ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
THURSDAY, 4 OCTOBER 2018
SUBJECTS: Labor’s National Preschool and Kindy Program; Labor’s crackdown on unaffordable tax concessions for the top end of town; Enterprise bargaining; Liberal Party disunity.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: We will get more for you now on the pledge by the Labor Party for government funded preschool for 3 year olds. We are joined by the Federal Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten who joins us from Moonee Ponds West Primary School in Melbourne. Mr Shorten good morning, thanks for joining us.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, how are you?
TRIOLI: I'm well, thank you. It is an expensive program that you have announced here for 15 hours for 3 year olds now?
SHORTEN: Yes, Labor believes that we need to fund more preschool. We need to give all 3 year olds and 4 year olds in Australia the best jump start to going into school. All the educational experts have made it very clear that a little child's development up to the age of 5 is very important. So Labor believes in investing in the learning and educational outcomes of 3 and 4 year olds. It will also help parents with the cost of paying for preschool and I think it will really, really make a massive change. It's re-imagining childcare into early childhood education. I think Australia, parents and the kids will all be the winners.
TRIOLI: Do you plan to fund this out of any savings that you plan to make to the Budget should you win government?
SHORTEN: As you'd be aware, Labor's been working hard from Opposition to identify how we can improve the bottom line of the Budget. That's why we are going to reform unsustainable tax concessions which principally flow to the very well-off and we want to reuse some of that money not just to pay down debt, not just to give tax refunds to people under $100,000, but we want to invest in passing on a better deal to the next generation than the one we received from our parents. That's why I want to be Prime Minister. I want to make sure that we are giving the best start in life to the next generation. We can afford to it because for the last five years we have been united, steady and stable and doing our homework.
TRILOI: Well these are the next generation of the kids clearly matter to you according to that policy yet at the same time you stand here today and you won't promise to get 112 kids out of detention on Nauru despite the appalling mental health conditions their detention has created, despite calls from Australian doctors at the AMA, pediatricians, psychologists, so not all kids are equal hey?
SHORTEN: First of all, they are 2 different issues.
TRIOLI: They are both children, Mr Shorten. They are all children.
SHORTEN: Yes, I understand that linkage. But what I want to make clear and they are two separate issues. Is that it is a good idea to fund the two years of preschool, 15 hours a week, 600 hours a year of early learning for our children. And I think that whilst you make a point about Nauru, I think it is wrong to simply dismiss it and say well, "unless we do one, our preschool promise is not fair dinkum" - it is.
TRIOLI: Let me clarify Mr Shorten, it may be fair dinkum but you've still got on your hands the fact that you, and the Government, are prepared to let children languish in detention.
SHORTEN: Yeah, and I said I'd come to that issue. I said there are two issues. But what I won't do is have someone simply dismiss a promise.
TRIOLI: It's not being dismissed.
SHORTEN: Thank you. In terms of the treatment of the children on Nauru, I have been watching very carefully what the AMA have been saying. It isn't acceptable that if children need medical treatment they should be left to languish on the Nauru. Full stop. So perhaps we don't disagree as much as you think we do. But for me, you can't just simply say that we are not focusing on children. I do think that actually that giving our kids the best possible start is incredibly important.
TRIOLI: Alright, let's move on to something else, the ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus, has attacked enterprise bargaining as a failed system. She is giving a speech tonight in which she will say that it has exhausted its productivity benefits and is now about competing on wage costs. She says that the bargaining regime introduced by Labor has become, and these are her words, "narrow and inefficient" and she wants to see sector-wide bargaining rights and arbitration powers to fix that system. Given that wage growth is going to be a key battleground issue for the next election, is she right?
SHORTEN: There are a number of points in what you say. First of all, enterprise bargaining was introduced 25 years ago. It had delivered some pretty positive benefits for workers with lifts in real wages but there is no doubt in my mind, that in the last few years in particular, a lot of the rules about enterprise bargaining are creating one-sided outcomes and we are seeing wages growth stagnant. The fact of the matter is, that wherever I travel in Australia, people tell me everything is going up but their wages. So I think unions, and others, not just unions, have got a point that low wages growth is seeing the benefits of economic growth in Australia unfairly distributed. Or in plain English, the workers are getting left behind, corporate profits are up and we do need a better wages policy. So we will look very carefully at what Sally is saying and what other people are saying in this area. We have already proposed for your information, improvements to the system. We want to make sure that labour hire workers when they're working alongside direct employees at a company if they're doing work of the same skill and experience get the same pay. We want to reverse the cuts to penalty rates for 700,000 workers covered by awards where weekend rates have been cut and public holidays. So I think there is an important issue here.
