THE HON BILL SHORTEN MP
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG
THE HON BRENDAN O’CONNOR MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS
MEMBER FOR GORTON
WEDNESDAY, 5 FEBRUARY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s attack on pay and working conditions
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone. Today we’ve seen the Abbott Government reveal yet another broken promise. Before the election the Abbott Government said that they wouldn’t touch peoples pay and conditions. Now we see that they’re putting in a submission to give the green light for radical cuts to the pay and conditions of millions of workers. The Abbott Government, fresh from not fighting for car jobs, not fighting to stand up for SPC Ardmona workers, and in fact attacking people on fifty thousand dollars for being over paid, the Government’s now proposing, on top of its Commission of Cuts and the idea that it will increase a new tax for going to the doctor and putting pressure on cost of living for ordinary Australians, the Government’s now proposing that people’s conditions which help them get by, ordinary people receiving penalty rates which means that they can make ends meet, now the Government’s saying that should be reviewed and that should be undermined and attacked. The Abbott Government will stop at nothing to put pressure on the cost of living for ordinary Australians by tackling their working conditions which people work hard to get. Happy to take questions on it.
JOURNALIST: How serious do you think the threat to penalty rates is?
SHORTEN: Well, the Abbott Government’s got form. Before the election they said that no way would they go back to WorkChoices, it was dead, buried and cremated. Now what we're seeing the Abbott Government doing is running up a proposition, inviting the reduction of peoples pay and conditions, opening up the Pandora's box of saying "Let's cut workers conditions." We saw the Government before Christmas refuse to stand up for car worker jobs at Holden. These are ordinary people, didn't deserve to have a government sell them out and see their jobs go overseas. Now were seeing SPC Ardmona workers in the fight for their lives. We see a Federal Government who Ardmona workers, SPC workers pay taxes to, get up on TV night after night and tell lies about the conditions of Ardmona workers. Sharman Stone who is a Liberal Member of Parliament has taken the principled position of calling out the Prime Minister and saying that they’re telling lies about the conditions of ordinary workers. We see the company, SPC Ardmona, who don't want to be in the newspaper on political issues, having to issue statements. What is wrong with the Abbott Government when they start telling lies about the conditions of ordinary people so that people of their own government party and companies and workers have to say "You're the Government of Australia, Mr Abbott, it is not your job to start telling lies about the conditions of ordinary workers". And now we see the Government putting a submission into the independent umpire saying that they think that ordinary workers’ pay and conditions should be looked at, should be reduced. I think this is a real threat to the cost of living of ordinary workers when you’ve got the Government they pay taxes to wanting to reduce peoples pay and conditions.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Eric Abetz that Australia is facing a wages explosion?
SHORTEN: Eric Abetz should get out and live the life of someone on fifty thousand dollars, forty thousand dollars. People who rely on penalty rates include hospitality and retail workers, some of the lowest paid workers in Australia. They receive lower than average wages in this country. Why is it that Senator Eric Abetz and Prime Minister Tony Abbott want to go after low paid workers and see them reduce their conditions in a race to the bottom? Australia is not a third world country, we do not deserve a third world government trying to reduce the pay and conditions of Australians who work hard every day to pay their taxes, to pay the bills, to educate their kids. Low paid workers, in fact ordinary people pay the taxes. They’re the bosses of Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz, yet you see Eric Abetz and Tony Abbott wanting to reduce the conditions of the people who employ them, the taxpayers of Australia.
JOURNALIST: What do you think will be the result of this among workers? Do you expect people will stop opting to work those kinds of shifts?
SHORTEN: I think that what we need for Australia to do well in the future is people being confident that they’ve got a government who cares about whether or not they have a job, and that people are able to make ends meet. Penalty rates aren't going to the big end of town. These are people who require that extra money when they work the unusual shifts, the family-pressuring shifts, away from their family. They deserve to be able to at least expect that their government doesn't have their hand in the pocket of ordinary workers trying to take away their conditions. Prime Minister Abbott has no idea how millions of people earn their pay.
JOURNALIST: Has the Federal Opposition made a submission to the review?
SHORTEN: Not yet.
