Radio Interview - ABC RN Breakfast 20 March

Minister for Finance, Minister for Women, Minister for the Public Service

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: The Government now has a sitting fortnight to get key legislation through the Parliament. But Labor faces an uphill battle on the Safeguard Mechanism which is about reducing emissions, and the Referendum Machineries Act, as the Coalition and the Greens withhold their support unless Labor makes some big concessions. Katy Gallagher is the Minister for Finance and Women and joins me ahead of this sitting fortnight. Welcome to Breakfast.


KARVELAS: You appear to be giving the Greens a 'take it or leave it' approach on the Safeguard Mechanism, but you need their support, given the Coalition won't vote for it. What are you prepared to give?

GALLAGHER: Look, it's going to be a big fortnight in the Senate. We've got a number of key pieces of legislation, as you've outlined in your intro needing to pass this fortnight. We've got five sitting days in the Senate this week, another four next week, and we're working across the chamber. I mean, this is one of the realities when the Opposition become so obstructionist that they deal themselves out of dealing on any key pieces of legislation. So there's negotiations that will continue, PK, Chris Bowen's obviously leading that on the Safeguards, but other ministers are leading it on other key pieces of legislation. And we will work through to try and get those pieces passed this fortnight.

KARVELAS: Okay, but you say the Coalition hast dealt themselves out. The Greens want to deal themselves in, but you're giving them a 'take it or leave it' approach. Why?

GALLAGHER: Well, I mean, I think what we're saying is this is the policy that we want to implement. I mean, there's discussions that are ongoing. I haven't spoken to Minister Bowen since I think, last week, about some of the discussions he's been having, but that isn't unusual. We'll continue to talk with them throughout this week, and probably next week, if we don't get to it this week. We've got to deal with the Referendum Machinery Bill this week. And that looks like taking a fair bit of time. So, you know, we will engage, as we do on every piece of legislation, because it's a minority chamber. We have to do that on every single piece of legislation, the Safeguard is no different.

KARVELAS: You do, but at this stage, all of the rhetoric I'm hearing from the Government is saying to the Greens, "you're going to repeat 2009 if you don't vote for this deal". They're saying they want to make a deal with you, they're worried about new coal and gas. Are you prepared to negotiate with them, or are you staring them down?

GALLAGHER: Well, again, I think what I'm saying is that there are discussions that are happening. I know that they are happening with the aim to get this legislation through, but it's not, you know, those negotiations, which happen all the time, are I think about reaching agreement somewhere where both sides can accept that negotiation point. We've been clear that we want this legislation through, it's critical to meeting our 43% reductions target, it's the policy that exists now. It's about making that more effective and the Greens obviously want, you know, some other additional commitments and we'll work through that over the fortnight. I mean, the better thing to have had would have been the Opposition to have at least played themselves in on their existing policy so we could get this through.

KARVELAS: That's not happening, you've got a potential to get it through if you negotiate. I want to go to the other one you mentioned that you think you're going to be able to get through - this is the Machineries Referendum Act. The Coalition voted against it in the House, despite the Government's concession to keep the information pamphlets for 'yes' and 'no'. Are you offering the Coalition anything else to get their support in the Senate?

GALLAGHER: Well, Minister Farrell is continuing to work with the Coalition. Again, I think it's probably pretty extraordinary that they would stand in the way of a Machinery Bill, this is actually just the Bill that sets up the arrangements for the referendum, not the actual question or the content.

KARVELAS: Well, that's their issue though, because they say this is then for all referendums, and they don't like the idea that for all referendums you wouldn't have the ability to fund an organising committee for a 'yes' and 'no' case, that it establishes a precedent that they don't agree with. So are you willing to concede to some of those extra demands?

GALLAGHER: Well, again, Minister Farrell is, I know, continuing to talk with people. We need to get this legislation through. I note the speakers list is pretty long, there's a lot of amendments that have been put forward. So it's gonna take a lot of time this week, but that is obviously a major priority focus for us. And he is talking, I know he is talking to the Opposition, and he is talking to the crossbench. I think there's amendments right across the board that have been put forward from all parties, and we have to work through that and with the aim that we will pass this legislation and set up the arrangements for the referendum later in the year.

KARVELAS: There's another pathway, of course, which is that you could get the Greens and, you know, different crossbenchers. Is that the pathway you're pursuing now because you don't want to give any more concessions to the Coalition?

GALLAGHER: Well, we're talking with everybody. I know that for sure. We are speaking with the crossbench, the Greens and the Opposition. I mean, ideally, this would be a piece of legislation that goes through with the entire chamber's support, that would be the ideal situation. If we can't reach that, we will go through the next pathway, which is trying to ensure that we have the 39 votes that are required to get through.

KARVELAS: Can you give me anything specific about what extra things you might be able to include to get the support through the Parliament for this Referendum Bill?

GALLAGHER: I can't at this point, PK, and I'm not trying to be difficult. It's just that those are all discussions that are ongoing now between Minister Farrell and all of those key players in the Senate. You know, this is something that just will continue on, I think, as we start the second readers, there's probably 20 second readers on that bill, so my expectation is that will take a lot of this week.

KARVELAS: And will it pass by the end of the week? Is that the intention?

GALLAGHER: Yes. Well, that is our significant hope, yes. I mean - nothing's, you can never - it's going to be a very rocky ride in the Senate for the next fortnight, is my guess, because there are this back-up of bills, which are all, you know, we would like to deal with. So, we've got the National Reconstruction Fund, the Housing Fund, we've got safeguards, as you say, the Referendum Bill and also the Closing the Gender Pay Gap Bill, as well, that we want to get through this fortnight. So, there's a lot happening there and there will be a lot of manoeuvring behind the scenes is my guess.

