26 August 2020

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 26 AUGUST 2020
 
SUBJECTS: Aviation workers; Virtual parliament.
 
ANIKA WELLS, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: I came this morning to speak up for my 6600 aviation workers who live in my electorate of Lilley, which takes in the Brisbane airport. The announcement from Qantas ranks among the greatest acts of industrial vandalism since waterfront. To accept half a billion dollars of taxpayer money for the JobKeeper program, a covenant of trust that workers will remain tethered to their employment and then to do this to workers, 6000 of whom were already stood down, another 2500 being outsourced yesterday is an act of industrial vandalism. This is an excuse for a race to the bottom on wages and conditions and if we don’t stand up to it now, it is only going to get worse for the thousands of aviation workers who rely on people like me and the parliament to look after their interests in such a time. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Should there have been more conditions, I guess, attached to government support for these sort of programs? I mean there’s been talk around large companies taking JobKeeper then paying out dividends to stockholders and that sort of thing. I think they’ve calling it DividendKeeper. Should there have been more conditions attached to this about how the money can be used and what effect it would have on employees, how companies can treat their employees afterwards?

WELLS: I think that’s right. When I say it was a covenant of trust, we were acting, the national government was acting in an emergency. Decisions needed to be made quickly. Everyone was assuming that everyone else was acting in good faith. And decisions like this demonstrate that that isn’t the case. And we are going to have to, you know we’ve got the chance today to amend JobKeeper when the legislation comes before the House. I met with the Deputy Prime Minister after the Qantas announcement yesterday, on behalf of my aviation workers, and I said any further amendments to this scheme and any subsequent changes to the rules coming down the track should oblige companies to look after their workers as part of the acceptance of taxpayers’ money.

JOURNALIST: So will they be pushing for those sort of conditions to be attached to the Bill, when it comes through?

WELLS: I certainly will be pushing for those conditions to be attached and I’ll be speaking to the House today on JobKeeper. But the difficulty around that is that we haven’t seen those rules yet. I understand they’re still weeks away. The only thing that JobKeeper will be addressing today is the extension of the date of the scheme when the real difficulty, the complexity and the problems that Australians want fixed probably lie in the rules, that ultimately still lie with the one man, the Treasurer.

JOURNALIST: On a different note, obviously this is the first time the parliament has had video conferencing facilities so far, how do you think that’s been going so far?

WELLS: It was a huge step forward, one that many people fought very hard for. I worry that the people that parliament most needs to hear from at the moment are the people who find it hardest to get here in the first place. So I think a more flexible parliament that takes in some virtual elements is essential to getting more people here, and able to participate in our democracy and make our democracy a bit more reflective of the diversity of the communities that we represent.

JOURNALIST: Christian Porter has been at pains to call it a trial so far. And there has been a lot of talk that it wouldn’t be a permanent fixture, that it wouldn’t just be that politicians can work from home or whatever it is. Do you think there is some sort of case for people who can’t make it, maybe people who have caring responsibilities at home or people who have health issues? I mean it’s difficult for them to get here. Do you think, number one, that should be extended, maybe long term? And number two do you think that would encourage some people who might be hesitant of entering a career in politics, to make them feel more comfortable to look into that sort of thing, to run for office?

WELLS: That’s exactly what I think. And I said this to Christian Porter. I said that “obviously there is a place for tradition and precedent, but my people who elected me out of the northside of Brisbane deserve a voice in parliament”, just as much as the people who elected him over in Perth. And my ability to participate in the coming months, as I give birth and look after newborn twins – a virtual parliament, or some elements of a virtual parliament, would allow me to do that from Brisbane and ensure that the voices of my people can continue to be represented. The way the parliament currently stands, doesn’t facilitate that. So ultimately, I feel that participation, representation and accurate democracy are more important tenets for us to prioritise at the moment, than tradition and precedent.

JOURNALIST: There are, I guess, a number of politicians in the parliament who have young children, or are expecting children both men and women. Do you think there are other parts of parliament that could be mended or changed or edited a little bit to make it easier for parents to contribute to parliament while also balancing their family responsibilities?

WELLS: Well I think, like you say, the number one issue is that a lot of people look at 100 nights away from their families a year and don’t run in the first place. So we don’t get a broad enough diversity of experiences of Australians here in the parliament. A consequence of that has been weeks like this, where there are less people here than usual, so their communities are less represented. This has been a really interesting debate to have. When I announced that I was expecting twins, I basically spent the first trimester in the first lockdown of the country, and I genuinely felt when I announced at the end of my first trimester that we were expecting quaran-twins that that would be the flashpoint in this country that would drive genuine modern change in one of our oldest institutions, the parliament. And it felt, six months on, that we actually have gone backwards and that people who believed in the importance of tradition and precedent were actually even more resistant to change when people like myself feel like this is exactly the opportunity to modernise. I think there is a path through the middle. There are elements of parliament that could very easily be virtual all of the time. I understand that some people feel that things like Question Time are the hill that they would die on in terms of retaining tradition but to me all of the research and all of the feedback that we get from Australian constituents is that Question Time is one of the worst advertisements that we have for the parliament. Ordinary people look at it and think we’re all behaving like children and don’t see the merit in what we do and what the taxpayers fund. And so for me I actually think we should look at it, holus-bolus, and use this as the flashpoint to make the parliament more inclusive and representative. And that ultimately will be better for everybody.

ENDS