MONDAY, 3 FEBURARY 2014
SUBJECT/S: The Abbott Government’s failure to protect manufacturing jobs; allegations of wrongdoing in the building industry.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everyone, it’s good to be here at SPC Ardmona with Federal Opposition Industry Spokesperson, Senator Kim Carr and significantly, Daniel Andrews, Leader of the Opposition in Victoria. We’ve been meeting with workplace representatives of SPC Ardmona, many of whom have worked at SPC Ardmona for up to four decades. There is a great deal of concern amongst a hard working workforce that they are being scapegoated for the lack of leadership by the conservative Abbott Government in Canberra.
SPC workers, who for generations have brought us everything from tinned fruit to baked beans, have said to us ‘why is it that the Abbott Government hates SPC Goulburn Valley jobs yet it seems to, for marginal seat politics, back in Cadbury workers in Hobart?’ It is not the job of the Abbott Government to give up jobs in Australia. The Abbott Government needs to start fighting for Australian jobs. The consequences of the Abbott Government allowing SPC Ardmona to close on the Abbott Government’s watch are diabolical for the Goulburn Valley. There are 70 empty shops in Shepparton already. Twenty five per cent of the adult population in Shepparton is not working at the moment. For the Abbott Government to trash jobs in the Goulburn Valley will see hundreds of people put on the unemployment queue and will have a disastrous effect for thousands of others involved in growing fruit and beans, not only in the Goulburn Valley, but throughout Australia. However in the course of today’s meeting there is a significant development from the Victorian Opposition and I’d like to invite Daniel Andrews to say a few words about the Victorian Opposition’s plans for the future of SPC Ardmona, Daniel.
DANIEL ANDREWS, VICTORIAN LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Bill. Look it is a great pleasure to be here in Shepparton again, we were here last Friday showing our support, our strong support for SPC Ardmona workers and so many thousands of others who rely upon the production that comes out of this business. These jobs are worth fighting for, this sector, this industry, this valley is worth fighting for, and whilst this community is not one known for voting Labor, this is not about party politics. It’s about doing the right thing by workers, it’s about doing the common sense thing. I’d much rather see governments, no matter what their political persuasion, support industry, support partnerships and support jobs, rather than paying out tens of millions of dollars in Centrelink payments, and that’s exactly what will happen if we see both Tony Abbott and Denis Napthine turn their back on workers in Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley.
Well I’m not prepared to sit by and allow that to happen, so I’m very proud today to announce that a Victorian Labor Government will provide $30 million to SPC Ardmona to support the implementation of the business case, the strong business case that was put together and ought to have been supported by the Abbott Federal Government and the Napthine State Government. This is not a handout, this is not a bailout, it’s a partnership. A fantastic workforce, committed, dedicated workers, management that have got new products, new opportunities for the future. I want to make sure that we’re part of that and that we as a Labor Government, hopefully at the end of this year, can make a real difference to save these jobs, to save this sector and to make sure that rather turning our back on the people of Shepparton and Goulburn Valley, we work hard every day to keep Victorians, particularly those here at SPC Ardmona in work, it’s the least we can do. If we’re honoured to form government at the end of the year then we would obviously have other conversations, detailed negotiations, with the company and I don’t rule out potentially doing more, doing other things that might help to bridge the gap that Tony Abbott has shamefully left because he’s turned his back on these workers. What’s more, Denis Napthine, who I remind you was here last Friday and came without one dollar, no support, just empty words from a Premier who, Wednesday last week, apparently he was good for 25 million, by Friday he’d turned his back on these workers. It’s not good enough, it’s not our way, it’s not the Labor way and what’s more it just doesn’t make sense. I’m certainly happy to take your questions, I’m sure Bill is as well.
JOURNALIST: Is there any indication that this money would be enough to keep the company here? Any indication?
ANDREWS: Look, we’ve been having some talks. Obviously you’d need to have further and more detailed discussions if the government were to change at the end of the year. But I’m very confident, based on the discussions that senior members of my team have had, that $30 million, if the Liberal Government in Victoria were to match it, and let’s hope they can do even better, then I think that these workers and their livelihoods, there’s a real sense that this could be made to work. Of course it’s much harder because the Federal Coalition have done the wrong thing by the people of Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley. But I’m confident that $30 million provided by the Victorian State Government [inaudible] under a Labor Government. If Denis Napthine was to wake up and do the right thing, I think that could make a real difference. You’re not talking about a few hundred jobs here, you’re talking about many thousands of jobs.
JOURNALIST: But doesn’t the company decide [inaudible]?
