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Tony Burke and Governor General David Hurley

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Tony Burke advocates on wages and arts

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Tony Burke advocates on wages and arts

Tony Burke is the minister for employment and workplace relations and minister for the arts, as well as the leader of the House of Representatives.

One of his first tasks is the government’s new submission for the minimum wage case, which will say these workers should not be left behind, as inflation has spiked.

If the Fair Work Commission gives a 5.1% rise, in line with inflation, is there a case for it not flowing through to awards, or all awards?

“I can’t imagine a situation where there was no flow-through at all. The commission always has the capacity to work out how the flow-through might happen.” He notes one option floated has been a flat dollar increase so the flow-through happened differently.

“The commission will work that through. But certainly there are many awards that are not far from the minimum wage.

"And when we talk about the heroes of the pandemic a lot of those people are on those awards. So while the focus has been specifically minimum wage, I tend to use the term low-paid workers.”

On reforming parliament, Burke says he is not trying to get rid of the anger. He doesn’t want to turn parliament into “a quiet, polite dinner party”.

“The debate is fierce and passionate and real. I think that matters and I think it’s good for democracy.”

Nor is he in favour of scrapping “dorothy dixers”, because the government needs the opportunity to tell the house what it is doing.

But there will be more questions for the larger crossbench, and he flags the government won’t so routinely shut down opposition moves for debates.

“Standing Orders say there’s one question from the crossbench. With a crossbench as large as what we’re now facing, that’s just not sustainable.”

Without changing that, “you’re effectively telling a very large number of Australians that because they didn’t vote for a major party, their voice is going to be heard less.”

Burke says he has a passion for the arts – he was briefly arts minister at the end of the last Labor government – and laments a lack of a cultural policy in recent years.

“In cultural terms, what the arts, events, entertainment sector do matters to who we are as Australians. And that affects your education policy, your health policy, your trade policy, your foreign affairs policy. Nor has there been any guidance that these are serious industries and these are serious jobs.”

The arts are really important in giving people a capacity to imagine and create, Burke says. They are “really important for us as a nation. I don’t think we’ve had an arts minister see it as a priority in that sense for a long time, and I really want to bring that back”.

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