FRIDAY, 6 OCTOBER 2017
SUBJECTS: Jobs, Labour hire, Nick Xenophon; Turnbull refusing to support Labor’s plan to ban flammable cladding; MC Shorty in the house.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hello everyone, it's great for Brendan O'Connor and I to be back in Mackay and back in the region. This is my sixth visit to Mackay and the region since the last election but I tell you what I haven't had a better visit than to Austchrome today.
This is a really humming business, you can tell an enterprise where the workers, the management all working together to achieve quality engineering services for the mining industry and for a range of other industries which require the sort of equipment which is sorted out and produced here. So this is a good business and these are good, secure jobs and it's a real sign that Mackay and central Queensland, there's some really good news coming out of this region.
Having said that, one of the bigger problems we face in Australia and everyone knows it is that wages growth is non-existent. And one of the problems causing this non-existent wages growth is the undercutting of permanent work and good workplaces. The undercutting of the work done by good employers when some workers elsewhere are getting ripped off. And everybody knows that one of the causes for low wages growth, for insecure and casualised work has been the absolutely unfettered spread of the use of labour hire casuals. And labour hire is a legitimate industry, it can fill in for shortages and high demand but what we now see in Australia is an overreliance casualised labour employment which undermines good employers, undermines permanent work and undermine wages growth in this country.
Turnbull and his team keep telling everyone how good everything is in Australia, well they should get out of their ivory towers in Sydney and in Canberra, get out on the ground and visit what's really happening across Australia.
Wages growth is non-existent, labour hire casualisation contributes to low-wages growth and what we need to see is a national concerted effort to start regulating labour hire causals so it doesn't undermine job security or wages growth. To that end, I would like to invite my Workplace Relations Spokesperson Brendan O'Connor, to talk further about Labor's plan to priority the regulating the casualisation in the Australian workplace.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much Bill. Well, as Bill said we are here at this very good company talking to them about - not only the industry, manufacturing and the work they do here - but also talking about what it is to have a good job. And unfortunately there are too many ways that some employers chose to game the Fair Work laws and they avoid their obligations. Now, one of the ways that happen is because the way in which, on occasion, labour hire is being used.
Now you won't hear Malcolm Turnbull talk about the reason why we have flat-lining wages is because labour hire can be used to undermine employment conditions in workplaces across Australia. For that reason. a Shorten Labor Government, if elected, will ensure we have a National Licensing Scheme for labour hire employees in this country. That will make sure those companies that provide labour to host employers have to comply with the industrial relations laws, will have to comply with the tax laws, will make sure that their workforce is paid superannuation and ensure that there is proper compliance generally.
And if they fail to do that, they will not be issued a license and if they breach the laws they will lose their license. We need to do that to make sure that there is proper regulation around the employment conditions of labour hire causals and we need to do more. It's quite clear that we have problems with the way in which labour hire is being used in too many workplaces and too many industries. So we will be examining what else we can do on top of licencing labour hire in this country.
Now, in talking to some of the workers today it became very clear if it wasn't already clear how important a secure job is.
In fact I was talking to Wayne and he said - when we were talking about employment conditions, he just said to Bill and I, he said 'dads need secure work'. And in fact, parents do need secure work. People need an opportunity not only to find employment but to find a good job. So they can pay the mortgage, so they can pay the rent so they can pay the car rego, they can put food on the table and too many Australians are in insecure work. For that reason, a National Licencing
Scheme regulating labour hire will prevent breaches occurring too often but we will be examining what else needs to be done.
Now you know we won't see Malcolm Turnbull respond to this problem. Malcolm Turnbull does not understand that there's a correlation between the lowest wage growth in this country for twenty years and indeed the misuse of forms of employment, including labour hire casuals. He doesn't understand because he doesn't understand workers and their aspirations, he doesn't understand because he is out of touch. And for that reason it will take a Shorten Labor Government if elected, to make those changes that are necessary so that Australians who go to work can be assured that they have a decent job, a secure job and they can look after their families.
