Labor's fight for penalty rates - Press Conference Transcript




















SUBJECTS: Malcolm Turnbull’s cut to penalty rates; energy crisis; Government’s $50 billion big business tax giveaway; Tropical Cyclone Debbie; China Australia extradition treaty

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMPETITION AND PRODUCTIVITY: Well, thanks very much for coming along everyone to this centre in the middle of my electorate where we have had an opportunity today to speak to apprentices working in the beauty industry about two issues that are important for Labor. One is our support for apprentices, making sure that Australia has strong apprenticeship programs with high completion rates. 

And the other is Labor's fight for penalty rates. You can be pretty sure that none of the people that Bill Shorten and I spoke with today will be benefiting from Malcolm Turnbull's millionaire tax cut when it cuts in in the middle of the year, but many of them may well suffer from the cuts to penalty rates that Malcolm Turnbull and his team are championing. 

It's my pleasure now to hand over to Bill Shorten to say a few words.


It's been a real privilege this morning to meet women training up in the beauty industry, getting the qualifications, working hard to make ends meet so they can pursue a career. But today, we're here to also talk about the fact that penalty rates in the hair and beauty industry are the next set of penalty rates which are on the chopping block. I think the apprentices and trainees today, who have been very well trained, they're working very hard, are really concerned to discover that if the penalty rate application is successful, that they could lose up to $77 as a fulltime worker on a Sunday. The young women here, the mature age women here who are retraining or training themselves for the future, doing everything this country expects of them, shouldn't have to face a cut to their real wages, to their real standard of living. 

The fact of the matter is that the Turnbull Government's willingness to support penalty rate cuts, the Turnbull Government's commitment to oppose our protection of penalty rates is the thin edge of the wedge. No one's penalty rates are safe in the country. What we need is a Government who will stand up for the young women who are working hard in this industry, stand up for their penalty rates. Labor will fight every day to the next election to protect the penalty rates of working Australians.

I'd like to ask Brendan O'Connor to speak a little further on this matter.


Well, this morning in the Parliament while Bill and Andrew were talking to people in this important industry, Labor was actually continuing to debate the Private Members' Bill moved by Bill last week in order to ensure that the effect of the Fair Work Commission decision does not occur because if it does occur, we know that people will receive up to $77 pay cuts. Now, there are people who just cannot afford to make ends meet, they just can't afford to pay the bills, they are struggling now. Can you imagine having a $77 pay cut? 

Now, I have heard some Government members say that that is not a big amount of money, or they say $50 is not a lot of money. Well, it may not be for the Prime Minister, but it is for these workers. We have heard today about hairdressers' rates of pay. The fact is the Prime Minister said one, that he was going to support the cuts to penalty rates. He also called absurd that Labor was concerned it would move to other workers. Their submission has made no attempt to even mitigate the effects, to even soften the blows of this decision for those workers. Also, there is no reference whatsoever to the new set of employees that now may well be also be subject to these cuts. 

As Bill has mentioned, beauticians, hairdressers, people who work in clubs and hotels, people who work in restaurants, struggling to survive on tips and a decent minimum wage, but you know, they are struggling. And the fact that the Prime Minister cannot understand that, says something about his world view and says something about that he struggles with empathy because he has ever, ever struggled with money. He has never struggled the way in which hundreds of thousands of Australian families struggle, each week, to pay the bills. 

The best thing for him to do, if he can't empathise with these workers, then he should sit down for once in his life, and listen to them about what it will mean if this decision takes effect. And not just for those that have already had a penalty cut determined, but for those workers now that are also in the gun as a result of the three awards that are subject to consideration by the Fair Work Commission. 

The only way to stop this is to support Bill Shorten's Bill, which in effect will one, stop the effect of the decision so that retail and hospitality workers will be protected. It will mean that these further awards under consideration will be protected and it will mean that there can no longer be, within the discretion of the Commission, the ability to cut award rates of pay and conditions without compensation whatsoever. That needs to happen and we will continue to argue the case at a time when Malcolm Turnbull wants to give a $17,000 tax cut for millionaires, he shouldn't be enshrining a $77 pay cut for workers.

