Bill's Transcripts

Meet the Press Interview with Paul Bongiorno

Interview with Paul Bongiorno
26 AUGUST 2012

SUBJECTS: NT Election, FWA, Mining Boom, NDIS


PAUL BONGIORNO: And it’s welcome back to the program, Bill Shorten. Good morning, Minister.

 BILL SHORTEN: Good morning, Paul.

 PAUL BONGIORNO: Well another Labor Government has fallen. Are the remaining Labor Governments, including the Federal one, on death row?

 BILL SHORTEN: Well I wouldn't characterise it that way at all. I feel for Mr Henderson, I know he's a very committed Northern Territorian. I congratulate Mr Mills, the new leader of the Northern Territory. I have been speaking to people this morning in the Northern Territory, and said “What is your explanation, what do you think has happened?” They’ve said that there were local government reforms which went down very badly in the bush. Mr Henderson thought that the suburbs of Darwin were where the debate was going to be, and he did very well there. So it's a story of two elections in the Northern Territory, Darwin and the bush - and in the bush the Northern Territory local government reorganisations had a big effect. The other thing which sources up there tell me is that there's still a little bit of residual resentment over the Federal Government intervention. So I think it's a very important election, but I’m not sure that it’s –

 PAUL BONGIORNO: So is that a reflection on the Labor brand?

 BILL SHORTEN: No, I suspect it's a reflection on local politics. It's the story of two elections in the Territory, Darwin, and the bush. It’s a story of local government amalgamations, people disgruntled by that.

 PAUL BONGIORNO: So from that you would say Federal Labor under Julia Gillard still has a chance of winning the next election?

 BILL SHORTEN: Yes, we do still have a chance of winning the next election.

 PAUL BONGIORNO: That doesn't seem to be a view held by all of your colleagues in Federal Parliament. This weekend both Fairfax and News Limited papers have pointed to the speech made by Robert McClelland as reopening this 20-year-old issue with Julia Gillard, the AWU, Slater & Gordon. Are there rats in the ranks, determined to undermine Julia Gillard?

 BILL SHORTEN: No, I believe that the caucus wants to see Labor do well. I know that the Prime Minister has the support of the caucus. The issues which happened 20 years ago were difficult then, but I think that the caucus this week thought the Prime Minister, in face of quite a tough attack, more than held her own with that hour-plus-long press conference on Thursday. So I think we’ve ended the week on a better note than perhaps we even started it.

 PAUL BONGIORNO: So if it was a plan to destabilise her, it’s backfired?

 BILL SHORTEN: Oh, well, the worst thing in the world we can start doing is analysing ourselves. I think what people want in Australia is to say “Well, are we going to do our National Disability Insurance Scheme? Are we committed to doing better in education?” I also think people want the Opposition to explain how they are going to fund their policies. Yesterday we saw the university cuts proposed by the Opposition, which I think has raised a lot of eyebrows and concerns.

 PAUL BONGIORNO: Well during that press conference, the Prime Minister defended her statement that the so-called slush fund is an everyday event in unions, in other words union leaders democratically elected. They’re perfectly legitimately able to ask for funds to help in that re-election. Is it a good look, and could that sort of slush fund still be set up, 20 years later?

 BILL SHORTEN: Well let's be really clear on our language here, and what is important. First of all, trade unions in Australia - with notable exceptions, but very few exceptions – are honestly run. There's 2 million Australians in trade unions, there’s thousands of delegates and representatives trying to lift the pay, improve the safety of jobs, make sure that employees’ voices get heard. The Opposition have a real problem with the role of unions in our community I think. Now in terms of the administration of unions, they are governed by what’s called the Fair Work Registered Organisations Act. It’s a Labor Government, in fact it was myself as Minister, who’s put through the toughest new standards in terms of the governance of registered organisations. That includes unions and employer associations. I don't believe it was possible back in 1995, when it came out about the misuse of this particular fund, that wasn't appropriate then, and it wouldn't be appropriate now. The real test is what is in the best interests of members, and we’ve put in new standards to handle that.

 PAUL BONGIORNO: But can you give assurances to the Australian people, and indeed to the 2 million union members, that it's harder now to be a corrupt union official, to line your own pocket at the expense of the members, and of the general public, really?

