THURSDAY, 2 MARCH 2017
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plans for apprenticeships and jobs; penalty rates; 457 visas.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. It's great to be here at CIT talking to the future of Australia's tradespeople, the apprentices training here.
Labor has a plan for jobs in Australia. And at the centre of our plan for jobs is a plan for apprenticeships. Labor has made it clear that if we are elected we want to make sure that parents feel they can encourage their kids to become apprentices and that it will be possible to do it through the best possible TAFE systems in Australia.
We think that the pendulum in apprenticeships has swung too far to the private sector and whilst there are some very good not-for-profit and private providers, we want to put TAFE right back at the centre of apprenticeships. But our plan for apprenticeships doesn't stop there.
We've made it clear that if we're elected, on Commonwealth projects we will require that one in 10 employees at least be an apprentice, and on top of that, what we're also proposing to do is make sure that the 457 visa schemes are not used as a cheap way of short-term importing skills, rather than prioritising our own Australians. So Labor has a plan for apprenticeships.
But one thing which I did hear talking to apprentices today is concern about penalty rates. I made it clear to them that at this stage construction penalty rates are not in the gun, but they've heard from other young people, their friends, about proposed cutting of Sunday and public holiday rates, in pharmacy, in retail, in hospitality, and they are concerned about the future of penalty rates.
And what I say to Malcolm Turnbull today is stop passing the buck, for goodness sake, on penalty rates. You are the Prime Minister of Australia. When there is a bad decision made by a court or a tribunal, people expect Government to intervene to fix up a bad decision. Cutting penalty rates with no compensation for workers, is a bad decision.
What Malcolm Turnbull should do is work with Labor, forget the politics, forget talking about me all the time - instead, what he should do is support Labor's legislation to protect people's take-home pay so that current workers and future workers don't arbitrarily have their penalty rates cut. This country doesn't need cuts to workers' pay.
Malcolm Turnbull has the power to fix this problem today. If he doesn't fix this problem today, I can promise Australians that when we leave Parliament today, we will be going out into the suburbs and towns of Australia and we'll be talking about Labor's plan to protect people's penalty rates, to protect people's take-home pay.
And we encourage Australians who are concerned about these matters, who want to get the facts, to go to our website ProtectOurWeekends.com.
Because people can count on Labor to take action to sort out the penalty rates issue, and we will be prepared to work with Mr Turnbull and his government right now to fix a bad decision.
Australians expect us in Parliament to get on and sort out the problems, not just finger-point and play the blame game. We are up for saving penalty rates and we want Malcolm Turnbull to join us.
Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, when you were the head of AWU, did you bargain away penalty rates?
SHORTEN: Listen, I've watched the Government try and attack unions, attack me in terms of standing up for workers. I will back my record for protecting workers' rights and conditions against Malcolm Turnbull and his whole frontbench any day of the week.
Malcolm Turnbull has been trying to look at union deals, negotiated on behalf of workers, approved by the Fair Work Commission, which see people increase their overall pay. He fails to understand this Fair Work Commission and the basic difference between this and enterprise bargaining.
What this decision does is it cuts workers' pay with no compensation. It's just a straight rip-off. And I have to be honest, with Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals, when I was representing workers, I never got stuck in a traffic jam behind a limo carrying a Liberal Cabinet Minister on their way to help workers.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Prime Minister spoke about phasing in these reductions in penalty rates, we've heard talk of a grandfather clause, the Small Business Council wants it to apply to only new workers. Noting your objection to the cuts at all, which of those, or do you have your own plan for phasing in this process to make it easier for those affected?
SHORTEN: No, it is just a dumb idea to talk about phasing it in. It just shows you how out of touch they are. What we need to do is just protect people's take-home pay, full stop. This fantasy idea that on July 1 this year, people already receiving their penalty rates will keep them and that all the new employees will work at cheaper rates - I tell you what will happen, the rosters and the shifts will go to the cheaper employees, not the more expensive employees.
This is a government who lives on another planet. What they are trying to do is do is say, oh, you will be alright in the short term. The problem is, if you are a small business or a big business and you have got the choice towards rostering someone for eight hours on a Sunday at double time or rostering someone for eight hours on a Sunday for time and a half, you don't need to be a Rhodes scholar to work out what will happen.
This is a government desperate to cover the smokescreen. This has idea has come from Tony Abbott's campaign manager, Senator Abetz, the former Minister for Workplace Relations. He is just doing it because he wants to pretend that Tony Abbott would be nicer to workers than Malcolm Turnbull.
Why are they over-complicating this? We don't need to cut people's penalty rates. Australians don't deserve - if you are a full-time worker working in retail on a Sunday doing an eight hour shift, you are going to get your pay cut from double time to time and a half - that's about $77 less. Why is this government obsessed about doing nothing to help save workers' wages, yet they want to give tax cuts to big business.
