Minister for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Minister for Communications

A/g Minister for Regional Communications

Minister for the Arts

Manager of Government Business in the Senate

Drive with Raf Epstein

23 February 2017

E & OE

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mitch Fifield is the Minister for Communications, good afternoon.

FIFIELD:

Raf good to be with you.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Are you sad to see Ahmed Fahour go?

FIFIELD:

Look I think he has done a good job as the Managing Director of Australia Post in an environment where letter volumes have fallen from about 4.6 billion a year in 2008 to about 2.9 billion a year now.  Because of all the reasons we know. Email.  Internet. He has done a good job in stemming the losses and ensuring that Australia Post has never had to call on the taxpayer. But he has been in the role for seven years and he has decided that it is time to move on.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Did he go because you wanted to bring in new arrangements with the Remuneration Tribunal setting the salary for that post?

FIFIELD:

Look they are two different things. Mr Fahour has decided that after a long tour of duty as Managing Director that it's the time for the organisation to have the opportunity to renew its leadership.  We have taken this opportunity, as you pointed out, to put in place some new arrangements for the determination of the salary and arrangements for the Managing Director of Australia Post.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Would those new arrangements have been introduced today if he had not resigned?

FIFIELD:

Well these are some things that I have had in contemplation. But I think you are right to point out that these sort of arrangements are something that are put in place when there is a change of management. And we are taking this opportunity to hand the issue to the Remuneration Tribunal.

RAF EPSTEIN:

So did this issue help nudge him out the door?

FIFIELD:

Well I leave individuals who are resigning from an office to speak for themselves.

RAF EPSTEIN:

I suppose I am asking, forgive me for interrupting, but did you, were there any conversations with your office and Ahmed Fahour where you said listen we want the Remuneration Tribunal to set your salary?

FIFIELD:

Look that is not a discussion that I had, so…

RAF EPSTEIN:

Did your office? Did his office?

FIFIELD:

It is not a discussion that I've had. This is a decision of Mr Fahour, that it is an opportunity for the leadership of Australia Post to be renewed, he has been there for seven years. This is his decision.

RAF EPSTEIN

Sorry can I just ask that again, would, did anybody from government say to people at Australia Post say listen the CEO salary needs to be set by the Remuneration Tribunal.  Would he have been aware that this is something that you wanted to implement?

FIFIELD:

I informed the Chair of Australia Post of this today.

RAF EPSTEIN:

So he wouldn't have heard this idea before today?

FIFIELD:

No.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Do you think some of the controversy around his salary was because he is Muslim?

FIFIELD:

Look I would hope not. I think the community saw the level of salary and thought that it was beyond the pale. It was a view that was clearly expressed. It is one that the government shared. It is a point of view that the Prime Minister put to the Chair and that I put to the Chair of Australia Post. So I think we have to look at facts. And I hope that people wouldn't raise or try and connect any other issues.

RAF EPSTEIN:

It is just that so many people criticised that salary, and the only, I guess barb coming from someone who is incredibly civilly spoken in Ahmed Fahour was “it is not as easy to run as a fish and chip shop" I mean I don't know, but it seemed like it was aimed at Pauline Hanson, and I just wonder if there has been that bit of prejudice mixed in with the general outrage.

FIFIELD:

Well I hope that is not the case. And I think it is very important that we always look at the facts of the situation and that people form their views on the basis of the facts.

RAF EPSTEIN:

What do you make of the cut in penalty rates, what do you say to someone who’s going to get less money working on Sunday in a fast food shop?

FIFIELD:

Well this really comes back to Bill Shorten when he was the Workplace Relations Minister. He initiated the conditions review of penalty rates. He was the person that put in train the current architecture. And so if people have an issue with the process, it is a process that was put in place by Bill Shorten.

RAF EPSTEIN:

So he owns the decision?

FIFIELD:

Well Bill Shorten as Workplace Relations Minister amended the Fair Work Act to specifically require the Fair Work Commission to review penalty rates as part of the awards review process.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Probably because there was pressure for business saying listen we need to free this up a little.

FIFIELD:

Well you know, Bill Shorten can hardly complain about the process. He can hardly complain about the legislative architecture, when he is the author of that architecture.

RAF EPSTEIN:

So what do you say to someone then who is getting less money on a Sunday, as a representative of the government what do you say to that person?

FIFIELD:

Well our position is clear. It's been consistent. That the setting of penalty rates is a matter for the independent Fair Work Commission to determine, it is not the government.

RAF EPSTEIN:

You must have some sympathy for people who are going to get less money though?

FIFIELD:

Well we have the independent industrial umpire. And their role is to make decisions on these matters. That's what they have done. And they have done it under the architecture that Bill Shorten put in place.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Do you think that especially in hospitality they need a cut in penalty rates, the spending in that business area is higher than average, job creation is higher than in other industries, restaurants make more money than businesses like construction and manufacturing, do you think restaurants needed a penalty cut?

FIFIELD:

Well the independent umpire, in the Fair Work Commission,had submissions made to it by all the relevant parties. They assessed those and then made their determination.

RAF EPSTEIN:

If I can just ask you a final question, you have got lots of different portfolios there are some ABC appointments that are again at one hand removed from you, when will we know about those new appointments at the very top of this organisation?

FIFIELD:

Look in the very near future Raf. There are two current vacancies on the ABC board. As you know there is an independent nomination panel process, which has been legislated. We commenced that process after the last election. They have finished their work. The recommendation is before government and we will have something to say about those in the near future.

In terms of the Chair of the ABC board. James Spigelman's term expires in March. We have also initiated the independent nomination panel process for that. And they will be getting their work to us in the very near future.

RAF EPSTEIN:

So that would have to be weeks, not months now?

FIFIELD:

We are not talking months Raf.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Ah ok, thanks so much for your time.

FIFIELD:

Good to chat.

[ends]

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