That's what we're here for in Queensland today, I want to just finally say the Palaszczuk Government, I commend them for seeking to regulate labour hire. Along with indeed, two other States, Victoria and South Australia. I commend their work but we need a National Licensing Scheme to regulate this area and that's what a Shorten Labor Government will deliver.
SHORTEN: Thanks very much Brendan. Before we take any questions I would just like to briefly extend our support and sympathy for Senator Arthur Sinodinos's challenge. Cancer is a dreadful disease. My money's on Arthur Sinodinos he's a very, very strong person and Chloe and I and indeed the Labor Party, we wish him and his family all the best in this very serious and personal challenge.
Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Bill, the second time in a relatively very short amount of time, some might think you're house hunting in Mackay. Is that right?
SHORTEN: Well I like Mackay - I like the story that's going on in Mackay and I like the region. I understand that Australia is much more than the big three cities of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. I understand that Queensland doesn't just stop in the Northern Suburbs of Brisbane. This is my sixth visit to Mackay and the region since the last election.
Now there's no election on and I think people get cheesed off when they think the only time they ever see politicians is when they want their vote. I'm interested to see how Mackay is responding and bouncing back with improved commodity prices, improved mining prices. I love coming to workplaces like this, this is the sort of workplace which makes me optimistic about the future of this country, you've got skilled tradespeople, you've got a management and a workforce working together. This is a company where the average length of employment is heading towards a decade. This is a company who even, in the teeth of the downturn of the mining business didn't have a single redundancy, this is a company who is trying to do it's absolute best to improve the sustainability and cost profile of the industry and they're doing it through employing very skilled people.
So this is a good news story, Mackay can be a good news town, the region can be. That's why I am at a loss to understand why my opposite number has only been here once since the election and I do not know why they are dragging the chain on sorting out the disaster relief funding from last year's dreadful cyclone season. We're almost at the start of the next major storm season. I mean Turnbull can find $122 million dollars to send out a postal survey, to find out what people think about marriage equality when anyone can already tell him but when it comes to the grassroots of Australia, the regions of Australia, the Queensland provisional cities, he's a stranger and it’s not good enough.
JOURNALIST: How do you think the Palaszczuk Government will go at the next state election Bill?
SHORTEN: That'll be up to the voters in Queensland and I think Annastacia does deserve a second chance. She's been doing a good job, she's repaired a lot of the terrible cuts made by Campbell Neumann’s LNP.
I mean, let's not forget that when Campbell Neumann was in he took the axe to the health system, he took the axe to the education system, things were looking down. Annastacia is a Premier for all of Queensland, she certainly doesn't get lost north of Brisbane and South East Queensland and I think when we look at the election policies she certainly has done more than enough to deserve another chance.
JOURNALIST: Senator Nick Xenophon has announced he's quitting –
JOURNALIST: What's your reaction to Nick Xenophon announcing he'll quit the Senate?
SHORTEN: Oh well, congratulations to Nick he's had a successful career as a politician for sixteen years, he wants to have another crack at being a politician at a State level. So he's a very decent, pleasant fellow to deal with although I do understand Nick Xenophon has done more dud deals with Malcolm Turnbull than anyone ought to put up with so maybe he's decided, no more of that, time to move on to greener pastures.
JOURNALIST: So he won't be missed?
SHORTEN: Oh, no, Nick is a very pleasant fellow. No, I am not going to say anything mean about his personality. But, let's face it - he has done a lot of dud deals with Mr Turnbull and probably more than the rest of us should have to put up with in Australia and now he is moving on.
JOURNALIST: What do you predict prospects will be for NXT without the name-sake in the Senate?
SHORTEN: I don't know what they are going to call themselves now: 'The Party who vote for the Government when ever the Government needs a vote'? I don't know: 'The Liberal Party more often than not people'? 'A vote you can have voting for the Liberals but not quite vote for Turnbull'?
JOURNALIST: So do you think the party (inaudible) beyond this term?
SHORTEN: I honestly don't know. What I am focused on is not spending all our time complaining or talking about the mistakes of the Government. Only two parties in this country can form a government; Turnbull's Liberals or Labor.
