Bill's Transcripts


11 February 2013

SUBJECT/S:  Workplace relations, Superannuation, Insurance

FRAN KELLY:  The election pitch for the modern working family has moved up again with the Gillard Government awarding new mums a legislated right to request flexible working arrangements. The Prime Minister says the change will make it more difficult for employers to refuse requests for part time work or more flexible work when parents return to the workforce after caring for a child. It's the first of a string of workplace relations changes which the Government's expected to announce before the September election. Earlier I spoke with the Workplace Minister Bill Shorten as he was about to jump on a plane to Canberra.

BILL SHORTEN: Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY: The Prime Minister says, quote, you want to make sure our workplace relations system is helping take some of the burden off modern families. Under the current law employers have no mandatory obligation to provide flexible working arrangements. Under this new legislation that will still be the case won't it?

BILL SHORTEN: We believe that to enhance productivity and flexibility in the workplace it shouldn’t just be about an old fashioned debate about cutting people's pay and conditions. Instead it should be recognising that the old nine to five model of work doesn't describe the lives of a lot of modern families. Specifically what I mean by that is that well-known example Fran where mothers, women generally take maternity leave, paternity leave and when they return after twelve months they have to resume full-time work with no debate about flexibility.

We know that it's not possible to automatically ease back into full-time work straight away and going from looking after a little six or seven month year old baby to just, bang, back at work full-time. We want to extend the right to request to ensure that people have the ability to reassimilate into the workforce, that companies keep good quality staff and that there's a greater focus on making sure that the world of work doesn't require choices between family and work, that you can try and accommodate both sets of needs intelligently, maturely and flexibly.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, I think everyone understands the premise but under the Fair Work Act as it stands flexible working arrangements are already included in the National Employment Standards and employers already have, quote, a duty to consider eligible requests and twenty-one days to respond so how are your proposals any different?

BILL SHORTEN: First of all we want to extend some of the areas and make it more explicitly clear what people can do in terms of the leave that they can request, just a recognition that employers need to see that if you're a parent of a school aged child the reality is that for the best will in the world the school bell, the daily ups and downs don't always necessarily go by the work clock.

FRAN KELLY: I understand but is it fair to characterise this then as more clarification and more specific clarification who might be able to request more flexibility, but no enforcement?

BILL SHORTEN: No, I don't accept that's right Fran. What I believe in Australia is that we've got to get out of the old WorkChoices debate where the Opposition just say deregulate the labour market and we'll have a happy ending. Life is not a Disneyland fairy tale. The truth of the matter is and I know this from thousands of workplaces is that we waste a lot of talent in modern workplaces and you can say oh well, that's okay, you know, this is what happens.

The truth of the matter is there is a lot of women, there are a lot of women who whilst they have the right to take parental leave, when they come back it's just impossible to resume their existing employment so...

FRAN KELLY: I understand this but what's the Government going to do to make that more possible if the employer doesn't want to give flexibility? For instance are you going to legislate to give the industrial umpire a right to rule here? I mean how are you going to make this enforceable?

BILL SHORTEN: Well let's be clear, we're putting it in the law that all sorts of circumstances are specifically spelled out where the right to request leave is good - is available for people.

FRAN KELLY: As a value, not as an enforceable value.

BILL SHORTEN: Well again, I know what goes on in the real workplace. In my experience when you spell rights out everyone just understands the road rules. You know, the employers are thundering in today's paper saying oh, this goes too far, this goes too far. All I would say is that industrial relations in the modern world, not back in the 1970s and '80s, is not just about an argument of slashing conditions.

It's about understanding that we need to boost participation rates, it's about understanding that people are having families later in life, it's about understanding that there's a lot of financial pressures on two income households when one person has to go back and be the carer. So I do believe that us leading the debate about improving flexibility, improving the specific circumstances, you know, I think though some employers who say oh this is terrible, we just want to be able to treat people as units and numbers and production costs and those who would say that we've got to completely re-regulate every aspect of the labour market. Both sides need to understand that what we want to do is provide guidelines, spell out things so that people can come to their own arrangements in the workplace on terms of family friendly flexibility.

FRAN KELLY: You mentioned employers. Peter Anderson from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry says these changes are worthy but a one way street and they say if you're serious about flexibility in the workplace you need to address penalty rates for starters.

BILL SHORTEN: Well I'm not even sure that ACCI, Mr Anderson's organisation made a submission to the penalty rates review case so you know, let's get - let's take some of the politics out of this and drive back down into the enterprise level where productivity is created. I know firsthand from employing people, I know firsthand from representing people who are employees, I know firsthand from being the Minister for Workplace Relations that the more we can do to create a sensible measured middle ground where people can have the right to request leave if they're a carer of someone with a disability, where they're someone returning to work for instance, where they're the victim of domestic violence, or indeed where they're helping someone who's been through domestic violence, these are all specific changes.