TRIOLI: Yeah and as I mentioned earlier, clearly everyone's recognised you know, that the next election is going to be, if not largely on wage growth, and probably all about it, and who can claim that they can increase it will be the winner. If that's the case, then you really need the left of your party to stay on board with you, don't you? Instead, you have key unions reportedly this morning threatening to withdraw financial support because you continue to support, for example, the TPP. Can I ask you this morning on that news story which is in the Financial Review, how serious are those threats do you think?
SHORTEN: First of all, there are concerns that trade agreements provide some disadvantages as well as some advantages. I'm sympathetic to that complaint. The dilemma is that Labor's not the government, so we've got a government in power who is signing a trade agreement whose benefits, I would submit, are marginal. There are some benefits in higher education, to our agricultural sector, to steel, for example. But there are disadvantages in that there is an inadequate amount of what's called labour market testing or, in other words, there is concern expressed by people, including myself, that the Government is not doing enough to make sure that Australians get prioritised for first go for Australian jobs. The best way to fix this will be to have a Labor Government. We simply won't sign the sort of deals from government which this Government are doing but, you know, I guess it's a margin call. Do you stand in the way of some of the benefits? Do you make the good the enemy of the perfect? So on balance, we can see why, from Opposition, this agreement probably, on balance, has some advantages but it's not the sort of agreement we'd sign in government.
The deeper point, though, which you went to is about unity of the party and about wages policy. My party's very unified and I think the runs are on the board for that fact. I'm on my third Liberal Prime Minister. The Liberal Party's a mess. They can't explain why they got rid of Malcolm Turnbull. I think when it comes to wages policy, I've got a policy to help casuals. I've got a policy to help labour hire and I've got a policy to reverse penalty rate cuts. That will put me at least three points in policies ahead of the Government. Our announcement on early childhood learning today, I think that's going to make a generational change. You and many others and plenty of people complain there is no vision in politics. What we are doing is a policy which will have a benefit not next week but in the next generation of young people and giving them the best start.
TRIOLI: I get that and fair enough, but I do want to pick you up on a point you made there on the Government and them being a house divided.
SHORTEN: Oh yes.
TRIOLI: We have had that on your side, of course, but from my perspective, it is interesting this morning, looking at a whole suite of things going on in the country, growth at what 3.4 per cent which is damn healthy, you've got the AAA credit rating is back, employment is growing albeit part time but that's been the case for a long time now and some apparent stability now in the Government. Are you starting to be a little bit afraid that the election that appeared to be in your hands has now actually slipped through your fingers?
SHORTEN: First of all, the election hasn't been held.
TRIOLI: We're in election mode, though, clearly Mr Shorten.
SHORTEN: No, I'm not obsessed by the polls. I've never thought that the election was a foregone conclusion.
TRIOLI: Because you've never been popular with voters personally.
SHORTEN: Hang on, you have five questions there. Let's do them one at a time. One you said, do you think the election has slipped through our hands? It hasn't been held. There is no hubris or arrogance on our part. We are not going to be a small-target opposition. That's why we are announcing universal preschool for 3 and 4 year olds. We are putting forward alternative policies, we're not relying on the mistakes of the Government.
You then also said in your prelude to your question that the Government is now stable. Well it is stable for at least a week. You have got ex-Prime Ministers from New York complaining bitterly, it's a pretty divided Party I don't think they are stable if you scratch the surface.
And fundamentally, you said well the economy is growing and there are some positive headline numbers, true - but who is it growing for and in whose interests? The reality is that for workers in this country, they haven't seen a wage rise. That's what the ACTU is talking about. The benefits of growth in this country are not being fairly distributed. That's why we want to rather than tax concessions to the top end, we want to put universal preschool for 3 and 4 yearolds at the top of the chart because this country isn't working in the interests of everyone. Just for the lucky few.
TRIOLI: Good to talk to you this morning, Mr Shorten, thanks for making time for us.
SHORTEN: Lovely, cheerio.