Transcript : Interview with Mark Parton 2CC



SUBJECT/S: Parliamentary Entitlements Reform; Productivity Commission Draft Report into Workplace Relations

MARK PARTON: It’s Thursday and every second Thursday we are joined by Gai Brodtmann and Zed Seselja. And Gai is in the studio with me this morning with the warmest jacket I’ve seen in a while. That’s a ripper.

PARTON: Didn’t you need it yesterday?  

BRODTMANN: Yes I did, it was absolutely perishing. It was a very bleak day. And I think most Canberrans are hanging out for spring. It’s good seeing the buds on the trees.
PARTON: We did have Zed Seselja on the line but it’s just an engaged signal there now, so we’ll get him back shortly. Let’s start if we can with the conversation that is engaging so many Australians and that’s entitlements for politicians. Let’s try Zed again. G’day Zed.

PARTON: Excellent.



PARTON: We’ve got to talk about travel and entitlements because the whole country is talking about it. Do you both agree that there needs to be reform?

BRODTMANN: We welcome the review that the Prime Minister has announced and it’s going to be conducted by two very distinguished Australians. And I understand that there’s a committee that’s being established and I just ask that a woman be appointed to the committee because this Government has not got a very good track record of appointing women to committees.

PARTON: Yes but Gai, honestly, does this have to be partisan? I mean, I think it’s very, very clear to all Australians that the entitlements have to be changed. Zed, are you with me?
SESELJA: Well look, I certainly think that some of the revelations would be a great and legitimate concern to the community and we have to address that one way or another. No one should defend what Bronwyn did and she lost her job as a result of that. I think no one can defend what Tony Burke has been up to. And so there’s no doubt, there’s no doubt that the standards need to be higher. I also think there is some vagueness in it and some people exploit that, I suppose, to their own advantage. Sometimes it’s genuinely unclear and I think that clarity, and certainly as a relatively new Senator, I would love more clarity. Because when I travel for committee work and the like, you’re often just in and out and you just want to be within the rules and we certainly all do our best to do that. Let’s make one thing clear on this, as I say, Bronwyn Bishop lost her job. The Labor Party said she had to go because she took a chartered flight to a fundraiser. Well that’s exactly what Wayne Swan did. In fact, there were a range of other Labor people going to this fundraiser in Bathurst, paid for by the taxpayer. So if that’s the standard they’ve set, then some of their own MPs obviously are going to take a hard look at themselves.


BRODTMANN: Well I think with this review, what we need is greater transparency, we need greater clarity and we also need greater consistency on the advice that we receive. There’s a lot of ambiguity in what’s within the rules, what’s outside the rules and I think it would be very helpful to clarify those grey areas.

PARTON: And it looks to me as though on a lot of occasions, there’s just been a system set up of this is what we do, this is how we do it. and it is within the rules and so there hasn’t been many questions asked about it. I don’t think that there’s been any suggestion, well I know there have been some suggestions, but it certainly hasn’t been proven, that anyone has actually genuinely stepped outside of entitlements. The problem is the entitlements themselves. The rules have to be changed, don’t they?

BRODTMANN: Well that’s what the review is taking a closer look at - to provide that consistency, transparency and clarity.

PARTON: Yeah, I wonder how long this is going to take and I wonder how they will change to make it fairer. Because when Joe Hockey spoke to all Australians and said that the age of entitlement is over, it looks as though he should’ve started that conversation with all the elected Members and Senators. Locked them in a room and explained to them all, including the two of you - and I’m not saying that you’re involved - but explain to everyone that the age of entitlement was over. Would you agree, Zed?

SESELJA: Yes I think, as I say we have to lead by example and there’s no doubt about it. And that’s why these kinds of examples are very frustrating. When someone spends $8000 as Wayne Swan did to go to a fundraiser or when Bronwyn Bishop spends $5000 to fly on a chopper. I think it hurts the impression of all politicians. For the most part and it might be difficult to believe given some of the revelations we read about. For the most part, when politicians use these so-called entitlements, they’re doing them to do their job. But when they overstep the mark, they rightly get panned, we see that, it’s a pretty high price that you pay when you lose your job as Bronwyn Bishop has, and that’s why we’ve all got to do better. So whatever system is put in place though Mark, this is an important point, whatever system is put in place - and I think greater clarity would be better and I think scaling back some things would be fine - but whatever system is put in place, we still need to use our judgement. And politicians still need to use their judgement to try to do the best thing by taxpayers and to try and consider what the community would see as reasonable.

PARTON: Zed Seselja and Gai Brodtmann are with me. We’ve got a poll up on the 2CC website about penalty rates. And a fascinating discussion started by the productivity commission. The question we’re asking listeners is simply, should penalty rates be reduced on weekends? It’s 55-45. 55 per cent say yes, 45 per cent say no. This is a spirited discussion, Gai Brodtmann.

BRODTMANN: It is a spirited discussion and this is in response to the Productivity Commission review that the Government commissioned on a range of areas. But you spoke about a two-tiered system on the penalty rates and that’s something we don’t support. But the report highlighted the fact that the system currently is working well and that the minimum wage is not causing any problems and the unfair dismissal laws are not dampening employment. So it did make those points and it did make a number of recommendations. One of them being on this two-tiered system on penalty rates. But penalty rates are there for Australians working unsociable hours, and I think it is one in three Australians who rely on penalty rates to make ends meet. And our concern is that this is just another attempt by this Government to erode Australians’ working conditions, pay and conditions.

PARTON: I work unsociable hours.

BRODTMANN: And are you well compensated?

PARTON: I don’t get penalty rates, as such. I’d be fascinated to see if the move was made to halve penalty rates on Sunday and get them in line with Saturday, how that would affect in one fell swoop unemployment numbers in the country?

SESELJA: Well look this is something I raised in my maiden speech Mark, because when it comes down to it, see we all want to see people compensated and we want to see penalty rates that are appropriate. What the issue becomes is if the penalty rates are set so high, that businesses don’t trade on those days. So if the penalty rates are double or so on a Sunday, see that restaurant or that café not opening, well what happens is we don’t have the vibrancy that we would want, but importantly, people who are looking for that work, don’t get it, because there is simply no work. So instead of getting double time, they get zero. And that’s the fundamental thing that the Productivity Commission was looking at. And I think that is where sensible Australians would say ‘well okay, let’s have a look at this’. We don’t have to have this ridiculous scare campaign every time we raise it. ‘Oh this is a return to work choices’ Do we think our business is not opening as a result of penalty rates and is that a problem? I would say many businesses aren’t and that means less employment, that means less opportunities for young people in particular, who are looking often for this kind of work. So, let’s have a sensible and mature discussion about it.

PARTON: Alright, sounds fair to me. Zed, thanks for coming on. Gai, thanks for coming in.

BRODTMANN: Thanks very much, Mark. Thanks, Zed.

SESELJA: Thank you.

PARTON: Zed Seselja is the Liberal Senator for the ACT and Gai Brodtmann is the federal Labor member for the seat of Canberra.

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