TUESDAY, 26 MARCH 2019
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan for a living wage; NSW Labor leadership; One Nation; preferences; Morrison’s role in the demise of Turnbull; social media companies
SAM CROSBY, CANDIDATE FOR REID: Hi everyone. Thanks everyone for coming, my name is Sam Crosby, I'm Labor's candidate Reid at the federal election. Firstly I'd just like to say thank you to Lion for hosting us on this tour. I'm sure you've all enjoyed their products over many years but they're fantastic employers. They employ about 200 people right here in the electorate of Reid. So sincere thanks to them for having us along.
We're joined by obviously Bill Shorten, Kristina Keneally and Brendan O'Connor here to talk about the next instalment of the wages policy. A little while ago I was the Concord branch president of the St Vincent de Paul Society, and we would go out and would see people and we'd give them help, we'd give them electricity bill help, or grocery, health or whatever happened to be. And every week that you'd get the electricity bill in the mail it would be an inundation of people coming and asking for your assistance. And it never ceased to amaze me that the people you'd go out and see, would be double income families or sometimes triple income families - they've been working two or three jobs and they couldn't afford to make ends meet. And that's why today's announcement is so important, because it helps those people. I'll hand over to Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks, that was Sam Crosby, Labor's candidate for Reid in the upcoming federal election in about 45, 46 days. This country works best when everyone gets a fair go. Not just the investment banker working in a skyscraper office, but the cleaner who cleans the investment banker’s office at night time. But the problem in Australia is at the moment is that for millions of Australian wage earners, they're experiencing wage stagnation - record low wages growth. When millions of wage earners are experiencing low wages growth - nobody wins.
Now, the government, the Liberals, they're proud of their economic architecture which is delivering low wages growth. They think this is a good thing, and they think they shouldn't do anything about it. Labor has a completely diametrically different view on this. If wages growth is low, well below corporate profits, well below productivity increases, then the system’s broken. We don't think it is good enough to see record low wages growth in Australia. But only Labor has a plan and a wages policy to tackle it.
Today I'm pleased to announce, that Labor wants to see the minimum wage be a living wage, and Brendan O'Connor is going to speak about that in a moment but just a reminder of the other features of our wages policy. One, we want to reverse the arbitrary cuts to penalty rates for those people in hospitality and retail who've had their Sunday and public holiday rates cut without anything to compensate. We have our tradie pay guarantee - we want to make sure that small businesses and contractors stop being ripped off by dodgy bigger companies who don't pay them the money they're due for the work that they've done.
We're very committed also to ensuring the people get the same pay for doing the same job. Casualisation, labour hire, it's a big issue in Australia. Nearly four million people work casual. Nearly a million Australians hold down two jobs. The problem is that labour hire workers can do work with the same skill and capacity as in-house workers, But because the legal identity of the employer's different they get paid far lower. This is unfair on them and it also undermines the job security of the permanent workforce.
We're also going to clamp down on the visa rorts to make sure that when guest workers come in from overseas they're not being exploited, not working at bottom dollar- ripping them off but also undermining the job security of other permanent workers. But today as I said we're unfurling the next stage of our wages policy, making sure the minimum wage of $18.93 per hour, making sure actually it should be a living wage.
Now, I'll get Brendan to talk further about this new announcement and then happy to come back and take some questions.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks Bill, and thanks Sam. It's good to be here at such a good workplace. Unfortunately however, there are workplaces around the country where people are receiving income and they're not really making ends meet. And as Bill has outlined, there's a combination of ways we need to respond to low record wage growth.
In fact it's the lowest wage growth on record and we seen no redress, no response by the government other than to support the ongoing cuts to penalty rates, and the Finance Minister I think made admissions recently to say that the low wages was a deliberate design feature of the economic architecture, which effectively means that the government likes to see wages low - well Labor doesn't. Profits are up and productivity is up in most sectors of the labour market, and that's good. But wages are flat lining, prices are up, household expenditure is rising, out-of-pocket costs in health areas, energy prices are skyrocketing, and yet there are so many people struggling to make ends meet, and something has to be done about it.
