THURSDAY, 7 MARCH 2019
SUBJECT/S: Wages policy; Christmas Island; Greg Hunt; government division on energy policy.
GED KEARNEY, MEMBER FOR BATMAN: Good morning everybody, thanks for coming. I'm Ged Kearney, I'm the Federal Member for Batman soon to be called Cooper, and I'm here today with the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten at the Reservoir Level Crossing Removal; a great piece of infrastructure that the community absolutely loves, has created good steady jobs and will benefit the community here in my electorate.
But we are here today talking to workers about a really pressing issue for Australian people and that is the stagnation of wages in this country. Everything else is going up; prices are going up, energy costs are going up, the household budgets are under pressure and we're seeing a situation where the national income is rising and profits are expanding, but people's wages are not, and that does put people under pressure in the economy. So I'm very pleased to say that we think this election will be fought on the issue of wages. It is a very important issue, everybody is feeling it from the workers around here in this seat, right across the country, and I'd like to introduce the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten to expand on Labor's policies.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Ged and I acknowledge the great work of the Level Crossing Removal Authority and all the people working to make Melbourne a much more liveable city. I'm here today though to talk about what is one of Australia's biggest problems. The problem is that everything's going up except people's wages. Wherever I travel in Australia people say that the cost of living is going up, the energy bills are going up, the patient rebate for Medicare has been frozen for years, the out-of-pocket costs of going to see a doctor or a specialist is going up and up, private health insurance is becoming a luxury item. So on one hand everything's going up, but on the other hand wages are stagnating.
We've seen in the last 12 months alone that wages are moving at about two per cent, and if you took out public sector wages it would be under two per cent. So wages moving about two per cent in Australia in the last year, everything's going up, but corporate profits have gone up nearly 10 per cent. So some people in Australia are doing very well, thank you very much. It just doesn't happen to be the bulk of the Australian people, the millions of Australians who go to work every day as subcontractors, as small business people, as workers in this country.
Labor believes that the next election within the next two and a half months will be a referendum on wages. The economy is not doing as well as it should. It's not doing as well as it should because that vice that Australian families are stuck in, the vice on one hand of cost of living going up, and on the other hand of wages stagnating, means that more Australians than ever are dipping into household savings to pay the fortnightly bills. It means that more Australians are living in part, on their credit card just for the day to day essentials. So Labor wants to see a minimum wage in Australia which is a living wage.
People who work full time in Australia should earn enough money that it means that they're not living in poverty. $18.93 for an Australian adult working full-time - $18.93 for an Australian adult working full-time is not enough. We need to have a country where our minimum wage is a wage that you can live on. Now Labor's got some policies and plans to do that, but a core principle is that Australian adults doing full-time work should be able to earn enough money which means that they can actually not be living in poverty. We want to restore the penalty rates for people who have had them arbitrarily cut in retail and hospitality. We want to make sure that women in Australia are paid the same as men. We want to clamp down on dodgy labour hire and abuse of subcontracting arrangements which see subbies left holding the bill when the company directors don't pay them what they're owed, and they ride off into the sunset. We want to make sure that casuals in this country have a fair go and we want to have a minimum wage which is a living wage, and we want to clamp down on wages theft and the exploitation of temporary guest workers which undermines living conditions and wages for everyone in Australia.
We're happy to take any questions people might have.
JOURNALIST: On the living wage, the ACTU has previously said they’d like to see 60 per cent of the national median wage, so the living wage is pegged to that - is that something you would like to see or have you got a different policy?
SHORTEN: Well my policy on the minimum wage is that it should be a living wage. I start from a core principle, and I defy the government to disagree with me on this principle. No Australian adult should have a full-time job where their wage is not enough to keep them out of poverty. We should have a minimum wage which is a living wage. The cost of living has been going up. The reality is that for young people it's harder than it's ever been to be able to buy their first home. The reality is that energy prices are out of control because we've got a government who can't control energy prices because they hate renewable energy. We've got a government who's made such massive cuts to our health care system that for Australians, middle and working class Australians out- of- pocket costs for health care are just too expensive. In terms of the process to resolve a living wage, that should be done by the independent umpire the Fair Work Commission. But we need to have very clear guidelines which state that a minimum wage for an adult working full time should be sufficient to lift them out of poverty not keep them in poverty.
JOURNALIST: Will you announce a wages policy before the election. If so, when?
SHORTEN: We've announced a wages policy, we've been unveiling parts of it for the last 18 months. This government doesn't have a wages policy, I mean - sorry, let me rephrase that. if you're the Chairman of the ABC or the CEO of the ABC, they'll give you $1.5 million to go away, But for the rest of Australia, they don't have a wages policy.
