Thu, 15 Feb 2024 - 17:05



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




15 February 2024


GREG JENNETT: But joining us now, as we try to do regularly at the end of a sitting period, Liberal frontbencher Paul Fletcher. Welcome back Mr. Fletcher. Stage three tax cuts are all through the House now. You voted for them. Why do we have to go through the farce of trying to rename the bill? For those who aren't aware, Treasury laws, amendment bill, cost of living tax cuts but not actually dealing with cost of living or enhancing bracket creep bill and the like. You failed but you were supporting them anyway.

PAUL FLETCHER: Uh, well, I'd reject your description of moving amendments as a farce. That is a core part of the parliamentary process. But we were making the point. The Prime Minister promised Australians on over 100 occasions that his government would support and maintain the currently legislated stage three tax cuts. He said that before the election, during the election, after the election, and then, of course, in a cynical political manoeuvre, they dumped that commitment. That's very bad news for our prospects for long time tax reform in this country. Of course, the stage three tax cuts would have seen the 37 cent tax bracket removed, so that anybody earning anywhere between 45,000 and 200,000 would know you were not going to pay any more than $0.30 in the dollar. And of course, what that would do is give people that incentive to work the extra shift to do the get the extra qualification, maybe start a business knowing that right up to $200,000, you weren't going to pay more than $0.30. Unfortunately for that, unfortunately, the Prime Minister junked that very cynically. We made it clear that we're the party of lower, fairer, simpler taxes. Uh, there was now a tax cut that the government had legislated. We've, of course, supported it. And the leader of the opposition, the shadow treasurer and others have been clear that we will be developing a package and we'll have more to say about that.

GREG JENNETT: All right. Yeah. We'll pick up those details as they emerge. Look, I probably neglected at the outset to ask about the main talking point of the day. So let's back up the truck and do that now. Paul Fletcher, I take it you are among the many wishing Anthony Albanese and Jodie Hayden all the best. I'll get that on the record. And then I'll ask you my hypothetical question. -

PAUL FLETCHER: No, very, very happy to express my best wishes, uh, to the Prime Minister and to his partner, Jodie Haydon. Um, points for courage for her in, uh, shacking up with a politician. Uh, she can't be guaranteed, um, perhaps having her partner available at all times. As Tony Abbott once said that we politicians are volunteers, but our families are conscripts. But look, I think we're all very happy for the Prime Minister and his partner and wish them the very best.

GREG JENNETT: Can I put to you the hypothetical question that I put to Tony Burke? It's not unimaginable that some political operative might think over the course of the next year, if the Prime Minister were trying to map out a wedding date, that he might be distracted by that from his day job, is that an accusation that the Liberal opposition coalition opposition would ever make?

PAUL FLETCHER: Look, I'm not interested in scoring political points on this. I just want to wish the Prime Minister and his partner the very best and congratulate them on this happy news.

GREG JENNETT: All right. Let's move on to industrial relations again involving Tony Burke. He's introduced this bill to the Parliament to remove the unintended glitch from the closing loopholes legislation, which could make it a criminal offence for an employer repeatedly breaching the right to disconnect, to be punished under criminal law. Are you going to help him out of this bind here?

PAUL FLETCHER: Uh, there has been a truly terrible process here. The minister, Tony Burke, agreed this with the Greens halfway through last week. No consultation with government this right to disconnect, which will have unpredictable consequences. We've had a lot of national businesses saying, well, their WA office is three hours behind their East Coast offices. It's going to make it very difficult for employees to contact each other. What happens if there's a matter which is absolutely critical to a business or indeed its customers? None of that has been answered. There was no consultation how this was going to work. And indeed they rushed through something which criminalises, creates a criminal penalty for an employer who, does contact an employee. That was in large measure because of this disastrous process.  Tony Burke has to wear this. is a real mess -

GREG JENNETT: But on that basis on the basis of all those arguments you've just outlined, you could hardly leave it in the statute.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, look, we'll look at it. It'll go through the normal coalition processes. But this is just one of many disasters for productivity and our economy in this package of measures, you know, the unions have been freed up to enter workplaces all around the country. They face fewer requirements than the police to enter workplaces. The law in relation to who's a casual and who's not, which was settled by the High Court just 2 or 3 years ago. Very clear now, been replaced by three pages, 15 different factors incredible confusion, burden, uncertainty, cost for employers and employees. This is really bad news. Dancing to the tunes of the union bosses. Very very bad news this piece of legislation

GREG JENNETT: Very quickly you're not proposing to repeal all of those things. You just listed the core elements of closing the loopholes, though, are you you've only pledged to touch the right to disconnect.

PAUL FLETCHER: Your question to me specifically was about the right to disconnect and the additional bill. -

GREG JENNETT: Yeah. Correct.

PAUL FLETCHER: That Mr. Burke has now been forced to enter to clean up the mess he made because he rushed this through without consulting with anybody. We'll look at that on the merits and reach a decision through our normal process.

GREG JENNETT: All right. Can I ask you in your shadow, government services responsibilities. There was some evidence given at Senate estimates yesterday. We played it on this programme under questioning from David Pocock that, uh, call centre workers have to enter auxiliary codes in their computer work that in effect times or logs toilet breaks by them. Is this time and motion system troubling to you?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, look, I note that a senior employee or executive of a Centrelink Services Australia um, said described it as a myth that it wasn't their policy. Look, I think there were a lot more concerning things that came out. We learned, for example, that the time it takes to process an application for, example, the low income card has gone from 16 days under the coalition to 82.5 days. Now, if you apply for an aged pension under the coalition, it took 35 days for that to be processed. It's now taking 78 days disability support pension, 40 days to 82.2 days.

GREG JENNETT: So is that hinted a productivity problem there?

PAUL FLETCHER: Services Australia is in a mess because Bill shorten has done a truly terrible job. Uh, amongst other things, he's got rid of 1000 specialised IT workers. So the improvements in the digital services are no longer able to be taken forward. -

GREG JENNETT: He's also expanded the workforce.

PAUL FLETCHER: and what he's also he's tried to blame these shocking reductions in service levels on the coalition. But I've just given you the numbers. The performance levels were much better under the coalition than they are now. If you call up on the disability and sickness line under the coalition. 21 minutes most recent numbers before today's estimates 28 minutes. So you're taking longer. And that's before we talk about people who turn up to a shopfront and, decide to go away because it's taken them too long to get, a response. Under the coalition, 337 people, in Parramatta in 21-22 year. This year, most recent year, 1036. That number is similar across all of their outlets. Service Australia is in a mess. Bill shorten is doing a terrible job.

GREG JENNETT: All right. Point made. A pile of data coming out of Senate estimates. I'm sure you and others will be poring over it. Paul Fletcher appreciate it as always.