Bill's Transcripts

Press Conference - Centre of Workplace Leadership


21JUNE 2013

SUBJECT/S: Centre of Workplace Leadership, Australian Labor Party

BILL SHORTEN:  [audio break] at the announcement of a new development in workplace relations and productivity. Cisco is a world-leading company. According to Forbes' index, it is the 42nd best company in the world in terms of staff engagement, and that's the whole world according to Forbes, so I think it is fitting that this announcement is done at Les’ Cisco organisation.

I'm also here today with a range of eminent Australians who have a lifetime of interest in how to improve workplace relations, how to gain productivity, how to make sure that Australian enterprises are competitive and are productive. Specifically I have with me Glyn Davis, who is the head of Melbourne University. I also have with me John Brumby, who is the chair of a body of an advisory group to Melbourne University on how to improve productivity and competitiveness and innovation in Australian workplaces.

I also have with me Ray Horsburgh. Ray is a leading Australian businessman. He also barracks for Essendon. But in his professional capacity, he is chairman of Toll and has been a company director and worked across a range of industries where he has seen firsthand the importance of getting the best out of employees, working cooperatively with employers to achieve better outcomes for companies and for the employees. Ray has chaired a group of eminent Australians who have been advising the Government on how the Government can best use its resources to improve workplace productivity.

So today I turn to the announcement. I'm pleased that the Australian Government decided last year that we wanted to move the debate about workplace relationships from the smokestack issues of where the labour regulation pendulum falls to where I think workplace relations debate needs to go in Australia. That is at the enterprise level. Australians go to work and would seek cooperation and harmony in their work. Australians go to work for both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. They go to work for money, but they also go to work to be happy. They go to work to feel like they're making a difference.

Work is a large part of the lives of every Australian. We have a record number of Australians working today. Unemployment is steady at 5.5 per cent. Jobs and employment is what's going to give this country a competitive edge in the future. Mineral booms come and they go. What we can count upon in Australia is that the more that we invest in meaningful workplace relations, the more we invest in innovation, in competition and productivity at the enterprise level, that's where Australia can win the global race.

The New York Times recently wrote that there are five billion people over the age of 16 in the world, five billion. There's about 1.2 billion good jobs. The writer of the New York Times said that what constituted a good job included at least thirty hours a week work, regular hours of work, good remuneration, good healthcare, good retirement income, planning for retirement income, good pension schemes. Also some control and say over the tasks of their work.

The writer and the editorial went on to say that the competition for the next fifty years in the world will not be an arms race, but it will be a jobs race. It will be the creation and maintenance of good jobs. There are 1.2 billion good jobs in the world, and we must make sure that Australia enjoys a fair share of those jobs.

Sheryl Sandberg recently, in her book Lean In, makes the point that 18 year-olds today will have seven different jobs by the time they're 45. The old industrial relations paradigm where we have arguments about where you have unfair dismissal laws does not describe the future. The challenge in the future will not be how to get rid of people, but how to hang on to people. That is why the Australian Government believes it is timely that we have greater research, greater engagement with industry, upon how we are better at our workplaces.

Productivity ultimately doesn't hinge upon where the regulatory pendulum sets in a law passed in Parliament, certainly nowhere near as much as what happens at the enterprise level. What we need is good leadership at the enterprise level. We need good engagement from employees at the enterprise level. Many Australian businesses, including our host Cisco, are already setting a path to the future, but it is long overdue in Australian workplace relations to have a combination of research and practical experience combined to help improve productivity, evaluating the good managers and good leaders make at the enterprise level.

One and a half million Australians, it is estimated, if you looked at their functional job description, would have a job description which includes managing others, leading others. For a group that large and that important, we need, as a nation, to put more research, more funding, into supporting, understanding what makes good enterprises better, what makes better enterprises best, and the human element of all businesses and how we can improve upon it.

So I'm pleased today, in the light of these goals of the government, to announce that after a competitive process that Melbourne University has been successful and we will see a new seventeen million dollar research institute established which will help lead the way, which will engage with small and medium enterprise and assist them with the development of tools for research, which will engage proactively with tens and hundreds of Australian companies over the life of this funding, which will see Melbourne University, one of Australia's finest universities, engage in practically value-adding Australian businesses to make sure that we can get the best out of our workplace relations and productivity.

What I'm also pleased about is that Melbourne University has innovatively put together an advisory committee which will be chaired by the formidable former Premier of Victoria John Brumby, which will have industry representatives on it, representatives of small business, representatives of unions, working together.