Some of the features of our wages policy; we want to restore the penalty rates which have been cut arbitrarily, that's going to help over 700,000 people. We want to see women who work in predominantly feminised industries - that's industries where women make up the vast bulk of the work force, we want to review their wages to see them get a lift, because historically we haven't valued women's work in the same way we value the work of Australian men. We want to clamp down on the treatment of subcontractors by dodgy directors, that'll help lift the wages for small businesses and and subcontractors. We want to clamp down on the abuse of labour hire, which is leading to a race to the bottom in the payment of people and their commissions. We want to reverse and tackle wages theft which has been an ongoing endemic problem in parts of Australian industry, where people are simply not getting paid even the minimums that they're meant to get paid. We want to make sure that there's less abuse of temporary guest labour and the use of dodgy visas to bring people in from overseas, exploit them and lower local wages and conditions. And today we're also saying that we want the minimum wage to be a living wage. This is a wages policy, and the reason why we need a wages policy is because everything is going up in Australia except people's wages and the economy is not firing. The government ran a massive scare campaign on Tuesday, then the Prime Minister ran away to Christmas Island on Wednesday to avoid facing the music. The reality is for Australians their medical costs are up, they're having to dip into household savings to make ends meet. I want to see an economy which is managed in the interests of working and middle class Australians not the top end of town.
JOURNALIST: On Christmas Island, have you been briefed on how it's going to work on the Medevac -
SHORTEN: The government - listen, we all know the government's making it up on the run. When it comes to keeping strong borders, Labor will keep strong borders and we'll have regional processing. But it is beyond a joke, that the Prime Minister of Australia flies to the furtherest part of what is technically Australia, to run a scare campaign. Do you know that photo opportunity which the Prime Minister took Australia on yesterday, cost $2000 a minute. I'm here today talking to workers in Australia, saying that I don't think that $18 per hour is enough for a full-time, job for an adult to be able to get by on. I'm focused on the workers, I'm focused on small business and subcontractors, I'm focused on tackling cost of living and getting things moving, this Prime Minister's focused on photo opportunities at $2000 a minute.
JOURNALIST: You're making the call that $18.60 isn't enough, but then you won't say what is enough to make a living.
SHORTEN: What I've done is I've explained to you the process. Wages should be in the first instance set by the independent umpire, the Fair Work Commission. I have made it very clear and I'm happy to repeat it because it's a very important concept, that we need a minimum wage, which means that for an adult working full time they're not stuck in poverty. We used to think that stuff happened in America, the idea that you had to have three jobs, that you couldn't - you had to rely on tips, that you wouldn't get health insurance. You know, we used to think that was what happened in America. But the reality is for more and more Australians they’re in part time work, they're trapped in labour hire arrangements, and they're not getting paid properly and what we're seeing now is something which I never thought I'd see in my lifetime; Australian adults working full time, in some cases holding down two or three jobs and they're still barely coasting around the poverty range. That's not the Australia we want our kids to grow up in. This government is chronically incapable of a wages policy. They just say leave it to the market, they don't understand that there's something wrong when corporate profits are up 10 per cent and wages are only up two per cent. This government has no plan. Even when it comes to taxes, Labor has got better, bigger tax refunds for workers up to $120,000 in Australia which is about 10 million people. We're proposing that for a family you know, a married couple perhaps mum working in aged care earning $60,000, dad might be working as a construction labourer earning $90,000 a year, under Labor's Fair a better tax plan this couple will get nearly $2000 back in tax refund every year. But this Federal Government, no plan for wages, no plan for energy prices, no plan for health costs and no plan for better, fairer and bigger tax cuts for Australian workers.
JOURNALIST: On energy policy, six Nationals MPs are demanding action from Michael McCormack to put the government's energy policy back on the agenda. What do you make of this in-fighting?
SHORTEN: There they go again, the Coalition fighting each other. You know, I just think that's what the Coalition exists to do, every morning they get out of bed and work out how can they fight each other. It would almost be a joke except that energy prices are absolutely crippling Australian business and Australian household budgets. We have an energy crisis problem, we have a wages problem, we have a health costs problem and this government can only fight themselves. For the record it's worth noting the Coalition have had 11 energy policies. I mean, they've had three Prime Ministers, five Defence Ministers, 11 energy policies and 22 reshuffles. This is a government that lives to fight each other. They're not interested in every day Australian families. So more division, more chaos and the consequence of the government having another fight on energy policies, is that investors won't invest in new renewable energy, in new sources of energy. And when there's not investment in new energy that just means that the price of existing energy goes up and up, and Australian households and small businesses cop it in the neck from a delinquent, distracted and divided government who just aren't interested in the needs of working and middle class people.
