TUESDAY, 14 MARCH 2017
SUBJECT/S: Launch of Labor’s Australian Jobs Taskforce; Labor’s plan for jobs and apprenticeships; government plan to start taxpayer funded advertising campaign on penalty rates; cashless welfare card; energy.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINSTER FOR WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Well it's great to be here. It's great to be at an exemplar of local manufacturing, A.W Bell. This is an international success story and it's something that Labor truly believes in, that is of course, manufacturing and high skilled manufacturing. I'm here, I'm very fortunate to be here along with the A.W Bell people with Bill and of course, Lisa Chesters, the Assistant Minister for Employment and the new Chair of Federal Labor's Australian jobs Taskforce, Susan Lamb.
And we're here, not only to listen to the success of this remarkable local company, but we're also here to reinforce the view that our economy, indeed our nation, can invest in high manufacturing, can build things of high quality and export them. And that's the example that we've seen today.
The vision of Malcolm Turnbull of course, is contrary to that view. Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party have a view that we should be a low wage, easy to hire, easy to fire society. Well, Labor doesn't subscribe to that view. In fact, we are concerned that increasingly people feel less secure at work.
Increasingly we are seeing widespread examples of exploitation. We're seeing a Liberal Party willing to defend and support the cuts to penalty rates for the lowest wages earners in this country - hospitality and retail workers, struggling to make ends meet.
And that's why today, not only are we here to talk to a remarkably good local company, but we're also here to launch - and Bill's here to launch the Australian Jobs Taskforce. And their job, chaired by Susan Lamb, and of course comprising of colleagues of the Federal Caucus, will be to travel the towns and suburbs of this country, listening to the concerns of working people and decent employers to make sure that we get our policies right. So that we do invest in our people, we do invest in skills and training, we do stamp out exploitation, we do rely upon local workers before overseas temporary workers and we do support manufacturing in this country.
So that taskforce plays a very important role for Federal Labor. It will help inform our policies before the next election and as importantly, it will make sure that we are listening to the concerns of working people across this country about their concerns, their anxieties, their fears and their ideas about what we should do about it.
So it is a great morning we've had today, listening to this company and listening to its success and I have the great pleasure in introducing Bill Shorten to speak to you.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks, Brendan and good morning. It is great to be at A.W Bell in Dandenong. This is a successful company, coping with the changes in the economy, exporting Australian quality manufacturing right around the world and a really cooperative relationship between the leaders of the company and everyone who works here. And it is another day that Labor is talking about jobs. We are out on the road. My Labor MPs are out there listening to business, talking about how we can best create and maintain jobs in Australia.
Today we are starting our Australian Jobs Taskforce to be chaired by Susan Lamb and the Secretary is Lisa Chesters; very senior members of our backbench, going out with the brief to hear all of the good ideas and the good stories and see how we can repeat them nationally.
But you cannot have a jobs plan when all you have is a plan to cut wages. It is not a jobs plan for Australians for Mr Turnbull and the Coalition to support cutting penalty rates. You know a government is in terrible trouble when they try to convince you that it is in your interests for you to have a wage cut. The latest proposition is that the Government is going to waste taxpayer money selling the penalty rate cuts decision. This is a complete waste of money.
We don't need to use taxpayer money to pay an actor to go onto television to tell you it is a good thing that you are losing money. This is exactly the wrong priorities for this country. What the Government needs to do, is to immediately rule out wasting taxpayer money, trying to convince people they are better off by having a wage cut and instead what we need to do is for the Government to stop being so stubborn in refusing to oppose the penalty rate cuts.
You know things are in trouble for a Government when they want to waste taxpayer money telling you that something that is bad for you is actually good for you. What this Government needs to do is abandon its stubborn refusal to oppose the penalty rate cuts and instead get this country working together. Certainly that is what Labor is going the do and we are going to do it every day with good policies between now and whenever the next election is. The people expect nothing less from us.
JOURNALIST: How are you going to pressure them on that issue?
SHORTEN: The issue of penalty rate cuts? Well, first of all, we have seen the most recent West Australian election. And whilst that election was undoubtedly fought on many state issues, and I unhesitatingly congratulate and give credit to Mark McGowan for his victory, this Government has learnt nothing from the landslide in Western Australia if it wants to keep pursuing its support for cutting penalty rates.
What we saw in Western Australia is that a vote for One Nation was a vote for the Liberal Party. A vote for the Liberal Party was a vote for One Nation. And a vote for either was a vote to cut penalty rates.
What we are going to do is get out and talk to people; we’re setting up our jobs taskforce. One of the things they are going to do is hear the stories about how people's pay and conditions actually secures good livelihoods and good quality jobs. Australia doesn't need to be in a race to the bottom. We are never going to compete with the rest of the world by cutting and slashing the wage rates of Australian workers. There will always be someone, somewhere else who is willing to work more cheaply than the Australian safety net.
Our challenge is to go up the value chain and to be able to make quality product by an engaged and motivated workforce. What we don't need is for people to shut their wallets and purses across suburban and regional Australia because all of a sudden they are getting wage cuts. What we need to do is work together; what we don't need is a tax giveaway for big business and a wage cut for the workers.
JOURNALIST: The Federal Government say its trial of the cashless welfare card has been a big success but a review has apparently found that nearly half the people said it made their lives worse. Would Labor support a national rollout of the cashless welfare card?
SHORTEN: Well, we want to see what the results look like and we are going to study the results very carefully. When it came to tackling the scourge in particular of alcohol abuse, Labor certainly was supportive of trialling these welfare cards, the cashless welfare card, in Ceduna and Kununurra, but we are going to reserve judgement until we fully study the results.