So today the Federal Government is announcing a research institute which will have $17 million, $12 million from the Federal Government over the next four years plus another $5 million in resources and support from business and Melbourne University, which I believe will help move Australian workplace relations from a debate where it is marked by issues about regulation to best practice. Where it will no longer be a contest between employees and employers for scarce shares for company resources, but rather how do we come together to create value, to create enterprises which mean that Australia can compete in the Asian century. So congratulations, Melbourne University. I'm happy to hand over to perhaps get some comments from the other guests here today. Well done.

JOHN BRUMBY: Well, I'm delighted to be here today for this announcement of the new Centre for Workplace Leadership at the University of Melbourne, and apologies too for the forehead, but Ed said I needed to go down and just test out Travis Cloke a bit, but Travis came out best.

Can I acknowledge the Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis, and can I thank him for his leadership and support and also thank the University for inviting me to chair the advisory board. I also want to thank Cisco for hosting us this morning. The Centre hopes to work very closely with Cisco to investigate how tele-work can increase productivity and how managers can respond and adapt to tele-work technology.

The things we've just heard from Bill Shorten this morning - in business, perhaps nothing is so important as leadership, and this is true of boards as it is true of what happens on the shop floor. As Australia makes a concerted effort to lift our productivity which is so crucial to long-term prosperity, workplace leadership is going to be more and more important, and that's why I think the University of Melbourne is also the perfect home for this centre.

The University, as you know, already has strong credentials in business education and training through the faculty of Business and Economics and through the Melbourne Business School, and of course the University has strong links with business more generally. So I think if you look at this decision by the Federal Government, by the Minister, it's a great fit. A great fit for the University and a great fit for Australia.

Just one minute, if I can, on the work program of the Centre, because I would describe it as ambitious but achievable. So the Centre will bring together the best national and international experts on high performance workplaces. We will develop an Australian workplace excellence standard and so that managers and businesses can benchmark their performance against the best we're going to collaborate with other Australian universities to ensure the delivery of even better management training across Australia. We aim to make a difference on the ground. This is also a very practically-based project.

So we will partner with industry organisations from the Business Council, ACCI, Australian Industry Group, VECCI, organisations like that, to train and support managers in the workplace and particularly focused at small and medium-sized businesses. So our goal is to lift the performance of Australian workplaces, and if you think of this in the bigger context, you think of the agreements reached, going back to 2006, 2007, under the former Howard government and then of course under the current Labor government, the national reform agenda. The aim of that, investing in human capital, regulation reform, was to lift productivity across Australia.

But on the other side of the coin, it's what happens in the workplaces, and all of the evidence suggests that workplace leadership is crucial. So this is the other part of the agenda which is so crucial to lifting productivity.

Final thing I want to say today is to achieve those goals, the University has put together a great team of partners, so we'll be working with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the ACTU, and the Business Council of Australia. We've got an outstanding advisory board with really highly-skilled and very senior representatives in business and unions, and we will be working with complementary organisations, including Griffith University, their Centre for Work Organisation and Wellbeing, the University of Sydney, their Workplace Research Centre, and the University of South Australia, the Centre for Work and Life.

Of course, at Melbourne University, the Vice Chancellor and the Dean have put together a truly outstanding team, as you would expect from Australia's number one university and one of the finest universities in the world. So again, can I thank Minister Shorten, can I thank Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis, and I certainly look forward to an exciting future for this centre, a centre which will really make a difference on the ground in workplaces in improving leadership and in lifting productivity. Thank you.

BILL SHORTEN: Are there any questions on this announcement?

QUESTION: Can I ask, do you believe that management generally is doing enough to drive the productivity agenda? Obviously there's a lot of focus on employee productivity, what workers should be doing, but what about management? Should management be doing more?

BILL SHORTEN: First of all I should actually thank the members of the Advisory Committee who helped us arrive at this. It was chaired by Ray Horsburgh, the Chairman of Toll, but we also have Richard Goyder who runs Wesfarmers, Bill Kelty, Lindsay Fox, and Catriona Noble who runs McDonald's. We had assistance from Pip Marlow at Microsoft. We had assistance from Professor Amanda Sinclair. Lined with that of the organisation of the enterprise they work with. Then we have remarkable improvements in ingenuity. This morning I was at Lionsville.  That's a rest home run by the Essendon Lions in Pascoe Vale Road. Equiset is building a five-storey new residential facility. There are sixty construction workers. That's a union agreement there.

