Bill's Transcripts

Transcript: Press conference on minimum wage decision

BILL SHORTEN: Good afternoon everyone. I’m pleased to advise that the Federal Government welcomes today’s Fair Work annual wage case decision for the upcoming 12 months. We think the announcement of an approximately $900 per year for low-paid workers is a vote of confidence in the Australian economy. It’s a sign of how far we’ve come from the global financial crisis, where there was a zero dollar increase for the year, to $17.10 per week, or nearly $900 a year.

The minimum wage in Australia will now rise to be $15.96 per hour. The Australian Government in its submission to the independent umpire, Fair Work Australia, we asked for the increase to be reflective in changes in the cost of living. 

The decision, I think, completely reflects the strengths of the Australian economy. In the decision, Fair Work Australia made it clear that Australia’s economic performance was sound.

Of course we agree with Fair Work Australia that we need to acknowledge a note of caution, the volatility in Europe may well lead to a slight increase in unemployment in the remainder of the year.

But the fundamentals of the Australian economy right now are that we have 4.9 per cent unemployment, that we have a very low Commonwealth Government debt as a proportion of Australian economic activity and we’ve seen falling interest rates which is good news for mortgage holders and small businesses.

This Government recognises that people on the minimum wage  are under cost of living pressures. There are 1.36 million Australians who rely upon the minimum wage award increases to help them make ends meet. 1.36 million Australians for whom this is a very serious decision.

Fair Work Australia did recognise that people who are on the lowest wages are also partly reliant upon the tax transfer system, or in plain English, they are partly reliant on some of the benefits which this Government has been putting into place since Labor was elected at the end of 2007.

Most recently in the Budget, for low-wage people we’ve seen the School Kids Bonus of $410 if you’re a family who’ve got children at primary school;  $820 if your child’s at secondary school.

We’ve increased Family Tax Benefit A. We’ve tripled the tax-free threshold so nearly one million people won’t have to put in tax returns. We’ve also got a Household Assistance Package to support people as we make the transition to a price on carbon.  We’ve got the first ever Paid Parental Leave scheme in Australia’s history; we’ve increased family payments for teenagers and importantly we’ve increased the Child Care Rebate to 50 per cent for out-of-pocket costs.

Today’s decision is another reminder of why a fair workplace relations system is important in Australia.

The Gillard Government has a clear framework on workplace relations.

We are the government who can be trusted to ensure that the low-paid have the decent deal that they seek.

For instance, we’ve got a legal framework which we are currently reviewing – we look forward to that review being handed down....the Government response in the next two months or so.

We’ve announced reforms to the governance of registered organisations.

We’ve got new ideas on how to improve productivity and give people a greater say in their workplaces.

And most importantly even despite the difficulties on Europe, we are creating jobs.

I think today’s decision also puts further pressure on the Opposition to announce what their approach to Industrial Relations is. They need to clearly, and once and for all make clear for 1.36 million low-paid workers who rely upon their penalty rates, who rely upon having some say over their rosters, who rely on not being unfairly dismissed at work, who rely on proper shift loadings, the Abbott Opposition do need to spell out what it is that they would do differently to the current government, to help or not help low-paid workers.

Unfortunately when it comes to workplace relations, the Opposition have been running away as they have indeed done this week in Parliament.  But in summary we think that Fair Work Australia decision which will see nearly $900 added to the pockets of low-paid Australian workers is a good decision. 

Happy to take questions, thank you.

JOURNALIST: We’ve had some reactions coming in, we’ve got unions saying it’s not enough money; and we’ve got some industry groups saying that it’s going to send people broke. Are you confident that this does strike the right balance?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I think that $17.10 per week or nearly $900 per year is a vote of confidence in the Australian economy. If you’re low-paid, you do need every dollar you can get. The people who made the decision on the low-paid people’s condition, they made it clear that when you are award-reliant, reliant on the minimum wage, you also rely upon some of the other government policies in place, such as family payments.

JOURNALIST: We’ve had some the industry groups saying that when you’ve already got to pay penalty rates for their staff, these increases will hit them hard.  Do you think that that is a valid concern?

BILL SHORTEN: We have a system where the unions put their case and appropriately they are trying to get the best deal possible for their members and for low-paid workers. We also have a system where the employers obviously want to try and keep as much as they can in the share of business.  I think on balance, the fact that we have a system where each side says that they’d like a bit more than what they got, or award their own position in what they obtained ...what I believe is that shows the decision is probably  somewhere around correct.

JOURNALIST: Did you think it was a predictable reaction?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh well, people have got the right to put their position, but what we want in our workplace relations system is the ability for unions to put their point of view, for employers to put their point of view . The independent umpire takes into account economic factors, takes into account social inclusion factors, takes into account factors around the issue of making sure that women get equitable treatment in the workplace. I think on balance, Fair Work Australia has made a good decision.

JOURNALIST: The Opposition leader, Tony Abbott has been in Melbourne today. He’s been talking about the Enterprise Migration Agreement. He says that you met with union leaders before it was announced ...this is a sign that there was disunity within the Government... that the Prime Minister didn’t already know about it. How do you respond to those comments?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, hold the presses, Mr Abbott is criticising the Government. It doesn’t matter what state he’s in, or what time of day, that’s what he does for a living, that’s what he ...he criticises the Government as easily as fish swim.

The real issue is that he is surprised when ministers meet with unions. When he was minister for industrial relations, he didn’t have any interest in the voice of low-paid workers or their conditions.

I did meet with unions on Thursday before the decision was announced on Enterprise Migration Agreement. I certainly did meet with them on some of their concerns about the Enterprise Migration Agreement. The same unions then met with Minister Bowen on the Friday morning at a scheduled meeting and they also met with the Prime Minster on the Friday. They expressed their concerns to me. I indicated it was a cross-portfolio matter and they’d also be well advised to raise these matters directly with the other ministers they were meeting.  That’s what happened. 

Mr Abbott won’t meet with unions. Mr Abbott won’t even debate me about workplace relations. So here he is trying to say that there’s daylight between the Prime Minister and myself. It’s simply not right and it’s just Mr Abbott after a bad week in Parliament mischief-making.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

BILL SHORTEN: The question about some of the technical observations made within the decision, about some of their powers and their ability to look at particular matters, we’ll take on notice. I congratulate President Ross. This is the first decision, which he’s been President of Fair Work Australia for and I think on balance he has done a very good job.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

BILL SHORTEN: Not yet, the report will be received in the next week and half. We will then consider the matters carefully. We will then consult with stakeholders, but we won’t let the grass grow under our feet in terms of a response. We’ll get on with it. Thanks very much everybody.