ABC BRISBANE DRIVE
MONDAY, 7 DECEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Industrial Relations proposals; Media code; Christmas.
STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: For the last time in 2020, Labor's Jim Chalmers, good afternoon to you.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Good afternoon, Steve. I'm glad you didn't rattle through all those other sports in the decathlon because I'm not much chop at those first three that you mentioned.
AUSTIN: Do you know what they are? I don't even know what they are. I'm furiously trying to look it up while I'm speaking with you but -
CHALMERS: I feel like it might be running, or a steeplechase, or something in there? There's a track component -
AUSTIN: That's what I figured but I couldn't actually name exactly what's in it. Anyhow, I'll have one of my producers see if they can dig it out and see -
CHALMERS: A job for Rob.
AUSTIN: - what's there. I'm intrigued today; federal parliament is introducing two major pieces of legislation this week, just before Christmas. The first one I'm intrigued by, Jim Chalmers, is that businesses will be forced to offer casual workers permanent jobs after 12 months, they'll be required to by law. Will Labor support this?
CHALMERS: That's not quite right, Steve, the description that you've just given is how the Government would like us to think of it, but the truth is not quite that. It actually diminishes the rights of casual workers to be able to convert what looks like a permanent job from a casual job into a permanent job. It actually diminishes those rights. At the moment there are some limited ways to do that. There've been some court cases where people's jobs which look obviously like they're permanent, but where they're being treated like a casual, can get it converted, but this diminishes that. We haven't seen all of the new legislation in detail yet but what we understand from it so far is that you can ask to have your casual job turned into a permanent job, but the employer has almost total power to say no to that. You can only challenge that if the employer says that they're okay with you challenging it. It's actually a bit of a watering down of protections for casual workers and it's of a piece, unfortunately: casuals in the main were excluded from JobKeeper, a lot of casuals had weekend penalty rates cut, and now they're having their rights diminished under the guise of IR reform.
AUSTIN: I have mixed feelings about that, Jim Chalmers, because a lot of friends who run small businesses say staff management and people management is their biggest issue. They're seeking is flexibility. What will Labor be supporting? My assumption is you'll be moving amendments?
CHALMERS: We'll have to see what they propose. As you would appreciate Steve, sometimes the media reports get ahead of the legislation. for understandable reasons, the Government gives out a version of what they intend to propose in parliament, but then -
AUSTIN: You have to see what's on paper before you decide that. Okay.
CHALMERS: Yes, you have to have a look at it. We'll work our way through it before we work out any amendments and the like.
AUSTIN: Okay. The story we just heard in the news headlines was about wage theft laws. Now, my reading without actually seeing the legislation is that this has already happened at a state level, at least here in Queensland, and this federal law's about mirroring what's happening in the states. Is that fair?
CHALMERS: Again, we haven't seen it. We haven't seen the legislation, but obviously anything that cracks down on wage theft which has been a big problem in our economy for some time, not just wages but super as well, obviously we would like to find something that we could support. But again, there have been a few false starts in this regard at the federal level. We should wait and see what they actually propose before we lock in or otherwise.
AUSTIN: Alright. You can't really say much at all about this piece of legislation, even though it's one of the major pieces of legislation that is going to Parliament this week.
CHALMERS: It's obviously going to be really important. Our test is pretty simple; we've said this all over the place in the last few days, that if the new laws help create secure, well-paid jobs, we'll be for them. If they are contrary to that objective, we'll be against them or we'll look for ways to improve them. That's been our approach all year. I haven't seen the detail of what's being proposed, so it's a bit hard to tick or cross specific parts of it.
AUSTIN: Let's move on to the digital media code. My assumption is that you've been lobbied by Google, Facebook and others about the digital media code. That goes before Parliament this week. Have you been lobbied?
