FRIDAY, 30 JUNE 2017
SUBJECTS: Building safety; penalty rate cut; Turnbull’s tax cuts for millionaires; George Pell; Cyber threat; Con Sciacca; Liberal civil war
CHRIS KETTER, LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Well good morning ladies and gentlemen. My name is Chris Ketter, I am a Labor Senator for Queensland, and I'd like to firstly welcome Bill Shorten to the service trades college here.
We've had a fantastic session this morning listening to the plumbers' union and the industry representatives, and also more importantly the licensed fire sprinkler installers and testers who have told us a lot about the industry, some of the positives around Queensland and Victorian standards but also in relation to some of the concerns that we've heard.
Now, I'm the chair of the Senate Economics References committee and we are currently doing an inquiry into non-conforming building products and at the time of the terrible Grenfell disaster, Bill Shorten's office was able to contact us to get us to expand the scope of that inquiry to look at this issue, in particular the aluminium cladding that was the major cause of that particular fire.
So I'm very interested today to hear from the people who are on the frontline of this issue, and to take notes, and to see how that can be incorporated into our inquiry which will be coming up in the middle of July. And we'll be talking to a range of people, industry people, as well as the Federal Safety Commissioner and a range of other people, hopefully to get to the bottom of that issue.
So without any further ado, I'd like to call on Bill Shorten to take a few comments.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Chris and good morning everybody. I'm here with Jim Chalmers, Anthony Chisholm, Chris Ketter, Queensland Labor representatives.
We are here talking to the plumbing and sprinkler fitting industry, so I'd like to record my appreciation for employers, employer associations, the plumbers' union, apprentices, rank-and-file sprinkler fitters for telling us what's really going on in fire safety in Australia.
I think every Australian, when they saw the horrific images of Grenfell Tower in London on fire, everyone Australian had their heart in their mouth because I think a lot of us thought "could that happen here?"
What we find when we examine the issues of imported building materials, qualification and the use of unlicensed and untrained people, lack of consistent audit and inspection services, is that I do think we have a problem in Australia with our fire prevention and safety. I am not being unduly alarmist but the stories we heard from the men and women on the frontline who do the work, who keep us safe, is that the standards are inconsistent across this country. We don't inspect enough of the building materials coming into this country. We are not training enough sprinkler fitters and giving the proper qualifications, we need to do more apprenticeship development. There has been simply too much privatisation and deregulation of building and fire protection safety standards. And of course, there is not enough checking and ensuring that the systems in place actually will do the job when they are called upon to do it.
We have got some of the best tradespeople in the world. We have some great companies in Australia. But I am concerned that there is too many fly-by-nighters, too many quick and dirty operators coming in, where ticking the box is a substitute for quality work, quality training and quality safety.
In particular, I think there is now a sufficient issue for Australian governments at all levels to work together, not to hold another meeting but to get on and lift the standards. I for one want to be reassured that what happens in our nursing homes, our shopping centres and our hospitals is top quality. I am sure most of it is pretty good, let me be clear.
But when it comes to peoples' health and safety, you can't afford a mistake because a mistake is someone's life. It's as basic as that. I am concerned that people here today, men who have been working in this system for 30 years, that they say it is not a matter of "if" but "when" we could have a disaster.
The nation is on notice. Those 80 tragic souls who passed away in Grenfell are our wake-up call. Australia is not immune from what happened in England. We have a patchwork of different systems across Australia. We've got too many unlicensed and unqualified people ticking boxes and trying to pretend we have a safe system. I think we have been lucky in the past but I just wonder when our luck runs out.
So, I am very grateful, and we, Labor, will do what the Labor Party has been doing since we were formed - we are going to stand up for peoples' safety. We will work with the Government. But if the Government won't do enough and do it quickly enough, we are going to make this an issue. Because one person's death is one too many.
I might also just briefly comment when we are talking about peoples' conditions - Tomorrow is a dark day for Australia's workforce. Malcolm Turnbull will be giving millionaires a $16,500 pay cut [sic] but he will be giving 700,000 plus workers a pay cut in their award system on Sunday. It is not good enough. We need Government of Australia to be standing up for the interests of all Australians.
On 1st of July, peoples' electricity prices just go up and up. Peoples' penalty rates are getting cut. All Malcolm Turnbull wants to do is give large corporations a tax cut and look after his mates, the millionaires, and give them a tax cut. We have got to look after the Australia in the interests of everyone, not just the lucky few at the top of the tree.
Happy to take questions on fire safety or any other matters.
JOURNALIST: Minister [sic], the ADF’s new focus on cyber warfare, is that the right direction for Australia's military?
SHORTEN: I think cyber warfare is a new frontline for national security. Our Australian Signals Directorate is world class, they really are world class. What worries me though is that some of our enemies who would do Australia harm, they might not necessarily do cyber warfare against big banks, who have got strength and facilities or against our military establishment, but the criminals and those who would wish us harm might chase what they see as soft targets.
