THURSDAY, 14 MARCH 2019
SUBJECTS: Fair Work Commission; climate policy wages; foreign fighthers; student strike; Jason O’Mara; fundraising;
TIM WATTS, MEMBER FOR GELLIBRAND: Good morning. My name's Tim Watts I'm the Federal Member for Gellibrand in Melbourne's west. I'm really pleased to be here at Braybrook today with Labor's candidate for the new federal electorate of Fraser, Daniel Mulino and the leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party, the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten.
We've been here today taking a tour of this modern facility, adapting to the changing global economy and talking to the Australian workers on the floor here who are adapting to that change too. I was struck talking to these workers though that just up the road from this site, a couple of kilometres away is the old Sunshine Harvester factory. That sunshine Harvester factory was a site of one of the really big industrial relations decisions in Australian history. It was a decision that said that in Australia you don't just pay workers as little as you can get away with. It was a decision that defined the kind of nation that Australia became. It set up Australia as the working man's paradise in the first half of the 20th century.
The upcoming federal election will be a referendum on wages. It will be one of those decisions that shapes the kind of country that Australia is. On the one hand you have the Morrison government who just in recent weeks owned up to deliberately pursuing a strategy to keep Australian workers’ wages down in Australia. A government with a record of years of voting against penalty rates for Australian workers, voting to cut penalty rates for Australian workers. On the other hand, you've got the Shorten Labor Opposition who is committed to wages growth for Australian workers, who's outlined policies to push wages up for Australian workers.
We understand that in Australia everything is going up except for wages. It needs to change and we need a change of government to do it. That's why I'm really proud that Bill Shorten is coming here today to talk about wages for Australian workers in Melbourne's west. Thanks Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Tim, and it's great to be doing an event in my own electorate of Maribyrnong. I'm here of course with my neighbouring MP, Tim Watts and exciting new federal Labor candidate for the seat of Fraser in Melbourne's west Daniel Mulino.
This week the ABS has revealed that record numbers of Australian wage earners have to now have a second job just to make ends meet. The ABS has dramatically revealed this week, that one million Australian wage earners now have to have a second job just to make ends meet. How did it come to be, that after record corporate profits in the last few years, from 2016, major Australian corporations and Australian corporations recorded 45 per cent corporate profits, wages are only increasing over that time by a total of 8 per cent across the last four years. How is it that under this current government we now have the problem of wages stagnation. Everywhere I go in Australia from the top end of Tasmania from Western Australia right through to Sydney, wherever I go people say to me -Bill everything is going up except our wages.
This is a problem. We now have wages stagnation and it's a problem for everybody. When millions of Australian wage earners are experiencing record low wage growth then everybody suffers. When millions of Australians literally have to get a second job just to make ends meet then the economy is not working in the interests of everyday Australians. And when millions of Australians are experiencing low wages growth then everybody suffers. Sixty per cent of the Australian economy is consumption. That means that what people spend is fundamental as an engine room in the Australian. But when people are experiencing, when millions of wage earners, are experiencing little or no wages growth then what happens is the entire economy’s confidence contracts.
Mr Morrison, not only has done nothing about wages, but he's proud that he's done nothing about wages. Mr Morrison is long overdue to outline to Australians his wages policy, not a policy on something else but a wages policy. Labor is united in our focus that everything is going up except wages. We know that we can't do everything. We know that whatever we do is got to balance against the needs of right across the economy. But we need to get something done. I acknowledge that Australian households are doing it tough. The people I met in the aisles here, they've got good jobs here and we congratulate the company and the workforce for what they're doing. But a lot of people are finding it hard to make ends meet, as energy prices are up, out-of-pocket costs to see the doctor up, and of course we've got wages stagnation.
Mr Morrison voted eight times to cut penalty rates . Eight occasions Mr Morrison's had the opportunity to support restoring people's penalty rates which were arbitrarily cut by the Fair Work Commission. Mr Morrison has no wages plan for Australians. The Liberals are only interested in looking after their mates at the top end of town.
Only Labor has a policy to make sure that we get wages moving again, for restoring penalty rates, for clamping down on dodgy labour hire through protecting subcontractors from exploitative practices. We are determined to roll up our sleeves and help millions of Australian wage earners do a little better than they're doing now. Mr Morrison, he has no plan for millions of Australian wage earners. He's got a plan for bigger banks not better wages.
We're happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Yes, so Mr Shorten given your stated support for a living wage does Labor support the ACTU claim for a $43 a week increase in the minimum wage?