ANDREWS: [inaudible] perhaps the company doesn’t, can’t wait until the end of the year. Maybe that is in fact the case. The key point is the company and its workforce shouldn’t have to wait until the end of the year. Because Denis Napthine, who’s big on talk, big on telling everybody to buy local, he ought to deliver. Last Wednesday, he apparently had $25 million. By Friday he came and stood almost exactly where we are now, and he came with nothing. And that will do nothing to save these jobs. And to think that there are two conservative, two Liberal National Ministers around Denis Napthine’s Cabinet table, and still he turns his back on the people of Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley. It’s a disgrace, it’s a betrayal, and I’ll have none of it. Labor will provide $30 million to make sure that we save this sector, this industry, these jobs and this city.
JOURNALIST: Is your funding commitment contingent on any federal funding?
ANDREWS: No, we’d provide $30 million from the Regional Growth Fund, which I would remind you, has got upwards of $100 million sitting in it idly today. You know, if the Regional Growth Fund is not about these sorts of issues, what is it for? We’ve got a chance to do the right thing by Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley, we ought to do it. Labor will. I call upon Denis Napthine to match and perhaps if he can, even better this. He’ll want to do a lot more than he did last Friday, which was to turn his back on the workers of SPC Ardmona, Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Joe Hockey made a point this morning [inaudible]
SHORTEN: Joe Hockey and Eric Abetz think that manual labour is a Spanish tennis star. These guys have never seen a manufacturing, blue collar tradesperson’s job they’d ever fight for. What is the difference between a Cadbury worker in Hobart and cannery worker in Shepparton? I’ll tell you the difference, Shepparton is a safe Liberal seat. So the problem is, the Abbott Government, they don’t have an industry policy or a jobs policy in Australia, they just play politics. The only jobs the Abbott Government will fight for are the jobs of Abbott Government Ministers.
We all know that the National Party threatened to spit the dummy over GrainCorp, so no worries. So-called right wing economics Minister Joe Hockey couldn’t rush quick enough to keep the numbers in his parliamentary party, to keep the National Party happy on GrainCorp, slash 30 per cent of the price of GrainCorp shares, no worries, another day at the office for Joe Hockey in politics. They made an election promise down in Hobart for the Cadbury workers, good luck to them. So let us not pretend that the Abbott Government has any view about Aussie jobs. Let us not pretend that they will ever fight for Aussie jobs. Coca-Cola Amatil have a live plan on the table, all they need is some co-investment. I mean, does anyone seriously think that if the taxpayer money doesn’t go in co-investment to SPC Ardmona, the taxpayer won’t be paying more money in Centrelink payments and relocation payments? The problem with the Abbott Government is they know the price of everything and the value of nothing and they won’t fight hard for manufacturing or trades jobs in this country.
JOURNALIST: The point I’m getting at though is that Eric Abetz has made the point about personal responsibility, but also about the need to [inaudible]
SHORTEN: Here’s a message to the Abbott Government. Stop scapegoating people on 60 and 70 thousand dollars, when you’re on a quarter of a million dollars. What a cheeky bunch the Abbott Government are, blaming tradespeople and food preservers, saying ‘oh they’re getting paid too much’ when they earn 60 and 70 thousand dollars a year. Why is it that the Abbott Government always blame someone else when they won’t do their own day job? It is a disgraceful scapegoating. The challenges faced by SPC Ardmona are to do with the high dollar, there’s no doubt about that. It’s to do with dumping of imports. And the Abbott Government should stop blaming the workforce in manufacturing, it doesn’t matter if it’s the car industry or SPC Ardmona. Stop blaming the workers, Mr Abbott, and do your day job and stand up for Australian jobs.
JOURNALIST: Are there conditions on this funding announcement for SPC remaining open, or on wages for that matter?
ANDREWS: Look as I said to you this is not handouts, it’s not bailouts, it’s a partnership, its co-investment. It make sense, as the point that Bill just made and I think I just said earlier on, you could pay this much and much more in Centrelink payments, or you can do the right thing to save these jobs and this industry. Of course there’d be strings attached, I would want, as Premier under a Labor government, I would want conditions met, binding agreements about the long-term future of these workers and the long term operation of SPC Ardmona. These jobs must stay in the Goulburn Valley and any commitment, that $30 million and if we could do more we would look to, that would have to come with an ironclad guarantee that these jobs would stay in the Goulburn Valley and would be there for well into the future. We don’t want some 12 month agreement, we want a long term agreement and I’m confident with a new line, new equipment, new products and new markets, that’s exactly what SPC Ardmona, Shepp and the Goulburn Valley can have, a strong and enduring future. So there’d be strings attached and I think that $30 million can be the difference between these jobs this income and quite frankly, a strong Shepparton versus a Shepparton and Goulburn valley that we will not recognise if SPC-A goes.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten the Financial Review reported this morning that SPC workers get nine weeks paid leave and that they’re earning between 38 and 58 per cent above the award wage. Shouldn’t you be encouraging the union and SPC to sit down and work out more reasonable pay and conditions. rather than going to the Government for handouts?