JOURNALIST: If there's a vote on this issue in Budget week, what are the changes you would like to see?
SHORTEN: Listen, trying to pick what this government's next energy policy is, you've got more chance of picking the Melbourne Cup and they haven't even announced the runners. There's no point in getting attached to the government's energy policy because by the time you get to know its name and how it works, someone in the government will have changed it. Really, this is a chaotic government. If you are an Australian who wants to see action on climate change, if you are an Australian who wants to see lower energy prices for business or families give up on the government, because they've given up on you. They're too busy fighting each other. This government is chronically paralysed and will for as long as it remains in government, be incapable of taking one energy policy and putting it to the people.
JOURNALIST: Can Labor unseat Ministers like Greg Hunt and Josh Frydenberg?
SHORTEN: The voters will be the only ones who can unseat sitting Ministers. The problem for the Health Minister is he's basically become a - he's disappeared, because he knows that his ruthless push to get himself the Deputy Prime Minister's job meant that he had to support Peter Dutton, arguably Australia's most unpopular politician for good reason. You know this, the Member for Flinders divided his government, tore down Malcolm Turnbull, helped force Julie Bishop to resign. So no doubt the people in Flinders are saying what are you on about.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there could be a repeat of the state results federally here in Victoria?.
SHORTEN: The outcome of the election will be decided by the Australian people. But what I do know is that wherever I travel in Australia, I get a couple of common sentiments, doesn't matter if it's the tip of Cape York to the bottom of Tasmania, from around Sydney Harbour all the way to the beaches of Perth. What I hear from the Australian people is this. They say Bill we’re sick of the instability. We're sick of politicians fighting each other about themselves and not concentrating on us. You know, I get lifelong Liberals saying they don't agree with everything Labor is saying, but they do acknowledge that Labor is united, that we're stable and we're being upfront with the people putting the full range of our views. What Australian people want out of Australian politics is for one Prime Minister to be there for three years, to say what you're going to do and do what you say, and to make sure that we focus on the people. The other issue I hear wherever I travel is, what are you going to do about the fact that everything's going up except our wages? Labor's got better tax cuts, better plans to reverse the cuts to hospitals and schools, a fairer deal for Australians with better tax cuts for 10 million workers, and we're going to take real action on energy and renewable energy and climate -something this government just can't do.
JOURNALIST: The Greens are threatening to launch the biggest protests Australia's ever seen if the Morrison Government signs off on two new coal-fired power plants in New South Wales. What do you make of the plan?
SHORTEN: I'd say to the Greens, don't book your busses. What we see is that most investors aren't interested in spending a whole lot of money on new coal-fired power station without massive taxpayer subsidies. A government I lead is not going to invest taxpayer money in uncommercial, unenvironmental new coal-fired power stations.
JOURNLAIST: Just back on Christmas Island, the government yesterday said that any new arrivals will go to Christmas Island for processing and then on to Nauru. Is that a policy that you would continue in government?
SHORTEN: The government just want to talk about this because they haven't got a wages policy, I’m not going to fall for that trick. Under Labor - strong borders, we will properly make sure that our Defence Force and Border Force are fully resourced, unlike the current government's actions. But we all know why the government is talking about this issue. We know why they're talking about this issue, it's because they haven't got a wages policy, they don't have an energy policy, they don't have a climate policy, they don't have a Medicare policy, and they don't even like each other.
JOURNALIST: Why have you decided today to come to a State Government funded project to announce what you want to do as Prime Minister, if you were elected?
SHORTEN: The workers of Australia can work for state projects, they can work for the private sector, they can work for the federal government. But what I'm saying to all Australian workers and contractors and small businesses is that I will be, I will lead a government for all Australians. I'll work with business, I'll work with unions, I'll work with workers, I'll work with farmers, but I won't work for any particular section of Australia. What we need to do in this country is start working together. The current government's always telling you why you shouldn't like someone, why you have got to be afraid of a minority, why you've got to be fearful about you know, agreeing with other people's points of view. I have a different view about how Australia works. When Australia is working together, when we're co-operating, when we compromising, when we're listening to all points of view, that generally produces a better outcome. Make no mistake I have got very clear views and values about what we should do. I have a view that when Australians are getting a fair go all round, when we're properly funding our schools and hospitals, when we're making sure that we're driving down - making sure that we're driving down pressure on cost of living , when we've got good wages, that's good. But how we do these things, I'm prepared to listen to the point of view of workers of small businesses, of farmers, of pensioners, of people in business. This country works best when we work together. This current government can't even work with themselves. It's time for a change.