LEON COMPTON: In the weekend financial review Lindsay Fox, trucking magnate, raised the prospect of an unemployment rate in Tasmania touching twenty per cent and the man comes here a lot. He asked what if Temco closes? What if Alcan closes? What if Tasmania's heavy industry's permanently reduced by a high Australian dollar, challenged by a carbon tax and so on?
And then as you've heard and as we've been talking about so much in recent years on your local ABC, the forestry industry and reforms going on here at the moment. Bill Shorten's Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, also Financial Services and Superannuation. Minister, good morning.
BILL SHORTEN: Good morning.
LEON COMPTON: And thank you for coming in. Do you accept Lindsay Fox's assessment, that if a few brakes go in a different direction Tasmania might be facing an unemployment rate touching twenty per cent?
BILL SHORTEN: I respect Lindsay Fox as a businessman. I don't accept that Tasmania's economic future is as bleak as he potentially says. I still see a role for heavy industry in Tasmania and I know that the Federal Government's committed to people being able to have good lifestyles and good jobs in the future in Tasmania.
LEON COMPTON: But at the same time our Federal Representatives went off to Canberra recently and could come up with what industry regarded as [inaudible] over improving our capacity to export from this State. The Government at a State level is laying off a significant number of workers. There are financial problems around and there is a real issue with employment and manufacturing changes here.
BILL SHORTEN: Oh yeah, you are correct. There is - we're living in a two speed economy in Australia. I know that some of the big mining companies think that mining's the only game in town. It's not. It is important. We are seeing the impact of the high dollar putting pressure on everything which competes with imports. We're seeing pressure on manufacturing, domestic tourism, in other words it's cheaper for people to go overseas than it previously was.
Education services, where we want to attract students from overseas to Australia, it's more expensive. So there's no doubt there's a two speed economy, but I think the big question for all people is how will I have a good job in the future and that's the one which the Government's keen to answer.
LEON COMPTON: And the question of how they will have a good job in the future, particularly given cost of living prices are rising at the moment, why is it that we're talking about bringing US tradespeople to Australia? Why is it better to bring them here than develop jobs in Tasmania, develop builders of our own?
BILL SHORTEN: I don't accept the proposition that bringing people in from overseas means that we can't develop our own jobs. As a nation we're growing older. Now that's a good thing - beats the alternative, but we will need more workers in the future than we currently have. Participation rates - that's the number of adults working are at historic highs, but the fact of the matter is our first baby boomers started turning 65 a couple of years ago and we are going to need more workers.
I don't accept the proposition that we should just - not that you’re particularly advancing it - but I don't accept the proposition that we just put up - pull up the drawbridge. We obviously in Australia want to see Australians employed. That's why we're spending so much on skills. That's why I'll be at Woolworths later this morning where they're putting on more people.
That's why I've been at Hydro Tasmania where they're, as a business, exporting Tasmanian know-how to the rest of the world. But we also need our immigrants. I don't - I wouldn't want to see a situation where it gets as simplistic as we don't take immigrants, skilled immigrants into this country to work.
LEON COMPTON: It's not a zero sum game but we have a number of young people. We have quite high...
BILL SHORTEN: Yeah.
LEON COMPTON: ...youth unemployment in Tasmania. I mean we're bringing in carpenters at a time when we could be training young people in Tasmania. They need work.
BILL SHORTEN: Well you're right. Youth unemployment's a particular interest to the Government. We are - about two weeks ago the Federal Government made the proposition that we want to see everyone in Australia up to the age of 65 have the equivalent of a Certificate Three in training. We think that young people will have seven or eight jobs in their life. They need to have skills so they can adjust as new opportunities arise.
We're spending more on skills than our predecessors ever did, so I think that we are pretty strongly committed there. We've got programs to help the very long term unemployed, but I get that Tasmania is doing it harder than other parts of Australia. I'm a Victorian so I'm not that far away from Tasmania and I don't share the view of some of the conservative politicians in Western Australia, that Tasmania's some sort of drag on the economy.
