WEDNESDAY, 16 DECEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Coles Smeaton Grange dispute; industrial relations; aged care; Australia’s relationship with China; climate change; wage stagnation; economy; Medicare.
DR MIKE FREELANDER, MEMBER FOR MACARTHUR: Hi, I’m Mike Freelander, the Member for Macarthur, the local member for Smeaton Grange in Federal Parliament. It is a fantastic day to have Anthony Albanese, our Leader, out here to support the Coles workers at the Smeaton Grange Distribution Centre. They’ve been locked out and will be locked out, it looks like, over Christmas. And they will be unable to provide for their families over Christmas, an absolute tragedy. And Coles won’t come back to the table. It is fantastic that Anthony is here, really great support. We have been trying to push this message in Parliament to no avail. So, it is great to have him out here supporting the Coles workers and I give them my full support. So, thanks so much, Anthony, our Leader.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Mike. And it is great to be here with you and with Anne Stanley, the members for these southwestern electorates where most of these locals work. There are a couple of issues to deal with. One is the issue of wages. And the members here of the United Workers Union yesterday voted to accept the company’s offer of 3.5 per cent. What this is really about now is a lockout of these essential workers from their work. They want to work. They have been locked out of work. This is about automation and the loss of jobs. Now, the Union accepts that automation is occurring. What they want though is a fair redundancy system and negotiations in good faith with the company about those issues involving automation as Coles consolidates its distribution centres and brings in that automation. We all know that technological change misplaces workers. What we need to do is make sure that workers are looked after as change occurs. These people are essential workers. They are the people who the Morrison Government praised as getting us through the pandemic. It was our cleaners, our supermarket workers, our truck drivers, people who worked each and every day to keep Australia going during what has been a very difficult 2020. But the fact that the company is saying that these workers will continue to be locked out over Christmas and up to February is quite frankly a disgrace. And I have indicated that very clearly on behalf of the Australian Labor Party to Coles management. It is completely unacceptable that they are not prepared to negotiate in good faith to resolve these issues and to get these outstanding Australian men and women back to work. It is extraordinary that this comes at the same time as the Government last week introduced industrial relations legislation that would cut workers' wages, that would remove leave loading, that would remove penalty rates, that would remove hard-fought wages and conditions by changes to the Better Off Overall Test by saying that a company could get those benefits and workers could lose wages if a company was impacted by the pandemic. Well, guess what? The pandemic has impacted every company in Australia. But one company that's done all right is Coles. Our supermarkets have done all right during this period. And these workers deserve to be treated with respect. Their Union deserves to be treated with respect. And there should be fair bargaining. This is a bit of a sign perhaps of what the Morrison Government sees as its preferred industrial relations strategies. One in which employers abuse the power that they have. And the locking out of workers over Christmas has got to end. And I say to Coles what I’ve said to them privately yesterday and again this morning, that they need to do much better than this. Because public opinion, I'm sure, will be with these workers who've been locked out and their families, who will suffer over this period. These men and women need to put food on the table for their families. They need to pay their rent. They need to pay their mortgages. They need to have certainty over the Christmas and New Year period. And I call upon Coles to end this lockout. End this lockout of these workers and end it now.
JO-ANNE SCHOFIELD, NATIONAL PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED WORKERS UNION: Hi, I am Jo Schofield from the United Workers Union. I want to thank Dr Freelander, Anthony Albanese and Anne Stanley for coming out today in a show of support for those workers. And can I just say, public support is only growing and it will get stronger. Every worker within Coles, every worker in this country should be on notice that this will happen to you. It will happen to you if the Federal Government’s laws pass and will happen to you if these workers do not achieve a decent deal at the bargaining table. This dispute is fundamentally about respect. It is about being respected by a company that you have helped get through the pandemic, with their profits surging. These workers want nothing more than to know that Coles will be honest with them about what is going to happen and how jobs will change. And they will do everything they can to protect and preserve job security of workers as automation takes over at this site. Nothing more than that. In the face of that, they've been faced with a belligerent company, a company that hit the nuclear button in response to reasonable bargaining situations and who have locked these workers out for 12 weeks, causing incredible hardship not just for these workers but for their families and the western suburbs community where these jobs are such an important part. So, it is great to have our Labor MPs here today to send a message to these workers and to Coles. And I want to send a message to Coles as well, and to Coles shareholders and members of the board, who should be asking where the company is going with this dispute. What is it costing? Not just costing these loyal workers and their families, but what is it costing the company? We want to see an end to this dispute. People want to get back to work. And we want to know that we are dealing with a company that is honest and is respectful towards the workers that do so much to build their bottom line and make Coles one of the most profitable companies in the country. Thank you.
