PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 19 SEPTEMBER 2018
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan to improve women’s superannuation and financial security; China/US trade; gas pipeline; energy policy; Collingwood versus Richmond preliminary final; Peter Dutton; Royal Commission into aged care; Adani.
CLARE O'NEIL, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES: Good morning, everyone. My name is Clare O'Neil and I am the Shadow Minister for Financial Services. And I just could not be more proud to be here today with the leaders of the Australian Labor Party as we make an announcement that is going to make a very big difference to the economic security of Australian women. The economic security of Australian women is one of the most significant challenges that we face as a country and Bill Shorten is about to make an announcement about some changes Labor will make, Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks, Clare. What a great day for Australian women today. I am pleased to announce that a Labor Government if elected, will make sure that parents - of course it’s predominately women who take parental leave, but parents who take Commonwealth Paid Parental Leave will get superannuation paid whilst they're on parental leave. This is a really exciting development. Why should parents have to pay a parenthood penalty for taking time off to help raise their children? In particular, today's announcement deals with a manifest piece of unfairness in Australian society. Women get paid less than men, they save less over their working lives than men to the point of retirement, I think the gap is now in 2015/2016, a difference that a man will retire with about $113,000 more than a woman. So what we see is that if we can contribute a modest payment of superannuation when parents, predominately women take time off, take parental leave to raise their newly born children, this will have a big impact down the track in their retirement savings. I believe in Australia that we have got to do everything we can to close the earnings gap between men and women. Australian women deserve to be treated equally. A husband is not a retirement plan and we need to ensure that women have the opportunity to have some independence in their retirement.
Today, Labor's proposing to make one step to close the gap between the unequal treatment between men and women in Australia. This non-discriminatory policy which looks after parents, will have the effect of helping Australian women have more when they retire. I'd now like to hand over to Tanya Plibersek, who has been a very strong champion of this initiative, and Chris Bowen who has really worked with vigour, to undertake a little further explanation of some of the details of today's announcement.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much, Bill. Look, I am delighted to be here to support you in your words about the unfairness of Australian women retiring with 40 per cent less superannuation savings than men. We know that Australian women throughout their working lives, are earning less than men, we continue to see a gender pay gap, they're also retiring with less than men. As Bill said, the gap is about $113,000 on average at the moment, about 40 per cent less than men. Now there is a lot of things that we need to do over time to fix the income gap between men and women. Of course we have to address the gender pay gap during the working lives of women. But we also need to address this retirement income gap.
Today's measures are a significant step towards reducing the unequal retirement incomes of men and women. Today, we are announcing of course, that we will be paying superannuation to people who are on Commonwealth Paid Parental Leave - either maternity leave or dad and partner pay. That is a very important step.
We are also progressively getting rid of the $450 a month threshold, below which superannuation currently isn't paid. We know that more and more people instead of working one full-time job, I work in multiple jobs. They are working part-time, they working casual, they're doing seasonal work and quite often, they are missing out on superannuation on all of those jobs. That is also contributing to the retirement income gap between men and women.
These two measures combined, and the other measures that we are detailing today, mean that over time, we will reduce the gap between men and women's superannuation. It is absolutely unconscionable that today in Australia the fastest-growing group of people moving into homelessness are single, older women. Addressing this superannuation gap will help reduce that terrible statistic. It means that a woman, a young woman today who perhaps has two kids, a typical sort of scenario, will be more than $20,000 better off when she retires because of these measures. A woman who has three children, around $30,000 better off because of these measures when she retires. That does make a significant difference and I am proud to support these measures today.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks Tanya and thanks Bill. Superannuation is one of Labor's proudest achievements but it is not working as well as it should for Australia's women. And today we are announcing that a Shorten Labor Government will take real and concrete steps to fix this. As Bill and Tanya have said, the average woman in Australia retires with around 40 per cent less than the average man. Only two in 10 women in Australia are retiring with a level of income which can be regarded as comfortable, compared to five in 10 men. This has got to change and a Shorten Labor Government will change it.
I am just going to take a couple minutes to run you through some of the details of our announcements today. We're making a number of announcements, firstly we will pay from the Commonwealth, superannuation guarantee through the Commonwealth Paid Parental Leave scheme. 250,000 people a year will benefit from this. The payment will be about $1,200. But of course as Tanya said, the significant thing here is that the benefits of compound interest will go to work. These payments will be made early in a person's working life and then will compound during their working life. So for example, if a woman has three children, just through this measure alone, just this particular measure, not our entire package - children at the ages of 27, 29, 31 she will be $18,000 better off in her retirement balance when she retires.
