SUBJECTS: Jobs and Skills Summit; Oracle’s collapse; Robodebt Royal Commission; Australia-US alliance.


ALLISON LANGDON, HOST: Unions are pushing for an overhaul of the nation’s workplace laws at next week’s Job Summit. They’re wanting greater bargaining powers for workers, but business groups fear it’ll lead to more industry-wide strikes. Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles joins us now. Richard, nice to see you this morning.


LANGDON: We had Sally McManus on the show earlier, and she was talking about workers needing a fairer deal. But is this too much of a power grab?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, what I think is really important is that we’re having the conversation. We need to be talking about how we get wages going again in this country. That’s been, really, part of what’s defined the last decade under the former government; that we’ve had record low wage growth. But really what underpins that has been insipid productivity growth. And I think for everyone within the economy, employers and unions alike, getting productivity going is the key to getting wages going. And that’s what we need to do to build prosperity in our nation. And next week, at the Jobs and Skills Summit, is an opportunity to have that conversation.

Now, we’re willing to talk about any of the proposals that are being put forward. We understand what the unions are taking to the Summit next week. I think it’s probably worth also noting that employers can see that there are real issues with the enterprise bargaining system as well. We do need to be thinking about how we can reform the enterprise bargaining system in a way which gets productivity growing.

LANGDON: Yes, so they’ve all got their wish list, and hopefully what we do see next week is there’s some sort of compromise and you can come to something next week. But –

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: And part of that is about bringing Australia around the table so that we can actually have a conversation. We’ve not really had that over the last decade. And that’s why I think everyone is really looking forward to next week. It’s why business is actually there in force. They’re really keen to have this conversation. And I would even say, I spent most of the last year as the Shadow Small Business Minister, when I speak to small businesses, they talk about the complexity of the bargaining system. So, I think they’ve got issues as well around industrial relations, and I’m sure they’ll want to be talking about that too.

LANGDON: Okay. Another building company collapsed yesterday. This is the fourth in six months. I mean, what happens here to your sole traders and your tradies who are owed money and to the hundreds of people whose homes aren’t finished?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s obviously a devastating circumstance for those hundreds of families in this instance, as you say, the tradies who are involved here. And it’s really important that there is some kind of fair resolution for the families, in this particular case. You know, I speak to builders in my electorate, and there are real issues around supply chain at the moment, about getting the materials that they need to complete the homes that they’ve been contracted to build.

LANGDON: Is there anything more in that regard that you, as a government, can be doing?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I mean it’s certainly something that we are really keen to be looking at and speaking with the Industry Minister, with the Housing Minister, to see what possibilities are here. But this is a devastating set of circumstances for those who have been caught up in Oracle, specifically. But it’s an issue that we absolutely need to look at.

LANGDON: Okay. An inquiry into ScoMo’s secret portfolios, and now we hear a Royal Commission into the Robodebt scheme. I know that was an election promise, but are you at risk of looking backwards here when we’ve got so many pressures facing us right now?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we want to learn from what’s happened in the past, that’s fundamentally what we are seeking to do here.

LANGDON: So, wouldn’t the most pressing issue then be to have a Royal Commission into all of Australia’s response to the pandemic?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ve talked about, when the time is right, needing to look at what was the response during the pandemic and how we can learn the lessons from that. I mean, in respect of what we saw with the former Prime Minister being sworn into a number of portfolios, that is a specific issue which goes to the transparency of government, and I do think that Australians want to have a sense of confidence that their government is operating in a transparent way. The idea that you would have somebody administering five departments of government without anyone knowing about it is obviously an issue. We need to look at that to make sure that never happens again. So, it’s not looking backwards for the sake of that. What it is, is about learning from the past so that as we go forward, we’re not making the same mistakes.

LANGDON: And super quickly before you go because I know you’re getting to Darwin tomorrow for Defence exercises. What did you think of Trump’s former National Security Adviser saying that Australia needs to probably rely less on the US when it comes to China?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, the US is a very important – well not very, it’s the single most important partnership that we have in terms of our global view. The alliance has actually never been more important, I think, for Australia. And we need to be doing everything we can to keep America engaged in the region, and that’s what we seek to do.

LANGDON: All right. Enjoy that warm weather up in Darwin.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I will certainly be doing that.

LANGDON: Better than here, it’s rubbish. Thanks, Richard.



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