Bill's Transcripts

2SM - The John Laws Show


2SM - The John Laws Show
12 September 2012


SUBJECT:                     Workplace Relations


JOHN LAWS:                 I've got our Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten on the line now.  Bill good morning.

 BILL SHORTEN:           Good morning John.

 JOHN LAWS:                 How are you?

 BILL SHORTEN:           I'm well and you're well?

 JOHN LAWS:                 I'm terrifically well thank you.  Lovely weather in Sydney I hope yours is alright.

 BILL SHORTEN:           Yeah I'm in Parliament House in Canberra where they have no windows that open but anyway. It gets a bit hot in here.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Yeah so you've got to put up with that recirculated air all the time.

 BILL SHORTEN:           Mmm. But there's important issues to debate and discuss including the ones you're raising today.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Hey listen but do you realise that you're breathing the same air as Tony Abbott?

 BILL SHORTEN:           That's okay by me. If it's okay by him it's okay by me.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Yeah he's alright isn't he?  Anyway, on to a more serious thing - who's to blame for the highest level of lost work days since 2004?

 BILL SHORTEN:           Well there's always a reason why people have disputes.  Not every dispute is the fault of the employer. But what is interesting is in the information that you were quoting something like sixty-eight per cent of all the lost time industrial action, which is still low by historic standards, but there's been a definite spike upwards last quarter - sixty-eight per cent of it was in the health and education sectors.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Shouldn't be there.

 BILL SHORTEN:           That's right.  But then you've got to ask yourself if nurses in Victoria are motivated to stop work, if teachers feel they have no other recourse then you've got to look at why is it that when you have conservative governments in power they're not good at managing employee relations?

 JOHN LAWS:                 No they're - well...

 BILL SHORTEN:           Mr Baillieu made a promise in Victoria before the last election that Victorian teachers would be the highest paid in Australia and he's just simply walked away from that.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Yeah well Julia Gillard made a promise there'd be no carbon tax - she walked away from that.

 BILL SHORTEN:           The issue though for the Federal Government is that...

 JOHN LAWS:                 Bill, Bill you didn't respond to what I said.

 BILL SHORTEN:           Oh no I'm going to. The Federal Government has got a minority. There was a minority parliament so the Prime Minister was committed to delivering an outcome about reducing carbon pollution growth so that's what she's done. But in the case of the state governments and in the case I have to say of conservatives is I think they need to be up front on employee relations before they get elected to power. Then they need to be consistent because it's people's jobs we're talking about.  I mean in Queensland ten - fourteen-thousand public servants read in the newspaper that they're losing their jobs.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Yeah they are.

 BILL SHORTEN:           And I don't accept that public servants are - should be demonised in the community.  When we talk about public servants we're not talking about the secretary of a department where there's only one of them for each department.  We're talking about child protection workers, we're talking about the people who do the paperwork which mean that you can have police on the streets, we're talking about people who teach our kids in schools or hospital orderlies who change the beds.  These are important people.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Well if people are unhappy with their pay and if they're unhappy with a combination of pay and job surely they're entitled to strike aren't they?

 BILL SHORTEN:           I think as a last resort.  I'm not a militant personality. I always believe that you try and fix things through negotiation and discussion.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Better if you can.

 BILL SHORTEN:           Absolutely better. But sometimes people feel they have no other choice to make their point.  I know nurses; I know teachers - nurses and teachers they want to be paid. They want to look after their patients or their kids that they're teaching in the classroom, they don't want to be going to meetings and losing pay.  But you know we don't value our teachers enough in our communities.

 JOHN LAWS:                 No we don't.

 BILL SHORTEN:           And the reality is that if you're a bright young student heading to university to study education whilst it's a great job, it isn't a very good paying job.  And ten years into being a science teacher of lower secondary school level, which is so important for the kids to develop a love of science, what's the career prospects for these teachers?

 JOHN LAWS:                 I accept that but you know they're not paid enough - you would agree with that. Nurses aren't paid enough. Police aren't paid enough, overworked and underpaid. So do you think unions have too much of a say over the actions taken by workers, or are the workers entitled to be slightly militant because of the fact that they are underprivileged when it comes to pay and conditions?

 BILL SHORTEN:           In terms of workers being too militant - no I don't think they're too militant. I think we have to understand that in a democracy, and we are a democracy, if all else fails people do have a right consistent with the law to withdraw their labour to make their point.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Yes.

 BILL SHORTEN:           But you know the system we should be smarter that's what political leadership is smarter at to avoid these situations. My concern is that it's a difficult job being in charge of tens of thousands of employees. But what I think is that state conservative governments don't always treat employees the way they would want to be treated if positions were reversed.

 I don't think industrial relations is any harder than what the good book says about treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Well that's wishful thinking

 BILL SHORTEN:           It's the principle.

 Of course we can all fall short of that goal but what I also think is that it is important too. Industrial relations isn't some sort of foreign complex matter which is in a black box - conservative governments are not good at employee relations.

 JOHN LAWS:                 How do you think these people, for example, these people in Queensland how do you think they should react? Thousands of them are going to lose their jobs in Queensland. How can they make their views heard unless they take some kind of militant action?

 BILL SHORTEN:           Well one thing, which the state governments could do, is if they genuinely can't persuade their employees and the employees can't persuade them they could always look at arbitration. If you get to an intractable dispute - and we may not be there yet with some of these matters - you can always do that. But the state governments aren't interested in arbitration because they lose control of some of the decisions.

 But you know we are a smart bunch of people - Aussies. We are capable of resolving these matters. It is difficult because government budgets are constrained and I'm not being smart at the expense of state governments - the revenues aren't what they were. But on the other hand you can always do better trying to get the best out of people than just downsizing and cutting. I mean in Victoria they're cutting TAFE funding. In NSW some groups of workers have had their workers' comp benefits decreased.

