Minister Rishworth on the Today Show, Newschat with Sarah Abo


Topics: Fuel efficiency standards, Minimum wage rise

SARAH ABO, HOST: Welcome back. Well, Anthony Albanese has apparently grabbed the wheel from Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen, overhauling Labor's controversial fuel efficiency standards plan. This comes as the government cops backlash for the handling of the policy negotiations, forcing organisations involved to sign non-disclosure agreements. Joining us to discuss today's headlines, Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth and Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, both in Canberra. Good morning to you both. Amanda, you've somewhat yielded to the deafening calls of tradies across the country and watered down your vehicle emissions policy. And that's despite Chris Bowen repeated denials on our program.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Firstly, I'd say that why a fuel efficiency standard is so important is we're one of the only countries in the world not to have one – us and Russia. So, it means that we've been missing out on cleaner and cheaper-to-run cars. We put out a fuel efficiency model, which was our preferred option, but we said very clearly that we would consult and, of course, take into consideration different perspectives from industry that are put forward. So, we're working through that. But having a fuel efficiency standard does mean that we have more choice. If you think about America – not known necessarily for their efficient cars – they've had a fuel efficiency standard since 1970. So, this is an important piece of policy. It used to be the policy of the liberal party back in 2016. So, we hope that we'll see a way bipartisanship can take us through to make sure Australia gets options for their cars.

SARAH ABO: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, obviously this is something that's needed, but there are concessions that have had to be made. You were too ambitious to begin with. You quote the US there. The US is changing its policy as well. And I guess the issue that we're facing at the moment is that we're hearing about, since your party was elected, you promised transparency. Now we're hearing about NDAs people being forced to sign them left, right and centre.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Of course we're going to have discussions with industry and make sure that we are taking that feedback. A lot of very sensitive information is put forward to make sure that we get our policy right. But that's what we're determined to do to get the right balance for Australia, to make sure that we have more choice and cheaper-to-run cars and make sure that we keep up with the rest of the world.

SARAH ABO: It does make people wonder what you're hiding, though?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think having discussions with industry and making sure that we're able to be responsive, along with making sure our policy objective is delivered. And I guess my question for the opposition is, will they support having fuel efficiency standards in Australia because it used to be their policy?

SARAH ABO: Well, what do you do now, Bridget? I mean, do you welcome these revised changes to the emissions plan?

BRIDGET MCKENZIE, NATIONALS SENATOR: Like the rest of us, we haven't seen them yet, Sarah. We support a low emissions transport sector as we head towards 2050. But the plan that has been put forward by the Government means that Australians will be paying thousands of dollars more for the cars that they not only love to drive, that are the most popular new cars sold in this country, but in often cases, they're the cars they need to drive for their work or their lifestyle choices. So, we don't back a plan that makes cars more expensive for everyday Australians, particularly in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, and we don't back a plan that's going to see our key and favoured cars leave the market. We want to see a low emissions transport policy. That means we get the emission profile down in a way that doesn't cost Australians thousands of dollars. And I think what you've seen, Sarah, and you raised it in questions with the Minister, these guys are making industry leaders sign non-disclosure agreements. What have they got to hide? And it's about time the Prime Minister stepped in because his Ministers are hopeless.

SARAH ABO: All right, well, look, it is all about balance and so is this next issue. Small businesses hitting back at calls for a rise to the minimum wage. The Government and unions, of course, are pushing for an increase to keep up with inflation. Amanda, how do you get that balance right? There was a 5 per cent increase last year. Now the unions are calling for 5.7 per cent. How do you then factor in the small business demands?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think in a cost-of-living crisis, we don't want to see particularly our low-paid workers go backwards. I think it's a pretty fundamental point that we don't want to see those that clean our country. Some drive people around, those who do some of the minimum wage jobs actually go backwards. We know that cost-of-living is a challenge and we want to make sure that their wages do keep up with cost-of-living. The Labor Party has been pretty firm that we want people to earn more and take more of home of what they earn. And that is exactly our position. The Liberal Party has said they want people to earn less and that is not a solution for those particularly low-paid workers that are working really hard around our country.

SARAH ABO: Bridget, as you know, a lot of Australians are struggling right now. So, is this fair enough?

BRIDGET MCKENZIE: Look, Australians are struggling and they're struggling because Amanda's Government has not got inflation under control. I mean, these wage rises, should they be successful, are going to be eaten up by inflationary pressures if the Government doesn't cut their spending and get productivity going. Every Australian that's employed by a small business right now today has their jobs at risk because small businesses have been going out of business in numbers that we haven't seen for a long time. That is the reality. I think business is under pressure, particularly small and family-owned and run businesses, and they employ millions of Australians. So, if the Government was serious about helping families in our suburbs and our regions struggling right now to work out how they're going to pay the kids soccer fees this term whilst they're also trying to keep the mortgage or the rent paid, then they need to get serious about cutting their spending in the budget and get inflation under control.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, Bridget, we're the only Government that's delivered a surplus.

BRIDGET MCKENZIE: Amanda, Amanda, I didn't interrupt you.

SARAH ABO: Look, the point is we've got to get the balance right. It's sticky out there and a lot of people are suffering. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We will pick this debate up another time. Appreciate it, Karl.

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Gee, got spicy at the end there, didn't it?