ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
THURSDAY, 12 MARCH 2020
SUBJECTS: The McKell Institute’s ‘Wage-cutting Strategies in the Mining Industry’ report; impact of coronavirus on casual employees; coal exports; renewable energy; Souths vs Cronulla; Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson testing positive for COVID-19.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: This is an important report about casualisation of the workforce, the impact it’s having on miners, on mining communities. I’m very proud to be launching it and congratulate the union and the McKell Institute in providing some factual data about what this impact is. It means for some miners they can be working next to another miner, doing exactly the same job, and earning some 40 per cent less. We should have a principle here of same work, same pay. A simple principle that I think is irrefutable and is a part of the Australian way. But it also means something for mining communities. It means some loss of some $297 million from this community. It means the loss of some $245 million in economic activity for the Central Queensland region. And over $200 million in the Hunter Valley. Just three regions that have been looked at. There’s also an impact on occupational health and safety. The survey shows that because of casualisation of the workforce, they’re less likely to report safety issues. It’s more likely for people to be concerned about whether there’ll be retribution for raising safety issues in the workplace. This report should be a wakeup call for the Federal Government to actually do something about addressing these issues. We know with the Coronavirus issue that there’s been a focus on casual employment and the fact that casuals have less entitlements in terms of sick leave, in terms of annual leave, and in terms of their conditions. And yet that’s been dismissed by Christian Porter, an Industrial Relations Minister who is completely out of touch, who seems to think that casual workers have all these extra entitlements that they put away for a rainy day. This report exposes the fact that the opposite is the case. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned that the report is ammunition. What are you going to do with that ammunition?
ALBANESE: What we’re going to do is raise it in the national parliament. We’ll use this to reinforce a view that we’ve had for some time about same work, same pay being an essential principle going forward. We think that there’s a great deal of concern around the country about the insecurity of work. It’s an issue that I raised in my first vision statement which I did in Perth at the end of last year on jobs and the future of work. We need to identify for young people, and also for people who are looking at retraining, where the opportunities are that provide that security of income, security of employment going forward. And I think that this is a valuable contribution. I’d like to see the current Government make changes. And if they did they would have our support. But if not, we’ll be campaigning on this issue, as we have today, every day, in the lead up to the next election.
JOURNALIST: Just on that, George Christensen said the Morrison Government will reintroduce a bill to Parliament which would enable casual workers who have been doing the same shifts for 12 months or more, to go to the boss and request a move to permanent employment. Would Labor support that bill?
ALBANESE: Poor George. Always there, always missing the play, and he’s missed the play here as well. Because the fact is that legislation is flawed legislation. What it would’ve been able to do was to give more power for employers, not for workers. There’s nothing in that legislation that would have ensured that someone, a worker in those circumstances, would have to be listened to. It was all about the benign position of employers. What we actually need is laws that make it very clear that if people are doing the same work, they should be paid the same. That will take away the incentive that’s currently there in the system for casualiSation of the workforce.
JOURNALIST: You voted against the Fair Work Amendment (Right to Request Casual Conversation) Bill in 2019. Can you talk a bit about that and why?
ALBANESE: That was what the last question was about, I assume. It was flawed legislation. What it did was just give more power to the employers, rather than to workers and their organisations. George Christensen has been part of a rotten government that’s presided over seven years, which has seen that greatest increase in casualisation in Australia’s history. That’s his record. In which, very clearly, the Government has given a green light to employers to casualise their workforce. And indeed the Government is supporting, with taxpayer’s money, the case that the CFMMEU won about saying that Mr Skene was entitled to the same rights in terms of a payout of his leave entitlements as if he was a permanent worker. The Government not only is reinforcing the current laws, which aren’t good enough, they’re actually appealing that decision with Government support. So Mr Christensen has to explain why it is that his government, the government of which he’s a part, is in court trying to undermine this case that’s been determined which would make a different, a positive difference, to workers’ entitlements.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, a compliment. About three weeks ago you were on the Insiders and David came in first to call with a climate change policy, then came a second – 50 years from now, will we still be exporting coal? And the answer you gave is one we went ‘Hallejulah, finally someone said it.’ Because it drives us nuts every time someone says coal is dead. Because you said, you need to realise that in places like Cape Point, south of Mackay, the great percentage of coal that is shipped out of there is metallurgical coal for making steel. Until we find a different way of making steel, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of coal into the future.