We have to do it in a number of ways, and today, we want to see the minimum wage be lifted to a living wage and for that reason we've announced changes to the law, if elected, that will provide the authority of the Fair Work Commission to examine all the factors, but put to ensure that people need not live in poverty, to ensure that we have a safety net, one that allows people to live decently, to pay for the bills, pay for the essentials, and not be struggling so acutely to make ends meet.
Recently this week we've seen the highest number of Australians needing more than one job to make ends meet. We've seen high record underemployment - we've got over one million Australians that cannot find enough work, and we've seen as we’ve said, low wage growth.
Well, the commission will be charged with the responsibility to hear submissions from employers, from unions, from experts, from community groups to define the living wage, and the commission will also be responsible about the timing and the scale of that increase. This is about ensuring that everyone receives the benefits of economic growth, that we are the country of the fair go only if we ensure that everybody is provided a dividend in that growth. And to date, we're not seeing that happening.
So this is an important policy, it's part of an array of policies that Labor has announced to address job insecurity and address wage low growth.
SHORTEN: Thanks Brendan. Are there any questions on this or any other matters?
JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten, 97 per cent of employers in this country are small and medium size. How can you be confident that this policy of lifting the minimum wage won't hurt their viability?
SHORTEN: Evidence. The evidence is that lifting the wage actually will help stimulate economic growth. The reality is that when millions of wage earners are not experiencing wages growth everyone does it hard. Very recently 124 of Australia's most senior professors and doctors of economics in an unprecedented newspaper advertisement actually put an ad out saying we need to get wages moving.
No less a figure than the Governor of the Reserve Bank. They said, the single biggest problem is low wages growth in this country. If people aren't getting wages growth what's happening is they're spending more of their own savings to make ends meet, and you see confidence contracting. The reality is that corporate profits in Australia have gone up 45 per cent in the last four years but wages have only moved by eight percent. Some people are doing very well and a lot of others are missing out. Or to pick another number which I think also tells a story - productivity in this country in the last few years, has gone up four times the rate of wages growth. Internationally, other than Denmark, Australia's productivity growth is second best in the OECD, second best, but our wages growth is only 27 out of a pool of 35 nations. So Australians are working hard, the problem is they're not getting their fair share. The United Kingdom recently increased their lowest wage by 22.5 per cent, and they saw an increase in employment. But what we are saying, and what Brendan outlined, is that there's two stages to our living wage approach. One is, we get everyone in the room together with the independent umpire. The employers, all the economists, the representatives of workers unions, the social agencies the people who see where real disadvantage is in our community and that process will come up with a number. But then there's a second stage under the law which Brendan's outlined.
We get that you've got to roll this out in a way which recognises the capacity of business to pay. So this is not a crash through or crash approach to wages, not the scaremongering we get from these lazy dilatants in governments who don't care about wages growth.
This is sensible, it's measured, it's consultative but it's going to a fundamental truth. That this country can't just be a country where the top end do well and everyone else struggles. You know this country works best when everyone gets a fair go. When it's not just the investment banker in the skyscraper getting the increase in profits but it's the cleaner who cleans that office at the night time where no one sees them working on the low wage - when that person gets a fair go too.
The big challenge in Australia, Philip Lowe knows it from the Reserve Bank, small business, big business, the banks, everyone knows it, households and family knows it. Under the Liberals, everything goes up except your wages. The system isn't working properly and we have a plan to fix it in the interests of everyone.
JOURNALIST: While the corporate profits are up further the endless question for some of those smaller businesses you know maybe their profits aren't going up by 45 per cent so the issues of what they can afford would be real. In your changes to the law would the Fair Work Commission still take into account the state of the economy, the profitability of small businesses or other businesses so the sustainability of the increase would actually be a factor?
SHORTEN: Yes - I feel like just saying the answer to that question is yes, but just to repeat – and I might just Brendan to supplement it. What we're proposing is two steps, the first step is for the commission to determine what a living wage is but I do issue the polite challenge to people here, do you all want to live on $18.93 an hour as an adult trying to pay your mortgage, look after your family? It’s too low but the commission will work that out, that's why we haven't put a number.