Also, we’re abolishing over time the $450 a month threshold. Now, this has been in since superannuation was introduced at a time when payrolls were a lot more difficult to manage, at a time when it was thought that wages inflation would deal with the problem of people earning that little. But that is not how life has worked. Casualisation has meant more and more people, and particularly more and more women, are working more than one job, earning less than that threshold. Superannuation will not be truly universal until that is fixed. Australia's lowest income earners deserve superannuation just as much as everyone else. So we will abolish it, we will phase it out on coming to office. We will give business time to adjust, we will reduce it by increment of $100 per year. 60,000 people will benefit immediately and 400,000 people will benefit when fully implemented.
Now again as Tanya said, when you bring together these reforms, a woman who has had three children and will have spent some time in a job earning less than $450 per month will have a retirement balance of $30,650 more than she otherwise would on retirement. So these are concrete steps. It won't fix every problem, we will have more to say about the problems facing gender inequality in the workforce, but these are serious concrete steps that a Shorten Labor Government and only a Shorten Labor government will implement. The cost is $400 million over the forward estimates, $2.7 billion over the decade, an investment well worth it in Australia's working female population.
I want to thank my colleagues. It's been a delight to work with Bill and Tanya and the leadership group on this, and my colleague Clare O'Neil the Shadow Minister for Financial Services, and Senator McAllister who has led the the charge through the Senate inquiry to highlight the importance of these issues. This is the Labor Party doing what we do best, working on the tough issues facing Australia and coming up with concrete solutions to implement in office.
SHORTEN: Thanks Chris. Are there any questions on this or any other matters?
JOURNALIST: Will Labor now support the Government's ‘Protecting Your Super’ package given that at $450, a lot of those accounts may be eaten up by fees?
SHORTEN: That is a good question, let's go to Chris.
BOWEN: We've been engaging on that issue constructively. I've said previously we see what the Government is trying to achieve. We are sympathetic to the aims that it is trying to achieve. We have had some concerns about perhaps unintended consequences for people in high-risk occupations, for example. It is one thing to say that you don't need insurance when you are working in a white-collar occupation, it is another thing if you are 40 floors up on a construction site, for example. These are issues that we have been engaging with the sector on, that we continue to engage on. We will have a constructive approach to the Government's legislation, but we continue to consider how to deal with perhaps some of those unintended consequences, and I would hope that we could engage with either the crossbench or the Government, to come up with a sensible way forward to achieve the Government's objectives, which we agree with, to reduce or eliminate the impact of fees and premiums on low balances. We all agree with that. I think there is a useful conversation to be had about just some of the finer details in that legislation.
JOURNALIST: So that is a tick of approval with some amendments?
BOWEN: Well I mean, I can't say more than what I've said. We are sympathetic to the objectives, we have a process we are going to through to look at some of the perhaps - I mean, I am not saying the Government intended these consequences, they may well be unintended consequences. As I said, it is a diverse workforce. Working in a white-collar occupation is different to pounding the streets on the police service or being 40 stories up in a construction site. There are different needs for life insurance. These things just take some time to work through. There have been concerns expressed right throughout the superannuation sector. We take those concerns seriously, but we're also being constructive.
JOURNALIST: So at this stage you are refusing to back the legislation?
BOWEN: Well, we have a process to go through. The legislation is not coming on for a vote in the immediate future. There will always be discussions between us and other parties, the Government, the Crossbench, to come up with sensible solutions. I am confident the Parliament collectively, with us playing a constructive role can reach a good landing point.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Government has to make a decision on East Coast gas pipelines, and whether the asset should be sold to a Hong Kong company. Should the sale be blocked over national security concerns?
SHORTEN: Before I go to other issues, are there any other questions just on - you'll be the first I go to. Are there any other issues to do with the superannuation announcement and providing superannuation payments to parents and women who take parental leave?
JOURNALIST: I suppose there's going to be opponents to this. They might say, why are taxpayers paying for those who make a lifestyle decision to have a child?
SHORTEN: Well first of all let 's be very, very clear here, women get paid less than men over their working lives. One of the reasons why women are retiring poor is because not only do they get paid less in terms of the valuation of their work, but they have broken periods of service. Our community needs our parents to take time out to raise our kids. Our community needs our mums to be mums. But you shouldn't have to pay a motherhood penalty and retire poor. So I think this is long overdue. We don't pretend that this fixes every issue about gender discrimination. But I've got this very simple view about the future of Australia. When we treat women equally to men we will be the most prosperous nation in the world. Treating women equally is a growth plan, treating women equally is an equality plan. So I think that this modest payment of superannuation combined with the miracle of compound interest, means that we will be ensuring that women have greater control over their lives and financial independence when they retire.
