PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21982

Joint Press Conference with The Hon Kevin Andrews MP Parliament House, Canberra

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 13/10/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21982

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen, Mr Andrews and I have called this news conference to announce that the Government has invited Professor Ian Harper who has joined us at this news conference to be the Chairman of the Fair Pay Commission and Professor Harper has accepted the Government's invitation. I thank him for that. He's one of Australia's most distinguished academic economists. He's worked very closely with Government and professional firms and business at the highest level. He was a member of the Wallis Inquiry. He's currently the Executive Director of the Centre for Business and Public Policy at the Melbourne Business School where he holds the Sidney Myer Chair of Commerce and Business Administration. And from March to November of last year he acted as Dean and Director of the School. He has his own consulting company and he has also in the late 1990s chaired an inquiry for the Anglican Church, for the General Synod of the Anglican Church on matters of work and wealth and produced an interesting paper and findings in relation to that.

The Fair Pay Commission will operate, once it is established by law, independently of the Government. Its decisions in relation to pay and classification rates will take effect and can't be the subject of change or amendment by the Government. We will, in due course, announce further members for the Fair Pay Commission, but I'm delighted that somebody of the experience and repute and respect in his profession such as Professor Harper has agreed to accept the Government's invitation. It's a very important position and we need somebody who is independent and highly regarded as an economist. And I have no doubt at all that Professor Harper admirably fills that description.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister will the Fair Pay Commission's deliberations be transparent?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the precise way in which they operate will be governed by two things. It will be governed by what's in the legislation and I can say that what will be in the legislation will reflect what's already been announced and their decisions. I'm not going to lay down in advance how the Commission should operate. The essence of allowing it to operate independently will be to allow it to decide how transparent or whatever it may choose to be. I would imagine it would want to be quite transparent. But that's a matter for the Commission. You don't appoint people of repute and ability and eminence to a position like that and then say "oh, but I'm going to tell you how to conduct your daily business." The aim is to have a Fair Pay Commission that is consultative and not one that operates in the quasi-legal framework of the Industrial Relations Commission. One of the long-sustained criticisms of the Industrial Relations system that this country has had for so long is that it does operate in this quasi-legal environment because it is based, as you know, on what some regard as the legal construct of always settling a dispute. I think most people regard that as a somewhat anachronistic way of approaching these matters. There may have been good legal reasons for it. I'm not denying that. But with a different view now for a long time of the Corporations Power, we have a capacity to create a different environment. And I think what one of the things the body will be is more open. It will be more consultative. That would certainly be our hope. But precisely how that happens will be a matter for Professor Harper and the other men and women who make up the Commission.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) represented by the other members?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well nobody is being represented by anybody. Professor Harper will be there in his independent capacity. We've indicated the classifications from which people will come. The broad sort of background and experience they ought to have, but we're not appointing a Commission that is made up of one person representing the employers, one person representing the unions, one person representing the law or economics. We're going to choose men and women who have expertise in a whole range of things, and they've been set out, including an understanding of the impact of these sorts of things on people generally in the community. But it's not going to be in any way a surrogate body, a body where people are sent with a particular brief or sent as the delegates of an interest. That's the old system. The new system is to have a group of talented people who will reach a sensible outcome.

JOURNALIST:

Can I ask Professor Harper to outline how he sees the role, and Professor Harper, as an economist, how you see the relationship between minimum wage regulation and employment.

PROFESSOR HARPER:

Can I say at the outset, Prime Minister in your presence and the presence of the Minister, what a privilege and honour it is for me personally to be invited to chair the new Commission and I look forward to the challenge that I and my new fellow Commissioners will face in working with the Commission to bring about the best result for the people of Australia. In answer to the question, let me say that I intend this Commission to be as open and consultative as possible. We'll be emphasising consultation with the community. We'll also be commissioning and undertaking research and we'll be monitoring the results of the Commission, of its deliberations so that we can adjust our thinking as we go along. So it will be an open and consultative process and it will be one that's forward looking.

JOURNALIST:

What is the relationship as you understand it as an economist between regulating a minimum wage and the impact that has on the number of jobs in the economy?

PROFESSOR HARPER:

Those are matters which I will be taking to the Commission when we're established, and we'll be consulting widely with all sorts of views about how the minimum wage relates to important questions, obviously employment, but also the prosperity of the economy more generally.

