Sky News Interview with Minister Plibersek and Peter Stefanovic 8/02/24

08 February 2024





PETER STEFANOVIC: Back to Canberra now. And it's the stoush over IR that seems to have a finish line. Joining us live now is the Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. Employees now allowed to screen calls from their bosses. How does that help productivity?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Well, I think it's fair enough that if you're working outside normal hours or you've been told that you need to be on call, that that's recognised in your employment conditions. Of course, there are always staff that need to be on call, but that should be reflected in perhaps higher rates of pay or other consideration in their contracts. What's not fair is if you're paid nine to five and your boss says, I want to be able to talk to you at 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. And you need to be available for that every day of the week, then I think people understand that that's not fair treatment.

STEFANOVIC: When it comes to the whole package, though. Are you cutting the business community adrift in favour of the unions because it seems the relationship has gone sour since the job summit?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: No. This is a really important set of measures that will continue to see wages growing in this country and casuals and gig economy workers that have been some of the most exploited in our economy actually getting a fair deal for the first time. I think we've come to rely on delivery riders to bring us our dinner or bring us our urgent electronic goods from the shop we've just bought them from. I want to make sure that those people who are working all hours, in all weathers are operating safely and being paid decently for the work that they do. That's just fair.

The previous government said that low wages were a deliberate design feature of their economic architecture. We don't feel the same way. We want to see wages improving and we've seen those improvements for the first time in 15 years. We see wages growing at about 4 per cent now. Otherwise, people are continuing to go backwards every year if their wages aren't keeping up with inflation, we're seeing real wages growth and that's just right. When people are doing it tough, we want them to be paid decent.

STEFANOVIC: No good if businesses go under, though, which is what the business community is forecasting.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: No and we often hear from the business community the sort of predictions that every change is going to have catastrophic impacts. We believe that these are a modest set of changes. We'll continue to work with and consult with the business community, but workers deserve a pay rise. In Australia, they were going backwards under the previous government because the previous government said low wages were a deliberate design feature of the economic architecture. We were elected on a platform of getting wages moving, and we will.

STEFANOVIC: In your wheelhouse. David Littleproud, he was on the program earlier, Tanya. He says the bush is full when it comes to renewables. It's taking away food security, it's using up prime land, not to mention environmental impacts. He wants more of a focus on solar panels on city rooftops. Are renewable projects being approved too fast without enough consultation?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: It is absolute nonsense from David Littleproud. And it disadvantages farmers and regional communities. So, just on solar rooftops, one in three Australian households now have solar on the roof. We've got 3.6 million houses that have got solar on the roof. We've got the highest per capita rate of rooftop solar of any country in the world. So, we're doing great on solar. I'm happy to see more solar on roofs. Bring it on.

But to suggest that we're somehow lagging in this area is absolutely nonsense. Remember this, under the previous government, they had 22 energy policies. They didn't land a single one. Four gigawatts of dispatchable power left the grid. Only one replaced that. And they were told, the previous government were told that 24 coal-fired power stations were going to close. They did nothing to prepare for that. What we are facing in this country, if you listen to the National Party, are blackouts and brownouts. We need to replace the energy that those coal-fired power stations used to produce. And the cheapest way of doing that, the best way, the cleanest way, is through renewable energy. Farmers can get between $200,000 and $300,000 per kilometre of transmission line on their land. They can get about $3,000 for a wind turbine down on the back paddock. This isn't just important income now. During the dry years, when it's harder to make a living from farming, that income is constant.

I cannot believe that the National Party, A) want to send Australia into blackouts and brownouts and see the economic catastrophe that that would cause for Australian businesses. And B), that they're prepared to deny farmers and regional communities the income from these renewable energy projects.

Now, of course, we have to do better consultation on where they go and how they're built, and that's why Chris Bowen has done so much work. The previous government just let these companies ride roughshod over local communities. We have completely changed the consultation approach so that we do include local communities in making these decisions. That's quite proper, of course, we should do that. But the idea that we can stop the energy transition after we were left with this incredible energy deficit by the previous government is so irresponsible. It is so irresponsible.

STEFANOVIC: Tanya Plibersek -

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: And one other thing I'd say -

STEFANOVIC: We're out of time but go for it, just quickly.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: When we're assessing these projects, they are assessed, like every other project, using the laws that John Howard introduced, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. John Howard’s Laws. We assess every project the same way, whether it's a coal mine or a residential development or a renewable energy project. They all get assessed under the same rules, and they're John Howard's rules.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, Tanya, appreciate it. I've gone over, we'll talk to you soon.