Transcript - Interview with Michael McLaren, 2GB

E&OE

PRESENTER:        Well, as another gruelling week of the Parliament crunches to an end, we are left basically where we started the week. There’s a hot debate around the penalty rates decision by the Fair Work Commission this time last week and both political camps have basically staked their claim.

Labor is a very, sort of, hypocritical, duplicitous mess. Leading up to the decision they said they’d support it but as it came down they decided they would go against it for opportunistic political reasons. That is clear for anyone to see. The Government though – although ideologically those on the Government side of the Chamber think this is a wonderful decision. Certainly they haven’t been owning or even actively advocating the benefits of the Fair Work decision. The best I think it’s fair to say from the Prime Minister down there’s been a noticeable acknowledgement of the decision but there has certainly been no ownership. Where this leaves this debate as the weeks roll on, and of course an election is a long way off yet, but I think having spoken to union people and others over the last week, this is going to be WorkChoices 2007 replayed whenever the upcoming election is. It will be the equivalent. You’re going to have the Labor/Union campaign here on cost of living pressures on wages on penalty rates.

Now, small business – small family businesses, particularly in the retail, hospitality and fast food sectors are the ones set to benefit the most. Having spoken to the head of COSBOA the other week they were champing at the bit for a decision like this to be handed down. The Minister for Small Business is Michael McCormack. I suppose he is going to have to be one of the chief salesmen for what will be a very hotly-contested political issue in the months and years ahead. He’s on the phone. Minister, good morning.

McCORMACK:  Good morning.

PRESENTER:        Tough sales gig.

McCORMACK:   The Government’s position is clear. It’s consistent. The setting of penalty rates is determined – as you said in your intro – by the Fair Work Commission. It’s not set by Government and the Fair Work Commission carefully considered over a long, long period of time nearly six thousand submissions. It took 143 witness’ evidence before it reached its decision and it also considered six out of 122 awards and made a determination on just four of those awards. Now, the Government supports the role of the Fair Work Commission. Moreover, the Government supports the independent status of this Commission.

PRESENTER:        Did they make a good decision?

McCORMACK:   Well, look, I’ll tell you what small businesses are telling me. And you only have to look at the Chamber of Commerce in New South Wales. Their chief executive officer Stephen Cartwright said,” when you read the 550 page decision…” – and that’s how long it was – “…and consider that the Commission sat through 39 days of testimony, it’s pretty clear the outcomes and intentions were well-considered.” He also added that “the decision on penalty rates for Sundays means your favourite local businesses are able to remain open and be fully staffed.”

                                Now that’s the experience I had at Lockhart – population 800 – in the Riverina’s south-west in my electorate. Many small businesses in that town’s main street told me they will now open as a result of this decision, because the potential that the cafes have previously been shut. One of the business owners told me the only reason he shuts is because of the penalty rates, so if they open the rest of the main street will open. To that end, that’s going to create more employment for that little town, Lockhart. So that’s a good thing that the town will now trade on a Sunday.

PRESENTER:        Are you and the Government, though, prepared to go out and advocate the decision? Because having watched the Prime Minister he is very eloquent on his feet in the Parliament, although it is clear politically he is being clobbered with a populist campaign from Labor over this. You are going to have to do more than say it’s a good decision. You are going to have to go out there and sell it, unless you guys want to get lassoed by Labor’s campaign against this.

McCORMACK:   We are out there putting the policy settings in place. We are trying to push through the Ten Year Enterprise Tax Plan to lower the company tax rate. We are trying to get the instant asset write-off for 90,000 more small businesses. We are the Government for small business.

Now small businesses are telling me because of the decision they will hire more staff. Peter Strong, the CEO of the Council of Small Businesses of Australia tells me there will be 10,000 additional jobs created from this decision. But the decision is made by the independent umpire – that’s the important thing to remember. They are the independent umpire put in the game by Labor. The Commissioner who made the decision, who made the announcement, Iain Ross, was appointed by Labor. Labor owns this. Not the Government. And it’s the Fair Work Commission’s decision that someone like Peter Strong reckons will create 10,000 jobs. Now that, small businesses are telling me, is going to be a good thing for the economy, a good thing for tourists, a good thing for regional Australia.

PRESENTER:        [Inaudible] Labor’s record. They set all this up. And for once, I have to say, the media has been very truthful and honest in all of this. I think almost everybody, even from more left-wing-aligned sources have called Bill Shoten out on being, basically a fraud, with his position on this. Yet what you’re going to have to do with this is not let it sink you guys politically or own it yourself, aren’t you?

McCORMACK:   Well the one person who isn’t being truthful about this is the Member for Maribyrnong, the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten. He told a metropolitan radio station three times well before the election that he always stood by the Fair Work Commission. He said it’s a Labor thing. But he also said, irrespective of the decision it reached, that he would abide by that. Now he’s turning around and blaming us.

PRESENTER:        All of that is true. Now I have said that up hill and down dale. You don’t have to convince me and I think a lot of my listeners don’t need convincing either. I hear the reaction from a lot of people – who would ordinarily be sympathetic to your side of politics – and generally there’s a feeling that they don’t actually care. This is the tragedy for you guys on this. Ideologically I think you have got the decision you want. I don’t have a problem with it. A lot of people are sayingthey don’t care if Bill Shorten said one thing so many months ago…

McCORMACK:   Well he does it all the time. On every particular issue, Michael, I have to say.

PRESENTER:        That’s true. But again you look at the opinion polls and it seems this one is going to cost you. You are going to have to sell it. Own it and sell the merits of it if Labor is running a scare campaign, as fatuous and duplicitous as it is, you are going to have to [inaudible here].

McCORMACK:   Well it’s already out there and the unions are robo-calling people late at night, they’re out there accusing us of taking the penalty rates away from nurses and other emergency services and this just is not the truth. It is a decision which is only in four awards out of 122 across the nation. This is typical Labor. It is typical unions. And the fact is Labor is just the political arm of the union movement. We all know that.

PRESENTER:        Are you going to need the business community – small and big – to come out and sell this for you as well?

McCORMACK:   Well we don’t have to. They are already doing that. Peter Strong – as I say – the CEO of the Council of Small Business Australia, Stephen Cartwright, the NSW Business Chamber chief, they are out there saying it’s going to be good, it’s going to create jobs.

We are the Government of small business. We are the job-creating Government. But essentially… I say that we are the job-creating Government because we set the policy settings. It is small business that creates the jobs which make the economy strong.  Small business employ five million Australians and there are 2.1 million small businesses in Australia. They need every help they can get. The Fair Work Commission has made its decision, independent, at arms’-length of Government. That is the right thing for them to make this determination and I think it is – as you say – duplicitous of Bill Shorten and Labor to then come out and say this is not something they are going to abide by.

PRESENTER:        Yeah, just quickly then, we are talking about these changes as if they are already in place. But they are not. When are people likely to see changes to their penalty rates or when are small businesses likely to be able to start tweaking their awards?

McCORMACK:   It won’t be before July 1 and as I understand public holidays will come into effect first up and then a determination is yet to be reached for other Sunday penalty rates.

PRESENTER:        Good to catch up. Thank you for your time.

McCORMACK:   Anytime. Thank you. 

Cristy Houghton