DEB KNIGHT: And joining us as they do every Friday, the Minister for the NDIS Bill Shorten the Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor is unable to join us today. So in his place is Liberal Senator Jane Hume. Jane and Bill, welcome to you both. I want to start with the minimum wages decision because the Fair Work Commission has just handed down the increase minimum wage by 5.75%. Now, Bill the unions were pushing for a 7% increase in line with inflation business groups wanted much less three and a half percent has the Fair Work Commission got the balance right here do you think?
BILL SHORTEN: Well the Fair Work Commission’s the independent umpire. Wages have fallen behind. This wage rise is not as big as inflation, so I think that's sensible. So I'm pleased that they made the decision they've made but that's why we have an independent process.
DEB KNIGHT: And what about you, Jane? What's the Coalition's response to the decision because it is at the end of the day, still a fall in real wages?
JANE HUME 01:17
Yeah look, the Fair Work Commission said that this is the most that they can reasonably be justified in the current economic circumstances. So really, that's the big reminder, isn't it? The current economic circumstances. Real wages are falling across the board under the government, under this government despite their election commitments to get real wages moving, but the only way you can do that is to get inflation under control. There's a cost of living crisis and that should be the priority of government. Making sure that they're doing everything they can to get inflation under control. That way we can genuinely get real wages moving again without having to push up minimum wages
DEB KNIGHT: And what more can you be doing in that space Bill?
BILL SHORTEN: Well I didn't hear Jane answer your question, if the Coalition support the increase or not but beyond that, so I'm none the wiser in terms of what the Coalition’s view on wages is. What we're doing on wages is we're reforming the bargaining system. in key sectors, we're making sure that feminised industries get equal pay. We've seen that wages move in aged care. I think on wages, getting wages moving labor, has got the points on the Coalition. That's just a fact. I've spent my whole life working to create productive workplace relations. And I think Labor is putting in place the opportunity for people to have some modest increases. In terms of fighting inflation, but we're doing what we can do. Already in the last twelve months, which includes rebuilding our energy grid system, which helps put downward pressure on prices for energy prices. We put caps on the prices of electricity and coal generated electricity and gas and if we hadn't done that goodness knows what the prices would look like now. So we're doing a range of measures. We're also one of the big drivers on inflation is a skill shortage and having enough workforce to do the job. So we're revamping our skill system. Rome wasn't built in a day but we're just doing a lot of overdue stuff. Which frankly, hadn't been done for many years.
DEB KNIGHT: So to answer the question, Jane, does the Coalition back the Fair Work Commission's increase to the minimum wage?
JANE HUME: Well, the Fair Work Commission, as Bill said, is an independent umpire. It's not a matter of backing the decision or not. That's the decision that's being made. I suppose the real concern is whether there is potential for a wage price spiral coming out of this. I think that it's probably hit the mark. It’s not too much. It's not ahead of inflation. But at the same time, it is looking after those that are the you know, the most disadvantaged or the lowest income income earners in our country, but we do have to be very careful and that's what Philip Lowe or the Governor of the Reserve Bank was saying this week, that if there is a wage price spiral, it will in fact make inflation worse and inflation disproportionately affects low income people more than higher income people. So this should be the number one target of the government and let's face it, they seem to have dropped the ball just even removed the objective of lowering inflation from the budget.
DEB KNIGHT: Alright, I want to talk about some other issues as well. They've been Robert Smith ruling the Federal Court yesterday, Justice Anthony de Sanko, finding in favor of nine newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Canberra Times owned by the Nine Network which of course owns this radio station, in the long running defamation case brought by Victoria Cross winner Ben Roberts-Smith, and The finding was that the newspapers did establish the substantial truths of many of the imputations including allegations of murder. It was a civil defamation case, not a criminal matter. Bill, do you believe that Ben Robert Smith should now be stripped of his Victoria Cross medal?
BILL SHORTEN: This was a civil defamation matter between private litigants, I actually think it will be inappropriate for the Commonwealth to provide a comment.
DEB KNIGHT: What about the Australian War Memorial? Do you think that the exhibition that is there of all Victoria Cross winners, including the heroics of Ben Robert Smith displays his uniform that he wore in Afghanistan, does that exhibit need to be amended?
BILL SHORTEN: I guess you're very skilled interrogator. But to me that's not dissimilar to the last question you asked me. I just think all at the War Memorial run the War Memorial. And obviously this has been an incredibly difficult process. The judge has made a decision. I respect that. But I think for the Commonwealth to provide any further comment about this civil defamation matter. would be inappropriate.
DEB KNIGHT: And Jane, what does this mean for the morale of our defence force and specifically for our elite SAS, particularly with the fallout from the Brereton inquiry, which is ongoing? What sort of impact will this finding have on our defence forces?
JANE HUME: Yeah, I think Peter Dutton said it very well when he said this has been really tough, it's a tough day. It's a tough finding for our country because of course, the vast majority of Australians hold the SAS in the highest regard and the Australian Defence Force, in the highest regard. And we have to acknowledge the ruling. But Bill's right. There's a long way for this to play. It was civil proceedings, there are potentially criminal proceedings already underway. There might be potentially appeals, so it would be inappropriate to comment further because there are still matters under investigation. But yeah, it's really tough. It's really tough.
