Bill's Transcripts

Transcript: Interview with Chris Smith, 2GB, 16 February 2012

Subjects: jobs figures, Qantas announcement, ALP leadership 

 CHRIS SMITH:        The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Superannuation, and Financial Services is Bill Shorten. He’s on the line right now. Mr Shorten, good afternoon.

BILL SHORTEN:     Good afternoon.

CHRIS SMITH:        You would be a happy chappy and probably deserve some congratulations - against all expectations we have now got an unemployment rate down to five point one and jobs are surging.  How did that happen?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well I think there’s a silent revolution going on in what some people disparagingly call the new economy.  The new economy is a fifty-dollar word.  What it practically means is a lot of people are starting businesses at home; the services sector is expanding.  We’re trying to unpack the data.  Monthly numbers do bounce around, so you know if it was a bad number I’d say it’s a monthly, you can’t put everything down to one month.  So I’m not going to try and over-bake the cake about five point one per cent.

But a couple of facts do stand out.  One is unemployment is pretty much near full employment.  Over the last forty years we have only had six years where the numbers have been this good.  In fact over the whole history of the hundred and thirty years, we have had many years where we haven’t had this sort of low unemployment.

The other number which I think is a real number is that we now have more Australians than ever before going to work.  Now that’s partly population growth; the participation rate went up slightly.  Eleven million four hundred and sixty three thousand nine hundred people going to work.

CHRIS SMITH:        Just in terms of definition, Peter wrote me an email about two minutes ago and said can you as the Minister what the minimum number of hours per week one must work to be classified as employed. What is the definition of that?

BILL SHORTEN:     One hour or more, I would say though that to help back that up, part-time employment has risen and full-time employment has risen. So we have got more people engaging in full or part-time work.

CHRIS SMITH:        This must have stunned you when this came through twenty five minutes ago.

BILL SHORTEN:     Yeah I was surprised.

CHRIS SMITH:        Yeah, I bet you were.

BILL SHORTEN:     Pleased, but again we get used to it…

CHRIS SMITH:        Bobbing around.

BILL SHORTEN:     …but also, again, I know that there is bad news out there. I know Alcoa workers, I used to be their organiser; I know Qantas engineers, some of them look like they might lose positions - but there is a lot of good news out there too, and it is, on balance it’s good. But what it tells me though is that we’ve got to hang onto the jobs we’ve got, but there are new sectors emerging, and we’ve also got to realise that people will have more than one job in their life.  So it means that a smart government will just keep training the young people and the people in their twenties and thirties and forties and fifties and sixties so that people can take - you know one door closes another door opens.

CHRIS SMITH:        Just on the bad news that you have cited there - Qantas announcing today the shedding of five hundred people, probably more - that’ll go from heavy maintenance; catering.  Alcoa puts a two billion aluminium plant investment in WA on hold.  Minmetals, quoted in The Australian yesterday saying they’ve put some money into the Congo instead of Australia.  We’ve got John Hannagan -the head of aluminium giant Rusal - saying that the carbon tax is pushing operations to China and there will be a loss of two hundred and fifty jobs.

There is a lot of bad news, and there’s now this link to the carbon tax.  Do you think that is real?

BILL SHORTEN:     Just because - many years ago I was briefly a lawyer, what I learned is the facts sometimes have more than one explanation. 

So let me just go through that.  Qantas are building, or they’re buying these Airbuses which are much newer aeroplanes. I used to do work with engineering maintenance blokes so I know that the old 747s, they’ve been around for thirty years.  An older plane requires more maintenance.  A newer plane, just like a new motor car, you look under the bonnet now of a new motor car, it just doesn’t require the same degree of servicing, certainly not in the early years.

So that partly explains Qantas, and that’s just a technical fact.

The carbon price didn’t invent the Airbus. You know, it’s not the carbon price’s fault that we’ve got more modern aeroplanes.

CHRIS SMITH:        Yeah, but they need to take into consideration what’s happening in the next period.

BILL SHORTEN:     Oh yeah, and we’ve never hidden the fact that airfares will increase by about three dollars per sector, but also when we look at Qantas, they’re getting knocked around by the high dollar.  It’s cheaper to fly in some cases to here from overseas and from here overseas on other airlines, and we reason why we have a high dollar is in part because we’ve got the mining boom.  That’s why it’s important we get our mining tax through to share the prosperity. I mean it’s good that we’ve got the mining boom, but we’ve also got to share that prosperity, that’s why only the Labor Government wants to decrease the taxes on small business from thirty per cent to twenty nine per cent.

