DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, SUNSHINE WEST
2 MAY 2013
SUBJECTS: Workplace relations; Comcare; DisabilityCare Australia
BILL SHORTEN: It’s great to be in Sunshine West at one of Australia Post’s leading parcel and mail distribution centres.
This is a very busy, productive workplace. There are 273 Australia Post workers just working here alone. They work around the clock, 18- 20 hours a day. They handle 330,000 pieces of mail and parcels – it is one busy post office here.
And what it shows is that in Australia, we have cooperative workplaces. This workplace here has its terms and conditions governed by a collective agreement, all of which is cast into uncertainty because the Abbott opposition are hiding their workplace relations policy.
It’s been nearly 100 days since the date of the election was set yet Mr Abbott is still playing hide and seek on a bicycle in western Victoria. I mean I’m pleased he’s fundraising but how about he could whip out of one of his bicycle bags his workplace relations policy, because the hard-working people who I have around me are people who deliver the mail and they make sure you get your parcels. So this is a good business, with good people who deserve to see what workplace relations policies there are.
I’m also here today to announce the first response to the review of Comcare.
Comcare is one of about 11 workers compensation, safety, workplace systems in Australia. Comcare covers about half a million Australian workers – it’s a big number. 8000 people who work for companies covered by Comcare have currently got claims underway in any given year.
Workplace safety can never be taken for granted and it’s important that with workplace safety that you’ve got good workers compensation laws.
Half the people covered by Comcare work for large private sector companies including some of the banks, including Australia Post and including some of the big transport companies.
What this Government has done is we’ve asked people, a couple of eminent experts, to review how Comcare is operating. Now the report’s come in. It’s got about 137 recommendations. They’re all important but this is safety week, this week, and what we’re doing is we’re fast-tracking some of the recommendations because we think there can be few things more important for a government than to help make sure that people come home safely from work.
In addition, we’re announcing 21 of the recommendations in our response. We’ve had public consultation. Our response is saying that what Australia needs is we need a national approach on rehabilitation.
Well over 200,000 people each year get injured at work and make claims which require compensation. This is a big number.
Right now as we speak there will be hundreds of thousands of our fellow Australians who are off work. The problem is that once they are off work and out of sight, out of mind, they’re at home, they can’t lift the kids and may be dealing with particular impairments which they’ve acquired at work they tend to get forgotten.
Australian productivity, Australian workplaces, Australian society cannot afford to waste all this human potential, and possibility and talent merely because we are not good enough at rehabilitating people.
It is long overdue in Australia to have a national approach on rehabilitation and the Federal Government’s work health and safety regulator and workers’ comp insurer Comcare, is going to lead the way.
Our 21 recommendations, the first tranche, are all about encouraging the rehabilitation of Australians.
I know people who when they get injured at work, acquire a serious injury; once they are out of sight, they’re out of mind. And they get forgotten.
Australia cannot afford to have so many hardworking Australians forgotten about, sitting; developing a lack of confidence; not getting back to work.
So today the Federal Government is saying it is long overdue to have a national workplace safety rehabilitation strategy and for the record, this complements what the Federal Government is doing, making workplace safety a national issue.
Traditionally workplace safety has been a state issue. Well, we’re here to say it’s a national issue.
That is why we are tackling workplace bullying through changes we are making to the Fair Work Act. That is why we want to set up a national asbestos regulator. That’s why we have done the Comcare review and why we want to drive towards the creation of a national rehabilitation strategy.
No Australian should go to work and not come home safe. But in the event they do get injured, no Australian should be forgotten about merely because they have been injured. Their families, those people and their employers can’t afford to lose the positive strength of people coming to work.
I’m happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Speaking of a national approach, the national insurance disability scheme, Tony Abbott appears to now be in support of that levy.
BILL SHORTEN: Well, isn’t that good news. Tony Abbott has run up the white flag and none too soon. I am pleased that people with disabilities and their carers are at last coming in out of their second-class citizenship, out of the exile to which Australia has condemned them.
What I also know is that the Liberal Party had no choice but to surrender. They have acted like some World War II Japanese veteran, 30 years after the war is over, still pretending there was a fight about disability reform. The flag of disability reform has been planted and no one will ever take it away from people with disability and their carers.
Today is the most significant moment for people with disability, carers and indeed all Australians because any of us, at any time, could develop a severe or profound disability. Any parent could have their beautiful one or two year old start not developing the way they hoped they could. Any of us could have a family member who is somewhere on the Autism Spectrum.
Today all Australians now have a big step forward to ensuring that any of us, if we get into that sort of trouble, will not be left behind. I’m pleased that the Liberal Party has finally come on board and I think our Prime Minister has done a sterling job to change the lives of millions of people in Australia for the better.
QUESTION: So what’s the next step now? Legislation into Parliament?
BILL SHORTEN: Well if the Liberal Party has finally said “yep”, that they have been dragged kicking and screaming to the altar of disability reform then we might as well get on and have the service.
QUESTION: Speaking of the disability scheme, Bernie Brooks came up with some comments yesterday that were viewed as insensitive. Is it bad for business? How do you view those comments?
BILL SHORTEN: What world is Bernie Brooks living on? Who does he think shops in his shops? It’s people with disabilities, it’s carers. You can’t run a successful retail business if two million of your fellow Australians don’t have enough money to rub together. I think that those remarks were ill-considered. I know that Bernie Brooks personally, probably if he had his time again, he wouldn’t have phrased it that way. But for goodness sakes, we don’t argue about the right of women to get an equal deal anymore. We don’t argue about the right of people of colour to be treated equally to other people so why on earth are we arguing about people with disabilities getting a fair go. It is Mad Men thinking from the 1960s and I’m sure that Myer will have had a rethink overnight. It is just a joke.
QUESTION: Are you glad that he has apologised for those comments?
BILL SHORTEN: It doesn’t surprise me he has apologised. Listen, I think personally that he is a fair enough bloke, so I just think that these are remarks, which, as I suppose people do, they just skip out of your mouth and I sure he was trying to grab them back and put them in his mouth and not say them. I’m glad he’s apologised. We need to move on.
But let’s just remember, any person with a disability is someone’s son or daughter. Any person with a disability could one day be you or I, or indeed, it could be someone we love. So why don’t we actually just start treating people with disability as ourselves rather than some separate tribe not deserved of the same support of the rest of Australians.
QUESTION: Not sure how much you know about this, but Mark Dreyfus the Attorney-General had an incident on a plane last week. Told to turn off his phone, he said he complied, but was met with airport security when he landed. Do you know anything about that?
BILL SHORTEN: No, I haven’t heard about that. You know, there could go any of us sometimes. You’re rushing around; you’ve got your phone in your pocket. You know, that could happen to anyone. I don’t know what’s happened there. Mark Dreyfus is the most conscientious and decent fellow. That could happen to anyone and I don’t know anything else about it.
QUESTION: You don’t think it’s a bit heavy handed for him to be met by airport security?
BILL SHORTEN: I don’t know the facts but I do know that if they had airport security meeting everyone whose phone ever went off on a plane, that would be a whole new growth industry in Australia.
It’s a reminder for people like myself and everyone else. Just turn the phone off.