Labor will back our subbies - Transcript, Doorstop

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP

TOWNSVILLE

TUESDAY, 26 FEBRUARY 2019

SUBJECTS: Labor’s plans to protect our tradies; Snowy 2.0; AAT appointments. 

CATHY O'TOOLE, MEMBER FOR HERBERT: It's great to be here today at the Oonoonba State School with the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, the Dawson candidate for Labor, Belinda Hassan and our candidate for Queensland Senator, Nita Green. We're here today to look at the school and the result of what's happened at the floods.

But what I would like to say to the people of Townsville, on top of these dreadful floods, we have had an incredibly horrible tragedy happen overnight with the loss of two little children - a three year old and five year old from one family. I am sure I can say on behalf of this whole community, our hearts go out to that family. And I would ask our community in the spirit of resilience and cooperation that we have seen throughout the floods, that we think about this family, and we do what we can do in our own communities to be as supportive as is humanly possible for this family at such a dreadfully difficult time.

But from that moving to our purpose of being here today, the announcement that Bill is going to make just folds in beautifully into the fact that our city is literally being rebuilt. That's what's happening now. The contractors and workers who are here are doing a magnificent job - as they are all over the city, and we just need to ensure that we protect them into the future. And I'll just hand over to Bill.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Cathy and before I talk about our announcement, I just - I think I'm like everyone else in Townsville who woke up this morning and learned the dreadful, dreadful, shocking news that two beautiful little kids, three and five, have died. That's terrible. To the family, I cannot imagine as a parent of three kids - what you must be going through would be unimaginable pain. I just cannot imagine it. It is beyond my capacity. To the first responders, again thank you and you too will be feeling things which again, most of us will never have to confront. So to the parents, I just say I'm sure the whole community wants to wrap their arms around you. There can be no judgment, you can't keep your eyes on kids twenty four seven. This is just terrible. It's every parent's nightmare. And to the first responders, I just thank you for what you do. You hope in your careers that you never have to see this, our first responders periodically might see this sort of tragedy but this is terrible. So like everyone else in Townsville, we just share the grief of the family and the first responders.

In terms of our announcement today, I have to say it is uplifting being here at this primary school. This is ground zero for tradies in Australia. What we're seeing is subcontractors getting on and making sure that the 508 kids who are enrolled here are able to be here by the beginning of the second term - that's amazing. This school was turned into a giant lake and damage in every room. And where would we be without our tradies? And this is really what our announcement is about today. Australia is built on the back of our subbies. Yet when there is bad behaviour by big companies, it is the subbies who pay the price. This has to stop.

So I'm really pleased to announce that a Federal Labor government is going to protect our subbies from the poor performance and bad behaviour of some of the bigger builders. There is not a single subbie in Australia who hasn't had that anxiety as they do the books, 'will I get paid?'. And sometimes when you're a subcontractor, you don't enjoy all the legal protections of an employee, and when the boss or when the principal contractor or the contractor above you in the food chain, doesn't honour their debts, you're left with a lot of work, a lot of debts and nothing to show for it.

So we are now saying today that if we get elected, we are going to put subbies back on top and protect our subbies. What we're going to do specifically is create a series of cascading trusts. That's a fancy term - what it means is that when the Commonwealth is involved in a project, we will ensure that before we pay the principal builder or contractor, they demonstrate that they will park money in accounts which can't be touched by the principal builder. In other words, if we know the principal builder is going to bring in electrical contractors or the plasterers or the painters or the plumbers or you name it, we are going to make sure that the money which is due to be paid to those subbies is actually ring-fenced and protected for those subbies.

What we're also going to do is create a litigation fund. We're going to give the corporate cop on the beat the legal firepower, the legal set of sharp teeth to make sure that dodgy directors who pop up like a bad penny from one company to another company, to another company, where they've got a business model these dodgy directors, of racking up debts, putting the assets and the valuable money into the untouchable accounts, and then they nick off with their money and leave a whole lot of other small businesses, subcontractors and employees holding the proverbial baby. We're going to stop that. We are going to name and shame the dodgy directors. We're going to make sure that ASIC has the capacity to chase these people down.