They'll consult the experts, this is not a new and radical process, it's just an overdue process. It's getting back to the traditions of Australia where you get everyone around the table. But then there is a second stage and that's why you know, I appreciate your question and Emma's because it is at the heart of the matter. The government will run a scare campaign and say that unless we're paying millions of people no wages growth at all somehow others miss out, that's not right. What we'll do in the second stage is very clear. Is that the commission will have the capacity to consider the timeframe over which improvements to wages growth should be phased in and they'll be able to take submissions and hear evidence.
I've been negotiating win-win outcomes for workers and businesses my whole life. Wages policy, I never thought we would see such low wages growth in this country. It really is the lowest on record. It's not a great ad for the current government. But did you know - if you've got the time to do it but you don't have to worry because we have - they've made 21 wages projections whilst they've been in government, their budgets and their documents. 21 times they've made a wages projection and it's been too high.
These guys in the government don't know what's going on in the real world. Every time they've promised in the budget wages growth here, it hasn't made it. But maybe Brendan could again supplement go through the evidence process it's very important that people see what we do is reasonable and moderate but it is about on the principle that a fair go for everyone is in the interests the nation.
JOURNALIST: Just one more for you sorry, Mr Shorten. Do you regret calling employers "fat cats" because you would know many of whom were offended by the comment?
SHORTEN: I think if you look at the actual quote that's not quite the context and I haven't had that view. This government loves to say that if you want wage rises for wage earners that somehow you're a class warrior that couldn't be anything further from the truth.
I've understood for the last 30 years that for every worker to have a job there's got to be an employer who gives them a job. You heard me in there talk to that marvellous manufacturing operation at Lion Nathan. Now they're a bigger business but the cooperation and teamwork there to me is an exemplar. There's not a high turnover workers here, this is a good job. But in part, it's a good job because it has longevity because the workers in the company have worked together. This is a world class manufacturing facility. Next time we hear someone say Australia can't make anything send them down to Lidcombe to have a look here.
You've got teamwork, you've got operators on lines making decisions. So I do believe in co-operative workplace relations. In fact, what we're proposing today on the living wage is all about cooperation. Currently, under this government, they have the mistaken view that you can only have corporate profits or wage rises and not both. They have the mistaken view that the only way that you can have jobs growth is to have a fractured casualised labour market where you've got millions of people having to do a second job just to make ends meet. This government is out of touch. They actually don't care if you don't get a wage rise, I do. So we'll work it cooperatively, it'll be an evidence-based process. Maybe I'll just let Brendan explain further how cooperation, cooperation, cooperation. But we've got to solve the wages problem in this country and the government are just out of time and out of ideas.
O'CONNOR: As Bill said we're going to make sure this is a responsible approach, an evidence-based approach. We're going to ensure that employers and unions and community groups and experts make submissions to identify firstly, what the living wage is and that will be a determination of the Fair Work Commission.
That's the first thing David, but the second thing, of course, is ensuring that it's done, introduced responsibly so as to have regard to affordability, have regard to the economy and indeed have regards to employment. And look the counter case is important too, the fact is anaemic growth in our economy affects small business. When people don't have decent wage growth then they're less likely to consume, they're less likely to buy goods and services off small businesses.
We need decent wage growth, that in turn will contribute to consumer confidence and business confidence. Otherwise what you see is an impact on aggregate demand in our economy. We've see a reduction in consumption which will lead to difficulties for small businesses. We know this, that low paid workers indeed low and middle income wage earners spend almost all of their income in our economy and therefore we need to make sure that they get a decent wage outcome.
That can be determined having listened to the evidence by the Fair Work Commission and also it allows employers to put the case that certain amounts may be too difficult to deliver. They'll put the case if there are affordability issues, they'll have every right to make those submissions and they will be listened to and they'll be considered properly by the independent umpire when the Fair Work Commission is making that decision.
SHORTEN: Some other questions?
JOURNALIST: On a living wage policy, how would it affect the business like Tooheys that is actually owned by a multinational?
SHORTEN: First of all if you're paying well above the award it's going to have no impact. The point about here is they’re actually getting wage rises. But the reality is that not every company is structured like this business.
