THURSDAY, 9 MARCH 2017
SUBJECT/S: TAFE & apprenticeships; penalty rates; energy crisis; One Nation; child vaccinations
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Thanks everyone. It's a great pleasure to have the Federal Labor Leader, Bill Shorten here today along with the Senate Leader and the Senate Deputy Leader, South Australian Senators Penny Wong and Don Farrell. I'm Mark Butler.
This is the Regency College of TAFE in the electorate of Port Adelaide and we've been meeting with apprentices and staff from this wonderful TAFE facility here in Regency talking about the importance of apprenticeships and of training more broadly for industry here in South Australia and across the country.
This has been a very important training facility for several decades now in South Australia, particularly in the western suburbs of Adelaide. It has played a critical role in training the work force down at Osborne that for 32 years, has been building submarines and more recently the air warfare destroyers and we are very confident has a strong future in the defence industry, and out the back of the facility its world class hospitality, commercial cooking, tourism and food facilities as well.
So I want to welcome Bill here and thank him for his interest in TAFE training facilities in Adelaide. Thanks Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Mark. Good morning everybody. It is great to be here in Mark Butler’s electorate talking to apprentices. It is fantastic to be accompanied by my Senate leadership team of Senator Wong and Senator Farrell, both proud South Australians.
I am here in South Australia because the most important issue, I believe to South Australians, is jobs. So I am here talking jobs and talking apprenticeships. You cannot have a plan for decent jobs unless you are investing in TAFE, unless you're investing in skills, unless you're investing in apprentices.
We want to encourage, not just adults looking to retrain but parents of teenage kids, that their kids don't have to go to university, they can get a really meaningful career as a tradie and that apprenticeships are available. We have seen though under the current Coalition Government, the number of apprenticeships has fallen from north of 400,000 apprentices when they got elected to under 300,000 apprentices.
We are determined to turn the tide when it comes to standing up for apprenticeships and we believe that TAFE SA is doing a fantastic job.
Of course, it is also important to say that you can't have a decent plan for jobs and apprenticeships if you don't have a decent plan to make sure that peoples' minimum wages and safety net are keeping pace. Yet again, you cannot have a decent plan for jobs if the Government is supporting cutting penalty rates.
And whilst the apprentices in this industry, in the metal industry are not facing immediate penalty rate cuts, all over Australia people are asking, if Mr Turnbull won't stand up for penalty rates in some industries, when will he stand up for penalty rates in any industry?
Penalty rates are not just a theory for most Australians, they are a reality. When people need to perhaps have enough money to afford the second or the extra credit card, trying to get together the deposit for a mortgage, trying to make sure they can pay their bills at the end of each week or fortnight, penalty rates are important.
Many of the people who are suffering from these penalty rate cuts, when they are implemented, are people who don't have a lot of extra money at the end of the week or the fortnight. Australians learn to live within their means. That is why this has come as a shock to Australians, including at least 130,000 South Australians who are in the industries affected by the proposed penalty rate cuts. They are going to find it hard to make ends meet. People learn to live within their means and once you just have an arbitrary penalty rate cut, Australians want to see Malcolm Turnbull do more.
That is why the West Australian election will be a test for Malcolm Turnbull and his support for penalty rates. West Australians may well send a message on Saturday to Mr Turnbull that they are surprised - they're surprised not only that Mr Turnbull is doing nothing to defend the penalty rates and stop the cuts, but that he is enthusiastically supporting them.
All around Australia, people are saying if you want to have a plan for decent jobs, you have to protect peoples' penalty rates. Labor has a plan to protect peoples' penalty rates and to make sure that we have more apprentices and more tradespeople in the future in Australia.
We are happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on penalty rates, would you support a Senate inquiry into penalty rates between union negotiated agreements and awards?
SHORTEN: Well let's be clear, the issue in front of Australians is a cut to penalty rates which the Government is supporting. Let's get our priorities right here. The Fair Work Commission has made a surprising decision to lower penalty rates on public holidays and on Sundays and there is no compensation for workers. It is just a cut. It is just a cut to peoples' real wages.
At the moment in Australia, when corporate profits are at a 40-year high, real wages growth in Australia is at a 20-year low, this is exactly the wrong time for the Government to be enthusiastically doubling down in their support for cutting penalty rates.
If the Government wants to be fair dinkum about penalty rates, you know what it should do? It should support Labor's legislation. Hundreds of thousands of Australians in pharmacy, in fast food, in retail and hospitality are saying what have we done to deserve a penalty rate cut which for full-time workers means on a Sunday they can lose up to $77 per shift.
