Television Interview with Natalie Barr – Sunrise – Friday 9 February 2024





SUBJECTS: Closing Loopholes legislation

NATALIE BARR: The Government is scrambling this morning to rework its right to disconnect laws after the Greens included an amendment to penalise bosses. Employers now face up to 12 months behind bars if they unreasonably contact their staff after hours after the minor party snuck in the change. Labor will now introduce additional legislation to reverse that inclusion.

For more we’re joined by Education Minister Jason Clare and the Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley. Good morning to both of you.


BARR: So Jason, as it stands a boss who unreasonably contacts their staff after hours can now go to jail. How did that happen?

CLARE: Nat, this is just a bit of common sense. It doesn’t stop employers from contacting their employees after hours. It just means that employees don’t get punished if they don’t respond. This is ultimately about protecting family time here.

There was a bit of silly buggers that went on in the Senate last night where the Liberals basically refused to work and make sure that this amendment was right. That’s disappointing but not surprising, we’ve come to expect that from the Liberal Party. But we’ll fix this through legislation.

BARR: But Jason, as it stands isn’t it right that you guys have messed up and a boss can go to jail?

CLARE: No. One, the legislation doesn’t start until the middle of this year…

BARR: Yeah, because you ‑ and you’ve got, we know you’ve got time to fix it, but hasn’t it been put through, at the moment, that a boss can go to jail if they unreasonably contact an employee?

CLARE: What happened last night, and people of Australia send us to Canberra to work, what happened last night was an effort by the Government to make an amendment to make sure that’s not the case. The Liberal Party threw a tantrum that would put my two‑year‑old to shame. They refused to even deal with it.

BARR: But yeah, hang on, can we back up a bit because you only had to make the amendment because you first put it through, didn’t you?

CLARE: No. We need to make the amendment to make sure that it’s right. That’s the job of politicians. Now there’s an amendment that’s been introduced by other members of Parliament. We want to make sure that it doesn’t have a criminal penalty.

As I said before, this is not about stopping an employer from contacting you after hours. It’s about making sure the employee’s not punished. Now our job as politicians is to make sure that we get the laws right. We attempted to do that last night and the Liberal Party basically said, “No, we’re going home”. That’s not the way that politicians should be behaving.

BARR: Okay. Sussan, did the Coalition stop the Government changing this?

SUSSAN LEY: Nat, this situation is as confusing as Jason just sounded. It sounds as if Jason is trying to blame us for legislation that was introduced by them, by the Government which controls the Parliament, controls the agenda, and which we voted against.

But I can make an exclusive policy announcement here on Sunrise. Under a Liberal Government you will never go to jail for sending an email after 5 pm. It looks as though, whether deliberately or maybe accidentally, Labor has passed legislation that means that if you either run or manage a business and you contact your staff after hours you could face jail time. How chaotic and how confusing.

We need a much better and much more sensible approach when it comes to these issues.

BARR: Can you make that guarantee, Jason?

CLARE: We will make sure that the law here doesn’t have a criminal penalty, but we just need the Liberal Party to behave like adults here rather than children like we saw in the Senate last night.

BARR: But don’t you get the legislation right when you first put it through? Don’t you have a lot of people to make sure it’s right?

CLARE: News flash, Nat, most of the legislation you deal with in the Parliament is amending existing legislation, and a lot of the work that happens in the Parliament is making sure that you amend different pieces, in order to get what the Parliament wants.

Now to do that you need the Liberal Party to at least agree to vote on it. You know, they went on strike in the Senate last night. They spat the dummy and walked out.

BARR: Right, okay. Well, maybe we can work together next week. Thank you very much. See you next week.

CLARE: Thanks.