FRIDAY, 23 JANUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s plan to revive WorkChoices; Bali Nine; David Hicks.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everyone. I’m here with my Shadow Spokesperson for Workplace Relations Brendan O’Connor to talk about the Abbott’s Government’s plans to destroy the minimum wage in this country. The cat is well and truly out of the bag. A desperate Abbott Government is now proposing in 2015 to attack the minimum wage in this country. In 2014, last year we saw the unfair Budget where the Abbott Government wanted to and still does tax the sick and the vulnerable for going to see a GP. Last year we saw the Government put on the agenda cutting the real increase of pensions, cutting the real pay of our Defence Forces and making it more expensive for children from modest backgrounds to go to university.
Now the Government's opening a new front in the war against fairness which is to attack the minimum wage. Tony Abbott wrote the book on WorkChoices. Tony Abbott still wants to attack the minimum wage and penalty rates in this country. Nearly 4.5 million Australians go to work every day and they rely upon penalty rates to form a significant part of their income. The minimum wage in this country, 1.5 million people depend upon. Now the Abbott Government and their friends, the Institute of Public Affairs is saying this is too high and they now want to launch a new attack on it.
The Abbott Government needs to hear the message loud and clear from Australians - stop attacking fairness, take your hands off the conditions and the pay and conditions of Australians who go to work every day. And as for WorkChoices, we know that when Tony Abbott says that WorkChoices is dead, buried and cremated he really means it's just sedated. Brendan O'Connor has got some further points to make on this important issue.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much Bill. Well what we do know after eight months of watching the Abbott Government attack pensioners, students, attack Medicare we’re now seeing of course this Government embark on an attack on 11.5 million Australian workers. The inquiry that's been established by this Government is as wide as a barn door.
It covers penalty rates, the minimum wage, the spread of hours, every condition of employment and effectively this Government seeks to reach out and reach down into 2.5 million workplaces in this country, and fundamentally alter the way in which those workplaces operate, without any consultation with unions or employers, they've set about a fundamental inquiry to radicalise the industrial relations laws in this country.
That's bad for worker. That’s bad for families that are trying to put food on the table. It's bad for nurses who have to of course balance work and family obligations. It's bad for those people that have been struggling, 1.5 million workers in this country relying upon the minimum wage. 4.5 million Australian workers who may of course have access to penalty rates, just to make ends meet. This inquiry is an alibi for the Government to attack Australian workers and, if the Government wants to allay the concerns of Australian workers, the Prime Minister must come out today and rule out an attack on the minimum wage, on penalty rates and other conditions of employment in this country.
SHORTEN: Thanks Brendan, are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]
SHORTEN: No, when the Government accuses other people of not being happy, what they are doing, we just point to the Government's form when it comes to fairness in this country. You've got three failed Workplace Relations Ministers in the current Government - Kevin Andrews, Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott. You've got, the Government know that if they have a view on the minimum wage they could have easily gone to the annual review of the minimum wage conducted by the Fair Work Commission.
I don't think most Australians think that in 2015 the Abbott Government is just having some sort of intellectual exercise looking at the whole workplace system. They have an agenda to attack the minimum wage and penalty rates. This Government is disunited. We see chaos and dysfunction wherever you turn with the Government. This is Tony Abbott's last role of the dice and the whole conservative governments. The one thing which unites the Abbott Liberal/National government is an attack on working conditions. This is just part of the Government's DNA to attack fairness. We know the Government wants to increase the GST.
We know the Government wants to get rid of bulk-billing. We know the Government wants to slow down the rate of increase of the pension and we know that they don't like penalty rates and a strong safety net. We can't cut our wages to a brighter future in Australia. Wage’s growth in Australia is at a historic low. Industrial disputation is at an historic low. The Government hasn't made the case for a wholesale attack and they haven’t made the case for doing what we know they really want to do, which is cut the conditions of the working people.
JOURNALIST: You trusted the Productivity Commission to look into the NDIS, why can’t you trust them to look into industrial relations in an independent manner?
SHORTEN: Well the Government, I'm afraid I don't accept the assumption of your question. For the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a great Labor idea, there was no other body who was doing that sort of work, the Productivity Commission was appropriate. But we’ve got the Fair Work Commission that's been around for 110 years. The Abbott Liberal/National Government are notoriously famous for wanting to undermine the independent umpire. But year after year the Fair Work Commission reviews the adequacy of the minimum wage and they also review penalty rates on a periodic basis as well. Why on earth does the Government need to get a new organisation to do what they’re already paying hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money to do on an annual basis? We know why the Government wants to bypass the independent umpire because they’ve already made up their mind. Does anyone seriously think, does anyone left in Australia who believes Tony Abbott when he says he doesn't want to reduce pay and conditions?