The project is on time, it's been done safely, it's been done to a high level of quality, but this morning there, when I asked them how did they cope with the ice, because they're working at heights, it turns out that one of their supervisors had said, let's put shade cloth on the roof overnight, so that, rather than spend three hours of 60 workers de-icing the roof, they just lifted the shade cloth off in a matter of minutes.

There's a lot of ingenuity in Australia workplaces. I think the challenge for Australian managers is not to be gatekeepers of information, but rather to encourage upward - information from the shop floor up to the management. I have seen countless workplace disasters and injuries where, what would happen is that there was no open communication, where bad news wasn't getting to the level of the organisation where it should have.

So my summary about Australian management is they've done remarkable things, and the global financial crisis is testament to that. But I also know that if we could unlock the potential which exists within every Australian employee, our productivity will improve. I should say for the record that we've seen seven plus quarters of improvement in labour productivity in Australia. And when our opponents say there's a productivity problem in Australia, since the Fair Work Act has been in place, productivity has lifted. Low productivity has haunted public policy through the first decade of this century, but labour productivity is on the increase in Australia. So I think Australian managers and workers are working well together.

Over three million Australians are covered by collective agreements. Industrial disputation, which is a standard marker perhaps of how management and employer relations are going, has been, during the life of this Labor Government, one third of that under our predecessors. And if you took out the actions of conservative state governments, industrial disputation would even be lower, and in the construction sector industrial disputation is well below - is well below what it was during the years of our predecessors. So what that tells me is whilst Australian managers are doing okay but can do better, I'm not sure that state conservative governments are good managers of people, and that's evidenced by the spike in industrial relations.

QUESTION: Do you think that managers are doing enough when their companies are doing it tough, rather than making employees redundant? There have been some fairly high profile companies that have said they're going to lay people off. Do you think they're doing enough to drive innovation and find other solutions rather than just sack people?

BILL SHORTEN: I think that unemployment has been relatively low is testament to the fact there has been some flexibility in Australian industry. And each month you look at the number of hours worked, not just the number of jobs, and I think there has been some flexibility by Australia's employers and managers in terms of calibrating the number of hours people work as opposed to laying people off. But it is the case that this economy is changing very rapidly. We've seen the impact of the high dollar, we've seen the impact of the digital economy changing business models from retail to our import-competing industries to our export industries. So there is a lot of change around. I think that for all of the high profile redundancy announcements, and they are very difficult, we also see a lot of good news under the radar.

When you look at manufacturing in Australia, whilst there have been jobs lost in manufacturing, the fact of the matter is, there are success stories in the suburbs of Australia, in the regions of Australia, which also show that in areas such as food production, climate energy efficiency technology, we've got successes. So I think Australian managers and Australian employees are working together but I think if you wanted to look at HR challenges, the equal treatment of women in Australia's workplaces remains a work in progress. The use of more people with disabilities in Australia's workplaces is an area where I think we can afford to move beyond the stereotypes of what a good employee looks like. I think it is true that older Australians, if they lose their jobs, find it harder to re-enter the job market and spend longer.

I think there are challenges in terms of the equal treatment of women, the treatment of people with disabilities and older Australians, and I think that this research institute will be a valuable and overdue addition to looking at best practice rather than having an argument about where you put the safety net.

QUESTION: Mr Shorten, if we could talk about the leadership now, I point you to comments by [inaudible] in the Financial Review this morning. The only way the leadership will change is if Kevin challenges, and he won't because he doesn’t have the numbers. Do you think he does have the numbers?

BILL SHORTEN: I don't know.

QUESTION: Would you be with him if there was a challenge?

BILL SHORTEN: I will support Julia Gillard. Let me just say, if we've moved off the questions about what is good for Australian productivity to this issue, I have supported the Prime Minister, I continue to support the Prime Minister, I campaigned for this Prime Minister and Labor to be re-elected next term, because only Labor has a plan for jobs and growth in this country. The Conservatives have done no homework throughout the period of this minority government. Their plan is to run four-word slogans and say that's an economic strategy for the next twenty years of Australia. I continue to campaign for our Prime Minister.

QUESTION: Will you continue to support Julia Gillard right up until the election?

BILL SHORTEN: I will continue to support Julia Gillard to be elected as the next Prime Minister of Australia, and will continue to campaign for Julia Gillard and Labor to form the next government of Australia. Our Prime Minister, and this Government has achieved a lot in the period of minority government. The fact that we're having the National Broadband Network rollout contrasts positively to the Fraudband propositions of the too slow, too late, too expensive alternative which is put by the Coalition.