So what we're doing today is we're putting subbies back on top. We're going to make sure that from the top of the food chain right down to the bottom of the food chain, if you do a hard day’s work, if you do a fair day's work that you get paid - and that's what Labor really believes in.

Now we're lucky to have our Shadow Assistant Treasurer here today, Andrew Leigh and he can talk a lot further about our protections. And I should just give a shout out to the Queensland Government who's been leading this across Australia. And I also give a shout out to the Courier Mail and the affiliated newspapers in Queensland who've been standing up for the subbies - well done, we've listened to you. A Labor government will look after our subbies so they don't get preyed upon by unscrupulous bigger business.

I'd now like to hand over to Andrew Leigh.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks very much, Bill. A phoenix is a mythical bird but the damage done by phoenixing is tragically real. We've seen through John Murray's report the fact that so many subbies find themselves not being paid on time, maxing out credit cards, having added stress on their life, their health, their relationships. One estimate says that the cost of phoenix activity to the economy every year is $5 billion. $1 billion on taxpayers, $1 billion on workers and $3 billion on subcontractors. Brendan O'Connor and I announced in 2017, that a Shorten Labor government will put in place director identification number, dealing with the problem that right now, it is easier to become a director than to open a bank account. As one expert said, the rules are so lax, you can almost register your dog as a company director. The LNP say they'll back that but they’ve down tools on the job - and a director identification number is years away. Labor will get on with the job. We announced last year that we will name and shame dodgy directors. Those who are the worst of the worst, have been found to be ripping off the taxpayer and others, will be subject to being struck off as directors and named.

And today, we're making two additional important announcements. We're announcing a tradie pay guarantee - as Bill said, a system of cascading trusts, complicated legally, simple conceptually. If you do the work on time, you will get paid on time. We're announcing this to begin with, for large Commonwealth projects. That's going to be important for Labor because Bill Shorten's got a huge infrastructure agenda. So making sure people get paid on time ensures the money flows in the economy and gets retail sales going again. But then, we'll start working with the states and territories. Mick de Brenni and Annastacia Palaszczuk have been doing a lot in Queensland on security of payment. We want to work with state and territory governments across Australia to ensure security of payment on their projects, to make sure that people are getting paid appropriately at every level of those projects. And then we want to look at ways of harmonising the laws. Our medium term agenda is to make sure that for all large projects - public or private, we've got cascading trusts set up in place. This is an idea proposed by John Murray, he's no barracker of the Labor Party - a former head of Master Builders Australia. It's something that comes out of a review headed by Doug Cameron in the Senate. It's an important idea whose time has come.

And the other significant announcement is our tradie litigation fund. $7 million for ASIC to run cases that will take on the worst dodgy phoenix activity on behalf of subbies. We know this can make a difference in making sure that dodgy phoenix directors are tackled directly. But we also know that it’s got a ripple effect. In 2009, ASIC took on a solicitor who abetted phoenix activity. And when they won that case, they used the result in their roadshows around the country, sending a shot across the bows of any legal practitioner who was thinking about abetting phoenix activity that they'd better shape up. Our phoenix fighting fund will put money into ASIC, where the LNP has ripped money out of ASIC. In their 2014 Budget, they took money out of ASIC and one of the key findings of the Hayne Royal Commission is that ASIC hasn't been a tough enough cop on the beat. Labor will make sure through the tradie litigation fund that $7 million is available for ASIC just to fight cases on behalf of subbies. It will be there on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. And it will encourage ASIC to make sure that it goes after egregious conduct, managing to bring cases, like the 2009 Somerville case, multiple times every year.

We're happy to take your questions.

JOURNALIST: So I mean we've known that subcontractors are being ripped off for years, so why hasn't such a thing as a cascade trust funds been implemented earlier in the piece?

SHORTEN: Well we haven't been in government for six years. The fact of the matter is we see the use of subcontracting more than ever before. A lot of Australians go to work and they are employees and there are protections in place and we've learned the hard way about protecting employee entitlements and we've put measures in place and we shouldn't, of course, forget that Clive Palmer still owes taxpayers plenty of money. But I think the law has been slower to catch up with the legal status of subcontractors so without getting too fancy and using $50 words, the reality is that subbies have fallen between the loopholes of existing laws and because of their tax status they haven't received the same priority. 