 BILL SHORTEN: Yes, I absolutely can. First of all, and I have got a couple of reasons to support why I make that statement. First of all, we have made it clear that if you are a representative of an association, be it a union or employer association, you have to disclose your remuneration. You now have to reveal all material personal interests. You have to reveal payments to conflicted - sorry, to related parties, including family members. So the standards are tougher. But I will make this point - the standards, even if they haven’t been as high as they are now, have been largely honoured in the way they’ve been applied.

 PAUL BONGIORNO: Time for a break. When we return with the panel - does the scathing KPMG audit demand a Fair Work Australia overhaul? And the macho moment of the week came when Tony Abbott recalled some schoolboy bravado with one of his teachers.

 PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet The Press, with Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten. And welcome to the panel - Mark Kenny, ‘The Advertiser’, and Alison Carabine, ABC Radio National Breakfast. Good morning to you both. Minister Shorten was quick to react to a scathing audit of Fair Work Australia's investigation of Craig Thomson and the Health Services Union. It found the regulator lacked qualified investigators, not all information sources were considered, and there was poor document security.

 ALISON CARABINE: Well, Minister, Fair Work Australia is both the workplace regulator and also the workplace investigator. Does that not represent an inherent conflict of interest? Wouldn't union members be better served if there was an independent investigative authority, as recommended by the Opposition?

 BILL SHORTEN: This whole debate has come out of the KPMG report commissioned by the regulator into the adequacy and the length of the regulator's investigation into parts of the Health Services Union over the last three and a bit years. The KPMG report, which was released late during the week, had 31 recommendations, and they - without putting too fine a point on it - they said that the regulator was unprepared for the scale, dimension - that there were better ways they could have conducted the investigation. Now it's more detailed than that, but that's the summary of it. Then what the report says, 31 ideas to improve it. But one idea they didn’t have was the Opposition’s. They didn’t say get rid of the regulator, take the wrecking ball to the regulator, they said it should use external experts in to help them, they should be prepared to cooperate more easily with police. Ironically what the KPMG recommended, some of the things they recommended, we have already done. What they didn't do is go down the Coalition path of saying take the wrecking ball through the whole operation.

 ALISON CARABINE: So if there was a repeat of the HSU scandal, how would Fair Work Australia approach a future investigation? Could it guarantee that it would be conducted in a more comprehensive manner, and more expeditiously?

 BILL SHORTEN: Yes. I also say that to prove I can answer a question quickly. But yes. Some of the things which it will do – and it's an independent body - but we’ve said that if it doesn't conclude a report within 12 months, it has to explain why. We’ve given authorisation for the independent regulator to be able to bring in external assistance. So there are lessons to be learned. But the point about the regulator is that you don't need to create a new body to do what the old body is capable of doing, if it just does its old job better than what it did. And the other thing about Fair Work Australia is there's a lot of good things that Fair Work Australia does, and I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater merely because the Opposition are notoriously anti-union and anti- the independent umpire.

 MARK KENNY: Can I take to you big announcements of the week – the disappointing decision not to proceed with the Olympic Dam expansion. There’s also talk now that there are some other projects - coal projects in Queensland and WA, I think, that are in doubt. Is the mining boom over, and can you clarify that?

 BILL SHORTEN: Well, I don't believe that mining and the contribution that mining makes to the Australian economy is over at all. My Department is projecting that there'll be another 100,000 jobs created in mining over the next five years. What we have seen is – and I’ve got to get this left-to-right for the camera but - you have seen the mining prices go up on commodities, now they are easing off, but merely, they’re easing off because of the rest of the world is producing more minerals, and we are producing more minerals. But because it's easing off, the volume of what we’re producing is increasing, so I don't buy the proposition that mining is not going to be a fantastic contributor to the Australian economy in the next five years. It will still be very important, and very successful.

 MARK KENNY: The Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, said anyone with half a brain can see the mining boom had ended, so I suppose it’s – voters could be excused for not understanding exactly what’s going on here. But Glenn Stevens, the Reserve Bank Governor, suggested that it might not be such a bad thing if the big projects didn’t go ahead. Now as Employment Minster, what is your position about that? Has it overheated the economy and created the sort of problems that we'd be better off without?

