Bill's Transcripts




22 MAY 2013


SUBJECT/S: Workplace entitlements for fire fighters; income support; live betting odds


BILL SHORTEN: It's great to be here with Victoria's Metropolitan Fire Brigade fire fighters. There are hundreds of fire fighters who want to know what the difference is between the Government and the conservative opposition when it comes to workplace conditions. Fire fighters know that they need to have strong union representation to maintain and improve their conditions and safety at work. Fire fighters know that the job they do is an important job. They don't ask for a lot, but they certainly don't like this talk of bringing back individual contracts to the centre of workplace relations.

Certainly, they don't like to see people mucking around with superannuation for their families and other people in workplaces. Certainly, they are very unhappy that the bushfire fighters of the Department of Sustainability, Environment - all the summer fire crews - who start working in summer to protect Victoria's national parks and state parks from fires - all of the fire fighters and some of the protectors will now be paying a fifteen per cent tax on their superannuation.

See, all the summer fire fighters earn less than $37,000 a year. Currently they don't pay any tax on their superannuation. Tony Abbott wants to tax summer fire crews an extra fifteen per cent on their superannuation. Also Australian fire fighters want to make sure that people are receiving 12 per cent superannuation and it's not stalled by the Coalition. So these are important issues for fire fighters.

REPORTER: Minister, how much does the average fire fighter earn, like these men behind you?

BILL SHORTEN: It varies upon their length of service and the particular tasks they do, but fire fighters earn between something like sixty to eighty thousand dollars a year. If they're doing long hours they can earn a little more. So anyone, by anyone's standards - your average fire fighter, who's not average in his skills, not average in his bravery, not average in his commitment of professionalism - these men and women who keep us safe, who rescue us, who do all the things that make our society safer - these are not highly paid professionals.

And what happens is that when you start talking about the Liberals making cuts to conditions, all of a sudden a lot of the people we depend upon say we're looking after all Australians; who's looking after us?

REPORTER: So how much of a pay rise do they deserve, percentage-wise?

BILL SHORTEN: That'll be worked out between the Firefighters Union, the fire fighters and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. What I do know is that Victorian fire fighters are worth every cent they're paid and more. They are not overpaid. They're highly productive. They're highly skilled. They are constantly taking on new skills and tasks. No-one doubts the hazardous nature of their work.

Fire fighters are worth every cent plus more of what they get. I hope that the Napthine Government doesn't stuff fire fighters around the way that the Liberal Government has stuffed nurses around and stuffed teachers around and is currently messing around with paramedics. It's not that hard to treat employees right, but the Liberal governments just find it hard to do.

REPORTER: Turning to more Federal issues, the Salvation Army has said today they've had a twelve per cent jump over the last year in the number of single parents seeking their help. And they say that's because single parents are being put on to the Newstart Allowance. How worried are you about that figure?

BILL SHORTEN: It is definitely very hard to make ends meet. That is why the Government - even with the tough budgetary circumstances that we face - has introduced the Income Support Bonus which will see people on Newstart and sole parents receiving hundreds of dollars more. That's why sole parents, under a Labor Government, receive the Schoolkids Bonus. If your kids are in primary school that's worth four hundred dollars plus. If you're in junior secondary school it's worth eight hundred dollars plus.

What is amazing is that Tony Abbott wants to give the world's richest mining companies a tax holiday, yet he says to people on Newstart and sole parents - the very people the Salvation Army have identified are doing it tough - they want to take away some of what Labor's done, which is worth, literally, hundreds and hundreds of dollars for every sole parent on Newstart.

Also what the Federal Government's done is provided more child care support so sole parents can find work. We've made sure that they can get extra money for training in the Budget as well, and they can also earn extra money and still keep all their concession cards. It's not easy, but Labor's offering to people on Newstart and sole parents is distinctly better than the Coalition's.

REPORTER: But the Salvation Army has said it's your Government's fault that there has been that twelve per cent jump because you have put people into that different allowance, the Newstart Allowance. Do you accept that it is the Government's fault that twelve per cent more single parents are experiencing that level of poverty?

BILL SHORTEN: I accept it would be very hard to make ends meet, but I also believe, fundamentally...

REPORTER: Because of your Government?

BILL SHORTEN: I believe, fundamentally, the best thing we can do is make sure that we get people out of the cycle of poverty. This Government, this Labor Government, doesn’t want to give up on people and say you're too hard to find jobs for. That is why we've done the trifecta of extra income can be earned before your concessions are affected. The second leg of the trifecta is more education support. The third leg is more child care.

What I do accept is that if the Coalition and the conservatives, led by Tony Abbott, are successful on 14 September there goes the Schoolkids Bonus - hundreds of dollars; there goes the Income Support Bonus - hundreds of dollars. Believe me, the Liberal Party has a cold mean heart when it comes to looking after people who can't - are less fortunate than others.

REPORTER: Are you personally comfortable with that decision to switch single parents to Newstart - personally?

BILL SHORTEN: I'm very pleased that we were able to increase the Education Supplement for sole parents…

REPORTER: But that's a different question, Minister. I'm asking you about...

BILL SHORTEN: Well, what I'm saying - because you're asking me what I'm comfortable with…

REPORTER: I'm asking you about the Newstart Allowance, switching parents to the Newstart Allowance. Are you comfortable, personally, with that?

BILL SHORTEN: I believe that in the tough budgetary circumstances the Labor Government is doing the best it can to assist people find work, to support sole parents. And that is why, in this Budget, we're able to announce hundreds of millions of dollars extra for sole parents and people on Newstart. What I also know is that this election on 14 September is a two horse race, and the other horse in the race wants to cut the conditions of sole parents further and faster, harder and meaner.

REPORTER: Turning to live odds, and TV companies would like to continue live odds during breaks in the footy and the cricket. Is that acceptable?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, the status quo, what it is at the moment personally, I'm uncomfortable with the range of offerings that are available in terms of sports betting. I'm not sure that it sends the right message to our kids who are watching sport that somehow what's important in a game of athleticism and team work and competition and effort is gambling. On the other hand, we've got our current policies, and this will, no doubt, be a matter for further judgment and debate in coming days and weeks.

REPORTER: Free TV Australia has suggested that normal betting ads - not just live odds, normal betting ads - could still be played during sporting segments. Isn't it just time to bite the bullet and get rid of any gambling advertising altogether during sports broadcasts?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, I'm not going to make a policy on the run with the ABC, but I do have a clear view that when we want to encourage our young people to watch and play sport I think the message has to be about the sport, not the punting. No-one ever got to the Olympics by being the best punter.

What we need to do is encourage our kids to have role models in sport, to look at the effort, the team work, the achievement, the hard work which goes into it. That is what sport should be about. And I think some of the other issues should take a back seat to those priorities.

REPORTER: So, just finally, it sounds like you, personally, would like to get rid of betting advertising during sport. You, personally, would like that by the sounds of it.

BILL SHORTEN: I'm a member of the Government. I know that this Government's done more to tackle the whole range of issues on problem gambling than any of our predecessors. The record of this Government, despite a lot of the pressure we got, is a very distinguished record for tackling problem gambling and, certainly, I know our Communications Minister has worked on these issues for quite a length of time, and there will be more discussion in days and weeks to come.

REPORTER: All right. Thank you for your time.