PRESS CLUB ADDRESS
TUESDAY, 31 JANUARY 2017
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan for jobs; Malcolm Turnbull’s weakness; President Trump; Renewable Energy; company tax cuts; Australia-US Alliance
CHRIS ULHMANN: Well, we will go straight to the floor for questions from journalists and start with Network Seven.
AMELIA BRACE: Mr Shorten, thank you for your time this afternoon. Amelia Brace from Seven News. On page 12 of your address, you listed six particular occupations that you say Australian workers are missing out on jobs, but Immigration Department data shows that in each of those occupations, as Employment Minister, you oversaw record numbers of 457 visas. Without referencing the mining boom which wouldn't necessarily impact early childhood educators, can you explain what has changed in five years?
SHORTEN: The mining boom is over, I'm sorry. When you talk about these occupations, electricians, motor mechanics, when you talk about these occupations, what we had between 2006 and 2012 was a mining boom which lifted not just miners, but lifted all the related occupations. But that time has come and gone, and the economy, whilst it has changed, our rules around visas have not kept pace with changing economy. Quite frankly, when you have unemployment at 5.8 per cent, when you see massive unemployment in Western Australia and Queensland, when you travel like I have to Townsville, to Mackay, to Gladstone, to Bundaberg, when you see the consequences in our inland cities, we can't do business as usual and not change the regulatory settings, full stop. And the other thing is for too long, we haven't had sufficient vigilance about whether or not the visas were really needed. When I was Workplace Relations Minister, I tightened up the requirements. We introduced labour market testing, a fact which the Libs love to gloss over, but the point about all of this is, when you've got unemployed Australians in these callings, I make no apology, I'm going to stand up for Australian jobs first and Australians first.
ULHMANN: The Australian.
DAVID CROWE: Thank you, Chris. David Crowe from the Australian newspaper. Thanks very much for your speech, Mr Shorten, and I thought some thoughtful observations on politics as usual. Although I do wonder whether there is some politics as usual in the strong criticism of the foreign workers. Migration Council report a few years ago found that despite Labor claims about widespread rorts, there were not widespread rorts, most of the program was working well. The number of applicants has actually fallen over the last couple of years under this Government, so I wonder whether there is something concrete that can be put forward, or whether it's just a search for a scapegoat which we see time and again. But in the spirit of trying to avoid politics as usual, one question on the detail is at the moment the police station fee for a 457 is about $1,000. If you are seriously concerned about 457s, would you consider increasing that application fee, therefore putting a higher cost on it and using that revenue to perhaps invest more in TAFE?
SHORTEN: Just to your two questions and I think the first, whilst it was a statement, do a agree with you? No, I don't. Where you say there has been an absence of concrete proof - Pizza Hut, 7/11, have a good look at some of the petrol stations that maybe even some of you buy your coffees in. I'm sorry, there is a problem out there. Go and have a look at some of our orchards and farms where we see guest workers being exploited. The problem is real. That's one side of the problem but the other side of the problem, I suggest, is even more compelling. There has been a complete collapse in the number of our apprenticeships. When Labor was last in office, over 400,000 apprentices. Now under 300,000. This nation will pay the price in the future for simply the short-term importing of skills, rather than training our own. Labor has never said you shouldn't have guest workers where there is genuine vacancies, but do we really need to import early childhood educators? Do we really need not to be training up our own diesel mechanics and motor mechanics and fitters and turners? Do we really need not to be training our own electricians for the future? So there is a problem with exploitation and that's real, and I don't know how you felt, but I was shocked when I saw that footage shown on one of our television stations of the worker being paid and then being forced to hand back half their pay. That's the real world. That's what's happening right now under this Government's nose, and I'm equally shocked to see the number of apprenticeships declining. In terms of the application fee for 457 visas, I do think that is an issue. If it becomes too easy and too cheap to import someone rather than train someone inevitable, like water flows to the lowest level, people will go to where the opportunity is, so I do think there is absolutely something in what you're saying there.
DANIELA RITORTO: Mr Shorten, Daniela Ritorto from SBS, hello. You talked about putting outcomes above politics, if remaining silent on President Trump drivers on the resettlement deal, clears offshore detention centres, isn't that worth the Prime Minister biting his tongue?
SHORTEN: No, let's be straight here, the deal that we've done the Americans have said they will honour. Every day other nations are doing arrangements with America, but I think there is something really important here. How America conducts itself is by and large a matter for the Americans, just as how Australia conducts itself is a matter for us. But sometimes, silence can be interpreted as agreement.
