Bill's Transcripts






SUBJECT/S: Unionism; Political donations; Industrial relations; Griffith by-election.


FRAN KELLY: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten joins us from our Brisbane studios this morning. Bill Shorten, welcome to Breakfast.




KELLY: To quote Paul Howes, “we have created a hyper adversarial culture, industrial relations is a blood sport”. Is that a fair description of our IR debate these days?


SHORTEN: I've always been a person of the middle ground of politics in industrial relations. I’ve always believed that cooperation trumps conflict and that consensus is preferable to shouting at each other. I don't believe, however, with the Abbott Government that they have the slightest interest in sitting down with unions, with the representative employees, with business and working out issues. You only just have to watch the way that to justify their inaction on SPC Ardmona, the fruit canner in the Goulburn Valley in Victoria. The Abbott Government's come out and said that food preserving workers, people working on a canning line earning $50,000 a year, are overpaid. So I really do and I always have spent my adult life in trying to stand up for workers, achieving beneficial outcomes for employers and employees, believed in consensus. But I don't think anyone seriously believes that Tony Abbott or the conservative government are interested in anything other than attacking unions and attacking the conditions of employees.


KELLY: Is that an overreach, the very kind of overreach that Paul Howes was criticising yesterday when he said, and talked about Labor and the unions for instance in their part of this, standing on a podium chanting ‘WorkChoices, WorkChoices, WorkChoices,’. As if on cue yesterday there you were warning of quote “Tony Abbott's revival of WorkChoices and his plans to slash penalty rates and working conditions for millions of ordinary Australians”. Is that an overreaction to a submission to a regular review of awards by the Fair Work Commission?


SHORTEN: Fran, do you seriously believe that Tony Abbott's interested in working with trade unions?


KELLY: Well, the point is whether any side can be, whether we can change or look at the social capital that Paul Howes was talking about. We're talking about the aim here.


SHORTEN: Fran, well, aims are good and I did over 1,000 enterprise agreements. I've organised low paid workers to well paid workers, I've created productivity generating infrastructure construction agreements. So for me it's not a theory about how you get the best out of enterprises; how you ensure there's cooperation. But I can't seriously sit here in this interview and say to you that I think there is a remote chance of Tony Abbott and his hardline right wing Government interested in cooperation. How can you sit down and form an accord with a series of organisations you want to have a Royal Commission into? It's not real. If you say it's overreach for me to say that Tony Abbott has been attacking the conditions of SPC workers, just ask SPC if they think if it's an overreach, just ask Dr Sharman Stone, Liberal representative for the Goulburn Valley if she thinks Mr Abbott was lying or not.


So the problem in Australia is we have a Government who to some extent is at war with parts of its own community. Just look even in January this year, Kevin Andrews says we have a welfare problem and wants to blame the 5 million people on welfare for somehow dragging Australia down. We've got Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey saying let's end the age of entitlement and they pick on people on $50,000 at SPC canneries. The real challenge in Australia is cost of living. The real challenge is that for too many people they're battling to make ends meet and the Abbott Government hasn't got a program for them. The real challenge is that too many people in manufacturing are losing their jobs; doesn't matter if you're a car worker, a cannery worker or indeed other members of my former union at Alcoa or Shell. This is a Government who takes a low road to the future whereas I think what we need cooperation, we need productivity, we need to ensure that we are engaged in a race to the top - that's Australia's only future.


KELLY: That criticism there you have of the Abbott Government's approach to industrial relations and to some of the key disputes at the moment, was that undermined yesterday by Paul Howes and undermined when Paul Howes said the union side could kick off concession this grand compact with a concession there had been a pattern of unsustainable growth in wages in some isolated parts of the economy? Do you concede that?


