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Press conference, Parliament House | Ministers' Media Centre

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Press conference, Parliament House | Ministers’ Media Centre


Subjects: Support for Closing Loopholes in the Senate, preventative detention.

TONY BURKE, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS, LEADER OF THE HOUSE: Thanks very much everybody. Today, I’m really pleased to be standing here with Jacqui Lambie, David Pocock, with a whole lot of first responders, with Kay Catanzariti who has been fighting for industrial manslaughter for years ever since her son Ben was lost in a workplace. Pleased also that Anne Urquhart and Tony Sheldon, who have been fighting on these issues for years, are all here.

Today is a really good day for workers’ wages and a really good day for workers’ safety. You’d all be aware for a long time, there’s been discussions between myself, Senator Lambie and Senator Pocock, trying to find a way through on the fact that the legislation that I introduced earlier this year, contained a very large number of provisions. But also wanting to make sure we could get as much done this year as possible. I’m really pleased to say the goodwill, and the good intentions from all of us, have come together today, for me to announce that there is an option available to Australia’s Senate to get a whole lot done today.

All four of the measures that were in my Bill, that were part of the Private Members’ Bills that Senators Lambie and Pocock moved, all of that can be done today. Criminalising industrial manslaughter can be done today. Reforms to Comcare can be made today. Making wage theft a crime can be done today. And closing the labour hire loophole – you’ve seen the ads, same job same pay, can be done today. All of that is possible.

The Green party are having their own processes right now, and so it’s for them to make their own announcement. I can also add that Senator Thorpe has been consulting constructively with me the whole way through this, and has also authorised me to say that she will be supporting all of these measures.

In the Senate today, the Closing Loopholes Bill will be divided into Closing Loopholes and Closing Loopholes 2. The remaining measures will be dealt with at the time that had already been announced, at the first possible opportunity next year. And I have to say – I am even more optimistic about those remaining provisions, because of the goodwill that we’re showing today, and the goodwill and good intentions of the crossbench.

I have no doubt that the Opposition will do what they’ve always done. When it involves improved wages, they’ve tended to vote “No”. When it involves acting on wage theft, they’ve always voted “No”. But this government wants two things, and we can advance them today. Today, we can advance safer workplaces for Australians. Today, we can do what we need to do to make sure that a whole lot of people who are being underpaid, have the Parliament of Australia decide that it’s time for them to get a pay rise. All of that can be done today.

I want to once again thank Senator Lambie and Senator Pocock for all the goodwill that has led to this. This is a great outcome for working Australians. I’ll invite each of them to speak, and then I will also invite Jim Arneman, a paramedic to speak and then Kay Catanzariti, who, as I say, has been fighting for industrial manslaughter to be a crime for so long to be able to say a few words.

But in short. People are being underpaid by the labour hire loophole, that the small minority of employers think it’s okay to steal from a worker, those days are over, and it can end in Australia’s parliament today.

SENATOR JACQUI LAMBIE: Thank you, I won’t take much long, much time because these first responders I know, certainly want to speak. There are about eight or nine parts to what’s going on this morning. I want to thank, first of all I want to I do want to thank the Liberal National Party for being really constructive with myself and David Pocock for the first four that we tried to give up. I know that now that thanks to Tony that we have put the manslaughter charges in there and I think that’s a great result. Just out to keep workers out there safer.

I also want to thank the Government for finally doing checking this in here and saying, you know, this is where we can have a very big review on Comcare, which I know is very significant out there. Not just the first responders, but public servants and also veterans, it has been a very big problem. It still leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. I had to deal with Comcare and DVA at the same time, and it was bloody God awful. We have finally got there. And finally, Comcare will now be under review, it will have an independent review. I also thank the Government, for allowing me to put some names up to sit on that review, people that are actually experts in this area, probably the top six in Australia, will do this review. And I’m very, very grateful for that.