And what I am doing here is using every second of every minute of every day of our time in Opposition to hear the policies that work for every day Australians. My focus is not Nick Xenophon or Malcolm Turnbull. My focus is how do we make sure that young Australians can get their first home? How do we make sure that young people who want to get an apprenticeship can get to TAFE and get an apprenticeship? My focus is making sure that when you are sick, can you afford to go and see the doctor? My focus is making sure that we put downward pressure on energy prices. My focus is making sure on when an older Australian gets to retirement, is there the support there for our older Australians? My priorities are those of everyday Australians - the bread and butter issues.
And of course, what Brendan and I have been here talking today about is how do we do something to lift up wages growth in this country. Once upon a time, it was only the unions who wanted wages growth and some employers would have said they don't want it. We live in unprecedented times. Wages growth, or the lack of wages growth to be more specific, is one of the big problems in Australia and one of the causes of poor wages growth in Australia is the unfettered use of labour hire casual which are undermining job security and wages. And mean that all the good things done at the reputable businesses can be undercut for no other reason than people are getting ripped off.
JOURNALIST: George Christensen has said that he will tackle companies using labour hire companies to rort workers. So why would Dawson voters vote for Labor when their representatives -
SHORTEN: Well, first of all - George talks a big game in Mackay but he is more of a mouse in Canberra. But leave aside what George Christensen says. Who do you trust to look after the conditions of working people in this country; The Labor Party or Malcolm Turnbull? Who do you trust to look after working conditions? I am the Leader of the Opposition, my senior spokesperson - we're here on the ground in Mackay as we often are, talking about the unfettered use of labour hire casuals. Turnbull's so out of touch, he wouldn't even understand what we are talking about.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you were on Sydney radio this morning, rapping. Would you consider a career in rap if the election doesn't go well?
SHORTEN: I think for anyone who has seen 'the rap battle', everyone would say I should stick to my day job.
The next job I want is to be able to help lead Australia and look after working class and middle class people. I'm not going to pursue a career -
JOURNALIST: So no rapping?
SHORTEN: No rapping. My kids gave me a hand with the lyrics, the rhythm, the words. They will probably do better than I would.
JOURNALIST: I just want to ask you too about the importance -
JOURNALIST: No, you're right. You go.
JOURNALIST: I just want to ask you too about the importation of flammable cladding in Australia. You've called for a ban on that but the Turnbull Government disagrees. Tell us a little more about your view on that.
SHORTEN: Keeping Australians safe from the risk of fires should be a matter which is above politics. I think every Australian was shocked when we saw the dreadful images of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in London where 80 people were killed. And I know in Australia, we sometimes think we are a long way away from some of the other tragedies and evil thing which happen around the world. But Australia can never be complacent.
So that is why Labor, after a Senate investigation, wants to ban the importation of the most dangerous flammable cladding used in building products so we can help keep Australians safe. I honestly don't why Mr Turnbull and the Government are willing to take the risk. I don't think that when it comes to the safety of Australians, we can afford to take any risk.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the prospect of minors potentially being held or detained for up to two weeks under the new counter-terrorism rules?
SHORTEN: Well let's go to what the big issue here is; the issue is how do we best keep Australians safe in a rapidly changing world but still preserve the sort-of freedoms which makes Australia one of the best countries, if not the best country, in the world? What I want to say to Australians is that the policy of my party is to work with the Government wherever possible to be constructive to keep Australians safe. We've got a good track record of working with Tony Abbott, now Turnbull on how do we keep Australians safe. The Government is proposing some new ideas. The state premiers are have had a look at them. We haven't seen the details of these propositions.
But I want to promise Australians that we will be constructive when it comes to keeping our people safe. It doesn't matter if it is from terrorism, or indeed, the latest developments from fire-cladding. For us, what matters is keeping people safe but also preserving the freedoms of Australians as we do it. We've got a process where the parliament looks at the measures.
Normally, what has happened when we've had previous national security measures is that the Government puts up a proposition, Labor makes some fine-tuning and we work it out together. So I am sure we can work through these issues in a constructive fashion and I actually think Australians expect us, with all of our argument on other matters, to do that and that's the promise we will keep.
