DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, MELBOURNE
26 April 2013
SUBJECT/S: Jobs, Superannuation, Clive Palmer, Workplace health and safety
BILL SHORTEN: (audio break) There are 6,000 direct jobs at Crown and there's another 4,000 contractors. But what's really remarkable is that here you've got a major employer training its employees for the future. There's something like 900 different students who work for the company, who are being supported on company time to improve their own skills, to improve the productivity of what they do for the company.
And indeed all of the qualifications are part of the Australian Quality Framework, which means that the skills they're learning here they can carry into other parts of the hospitality industry. It's a privilege to meet young Australians who are working hard and learning hard. I've got no doubt that we are seeing some of tomorrow's great chefs in training here today.
So this is an example of co-operation, it's an example of a company investing in the training and educational outcomes of its workforce. This is an example of Crown willing to train people, even if they end up working somewhere else, because they understand the importance of tourism and hospitality, which is one of Australia's major growth industries.
What's also remarkable is some of the young chefs we're seeing here, some of the young hospitality staff we see here, will no doubt go out and set up small and medium sized businesses over time by learning the skills they've learned from formidable chefs such as some of the ones we've met here. And indeed we will see a further strengthening of the whole of Australian hospitality and tourism offering.
I think what is also important is to remind ourselves is that the hospitality industry relies on really talented people. One of the most important things is that quite a lot of the hospitality and tourism industry work part time. That's why it's disappointing that the Liberal opposition have said they're going to put a 15 per cent tax on the superannuation contributions of people who earn less than $37,000 a year. There are 90,000 people who work in hospitality who earn less than $37,000 a year.
Labor got rid of the tax they pay on their superannuation. So if you were paying 15 per cent tax on $3,500 worth of super you get each year, you're not paying it anymore under Labor. So that's literally hundreds of dollars, thousands over the years, available to go into the retirement savings of low-paid workers.
The Liberal opposition has said that they will put a new tax on three-and-a-half million Australians who earn less than $37,000 a year. We think this is wrong and this needs to be challenged. There are 90,000 hospital workers who earn less than $37,000 a year. There's over 40,000 food preparation workers who earn less than $37,000 a year.
It's important that Australia encourages its low-paid workers. It's important that Australia encourages its young workers, who mightn't be earning the same money as older people are. It's important that Australia encourages mums to return to work, and they'll initially work part time and earn less than $37,000 a year. It is not right to introduce a new tax on the superannuation of part time working mums, of low-paid workers. We're happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Yeah, what do you think about Clive Palmer running?
BILL SHORTEN: Oh, I've heard that multibillionaire Clive Palmer has decided that he wants to run a political party and help take over Australia. What I would say is it's a democracy. Anyone can run. Obviously only a very few people have multiple billions of dollars to start a new party from scratch. He was unsuccessful in convincing the Liberal Party to pick him as a Liberal candidate. So clearly he's taken his bat and ball and decided to run his own party.
I think it's important that whoever wants to run in an Australian democracy outlines their policies. I'm not sure it's the best look to have someone four months out from an election just declare that they want to run enough candidates to take over Australia.
Although I do have to say that the Liberal Party of Australia have provided this vacuum to Clive Palmer. The Liberal Party of Australia will not present their policies. For two-and-a-half years they've said they're one vote away from taking over Australia. You would have thought that after two-and-a-half years they'd have a workplace relations policy.
It's been something like 86 days since the Prime Minister has set the date of the election, 14 September. The Liberal Party hasn't offered a single workplace relations policy. Tony Abbott over a month ago promised that we'd have their workplace relations policy within a month. I think clearly Clive Palmer thinks that the Liberal Party strategy of being a small target and sort of sneak into government is not satisfactory to him.
So in a democracy everyone can run, but I think it's important that anyone who wants to form an alternative government needs to make clear what they will do on the important area of workplace relations. And also that they shouldn't be introducing a new tax on low-paid workers on their superannuation.
QUESTION: Do you think it would split the coalition vote anyway?