I don't believe - I don't agree with Mr Anderson's critique saying this is all one way traffic. These are the lives that people are living. The more that we can just get a bit of respect for people, the more that I think we can enhance productivity in the Australian workplace.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, I know you have to jump on a plane and we've got a couple of other issues to go to quickly, but just before I leave this, I mean the Greens are very clear they're not going to necessarily support this even though they like the notion of it, if it's not enforceable. They say, you know, they're not going to allow you to use parents and families as re-election props and say you're trying to wedge Tony Abbott on workplace relations.

Unless you have an enforceability here this will be seen as nothing more than that won't it?

BILL SHORTEN: I don't accept the Green analysis of this. I don't mind the Greens trying to...

FRAN KELLY: Well you're going to need their vote.

BILL SHORTEN: Well I'm just answering your question Fran. I get that the Greens want to chip away on the left, try and say they, you know, are more fundamentalist on certain topics. I'll back my record over the last twenty years of looking after working people.

FRAN KELLY: Okay, can...

BILL SHORTEN: We'll work it through with them.

FRAN KELLY: ...a couple of quick questions. It was announced on Friday by the Treasurer the mining tax earnings are way down, one-hundred-and-twenty-six-million dollars, well short of the two-billion forecast in MYEFO. The mining tax is supposed to pay for the increase in the superannuation guarantee from nine per cent to twelve per cent. It's also supposed to pay for the refund for the three-point-six-million Australians who earn less than thirty-seven-thousand dollars per year and who pay it into super funds.

How is the Government going to pay for these elements now or will you have to drop them, or just beef up the deficit?

BILL SHORTEN: Unlike the Liberal Party of Australia who, you know, want to promise to cut more taxes yet spend more money in their magic pudding economics, in terms of the superannuation changes that we legislated which by the way the Liberals voted against because it's in their DNA. Whenever we want to increase super for working people they vote against it like some sort of pavlovian dog response.

In terms of how we pay for it we factored it into our budget papers, we factored it into our MYEFO...

FRAN KELLY: But you also factored in 2 billion dollars from the mining tax.

BILL SHORTEN: Fran, take it to the bank. We're going to pay for our superannuation changes.

FRAN KELLY: How are you going to do that?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, through consolidated revenue we will pay for this tax that we've cut and the Liberals want to reintroduce. This is one of the big issues in Australia which just is hard to get air play on, I'm grateful you're raising it. We have cut the fifteen per cent tax for 3.6 million people, including 2.1 million women, that is people who earn less than 37,000 dollars a year.

We have cut the 15 per cent tax that they are going to pay on their superannuation contributions. The Liberal Party, because they can't pay for anything because they've made more promises than they can keep financially, they're just saying they're going to reintroduce a tax on 3.6 million of Australia's lowest paid workers. Not even the Sheriff of Nottingham could have dreamed that up.

FRAN KELLY: To pay for it are you going to increase the tax, the superannuation tax paid by wealthy Australians? How are you going to do that?

BILL SHORTEN: Fran, we will be able to pay for this. We have a policy - we've already introduced the tax cut. We've done it from the first of July last year we've introduced that tax cut. I think the question is what on earth are the Liberals doing proposing a tax on 3.6 million people? I mean it's an election year. How about we look at how the Liberals are going to pay for all of the promises they're making?

FRAN KELLY: And one final question Minister. Earlier in the program we heard about the growing problem of unaffordable insurance for households in high risk areas, insurance skyrocketing by more than four-hundred per cent, basic insurance premiums in some of these areas six-thousand dollars and above. The Natural Disaster Insurance Review recommended a Government-backed reinsurance facility to address this issue. Will the Government consider that and implement that idea?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, we're considering the idea but let's also be very straight. We're the ones who have introduced a common definition of flood which means now that most insurance companies are offering insurance...

FRAN KELLY: At great high premiums, six-thousand-dollars as far as eleven-thousand dollars.

BILL SHORTEN: Fran, in some places people live in flood zones, whilst we want to see if the insurance companies are exploiting this sometimes it's not possible to just tell the market that if you live in a particularly risky area that we can ignore the risk. Having said that we are working on it.

FRAN KELLY: Bill Shorten, a Minister with a lot of things on his plate, Minister for Workplace Relations, Financial Services and Superannuation joining us early this morning, had to rush away at the end of that to catch a plane. It's fourteen minutes to eight on Breakfast. 


Mr Shorten’s Media Contact: Jessica Lindell 0408 642 804