Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Parliament House - Labor’s plan to reinstate the Commonwealth Cleaning Services Guidelines; GST; Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals unfair cuts to family payments;

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

THURSDAY, 12 NOVEMBER 2015

 

SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan to reinstate the Commonwealth Cleaning Services Guidelines; GST; Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals unfair cuts to family payments; Adam Goodes

 

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS:  I think that was such an eloquent opening by someone who is actually affected personally by the changes by this Government. Let's just recall this, in March last year the Government introduced hundreds of pages of legislation on what they called red tape day and buried within those hundreds of pages of legislation was a provision to cut the CleanStart Guidelines and remove up to $5 an hour from each cleaner that works under commonwealth contracts and we said at the time it was grossly unfair. Grossly unfair, the fact a Liberal Government could call a cut to red tape or call a cut to wages a cut to red tape says everything about the Turnbull Government. And it's really now incumbent upon the Government to do something about it. There's no doubt when we raised concerns with the former Prime Minister in the Parliament, the former Prime Minister then said - Tony Abbott then said there were no cuts that would occur to cleaners. Subsequently there have been cut, up to $6,000 a year, in fact, for some cleaners under Commonwealth contracts. So the first thing I want to say is the Government was grossly dishonest about the way in which it went about burying the provisions that would cut the guidelines. And secondly, when asked in Question Time, the Government was again dishonest in suggesting there were not to be cuts to these workers. Today of course Labor will ensure, upon election, that we will rectify this. I might hand over to Bill on that point.

 

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon, everyone. This is a great day because we get to talk about some of the unseen people who make this Parliament function and, without whom, Parliament just simply couldn't function. I'm talking about the cleaners of Parliament House but also the cleaners behind me - and Chris spoke very well - also are speaking up for cleaners across commonwealth buildings, there's over 1,000 of them, and indeed I think for cleaners more generally. Now, the Liberal Government said that you can trust them on workplace relations and they've been at pains to try and duck and weave and say there's a new politics. Well here's a challenge for the so-called new politics, get rid of the old workplace relations approach of the Liberals.

 

See what happened under the Liberal Government of Tony Abbott is that they changed or took away the commonwealth cleaning service guidelines. These are the guidelines which effectively put in place a floor price for the payment of cleaners in our Commonwealth buildings. These were the guidelines which set out standards below which cleaners shouldn't be employed. Now, we think it's appropriate that the Commonwealth Government should be a leader, not a follower, when it comes to the treatment of its own staff and its own contractors. Increasingly, we see in Australia the trend towards the casualisation of labour, the use of labour hire, the use of contract work. But we think just because people are moving to those systems of employment is not an excuse to take money away and to treat people badly. However, the Liberal Government just dumped the guidelines. See what Liberals call red tape, we call the minimum wage. What Liberals call too much bureaucracy is actually the difference between these cleaners making ends meet or having to rely on social security. The craziness of the current Liberals is that, on the one hand, they want to cut welfare. On the other hand, they want to increase the price of everything by 15 per cent. How do they expect cleaners to pay for it? Well, by cutting their pay. Tony Abbott said there were no cuts to the pay and he made himself and the Liberals patted themselves on the back, they knew the names of the cleaners in their office, as if knowing the name of someone is enough to excuse cutting their pay. It's clearly not. So the Labor Party today, in response to the remarkable campaign run, not just by these cleaners but by their union United Voice, by committed Labor backbenchers with union affiliations such as Sue Lines and Lisa Chesters and through the hard work of Brendan O'Connor.

 

Today we announce that for 1,000 cleaners, not the biggest group of people in Australia, not the most famous group of people in Australia but certainly amongst the hardest-working group of people in Australia, we announce that a Labor Government that I lead will re-instate the commonwealth cleaning service guidelines. What this means is that the people that many of you journalists know in the gallery are actually going to have some of their pay cuts restored. That they're not going to be losing up to $6,000 a year. And I'm sure everyone here thinks that's a good idea and when you meet them, as you already do - you know the journalists of this gallery know the people I'm talking about. There is no argument which justifies cutting the pay of these hard-working and quite impressive people. Happy to take your questions.

 

JOURNALIST: How much will it cost to re-instate the guidelines and how does Labor propose to pay for that?

 

SHORTEN: Alright, I take by that question you don't think it is a bad idea to pay cleaners properly, what you want to know is how much will it cost -

 

JOURNALIST: And how Labor will pay for it?

