TUESDAY, 7 JUNE 2016
SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan to boost apprenticeships across the country; Preferences; Visit to storm-damaged areas of NSW; Child Care Rebate; CFA.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. Before I turn to our announcement about apprenticeships, I'd like to again relay our support and thoughts for the people that have been dreadfully affected by the terrible storms lashing eastern Australia. In particular, my thoughts are with the families of people who have been lost or people who are missing. And of course, our concerns of the people whose businesses have been damaged or homes have been inundated and we see again the uncertainty of whether or not people will be able to return to their own homes. It is why after this announcement I will be heading to Sydney, to Coogee, to see the damage, to be briefed by the SES coordinators and also to thank the volunteers and the professionals working so hard to alleviate the pressure. I think it's something special about our country, that even in the midst of an election, both Mr Turnbull and I understand that there are things more important when crisis hits than the day-to-day political rancour. This is a moment where the whole nation supports people in trouble. I think it is fair to say that in the worst of times, we see the best of Australia. And I look forward to seeing and working with the volunteers and thanking them on behalf of many Australians.
I would like to briefly turn to this morning's planned announcement. Labor is committed to supporting, creating and maintaining fair dinkum jobs in this country. We are committed to boosting apprenticeship numbers. Labor, if elected on July 2, will make sure that we create real jobs, real skills, real apprenticeships. It is pretty impressive to come here to TAFE South Australia, and to meet young men and women who are pursuing a love of a trades qualification, and the skills which will set these people up for life. Young people in this country sometimes get a bit of a raw deal in terms of the way they are portrayed. There are over 600 apprentices, and indeed adults retraining as apprentices, who are absolutely determined to secure the skills so they can make a contribution, not only to their own livelihoods but to the nation. I'm really pleased that we are able to say today that if elected, Labor will insist u pon a proportion of apprentices being employed on Commonwealth-funded work, specifically on the top 10 projects which will be funded by the Concrete Bank, we will want to see one in every 10 employees being apprentices. We want to make sure, for projects which have a capital expenditure of over $10 million, that we sit down with the States and Territories and make sure a proportion of the jobs are going to apprentices. In the last three years under the Liberal Party, Australia has lost 120,000 apprenticeships. We've seen major cuts to training budgets and we have seen a blow-out in vocational education, private sector rorts and scams. Labor wants to swing the pendulum back to TAFE, Labor wants to see the pendulum swung back to encouraging the employment of apprentices. We are committed to real jobs and real skills and that is why we are going to back real apprenticeships. I would like to ask my hard working Shadow Minister Sharon Bird to talk further about the detai l of our exciting new announcements to put apprenticeships at the front of our plan for jobs.
SHARON BIRD, SHADOW MINISTER FOR VOCATIONAL EDUCATION: Thanks Bill. Labor has had a long history with apprenticeships. We deeply understand how significant a pathway they are for young people looking to get a good quality job, based on high-skilled training. It's also the case, as we walked around here today, we met a lot of mature age apprentices. People who are retrenched or looking to re-enter the work force, now increasingly see an apprenticeship as a really viable way for them to get a start. The sad reality for many of those young people, retrenched workers, people seeking to re-enter the workforce, is that under this Government they have given absolutely no attention to the skills portfolio. They have rolled through four ministers, they have done nothing but reduce the funding in every Budget and MYEFO, and they have no answer to the fact they have lost 120,000 apprentices in training. It is an abysmal failure for a party that wants to talk about jobs and growth to be absolutely failing in this area.
So I am really pleased, with Bill Shorten today, to say a Shorten Labor Government will get back into the business of using its leverage, through its investment in infrastructure, construction, development, to making sure that gives an opportunity to invest in the skills of our people as well. One in 10 employees being an apprentice will significantly increase the opportunities for those people who are looking for it. It is also, I want to say, really a great pleasure to be here at TAFE. We have, nearly a year ago now, committed to a TAFE funding guarantee because these sorts of facilities are not cheap. They really require investment, and if you want the high quality training that these apprentices are getting, the TAFEs have been there for decades to deliver that. They keep it updated. They are high quality providers. We want to make sure that continues to exist. The Government never talks about TAFE, we will. We have the TAFE fun ding guarantee to make sure we have a strong TAFE into the future.
