Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop, Australian Taxation Office, Moonee Ponds

Doorstop, Australian Taxation Office, Moonee Ponds
3.45 pm, 03 April 2013

SUBJECT/S: Select Council on Workplace Relations, Superannuation

BILL SHORTEN: Good afternoon everyone.

I’m pleased to report today that we had an important meeting of State and Territory Workplace Relations Ministers.  We were also joined by the Minister for Workplace Relations from New Zealand.

There is nothing more important to the Gillard Labor Government than productive workplaces. That is the focus of all of our improvements to the Fair Work system. It is the motivation which underpinned the creation of the Fair Work Act.

We have announced a number of amendments which I reported to State and Territory Ministers today, that we are following a comprehensive implementation review that the Gillard Government is going to pursue in the national parliament.  Improvements to the family friendly conditions of Australia’s workplaces; improved protections for pregnant workers; timely relief for the victims of workplace bullying and improved right of entry provisions which provides greater support for both employers and employees.

All of these provisions which I spoke about with the Workplace Relations Ministers today are at risk if the Coalition was to win government on 14 September.  We look forward to the Opposition finally, after two and a half years, releasing its workplace relations policy before the Budget.  We expect that Mr Abbott should guarantee in that policy without any weasel words, support for the maintenance of people’s penalty rates, shift rates, public holiday pay; the right to request flexible work arrangements and family friendly protections; his support to eradicate workplace bullying and his support for the unfair dismissal rights of millions of Australian workers.

Also in recent days we’ve announced the appointment of two new Vice Presidents of the Fair Work Commission, four Deputy Presidents and two new Commissioners.

At the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council meeting, we also discussed legislation to establish the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.  The council, which will help work with the agency, will comprise representatives from the Commonwealth and State and Territories, local government and stakeholder groups, including family support groups of victims of asbestosis and mesothelioma. It’s intended that our asbestos agency, the first of its kind ever in the Commonwealth, will be operational from 1 July 2013. 

Australia has been one of the greatest per capita users of asbestos from the Second World War right through to the late 1980s.  We have the highest per capita, or amongst the highest per capita incidences of deaths from asbestos-related diseases in the world.  Thirty to forty thousand people are predicted in the future in Australia to contract asbestos-related diseases.  Currently nearly six hundred and fifty people a year are dying from mesothelioma and twice that number are dying from asbestos lung-related diseases.

We intend to make sure that for the first time ever there’s national coordinated approaches on asbestos and we look forward to working with states and territories on that, and that was the sentiment from the meeting.

I’m about to attend a meeting with superannuation stakeholders as well.  This is the fifth or the sixth in a series of meetings that I’ve regularly held since becoming Minister for Superannuation to harvest and listen to the views of people who are interested in superannuation and its future.

The Labor Government believes that our superannuation system needs to be fair, it needs to be consistent, it needs to be sustainable in the long term and it certainly needs to recognise the marvellous fact that Australians are living longer than ever before.  In the next four years, in four years’ time, between seventeen and twenty of every one hundred Australians will be sixty-five or older.  When you reach sixty-five, the chances are that you will have a long period and an enjoyable period of retirement.

We want to make sure that when Australians retire they can retire with some adequate measure of comfort.  We do have the aged pension in place as a safety net and that’s an important part of our retirement income policies and strategies.  But for many Australians, hardworking Australians who might be on average weekly wages, average annual remuneration of seventy-two thousand dollars or indeed one times that, or two times, three times, four times that, it is important that all these people also are encouraged to save for their future retirement.

Currently in Australia many people are retiring with lump sums of forty and fifty thousand dollars.  Currently in Australia, men on average have somewhere between one hundred and fifty and two hundred thousand dollars in their superannuation.  Women in fact because of broken service and lower wages perhaps on average have one hundred thousand so far in their superannuation.  For this vast bulk of people, they haven’t got enough to retire on yet and it is important that we have stable, deep politicised policy which encourages this vast bulk of Australia’s middle class to make sure that they have enough to retire upon. 

We’ll be listening very carefully to the propositions and ideas, as I always have, from stakeholders, but we believe fundamentally in the importance of superannuation.  We believe fundamentally that superannuation policies shouldn’t be driven by short-term budgetary issues, but by long-term issues, greater life expectancy and the goal of all Australians to get towards a comfortable retirement.

It is most concerning that despite all the debate, the only live policy affecting three-and-a-half million Australians who earn less than $37,000, is the bizarre Coalition plan to reimpose a 15 per cent tax on superannuation contributions for people who earn less than $37,000.  The Labor Government abolished the 15 per cent tax which was paid on superannuation contributions of over three-and-a-half million Australians who earn less than $37,000 a year.  The majority of this group happen to be women who quite frequently already have lower account balances.

