FRIDAY, 29 AUGUST 2014
SUBJECT/S: The Government’s plans to allow overseas workers to undercut Australian workers’ pay; Russian-Ukraine conflict; Iraq; Kevin Andrews; Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; trade union royal commission.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everyone. In today’s Australian, there were very concerning reports that the Government is watering down laws protecting the wage and conditions of Australian workers. The Government is proposing that skilled workers from overseas can be brought into Australia and paid 10 per cent less than standard market wages that existing Australian workers are currently enjoying. There is an important principle here. This country has always used from time to time, skilled guest workers to fill shortages of labour here. But the principle, which has always governed this, is that Australians and jobs for Australians should be the first priority.
Unemployment is now at its highest level in a decade. We see in many parts of regional Australia, high levels of youth unemployment, high levels of unemployment for mature aged Australians who have been dislocated by changes in the Australian economy. It is important that these people are the first priority of a government jobs plan. The Government needs to explain why it would exploit underpaid labour, exploit underpaid labour, from overseas in preference to finding jobs for unemployed Australians. We do understand that there can be temporary shortages in skilled labour, but that cannot be a substitute for training Australians with apprenticeships, making sure that adults who have been unemployed get first call on new jobs. There is no place in Australia for exploiting guest workers from overseas to work alongside Australian workers, doing the same work, for lower rates of pay. This neither helps Australian workers, nor unemployed Australians, nor guest workers from overseas.
Under the Liberal Party, they promised a million new jobs when they came to power. It would appear that the only jobs this government's interested in finding, are jobs for people from other countries, not jobs for Australians. We do not want to see this Government's policies lowering wages for Australians and their families who are already battling to make ends meet.
Before I take questions, I would just like to comment about the significant escalation in aggression overnight by Russia into neighbouring Ukraine. The sending of troops in an armed incursion into Ukraine overnight is unacceptable. This is a clear breach of international law by Russia. As President Obama has said, Russia is responsible for this violence. They are arming the separatists, they are training the separatists, now it would appear that they are intending to fight alongside the separatists. The Russians are up to this latest violence in the Ukraine, up to their eyeballs in this latest violence. It is a clear breach of international law. Russia needs to be held to account. There must be a strong message sent internationally, that this breach of UN charters, this breach of international law, will not be tolerated or accepted.
Australia should be calling, or supporting calls, for an emergency session of the UN Security Council immediately. Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, one of only five nations in the world with a permanent position tasked with maintaining international order. It is reprehensible of Russia to be abusing this position and undermining the rule of international law, international order. I'm happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Given the latest events in the Ukraine, should Vladimir Putin be allowed to attend the G20 in Brisbane? The Prime Minister says Australia can't make a decision on his attendance unilaterally.
SHORTEN: It is probably time for the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister to be talking to other nations, other members of the G20, about whether it is appropriate for Mr Putin to come to Australia. It is an international conference, not an Australian conference, I understand that. But following the tragic events of MH17, the complete lack of remorse or responsibility, the lack of full cooperation in terms of MH17, and now, scenes of thousands of Russian soldiers flooding across the Ukrainian border, I think most Australians have grave reservations about welcoming Mr Putin to Australia. There is no doubt in my mind, that Russia has been involved in the conflict in Ukraine. There is no doubt in my mind that the world as a whole is aghast at the actions of the Russian Government.
I have said before that Labor will support the Prime Minister taking the strongest action possible. I certainly believe it is now time for tighter, escalating sanctions against the Russian Government because of the actions they are taking, the unlawful actions they are taking, in a neighbouring country.
JOURNALIST: Would you welcome Vladimir Putin yourself to Australia?
SHORTEN: I think I'm like most Australians, I have been appalled by MH17, sickened beyond belief. The grief of these families, of 38 Australians or residents of Australia, snatched from their friends out of the sky by a Russian-made missile, we believe, is devastating. I accept that the Prime Minister has to sensibly work through, with other G20 nations. I have been heartened by the strong public condemnation from the French, from the English, from the Americans. Australia must again renew its voice in the chorus of international condemnation, and again I have the gravest reservations about that man, Mr Putin, coming to Australia.
JOURNALIST: Do you consider it an invasion?
SHORTEN: I think the language has moved, President Obama's called it an incursion, others have called it an invasion. I know what I would think if armed troops of another country were on the borders, within the borders of my country, I would regard it as an invasion and a hostile act.
JOURNALIST: Back to the Northern Territory deal, it's my understanding that Labor actually initiated that deal. So does that mean you no longer stand by it?
SHORTEN: Labor has never stood – and the Labor I lead will never stand – for undermining local wages and conditions. There is a big problem of unemployment in Australia. Since the Abbott Government got elected, unemployment has gone up and up and up. It's now at 6.4 per cent nationally, and furthermore, when you look at our young Australians who can't get a job, their parents must be asking, ‘why can't my child get an apprenticeship yet the government of Australia is creating job opportunities for people from other countries?’ There are older Australians right now despairing about whether or not they will get another start, and yet we have this government shipping in labour to work here at lower rates than the people working alongside them. This is not a job strategy for Australia, it's a job strategy for other countries. The problem is it's our government doing it.
JOURNALIST: So Labor didn't initiate that deal in the first place?
