Bill's Transcripts

Transcript of doorstop - press conference - Labour force figures

TRANSCRIPT: Labour Force Figures, Craig Thomson  

BILL SHORTEN:     Good afternoon everyone. I'd just like to make a brief statement about the new released employment numbers in Australia. It is surprising but good news that unemployment in the last month has been recorded at four-point-nine per cent. That's a fall from five-point-two per cent the previous month. When I say it's a surprise but good news this budget is all about creation of value and the creation of jobs.

Clearly the Federal Government policies, despite the difficulties being seen everywhere else around the world, are still holding very strongly. The Government recognises that there is pressure in the Australian economy. We recognise that the news is not all uniformly good. We recognise also and we stick by our forecasts that unemployment will rise throughout the course of the year.

But nonetheless even the most trenchant of critics of the Government would have to acknowledge that an unemployment rate of four-point-nine per cent is good news for the nation. What it means in practical terms is that more Australians numerically than ever before in Australian history have a job, either part time or full time. The number for the first time in Australia's history means that it has passed eleven-and-a-half million Australians were at work.

We acknowledge the numbers are volatile. We acknowledge they can go up and go down by each month. We've seen a slight decrease in full time employment. Certainly the news in Tasmania and Victoria isn't as good as the rest of Australia and the participation rate is still above sixty-five per cent. So on balance the Government believes this is good news for the eleven-and-a-half million Australians who are accessing an income, who are getting the benefits of going to work.

We also believe that this demonstrates the strong economic fundamentals of the Government and we look forward to our training agenda rolling out and providing more people with the chance to find work in the future.

QUESTION:              Treasurer, how would you interpret these figures, considering there have been quite a few high profile redundancies in the last couple of months, particularly in the car manufacturing sector?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well the economy is still soft in many parts of Australia. It's a multi-speed economy. But by the same token there are clearly part time jobs and indeed over the last twelve months full time jobs being created. If you look at the eurozone unemployment is north of ten per cent. If you look at some of the major economies of the world their unemployment numbers are much high than these. So there are plenty of travails and difficulties ahead in the next twelve months but I'd have to say that this news is welcomed news, it's good news.

Whilst economic unemployment numbers can be volatile and we expect them to increase, we've been expecting them to increase for the last four months and instead they're at five-point-two, five-point-one, five-point-two, now four-point-nine. So I think it highlights the importance of spreading the benefits of the mining boom to all parts of the Australian economy. The fact that some regions in Australia are not doing as well as other regions highlights the importance of the measures which we took on Tuesday night.

QUESTION:              You've got people in work and you've got low inflation and you've just had an interest rate cut, why aren't the Australian people liking your government?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well I would say that - that economic trophy lists which you kindly read out is reasons for people to have greater confidence. We do have falling interest rates at this point although that's subject to the consideration of the Reserve Bank independent. We do have low net debt, you know, that's Government debt as a proportion of the whole economic activity in Australia compared to the rest of the world. The unemployment rate is four-point-nine per cent. So I think what it shows is that Australians are working hard but they've still got to try and make ends meet.

What this highlights to me is the importance of economic confidence building measures such as getting the budget into surplus, such as making sure that families have got to pay those school costs, education costs, can access resources and that'll lead to greater I think confidence for small business as well as consumers feel that they're helping make ends meet.

QUESTION:              Mr Shorten will things change come 1 July, for example Clive Palmer who we know is a pretty big miner in every sense of the word, he says that we've got to get rid of this criminal government that's destroying the Australian economy and I don't know whether he's looking at the budget out years or what. How do you respond to that?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well I'd say that Mr Palmer should have a look at the economic scoreboard. I don't think it necessarily stacks up with his rhetoric but of course he is running for pre-selection for the LNP so he's hardly likely to say anything nice about us, it might damage his chances to become a member of parliament for the conservatives.

QUESTION:              Mr Shorten, business seems to be left fairly unimpressed by the budget, particularly the scrapped company tax cut and the withholding tax changes but are you going to attempt to sort of road show over the next couple of months or any type of campaign to try and win those big business lobby groups back over again?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well what I would probably do is to give unhappy people in the ranks of business the telephone number of the Liberal Party of Australia because you can't pass a law without a majority of votes and the Liberal Party turned their face away from cutting the company tax. I mean if you haven't got the numbers in the Parliament to pass a law than we can - we're not going to sit idly by as the road block from the Coalition and in part from the Greens stopped us passing on a company tax.

Australians want us to show leadership. That's why we have through our carefully targeted family assistance package. What I'd also say to business other than to blame the Liberals for the failure of the company tax to pass which is a matter of record is I would also say to them please understand that the consumers and the workers in your businesses and your factories and your construction sites, they’ve got to make ends meet. They’ve got to pay the school fees. If you’ve got a primary-aged child, it doesn’t matter if it’s a government school, there’s charges and costs, secondary-aged students even more costs.

