SUBJECT/S: Citizenship; Productivity Commission Draft Report into Workplace RelationsParliamentary Entitlements Reform 



CHRIS HAMMER: Michelle Rowland, do you now believe that the Government’s plans to strip Australian citizenship, are those plans dead in the water following the evidence given by Professor George Williams yesterday?

It was certainly very telling evidence yesterday, not only by George Williams, but Kim Rubenstein and others, and these are constitutional law experts. Their assessment is quite damning, but I think we do need to let this committee process go ahead, and receive more evidence. That is the proper way to proceed in this. I certainly think it’s very telling that George Williams has commented on how poorly drafted this Bill is, and how some of the anomalies between the explanatory memorandum and the Bill itself and how it could potentially catch innocent people. So I think it’s of great concern that we have experts of this level indicating their grave reservations.

HAMMER: Is it just poorly drafted or is it poorly considered?

ROWLAND: It appears to me, from George Williams’ comments and from others that it’s a bit of both. But I would make this comment, Chris, this was a Government that made these announcements some months ago saying they were looking into it. Labor always expressed its support for the principle that these provisions of the Citizenship Act should be updated to reflect a phenomenon such as Daesh, and the Government sought to wedge Labor on it. In doing so, they wedged themselves. They had serious Cabinet leaks and we had to wait weeks and weeks from their announcement that they were going to present a Bill. They finally presented a Bill towards the closing part of the last session, and now this is the assessment that is being received by the experts. I think it’s very telling about the competence of this Government, in particular Minister Dutton.

HAMMER: So where do you think this issue will go from here?

ROWLAND: It could go one of two ways; firstly, the Committee could take constructive note of the suggestions that are being put forward. It’s a bit of a shame that some of those suggestions seem to have been quite reasonable and should have been implemented in the first place, such as having the Law Council look at it and they made some quite constructive suggestions so it could actually become a matter of the Committee amending the Bill so that it becomes more workable and constitutionally robust. Or it could be a matter of the government saying ‘no we’re sticking to our ethos in this and we’re pressing ahead’. But I think they would be ill-advised to do the latter if the evidence they’re receiving says there needs to be substantial amendment.

HAMMER: Moving on, the Productivity Commission has released its report into the industrial relations system. It’s found that the system as a whole is working reasonably well but it’s made a few suggestions for change. One to do with penalty rates on Sundays, another with small to medium sized business being able to employ people at least in their first year on so-called statutory enterprise contracts. Both of those measures will really help address youth unemployment. You’re a member in western Sydney where youth unemployment is a perennial issue, are these suggestions worth considering?

ROWLAND: I think the first point to make, Chris, is that the Productivity Commission’s overall assessment in its draft report was that the system is working well. The other point that I think should be made is that although we hear time and time again, particularly from government members, about the need to get rid of unfair dismissal provisions because they’re hearing anecdotal evidence that this is inhibiting employment, and we could generate a whole lot more employment if these provisions were done away with. The Productivity Commission seemed to say there isn’t the evidence to show that. I would be interested to see what evidence there actually is to say that there would be greater employment if these two measures were taken in. I can say firstly on the issue of having two tiers of penalty rates, Labor is fundamentally opposed to that. We should not have a system in Australia where one person’s work is valued less than another person’s. We also should not get into the situation in these proposed new enterprise contracts where they’ve made a condition of employment and there’s no opportunity to negotiate. We shouldn’t be in a situation where young people or vulnerable people in particular are at risk of being exploited.

HAMMER: Should at the very least there be a no disadvantage test right up front on these sort of contracts?

ROWLAND: I know that one of the propositions for the enterprise contract is no disadvantage but that’s only one element. You need to take this as a whole and I will say this about the government’s approach; whenever they talk about reform in this area it’s always reform aimed at hurting the most vulnerable in our society. Be it concerning the GST, be it concerning workplace relations in this case. Labor is fundamentally opposed to provisions which in the short and long term will be unfair for those who are the most vulnerable in our society.

