Doorstop Interview, Canberra Institute of Technology, Fyshwick

SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s cruel cuts to training and apprentices; Senator John Madigan; Tony Abbott’s broken promise on superannuation; MRRT; Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Ukraine; UraniuCanberra_Apprentices.jpgm to India.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It's great to be here this morning, looking at the future of Australia's tradesmen and women being trained right in front of our eyes. I'm here with Sharon Bird, the Shadow Spokesperson on Vocational Education. I’m also here with Gai Brodtmann, local member for Canberra.

We are here because nothing is more important than ensuring that we have a future generation of skilled workers. There are at least 100 apprentices being trained in each year of plumbing at this facility that we're at. What I think is really exciting is one in every five of these apprentices is a mature-age apprentice. These are men and women who are taking up the challenge of retraining themselves. That is why the Government's savage cuts to training and to higher education are so against Australia's future interests. 

What we see here is we see a Government who is going against the grain of the future of Australia. We believe in education on the Labor side. Parliaments and politicians need to tread very carefully when they tamper with the education system in Australia. 

There is one great test of all political parties. It is the test of whether or not you leave the education system better than when you found it. What we see with savage cuts in training, savage cuts in higher education, is that the Abbott Government are wrecking the educational future of a generation.

What we also see very, very, very clearly here is that we've got a Government who promised a year ago that there would be something like 1 million new jobs created in five years. Now we all know that a Tony Abbott promise is not worth the paper it's written on, but he did say a year ago that under a Liberal government he led, there'd be a million jobs in five years and 2 million jobs in 10 years.

Now instead what Tony Abbott's given us is a 10-year high in unemployment. We have seen that the only jobs policy the Abbott Government has is to send jobs overseas.

I will ask my colleague Sharon Bird to talk a bit more about the vocational training cuts of the Government. Then we're happy to take questions on this and other matters.

SHARON BIRD, SHADOW MINISTER FOR VOCATIONAL EDUCATION: Thanks Bill. Can I thank CIT and their apprentices who we've had the opportunity to join and talk to today. It's absolute evidence again about how critically important vocational education skills are to future and to employment opportunities.

There’s a been an absolute abandonment by the Abbott Government of vocational education and training and in particular, apprentices. They have ripped a billion dollars out of apprenticeship support in the last Budget - not only taking money out of the pockets of apprentices with abolishing the Tools For Your Trade payment but abandoning four key programs that gave people a start in an apprenticeship. The apprenticeship access program, the apprenticeship mentoring program, the apprentice to business program and the accelerated apprenticeships program. All cut, no replacement.

This Government has walked away from apprentices, and we've seen today how critically important that work is to give people jobs for the future and to support regions and industry sectors that need the transformation of advanced skills. So it's an absolute disgrace and they should hang their heads in shame with what they've done to the apprenticeships and apprentices of Australia.

SHORTEN: Thanks Sharon. Are there any questions on this or other matters?

JOURNALIST: Bill there’s some breaking news, Senator John Madigan has just resigned from the DLP but he is still staying on as an independent. Do you have any reaction to that?

SHORTEN: Well, Senator Madigan was elected to represent people from Victoria. I don't know what on earth is going on within the DLP. I haven't heard the reason he has given in this small party that seems to have just got smaller. It's up to Senator Madigan to explain. I can't add any more at this time. We will work with him as an independent Senator just as we worked with him as a DLP Senator.

JOURNALIST: Just on the jobs issue, what is Labor's solution to creating more jobs and wouldn't industrial relations reform create more flexibility for employers to hire more workers?

SHORTEN: I’ll answer the first part of your question and then we’ll go to the second part. I’ll tell you how you create jobs in this country - you don't cut funding for apprentices. I’ll tell you how you create jobs in this country - you don't cut funding for higher education. I’ll tell you how you create jobs in this country - you don't start slashing and burning vocational education outcomes. 

