Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop August Labour Force Figures

Doorstop - Brisbane
06 September 2012
11:45 am

 Working Women’s Centre, Labour Force Figures, Industrial Disputes


BILL SHORTEN:     I’m here with Graham Perrett, Local Member for Moreton, and Fiona Dixon, Labor's candidate for the federal seat of Brisbane. I'm pleased to be able to announce to the workers at the Queensland Working Women's Centre that after the ambush by Premier Newman cutting off funds to the working women's centre who represent thousands of Queensland women when they don't get a fair go at work, the Federal Government has saved the Queensland Working Women's Centre with ongoing funding. But it should never come to this that the Federal Government has to do the job of the Queensland Government.

 There are people in Queensland, women in Queensland, who get a rough deal at work. It could be bullying, it can be harassment, it could be unfair dismissal. The disempowered need a voice. What we're seeing here is a return to the bad old days when you've got a conservative Queensland Government literally cutting off dissent. They don't want to hear the bad news, they're playing the - they're playing the three wise monkeys; hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. And the way they're going to do that is by cutting off anyone who disagrees with the state Government.

 So the federal Government is standing up for working women in Queensland, which is a very good announcement, which will mean that in the future, someone's mum, someone's sister, someone's wife will have a voice if they don't get a fair go at work.

 I'd also like to just briefly give a statement about the monthly ABS employment figures in Australia. The Government recognises that there is ongoing softening in the Australian labour market. Unemployment has fallen, however, from 5.2 to 5.1 percent. This means that Australia, despite a softening labour market, is still doing better than most of the world. We've seen an easing in the participation rate - that's the number of people who are seeking to work - but we still rank - again, whilst we see this easing in the participation rate, Australia still ranks sixth in the world for number of people as a proportion, the number of adults in your population in the nation who are seeking work. So the summary is a softening of the labour market but we also see that Australia is still doing better in the global rankings than most other countries around the world.

 QUESTION:              Do you agree with the Treasurer that there's too much focus on the negative aspects of the economy?

 BILL SHORTEN:     Well I think that we need to be careful that we don't talk ourselves down. The story in the high street of the Australian economy is a mixed story. There's good news and there's bad news. We have a high dollar, which is seeing some sectors do it very hard; manufacturing, people who provide services or seek to buy in services from overseas, and tourism, education; but there are success stories out there. We have one of the lowest government debt situations of anywhere in the western world.

 We've got unemployment numbers which while difficult if they affect you compare very favourably to North America and to Europe and other industrialised nations. We have the sixth highest participation rate in the world, so we're getting some things right. I would summarise that despite the difficult circumstances that the world is facing, Australians are hanging in there. They're working hard and they're hanging in there and they've got a Government who's got their back.

 QUESTION:              Minister, are you concerned about the sharp rise in industrial disputes, days lost jumping up from thirty-five thousand in the March quarter to one-hundred-and-one thousand in the June quarter?

 BILL SHORTEN:     Well this Government believes in cooperative relations at work. I note - and it's only preliminary days, I've probably had about the same amount of time as you have to have a look at these numbers - but I note that north of sixty per cent of the days lost in industrial action in the last quarter were in the health and education sectors. This is unusual. Let me just unpack that a little bit further. State governments - conservative state governments - are not good at managing their employee relations. We've seen the largest teacher strikes ever in the history of the Commonwealth from state conservative governments. We've seen a long and difficult nurses dispute. And how on earth you can get nurses offside, how on earth you can get teachers offside is beyond me.

 So yes, we take the lost days number very seriously and we're certainly drilling into why there's been a spike.  But what I would submit to you is, one, most of the lost days are in the education and health services area, of which the state government are the major employers. Secondly, I would just remind people that when you look over the length of the Howard Government and the length of Labor in government, what we see is our average time lost is a third of that that there was in the Howard Government era.

 So we take it seriously but not about to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  And if you want to look round for some of the scallywags in terms of days lost, you'd be well off ringing the speed dial of state conservative premiers.  And if we want to know what the future would look like in the event that the Coalition was elected in Canberra, have a look at the cuts to the Working Women's Centre, have a look at the thousands of job cuts in Queensland which is undermining consumer confidence.  Have a look at industrial action where workers who felt they had a set of arrangements are waking up one morning to find that they've been lied to.

 QUESTION:              Minister, given Mr Turnbull's comments about the deficit of trust in government generally, do you think there are cracks appearing in Mr Abbott's leadership?