Happy to take questions.

REPORTER: Can you say whether or not the changes that you’re considering to super will affect the top one to two per cent of income earners?

BILL SHORTEN: In terms of what’s in the Budget, and I appreciate that you understand it’s 3 April and the Budget comes out on 14 May, and you probably also appreciate I’m not the Treasurer, but just to again help though provide some clarity and certainty and reassurance for Australians, I’m not for or against a particular group of people.  What I’m interested in is the vast bulk of people who are on average weekly earnings, who are on one, two, three, four times average weekly earnings.  I’m not pre-occupied with the debate about a few people.

REPORTER: But that’s what the Government sources are briefing journalists at the moment, that it will impact those top one to two per cent of working earners.

BILL SHORTEN: Well I can only just repeat my answer.  What Labor stands for is making sure that if you’re on average weekly wages, if you’re on one, two, three, possibly four times average weekly wages, for many people in this group - and perhaps some of you who are interviewing me might well fall into that category - for a lot of people they haven’t saved enough for retirement.  We want to make sure we encourage people who currently don’t have enough to have a comfortable retirement, that they are getting the encouragement and support to make sure that they don’t have to rely solely upon the Aged Pension and they can have a comfortable retirement.

REPORTER: The Treasurer said today that the tax rates at the top end were exceedingly generous in his view.  Do you agree with that?

BILL SHORTEN: Well in terms of the superannuation policy, I share the Treasurer’s goals that the system needs to be sustainable.  I share his goals that it needs to be fair and I also share his goals that with longer life expectancy, superannuation is one of the primary mechanisms for people’s retirement income and that’s a system which only Labor’s ever voted to increase.

In all the current Budget debate of speculation, we shouldn’t forget our history.  It was a Labor Government who introduced zero to three per cent working with unions and employers.  It was a Labor Government who increased compulsory superannuation from three to nine per cent, and as recently as last year it was a Labor Government - I was privileged to put the legislation into the Parliament - increasing superannuation from nine to twelve per cent. 

The Coalition who are now running around trying to scare all and sundry, they actually voted against it.  Every time the Coalition’s had a chance to put its hand up to support millions of Australians to have a better retirement, the hand was down.  And the latest plan which disturbs the Government and I think disturbs a lot of people, is the proposition of three-and-a-half million Australians - there’s more than three-and-a-half million Australians earn less than thirty-seven thousand dollars a year - Labor’s abolished the tax they pay on their contributions.  Zero tax.  Every dollar you get in super - if you’re one of this group of low income workers - every dollar you get paid in super you get to keep, no tax. 

REPORTER: Is it too generous though at the top end, what the Treasurer says?

BILL SHORTEN: I think that we always need to make sure that the system’s sustainable, but by the same token I think it is also important that we move to a position where we start to depoliticise the debate on superannuation.  I think all Australians are tired of debates which scare them about the certainty of superannuation.

So I'm not in the business of scaring people. I'm in the business of making sure we have a sustainable superannuation system. But you can also appreciate Ewan that I can't announce the Budget on April the third.

REPORTER: On the IR announcements, the states are a bit concerned that they haven't been consulted on these announcements you've made today. What's your justification for not giving them that three-month presentation approval?

BILL SHORTEN:  That presumes that we haven't been consulting with the states and territories. We, our officials have met with the states on no less than four occasions. If the states were sufficiently concerned why is it only two of the Territory and State Ministers that even turned up to the meeting and we provided three weeks' notice.

Furthermore, let's go through the issues. Workplace bullying - we have House of Representative's inquiry which got 320 submissions - 320. The House of Representative's Members were amazed and deluged by the number of people speaking up about workplace bullying. But that inquiry was last year and the States put in submissions to it.

Its argument that there's no consultation doesn't hold water. But we'll keep talking to the States and let me be clear, I don't think there's any particular ill will from the states and territories about tackling issues of workplace bullying. They want to make sure that it works in with their state systems but anyone who thinks that the system's working well on workplace bullying should go and talk to a victim because it's not. So we'll keep working the states and I think that's as it should be.

And on the issues of family friendly provisions, the states weren't complaining about that. The states expressed some views on some of the more traditional industrial relation issues. But again issues like right of entry or issues such as intractable disputes or greenfields bargain none of these issues are new for IR professionals. And these matters have been debated in our review last year, which started in January. The report was handed in and released. We got it in June, we released it July/August. Now these debates, whilst they're important, are not new.

REPORTER:  On regards to entry, Julia Gillard said for the 2007 Election that Labor would change its positions on those laws. Is this a back down from that position?