JOURNALIST: Can you explain a little more how this will affect stay at home dads perhaps?
SHORTEN: Well, what this does is that dads and partners get two weeks paid parental leave. This will provide something for them. But whilst it is a non-discriminatory policy, and if the primary carer in a child's early months is bloke they will get it, the reality is that we ask women to do the vast bulk of unpaid work in this country. And I believe fundamentally, just as paid parental leave was long overdue, closing the superannuation gap on these payments has been one of the missing links, and I would welcome the Government just adopting this measure. Let’s not make this an issue of partisanship. What I can promise Australian women at the next election is that finally, and long overdue, we are going to make sure that your retirement incomes don't suffer merely because you are doing the right thing by taking some time out of your working life to raise your precious child.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, we're witnessing what could be the potential or the start of a trade war between the US and China, this tit-for-tat and retaliation increase in tariffs. How concerning is this for Australia and will there be a potential issue for Australia on this matter?
SHORTEN: I did say we'd go to the gas issue, but I'll just do the trade question first. I think it is greatly concerning the mounting trade protectionist barriers between the United States and China. And this is not just an issue which affects the US and China. If you've got product made in either country, which usually goes between the United States and China, and because of tariff walls cannot enter the United States or China, this product needs to find a home. And we have a very open borders in Australia. I am greatly concerned that Australian industry could be the innocent bystander victim of a trade war between China and the United States. It is long past time for the Government to explain how we are provisioning and protecting Australian industry from the consequences of product from China or the United States coming to Australia because it can't go to each other's country.
We have proposed measures about strengthening our anti-dumping laws. What we have got to make sure of in this time of increased trade conflict is that Australia is not seen as a soft touch. I am very concerned that the Government has just announced for example, it is not having its COAG meetings in October. Because of the Government's division and disunity, we are seeing a Government taking their eye of the big issues. Labor has put forward some very sensible proposals to strengthen the anti-dumping laws in Australia, to protect Australian jobs, to protect Australian companies. This Government needs to start focusing on protecting Australian industry and Australian jobs, rather than just their infighting. On the gas question, I might ask Chris to talk a bit about the foreign investment.
BOWEN: Sure, thanks Bill. This is a very significant asset, which the Foreign Investment Review Board and the Government has to consider. It is of national importance, so careful consideration is required. That would be the case regardless of who the foreign investor was. Careful consideration is required. The Government has briefings and information available to it, which we do not. That is the normal process, I'm not critical of that, that’s just the way it works. So I'm not going to politicise the decision, other than to say the Foreign Investment Review Board should be allowed to do its job and make a recommendation to the Treasurer. I would hope and expect that the Treasurer would take the Foreign Investment Review Board's recommendations seriously. I just underline the fact that these are significant national assets and the national interest should be the only determining factor for the Government.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) there are concerns that there could be influence from the Chinese Communist Party.
BOWEN: Our foreign investment regime allows for consideration in relation to state owned assets - state owned entities investing in Australia. The Foreign Investment Review Board takes these factors into consideration and makes a recommendation to the Treasurer. The Treasurer has that recommendation available to him, I in fairness do not and would not, unless we were in government. Foreign investment is vital for Australia's future, but it is obviously essential as well that assets of national significance go through that process.
JOURNALIST: You spoke before of disunity within the Government. Today though, there have been minutes leaked from a Labor Party Caucus meeting from last week. Is it not a sign of disunity now within your own ranks that there is a need for these documents to be sent out to the media, to the public?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, let us go to the substantive issue which was being debated last week. The Government has signed a trade agreement with other nations which we think has serious deficiencies. We are concerned that this government never focuses on Australian jobs and protecting Australian jobs. So that's the debate. And right through my caucus there's concern that this agreement has plenty of problems with it. Having said that, the debate was do we take some of the benefits for farmers who are going through a drought, for our higher education sector, for our steel and metal industries, and take those benefits and correct the defects in the agreement upon an election of a Labor Government, whenever that is. The other people were just saying the whole agreement is rubbish and we just shouldn't do any of it. What we saw was I thought, a thorough and fair dinkum debate. What we should never do in Australia is confuse debate and disagreement with disunity. I welcome the full range of opinions being expressed in my parliamentary team, because we are in touch with everyday people. But what I don't do is confuse that with disunity.
