WEDNESDAY, 29 MARCH 2017
SUBJECTS: Cyclone Debbie; cuts to penalty rates; the minimum wage; extradition treaty with China; Turnbull’s $50 billion big business tax giveaway; Greens political party; visit to Queensland
GAI BRODTMANN, LABOR MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Good morning, everyone.
It's lovely to have you out here on this beautiful Canberra Autumn morning here at the CIT and I'd like to thank Leanne, Caroline, Fiona and Angela for their very warm welcome. Bill and I have had the opportunity to sit and talk to some first year apprentices about their apprenticeships but also, the cuts that the Government is planning on penalty rates. Cuts that are going to have a significant impact on their living standards.
So thank you again for coming here this morning and now I'll hand over to Bill Shorten.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much. Good morning, everyone and welcome to Canberra Institute of Technology.
First of all, I'd just like to before I talk about penalty rates just mention and talk about the Cyclone Debbie. Clearly, there is a massive amount of devastation which has been wreaked and there's still very strong cyclone conditions in North Queensland. I just want to say that we're confident that the State Government and the Federal Government will do everything they can to help people. I want to say to people in North Queensland that the rest of Australia is holding their breath to make sure everything is okay. I want to congratulate the volunteers, the emergency services, from the ADF right through to the council workers and the police. I think this is a time where Australia shows its best spirit in adversity.
I'd also like to put the insurance companies on notice. I dealt with them after the terrible Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi. Australians are watching how the insurance companies handle the legitimate claims for insurance. When insurance companies are at their best, they're outstanding. We're just putting insurance companies on notice that people will be watching to make sure there is a timely, reasonable, non-bureaucratic, non-stingy approach to people making insurance claims. But our thoughts are with the people who have been through the cyclone.
Turning briefly to penalty rates, Gai and I had the opportunity to talk to apprentice hairdressers. There is a shortage of apprentice hairdressers in this country. There is a shortage in many places of hairdressers. What will not help encourage people to pursue a career in hairdressing and other industries is cuts to penalty rates. Mr Turnbull says that it's only going to affect some people in some industries. Yesterday in Parliament, Malcolm Turnbull confirmed that he cannot guarantee that further penalty rates in other industries won't be cut. He could not guarantee to protect other people's penalty rates in other industries. The hairdressing employers, the Australian Industry Group, have made an application, following upon the successful cuts to penalty rates in retail, in pharmacy and fast-food, made an application to lower penalty rates in this industry.
The cuts to penalty rates are the thin edge of the wedge for all Australians who depend upon penalty rates. Mr Turnbull can put this debate beyond doubt by supporting Labor's legislation to protect the take-home pay of Australian battlers.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you agree with the ACTU's push to increase the minimum wage by $45 a week?
SHORTEN: Labor hasn't settled upon a number. Our tradition and precedent is to put applications in to say the minimum wage should rise. But let me say this, I agree with the proposition which says Australians are doing it tough. I agree with the proposition which says that wages growth is flat-lining at a time when corporate profits are record highs for many decades. Australian wages are flat-lining but the price of cost of living is going up. Wages are flat-lining, the cost of living is going up. I think there is not only an argument in the case of fairness to lift the minimum wage, I think there is a sensible economic case that Australians need the confidence to be able to spend, to consume, to generate economic activity and you can only do that when the minimum wage goes up. Labor will make a submission. We believe the increase should be fair and reasonable. I think it's good that the Fair Work Commission will be testing the evidence. Whilst I disagree with the decision they made to cut penalty rates, I think it is important to have the discussion and the evidence about increasing the minimum wage, and I'd like Mr Turnbull to join with me for once and to support increasing the minimum wage rather than supporting cutting penalty rates.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, in terms of the situation in North Queensland, is there anything more the Government should be doing to put pressure on insurance companies? Also, in the wake of Cyclone Yasi we saw premiums go up in the North Queensland in the years that followed. Is it not just about the immediate response, the pay outs, but about treating these people fairly in the future?
SHORTEN: I think you're right. The insurance industry will be carefully scrutinised. I think they need to handle the immediate claims in a timely manner. They need to make sure that they don't play games with their policies and exclusions and see people suffer double hardship. They get the cyclone then they get the whack from the insurance company.
In terms of how you handle premiums going up in the future, there's no doubt that there is an overdue discussion about mitigation. All levels of government have got a role here to make sure that we can help cyclone-proof North Queensland. That's the best way to keep premiums down.
Any opportunistic behaviour by insurance companies, either in the short-term or the medium-term with raising premiums, I'd expect the Government to come down on them like a tonne of bricks.
JOURNALIST: Have you got any further discussions planned with the Government on the China extradition treaty, where to from here on that issue?
SHORTEN: Well not at this stage. We're obviously happy to talk to the Government. I actually think it was quite extraordinary what happened yesterday. Labor made its early views very clear, they have a Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and Labor issued a minority report which said now is not the right time to ratify the extradition treaty. Then we saw the Government unravel at the seams with fierce splits and divisions. I'm pleased that Mr Turnbull chose to not put the treaty up for the vote. I don't think people should have led China to expect that we were going to ratify the treaty and I think that we will of course have sensible discussions with the Government. The way to handle our foreign relations isn't in that sort of last-minute, Helter Skelter fashion that we saw yesterday.
JOURNALIST: If minimum wages go up, profits will come down. Are you not supporting an increase to minimum wages because really that would mean you'd have to back a cut to taxes?