BILL SHORTEN:  No. With right of entry we've had a review. The review talked about some improvements, which would arguably benefit employers - we're implementing them. The review also said something as basic that a union can only enter a workplace during a meal break - at mealtime, when people are having their meals. We said well if there's an argument where you have the meeting, if it's at mealtime - meal break having your meals, you can have the meeting in the meal room. Again this not particularly radical stuff.

REPORTER:  The Victorian unions say they won't campaign for Labor strongly unless you reactivate the arbitration proposal in July. Will you be reactivating that proposal do you think at this stage?

BILL SHORTEN:  It's ironic, in The Australian newspaper periodically - well more than periodically, I get criticised for being too pro union, then you've got unions coming out and say I'm too pro employer. I believe I'm somewhere in between in terms of these issues. We will keep working with people. I do think there's an issue to be addressed in terms of greenfields agreements and attract a bit more bargaining.

What I have done rather than put it up - these propositions in March, is do what I've always done, roll up my sleeves talk to industry, talk to unions, see where the common ground is. So…

REPORTER: So do you still support arbitration?

BILL SHORTEN: If any trade union believes that - if any trade union seriously is arguing that Tony Abbott is a better bet in terms of the rights of workers - and I've expressed this view directly to the Victorian Trades Hall Council - well they're living on another planet.

REPORTER: What today?

BILL SHORTEN: Yes. Following your exclusive story in The Australian.

REPORTER: Backbencher Ed Husic has said that he shares some of Crean's about possible super changes. Can you give him any assurances?

BILL SHORTEN: Yes in terms of - I can't say what's in the Budget but what I can say is that what guides superannuation policy - I had my own dialogue with people in the past from the party of extensive dialogue and I'm very mindful of Labor's legacy - it should be guided not by the twelve month budget cycle but by the long term. It should be guided by principles of longevity - we're living longer. It should be guided by making sure that all people get access to a system which provides for an adequate and comfortable retirement.

And I also believe - and this is not a view necessarily raised by those two but I think it has to happen - we need at some point to move to a state where we have a bipartisanship and we need to make sure that we can de-politicise it to the extent possible superannuation policy.

REPORTER: What about retrospective changes?

BILL SHORTEN: Again I can't - but before we start - you know using words of, and defining things in or out you'd appreciate as I said before, I'm not the Treasurer, it's not May the fourteenth but what I certainly have been at pains to do today is just reiterate the principles which guide the formation of superannuation policy - longevity, adequacy, comfort, dignity, certainty, stability.

REPORTER: But if you can't rule them out doesn't that fuel the speculation?

BILL SHORTEN:  Well it depends - everyone knows the convention of the Budget. I'll do what I keep doing, which is listen carefully to people, consult with Cabinet colleagues but my very clear message to people in Australia who are working hard now; to people who are seeking to retire on adequate incomes - comfortable incomes are the vast bulk of people who are average wages - one, two, three, four times average weekly wages - you are our priority. I'm not preoccupied with punching particular sections of the community.

Although I am preoccupied with having a sustainable system, which supports all the people in Australia who aspire to having - to relying not solely upon the age pension.

REPORTER: What's - can I just ask…

REPORTER:  Just a very quick question on 457 visas.

REPORTER: …yes - can I just ask what's your view on Tony Sheldon employing workers under 457 visas?

BILL SHORTEN: Well in terms of 457 visas I have a general view and this general view covers all situations. We've always had guest workers in Australia. Of course the first guest workers came out free of charge from England. But in all seriousness the guest workers - they've always been part of the Australian landscape. Where there are skill shortages, it's entirely legitimate.

But a principle which is fundamental which I know everyone in the Labor movement shares and I think quite a lot of people throughout the Australian community, is that where there is a job which can be filled by a local, that's what we want to do. But where there's a job which can't be filled by a local, where there is despite the best resources of training you need to use someone with particular skill set from overseas, that's okay.

What I do want to make sure and to the extent that I'm able to as Workplace Relations Minister and Employment Minister is regardless of where you come from if you're born here, if you migrated here or if you're temporarily here - I don't mind where you come from but I do mind if you're getting ripped off. So that's why we're going to beef up our ability to make sure that guests of Australia, permanent residents in Australia by choice or by birth, that all of us get the same deal.

REPORTER:  Do you employ anyone with a 457 visa?


REPORTER:  What about spending eighty to ninety thousand on the Government's promoting these super reforms?  Is that just pre-election propaganda?

BILL SHORTEN: I think it is entirely sensible to alert people to the fact that superannuation is going up. I think it's entirely sensible to alert people to the fact that they've had a tax cut in superannuation. These have been in the works for a very long period of time. Thanks everyone.

- ENDS -