HAMMER: The government has made it very clear today that this is a report to government, not a report of government, in other words they’re sort of distancing themselves from it. Are you encouraged by that?

ROWLAND: It was actually quite strange to see government members, the Prime Minister, Minister Abetz, almost parroting one another word for word about what this report is and who it is to. And it’s very telling that this is a government which said that they were going to be strong on workplace relations, but now backpedalling. The Prime Minister saying he has always said they wouldn’t make changes in this term. I think the more interesting point is that he obviously has a lot of people in his backbench who want to see changes in this area, changes which will be detrimental. So I will be more closely watching the interactions between the Prime Minister, the Minister, and the backbench more than anything else.

HAMMER: Okay, moving on. The story that’s dominated the news cycle over the last two or three weeks has been travel entitlements, initially with Bronwyn Bishop and now it’s spread much further. Can I ask you, why do politicians need to be able to take their partners on work trips and their children on up to three work trips a year? Do you see that there’s a rationale for that, or do you think it’s something that needs to be done away with?

ROWLAND: Look, the whole notion of being able to have what’s called family reunion travel is because there’s recognition that parliamentarians often work long hours away from home. I think it must be much harder for MPs who live in Perth, WA, for example who make that trip and take so long to travel it. But the whole notion in there was that it would give a small amount of family reunion for parents, and in particular – I can tell you, as a new parent in the 43rd Parliament with a three year old now, that was very important to me. And we’ve had, I think it’s three females in our Parliament who have just had babies and I know they will be utilising that. For example, when I had a newborn I would bring her down to Canberra during sitting weeks. Obviously I wasn’t able to look after her, she cost nothing to bring down because she sat on my lap, it cost a lot in terms of my family time in making sure that I was able to perform my functions and also be with her. If I had to go through everything to do with how my in-laws for example coped in that first year it would astonish you, but it basically involved my mother and father in-law, and my sister in-law, packing up everything we had for my baby, driving it down to Canberra and setting everything up for us. I don’t own a property in Canberra so they would have to do that each week. I went into Parliament to make a difference, I also am very pleased to be a mother in the Parliament and that’s how I utilised that travel initially. We have situations where you are away for a long period of time and there is a small amount of family reunion. But there are very strict rules around that and I think that members of the public have a right to know how those rules are being adhered to.

HAMMER: I wonder though, with school-aged children or partners, Parliament only sits 20 weeks a year. Politicians are away for it but they’ll be in their electorate the rest of it. There’s a lot of people in the bureaucracy and in private enterprise that spend at least that amount of time away from home and their work places don’t pay for their partners to travel with them or their children to travel over three times a year or whatever. Are the benefits politicians are entitled to out of step with those in private enterprise?

ROWLAND: It’s difficult for me to comment on that because I was in private enterprise, I was away as you say for long periods of time, but I wasn’t a parent at that stage.

HAMMER: Did your partner travel with you?

ROWLAND: No, my partner didn’t travel with me but he was often away in another part of the country.

HAMMER: Why didn’t you travel with him?

ROWLAND: Well we were both doing different jobs.

HAMMER: But that’s my point, your respective employers wouldn’t pay for your partners to travel with you on work trips, so isn’t it fair that the public say ‘how come politicians get to do that?’. The example I’m saying now is not with the children, it’s with partners.

ROWLAND: That’s a valid question that the public can ask. I note that the Prime Minister has announced a review into this and whether or not that ends up being one of the changes from that review I guess we’ll have to wait and see. I would be very reluctant, just back to the issue of young children, I would be very reluctant for female members of parliament, or people who are female and are looking to have a parliamentary career. That is obviously seen as one of the biggest disincentives for them to enter parliament. So I would be very cautious about going into these situations which could actually mean that women are discouraged even more from entering Parliament, and we’ve even had in the last two weeks discussion in the Liberal Party about how they should increase their stake of parliamentarians who are female. So I would be very cautious about treading on those examples, particularly where they affect children.

HAMMER: Okay, Michelle Rowland. Thanks for your input today.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.