There are at least 130,000 South Australians who work in the industries affected by these penalty rate cuts and for many other South Australians who depend on making ends meet with their penalty rates, they see this as the thin edge of the wedge.
JOURNALIST: That announcement from the Fair Work Commission brings small business into line with what Coles and Woolies are already paying their employees, so why should small business pay more than big business?
SHORTEN: No it doesn't. That is just myth-making by people who want to cut the real wages of Australians. The fact of the matter is that when you have enterprise bargaining, in return for greater flexibilities, workers receive compensation in their take home pay. This is just a wage cut, let's call it for what it is. This is just a wage cut to workers who have done nothing else than turn up to work. This is going to lead to a race to the bottom.
If the Government stands by and does nothing for people receiving penalty rates in these industries, then everyone else will have to ask the legitimate question, what will Mr Turnbull do to stand up for our wages? And of course the answer is he won't.
Mr Turnbull's priorities are all out of touch. He has got a plan for a $50 billion tax cut; he has got a plan for corporations; he's got a plan to give the big banks in Australia a tax windfall, yet he's also got a plan to do nothing but support the cuts to the real wages of hundreds of thousands of Australians. It is the thin edge of the wedge. Only Labor can be trusted to stand up for working people and that is exactly what we are doing.
JOURNALIST: Do you support the rallies around Australian today, the building workers, who aren't really in the front line of penalty rate cuts. Is that a good sign? Is that the way to protest against this?
SHORTEN: I am here talking about TAFE and apprenticeships. But I can understand why other people are upset about penalty rate cuts.
Mr Turnbull can put an end to all of this turmoil and unhappiness and uncertainty by simply agreeing to work with Labor to stop the penalty rate cuts. There is no good economic theory which says it is a good idea to just cut peoples' wages. If we want to be a first world economy, we won't do that by engaging in a race to the bottom. We are never going to be cheaper than some of our neighbours, we're never going to be cheaper than third world countries in terms of wages. Our future is to be high skilled and well paid with a strong safety net.
In terms of any worker in Australia who receives penalty rates, literally hundreds of them have spoken to me since Mr Turnbull's supported the penalty rates cut and they said how do we know that Malcolm Turnbull won't support a wage cut in our sector and the fact of the matter is, Malcolm Turnbull believes that penalty rates should be cut; Labor doesn't.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, are you concerned or worried about the Labor states' RETs and that they may further jeopardise power security or electricity security in the wake of AEMO's report today which flags there could be potential gas shortfalls?
SHORTEN: What I will do is - I am fortunate enough to have our energy spokesperson here as well, so I will ask him to supplement the answer to your question. But I just want to quote to you the Australian Energy Council, because this is what concerns me. They have said "the lack of national policy certainty is now the biggest driver of higher electricity prices” again, “the lack of national policy certainty is now the biggest driver of higher electricity prices."
That is a problem which solely rests at the feet of Mr Turnbull and the Coalition Government. They have been in power for the best part of four years and we do have a crisis in our energy markets. And it is not good enough for Mr Turnbull to do his trademark blame everyone else, except himself. You have got the Australian Energy Council making it very clear that the lack of policy certainty is the biggest driver of higher electricity prices.
Under Mr Turnbull, what we have seen is energy prices going up, pollution going up and security and reliability going down and he needs to do much better, and this is a problem of his weakness and of his lack of leadership on a national energy market. But I have Mark here as well, I will get Mark to supplement your first question.
JOURNALIST: How can you say that it is a lack of policy, or a policy problem, when you have got all of these coal fired power stations that have closed and there is a lack of gas generation and renewables are unreliable. How can you say it is a policy problem when it is a physical problem?
BUTLER: You make the right point. But there has been, since the Abbott Government was elected, there has been about 4,000 megawatts of thermal generation that has closed because it is old. We are told by the industry that more than three-quarters of our existing coal and gas-fired generators across Australia are operating beyond their designed life. It has got nothing to do with renewable energy targets. It is a simple reflection of the fact that they were built in the 60s and the 70s and they have reached the end of their life.
The point the Energy Council has made this morning is that there is an investment strike on right now because of the lack of a national energy policy. Over the last seven days we have had BHP, we've had Energy Australia, Origin Energy, AGL, the National Farmers Federation, the Energy Council and a number of others I've probably forgotten, in just seven days call for the Government to consider an emissions intensity scheme. This is the scheme that will get investment going again to replace our ageing electricity infrastructure.
As the Energy Council has said, not only is this leading to a very significant concern about the reliability of our system, it is driving up prices, equivalent to a $50 carbon price. This is the council that represents the big coal and gas-fired generators saying that.
