Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop - Address to Berry St. employees



20 MARCH 2013


Address to Berry St. employees


BILL SHORTEN:       Good morning, everyone. When I come to visit a workplace, it doesn't always involve cameras. But it's really good that you've all interrupted what you were doing and I thank Sandy and Berry Street for hosting me.

I'm the Minister for Workplace Relations. I'm also the Minister for Superannuation. There's a lot going on in Australia at the moment. There's a lot of good things going on in Australia but there's some tough things going on too.

And Berry Street which has been working and you and your predecessors who have worked for Berry Street have been helping people since 1877. It's a good organisation, I get that. It doesn't matter if it was working on the bushfires or working on a range of other areas, if you weren't doing what you were doing, there'd be a lot of Victorians and Australians who'd be a lot more vulnerable than they already are. So for that, the Gillard Labor Government just wanted to say thank you.

In addition, as Workplace Relations Minister, what I understand fundamentally and I've always believed when I've been representing employees, is that in Australia we're good at paying people relatively for their physical labour. Sometimes we're good at paying people for their intellectual labour. But what Australia has never been sufficiently good at, is paying people for their emotional labour. What I mean by emotional labour, and you would understand this better than most, is that some of the clients and some of the people you work with, they can't afford for you to have a bad day. You have to always be up.

Now you've got plenty of challenges, the kids could be playing up; you've got to pay the mortgage. Wages in the community sector are not as high as other sectors of the Australian economy, but you contribute with your emotional effort. If you are feeling down, well, the people who depend upon you pick up that message too. So you commit, not just mentally; you commit, not just physically; you commit, emotionally. The other thing about working in the community services sector is that the people in it are predominantly women. Now I believe, and our Prime Minister knows - and I think most Australians deep down know - that if community services was predominantly a male occupation, it would be paid more.

So under the Labor Government - and when people tell you there's no differences anymore in politics - under the Labor Government, under our Prime Minister when she was doing the job I'm now doing, she proposed a set of laws which said that you could look at equal pay for work of equal value. In other words, rather than just accept the inherent discrimination which exists when an occupation is predominantly female, we could run a case - a case could be run, it was run by unions - and it argued that, in fact, community services, women's refuges, housing work, disability work, you know the sort of work which you do which if you didn't do a lot of Australians would be in dreadful situations.

That is the work you do and because of the Labor Government, there's a recognition that there has been a problem with the way it's been remunerated and so under Labor, under Labor's workplace laws which are fair, we're able to do something which is smarter, something which is fairer, something which gives a stronger outcome for the community services sector. So that's why there was an equal pay case.

But under a Labor Government as well, what we did is we set aside the money to help services like Berry Street to be able to afford the increases. So when you go to work, I know that you need to be able to concentrate on your clients. I know you need to be able to concentrate on the fact the sense that you're not falling behind. That you can also make ends meet outside of work because of what you do at work.

I understand that the Australian community and society depend upon what you do and we shouldn't take it for granted. We shouldn't take it for granted and just allow an unfairness in pay.

Also, what this Labor Government has done is we are proposing to increase superannuation from nine to twelve per cent. Now I get amongst some of the younger workforce in Australia, they say, ‘I'm not worried about superannuation, that's retirement, I'm bullet proof, that will never happen to me. Well, certainly not in my immediate time horizon.’ So you're probably more focused on paying off the mortgage on the house or indeed getting into the housing market or having a holiday. But as you get older, you realise that there is a life after work. Too many Australians do not have enough money saved for their retirement. It is an anxiety which gnaws away at people in those small hours of the night when people wonder, well, what am I going to live on once I finish working?

Part of the Australian dream and the Australian deal, and especially for people like you who spend so much time holding others up so that they can keep their head above water, is that you should not have to work hard and retire poor. So this Labor Government has done two things which is of direct benefit, I think, to many of you. First of all if you earn less $37 000 a year - and that can happen if you work part time or if you're in a low paid job - before Labor, you used to had to pay 15 per cent tax on the money which went into superannuation. So if you have $5 000 going into super, you have to pay 15 per cent tax on it. What we've done is we've scrapped that tax. So we say that if you earn less than $37 000 a year, the money which you can't spend now, which you have to save for your retirement, deferred wages, should be tax free. So if you earn less than $37 000, there's no tax.