We now have in Australia the opportunity to have a national disability insurance scheme, which will see literally tens of thousands of people with profound and severe disabilities come in from the cold, come in from the internal exile. Them and their families who care for them will at last have a chance of a prospect of a decent, equal life in Australia.

It is Labor in this term of Government who has lifted superannuation and the media need to blow the whistle on the fact that the Conservatives are proposing a 15 per cent tax on the superannuation contributions of people who earn less than $37,000. Let me repeat that. There are 3.5 million Australians who earn less than $37,000 a year. Labor has abolished the 15 per cent tax they pay on their superannuation contributions.

In an act of economic lunacy, the Coalition have said that they want to reintroduce a 15 per cent tax - not a ten per cent tax, but a tax one-and-a-half times the size of the GST, on the superannuation contributions of people who earn less than $37,000 a year. I think this is an outrage. Just think about it - 3.5 million Australians, people who might cut your hair this weekend, people who might serve you a cup of coffee on this weekend, someone who might be a carer of someone who needs assistance this weekend. They don't have a lot of money saved for their retirement. They don't.

Women in Australia don't have as much money saved as men, and 2.1 million Australian women earn less than $37,000. So they pay about 9.5 per cent on the money they take home, but if the Coalition and Tony Abbott are elected, there'll be a great, big, new tax of 15 per cent paid on their savings for retirement. So women in Australia, who already don't have the same chance to retire with the same amount of money as men, are going to face a big, new, 15 per cent tax on their savings. A hairdresser who is 29, sorry who is 20, earning only $37,000 a year, under Labor's policies of superannuation, will have another $111,000 when they retire. A receptionist who is 29, will retire with an extra $83,000 if Labor is re-elected on September 14.

These are the issues which I know animate the Prime Minister. These are the issues which make the difference in terms of the lives and the quality of retirement for millions of Australians. Now I know some of the media don't want to hear about what affects millions of people, and I'm sorry if some journalists find it boring and not the gossip du jour to talk about the outcomes of 2.1 million women in Australia, but I tell you why Labor should be re-elected on September the fourteenth; because we don't want to have a gender pay gap blowout which will happen under the Coalition. They are the issues why Labor should be re-elected.

QUESTION: Is support wavering amongst cabinet for Julia Gillard's leadership?

BILL SHORTEN: Again, what I'm going to do in terms of the leadership debate, is be consistent. And consistently, I say that I support the Prime Minister, and I support our Prime Minister because of what she's got done in this period of the minority government. I also support our Prime Minister because I do not want to see the Coalition elected. I do not believe the Coalition are right when they want to put a fifteen per cent tax on people's superannuation. I do not believe the Coalition are right when they want to deny nearly a million children of school age in Victoria the opportunity to have better resources in their school. I do not believe it is right of the Coalition to freeze people's superannuation at 9.25 per cent, and I certainly don't trust the Coalition on workplace relations. They don't have a 21st century view of workplace relations. They've got a 19th century view.

What they are basically saying in workplace relations is, there's nothing to see here, we're a small target, please keep moving on, when in fact they want to put individual contracts back at the centre of workplace relations. These are the issues that matter. Australians want to see politics to be a debate about ideas, not personalities, and I for one am certainly going to assist Australians have the debate about policies, because this election is not a referendum on Labor. It's a choice between Liberal and Labor, and we have a more positive and optimistic vision of workplace relations, of retirement savings, of the equal treatment of women; you name it, we've got a policy which outshines our opponents.

QUESTION: To cement your support of Julia Gillard, will you take this opportunity now to call on Kevin Rudd's [inaudible] to stop destabilising party?

BILL SHORTEN: I will support the leadership by not engaging in leadership speculation. I will certainly say that I support our Prime Minister, and I continue to support our Prime Minister. What Australians want; Labor voters, swinging voters, and indeed I believe Conservative voters, is they want September the fourteenth to be a debate about ideas.

Australians do not expect governments to be in their lounge room every day. They do not expect that nit-picking gossip and some of the scenes we see in Question Time to be what should pass for a debate about the future of Australia. Just as Australians expect much from their media and the analysis in the media, they expect much from our politicians. I believe we all collectively have a responsibility to debate who has got the best idea about the national broadband, who has got the best idea about retirement savings, who has got the best ideas to make sure our kids get the best start in life, who has got the best ideas about people with disabilities and carers?

There is an election to be fought, where there is legitimate ideas and debate, and I for one am certainly not going to add to any further speculation. I support our Prime Minister, and I thank you very much for coming today. This is a really good announcement, thank you.