Bill's Transcripts

DOORSTOP - Queen Victoria Women’s centre, Melbourne

Queen Victoria Women’s centre, Melbourne
31 May 2013

SUBJECTS: Fitted for Work – Funding Announcement, Election 2013, asbestos safety

BILL SHORTEN:       Good morning everyone. It's great to be here at Fitted for Work with Labor's candidate for Melbourne, Cath Bowtell, who has been very involved in supporting women get back into work. Fitted for Work is a remarkable Australian innovation. Twelve-and-a-half thousand women from all sorts of backgrounds have received assistance to make sure that they are work-ready, and that they have the confidence to re-enter and engage in the workforce. What this shows me is that there's Australians who are generously donating their suits and clothes to help other Australian women to be able to re-enter the workforce. Work is important to breaking entrenched poverty, but work is important also emotionally to people. It's important also for people's identity. It's important also for the families of women looking for work, that their families see that their mum is recognised for all the qualities which families love in their mothers.

Today in Fitted for Work I'm very pleased to announce that the Federal Government will be providing an $150,000 to support the work, so that Fitted for Work, which is operating in Sydney and in Melbourne, and in Morwell, can also provide assistance for women looking for work in Western Sydney for the Blue Mountains region, for the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne and the north-western suburbs of Melbourne as well. We know that employees of the future in the jobs of the future in Australia come in all shapes and sizes and ages. The message I receive when I visit Fitted for Work is that there's a lot of women who, given a little bit of confidence and some much needed emotional support, will be able to fulfil all the qualities and capacities which we know they have and which their own families know they have. So it is a remarkable effort by Jane and her team of volunteers, who really help get a lot of women just back on track to help fulfil what they have got going for them, which is a lot of good things. Happy to take any questions.

REPORTER:  Minister, I'm wondering, where do you stand on the Labor pre-selection in Batman? Do you support David Feeney in that contest?

BILL SHORTEN:       Just before we get into pre-selection matters, are there any questions on Fitted for Work or any of the work here, and then I'm happy to go to any other matter. If there aren't, if people are happy with the work that Fitted for Work are doing, the very same conclusion I have…

REPORTER:  I think we're all very impressed Minister. We apologise, it's a really impressive outfit.

BILL SHORTEN:       Okay. There'll be a pre-selection Batman, there'll be a local vote, I'm sure there'll be very good candidates nominated. We should remember that Martin Ferguson has been a remarkable contributor to Labor, both in his role as a Member of Parliament from 1996, and his time beforehand as an advocate for working people as a trade union representative. In terms of what happens, we'll leave that to the locals to decide who they pick, but there'll be a local process, and I'm sure that Labor will emerge with a very strong candidate who will carry on the good work that Martin Ferguson did for so many years.

REPORTER:  There will also be a head office process, the Public Office Selection Committee. Where do you stand on that? Do you support David Feeney? You had a falling out a while ago.

BILL SHORTEN:       Oh listen, we're going to let the locals have their pre-selection. For me what's important in the lead-up to the next few months and the Federal election, is Labor will have a very good candidate in Batman and if Senator Feeney is successful, I think he will make an outstanding contribution, as he already does, and I am close to him, and he would be a very good representative for Batman. But the issues of this election are things which are the voters in Batman and indeed all the voters in Australia are looking for, is they're looking for a choice about the future, and the choice is very clear. Labor stands for jobs and growth, with better schools, National Disability Insurance Scheme. We also make sure that governments don't interfere with superannuation savings of Australians. It is alarming and concerning that the Abbott Coalition conservatives are seeking to put a great, big, new tax on the superannuation contributions of three-and-a-half million low-paid Australians.

Here we are at Fitted for Work. Women here will get the opportunity to go and work part-time perhaps, as a result of working here. What they don't know is that if Tony Abbott is elected, they'll be paying more tax on their superannuation than they would be if Julia Gillard is re-elected Prime Minister of Australia. The women who come here looking for help and support don't need a great, big, new tax on their superannuation contributions. Most women have broken periods of service because of raising families. In some cases women don't get paid the same as men, so they haven't accumulated the same superannuation balances, and what an outcome. On September the fifteenth, if they wake up and you've got Tony Abbott putting in a great, big, new tax on the superannuation contributions, a fifteen per cent tax on the contributions that people pay, that women pay into their superannuation, so they can have a dignified retirement.

REPORTER:  So what about Ged Kearney as a candidate? What would you think about that?

