Bill's Transcripts

Transcript:Penalty Rates, Football player’s tax, minimum wage, Superannuation

St Kilda, Melbourne
27 March 2013
10.15 AM

SUBJECT/S: Penalty Rates, Football player’s tax, minimum wage, Superannuation  

BILL SHORTEN: Good morning everyone and welcome to sunny St Kilda, just before the Easter holidays.  I'm accompanied today by Parliamentary Secretary Danby, the Member for Melbourne Ports who represents this constituency in the Commonwealth Parliament.  I'm also accompanied by Nick Wilson who is the Fair Work Ombudsman, who is in charge of the government regulator to make sure that employees know what they should be getting and also making sure that employers know their rights and responsibilities as well.

Every year the Federal Government through the Fair Work Ombudsman, receives nearly a thousand complaints about underpayment of penalty rates on public holidays.  Now this Easter, it's really great that a lot of Australians can have some down time.  First big holiday since Christmas, the school holidays all round Australia.  This Easter, thousands of us, literally thousands, will shop, will travel, will eat out.  We're very lucky in Australia that we have so many hardworking businesses, both big and small and hardworking employees who will provide services to the rest of us.

We're really lucky this Easter, but whilst many of us take some time off, we'll have emergency services, we'll have a range of services which provide care to all Australians. Because the needs of caring and emergency services go on regardless of whether or not it's a public holiday or not.  In other words, for the hundreds of thousands of us, millions of us will be having some time off, there will be hundreds of thousands of Australians still working, making sure that we can have the holidays we want, safely and pleasurably.

That also means though that for many Australians who are working this Easter, they won't be with their families.  They won't be taking the holidays, they won't be seeing the kids.  They will be working unsociable hours.  They'll be denied the opportunity which most of us will have.  That is why in Australia, we are proud to have one of the highest minimum wages in the world.  We are proud to have a system of penalty rates which allows people to be remunerated for working un-family friendly, unsociable hours.

Now of course there's always give and take.  We understand that small and big businesses alike have to make a profit in order to open the doors.  But we also know that Australian business and Australian employees don't believe in people being ripped off.  So this Easter, Australians who want to make sure that they're getting paid correctly or indeed Australians who want to make sure they're doing the right thing by their employees can ring 13 13 94 or can go to the Fair Work Ombudsman internet site, just to make sure that they're doing the right thing.

This Easter whilst most of us are having our holidays, we're enjoying our chocolates, our Easter eggs and our family time, we want to make sure that everything is sweet for employees in Australia too, who aren't getting the same privileges and benefits that the rest of us are enjoying.  I might hand over to Nick Wilson to make a few comments about the work of the Fair Work Ombudsman this Easter and we're happy to take questions.

NICK WILSON: Good morning.  The Fair Work Ombudsman is concerned obviously to make sure that people are paid properly over the coming weekend.  The path to compliance is quite easy.  We encourage employees and employers to go to the Fair Work info line, and to find out the rates of pay which will be paid on Good Friday or Easter Sunday or Easter Monday.  In many cases there will be penalty rates which should be applied to people.

We encourage employers as well as employees to find that out.  It's better to fix that up before Easter than to find out several months later that underpayment has occurred.  If an underpayment does occur - and we find over the course of the year about a thousand people will approach us for underpayments - if that does occur, Fair Work inspectors will obviously look at whether or not there has been underpayment and recover it on behalf of the employees.

We would much prefer though, of course, that employers pay the money to start off with and that they don't need to approach us for that service later on.  But as I said, information on how can we encourage people to find that information out.

JOURNALIST: Is it disappointing to see that businesses try and get around the rules and try and rip off workers?

NICK WILSON: Sometimes it's a matter of not having all the information that people need.  Sometimes people don't realise in some states that Easter Saturday itself will be a public holiday and different rates apply.  So, we say to employers, just take that step and find out what rates apply and make sure that you have that information.

JOURNALIST: Minister Shorten, would you support Bob Katter's plan for tax rates for footballers and Rugby League players?

BILL SHORTEN: No I wouldn't.  What I think is important here is that we have a fair and transparent tax system which treats all people equally.  I respect our footballers.  I think there are unique issues with being an elite athlete in a professional code.  But whilst you earn some reasonably good money when you're at the peak of your playing career, I accept that for a lot of elite athletes, they don't play for a decade or two decades.  So they're earning season is not that long.

