Bill's Transcripts

Transcript: 3AW Neil Mitchel

3AW Neil Mitchell
23 May 2012

SUBJECTS: Industrial Relations

NEIL MITCHELL: Now I just get the sense something's happening around the unions, around workplaces, around industrial relations. A number of business leaders have said there's a need for industrial relations reform. Tony Abbott, that's reported in The Financial Review today, is looking at well, an area he's stayed out of, industrial relations after the Work Choice disaster, but the suggestion is he's looking at returning the pendulum back to the middle.

In other words, it's swung too far to the unions and he wants to bring it back into the middle. On the line, the Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten. Good morning.

BILL SHORTEN: Good morning, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL: Well, it's probably a reasonable argument, isn't it?

BILL SHORTEN: Well you've got to look at spin and substance. When a politician says that oh, they want to be moderate, well you know that's good but the substance is a little different. There is no detail on what Mr Abbott said.

NEIL MITCHELL: Well he hasn't done it yet though.

BILL SHORTEN: Yes, that's right, spot on. I think in public debate we need to get beyond the clichés and do some straight talking and when we talk about industrial relations in Australia in lost time industrial action has consistently been a third of what it was under Labor, than it was under the Howard Government.

NEIL MITCHELL: Is that right? I was looking at the…

BILL SHORTEN:  That's a fact.

NEIL MITCHELL:…the working days lost to disputes. I think Jac Nasser quoted this, two hundred and ten—2010 was one hundred and twenty-six thousand and 2011 two hundred and forty-one thousand five hundred. That's an increase.

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah and let's go back through all of the Howard years…

NEIL MITCHELL: No, no but you said it was lower under Labor. That's a significant increase.

BILL SHORTEN: Yes but when you look at the Howard years—again it's—it's important that in life we have a bit of history, that we're not totally into the twenty-four hour or the short term news cycle. The Howard Government for nine of their 10 years was well above any of those numbers you mentioned.

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay. Well are we in trouble now?


NEIL MITCHELL: Well we've got—the head of our…

BILL SHORTEN: Well let's…

NEIL MITCHELL:…one of your own men is saying—one of your own people is saying there's a need for industrial relations reform. It's too expensive and too much uncertainty around industrial relations.

BILL SHORTEN: Well, Mr Abbott—I'll just—I'll move on to being specific about the BHP complaint because these are serious businessmen and serious business people deserve the courtesy of some respect and a hearing out their views, but in terms of before we get off what Mr Abbott sort of just wafts in and wafts out like Tinkerbell…

NEIL MITCHELL: Well he hasn't actually said anything?

BILL SHORTEN: Well that's it, spot on, Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL: This is a leak from his party meeting.

BILL SHORTEN: Well he hasn't actually said anything and all I would say, Neil is when can we—when can we get some substance here.

NEIL MITCHELL: Well that's a fair point but it…

BILL SHORTEN: That's all I'm saying at the moment.

NEIL MITCHELL:…but to be fair to him this is a leak from the party room…

BILL SHORTEN: No, but to be fair to them they think they're one heart attack or one crisis away from being in Government. When do people actually say to the Opposition, well what would you do? 

NEIL MITCHELL: But how do you know the leak's right?

BILL SHORTEN: Well they haven't come out and denied it today, have they?  Have you had any Liberals saying no, that's not right.

NEIL MITCHELL: Well, geez I'd be careful about denying things. Anyway, yeah.

BILL SHORTEN: Well let's go through what we mean when—when Mr Abbott was the minister in the Howard Government I tell you what was stripped back, redundancy pay, penalty rates for overtime, holidays, shift work, arrangements for hours of work and rosters, rest breaks…

NEIL MITCHELL: So you're going to run up the Work Choices thing again?

BILL SHORTEN: No, I'm just saying look at the—look at the record and all I'm saying is I am really pleased that Mr Abbott—and let's assume for a second that what you're saying is right and the whole thing is just a confection of the media…

NEIL MITCHELL: No, I don't believe it's a confection for a moment.

BILL SHORTEN:…okay, so we really…

NEIL MITCHELL: But I think it's a bit unfair to nail him on something he hasn't said.

BILL SHORTEN: Well, that's right. I'd like to be able to have the debate with what he actually thinks. All I'm…

NEIL MITCHELL: I agree with that. I [unclear].

BILL SHORTEN:…all I'm doing is saying listen, why don't we get Tony out? Why doesn't 3AW host a debate and I'm happy to debate Tony Abbott or their industrial relations spokesperson? Our policies are clear. Before the last election we had fifty pages of industrial relations policy and our—we've got the Fair Work Act but…


BILL SHORTEN:…I'd just like to—it's a bit frustrating sometimes, we're sort of wrestling with smoke these Liberals. They won't stand still long enough to actually say what they would do differently.

NEIL MITCHELL: Well in fairness the election is a long way off?

BILL SHORTEN: Well if you believe the Liberals every day they're moving a resolution to try and bring down the Government. So when—if this—if the election is a long way off which I accept is probably right, more likely than not, at what point should the Liberals be required to state their policies?

NEIL MITCHELL: Well I don't know, the same as you would have, which is into the campaign I'd imagine but hang on—but let's have a look—let's have a look at…

BILL SHORTEN: And then go to Mr Nasser's comments, the BHP [unclear]…

NEIL MITCHELL:…well let's—you know let's go to your—Sir Rod Eddington, who is what, he's head of your infrastructure body, he's been advisor to all manner of Labor Governments, he says today Jac Nasser is right, industrial relations is uncertain and too expensive. It's too expensive to work—do work in this country, it's uncompetitive. Now Rod Eddington is your own man?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I—again, Rod Eddington is not my man but he's…

NEIL MITCHELL: No, sorry he's a Labor Party advisor.