JOURNALIST:

Is Professor Harper's appointment a trifle premature given that the legislation isn't through yet?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don't think it's premature. I think we're indicating that if the legislation goes through, obviously it's subject to it going through, but I don't think it's premature at all. I think it's an indication to the community that we are very serious about these reforms, that we're very committed to them. We're very confident about them and I think it's entirely appropriate as a way of informing the public of what we have in mind to indicate who some of the people might be, and obviously the chairman.

JOURNALIST:

Professor Harper, for the record, are you, or have you ever held membership of any political party?

PROFESSOR HARPER:

No, not at all. No membership of any political party.

JOURNALIST:

Are you braced for a glowing endorsement from the ALP and the unions?

PROFESSOR HARPER:

I'll be welcoming all response to the work of the Commission, right across the community. In particular, the Commission will be looking to hear from those, not just who have loud voices and whom we hear from regularly, but from those whose voices aren't so loud in the community. We'll be consulting far and wide.

JOURNALIST:

With the venom of this debate though, would you expect the opponents of the Government's planned changes to denigrate you, you know question....

PROFESSOR HARPER:

Well I hope not. I'm hopeful that people who have different views from the Government will want to be part of the process. This, as the Prime Minister's indicated, is an independent commission which will run an independent process under my Chairmanship. And I hope to hear from everybody. All views.

JOURNALIST:

Can you give us an example of who those voices are that don't speak so loudly perhaps as the Opposition?

PROFESSOR HARPER:

Well indeed: People who are unemployed, people who are on low pay, people who employ low-paid people, people whose voices as I say we don't normally hear on the evening news. This Commission has been modelled loosely by the Government on the Low Pay Commission in the United Kingdom. And one of the marks of that Commission has been its consultation widely within the community and I'm hoping that we can emulate that here.

JOURNALIST:

Professor Harper you'll make your first decision I think about a year from now, I think within a year from now. The Government has argued persistently in previous years that it should be in its submission that it should be lower than what was accepted or adopted by the Industrial Relations Commission. Do you think the argument for smaller increments in minimum wage is a sound one?

PROFESSOR HARPER:

You'll be aware that the detailed statement the Government has issued points out that the determination which was made at the safety net review by the Industrial Relations Commission is the benchmark upon which the new Fair Pay Commission goes forward. That's the bench mark. We go forward from there. And as we deliberate as to what the new level of minimum wages should be, bringing down our first determination in Spring of 2006, we'll be taking on board all sorts of ideas and research that we can lay our hands on in that process.

JOURNALIST:

As an academic economist, have you had a longstanding view that the workforce has been over regulated?

PROFESSOR HARPER:

I don't believe I have. I believe as an academic economist I'm open to argument, evidence and logic and I believe those are the skills that I'll bring to the Chairmanship of the new Commission.

JOURNALIST:

So what is your view of the degree of regulation of the workforce?

PROFESSOR HARPER:

I'm not prepared to put forward a view personally. That's not relevant at this stage. I've been asked to Chair a Commission and I've been asked to investigate it?

JOURNALIST:

Have you written about this at all?

PROFESSOR HARPER:

I don't believe I have.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) Specifically what is your economic background and what knowledge and background do you have in labour economics which is a fairly you know...

PROFESSOR HARPER:

Yes it is.

PROFESSOR HARPER:

I published a paper many years back now, soon after I graduated, on unemployment and vacancies in Australia but most of my academic research has been in financial market economics which is why I was a member of the Wallace Committee. I believe the expertise that I have been asked to bring to bear to this Commission is in the nature of a Chairman, somebody who's had exposure to public policy generally. I don't believe I am there as an expert in labour economics; it may well be that someone of that expertise is appointed as Commissioner. In any case there will be a full time Secretariat which will have that expertise.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Harper how comfortable are you accepting this position without having seen the legislation?

PROFESSOR HARPER:

I understand enough from the detailed statement that the Minister and the Government have released exactly what the parameters are of task that I have been asked to undertake and I am satisfied that that task is well defined and that I bring to that task the necessary skills and experience.

JOURNALIST:

Is it a full time position?

PROFESSOR HARPER:

It's a part time position.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard there's been a fairly large fall in the number of...

PRIME MINISTER:

Sorry, start again.