SHORTEN: No. I think the minimum wage needs to go up. I think Australians are doing tough. I think the wages are flat lining and I think that prices have been going up-
JOURNALIST: I was going to say, you could concede that to enable that increase to minimum wages, if you backed the tax cut there'd would be money in the Budget to pay for the workers who need it the most.
SHORTEN: No. A $50 billion tax handout while you're cutting penalty rates is a bit rich. This nation can't afford to hand away $50 billion of taxpayer money to large companies who will pocket it as profits. The very problem in this country is that there is growing inequality, and for the Turnbull Government to pursue the failed sort of 1980s Reagonomics of giving the very rich the best returns and letting everyone else battle for themselves and seeing the standard of living of middle and working class Australians go backwards, that's exactly the wrong direction for this country.
The fact of the matter is, most people who most rely upon penalty rates, who rely on the minimum wage, they're not saving anything now. They live from week to week and fortnight to fortnight. If you don't increase the minimum wage, if you cut peoples' penalty rates you kill the hope of working class Australians on the minimum wage that they can ever get ahead. We don't need to create a more divided Australia, we need to create a more united Australia. It's not just an argument about fairness.
When you've got flat lining wages growth, when you've got cuts to wages, cut to penalty rates, that kills confidence. The wallets and purses shut, people don't spend money, they find it harder and harder to make ends meet. What we need in this country at the moment is a plan for working class and middle class Australians not just big business and millionaires getting a tax cut.
JOURNALIST: But following on from that Business Australia says it will damage jobs and investment if these business tax cuts don’t go ahead, will the Opposition look at potentially increasing what you'd accept, say for example a $10 million turnover?
SHORTEN: It's complete garbage to say that this economy will stop if we don't give big business a tax cut. The fact of the matter is that this is the worst possible time to hand away $50 billion of taxpayer money. Under the Liberals debt and deficit has gone up and up and up. Under the Liberals electricity prices going up. Under the Liberals they are cutting penalty rates. This Government is so out of touch its breathtaking. On one hand, Malcolm Turnbull is fighting tooth and nail to give big business a tax cut, on the other hand he is supporting penalty rate cuts for low paid workers. This Government is divided and it’s out of touch and Australians absolutely don't want to see minimum wage going backwards. They want to see it go forwards and Labor’s on the side of ordinary people.
JOURNALIST: But on the business tax cut though what will Labor agree to, at the moment I understand its $2 million turnover, would you consider going higher?
SHORTEN: That's still our position, $2 million. We can help 83 per cent of small businesses by a modest reduction in the corporate tax they pay. Labor is up for that. But do we really need to see big business get a massive tax cut? How much more profit...
JOURNALIST: But $10 million isn't big business, so would you look at the $10 million turnover...
SHORTEN: Sorry, but you're talking about a hypothetical. The Governments Enterprise Tax Plan, the signature centrepiece of their last Budget, the whole rationale for voting Liberal in the last election is to give away $50 billion, the vast bulk of that, the elephant’s share of that tax cut is going to big business. It is a very straight forward choice for Australians have got. You can vote for Malcolm Turnbull and see big business cut and penalty rates get cut or you can support Labor and you can see your penalty rates being protected, you can see the minimum wage get a proper increase. These are the choices you've got.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten on superannuation, the Productivity Commission is recommending that we have fewer superannuation funds to prevent workers having numerous funds and losing money, surely that’s a good idea?
SHORTEN: Labor has always supported trying to make it easier for people who rationalise their superannuation accounts into one fund and the changes we did when we were in Government really went down that path. What I want to remind Mr Turnbull and the Liberals is superannuation belongs to the account holders, it belongs to the people. People are very suspicious when the Government starts telling individuals what to do with their money. We are sceptical of the Liberal motivation in superannuation. If they're so keen to see people to have more superannuation why do they keep proposing increases to compulsory superannuation. Now we'll have a look at what the Productivity Commission has said, absolutely. We will always put the interests of superannuants first. But when you see governments starting to tell people what to do with their money, when you see government starting to interfere with the rules of superannuation a lot of Australians become very sceptical and we're very conscience, it’s the people’s money so let’s look at their best interests rather than Government ideology.
JOURNALIST: Peter Slipper, he was a Labor appointee, today he's going to have his portrait unveiled, you'll be there?
SHORTEN: No it's not in my schedule. So I won't be there.
But there is one other thing which I do want to talk about. I noticed that the Greens have been out doubling down on the cyclone and the politics of climate change. I believe its improper of the Greens to take political advantage of people’s misery to make political points. Today is not the day that North Queenslanders want to hear about politics, today is the day that they want to see Government help and I want to acknowledge the Federal Government and the Queensland Government are doing, by all accounts, a very good job along with local councils.
JOURNALIST: Will you be going up to inspect the damage?
SHORTEN: Yes, when its right, we don't want to get in the way of people. But obviously we want to inspect the damage and show solidarity.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of Pauline Hanson changing her mind on penalty rates?
SHORTEN: Well as I read somewhere if politics was a sport she'd be a champion gymnast in terms of taking different positions. Listen, we want to get the penalty rates protections up so we're pleased that she sees the sense of what Labor says, but most of the time she votes for the Government, no doubt she's feeling a bit of the pressure being seen as the satellite of the Liberal Government. We're pleased on this occasion that she has seen sense. What matters to us is not what Pauline Hanson does but what matters to us is protecting rates and that's what is focusing us.
Thank you everybody, see you in Parliament.