Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Unfair Individual Contract



16 MAY 2013
9.00 AM



SHORTEN:   The Australian newspaper which reveals that the industrial relations policy godfather of the Liberal Party of Australia Peter Reith, has issued an ultimatum to Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott that unless he cuts workers conditions to the bones, he won't be a long-term leader of the Liberal Party. Already the Liberal Party last week revealed in their policy that they want to start expanding the use of unfair individual contracts. Already the Australian Hotels Association has come out and said this is a good thing, we can tackle penalty rates and reduce conditions. Already the Australian Retailers Association this week have said this is a good thing. That we can now take away conditions from workers and offer them non-monetary benefits back.

But what is most surprising is this morning, Peter Reith has come out and said to Tony Abbott you will not be a long-term leader of the Liberal Party unless you cut workers conditions. And Peter Reith, he was the first of four industrial relations ministers in the Howard years. The other three are sitting on the front bench. They all take their instructions from him. Tony Abbott in his book, Battlelines, calls Peter Reith his brother, his brother. So his brother is - from one brother to another Peter Reith is saying memo to little brother from big brother cut workers conditions or you won't be a long-term leader. Peter Reith's identified, he said you've got to go after parental leave, you've got to go after unfair dismissal, you've got to go after penalty rates.

Tony Abbott needs to stop pretending that a choice for him on workplace relations is Labor-lite and instead admit that he would cut workers conditions to the bones. And if anyone needed to see the choice that makes the difference between the Labor Government and the Liberal's cut conditions to the bones policies as articulated by Peter Reith, Liberal Party power broker, just see this complete circus over the fact that Michelle Rowland - Labor MP for Greenway - after four days here can't go home at the ordinary close of Parliament in time to see her fourteen-month year old baby who the rest of her family has been having to look after.

What example is this sending employers of Australia when the Liberal Party say to a hard-working mum with a fourteen-month-year-old child we don't respect your work-life balance, we don't respect modern families, you cannot go home to see your fourteen-month-old child, instead you've got to sit in a room and listen to Tony Abbott. This is what they want to do to the nation and they're not even in power.

Happy to take questions.


REPORTER:            Peter Reith has always made his feelings clear on IR. It's not really a surprise what he thinks. Has this really changed what Tony Abbott has said that he will take a mandate or use a mandate only to make further changes?

SHORTEN:   Why is it that people think that just because we're close to an election Tony Abbott has changed the stripes of a lifetime. He writes in his book, which he would like you to buy, that Peter Reith is his ideological brother. So on one hand Tony Abbott wants you to buy his book and pay him royalties, on the other hand he says don't believe what's in the book. Peter Reith was only one vote away from becoming president of the Liberal Party of Australia. And anyway, what we know is that no-one actually believes, no-one actually believes that the Liberal Party are the Labor Party on workplace relations. We all know there is a clear choice and a clear difference.

Tony Abbott has already flagged that he wants to create unfair individual contracts and expand them so they can ignore the existing matters of an enterprise agreement. He's already said that you can have non-monetary benefits. In other words, if you are a kid at a pizza shop, the boss can pay a pizza rather than pay you the full hourly rate. Or if you work in a video rental shop, you can get, you know, tonight's blockbuster instead of cash. That's not the way to have arrangements in Australian workplaces. And now Peter Reith has said in what must be a remarkably arrogant bit of commentary - you know he's the faceless power broker with a face. He has said dear Tony Abbott you will not be a Liberal prime minister for long unless you do as I say, which is cut workers conditions to the bone.

Peter Reith is going to the sort of industrial relations equivalent of Lords, he's going to the Metal and Mines Association. He's telling the employers put pressure on Tony Abbott, otherwise Tony Abbott won't have a job. How do we get off on this situation? And then we see that when it comes to a relatively small matter, which should be an easy matter, modern families, mum and dad both work quite often. Modern families, mums have kids and return to work. You know, we're not going back to the old Marriage Act bar, where married women aren't allowed to work. So what happens here is that the Liberal Party don't get work-life balance, they want to insist that Michelle Rowland, who's been here for four days, who's done her standard shift as an MP, cannot go home tonight to see her fourteen-month-year-old baby, Octavia.

Then you've got this circus where the Liberal Party yesterday wrote a letter and said we know your child's unwell, you can't go home to see her tomorrow night. And then this morning the leader of the opposition in the House of Representatives, Chris Pyne says we didn't say what the reason was. Well, it's in writing from Warren Entsch yesterday, a Liberal whip. And then the Liberals say, showing they really don't get modern families, well, we don't know which member of the family it is.

First of all, that's a downright lie. They did know and they put in writing, they know it was her child.

But beyond that, does it really matter if it's your child or your wife or your husband who's sick.

