TUESDAY, 7 MARCH 2017
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plans for jobs and apprenticeships; Penalty rates; National Farmers’ Federation comments on EIS; Dawson; National security leaks; Indonesian-Australian trade
CHRIS KETTER, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Well good morning ladies and gentleman, welcome to Mackay Engineering Collage. It's great for me as Labor Senator for Queensland to welcome Bill to Queensland, particularly to the Mackay Engineering Collage today, to talk about Labor's plans for apprenticeships and putting local jobs first. We have a fantastic set of policies that we are seeking to advance out there at every opportunity. This is, as I understand it, Bill's fourth trip to Mackay in the last 13 months or so and so we have a positive program in relation to local jobs and to apprenticeships. During the course of our conversation today with the apprentices we also took the opportunity to talk about the issue of penalty rates, which is a defining issue in our society today. And I'm so proud that Labor has decided to stand shoulder to shoulder with retail workers, with fast food workers, hospitality workers on this important issue. We know that in the electorate of Dawson there are one in six workers who are affected by this decision. That's about 14,000 workers in this Mr Christensen's electorate, unfortunately Mr Christensen seems to wibble and wobble on the issue of penalty rates. So it's time for Mr Christensen to get off the fence, to come out and support Labor's principled decision of opposing these cuts to penalty rates. We've introduced a Private Members Bill to protect people against the effects of this $77 a week cut in many cases. Mr Christensen, get down off the fence and support Labor. I'd like to now call on Bill to say a few words.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Chris, it's great to be back for my fourth visit in just 12 months to Mackay and I come here because I know that the number one issue for people who live in Mackay, Bowen, Emerald and surrounding regions, is jobs. Therefore jobs is my number one issue and today I had a great opportunity here at CQU and Mackay School of Engineering to talk to apprentices about Labor's plan for jobs.
Some of the details of our plan for jobs include putting TAFE at the centre of our vocational education strategy. I believe that people should be encouraged to go and do a trade as much as they're encouraged to go to university, not every child or indeed adult wants to go to university and they should have the chance to do it at TAFE, that's our first step of our plan.
Secondly, we want to make sure that when the Commonwealth spends scarce and valuable taxpayer dollars on major projects, that one in every ten employees on these projects in an apprentice. That way we're encouraging employers who want to get the Commonwealth contracts to employ apprentices and that therefore becomes more attractive to employ apprentices.
Thirdly, we want to clamp down on some of the rorts and dodgy behaviour concerning the use of overseas work visas to bring in overseas workers to do temporary labour shortages in Australia. We think that we should have a system which prioritises training our own people rather than importing skills in the short term.
A fourth feature of our jobs plan though is to make sure that peoples jobs are good paying jobs. That's why we're going to campaign against the cuts to penalty rates. The reality is that Australian families, families in North Queensland, families in Mackay and the surrounding region are doing it tough. The last thing people need is a cut to their wages. Make no mistake when you talk about cutting penalty rates, that is a cut to peoples’ take home wages. It is cutting penalty rates with no compensation, is simply cutting peoples’ wages. Labor will never stand for across the board wage cuts to families and workers who are already battling to make ends meet.
And let's also be really clear here, if Labor is unsuccessful in stopping these penalty rate cuts, Liberals and their allies One Nation will go further. We've been opposing the penalty rate cuts in Parliament and now we're taking our campaign to every part of Australia and my first stop on our campaign nationwide to stop the penalty rates cuts is in Mackay. And the apprentices here will be speaking to about the issues, they understand that they're not on the chopping block this week in terms of penalty rates, but every worker who depends on hourly wages knows that a cut to penalty rates is a cut to the standard of living of all Australians. Labor will keep fighting this and the fact of the matter is, that if we don't stop the Liberals and One Nation, it will be the thin end of the wedge and at the end of the day, deep down, the Liberal Party and their allies the Nationals and One Nation just don't get how people live their lives and construct their pay packets. Deep down they just don't care.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] business chamber when this rates decision was made actually supported the change because in the climate like Mackay's the rate changes would mean that businesses could actually open longer and on Sundays, I mean what's your response to that?
SHORTEN: Well who do they think is going to shop in their shops and what are they going to spend? The fact of the matter is that about one in six of people who live in the electorate of Dawson, or about 14,000 people, will be covered by the decision to cut penalty rates. Penalty rates are not some theoretical concept, it's how people construct their weekly wages. Already in Australia we have the lowest wages growth in 20 years at the same time, corporate profits are the highest they've been in 40 years. Wages growth is flat lining and that kills confidence and people are shoving their wallets and purses and not spending.
So if you just have a sledgehammer blow to family budgets by taking away penalty rates on Sunday and reducing them on Sunday and on public holidays, you will kill confidence. The fact of the matter is, what drives economic growth in a region like Mackay? Is it infrastructure spending, it is making sure that you've got good skills and good training, making sure that not just mining boom, but the tourism sectors and other have got growth. You don't improve a region’s economy by engaging in a race to the bottom. Because if the theory of the Mackay Business Chamber has got to cut rates on Sunday, where does it stop and why should some people have their rates cut and not everyone? No this is the thin edge of the wedge, Labor thinks that there is a better way to generate growth in this country is by looking after the middle class and the working class, not just the top end of town.
JOURNALIST: Is George Christensen a big reason why you're here? Because he might actually cross the floor in Parliament?
SHORTEN: Well George Christensen talks a big game in Canberra but we're yet to see him actually do too much. Now I understand that he's out of step with the Liberal and National Party, on Sunday we saw Senator Hanson say she didn't want him part of her party. All I say to George is this: battlers can't afford to take a pay cut. Cutting the minimum wage of people is not the way which you build a strong economy or a better community. So we're calling on George Christensen to back Labor's proposition to protect take home pay of Australian workers rather than just waving goodbye to a whole lot of working people and saying that a wage cut to them is no problem to George Christensen.