Now the Queensland Government's done a fair bit of security of payments in recent years and of course the Courier Mail and other papers have been campaigning on it. An election of a Labor government in May will mean that subbies finally get their fair go. What we want to do simply, and it's a very straight forward proposition - the Commonwealth's the biggest concern in Australia in terms of outlays it does $50 billion dollars’ worth of work just in contracts alone. So when you look at all the Commonwealth projects the big ones, we want to start a new principle which is that if the principal contractor the big builder says okay it's going to cost $100 million to build this road or build this particular structure. What we want to make sure is when they bring in a specialist when they bring in the subbies, the electrical works and they do the mechanical works, when they do the plastering, when they do the painting, we want to make sure that the money's there for the subbie. 

The taxpayer has already allocated the money for the project. What we don't want to see is big builders or medium sized builders spending that money running up debts and leaving the subbies holding the proverbial baby. So for subbies around Australia who say politics isn't much interest to them - this time you know, we encourage you to have a look at this proposal. This is so sensible. What we're doing is giving subbies some of the protections which frankly employees enjoy and we're getting the law to catch up with the loophole in the law and Labor can do this because we understand that it doesn't matter if you're a small business, a contractor or an employee you don't have the same bargaining power with the big end of town and Labor's going to stand up for the little guy as opposed to the big end of town. That's what we do, it's in our DNA.

JOURNALIST: So I guess you know the rebuild of Townsville is happening at such a rapid rate. So how impressive is the work (inaudible) here in the state school in terms of getting students back when they've enrolled?

SHORTEN: Well it was as a bit of a privilege to walk around and you know obviously the Queensland Government amongst others have become experts at disaster management, more extreme weather events than ever before. You know, the guys who were taking us around have worked on different disasters they know what to do. And you know what's interesting talking to the painters, or talking to the electricians, talking to the people involved with the contracting in construction here. They're all from the community. They want to see the kids back at school here. 

But even the Education Department and the principal explained to me 300 of the kids here are at one school. They're being bussed from here so they come here and then they get a bus - 200 are at another school, the teachers and the teacher's aides are working there. You know, if Australians want to say that we've lost the spirit of the fair go, they should visit Townsville. Everyone's getting in here and doing the job, there's a lot of work. From removing the debris and the rubbish to the assessments, through to the electrical works, through to the insulation. There's 135 doors here that have got to be sorted out. I'm pretty impressed actually by the organisation, the school community and also of course the tradies working here. They're very committed to the kids.

JOURNALIST: So you said they're all part of the community so is it all local tradies working on this site?

SHORTEN: I don't know if all of the 70 are, but most of them are, and I've certainly, you know, the people I spoke to are. At the end of the day they want to get the job done, but one thing which I know Cathy O'Toole has been very insistent on is that we've been saying to the insurance companies for example - use local traders first. Now, of course there will always be some tension, people feel they're not getting a go and people should be in touch with Cathy and Belinda to make sure that's happening. But I do get the sense that that's the priority. Townsville is a very independent community. You know when I explain to people south of Queensland, I say well there's South East Queensland and then there is North and Far North Queensland - I said don't confuse the two. They're very different places.

JOURNALIST: Just on another topic of electricity prices, you said yesterday that you would do better. So can you guarantee under your government that electricity prices will be going down?

SHORTEN: I can guarantee that we'll do better than the Coalition for one simple reason - we're not anti-renewable energy. Renewable energy is becoming the cheapest form of electricity in this country. You know, Australia is blessed, we've got more sun and more wind than any other continent in the world, but we're currently punching below our weight. Australia should be an energy superpower. We should be able to provide cheap energy for Australians, Australian business, Australian households and also be able to be in the export of energy business - but we're not getting it right. The reason why we're not getting it right is the current LNP Government are fundamentally divided at their core about climate change.

