Bill's Transcripts

Press Conference on Labour Force Figures

SUBJECT/S:   Labour Force Figures, Tony Abbott, Labor/Greens, Carbon Price

 BILL SHORTEN:     Good afternoon everyone. Today's monthly employment numbers confirm what the government has been saying for several months, that the Australian labour market is slowing but that the Australian labour market is also slowing more slowly than the rest of the world. It's mixed news. Unemployment has gone up slightly from five-point-one to five-point-two per cent, and we again see the volatile pattern of the last six months, with unemployment edging up and down by fairly small amounts.

 The government is bracing for further slowing of the labour market, as forecast by our treasury department, but we also note that the news is, in fact, mixed. Some states are problematic. We notice a continued fall in full-time employment, for instance, in New South Wales, and the unemployment situation in Tasmania is slightly more difficult than for other mainland jurisdictions. But by the same token, Western Australia continues to have record employment numbers and we see that, despite the impact of the high dollar, some sectors in the Australian economy are going relatively better than other sectors.

 Mining continues to contribute to jobs growth, but so too do many parts of the services industry. The health and aging sector in particular is a stand-out contributor to better employment news than would otherwise be the case.

 We also see that Australia, comparatively to the rest of the world, continues to generate on-trend jobs growth, unlike many other parts of the world. The participation rate numbers are - the monthly figures are a saw-tooth series; slightly up, slightly down, but we do see that Australia continues to have the sixth highest participation rates in the OECD.

 So in summary, there is softness in the Australian labour market, but Australia is hanging in there, where the announced job losses, which we regularly see reported, are not flowing through in the volumes to the unemployment numbers that we see on our monthly ABS statistics. So despite some of the doom and gloom, the government feels that doom and gloom is not entirely justified.

 When you have an unemployment rate of five-point-two per cent and the United States has an unemployment rate of north of eight per cent and the Euro zone north of eleven per cent and in some jurisdictions like Spain where unemployment is heading towards twenty-five per cent, the Australian economy, not just mining but services, is hanging in there, and we are doing comparatively better than a lot of the OECD.

 I think the other reason why we can assume that Australia is hanging in there is because of the contribution of individual Australians. Our participation rate is still better in recent months than our 10-year average. So I think a combination of the schools infrastructure, the infrastructure spending generally, our commitment to skills, the NBN, is all helping with government policy to do some heavy lifting to provide some confidence in the Australia economy at this point.

 Before I turn to questions, I'd also like to briefly address Mr Abbott's back flip on industrial relations. The Opposition made a rare foray into the field of workplace relations yesterday, when the leader of the Opposition was addressing the tourism task force in Sydney. Yesterday Mr Abbott said that if a Coalition government was elected, they would make it easier for people to employ people on weekends and after-hours, with matters to do with shifts. This is Coalition code for cutting penalty rates.

 Yet today, in a period of less than 24 hours, when someone - a journalist specifically asked Mr Abbott would he support cutting penalty rates in the tourism industry, as he clearly intimated in a promise yesterday when tackling issues around weekend penalties, overtime, and shift loadings, today he says no he wouldn't. I think the confusion that Mr Abbott is creating, promising one thing to one group of people and then saying something else totally different the next day, puts pressure on the Opposition just to come clean with the detail of their workplace relations policy.

 You can't tell the tourism sector one day that - holding out vague promises of changing weekend rates and penalty rates, then the next day say something different. Australians deserve consistency from their political parties, and there are few areas as important as workplace relations, and the Opposition need to make clear that they won't touch people's penalty rates unequivocally, and they need to reveal the rest of the detail of their policies with regard to workplace relations. Happy to take questions.

 JOURNALIST:         Do you think that there's a case for further labour market reform?

 BILL SHORTEN:     The Australian labour market is undergoing a silent revolution in where the new jobs are being created. There are jobs being created not just in the mining sector but in our services sector, from hospitality through to financial services, through to education, and in particular health services, we are seeing new jobs emerge all the time. A lot of the existing industrial relations debate, where the Opposition would say and some of the business sector would say that if you simply got rid of unions or you simply got rid of external labour regulation, that someone we'd see great improvements in the Australian workplace miss the point of what's happening in the future workplaces of Australia.

 The best change to productivity and to value at the enterprise is created through collaborative and cooperative relationships at the workplace, not through some arcane, old-fashioned debate about trying to swing the pendulum and take away the safety net for low-paid workers and retail/hospitality and agriculture.

 JOURNALIST: Does that mean that there's a case for more labour market flexibility, though, given that there is this silent revolution underway?

 BILL SHORTEN: I think the point is that the change is happening as we speak, and most change is not created through a debate about regulation or de-regulation, but rather allowing enterprises to come up with constructive and creative and value-building relationships in their own workplace. The workplace of the future in Australia should be high-performance, high-productivity, and high-paid.

 JOURNALIST: That sounds like code for individual agreements, though.

 BILL SHORTEN: No, I didn't say that at all. What I've said is that the Opposition won't come clean on the detail of their workplace relations policy; the Opposition won't come clean about what they'd do with low-paid workers who rely upon penalty rates on weekends to make ends meet; the Opposition won't make clear what they'd do about protecting people's rosters from arbitrary change.