BILL SHORTEN:       Oh, I've said all I'm going to say about the Batman pre-selection. It's up to the locals. But what I do know, is whoever the Labor candidates in pre-selection are, they're all against Tony Abbott's great, big, new tax on superannuation. It is important I think, that we recognise that there's three-and-a-half million Australians who earn less than $37,000. Three-and-a-half million, and of that three-and-a-half million, sixty per cent, or about two point one million are women. So you've got a lot of Australians who don't earn a lot of money but they work every day to make this the best country in the world. Why on earth should they pay a new fifteen per cent tax on their superannuation? At the same time you've got the Abbott conservative Coalition wanting to give a tax refund to the richest mining companies in the world.  The Opposition have got their priorities all wrong. They want to give tax money back to giant mining multinationals but they want to put a new fifteen per cent tax - not a ten per cent tax. It's fifty per cent larger than the GST.

Those people in the Opposition want to tax low-paid workers, three-and-a-half million people, an extra fifteen per cent on their superannuation, and in the end if people don't have enough money to retire on, we'll all pay higher taxes because we've still got to pay the age pension to people. The Abbott Opposition don't like low-paid Australians getting good retirement incomes, and the message is, hands off our superannuation Tony Abbott.

REPORTER:  Could I ask you a question about your portfolio please? Will you be moving to broaden the scope for arbitration in the legislation that's now before Parliament?

BILL SHORTEN:       The Fair Work Act has delivered for Australian workplaces. Productivity - labour productivity is up in the last seven quarters. Industrial action, lost time action is far lower than it was in the Howard years. We are seeing new jobs being created in Australia. So if you look at jobs, if you look at productivity, if you look at industrial action, the Fair Work Act is distinctly and measurably as a matter of fact and record, outperforming the terrible WorkChoices legislation which the Abbott Government previously, when John Howard was the leader, put in place. What we do want to see in our amendments to the Fair Work Act, is we want to see the ability of families to be able to have a right to request more flexible work arrangements. We want to tackle the scourge of workplace bullying. We want to make sure that people who have been the victims of domestic violence can claim leave so they can get their lives together as best you can, and not risk consequences for their employment as well.

We're also determined to make sure that the law of the jungle doesn't prevail in workplace relations. Where there are long, terrible, intractable disputes, I, like all Australians, when you see these rare events - admittedly rare events - we want to see them be able to be brought to an end. So yes, the Government is interested in making sure that we have laws which prioritise cooperation over conflict, which prioritise profitability, productivity and a fair go all round, over needless conflict.

REPORTER:  So that's a yes, there will be changes to the…

BILL SHORTEN:       You'll see it from our amendments next week, but it's important that I take the opportunity to explain why the Government thinks what we do, the problems that we're seeking to solve. I do not believe in an Australia where it's winner take all, where you have long, multi-hundred-day disputes, where you see intractable arguments with people stuck in their trenches and not resolving matters. I know that in the long-term interest of Australian enterprises, flexibility, profitability, productivity and fair go all round, we need to make sure that there are safety valves to seek the assistance of third parties when clearly there is no resolution other than ongoing, mindless industrial conflict.

REPORTER:  There are six hundred workers picketing at a meat processing centre near Brisbane today. The union says they can see the industry going the same way as the car manufacturing industry in Australia. What are your views on that?

BILL SHORTEN:       Well, I for one am not going to run up the white flag on the Australian manufacturing sector. The news at Ford was terrible, and that is why we are working - at least we have some advanced notice of it. So that's why we will work with and stand alongside the small enterprises and businesses who may be affected, and the employees at Ford, both from Broadmeadows and Geelong. Having said that, that’s twelve hundred direct jobs in 2016 which have been announced to be affected. Manufacturing employs over nine-hundred thousand smart, clever Australians. The Australian manufacturing sector has been buffeted by having a high dollar, but that dollar is coming down.

There are many success stories in Australian manufacturing, and whilst I can't - time doesn't permit to list them all - visit Bertocchi in Thomastown and have a look at their food processing business. Have a look at what Boeing is doing in Port Melbourne. There are plenty of success stories in Australian manufacturing. So when we talk about the meat industry, it is difficult. But what I also know, is that Australia is a food producer.  We can be a food producer.  We have the largest food market in the world growing in Asia and there are a lot of success stories in terms of our food production industry.  So we will keep listening to the meatworks companies.  We will listen to stakeholders such as the unions representing employees.  But we are putting in place measures to ensure that the nine hundred thousand Australians who work in manufacturing can be reassured that the Labor Government supports manufacturing.

Goodness only knows what would happen to manufacturing if the opposite side got in.  They don't have a policy on manufacturing.  They want to give up on the car industry.  They don't support the steel industry like we do.  They certainly are missing in action on the aluminium industry.  So when it comes to runs on the board, one, manufacturing has got a good story to tell, two, the high currency has had a negative impact but it's coming down and three, this government's got the back of Australian manufacturing through our skills development, through our support for manufacturing and we certainly are not giving up.

