Subjects: Maritime dispute; WorkChoices on Water; Trade Union Royal Commission; Malcolm Turnbull national security comments
FRAN KELLY: Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Anthony Albanese, welcome to Breakfast.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning Fran.
KELLY: Can I deal with Bill Shorten’s appearance before the Royal Commission today first. He says he’s relishing this opportunity to defend his record supporting workers. Are you concerned that the details of union negotiations could show your Leader up as having preference union numbers over workers’ pay?
ALBANESE: No. Bill is very comfortable with his appearance before the Royal Commission. That’s why he asked for it to be brought forward.
KELLY: Well, the Prime Minister says we’ve already got a lot of information, so far generally, from the Royal Commission that quote ‘there have been a lot of ghosts on the rolls on the unions, there have been some deals that have been done to help the unions, but to dud workers.’ And if you take a look at the Clean Event deal, for example, which will come, be brought up with Bill Shorten today, evidence so far to the Royal Commission shows the enterprise bargaining agreement in 2006 was extremely favourable to the company. Cleaners were paid $18 an hour compared to $28 or even $45 for their competitors. Doesn’t sound like standing up for the workers.
ALBANESE: Bill Shorten is very comfortable with his appearance. He asked that it be brought forward. He’s there at the Royal Commission today to answer whatever questions they have for him. He said throughout this whole process that he’d be cooperative. But you’d expect Tony Abbott to come out with that sort of rhetoric. Tony Abbott is one of the architects of WorkChoices. We know what he thinks about the rights of working Australians. The issue I’m primarily here to talk to you about today is just the latest example of that, of what’s going on in the maritime sector.
KELLY: Ok, I’ll come to that in a second but Bill Shorten is the Leader of the Labor Party. The recent polls have shown his popularity is on the wane. Are you in favour of keeping that Kevin Rudd rule in place which means a 60% quota in Caucus is needed before a leader can be changed in opposition?
ALBANESE: It’s a rule I helped introduce, you might remember Fran. So it’s obvious that I support it. What that has done is give us stability in terms of the Labor leadership. We went through a very difficult time as was demonstrated very ably by the ABC with the recent show by Sarah Ferguson. We’ve learnt the lessons of that. The lessons of that are that you need to be united. You need to support your leader, and that’s what we’ve been doing, unlike the Liberal Party, 39 of whom voted for an empty chair earlier this year, because they’d prefer an empty chair rather than Tony Abbott to lead their party.
KELLY: Ok, well let’s go to the maritime dispute in Tasmania. This Royal Commission that Bill Shorten will be appearing before is really putting a spotlight back on workplace relations. This dispute dragging on in Devonport, we talked about it earlier in the week on the program – a blockade of the Alexander Spirit oil tanker. 36 crew have been sacked by Caltex. The union says its plan to replace them with foreign sailors. Caltex says it no longer needs the tanker to transport fuel between domestic ports. If this tanker is now needed on international routes, is there any reason why it shouldn’t have an international crew?
ALBANESE: There’s no reason why it shouldn’t have an Australian crew, Fran. What we’re seeing is a conscious government decision to replace Australian workers with foreign workers, with foreign wages. This is a pre-emptive move, I think, by Caltex in anticipation of that and that’s the context in which it is happening. A company deciding to get rid of its Australian crew, that will of course continue to operate from Australian ports and it’s no wonder that this is a very traumatic situation for these Australian crew members who are being asked to take the Alexander Spirit offshore but, they won’t be coming back on it.
KELLY: The government does have legislation before the Parliament, as you say; perhaps this is a pre-emptive move by Caltex. The government legislation would allow foreign flagged vessels working between Australian ports to employ foreign sailors. The government says its reforms are aimed at reducing costs and increasing competitiveness and competitiveness has been lost because of the laws Labor introduced.
ALBANESE: This is nonsense, Fran. If you move freight between Sydney and Melbourne on the Hume Highway, you have to have an Australian truck that is registered and has Australian safety standards, and you have to employ someone on Australian wages and conditions. If you decide to use the blue highway to carry that freight, on a domestic task between Sydney and Melbourne, under the government’s proposed laws, you can have a foreign ship, with foreign safety and occupational health and safety standards, you can pay them foreign wages and conditions to undertake this task on Australian waters, essentially. This will leave the Australian industry at a massive competitive disadvantage. This is unilateral economic disarmament. No advanced country in the world engages in this sort of activity in which there’s a free for all on the Australian coast and there’s no distinction in the legislation that’s been carried – it removes the definition of Australian ships.
KELLY: But the government says the blue highway is almost empty as a result of the Labor government’s reforms, because under Labor shipping costs increased, and there’s been a significant decline in the use of Australian cargo ships.
ALBANESE: The government’s lying, Fran.
KELLY: Let me give you an example the government gives, and you can respond. For example, they say it’s cheaper to ship sugar from Thailand to Australia than to sail it around our own coast under the laws you put in place. How can Australian companies compete when they pay high transport costs like that?
ALBANESE: It’s just not true, Fran. This logic that Australian wages are too expensive for Australian businesses conducting Australian freight taken to its logical conclusion, let’s have Filipino truck drivers, let’s have Chinese people running our trains on those sort of wages and conditions. There are a range of reasons why the Australian shipping industry is vital for our national interests. It’s vital for economic interest, our environmental interest, and our national security interests. This is a government that talks a lot about boats but doesn’t want to see the Australian flag around the Australian coast, because that is what will happen under this policy.
KELLY: Quarter to eight on breakfast, our guest is Anthony Albanese, the Shadow Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. Can I just ask you finally on another issue, Malcolm Turnbull, I’m not sure if you’ve seen his comments, but he’s bought into the whole debate around terror laws in this country, and took aim, well cautioned really, against some of the language that’s being used, he says we should be careful not to overstate the terrorist threat or to brand those who have concerns as friends of terrorists. Do you welcome his urging for more caution and debate in this respect?
ALBANESE: I do. It’s a mature statement from Malcolm Turnbull. The threats to our national security are very real. But we need to make sure that we engage in a responsible debate and when we analyse the laws that are before the national parliament, it’s important that there be appropriate scrutiny and that people be able to do that in a respectful and a considered way. And I think Malcolm Turnbull’s contribution just made a lot of common sense last night, and I for one certainly welcome it.
KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us.
ALBANESE: Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.