 

SHORTEN: I could sort of guess the question. But what I say to you in response is this, these people should never have had their pay cut. How much do you think it's cost them to lose $6,000 a year? I don't think that's acceptable. I don't think it's acceptable that someone who may earn $23 or $24 an hour should get cut back to $20. Why isn't the question - how much has it cost the cleaners to be done over by the Liberal Government? Now we had a look at the cost, we think the cost is negligible, quite frankly. The cost is negligible, it will have no impact on the bottom line but it will do is it will make sure that up to 1 ,000 people working across our commonwealth buildings are paid properly and, in fact, when I ask cleaners, is it a big concern about the cut of pay? They say yes, but what they also said to me in their tearoom is they would just like to be treated with some dignity. These people are not invisible. Think about how often sometimes we walk past the cleaners and other low-paid workers in our community, they're not invisible; they just want to be treated with dignity. The other thing I think which we need to have a conversation about is seeing as Malcolm Turnbull won't rule out the 15 per cent GST but he treats it as some sort of theoretical exercise, what I know is these are people who don't claim welfare, these are the people that work, they're going have to pay 15 per cent more. Can you imagine the difference in a budget where you might only bring in $30,000 or $40,000 a year to pay 15 per cent on your food? Malcolm Turnbull dismisses this as some sort of theoretical exercise and mathematically he will compensate everyone. These people don't trust the Liberals because they've cut their pay when they said they wouldn't. How can we trust Malcolm Turnbull when he puts a 15 per cent price rise on everything? How can workers trust him to compensate them?

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten you've agree that these workers shouldn't have to wait beyond the next election or the one after that -

 

SHORTEN: The next election.

 

JOURNALIST: Okay, let's be optimistic.

 

SHORTEN: No, let's be factual.

 

JOURNALIST: Isn't it better that perhaps you talk to Malcolm Turnbull and sit down with government ministers and try and work something out before then?

 

SHORTEN: Your clever people in this press interview, you can see what we're saying. We're happy to sit down and talk - the Liberals love to talk - but in the meantime I don't think you need to be a Rhode scholar to work out just reinstate the cleaning guidelines. You're quite right, it doesn't take an election and through the great medium of the media, I ask the Liberal Party of Australia, put the cleaners first.

 

JOURNALIST: If this is a Labor policy thought you're taking to the next election, why can't you tell us what the cost will be?

 

SHORTEN: Because we've had a look at it and the cost is negligible.

 

JOURNALIST: But it's got to be accounted for in the Budget? So you can't tell us how much it's going to be?

 

SHORTEN: You want to get to get into that argument, what I say to you back is this, the cost is negligible. You could run a fear campaign that somehow paying 1,000 cleaners a proper minimum wage is going to bring down the Budget. I tell you what costs the budget, this new baby bonus of $380 million. I tell you what costs the Budget not actually tackling superannuation tax concessions. Why is it the Liberals are forensic on what a cleaners paid yet are missing in action about shutting down some of the excessively generous tax loopholes for multinationals. Why is that we have a forensic debate about whether or not a cleaner who gets 20 hours a week should be paid $1 more then what they currently are and we regard that as some sort of budgetary crisis. On the other hand, when it comes to superannuation tax concessions, we have plenty of people who have millions of dollars in superannuation, get all the income from that superannuation tax-free. In a beauty parade, I'm going to pick the cleaners.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, in the Lower House, the Government has decided to reject the Senate's push to try and have Australian private-owned companies earning more than $100,000 -

 

SHORTEN: What a surprise the Liberals are picking the big end of town.

 

JOURNALIST: Can I get your comment on that and if that was implemented, do you think that would actually apply to Mr Turnbull anyway?

 

SHORTEN: It's not about Mr Turnbull per se. The Liberals are choosing to keep the tax arrangements secrets of our very wealthy private companies. Now I actually think in this country, if you want to have confidence that we have fairness people have to see what is happening. I don't think we have a fair system in this country. I don't think its right that a very few people can claim lots of deductions and lots of concessions. In other words I don't think its fair a few lucky people who have so much money they're able to put their income into tax-preferred streams of income, I don't think this is fair. I don't think it's fair that we can't look through the arrangements and see if everyone is doing the right thing. Just to me it remind me yet again, the Liberal Party is champing at the bit, they are so eager they cannot wait, they're pawing at the ground like thoroughbred race horses to actually introduce a GST, put everything up to 15 per cent. Yet when it comes to looking at the tax arrangements, remember they had this bogus campaign where they said that all of a sudden all the really rich private companies in Australia would all be kidnapped. The kidnapping risk that justifies the secrecy. Then we find out a lot of this campaign is run by a brass plated shopfront in company in Canberra astroturfing, you know, creating a pretence that they're really false community concern when in fact there isn't. I just say to the Liberals, if you want people to believe that you're fair, here's come very simple tests: look after the cleaners, stop trying to hide and make secret the tax arrangements of a few very wealthy companies, backing Labor's proposals on multinationals and do something about superannuation tax concessions, oh yes and  just drop the GST proposals.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Government modelling shows the welfare bill will blow out to $277 billion in 10 years, you earlier this week blocked some measures that would find some savings in this space. Do you believe the welfare bill should be reined in?

SHORTEN: Well, we are talking about the welfare bill, I just will use the opportunity again to say please when we talk about the future of the Budget, can we exempt the cleaners' minimum wage from the debate about budget -  unless if we don't pay the cleaners properly, that's the only way we can get into surplus, ok so - I've got to keep plugging this. I just ask the media does anyone seriously think that the cleaners should be the ones doing the most of the heavy lifting by taking a wage cut when this Government won't make hard decisions. This Government loves to talk but they are squibbing the decision on multinational taxation, they're squibbing the decisions about superannuation tax concessions, and as for the tax package this week which you refer to, Labor's opposing reckless spending by the Coalition when they want to introduce a $1,000 baby bonus that no-one's asked for except the Nationals in return for going peacefully for Malcolm Turnbull's leadership, and we're seeing that's not working too well today aren’t we.