Most parents of children who are 12 and 13, 14 and 15 have conversations with their children that kids are interested, do they become apprentices, do they go to university? Whatever the course and path in life that our young Australians choose, it is the obligation of the Federal Government to make it easier for people to pursue their interests and passions.

What I like when I come here, is I don't see what those Liberal Government ministers cynically call people spending money on tattoos. What I see here is enthusiastic and earnest young people, mature-age people who are making a plunge to back themselves in to get a new skill. If you want to create jobs in this country, you start backing in the education of our people. It is only upon a skilled work force becoming more skilled that we will have a bright jobs future.

You also mentioned industrial relations reform. Is there anything you think should be reformed? It's a very general term.

JOURNALIST: Well, perhaps something along the lines of penalty rates, it's often seen as something that stops businesses from opening on weekends, being able to have employees working on weekends, those sorts of issues?

SHORTEN: I suspect that the Abbott Government's only recipe for workplace relations is indeed as you suggest to cut penalty rates. How on earth do you make working people better off by making them poorer? We've already seen this Government's naked plan to attack working conditions by freezing the superannuation of 9 million people.

The truth of the matter is with penalty rates the people who most likely get penalty rates work in the restaurant and hospitality industries and they work in retail. These industries, and this is really important to understand this, the average wage in those industries is below the median average wage. So when we talk about - when you've got the out-of-touch club of the Abbott Cabinet talking about how poorer Australians should take pay cuts to do the lifting in Australia, just remember, people need their penalty rates to be able to put food on the table.

This is a Government who is freezing superannuation,  if they want to help small business, they shouldn't have cut the tax deductions which Labor were giving them. This is a government who's make it harder for families to make ends meet by cutting the Schoolkids Bonus, then they want to cut penalty rates? Give me a break.

JOURNALIST: Do you accept though that penalty rates do prevent some small businesses from being able to open on the weekend because they simply can't afford to pay workers that extra amount?

SHORTEN: What I recognise if that we have an independent umpire who periodically hears cases of penalty rates. It is well within the wit and wisdom of the people in the current industrial relations system to run their argument, such as you’re doing, in front of an independent umpire and argue for changes in people's conditions. The truth of the matter is that every time there's been a push to cut penalty rates, the evidence never backs up the sentiment.

JOURNALIST: Are you surprised that we still haven’t seen the terms of reference for the Productivity Commission review of IR which was promised at the last election?

SHORTEN: This Government's promises are worth nothing, let's be honest. They said famously a year ago that we wouldn't cut health, they wouldn't cut education, there'd be no changes to pensions, there'd be no cuts to higher education, and that they wouldn't freeze superannuation for six years. Every one of those promises is just an out and out lie, been broken.

What we see a year on is they break their promises. I'm sure the Government has an agenda to cut people's conditions but they are so chicken that they never have a debate. I’m sure this Government wants to have a GST and the way they’re trying to do that is through the back door of cutting funding to states, starving states so that they do the heavy work and the argument that the Government won’t do.

This is a cowardly government when it comes to running their arguments, and when they do, it always invariably involves breaking promises and telling lies.

JOURNALIST: This morning at the doors, Alannah MacTiernan has indicated that there needs to be some sort of mining tax, and that State and Federal Governments need to work together to ensure that a mining tax reinstalled. Do you agree with her, should there be a return of the mining tax?

SHORTEN: I have said on previous occasions that I believe that Australians should receive their fair share of the great natural mineral wealth of Australia. This is a Government who in the last few days has shown a greater interest in delivering offshore profits than onshore savings. 

I do believe that it is important that in the future, a Federal Government works with the State Government to make sure that we get the calibration right between state royalties and a national approach in terms of resource rent taxation. What we will do is we will take a principles-based approach. We will work with the states to work out what's in the best interests of the nation and the states and mining companies cooperatively.

JOURNALIST: Given that the mining tax that Labor put into place didn't really raise the revenue, do you think that this is the best way to tax these sorts of companies and link spending to it?