 BILL SHORTEN: Do I agree with Mr Ferguson, do I agree with Mr Stevens, and what do I think generally? I'll go for the last point first.

 MARK KENNY: Go for all three.

 BILL SHORTEN: I'll try and do that in the time. I listened carefully to what Minister Ferguson said in Question Time the following day, and I listened carefully to what our Finance Minister Penny Wong said. And the point is that Minister Ferguson is right, we may have reached the peak in prices, but the other point beyond that is that the volumes are increasing, there's still plenty of projects, and I don't think that the contribution that mining’s going to make, in jobs and economic output for Australia, has at all peaked. What I also think is that when it comes to productivity, which is really important for Australian workplaces, we are about to see an uptick or an increase in productivity, so I can easily reconcile Minister Ferguson's comments. In terms of Governor Stevens, yes, it's good if we have got some available investment, not just going to mining, so there's a silver lining, but I also want to remind people that Nev Power, the CFO of Fortescue, said he thought the boom was going to be long and strong. Tony Shepherd, head of the Business Council of Australia, certainly had similar remarks. So my view about jobs is that mining will keep contributing. But there's another story in jobs. The other story is that the services sector in the last five years has contributed more new jobs to Australia than even mining. 800,000 new jobs, another 800,000 to come in the next five years. 19 though out of 20 of these job-creating industries require a post-year-12 qualification. Post year 12. If you want a job in the future, you need to try and get to post-year-12.

 PAUL BONGIORNO: Well let's go to the Government's Budget position. Tony Abbott says the Government is making empty promises on disability and education.

 ALISON CARABINE: Bill Shorten, the Government's re-election pitch for next year will be based, in large part, on big ticket social reforms such as disability insurance and also education reforms. Now they also come with very big price-tags. If it comes down to, for example, the NDIS, of which you were an early, prominent champion, and maintaining a Budget surplus, what would be your preference? How wedded are you to a Budget surplus, which is only wafer-thin at $1.5 billion?

BILL SHORTEN: Well this week, in amongst all the other excitement of parliament, the current Government passed its two-year anniversary date. What the Prime Minister has made clear, and the whole Government, the backbench, is that this Government stands for three or four key ideas amongst the rest: better resources for kids in schools, regardless of their postcode; a National Disability Insurance Scheme, which will provide lifetime care and support for tens and thousands of people initially, leading to hundreds of thousands of people; but the other thing along with those two, disability reform and better school outcomes for kids, is of course jobs. In terms of how we pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme - it wouldn't fully come online until 2018 – I have no doubt this is a Government capable of getting to a surplus, and funding a National Disability Insurance Scheme. So what's that old American saying? We can walk and chew gum.

 ALISON CARABINE: But was it maybe Martin Ferguson's subliminal intention or maybe not so subliminal, to deliver a message to his Ministerial colleagues to curtail your spending ambitions?

 BILL SHORTEN: No, I know the whole Government supports a National Disability Insurance Scheme. There are 430,000+ people with profound or severe disabilities under the age of 65, and there’s literally tens of thousands of ageing carers, who can't sleep at midnight, wondering who’s going to look after their kids when they can't. This Government’s made disability a national issue, we can do this.

 PAUL BONGIORNO: One of the options you put out for the NDIS was a levy to pay for it. Do you think the Government will be forced into that?

 BILL SHORTEN: First of all, we're going to set up four launch sites, and after dragging them, kicking and screaming, the Conservative states - I don't think we have quite got Queensland sadly, but Mr Baillieu and Mr O'Farrell did come to the party, although after some pain - I have got no doubt that we can pay for this. One proposition in the Productivity Commission who has studied and said “Is it economically possible to provide a social safety net to people with disabilities and their carers?” – one idea they had was a levy. But what gets forgotten in the discussion about the levy is that they would propose the levy, but then States would have to hand over some of their resources. Now at this stage, we're going to need to see more cooperation of the States. What I’d say to the States is disability shouldn't be a partisan issue, so they should stop worry about Canberra, and more worry about people with disabilities.

 PAUL BONGIORNO: OK. Thank you for being with us today, Bill Shorten.


 Minister Shorten’s Media Contacts: Sam Casey 0421 697 660