KARVELAS: Now back home, there's reporting the major unions will make submissions to the Fair Work Commission to increase the minimum wage and award wages by more than 7% to match inflation. Last year, you supported a 5% minimum wage increase to match inflation - should it be bumped up again?

GALLAGHER: We'll be making a submission to the annual wage review in the next few weeks, I think it's required but -

KARVELAS: Do you think 7% seems reasonable?

GALLAGHER: Well, I'll leave that for the unions. We, last year, didn't put a pay figure on it. I think we made the argument that, particularly low-paid workers, you know, we wouldn't want to see them go backwards, but we left it to the Commission.

KARVELAS: So, let me put this to you. Do you still not, is that your position, that you don't want to see them go backwards?

GALLAGHER: We would want to make, I think for, particularly for low-income workers, we want to make sure that, you know, they are getting sustainable and affordable pay rises. And you'll see our submission provided through that wage case in the next couple of weeks.

KARVELAS: So, I'm gonna ask it again, politely. Will you put in a submission that says that they shouldn't go backwards?

GALLAGHER: Well, we're currently finalising that submission, Patricia so -

KARVELAS: So you're not wedded to that language?

GALLAGHER: Well, no, I think we've made it clear since coming into Government that we want to see wages moving, we have been particularly concerned about the lowest paid. And, of course, with the cost of living pressures that are on people now, that has an impact. What their wage increase has, has an impact on their living standards. So you will see a submission from us that goes through the detail about you know, what we see as the Government as important, and then the Fair Work Commission makes the decision. But we didn't put a figure on it last year. I don't expect we will put a figure on it this year.

KARVELAS: No, but you did talk about not going backwards, and that means keeping up with inflation. So that's my key question. Do you think you should keep up with inflation for this lowest for these lowest-paid workers?

GALLAGHER: We want to see low-income workers get a good pay rise, you'll see our submission. The submission hasn't been finalised, PK. I think it's fair that we are able to finalise that submission through our processes, and then -

KARVELAS: It does seem like a different, with respect, Minister, it sounds like a different position to the one that was taken during the election campaign, where the Prime Minister use that word, 'absolutely', about them not going backwards.

GALLAGHER: Well, we will finalise our submission. I mean, in a unusual or difficult position where that submission hasn't been finalised. We support wage increases, particularly for low-income workers. You've seen that since the beginning of this Government, you won't see that change. We will continue to argue for that. But the final, the submission needs to be finalised and go through our processes.

KARVELAS: If we can just move to your other portfolio, it's quite linked actually, and that's Women. Last week, the Chair of the Women's Economic Equality Task Force, Sam Mostyn, addressed the National Press Club. I know you know that, and she unveiled some of the recommendations. One of them was to restore the Single Parent Payments for women with children over eight years old. That of course, is something that changed under the Gillard Government. Was that a mistake of the Gillard Government?

GALLAGHER: Well, I have, you know, that's a matter for Governments that I wasn't a part of. I wasn't involved in those decisions.

KARVELAS: So you can say what you really think - what do you think?

GALLAGHER: Well, I am aware, particularly from women that I've been talking to around women's economic equality, that this is one of the issues that they see impacts women to their disadvantage, that's for sure. I know the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce is looking at it. I know other bodies have been looking at it. I've had meetings with people like Anne Summers who have very strong views about this. So that is, you know, it's certainly something that has been raised with me and you know, we're having a look at all of this as we go through our Budget process.

KARVELAS: Is it something that you think needs to be addressed? They say it's key.

GALLAGHER: Well, I'm looking at it across the board. It's certainly something that I've been having a look at as Minister for Women. I think it's certainly something that you know, from my point of view, when we're looking at how do we support women to gain economic equality; what are the barriers to them entering the labour market; what are the causes of poverty, particularly for single parents with children, I mean, all of that. We are looking at that, again, it's the Government's priority to ensure that we are pushing women's economic security. And payments and how they interact with women and women in their caring roles is part of that.

KARVELAS: Have you asked the Department to cost restoring that payment?

GALLAGHER: Not really, not really, through the Minister for Women. We are looking at payments. I can tell you that. The Prime Minister has said a number of times that every Budget we go through, we will go through and look at what's happening on the payment side. That will feed into decisions we take in the Budget.

KARVELAS: Just finally, this weekend we saw horrific scenes with anti-trans campaigners and Neo-Nazis protesting outside the Victorian Parliament. Your colleague, Josh Burns, says this will be a time to consider tougher laws because of the actions of these Neo-Nazis we saw. Do you think tougher laws are needed? What are your reflections on what we saw on the streets in Melbourne this weekend?

GALLAGHER: Well, it's hard to believe that these scenes were coming from Australia is my first thought when I saw some of them. And I think the Premier's comments about them are absolutely spot on. Very distressing, I think, that we've got to a point where this is happening on our streets, and on the steps of our Parliament. And, you know, I know the Victorian Government will have a look at whether there are any other laws that need amending to deal with some of this. But yeah, it was shocking.

KARVELAS: These Neo-Nazi men had gathered in support of British anti-transgender activist, Posie Parker, and the whole national tour is about 'women speaking' - you're the Women's Minister, is this a legitimate movement? Is that how you see it?

GALLAGHER: No. I don't.

KARVELAS: What's wrong with this movement?

GALLAGHER: In terms of the speakers or what happened on the weekend?

KARVELAS: In terms of the speakers, the substance of what they're arguing for.

GALLAGHER: Well, I don't agree with them, Patricia. I don't agree with what they're saying, and I don't support what I saw on the weekend.

KARVELAS: Minister, thank you so much for joining us.

GALLAGHER: Thanks very much.

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