Bill's Transcripts

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
TUESDAY, 11 FEBURARY 2014


SUBJECT/S: Toyota; Tony Abbott abandoning Australian jobs; Royal Commission.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION:
Good morning everyone. I have with me Brendan O’Connor, our spokesperson on employment matters, Senator Kim Carr, our spokesperson on industry matters, but I also have with me Labor backbenchers, Richard Marles, Tim Watts, Clare O’Neil, Joanne Ryan, Maria Vamvakinou. These are all Members of Parliament like myself who have literally thousands of families who derive a worthwhile, meaningful living from either helping make cars in Australia or working for car component makers. Before I talk about the car industry though, I think it’s appropriate just to express our support for the CFA volunteers who are fighting very difficult bushfires, the worst authorities advise us that we have seen since those dreadful, fatal, tragic bushfires on Black Saturday five years again. Indeed one of our Caucus members, Rob Mitchell has been at home and in evacuation centres as fire has been very close to where he and his community live. Our thoughts are with the people who have lost their houses today. That is a dreadful experience which will take time rebuilding. Of course our thoughts are also with all of those who have been affected and have to move, and the very important work done by our police, our emergency services and our remarkable CFA volunteers.

Turning to the Toyota decision, the Toyota decision which was announced late yesterday evening, this is an incredibly dark day for thousands of people who work in the car company, who work in the car supplier companies, their families, small businesses who have put it all on the line to help make the Australian car industry the remarkable story it is today. Our thoughts are with them on the dark day in Australian history where in the last 24 hours we have seen the death of the Australian car industry. The Australian car industry has weathered all sorts of storms in the last 66 years, since we have been making cars from start to finish. But even the Australian car industry could not survive the wilful neglect of the Abbott Government. What a disgraceful day yesterday. There’s the Abbott government and their ministers cooking up political games, and instead at the same time as their playing political games, we see 2,500 people being told by their employers, that’s it, your job no longer exists.

The shockwaves of this economic tsunami are unprecedented in terms of employment. Just think about it. Tens of thousands of people, there is 170 prime suppliers to Toyota who are affected. There’s another thousand companies, according to the Australian Industry Group, underpinning these suppliers. This is a bigger job loss than Ansett ever was. Tens of thousands of people, and it is not just confined to the western suburbs of Melbourne, as is testament by to the number of MPs standing with me who are worried about families and their constituencies. There are car component makers in Brisbane, Sydney, Geelong will be massively affected, Melbourne, all of the suburbs and regions of Melbourne, and of course Adelaide, just to name some of the regions. The Abbott Government is playing political games while the car industry burns. What we see here is after 66 years, the Abbott Government, in the space of five months, has lost the car industry. We also expect the Abbott Government to do a proper job in supporting workers out of the transition. I might ask my colleague Brendan O'Connor to say some words about the employment aspects, and then Senator Carr, and then we’d be happy to take questions.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT: Thanks very much Bill. Look can I just focus upon what is needed now to be done for those workers who have been told they’re to lose their jobs. It’s not good enough to wait until 2017. As we made clear in December last year when Qantas foreshadowed a loss of 1,000 jobs and of course Holden made a decision, an awful decision for our economy and for those workers. We call upon the Government today to outline exactly what plans it has to provide opportunities for these workers to find new jobs. And it is not going to be easy. This is a very difficult time for these workers and anybody who thinks it is a simple thing to find a new job, a new full-time secure job for people who have to feed their families, then they have no understanding of the real world or the real economy. So therefore we call upon this Government to make clear what intensive personalised assistance they’ll provide to these workers so they can find a pathway to new employment, and it’s not to be done in three years, it has to start today. It has to start by engaging other employers, job service providers and others so that there is an opportunity for these workers.