ALBANESE: And indeed, a majority of Queensland’s exports is metallurgical coal. But demand for metallurgical and thermal coal – the export of those products doesn’t create the demand. The demand is created internationally. And the demand for metallurgical coal will continue for a long period of time. You can’t build a wind turbine without steel. You can’t build structures without steel. And Australia is making a substantial contribution. Now there are various theories have been floated, alternatives, but none of them are in play at the moment. And that’s just a fact. So there’s a lot of misinformation about what is actually happening in this industry out there. A lot of simplification. And what we need to do is actually analyse things as they are. And when it comes to industrial relations as well, another point that I’d make is that the Government’s priority at the moment, they say they’re going to reintroduce legislation – well they haven’t. They’ve been there for almost a year. What they have done though is reintroduce the Ensuring Integrity Bill, have it voted down in the Senate, and then reintroduced it again in the House of Representatives without a single word being uttered. That is designed to destroy the trade union movement. That’s why it’s there. And George Christensen and other LNP representatives have all voted for that. So they go and talk to union members and pretend that they’re concerned about their interests. In fact, what they’re doing is pushing through legislation and an agenda that’s designed to remove unions from workplaces.
JOURNALIST: Perhaps a more difficult question is obviously thermal coal. You were surrounded by friends today, all those people want their jobs into the future. Now we know that thermal coal in both the Galilee and Owen Basin is, in terms of ash content, some of the lowest on the planet. So if we stop mining thermal coal on a global basis they’ll get their coal from places where the coal is worse. So your thoughts on the future of thermal coal on expanding nations like India and so on where they want the lifestyle we want?
ALBANESE: Well I’ve said very clearly that if you were to stop Australian exports of thermal coal tomorrow what would happen would be that global emissions would rise, not go down. And the future of thermal coal is determined, in terms of exports, by international demand. And that will be a product of various nation states. And as part of the Paris Accord, there are no restrictions on the exports of any particular products. That’s an agreement whereby nation states agree on a policy going forward in terms of energy and other issues to deal with the challenge of climate change, that does have to be dealt with. But there’s a reason why that doesn’t include exports. Because if you did that, for example Japan would be liable for the emissions of every motor vehicle that was used in another country other than Japan. Quite clearly that’s absurd. But also, it is the case, as you have said, that because the quality of Australian coal whether it be in Queensland or in the Hunter Valley is a higher quality. If you stopped exporting it tomorrow emissions would go up, not down. So if you’re serious about reducing emissions, which I believe we have to be, then you need to have policies that actually make a positive difference to that.
JOURNALIST: And just on that, what scope is there for further renewable projects in Mackay, do you think?
ALBANESE: I think there’s an enormous capacity here. One of the things that we have capacity for as well, I believe, is not just in terms of producing energy from renewables, but using that energy to develop high value manufacturing. We have an extraordinary abundance of what are seen as new minerals but which in effect, some of them have been around for a long period of time. Copper, of course, a bit further west than here. But minerals like lithium, and other high value minerals that can be used to promote high value manufacturing. We produce everything that goes into a battery. We produce everything that goes into a solar panel. Why is it that through a port like Townsville, the big imports we’re seeing are wind turbines and solar panels. I want to see those things manufactured here. I also want to see the opportunity for industries like hydrogen to grow. There’s an enormous capacity in the future. What we need to do is to not be scared of the future. We need to make sure that we channel every opportunity that will be there from the changes in the global economy, and use it in a way in which we compete to create jobs. And the important thing is that it is regions rather than capital cities that stand to benefit most in terms of those job opportunities. And this region, a fantastic place to live, a fantastic place to work, has an incredibly bright future. But only if we embrace the opportunities that are there. Yes, give support to existing industries, but also think about the policies that need to be put in place for the growth of new industries. Thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: Just back on the casualisation, and I’ve got a question for Canberra as well. Can we get some questions from Canberra about Coronavirus?