I also accept that for some elite athletes, especially with contact sports you can suffer legacy injuries.  But I think the solution to this is to make sure that we've got an adequate rehabilitation system in this country, to make sure that we have solutions which provide training and skills for elite athletes, so that when their playing careers come to an end they have other choices.  I think it's important that we also provide an adequate system of support and for people in retirement.  But I don't think just simply giving one group of popular TV style personalities a better tax deal than the rest of Australia - I don't think that's the right way to approach it.

JOURNALIST: What do you think his motive is behind offering that?  Grab votes? How will that work?

BILL SHORTEN: Bob Katter is a colourful character of Australian politics.  At the end of the day, what we need though is to make sure that we have a system of workplace rules which is not a disincentive to earning money. That's why Federal Labor has lowered the income tax rates.  We want to make sure that people have an adequate amount of money in retirement.  That's why we've lifted superannuation from nine to 12 per cent.  That's why we have a strong safety net with a minimum wage.

I think one-off solutions for footballers in terms of the tax system is probably not the right answer for legitimate issues about making sure that all Australians get a reasonable share from their efforts.

JOURNALIST: The Unions are fighting a Fair Work Commission today for a thirty dollar increase a week. Is that - they say it's modest and affordable in the current economic situation.  Is it?

BILL SHORTEN: Thank you for that question.  We have a reasonably strong minimum wage in Australia and this Government believes in not only maintaining it but improving it. Inflation is down, productivity is up. So Australia's workers and enterprises are doing their best in difficult circumstances.  I believe that the Union claim is at the high end.  But it won't be for me to decide. I understand that they have a role to represent their workers and they'll put their case professionally as they always do.  The Fair Work Commission is the independent umpire. They'll hear all the submissions.

The Federal Government won't be putting a number on its submission, but the sort of factors we've said will come into play - that we want a strong safety net and only Labor's ever supported a strong safety net.  We want to make sure that factors such as the CPI are taken into account, the fact that Australian workers are improving their productivity and have done so in labour terms for the last seven quarters.  So I think there's a range of factors to take into account.

JOURNALIST: Minister, will the Labor government be increasing tax and superannuation in the May budget?

BILL SHORTEN: First of all, in terms of budgets, everyone knows that the convention is that the details of the budget are left to the Treasurer to announce on budget night.  So, I'm not about to break that convention.  But to establish some principles in terms of the way Labor views superannuation, we believe that the time and savings for superannuation, along with the family house, so the principal means by which people secure an adequate retirement.

Labor has voted to increase super from zero to three, three to nine, and nine to 12.  We're the only political party who's ever done that.  Whenever the Liberal Party get a chance to vote to increase superannuation, they vote no.  The reason why we believe in our superannuation system and why Labor are the people who have built it and keep adding levels of improvement to it, is that Australians are living longer than ever.  The chances are if you've reached the age of 65, you've got a reasonable chance to get to the age of 90.

Labor fundamentally believes there's no point in people working hard their whole lives and retiring poor.  We also believe in making sure that what we do in superannuation is sustainable.  We also believe that the issues should be de-politicised.  We understand the opposition is trying to run various fear campaigns. We think that's unhelpful.  Superannuation returns for the last number of years have been disappointing for superannuants, for people with superannuation like you and I.  But this year I think we're going to see some positive numbers in superannuation balances.  So they're the sort of principles which we approach superannuation income.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it's time the State Government borrowed money for investment, given that Victoria is heading towards a recession?

BILL SHORTEN:  Clearly, whilst former Premier Baillieu received a significant mandate from the Victorian people at the last state election, there is clearly a mood of disappointment in Victoria.  So now the - now it's Premier Napthine.  How they run Victoria, I don't want to start second guessing every state political issue, but there's no doubt that if you talk to builders and construction companies, if you talk to people who work in the cottage construction industry, there is a level of frustration with state government infrastructure projects.

It isn't enough to turn up with a drill - say I want to build a ten billion dollar tunnel, turn up with a one million dollar drill and then leave that parked in Royal Park.  I don't know if it's still there.  You know, one million dollars isn't going to buy you a lot of hole in the ground.  So I do think there's a challenge for the Baillieu-Napthine Government to get on and help generate some confidence in Victoria.

