Bill's Transcripts

Transcript: Interview with Jon Faine, ABC 774, 17 April 2012

SUBJECTS:  job losses at Toyota, National Disability Insurance Scheme

JON FAINE:  Bill Shorten is a senior minister in Julia Gillard's Government.

Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Financial Services and Superannuation, Mr Shorten, good morning to you.

BILL SHORTEN:   Good morning, Jon.

JON FAINE:  I want to ask you about Toyota and their issues yesterday; their conduct or the method of getting rid of some of their staff, which is why we've invited you on to the program today.

But just to respond to Tony Abbott's comments on the National Disability Insurance Scheme - this is your personal project. You must be pleased, surely, that there's bipartisan support in principle for it now.

BILL SHORTEN:  I'm not going to be mealy mouthed. I am pleased that the Opposition are not pursuing a negative strategy on this. But I also reserve the right to be a little concerned about the lack of detail in the Opposition's propositions, specifically the Productivity Commission, which Mr Abbott said to the Premier - economic institution - said that the states should all move to no fault motor vehicle insurance because one of the causes of catastrophic and long term injury, of course, is motor vehicle accidents.

And I think Victorians would be surprised to learn that in Victoria, if you hit a tree, if you can't prove fault but you've ended up in a wheelchair for the rest of your life, you don't have to go to court to prove the tree was at fault or the other person was at fault.

But in Western Australia, in Queensland, they are thirty years behind the times. And if Mr Abbott wants to demonstrate his bona fides he could have a word to the Premier of Western Australia and the Premier of Queensland, just as I've done to the Treasurer of South Australia, and say guys, it is about time you moved into the twenty-first century.

People spend years - you know, their carers have got to feed them through straws in the neck. And I know I'm being dramatic with that, but that's the fact. People have trouble toileting - terrible car injuries - and yet they've got to go to court to try and prove that someone else was at fault in order to get the sort of minimum care which, in Victoria and New South Wales, we take for granted. So that would be a constructive gesture by the Opposition.

JON FAINE:   The political issue is you've got bipartisan, in principle, support. There's work to be...


JON FAINE:  Sorry?

BILL SHORTEN:  My point is about this, in principle and bipartisan - it's easy - Mr Abbott knows he's got a problem because he's so negative. So he's trying to hug the Government on issues which he's finally worked out are important.

It was only a couple of months ago he said that he didn't think an NDIS - he said it was just an aspiration and a principle. So he's obviously changed his tune because he's worked out this is a fundamental issue.

But if you want to be constructive, as opposed to just rhetorical, he could give us a hand persuading Colin Barnett - the same political party, Campbell Newman, the same political party as Mr Abbott - to move to no fault motor vehicle insurance which is what the Productivity Commission said is one of the building blocks towards a national scheme.

JON FAINE:  You had a whack yesterday at Toyota over their method for getting rid of three-hundred-and-fifty workers on the production line in Altona. Toyota have conducted what they say was negotiated with the union as a performance review of every single one of three and a half thousand people in the production line facility, including supervisors and managers, and they've gone through and picked out people who had high levels of absenteeism, particularly on Fridays and Mondays, and people who were less successful at a set of agreed criteria. What's wrong with reducing your staff by those agreed performance measures?

BILL SHORTEN:  Well, first of all, my thoughts are with the affected workers and their families. I don't like the idea - and again, there will be more facts to this than are being covered simply in the media and allegations and counter allegations will be tested in Fair Work Australia. And I understand some of the affected workers are going to do that.

But at an elevated level this idea that the people who lost their jobs were the slackers, were the ones who weren’t as good, to me, is stigmatising a group of people who, frankly, are losing their jobs not because of any perceived failings, in my opinion, but because the high dollar makes it harder for Toyota to export overseas.

I am concerned at rumours and reports and allegations which say that a sort of a traditional, very hard line approach - tap on the shoulder, you're gone mate - that is not the way to conduct redundancies. Again...

JON FAINE:    [Interrupts]. What is the way? There's no nice way.

BILL SHORTEN:  Well, there's no - as I said yesterday there's no easy way to give bad news. But the way that I would recommend to companies - and I've seen it happen over twenty years through both my previous job and in my current job - is just when you - if there's not a job for someone, there's not a job. I don't live in some sort of Pollyanna fools' paradise.

What I also know is - just imagine, when you're making someone redundant - just imagine someone was making your husband or wife - your mother or father, who's worked for a company twenty years - redundant. Dignity never goes out of fashion.

JON FAINE:  No, but if they were taking sickies on Fridays all the time and thinking they were getting away with it, well guess what? It catches up.

BILL SHORTEN:  What's so dreadful - I don't believe that everyone who's lost their job has lost their job for any other reason than because the business is affected by the high dollar.

I am concerned at hard line redundancy tactics which may pick people because they were union reps or safety reps. And that's some of the allegations yet to be proven, I must add. But there seems to have been a fuss here, which is unusual. I've found in the past Toyota to be a pretty sophisticated, forward-thinking company. And it may well be that everything they've done here passes muster, but some of the media reports in Melbourne's newspapers today - the Herald Sun and The Age - at least raise your eyebrows.

And what I would just say to companies who have to do redundancies - not that you have to keep a person in a job for life - that's not the way of the modern world. But if you're going to let someone go - especially someone who's been there for a period of time - it never - you can do these things in a dignified fashion. That doesn’t make the news any more palatable, but last night and tonight people will be at home. Their kids will be asking mummy, daddy, did you lose your job because you were a slacker? And that is not the case.

JON FAINE:  Well, there were agreed criteria, although the union's now saying they didn't agree to it. You were measured according to your commitment to the Toyota way and corporate values: safety, attendance, work quality, performance, skill, teamwork, standards, diligence and technical skills. And they measured everyone on those. And what other way is there to decide who stays and who goes? But let's move on. Bill...

BILL SHORTEN:  Those matters will be set out in the EBA. I'm not saying that Toyota doesn’t have a right...

JON FAINE: [Interrupts]. And tested now at Fair Work Australia.

BILL SHORTEN:  And I'm not saying that Toyota doesn’t have a right to make people redundant. Of course it does. The high dollar is a fact of life. But what I also say is that it's - you don't need a PhD in industrial relations to remember the golden rule: just treat other people how you'd like to be treated yourself.

JON FAINE:  Alright. You also don't need a PhD to see that General Motors announced a deal with General Motors Shanghai to design cars for China here - to design them here in Melbourne - to secure the future for their engineering facility whilst Toyota are laying off production line workers.

So there's the future, which is let's do the smart stuff because the simple assembly can be done anywhere in the world. Isn't that, in a snapshot, the Australian economy and its future, Bill Shorten?

BILL SHORTEN:  I think, in terms of manufacturing, the more that we can move up the value chain the better. And by the value chain I mean we use our brains to make things which we can price at something above a commodity.

So yes, I - and I believe that Toyota's got a future in Australia. And I believe Holden's news about exporting to China is good. Let's - for me, what is affecting manufacturing is the high dollar. It's forcing some companies to put more into research and development, more into skills training.

There will be a manufacturing sector in Australia, but the companies who do well will be, in my opinion, the ones who - the workplace of the future of manufacturing will be one which puts an emphasis on listening to your workers, puts an emphasis on good safety, puts an emphasis on R&D, puts an emphasis on having a channel to market so that you can sell your product.

It will be manufacturing products which people want to buy, even if it's more than just the basic commodity price, which could be produced in any country in the world.

JON FAINE:   Thank you for your time this morning too.

Bill Shorten, Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations, Financial Services and Superannuation in the Gillard Government.