The other thing which we've done is we've proposed that superannuation needs to climb in bite size amounts from nine to 12 per cent. Did you know that in Australia, women on average only have half the retirement superannuation accounts of men? There's that sort of dreaded unfairness again because of gender. Woman, as you know, have more periods of broken service, because they're the ones who do the primary child raising. I know everyone says that mum and dad do it equally, I don't think that's right. Women do most of the caring in Australia at work and at home.

So you have less chance of getting superannuation and earning bigger amounts and, of course, there's that old gender divide in terms of wages. So Labor believes it's important that you lift your super from nine to 12 per cent over the next six years.

So there you have a range of things which are important. I know I could talk about the national disability insurance scheme, which I think you'd understand is fantastic. It's going to mean that 420,000 people with profound and severe disabilities, by 2018, will get individualised packages of support. You understand the importance of people who are vulnerable that they don't feel like they're charity cases but they're consumers. They're not people who you're doing a favour to, they're a people who should have a right to participate.

But apart from that big picture of disability reform, which just wasn't a political issue on the nation's radar until Labor got elected. When you look at those issues which come to you and people who do the work you do in places like Berry Street, you are not a selfish group because you don't ask for a lot. But what we have under Labor is equal pay for women. We're not there yet but we've at least provided the ladder so that can occur. We've supported the community services sector by better pay and supporting the agencies who do it. We're also proposing that if you have less than $37,000, you shouldn't have to pay tax on your super because people don't have enough to retire on.

If we don't lift our superannuation, then what will happen is we'll have to pay more taxes because people will still be relying on the aged pension. If we don't lift our superannuation, then what happens is we don't have domestic savings in Australia so we have to borrow money from overseas and we get charged higher interest rates. So there's good economic sense, so Labor wants to lift super from nine to twelve and to lift and not pay tax on the lower income if you've got less than $37 000.

I don't think, regardless of what people think about opinion polls, anyone could argue those three or four propositions I've said are unfair. The problem is, and this is the political part, the Opposition said on Thursday night that they will reintroduce the tax on low income earners. So where now if you earn less than $37 000 a year, say you're returning part time, you're a mum returning part time to work, you don't pay any tax on your super going into your savings. If Mr Abbott is elected you will be paying tax on superannuation. So the low paid will start paying tax on super.

The other proposition which you need to be aware of, is that when it comes to lifting superannuation from nine to 12 per cent, the Opposition has said we're going to freeze that for two years at least. They said two years, but when John Howard came in, he promised to lift super and he never did for the time he was in. He promised to take it to 15 per cent, it never happened. So what's happened is, if you're a 30 year old now, even this two year freeze - and you might think, oh well, what's three-quarters of a per cent of super not going into my pay. Well, if you're thirty now, it means you'll be $20 000 dollars worse off by the time you retire.

If the Liberals don't keep their promise on superannuation, they've already broken it, they said they wouldn't touch it, now they're saying they will touch it for two years and then go on, it would cost you - if they don't go from nine and a quarter per cent up to twelve - it will cost you something like $120 000 thousand dollars by the time you retire.

So this is not good news but it also happens to be a fact. So one of the reasons we're visiting workplaces all around Australia is because people who do the community services work you do, who do the professional caring you do, you deserve to have at least some money put away for your retirement. We believe, and we strongly repudiate and reject the idea, that it's in the nation's interests for people who work in community services to retire poor. We strongly reject that it's in the nation's interests for women to keep earning less money than men and to have less savings than men. We strongly reject the idea that 3.5 million Australians, who earn less than $37 000 a year, should have to pay a 15 per cent tax.

We strongly reject the idea instead, instead of low paid people paying tax on super, we strongly reject the idea that mining companies shouldn't pay the tax. We strongly reject the idea that if you're a carbon polluter, you shouldn't do something about paying a price for the carbon pollution that you put into the atmosphere.

We strongly reject the idea that in the first term of a Liberal government that you should start investigating the merits of a goods and services tax. Why should women workers in Australia, why should women employees, why should people in community services, have to contemplate paying more in the GST when we're giving mining companies and multinational mining companies a free ride in Australia?

Anyway, that last bit was more for - just for you to understand the general picture. But returning back to Berry Street and what you do, when you're having that discussion over the weekend break and someone says to you, is there a choice really?  Are they all just the same?  Well, I'd just say to you, equal pay for women in the community services sector, in the community service sector generally, lifting superannuation from nine to 12 per cent and getting on with it, not delaying it.  Not having a tax on low-paid income earners, on their superannuation. That's a big difference.  And we're not talking about lifting the goods and services on all items in Australia, because I don't need a review to tell me that's a bad idea.  I know it's a bad idea.