 BILL SHORTEN:     Mr Abbott hasn't had a good week. He's got Barnaby Joyce rampaging around on the right breaking Shadow Cabinet's solidarity, and then he's got Mr Turnbull belling the cat about what's happening in the Coalition from the left. Mr Abbott has hoped for the last two years that he can skate into power by being negative. But if you look at all - and the Member for Wentworth, Mr Turnbull, correctly identified - when you look at all the questions used across all of the parliamentary periods in the last two years, there's been a preoccupation with boat people and carbon. These are essentially negative pushes.

 I think most Australians can tell you what Tony Abbott is against. I'm not sure they can tell you what he's for. One thing he needs to do, and it's not easy being leader of the Opposition when you're under a bit of pressure, is Senator Joyce trying to knife one of his colleagues, Bruce Scott in Maranoa, trying to knife Joe Hockey's economic policies by sounding alarm about the Cubbie Station. I think Mr Abbott's got to deal with Mr Joyce quickly because strong leadership isn't just about saying no. Strong leadership is about making sure that your team's united behind you, and I think Mr Turnbull's made it clear that they're not a happy bunch of campers in Liberal land. 

 JOURNALIST:        [inaudible] Do you think that question time in Parliament is a waste of time at the moment?

 BILL SHORTEN:    Not at all. Question Time is where the Government should be held accountable. I think the Opposition are wasting their questions.

 JOURNALIST:        But should it be restructured in some way? To reduce the focus on the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition?

 BILL SHORTEN:    Well, you can have a crack at the Government on a range of things, but we’re not going to write the questions for the Opposition. If you think that Question Time should be restructured, then obviously maybe they need to restructure the Opposition tactics and the leadership there. That’s a matter for the Opposition. If they’re satisfied being mindless and negative on every night’s news, hoping they can negate their way into power, I think they’re underestimating people. I think Australians want more from politics than just mindless negativity. By all means, hold the Government to account, but we don’t write the Opposition questions and they need to explain what they are for as much as what they are against. They need to explain how they make their numbers add up. They need to explain what they’re going to do about Barnaby Joyce. He is a bull in a china shop

 JOURNALIST:        Minister Shorten, Mr Turnbull said there was a lack of trust across the political spectrum. Is he right?

 BILL SHORTEN:    I think that, most people think their individual members of parliament work hard. I think that people are impressed by and I think that people know that Julia Gillard, she’s a strong leader. There’s no doubt that we’ve had our difficulties but our Prime Minister is leading our caucus. You know what she stands for, and if some people don’t like her, she’ll live with that. Funnily enough, Mr Abbott, who says that he’s very strong, wants to be all things to all people. He needs to explain where he stands on foreign investment. He needs to explain where he stands on workplace relations. He needs to explain – will he do to Australia what Campbell Newman is doing to Queensland?

 JOURNALIST:        Just back on industrial disputes, it’s not just the last quarter, in the last year, I think there’s been 192,000 lost days. You don’t think it has anything to do with the current system of Fair Work Australia rather than just blaming state governments?

 BILL SHORTEN:    No I don’t. Let’s be very clear, you take state Liberal governments out of the equation, those numbers do go down significantly. Also I believe that under the Fair Work system we introduced, we’re seeing an up-tick in productivity, in the last 12 months, we’re seeing thousands of agreements being ratified.

 The nature of the news is that most people drive to work and don’t have an accident, but where there is a car crash, that naturally gets the attention. Same goes for industrial relations, it’s the disputes that make the headlines, and that’s fair enough, that’s probably of more interest. But what I understand is that, fundamentally, millions of Australians are going to work every day, they’re transacting arrangements with their employers, they’re productive, hard working people, and things are being resolved cooperatively.  And I do believe that when you look at the last five years of Labor, four-and-a-half years of Labor, compared to the previous 11 years of the conservatives, our industrial relations track record is about creating productivity, creating high skilled, high remunerated- well remunerated jobs.

 You know, I notice that a couple of media outlets are breathlessly quoting the World Economic Forum research that says that Australia ranks about 123rd when it comes to labour relations. Without too much analysis they’ve unpacked which nations in the world global CEOs say are better to do business than Australia.  They include Bahrain, Uganda and Iran. In Iran, they have the death penalty for juveniles.  In Bahrain they’ve declared a state of emergency over nurses seeking a better deal. That’s not our vision for Australia. Thanks.