Today, they would have woken up and they would have thought to themselves or said to their wife or husband, what are we to do? Well the answers have to lie with the Government's response. We're not convinced that the Government has provided sufficient response in earlier announcements of job losses. It is important they focus now and indeed the Opposition is very happy to provide support as to how that should operate. The last thing I want to say, particularly in relation to Victoria, there were recent decisions by the Victorian Government to take millions, in fact hundreds of millions of dollars out of vocational training. This is not the time for that sector of our training to be without resources. It is important for the Victorian Government also to consider what opportunities there will be for these workers to acquire the skills that they need in the areas of skill shortages in our economy, so they can be employed as soon as possible once they have left their job at Toyota.

KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, RESEARCH, INNOVATION AND INDUSTRY: Could I just remind you of how this decision has come about. When the Government, the Australian Government, chose to drive General Motors Holden out of Australia with their repeated demands on that company, the dye was cast. And when the Prime Minister on 14th of December said that there would be no more money for Toyota, he sent a very strong signal that there would be no future for vehicle manufacturing in Australia with Toyota. Six months ago, I was the Minister for Innovation and Industry. I was discussing with Toyota the possibility of them investing not in one model but two. There is no doubt in my mind, if the Labor Government had been returned this would not have happened. That the Toyota motor company was very interested in future investment, as was General Motors. But this is a Government that walked away from jobs in Australia. It is now in the business of driving jobs overseas. It has no regard for the social and the economic consequences of their negligence. Bear in mind we are talking here in Victoria alone of 30,000 jobs. $2.2 billion dollars per annum is spent in automotive in Victoria alone every year. For every dollar that the Government spent with Toyota, Toyota spent 20 dollars, every year. And General Motors made the same point.

So as recently as the 31st of January, the Productivity Commission, the august Productivity Commission, made the point that Toyota were looking for long term secure investment from Government. To claim there’s nothing that could be done is a lie. We have a Prime Minister that has predicated his industry policy on a lie and just as he did with SPC and make outrageous, untruthful claims about the work force at SPC, they’ve done that with Toyota, they’ve done that with General Motors, and the simple premise is this, this is a Government that doesn't care. It just does not care about the future for blue collar Australia. But it’s not just blue collar Australia, it is the scientists, the designers. It is all the people that make one of the most advanced, elaborately transformed manufacturing product that any family in this countries likely to use. The consequences for our economy are profound, but the consequences for our society are even deeper. And the crisis that is now going to emerge is something that requires urgent action from the Government, and simply running textbook examples will not do.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you admitted last night that even Labor in the long run might not have been able to save Toyota, so wasn't this decision really inevitable?

SHORTEN: Michelle, let me give you the full answer that I gave last night. Labor will fight for jobs. The only manufacturing policy that the Abbott Government's got is a white flag. It is appalling that yesterday Toyota is announcing thousands of job losses, thousands of job losses, it will run into tens of thousands of people who are losing their jobs, and the Abbott Government simply says, "well some jobs close and some jobs start". Wrong Mr Abbott, you're sending jobs overseas which will never come back. So Labor would fight for the jobs. This argument that is being run against manufacturing by the Abbott Government, saying that in a first world country it can't make things because you have to pay people, there are first world countries who make cars. The industry support that we provided the care industry is far lower than what the Germans do or the Americans do, but Mr Abbott thinks he’s smarter than every other first world country, he wants to so-called liberate car workers from their jobs and send them to the unemployment queue. Unemployment is misery. The job of a government is not to start attacking sections of the Australian economy, it is to fight for Australian jobs. Mr Abbott, stop sending the jobs overseas and start fighting for Australian jobs. That’s what Labor would do.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] Toyota actually blame for its decision, the high dollar, high Labor costs and also free trade agreements. On that last one in particular, do you think FTAs have played a role in the demise of car making here, and are they worth it?

