FRIDAY, 17 MARCH 2017
SUBJECT/s: Labor’s Jobs and Skills Summit; NAB mortgage rates; Bryan Green; Sally McManus; Turnbull’s support for penalty rate cuts; Jay Weatherill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, everybody. It's great to be here with my Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Minister for Education. We are holding a summit today because one of the big issues we think for Australia's future is making sure we have got the right skills and training available to our young people and mature-aged workforce. If this nation does little else other than ensure that our young people, and indeed our workforce throughout their working life, got access to the world's best training and apprenticeship system and universities, then this country has got a very positive future.
But the problem is there is a crisis right in our vocational education, skills and training sector. Since the Coalition, and the Liberals were elected nearly four years ago, the number of apprenticeships in Australia has dropped by 130,000 plus. In other words, there were about 420,000 apprentices when the Liberals came in and now we're down to about 280,000. That is not good enough. We have seen $2.5 billion cut from our vocational education and TAFE sector.
And we also see yesterday, the very disturbing news that we have the highest number ever recorded of Australians who are underemployed. 1.1 million plus of our fellow Australians recorded last month that they are not getting enough hours of work, they would like to do more work. Combine that with some of the disgraceful outcomes we've seen in some of the dodgy private providers in TAFE, and put on top of that this government supporting penalty rate cuts, there is a real challenge for our vocational and education sector.
We have a vision of Australia that every young person or mature-aged person who wants to do an apprenticeship should be able to do an apprenticeship. We believe that we should train people properly and pay people properly. We have brought together employers, unions, the education sector, apprentices, because Labor is getting on with the job of setting the agenda for this nation's future.
I would now like to get Tanya to talk further about today's important summit about skills and training.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Bill and I think you have made terrific points about the challenge that faces us. We know that more than a million Australians are underemployed. We saw yesterday's unemployment figures showing that there are more Australians unemployed now than during the Global Financial Crisis. At the same time as we have lost 130,000 apprenticeships, we have seen about 140,000 people come in on 457 visas. We know that more young Australians are struggling to find a post-secondary school pathway that takes them into productive employment. And we know that a lot of older people are working in industries that are undergoing dramatic change.
The reason that we have brought together today business, unions, education providers is to say to them, what can we do to make sure that our 21st century education system is fit for purpose? That it is able to prepare our young Australians for the jobs of the future? In some cases, jobs we can't imagine yet. And in other cases, to make sure that our existing workforce is able to cope with change, to reskill, to upgrade their skills over time.
Now, this is an effort that will require all of us to work together. It will require government effort for sure, but it will also require effort from employers, it will require changes in our education system, it will mean changes for our workforce. That is why we have got representatives right across business, unions and education – to come together to work out what it is that will best ensure that young Australians are able to get a job, that people who have currently got a job can continue to have a high-paid, high-productivity job into the future.
SHORTEN: Thanks Tanya. Just before I take questions, I might just address Mr Turnbull's remarkable remarks on 3AW this morning. Just how out of touch does Malcolm 'don't blame me, I'm only the Prime Minister' Turnbull have to be? When asked about the NAB increasing mortgage rates, Mr Turnbull just doesn't have an opinion. Well, I do. I think that when the Reserve Bank's keeping the official interest rates at record lows, I don't like the banks increasing the mortgages of every Australian.
The banks have made record profits and here they are again, charging mortgage holders even more for the cost of their mortgages and unlike Mr Turnbull, I do have a view. Unlike Mr Turnbull, I wouldn't give the banks a massive tax cut. I would give them a Royal Commission. Just how out of touch is Mr Turnbull and his government, where they won't do anything to oppose mortgage increases but when it comes to penalty rates, they are all over that, they support that. This is the motto of the out of touch Turnbull Government. Soft on banks, hard on workers.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: You spoke about everyday Australians, the Business Council is today warning that everyday Australians will face reduced social services and increased taxes if budget repair doesn't occur. Are you willing to put that burden on everyday Australians for the sake of politics in the Senate?