SMEATON GRANGE DISTRIBUTION CENTRE WORKER: Thanks for your time. I, first and foremost, want to say from everyone at Smeaton Grange, Merry Christmas. It's been a very hard 28 days. It's been very hard for a lot of us. And it will continue to be hard. We know that. Reality is, Coles have made a choice that impacts not only 350 mums and dads here, but their families and their extended families. Over Christmas and beyond Christmas is what they're telling us now. We’ve just tried to negotiate. Automation is a reality that is not being spoken about. Automation is impacting not just our industry, but every industry. And in Australia, that conversation of how we look on the other side has not started yet. I hope that this can begin a discussion around how the future of our industries will look. I want to extend our gratitude to Dr Freelander, Anthony Albanese and Anne and our President for showing up today. Primarily, I want to extend the gratitude to every single member of the community who's come down, greeted us, shown us support, donated, said all the different things. You have kept us buoyant through this. You've kept our hope that it's not just us. Everyone who's come down, just tooting their horn on their way past, we are grateful for every single one of you. And really, we never even considered that would be the case when we first tried to get Coles back to the table before they locked us out after two hours of exercising our right for industrial action. So, thank you from Smeaton Grange. Merry Christmas from Smeaton Grange.
ALBANESE: The Government has completely mishandled the issue of aged care during the pandemic. We had a Budget in October in which they didn't provide a response that was serious on aged care in spite of the fact that we've had nearly 700 deaths in aged care on this Government's watch. This Government has been complacent in spite of the fact that the Royal Commission interim report was titled 'Neglect'. Neglect, in one word, sums up this Government's attitude towards aged care. Today's announcement is too little. What we need is a comprehensive plan to deal with aged care both in terms of improving the number of homecare places but also dealing with the crisis. We have a circumstance whereby the Government's been told by the Royal Commission that you have people who are literally starving as aged care residents, not getting enough nutrition, we have open wounds with maggots. We have circumstances whereby too many aged care residents aren't getting the care that they need.
ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that 30,000 Australians have died who've been approved for home care packages. This Government has been complacent when it comes to aged care. Scott Morrison was responsible for cuts to aged care that he’s denied. And now, he's just trying to repair just a little bit of the damage which has been done.
ALBANESE: Scott Morrison's response to the tweet from China was one that had our support. China has changed its stance in terms of its posture in the region and in the way that it deals with international politics. And the fact is that there's no justification for the stopping of Australian exports to China by China, whether it be wine, meat, coal, barley. These are all against the spirit and in some cases against the letter of the free trade agreement that exists between China and Australia. What the Australian Government needs to do going forward, though, is tell Australians what their strategy is for dealing with these issues, because Australian jobs are at stake.
JOURNALIST: What do you consider to be a reasonable medium-term emissions reductions target?
ALBANESE: I consider it reasonable that it's consistent with heading towards net zero by 2050. That's our position. We will make further announcements much closer to the election. And that is what is appropriate, given changing circumstances. The election of the Biden Government will change international politics towards climate change. And it is indeed very embarrassing that a couple of weeks ago in the Parliament Scott Morrison stood up and crowed about what contribution he was going to make at the International Conference on Climate Change. Not only did he not speak, he wasn't invited to the party. He behaved like a bit of a kid saying, 'I didn't want to go anyway'. We need to do much better. And it should be a wake-up call to the Government that the world is watching. The Government is right when it says that we can’t go it alone on climate change, we need strong international action. At the moment, Australia isn't even a part of that international discussion. And that's a tragedy given that Australia is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. And we saw that during the devastating bushfires.
JOURNALIST: Joel Fitzgibbon has continued to undermine your Shadow Minister. (Inaudible)?
ALBANESE: It is no different from what he said before. Labor will determine Labor’s policy that we take to the next election, not Scott Morrison.
ALBANESE: What this indicates here is a worrying concern that after the pandemic, I think, Australians wanted us to move forward as a nation in the recovery. What we have here is workers locked out from their jobs. We have a Government that has introduced legislation that would cut workers' wages by $6,000, $8,000. That not only is bad for families, it also is bad for our national economy. Because we know that wage stagnation has been a major handbrake on the economy going forward. It was a handbrake before the pandemic, it was a handbrake during the pandemic as wages continued to flatline, and it needs to be addressed. The Government's response to that is to introduce legislation that will further drive down wages. We need to give respect to working people and treat them decently. And that's why this company needs to do it, and why the Federal Government needs legislation that reflects respect, not reflects a driving down of wages and conditions.
ALBANESE: We will stand up for the rights of working families. And whenever workers are mistreated, the Australian Labor Party will stand in lockstep with them.