SHORTEN: First of all, I spoke to Toyota and I read their statement, they didn't say high labour costs, just to correct the record. Please, do not fall for the Coalition Abbott trick of blaming workers who are getting $60,000 or $70,000 a year and say but for you taking some sort of pay cut and third world wages, you could still have the privilege of making cars. That is not true. I spoke to Toyota. They’ve got the deepest of respect for their workforce. Now the high dollar has been a challenge but the dollar has been coming down. We have a fragmented market and what it means is that they can't get the volumes of scale but what they’re also saying very clearly is once you took the Holden car company out of business, Holden wanted to do a deal with the Government, they wanted to do a deal. Joe Hockey and the Abbott Government, you know, they just sneer at them and say no deals from us. It is a shame that Holden weren't making chocolate. So they say no to Holden and then the car components suppliers who need both Holden and Toyota to sustain their business, have that Holden business torn away from them. So what choice does Toyota have?

JOURNALIST: What about FTAs though?

SHORTEN: They certainly do say that our markets are too, they didn’t say too easy to enter, but they say because of that they weren't able to sell cars. I do make the point though about Toyota. They were making, I think last year they made 101,000 cars. Tens of thousands of them were in exports. What stuns me is there is a line being run by the Abbott Government that Australia can’t compete with the rest of the world. Our work force is highly skilled. They’re highly productive. Toyota was an export business so I see that Toyota are saying that the size of our market is small, but what I complain about is the size of the heart of the Abbott Government is even smaller.

JOURNALIST: Are you in favour of the FTAs or not?

SHORTEN: Well you have got to look at each trade agreement on whether or not it delivers benefits to Australia. We haven’t seen them. It would be a good question for you to ask the Abbott Government, what are you proposing in your free trade agreements?

JOURNALIST: The Government announced about $100 million dollars for Holden workers what kind of assistance –

CARR: No, they didn't –

JOURNALIST: Sorry, total package all up. How much should be on the table though for Toyota.

SHORTEN: Let's get some numbers straight here. The Abbott Government, who in Parliament said Holden should go, then when Holden did go said ‘we told you so’, had to be dragged kicking and screaming with what I consider to be an inadequate package of support and it’s certainly not $100 million dollars. So please, do not, it is not right. The Abbott Government is going to have to provide retraining – with Toyota, Toyota’s got a role to play here, but they’re going to have to provide retraining, but where are the new jobs come from? The Abbott Government promised when they got elected a million new jobs, all they’ve delivered is 54,000 job losses. They are getting into deficit, their job debt numbers are horrific and the numbers which we see arise out of this are shocking. The Abbott Government – and please, they keep reminding everyone ‘oh we can't make cars anymore in Australia’. Well if they can't make cars anymore in Australia, what is your plan? Please don't tell me you are surprised if you were predicting it all along.

JOURNALIST: How much needs to be given to Toyota?

SHORTEN: We need sit down and talk to Toyota. Perhaps the Abbott Government, rather than ordering sort of partisan attacks on the Opposition, might want to sit down with us. Maybe this is an opportunity for the Abbott Government to show that they, it’s a chance for Tony Abbott, rather than there being two Opposition Leaders in Australia, that maybe he might start acting like a Prime Minister, work with Toyota. Do you know, in all their statements in the last 24 hours, they haven't said they will work with unions, even though the workforce has union representation. So what we need to do if we want to do these things, and there is some examples of transitions being done properly, but you do it only when a Government is committed reskilling and retraining, which means the Government needs to put an immediate halt to cuts to TAFE training, to cuts to skilling of unemployed adults. The crazy thing about the Abbott Government is they think they are so clever because they wouldn't do a modest industry assistance. Wait until they see the bill in Centrelink, the bill in mental health, the loss of tax revenue, the strain on mortgages. This Abbott Government know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the latest Newspoll shows your approval rating, your satisfaction rating has fallen nine points. Is there any reason for that do you think? Is the Opposition being is too negative perhaps?