SHORTEN: Thanks, Brendan. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you support the ACCC being given a reference to inquire into electricity pricing?

SHORTEN: I will get Andrew Leigh to supplement this question because he's our shadow spokesperson dealing with this issue. But let me just say these points: Labor proposed at the last election to give the ACCC the sort of powers which Mr Turnbull is now asking to investigate today. Under Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals, electricity prices have gone through the roof. We are happy to see an inquiry of course, Mr Turnbull needs to commit to make sure this is just not another inquiry for the sake of being seen to doing, he needs to commit to implement recommendations at the ACCC.

And also, Malcolm Turnbull is very quiet now on the national gas emergency. The two big problems in energy in Australia is that we don't have a national energy policy, and all of the experts in the electricity industry in this country say that the number one factor which is forcing electricity prices up is the lack of a national policy. 

The other big problem is what happened to the gas emergency crisis that Mr Turnbull spoke about two weeks ago? Industry is seeing tens of thousands of jobs at risk because we don't have enough gas in Australia to supply our own industry. There's a real problem that we're exporting gas which is needed in Australia for domestic demand.

Mr Turnbull needs to look at Labor's policies to have a national interest test to make sure we have an emissions intensity scheme in our electricity generating industry. And we need to back renewable energy as opposed to talking it down at every opportunity. 

I might get Andrew to talk a bit more about the ACCC. 

LEIGH: Thanks Bill. The difference, Mark, is if you look at the British competition regulator, they've got what is called a market studies power. That means they're able to identify an industry in which there's excess concentration and go in without direct evidence of wrongdoing by participants in order to see how to give consumers a better deal. The ACCC doesn't have a power like that, it doesn't have a power which allows it to compel witnesses and do those proper inquires. At the last election, Bill Shorten and Labor proposed that the ACCC be given such a power. It's a proposal that comes out of the Harper Review. If the ACCC had it then we wouldn't need to see ad-hoc announcements like the one we've got today. The ACCC would already be in there looking at the energy sector, seeing how to get consumers a better deal. So, it's time Malcolm Turnbull listened to Labor, listened to the Harper Review, and gave the competition watchdog a market studies power.

JOURNALIST: Bill, who is responsible for energy prices, and if you become Prime Minister will you be responsible for them?

SHORTEN: What is leading to electricity prices going through the roof is the lack of a national energy policy. The number one reason forcing prices up is the lack of leadership out of Canberra. Now there's other issues which are contributing to energy prices. One, it's the lack of national policy, and two, there's a gas crisis in this country. 

Australia currently produces enough gas to supply our houses, our generators and our industry, but part of the problem is that these gas companies are selling so much of our domestic gas overseas that we now face the very real risk that we don't have enough gas in Australia for our own people, for our own industry, for our own jobs.

Malcolm Turnbull needs to deal with the gas crisis. Fair enough you're ordering an ACCC review, that's fine as far as it goes, although of course, we want to see him commit to the recommendations and say he will follow up. But the real problem here is that Malcolm Turnbull has no plan for national energy policy. That is causing a strike on investment. And the other big problem is that we have got an immediate gas crisis right here, right now and Malcolm Turnbull wants us to look at everything else but the gas emergency in this country. 

Labor's going to keep fighting on this issue, because I don't want to see this Government stand by while tens of thousands of blue collar manufacturing jobs go down the road. And that problem won't wait until the next election, Charles, to go to the final part of your question. The problem is that we can't wait for another election to fix our domestic gas supply, and we can't afford to waste a day of not having a national energy policy.

 Mr Shorten, what would you say to the 44 per cent of voters in the Ipsos poll today that support the Government's company tax cut?  

SHORTEN: It's a bit rich for Malcolm Turnbull to be spending $50 billion on a corporate tax giveaway at the same time supporting cuts to people's penalty rates. Everyone knows that the company tax cut policy of the Government is a dud policy, the dogs are barking again today. The Treasurer seems to have finally woken up and realised that it's a dud policy.  