BILL SHORTEN:… he's been appointed by both sides of politics.

NEIL MITCHELL: Yeah, true.

BILL SHORTEN: I just want to see the evidence. When we—again it's…

NEIL MITCHELL: Well, he's saying it, Jac Nasser is saying is. Are they both wrong?

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, but let's go back to Jac Nasser's—well, just because someone is called chairman and says something it doesn't mean that you've got to tip your forelock. I need the evidence.

NEIL MITCHELL: Well no but he's got a fair idea if he's running the company, hasn't he?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, that's right. That's why I keep trying to come back to what Mr Nasser's concerned about.


BILL SHORTEN: He is chairman of BHP Billiton, a successful company, doing pretty well. They've got a problem in Queensland where there's seven coal pits, coal mines, where they've been trying to convince their three thousand employees to change their conditions.

Now what's happened is there's been ballots and indeed the—most recently a secret election, in other words a secret ballot election, where the employees had the company's proposition put to them. Eighty per cent plus of these people rejected it.

Now again that doesn't mean the company's all wrong, not at all but I think it's a little hard to blame the Fair Work Act if you can't convince your own employees about change.

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay. He's saying…

BILL SHORTEN: So what are we saying?  Shall we just get rid of the right of employees to have a say in their—if they don't like what…

NEIL MITCHELL: Well I would hope not. I would hope not but he is saying, going further than that, he's saying Australia is one of the highest cost countries in the world…


NEIL MITCHELL:…and the Laborist regulations are too restrictive and they've got to look at doing business elsewhere. Now that—that would frighten any—or should scare anybody.

BILL SHORTEN: All right. It's something—it's something you take seriously and obviously we want to see productivity in Australia grow, we want to see commonsense in workplace relations but again you get beyond, you know, important person says, you know, Australia's too expensive and then we unpack what's the particular source of irritation—you know when someone's grumpy about something it's always good to get to the reason why they're grumpy.

NEIL MITCHELL: So you're saying it's self-interest? Well—well…

BILL SHORTEN: Well, no, no, there's nothing wrong with self-interest.


BILL SHORTEN: I'm not—that's not a dirty word and if —you know you always back the horse in the races called self-interest but what I'm always saying is there's always two sides to every story and if 80 per cent of your coal miners say we don't agree with what the company is proposing are we saying that we should just scrap that and that that's not a relevant factor? 

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay. Well, let's—let's go right back to basics. Is there a need for further reform of the industrial relations system in this country?

BILL SHORTEN: I think that the substantive thrust of workplace relations is on pretty good ground but I also believe that there may well be propositions which emerge through a review which we have commissioned of three experts about how the new laws are working and if they've got specific proposals where you can improve cooperation, where you can improve…


BILL SHORTEN:…you know outcomes, we'd be silly not to look at them but I'm not about to start saying that the sky is falling in because, you know the OECD, the organisation—the sort of—the body who looks at how first world nations are going, says that Australia is doing practically better than anywhere else.

I think that when people talk about it's too expensive to do business in Australia my gut tells me that if coal wasn't in Australia Billiton wouldn't be here. If there wasn't oil in Bass Strait, Exxon wouldn't be in Bass Strait.

Like these—these companies are good and they employ people but they're here partly because we've got marvellous natural resources, because we've got a good workforce, because we've got the rule of law. I don't accept the proposition that somehow it's easier or better to do work in one of the stands in Central Asia or a sub-Sahara and African country.

NEIL MITCHELL: No, I'd—I'd agree with that but if we're going to say that we maintain an edge of competitiveness we've got to be willing to review the industrial relations system almost continually, don't we?

BILL SHORTEN: I think that we need to be doing better in our workplaces in terms of productivity. What I don't accept is if you just externalise all the problems to changing a law in Canberra that somehow everything else miraculously falls into place.

There will be—there's sixty billion dollars lost here because people get injured at work, so I actually wish some of these chairmen would talk as heavily about improving safety in Australia. I believe that it's important that our women get a better go in the workplace than they currently do.

I believe it's important that people are able to come to work and feel that—motivated and have a go.

NEIL MITCHELL: Have—you've got a report on workplace relations coming to you, haven't you? 

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, at the end of May, beginning of June.

NEIL MITCHELL: Will you make that public?

BILL SHORTEN: Yes, we will release the report and we will respond to it. I'm not saying we'll release it on the day we get it because we like to read things before we release things but we will release it, yes.


BILL SHORTEN: Commit to that.

NEIL MITCHELL: Thanks for talking to us. Did you believe Craig Thomson?

BILL SHORTEN: My job is now no—not to believe or disbelieve, my job is to make sure that we reform the HSU. My job is to make sure those low paid workers getting better treatment than they have been receiving.

NEIL MITCHELL: A couple of weeks ago you didn't believe me?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, my view is that the courts will test this matter and I know one thing…

NEIL MITCHELL: What's that?

BILL SHORTEN:…no matter how smart any of us as individuals think we are that's why we have court processes.

NEIL MITCHELL: Thank you for your time.

BILL SHORTEN: Thank you.

 Mr Shorten’s Contact: Sam Casey  0421 697 660