PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 13 FEBRUARY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government abandons Australian jobs, Qantas, Co-investment in the Car Industry, Parliament.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everyone. This week has been one of the worst weeks for Australian job losses in a very long time. On Monday night, we heard the devastating news of thousands of people losing their jobs through the Toyota announcement. Last night, Forge mining services sacked 1,300 construction workers, mining engineers, white collar workers. Another 1300 jobs sacked yesterday. Our hearts go out for the thousands of Australian households this week, having to deal with the fact that they're not sure about where their next job will come from and they face the prospect of unemployment.
Today, we've had more bad news on the jobs front with the release of the monthly Labour Force figures. Unemployment in Australia is now at its highest level in a decade. Unemployment in Australia is at its highest level in a decade. The Abbott Government has got serious questions to answer. What is the jobs plan of the Abbott Government? What are they doing to stop the tens of thousands of jobs that are either going over overseas or just disappearing? Over 60,000 full-time jobs have been lost since the Abbott Government was elected. Over 60,000 full-time jobs have been lost since the Abbott Government was elected, and we now have the highest unemployment rate in Australia in a decade. In fact, the last time unemployment was this high was when Tony Abbott was Employment Minister. I would like hand over to my colleague, shadow spokesperson for employment, Brendan O'Connor to go through some of the more detailed numbers released today.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR; SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much, Bill. As Bill said, this is a very sad day for many Australians who, of course, have lost their jobs and as a result the Government needs to respond quickly.
This is, these figures are damning because these figures, the unemployment rate and the participation rate - the unemployment rate is higher than at any time during the Global Financial Crisis and the participation rate is lower than at any time since April 2006. That means eligible people have stopped looking for work because they have no confidence that the Government is helping create an environment to produce jobs.
These are really, really bad numbers. But behind the numbers there are people that have lost their jobs and, of course, are wondering what they will be doing in the near future to find a job. I think it's very important for the Government to respond to this.
Now, the other thing I just wanted to add and Bill mentioned these matters, but to put it in the context of these figures, the 6 per cent, the 63,300 full-time jobs since this government was elected, jobs lost, full-time jobs lost, do not take into account the announcements of the closures by Holden and Toyota, do not take into account the foreshadowed job losses at Qantas, and the decision by Forge.
These other announcements, these announcements that we have heard have not yet been factored in to these unemployment numbers, so there is more pain to come for Australian workers, and the Abbott Government must respond to this crisis.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, as the previous government, do you take any responsibility for the state of the economy?
SHORTEN: Well, the Abbott Opposition was always pretty straightforward, weren't they, that when there was difficult times they blamed the Government. For me, this is not about the blame game. The jobs are going. The real problem here is that we've got unemployment at 6 per cent. We haven't had unemployment in Australia at 6 per cent since 2003. Our concern is there’s more pain down the road as industry adjusts, and our real fear is that the Abbott Government doesn't have a plan to do anything about jobs.
JOURNALIST: Hasn't this trend been a long time coming? There has been a trend for a while and there were predictions that unemployment was going to rise, Labor was predicting unemployment was going to rise, how much of this can you actually sheet home to the Abbott Government?
SHORTEN: The car industry has shut on the Abbott Government’s watch. We know, and every Australian knows, that the Treasurer goaded Holden to leave. We know, when you talk about unemployment, the numbers speak for themselves. They mask the misery of thousands of people - unemployment is now at its highest rate since Tony Abbott was Employment Minister 10 years ago.
The Abbott Government’s in charge: what's their plan to look after Australians losing their job? Tens of thousands of Australian men in particular are losing full-time jobs. What's the Abbott Government’s plan to look after Australians and to generate new jobs and when will they stop ignoring and not fighting for existing jobs? The best way to prevent unemployment is to keep someone who’s got a job in a job.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you can't be surprised by these figures, I mean, the last Budget and the mid-year Budget update predicted that unemployment would rise to 6.25 per cent by the middle of this year. So you're saying this is shocking and the worst outcome ever, but to honest, you know, if Labor had been in and the Budget had met its projections, you’d have a 6.25 per cent unemployment rate by June?
SHORTEN: Sid, with the greatest of respect I didn’t say what you just said I said. I said these are the worst unemployment numbers in 10 years and they are the worst numbers in 10 years. I don't expect to always agree with the Abbott Government, but I'm appalled that the Abbott Government doesn't have a plan for jobs.
