THE HON BILL SHORTEN MP
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG
MELBOURNE PRESS CLUB – Q & A
THURSDAY, 20 FEBRUARY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government Abandons Manufacturing Jobs; SPC Ardmona; Royal Commission; Abbott Government Attack On Medicare; GP Co-Payment; WA Senate High Court Case; Republic.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Clay Lucas from The Age. Last month the Abbott Government joined Toyota in attempting to change the working conditions of employees at the Altona factory. Today my newspaper had a story about SPC and an attempt by the Abbott Government to reduce salary and conditions at SPC Ardmona. Do you believe that the Abbott Government is conducting a clandestine war on wages and conditions for Australian workers, or do you believe that it's merely trying to pair back what AiG's Innes Willox yesterday said were excessive generous conditions for some workers?
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I think people would have been surprised this morning to read the story in The Age, Clay, that you've got a government of Australia ringing up SPC and saying, "The only way that we will parlay with you about the future of the Goulburn Valley, is if you reduce people’s conditions to the award”. So let’s be clear, when we talk about award and over award and what people get paid and how much people get paid, food cannery workers get paid $50,000 a year, work in all sorts of temperatures, all year round and in season working really hard. $50,000. The Abbott Government's prescription or the sort of coercion that they were applying to SPC was that, if you want to get our support, you've got to reduce food processing workers conditions to the award.
How desolate and sterile is a vision of the Abbott Government that they say someone on $50,000 should take a pay cut to $33,000 a year. It's not a plan, that's just a knee jerk reaction. The Goulburn Valley should be the centre of our food processing and value adding our food processing. It is not a plan which involves just trying to lower our wages to Third World conditions, to the bare minimums of the awards. These people are not overpaid. We've got to move to a more cooperative vision of Australia which says that you don't demonise some sections of the Australian people. The argument which was run out by Joe Hockey and by Tony Abbott on SPC is, we can't help save these jobs because they're overpaid. The fat cats don't work on the factory floor.
And the point about it is even Sharman Stone, a member of the Liberal Party, came out and said, this is just a lie. It's come to a poor state of affairs in Australia when an Australian company has to advertise in the newspaper to explain to people that what the Government of the day is saying about them is not right. So I think that the challenge for the Abbott Government is rather than focus on what modestly paid middle-class people are getting, work on the innovation agenda. Look at what other countries have done, focus on science, focus on innovation, that's the way not forward. A race to the top, not a race to the bottom.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Dennis O'Kane, 3AW. The Greens today have called for a Royal Commission into the management of Australia's offshore detention centers and the Greens want an investigation with full judicial powers. Will you back that?
SHORTEN: I haven't seen what Greens have said today, but, no, at this point, I think the issue here is that there is a real problem at Manus Island. I think any fair-minded Australian, whatever you think about the best way to handle the challenge of people smuggling, would be disturbed by the meltdown. Reports of death, reports of serious injury, reports of hundreds of people not in safe circumstances, that's not how Australia sees itself, so I do think that the Abbott Government would be wise to dispense with its addiction to secrecy, just tell people what's going on. In my experience, most Australians, nearly all of the time, if you tell them what's going on, they might not agree with everything, but if you trust people, they will give you the rope to do what you've got to do, but where you won't tell people what is going on and the seriousness of this Manus Island, then all of a sudden we get to more step extreme debates. So I think the first step before we get to the Greens proposition is that the embattled minister for immigration Scott Morrison just needs to be upfront with the Australian people and tell us what's happening.
JOURNALIST: Barrie Cassidy, Insiders, ABC. Given that health funding in this country is surely unsustainable into the future, what's wrong with a small co-payment that could potentially raise billions of dollars and maybe encourage people to use health services a little more sparingly?
