Bill's Transcripts

774 with Jon Faine


774 ABC Melbourne Jon Faine

7 September 2012



SUBJECT/S:  Grocon/CFMEU, Labour Force Figures, Industrial Disputes 


JON FAINE: Bill Shorten is the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations, Financial Services and Superannuation in the Gillard Government.  He told us a week ago, he has been trying to get these parties to a resolution. Now it's finally happened. Bill Shorten, good morning to you.

 BILL SHORTEN: Good morning, Jon.

 JON FAINE: Do you claim the credit for this?

 BILL SHORTEN: No.  I'm very pleased that Daniel Grollo, and Grocon the company and the CFMEU have arrived at an understanding.  I'm pleased it was mediated with the assistance of the President of Fair Work Australia.  But I also want to again put on the record as I've done each day during this dispute, I do not believe this confrontation needed to happen.

 JON FAINE: In that case, then, do you take the blame for it not having been resolved earlier?

 BILL SHORTEN: I listened very carefully to the interview given by Daniel just before and I think he made a very salient point. He made several very strong points, I thought. One of them was that he kept saying this is not an industrial dispute. Now, this has been a bit lost in the coverage of the matter but the matters which were causing the upheaval, the blockade, were covered by state laws. The Federal Government had little jurisdiction to assist but we've certainly asserted actively. What I am pleased about is that there is a resolution, there's a process for the union to talk through with the company the issues that are concerning the union.  But again something else which Daniel said is that the industry cannot tolerate any forms of intimidation, violence, thuggery by any of its participants.

 JON FAINE: These are your mates in the union movement you're accusing of thuggery, violence and intimidation, aren't they?

 BILL SHORTEN: No, I've said any participants in the industry and I think that's the starting principle. I've been a negotiator for 20 years. I've seen issues, been part of making claims for better safety, better wages for workers, also trying to make sure that the employer still has a measure of profitability.  But what I believe about this particular dispute is that - and again this is a personal opinion and now the dust has settled I don't want to rake over the ashes.  But I don't believe it needed to be sixteen days of the sort of scenes that we saw.

 JON FAINE: The big context, and as so often happens, there's something else going on other than what we actually think is going on. This is about the union trying to sort out where it stands before an Abbott government comes in, revitalises the ABCC and gets stuck into the trade union movement. That's how I see it. Tell me if I'm wrong.

 BILL SHORTEN: You're wrong.


 BILL SHORTEN: Because I would refer you to what the head of the Fair Work Building Commission, the successor body to the Australian Building Commission, said. He said that quite simply for much of what was going on, at no stage has any construction regulator, be it under a conservative government or a Labor government, had the powers to deal with what are police matters and Supreme Court matters.

 JON FAINE: It's like the old days with the BLF or before that the Ship Painters and Dockers and every now and again - and it's a tough environment on the wharves It’s a tough environment in building industry. Every now and again things get a little out of kilter and someone's got to bring it back. Isn't that what's going on?

 BILL SHORTEN: Well, I'd make the point to you that Daniel Grollo, Dave Noonan from the CFMEU, eight hours of talks, private talks yesterday with the assistance of the President of Fair Work Australia, that was the tipping point to resolve it. 

 JON FAINE: Fair Work Australia. In which case you'd be saying that could have been a week earlier which Daniel Grollo says it couldn't have.

 BILL SHORTEN: Well, when we say that, and I have said that, what I'd put to you, though, is I don't believe this dispute should have ever started in the way it did.

 JON FAINE: All right, we'll come to the employment statistics in just a moment but also in this dispute what we've got is the Victoria Police being used as enforcers of the law here in Victoria.  Do you think the State Government have been in - somehow involved in that, too?

 BILL SHORTEN: I don't know. I'm not going to be mealy mouthed in my words. I think the police did a very good job. That is their job. I believe that their instructions should be adhered to. Beyond that, whilst I've got my real concerns about the attitude of state Liberal governments and industrial relations I'm not going to confuse that general problem they've got with their own employees with the Grocon dispute because I think that is separate. And I think the State Government was doing what it thought right by its standards and values.

 JON FAINE: Nine minutes to nine. Yesterday the unemployment figures came down.  Unemployment nationally is down, but for instance for Victoria it's up and in the non-mining states it's up and you'd have to say that the rate at which people are going on strike in Australia is on the increase. You're the Minister responsible. What's wrong? What's going wrong?

 BILL SHORTEN: I'm the Minister responsible for people going on strike, is that what you're saying?

 JON FAINE: Well, you're the Minister for industrial relations, workplace relations last time I looked.

 BILL SHORTEN: Okay, let's unpick…

 JON FAINE: There's an increase in strikes. It's your area.

 BILL SHORTEN: There are two sets of issues which you've just raised there. One was the unemployment numbers and that's the bigger issue, I think. But I'll just deal briefly with the industrial lost time numbers. Across the five years of Labor being in government since the Howard Government lost the 2007 election we're at about a third of the same lost time across the period of time that the Howard Government was in power. Certainly towards the very end of the Howard Government era there was a tailing off of some industrial action but if you look at their 11 years, two-and-a-half to three times as much lost time industrial action under their jurisdiction as under ours.