SHORTEN: First of all, I think it's great to have consensus in workplace relations, it's what I've done for 25 years. But I’m just not going to engage in going to some fantasy that Tony Abbott's going to change his spots. Nothing he has said - the Liberal Party's plan for the next three years, they want to fight the 2016 election as a re-run of the 2013 election. They need bogeymen out there in Australia to justify their do-nothing attitude on the big issues of cost of living and job security. They need - it's Tony Abbott who introduced to the lexicon of Australian politics ‘goodies and baddies’, what the conservatives want is baddies and they think unions are baddies. So the proposition that we have consensus is a good proposition, but the proposition that Tony Abbott's capable of sitting down with unions, how can you sit down and negotiate consensus with organisations who Tony Abbott wants to investigate?


KELLY: Just back to that claim by Paul Howes that there should be a concession of a pattern of unsustainable growth in wages economy in some isolated parts of the economy? Is that a concession you’re willing to make?


SHORTEN: I think that Paul referring to the offshore hydrocarbons industry in north Western Australia where there's been a skills and labour shortage in a period of time where there's been rising commodity prices and not enough tool pushers and rough-necks and crane operators and barge attendants and maritime crews to do the work -


KELLY: But he also said the unions could be pricing themselves –


SHORTEN: - When there’s a shortage of labour and a high demand, wages go up. The market is going to be correct some of those issues over time but the broader issue is, do I believe that most Australians going to work are overpaid? No I don't. Do I think that if you're on and 60 and 70 and 80 thousand dollars a year, that cost of living is your biggest issue? Yes I do. And do I think that job security is a big issue for 2014? Yes I do. And do I think the Abbott Government has the faintest clue what to do with manufacturing? No I don't.


KELLY: You know Paul Howes well, he replaced you as head of the AWU. Did you know he was going to make this speech and did you agree with him doing it?


SHORTEN: Paul was one of my protégés at the AWU. I brought in a whole lot of new people into the union to help revitalise it. What I also - in terms of the Press Club, I was aware Paul was giving an address - but I’m not longer a union leader. In the Australia that I believe in, union leaders are allowed to have their own opinions. That’s not Tony Abbott’s Australia. But I’m not a union leader any longer, I have to take by virtue of the position I now hold, what is in the best interests of the nation. And I think it is not in the best interests of the nation for the Abbott Government to be taking, not even fighting for Australian jobs, and that’s just a fact. They gave up on the car industry. They certainly seem to go out of their way on one hand to give money to the Cadbury chocolate factory, but the fruit canning factory in Victoria, they don’t seem to want to support co-investment for. So this is a political government not interested in the jobs of people. I think it is disgraceful and you can call it overreach but I call it as I see it, Fran. It is a joke that in Australia, we should be the food bowl of Asia, we’ve got an Abbott Government who can’t – won’t attract private investment worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and at least value add the fruit before we ship it to Asia. That’s not leadership.


KELLY: It’s quarter to eight here on Breakfast, our guest is Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Bill Shorten,  you’re talking about the SPC decision there by the federal government, the Prime Minister confirming again yesterday that he will not reconsider the refusal to throw that $25 million lifeline to the cannery. It’s tough for the workers to be sure, but a lot of Australians I think are perhaps prepared to be convinced by the government’s argument that a company like Coca-Cola Amatil, a profitable company, should pay for its own modernising and restructuring of its own wholly-owned food processing.