Now when it comes to Minmetals and going to the Congo, I talk to mining companies.  All companies around the world - because there’s less liquidity - are looking at all projects carefully.

Now I don’t know the circumstances of the particular deal in the Congo, but I have met with the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world and he said listen Bill, let’s be very clear, we regard Melbourne as a tier one, blue chip investment facility.  If one deal doesn’t work out, again you could blame the carbon price or you can actually look at the circumstances of a deal.  If you or I bid for a house and we don’t buy it, there can be a reason that the seller and the buyer couldn’t agree on the price.  That doesn’t mean that there’s a whole lot of other things to blame.

CHRIS SMITH:        Just back on Qantas, and I guess I should get a reaction from you to Alan Joyce’s plans here - the union is far from happy.  What’s your reaction to what he’s announced today?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well, they say they’re going to do a review of heavy maintenance.  I know two of the heavy - I know all the heavy maintenance facilities. I have personally visited them. I hope that the review comes up trumps for keeping as many maintenance facilities going.

Qantas has got a right to make a profit and a good profit.  Qantas is still the largest employer of mechanical engineers in Australia. I don’t believe this current announcement is about offshoring jobs, but you know I hope the case is made and studied and analysed to keep some maintenance operations in Victoria.

CHRIS SMITH:        And your reaction to Tony Abbott’s estimation that this carbon tax will add one hundred and ten million dollars a year to Qantas.  Now if you have a look at Qantas announcing today a first half net profit of forty two million, if there’s consistency in that net profit for the next financial period, and say a hundred million a year hit from the carbon dioxide tax, they’re going to be very much in the red Qantas?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well again, remember earlier on I said you can have one set of facts and draw different conclusions.  What you say assumes that the price of an air ticket won’t go up three dollars.  I think it is more likely that the price of an airline ticket per sector will go up.

CHRIS SMITH:        Mm.

BILL SHORTEN:     And so therefore it won’t come off Qantas’s bottom line.  Three dollars when you’re, you know, flying in the air; a lot of Qantas passengers now tick the box…

CHRIS SMITH:        Okay.

BILL SHORTEN:     …to pay a little more to plant a tree.

CHRIS SMITH:        I want to ask you about Fair Work Australia.  We’ve had some evidence given to the Senate Inquiry yesterday by Deborah O’Neill, the General Manager, and this business about oh we can’t release the report because we’re fearful of defamation - I’m paraphrasing her. Fearful of defamation?  I would have thought it would only take a responsible Workplace Relations Minister to step in and say don’t worry that’s what parliamentary privilege is for in the public interest. We can release your document, your findings, and you can be protected from defamation. Would you consider doing that?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well the laws which Bernadette O’Neill was referring to, interestingly, the laws which she’s operating under as an independent statutory office holder, were introduced into Parliament by none other than Tony Abbott when he was Minister for Industrial Relations.

So the laws that she’s talking about applying are Tony Abbott’s laws.  We didn’t change them.

What she said specifically - and I think whilst I can see the point you’re making, she said my overriding concern at all times - I’m quoting directly from her transcript; I’m not paraphrasing - has been to maintain the integrity of the investigations and any proceedings that may ensue.

She says - it is paramount that organisations or individuals are held to account for any offences or contraventions that may have occurred.

And her final sentence is - I will continue to be cautious in providing detail about investigations as I will not allow through inadvertent disclosures here any proceedings to be jeopardised.

She’s got - the report that's finalised; if it has adverse consequences and if she’s so minded has to go to the Director of Public Prosecutions.  Now if she lets out evidence which is subsequently to be relied upon by the Director of Public Prosecutions, she may well have jeopardised the case.

CHRIS SMITH:        Okay. Let me ask the question more simply then - doesn’t the public deserve a finding?

BILL SHORTEN:     Oh, they will make findings, so yes the public deserves a finding. There will be findings.  I don’t want to pre-empt what the findings are.  If it’s lesser, she may go one way, but if she makes findings which are necessary for a regulatory officer to decide to prosecute, you put info out before the DPP has considered it, you could well…

CHRIS SMITH:        I understand that, but the public’s saying this is ridiculous. This is a farce…

BILL SHORTEN:     Okay and the Fair Work Manager said it had taken too long.  There’s only been two investigations under this section since Tony Abbott introduced it in 2002.  She conceded that it had gone on very long and she’s actually auditing to work out why that has happened, but again there’s a thing called the separation of powers here.