Let's talk about our labour market for a second. Did you know that nearly four million Australians are in casualised work, labour hire, contract work. In other words, they don't have the certainty of a permanent job. We are in danger of creating an American style underclass in our workforce. Did you know that wages growth is the lowest it's been in 60 years since they've kept records. How does a family hold it together - do you know this morning there will be families who've got a weigh up how they afford their kid's school camp. Do they have enough money? Do they have to do that extra shift just to make ends meet? There'll be people weighing up can they continue to afford you know, their health insurance. People are doing it hard in this country, not everyone is doing well. I think Australia works best when we work together.
You know going back to Emma's point, I don't have a view it's us versus them or them versus us, but one thing is for sure, corporate profits some people are doing very well and that's great. That's what you heard when we addressed the workforce.
But a lot of other people you know, the energy bills, they out-of-pocket costs to be able to go and see a doctor. So some people are already doing well this is no threat to them. But for a lot of Australians, this means they might be able to start making plans rather than watch their household savings diminish.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten are you satisfied with the Coalition’s response to the One Nation-NRA story that's around today. Should they be added to the Fraser Anning censure motion?
SHORTEN: I think that the shocking video footage of One Nation operatives travelling to America and conspiring with the National Rifle Association to raise money to undermine Australia's gun laws, I think that is shocking.
This is now a test of Mr Morrison's leadership. How can it be anything else? Mr Morrison needs to make clear: not only does he like and defend our gun laws, but will he put One Nation last. I mean they have been caught out. One of the things I think the Liberal Party can be rightly proud of was John Howard's gun laws. But to see a party who may receive the government's preferences caught out on video boasting about taking money, watering down Australia's protections, trying to Americanise our gun laws. What more does Mr Morrison need to show some spine and put One Nation last?
JOURNALIST: What Michael Daley said about Asian-Australians, do you think those are appropriate comments for a Labor leader?
SHORTEN: I said yesterday, no I don't. And I said not only are they not appropriate to say, no one should be thinking this. So I think he's actually done the right thing and stepped down, showing some recognition and acceptance of the result on Saturday. And I'm confident that the Labor Party in New South Wales will regather after Saturday and start the process of rebuilding.
JOURNALIST: But will the comments do damage federally in the election?
SHORTEN: Listen, I wasn't running for Premier, neither Gladys or Michael were running for Prime Minister. I think the federal election will be decided on federal issues. But let's not shirk the point, It wasn't appropriate, they shouldn't have been said. And Mr Daley has now done the right thing.
JOURNALIST: Did you pressure him to stand down?
SHORTEN: Listen, New South Wales Labor ultimately made the decision. It's ultimately Mr Daley's consideration. He was the one who made the final decision. I did make clear though they shouldn't have been said, those comments in any circumstances.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the One Nation video - it was more than just touting for money, it was what they were going to do with it, which was to undermine - seemingly - the electoral process?
SHORTEN: Listen if I didn't make clear how strongly I was horrified by what I saw, let me be very clear: the idea of One Nation political party operatives going to the United States, seeking millions of dollars, promising to water down gun law protection in Australia, that was absolutely horrifying. I think it was a betrayal of the Australian political system. What are these right-wing extremists thinking?
And I just have to say to Mr Morrison - at one level it would inconvenient and half your party in Queensland want to cozy up to One Nation and maybe in other places. After that video, let's be clear: sometimes in politics you have no choices. There is the right thing to do and you just have to do it. I'm surprised, he should just simply say they're going to put One Nation last. I cannot understand why you would not want to put One Nation last when they been filmed actively conspiring with the American gun lobby to take millions of dollars, to introduce American gun laws into Australia boasting that they can buy eight Senate positions. What else does Mr Morrison need to hop off the fence and do what he should have done beforehand?
JOURNALIST: There was a ban on foreign donations that went through the Parliament. There’s always debate about further changes to donations law and maybe the One Nation video does highlight that. Would a Labor Government make any further changes to the way elections are funded, the way the donations laws work now?
SHORTEN: I think we need a lot more transparency. Here is three changes; they've got to be made in real time, any amount over $1,000, the identity of the donor must be disclosed and we need a national anti-corruption commission. This government could do that next week.
They are so divided. This government is addicted to disunity. They cannot kick the habit. And the problem is the nation’s being put last and their own interests and their fighting each other first.