JOURNALIST: But there hasn't been a leak like this out of the Labor Party in years though. Not since the Gillard years have we seen minutes detailed like this leaked. Is it not concerning for you that this has been leaked?
SHORTEN: Well I just want to remind you that I myself referred to this debate on the Insiders TV show on one of the channels that perhaps not everyone here watches, and I acknowledged that I myself reluctantly support this agreement and I intend to improve it as soon as we get into government. And indeed we reported after caucus that week that there had been the debate. Listen I don't begrudge journalists getting background briefings, that's your job. But seriously, let's not confuse debate and difference of opinion with disunity. I mean, I'm onto my third Liberal Prime Minister in my five year stint. Tanya Plibersek is onto a new Deputy Opposition Leader, Chris Bowen has had more - three treasurers. Linda Burney has had more Social Services Ministers then you can think of -
LINDA BURNEY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES: In a year.
SHORTEN: That's disunity. Debating ideas, well that's just what we are paid to do.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just a question for you or perhaps Ms Burney. This goes to Ken Wyatt. Did you approach Ken Wyatt to permanently cross the floor and become a member of the ALP?
SHORTEN: I'll get Linda to say something first about this.
BURNEY: A total flight of fantasy and Ken Wyatt has been on the radio this morning saying it's exactly a flight of fantasy. He is as baffled as I am, and I cannot comment on the inside machinations of the Liberal Party.
SHORTEN: It does sound to me that someone on Ken Wyatt's own side is undermining him with that story.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what's your reaction to the news today about the spending of the grant to the Great Barrier Reef and how that money is being used?
SHORTEN: I think it just shows that this government is making it up as it goes along. The idea that you can go to a meeting with no paperwork, with no agenda, and within half an hour you've got $444 million dollars. You couldn't write this stuff, could you? What is remarkable is that the then Environment Minister is now the Treasurer, and he has never satisfactorily explained how they just dream up giving away $444 million dollars. I think the more serious proposition here is, one, the reef needs protection and the idea that we are privatising care of the reef to a little-known foundation, of which some of the directors are ex-mining people, and ex-minerals and extracting industries people, to me beggars belief, but the other issue I want to again put on the record today is - when will the Coalition Government back a national anti-corruption commission? Why is it that the Coalition Government in Canberra is so afraid of an anti-corruption commission? If we had an anti-corruption commission, matters like this could be at least examined and dealt with to the satisfaction of the public.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, there's a vacuum in energy policy at the moment in the country. The Government has dumped the National Energy Guarantee. Labor is yet to articulate what policy it will take to the next federal election. We’ve got broad parameters from you but we don’t have specifics.
SHORTEN: Well, we’ve put out a bit of detail
JOURNALIST: Well, we don't know your position on the NEG, for example – sorry, just by way of preamble. The Greens have said, given the policy vacuum, there's a risk that renewables investment will dry up and the renewable energy target should be extended beyond 2020 for a few years in order to ensure that doesn’t happen. What's Labor’s position on that?
SHORTEN: Well, just I want to go to something you said which wasn’t correct. I have said we are open to the National Energy Guarantee. I think that that framework, was at least was a workable framework which industry and stakeholders said at last there’s something. The Liberal Party room actually endorsed it, you know, only a matter of a month ago. Labor has always been constructive on energy. We are willing to look at an Emissions Trading Scheme, a market based scheme but the so-called “party of the free market” dumped that. We were then happy to look at Emissions Intensity Scheme, we thought that seemed to make sense, but then as soon as we said it made sense the Liberals ran away from it.
Then Malcolm Turnbull and his Cabinet, which includes Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, commissioned the Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel to do some work and they came up with a clean energy target. And again, as constructive as we are, we said well we'll have a look at the clean energy target but the government obviously didn't like the Chief Scientist's work. And then they came to the National Energy Guarantee, I mean the current Prime Minister endorsed it. The current treasurer endorsed it and now the government won't do that. So I think people are sick and tired of the climate denialists pulling the strings, Tony Abbott and the gang, pulling the strings of Scott Morrison. We are prepared to look at a National Energy Guarantee, the Liberal Party have been, we think that's a good starting spot. We don't think you need to reinvent the wheel. In terms of the attack on renewables, the vacuum created by the government on energy policy is creating greater disincentive for people to invest in renewable energy.