The Libs came out yesterday and breathlessly said, oh Shorten and the Prime Minister should go and demand that, you know, the investigation is concluded as soon as possible.

Well the problem with that is that we don’t get to interfere in what independent bodies do.  She said there’s been no political interference.  Imagine if politicians started demanding that police or other government regulatory independent office holders have to comply with their direction.

CHRIS SMITH:        Sure.

BILL SHORTEN:     You know, is that the Coalition way?

CHRIS SMITH:        Yeah, it’s Bernadette O’Neill too, by the way. I think I said Deborah, but it’s Bernadette O’Neill.

BILL SHORTEN:     Yeah, no, that’s alright. Yeah.

CHRIS SMITH:        Just one last thing on Fair Work Australia…

BILL SHORTEN:     Deborah O’Neal is the hardworking member in Central Coast.

CHRIS SMITH:        That’s right.  Exactly.  Yes.

BILL SHORTEN:     That’s why you’re thinking of her, because she’s got such a good reputation for hard work.

CHRIS SMITH:        [Laughs] nice line.  Finally, just on this subject, in 2009 we had this Doug Williams from - who was the Registrar at the time, presumably, according to what The Australian has put together today, presumably getting to the point where an investigation was the next step and he handed all of that over to the General Manager, who would become the General Manager of Fair Work Australia - Tim Lee, who’s a bit of a Labor Party and union apparatchik - can we blame Tim Lee for sitting on this thing?

BILL SHORTEN:     No, I think at some point we need evidence.  I mean some in the Coalition are quick to malign our public servants and to bash our tribunals. Yes the person in charge - and I read the transcript yesterday - said she thought that matters had taken a very long time.

On the other hand, important matters - she’s going to be cautious. I mean I’m wary of critiquing the courts. Some people critique the times that a whole lot of our independent institutions take to deal with matters.  Not hiding behind that. The facts are what they are. This matter will come to a conclusion in the very near future.

CHRIS SMITH:        In the very near future. I only hope that’s correct.

BILL SHORTEN:     So do I.

CHRIS SMITH:        Can I ask you a question just on the Prime Minister at the moment?  There’s so much being written about a possible challenge by Kevin Rudd.  There’s certainly too much newspaper space taken up with the machinations involving that, and we know that she probably made a tactical error in appearing on Four Corners - that seems to be the universal feeling amongst commentators.

But the PM stated all this week that she was ambushed by Four Corners.  This is what she had to say.

[Beginning of excerpt]

JULIA GILLARD:     I was approached by Four Corners for an interview on what was described as the government’s progress since two-thousand-and-seven, and so in those circumstances of course I said yes.  My job is to answer questions and to explain what the government’s doing.  I’m not someone who runs away from questions, and so I did agree to the Four Corners interview.

[End of excerpt]

CHRIS SMITH:        Okay, I have seen the email that’s gone from the ABC to the Prime Minister’s office. It clearly says they will also discuss leadership.  She’s partly telling the truth, and this seems to go to her integrity.  We’re seeing her say things that are only partly factual. Is there an integrity problem with the Prime Minister because of the part truths she tells?

BILL SHORTEN:     No, I know her very well.  She is strong.  She is determined, and she has integrity, and I think that the very fact that today we’re talking about fair laws in the workplace; yesterday we were resolving that millionaires shouldn’t be getting tax paid, you know, healthcare and their secretaries paying for them.  The fact that we’ve got a low unemployment numbers when the rest of the world is in a very difficult place, I just don’t agree with your question I’m afraid.

CHRIS SMITH:        Okay. I think on the question of integrity, I think you’d find that the majority of Australians are having a problem with the Prime Minister on that score. But anyway, let’s leave it there.

BILL SHORTEN:     Alright.

CHRIS SMITH:        You’re very busy…

BILL SHORTEN:     Be that as it may, and people are entitled to their opinions, I know her, I rate her, and I stick with her.

CHRIS SMITH:        thank you for your time this afternoon.

BILL SHORTEN:     Thank you.

CHRIS SMITH:        Okay. Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Superannuation and Financial Services, Bill Shorten. Plenty to chew on after that.

- ENDS -