What we need to encourage investment in new energy generation - we need more energy being generated in Australia, is we need people to invest in it, but you're not going to invest in it if the rules aren't agreed upon. How on earth can you play a game of footy if you keep moving the goal posts? And that's what's happening with energy policy in this country. The current government got rid of Mr Turnbull, the former Prime Minister because he wanted to tackle climate change. Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton keep saying no to doing anything meaningful on climate change, and yesterday the current fellow, the current Prime Minister just said oh well, we'll use a Tony Abbott way of spending taxpayer money but we won't actually tackle climate change. Today they say you know, we want to borrow an idea, you know we want to have Snowy Hydro which looks good on paper, no question. 

But the problem is Snowy Hydro is not going to work unless we have more renewable energy. The real missing link if we want to have lower energy prices and real action on climate change is to have what they call a National Energy Guarantee. That was an idea that Mr Turnbull came up with which Labor was prepared to work with. Unfortunately, the LNP sacked Mr Turnbull before he could do anything. So if you really want to get lower energy prices and if you really want to have more jobs in renewables and if you want to take action on climate change then Labor's the only mainstream party offering a serious policy.

JOURNALIST: But the Prime Minister said that the Snowy 2.0 project would provide fair dinkum power for Australia. Do you support their Snowy 2.0?

SHORTEN:  Listen, the only way that we're going to get fair dinkum - yes, Snowy 2.0 is a good idea on paper, no question. But in order to - and what Snowy 2 is essentially - it's a big battery which will store energy. But the problem is to have a battery to store energy you've got to be producing energy and that's where the government's - it's sort of like the government is going to give you a battery with no plug, because they won't back in renewable energy. And what we really need to do if we want encourage more energy being created is we've got to have some policies which encourage 50 per cent renewables by 2030. This government can't do it because Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton, every time someone in the Liberal Party proposes to do something on climate change, they sack them. That is what happened to Malcolm Turnbull.

JOURNALIST: So if you win the next election are you saying that the average families electricity bill will be –

SHORTEN:  The answer that we will give is that we will put more downward pressure on prices than the government. I mean again, you don't have to take my word for it, if you look at any town in Queensland there are literally thousands of households who now have solar panels on their roofs. Right across Australia, two million Aussie households have solar panels. Now they're not putting up solar panels because it's more expensive.

So this is a case where the government's broken and divided, yet two million Aussie households have already put solar on their roofs. What we're going to do is provide subsidies so that people can put batteries in their house. So that means that you know, during the day when the sun is shining you get the energy you store it in your batteries. And then at night time when the family has got to do all their duties and the kids are on the computers studying for school and what not, then you've got the energy which is available. Labor's got a plan to give consumers control over their energy prices and to make a difference on the environment and really isn't that what it's all about?

I might just make one final observation I note that the current Attorney-General's got himself into trouble again by appointing a former staff member to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. People mightn't know what the Administrative Appeals Tribunal is but it's a very important administrative court in Australia. It is now a scandal that the Liberal Party of Australia has gone out of the 250 tribunal judges who work at the tribunal, over 50 of them are now former Liberal politicians, former Liberal candidates or former Liberal staff members. Justice in this country is becoming a branch meeting of the Liberal Party.

What they've done is appoint two Labor ex-politicians -  so there are two out of 250. Over 50 members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia belong to one political party or work for one political party. How can you get justice in this country with such a rotten, rorted approach to appointing people to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal? Now the government thinks that people don't care when they appoint their mates to jobs. The government doesn't care, doesn't think people care when Hello World who is the Treasurer of the Liberal Party gets big government contracts and Liberal Ministers are getting free trips. They think that people don't care when they hand out $400 million contracts to a company Paladin, to look after all the refugees, when the company is registered at a beach shack on Kangaroo Island down a dirt road. 

We have got a major problem in this country that the current government is run by cronies for cronies on behalf of cronies, by donors for donors, on behalf of donors. We need a National Anti-Corruption Commission. It is deeply disturbing that out of 250 members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal over 50 of them have had an affiliation with the governing Party of Australia. You wouldn't read about it in a dictatorship. 

Thank you.

ENDS

Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.


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