SUBJECTS: Australian economy; wage theft; AFP raids; press freedom; whistleblowers; Biloela family, Newstart.
ANIKA WELLS, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming. And I want to talk to you today about what locals are talking to me about and that is the state of our economy. In the past week alone here on Brisbane’s northside, we have lost more than 840 jobs. Lockheed Martin is shutting down operations here in Lilley and Pinkenba and Virgin Australia is cutting 750 jobs from their head office, which is also here on Brisbane’s north side. And yet we see no jobs plan from this third term Government. And that’s what people are raising with me. They’re concerned about stagnant wages. They’re concerned about insecure work and they’re concerned about wage exploitation. And yet this Government sees fit to focus on going after the unions, who are the people who stand on the front line with workers when they have their wages stolen, and need to remedy that problem. So I think that that’s like seeing a house on fire and deciding to run in and take apart the smoke alarm. We won’t stand for it. We will stand with workers. And I’m very pleased that our very responsive Labor Leader has joined me today to talk to local workers about those problems and to see what we can do to help them. So I’ll let you hear from him.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much Anika and it’s great to be back here on Brisbane’s northside, this time with Anika Wells as the Member rather than the candidate for Lilley. And we’ve just had a meeting this morning with two workers, one of whom suffered from $14,000 of under payments, another $18,000 of under payments and not being paid their super. They only became aware of this when the union, the National Union of Workers, came on site and inspected the issues that they were confronting. $14,000 is a lot of money for a low income worker. $18,000 is a lot of money for a low income worker.
This is not one off. The estimates are that $1 billion here in Queensland alone has been underpaid to workers in the last year, a billion dollars. What that means is that there’s a billion dollars less in the economy. A billion dollars less being spent in supermarkets. A billion dollars not being spent on boosting the economy. And the Government has no plan for wages. They don’t even have a plan to deal with wage theft. They’re too busy concentrating on attacking the trade union movement to worry about this issue in spite of fact the Reserve Bank Governor has said that wage stagnation is one of the major hand brakes on our national economy at the moment.
In the last election, we proposed a Small Claims Tribunal for Fair Work Australia so these issues could be sorted out quickly, in the interests of workers. It’s also in the interests of good businesses who are paying their staff appropriately, because they’re competing against businesses that aren’t doing that and therefore, securing an unfair advantage over employers who are doing the right thing. This Government needs to have a wages policy, they need an economic policy. Instead, all we get is political strategies from this Government. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What would Labor do about wages?
ALBANESE: Well, one of the things that we would do would be to look at the establishment of a Small Claims Tribunal that we put forward at the last election. One of the things that we would do is to implement measures to see that people are paid appropriately. One of the things we’d do is look at the enterprise bargaining system, so that we remove the incentives to not bargain properly. At the moment if you’re in a dispute, the pay can drop back to the existing award rates because a whole lot of workers are of course paid over the award. That means there’s a built in incentive and a disincentive for unions to continue to bargain properly.
What we’d do is look at cases, for example, just in the last week, Kmart came to an agreement with the SDA. It’s an agreement that was clearly in the interests of the employers, but also in the interests of employees and was voted overwhelmingly in favor of by members of that union. But that agreement was not allowed to be registered .
We need to do much better when it comes to wages and we need to do much better when it comes to lifting living standards. Because we know out there, that people are really hurting, and this out of touch Government is drifting along with low economic growth, the worst that we’ve seen since well before the Global Financial Crisis, with wage stagnation, with consumer demand being low, interest rates being one third of what they were when they said it was an emergency levels. All of the key economic indicators are negative for this Government and the Government’s just complacent about it.
JOURNALIST: On the AFP raids, are you comfortable with the police behavior and the amount of information that’s been released?
ALBANESE: Well, what I’m not comfortable with is this Government’s attitude towards freedom of the press. I think they regard it as an option. Freedom of the press is an essential component of our democratic system. And the fact is that in terms of the basis of these raids that have occurred, whether it’s the issues published by Annika Smethurst, or the revelations broadcast by the ABC, they met the public interest test. The public did have a right to know on those things. And the truth is that journalism is not a crime. Journalism is something that is precious. Freedom of the press is an essential component of our democracy. And I want to see a government that’s prepared to protect that and to engage in the discussion that the media organisations are asking for, about what changes need to be made to ensure that we do continue to have press freedom in this country.
JOURNALIST: NewsCorp has said that it’s designed at intimidating the whistleblowers. Are enough protections in place for the whistleblowers.
ALBANESE: Well, I think that protection for whistleblowers is a real issue as well here. When whistleblowers give information that the public have a right to know, such as in the case concerned. It was about a debate taking place between government departments about surveillance, increased spying if you like, on Australians going about their day to day business. Now there are privacy concerns with that. Australians had a right to know that that discussion was taking place.
JOURNALIST: So what should be done to protect the whistleblowers?
ALBANESE: Well, what should be done is to look at any legislative changes that are required to make sure that appropriate protections are put in place.
JOURNALIST: Labor’s stance on the Tamil family, does that represent – wanting them to stay – does it represent a shift in policy?
ALBANESE: No, it doesn’t, any more than the fact that Peter Dutton has intervened on more than 4,000 occasions as the Minister. That’s the policy that’s there, that’s the policy that’s been there under both sides of politics for a long period of time. Ministerial discretion is there so that if there are particular circumstances around a case, the Minister can say it is in Australia’s interests for people to be granted a visa. Peter Dutton’s happy to do that for au pairs, when someone has his number. He’s not happy to do it when a regional community are saying that this family integrated into the community. Nades from Biloela was working at the local meatworks. Priya was volunteering at St Vincent de Paul. The little girls, four and two, do not represent a threat to Australia’s security. The Government is all about rhetoric and being inconsistent. If this is an average day for Peter Dutton, he will intervene on more than three occasions, for more than three cases, because that’s what he’s done each and every day he’s been minister.
JOURNALIST: But when in Government didn’t Labor deport Tamils who were found to be economic migrants?
ALBANESE: Yes, they did.
JOURNALIST: So isn’t Labor being inconsistent?
ALBANESE: No, we’re not. Ministerial discretion is there for a reason. Ministerial discretion is there, that when you have particular circumstances the Minister has the power to intervene. Peter Dutton intervened on more than 4,000 occasions.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Newstart rate. You know when Parliament was last sitting Labor called for an increase. We then saw Michaelia Cash and Scott Morrison saying the best form of relief is having a job. Is there a specific number that Labor has in terms of what it should be raised by?
ALBANESE: No, we’re not the Government. It’s up to the Government to come up with that after having properly consulted Treasury and done the modeling. We’re the Opposition. What we are in a position to say though is that was a $40 isn’t enough to live on a day and the fact is that I haven’t seen any Government ministers say that they could live on $40 a day. Therefore, there is a clear economic case to assist individuals, but there’s also a case in terms of helping the economy. An economy where growth is so slow and every dollar of increase that went to Newstart would be spent. It wouldn’t be saved, it would be spent, creating economic activity, creating those jobs, so they’ll be less people on Newstart.Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.