And Origin Energy said only a couple of days ago that the other factor driving up prices is the price of gas because this Government has been utterly asleep at the wheel while we have been warning since our 2015 National Conference there is a gas crisis emerging in this country. And that is why we adopted our policy at the National Conference and Bill Shorten has been arguing ever since for a robust national interest test around gas developments. Because at the moment what we are seeing is a problem in the power sector because there is not enough affordable gas to drive gas-fired power generation, which is obviously important here in South Australia, but also big industrial users are finding it difficult to get any contracts, let alone affordable contracts for their gas needs which is placing the jobs security of thousands of manufacturing workers at risk.
And this Government has been utterly asleep at the wheel.
JOURNALIST: Has Jay Weatherill discussed his dramatic intervention plan with you? Which I would have thought appropriate, you being the energy spokesperson, federally.
BUTLER: This is a matter for the State Government, there are deliberations and I understand it -
JOURNALIST: So the answer is no he hasn’t?
BUTLER: - going on in the South Australian Government about their plan. Of course there are discussions that I have with Energy Ministers and with members of government across the country about this energy crisis because everyone seems willing to discuss the emerging energy crisis we confront as a nation, except Malcolm Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg.
JOURNALIST: So you know what the intervention -
BUTLER: No I don't know what the intervention is going to be, that's a matter obviously that is going on within the State Government -
JOURNALIST: But, you as a South Australian, do you think we're absolutely at the pointy end of an emergency here?
BUTLER: Well, I think we are at the pointy end, but we're only part of a national crisis. You see the wholesale prices that were reported in the national papers today, in Queensland and New South Wales have now reached higher than they have been in South Australia because this is a national problem.
There is a shortage of electricity supply now across the whole of the national electricity market. It's clear there is not enough gas in the system, there is no investment because Malcolm Turnbull got scared of some noises from Tony Abbott in December and shelved the idea of an emissions intensity scheme, and the national electricity market is just not working. It was designed for a different era, it's not working across the country and it's particularly not been working as we've seen here in South Australia. In our state of South Australia we saw that particularly with the outage to some 90,000 households; entirely avoidable if AEMO had done its job properly, if the national electricity market was working properly an entirely avoidable outage.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten can I ask just two quick questions because I know you're probably in a hurry to get to your next appointment. One, a report that I've just received that John Howard has been chased and harassed by union workers at the protest in Sydney, is that an appropriate way to treat a former Prime Minister?
SHORTEN: No, of course not.
SHORTEN: What was the other question?
JOURNALIST: The other question is, do you give Pauline Hanson any credit at all for apologising where many politicians and perhaps yourself don't do it all that often, that she says she got it wrong on immunisations and checks that can be done, on Sunrise this morning she said ‘I got it wrong’.
SHORTEN: Let's steady up here, most politicians don't come out and oppose medical evidence. Most politicians don't come out and recommend something and create doubt which is literally endangers the health and wellbeing of children. It's good that she recognises she's wrong, but she's done that because of electoral backlash. I actually think there has been damage done already.
When you in public life have a senior position of leadership, when you have the equivalent of the pulpit, you know, the box upon which you can speak and people listen to you. When you practice and preach views which actually are potentially dangerous to the wellbeing of young people, well then you cause damage as soon as you say it. And what I've written to Mr Turnbull about today because on this we agree completely, is that I think now we need to do a national advertising push to help clean up the mess that One Nation and Pauline Hanson have created. I think that saying sorry and moving on is not enough in this circumstance and like it or not, One Nation and Senator Hanson have left a mess which now Malcolm Turnbull and I have to clean up and I think that we should.
JOURNALIST: So how much money would you want to spend on that?
SHORTEN: Let’s go and talk to the experts. But I tell you what, I think it is grossly irresponsible to simply read something on the internet then promulgate it as if its truth, without checking the evidence and I certainly agree with the Australian Medical Association that it is a complete abuse to promulgate evidence from Doctor Google as opposed to the best medical evidence which exists in the real world.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, I know you're going to speak on this in a couple of hours, but just on Kate Ellis, I mean, are you disappointed she's not going to be contesting the next election? Is she going to serve on the front bench between now and then?
SHORTEN: Well, as you said, I will see you in probably an hour and I'll fortunately be standing up with Kate Ellis in her electorate. Let me be very clear and Kate's going to speak and she should have the first chance to speak at length about her decision. I and all my colleagues regard Kate Ellis as an excellent representative of Adelaide, an excellent Shadow Minister and we respect and I respect her decisions. But any more than, if you can hang on for an hour, Kate and I will be there to talk about it and it's her day.
Alright, thanks everybody.