26 Sep 2017

KIERAN GILBERT: Labor’s Brendan O’Connor joins me from Darwin this morning. Thanks for your time.
Your reaction to the support from Frances Abbott? It shows the difficulty of this issue within certain families, certainly the Abbott family, differences of opinion. What’s your reaction to her intervention here?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Well, good on her. She has a right to express her views. She expressed it in favour of marriage equality.
That’s not surprising, Kieran. As we know young people in particular don’t see what the problem is and have overwhelmingly supported the rights of people to be married, so good luck to her.

GILBERT: Your thoughts on where the campaign is at right now? We’ve seen the polling that the gap might be narrowing, but as a long time watcher of politics in this country and opinion polls what’s your sense of where things are at?

O’CONNOR: Well, my sense is that the “Yes” vote will prevail. But there is always the chance that people might be complacent, because there’s a sense that it can’t lose.
It is a survey. There will be people who will choose not to participate because it’s not binding and that could affect the “Yes” vote. That’s why Labor is saying although we didn’t agree with this approach, we want to see a good strong result to affirm the right for people to marry. I’m confident, but I think we can’t be complacent.

GILBERT: What are your thoughts, and the legal advice you’ve heard, in relation to United Voice, the hospitality union, bringing Federal Court action against the Government’s, well not the Government’s, the Fair Work Commission’s decision which is not being appealed by the Government to remove the Sunday penalty rate? Do you think that they are any chance of winning this appeal?

O’CONNOR: Well, they have every right to exhaust all appeals to challenge a decision they believe to be intrinsically unfair. Labor believes the decision was unfair, at a time when wage growth is at its lowest in 20 years. Kieran, the idea that you take real income away from some of the lowest paid in this country – retail and hospitality – it was always a tough call. That’s why we proposed legislation to prevent the effects of the decision.
Now, we will wait and see how that court case goes. I think it might be difficult, but I fully understand why the Unions in question have sought to prevent the effects of the decision, and they are exhausting their legal avenues. I fully understand that. They represent low paid workers struggling to make ends meet as we speak.

GILBERT: Indeed, as the time goes on though, the argument is that the Government is defending those workers having a job in the first place. They are saying those individuals and the businesses concerned are more likely to employ the very people that you talk about if the penalty rate amendment remains.

O’CONNOR: People will put that case, and that argument has been proposed for many, many years, in fact decades. Cut wages, and increase employment opportunities. I don’t think that’s the way we should approach it. Yes, we should be looking at ways of improving our economy, but we are not going to do that by slashing and burning conditions of employment.
We believe we are a high wage, high growth economy. We want people to share in the dividend of the wealth that has been accumulated. The fact that we are talking about some of the lowest paid workers in Australia who are already struggling with cost of living pressures, the fact that it is real income being lost – it’s not even potential income, it’s not that there is a fall over time, its real, direct, cuts to their wages. For those reasons, Labor will, if elected, enact legislation to prevent the decision proceeding.
Now, in the meantime, the unions are taking up their rights, as they should on behalf of their members. It’s up to the Courts to make a decision as to whether that is resolved in their favour.

GILBERT: Finally on the Government’s position when it comes to the export restrictions on gas exports - the Prime Minister is giving the companies one last chance. Already the Government says that they’re moving in that regard, putting more gas in the domestic market. If that continues, isn’t it better that the companies do this of their own volition as opposed to being demanded to via this export trigger?

O’CONNOR: Well it’s been some time now. Malcolm Turnbull is a good talker. He just seems to talk and talk but he has to make a decision.
He likes to find reasons to blame others. He has the power and will be supported by Labor in pulling the trigger and restricting exports so that we have sufficient domestic reserves of gas, particularly for our industry and consumers generally.
Why doesn’t he take that option? He has to pull the trigger on the gas so that we can have proper reserves and the prices will fall. He needs to settle on a clean energy target, and ignore these efforts by Tony Abbott to create chaos, and he needs to stop attacking renewables because, it’s always going to be part of the mix.
So there’s a lot of things he should be doing instead of finding alibis for not doing anything.

GILBERT: Brendan O’Connor, live from Darwin, appreciate your time this morning.

O’CONNOR: Thank you Kieran.

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