What we’ve done by providing the Schoolkids Bonus – the eight-hundred-and-twenty dollars and the four-hundred-and-ten dollars for primary-age school children – is that’s going to give people a little more confidence. The fact that we’re moving the Budget into surplus, that’ll give people more confidence. I think a lot of the challenge in Australia is not just economic but it’s about confidence. The relentless negativity of the Opposition saying how bad everything’s going – we know, and anyone who’s been overseas knows, that when you visit overseas and you see what’s happening the eurozone, you see the unemployment in the United States, you see some of the difficulties elsewhere, and then these people come back and they land in an Australian airport, having been overseas, people know this country is doing better than the morale would have us believe.

So I would say to business: you can be confident that this is a government who can get their budget in surplus, you could be confident that we’re looking after your employees and the consumers in your communities. In terms of the interest withholding tax, again one needs to not suffer from too much economic amnesia. When this Labor Government got elected in 2007 – at the end of 2007 – the interest withholding tax was thirty per cent. We reduced it to fifteen per cent. So when people say that – and we would have like to have reduced it to seven-and-a-half per cent. But in a beauty parade of competing economic priorities, getting into surplus is more important than passing on the next round of interest withholding tax cut reductions.

And I would also say that we are the party - despite the myth-making of those who sit opposite up in Parliament – we are the party who reduced the interest withholding tax from thirty to fifteen per cent, which is roughly equivalent to many of the other financial sector nations which we seek to do business with.

QUESTION:              Mr Shorten, what does a jobless rate below five per cent mean for inflation and how that might be assessed by the Reserve Bank?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well, I do believe that the economic activity in Australia is working at multiple speeds depending where you are. Victoria has seen an increase in unemployment of a half a per cent in the last twelve months. Tasmania, north of eight per cent. So I don’t accept – and I haven’t tried today to gild the lily – the good news is more people are working than ever before. The good news is, despite the on-the-record difficulties of other nations, we are doing better. But no one from the Government’s trying to sell some sort of blue-sky scenario. Parts of Australia are doing badly - or not doing as well. We also know that unemployment is most likely to increase. We also know that the high dollar’s had a big impact. So I’m sure the Reserve Bank will take into account all those factors, as opposed to just looking at the headline issue of the mining boom or the four-point-nine per cent.

QUESTION:              You can’t just keep cutting rates though when it’s below five per cent.

BILL SHORTEN:     Well I think - and I haven’t seen what all the economic commentators have said - but I think people will be surprised at an unemployment rate with a four in front of it. It is good news, but we also are realistic enough to know that there is softness in parts of the Australian economy.

QUESTION:              Mr Shorten I’m just interested in your view on the appropriateness of using ALP funds, which themselves a lot of union donations to fund Craig Thomson’s legal fees?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well, as I understand it, the New South Wales ALP was funding his case; that is no longer the matter. I am not here to defend individuals. My task I see as Minister for Industrial Relations is to finish this over-long work and get the job done. The investigations stage has now been completed. As I’ve said consistently, the report is very disturbing, the findings, the volume of findings are very disturbing. I also recognise that for the vast bulk of Australian trade unionists these findings do not reflect their activities or their aspirations. But I also know that for the members of particular parts of the HSU - and remember the whole of the HSU doesn’t deserve to be tarred with the same brush - that those members who’ve had to wait too long for this report also deserve to have these matters tested in court. So I’m not here to defend individuals but as distasteful as these findings are to many, what I’d also say is, people are still entitled to have these matters tested in a court. That is the final stage of the process.

Mr Thomson is not having his fees paid anymore by the ALP and in terms of a precedent, from my home state of Victoria, when a Victorian minister there - a Liberal minister - was charged, I understand that the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party did pay his fees but that matter is now at a close.

QUESTION:              Should he pay back the legal fees, because, I mean, if the union is funding his defence against money that he’s allegedly taken from the union, sort of?

BILL SHORTEN:     That’d be a matter for him and his legal advisers and the New South Wales ALP.

QUESTION:              What are you hoping to hear from Craig Thomson when he addresses Parliament in a couple of weeks?

BILL SHORTEN:     I don’t know and in terms of what I think, everyone’s got a right to put their own case; they’ve got a right not to compromise their legal position. Beyond that, what I’m interested in is finishing the job, which is taking too long. What I’m interested in is making sure that we have transparent and effective rules governing employer organisations and trade unions. What I’m interested in is working with the New South Wales Government to put an administrator into the HSU East Branch so that the long-suffering members of that part of that union can have confidence that things will be put right. My job is, as Minister for Industrial Relations, to deal with the serious and grave matters that are at hand, it’s not to speculate about individuals.

QUESTION:              Just on Michael Williamson, what do you think the members of the East Branch will make of the fact that the HSU has been paying for his legal fees?

BILL SHORTEN:     I have no comment to make about individuals. I don’t think I could be any clearer about the conduct reported in the actual findings of Fair Work Australia. The sort of activities which have been reported have no place in modern organisations; it doesn’t matter if it’s trade unions, or corporations, or not-for profits. So, you know, I don’t think I could be any clearer about that and I’m not here to defend individuals; I’m just here to make sure that the process gets finished.  Thanks very much that was the last question.

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