JOURNALIST: So are you saying that the independence of the Productivity Commission isn’t independent of the Government?
SHORTEN: I'm saying that when you already have an independent umpire why do you need to go to another organisation?
JOURNALIST: It’s a review, not a change in policy, why does it hurt to have all the information [inaudible]?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, if the Government has no intention to change their policy, why are they having a review? Australians didn't come down in the last shower. We know that Tony Abbott’s a repeat offender when it comes to attacking the conditions of working people and the Government as a whole are repeat offenders when it comes to undermining fairness. In Australia, equality sits in the balance. We want to have a fair go for all in this country. I want this country to be the best it can be but you don't do that by forcing and depressing wages and conditions in this country.
We see in Australia at the moment the Abbott Government has no plan for chasing multinationals to pay their tax properly. They want to give millionaires paid parental leave, extra money from the taxpayers that these people don't need. They’ve given a tax holiday to the top 1 per cent superannuation fund holders yet when it comes to ordinary people, real people, the rest of us, they're attacking the GST, they want to increase, introduce a GST on fresh food, they want to cut the pension, the relative increase, they also want to put a GP tax on. Now they're coming hunting your penalty rates. This is a Government who only governs for a very few and they just are not interested in the rest of us.
JOURNALIST: Business groups are saying that the debate has moved on from 10 years ago, almost 10 years ago when the WorkChoices debate was really hot. Do you think that it has moved on, have things changed enough in 10 years to warrant having a look at it?
SHORTEN: We have a look at it every year. The point about your question is that somehow this review into the role of the minimum wage or penalty rates is something which never gets looked at. Business has an opportunity every year to put their case. It happens on an annual basis. Year after year, businesses put up their arguments to cut penalty rates, they fail. Let's put some facts on the table. There's 1.5 million people who earn the minimum wage in this country. We don't want to become like the United States where you have 50 million people who work and they’re below the poverty line.
4.5 million Australians earn penalty rates. Now when I talk about these 4.5 million people, I’ll tell you who they are, they’re nurses, they’re firefighters, they’re ambulance officers, their people who supply our utilities. A lot of people need penalty rates as a significant proportion of their total take home income. Why is it that Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and the rest of that team their only idea for Australia is to make most people do worse off and some people do better off. That’s not a plan, that is a disaster.
JOURNALIST: The Government’s promised to take any changes to the industrial relations system to the next election, if changes would be as unpopular as you say they are should you be [inaudible]?
SHORTEN: I'm going to ask my colleague to supplement this answer but I just put to you Tony Abbott's record. Tony Abbott said before the last election there will be no changes or increases to taxes. Well that's clearly not true. He said there would be no cuts to education or health. That’s clearly not true. He even said there would be no cuts to the ABC or SBS, that’s not true. And he said there would be no change to the GST and they're look now at putting a tax and they’ve got a series of government spokespeople putting out targeted, selected, orchestrated campaign of leaks to justify that case. One thing we know about Tony Abbott is that when he gives you a promise that he won't do something that’s when you should get very nervous indeed. But I might ask Brendan to talk further about this point.
O’CONNOR: Well I agree entirely with that sentiment. The fact is that this Prime Minister made undertakings prior to the last election not to cut education, health and cut the rate of the pension and yet of course they’ve done all three or attempted to do all three in last year's Budget. So there's no reason for the Australian work force to believe undertakings by this Prime Minister before the next election, given his track record in the last eight months.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Bali Nine, the Prime Minister has written to the Indonesian requesting clemency [inaudible] do you think he should do more than that, should he pick up the phone and really make a plea before their day is up?
SHORTEN: This is a very important and serious matter and the Government has been briefing myself and my colleague Tanya Plibersek. We're satisfied and supportive that the Government is doing everything it can. Our thoughts are with these two young men who face a very grim set of circumstances and our thoughts are with their families. Now’s not the time I believe for megaphone diplomacy and Labor is satisfied that the Government are doing everything they possibly can to try and avert this very grim looking outcome.
JOURNALIST: Has Labor been briefed on the alleged detention of children in Darwin? There’s been some ongoing situation before, yeah, being held in Darwin, they were there before Christmas and [inaudible]?
SHORTEN: Not that I'll aware. I’d have to take that on notice.
JOURNALIST: Just on David Hicks, you see some sort of vindication now that he’s been, apparently been declared innocent?
SHORTEN: I've seen what Mr Hicks' lawyers have said. We’re waiting to see what the US Government does in coming days and weeks. I don't think I can meaningfully add any more to that at this stage until we have more information come to light.
JOURNALIST: Did Labor do enough at the time to advocate on his behalf? Was there any more that could have been done to perhaps help him out?
SHORTEN: Well, as I just referred to my previous answer, I’ve seen what his lawyers have said and we wait to see what the US Government officially confirms.
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