When you are the Australian Prime Minister, you stand up for Australian values. When the German Prime Minister saw what was happening, she spoke up. When the Canadian Prime Minister saw what was happening, he spoke up. When the British Prime Minister saw what was happening, she spoke up. Our Prime Minister, when he saw what was happening, he stayed silent.
There isn't much point in having the top job if you're not going to back in what you believe. Now, President Trump said the deal is fine, it's all there, but this country has got to stand up. If I ever get the opportunity to be Prime Minister, I want America as our ally and I will make sure we are an ally to America, but I don't believe that Australia should sign up to being a satellite and silent on Australian values, full stop.
JOURNALIST: You said yourself that actions speak louder than words. Is there a point at which you would consider the alliance itself if the White House continues in the manner that it is going at the moment.
SHORTEN: Foreign policy is too important to deal with hypotheticals - I also take the job that I've got as a serious job. I absolutely support the American alliance, but let's be clear, sometimes there are issues where if the nation's leader is silent, it can be interpreted as agreement. I will not remain silent therefore. If the Germans can speak up, if the English can speak up, if the Canadians can speak up, then why are we silent?
DAVID SPEERS: David Speers from Sky News, Mr Shorten. Thank you for your speech. I note you didn't mention in the speech, though, your 50 per cent goal for renewable energy by 2030. Given your priority is jobs, jobs, jobs, what would be the jobs impact of that goal? The Government is obviously coming at you pretty hard over this issue this year, so is there any modelling on the jobs impact of this goal at all? And can I ask, just as Donald Trump said he would pull out of the TPP, he also said he would pull out of the Paris Agreement. Do you have any free and frank advice to him on that and what should Australia do if he does do that?
SHORTEN: You just said I didn't speak about climate change, I did actually say in my speech, for the record, that I see that proper renewable energy policy will generate jobs. There are jobs in renewables, I said that, and at the conclusion I said we won't give up on action on climate change. There are jobs in renewable energy. I have had the opportunity to visit factories from Tasmania to Queensland. I've had the opportunity to see the remarkable work being done at the University of New South Wales. Australians are world leaders in research on photovoltaic work, for example. I've had the chance to go to Perth and see at Fremantle the work that is being done on renewable energy over there.
There are real jobs, not just jobs for the scientists, but jobs for blue collar workers, jobs for engineers, jobs for designers. There are jobs in renewable energy. Absolutely we think it is part of the economic strategy for the future. In the Asia-Pacific in the next number of years, there is a massive amount of money to be invested in the Asia Pacific in renewable energy. I don't want us to miss the boat. Quite frankly, since the Liberal Nationals came to power, we've been losing jobs in renewable energy, and I think that's a counter-productive approach. I don't think it is a question of manufacturing or renewable energy, I don't think it is a question of mining or solar. I think this economy of ours needs to be sufficiently diverse that we can incorporate reliance on fossil fuels and renewable energy.
Quite frankly, I don't know but, but I'm surprised that Malcolm Turnbull has been so weak on the issue of climate change, and now we've got, and I think see learning a lesson in leadership here, if you keep appeasing your enemies, they don't go away, they keep coming back for more. Now the whole Renewable Energy Target is under threat which throws the whole market for investment in renewable energy into doubt. I think it's amazing the Liberal Party say they are the party of markets, but when it comes providing certainty for a market for renewable energy investment, they are a pack of vandals, they are providing no certainty whatsoever. So I think absolutely jobs in renewable energy, part of the jobs of the future.
ULHMANN: I think David's question was about costs. We are on 16 per cent on renewable at the moment. You want to get to 50 per cent in the next 13 years to catch and pass Germany. Who will pay the bill?
SHORTEN: I think there is a bigger bill to be paid if we don't embrace renewable energy. I think that when we look at the issue of cost, there is the opportunity cost of not acting. Let's have a look at the opportunity cost of not acting on climate change. More drought, more impact, negative impact, on our tourism industries, more extreme weather events. Last year was the hottest year on record. There is the price that we pay and that our kids will pay even more if we don't take action on climate change. We will hold our ground on climate change.
I just wish that Malcolm Turnbull, he probably doesn't want to get any advice from me, but I just say this, he is about protecting his job and he's got two strategies - appease the right wing of his party or stand up. The path of protection is better achieved through sticking to what you believe in than selling out what you believe in. Deep down, I wonder if he really, if he wanted to be silent on Trump. Who knows? But the point about it is, again we see manifest weakness at the core of the leadership of this nation, selling out on climate change, selling out on things which he once believed was important. The top job is not worth having if you don't stand up for what you believe in.