The problem is that Malcolm Turnbull is so arrogant and out of touch he can never admit that he is wrong and so what we see is the Treasurer and the Prime Minister at loggerheads over a serious question of the economic direction of this country.

Labor is 100 per cent united, Labor is 100 per cent committed to fighting as long as it takes to defeat this $50 billion tax give away. It's a dud policy because when on one hand you're giving $50 billion away to large companies who will pocket it as profit and on the other hand supporting the cuts of $77 a week to low paid workers. Labor will fight for its principles and we will win this argument. 

JOURNALIST: Will you still support though a tax cut for businesses with turnovers below $2 million and if so, why do they deserve a tax cut and small businesses with turnovers between two and five or two and ten don't? Doesn't that really pose a disincentive for those businesses to grow their business because they'll be going to a higher tax bracket?

SHORTEN: No, not at all. The fact of the matter is that 83 per cent of businesses in Australia have a turnover of less than $2 million, we think the Budget can afford that. What we don't think the Budget can afford is to hand away tens of billions of dollars, $50 billion, to basically big business, we think it’s a dud of the policy. Everyone knows that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister are at loggerheads on this important economic question. You know it's business as usual in the Turnbull Government: division, people can smell the disunity in this Government rising up out of the Government. The problem is that Mr Turnbull is too arrogant and out of touch to admit it’s a dud policy. The Treasurer seemed to have woken up last week and realised it’s a dud policy, seems like Mr Turn whipped him back in line for the time being. In the meantime, Labor will keep defending peoples penalty rates rather than fighting to give big business a $50 billion tax giveaway. 

JOURNALIST: Can you just explain why though why your cut off is $2 million?

SHORTEN: Because that gets to 83 per cent of business, we think that that is the number which the Budget can afford. We think at this time where you've got debt and deficit tripled under this Government, where you've got an issue where you've got other priorities including Medicare, skills and education, this nation can't afford to have $50 billion taken out of the national ATM and hand it to big business because all big business will do is pocket the money. It's a bit rich for Mr Turnbull to be saying it’s time to give big business $50 billion and on the other hand supporting a pay cut to hundreds of thousands of Australian workers.

Perhaps two more questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Adam Bandt today said the Prime Minister will have blood on his hands if they continue with coal fired power stations with events like Tropical Cyclone Debbie, do you agree?

SHORTEN: Well first of all my thoughts are with the people in the face of Cyclone Debbie. Let's just get through that. The Greens political party shouldn't be using that language today, I think that's a disservice of North Queensland.

In terms of the broader policies of clean coal, I haven't met an investor yet anywhere in the world who thinks this is a really good idea. This is just another example of Malcolm Turnbull caving in to the climate change sceptics of the right wing of his party. The problem for Malcolm Turnbull is that he spends every day waking up, working out how does he survive the next poll or the next week or the next meeting of his party room. What Labor is interested in is a national energy price policy. Energy prices are going through the roof. We've got a gas emergency, there is a lack of Australian gas available for Australian businesses which is threatening tens of thousands of jobs. 

And all Mr Turnbull can do is bring lumps of coal into Parliament and pretend it’s just playtime for the junior school. It's not the way to plan energy policy. The number one driver of energy prices in this country is a lack of Turnbull Government energy policy.

Perhaps the last question if there is one.

JOURNALIST: Will Labor support the motion to block the Australia and China extradition treaty?

SHORTEN: We're currently considering this matter very carefully, it is a matter of great importance that goes to questions of our relationship with China. It goes though, of course, to human rights. It goes to questions of law. Our party will be discussing this matter in the coming days before the vote. Suffice to say though that we think that the extradition treaties which the Government of Australia has signed up to around the world needs a review and that's certainly where some of our thinking is at the moment and we will certainly talk further in coming days. 

JOURNALIST: What's your position on it? On the China extradition treaty?

SHORTEN: Well just what I said, it's an important matter and we're giving it careful consideration. For me there is considerations including our relationship with China which of course is very important. But also respect for the rule of law and human rights and we will be guided by the best evidence and that's what we do in the national interest. 

Thank you.



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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.