So, to not take any more time off the first responders, but I do want to say this. There is a ripple effect when you have PTSD. It’s not just that you are told no, you do not have PTSD. And you’re wondering what is wrong with you. It is the impact it has on your family. And it is God awful. So, to do so to removes that impact, when you have PTSD, which is bad enough to deal with that, you don’t have to go out there and prove that because of your job. You’re in the state that you’re in, I tell you what would have to be the biggest relief off the shoulders today. So thank you to the Government and also to the LNP on those matters, thank you.

SENATOR DAVID POCOCK: I’d like to thank Senator Lambie for her support of the four measures and for the Senate for their support on really pushing this, and to Minister Burke and the Government for putting together this package. This is a great result for first responders, and it’s on the back of years and years of advocacy. I want to thank Senator Urquhart for the work that she’s done in this area. And to our first responders, thank you for what you do, we need to value you more. We need to look after you and your families, and this is a step in the right direction.

Really importantly, with the PTSD provisions that will now be expanded to Border Force, there’ll be a look at independent medical examinations and as Senator Lambie said really importantly, a review looking into Comcare and how that is treating and dealing with our first responders. But on that note, I’ll pass over to Jim.

JIM ARNEMAN: Hi everybody. These provisions for me, showing the Australian Parliament working at its best. You know, we’ve finally had people listen to the pain that some of our colleagues have gone through for a long, long time.

I want to thank Minister, I want to thank David, I want to thank Jacqui, and particularly Anne. We had an inquiry into from the mental health and wellbeing of first responders. I think it was 2018 which was instigated by a colleague of ours, Simone Haigh, paramedic in Tasmania, after the suicide of a very dear friend of hers, a paramedic down there. And that was really what started this ball rolling. And it’s been a long, long journey. But we’ve arrived and that’s a great place for us to be.

My wife is a paramedic. Unfortunately, she was involved in an incident with a patient with a knife in the back of an ambulance about five years ago. If this legislation had had been in place at that time, she wouldn’t have had to go through the journey she did with Comcare. She wouldn’t have had to go through the independent medical examinations that actually worsened her condition. She wouldn’t have had to go through the situation where she’s not going to return as a paramedic. And she was a bloody great paramedic. She was compassionate. She was caring. She looked after a colleague, she looked after her patients. And she’s not Robinson Crusoe, you know, I acknowledge AFP colleagues that are here today. Lots of police, people in that same space, lots of volunteers in the first responders section in that same space, lots of paramedics in different jurisdictions across the country in that same space.

So do not underestimate the importance of this reform. It will save lives. We had a press conference here a month or so back that I was involved with, and I asked the question on that day. Who cares for the carers? I think we’ve seen the answer to that today. These guys are caring for the carers. And that’s a wonderful outcome. Thank you.

KAY CATANZARITI: I believe there’s some legislation is made through the blood of the workers who never came home.


And all of the tears of the families.

This legislation will make a difference. A big difference. It needs to be upheld. And used to the full extent, across all jurisdictions. We all have to work together. Because we’re all Australians, doesn’t matter what jurisdiction you get killed in. We have a right to come home.

And to all the affected families and advocates. This is just one part of the puzzle. We’ve got the framework now. Now we have to fill it in with all the other pieces. So we can make sure that no other worker goes to work and doesn’t come home or isn’t seriously injured.

Also, I have to express my gratitude to first responders. When Ben got killed, after the 39-metre concrete boom collapsed and crushed his skull. They have to go to that. They spent time with me afterwards and took me through step by step. They didn’t have to, but they did because they’re human beings with a kind heart. They chose this profession.

We didn’t choose to be here. I don’t want to be here. But these people, Jacquie, and David, and Minister Burke, this is their job, because we pay them. And they have listened.

Thankfully, after the 2018 inquiry that we got, and also in a timely manner since I’ve spoken to Minister Burke. And hopefully some families this Christmas, you can put a smile on your face. Thank you.


JOURNALIST: Could I please ask Senator Lambie and Senator Pocock about Closing Loopholes 2.0. And why did you feel that the gig economy changes and the casual changes should wait until next year? And do you agree with Minister Burke’s rosy assessment now that it’s all the more likely that that will pass in the new year?


