ABC News 24

12 February 2013

12 February 2013
TIME 08:19

SUBJECTS: workplace bullying; superannuation

KARINA CARVALHO: Well, the Government has announced new measures to tackle workplace bullying. Bill Shorten is the Employment Minister and he joins us now from Parliament House.

Bill Shorten, good morning. Thanks for your time. Now, how will this complaints process work within the Fair Work Commission and how will it operate?

BILL SHORTEN: The House of Representatives did a study, chaired by Amanda Rishworth, the member for Kingston, in May of last year. We got the report late last year. We've been looking at the recommendations. What's clear to us - and we thank the 320 people who put submissions in - is that a lot of the remedies to prevent bullying take a terribly long time. Workplace bullying is a real issue. It does happen. It's affecting a lot of people and it also affects the profitability of companies too. But, most importantly, people are in turmoil.

KARINA CARVALHO: What was wrong with the existing system?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, there are state regulators, so being a federation made up of former colonies every state does something different. And what we have is safety regulators - and I think they're doing the best they can with the resources they can - but we have a Fair Work Commission. Workplace relations is, increasingly, a matter upon which there is national law, and we should have a national solution to complement what the safety regulators are already doing.

So what we're specifically proposing - and we've got to get through the Parliament - and I hope, for once, our opponents don't just oppose this, that they actually see that bullying is a scourge. And we want to provide is a mechanism that allows people to seek the assistance of the Fair Work Commission, which is an independent umpire in workplace relations. They deal with, literally, thousands of workplace matters every week - and let the Workplace Commission - the Fair Work Commission - try and conciliate the disputes so that people can resume normal relationships, that the behaviours complained of can be prevented and remedied, the problems can get sorted if it's going to require working with state regulators. If the issues are very serious, then either the Fair Work Commission can refer it to them or it can make orders itself.

KARINA CARVALHO: Given that the definition of bullying can be sometimes quite a grey area, what safeguards are in place to stop employees taking employers to the Fair Work Commission with frivolous claims?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, we are concerned about that issue, so what we say is - and it will be in our legislation – that the principle we'll be adopting is that reasonable management practice requiring reasonable performance at work is not bullying. But there's - let's not give up trying to tackle workplace bullying because some people say oh, it'll be too hard to prove in certain cases. The truth is that there are thousands of people being bullied at work, I believe. We see this from the submissions. I've seen firsthand the consequences of a family of someone who, in the end, felt so unable to deal with the bullying - which was real and malicious and terrible - they took their own life. So this is a real issue.

We will get the definitions right, but we shouldn't let a technical debate stand in the way of - which we can solve - stand in the way of providing empowerment for people. At the end of the day even bullies have generally been bullied at some point in their life. If we can help create healthy, safe workplaces, then everyone benefits.

KARINA CARVALHO: Bill Shorten, you're also the Superannuation Minister. The mining tax was supposed to fund an increase in super contributions and super tax breaks for low income earners. Can you guarantee those will be delivered now that the mining tax has been shown to not be bringing in the revenue it was expected to?

BILL SHORTEN: Yes, I can, because we'll pay for what we have to out of consolidated revenue if needs be. Labor is the only party who's ever increased compulsory universal superannuation and, indeed, our opponents voted against us increasing superannuation from nine to twelve per cent over the next seven years, just as they voted against increasing super from three to nine per cent.

We've also cut the tax paid by people who earn less than $37,000. What happens is if you earn less than $37,000 you get your nine per cent on your income, so that'll be, perhaps - if you're earning $35,000 - about - just over $3,000. Then you pay tax of $450. We've abolished that tax. So for 3.6 million low paid people they got a tax cut. Now what's happened is that the Opposition have said oh well, we're not going to give a tax cut to the low paid. So when it comes to defending the rights of multimillionaires - the top half a per cent of Australia - the Liberals will fight to the death. They'll leave no stone unturned. But when it comes to reintroducing a tax on the low paid workforce of Australia, well, that's just business as usual, another day at the office for team conservative.

KARINA CARVALHO: Bill Shorten, thanks for your time this morning.

BILL SHORTEN: Thank you.

- ENDS –


Mr Shorten’s Media Contact: Jessica Lindell 0408 642 804