SABRA LANE: Mr Shorten, Sabra Lane from ABC's AM, just touching on a question that Daniela raised earlier, I'm a little unclear. Do you think are you walking away from Australia's agreement with the United States to resettle the 2,000 people now from Nauru and Manus Island, and if so, where should those people now be settled? Are you suggesting that they should come to the mainland here?
SHORTEN: No, I'm not walking away from it at all. I expect it to be honoured.
JAMES MASSOLA: Thanks for the speech, Mr Shorten. James Massola from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. You say that you support the US alliance, obviously, but you've also called Donald Trump barking mad, you've been strongly critical of the recent refugee decision that he has made. How would a Shorten Labor Government actually work with his administration and not put at risk the security relationship we have? And secondly, if you want to restore integrity in politics, why not promise to support a national integrity commission rather than backing a Senate Inquiry, why not promise here and now to back the commission?
SHORTEN: Thanks for two the questions, James. Just on the first one, does our alliance with America mean that you have to agree with everything they say and do? I don't think so. I don't think most of you think that, actually. In terms of my comments about President Trump, before the election, I seem to remember all sides of politics expressing some concerns about some of his views. And if you are asking me to apologise for criticising views which disrespect women, or disrespect people which come from different countries, how can I do that? Because I don't respect that.
Now I hope I'm wrong. I hope that things work out and we will obviously keep working with the American alliance, it is stronger, I believe, than personalities. But in terms of an alliance and how I would conduct myself as Prime Minister, as I said, silence on some issues can be interpreted as agreement, and I do not agree. And does anyone think that NATO is going to cease existing because the English, because the Germans disagreed with this policy? Does someone suddenly think that the Canadian-American relationship is going to see a freeze because Prime Minister Trudeau disagrees? I just think when you're Prime Minister of Australia, you have to stand up for what you believe in, you've got to stand up for your values sometimes, and I don't believe our alliance is sufficiently fragile that unless you are completely the shadow that somehow it's not the right thing to do.
In terms of the national integrity commission, we currently have a range of measures to stand against corruption. I think it's important to understand also the lessons from the state anti-corruption bodies to see what can be done better. I think it is important to investigate the merits, but I understand that when Labor, one of the two major political parties is saying we should revive and inquire into the merits of a national integrity commission, it is me on behalf of my party sending the strongest possible message to the Australian people, we know you expect the highest standards and we are prepared to examine all and everything to ensure that Australians have a renewed confidence in politics and public administration.
ULHMANN: The Guardian Australia.
KATHARINE MURPHY: Hello, Mr Shorten. Katharine Murphy. It's obvious from the context of your speech and to everyone here in this room and to the viewers looking on at home that there has been a debate about whether the rise of Donald Trump, the Brexit, the return of One Nation to the Australian political scene is an economic phenomenon or a cultural one in terms of the underpinning factors behind that. So, and in the context of your speech today there has been a hat-tip to voters with your integrity measures, there's been- you've told an economic story here today, but we haven't heard much about progress and about the cultural agenda. So my question really is: How does a progressive party like the ALP continue to be progressive, pursue progressive issues in the current context, or do you, by pushing the rights agenda, do you simply make the Trump forces stronger? What do you do? Do you lay off the rights agenda or do you stand up and have a fight?
SHORTEN: I'm not sure I agree with your characterisation of what I said as pushing Trump's agenda because half the other questions have accused me of not pushing Trump's agenda, but let's go to what you say about the changes. The Labor Party hasn't changed its values. It is not unusual for us to stand up for Australian manufacturing, Australian apprenticeships, Australian content. We are the party of tradies. We are the party who believe that the 1.6 million people with trades qualifications in Australia shouldn't have the quality and calibre and integrity the currency of their qualifications undermined by this government's latest pushes to devalue that currency.
But when we talk about agenda, my agenda is very clear: Jobs. See, when you push jobs, that's not an investment banking strategy, that's not a tax minimisation strategy, it is about making sure that middle-class and working-class people have got the ability to have good, meaningful work, that they have the prospect of being able to retire with some money in the bank, that their kids can buy their first house and indeed their kids can find a job.
I think it is a bread-and-butter Australian value to make sure that we rededicate ourselves to the notion that every generation of Australians hands on a better future to our kids than the one we inherited.
Just to perhaps restate some of the things I also said in my speech. We are not taking a backward step on climate change, we are not taking a backward step on recognition of our First Australians in the Constitution, we are not taking a backward step in defending Medicare, we are not taking a backward step demanding equal pay for women, we are not taking a backward step in demanding the equal treatment for women, we are not taking a backward step on marriage equality, and we will not be silent when we see people being banned because of where they are born or their religion. We will stand up for our values and that's our plan.
ULHMANN: The Australian Financial Review.