SHORTEN: Labor will outline more of our approach on the minimum wage in coming days. We're not committing to a particular number and whilst the unions are entitled to make a claim they see fit, that's not our position. But where we have a common position is that the minimum wage should be higher than what it is now, and what we're going to do to improve people's wages is through a raft of practical and real measures. We want to restore the penalty rates which were arbitrarily cut. We want to make sure that labour hire workers who work alongside in-house workers of companies and businesses are paid the same rate of pay. We want to make sure that subcontractors who are the backbone of the Australian economy don't get ripped off by dodgy directors. We want to make sure that temporary visa workers in Australia are not being exploited. We want to stop wages theft occurring across businesses where workers are being systematically ripped off and we want to make sure that Australian women when they go to work, get paid the same as Australian men. This is measures for our wages policy and we'll have more to say about other aspects of our wages policy as we get closer to an election.
JOURNALIST: Can you explain in simple terms how wages would be higher under Labor?
SHORTEN: Penalty rates would be restored. Pay equity cases in feminised industries, we'll make sure that women get a better deal equivalent to their male counterparts in other industries. We'll make sure that labour hire workers when they work alongside in-house workers in the media, in the airline industry, in warehousing, in retail, get paid the same as the people they work alongside who are directly employed by the company. What we'll also do is we’ll look after subcontractors. There's too much corporate insolvency in Australia where company directors are paid money to do work, they have promised the subcontractor who does the work for them that they'll get reimbursed - but what happens is the company director leaves town, doesn't pay the debts owed to the subcontractor. So they are all practical measures to make sure that we can lift wages.
Now I notice Mr Morrison saying that somehow if you lift the wages of people that's an economic disaster. When is it ever a good time for a Liberal to support a wage rise? For the last four years we've seen corporate profits go up 45 per cent, wages only move by eight per cent over the last four years. Why is that Mr Morrison isn't outraged by that. Why do Liberals worry about what a retail worker or a bank worker or a hospital worker get, you know they worry about that, about you know, some extra dollars each week for them. But you never hear them out marching in the streets complaining about the wages at the top end of town.
In Australia we want corporations to be profitable, we want business to do well. But we've always had a view in Australia since the foundation of our nation that if you do a fair day's work you get a fair day's pay. That's becoming less and less real.
In the total wealth created in this country we're seeing an increasing share go to corporate profits and less to the wage earners, the millions of wage earners who create it.
Mr Morrison likes to pretend that somehow if you look after millions of wage earners that's bad for the nation. He doesn't get the basic economics of it. When millions of Australian wage earners are getting you know, reasonable and modest increases in their pay. That means they have more money to spend. This last Christmas we've seen very disappointing retail numbers. That's because Australians are spending more of their household savings they're relying more on the credit card and they're not getting reasonable wage rises. Under the Liberals some people do very well, the big end of town. The problem is that for millions of Australian wage earners they haven't been sharing in the fairness. There's nothing wrong for Australian economic life to see millions of wage earners get a fair go.
JOURNALIST: You said you would change legislation to set the minimum wage, would that legislation enable you to direct the Fair Work Commission?
SHORTEN: Oh no we want, the way wages, the way that the award wages get set is that the independent umpire sets them. But what happens is that the independent umpire has guidelines in their principals they apply to look at the evidence. It's completely standard business for national governments to from time to time update the guidelines that we give to the independent umpire.
Again, why is this government so scared of looking after millions of Australian wage earners? You know they've been hot to trot to give an $80 billion tax cut to corporate Australia but you don't see them working up a sweat about the millions of Australian wage earners who've had little or no pay rises over the last few years.
The problem in Australia is we have low wages growth which is leading to a decline in economic confidence. The problem in Australia is that everything is going up except your wages. Do you know in the last five and a half years since the current bunch have been in power the average out of pocket cost to go and see a GP has gone up 25 per cent.
The average out of pocket cost to see a specialist has gone up 40 per cent, opening your energy bills is almost like a feat of lion taming, you don't know what's going to spring out of it in the way of an increased price. Yet this Government's got no policy to decrease their energy costs so the cost of living is going up.
Ask all the parents who had to do the return to school costs at the beginning of this year. Ask all the parents who are getting increasing bills from their schools including government schools about the basics. Ask any pensioner trying to work out their medical costs or get their prescription medication. Why is Mr Morrison missing in action on wage stagnation. Why does Mr Morrison not only do nothing about lifting wages but he's proud of the fact he's doing nothing. Why did he vote eight times to stop Labor restoring people's penalty rates?
JOURNALIST: Does the Fair Work Commission remain the independent umpire if the guidelines have been tweaked by the Coalition Government?
SHORTEN: The Fair Work Commission is subject to the legislation of the Parliament, the Parliament is sovereign and I think we've had a very good system in Australia which has worked better than not over previous decades. Australia was very proud of making sure that working people in this country got a fair go. I mean, we don't want to go down the American path where everyone's on day-hire. Where you've got to hope that your health insurance is paid by the employer otherwise you go without proper health care.