JOURNALIST: But how do you feel though about the prospect? I know you said you haven't seen the detail yet but how do you -
SHORTEN: I've said that we are going to work through the detail. I am going to listen to the experts. The way I approach keeping Australians safe and preserving our freedoms is I talk to the experts. We will have a look at what is done overseas. We must constantly keep updating our laws to get that balance right, protecting Australians and protecting our freedoms. I am more than confident subject to seeing the detail. We will work through this issue as we have for the last four years that I have been leader of the Labor Party. And I think Australians expect me to take that constructive attitude. I am not going to jump to judgement.
JOURNALIST: Would you like to see the end of casual employment?
SHORTEN: Casual employment has a place in the Australian workplace. Let me be clear, seasonal work- when there is big peaks in demand for instance in tourism. But what I don't want Australia to become is a country where casual and insecure employment becomes the norm.
There is a lot of good things about America; but one of the thing I don't want to repeat about America is the Americanisation of our workforce, where a lot of people don't have secure jobs.
Brendan mentioned Wayne, who we spoke to - a leading hand here. We were talking about the importance right in regulating the use of labour hire casuals. Wayne said "Dads need permanent jobs." The reality is Australians need permanent jobs. You can't get a loan at the bank, you can't get finance for your car - how do you make long term decisions to sink roots into a community if you don't know when your next roster is? If you don't have access to a proper level of pay.
The Australian Labor Party makes no apology for standing up for workers in workplaces; that's where we were born from and it's an important part of our proposition. And we also know there are many good employers. The vast bulk of employers do an excellent job and I was talking about the accomplishments of Austchrome. This is a good employer but one of the things which they regard as badge of their success, of their quality is that they have an ongoing continuous permanent workforce. That they have people who had a connection to this company for literally decades in some cases.
Good employers know that the best way to improve productivity, to get the best value out of a business, is to treat their employees in a respectful way. Unfortunately, we have slack and deregulated Labour Laws under the Turnbull Government which are making it too easy to sack people, too easy to have casualisation and insecure employment. And it is no accident that wages growth in this country is in the toilet because the Turnbull Government is backing deregulated workplaces which sees a race to the bottom in conditions and that doesn't help anyone.
JOURNALIST: So you don't think low wages growth is because people are not spending money, they're saving money instead?
SHORTEN: No, I think low wages growth is because they're not getting pay rises.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly back to the national security issue, would you like to see photo ID checks on domestic flights given that's where the experts say there are some weaknesses?
SHORTEN: I think there has been divided opinion on that. I've certainly expressed some interest in that. I'll be guided by the experts.
JOURNALIST: Just on Adani, it's been a big week. Where do you think the project is at at the moment?
SHORTEN: Well, you'll have to ask Adani where their project is at. Labor's views at the national level are pretty clear. We welcome the development of jobs but we also don't think the taxpayer should be expected to fund particular business enterprises.
JOURNALIST: A question to Brendan O'Connor if that's alright? Earlier you said people should have decent jobs. What is a decent job?
O'CONNOR: Well I think most people believe that a decent job is where you go to work, kept safe and a safe workplace. you know you're going to get a (inaudible), you are not underpaid. That you can have a secure job so you can pay for, as I was saying earlier, things that you need, things that your family need. So a good job, a decent job is one where people can get some guarantee that they can look after their families, they can pay the mortgage, pay the rent. You ask any worker in this place today, I'll tell you, that's what they see as a decent job. Unfortunately, too many Australians are being underpaid, they are being unlawfully paid - They're in insecure work. They don't know when the next pay cheque is coming. We can't have a country like that. As Bill has said, we don't want to go down the American path in industrial relations and we won't if Labor is elected.
JOURNALIST: So a casual job isn't a decent job?
O'CONNOR: No as Bill has said, there is a legitimate use for casual and it needs to supplement peaks and toughs of demand. It can replace permanent workers who might be on long service leave or other forms of leave. Of course casual is a part of the labour market but what is happening is the primary job of too many people is being casualised. And that means they have no security. If they don't have security, than they don't have a good quality life.
Thanks very much.