SHORTEN: Hang on a second, why is it that when the going gets tough in Australia, Tony Abbott and vested interests always attack the workers? It has to stop. It is time for Tony Abbott and his proxies to stop blaming the workforce because the Abbott Government is playing politics with their jobs. When you say something is 30 per cent above the minimum award wage, the minimum award wage in Australia is $16.40 an hour. So when you ask me a question, is someone getting paid 22 or 23 dollars an hour too much, no I don’t think it is actually. This argument that the Abbott Government and some of their friends are trying to run, that unless we’re paid third world wages we can’t compete, tell it to Northern Europe, tell it to North America, people get paid properly and they still manufacture things.
What we’ve got here is a government who is simply doesn’t like manufacturing, trades based, blue collar jobs. They won’t fight for them unless they see there’s a vote in it for them, and how many jobs will have to be lost under Tony Abbott before they start waking up and fighting for Australian jobs? I understand that not every job in Australia can be saved. What I don’t understand is when the Abbott Government gives up the fight to save Australian jobs before its even commenced.
JOURNALIST: What’s your understanding of the bright can or shiny tin allowance that SPC forklift drivers are entitled to, and do you think it’s reasonable?
SHORTEN: I’m going to ask one of the delegates in a moment to say this but be clear, the issue at SPC Ardmona is not whether or not a forklift driver is earning 25 dollars an hour or 24 dollars an hour or 26 dollars an hour. I think it is obscene that we have people being paid to work to act as leaders in this country picking on the lowest paid and some of the lower paid workers in this country and saying it is the bloke on the forklift’s fault that SPC Ardmona’s closing? No it’s not. It is the fault of Tony Abbott and Denis Napthine if SPC Ardmona closes. Stop blaming the forklift drivers and the food confectioners and the electricians and all the people who work here, have a look in the mirror Tony Abbott. If these jobs get lost, don’t blame someone else who can’t stick up for themselves, have a look at your own lack of leadership.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten would you welcome a Royal Commission in the allegations, the string of allegations into bribery and what have you within the CFMEU?
SHORTEN: First of all, what I believe is that no one, doesn’t matter who you are, can support corruption or breaking the law, absolutely not. There should be zero tolerance for any criminal activity, be it in trade unions or corporate Australia. As for the idea that the police are not up to their job, or as for the idea that the existing authorities are not up to their job and we need a Royal Commission, I have zero tolerance for criminality in the union movement, zero tolerance, it’s a disgrace for everything that a whole lot of people work hard to stand up for. But I’ve got zero tolerance for witch hunts. Everyone knows that the Abbott Government is looking for any excuse to have a witch hunt into trade unionism. Modern Australian trade unionists, of which there are a couple of million, every day go to work and make this country a better place. I’m sick of the Abbott Government saying that because some people are alleged to have done the wrong thing, and that somehow the existing police in Australia he doesn’t have confidence in, this justifies a political witch hunt. Why is it that when we talk about saving jobs in the car industry or SPC Ardmona, the Abbott Government will tell you about a forklift driver’s allowance or allegations of criminality in one part of one union? That is not leadership, it’s just cheap politics.
JOURNALIST: Wouldn’t we expect you to defend the CFMEU when they gave 650,000 dollars to Labor last year and supported your campaign for federal leader?
SHORTEN: When we talk about election donations, why don’t you ask me about the money being given by big tobacco to the Liberal Party? Tobacco related cancers kill thousands of people, that is a disgrace. What is the point of the Abbott Government having a health budget when their own political party take money from tobacco companies? In terms of any issues of criminality, let me be really clear, the trade union movement and the labour movement can provide and should provide no support at all for anyone who has been found to do criminal activities. But also, corporate Australia has more than its fair share of people who get convicted of criminal activity every year. Does that mean that the Abbott Government wants to have a Royal Commission into corporate Australia? I think not. Let us not lose sight of two important factors. One, criminal behaviour by anyone is wrong, but let us not also then say that therefore this should be a witch hunt into people who are trying to ensure that you have the best possible standards for employees so they get a fair go at work every day. The two issues are not automatically linked.
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