SUBJECTS: Union laws; Industrial Relations laws; Brereton Report.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: The ongoing stoush- I suppose- between the government and Labor when it comes to IR, it’s continuing this week, with more changes announced every day. Joining us is Richard Marles Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Richard, good to see you. Thanks for joining us this morning. So just to clarify, on the demerger of unions, is that something that Labor will officially support?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: We do support that. We may move some amendments in the Senate. But ultimately, what this is about, and certainly the principle which guides us is making sure that union members have the greatest say, in their own organisations and on balance, when looking at this, we think this does provide union members with a greater voice, so we will support it.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. Do you have any concerns though of fresh territorial battles that won’t actually help members in the end, when it comes to the unions?

MARLES: Well, I think, at the end of the day, the principle that needs to guide us in this place is what gives union members the greatest say in their own organisations. And ultimately, you know, when the Government has put forward a proposal as this – such as this, the lens through which we look at or look at it, or the ruler that we run over it is; does this give union members a greater say or not? And ultimately, our view on this in this instance, is that it does.

STEFANOVIC: But I guess my point being that, you know, in weeks or months ahead, does members of what was the CFMEU start turning on each other?

MARLES: Well, I mean, I can’t predict what’s going to happen there. And ultimately, you know, what happens within union organisations is a matter for them. But from where we sit, and in terms of the judgments that we are asked to make, I think the very simple question is; does any given proposal increase the voice of union members within their organisations or not? And our view is that this one does.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. Just on to the latest round of IR reforms. We had Christian Porter on the show a short time ago. What’s Labor’s response so far to this latest round, and in particular, employers being given more power to bypass the BOOT?

MARLES: Well, I think that should give anxiety to Australian workers around the country. I mean, this has been a – an extraordinary year where a lot of sacrifice has been made in terms of the way people have done their work. And I think that as we come to the end of the year, and we hope at least that we are getting into a better position of being able to live with the virus and the country opens up and there are less restrictions, that Australian workers can look forward to next year to something which is better. But what we’re actually seeing in this legislation is an opportunity for
employers to construct terms and conditions of employment which see people being worse off. I mean, the critical point here is that yesterday, the Prime Minister was given an opportunity to rule out that no Australian worker would be worse off as a result of these changes. And he resolutely refused to do that. And I can well remember when John Howard was given that same opportunity back in 2006 and what eventuated then was Workchoices. Australian workers do want to think there is something better at the end of this that when we look past the rainbow here, there is going to be a better future than what existed before the coronavirus. And actually, all that we are now being told on the other side of the rainbow is a wage cut.

STEFANOVIC: So you won’t support it?

MARLES: Well, we haven’t seen it, is the first thing. But we have deep anxiety-

STEFANOVIC: But from what you can see so far, with what’s been released so far, you won’t support it?

MARLES: Well, we’ve got – we’ve got deep anxiety about a set of laws where the Government cannot guarantee that people won’t be worse off. And that’s the answer to that question. Obviously, we need to look at the legislation and have a – have a proper consideration of it. And we haven’t been shown it yet. But you know what strikes anxiety into our heart is the fact that when we want the very basic assurance that no one’s going to be worse off as a result of this; it cannot be given. And it resolutely was not given. And the great failing of this government’s management of the economy since it came to power has been in relation to wages and wages growth. It’s been the lowest wages growth that we’ve seen in our nation’s history. This is clearly not going to do anything to improve that. In fact, what this is going to give rise to is the opportunity for a pay cut. And that I think is exactly the wrong message that we would want to be sending to Australian workers at the end of what has been a very difficult year.

STEFANOVIC: It doesn’t matter what the government throws up on IR, you’d oppose it though, because it’s all about throwing red meat to the base and finding something to fight on the next election. Right?

MARLES: I don’t think that’s right at all. We understand that there’s a whole lot of measures where we can work together. And we want to see much greater cooperation in the workplace. And in fact, this year has been characterised by people in the labour movement – by unions – working very closely with employers and in fact, with the government to give greater flexibilities in order to get through what has been an extraordinary crisis. But when we get to the end of that, I think people are expecting that there is something better on the other side. And in fact, the only thing on the other side, it would appear is a pay cut. Now, we’d like to work with the Government to try and make sure that there is greater security of employment. I mean, one of the other features of the workplace today is that it’s never been less secure. That the Government says that it’s concerned about that issue, we’d like to sit down and talk with them about that. But again, we haven’t seen the legislation and we’re pretty concerned that what’s going to be bowled up in respect of that is actually going to make the situation around security at work worse rather than – than better. So, you know, we stand ready to have a conversation. We would like to work things through to give rise to a workplace, which is fairer, which is more secure, where people are better paid, and where employers, I might say, are in a better position to manage their businesses. But that opportunity’s not being given to us by this Government. Instead, they’re walking down a very fixed path, and one which strikes a great deal of concern for us, and I think it will for every Australian worker.

STEFANOVIC: Richard, we’re going to go live shortly to an announcement by the Defence Minister, we’ve got a little bit of time. Just finally, I want to ask you about the Brereton Report. You said on Monday, about the- you talked about the recommendations and supporting them. Why are you in favour of stripping Citations, and the closure of SAS 2nd Squadron, punishing innocent people for actions they haven’t committed?

MARLES: These are really difficult questions and issues to work through. So our disposition has been to support the recommendations of the Brereton Report. And I’m working on the assumption that that is the disposition of the Government as well, as it is the disposition of Defence. I’d be the first to say that the issues that you’ve raised are pretty complex, and exactly how the recommendations are implemented, needs to be given a great deal of thought and care. And I think we need to give the space to both Defence and in fact, the Government to land those issues. And it seems to me that what Defence has been asking for, since the Brereton Report was publicly released is to be given that time and space in order to work through how these recommendations are implemented. So that’s all we’re –  we’re saying. But there were serious allegations that were contained in the Brereton Report. If there is anything that comes from this, it’s got to be that we as a country are able to understand where mistakes have been made. And that we are –  we have the maturity as a nation to face up to those mistakes, and to fix them. Fix them in terms of what consequences flow in respect of the individuals that have been referred for further investigation, but fix them in terms of what changes need to be made in relation to culture, in relation to the structure of the Defence Force. We’ve got time to do all of that. And I think we need to give the Defence Force the time and space to work out how it works through those recommendations. So that’s the only point that we’re making. And I really think it’s important that that occur. I definitely understand the feeling that a whole lot of those who have served with distinction feel about there being some form of punishment for them when they’ve done nothing wrong. I certainly think it’s important that we remember that thousands of Australians served with distinction in Afghanistan. And if the only way we see our engagement in Afghanistan is through the prism of these allegations, that would be a tragedy. Australia did good work there and Australian servicemen and women wearing our uniform in our name, did incredible work there and we need to honour and remember them. But it’s also important that we face up to what’s contained in this report and that we ultimately deal with it.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, Richard Marles, appreciate your time as always. We’ll talk to you again soon.

MARLES: Thanks, Peter.


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