JOURNALIST:

There's been a fairly large fall in employment today, with the new figures. How does that fit with the industrial relations changes and are you worried this is the start of a trend of rising unemployment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Employment always see-saws a bit. I don't think it is the beginning of any trend. I don't think one month's figures is in any way relevant to longer term changes, I think that is always a mistake, we've never said you should just be moved or conditioned by one month's figures.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister will the government continue to make submissions for the Fair Trade Commission as, in terms of the...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it would be open to the government if it wanted to, to make a submission, it would be open to it. It will be a new dispensation. We won't be going through this idea that this is a bench and this is a court, it was always productive of a sense of unreality. Everybody would enter the gathering and bow and it was just sort of not how I think wages should be set, it was too adversarial. I think one of the advantages of a Fair Pay Commission of the model we have in mind, a lot of that adversarial element will disappear and I think that's a very good thing but the way it works and the way they handle submissions will be a matter for the Commission, we will not be trying to tell them how to conduct their business, we want to appoint capable men and women to it, and having done that let them do their job.

KEVIN ANDREWS:

(inaudible) bizarre nature of the current system that is you have to have ambit claim brought in order to create a dispute in order to have a resolution of that dispute to change minimum wages in Australia. Now that is an anachronistic system and what we are doing is putting in a much more modern and responsive system in which Professor Harper and his colleagues can make proper economic analysis of these matters without this adversarial theatre that the Prime Minister referred to.

JOURNALIST:

Will someone from the union movement be appointed to the Fair Pay Commission?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am not going to at this stage talk about the future, I am not, I mean obviously people with a background in the union movement are as eligible as anybody else to be appointed to this body, let me make that very clear but I am not going to at the moment, I am not going to at the moment speculate about people. I think you should have a broad range of people, including people who have a background in the understanding of labour matters from both an employer and an employee's perspective as the pool from which you draw but I am not going to speculate at this stage, on whom they might be.

JOURNALIST:

Are you still confident the industrial relations laws will be passed before the end of the year and how long will the Senate inquiry go into the IR changes?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Dennis it's the government's hope that the legislation will be passed before the end of the year. Now obviously I am always respectful to the parliament in the sense of expressing that hope. I can't bind the parliament to a precise timetable but that's the government's hope. How long will the Senate inquiry sit? That's really a matter for the Senate inquiry. I think in the order of a couple of weeks but that's entirely a matter for it and it can set its own time. I do understand that it's the wish of the second Chamber that the Senate examine a lot of the matters; industrial relations which haven't been examined before and I think that would be a good thing. Some of these issues have been the subject of umpteen reports from the Senate before and I think they would just be pulling out some of the Senator's loose leaf binders to sort of insert something in the report. But there are other things that haven't been looked at before and I was told this morning that the Senate, by the Senate Leader, that is Senator Hill, that there is a desire to look at some of the things that haven't been looked at before. I understand the Senate Committee is going to have some sittings in Canberra and then go on the road for others. Now that's what I have been told and the Senate Committee decides these matters, not the Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST:

When will you be appointing the other members of the Commission?

PRIME MINISTER:

In due course, we are not going to bind ourselves precisely, but in due course.

JOURNALIST:

What will you be doing to ensure Senator Barnaby Joyce stays on side with the legislation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look Paul I conduct a lot discussions with a lot of my colleagues and what I do is see that the government's agenda is put forward and handled in an appropriate way, I am not going to get into discussions about individuals but the Government obviously has an opportunity now because of the changed make up of the Senate to progress some things we couldn't have progressed before and industrial relations reform of the order we now contemplate is obviously one of those and I hope that we can get the legislation through.. I never treat anything as a forgone conclusion; I work patiently away, I talk to people, I listen to them, we stick to our lasts and we continue to hope that the Senate will support the legislation. I hope it will.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister Sharman Stone is trying to get the abortion pill made widely available...

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon.

JOURNALIST:

Sharman Stone is pushing for the abortion bill to be made widely available to women. Any views on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, they're views are that I will first express to my Cabinet colleagues when the matter is discussed because the issue may require first to some Cabinet discussion and I think I'll pay my Cabinet colleagues a courtesy of telling them first.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister is your confidence in the Senate's passage of IR been shaken to any degree by Senator Joyce's...

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look I'm not going to, David, start talking about that. I... you know in relation to the industrial relations legislation, I hope the Senate will pass it, I believe it's legislation that does reflect broadly the views of the overwhelming majority of the rank and file of both the Liberal and National Parties and our supporters in the community and indeed many people beyond that - I think that's important. Industrial relations reform has been something that people in the two Coalition parties have wanted and argued for, for many years. It's not just a few of us, its been quite broadly based. But in the end the Senate will do what it in its wisdom decides to do. I'm hopeful and I'll continue to argue, respectfully my case for passage of the legislation.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister will you concede that you've got a lot of ground to make up in the public's eyes in this debate? I mean since last Sunday Labor, the unions, churches, many economists have been sceptical at best about the legislation or panning it. Do you think you've got a lot of ground to make up?

