Bill's Transcripts

Transcript: Interview with Jon Faine ABC 774

Read or listen to my interview.

Interview with Jon Faine 774 ABC.

Subjects: cabinet reshuffle, new industrial relations portfolio



Jon Faine

Well Julia Gillard created a bit of gridlock of her own in Canberra as the lobbyists, political insiders and back benches struggled to keep up with changes as she shuffled her ministry and made changes to her Cabinet. One of the big winners is the Victorian former trade unionist Bill Shorten, who is the incoming Workplace Relations, Employment, Financial Services and Superannuation Minister. Bill Shorten, good morning to you. Congratulations.

Bill Shorten

Thanks Jon.

Jon Faine

First of all, clearly now industrial relations is going to be a major battleground. Does this re-ignite the issue as a point of different between Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard?

Bill Shorten

It’s always been a point of difference between Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard. Labor believes people should go to work and receive a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. They believe in a fair go all round. We understand that you need employers and businesses – big or small – to be prosperous. We also understand that because work is such an important part of people’s lives, they spend one third of their adult life working, they have a reasonable expectation to a fair go at work.

Jon Faine

Days lost in industrial disputes are at a seven year high. 50% more days lost this year than last year.  How can you say the Fair Work Act doesn’t need a major overhaul?

Bill Shorten

There’s a couple of assumptions in that question. I haven’t even been sworn in yet so I haven’t got to all of the data.

Jon Faine

There are no assumptions there, those are facts.

Bill Shorten

No, no, I’ll come to the assumptions. I was just saying to you that I haven’t been sworn in yet, it’s a day before I even get sworn in.  So there will be data which I don’t have all the command of.  But going to your general point - is this disputation a sign that the Fair Work Act isn’t working - I don’t agree.

Jon Faine

Marius Kloppers thinks that it’s not working. He’s the boss of the biggest mining company in the world, and one of the biggest businesses in Australia.

Bill Shorten

Yes, that’s his opinion. That’s fair enough, that’s his opinion, and large mining company executives tend to have a view that is fairly consistent on industrial relations. What I was going to say to you is I’ve done a thousand enterprise agreements plus and I’ve been to all sorts of worksites around Australia. When you get to disputation, in my experience, it usually takes two groups of people to have a disagreement, not just one, so quite often behind that data you’ve got to unpack how it came to be an argument. Just because there is an argument doesn’t mean the system is wrong. You were talking just before about the road traffic congestion, the stories that will get on to the nightly news will tragically be if there is a road accident. Another couple of million Victorians will get to work just fine, but yet we don’t say the road rules of Victoria are broken. There are disputes but I would suggest to you: one, most Australians do get to work and do have their jobs, and it’s not a case of disaster, yet the media will always report the disaster over the good news. The second thing I would say to you is this: bargaining is part of what happens in Australia. People are allowed to advance...

Jon Faine

(Interrupts) But it’s the rules within which that bargaining takes place. Ok, so tomorrow when you go visit your mother-in-law and get sworn in, then the task before you consists of a number of major challenges. Can we go through them please? Will you or will you not continue with the Government’s  plans to abolish the ABCC, the Australian Building and Construction Commission?

Bill Shorten

We’ve put legislation in the Parliament to put the ABCC to within the jurisdiction of Fair Work Australia. We certainly see a value to having strong industrial relations regulation in the construction sector. Interestingly, that is an area where I think you’ll find your mining bosses want to see regulation, not deregulation, because there the bargaining power is sometimes reversed. So the large companies don’t always like it if the workers have strong bargaining powers, but we are committed?

Jon Faine

(Interupts) But you’ll still abolish the ABCC which is a cherished goal of the construction unions, which according to the developer community are already out of control?

Bill Shorten

Well first of all Jon, I can’t answer your question any straighter than the ABCC will be put into Fair Work Australia. We’ve tabled that legislation in the Parliament.

Jon Faine

Will you continue to regulate independent contractors through workplace relations laws when really that is quite artificial given that contracts are contracts, they’re not really part of industrial relations law?  The whole point of contracting is to get away from awards.

Bill Shorten

Well there are a lot of reasons why people become contractors. A lot of them are to do with people becoming their own boss. A lot of them are to do with tax laws. In terms of independent contractors, we haven’t flagged new legislation. In terms of contractors, that tends to fall more in the area of my old portfolio. We want to make sure of course that we don’t have sham contracting where people turn up at a work site and are told ‘right, you're now a contractor, get yourself an ABN’, and what we see is tax leakage, and what we see is some people not paying their fair share of tax and others being ripped off.  There are two million plus people who are independent contractors. They have got nothing to worry about with this reshuffle Jon. So it’s important we don’t scare people.

I don’t see industrial relations as, and I’ve been doing it for, except for the last four years, I’ve been doing it one way or another for the past 15 years before that, industrial relations is not all bad news and the argument between Qantas and its workforce.  The fact of the matter is there are a lot of new issues in the world of work.  The fact of the matter is we’ve got to get the work, life, family balance correct.   And, again, I think you implied saying it’s Christmas, we’re under the pump, there are a lot of issues at work which may or may not contribute to how people behave and have nothing to do with regulation.  The Liberals love to talk about deregulating the labour market, scrapping penalty rates and putting all the bargaining power in workplace on the side of one of the parties. I’m pragmatic, I’m middle of the road...

Jon Faine

You can’t be all things to all people either though Mr Shorten.

Bill Shorten

I know, but you can always be middle of the road Jon.

Jon Faine

You can be poacher turned game keeper.

Bill Shorten

That implies when you are a union official you are a poacher Jon. Do you know you’ve probably got union members working around you in that studio? I don’t necessarily think they’re poachers. Perhaps if we change some of our language on industrial relations. Unions, in a modern democratic society and economy, it is legal to belong to a union, so I don’t think they are poachers, and I don’t think being a union rep is a poacher.

Having said that, I have a different role and certainly my role is not to pick sides in arguments. It is to make sure things work appropriately, that people get their fair say. I’ve always understood as a union rep, and I certainly understand as a Member of Parliament representing all of my constituents, not just some of them, you can’t have an employee without an employer.

Jon Faine

Now, just a final point, is whether or not this reshuffle reignites factional tension within the Government.

Bill Shorten

No.

Jon Faine

Well you would say that wouldn’t you? That would have to be the answer.

Bill Shorten

Well if you expected me to say it, one wonders why you asked me.  And if you’re not going to accept my answer, one again wonders why you asked me.

Jon Faine

It’s the tone of the answer as much as the words that you use that indicate to us the attitudes of the Gillard insiders and their attitude towards their factional foes.

Bill Shorten

Well perhaps I was giving you a one-word answer because I thought that might please you more than a longer answer.  All right, I’ll give you a longer answer.

No, it doesn’t reignite tensions. Reshuffles are always complex matters. You’ve got a lot of very motivated people in Parliament on both sides. I noticed Tony Abbott is too scared to have a reshuffle because he knows he’s got his young ones barking at his heels and he’s got a lot of perhaps older, long time serving members of Parliament, Kevin Andrews, Bronwyn Bishop and others, and he knows that he can’t interrupt the sort of finely tuned, delicately balanced, operation his got on his front bench. I mean the Opposition front bench reminds me of that old saying ‘they’re getting the band back together again’.

Jon Faine

I’m grateful for your time and availability this morning, thank you.