Labor understands quality jobs. It understands quality skills and part of that commitment is our announcement today about an apprentice advocate at the Federal level, responsible for promoting apprenticeships, securing the quality guarantees. I am sure many of you know our apprentices travel internationally, they are snapped up. The world comes here to study how we do this stuff. We want to keep that quality there. That apprentice advocate will have that role. Finally, an apprentice portal on the Australian Apprenticeships website. People can go on and search in their local area, see what the opportunities are, get connected to jobs that are available and really make sure there is no reason for them to miss out if this is the pathway they are looking for. It is a great announcement. I really appreciate the support of Bill and the whole team because I think for many, many communities, they are talking to me about TAFE and apprentices hips constantly and it is a really important issue for them.
SHORTEN: Thanks Sharon. Are there any questions on this?
JOURNALIST: Former PM John Howard this morning has drawn a parallel between Independent Senator Nick Xenophon and Pauline Hanson, saying both are trying to exploit fears when it comes to trading with Asian nations. What do you make of these comments? And secondly, are you concerned about the growing support for Nick Xenophon here in South Australia?
SHORTEN: I had heard the Liberal Party called John Howard off the bench to come and help beleaguered Jamie Briggs in Mayo. This is the reunion of the WorkChoice warriors. And we know that as long as there is a Liberal Party, workers' conditions in this country are never safe. Now I notice that Mr Howard's attacking Senator Xenophon, but somewhat bizarrely, Senator Xenophon and Mr Howard are on a unity ticket when it comes to undermining penalty rates in this country. If you want to protect the rights of workers, if you want to make sure there are harmonious workplaces, if you want to make sure that apprentices are getting properly trained, you wouldn't look at the Liberals or Senator Xenophon, you'd vote Labor in the upcoming election.
JOURNALIST: That second question, are you concerned about the growing support that Senator Xenophon has in South Australia?
SHORTEN: Well there's only two parties who can form a government, the Liberal Party or the Labor Party. A vote for the minor parties will not help change a government. What will change a government is a vote for the Labor Party. And I believe that as South Australians, and indeed Australians, get to hear about our great policies we have announced, including making sure that Australian-funded, government-funded jobs have apprentices at their centre, then I think Australians will say thank goodness someone is standing up for apprentices in this country again. Australian parents know that not every child wants to grow up and go to university. Australian parents know, and they’re pleased, if their child gets a trade or if you're an adult retraining and you get a trade, you know that you've a ticket to success in life. Labor's going to back real education, real skills, real jobs. And I think that wh en South Australians hear about this policy and all our other fantastic policies, from real action on climate change, making sure we have properly funded and affordable, accessible child care, that we're making a real difference in the lives of working class and middle class families. But I think you’ll see Labor will do very well.
JOURNALIST: You're obviously suspending campaigning and going to Sydney to inspect the storm damage. Given that it is bipartisan, would you prefer to do it with the Prime Minister?
SHORTEN: Well I contacted the Prime Minister yesterday, I offered to attend, visit flood-affected and storm-affected regions with him. So I'm happy to do it with him. But the issue here isn't Mr Turnbull or I, it's the people who are experiencing loss, experiencing damage. I will make this point though, and I've got no reason to be concerned about it, but I worked heavily during the Brisbane floods to make sure insurance companies treated their claimants of policies properly. I just want to send a message out to the insurance companies of Australia, I'm sure you will do this, but please make sure that you treat your customers fairly. Make sure you deal with their claims in a speedy fashion. For people who have suffered significant damage, the last thing they need is then to be damaged again by a long argument with an insurance company.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you've railed against the high income deficit levy, saying it is a tax break for millionaires. Your child care policy gives $10,000 a child a rebate to millionaires. The Government's doesn't. Are you failing your own fairness test?
SHORTEN: Well you know the child care rebate has never been means tested.
REPORTER: The government is going to means test one payment.