I put myself in the shoes of people tonight who have lost their jobs at Forge, or who are one of the tens of the thousands of people who work in the car industry, or one of the 60,000 full-time jobs which have gone. People have lost their jobs, they don't care about politics. They want to know what is Tony Abbott going to do for them, and I'm afraid that Tony Abbott has no plan every for jobs. We've asked questions every day in Parliament this week: what's your plan for the car industry? What's your plan to look after Gove? Why is it that you won't stand up for SPC? Why have they said nothing about 1300 people who were sacked last night? The silence is deafening. What all Australians want from the Abbott Government, reasonably, is a plan for jobs. They want less of the hard line Abbott Government rhetoric and they want to hear more about how to look after their jobs.
REPORTER: What's your alternative plan for jobs, or do you think it's just your role to demand for the Government to put do forward ideas?
SHORTEN: Not at all. I think it's part of our role to ask the Government to do their day job, and fight for jobs. Our plan would be to fight for existing jobs. We wouldn't have run up the white flag on the car industry and see the car industry die while the Abbott Government was in charge, we would have of fought for those jobs. The way of the future is the high road. We wouldn't be engaging in some hardline 1980s conservative debate where they say that ‘cannery workers are paid too much, Qantas workers are paid too much, car workers are paid too much’.
What we would instead do is recognise that we are a first world country. Our future involves being in a race to the top, not the bottom, so that involves investing in infrastructure, investing in skills. Not rubbishing the workforce, but encouraging productivity. Not dividing the country, but uniting the country around an innovation agenda. We've seen no plan from the Abbott Government, no plan at all, and they've been most derelict whilst in charge.
REPORTER: [inaudible] the Government preparing to throw a lifeline to Qantas, the Treasurer’s about to call a press conference. Would, given your comments about jobs and protecting them, would the Opposition be prepared to back whatever assistance the Government comes up with?
SHORTEN: We've been on the record consistently. We think it's important that Qantas remains in majority Australian hands. We think it's important to have a national aviation carrier and we will work with the Government. It is frustrating though, that the Government cloak all their actions in secrecy. When you've got a jobs crisis, when we are in a fight to keep jobs in Australia, when we're competing with the rest of the world, it's not the time for any political games. If the Government has got a plan about Qantas, talk to us. We want to save Qantas, Labor has always been pro-Qantas and its employees. We think they are a highly skilled workforce and we will keep supporting them.
REPORTER: Just to clarify, you’d bring changes to the Sales Act, debt guarantee or some other assistance?
SHORTEN: Isn't it time for the Government to do their day job? Instead of lobbing little political bombs each day in Parliament, why don't they sit down with us? We believe that Australia is a nation large enough to have an Australian-owned airline. We do also recognise they’ve got global competitive pressures. We support keeping the maintenance jobs onshore. We support Australian jobs at Qantas. We extend the hand of cooperation to the Government to ensure that Qantas remains the Australian national airline and that we keep jobs in Australia. We will work with them.
REPORTER: Would you support a debt guarantee then?
SHORTEN: Let's see what the Government - the reality is we get more detail Government from you than we do from the Government and we think that the Treasurer should sit down with us, work with us. We are interested in creating jobs. Australia has its highest unemployment rate in 10 years. The last time unemployment was this high was when Tony Abbott was Minister. There is a jobs crisis in Australia. The Abbott Government needs to provide a jobs plan. 60,000 plus full-time jobs have gone since Tony Abbott was elected Prime Minister. In Australia, we've got two Opposition Leaders and no Prime Minister. It's time he got on and started being a Prime Minister for jobs, rather than just constantly dividing this country.
REPORTER: Should car companies have to pay back the assistance they received up to this point given that jobs are going as a result of [inaudible]?
SHORTEN: Abbott Government MPs have been attacking the car workers, they are attacking the car companies. I think there was one Liberal MP who called the car industry parasitic. If you're looking for someone to blame about the death of the car industry, having a debate about refunds - Tony Abbott if you're looking for someone blame about the car industry, buy a mirror.
REPORTER: Qantas says if you don't act on this Qantas Sale Act it will basically die. Wouldn't it be better to drop your insistence on this Australian majority ownership and save jobs?
SHORTEN: I'm not into hypotheticals. We're very clear - we're pro-Qantas, pro-jobs at Qantas. For many years I’ve stood up for jobs at Qantas, full-time good jobs at Qantas. We will cooperate with the Government, but we do believe Australia should have a national airline company like so many countries in the world do. Last question.
REPORTER: Is the Opposition’s behaviour in Parliament rude and juvenile, as Christopher Pyne has said?
SHORTEN: The Leader of Government Business holds the undistinguished record of being ejected more times from Parliament than anyone else. Now is not the day for the name-calling. Unemployment in Australia is the highest it's been in a decade, the highest since Tony Abbott was Employment Minister, and if all that the Abbott Government can do is in name-calling, they are missing the real issues which is stand up and fight for Australian jobs.
Thanks very much, everyone.
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