SHORTEN: Well, we believe in the independent umpire. We think, one thing we won't be doing is we won't be attacking Australian workers and their families and saying that your person, your retail worker or your fruit cannery worker earning forty or fifty thousand dollars a year is paid too much. We think that ordinary people deserve to have a government who shouldn't be attacking them. I might and over to the Opposition spokesperson to add to that answer.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much Bill. Clearly the cat’s out of the bag. Minister Abetz in making a submission to Fair Work Australia has outlined that penalty rates are up for grabs. This was of course in direct contradiction to the commitments made by the Prime Minister before the election. He said that WorkChoices was cremated, well clearly, it was only sedated until this government was elected, and that is a concern to just all workers in this country who just want a decent standard of living, a decent wage to look after their families. That’s the point we are making today. We are highlighting the fact that the Government has contradicted its own commitments. It said one thing before the election and does another thing after the election, and people have good reason to be concerned when you have not only that submission being made, but at the same time, the Minister For Employment indicating that he wants to change the composition of the Commission so that it won't be as independent as it currently stands. It is the combination of these two propositions that cause concern for the Opposition.
JOURNALIST: Given the Commission recently ruled on penalty rates, do you think this is the Government trying to curry favour with the business community?
SHORTEN: There’s no doubt in my mind that the Government doesn't like ordinary workers, ordinary people receiving penalty rates. The Government should be, the Abbott Government should be part of the solution, it shouldn't be causing the problems. People reasonably expect the Abbott Government not to abandon car workers, not to give up on the fruit canning industry in Australia, and not to start attacking millions of people who rely on penalty rates. Mr Abbott, before the election, promised no surprises and no excuses. I think this development, where the Abbott Government is opening the door to reduce penalty rates, is a nasty surprise and they have no excuse for breaking their promise to the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: Do you expect the unions to show some force in this issue?
SHORTEN: I expect the independent umpire to take submissions from representatives of business, from representatives of employees, including unions. What I don't expect is that – the Abbott Government was elected to represent everyone. Why on earth they’ve decided that they won't represent car workers, why they won’t represent people who work in the fruit canning industry, why they won't stand up for people on penalty rates, who are millions of people, why they won't represent people who rely on going to the doctor and instead slug them with a new tax to increase the cost of living. The Abbott Government is not governing for all Australians. There’s a lot of Australians who stand to lose out because of the Abbott Government's very right wing agenda of cuts and taking away conditions of ordinary people.
JOURNALIST: Just on SPC Ardmona, the independent member for Indi Cathy McGowan says that she’s heard in her local community that there are fundamental management issues there. Is that something that you’ve heard that?
SHORTEN: I think that the fundamental problem here is that the Abbott Government doesn't want to can fruit in Australia. I think that the fundamental problem here is that the food bowl’s going to develop a giant leak if the Abbott Government's policies are allowed to be carried out. This is not a time for the blame game. Australia, we should be the food bowl of Asia, yet the Abbott Government seems determined to send all our fruit canning and processing jobs overseas. SPC Ardmona is the last big Australian fruit canning and packaging operation in Australia. It is a disgrace where you’ve got a company willing to put in tens and tens of millions of dollars. You’ve got workers who have tightened their belts to save this business. When will the Government start showing leadership and stand up for Australian jobs rather than waving goodbye to Australian jobs and sending them overseas? The real shame here is that we have a government who won't fight for Australian jobs. They won't even work up a sweat.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of the distinction Tony Abbott drew last night between the funding they gave to Cadbury to operate the factory tours in Tasmania and the funding being requested for the cannery in Shepparton?
SHORTEN: Even a crocodile wouldn't swallow the distinction Tony Abbott made last night. Why it that someone working on a Cadbury production line is worthy of Tony Abbott's support and someone working on an SPC production line is not worthy of support? This is about Australian jobs. People don't expect Australian governments to pay everyone's wages or to sit in their lounge room and tell them what to eat at night, but what they do expect the Australian Government to do is to fight for jobs, to stand up for Australian industry in the future. We should be feeding, helping feed Asia and instead the Abbott Government is so bereft of vision that they have run up the white flag and they will not fight for Aussie jobs and they will not stand up for SPC Ardmona workers. And the Opposition will stand alongside ordinary people who go to work day, earn fifty thousand dollars, they work hard, they do not deserve to be betrayed by an Abbott Government who is not interested in fighting for Australian jobs.
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