So we're actually opposing spending measures which haven't been justified and the case hasn't been made for and we're supporting saves where we think, on balance, we can live with it. But I'm not going to vote to cut the payments to a grandparent carer who is looking after their teenage child because their own child has got into trouble or worse. I'm not going to propose that families on modest incomes lose several hundred dollars at the end of the year in a family supplement. I'm not going to do those things because the Labor Party, we know which side we are on, we're on the side of the middle class and people who go to work and people who are working hard to make ends meet. And as for the general welfare bill, we've got to be careful we don't have one of these sky is falling, chicken little Coalition arguments. Remember in 2014, they wanted you all just to believe they had to do that harsh Budget because of the budget crisis, since then they've doubled the deficit. I don't buy that our welfare system is the most expensive, gold-plated system in the world. We're below the average of the OECD. Labor's always up for sensible means testing, sensible reforms, but we know how people earn their money, and we're just not going to do them over merely because Scott Morrison who's pushed Joe Hockey out of the way has discovered that the job of being Treasurer is a little bit harder than he thought it was.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the new batch of national security laws have been introduced into the Senate, is that something Labor will support and can you comment on the citizenship laws?

SHORTEN: Labor is committed to bipartisanship on national security but we won't be rushed. The Australian people expect Labor to properly scrutinise these laws. It was Labor who held the line in June when Tony Abbott wanted to put in a whole range of laws, and we got a parliamentary committee to look at it. Courtesy of Labor's resilience then, we now see 27 recommendations from the Joint Parliamentary Committee into Security and Intelligence. Those amendments were bipartisan in terms of the principles of the Committee. Now the Government for 8 weeks has had that report of the parliamentary committee and then 2 days ago they sprung it on us and said, oh hello this is what we want to get done in the Parliament. We've said alright well we're not going to unreasonably delay things but we think these matters are too important such as the revocation of citizenship that we shouldn't thoughtfully analyse it. So we will do what we've done in my whole time as leader, we will thoughtfully analyse, we will amend and improve, we'll also make sure that we get the balance right between the rights of our citizens and the very important function of keeping our nation safe. Last question please.

JOURNALIST: What about the idea of Adam Goodes joining the Labor Party, if that were to happen?

SHORTEN: Adam Goodes is a great Australian. I was outraged when I saw some of the reaction against him when he was playing football. I think he is a great Australian. He would be an adornment to any political party but I think he has plenty of other things on his minds at the moment. But, Australian politics will always benefit by the inclusion of more significant and great Australians and he's certainly one of them. Thanks everyone.

JOURNALIST: Mr O’Connor can we just ask about unemployment rates please?

 

O’CONNOR: Sure.

 

JOURNALIST: Just what your take is and the fact that they have dropped?

 

O’CONNOR: Of course, Labor welcomes any reduction in the unemployment figures in this country, so we welcome the figures today. Just to make some significant points in relation to the figures, firstly I think this is very important when we are talking about employment opportunities for the 740,000 unemployed Australians, that there are still 50,000 more Australians unemployed than was the case at the last election and indeed the modest promise of this Government is 66,000 jobs behind. A very modest number which they had before the election and they’re well behind that.

 

So, of course, firstly anybody that actually got a job in October we’re very happy about and we want to see more of that, but there are in excess of 1 million Australians crying out for more work. In fact the under-employment figure, which is a quarterly figure, is the highest under-employment figure since data was collected – an extra 20,000 on the last quarterly figure. In excess of 1 million Australians saying they need more work. There’s a lot more to do, but Labor will always welcome any reduction of the unemployment figure, and improvement to employment numbers, and we do so today.

 

JOURNALIST: But would you agree that confidence is growing?

 

O’CONNOR: With respect to confidence there has been some improvement, but it’s still well below what was the case when this Government was elected. If you look at the Westpac Melbourne Institute Survey, there has been a small incline but it’s still 8 per cent behind the figure that was the case just over two years ago when this Government took office. So the Government has a long way to go to restore business and consumer confidence. The reason for that is they’ve made a wreck of the Budget. They’ve made some very bad decisions in managing the Budget in particular and of course they’ve talked the economy down since they were elected. That led to some major problems with the economy. Let’s not forget this is the Government that has presided over the highest unemployment figures, which were higher than any time even during the GFC. So there is a long way to go, but we’re not going to be churlish. We will always support any Australian getting a job. The Government needs to turn its mind to the growing number of under employed Australians - as I say in excess of 1 million, and we need to see more effort there. And in the end we need Malcolm Turnbull to start making some decisions and not just talking so that we can see some benefits flow on across the economy.

 

Thanks very much.

 

 

ENDS

 

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