CHALMERS: We've had discussions with all sides of that actually, with the media organisations and with the tech platforms over a long period. This has been before us for a really long time. My colleague Michelle Rowland and I have tried to consult really widely, not just with the Googles and Facebooks, but the Nine-Fairfaxes and others to make sure that we've got a full sense of it. It's a bit like the industrial relations laws; we know that the media code legislation is going to be made public in the next couple of days but we don't know what's in it. I suspect as part of these negotiations that the Government has been having with these businesses and organisations that it's not something they can talk about outside the negotiating room. There's some smoke signals. We have a bit of a sense of it but we don't have a full sense of it. We want there to be an arrangement between media companies and platforms so that journalism is paid for. We'd like to see the ABC and the SBS included in those arrangements, but beyond that we don't really know how the Government's gone about it, we don't have a lot of visibility over it.
AUSTIN: These major pieces of legislation, the process will start this week but it's unlikely by the sounds of it that they'll pass the House? They'll sit there until the New Year?
CHALMERS: Certainly that's our expectation with the media one because I think the media one is going to go off to a Senate inquiry, which is worthwhile, to have a look at what's being proposed there. You remember the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was saying a couple of weeks ago that it would all be passed, done and dusted by Christmas?
CHALMERS: He's had to walk that back and say he'll introduce it by Christmas. That one won't get through. I'm not quite sure about the industrial relations one. I think in this last sitting week of parliament there are a lot of negotiations between Tony Burke on our side and Christian Porter on their side to see what we can get through before parliament rises on Thursday or Friday. I'm not quite sure yet where industrial relations is going to fit into that and whether or not the Government's in a rush.
AUSTIN: Something that was on the Government notice paper today was the foreign investment reform bill, the second reading of which you've moved amendments to Can you outline it for me briefly?
CHALMERS: Our amendments will be moved in the Senate where they are a chance. My amendment in the House was to recognise that the Government has not been great at following through on the conditions that they have placed on foreign investment. The bill today was something that we support in the main, to update our foreign investment screening so that it's robust and keeps up with developments, particularly when it comes to national security which is very important. But equally let's make sure that when we have a screening regime, we follow up when there are conditions and that we fix up any errors as they appear. We're in favour of foreign investment where it's good for jobs but it’s got to be consistent with the national interest. The only way we can determine that is if we've got a good, watertight, robust screening regime.
AUSTIN: My guest is Jim Chalmers. Jim Chalmers is the ALP Shadow Treasury spokesperson. He's also the Labor member for Rankin here in Queensland. Christmas is only three weeks away. What does the Chalmers family do for Christmas?
CHALMERS: We pack up and head off to Adelaide. I've got in-laws in Adelaide. For eight or nine of the last ten Christmases we've been in South Australia, which is terrific. We normally get a place somewhere near the beach, around Glenelg or Brighton. We perch there and try to spend as much time with Laura's family as we can.
AUSTIN: So the Chalmers family leaves Queensland and goes to South Australia to get a decent beach?
CHALMERS: The deal was that given we get 51 weeks of Queensland, then one week of South Australia to see the in-laws who haven't seen my kids all year - this is the longest they have ever gone without seeing them - is a small price to pay to make sure that they can spend some time together. Adelaide does have some great beaches.
AUSTIN: All right, the great national divider. Do you do a hot lunch, or a seafood, a cold seafood lunch for Christmas Day?
CHALMERS: A bit of column A, a bit of column B for us at Laura's mum's house. The way I see it, day two is the best day for Christmas lunch and that's typically cold, the next day is leftovers.
AUSTIN: Do you cook? Who cooks?
CHALMERS: Mostly Laura's mum and her partner. They do most of the cooking, but there are minor token contributions made by others.
AUSTIN: What do you want for Christmas, Jim Chalmers?
CHALMERS: I'm sorted for Christmas. We did a joint Christmas present between us, Laura and I. We were short of a barbecue at our place. The old one had rusted out and we had to chuck it. We've got a barbecue on the way which is our present to each other.
AUSTIN: An impressive one? Nuclear powered? All the bells and whistles?
CHALMERS: I only have one criteria when choosing a barbecue now given the way that the other one went: how easy it is to clean.
AUSTIN: Well listen, thanks very much for your time this year. Happy Christmas, and hopefully see you in the new year.
CHALMERS: I've really enjoyed chatting with you this year Steve. Thanks so much for that.