SHORTEN: What I believe is that the real issue today is not about politicians, it is not about political games. What matters today are the Toyota car workers, the small businesses, the thousands of families who are directly affected. I would like to take a poll of them and see what they think about the Government and the way they are handling this. The issue today is not about us in Canberra. The issue is about thousands of people who had to go home last night and explain to their families, their kids will be watching the news, they’ll be watching your coverage and they will say ‘Mum, Dad, what does this mean?’. And the partner will ask the other, ‘are we set up for the mortgage? What will we do with the kids' school fees?’

There is a human cost to this Government's disinterest and it is not enough for the Government to shrug their shoulders and get the toe of their boot to kick a stone down the road and say ‘oh well, stuff happens’. These are real people. The Abbott Government's interested in politics, we’re interested in people.

JOURNALIST: The PM was asked morning to respond to some of the comments that you’ve made over the past 24 hours that this decision may lead to a recession in Victoria and he said unfortunately Oppositions tend to talk the economy down sometimes. I want your reaction to that -

CARR: He would know a lot about that.

JOURNALIST: And also by Senator Carr's admission there, saying that Holden was prepared to stick around, are you saying that if Labor had won Government, that you would continue giving Government assistance to all three manufacturers to ensure they would stay here and they would never stand on their own two feet?

SHORTEN: We made an election promise to keep supporting our manufacturing industry. That was our election policy. When Mr Abbott says that the Opposition is being negative about this news, it is not good news. It is bad news. The old white flag from Tony Abbott - Tony Abbott only ever says ‘let's not play politics’ when he knows that he is in trouble. That is his standard white flag.

The issue here is this is bad news. This is bad news for thousands of people, thousands of families. I put myself in the shoes of what is in the national interest and the thousands of people who will be sitting in their lounge rooms tonight. I have seen what happens when people lose their jobs. The morale at that place will be rock bottom and when Mr Abbott criticises us for saying this is bad news, if he wants to look at the bad news on this decision, he should buy a mirror and ask himself what he should have done differently.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to the economic argument that you're asking the Federal Government to go deeper into debt to subsidise some of the biggest multinational companies in the world?

SHORTEN: I will answer that initially and then I might ask my colleague Senator Carr to give a more detailed answer. What I say to that is this: why is it the Germans feel that they should invest in high-tech manufacturing and car manufacturing? Why is it the Americans do it? Why is it the Japanese do it? The reality is that our Government seems to think that they are the only people who shouldn't back jobs. The rest of the world, if they see car plants close in Australia, do you know what they’ll be doing? They will be putting up their hand up and saying ‘can we have some of that?’ Our Government won't fight for our jobs, other first-world governments do. As the world is coming out of a recession, I worry that the Abbott Government's decisions are plunging sections of our economy into needless pain. I might pass over to Senator Carr.

JOURNALIST: The deficit argument doesn't count?

CARR: What we ought to appreciate is that the loss of the automotive industry will cost the taxpayers considerably more than the $500 million a year that is spent at the moment. For every dollar that the Government invested in the automotive industry under Labor, Toyota spent $20. The loss of taxation revenue, the loss of investment, the loss of skills; the knock-on effects that we will have through the aluminium, the glass, electronics, the textile industry, the R&D, the loss have of all of these spill overs will have profound consequences for manufacturing in this country but for other sectors as well. Aerospace for instance, directly depends upon the skills developed in the automotive industry. We lose that. So it costs a great deal more to lose this industry than it does to support it.

As Bill's indicated, we, by international standards, are very modest in the support we provide - let me finish - 3.5% on the tariff is nothing more than a revenue tariff. We provide support at the rate of less than the price of a footy ticket in this country. The Americans, $300 per person, $300 compared to $17.90 in Australia. Even the conservative British Government sees the value of securing the future of automotive manufacture in Britain. Not to mention the Germans or the French, not to mention what happens in the other countries with their currency manipulations. It is a fantasy, a complete fantasy, a free market fantasy to think that somehow or another we’re going to create alternative sources of employment for highly skilled people in robotics, in design and engineering. Where are these jobs going to come from at a time when the Government is actually cutting the clean tech program for instance. It is actually cutting support for industry to try to transform itself in the face of what has been one of these great structural changes occurring in the Australian economy.

