us to do; trying to reform child care to make it more affordable and accessible; trying to repair the Budget through the Omnibus Savings Bill; reducing personal income taxes and corporate taxes to help grow the economy. And we are getting on with that job and I of course personally am trying to create jobs through the defence industry in Adelaide and in the rest of Australia.
HOST: But do you agree though Christopher all those things that you are doing at the moment are being overshadowed by what has been going on?
PYNE: Well, every member has to examine their own conscience about whether they feel that they are making a constructive contribution and that’s a matter for each of them. But I don’t feel that the Government is distracted. I mean, we are two and a half years away from an election so we are not going to be commentators on every view that has been put. The public expect us just to knuckle down and that’s what we are doing.
HOST: You are one of the key strategists though, Chris Pyne. Have there been any discussions of whether it would be wise for Malcolm Turnbull to call a spill, given what the assessment is of the very paltry level of support Tony Abbott has got within the party room.
PYNE: Well of course not and that would just be allowing politics to become soap opera rather than what it is, which is government getting on with governing. Now I’m sure that many people here in the press gallery much prefer to report on the internals of political parties, but when I go to the supermarkets and the clubs and so on in my electorate, they aren’t talking about those things. They are talking about the costs of child care, the cost of living and in South Australia really the only topic of conversation at the local sports fixtures etcetera is the cost of electricity and whether there’s going to be another blackout and because there is a heat wave in Adelaide again that is again what everyone is talking about.
HOST: Over to you Albo. There’s obviously been a hell of a lot of examination of this week’s Newspoll and what a disaster that was on the face of it for the Government but when you look at the actual numbers next to Bill Shorten’s name, there’s been no surge in his approval rating and his disapproval rating is still much, much higher than his approval rating. Is your boss about to become the Stephen Bradbury of politics do you think?
ALBANESE: Well I think what the polls shows is that the Government doesn’t have, just six months into its term, a sense of purpose and that …
HOST: But it doesn’t show that Bill Shorten is surging as a result of that. On the contrary, he is still vastly unpopular with most voters.
ALBANESE: Well it’s showing that he leads a party that is on 55 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, that’s what its showing. And it’s showing that Labor has been, I think, an effective opposition. The fact is that Tony Abbott is able to intervene in the debate in such an aggressive manner because of the gap that is there. I mean Christopher is suffering from a little bit of delusion there, a bit Abbott-like, saying that people aren’t concerned about the direction of the government. They are. And I will tell you what they are talking about today in Adelaide and everywhere else – it’s penalty rates. It’s a fact that you are going to have a cut in the living standards and wages of people who rely upon those penalty rates to pay their mortgage, to pay their bills, to pay their school fees for their kids or, if they are students, to get themselves through school or university. This is an extraordinary decision where the Government seems to be, like on so many other things, just throwing its hands up and saying: Oh well, it’s got nothing to do with us.
HOST: Well let’s turn our attention to that. Chris Pyne, does the Government actively support the decision of the Fair Work Commission when it comes to penalty rates?
PYNE: Well the Fair Work Commission is independent of the Government and it was set up by Bill Shorten and the Labor Party and this is what somebody said about it; I think the best way to protect Fair Work Australia is to protect its independence. That’s what Bill Shorten said in 2012 when he created this Commission, when he sent the reference on penalty rates to the Fair Work Commission and when they appointed every single one of the Fair Work Commissioners who made this decision about penalty rates on Sunday being the same as penalty rates on Saturday in four awards out of 122. Now I know Labor would love to run another scare campaign, because they have no policies except scare campaigns, but the reality is there are four out of 122 awards are affected. Penalty rates have not been abolished, but being made the same for Sundays as they are for Saturdays. And it was Bill Shorten who owns this decision, and when he sent that reference to the Fair Work Commission on penalty rates, what did he expect them to do?
HOST: Well, Albo, in good conscience, you’ve got the Fair Work Commission that you guys established operating independently as was intended. They’ve made a determination about rates and yet you’re saying this is a problem of the Government. How can you in good conscience prosecute that argument?
ALBANESE: What I’m saying is that I’m not caught up in the process here and the discussion, like Christopher just said again about why the inquiry happened, all that stuff. I’ll tell you what people, you’re listeners are concerned about. There’s 700,000 people who are low income earners, that’s why they’re working on Sunday for penalty rates and it’s about the ability of these people to put food on the table to pay school fees, to pay their bills. That is what I’m concerned about.
HOST: So there’s a mea culpa then, because you guys set up the Fair Work Commission?
ALBANESE: Not at all. The fact is that for over 100 years we’ve had versions of the Fair Work Commission or industrial relations commission, and no industrial umpire in this country has ever made a decision that just cut wages. And that’s what this decision does. And that’s why we think it’s a bad decision. We’re focused on the impact of this decision on the people, on the 700,000. The Government, every time…
HOST: So did you establish it under the assumption they would never cut rates?
ALBANESE: In 100 years they have never ever made a decision that simply cut wages. In 100 years.
PYNE: So how does Anthony reconcile his current position with the fact that when Bill Shorten was Secretary of the Australian Workers Union he signed nine enterprise business agreements that took away the penalty rates of workers like cleaners at Clean Event and in exchange for that received cash and membership lists from the company so that he could have more power in the ALP. So on the one hand he is now railing against the Fair Work Commission, the independent Fair Work Commission, but when he was secretary of the union, in EBAs that he signed, he took away the penalty rates of some of the lowest paid workers in Australia. I mean the hypocrisy is breathtaking.
ALBANESE: Enterprise bargaining does happen, but there’s trade-offs. There’s not simply cuts to wages. What we’ve got here is a cut to the wages of 700,000 people. And every time, in Question Time, I find it extraordinary every day, because whether it’s a Dorothy Dixer from their own side or a question from our side, every Minister stands up and they begin, the first word they say is Labor, well Labor did this, Labor wants to do that. They don’t talk like they’re a Government. They’re not actually acting like a Government.
PYNE: Really, well we passed the Australian Building and Construction Commission, passed the Registered Organisations Commission…
HOST: Sorry guys, I just want to wrap it up with one final local question, just for Chris Pyne. Chris you would have obviously grown up as a child of the Telethon era here in Adelaide, you must be sad to see it falling by the wayside.
PYNE: Well I’m really shocked actually. Shocked that the State Labor Government would have $767 000 which they could agree in one day to pass for one community, a set up charity to campaign against the Federal Government and hand out how-to-vote cards on election day, and yet they haven’t got a block of land to give to Telethon for their annual raffle. I mean, it’s a remarkable thing that Labor would think that they could give almost three quarters of a million, more in fact, three quarters of a million dollars to what was effectively a bogus charity, set up to campaign against us and can’t find anything for Telethon.
HOST: We’re talking to Leon Byner about that later on because I’m pretty sure he has got a call into Renewal SA about the matter in which that was handled. Chris Pyne and Anthony Albanese, always a rollicking stoush, thanks for joining us for Two Tribes.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.