SHORTEN: No, I'm not going to put that burden on everyday Australians. I'm the bloke who is standing up for penalty rates. I am the bloke who wants a Royal Commission into the banks. I'm the bloke who is defending Medicare and wants that better funded. I am the bloke who is actually standing up for family payments. If you want to do budget repair that is fair, Mr Turnbull shouldn't go ahead with big business tax cuts. I can find $50 billion for Mr Turnbull and his budget in a minute if he would just cancel big business tax cuts.
Mr Turnbull loves to say these big business tax cuts are the answer to all the problems. No, they are not. You can't take $50 billion out of the budget and not replace it. Well, you can if you are willing to cut funding to Medicare, cut funding to schools, cut the social safety net.
Mr Turnbull doesn't have a clue how ordinary Australians live their lives from fortnight to fortnight. He has got nothing to say about mortgages going up but he has got plenty to say about cutting penalty rates. I say to the Business Council of Australia, we can find $50 billion of improvements to the budget bottom line which don't mean harming the vulnerable and the working class and middle class and the less well off in society. Drop the tax cuts. And by the way, they should drop their support for penalty rate cuts.
JOURNALIST: On penalty rate cuts, you have issued a robo-call and you are saying that it is Malcolm Turnbull's decision to cut penalty rates. Isn't that a lie considering the decision was actually made by the Fair Work Commission?
SHORTEN: What is point of being Prime Minister if you are never going to stand up for workers? When the Fair Work Commission decided to increase the rates for owner-drivers, for truck drivers, Mr Turnbull passed a law in Parliament to smash that decision. He actually sacked that whole tribunal.
The Fair Work Commission has got this decision wrong. They have got this decision wrong. Cutting penalty rates for up to 680,000 Australians is absolutely the wrong decision. And at a time when you have wages growth at a 20-year low and corporate profits at a 40-year high, what sort of country are we becoming when the Prime Minister won't take the side of working people?
And today, Mr Turnbull said he supports the decision. When it doesn't suit him, Mr Turnbull has been willing to intervene. When the Federal Court made a decision about native land title, Mr Turnbull says we have to got to change that. When it was the truck drivers getting a pay rise, Mr Turnbull said we will interfere and pass a law on that. When it was the professional firefighters in Victoria getting a pay rise, Mr Turnbull, during the election for politically-expedient reasons said we will interfere with that decision. So Mr Turnbull has the power to stop this mistaken decision, he just chooses not to. Labor chooses to stand up for penalty rates and working people.
JOURNALIST: Your Tasmanian colleague Bryan Green has got a pretty incredible record. He has survived two plane crashes, a car crash and two corruption trials and he's even saved a dolphin, but we are hearing today he is standing down. Have you got any words the retiring Tassie Labor leader?
SHORTEN: He has been a good servant – has he made his formal announcement yet?
JOURNALIST: He will today.
SHORTEN: I sort of feel I should let him make his formal announcement. In anticipation of him standing down, he has served the Parliament in Tasmania and the Government for 19 years. Labor suffered a massive defeat at the last election. He came in to help restore the Labor Party's fortunes. If he decides he wants to hand the reigns over, he goes with my best wishes.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any words of wisdom for heir apparent Rebecca White?
SHORTEN: I think she will do a great job and I look forward to working with her to stand up for Tasmanians. I know that Bec White will oppose penalty rate cuts. I know that Bec White probably supports a banking Royal Commission. I know that she wouldn't think it was a good idea to give a $50 billion tax cut, and she certainly wouldn't go on radio and say nothing should be said about a mortgage increase which is going to slug Tasmanian mortgage holders.
JOURNALIST: Have you spoken with Sally McManus and do you believe it is too difficult for workers to take strike action in Australia?
SHORTEN: I speak to Sally McManus on a regular basis and I'll keep those conversations private, as you would expect me to do.
In terms of the ability of workers to bargain, there are problems in the current system. When you see companies able to essentially get around their industrial arrangements with their workers by outsourcing the workforce to a third company and therefore lowering the rates of pay which these workers used to do, I think that is a challenge. Where you have a situation where some employers – not all – but some employers are seeking to not renegotiate agreements and then go back to lower conditions at the expiry of the agreement, there are challenges.
I think there is an overreliance in this country upon using guest workers from overseas. I think there is a problem with the increasing trend towards casualisation and, obviously, I see the cut to penalty rates as the thin edge of the wedge for all Australian workers.