We've got a good safety net in this country but what's happening is that it's under more and more pressure. Cost of living is a real issue. Everyone promised, the Liberals promised Australia and the Nationals, they said if corporations do well they will generously share the benefits of their extra profits with the workers of Australia. What they said is the reason why corporations should get an $80 billion corporate tax cut is not only will corporations make more profit but Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison promised Australians that when companies are making a lot more money, magic it's all going to be passed on to the workers in wage rises.
Well that fairy tale didn't have a happy ending, that is not what's happened in Australia. What's happened is we've seen corporate profits go up. The exact Liberal experiment which promises millions of wage earners - corporations profits go up, everything will be alright, it will all trickle down to you in the form of better wages. That hasn't happened.
We can't just leave it to the generosity of the top end of town to look after millions of wage earners can we.
JOURNALIST: So you are satisfied with the capacity of Fair Work to set wage rises?
SHORTEN: Yes, I am satisfied in the general they are. You know once every 20 years they get it wrong, they got the penalty rates decision wrong, 25 years ago they didn't want to introduce superannuation in awards and a Labor Government had to legislate to create superannuation. But I think having an independent process based upon evidence is the way to go.
As a general rule it has served Australian workplaces and flexibility and productivity very well but we have a problem in Australia at the moment. Corporate profits going up and up and up. The price of the cost of living is going up and up, health costs, energy costs but wages - wages haven't been invited to that party, they are stagnating at the moment.
JOURNALIST: So back to changing those guidelines then what would that like? Would the Fair Work Commission still retain that independence?
JOURNALIST: But how, what would it look like, how would you change it?
SHORTEN: The Fair Work Commission is a creature of legislation. So parliament's pass laws, we want an independent umpire but can we go back to what the real issue is here. This government has never seen a wage rise they support for millions of Australians. You know, they'll do - they'll talk about anything else, they'll promise practically anything else, but they don't have a wages policy. So what we say very clearly is that everything is going up in Australia except people's wages. We acknowledge that's real, we can't fix every problem but we can and we should do something about wages. That's why we're going to reverse the penalty rate cuts. That's why we're going to crack down on dodgy labour hire and some of the other measures that we've discussed to some of your previous questions.
JOURNALIST: Just on energy, Labor has pledged an economy-wide 45 per cent emissions cut, but cuts are easier to make in energy. Will you rule out a higher emissions target on energy than 45 per cent to allow lower targets in transport and agriculture?
SHORTEN: We will have more to say about our climate policy the closer we get to an election. Certainly, what we have already said is that we want to see 50 per cent of our energy mix by 2030 coming from renewables. I make no apologies for backing a new technology over the old technology, I make no apologies for saying that we should be much better at utilising solar power and wind power as part of our energy mix, there will be fossil fuels in our energy mix going forward and they will be part of our exports going forward. But Australia can't live in the past. We can't keep telling everyone that - what this Government's essentially trying to do is tell people that you don't have to change. But the Australian people want to see action on climate change.
Did you know that two million Australian households already have solar panels? What we want to do is expand the role of batteries to store that energy. So we'll have more to say about our emissions policy as we go forward, closer to the election.
JOURNALIST: But do you rule out a 45 per cent target for transport and agriculture?
SHORTEN: Well I did say that we'll have more to say about our energy policy going forward. And certainly, I think the Government's been in power for now the best part of six years. Did you know they're on their 12th energy policy? The Government needs to be upfront with the Australian people before the election. Are they going to invest in new coal fired power technology? Are they going to invest in new coal fired power plants?
So we will talk more about our climate policy, there's still another 65 days to the election- who's counting? - but we certainly will have more to say.
JOURNALIST: The workers here at Woolies are on an EBA not the minimum wage. What would you do to boost their wages?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, whilst they're on the EBA, the EBA for the penalty rates is drawn from the award, so the award is still relevant. So our reversal of penalty rate cuts will lead to a pay rise for workers.
Beyond that, I'll tell you what else we’ll do for these workers; when they go and see the doctor, they'll get a bigger patient rebate. When they go to see their energy bills in the future, they'll have a better chance to have lower energy bills because we will tackle their energy costs through more renewable energy. When they do their tax at tax time, they're going to get a bigger better tax cut of $928 dollars each year. They're solid measures: bigger better tax cuts for the workers here, we will reverse their penalty rates cut because actually, the EBA here does use the award as its basis, but we will also help get down their cost of living. Also, because we going properly fund schools and hospitals, their cost of living going to be a lot cheaper when it comes to education. If some of these workers want to go to TAFE, we're going to pay their upfront fees. If some of them want to go to university, there'll be more university places available.
So I think when you look at it, we're the party of working and middle class Australia. We're also going to make it easier to get to work by investing in public transport in Melbourne. Really, the list goes on and on, the things we're going to do for working and middle class wage earners in this country.
