SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan to close the gender pay gap; Refugee policy; Christmas wishes.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI, PRESENTER: Now to Labor's National Conference which is going into its final day today in Adelaide. And today the Party's going to promise to make a series of changes to the Fair Work Act in order to reduce the gender pay gap. Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek joins us now from Adelaide where that conference is taking place. Tanya Plibersek, good morning. Thanks for joining us. 
PLIBERSEK: Hi, how are you Virginia?
TRIOLI:  Well thank you. You are going to change the Fair Work Act to achieve what exactly?
PLIBERSEK: Well we want to make it easier for women in underpaid industries to get a pay rise. We know that in industries like childcare, early childhood educators are 97 per cent female. They took a case to the Fair Work Commission recently, and it was unsuccessful for really quite technical reasons. We want to make sure that the Act makes it easier for underpaid women to get a pay rise and we want to make sure the Fair Work Commission has the resources and the expertise to investigate these cases properly. 
TRIOLI:  So it's almost like a change that goes something close to affirmative action, or sort of positively discriminating in one direction?
PLIBERSEK: Well, without getting too technical about it, what we are doing is putting pay equity in the objects of the Act, and we are making sure that there is a separate part of the Commission, a panel, that has the expertise to determine these cases and there is also of course going to be resourcing for a research unit that can actually really look at some of the evidence about underpaid female work forces. The last case that the early childhood educators took, took years, it cost millions of dollars. We are really making the hurdle too high in these female dominated industries. Anybody who has seen what early childhood educators do, anybody who has visited a childcare centre would know how hard they work, they know how complex the work is, the training you need to do it appropriately, and when you look at the underpay it’s very hard to imagine that it’s for any reason other than this is a female dominated industry, and if you look at women working in female dominated industries earn, on average, about $30,000 less than the men in the most male dominated industries earn. I don't think it’s a question of whether this gender pay gap really exists in female dominated industries, it’s how do we determine how large it is and how best to deal with it. The last time we had a successful case was the Social and Community Sector Award case when Labor was last in government and that was the social workers, people working in homelessness services, domestic violence shelters, drug and alcohol counselling, they got a pay rise of between 18 and 43 per cent, but it was so difficult to get that case right. Labor had to say that we were prepared to fund the extra wages, at that time the interpretation of the law was that you didn't need what is called a male comparator. The Fair Work Commission in recent years has said that there needs to be a male comparator for the work and that makes it much, much harder to actually get a decent outcome. 
TRIOLI: Would you, just briefly just before we move on to other matters, if you are in government and still proposing this, would you need to get that change through the Senate or could you just amend it and make the change yourselves?
PLIBERSEK: Well changes to the legislation of course have to go through the Parliament, like any other law but resourcing the Fair Work Commission-
TRIOLI: I was wondering if it was one you could gavel through yourself. If you did then, what’s your feeling given the makeup of the Senate of course might change, but would there be much objection to the idea of this, for want of a better term, affirmative action aspect put in the legislation governing Fair Work Australia?
PLIBERSEK: I'd be very surprised if Members of Parliament want to go out into their constituencies and publicly make the case that childcare workers aren't underpaid, that aged care workers aren't underpaid, that women taking up these new positions in the National Disability Insurance Scheme aren't underpaid. It'd be a brave person who tried to make that case publicly, I think.
TRIOLI: All right moving on to other matters, the Federal Government's budget update has shown that wage growth will be slower than first thought, about 2.5 per cent growth in fiscal 2019. How would Labor increase that growth? What would specifically be the plans and the programs that might get that back closer to 3 per cent?
PLIBERSEK: Wages growth is not just a problem for individual families at the moment, who are really feeling the squeeze. People, all the time, talk about prices going up and their wages not keeping up. It's actually a problem for our broader economy, because if you don't see decent wages growth, you reduce consumer confidence, you reduce aggregate demand in the economy. It's not that the economy is not doing well, we're seeing company profits growing strongly, it's just not being shared with the workforce. And I think we need to look at our industrial relations system to answer the questions about why that is. Of course we need to restore penalty rates, that's a really important start and we've already committed to doing that. But we also need to make it, frankly, easier for workforces to bargain with their employers for a pay increase. We've seen enterprise bargaining levels dramatically reduced in this country. Agreements are expiring and employers are not renegotiating, they're just allowing drift to continue. The award system is very weak at the moment. Award wages are very low. We need to go back to our industrial relations laws and look at where the flaws are that are preventing these pay increases being passed on to workers. We see, of course, a massive increase in casualised and sporadic work that really contributes to this insecurity as well.
TRIOLI: Tanya Plibersek, your national conference, at that conference the Party's voted to increase Australia's humanitarian intake to 32,000 people, and to give $500 million to the UN to resettle refugees elsewhere within the region. Are you at all concerned the Government will turn that around during the election to paint the Party as soft on borders?
PLIBERSEK: I think what we are is decent and humane and compassionate. Australia needs to take its responsibilities as a good global citizen. There are 38 and a half million displaced people around the world today. The difference is we want to bring people safely to Australia, processed overseas by the United Nations Refugee Commission, and bring them here to Australia on a Qantas jet, rather than see people risking their lives getting on boats. So we are prepared to be tough on boats, we've kept turnbacks and offshore processing in our Platform, but we want to show more compassion to people who need our help. We've got right now one of the world's greatest humanitarian crises pretty much on our doorstep with Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar, 800,000 of them, in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, and Australia's efforts are not, they're not sufficient for a country as traditionally generous as Australia has been. We've got generations of people who've come to Australia as refugees who've made an enormous contribution to our country.
TRIOLI: Quick last question, something I'm asking everyone at the moment in my circle and outside as we head towards the end of the year. What's the one thing you'd like to change about your life next year?
PLIBERSEK: I always wish for more time but I think that's a hard one for Santa to deliver.
TRIOLI: Probably. I thought you might say winning government.
PLIBERSEK: Well of course I'd like to win government but we take nothing for granted. So I won't be wishing for that, I'll be working for it.
TRIOLI: All right. Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining us today. Thank you.
PLIBERSEK: Thanks Virginia.