JOURNALIST: So you haven’t got a position already about what you think would be the right reaction to that cards use?
SHORTEN: Well, we were certainly open to trialling them in Ceduna and Kununurra and we were certainly very concerned, in particular to see what we could do to reduce the scourge of alcohol abuse. But we are reserving judgement until we fully study the results, and I think that is what people would expect us to do.
JOURNALIST: The South Australian Government is going to make an announcement about its electricity arrangements today, do you think South Australia should be re-nationalising its grid?
SHORTEN: Well, what we need is a recognition that there is a national energy crisis. What we see is a combination of factors, in particular we are seeing a lot of the gas which is domestically produced in Australia, being shipped off on overseas contracts overseas. I think it is important that we have a proper supply of gas to Australian business and Australian households. We have waited for Mr Turnbull to do something. I mean, to be fair, this week he is talking to some of the entrepreneurs about renewable energy battery storage, I welcome that.
But a couple of weeks ago in Parliament he was mocking renewable energy and playing with lumps of coal in Parliament as if it was some sort of show and tell time at primary school. What we need from Mr Turnbull is less talk, more action. The South Australian Government, and we will have to wait to see the full details of their announcement, is making sure there is proper supplies of gas. They are making sure there that South Australians don't have to wait for the Federal Government to get their act together and South Australia is leading. I think Mr Turnbull needs to work with the South Australian Government rather than attack them because Australian industry, Australian consumers, Australian gas suppliers need national certainty.
The Grattan Institute has said that the lack of national policy certainty in energy is the greatest factor driving up electricity prices at the moment. Jay Weatherill is acting. It is now time for Mr Turnbull to stop playing political games and work with Labor and let's work together for the interests of the nation.
JOURNALIST: You still haven't the question though, do you think re-nationalising the privatised electricity grid is a good idea for South Australia?
SHORTEN: Well, that’s up to the South Australians to make that judgement.
JOURNALIST: Does South Australia need a new connector to New South Wales?
SHORTEN: I think that is an option they need to consider, but what I also recognise is that if the reports are correct and Jay Weatherill is putting on more base load gas supply, investing in new renewable energy battery storage and a range of other measures, Jay Weatherill is getting on with it. I mean, five weeks ago Mr Turnbull was doing everything he could to say that renewable energy is the problem. Now, what Jay Weatherill is doing a making renewable energy part of the solution to secure supply for South Australia.
The real question here is, why is Mr Turnbull spending so much of his time as Prime Minister bagging out Labor and bagging out the states when we have got a national energy crisis? We need to work together and that is why Labor has called for a national emergency conference. Get the consumers, the stakeholders and suppliers all in the same room to agree on the exact nature of the problem and agree on the solutions. But I will give Mr Turnbull a tick. It was good he was talking to some American renewable energy entrepreneurs and of course there are ones in Australia he could be talking to. This afternoon I am talking to Australian industry who are developing renewable energy storage through batteries myself.
JOURNALIST: Just going back to the privatisation issue, I believe in about the 1940s that Liberal or Coalition Government nationalised what was then a privatised grid. In principle do you think nationalising electricity assets is a good idea?
SHORTEN: Well, I am not as familiar as you about what happened in the 1940s, but what I will say here is that we need to make sure that the market for electricity prices is working as it should. Where you have too much concentration, or in other words too few energy suppliers, too little competition in terms of the transmission businesses, then what we see is the private providers taking a larger share of profit and as a result industry and consumers paying more. So it is important that if we are to have a market for electricity generation in Australia, that it is working in the interests of the customers and not the large private companies who have a relatively high share of market control, which forces up prices.
I might just finish to go back to where we started on the jobs taskforce. Labor is going to develop a plan for the next election to create and maintain Australian jobs. We intend to present this platform for the consideration of the Australian people at the next election whenever it is. But one thing that Labor rejects, in terms of a jobs plan, is a jobs plan which relies on cutting wages; cutting wages is not a jobs plan at all.
The other thing about a jobs plan is this government cannot be serious about a jobs plan if we see the number of apprenticeships in free-fall as we have. I think it is staggering today to realise that since the Coalition came to power in the middle of 2013 that we have lost over 130,000 apprenticeship places. We are a tradie nation, 1.6 million Australians have trade qualifications. It is now time for our apprenticeships to be back in the middle of our vocational and higher education policies. Not every Australian young person should go to university or wants to go to university. We want to be in a position, as a national Government, to reassure parents that if your kids want to do apprenticeships they will be there and to encourage adults who are retraining to do apprenticeships.
So our approach on jobs is very clear. We are going to listen to people, we're going to make sure that we back in apprenticeships, we're going to make sure we put TAFE in the middle of everything that we do on vocational education. We're going to crack down on dodgy visas, temporary workers from overseas who are getting ripped off and exploited.
But the other thing we are going to do is we are not going to engage in a race to the bottom on wages and conditions. We do not believe that cutting penalty rates in hospitality, fast food or pharmacy is actually the right way to go. When people are on the minimum wage, cutting their take-home pay is a disaster. No amount of television ads paid for by taxpayer funding is going to fix the problem. It is a sign of a desperate Government and they should rule that out. Instead, we are going to stop the penalty rate cuts by every means possible because it is the thin edge of the wedge. If they can cut the penalty rates in one section of the economy with no compensation for workers whatsoever then anyone is at risk, especially when you have got a Federal Government who won't fight for penalty rates.
Thank you, everybody.