JOURNALIST: Just back on energy, I've asked you this before and you said you were consulting. Is there any update on if Labor does win the election, will it be using carbon credits from Kyoto Protocol?
SHORTEN: Kyoto carry-over credits? No, my answer hasn't changed from the last time.
But again, fair enough people want to know about climate policy. We're working on that. We'll have plenty to say before the election.
Climate policy in this country though, shouldn't be the deal breaker it is for the Government that it is. Really, they got rid of Mr Turnbull because he wanted to have a bipartisan approach on climate policy. We're committed to working that through.
JOURNALIST: Any time frame on that?
SHORTEN: Well before the next election.
JOURNALIST: It is rapidly approaching.
SHORTEN: Yes, I do - like you, I wish the Government would call the election.
JOURNALIST: Just finally, do you agree with Michael Daley saying that students should be allowed to skip school for those climate change rallies?
SHORTEN: Listen, kids are allowed to have an opinion. In an ideal world, they would protest after school hours or on weekends.
But it's a bit rich of the Government to lecture school kids for going on strike about climate. This Government's been on strike about climate policy for the last five and a half years. They really are not the best role models for the kids on climate policy, are they?
Last two or three questions.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, I just wanted to ask you about children caught up in the Syria -
SHORTEN: Oh yes, the foreign fighters.
JOURNALIST: And if their parents are foreign fighters. What do you think should happen to them should? Shouldn't they be allowed back in Australia?
SHORTEN: I feel for the kids. I don't have the same sympathy for the parents who've taken them into a war-zone to fight in a war zone, especially to fight on the ISIS side. Listen, I do feel for the kids and the extended family. We will work with the Government on this. But people who go overseas to fight in foreign wars, especially but not just limited to that ISIS cause, they get no sympathy from me. But I think the kids are in a different boat, that's really not easy is it?
JOURNALIST: So do you think the children should be allowed to return to Australia?
SHORTEN: Well, we've got to work through. Do you separate kids from their parents? Who's going to look after them? I think the parents though shouldn't use the kids to rationalise. They've gone over there for whatever crazy reason. Now it hasn't worked out the way they thought. And then they want to come back? You don't just get that, you don't - you make your own bed, you've got to lie in it. But I do get that because they've got kids, those kids might have grandparents or aunts and uncles. It is complicated. We will work with the Government. I don't think it's an issue of political point scoring between me and the Government.
But I have no sympathy for the parents. Parents who take their kids to war zones, get no sympathy. What are they thinking? I don't care what their logic is, putting your kids into that sort of situation, just selfish and wrong.
JOURNALIST: The Federal Government's locked away $3 billion dollars in funding for the east-west link. If you win government, what would you like to see done with that money and have you spoken to Dan Andrews about it?
SHORTEN: Listen, this Government has locked away money for a road project which isn't going to happen in the foreseeable future according to the Andrews Government. So I just think that's the ultimate in you know, sort of pettiness. If the Federal Government can't convince Daniel Andrews to do it, Daniel Andrews has been to an election and said he wasn't going to do it. Why don't the Federal Government climb down off their high horse and free up some infrastructure money for Victorians and Melburnians in the way which has been voted on at the state election. I think the Metro rail projects are fantastic. I'm pleased that we're doing an airport link - that's long overdue.
But I think the more that we can do to give public transport options to road users in Melbourne, the better Melbourne will be. Melbourne's getting too congested but one of the reasons it's congested is because we've got a Federal Government fighting, you know, the 2014 state election yet again with Dan Andrews.
The federal Liberals have got to get over themselves and get onside with Victorians. Did you know that the federal Liberals spend about 10 cents in every dollar nationally on infrastructure in Victoria? That's hopeless. They've got a very anti-Victoria mindset.
JOURNALIST: Do they throw the $3 billion to the Metro Tunnel?
SHORTEN: Well, we'll talk with Dan Andrews about the best use of that.
If I become Prime Minister of Australia, I'm not going to try and score points off another level of government. What we want is more cooperation - cooperation in workplace relations, cooperation in health care, cooperation in school funding, cooperation on climate change and cooperation in transport.
JOURNALIST: Jason O'Mara, the head of the CFMMEU in Canberra has had his house shot at while he and his family was inside. What -
SHORTEN: Yeah listen, I've heard about that. I deplore any violence. Doesn't matter if it's an illegality, in the workplace, in the home or indeed, I deplore illegality in corporate suites and the banks. So I don't know any more about it. The police investigating.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly, will you be attending the Dick Pratt funding dinner?
SHORTEN: The Democrat? Sorry.
JOURNALIST: Dick Pratt -
SHORTEN: I go to heaps of fundraising, it is an occupational hazard of my job.