We saw the National Account figures yesterday. What they show is that corporate profits in Australia are at their highest level in 40 years, yet wages growth is flat-lining, it's the lowest in 20 years. Why does Malcolm Turnbull, when corporations are making record profits, want to give them a tax cut but when Australian workers' wages growth is flat-lining, he wants to stand by and see them get a pay cut?
JOURNALIST: Wouldn't phasing in the penalty rates decision provide some protection, though, to take-home pay?
SHORTEN: Well, again, I will just use the example which I gave before because I think it spells it out better than any theoretical smokescreen from a desperate and divided and out-of-touch government. If an employer on July 1 can roster an existing employee on the old penalty rates at double time or have the chance to employ someone new on time and a half, over time they are going to employ the new person.
We've seen this before. There has been plenty of experiences in the past. What happens is if you create two classes of employees, one who is more expensive than the other, do you really think over the medium term they are going to keep employing the old employees or they are just going to go for the race to the bottom? Imagine the unfair competition in suburban shopping centres. You've got a business which opens after July 1, can pay people at lower rates and you've got all the other businesses and coffee shops who are paying the higher rate. You can just see the conversations that the businesses on the people of higher rates will have - “oh, listen, we would like to keep paying you the higher rate, but we can't compete because there is a race to the bottom." Let's not over-complicate this, people.
These proposals of phasing in are just another way to have a race to the bottom in wages. It will lead to greater casualisation, it will lead to more people on low pay receiving less money. What this country needs is confidence. It doesn't create confidence amongst the less well paid in this country that they are going to face pay cuts.
JOURNALIST: What is the point in having an independent umpire if you're not willing to accept its decision? You said if would accept the decision of the independent umpire, but it smacks of taking your bat and ball and going home when things just don't go your own way?
SHORTEN: Oh yes, this is the Malcolm Turnbull-theory that he is an innocent bystander and can't do anything to help –
JOURNALIST: The independent umpire exists for a reason -
SHORTEN: Let me answer your question and then you can have -
JOURNALIST: But you're not. You are attacking Malcolm Turnbull.
SHORTEN: Sorry, I'm answering your question. But - are you right?
JOURNALIST: What is the point of having the independent umpire? It's not Malcolm Turnbull. Why don't you accept that .you said you would?
SHORTEN: This is Malcolm Turnbull saying that he can't do anything, that he is an innocent bystander, that because this tribunal is at arm's length, that there is nothing he can do. Well, I think you need to ask him. When the Remuneration Tribunal for truck drivers made a decision he didn't like, he didn't just overrule the decision, he sacked the tribunal. Not a lot of respect fort the independent umpire was there then?
Or when the CFA negotiated an enterprise agreement with professional firefighters last year, Malcolm Turnbull passed a law to overturn the enterprise agreement.
Native Title, a Federal Court, the Federal Court is the independent umpire, isn't it? And on Native Title, we had a debate last week where the Government wants to overturn a decision. This is a government who is very selective about which decisions it takes action on.
But let's go to the bigger proposition, and as much as you mightn't want me to talk about Malcolm Turnbull, Malcolm Turnbull doesn't want to talk about Malcolm Turnbull when it comes to this issue. He is the Prime Minister of Australia. He is not just the man in the street, he isn't just a bloke down at the footy club. He got elected as prime minister of Australia. If he wants to make decisions and be in government, what people expect him to do is when there is bad decisions made, you've actually got to intervene. I think Malcolm Turnbull has been incredibly weak ever since this decision has come down. The one question which none of us, all of us have been able to try and ask him but none of us have an answer is; does Malcolm Turnbull like the decision or dislike the decision? Does he think it is a good decision or a bad decision? When you become prime minister, your job is not to find somewhere to hide. The real issue here is that he needs to say does he support the decision and therefore will let it go ahead, or does he oppose the decision and will do what he can to stop it?
We will stop this decision. It's very clear that at the next election - if Malcolm Turnbull doesn't act before the next election, a very clear choice has now emerged for Australians. You can vote for Turnbull and the Coalition and you will see penalty rates be cut. You can vote for Labor and we will make sure that the independent umpire cannot go below a floor. What we want to do is protect people's minimum conditions, Mr Turnbull doesn't. Mr Turnbull is desperate to actually defend the decision, to avoid defending the decision and be seen to be associated with it.
Well, the fact of the matter is why be the prime minister when there is a tough set of circumstances and Australians are going to suffer pay cuts - why be the prime minister if you are not willing to back ordinary Australians?
JOURNALIST: The head of the Productivity Commission said that businesses might not actually implement this rate cut because they want to keep their experienced employees. Have you approached business or ACCI or any of the business groups to ask them about this?