I'll say it and I think it's a good idea to ask the largest mining companies in Australia to pay their fair share of Australia's natural resources, to reinvest.  Because mining companies and carbon polluters, they get their workforce from the suburbs and the streets in which Berry Street works.  And without you, there's no point in having all the money in the world if we don't have a good community services sector, well-funded and resourced, to look after the people who fall out of the net - fall through the net.

Thanks very much for listening today. I've got to take a couple of questions from the journalists. Cheers.


QUESTION:   Minister, can we go to superannuation first?  And you say that under the Coalition's plan people in their thirties will be twenty thousand dollars worse off.


QUESTION:   They say people will be better off, because they'll scrap the carbon tax. Is that true?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, I love this Opposition - or I don't really.


BILL SHORTEN:  What I did think is first about superannuation. There is no case which benefits individuals or Australia which is proved by reducing or delaying increases of superannuation. If we don't increase superannuation, the taxpayer has to pay for more people relying on the aged pension. If we don't increase superannuation, the gender gap which exists in retirement savings will remain, and that's not a good idea.

Imagine if the Liberals had won the argument and super didn't even exist, or it was stuck at three per cent, or was stuck at six per cent, or seven per cent.  People wouldn't have - would not have enough to retire upon.  What's important here is lifting the ability of people to rely on themselves in retirement. Just ask any of the community services workers here.  They know that it's much better for people to live in their own homes.  They know it's much better for people to have a degree of independence. Superannuation, along with the family home, represents the two best chances for Australians not to be destitute and not to be relying on other people. There is no economic case.

And, for what it's worth, Australia has a large pool of domestic savings. That means that when we have to borrow less money from overseas. If the rest of the world thinks that Australia needs to borrow money from overseas, they think we're mugs. And they will charge us higher interest rates because they'll say Australians won't save for themselves. Why should we give them a discount on the cost of the money we lend Australia for its future? So at the macro-economic and at the personal, individual and family level, superannuation works and it's a very good idea.

I should also say that, why on earth is Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party saying people should have their superannuation frozen at nine-and-a-quarter per cent when he's on a defined benefit plan and he'll never have to worry about his retirement? It is really important in politics - that it's not a case of don't do as I say, do something else. It's a case that if it's good enough for the Liberal Party of Australia to have fifteen per cent or defined benefit super, it should be good enough for the rest of Australia to get a lift in their super.

When you come to the carbon price, listen, anyone with grade seven mathematics knows that if you're going to put a price on carbon pollution to discourage carbon polluting behaviour and then compensate families and individuals and industry for the pace of change - if you remove the tax how can you still afford the compensation? Yet Mr Abbott would have us believe you can remove the price on carbon pollution and still keep giving out all the goodies that get raised as a result of having a price on carbon pollution. You can't have it both ways at the same time. So it's just economically irresponsible of Mr Abbott to promise to spend the one hand, yet give 50 or a 100 of the largest carbon polluting companies in Australia a free pass to keep warming the environment.

REPORTER: Can I ask you about Tony Sheldon, from the Transport Workers' Union, who described Mr Abbott as Robin Hood with a severe case of schizophrenia? Is that appropriate?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh well, what other people say about each other I won't go into. What I do know is that, why on earth would you be proposing to millions of Australians – ‘yes, we'll have a look at whether or not we want to increase the goods and services tax’ - and you need to have a committee and you can't work out that's a bad idea. But on the other hand he's worked out it's a bad idea for multinational mining companies, who are exploiting non-renewable resources, to pay less tax.

REPORTER: Minister, that's very off topic. Is it appropriate for a union boss to be calling the Leader of the Opposition of this country, schizophrenic?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, I certainly wouldn't use terms like that. But I would - no. So I wouldn't use terms like that. But I thought...

REPORTER: Is it appropriate for him to use it though?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh well, I wouldn't have done it. That's pretty clear, isn't it? What I would also say to you though is the example of the Robin Hood point - I wouldn't use that. But what I would say is, why on earth does the Liberal Party of Australia argue that - vote for them to get into office - they'll cut services to the bone, they'll cut people's superannuation to the bone, they'll cut the safety net of workplace relations to the bone. Yet when it comes to - if you're a multinational company who's polluting carbon into the environment, or if you're a mining company who's using non-renewable resources and making bumper profits - on the other hand you'd say those people should get a free ride. That's just not - I don't think like that, and I don't think most Australians think like that.


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