POCOCK: We’ve been saying all along that there’s consensus over a number of issues. So you had the four private senators bills. I think there’s still work to do on casuals and gig. Clearly, some of the gig reforms are incredibly important. And there is consensus over some of them. But they also go across the economy, across the care sector, and I think it’s working through those details.

And for me, this is democracy working, this is the Parliament working, and being able to deliver for workers and first responders, now, things that have consensus. And we’ve both committed to working in good faith on the rest of the bill, you know committee process kicks off again on 22nd of January, and we’ll both be there and going through it.


JOURNALIST: What are those changes. Is it excluding the care economy from the gig economy changes or what is it?


LAMBIE: Okay, mate, we’ve got limited staff, we’re trying to do the right thing here. This is the problem that we have. What we do is we tell Australians, they we’ll put everything under the microscope that is our job. We don’t take money from big business and unions, okay, we look at everything as it is. And that is our job to do that.

But what I will tell you about the labour hire is I’ve had a gut full of these big companies, not paying people what they deserve. I’ve had enough of having 12 different lots of payments for hosties out there when I get on a plane, knowing that they’re not getting paid the money that they should be paid. And they’re trying to get through to put bread and milk on their table. I’m sick and tired of miners doing the same damn job where if some of them less than $30,000 a year doing the same job. Enough is enough. And they’ve got massive profits, these bloody little buggers, and they’re not doing the right thing. Well, now you’re going to be made to do the right thing. That’s what you’re going to be made to do from here on in from today.

As for the rest of it, we have limited time. We have about six weeks. I know that certainly our staff will not get much leave over the Christmas period, because we are right back into it, it is a massive bill. So we have tried to work with the Government where we can to get as much through that we believe is the right thing to do before Christmas, and make sure those people, especially our hosties out there that flies around and bring us their coffee on airplanes, you will now get a bloody decent pay for you and your kids. And that is more important to me than anything right now. So that’s what needs to be done. And it’s time the big boys were told you will start paying, you’ve got massive profits start paying.


JOURNALIST: What do you think of the class action against McDonald’s 5000 current and former employees over unpaid wages is going to get off here. And what does it say about wages?


BURKE: Not every case of underpayment will qualify as wage theft. I don’t want to pretend that it will, the wage theft criminal penalty is about where it is intentional.

For example, the 7-Eleven examples would have been clearly caught by that. I don’t want to give a judgement of a particular case that’s out there. But can I say, for companies like McDonald’s, I used to be an organiser looking after some of those kids. Before I was an organiser, looking after some of the kids who work in that place, I was one of them myself. For many people, that is the first experience of work they have, and there is an obligation on every fast-food company in particular, to make clear that it’s on you to make sure you are paying people properly. It’s an obligation, it’s not an option, whether people are caught specifically by the wage theft provision or not.

Can I say this sends an almighty message around workplaces around the country. In particular, some of these big companies that employ very young people to say, you have an obligation to pay people properly. As this amount has got bigger and bigger, in the class action and the action being taken by the SDA. Can I just add, that behind every one of those stories is not simply an amount of money that someone’s been underpaid, but a first experience of work. That is appalling. That is not about your rights being respected.

And I want the message from wage theft becoming a crime, to ricochet everywhere that, just pay people properly. If you’re not sure how to do it, the Fair Work Ombudsman, as a result in particular of advocacy from Senator Lambie and Senator Pocock is going to be given additional resources to be able to help small business with that.

But for heaven’s sake, just pay people properly. It’s always been a crime for the worker to steal from the till. Now, it’ll be a crime for the employer to steal from the worker.


JOURNALIST: Sorry Senator Pocock can I just get you to clarify? So earlier this month when you sent back to those four changes to the Fair Work legislation? What’s additional today? So what else is being done on top of those four?


POCOCK: In terms of those four?


JOURNALIST: Yeah, so that obviously has government support. Is there anything else on top of that that’s being announced today?


