Bill's Transcripts

Transcript: Interview with Chris Uhlmann on ABC's 730 Report

Read my interview on last night's 730 Report.

Subjects: cabinet reshuffle, new industrial relations portfolio



Chris Uhlmann

And earlier, the man who will soon be Minister for Workplace Relations joined me from Melbourne.

Bill Shorten, congratulations and welcome.

Bill Shorten

Thanks and good evening.

Chris Uhlmann

You come to the job at a time when employers are unhappy with the Workplace Relations Act and so are unions, so there’s a fair bit of work to do?

Bill Shorten

Well, there is plenty of debate on industrial relations. But I actually come to this portfolio at a good time. My predecessor Senator Chris Evans has done a great job and of course the Prime Minister, before she became Prime Minister, helped lay the foundations for the fair workplace laws that we now have.  So I think that I am joining a very strong team and while I think there is a lot of debate, I think the job is exciting, not too hard.

Chris Uhlmann

Is Chris Evans did a great job, why isn’t he in the job?

Bill Shorten

Well he has got a big role outlined to him by the Prime Minister today – skills, higher education, and of course leading the Government’s legislative program in the Senate. But the Prime Minister has also indicated that she’s promoted a range of people, pushing, as she said, for some new blood. We’ve seen Minister Plibersek go into Health, we’ve seen Minister Butler with his stewardship of mental health and aged care moving into Cabinet, and then I’ve had a fortunate promotion too.

Chris Uhlmann

If business has to shut itself down like Qantas in order to end rolling industrial relations action, isn’t there something wrong with your industrial relations system?

Bill Shorten

That assumes that Qantas made the right decision to shut the airline down to begin with and I contend that it didn’t. I don’t believe it was appropriate for an airline management, who are paid very large sums of money and are very smart people and run a global brand, I don’t think it was appropriate for them to say that the only way they could get their employees to change is by damaging the Australian economy.  So the assumption of your question I don’t agree with Chris.

Chris Uhlmann

If retailers have to shut on the weekend because they can’t afford wages, is that a sign that you’ve got a good system?

Bill Shorten

Well let’s be clear, there are challenges in the retail sector and in hospitality more generally in Australia which I think are unrelated to penalty rates and more related to the high price of the dollar and Australians going overseas. I think they are related to in a period of global uncertainty Australians are saving more and not spending on traditional patterns of hospitality and the retail sector like they used to. And of course in the retail sector itself, there are some companies that are going very well and there are some that are not. I don’t accept the proposition that the only way our retail and hospitality sectors can advance in Australia is by cutting people’s pay.

Chris Uhlmann

The unions are saying they want to have job security guaranteed within the industrial relations system.  Is that something any employer can guarantee?

Bill Shorten

I’m not familiar with every claim, and let me be straight here, I have a union background, I am a union member, I still am and I am proud of that, but I don’t see my job as to automatically pick a side in every claim.  What we’re interested in is that business goes well, business can create wealth.  We can’t have employees and union members without jobs. I’ve always understood that and I’m very middle-of-the-road in my views, and I’ve got no doubt that if we allow the bargaining process to take place, employers and employees and unions will work these issues out.

Chris Uhlmann

You’ll know of course that the ALP platform was amended recently and unions now want to see arbitration included as part of your platform. Is that something you want to see?

Bill Shorten

The Government’s made it very clear, and the Prime Minister made it very clear in her press conference today, that she sees part of my role is of course industrial relations regulation, but she’s thinking about the future, as is the whole Government. We’re interested in the fact that the role of work in Australia is changing. That our grandparents once thought they had a job for life and their grandchildren know they’ll have three or four careers, and our children and grandchildren may well have eight jobs across their lifetime. We understand we are a modern, dynamic services economy, as well as being a manufacturing economy, as well as being a construction sector, as well as having government sectors. We get in the Gillard Government that we need to help make sure our workers are as mobile as possible. We also get that for Australians, they don’t just live to work. While we may spend one third of our adult life at work, we want to get the work/life balance right.

Chris Uhlmann

Compulsory arbitration is part of Australia’s past. Do you see any future for it in a modern, open economy?

Bill Shorten

Chris, I haven’t even been sworn in. I do have views, but I’ll be informed by the very capable department who will be advising me.  I’ve certainly already started ringing stakeholders from all points of view.  I’m looking forward to catching up with my predecessor to make sure we do the transition properly. As a general principle, I think arbitration is a last resort. I don’t see it as the default position. I actually believe in the bargaining system. I believe in collective bargaining. A lot of issues that seem to populate the front pages of certain elements of the conservative press I think are only part of the workplace of the future. Many people are dealing with issues such as the fact they are on call 24 hours a day through their Blackberry phones. A lot of people are dealing with modern issues such as they’ve got to drive an hour each way to get to a job, can they work somewhere nearer to the jobs they want, or can they use technology to work at home? There are a lot of people that are setting up small businesses or are independent contractors. The old debates on industrial relations have their place, but there are a lot of new issues unfolding, and I think the Australian people will expect us to focus on the future, not just dwell on the past.

Chris Uhlmann

Minister Shorten, a lot of people would be saying today that you got this job because you helped the Prime Minister get her job. Fair comment?

Bill Shorten

I think the Prime Minister was very clear today. She’s injecting some new blood into the Cabinet, she’s changing some people’s responsibilities. I think she is doing a very good balancing job and, as I said, she’d brought in a lot of new energy in the lead up to the next election, which is still 18 months away. There are important issues the Prime Minister articulated that are important to all Australians.

Chris Uhlmann

Did you get your job because you helped her get hers?

Bill Shorten

I believe that in terms of the position I’ve got, the Prime Minister has made a view about me and what I can contribute. I’m very clear I think the Prime Minister does things based on what she thinks is important in terms of advancing the Nation’s interests and, again, we know that workplace relations is going to be an important issue in the next two to three years.  The Abbott opposition refugees from a time warp when they would like to bring back hardline industrial relations. There’s two types of conservatives we have in the Opposition: those who openly say they want to bring back Work Choices and those who privately say they want to bring back Work Choices but won’t own up to it.

Chris Uhlmann

Sure, but surely the question is about your workplace relations system and whether or not it works. Are you convinced that it works at the moment?

Bill Shorten

I’m convinced that I come in as a Minister to a very strong system which is very well founded. And I look forward to working with all the players in the system to make sure the existing system works to meet the expectations of employers, of businesses, of small business, big businesses, independent contractors, but I also know that the Prime Minister has been very clear. She wants to make sure we are saving enough money for people’s retirement and we are dealing with the future issues of work and getting work life balance right, for instance.

Chris Uhlmann

Bill Shorten we’ll leave it there. Thank you.

Thank you.