BILL SHORTEN: Oh, I don't know if - what the consequences electorally of Mr Palmer's bid to use his multiple billions to win the election. I think the challenge here is on the Liberal Party. Mr Palmer was one of them for a very long time. He worked for Joh Bjelke-Petersen as his press secretary. Mr Palmer's been a big donor to the Liberal Party forever. Now they've fallen out. What I do think is that both Mr Palmer and the Liberal Party should articulate their policies and not rely on stunts to take over Australia.
QUESTION: Just some questions on Grocon. Thousands of building workers are going to march from the site of the collapsed wall next Tuesday. Do you think that's appropriate?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, let's just be straight here about these issues. The first thing is workplace safety is an ongoing problem in Australia. I think when you look round this kitchen you see the high attention to workplace safety which is given by professionals. Since the beginning of this year, since 1 January 2013, forty-five people have died at work. Unfortunately, deaths in the workplace don't seem to attract a lot of attention. There's 45 people who went to work one day this year and did not come home.
There are nearly 700 people who are going to die of asbestos-related lung diseases this year. This is the seventh anniversary since the mine collapse of the Beaconsfield mine disaster, where Larry Knight went to work on that shift in that Tasmanian gold mine and didn't come back up out of the shafts alive. So workplace safety is a real issue. That's the first thing to set straight.
The second issue is that there is an inquiry into the dreadful tragedy, the unbelievable, dreadful tragedy, which we just don't think happens in this country, of a wall falling and killing three different people as a result of the collapse of the wall. This is a dreadful tragedy. I believe that the inquiry into why this wall fell is important. I believe that all Victorians and all Australians want to know how is it you can be walking down a street and a wall collapses on you and leaves three people dead.
In terms of the merits of a protest or otherwise on workplace safety, what I would say is, one, no one should be breaking any industrial laws, full stop. Zero tolerance for that. But also we need to be straight and say that workplace safety is an issue which, unless people are talking about it, pushing it, complaining about it, it never seems to attract the attention it is.
So I have no time for anyone who wants to disagree with the rule of law, but let's also be straight. 45 Australians have died this year in workplaces. This is a big issue and it needs more attention, more public debate. I know that parents, husbands and wives expect that their loved ones can go to work and come home safely. And the more voices talking about workplace safety, the better.
QUESTION: Do you think - away from the wall, away from commenting on the wall - do you think Grocon's got questions to answer? There was Ecowise that The Age reported on yesterday, of concrete falling onto Lonsdale Street, which could kill someone. Bits of steel falling down and smashing windows in Myer and David Jones. And there's also been four deaths on sites in the interim. Do you think they've got questions to answer about their safety records?
BILL SHORTEN: I'm not the safety regulator in Victoria. I think the safety regulator in Victoria needs to ensure that we have confidence that our work sites are safe. I think it's important, where there are debates of public concern that the safety regulator be allowed to get on with their job. But that the safety regulator's very vigilant.
If we have 45 people being killed at work, but not at work, but in another way, in a bus crash, there'd be a lot of concern. But because a lot of what happens on work sites is out of sight, it's often out of mind. So I'm not going to comment on individual companies. But I do think the workplace safety in Victoria and Australia needs to be treated with more attention by everyone. Unions, employers, the safety regulators, governments and oppositions.
QUESTION: So is the safety regulator doing enough in Victoria?
BILL SHORTEN: Oh, I know there are concerns been expressed from the union movement in Victoria about the performance of the safety regulator in Victoria. We think it is time that Victoria took on board national workplace health and safety laws. Only Victoria and Western Australia are not part of a national system. What I also know is that we need a national approach on the treatment of dangerous diseases, like asbestos. We need a national approach on its laws.
I also think that we need to have a national approach on rehabilitation, so that injured workers don't get forgotten about once they're no longer at work.
QUESTION: So Victoria would have a better regime if they followed the national standards?
BILL SHORTEN: Oh, I can't predetermine the results of any inquiries, and I won't. But I do think it makes sense in Australia to have one set of safety laws covering the whole of Australia.
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