Two hundred and thirty-six thousand people work here. There's about seventeen thousand people who are unemployed. I spent time as a union organiser in some of those heavy industries that you were referring to at the start of the conversation. I still think people should be able to earn a living working for instance in heavy refining industries...
LEON COMPTON: But you know as well as anybody listening to this that they're at real risk of closure. The greatest risk of closure, whatever else is ever true of their health as they have been for many a long year. What if they close?
BILL SHORTEN: Well first of all, let's do what we can to make sure that they can keep operating and I know that the Federal Government, the Tasmanian Government is - and the Federal MPs are acutely aware of this, so I think there's plenty going on behind the scenes to try and make sure that Tasmania keeps some of its manufacturing.
But the best challenge, the best thing we can do is lift productivity; lift the competitive nature of Australian industry. That's why we'll work on the skills. That's why the national broadband network helps. That's why also we want to have a system where we have better superannuation for people so that they've got more money when they retire. There's more money to spend.
The Labor Government federally is interested in growing Australia and doing it fairly.
LEON COMPTON: Well when it comes to the pulp mill for example, Andrew Wilkie raised the idea that the Government's considering support for the pulp mill in the T Tamar Valley. Are you, given the jobs that would flow from it?
BILL SHORTEN: I'm not across the latest with the pulp mill politics. There's been plenty of to-ing and fro-ing, but I know that the Government is committed to manufacturing. I just don't know - I don't want to make something up which I don't know about, the latest in the pulp mill prognostications.
LEON COMPTON: It does come with a significant component of jobs attached.
BILL SHORTEN: Sure.
LEON COMPTON: Do you know if the Government's considering support at the moment for the pulp mill through the Export Finance Insurance Corporation?
BILL SHORTEN: Again, I'm just not up to speed. I can find out pretty quickly but probably not in the time of this interview, but I'm just not up to speed with the latest with t hat.
LEON COMPTON: Bill Shorten, my guest this morning on your local ABC around Tasmania. Minister, on productivity, the big banks came out yesterday and said they want to argue that Saturday and Sunday are normal working days. Are they right? Are weekend and public holiday penalties in the quest for better productivity in Australia something that needs to be redressed?
BILL SHORTEN: Productivity - let's define our terms properly. Productivity in Australia doesn't mean lower pay or working longer hours. What it means is that you can produce more using the same amount of effort, or using more effort you produce a lot more. Now for me, Australia's future and Tasmania's future’s got to be reasonably well waged. You know, you're paid reasonably well and you're higher - and you're highly skilled and you're turning out competitive products.
I've got no objection to people - obviously you can't have an objection to people working on weekends. We've in many ways moved to a seven day a week world, but I do object to it when organisations making billions of dollars with CEOs making millions of dollars - and that's their business and that's what you expect them to do - when they propose that people on forty thousand dollars a year should take a pay cut to work on weekends.
For me - a lot of people in bank branches work part time. A lot of them, not exclusively a lot of women, it's one thing to go to work during the week when your kids are at school, but trying to find the childcare and the costs of childcare on weekends, there's a reason why penalty rates exist.
Now if the banks want to negotiate with the relevant union, if they want to negotiate with their employees varying the terms of employment, it can't be at the starting principle that people take a pay cut.
LEON COMPTON: What are you doing at Woolworths today?
BILL SHORTEN: Well Woolworths has announced a compact with the Federal Government to ensure that amongst the ten thousand people it's putting on in its response to Woolworths growth, that it draws heavily from disadvantaged sections of our community, the very long term unemployed - that's people who have been unemployed for longer than two years; people with disabilities who frequently experience discrimination when they're looking for work because of their disability unfairly, older workers.
Some people think that because you've got grey in your hair, somehow you're not as useful as a twenty year old employee whereas quite often the experience counts for more; so - also Indigenous Australian's experience higher than average unemployment. Woolworths, I'm pleased to say, are working with the Government.
They'll have one person to liaise with in each State from the Government to be able to source the programs and find people from these disadvantaged categories and give them opportunities to work. That's good...