JOURNALIST: Are you suggesting that Boeing is the next that will be in trouble?

CARR: What I am saying is there are consequences that flow beyond just the mere destruction of the automotive industry here. I am saying –

JOURNALIST: - Toyota and Holden over the last few years. What are you saying about Boeing?

CARR: What I have said to you on repeated occasions. This is an ecosystem. You don't take out bit and think there’s going to be another bit that will drop in. That is the fantasy of textbook economists. That is not the way the real world works. It might be the insiders’ game in Canberra, but that’s not what happens in Broadmeadows. That’s not what happens in Elizabeth, that’s not what happens in Altona. That is not what happens in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. You are living a fantasy to think this is going to produce results for other people to fill the gap. It won't happen that way and we want to know what the Government's plan is to actually secure the jobs for what is now 50,000 people directly and possibly as many as 200,000 Australians that depend upon those 50,000 jobs.

SHORTEN: Thanks, I might take two more questions.

JOURNALIST: Where do you see the jobs of the future coming from? Which areas do you think will be job creators in a positive sense?

SHORTEN: In a positive sense, Australia has got two paths. We can either take the race to the top or the race to the bottom. We can be in the race to smarter, or the race to be poorer. Three of the five largest R&D spenders in Australia are car companies. That’s real clever of the Abbott Government to wave goodbye to our R&D expenditure. I see Australia's future intimately linked to knowledge, to innovation, to science, to skills, to engineering. Car companies are part of the engine room of training our all apprentices, our designers, as not all jobs in the car companies are on production lines. These are highly skilled people, scientists and engineers.

So our future relies on Australia becoming a highly productive, well remunerated, profitable nation through science and innovation and what has Abbott Government done? Waved goodbye to the car industry. If we had said before the last election that within five months of the Abbott Government we would be talking about the funeral of the car industry, some of you here would have written us down as scare mongerers and over-exaggerating. We didn't say that because not even we could imagine that the Abbott Government would be so negligent as to lose tens of thousands of jobs without even working up a sweat to fight for Aussie jobs.

JOURNALIST: On the Royal Commission, you were handed a dossier of allegations of corruption into the CFMEU to the police. Clearly you think there is some serious allegations in there. Is it now time for the party to reconsider taking donations from that union until such time as the Royal Commission's conducted its inquiry?

SHORTEN: I was provided some information which I immediately forwarded on to the police. The fact that I forwarded it onto the police as opposed to a committee shows that the way to handle these very serious issues in the building and construction industry is the police. We have an Australian Crime Commission who we already pay for, who have all the powers of a Royal Commission. The Australian Federal Police do a good job, our police, our State police intelligence units, do a good job. What we need to do is to support them. The fact that I immediately handed on shows there is no tolerance at all for any lowlifes wearing a union badge, claiming to represent the legitimate interests of workers engaging in bribery or extortion or corruption, just as there is no place for any employer to do this. There is no one above the law. That is the right way to handle this. Labor's proposed a strong and tough solution which, for the record, and I acknowledge, Attorney-General Brandis has said that they are interested in that. Why not give the police the tools to catch the crooks now? That is the quickest and most effective remedy, rather than political games that will cost $100 million plus. And you’ve got to wonder if that money, some of that couldn't be better spent saving some of the thousands of jobs, preventing some of the thousands of jobs that we are seeing lost on this Government's watch.

This Government is a job-killing Government. They are not doing enough to fight for Australian jobs. The Opposition will hold them to account and we will stand alongside the thousands of people who have lost their jobs because this Government doesn't care about them.

Thanks very much.

ENDS

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