PRIME MINISTER:

I wouldn't make that concession David, but I recognise that any significant reform is always something that needs strong argument over a period of time. It's very easy to run scare campaigns about significant reforms. I cannot think of a significant reform in the economic area that this country has had in the last 20 years that hasn't been capable of fear-mongering and scare-mongering. If that were not the case you wouldn't have any need of the reform because the changes would've been made years ago. By definition difficult economic, but important economic reforms require hard argument and attract criticism. So what has happened over the past few days has not in anyway surprised me, of course it's been attacked by the Labor Party and the unions, I expected that. So far as churches are concerned and I said in the parliament the other day that there is no such thing as a consolidated church view on something like this. Christians, Anglicans, Catholics have views both sides of the argument, just as there are Atheists and Agnostics who have views both side on the argument. I think most people recognise that.

JOURNALIST:

Will a family impact statement help overcome some of those fears?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have already in some detail explained the way in which families have been treated under past government policies. We have argued in the document I released last Sunday, we went to some length to relate industrial relations changes to the family and we'll continue to do that in a very open fashion, and certainly that will represent the best arguments that we can bring to bear in relation to those issues. But let's cut to the chase when it comes to family security. If you're talking about family security and family stability, job security is a very important thing. All the experience I've had as a member of parliament and the experience I had previously, told me that if a family had economic and job insecurity it often caused a great deal of unhappiness. Now money and economic security is not the only thing in life, it's not even the most important thing in life. And I said the other day I agreed with Dr Jensen very much on that. Of course relationships are more important than anything, but that doesn't mean that job security and economic security is irrelevant and unimportant - and there aren't many families I've come across who said "I don't really worry about economic security, I don't worry about whether there's a weekly income, I don't worry about whether I've got a job opportunity, I don't worry about those things" - of course they do. And it's a question in all of these things to have balance and proportionality, and balance and proportionality requires that we have a strong economy and the only way you can improve the economy is... as far as the industrial relations system is concerned is to make sure that the industrial relations laws contribute to and not detract from the strength and growth of the economy - in the end it's a strong economy and nothing else that'll give you job security, rising wages and better conditions.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister is your package non-negotiable or would you be prepared to change some aspects to get it through the Senate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Ah Louise we have thought long and hard about this package and the essential elements of it are things that we are very committed to. Does that mean that every single last word and comma in the legislation when it's presented will remain unalterable, of course that would be an exercise in foolishness to say that. But don't imagine that this is something that represents an ambit claim. We don't like ambit claims in industrial relations matters. This is a serious considered view of the Government after months of thought and reflection and we think it's a big change but a fair change, and that's why we're very committed to it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister about the erosion of State's rights which is likely to be a sticking point in negotiations through the Senate? The concerns that a national system will erode State's rights?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't think it erodes States' rights.

JOURNALIST:

But that's the concerns that Matt Birney and some within the Coalition have raised.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well my view is that and the Government's view is that we have overwhelmingly now a national economy and we should have a national set of laws for a national economy in the 21st century. I don't think that's an erosion of States' rights. And bear in mind that in the past the Australian Labor Party has argued very strongly for a national system. When Neville Rann was the Premier of New South Wales he regularly called for a national industrial relations system, he was in the forefront of calling for a national industrial relations system. So therefore there is a big touch of hypocrisy in the Labor Party now talking about States' rights.

JOURNALIST:

You've got concerns within your own...you've got people like Matt Birney and people like Barnaby Joyce in the Senate who are raising concerns?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are a broad church. We're a party that has a range of views but my role and my responsibility and Mr Andrews is to having taken all of those things into account, take the decision that we have. And I think it's overwhelmingly in Australia's interests to have a national system and I think its overwhelmingly in the interest of business and employees - and I find it in an age now where far larger numbers of Australians than ever before travel from one part of the country to the other for work, that any interstate impediments, whether it be in employment or education or training are irksome and things that people regard as relics of an earlier period. One more question.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister Senator Joyce appears to have not just crossed the floor but acted in concert with the non-government parties to set up a situation behind the Government's back where that legislation could be amended. Is that appropriate behaviour for a Government member?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I don't have any further comment to make on that matter.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 21982