SHORTEN: This decision to cut penalty rates is now rapidly emerging as the most lonely orphan in Australian public policy. It would appear that no-one seems to want the decision. 60 Liberal and National Party MPs have supported cutting penalty rates. Every business group has called for it, but they are a bit like the dog who has caught the truck. What do they do now? The fact of the matter is that cutting penalty rates with no compensation for workers is simply a dumb economic idea. It is bad for the individuals concerned and it is bad for the economy. We already see Australians closing their wallets and purses, they don't feel confident in the current economic circumstances to spend money. We've got flat lining wages growth. We've got inequality at 75-year highs, yet this is a government who is going to do nothing to actually defend penalty rates. When we say - if the Productivity Commission is right and that companies won't use the decision, well then we should just scrap it anyway.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned the apprentices concerned about losing their rates, even though they are not in the award at the moment, has Labor done any modelling about how many people actually are going to be affected by this decision? There is some debate about the actual number this morning.
SHORTEN: Well, the McKell Institute says that it's north of 600,000 people who are affected, the Australian trade union movement says it’s about 685,000 who will be affected. Malcolm Turnbull said in Question Time in a rare answer to a question that it was 600,000 people. I guess my point though is, there is a significant number of Australians going to be affected and where you have hundreds of thousands of people who will face a pay cut, you would have to be very out of touch government to say that well unless its 700,000 or if it’s only 370,000 it's not a problem.
I tell you the numbers which really count, it is that when you are on double time on Sunday, because of this decision, you will be paid at time and a half. What that means is that for households - say you have a mature-aged shop assistant, might be the second job in the family. She works some weekdays and a weekend day, all of a sudden they have their pay cut. It is not the job of Mr Turnbull to stand by, as low-paid workers just get pay cuts with no improvement in their general wages situation.
JOURNALIST: Just on 457s, why was it appropriate for Labor to establish a special 457 application process for the fast food sector?
SHORTEN: What I'm going to do is get Brendan to answer that and I was remiss to also mention it is Brendan's birthday today.
BRANDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks, Bill, it’s great to be here, too. Look, in relation to the comments made by the government and indeed the stunt by Peter Dutton. Peter Dutton might talk about jobs, but he is only thinking about one job and that's Malcolm Turnbull's.
In relation to this idea that we would make exemptions for 457s and fast food, firstly it is important to note the following. 457 workers can't work in unskilled work, so the notion that 457s can take jobs of flipping burgers means either Peter Dutton is lying or they are actually misapplying the 457 visa.
Secondly, there are thousands and thousands of workers, overseas workers, that are working in retail, but they're not on 457 visas, they are on student visas and working holiday visas. The stunt that has been pulled today by Peter Dutton will have no effect on that. Now, Labor has already said we're going to examine, not only, we've changed the law in relation to 457 and I would remind you, that not only Peter Dutton, but Malcolm Turnbull voted against labour market testing in relation to 457s when we were last in government. So they are completely wrong on this issue and they've always been on the wrong side of it.
And the other thing to note is we will examine the way in which student and working holiday visas are used. It is a legitimate form of employment, but we will look at how it’s being used. But this notion, this stunt today by Peter Dutton to suggest that somehow by changing the 457 visa arrangement is going to give young people jobs in fast food, is a lie. It's a lie. And he should come clean now and make clear there will be no young people getting opportunities because of the stunt that he is pulling. But we know what he's doing, he is talking jobs, about young people, but he is thinking of one job, Malcolm Turnbull's.
JOURNALIST: Can you just explain that a bit more, you're saying there is no foreign workers on the 457 visas in fast food outlets?
O’CONNOR: No, what I said was there are thousands of workers under a variety of visas from overseas. 99 per cent of them, you know, the overwhelming number would be student and working holiday maker visas. So the idea that has been put forward by Peter Dutton today, that somehow he will stop that is a complete lie, it’s a complete lie. There may be a very limited number of 457 visas that were in fast food in managerial positions, in skilled positions at a time of low unemployment, so if he tending to that, fine, but what he shouldn't do is misrepresent the situation, and it is indeed an utter misrepresentation to suggest that by this action, he is going to provide opportunities for young people in this country. That is not true. That is not true, and he should qualify and he should, in fact, he should actually completely repudiate the assertion he made that somehow this is going to help young people back into fast food.
JOURNAIST: Just to understand your position, does that mean you will support the Government's move -
O’CONNOR: We will have a look at it, but how it's being represented today is -
JOURNALIST: It's tit for tat is what you're saying -
O’CONNOR: How it's being presented today is that young people will be given opportunities in fast food. Now there is no reference to the student visa where there are 400,000 student visas issued to overseas students and in many cases for legitimate purposes. But we would look at that and we announced at the last election, we're going to examine that issue. And they are working-holiday visas. There is, I think, several hundred of 457 workers, but they will not be working in unskilled work or working in areas that young people provide opportunities easily, so this is an utter misrepresentation. But we know what Dutton is about. He is about looking at Malcolm Turnbull's job and saying, "I should be there."
SHORTEN: One last question if there is one. Excellent, thank you, guys.