I am talking about small and medium enterprise, I’m talking about the data privacy in our hospitals system. As inconvenient and frustrating as it is for industry, they are going to need to work with the Government to help harden our defences in small and medium sized businesses. I think the Australian Signals Directorate is outstanding, the centre for cyber warfare - world class. But we need to give them the tools and resources to help work with industry and especially a lot of those the softer targets.
As we have seen in America, with the recent interference in the American political process against Clinton and others, we have got to make sure that the privacy of people's information is secure and private. It can't be used by other people to cause grief in our country.
JOURNALIST: What is your reaction to news that charges relating to historical sexual abuse offences have been laid against Cardinal George Pell?
SHORTEN: Before I answer the specific question, let me just send a message to the thousands of people who suffered institutional abuse, sexual abuse whilst in the care of institutions.
To all of these people whose stories have come out during the Royal Commission, which was set up by a previous Labor Government, I say to you: that you've had a right to tell your story and for too long the truth was suppressed. I want to say to all those people for whom the discussion around Cardinal Pell is causing and bringing back memories of their own suffering, their own unfair treatment, Labor supports a national compensation scheme for you. Nothing less than the best will do because you were let down by people in positions of responsibility for too long, your stories denied and for some of the victims, they haven't made it to this point.
In terms of Cardinal Pell, as a specific matter, I want justice done for all of the parties but it is a very serious matter and it just reminds me that in Australia, at least, no one is above the law.
JOURNALIST: A question from my colleague Jonathan Lea. He is asking in relation to the intelligence agencies and hackers. Is the Opposition worried that we have crossed the line here, is it going too far?
SHORTEN: Crossed the line in terms of not doing enough or in doing too much?
REPORTER: Doing too much...(INAUDIBLE)
SHORTEN: No, I've got to say the cyber threat is real. We've seen interference, for example, in French elections, in American elections. There was cyber interference in South Korea and other countries around the world. We have seen the ransom warfare criminals, we've seen the publication of peoples' most personal information.
As I said in my earlier answer on cyber threats, it is inconvenient and frustrating and expensive to have to think about this problem but I see what is happening all around the world. It may be inconvenient and frustrating and expensive now to put up the defences, but it is a lot more inconvenient, a lot more frustrating and a lot more expensive if you are the victim of this cyber warfare and this cyber hacking. There is no good time to spend the money but earlier is better than later.
JOURNALIST: Does it make us a more attractive target if we do that?
SHORTEN: I think we are already a target. Just because we are an island, doesn't mean we are immune from what happens on the internet from cyber hackers.
I just want to reassure Australians, the party I lead, we are equally committed to working with the Government to keep Australians safe. Threats can come in all shapes and forms. Threats to Australians can come from a lack of safety, a lack of proper regulation and fire prevention. Threats can also come through the internet. As a parent, I am very conscious that social media is a mixed blessing. The idea that you have got organised gangs of criminals or indeed state actors, seeking to interfere with our political process, with privacy, to blackmail people and to cause harm to people, we cannot ignore that threat, full stop.
JOURNALIST: Sorry. You touched on July 1 before - from tomorrow, are we better or worse off?
SHORTEN: We are worse off.
This nation cannot afford to give millionaires a sixteen and a half thousand dollar tax cut. Not when we can't look after our own, not when we don't have enough apprentices. This nation cannot afford to give large corporations a timetable of tax cuts when we can't even look after our own in terms of electricity prices.
It is a real statement of how out of touch Malcolm Turnbull is that he is going to congratulate himself for the starting of the new financial year: millionaires, people who earn a million dollars in this country next year, are going to get a $16,400 tax cut, but retail, pharmacy, fast food workers, they're getting their penalty rates cut on Sunday. Just how out of touch is Malcolm Turnbull?
JOURNALIST: That is a not a decision by the Prime Minister though, that's a decision by the Productivity Commission.
SHORTEN: The decision to cut penalty rates is one that Malcolm Turnbull can stop. What Malcolm Turnbull has got to realise is he can't sit in the grandstand of life and be called Prime Minister without earning his day job, without doing his day job.
If he would vote for Labor's legislation, we can stop the cuts to penalty rates. Malcolm Turnbull has voted against stopping the cuts to penalty rates. You are either part of the problem or you are part of the answer Malcolm - you can't keep playing in the traffic.
JOURNALIST: You're about to attend a funeral, a state funeral for Con Sciacca. How will you remember him? As a Labor great I guess?
SHORTEN: Con Sciacca was a Labor giant. He was Labor through and through. I'll miss him like thousands of other people will. But something about Con Sciacca is no matter how high success raised him, he never forgot where he came from. He was the son of a cane cutter.
If you were Con Sciacca's friend he was fiercely loyal to you. If you were a veteran, or a family member of a veteran who served this country, when he was Veterans' Affairs minister, he was in your corner.
Con Sciacca will be missed by those who knew him, by those who loved him and by those who he helped.
JOURNALIST: Some of the fire issues we have heard today - you've spoken to the tradies, they have said they're also State Labor Government problems, that they don't care about politics, they just want the problems solved. So does that mean you should be going to State Labor to fix (inaudible) these issues?