PHIL COOREY: Hi, Mr Shorten. Phil Coorey from the AFR, you reiterated in your speech today that you don't support much at all of the Government's company tax cuts. That's going to come to a head in the Senate in the next couple of months. As anticipated, the Government probably pass just a tiny bit of the cuts and if they keep the rest as policy, will you, as Labor, that outstanding $40 or so billion that the Government will have earmarked for the remainder of the cuts, will you put that down for Budget repair or will you reserve the right to spend some of that or all of it?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, let's talk about the Government's corporate tax cut agenda. We will support 83 per cent of businesses getting a reduction, that's businesses with under $2 billion turnover. But this Government couldn't organise a party in a brewery when it comes to advocating their case and there is even less evidence of it.
We've seen that report today which has just come out, shows that the benefits of a corporate tax cut – which goes to large multinationals and large banks - is nebulous. We've seen one number which says it is will improve GDP by 0.1 per cent per year. So over ten years, one per cent, whoopy-doo. Like, that's change down the back of some of the organisations' couches, quite frankly. If you want to improve the economy, invest in the kids, invest in adults retraining, save TAFE and have a training agenda which is the best in the world. Make sure that when you're spending Commonwealth taxpayers' money, why don't you put some apprentices on the jobs, too. Now that's a real plan.
We are not going to turn our back on renewable energy, for example, we think there's jobs there. And we're not going to turn our back on the rest of the agenda that we think is important, but at the heart of it, we are a party of jobs. As I said to you earlier, but I'm going to repeat because I think it's worth repeating, I don't know- maybe some in the Coalition have, I'm not going to say some of them haven't- but I don't know what people who've never seen job losses in their families, if they really understand how important jobs are.
You get how important a job is while you have it, lets you pay the mortgage, the fees, have the holiday, pay the car payments, whatever, but wait until you see people under real pressure, wait until they have to pay for a child who has a real medical condition and Dad or Mum might lose their job. Wait until you see the pressure on working people. It is a loss of identity to lose your job sometimes, it is a dehumanising experience.
Have you ever seen what it's like when people come home and they have to tell their wife and their kids they've seen the factory lay-offs on the TV, yes, Dad has lost his job. Have you ever seen them try to explain? What a parent wants is to be a hero to their kids. You can live without a lot of other things, but you want your kid to think good of you and if you haven't got a job...
So we are going to keep backing in the jobs and this corporate tax cut, it ain't gonna deliver jobs. Some of the money which we give in tax cuts will be remitted to head office overseas, some of the domestic money will be remitted in profits, the commitment to reinvest, small. So I'm about fair dinkum jobs, I'm about jobs which actually make a difference. What is Malcolm Turnbull's economic plan for 2017? Corporate tax cuts, $50 billion, negligible impact. And he did start- let us not forget, he started on January 16th saying the Trans Pacific Partnership was his plan for the year. I mean, that lasted shorter than some of his other great ideas.
ULHMANN: Just briefly, you wouldn't consider lifting the definition of small business from $2 to $10 million?
SHORTEN: We haven't seen the case made out, and the other thing is that it's not about businesses between $2 and $10 million. Do their customers have money in the pocket? They don't at the moment because they've got flat wages. We're making sure they've got good infrastructure, the NBN, roads, rail, and we're also making sure they have a skilled workforce. In a perfect world, you would like to provide more tax cuts for people, but where you have got scarce resources you have to ask yourself what the best use? Quite frankly I'd rather see people able to go and get some bulk-billing at the doctor. I would rather that some people, the aged pensioners are not feeling like they are second-class. It is all priorities. Our priorities are people, our priorities are jobs. We think if you look after the working-class and the middle-class of this country, the rest looks after itself.
ULHMANN: The Conversation.
MICHELLE GRATTAN: Michelle Grattan from The Conversation. Mt Shorten, you said it should be easy for a government to stand up to the Trump Administration on immigration, but what would happen if some of its aggressive rhetoric on China and offshore, man-made islands, turned into reality? Would you, if you were Prime Minister, be willing to take a strong, independent stand on this issue and ensure that Australia resisted any pressure to become embroiled in that sort of conflict?
SHORTEN: Just to go to the first part of your statement, Michelle, you've said that I've said it's easy to stand up to the Trump Administration. I haven't said it's easy. I don't think it's easy. I don't think it's easy at all for Malcolm Turnbull, but sometimes being silent means you are giving agreement, and at the end of the day when you are in a difficult situation, I don't pretend this situation is easy, you are always better off backing your own views and being true to yourself, because if you are not being true to yourself, how can anyone else trust you to be true to them? So I don't think it's easy, but sometimes when you've got to make hard decisions, you do have to stand up. In terms of the South China Sea and the other potential debates between America and China, I hope they don't come to pass. I'm not going to engage in hypotheticals about how this government should react to particular matters of foreign policy and defence. We will work it through with the Government, but just let me say this: You went to the nub of the question without going to the specific hypothetical you raised is do I support Australia being independent? I absolutely support the ANZUS alliance.