 But federally we've been able to ensure that community workers get better paid. We've introduced safe rates for truck drivers and people who are using our roads. We're increasing superannuation, employee relations does require homework and persistency and consistency.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Okay. But when you look at a hundred and one thousand working days lost in the June quarter due to industrial action. Does the Government accept any responsibility for that?

 BILL SHORTEN:           You mean does the Federal Government?

 JOHN LAWS:                 Yes.

 BILL SHORTEN:           Well most of our employees are not on strike. They haven't been doing what we've seen in Victoria and New South Wales and we'll probably see in Queensland. It's a bit hard to blame Canberra for everything. I mean these guys - these ladies and gentlemen who run state governments wanted those jobs. They wanted to be the ministers. I do think they have an obligation to lead.

I mean the simple fact is that if sixty-eight percent of disputes or lost time is in the health and education sectors that number speaks for itself. It's a symptom. I mean I don't think Australia is overrun by strikes.

 JOHN LAWS:                 I don't think it is either. I think it was.

 BILL SHORTEN:           I think other than the one or two I think poorly conceived disputes I think by and large we're not seeing an epidemic of industrial action. But I do think that if we didn't have conservative state governments I don't think those strike numbers would be as high as what they are.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Tell me this. Under what particular government do you think we sustained the most strike action in Australia? Was it the Fraser Government? Was it the Whitlam Government? Whose Government?

 BILL SHORTEN:           I'd have to go back. I have to take that on notice. What I do know is that if you look at the eleven years of the Howard Government and the five years of Labor - lost time industrial actions more than twice as great under the Howard Government than it is under us.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Why?

 BILL SHORTEN:           Well again sometimes the conservative side of Australian politics has a more adversarial view of workplace relations. It's ironic that people say that Labor perpetuates class war but we actually believe in mutuality of effort in the workplace, we want competitive, productive workplaces and we spend a lot of time trying to avoid disputes.  The other side to me just think that for their constituency it's a matter of slashing and burning.

 JOHN LAWS:                 How do you think the place is looking at the moment, Australia I mean?

 BILL SHORTEN:           Australia as a whole, there's more to be positive about than negative.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Sure.

 BILL SHORTEN:           For me the cup is more than half full. 

 There's some basic criteria we could use to judge that.  Unemployment, whilst there's a softening labour market is still only at five-point-one per cent which compares very positively to the western world.  Net debt, what the Commonwealth government owes, is a small proportion of our national economy which again compares well to the rest of the world.  The cash rate, which is the basis for mortgage rates, has been going down.

 But more than just those economic numbers which are fundamental to stability in Australia, I think we have a robust democracy which is a plus compared to a lot of other parts of the world.  I think we've got a rich cultural life in Australia.  More people want to come here than leave.  Our population is growing faster than the world average.  So people know that there are good things in Australia but it's not all good.  There's an uneven economy, cost of living pressures are real, there's sections of our community who are not sharing in the last twenty years of economic growth equally, like people with disabilities for instance; they are disproportionately affected by unemployment.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Yes, they are.  Tell me this, you say that people want to come to Australia; they certainly do and a lot are quite prepared to come illegally.  Where do you stand on asylum seekers?

 BILL SHORTEN:           Well, I don't think it's a crime to want to come to Australia.  I can understand that.

 JOHN LAWS:                 So can I.

 BILL SHORTEN:           But what I also know is that the package of measures which we've introduced, we want to break the people smugglers model which basically takes money and then jeopardises people's lives. We're increasing our humanitarian intake of refugees which is good, but we also want to make sure that the number of people who come here we can absorb for all means, that is refugees, that's family reunion, that's skilled migrants.  We've got to make sure that as we bring people to Australia and let people come here that we can absorb it in a way which doesn't cause dislocation.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Okay, but don't you agree that we should be able to select the people who come to live in our own country, we shouldn't just have an open door policy?

 BILL SHORTEN:           I don't think we have an open door policy in the way that anyone who just simply says they're coming to Australia gets here.

 JOHN LAWS:                 How many get sent back?

 BILL SHORTEN:           Well, we're bedding down the offshore processing propositions with Papua New Guinea and Nauru. So yeah, I do think that we decide our immigration policies.  And again, it is important to stress that we're an immigrant nation.  I don't think everyone realises but twenty-six in every hundred Australians was born overseas. My dad was a migrant, you know immigration has been a net plus for this country and continues to be so.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Yeah, but don't you agree that we should be able to select the people we want in our country, we shouldn't just allow people to come because they like the idea?  Anybody would like the idea of coming to Australia, it's the best country in the world.  But we should have some control, shouldn't we?

 BILL SHORTEN:           We do. Yes, and we do.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Do we really?

 BILL SHORTEN:           Yeah, I do.  If you want to talk about countries who've got problems with not being able to sort out who comes, have a look at the European nations. 

 JOHN LAWS:                 Oh, I know, look at Italy for example.

 BILL SHORTEN:           Have a look at North America where they've got a land border with Mexico.  So whilst this is an issue of great political moment in Australia, again it's a matter of perhaps what perspective you use.  If you look around the world I think we're doing better than most, even in our immigration policies.

 JOHN LAWS:                 Yeah, well, it would be very hard to argue against that because it's still - we might be doing better but is better still good enough?

 BILL SHORTEN:           We should always try and do better like you should never be complacent.

 JOHN LAWS:                 No, I agree.  Okay Bill, thank you very much for your time.  As usual, it's always delightful to talk to you. I hope we talk again fairly soon.

 BILL SHORTEN:           I look forward to that, thank you.