SHORTEN: You are quite right. States have power for regulation of OH&S and safety systems, as well as the Federal Government, you are quite right. I don't view it as a State Labor issue or a Federal Liberal issue, I view it as a safety issue. But what we have got to do is just be honest.
When we saw the Grenfell Tower disaster, I asked some of the really skilled fire protection guys here, the people who put in the systems in, the sprinkler fitters who put in the systems that keep us safe. I asked them what did they think, other than the perfectly human reaction that they were shocked and worried for the people caught up in that inferno, they all thought this could happen here. And that is the real issue for me.
I don't give a tinker's toss who is in charge. What I do care about is that now we know we have got a system which is imperfect, fire protection is not something which you can get 80 per cent right, it's 100 per cent or it is not. And what we have got to do is make sure that the building materials which are being imported are not so cheap and nasty and unsafe that they are going to endanger people. We have got to make sure that we are training more apprentices. We have got to make sure that we have proper standards across Australia, that we have one set of rules for the whole of Australia in fire safety and that they are the best rules.
I think we have got to park the slavish partisanship for deregulation, deregulating standards. Deregulation will not keep you safe of itself. Economics doesn't keep you safe. Sometimes cheaper is not better when it comes to safety. I have never been to a workplace disaster where after the event, people haven't said "we will spend whatever it takes to make this safe".
The real shame of it is that if we spend a bit more now, we maintain our standards, we train our workers, we do the inspections, we make sure the material that is being installed is of the safest, best quality, that may cost a bit more now but it is far better than a funeral later on.
JOURNALIST: So what will you be asking Annastacia Palaszczuk to do then?
SHORTEN: We are going to go and talk to them. I am listening to people all around Australia, but I do think we need to make sure that there is one national standard for licensing, that you don't have unlicensed people doing the work that only licensed tradespeople are qualified to do. We have got to make sure there is a regular system of inspection. We have got to have a clearing house which makes sure that where people see a problem, you can report the problem. We've got to talk to building owners.
In my experience in workplace safety, follow the money. The people who have the most money and the people who make the most money out of a building, they're the ones where ultimately we need to sit down and say: "Don't put off maintenance work. Don't put it into next year's budget. If you know that something is unsafe, if you know it is not perfect quality, well that's when you act".
In my experience of workplace safety, the people with the money are the ones who we have got to make accountable for a safe system in this country.
JOURNALIST: Will we be seeing a lot more of you in the lead-up to the election? For the Queensland election, I mean?
SHORTEN: I have been here 15 times since the last Federal election. I think I am up here again very soon, so yes.
But for me, it is not a matter of seeing someone through an election. What really matters is days like this morning. I had the privilege, and I think all of the media were privileged, just to listen to real men and women talking about their real knowledge. When I was sitting there listening to those apprentices, to those employers, to those sprinkler fitters and the people training them, this is the real world.
I reckon Malcolm Turnbull should stop worrying so much about himself. I think the Liberal Party should stop fighting each other and start doing some real work for ordinary Australians. If the Liberal Government in Canberra, if the LNP Government in Canberra, spent as much time fighting for ordinary workers as they do fighting for themselves, no holding this country back, I wish they would get their priorities right.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of what Tony Abbott is doing?
SHORTEN: He is doing a lot, isn't he? Which particular outing are you talking about?
JOURNALIST: Just the recent undercutting that came out yesterday -
SHORTEN: I was pleased Mr Abbott said that Labor had a good track record on national security. I don't always agree with him but I thought that was dignified.
The real issue here is that it doesn't matter if it is Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton, Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne or Malcolm Turnbull, they just want to fight each other. You almost get the sense that the rest of us are an interruption in their day when they want to beat up on each other. They should all just get a big sandpit somewhere and go for it.
But in the meantime, there is real issues out there. Penalty rates getting cut on Sunday, millionaires getting a tax cut tomorrow, energy prices going up 10, 15 and 20 per cent in parts of Australia.
This Government needs to get its head out of the sand. They got to stop worrying about each other, do their day job for goodness sake.
JOURNALIST: Do you think they took lessons from Labor on infighting?
SHORTEN: The Labor Party got it wrong in the past. We have learned our lesson.
It would appear that Pauline Hanson's One Nation political party, they don't seem to like each other. The Greens: they're having a mini bust-up but they have been upstaged by the biggest bust-up in town which is the Liberal Party.
But this is what people don't like about politics. When they think that some of their political parties are more interested in themselves than Australians, that really turns people off.
That's why I am here today talking about how do you make buildings safe. I am here to talking about how do we get more people into apprenticeships. I am here talking about the fact that tomorrow penalty rates are cut for awards covering 700,000 people. I am here saying it is exactly the wrong time in this country to give millionaires a tax cut of sixteen and a half thousand dollars. These are the real issues. How do you see the doctor when your kid is sick, can you afford to do it? Do you have a chance to buy a proper house, buy your first home? Do you want to have penalty rates and be paid properly?
The Labor Party, we are focused on what the people want. That makes us quite unique at the moment.