When John Curtin in 1941 said we needed to look to America and not England, that was a remarkable call for his time. It showed that John Curtin was putting Australia first. I believe that the American alliance has been an absolute bulwark of our military and foreign policy and it should remain that way. But that never meant in an alliance - and I just caution the Government to just simply just saying you don't have to say yes to everything the Americans asked.
We've got plenty of times, from the Menzies Government, right through to Hawke and Keating where we didn't agree with every request that the Americans made of us. And if I was the Prime Minister, I want the Americans to be our strong ally and I want to be a strong ally back, but that doesn't mean that we become a satellite and simply agree with every, every request that comes from Washington, and I don't think Australians seriously expect us to do that.
ULHMANN: Now to the newest fresh face of the national broadcaster.
ANDREW PROBYN: Mr Shorten, Andrew Probyn.
SHORTEN: I loved how everyone looked around the room.
PROBYN: From ABC 7:30 program. One of the analysts of the Trump ascendancy, Kim Beazley, has said that one of the causative factors has been the fact that Americans have suffered something like 30 years of stagnant wage growth, effectively nothing, over 25-30 years. You've identified that as one of the problems. What's your prescription to increase wage growth in Australia other than motherhood statements, given that some of your policies, such as your renewable energy policy is going to increase cost?
SHORTEN: Just on the last thing, if we don't take action on renewable energy, the costs will increase anyway, so let's always not compare one proposition with a vacuum, because it's not going to be a vacuum if we do nothing. In fact, there will be consequences which even the Insurance Council of Australia, the NFF and others acknowledge. But going back to the heart of your question, you're right and Kim Beazley is right, I think one of the challenges in America has been the hollowing out of the middle class, it has been the loss of manufacturing jobs, it has been a sense that you go to work every day and you can't even reach the poverty line. There are some key differences and whilst, you know, I think Trump is one of the big changes of recent times, massive changes in recent times and how we cope with the twists and turns of their policy, we are not America yet.
The fact of the matter is because we have got a strong union movement and an independent umpire constantly lifting the minimum wage, the differential in minimum wage - our minimum wage has increased. The fact of the matter is that at the time of Reagan, their minimum wage has moved marginally, only north of $7 US now. Our minimum wage has moved to $17-plus.
Some people say the minimum wage in Australia is too high, but let me tell you, that is why you have customers in the high street, because they can afford to buy something. That is why we don't have the sort of problems that you see of people in insecure casualised work as widespread as the United States. So one of the great protections we have against extremism in this country is a strong wages safety net, and another strong protection we have in this country is Medicare. The fact of the matter is, we have a national health care scheme which is available to all. We have a system where in many ways your Medicare card is your contract with the Australian Government. It is the deal, you pay your taxes and you get some of it back in health care. And we have universal superannuation. I know the Liberals always vote against it and I know they say they can never do anything. Whenever it has been to Parliament, they've voted against increasing it. But superannuation, a strong Medicare and a strong minimum wage are one of the reasons why the Australian middle-class and working-class isn't quite in the dire straits of many parts of America but that doesn't mean that the problems we see there aren't cropping up here.
There has always been a portion of inequality in our society, but what concerns Australians is growing inequality. There is a sense in Australia that we've lost control of decision-making. It doesn't just have to be on the big national issues. It can be the over-development of our suburbs, a sense that residents don't have a say, it's a sense that everything is a done deal.
So we are not America yet, but we cannot be complacent, but that's the beauty of what Labor is talking about. Train our own apprentices, give mature-aged workers the chance to retrain, call it out that we need to value our older Australians more, properly fund the early years of childhood learning, schools, TAFEs and universities and get them working together. These are all good plans for the future and we will keep defending Medicare and we will keep defending a strong minimum wage and penalty rates and we will keep making sure that there are no surprises in superannuation, because these are the things that keep a strong centre in Australian politics.
My friend Malcolm loves to talk about the sensible centre, but the problem is his policies are undermining the sensible centre. Medicare, the right to join a union, the right to a strong minimum wage, the right to proper superannuation, the ability to get your kid an apprenticeship, the ability to be able to afford your first home. That's the secret of the Australian story. More people have a stake in society than don't. That's how I think - and the Labor story is the best way to advance Australia without some of the more extremes that we are seeing in other parts of the world.