JOURNALIST: If they start doing that, will the Federal Government assist?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, that's a hypothetical, if they start doing it.  When they start doing it, get back to us.

JOURNALIST: Will the Federal Government assist?

BILL SHORTEN: When they start doing it, get back to us.  What we are doing, though, the Federal Government, is we're the ones who are widening the Western Ring Road.  Turning it from 40 kilometres of road, from a two-lane road into a three-lane road.  We're also building the regional rail link, which is a marvellous opportunity.  I don't know if people realise, but the Port of Melbourne is the largest net importing venue in Australia. So we import more things from the rest of the world in terms of trade into the Port of Melbourne than any other destination in Australia.

And what's great about Melbourne is that we are the largest net exporter within Melbourne to the rest of Australia.  So that's why the regional rail link's a strong idea, that's why the work of extending and widening the Western Ring Road.

Our runs are on the board. Our runs are on the board. I think that what the Liberal Government in Victoria's finding - and perhaps we'll see how their counterparts in Canberra do it - it's one thing to be in opposition and make uncosted promises, but if you ever get into government, you've got to actually do what you said you'd do.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with recent comment about your recent taxes (inaudible)?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, I've known Simon Crean for 20 years. He and I have worked closely together to improve the superannuation funds of Australians.  There's no doubt in my mind that what we need to do is make sure that our decisions about superannuation go towards that issue of longevity. The fact is we're living longer.  You're a relatively youthful looking person, so perhaps you're not as concerned as some of your more senior colleagues, but the reality is that life expectancy is up.  So we've got to make sure there are retirement incomes.

Simon Crean is making comments saying that superannuation is central to Australia's economic success and he would also say if he was here that it's only been Labor who's built the system.  So I always listen very carefully to what he has to say.

JOURNALIST: Penny Wong has refused to rule out the tax hikes and I think you guys wanted to.  I mean, there's - why not rule it out and just kill the speculation?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, the question that Penny Wong was asked and the question that one of your colleagues just asked earlier then is, what's going to be in the budget?  And you would rule things out of the budget.

Now, this is a convention set by our Liberal predecessors.  It's one of the conventions which we actually kept.  We're not in the business of announcing the budget which is in May at the end of March. So I get that, but what I also endeavoured to do with my earlier answer is the principles around depoliticising super, improving the adequacy of superannuation, they're important.

And by the way, only Labor has abolished the 15 per cent tax for low paid workers.  If you earn less than $37,000 in Australia because of Labor this year you no longer pay 15 cents on your superannuation contribution. So if you earn $37,0000 you get about four and a half thousand dollars superannuation.  You used to have to pay 15 per cent tax on that.  Now, because of Labor - so it's a bit less than four and a half K - but you used to have to pay about $450 tax.  We've abolished that.

Would you believe that the opposition are proposing to introduce a new tax on everyone earning less than $37,000 a year?  3.6 million people and they want them to pay more tax on their superannuation.  What is it about the Conservative opposition that when they see a bunch of low-paid workers, they're prepared to go and take some money out of their pocket?  It's got me confused.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the tax concessions on the high income earners is too - is unreasonable - is too generous, rather?

BILL SHORTEN: Again, whilst that's a pretty - you know, a question about getting me to talk about what we should do in the budget, I just can't.  But what I do think as a general principle is we need to make sure that everything we do is sustainable.  The Australian Government these days - in the last five years - is bringing in 21 cents in every dollar in Australian economic activity and tax.  Under John Howard it was 25 cents in every dollar of Australian activity.

We are a low-taxing government.  But what we've got to do is always make sure that our tax concessions are supporting people to get to a comfortable retirement.  You know, I think - and I'd make this proposition again - the more that we can de-politicise the debate about superannuation, the more we can get behind increasing people's superannuation accounts, especially for the vast middle class of Australia, that's really important.

That's why I think it's now time for the Liberal Party to give an Easter present to three-and-a-half million Australians who earn less than $37,000.  Give them back the tax cut that we're going to give, if they get in power.  The Liberals need to rule off the page that they will introduce a brand new tax on three-and-a-half million Australians.

Thanks, everyone.  It's been nice to catch up with you and have a happy Easter.  I hope you all get an Easter egg here and, you know, drive safely.

- ENDS –

Mr Shorten’s Media Contact: Sam Casey — 0421 697 660