SHORTEN: First of country all, Australia should be a country where the health care you get should be determined on the health care you need, not on how much money you have. We cannot go down the American road where, depending on the size of your bank balance, that becomes the function of the quality of health care you get. So, in addition, though, Tony Abbott would be breaking a promise. This idea of a co-payment is his broken promise tax on Australians. I have with me some quotes of what he said before the election, and he said before the election, "We believe in a universal health system." He said, "Medicare and good public schools and public hospitals, I don't see it as middle class welfare but the hallmarks of a society that gives families a fair go." He said in America, as he was want to do during opposition, talk down Australia in Australia, and in America, claim Labor accomplishments as his own. He said, "We support a strong Medicare system." He believes and he said that he believes it’s a benefit which should be supplied or provided to every Australian, rich and poor, rich and not-so-rich. If he breaks this promise, the Australian electorate will mark him down. In Question Time last Thursday I asked him specifically, will you stand by your election promises for there to be no cuts in defence, and education and health? He said he stands by his election promises. Labor thinks that a universal and accessible health care system is one of the things which Australians love about this country, and we will fight to keep what is one of the attributes which makes us arguably the best, most live-able country in the world.
JOURNALIST: Ellen Whinnett from the Herald Sun. Mr Shorten, given the political poison that is union corruption and given that we're going to the polls in Western Australia now for the Senate, why won't you support a Royal Commission into union corruption?
SHORTEN: So the High Courts handed down its decision has it while I was speaking? Okay. Let me be really, again as I've said before, straightforward. Labor will cooperate with this Abbott Royal Commission into unions. We will cooperate. No-one is above the law, union representative, business person, or politician. No one is above the law. So we will do what we have to do to ensure that there is no criminality in Australian industry, but we've also said that where you’re dealing with criminals, in particular some of the reports most recently about outlaw motorcycle gangs, is we need to give the police the weapons to do the job that the police do best. We support a joint taskforce led by the AFP which could use the standing Royal Commission powers of the already existing Australian Crime Commission. But to return to where I started in that answer, we will fully cooperate with the Abbott Royal Commission into unions.
JOURNALIST: John Masanauskas, Herald Sun. Just wondering if you think it's time to put the Republic back on the agenda?
SHORTEN: In my first speech in Parliament, I said that I supported a Republic; I support the idea of an Australian Head of State. What I also recognise is that the Queen is incredibly popular. So if you are asking me where we would spend our political capital, for me jobs is the issue for 2014, but I am a Republican. Australia will know when the moment is right. They don't need me, as a Republican or Tony Abbott as a Monarchist, to tell them what to think. I think the answer to your question about when we become a Republic will be partly presented by what Australians themselves say and do in future years. I think it is inevitable. What I also recognise is that 2014, Labor needs to be on the side of people who want to hang onto good jobs, and we need to be on the side of creating new jobs. That is why we need to make science a political issue of the first importance in this country, because no nation ever dumbed its way to greatness.
REPORTER: Orietta Guerrera from The Age and Fairfax Media online. We are headed to the polls in WA after the High Court decision today. You've spoken at length about jobs, but the majority of those jobs have and been lost in the eastern states and South Australia. What are the issues that you think the election will be fought on?
SHORTEN: Well, Western Australia has had 20 years of unprecedented growth and full employment, but if look at some of the seasonally adjusted numbers for unemployment in Western Australia, they've gone out to above 5%. Numbers which no doubt Tasmania would be envious of, but on the other hand, for Western Australians who’ve had 20 strong years, this is a challenge. I believe the issues in Western Australia go to the cost of living. That is an issue which a lot of people in the west are feeling very strongly. It goes to jobs. We saw a major mining services company in Perth go into insolvency last week called Forge. 1300 people - and these they weren't construction workers per se, and they weren't from union membership. These were white collar engineers and drafts people from the Kimberley, from the Pilbara, from the Gascoyne and also working up in Far North Queensland. So it's not just manufacturing that is feeling the heat on jobs. What we need in the West is a debate about the cost of living, strategies for jobs.
Also I think that when we look at our mining industry, some people see it as people operating 100 tonne or 240 tonne haul-pack trucks up in the talking about Kimberley. We need to start talking about the future of mining, oil and gas and hydro carbons as a high-tech industry. Under Labor, we see no difficulty with Perth becoming the Houston or Aberdeen of oil and gas, Perth becoming the resources capital of the world. That will the involve, though, the adoption of the sort of agenda which I've been outlining today. I see the future issue in the Wests, jobs, the future of the resources sector, cost of living and making sure that we don't see further swinging cuts in health and education. I mean, the Commission of Audit, the Commission of Cuts was due to come out before the Griffith by-election. The Government miraculously had to delay their first report until after the Griffith by-election. I don't see how they can delay their first report until after the Senate election and I think that will expose the Abbott Government’s broken promises on health and education.
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