Afternoon Briefing with Matt Doran Friday 31 May - Transcript

FRIDAY, 31 MAY 2024

SUBJECTS: Trump verdict, Impact of Peter Dutton’s mismanagement of immigration, Former government’s stacking of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Issues paper on non-compete clauses.

MATT DORAN, HOST: Bit of ground to cover today with the Assistant Minister for Charities, Competition and Treasury, Andrew Leigh. He joins us now in the studio. Andrew Leigh, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing.


DORAN: It would be remiss of me not to ask you about events in the United States. Pretty remarkable seeing a conviction against Donald Trump, considering he could still be the occupant of the White House, even with this conviction against his name. Does it sort of change how the government has to plan for a potential change of government, knowing that this is hanging over?

LEIGH: Well, American democracy has always been a little more robust than Australia's, Matt. This is, after all, the country where a sitting Vice President once killed a former Treasury secretary in a duel. So they do things differently. The bilateral relationship will continue strongly regardless of who sits in the White House.

DORAN: Yeah, no scenes like that in the Australian Parliament. Maybe outside of the building, there's a bit more tension there. I want to ask you about your colleague Andrew Giles. He's had a pretty difficult week, having to justify his running of the immigration portfolio in this contentious Ministerial Direction 99. Do you think there'd be people at home watching on and thinking how on earth he still has a job when there are now convicted criminals being allowed to stay in this country as a result of that Direction?

LEIGH: I don't think that's the criteria you want to be judging an Immigration Minister on, Matt. If it was the case, then Peter Dutton would have had to step down himself. After all, there were more than 100 convicted sex offenders who were released on his watch. We have cancelled more visas in our first year in office than the former government did in their last year in office. Minister Giles has been assiduous in the portfolio, dealing with a stacked Administrative Appeals Tribunal with a host of Liberal party appointees and an unexpected High Court decision that came down last year. In that context, I think he's been doing a terrific job.

DORAN: The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has today said in Senate estimates that they just deal with the directions that are offered up to them by the Minister of the day. They have taken into account what Andrew Giles has drafted here, well, not drafted, put in force here back in January 2023, and that has formed the basis for their decisions. Now they're clearly putting the pressure back on the Immigration Minister. Are they?

LEIGH: Well, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, as we know, Matt, was stacked by the former government with a host of political appointees and Liberal Party cronies. We've had to reform it, creating the Administrative Review Tribunal, a separate body which will commence operation soon. In terms of how they operate, they have always had to take into account an applicant's links to Australia. That was the case under the former government. It's the case under our government. Having seen a range of these tribunal decisions, we've announced changes to the way in which the Direction 99 operates. But no one should be under any illusions. Connections to Australia have always been a factor taken into account by the tribunal.

DORAN: I mean, you say there that it's been stacked by Liberal cronies, but one of the members who made a ruling in one of these most contentious cases is the former Labor speaker of the House, Anna Burke.

LEIGH: Well, we know that the former government made appointments in order to try and shroud what it was doing. Anna Burke is terrific, but she's wasn’t the typical appointee on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. That was why we had ultimately to start again with a new tribunal. I don't think any independent observer, Matt, thinks that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal was appropriately appointed under the former government. It was treated as a place where they sent their candidates who had failed to get pre-selection or had left parliament. That was the vast bulk of the appointees under the former government.

DORAN: Is Andrew Giles staying in the portfolio because no one else in Labor ranks would want to take it up at the moment?

LEIGH: Andrew Giles is staying in the portfolio because he's got an important job to do, clearing up the mess the Liberals left behind. When we came to office, we had a system in which there were massive backlogs in important skilled visas coming to Australia. We had a system in which the former government had immigration running at a record high. We brought that down to more sustainable levels. We had a system in which the former government had understaffed the system. So, for example, if you wanted to get a passport renewal in our first year in government, there was a huge backlog as a result of the former government's arbitrary and wrong-headed public service cap.

DORAN: I want to touch on something in your portfolio. You've been putting out a discussion paper about this issue of non-compete clauses that are, quite surprisingly, a lot more widespread in Australia than I think many people would imagine. I've heard you use the example before of hairdressers who aren't allowed to go and set up shop down the road or whatever if they decide to try and branch out on their own. Where are we at with that process? Trying to get to a new model there to get rid of this sort of practice.

LEIGH: Well, Matt, non-compete clauses are ultimately a barrier on workers’ freedom to move to a better paying job in an environment in which, under the former government real wages languished. We're worried that non-compete clauses could be a reason for wages not being as high as they should be in Australia. And that also hurts startups. If you want to set up a new company, typically you'd be hiring people who work for an existing firm. But if they're all locked up with non-compete clauses, you don't get the new business, you don't get the productivity boost that flows through with that. One in five workers are covered by non-competes, including early childhood workers and hairdressers, as you mentioned. So, we do need to look at reform in this area. The issues paper closes today, so I'm really looking forward to looking through submissions there, and the government will come forward with policy submissions.

DORAN: How soon are you hoping that there could be a policy put forward? I mean, not that it's, you know, you need to be a hard and fast deadline, but how quickly do you want to see this addressed?

LEIGH: I'd like to move on it this year, but we're a government with a significant policy agenda clearing up a lot of messes under the former government. So it'll be a matter of how it fits in with our government's legislative priorities.

DORAN: Andrew Leigh, thanks for your time.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.