JOURNALIST: Recent polling is suggesting that Labor is in third place after the LNP and One Nation, at least in the primary vote in the seat of Dawson. Does that worry you?
SHORTEN: We're in first place when it comes to defending penalty rates. We're in first place when it comes to standing up for apprenticeships. We're in first place when it comes to opposing dodgy 457 visas and standing up for Australian jobs. We're in first place when it comes to standing up for a banking royal commission. We're in first place when it comes to standing up for Medicare.
Labor has got the policies which speak to people who live in Mackay and the surrounding regions. The Liberal National Party have treated Mackay as a bit of a safe seat quite-frankly. They have had this Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund and not managed to spend a cent. It takes real skill for a Government not to spend a cent in several years.
And when it comes to penalty rates, this is a government which is just plainly out-of-touch.
JOURNALIST: What about the fact your preferences could actually help the LNP win this seat again over One Nation?
SHORTEN: We don't intend to come third.
JOURNALIST: National Farmers’ Federation is now backing a price on carbon. What's your response to that?
SHORTEN: Well, just about everyone in the known world is now backing proper action on climate change except for Tony Abbott, Pauline Hanson and of course, Malcolm Turnbull.
The fact of the matter is that in January alone, we broke 400 weather records - 400 weather records in January, and who knows how many weather records are going to get broken next year. At some point, the penny is going to drop for the LNP and their allies, One Nation that when you've got more drought, more extreme weather events, threats to the Barrier Reef and the tourism industry. When we've got an opportunity to generate more blue collar jobs in Queensland by making Queensland the solar capital of the world - there's jobs here, there is investment here in solar power to be gained. When the National Farmers' Federation, who don't often agree with every policy Labor has say that 'you've got to have an Emission Intensity Scheme' to help reduce carbon pollution. If the scientist say so, if the National Farmers say so, if a lot in businesses say so, if Labor and all of the people who believe in taking real action on climate change believe we should take action, why is Malcolm Turnbull sold out his own views because he used to think that, just to keep a few people in his party happy so he can hang onto his job?
Quite frankly, Malcolm Turnbull hanging on to his job as Prime Minister isn't worth the cost of climate change for future generations of Australians.
JOURNALIST: Just on energy, AGL and Danny Price have both again raised concerns about the intermittent nature of renewables, so does Labor think there's a need to force renewables supplies to link with baseload sources under your ambitious renewable target?
SHORTEN: Let's be clear, not investing in renewable energy will see Australia miss out on jobs, miss out on investment and miss out on the ability to lower energy prices in the future. Labor believes in a mix of energy which has coal and fossil fuel, absolutely, but also has renewable energy.
Queensland has got a great story to tell, in solar energy in particular. Even the Prime Minister was out being filmed near a solar farm on Sunday at Barcaldine. No, the fact of the matter is we've got to move beyond this ridiculous debate where you either love coal or love renewable energy to just getting on with taking real action on climate change; capturing the jobs of the future, engineering, the blue-collar jobs. Making sure that we also have good investment, we have downward pressure on energy prices and we actually do something on climate change.
JOURNALIST: So are you wanting to force those renewable supplies to link with base-load sources?
SHORTEN: We'll it's got to be both. For our energy mix for 2030, we are going to need to have a mixture of fossil fuels and renewable energy, and only together can we meet the energy needs that this country needs in 2030.
I make the point that 1.3 million Australian households already have solar panels on their roof. They're not doing it because they think it is a bad idea. Most Australians who put solar panels on don't want to take the solar panels off. And many Australians who don't have solar power would be interested to obtain it - that's the confidence people have in it.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of reports (inaudible)?
SHORTEN: Well, when it comes to keeping Australians safe, both Labor and the LNP are in this together and there is not an area we seek to try and score political points.
I am frustrated though, that we keep reading about national security ideas from the Government in the newspapers. I wish sometimes that the Government would actually talk to the Opposition without trying to have an internal debate and argument through national security leaks to the media.
If there is merit in the idea, we will certainly look at it. The Government should tell us if they have this plan. I mean, someone has chosen to leak it for whatever reasons to suit the internal divisions of the Liberal Party. We will work with Malcolm Turnbull, or whoever the leader of the Liberal Party is to make sure that we keep Australia safe.
JOURNALIST: On the Indonesia-Australia free trade deal, would Labor back a deal which gives greater access to Indonesian palm oil products and paper?
SHORTEN: We will have to see the detail of that today.
I tell you though, talking about news today, something which would be remiss of me not to mention: is the poll out today which shows that overwhelmingly, Australians don't want to see a cut to penalty rates.
What does Malcolm Turnbull need to hear from the Australian people to persuade him not to stand back and allow these cuts to happen. We want Malcolm Turnbull to support Labor's legislation to protect the take home pay of Australians who are facing penalty rates cuts.
A majority of Australians don't want these cuts. We've said so in Parliament and we are going to go to every part of Australia, including starting here in Mackay today. Australian families need penalty rates to sustain their wages. When you cut peoples’ penalty rates with no compensation, what you're effectively doing is cutting the wages to Australian workers and Australian households. Australians are already finding it hard enough to make ends meet. This is the thin-edge-of-the wedge. If the Liberal Party, the National Party and One Nation combine, as they have been doing since One Nation has been elected into the Senate, and keep voting for measures, including allowing the cuts to penalty rates, we are going to see Australian families go backwards. That's the last thing in the world we want to see.
Thanks everybody, great to be here.