 JON FAINE: Yeah, but under your period of time it's increasing. The trend line is up and you're the Minister, it's on your watch, Bill Shorten.

 BILL SHORTEN: Well, okay, let's look at the cause of this most recent quarter's reporting - 63 to 66 per cent of all of the lost time actions happened in two sectors. It's happened not in construction, it's actually happened in health care and education.  The principle employers in education and health care are guess who? State conservative governments.

 JON FAINE: Yeah, but there's also…

 BILL SHORTEN: The reality is that state governments, state conservative governments, are not good at managing employee relations. You know, I was speaking with someone in Queensland this morning before I came onto your show - 300 Department of Health people are losing their jobs. You have 35,000 teachers on strike. Teachers don't want to go on strike. That's the last thing they want to do. We had the remarkable scenes where Victoria's hardworking nurses had to go through literally hundreds of days to get a fair pay rise. So you're right, strike action in Australia is one of the areas which I'm interested in as Minister.

 JON FAINE: And it's also up in the mining industry, in particular in coal mining so there's been some different strikes in Queensland there.

 BILL SHORTEN: And as we know the coal mine disputes…

 JON FAINE: Nothing to do with state governments.

 BILL SHORTEN: No, no, coal mining disputes courtesy of the intervention of Fair Work Australia have tapered off. And, again, let's just go to a broader point about strikes here which people lose sight of sometimes when you read some of the more conservative elements of the press. First of all, in the coal mining dispute twice BMA, Mitsubishi - BHP Mitsubishi Alliance, put out an agreement to 3,000 hardworking coal miners. Twice it was rejected by numbers of 85 and 90 per cent. If you can't convince 2,700 of your employees out of three thousand to go with the payoff, you can blame the regulatory system, or maybe the offer wasn't that good to begin with.

 Now, that is fixed. The other thing is, when we talk about strikes and some of the financial and conservative press have breathlessly said that according to a global survey of CEOs that Australia ranks at 120th.  Well, I had a look at some of the countries where there isn't as much rights for workers and some of the issues you're raising. You know, you're right. In some countries global CEOs look better than us because they can't go on strike.

 JON FAINE: Yeah, but that's not - that's not comparable. There's no point doing that. I meant to say…

 BILL SHORTEN: Well, I'm sorry but when you…

 JON FAINE: It's as ridiculous as Gina Rinehart talking about African miners earning two dollars a day, that doesn't help.

 BILL SHORTEN: That was certainly a walk on the economic wild side, but my point is, when you ask me about lost time first of all the trend is historically low. Secondly, what spikes there are, are principally caused by state governments and, thirdly - and I'll say this and I'm sorry if I offend any of your listeners but people, so long as they're adhering to the law, are allowed to withdraw their labour. And if a strike upsets some people I'm sure it does but you know occasionally as a last resort, workers in Australia as part of a democratic nation have the right to withdraw their labour.

 JON FAINE: Coming up to five minutes to nine. Bill Shorten, two more quick questions. Was the Prime Minister right to cancel her speech to the Australian Christian Lobby's national conference?

 BILL SHORTEN: Yes. I believe that the comments which emanated which understand were like saying that being gay was worse than smoking..

 JON FAINE: For your health.

 BILL SHORTEN: …for your health, I think is offensive.

 JON FAINE: Well, so what? You go and talk to people who you disagree with all the time.

 BILL SHORTEN: Well ok, let's just…

 JON FAINE: Why would she cancel?

 BILL SHORTEN: Let's just try and unpack that…

 JON FAINE: She went to the mining industry. She disagrees with them.

 BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, but the difference is, and I just looked up some statistic - I did a little bit of research on this question before I got here and I'm just quoting from it: 15,000 people a year die from smoking. No one dies because of who they love. So the Prime Minister is not going to compromise her office to be associated with remarks which I think are well wide of the mark.  Whether or not you and I turn up at a conference is one thing. The Office of the Prime Minister can't conflate its office with something which I just don't think is fair.

 JON FAINE: But if you don't think it's fair you go and tell them you don't think it's fair. You front up and you look them in the eye and you say I think what's said is rubbish. It's what she did to the mining industry.

 BILL SHORTEN: Our Prime Minister said that but does the Office of the Prime Minister, forget who even the office holder is, line up and say, well, okay, it is worse being at - an organisation who says it's worse - it says being gay is worse than the 15,000 people who die from smoking?  That's not where I reckon our Prime Minister of Australia should be.

 JON FAINE: Gina Rinehart's offering $50,000 as a bounty to people in the industry who promote mining in the face of, quote, far left non-understanding media attacks. Do you want $50,000?

 BILL SHORTEN: I'll tell you what, let's donate it to charity and I'll say to Gina Rinehart on your show, mining is good, it contributes to 250,000 jobs, it's part of Australia's economic success. I hope Ms Rinehart sends it to a charity.

 JON FAINE: Mick from Mordialloc says mining's great, unions suck, reds under the bed, crush them, now give me the money. He says he's entitled to 50 grand for that. Bill Shorten, we'll have some fun with that throughout the course of the morning. Thank you for your time this morning, too.

 BILL SHORTEN: Thanks, Jon.