SUBJECT/S: Indonesian terror raids; Divisive language; Penalty rates







LAURA JAYES: Welcome back to AM Agenda. Joining me now is the Shadow Minister for Small Business, Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Michelle Rowland joins me in the studio. Thanks for your time. Can I first ask you about this news out of Indonesia, how concerning is it?


MICHELLE ROWLAND SHADOW MINISTER FOR SMALL BUSINESS AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: It is very concerning, but I think at the same time we can be confident in the knowledge and in the expertise of our security agencies. We have had, as we can see from these results, good coordination and Labor has been at the forefront of changing some of the existing laws that we had to make sure that this was able to be done easier. Australians can be rest assured that we have the best intelligence and security personnel and law enforcement agencies in the world. It is good to see that level of cooperation happening, but this reminds us that violent extremism is a global issue and it can be right on our doorstep.


JAYES: It does appear that it is right on our doorstep with these raids across Indonesia. There is no intelligence, as far as I’m aware, to suggest that Australians were being specifically targeted, but it does seem that this is a rise in jihadism in Indonesia that’s really been under the radar, or has been combatted by Indonesian authorities for about the last decade or so. This seems to be a resurgence of that.


ROWLAND: It is concerning Laura, but at the same time I would be reassured by the fact that the leadership in Indonesia is very focussed on it. Indonesia is of course a very diverse country, it is also the largest Muslim country in the world, but having a leadership that is focussed on this is extremely important. Again, we can take confidence in our relationship with Indonesia, we’ll continue to work with them and let’s remember at the end of all this the objective of those that seek to do us harm is to make us scared. So we should have confidence, especially as we go into the festive season.


JAYES: We heard from Concetta Fierravanti-Wells last week, she wrote an opinion piece in The Australian concerned about some of the language that Josh Frydenberg, Tony Abbott had used about moderate Muslims and talking about the need for a reformation, that there is a problem in Islam. Do you think that does threaten to upset our closest neighbour, Indonesia, which is the biggest moderate Muslim country?


ROWLAND: Well clearly the Indonesian Ambassador described Tony Abbott’s comments as unhelpful and divisive. I think the comments you allude to show some leadership that Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t shown yet. For the last two years, every time everyone from Cory Bernardi to George Christensen to now Tony Abbott has popped up and made these comments which are extremely inflammatory and divisive, Labor has called on the Prime Minister of the day to intervene, to say something that recognises that words in our Parliament, words from our public office holders actually do matter. Now, the fact that Malcolm Turnbull has outsourced this, it would seem, to the head of ASIO, and bear in mind Labor has no problem at all with Duncan Lewis, we think he is doing an outstanding job, the fact that he hasn’t shown this leadership has quite frankly led to the problem we have now, which is that an internal spat is being played out very publicly in the Liberal Party and it has dragged in one of our lead security heads. That is simply unacceptable.


JAYES: Do you think it is okay for the Prime Minister to, if not direct, to give the impression that Duncan Lewis should be phoning backbench MPs personally, do you have a problem with that direct line?


ROWLAND: Well it appears there are a couple of different stories coming out here. Whether or not he asked him, whether or not these phone numbers were asked for, who knows Laura. But, I will say this, it is important to have a debate from our public office holders and in the wider community about the best ways of countering violent extremism, the best ways to keep Australians safe and the way we build a cohesive society in our great multicultural nation. But, that is not the debate we are having here. The debate we are seeing is juvenile and is asserting the superiority of one religion over another. That is not helpful. That is not the debate we should be having.


JAYES: What feedback do you get from your electorate when you do see comments like this? Do you get any direct feedback from those? How inflammatory are they?


ROWLAND: They are inflammatory. This makes people feel isolated, like they are second-class citizens, an ‘us and them’ attitude. You don’t need to take it from me, we see it played out on public transport with people being targeted for wearing particularly clothing, for speaking particular languages. This is not the multicultural Australia we should be proud of.


JAYES: If I can move on to penalty rates. The Productivity Commission will hand down its final report today. We’ve already seen the draft report, which recommends that Sunday penalty rates be brought into line with Saturday. It looks like this will be a recommendation in the final report as well. As Shadow Small Business Minister you’d welcome that wouldn’t you?


ROWLAND: I welcome the opportunity for small business to be productive, to be innovative, but I don’t think productivity and innovation comes from cutting the wages of some of the lowest paid people in our society. Let’s remember Laura, wages growth is stagnant in Australia, unemployment is stable and relatively low at the moment. So the argument that this is somehow going to increase the ability to employ more people I don’t buy it on the evidence. And I tell you who else doesn’t buy it? The majority of Australians don’t buy it. As we have seen from recent surveys, over 70 percent of those surveyed who are Liberal voters support maintaining penalty rates. I will also make this point: earlier in the year in South Australia one of the key retail unions and one of the peak business bodies there came together, struck an agreement whereby penalty rates would either be abolished or significantly reduced, six months in, not a single employer had taken up that offer. So on the argument of increasing flexibility, when that has been offered we haven’t seen, at least in this case, any willingness to take it up.


JAYES: Let’s look at the front page of the Canberra Times for example from today, 680 department officials will [inaudible], but a fair chunk of that department have been given better pay and conditions, longer contracts and a small pay boost, so in there any correlation there? 


ROWLAND: I think it highlights the difference between some in our society who are at one end and some who are at the other. I represent people, Laura, many of whom work in the hospitality and retail sectors, many of whom rely on their penalty rates to be able to make ends meet. It’s not a luxury, they’re not ferreting this money away to buy a yacht. These are people who if they lose money on their penalty rates on Sunday will have to make up for it in some other ways. Let’s remember too, if we want to be a society about family values, that’s one of the reasons why we have penalty rates, to recognise that there is a social sacrifice that in many cases is not economic. One of the greatest inventions of humankind, as Andrew Leigh wrote, was the invention of the weekend. We don’t see people scheduling their children’s birthday parties on Monday mornings or weddings on Thursday lunchtimes.


JAYES: But, what about small businesses though, because you can’t ignore the fact that this is their core argument that they’re calling on penalty rates to be lowered on a Sunday, so what are you saying to small business when they raise this with you?


ROWLAND: Indeed, small businesses of course do raise this, but I say what I said earlier, which is, I don’t think that this should be at the expense of the lowest paid workers. But I also think there is enormous room, if the Prime Minister wants to talk about innovation, he wants us to be an innovative nation, he should be providing solutions and opportunities for small business, and any other business for that matter, to be able to increase their productivity and profits and we should be investing in that sort of innovation, cutting penalty rates from some of the lowest paid workers in Australia is not innovation.


JAYES: Shadow Minister, Michelle Rowland thanks so much for your time today. Merry Christmas and thanks for joining us on AM Agenda for a lot of episodes this year.


ROWLAND: Always a pleasure.