SHORTEN: This argument that somehow providing incentive to attract scarce private sector dollars to the Goulburn Valley is somehow an unfair advantage for the Goulburn Valley or the workers there  - just tell that to anyone who goes to the Australian Open or the Grand Prix. Governments have been attracting private investment by investing in projects. Next time the government has a tax scheme that supports some Australians, that some Australians can avail themselves of but not all Australians, just say it to those people that somehow they’re getting a special deal. Why is it that when it comes to encouraging private investment, that in manufacturing somehow that is regarded as old world. I mean, hello Tony Abbott, we’re competing with the rest of the world. If I can get a deal where I could see 10s and 10s of millions of dollars from a multinational to come to Australia, and I encourage that by the co-investment on a one-off basis of a far smaller amount of money, that’s a good deal, not a bad deal. And by the way, Fran, why is it that when we talk about a one-off amount of money which will sustain literally thousands of jobs, that’s viewed as bad economics. Let’s go down the other path, let’s say nothing happens, the last cannery in Australia shuts its doors, what’s that going to cost in Centrelink payments, what’s that going to cost the 100s and 100s of fruit block owners whose land holdings they’ve been working on for 50 years, second and third generation migrants who’ve carved a living out of the bush, and the relocation and the disruption. I would rather have the men and women of Australia going to work than going to the Centrelink queue. And whilst we need to encourage new industries and the jobs of the future, this idea that we simply abandon certain industries when you’ve got private sector investment that can revitalise those jobs, to me is a lack of leadership. Why is it that Tony Abbott and his conservative Liberals know the price of everything and the value of nothing?


KELLY: Bill Shorten, just a couple of quick issues. In talking about money, the CFEMU, there’s allegations against it of some episodes of corruption and being on the take within some elements of the union. It’s also been revealed that union donated more than $600 000 to the ALP last year. Is the Labor Party considering either a move to suspend union affiliation until the claims against the CFMEU are investigated? Have you considered any change to Labor’s relationship with the building union?


SHORTEN: Well, let’s go to the most important issue in what you’re saying, which is allegations of corruption by representatives of workers. The union movement, the labour movement, the broader political debate in this country, doesn’t matter if you’re Liberal or Labor, has no time for anyone with links to bikie gangs, for anyone who is engaging in criminal behaviour. It’s just absolutely reprehensible and it is a betrayal of people’s trust. In terms of then conflating that and saying that the union’s link to the Labor Party can, must be immediately severed, I don’t accept that. Where there is criminal behaviour, that is a completely no-go, unacceptable breach of trust, breach of the law, the Labor Party has no interest in that whatsoever, no support or tolerance for it. But this argument that somehow unions who are legitimate actors in Australian politics is unfair, especially when we see they can make contributions to debates such as what we’ve been discussing for the first part of this interview -


KELLY: Can I just ask you –


SHORTEN: - What really matters in Australia, is that we have an honest politics. What really matters is that we also have a country and a government who will help navigate our path to the future, stand up for jobs, deal with the cost of living, stop attacking penalty rates or attacking defenceless fruit preservers on $50 000 a year, and say you’re the reason you don’t have job security. The reason, the challenge in industrial relations is to focus on how we create high performing, well remunerated, competitive, safe, productive workplaces. And the Abbott Government will do everything but that, and if some people think that’s overreach, just go and ask a Holden car worker or an SPC worker how they feel about the Abbot Government.


KELLY: And Bill Shorten, just very briefly, we’re almost out of time, I know you’re campaigning in the Griffith electorate today. It’s line ball according to the key candidates. Could you become the first Opposition Leader in 90 years to lose an Opposition-held seat in a by-election?


SHORTEN: What matters in the seat of Griffith - and we’ve got a great local candidate Terri Butler - is will they get someone who will stand up for the issues that affect people, such as cost of living? If you vote for the LNP, what you get is another rubber stamp for a party who’s interested in increasing the cost to go to the doctor, who will invariably cut medical services which will see longer waiting lists. There’s a choice here in Griffith between someone who will stand up for the community, and someone who will be part of the cheer squad for people who are taking Australia in the wrong direction.


KELLY: Will Labor win?


SHORTEN: That will be up to the voters of Griffith, Fran. You’re right, I’m a new Opposition Leader, so I’m certainly not going to be so bold as to predict the outcome. What I do know is that Terri Butler, working mum, talented lawyer, will be an excellent representative if she’s given the privilege to do so by the voters in Griffith on Saturday.


KELLY: Bill Shorten, thank you very much for joining us.


SHORTEN: You have a lovely morning, cheers.