I will work with employers and I'll work with unions to make sure that we can do better, because productivity is too low in this country and wages growth is absolutely flat lining.
JOURNALIST: Back on strike action –
SHORTEN: I did say I would do some questions –
JOURNALIST: Sorry, just going back to the robo-call, Malcolm Turnbull says you have no regard for the truth. I understand what you're saying, but specifically with that wording, you have said it is Malcolm Turnbull's cuts to penalty rates. Is that lying? You don't think that's lying?
SHORTEN: Well if Mr Turnbull chooses to vote against legislation to stop the cuts, by his action, he adopts the cuts. They are his cuts. And if Mr Turnbull wants to get into name calling, that is up to him. What he needs to do is not focus on his own wounded pride or his own survival within his divided party.
If he wants to run a government which is well thought of by the Australian people, I've got some very simple propositions. Back in a banking Royal Commission, oppose the penalty rate cuts, unfreeze the Medicare levy. These are all very simple measures he could do. And by the way, stop with your war on climate change and look at an emissions intensity scheme.
Banking Royal Commission, penalty rates, Medicare, climate change. If you do these things, I think you will win a lot more respect. He should stop obsessing about me and worry about what he is doing to the living standards of working Australians.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you have any concerns about South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill's state of mind in light of the altercation with Josh Frydenberg yesterday?
SHORTEN: Go easy. You guys have been reporting for six months Turnbull's unhinged attacks on renewable energy. I am sure you were as staggered as me when we saw poor old Scott Morrison bring in a lump of coal like it is school show and tell time and watching the frontbench of the Coalition look like they have never seen a rock before.
They have made an unhinged attack on renewable energy. We appreciate the old Malcolm Turnbull who believed in renewable energy. But all they have done is trash South Australia. They have tried to attribute South Australia's support for renewable energy and blame it for the national energy grid crisis we have.
You know, in the last five weeks alone, I don't blame just Jay Weatherill for being frustrated, all Australians are. The Government in the last five weeks has been for and against renewable energy. They have talked about clean coal power stations which they can't identify a single investor for. Half the Liberal backbench is on a nuclear frolic where they want to say that is the answer.
We had Malcolm Turnbull last week and the beginning of this week say, stop the presses, there is a national gas crisis. Yet yesterday, he is taking happy snaps in a helicopter on the Snowy, not talking about the national gas crisis. Malcolm, what happened to the national gas crisis that you were talking about last week? He had an ineffectual meeting with the gas companies, where the gas companies are laughing behind their hands and nothing has changed.
The real question which Malcolm Turnbull didn't answer yesterday, nor has he answered today, is are we exporting too much gas overseas? Have the gas companies left enough gas for domestic demand? And what are we going to do right now, not in seven years at the cost of billions of dollars in hydro, what are we going to do right now in the next 12 months to secure industry supply of gas, to secure the jobs and the manufacturing jobs, and to make sure that gas prices don't keep rising out of control?
So has Jay Weatherill got a problem? Australia has got a problem because Mr Turnbull and the Coalition, who have been in for four years have done basically two parts of bugger all about energy in this country and they want to blame everyone else now. It is not good enough.
I'll take one last question.
JOURNALIST: Just back to your comments about the interest rate rise. Are you suggesting that the Prime Minister should personally intervene and tell the banks how they should set their interest rates?
SHORTEN: I think the Prime Minister should have had an opinion. Does he support the increases or not? I think the Prime Minister should do something on negative gearing. I think the Prime Minister should have a plan for housing affordability which is more than that sort of patronising advice to Jon Faine of get rich parents. I think Malcolm Turnbull should start standing up for ordinary Australians rather than simply trying to blame everyone else for everything else.
All we get out of Turnbull is more talk and less action. And yes, I actually don't like the fact, and I don't agree with NAB increasing the mortgage rates. And if Mr Turnbull wants to criticise me to all the big bank executives, so be it.
I actually think the banking sector in Australia needs a Royal Commission. I think that when you have got the Reserve Bank having historically low rates for the official cash rate, and when banks are making really staggering profits, I am actually on the side of the mortgage holders. That is where Labor is, we are on the side of the people.
Thanks everybody, see you later.