You know, at some point, what message does this send to employers. What the Liberal Party is saying to employers, is look at our policies, look at how we act, we don't believe in family flexibility.

REPORTER:            When it comes to IR policy, the pressure's been on Tony Abbott for a few years. Peter Reith's been saying for months, if not years, what he wants. Now Tony Abbott has put out his policy. He's appeared to have resisted that pressure. Isn't it better to take him as to what he's put out as actual policy rather than what you read on the sidelines?

SHORTEN:   I beg your pardon. Tony Abbott has certainly given in already on extending unfair individual contracts and how they operate. So he's already given in on that. But there is a difference when the opposition's low in the opinion polls or doing well in the opinion polls. There is a chance that the Liberal Party will form a government in barely three months' time. So I think now it is time to actually scrutinise what the Liberal power brokers are saying. I mean Tony Abbott did not want Peter Reith saying these things today. Tony Abbott does not want Peter Reith to say go harder. Tony Abbott does not want the retailers saying good on you for individual contracts. Tony Abbott does not want the hoteliers go after penalty rates. Tony Abbott does not want a debate on workplace relations because everyone knows that when Liberals get into power, the choice is they cut conditions.

REPORTER:            The Liberals are saying this morning that Michelle Rowland put in her application for leave on Monday for Thursday. If her child was that sick, why didn't she just leave on Monday?

SHORTEN:   Oh my goodness. The Liberal Party thinks that they're the college of surgeons. The protocol is, where possible, you give notice. I know a number of MPs who have put in for leave and yet, we are always advised put it in as early as possible. Michelle Rowland is your classic working parent. She's relying on a network of family and friends to try and cover the gap. By Thursday afternoon, she'd had been here four days. That's a standard shift that MPs do. Three nights away from the family and now the Liberal Party are saying - what do they want. Do they want a DNA swab? Do they want to ring the treating GP? What message are the Liberal Party sending modern employers that you have to interrogate. Everyone knows that Michelle Rowland has got a fourteen-month-year-old child. Everyone knows that mothers do not exaggerate their kids being ill to gain an advantage.

I think some of the good old boys of the Liberal Party collective need to understand that modern families come in all shapes and sizes. And you know, to be honest, Michelle Rowland can watch what Tony Abbott has to say on the television anyway. I mean Tony Abbott doesn't really need Michelle Rowland as a sort of hostage audience to state his views. This is about work-life family balance. The Liberal Party said last Thursday we learnt the lessons of WorkChoices. Yet, they're making it easy to pay people without having them pay money but pay them in kind. The retailers love it because they can go after people's conditions, that the hoteliers say this is good, we can go after penalty rates. Peter Reith is saying Tony Abbott you've got an ultimatum, you won't be a long-term Liberal Prime Minister - who is he to threaten the Liberal leader of Australia.

And then you've got a very basic example where a working woman, who could be a working parent, has said listen I've done my four days, I want to go home and see my fourteen-month-year-old child on the Thursday night. And now the Liberal Party is saying listen we're experienced doctors, we want to see all the medical evidence. This is a circus.

REPORTER: What is your reaction to Craig Thomson cutting ties with the Labor Party?

SHORTEN:   Look, what Craig Thomson does is up to him.

REPORTER:            He does say though that the party has abandoned him. Do you think that's correct?

SHORTEN:   What Craig Thomson does is up to him. He's made his choice and there's nothing more I can meaningfully add to that.

REPORTER: An unwelcome distraction though?

SHORTEN:   I think the big issue this week has been the fact that the Liberal Party cannot explain how they will pay for their promises. They're going to hand back a tax to the biggest mining companies in Australia. They're going to reward the largest carbon-polluting companies in Australia. They've got a $70-billion blackhole and they're running out of time to find which sofa they've hidden the money behind to pay for their promises. So I think that's the big issue. And the Liberal Party want us to - they're like the old magicians, the razzle dazzle - don't look at me, just look at my distraction. And I just think that on workplace relations, this argument they're running that somehow they're just Labor in another suit and they're not going to do anything bad to anyone and everyone will have a happy ending. Well, the fact of the matter is people like Peter Reith run the Liberal Party. People like Peter Reith represent what the Liberals will do when they get into power. Tony Abbott, he's already backing unfair individual contracts.

REPORTER:            Probably not going to be helpful for Craig Thomson to be appearing on the election campaign?

SHORTEN:   Guys, you can cover - you can look at whatever matters. But what I know is that for working Australians, this example today that a working mum is being stuffed around by the Liberal Party for the pursuit of power when they want to go and see their sick child, means they don't understand modern families. And also that's the choice you've got in Australia. The Liberals want to cut working conditions to the bone. We want to make sure that Australian workplaces are smatter, stronger and fairer. They're the real issues. Thanks very much.

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