But this One Nation video, I would not have - If you had told me it happened and I haven't seen the evidence, even though I am no fan of the right wing, I wouldn't believe Australians would behave in that way, but they clearly have. Mr Morrison now needs to lead. This is not a Liberal or Labor issue. This about the integrity of the Australian democracy, the integrity of our gun laws, the integrity of our political system.
JOURNALIST: Should One Nation be censured along with Fraser Anning?
SHORTEN: We will consider that. I have, to be honest, I hadn't looked at that angle but we will consider that.
JOURNALIST: Should Steve Dickson stand aside, he is the lead Senate candidate for Queensland.
SHORTEN: That's right, he is the lead Senate candidate. I forgot - listen, One Nation is a circus. They were dangerous circus and they've been caught out.
And the government should not give them any support. Mr Morrison needs to cut off the umbilical cord of legitimacy which the Liberal-Nationals are giving One Nation. They are extremists. They've been caught out being extremists. Mr Morrison now needs to sever the ties. And if he doesn't do that, well then, what is the difference?
Two more questions and then I better go. You go next sorry and then I'll come to you.
JOURNALIST: The government says that minimum wage increases have outstripped CPI increases so who’s right, you or them?
SHORTEN: If this government wants to debate about what a good job they've been doing on wages; bring it on. Let's go out to any high street anywhere in Australia and the government should say that they've been doing a good job on wages growth, and we’ll go out and run the no case and say that wages have been stagnating. Listen, the only people who think that they're doing a good job on wages growth are ministers and their staff. They're not in touch with what's happening in the real world.
Sorry, I did promise you next and then you.
JOURNALIST: Do you want the cloud of a leadership challenge or a leadership vote hanging over Labor during the entire federal campaign?
SHORTEN: There is no cloud because frankly, all the processes that go into the New South Wales state election leadership have been put on hold till after the federal election.
JOURNALIST: There will still be people counting numbers and things like that though?
SHORTEN: I think we want to talk about cloud over leadership, I don't know about you but I was a bit startled by the revelations I read in today's newspapers about the leaking on Mr Morrison from his left, from his right, from underneath, from on top of him.
The reality is that if you want to talk about divided leadership, let's have a look at the fact that Mr Morrison's colleagues are now leaking on the Prime Minister about his plans for a multi-billion dollar detention centres in Australia, through to his role in Mr Turnbull's demise. This Government in Canberra is divided. What happened by contrast in New South Wales is Mr Daley stood down and all attention in Labor was on the federal election and support for united, stable ederal team.
JOURNALIST: Just on social media companies, a push to have them face tougher penalties if they don't do the right thing. Do you think that is a good idea?
SHORTEN: Listen if there's a constructive solution to seeing greater accountability on social media platforms, I'm up for it.
Let's be clear, in traditional media which many of you represent, if you publish some of the things which we see filter out of the swamp of social media, you'd go to jail. You are accountable. Yet some of these platforms publish first and worry about it later. And so therefore, I'm up for making sure that we have protections. Now, that doesn't exonerate everything which gets written in traditional media and giving sustenance to some of the hate-speakers on the extremities but I do think social media needs to accept that in Australia, you play by Aussie rules. I don't know if you're aware but in 2017, Google had a billion dollars of revenue in this country but only paid $37 million tax. Facebook in 2016 had $330 million of revenue and paid $12 million tax. We've got to start smartening up. Social media is fantastic, the internet is amazing, it's all very good. But what we need to do is make sure that everyone plays by the same rules and by our standards.
JOURNALIST: Would a Labor Government legislate criminal sanctions against the social media companies in the way that the Morrison Government is canvassing?
SHORTEN: The Morrison Government hasn't given us enough time to legislate anything. They've been running a witness protection racket for the government since the start of this year. The fact that they're going to race to an election two days after the budget’s brought down to avoid scrutiny. This government hasn't got time to do anything. They've run out of governing. So I love it when they say that they've got but his brand new idea. You and I both know they've got no intention of doing anything about it this side of the election. But if they do have a good idea, we'll look at it.
First thing I'm going to do is sit down and talk to the big social media companies and explain to them the sense of outrage and powerlessness and some frustration that many Australians feel when I see some of the anonymous vile spewed out on social media, with seemingly no accountability and protection for everyday citizens.