SHORTEN: What I fundamentally believe is it's important that State and Federal Governments work together. I believe it's important that governments work with industry to identify the best way to make progress for that industry and for the nation. That's the process we'll adopt.

And by the way, does anyone think that in the last 24-48 hours of the circus which is the Palmer-Abbott Government in Australia that we've seen any good process? We asked Treasurer Joe Hockey yesterday to model, to demonstrate what the cuts in superannuation, the freezing of superannuation  mean for people who are 25, 35 and 45. For some of you here interviewing me, what Treasurer Hockey has done, is he has literally taken by his rushed decisions, just so they can help some mining companies out on a tax which they concede wasn’t costing companies very much. They've done a weak deal, a cowardly deal, a cheap political deal, which is going to rob you and 9 million other Australians of tens of thousands of dollars from your retirement savings accounts. That's a shocking deal.

JOURNALIST: So would you look at reversing that in the lead-up to the election?

SHORTEN: Labor's always stood for improving superannuation. The only reason that Australians get superannuation is because Labor fought for it in the 1980s and the 1990s and again most recently two years ago. We’re not going to announce every final detail of our election policy two years out. We're finding it hard enough keeping the current Government to the promises they already announced –

JOURNALIST: It’s pretty simple, you are either going to reverse the Government's changes or you're not?

SHORTEN:  Well actually, there's not an election for the next two years unless the Government has said something to the contrary. What Labor will do is we will start with a principles-based approach in terms of what's in the best interests for older Australians. In the next few years, 20 in every 100 Australians will be over the age of 65. We've always believed in the pillars of a strong aged pension and we know the Government's wrecking that by decreasing the indexation rate.

We believed in encouraging private savings and we believe in encouraging superannuation. The Government's taken the wrecking ball to sensible retirement incomes policy in this country. I'm not going to let this Government off the fact that they lied, lied and lied before the last election. Fourteen times, Tony Abbott shrugs his shoulders says ‘I won't do anything adverse to superannuation’. The fact that you and 9 million other Australians are going to have less superannuation in your accounts, that passes the dictionary definition of adverse.

Tony Abbott's made superannuation an election issue. And he's also made the fact you can't trust him on superannuation an election issue. I tell you what, Australians are slow to get angry, but when people think that you've got any politician, in this case Tony Abbott, doing monkey business with your superannuation that fires Aussies right up.

JOURNALIST: You supported them in Government so why not say so now, you support them now?

SHORTEN: You're looking for an answer here which I'm being pretty clear on, Labor does support improving superannuation. But if you’re asking me to outline every final detail of our election policy I’m not going to. But just so there is no confusion, as the minister who introduced 9 going to 12 per cent, I spent my working life making sure that from young apprentices we see here to adults near retirement, they’ve got more money in retirement, so that they can have a better life in retirement. I am a champion of superannuation, I am a champion of making sure people have more money in retirement. I'm not going to announce every final policy. But I tell you what, if you want to get in the horse race, and pick the horse which is going to do the better things for your superannuation, you'd want to get on Labor.

JOURNALIST: The Government wants to change the terror threat system. What's wrong with it?

SHORTEN: What's wrong with their idea or what's wrong with the current system?

JOURNALIST: Their idea.

SHORTEN: Well it's very early days. We've seen it in the paper. We'll have to review how it all works. We look forward to working constructively with the Government on their next tranche of legislation. Let me be really straight: I do not underestimate the seriousness of the national security debate and threat in terms of Australia. We will work with the Government in the best interests of Australians. We do not put a political lens or a political examination of what the Government’s saying. We want to see the detail. Things which make Australians safer, we will sign up for and contribute to. I do not in any fashion dispute that when it comes to our domestic national security, that Labor and Liberal are working together. We most certainly are. And I just want to acknowledge the work of our security agencies and police. I think they do a lot of great work, and I think they're working very hard now to keep Australians safe.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you just your reaction to this story in the paper this morning suggesting that the Government and Palmer United may be considering some sort of slush fund to bail out companies that are not performing well?