DEB KNIGHT: This is a sad state. Now, Senate Estimates, of course has been happening this week in Canberra and Jane, your committee in particular, the Economics Legislation Committee has had a lot of attention because of the Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the PwC scandal. Why are we so reliant on governments? Why is government relying because your government spent, I think it was $20.8 billion on consultants and outsourcing the public service. That's a third of the public service operations. Why do we take it outside and outsource it rather than keeping it in house?
JANE HUME: All governments need external and expert support and advice and often that's a much more efficient and cost effective way to get that expertise.
DEB KNIGHT: Obviously very risky as well.
JANE HUME: Well, I think that the PwC scandal is being conflated with two issues at PWC and individual was asked for his expert advice. He broke the terms of his contract, he broke the terms of the law, he didn't act ethically. And that's the implication it's not this is not necessarily about the use of consultants across governments more broadly. In fact-
DEB KNIGHT: But why isn't it? Why doesn't it also put a spotlight on that issue? Because who's to know if this is an isolated case?
JANE HUME: Because I think that the Commonwealth can't do everything on its own, and both the government and the opposition have acknowledged that's just a fact. But when the government does partner with private enterprise, it's everybody's expectation that those partners will act ethically, that they'll act within the terms of the contract, that they'll act within the terms of the law. I don't think that that's unreasonable. Now, if there are processes that need to be put in place by government to ensure that that is the case will so be it and I think that that will be pursued, specifically through, there's a Senate references inquiry, which is very important, and there's also proceedings being taken criminal proceedings.
DEB KNIGHT: But it's taken a very long time for these leaks. It's taken a long time for these leaks to come to light because the ATO became suspicious back in 2016. But the laws basically prevented them from speaking to the Treasury Department. So in terms of this coming to light it's been a hell of a hell of a while.
JANE HUME: Yeah look, the privacy provisions were what prevented the ATO speaking out. And there are reasons why privacy provisions are there, but I'm absolutely certain that these are issues that will be fleshed out more as part of the Senate's inquiry. And I don't want to preempt what it is that they will find.
DEB KNIGHT: Ok Bill, do you think that the other multimillion dollar contracts the government has with PwC, Defence, the RBA, should those contracts be pulled in light of what's happened here?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, first of all PricewaterhouseCoopers has let the country down. And I'm sure there's a lot of sort of lower level staff at PricewaterhouseCoopers who have to wear that sort of badge of shame for none of their own conduct. So I think this does appear to have been a failure of leadership of this firm in key parts. And it really there is white hot anger out there in the community, but also I think most other elements of business, who just know this is not the way. That this unethical behavior tars everyone.
DEB KNIGHT: Should those nine PwC partners who've been stood down of this scandal be named?
BILL SHORTEN: Wouldn't want to muck up the investigation by prematurely naming people, do you know what I mean? So I'm not, I think if you've been involved and you've done the wrong thing, ultimately, it's got to come out. But I'd like to see it in a way which, getting the facts of the matter, making the case, establishing the investigation. That to me is the priority, than a particular day naming a particular partner. So there's no doubt in my mind, but so I mean, you wouldn't want to damage your claim would you against them by rushing out to name people so. But I don't, that's not me arguing that they shouldn't be held accountable or publicly accountable, they should. It is. I mean, Pricewaterhouse also gave evidence in the roadway, that Royal Commission, where basically they were paid a million dollars to do a report into robodebt and 2017. And the final report miraculously never appeared. But Pricewaterhouse still got paid their million dollars. So I'm certainly not interested in covering anything up. But I think the way to get to the truth of the matter, is you need to not rush it you need to actually get it right and make the case so that wrongdoers can't wriggle out on procedural grounds.
DEB KNIGHT: All right. I want to end on this because I'll be looking in our final hour of the show today, the new doco about Australia's cyber spies. So I want to know how and when have you both spied on someone and maybe you've spied on your kids to make sure they're not getting up to any trouble? Or maybe you've been doing the spy work when you were a kid to find out what present was under the Christmas tree? When have you done some spy work? Let's start with you, Jane.
JANE HUME: I'm spying on my kids right now Deb. I'm actually looking at them on Find My iPhone or whatever it is that I can see exactly whether they're all at school, at university, doing what they say that they're doing. And occasionally I'll just send them a message to check that they're telling the truth. Yeah, they're pretty good. They're pretty reliable.
DEB KNIGHT: Very good.
JANE HUME: But don’t tell them, don't tell them.
DEB KNIGHT: No, it's just us chatting. Spy work underway right now by Jane. What about you, Bill?
BILL SHORTEN: Well Jane, I think that sounds like you're very thorough and attentive parents so more power to your arm. I think the find my phone app is not bad for your teenagers. But no, I was thinking about a time where I might have- I like a good practical joke- and sometimes when you can you see someone in the street you know you bring them up and see if they answer the phone or they look at it and then put you back on, you know send the message through to keeper. But that's a lot of fun.
DEB KNIGHT: That is good. And that's playing into our discussion about phone etiquette as well when people just don't answer and you can see them in your sight line.
BILL SHORTEN: The other one is when you see a colleague standing at the back of a press conference, it's always good discipline for your colleague to keep your phone not ring. There's nothing funnier than if it doesn't happen very often. I like a practical joke. I ring them and if their phone goes off and the press conferences, then oh well.
DEB KNIGHT: Yeah well one of your phones went off when we were talking earlier so I won’t point any fingers nonetheless. Jane and Bill, thank you so much for joining us.