REPORTER:             What about the NBN rollout and the asbestos scares - where do you think that's at?  Does that put a big stop on it or where does it leave things?

BILL SHORTEN:       This is a very important issue and I thank you for raising it.  As a Federal Minister who has responsibility for Comcare - that's the Commonwealth Health and Safety Regulator, I have asked Comcare to intervene with Telstra to assist Telstra - fix up Telstra's problems.  We're calling a meeting for Monday, Minister Conroy and myself.  We will ask Telstra to be in attendance, our regulators.  We've also asked unions, stakeholders, victims support groups for asbestos.  Asbestos is a giant scourge in this country.  We cannot afford to be complacent.  The menace that asbestos represents in Australia is not over.

It is not just all those poor men who are exposed at the mining of asbestos or people who are exposed in the manufacturing of asbestos by CSR and James Hardie and others, or the families and the wives who had to clean their overalls - it is a whole generation of Australians at risk.  Through home renovation, through asbestos which is in situ which is currently in place being disturbed and airborne fibres becoming exposed to people - residents and employees and workers.  I empathise and I sympathise with the Penrith residents and David Bradbury who is the local member there has certainly been most active in terms of wanting us to make sure that Telstra does its job properly.  I would not want that happening in my street.

Asbestos - there is no safe level of exposure.  There was a crazy submission from the West Australian mining industry into a recent Senate Committee where it said you can safe levels of exposure to asbestos.  That is dangerous thinking.  So when we come to talk about Telstra and communication pits, one, we're calling all the stakeholders together on Monday because I want to make sure that the voices of everyone who is concerned are not swept under the carpet but in fact addressed.  Two, I've already been in touch David Thodey the CEO of Telstra.  He certainly indicates that he is willing to do everything expected of them to make sure the community concerns are allayed.  But there will be a register established for anyone - anyone who thinks that they have been potentially exposed.

Three, we will be seeking that Telstra commit without having to go through all the legal argy bargy that's so disgraced some of corporate Australia with the handling of James Hardie.  We just want to make sure - and Telstra's record to date has been reasonable on this so I'm not saying that they won't do the right thing - not at all.  But on this we are seeking that Telstra make clear that they will not walk away from any claims - that they will compensate people who may have been exposed.  But four, we're also seeking that there be prioritised audit and removal of asbestos in pits which are involved with the NBN rollout because we believe that Australians should have the safest possible standards.

We'll also seek after our meeting on Monday if further action is required the prioritised audit and removal of pits, any compensation arguments we don't want to have any - turn this into a lawyers' picnic.  We just want Telstra to accept responsibility where it's clear.  And we also do expect that - and they've already started to do this - that they will train their workers properly and they will train contractors properly and there'll be no ifs or buts.  Now Telstra is putting resources into this issue but before we get into arguments about NBN rollout and everything else, let me be very clear.  It is the safety of our residents, it is the safety of our workforce which is paramount.  We want to do things which are best in the world.  If it is not the world's best practice, it will not be good enough in this current set of circumstances.

REPORTER:              The union would like to see a fund set up for workers similar to what was set up for James Hardie workers.  Is that something you would like to look into?

BILL SHORTEN:       Yes I have some sympathy for that position yes and we'll talk about it further on Monday.  I know about asbestos that it is a cruel largely invisible and vicious disease.  I know that six or seven hundred people will die this year, not back in you know twenty years ago - this year over six hundred people will die of mesothelioma.  And I believe for every one person who dies of that nearly another two will die of other lung related diseases which will be connected to asbestos.  I know that and it's not just an issue for Telstra - this is an issue in every home in Australia built between 1945 and the mid-1980s - about one in every three of those houses sorry I should say - may well have asbestos in it.

I do ask those home renovators just suit up, get the right advice, go and get the experts to help you deal with asbestos because it is not worth the hazard.  And if for all those home renovators who think that it couldn't happen to them, just ask yourself how much you love your kids or your wife or your husband?  Because the fibres which get stuck on your overalls, the fibres which become airborne which then your children - in the backyard where your children play it could be that fibres that is the metaphorical board which kills your child or someone you love.

So that is why this government has put through the first ever national legislation on asbestos management.  We are the first government to create an office of asbestos safety.  We will have a national asbestos plan scheduled for 1 July 2013 where we will work with state and local government stakeholders.  Asbestos is not just Telstra's problem - it is a real issue in the whole community.

And what we should try and do is after these completely unsatisfactory developments which we've seen reported about Telstra in some of its pits in Western Sydney, we should take this situation and turn it into the best possible outcome which is Australia and Telstra do world's best practice, get the asbestos out of the pits.  And we use it as a wake-up call to all Australians that asbestos is a silent deadly killer and there are Australians amongst us who have not yet contracted asbestosis who will.  And we should do everything we can to prevent that happening.

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