SHORTEN: I don't know what Clive Palmer has on this Government but I tell you what, it's worrying me what the Government’s prepared to give away to them. What on earth are Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey and Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop and the rest of them thinking when they are now encouraging a parliamentary inquiry into creating a Palmer piggy bank? This is crazy economics. You know last year, we had Joe Hockey all, you know, giving lectures to the car companies how he's not going to help them. This is a Government who says they're not into providing hand-outs other than the boondoggle down at Cadbury. But leaving that little farce aside, this is a Government who said they're not into helping industry out. Now they're saying to Clive Palmer we're happy to get out the pen and we're going to write up a new committee which is the green light for bailing out companies in all sorts of circumstances. Just who's running Australia, Tony Abbott? Is it you or is it Clive Palmer? We saw them do a deal with Clive Palmer the billionaire mining chap, so that the mining tax gets lifted. The only problem is 9 million people's superannuation accounts got tossed into the deal and wrecked. 1.3 million Australian families have had the Schoolkids Bonus terminated. 3.2 million small businesses, 3.2 million small businesses are now going to pay more tax because of Tony Abbott and Clive Palmer. This is a Government seriously lurching from desperate stunt to crazy announcement day by day. It's very concerning.

JOURNALIST: And do you welcome a uranium deal being signed between Australia and India, given the PM is in India at the moment to do that deal?

SHORTEN: It's a matter of record that Labor, under Julia Gillard, changed its policies in terms of green-lighting the possible sale of uranium to India. With the appropriate safeguards and oversights we do support this development.

JOURNALIST: Are you convinced that those safeguards are place?

SHORTEN: Well I haven't seen the detail but that's the test that we apply. Perhaps if I could take one more question.

JOURNALIST: Ukraine. There seems to be a suggestion that Australia may help the Ukrainian Government militarily. What do you make of that?

SHORTEN: I don't think there's been a discussion about Australia providing assistance of lethal force to the Ukraine. Labor most certainly believes in tighter sanctions. We said that before Parliament commenced this week, I said that last week. I think that Putin's actions, in terms of the potential annexation of part of another sovereign country, is outrageous. It's not the first time Putin's done this, he's in the business of annexing parts of other countries. So I think he and the Russian Federation's foreign policy decisions on the Ukraine are a real threat to peace and stability. But what I believe is the best way to handle that in the first instance is through political and legal means, diplomatic means, tighter and escalating sanctions. Labor said that last week, the Government's announced that this week. We think the announcement of an embassy in Kiev is probably overdue but it's a good announcement. Australians may be surprised to know that Ukraine is the largest country in the world in which Australia hasn't had an embassy. I think the next nearest country is one of the African countries, Tanzania, with 30 million people. So this is a good overdue development and we do support that, but in terms of your question of assisting with military force in Ukraine, I'm not even going to start jumping at those shadows.

JOURNALIST: But how about Australians training the Ukrainian military, that seems to be the suggestion?

SHORTEN: Labor has not been briefed on this. We've been briefed on other things and we've been consistent in putting the national interest first as we should. On this matter, Labor has not been briefed. We are not going to start speculating about things which whilst they may have been passed in newspapers, the Opposition has not been formally consulted on. So we'll just take a pass on that one and see what they have to say. Thanks, everyone, I did say last question. Okay, one more.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly, how can we trust India with our uranium?

SHORTEN: Well India's a sovereign nation and providing there are safeguards and oversights I don't see that there’s any assumption, any basis for the assumption of your question that we can't trust India. We're very lucky that we have nearly 300,000 Indian born Australian citizens. The Indian Ocean’s one of the two great oceans which border our very special continent which we call home. I look forward to furthering ties to India, I’ve taken trips and met with leaders in the Indian business community, the Indian community and the Indian Government. I think Tony Abbott's continuing the tradition of other Australian leaders of deeper and greater engagement with India. I for one am not going to start saying that one can't trust India. Thanks, everyone, see you Question Time.