SHORTEN: Historically it has never been means tested. And for the Government to try and run some Robin Hood argument, that they're somehow the Green Left Weekly of child care policy, that they're the Socialists, is rubbish. The truth of the matter is I will keep railing against the Government giving people who earn a million dollars a $17,000 tax cut. Now is not the time to do it. And I will keep opposing the corporate tax splash of Mr Turnbull, which is handing away billions and billions of taxpayer money in terms of tax cuts to large companies. And I will keep railing against Mr Turnbull's stubborn and unreasonable refusal to hold a Royal Commission into the banks.
Labor's child care policy, it is a ripper. It is a good policy, we're lifting the child care benefit by $31 a week. We are lifting the rebate from $7,500 to $10,000. The truth of the matter is that the Turnbull child care policy is going to occur 18 months later if they're elected, than if Labor was elected. And the truth of the matter is, they've created an activity or a work test which will penalise women in casual or insure employment. The Turnbull Government cannot be trusted to look after people who earn less than $100,000 a year. By contrast, Labor's going to make sure that child care is affordable, it's accessible, that we tackle the challenge of waiting lists. We're up for the challenge of helping working mums and working parents in this country.
JOURNALIST: Will you rule out forming government with the Nick Xenophon party in a hung Parliament?
SHORTEN: First of all, Nick Xenophon's to get some seats in the Parliament. And I am absolutely committed to Labor forming a government in our own right. I'm not going to deal with the hypothetical issues here. What I say to South Australians and Australians, if you think your Medicare system is important, vote Labor. If you want to see a Royal Commission into the banks, vote Labor. If you want to see schools properly funded, vote Labor. If you want to see more apprenticeships available for young people and mature age workers retraining, vote Labor. If you want to see fair taxation, vote Labor. If you want to see first home buyers able to enter the market, vote Labor. If you want to see Australian jobs created, maintained and be well paid, vote Labor. That's our plan for this country and it's a very positive plan. We invest in our economy by investing in people.
JOURNALIST: Are you prepared for Labor to preference the Liberal Party over the Nick Xenophon team or is that something you can rule out?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, the preferences will be dealt with by our party as has always been the case. What I'm chasing is not people's second preference vote, I want their first preference vote for Labor. And our strategy, I'll tell you our first preference strategy, it’s to invest in jobs, it's to invest in education, it’s to defend Medicare, it's to stop the privatisation of the payment system. Labor has a strategy for Australians' first preference votes. This week alone we've made it very clear that we are up for making sure working mums in this country get an even break from the Government, with greater support for child care, making sure that working parents get support. This week, we've indicated that we will back in apprenticeships. I think it is a national scandal that in the last three years under the Liberal Party, there's been 120,000 apprenticeships lost . We cannot afford another three years of Liberal inaction because we just won't have apprentices left in the future.
JOURNALIST: Is it disingenuous for you to be proclaiming your support for emergency services volunteers when you're not prepared to stick up for CFA volunteers in Victoria against the United Firefighters Union?
SHORTEN: Well, I'm glad you raised that issue for a number of reasons. As I said yesterday and I have said previously, I support both our volunteers and career firefighters. But I do expect the parties to resolve their disagreements, and I do expect Premier Andrews to be able to reach a settlement. And I actually expect a settlement to occur. But going further than that, Mr Turnbull's weighed in for political reasons only, into what is clearly a State issue. And I also have to say, when it comes to the record for standing up for volunteers, let me take you back, a little bit of a history lesson, to the Fair Work Act. And I draw your attention to a particular section, division 8, sections 108 to 112. And what those sections do, this was a Labor law put into Parliament which was opposed by the Liberals, what Labor said is that volunteer firefighters should be able to take leave from their employer and not suff er any adverse consequences as a result of their volunteer functions, specifically including firefighters. Labor put protections in for volunteers. Mr Turnbull's party, on the final passage of this Fair Work bill, voted against it in the Senate. Labor's a good record on volunteers, and I do expect, and I am sure that the parties at the State level will resolve this issue.
JOURNALIST: At the moment, when a business takes on an apprentice there is up to a $4,000 incentive for them doing that. Given you are talking about taking on another 2,600 apprentices, if you do the maths, and I'm not very good at maths, but I've worked out that is about $10 million if everyone gets that $4,000 for employing them. Are your costings out or are you cancelling that payment?
SHORTEN: We will talk further about other assistance we're going to give apprentices. But we are determined to make sure that Australian apprentices get an opportunity to work on Australian taxpayer-funded jobs. And I'll get Sharon to talk a little further about the important issues you raise.