SHORTEN: We have never and I have never believed in replacing opportunities for Australians with other people. Guest labour been part of Australia's history. We’re not flat earth, we understand that. But I do believe that once you start saying that you can pay some people less to do the same work alongside other people getting paid more for the same skills, you are distorting the labour market, you’re entrenching unfairness, and you are undermining not only the opportunities to the unemployed, you are undermining the job security of the people on the higher wage. After all, why will a company keep paying an Australian at a higher rate of pay, when under the Abbott job creation program, you can import someone and pay them less? It creates all the wrong price signals.
JOURNALIST: On Iraq, does Australia have a responsibility to get involved, given how many Australians are fighting over there?
SHORTEN: The Government and Labor have no difference in terms of the importance of tackling this dreadful organisation, the Islamic State. Labor has continuously supported the need to help provide humanitarian relief against the backdrop of a genocide of minorities in Iraq. Labor certainly believes it's important that we have a well-functioning Iraqi Government as the basis for its actions. We recognise that IS is barbarous and we need to discourage the flow of Australians, misguided Australians, or Australians with completely the wrong values, going to fight in this conflict. So we believe that we do need to make sure Australia is standing up, providing humanitarian relief and other forms of support to a people who are in the face of genocide.
JOURNALIST: The question was specifically about military action, though. Should Australia or does Australia have a responsibility to join military action over there?
SHORTEN: Well Labor has said several things on this matter and again, I stress, despite the day to day political argy-bargy in Australia, there is no difference between myself and Tony Abbott about the importance of dealing with the IS or the Islamic State menace. We are proud of the RAAF men and women who have been providing humanitarian relief in Northern Iraq and their professionalism. We recognise there may be further calls to support and enable the Iraqi Government, as it gets its act together and helps deal with this menace, in terms of humanitarian relief, and we are supportive of these measures. We have said –
JOURNALIST: Specifically about military action, though –
SHORTEN: I think when we talk about something as important as Australia’s engagement in foreign affairs of this matter, I will take a little longer to answer your point because your question rightly goes to the very big importance –
JOURNALIST: It is about military action, not about humanitarian. They are two different things. Should Australia get involved in military action?
SHORTEN: Well, to go to the basis of the principles of engagement, as the Prime Minister has also done, the basis of our support and actions in Iraq is based upon the humanitarian support of minorities who are being persecuted by a dreadful terrorist organisation. That is the basis of our intervention. It is also to stop and discourage the flow of Australian foreign fighters and in addition, it is to make sure that the Iraqi Government has the space to be able to create the most national unified position. Labor has said that we don't support sending combat troops in formed units into Iraq, just as the Government has said. But if people are looking for a lot of political division and debate between Liberal and Labor on this most important issue, they will be sorely disappointed.
JOURNALIST: Would Labor support releasing Christmas Island detainees on temporary protection visas?
SHORTEN: Well with the Papua New Guinea regional resettlement arrangement in place, we believe that the Abbott Government's stated rationale for TPVs is redundant. What the PNG arrangement did was take Australia off the table. That's the difference, we believe, has been crucial in helping stop the boats. Labor's position on TPVs is clear. The evidence speaks for itself, as a deterrent, they are redundant. TPVs put people in a state of limbo. They are a band aid fix. What we need for the Government to start resettling people elsewhere as part of regional re-settlement.
JOURNALIST: Is that a no, you wouldn't support releasing them on TPVs?
SHORTEN: There has been no set of circumstances which would warrant a change of our policy for the reasons I just stated.
JOURNALIST: Kevin Andrews cancelled his appearance at the world Congress of families, is that the right decision?
SHORTEN: What Mr Andrews does is for Mr Andrews to consider.
JOURNALIST: Was it a mistake for him to even sign up to the Congress in the first place?
SHORTEN: How a Minister of the Government spends their time is ultimately for the judgment of that Minister. Clearly if he's cancelled it, I don't know the reasons, you can conjecture that he thinks it's a mistake.
JOURNALIST: But given –
SHORTEN: But I don't know his motives. I don’t know his motives for going and I don’t know his motives for cancelling. You’ll have to ask Mr Andrews.
JOURNALIST: Let me rephrase my question. Given the content of that Congress, is it appropriate for any Government Minister to be attending?
SHORTEN: I think when we look at what's appropriate by this government, how they choose to spend their time at these conferences is one issue. I wouldn’t have gone. But having said that, the real issue about what's appropriate for this government is, is it appropriate that they lied at the last election and broke their promises?
If I was a Government Minister, I'd be more worried about whether or not I should be imposing a new GP Tax, whether or not it’s appropriate to make people pay an increased petrol tax, to create $100,000 university degrees, to make the unemployed to go without money for six months. Is it appropriate to cut funding to hospitals and schools around Australia? I think if the Government is going to buy a mirror and start weighing up the appropriateness of its actions, it should look at its unfair Budget, stop wasting the time of Australia and do a new Budget.
JOURNALIST: Mr Andrews has said his reason was because the conference was now bring hosted by the Catch the Fire group, so what do you make of that?
SHORTEN: Well I’m sure he is right. It is up for Mr Andrews. He got himself into this, I’m sure it is up for him to explain how he gets himself out of it.
JOURNALIST: Kathy Jackson has accused you and other Labor figures of being a corrupt little gang by trying to put the HSU into administration for political gain. What’s your response to those comments?
SHORTEN: The Abbott Royal Commission into Trade Unions has been going for some time. It has clearly been a platform for people to settle scores. It will be up to the Royal Commission to sort out, amongst the evidence, what is right and what’s wrong. I've said previously, I shall not provide a running commentary and I do not intend to change that policy today.
Perhaps if there's one more question? Indeed there's none. Thank you everyone.
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