I'm having a forum on the future of energy policy tomorrow here in Parliament, we do think that we need to provide more certainty. The single biggest driver of energy prices in Australia is a lack of policy certainty. How can you invest in new generation if you don't know what the rules are? So we are having a forum tomorrow, Katharine and we'll let you know how that goes.
Sorry, over to you.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly, I note your tie. Do you think Collingwood can win Friday night game grand final?
SHORTEN: I do think Collingwood can win -
O'NEIL: No chance.
SHORTEN: Thank you for that, Clare. Clare barracks for the Hawks of course, that's her opinion. And Chris is here and supports the Giants, sorry. No I think Richmond will probably go in the favourites but I always like the underdog.
JOURNALIST: Just on Peter Dutton, we're expecting a Senate Inquiry report this afternoon. Will Labor refer Peter Dutton to the High Court under Section 44?
SHORTEN: I think that would be the most sensible course of action if the government and Labor referred Peter Dutton. There is a cloud of constitutional eligibility hanging over the Minister for Home Affairs’ head and that's not just us saying it. Julie Bishop has said it, Malcolm Turnbull has said it, Anne Twomey, constitutional expert has said it, the Solicitor General himself has said that there is an arguable case. Why is it that this Government is hiding from the standard they even set for Barnaby Joyce. So we need Government MPs to just consider, do they want to be part of a Government which is relying upon a minister who does have a legitimate cloud over his eligibility in the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, aged care is going to cost more than Medicare within the next couple of decades, should the Royal Commissioner examine how Australia is going to pay for that?
SHORTEN: I do think there is an issue about how we finance aged care going forward. The Government said they want to have a Royal Commission but they haven't got terms of reference. We're available to be consulted on those terms of reference. Listen, we're all growing older and whilst that's a very good thing, there's no doubt in my mind that the aged care system is in crisis. And I've said that and when I first said that I got attacked by the Government for fear mongering and for - they called it elder abuse. I actually think covering up the truth is elder abuse. I actually think it's delinquent of this government and they haven't been held accountable, they've been in charge of the system for the last five years.
Anyway, we do support the Royal Commission but a Royal Commission which doesn't look at issues to do around adequate staffing levels, which doesn't look at the whole, all of the inputs into the system. Did you know that a GP only gets $59 for visiting an aged care facility? Now you know, for a lot of GPs that is almost below water - they are actually paying themselves to look after our older people. So financing the system is very important, so we would hope that that would be part of the discussion on the terms of reference.
But I've got to say, on this Royal Commission, the Royal Commission should not be an excuse to delay doing what we already needs to happen - we know what needs to happen. There have been 13 different inquiries under this Government. I'd worked out by visiting facilities, by talking to people that this system is in crisis. What this Government can't do is duck and weave. It needs to recognise that when the then Treasurer, the now Prime Minister cut $1.2 billion in the 2016 Budget, from the funding from people with complex and higher needs, that actually contributed to the problems in the system.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on Adani the company says they are going to push ahead through funding - self-funded – self-fund the mine. Will a Labor Shorten Government conduct a review of the environmental approvals that have already been granted from a federal perspective?
SHORTEN: Well with no disrespect to Adani, they've made plenty of statements in the past about deadlines which they haven't met. Our position’s very clear, not a single Commonwealth taxpayer dollar will go into this project, it has to stack up under its own scientific, environmental and commercial facts and at this point - you know, I'm not going to start laying bets about when Adani starts working.
JOURNALIST: Just on trade, you said Australia should not be a soft touch in regards to the US and China. What exactly are you advocating there beyond anti-dumping measures, should tariffs be considered?
SHORTEN: Well no we're not talking about tariffs, but I used to be a union organiser in the steel industry and I've seen firsthand that our laws get circumvented by dodgy imported goods. One thing which has happened is that steel products were made in one country, they're shipped through another nation and they come into Australia to hide the fact that their product is being sold in Australia, cheaper than it costs to be made in its original manufacturing source. I think we need to provide more support so we can get evidence of the price-fixing which is done by some of the importers. Quite often under our anti-dumping laws what happens is that a company whose manufacturing in Australia, who’s the victim of unfair competition has to go through lengthy court processes to be able to prove that the dumping is occurring, at great cost and then in the meantime the damage is done and the contracts are lost to imported goods. So let's not kid ourselves, what Donald Trump says about China, and what China says about Donald Trump does have an effect here and Australia wants to see more vigilance protecting Australian jobs.