 What the government is doing, what we have done with the Fair Work Act, is that we've introduced changes to facilitate bargaining at the enterprise level; we've introduced propositions and regulation which allows for equal pay for work of equal value performed by predominantly feminised sectors of the Australian workforce, so equal pay. We've also put in place safe rates for the truck-driving industry, a new panel to allow a long-overdue discussion on how we have safe rates in the driving industry.

 So we've been engaging in workplace change. We just don't have an us-and-them mentality that the Opposition says, that means whenever they front up to a group of employers, they say trust us, we'll - nod and wink, we'll tackle issues like weekend pay and shift pay and penalty pay.

 JOURNALIST: Myer axed 100 jobs today. Are you worried about the retail sector?

 BILL SHORTEN: Well, first of all, with the specific jobs which have been announced to go, no one can be ever pleased when you hear about job losses, and my first thoughts go to the people who may have received this news for the first time today and their families. But also, what these unemployment numbers show is that when there are announced job losses, there is also good news, which perhaps doesn't make it to the front of the newspaper or the nightly news bulletin, where jobs are being created.

 In terms of the retail industry more generally, I think retail is like the Australian economy as a whole. It gets dented by consumer confidence issues. That's why it's so terribly important that our political leaders aren't driving confidence down with repetitive negativity, but it's also the case that the retail business models are changing fundamentally. The use of the rise of online shopping, the use of the internet, is challenging some of the larger retail business models which have existed, where you go into a high-priced property to purchase your items from.

 So I think there's a range of factors, and some aspects of retail are doing well and consumer services, but certainly there is some pressure on some of the big retailers in terms of their business model.

 JOURNALIST: Do you support this push by some of the Australian television services for phone and internet records of Australians to be retained for two years?

 BILL SHORTEN: I haven't seen where that latest debate is up to, I'm afraid. I'd have to check with the Attorney-General.

 JOURNALIST:  Would you, if that were something that was introduced, retention of data and phone records of Australians for two years. Is that the sort of thing that you would support, hypothetically?

 BILL SHORTEN: I'm here to talk about the real economy and jobs and the lack of a workplace relations policy of the opposition. The topic you're going to I'm just not familiar with. I'm happy to take it on notice.

 JOURNALIST: Just on the topic of the Greens, do you think there's a case for Labor to preference the Coalition ahead of the Greens?

 BILL SHORTEN: The issue of preferences is a matter for the organisational wing of the Labor Party. Certainly in recent times I, like many Australians, have been disappointed with the hard line that the Greens have taken in terms of dealing with the boat people issue. When you've got people risking their lives, being exploited by people-smugglers, clearly, I think, it behoves all people of good will to work together to identify how do we discourage this trade in people? So therefore I do believe that the propositions Labor advanced about developing offshore processing. We believe that the Malaysian solution is the right way to go, the Liberals believe that Nauru's the right way to go, and the Greens don't want to look at these matters.

 I think that the recent fatalities require us to all reconsider our approach and put people's lives as the pre-eminent - as the most important factor in dictating what we do, and I certainly hope that the Greens, along with the Liberals, are capable of capable of compromising some of their positions, just as the government has been willing to put compromise ahead of politics on this matter.

 JOURNALIST: Apparently since the carbon tax was introduced, there have been 600 complaints about it and there are 20 businesses that are being investigated. Is that of concern to you?

 BILL SHORTEN: It is of concern to me. We're putting a price on carbon pollution. It's a long-term plan. There's no shortcuts to pricing carbon pollution. But it's been very disappointing in recent days to see opportunistic behaviour for people to profiteer off a long-term policy and jack up prices to overcharge customers and then blame it all on the carbon price.

 I suspect that the Brumby's brand has taken a bit of a hit in recent days, the bread chain. The debacle out at the cemetery where grieving family are told that the cost of the funeral will be increased because of the carbon tax, plus other examples. I think it is concerning. I'm pleased that the ACCC is doing its job as a watchdog. I think that the message which I see arising out of some of these embarrassing and inappropriate behaviours by a small section of business, shows that people need to not fall for the scare campaign of the opposition. The impact of the carbon price is being supported with support for industry and for households.

 JOURNALIST: To what extent are Labor's branding problems at the federal level affecting Labor's chances at the state level in the impending bi-election? I'm talking about polling.

 BILL SHORTEN: Well, in terms of people comparing and contrasting the national political parties and the state political parties, I would say that the Liberal Opposition in Canberra has a far bigger problem to confront about state and federal comparisons. In Victoria, Mr Baillieu showing that the disputes he's having with his workforce, be they nurses, be they mental health nurses, be it park rangers, shows that Liberals, when they're in power, aren't very good at employee relations.

 In New South Wales, Premier O'Farrell has cut peoples' worker's compensation conditions. He's now said that if you're a police officer or you're an ambulance officer or a fire-fighter, you'll get a certain set of conditions, but if you happen to be someone in a related occupation like perhaps nurses or other services, you don't get the same worker's comp rights, so they can't be trusted on worker's comp. In Queensland, Premier Newman has cast a pall over the job security of all public servants in Queensland.

 So across Australia, when conservatives get into power shows that they'll say one thing in Opposition and do another thing in government, which I'm sure raises question marks about the credibility of the Federal Opposition, especially as they refuse to articulate their workplace relations policy. The Liberal workplace relations policy is in a Witness Protection program and we just need them to bring it out into daylight. Thanks very much everyone.