THURSDAY, 11 JUNE 2015
SUBJECT/S: Higher education; Tony Abbott’s royal commission; Housing affordability; Negative gearing; Tony Abbott’s out of touch comments on Windfarms
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hi everyone, it’s great to be at UWS, University of Western Sydney with hard working local Member of Parliament Julie Owens, one of our team of Parliamentary Secretaries. Today I’m talking to young adults and students in the higher education system. I thought they asked a terrific bunch of questions and I think that it shows that Australians are hungry for a positive alternative and I really got lot of out today's discussion and I'm sure and I hope the students did too.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Victorian MP Cesar Melhem lost his job this week because of a deal with Winslow Constructors. You also did a similar deal when you were secretary of the AWU. Should you also lose your job?
SHORTEN: Well, I have no time for any corruption or illegality in the workplace, be it employer or trade union related. Absolutely zero tolerance. I've spent my whole adult life every day representing people, standing up, improving people's conditions. When I was a union rep, and I make no apology for being a union rep, getting a better deal for our members and now I’ve been in Parliament standing up for Australians. That has been the set of values which I'm passionate about and I will keep fighting for.
JOURNALIST: But does a company paying union fees for workers, isn't that kind of a contradiction in terms and was that perhaps a better deal for you in that it built your influence rather than for the workers who might have lost out on conditions?
SHORTEN: Again I'm going to refer you to my first answer. I've got zero time, zero tolerance for any form of corruption in the workplace –
JOURNALIST: You’re not answering the question -
SHORTEN: - I am, I’m going to come to it but you're making a serious point here so I'm going to ask that we deal with it seriously. I have zero tolerance for any illegality in the workplace, be it employer or union related. I have spent my adult life improving the conditions of people. The story in today's paper is an unfair smear. Any implication, any implication that I am not completely motivated and committed to getting a better deal for workers, for productive relations at companies and for standing up for people is completely unfair and false.
JOURNALIST: Why was Winslow then paying the dues, could you answer that question?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, what arrangement employees and employers strike in terms of that matter is a matter for them to answer. In terms of what I have done and in terms of what the union movement does, we believe fundamentally and I believe as a Labor leader that we stand up for working people. Now a lot of this has come out of Tony Abbott's trade union royal commission and I always expected there’d be a fair bit of, you know, political smear and debate - but again let me state with no hesitation whatsoever; I spent my adult life every day getting up representing people and I'm proud of my record.
JOURNALIST: So you were a union official at the time that deal was concluded. Can you explain to us how it benefitted the workers of Winslow Construction?
SHORTEN: Well the agreement is registered in the commission and it delivered pay rises for workers. In terms of all of it and all of the matters, you know, my union record has been public and it's always been consistent, creating good and safe workplaces, building up better job security for workers, making sure that people got fair wages and conditions. That's the record, that's working with employees and employers and it's the same set of values which I and my Labor team apply every day, we're just interested in the best interests of Australians.
JOURNALIST: So can you guarantee that the workers didn't lose out in that deal?
SHORTEN: I can guarantee about any of the matters that we always improved workers' conditions full stop.
JOURNALIST: Do you think you should have to appear before the commission?
SHORTEN: That's a matter for the royal commission. I have indicated I'm more than happy to cooperate. Doesn't matter who you are in this country, doesn’t matter who you are, employer rep, politician, union rep, or anyone else, there's zero tolerance for illegality and it's important that we make sure that people have confidence in the system.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Cesar Melhem was right to resign?
SHORTEN: Well that's a matter for him.
JOURNALIST: But you know him, he’s a factional ally of yours, you both were in the AWU together, you must have a view on that?
SHORTEN: I left the union at the end of 2007. It is a matter for him what he does.
JOURNALIST: What did Winslow get out of this deal?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, what employers and employees get out of enterprise bargaining in Australia is they get more productive workplace relations. People want a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. These are the things which animate myself and thousands of people committed to improving the conditions of workers across Australia. All those arrangements get ticked off by the independent umpire so I believe what we can do in this country through proper industrial relations, through enterprise bargaining is lift the conditions of workers and improve productivity and cooperation in the workplace.
JOURNALIST: But surely that can be achieved without the employer paying the union dues?
