Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop Melbourne


28 AUGUST 2012
11.51 AM

SUBJECT/S:  Grocon Dispute, Newstart


BILL SHORTEN:     Grocon is taking its legal rights to court, that is absolutely their call. Yesterday, I facilitated private talks between the union and the company. That didn’t make a great deal of progress yesterday. I’ve spoken to all the protagonists today. I’ve made it very clear that the Government is willing to help conciliate this argument. Something has seriously gone wrong in the relationship between the union and the company. Both sides feel very strongly.

 My position though is completely clear: unlawful action cannot be tolerated from whatever quarter it comes from. Violence is completely unacceptable in a modern day and age.

 JOURNALIST:         Do you say the action today is unlawful - the action by the Civil union?

 BILL SHORTEN:     That’ll be for the court to decide. I’m not going to pre-empt the court, but I’m very clear that unlawful action will be met by a strong response from the Government.

 JOURNALIST:         Daniel Grollo said this morning that the union hadn’t made their decision clear. You have been in talks with both Grocon and the union. What’s your understanding of the crux of the dispute?

 BILL SHORTEN:     I guess I’ve got three understandings. One is, whatever they’re arguing about, barristers at ten paces, confrontation, blockades, there’s a better way to fix it than what’s currently underway. The actual substance of the issues I understand - and I don’t pass judgement on the issues, I just believe there’s a better way to fix it than I’m currently seeing transpire - is the right of delegates to be elected on worksites, the use of stickers on badges and flags.  Right of entry, what is the industry standard? What’s appropriate?

 What I know is that these - this matter is - should be resolved elsewhere than in the way it is being resolved. There are strong and deeply held views from both sides, but I’ve got no time for any violence and the sort of disturbance we’re seeing is not appropriate.

 JOURNALIST:         Grocon argues this has ramifications for the building industry, do you think it does have ramifications for the rest of the industry?

 BILL SHORTEN:     Listen, I don’t want to inflame the dispute. Clearly though, this is a sufficiently unusual dispute that something has fundamentally gone wrong in the relationship here and it needs cool and calm heads to resolve. The company’s well within its legal rights to take the steps it’s doing, but I also know that something’s gone wrong here, this is not the usual fare. And certainly I know, I and other industry observers don’t necessarily think this applies everywhere, what we’re seeing here, but there’s something gone quite wrong in the relationship between the union and the company.

 JOURNALIST:         The fact that things got so out of hand, does that indicate that perhaps our laws are out-dated?

 BILL SHORTEN:     No, I think what it indicates is that things have got out of hand in this one dispute. The system that - of where the company’s alleging tort action of interference from people going to work. The laws are the same as they’ve been for many years. So, what I would submit this is - a very bad but very unusual dispute and I think the best thing that people like myself can do is absolutely give no time or cover or condoning any violence, any agro. By the same token, in my experience it takes two to have an argument and so the Government, along with making sure that our regulator is investigating the matter.

 Along with whatever the State Government and the state police do, the other thing which I will do is continue to endeavour to get to the bottom of the argument and to fix the argument which is triggering all this most inappropriate and unseemly conduct.

 JOURNALIST:         Grocon said that the union’s behaving as though it’s above the law, would you - could you agree with that?

 BILL SHORTEN:     No one is above the law.

 JOURNALIST:         The opposition says this wouldn’t have happened if the ABCC hadn’t had its powers reduced, what do you say to that?

 BILL SHORTEN:     The opposition couldn’t find its ways from the kitchen to the fridge.  What idea do they have on industrial relations? We saw John Howard come out on 16 August and says remember back in the good old days my laws were best. You saw Tony Abbott hop on his policy bicycle and pedal away as far as he could. Listen this is a very - in my opinion, a very unseemly, inappropriate dispute, but I don’t think that from this you can therefore conclude anything other than this is a very ugly dispute which needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

 JOURNALIST:         But can you understand why there would be concerns in the building industry that this has happened after the abolition of that commission?

 BILL SHORTEN:     I think here we stand at the MCG, there are ugly arguments about the putting up of the light towers here, which were very famous and went on a lot longer than this did. That happened before the ABCC.  Periodically, there are disputes. I think what is important is not the political grandstanding. What’s important is getting to the bottom of it, making sure that the law is obeyed. Making sure that the dispute gets fixed.

 JOURNALIST:         Would you call on the union to end this blockade?

 BILL SHORTEN:     I would call upon all parties to obey the law, all parties to sort out their differences in a different way. There’s no doubt in my mind that this dispute has gone further in a direction which it just simply shouldn’t be.

 JOURNALIST:         The union wants the rights to choose health and safety officers, what do you say to that? Should it be the company’s discretion or…

 BILL SHORTEN:     I actually say it should be the workers’ discretion about who their representatives are. But beyond that, there’s clearly deeply held arguments, I am not going to resolve it at a press conference here.  What we need is for Grocon and the union - whilst taking whatever legal rights they think they have in other forums - they do need to sit down and talk to each other.

 JOURNALIST:        Do you think both sides are spoiling for a fight?

 BILL SHORTEN:     I think this dispute’s flared up. It’s a most unusual dispute. I’m not sure that we’ve got to the bottom of what’s fuelling everyone in it.  What I do know is that this is not a standard fare of workplace relations in Australia and what I also know is that it will get fixed.  What I also know is that unlawful conduct has no place in modern workplace relations, full stop.

 JOURNALIST:         How much involvement have you had in trying to get things fixed?

 BILL SHORTEN:     I became aware in the course of the last few days that there seemed to be this growing argument which is going to flare up. (1) Unlawful action cannot be condoned (2) violence has no place in any worksite and (3) this is an argument which to me seems capable of resolution and it's not going to be resolved by the tactics which we're seeing employed currently.

 JOURNALIST:         Minister, are you really finding it hard to live $330,000 a year?

 BILL SHORTEN:     Oh, let's put that in context. The question in the debate is about Newstart and I've been very clear that I think that the Newstart allowance is very low and it would be very difficult for anyone to make ends meet.

 JOURNALIST:         But when you make those comments, do you think you'll get a lot of sympathy considering you're on four times the average wage?

 BILL SHORTEN:     Again, referring you back to the answer I just gave you twenty seconds ago, it's not about individuals such as myself. The point I'm making and the point I was making yesterday and the point I'll continue to make is that Newstart and the supporting Government safety net is low. It is hard to make ends meet. It doesn't matter what walk of life you're in, that's hard. The best solution to help people who are doing it hard with unemployment is to help them find a job. 

 That's why this Government in its five years - it's nearly five years it's been in office has seen 800,000-plus new jobs created. We have forecast and we're on track to create another 830,000 new jobs. The best way that you can get along is to be supported into getting work, and that's where this Government's efforts are focused utterly.

 JOURNALIST:         But your comments about your wage, though, were they - was that a, I mean…

 BILL SHORTEN:     I can't be any clearer but I'm happy to say again, this government believes that the best way to cope with poverty is to be able to find a job and to have the skills. This Government is spending the money which will see 375,000 people over the next…

 JOURNALIST:         [Interrupts] You…

 BILL SHORTEN:     Sorry, I - you can ask your question but I think I'm entitled to answer it. 375,000 people over the next four years will be receiving greater support and skills and training. 

 Unemployment is a curse. It is very hard to make ends meet and I absolutely see that helping people out of poverty is the number one job of a Labor Government. Helping people get a job is the best way to break the cycle on poverty, and I appreciate you for giving me the opportunity to clarify my remarks. Thank you very much.  Thank you.