ALBANESE: If we go quick, yeah. I did do a press conference earlier today.
JOURNALIST: Very quickly, serious, I mean. Tonight you’ll be sitting down with the greatest coach in the world. Couple of colours in green and red. How are you feeling right now?
ALBANESE: Looking forward to Saturday, to the Souths playing Cronulla. I will be going unless there’s some advice that somehow puts that off. But I’m always optimistic. Every March I think we’re going to win the comp. I thought that for the 43 years in which we failed between 1971 and 2014. But I am looking forward. Wayne Bennett is a great coach, a great manager of young men, and a great Australian. And I’m proud to call him a mate, and I look forward to catching up with him in the sheds after the game.
JOURNALIST: Just on Coronavirus, the Government’s released their package on the issue. Were they too slow to act?
ALBANESE: Well what we have is a Government that is defined by its complacency. Whether it’s last year, in terms of the economy was very flat. We had three interest rate decreases, monetary policy was doing all the heavy lifting. The Reserve Bank said there was a need for fiscal policy to do some assistance and we had consumer demand down, productivity growth going backwards in the negative. We had wages that are stagnant. And what we needed at that time was greater government concern. Then the bushfires came along, they were complacent there, they said ‘We’ve seen fires before, it’s a state issue, no need to act.’ And now on Coronavirus, we’ve seen after, just days ago the Government was saying that cash payments were inappropriate and should never occur and no government should ever do them – today we had an announcement of cash payments to pensioners and people who are Newstart recipients. That’s a good thing. We need to stimulate the economy and it needs to be done right now.
JOURNALIST: Just on those payments, you say the sickness payment won’t be enough to stop people going to work even if they are sick. So what would you propose instead?
ALBANESE: Well I haven’t said that.
JOURNALIST: Okay, we’ll skip to the next question, apologies. Tom Hanks and his wife have tested positive to Coronavirus. How worried are you about public figures getting infected and then obviously passing it on through their daily lives?
ALBANESE: Well I’m worried about every person. No one’s famous or not famous when it comes to a virus, and we’re all equal. And it is unfortunate that anyone contracts this virus. We need to do whatever we can. This is first and foremost a health issue. The economic issue comes as a consequence of that, but we shouldn’t forget that this is a health issue and that’s why the Government needs to respond in terms of the health of our citizens. I’ve been somewhat concerned, and we expressed concern, that people weren’t able to get to see their GP because if they thought they might be susceptible, or vulnerable, or have this disease. They were then sent to hospitals, who were then sending people away, certainly in NSW, because they hadn’t travelled to China, or South Korea, or Iran or one of the countries that was on the list. That is a real concern. We need to get on top of this. I visited a medical facility in Blacktown in Western Sydney yesterday whereby, they were as of today going to run out of personal protective equipment. We need to make sure that we keep on top of this to deter the spread of this disease.
JOURNALIST: Are there any other countries that should be reviewed to be banned or restrictions placed on their travel into Australia?
ALBANESE: What we should do is listen to the medical advice. I’ve taken a view with this that I haven’t sought to politicise this issue. I’ve said we should listen to all of the medical advice but governments need to make sure the resources are there. And they need to make sure, as well, that the messages are very clear. We had mixed messages out there about whether people should go and get tested if in doubt. But then they couldn’t get tested when they tried to. And I think that has created a great deal of disruption in the community.
JOURNALIST: 10 second question, 10 second answer.
JOURNALIST: No, sorry, can I just ask a question about casualisation.
ALBANESE: This lady here. Sorry.
JOURNALIST: So just back to casualisation, this is a question from Rockhampton. We’ve spoken quite a lot about legislation and what governments can do. But what can corporations do? Are there regulations that can be put in place to stop this? Or calling the corporations?
ALBANESE: Well corporations should be doing the right thing as well. And one of the things about this report is that for a company like BHP, they should be embarrassed by this report quite frankly. They should be embarrassed that a company known as the Big Australian is employing people through a labour hire company that they own on less conditions working next to people who are their permanent employees. I don’t think that’s on. And I think they should be embarrassed by that behaviour and it should be called out, and I’m calling it out today.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.