SHORTEN: Well again, we're going to matters which will be dealt with or as part of evidence in the royal commission. I have said I'm not going to give a running commentary. But today's story was unfair so that's why I’m making the point again and I'm happy to, that we and the Labor movement and I as Labor leader and when I was working in the union every day committed to improving the conditions of working people.
JOURNALIST: You said you expected some political smear in this. Is there anything else you want to pre-empt?
JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott says you're dodging questions today?
SHORTEN: Tony Abbott would say this, wouldn't he? We've got a Treasurer on the loose who doesn't understand, who is out of touch with the housing affordability issue. This is Tony Abbott's royal commission. This is a royal commission that Tony Abbott set up into trade unions. I mean if it comes to comparing records on workplace relations, he was the Minister for WorkChoices and for 20 years, my adult working life I’ve made sure that people do get better pay, better conditions. Late at night when people are dealing in unsafe conditions right through to making sure that people have job security, I and the Labor movement, which I am privileged to lead, are committed to improving the conditions of workers in Australia, full stop.
JOURNALIST: What percentage of workers would have had their dues paid for by a company when you were at the AWU?
SHORTEN: You’re now going to matters which I’ not in a position to answer at all. Again, what I would say to you is that the thrust of today’s story is that somehow I haven’t looked after workers, I have. That’s been my record since I started working in the union. My whole time in the Labor Party it’s about looking after people, making sure that people’s best interests are maintained. That is my answer on these matters, my record.
JOURNALIST: Do you accept that there’s a conflict of interest in having employers pay union dues?
SHORTEN: Well again I accept that if employers and employees work out matters that is up to them. What I do know, what I do know is that in Tony Abbott’s royal commission into trade unions I always expected there’d be some political smear and unfairness. What I say to Tony Abbott is about what he’s saying, is let’s have a town hall debate Tony. Let’s talk about what you’ve done for workers in Australia with WorkChoices and I’ll stack it up against what I’ve done for looking after Australia’s workers. You know, I say to Tony Abbott, make my day.
JOURNALIST: You seem to be implying you didn’t know too much about this deal with Winslow Constructors, but surely it came across your desk at some point?
SHORTEN: No, what I have actually said is that there was a story today saying that I haven’t looked after workers. I am saying that is wrong. I am not going to give a running commentary on every piece of evidence. But, I do feel strongly on a couple of very basic points, and this is who I am. I have spent every day of my adult life representing workers. My record is there for all to see. Furthermore, I and the Labor movement, has zero tolerance for any form of illegality, be it employer or employee or union rep full stop.
JOURNALIST: Nick Xenophon gave some commentary today about MPs travel allowances – believing that should receive greater scrutiny. What do you make of that?
SHORTEN: It doesn’t worry me one way or another. I -
JOURNALIST: Do you think it should?
SHORTEN: I know that there is a system of scrutiny right now in place. If Nick has got constructive ideas about better scrutiny, I am up for it. I’ve got nothing to hide.
JOURNALIST: The thrust of the article too today said that you benefited by increasing your factional powerbase by an increase in AWU members. Is that true?
SHORTEN: Again, what I would say the theme of the article is that there was unfairness dealt out to members I represented. That is completely untrue. We stood up for workers, done it every day being a union rep. And again, what I say is in my time in Parliament, we stand up for the interest of Australians. This is what matters, this is who I am and this is what we do.
JOURNALIST: So you’re saying it is a win for the employees, for the employer and for you?
SHORTEN: To begin with, what matters is; do the workers have job security? Do the workers get better conditions? Is there a productive and harmonious relationship? That is the nature of collective bargaining. Furthermore, what I would say again to all of the questions about today’s article, I have spent every day standing up for the conditions of workers and making sure they have productive, co-operative relations and the agreements we do were vetted by the independent umpire. I understand Tony Abbott wants to create some political mischief here. I know he set up a royal commission into trade unions, but the issue here is that if he wants to engage in a war of words, let him put forward his record. He was the Minister for WorkChoices at the same time; I’m out there representing workers. I’ll stack up my record and the record of the Labor movement against his and the Liberal party’s record.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of other union leaders who saying they don’t approve of deals where an employer pays union members’ dues because it can?
SHORTEN: I haven’t seen those comments.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of them? I just told you about them.
SHORTEN: What I make of it is that the union movement and I spend every day representing people, me in Parliament, the unions in workplaces. I understand it is in Tony Abbott’s political interest to cause some mischief. What I would say though is that the record speaks for itself.
JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton and George Brandis have renewed their attack on Gillian Triggs today given to her comments last week. Do you think she needs to clarify her view? Are you aware of the comments she made?
SHORTEN: Comments today, or comments last week?
JOURNALIST: Comments she made last week claiming that the Bali 9 executions and comparing it to the turn back the boats policy. They have renewed their attack on that today.
SHORTEN: I think that there are two separate issues here aren’t there? I don’t agree that the Bali 9 execution was linked to the Australian Government’s policies on another matter. But merely because I don’t agree with what something someone says doesn't mean I think it gives licence for the Government to start bullying the President of the Human Rights Commission of Australia. This Government are repeat offenders about bullying the people they don't like. Gillian Triggs is a distinguished lawyer, she has a right to her opinions. If the Government doesn't agree, fair enough. I don't happen to agree with that particular opinion myself but where does the Government get off bullying people it doesn't like? They should just stop.
JOURNALIST: Could you please explain Labor’s position on negative gearing?
SHORTEN: Labor is committed to working on policies for on housing affordability for the next election. We all know the issue of housing affordability's been thrown into stark relief in the last couple of weeks because some of the Government's top economic advisors, you've got the Governor of the Reserve Bank, the Secretary of Treasury, the Government's chief economic adviser have certainly made comments about high prices in Sydney and parts of Melbourne. When the Government's been asked about housing affordability, Joe Hockey gave the patronising advice that somehow it is the problem of the people who can't get into the housing market that their wages aren't high enough. That is an completely out of touch comment. Labor commissioned a discussion paper and we are working on policies towards housing affordability. What we've also said is all issues are on the table but let me be very clear here, we see lot of the issue around housing affordability to be doing with supply and we're not immediately focused on issues around negative gearing.
JOURNALIST: You don't have a policy?
SHORTEN: We're working on our policies for the next election on housing affordability. But I can tell you what, the Government's in charge of Australia, they're contradicting their own economic advisers and their only policy for housing affordability for young people and parents of young people worried about will they ever be able to afford a house in Sydney, is somehow to bag the people for not having enough money through their jobs. A lot of the people Joe Hockey has written off and telling them to go and get a good job, where would we be if Australia's and New South Wale’s and Sydney’s teachers, firefighters, disability helpers, all of these people don't earn the money which makes it easy for them to get into the Sydney housing market, so where we would be if all of them took Joe Hockey's advice and simply went and got another job? Joe Hockey is seriously out of touch and the challenge here is does Tony Abbott agree with Joe Hockey or does he agree with Australian families?
JOURNALIST: What is your advice to the Australians trying to crack into the housing market? Not what the Government’s advice is, what is your advice?
SHORTEN: I'm not going to start giving people personal financial advice or patronise them. What I can advise Australians who are concerned about housing affordability is vote for Labor at the next election because Labor will develop policies on housing affordability that go to the real issues, we are not just going to bag people for not earning enough money.
JOURNALIST: Do you share the concern of Alzheimer's Australia that a program helping people stay in their homes may be lost through the cracks when the program is rolled into the NDIS?
SHORTEN: Yes, I do. The Government has got a poor record on dealing and helping people with Alzheimer's. We have seen them cut subsidies for extra funding for people with Alzheimer’s in aged care and nursing homes. Now they seem to be at it again. I just say to the Government you can do your task of Budget repair without inflicting needless suffering upon people with Alzheimer's. This Government should be clever enough to be able to walk and chew gum, to be able to help deal with the issues of running Australia without putting people who are living with Alzheimer's at the centre of the Budget repair strategy by cutting their services, full stop.
JOURNALIST: Did you hear the Prime Minister's comments on wind farms this morning and do you have any comment on that?
SHORTEN: There's Tony Abbott at it again, now he's anti-wind mills. Renewable energy is part of Australia's current energy mix. It should be. We had to put that on life support system for the last 20 months while the Government mucked around with certainty in that market. And there’s Tony Abbott again giving his personal opinions about what he thinks about wind-mills and wind farms. When you're the leader of Australia you don't always have the chance to, I think, just have thought bubbles. You've got to create investment certainty. What will the renewable energy investors in wind power now think knowing Australia is run by a bloke who says he doesn't like windmills? This guy is out of touch with the future of Australia’s energy.
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