Bill's Transcripts

Interview with ABC Breakfast

SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbot, Workplace Relations, Fair Work Act Review

COMPERE:              Tony Abbott has been criticised by the Government for his latest comments on workplace relations laws. Mr Abbott has told tourism industry leaders the laws would be revamped to make way for more flexible arrangements under a coalition government.

 TONY ABBOTT:     The Government is making it even worse for you. There's workplace relations changes over the last few years that are making it harder for you to stay open on Sundays, after hours, on public holidays. 

 There's the increasing burden of red tape and we will move the workplace relations pendulum back to the sensible centre.

 You do need more flexibility in your workplace arrangements.  Individual flexibility agreements must be made more workable and we will do that.

 COMPERE:              Opposition leader Tony Abbott speaking yesterday. While Bill Shorten is the Minister for Employment and Workplace relations, and he joins us now from Saint Albans in Melbourne. Good morning. Thanks for your time.

 Now Tony Abbott says that the changes from the Government have made it harder for business to operate after hours and on Sundays and public holidays. What's your response to that?

 BILL SHORTEN:     Mr Abbott where's your evidence? It's easy to get up in front of a group of business leaders and tell them what they want to hear and use weasel words and say well we're not like we were when we were in government. But we want more flexibility, and weekends, it's harder to do business. 

 Let's decode what Mr Abbott is saying. He's saying to hospitality workers, to retail workers - who are amongst the lowest paid in Australia - that he will cut their penalty rates because he wants to make the big end of town happy with him on industrial relations.

 COMPERE:              But this is an argument that business has been putting forward for some time. I mean even just today the Business Council of Australia - Tony Shepherd from the Business Council of Australia has made similar comments, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Jacques Nasser as the BHP - Billiton Chairman in May saying that the Government’s review into the Fair Work Act needs to move the pendulum back to the centre.

 Where is that Fair Work Act review at?

 BILL SHORTEN:     First of all let's decode weasel words about Mr Abbott saying he wants to move things back to the centre. What the Liberals do when they get into power is they cut workers conditions. They have a vision of Australia which is low waged and high profits for some people, but low profits for the rest of us. 

 This is not a new debate. For about a hundred and ten years employers have been lining up in Australia to say we shouldn't have shift penalties, we shouldn't have anything special paid to people on weekends. This argument is as old as the nation and people haven't accepted it for a hundred and ten years. 

 Why do we want to be the first generation of Australians to hand on lower conditions to our kids and our grandkids? The people who need penalty rates on weekends are low paid workers.

 So we're reviewing the Fair Work Act as we said we would because when we came into office we junked all the old stuff which wasn't working.  We put in what we think is a pretty balanced set of laws.  We're doing a check on the laws just to see how they're going.

 But what I would say to Mr Abbott is two things – one: where's your evidence to cut penalty rates? And two: why don't you bring your policies - why don't you offer detailed policies and we, and me, the Government spokesperson on this matter, we'll debate you any place anywhere. 

 You can fill up the town hall with all the people who like the Liberals. We'll still debate you, just bring your policy out of hiding.

 COMPERE:              But business says that productivity has fallen off as a direct result of changes to industrial relations laws.

 BILL SHORTEN:     They have no evidence for that statement. I'm just not buying that bill of goods. Productivity has fallen in Australia over the last 10 years. The majority of that time it was the old Liberal laws in place. 

 So productivity has fallen but it's been a haunting secret for 10 years.  If you look at the last three quarters productivity has been lifting again. 

 If you want to improve productivity - which is that people are doing more with the same amount of effort - what you need to do is have high value, reasonably well paid workplaces.

 If you want to have successful businesses, make sure the jobs are quality jobs that motivate employers to turn up to work every day.

 I'm at Saint Albans here. It's in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne.  It's in my electorate. A lot of the people here don’t earn a lot of money. And they do need - if they work on weekends and they're away from their family - they do need that penalty rate.

 When we talk about penalty rates we're not talking about the penalty rates for bankers at the big banks in Australia. We're talking about people who work in kitchens, people who work in hotels, people who work in shops. And on the weekend that means that they may get paid - if you're an adult - you know if you're a mum who's 45 - you may get $21 or $23 on the Sunday rather than $17. 

 So this is not - low paid workers are not greedy and they do deserve to get a reasonable wage.

 COMPERE:              But how are you addressing these productivity issues and will the Fair Work Act review come up with some kind of - something that will appease business?

 BILL SHORTEN:     Well they're two different questions aren't they?  What are we doing on productivity? We're making sure that Australian workers get more skills and training than ever before. We want to build infrastructure which means that people can move around our cities more easily. We're putting in the National Broadband Network which will allow a lot of small businesses to start up.

 I mean I've got a railway crossing here at Saint Albans. It's regarded as the most dangerous in Victoria. It's also one of the - you're held up here longer than any other railway crossing in Victoria. Yet Ted Baillieu in Victoria, the Liberal Premier, he's building an underpass not at this railway crossing which is in a Labor electorate, but in a suburb called Brighton Beach which is one of the most affluent suburbs. And the level crossing there is rated at 117. In other words it's 117th, you know, least dangerous.

 So if you want to build productivity maybe the Liberals should spend money outside of their suburbs in Melbourne and we should stop trying to cut penalty rates for workers. No one ever shrunk their way to economic greatness. No one ever cut people’s conditions from $40,000 to $35,000 and had a highly productive workplace.

 COMPERE:              Bill Shorten I want to ask you your thoughts about this deepening rift between Labor and the Greens.

BILL SHORTEN:     Sorry? I missed that with the loud trucks behind me.

 COMPERE:              No that's okay. I wanted to ask you about your thoughts on the deepening rift between Labor and the Greens.

 BILL SHORTEN:     Well, the issue of all preferences is a matter for the organisational wing. I have no doubt in my mind though that this issue of boat people - people who are being exploited, hopping in dangerous boats and drowning at sea. You know I can understand that the Greens say that we should just have onshore processing. 

 But I think that that policy is exerting a pull factor and people are selling desperate refugees a false bill of goods endangering their lives - in the case of some people drowning.  We need offshore processing.

 And I just say to people who are supportive of the Greens on this question -  and just as I'd say to people who are supporting Mr Abbott on this question - now's not the time to have an ideologically pure position.  Now the time - when human life is at risk - is to put aside your traditional position and work out a compromise in the best interests of people.

 COMPERE:              Bill Shorten thanks for your time this morning.

 BILL SHORTEN:     Thank you.

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