POCOCK: Same job, same pay? Some clarification around independent medical examiner’s what the new elements of it?


JOURNALIST: Yeah, just what the new elements are about.


POCOCK: PTSD will be expanded. If you look at the drafting of that Border Force, telephone operators. There’s criminalisation of wage theft, and criminalisation of super non-payment.


LAMBIE: Extra resources for small business.


JOURNALIST: Is it just Border Force?


BURKE: Can I add something about Defence? Because I know, Jacquie’s pushed really hard on this. Every time we have improved rights for workers across the board Defence have looked at this really closely, as well. So, while my legislation doesn’t reach Defence, they’re employed under different acts. I do know that Defence will be looking very closely at we do what we do with PTSD and working out what the appropriate action should be. But when we previously put legislation through Defence have then worked out okay, what is the best way to apply this to their personnel, and I have no doubt they’ll be asking the same question when they have a look at what we do today.


JOURNALIST: Sorry, I might go to what Steffi was asking. Are there further amendments being like, obviously splitting the Bill, that’s an amendment, but are there further amendments being made to any of these provisions that you’re expecting will pass today than what you’ve already made in the House?


BURKE: There are, for example, what Senator Pocock, just referred to with Border Force, Border Force are not covered in what went through the House of Representatives. They’ll be covered by amendments that go through today.

We’ve got the media release with the full list for you. But there are there are some improvements in safety. Importantly, there are some improvements for small business. So, for example, both Senator Lambie and Senator Pocock have been very determined to make sure that small business are not unfairly caught. So, one of the things that’s in the bill is that there will be a small business code that’s already there. But what will be clarified today is the provision can’t start until that small business code has been put in place.

So, there’s a series of measures like that. There is nothing in the changes that causes workers’ rights to go backwards. There is nothing in this where workers are worse off because of amendments that are happening in the Senate. Some things that are happening are clarifications, some things like the areas with respect to Comcare are brand new. But there’s there is nothing here where workers rights go backwards.


JOURNALIST: On what you did the other week, I think it’s fair to say there was some degree of surprise that the changes you made around service contractors, extended it to joint ventures. Is there any further changes going to happen on the labor hire provisions or not?


BURKE: No. And can I say for that, joint ventures were already arguably covered by the Act previously, and that amendment in the House of Representatives really shouldn’t be seen as anything more than a clarification of how people already thought the bill would work. Charles?


JOURNALIST: There was a pretty aggressive campaign against some of the changes that are both being dealt with now, what do you say to the people that ran that campaign?


BURKE: If you’ve had a choice between spending money on ads, or paying your workers properly, the message is pay your workers. Pay your workers properly. When I introduced the Bill, there’s a standard way that people who don’t want to engage in the argument tend to go. They ask for delay. They complain about the consultation, or they’ll pretend that the issue is something that it’s not. We got all three in that business campaign.

At no point did that business campaign, in fact, defend the underpayment of workers through the labor hire loophole. At no point did they actually own up to the issue that this legislation would deal with. I think the message is simple. If something’s indefensible, if you’re not willing to defend it, it’s probably because it’s indefensible. To those business organisations that took a different approach, the Australian Hotels Association, AREEA – that has big membership through mining and gas – there are amendments that are in the Bill as a result of them having constructive engagement. For those people who thought it was better just to stand on the sidelines and throw rocks. That was their decision, not something that was asked of them.


JOURNALIST: Minister Burke, just on the preventative detention passing the House.


BURKE: I have to be in the house at 9.


JOURNALIST: The vote was labelled by teals as a perversion of democracy. And they argued there were so many attempts to avoid debate. Why were there so many attempts?


BURKE: The Government took a view that this was urgent to get through the Parliament. We very rarely have used motions like that the question be put and the member be no longer. We’ve never moved that the member be no longer heard. Questions like, the questions be put, we use much more sparingly than the previous government. That doesn’t change the fact that there are times when the Government makes a decision that something’s urgent, and we made that decision on this.


I am genuinely the first speaker so I have to respond to the Bill. Thank you very much for coming.

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