BIRD: Thanks Bill. The apprenticeship support system has always had in place an incentive payment to employers. It has never been a capped payment. It has always been based on the take-up of apprenticeships. And so the focus here is actually addressing the massive drop that has occurred in apprenticeships. And I hope the Government is not saying they are just banking that as a saving. Because I would argue we need to be reinstating those apprenticeship opportunities for people into the long term, and so it's really important that we understand that apprentices need to be supported to get those apprenticeship opportunities. Now, the Government has cut about a billion dollars out of apprenticeship support payments. It is treating it like a piggy bank. Our view is quite the opposite. This is an investment, like all education, this is an investment, and these people have good jobs and long term careers out of that w hich we all benefit from as an economy.
JOURNALIST: So the $4,000 stays then?
SHORTEN: Yes, there is no intention to change the employer incentive payment.
JOURNALIST: On child care, will you admit that you are going to be giving $10,000 to millionaires? Will you admit that will happen?
SHORTEN: It's not means tested the child care rebate, it's not means tested. Let's also be clear here, the cost of child care is spiralling. Families are literally making hard choices between whether in most cases, the mother goes to work and then sees the wages eaten up by child care, or she doesn't go to work at all. This country cannot afford to be putting disincentives in the path of people working.
Child care is really important. It's important because it's the first time little children leave the house at all. So it's important we have quality child care. And that the early years of learning are what sets a child up for their school experience. But it's also important that working parents, particularly working women, get an equal deal in this country. I am very committed to the equal treatment of women in this country. And I am very committed to making sure that Labor's proposals support women, in particular, but not exclusively, who earn less than $100,000 a year.
I think there needs to be some overdue examination of the Government's changes to child care. First of all, as Senator Sinodinos said, it was a political stunt to attach harsh cuts to family payments to funding this child care, so they were robbing the proverbial Peter to pay the proverbial Paul. But beyond that, they've got a work test, and it really does deserve examination, which is going to basically penalise women who don't have a certain number of hours of work. But the truth of the matter is that women working part-time or in insecure employment or casually, do deserve the opportunity to work and receive child care support. That's what Labor will do. Absolutely.
JOURNALIST: With the firefighters, do you think that the Commonwealth can step in to exert influence over State EBAs?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, we all know why Mr Turnbull has turned up in this dispute. Because he wants to distract from the fact that he doesn't have a positive agenda of his own. Mr Turnbull has never taken a great interest in industrial relations, other than being one of Tony Abbott's rubber stamps when it came to WorkChoices. When it comes to standing up for volunteers, I’d submit to you, please examine the Fair Work Act. It was Labor who put in protections for volunteers. It was Liberal who, when the Fair Work Act was presented to the Senate after a series of amendments, who voted against the Fair Work Act which contained these protections for volunteers. Mr Turnbull loves to talk a lot but when it comes to actually doing something, his actions often contradict what he says. Last question, Eliza.
JOURNALIST: Daniel Andrews looks like he has a bit of a problem being beholden to this union that is involved in the firefighters' dispute. Can you give a general summary of how you feel the relationship between the unions and Labor Party are at this point?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, it is a State issue. When it comes to my general approach, I will govern in the national interest, not in the interest of any particular sector or group. I will not govern for business or for unions. I will work with stakeholders, I will work with business. The people I'm interested in are the working class and middle class families, and small businesses of this country, who go to work every day, they pay their taxes, they pay their mortgages, they are raising their kids, they're trying to save for retirement.
Our policies are policies which will make a practical difference for them. We think that every school should be properly funded. We think there should be real action on climate change, focusing on renewable energy. We think there should be more apprentices employed. We think it's important to prioritise Australian jobs. I think it's important in Adelaide that we have AdeLINK which will see more tramlines, helping decrease congestion and improve productivity. What motivates me every day, is the best interests of middle class and working class Australians. That is what I will do every day. I will not seek conflict for conflict's sake. I will not seek to stick my oar in to cause trouble at another level of government just because I feel it might help distract from the political, national political agenda. I'm not running for Premier, I'm running for Prime Minister. Thank you everybody, see you all a bit later.