SUBJECT/S: Counter-terrorism raids in Sydney; Nauru; Turnbull Liberal Government’s attack on penalty rates






KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda, with me now Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland. Michelle, I’m interested in your take on the developments this morning. You’re an MP from Western Sydney, again we’re seeing these raids; five individuals across Wentworthville, Guildford, Merrylands and Marsfield who have been taken into custody.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Kieran, it is very distressing and my thoughts are with the victim’s family, Mr Cheng, at this very difficult time for them. But we should also be confident that our law enforcement agencies are doing their job and they’re getting to the bottom of many questions that need to be answered, and we should let them perform their job in the professional manner in which they are doing it.

GILBERT: Indeed, and I guess the fact that they’ve responded very quickly only a few days after that shocking incident outside of Parramatta headquarters show that at this stage they appear very much to be on top of the developments in this case.

ROWLAND: Kieran, there would be many things that we don’t know about, the intelligence that they would have been acting on. They have clearly worked very tirelessly since this tragic event only a couple of days ago and I’m sure all the community is behind our law enforcement agencies to get to the bottom of this.

GILBERT: Let’s look at some other issues now. High Court challenge of Australia’s role in the Nauru detention centre and the offshore processing facility. Also this week in Nauru they’re committing to process the remaining 600 individuals and have their applications processed and to open the centre, to open the doors, to those individuals not facing curfews and so on. Where do you see this at the moment, obviously Labor supports the Nauru operation in general, what about the developments of this week?

ROWLAND: Kieran, it’s a welcome move that processing is proceeding. We have said all along that there should be transparency and accountability in how these facilities are operated. At our National Conference we took a policy for independent oversight because we are extremely concerned, and I know many Australians are extremely concerned, about the treatment of individuals in these facilities. It does appear quite coincidental that this is going on at the same time that the High Court is hearing this challenge and obviously I can’t give a commentary on the High Court. They’ll take evidence and make their decision in due course. But Labor has always maintained a position that these facilities should be run in a humane manner and we should ensure that individuals are afforded what is, quite frankly, a basic and decent level of protection.

GILBERT: Obviously the matter will be discussed and judged by the High Court, but isn’t the fundamental issue here with the offshore detention, when it’s not in our jurisdiction that you might hope for that but even under a Labor government there’d be no way of enforcing that, given that it’s another country.

ROWLAND:  Kieran, this is a matter that came up in the middle of the year when we had legislation to amend those provisions to bring it, as we would argue, without a doubt within the scope of Australian law. And clearly these are matters that will be argued before the High Court. Labor maintains that ensuring these provisions are in place are an effective deterrent to people risking their lives by making dangerous sea journeys and that has clearly been working, but we will wait and see the High Court’s deliberations, and ultimately the decision it arrives at.

GILBERT: Let’s look at the issue of penalty rates. The Government clearly opening up this as an option. If the flat rate for people working in sectors like hospitality and retail has increased commensurately to make up for any reduction in a penalty rate for a Sunday or a Saturday, so that the net result is that people are better off, how could Labor oppose that?

ROWLAND: Kieran, a few points to make there. Firstly, there is already the ability for employers, employees, unions, to be involved in negotiation, to ensure that people have a decent wage, and that can include looking at penalty rates. We already have those provisions in place. But this goes to the issue of what exactly are Malcolm Turnbull and his Government talking about here. He is talking about the need to persuade unions and employees that they won’t be better off. It’s almost like this Jedi mind trick: “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for, you will not be worse off when we cut your pay”. I think it’s very important to realise that something like 65 per cent of employees in this country work Monday to Friday. For the remainder it is well understood that they receive compensation in the form of particular wages in order for them to be effectively compensated for working those additional hours. Now, I just think it’s typical of this Government when it talks about reform it’s always talking about hitting the people who can least afford it, who are the most vulnerable and have the smallest voice.

GILBERT: But this isn’t what the PM is saying. He’s saying that if there were to be changes you’d have to ensure that people aren’t worse off in terms of their net take home pay. If anything that they would be better off under this arrangement. He’s obviously very attuned to this issue of fairness, particularly given the debacle of the Coalition’s first Budget of 2014.

ROWLAND: Kieran, he’s talking buzzwords. All he is doing is throwing around these buzzwords. It’s like a bad management conference in the early 2000s.

GILBERT: You don’t accept that it’s a  seven day economy now? That’s the crux of the issue isn’t it?

ROWLAND: This is not an argument about whether we have a seven day economy or not. This is about Malcolm Turnbull trying to use this as an excuse to cut people’s wages. Be in no doubt, Kieran, there are already provisions to enable people to negotiate full wages to ensure they’re not worse off and often that doesn’t include penalty rates. But Malcolm Turnbull here is effectively blaming, he is effectively demonising people who receive penalty rates to which they are perfectly entitled for doing jobs outside of normal hours. Now if you want to have a look at wages growth, wages growth is at its lowest level in decades.

GILBERT: So you think there’s enough flexibility in the labour market?

ROWLAND: You can see clearly on all the evidence. We have the ability for employers, employees, and unions as part of that process to negotiate. What I don’t want to see are people being demonised for receiving penalty rates, or just to throw around these buzzwords as an excuse to cut penalty rates which is ultimately, very clearly, what this Prime Minister is looking to do.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism, appreciate it. We’ll chat to you soon.

ROWLAND: A pleasure.