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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 15 August 2018: release of labour force data; National Energy Guarantee

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SUBJECTS: Release of labour force data; National Energy Guarantee.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thanks very much. I just wanted to make a few comments this afternoon about the unemployment figures that we have released today. We see a small drop, a very small drop in the unemployment rate, which of course is welcome, we welcome any drop in the unemployment rate. We do see a decline in the number of jobs and we see continuing under-employment as well. A concern in the figures today is a rise in the number of people who are not looking for work, they have given up looking for work. So combined with under-employment, people who have given up looking for work, and the continuing problem that we have with historic low wages growth, we need to see a system that sees stronger employment growth and better pay and conditions for those who have got jobs. Labor's got a plan to make sure of course that we have stronger jobs growth but also better pay and conditions for those who do (inaudible). Any questions?

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister said this morning that he thought his economic plan was (inaudible) helping wages growth. The most recent figures have suggested that wages growth could happen fast. Are you confident that that could actually happen?

PLIBERSEK: Well this Prime Minister presides over the lowest wages growth in Australian history. He's got the worst record of any Prime Minister when it comes to wages growth. We saw the wages figures yesterday, continuing to see the trend at around as low as it’s ever been, so I wouldn't be so confident if I was the Prime Minister that I had the right formula. This is a government that insists on penalty rate cuts for 700,000 workers. We have seen penalty rate cuts year after year, with years more penalty rates locked in the future, so that people are working in the same jobs, for the

same number of hours, taking home less pay if they are working on a Sunday in some industries. We also see an industrial relations system that is presiding over or delivering these historic low wages growth rates, at the same time as company profits continue to grow healthily. We saw company profits are growing at around three times the rate that wages are growing and we have seen another report recently that shows that top executives, company heads, have a take-home salary that is about 78 times the size of the average Australian worker. So we are continuing to see low wages growth particularly in the private sector that employs 85 per cent of Australian workers. Nevertheless we see decent profits for companies and very good returns for senior executives. That's a system that is unfair to the people who are generating wealth in this country, ordinary Australian workers. And I tell you what, everywhere I go, people tell me that they feel the cost of everything is going up. Everything is going up except their wages. They are struggling to make ends meet. That's why today's unemployment numbers are - it’s good that unemployment has dropped a little - but we are concerned about the continuing rates of under-employment and of people who are giving up looking for work.

JOURNALIST: What is Labor's plan for economic growth, for wages growth in particular? How would you see this (inaudible)?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well we've got a strong plan for economic growth. We say, of course, there should be tax cuts, but they should go to low and middle income earners because we know that people on low and middle incomes will spend that extra money and generate extra economic activity. So we've got almost double the tax cut for low and middle income earners, millions of them across Australia. We say that company tax cuts should be focused on smaller businesses, Australian businesses, and not repatriated overseas to overseas shareholders as profits. We also say that to generate growth we should invest in an Australian Investment Guarantee, so that when companies are investing in plant and equipment, they're investing here in Australia, they're getting a return but they're seeing that investment. We've got a plan to invest in productivity enhancing infrastructure. Of course there are the jobs that you get when you build roads and bridges and new airports, but there's also the ongoing economic benefit to our whole economy when you have more efficient transport links, more efficient public buildings and spaces. We invest in health and education because, you know, you need a healthy and educated workforce to be a high productivity nation. And when it comes to industrial relations, we've made a number of really important commitments about wages growth. We've said that we'd get rid of sham contracting, that we'd get rid of the old zombie contracts left over from WorkChoices, that people who are employed as contractors need to be paid the same as the permanent existing workforce in a business, so that contractors aren't used to undercut wages and conditions of the existing workforce. We've said very clearly that we would restore the penalty rates that have been taken from workers, 700,000 workers who regularly work on a Sunday. These and the other industrial relations changes that we're proposing mean that we have a fair and balanced system. A system that is efficient for employers, retains productivity and competitiveness in our economy, but it's also fair to workers so that they see some of the benefits of increased company profits in their take-home pay.

JOURNALIST: The AWU is lobbying Daniel Andrews to support the National Energy Guarantee. Have they lobbied the Federal Labor Party as well?

PLIBERSEK: Well I haven't spoken to them about it, but I can't answer whether they've been talking to my colleagues. Look, we've said all along that we don't think the National Energy Guarantee is the best way to bring down prices, provide certainty and increase investment in renewables. We preferred our system, the carbon pollution reduction scheme, the other programs that we have suggested in the past to increase investment in renewable energy, but we said we'd work with the Government. We said we'd work with them on their Emissions Intensity Scheme, then they dumped their Emissions Intensity Scheme. We said we'd work with the Government on a Clean Energy Target, and then they dumped the Clean Energy Target. We've also said we're prepared to work on this National Energy Guarantee with them - they can't get it through their party room. They are in chaos at the moment, with the former Prime Minister, the former Deputy Prime Minister and varying accounts of whether it's half a dozen or ten MPs prepared to cross the floor, ministers preparing to resign, so Labor's not the problem here. The problem here is the Liberals and the Nationals can't agree amongst themselves what their energy policy should be. Now we have our criticisms of National Energy Guarantee. We say that the very low ambition for pollution reduction means we won't see new investment in renewables. That's a problem because the price of renewables is getting cheaper all the time. Adding more renewables to our national energy market is a good thing for the future. The reason we've seen some price drops recently is because of actions that we've taken in the past to increase investment in renewables going into the grid. So we say we are prepared to work with the Government but not if they present a policy that is so unambitious when it comes to pollution reduction that it will see no new renewables built over the next decade and not when they're talking amongst themselves about putting billions of dollars of taxpayers money into new coal.

JOURNALIST: There is a chance (inaudible) of the federal element of the National Energy Guarantee as legislation could go to the Parliament next week. What is Labor wanting to see though? I mean, the legislation is going to say 26 per cent, Labor's currently arguing 45 per cent, what common ground is there to try and get something?

PLIBERSEK: Well we could not have been clearer over the last year. It's not just the last few weeks on the National Energy Guarantee but right through the Emissions Intensity Scheme, the Clean Energy Target, when the Government received the report from the Chief Scientist we said that's terrific, that's a good place to start, let's start talking. We have been clear all the way along that we want the climate and energy issues settled. We think that the uncertainty in our energy markets is pushing up prices and driving down investment in renewables. We want to see cheaper energy, less pollution, more jobs and more renewables in our energy sector.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PLIBERSEK: I'm sorry I didn't hear the question.

JOURNALIST: Are you willing to settle at 26 per cent?

PLIBERSEK: Well 26 per cent is so low. 26 per cent is just about business as usual. It's barely better than we would get if we did nothing, so 26 per cent is something that we would find very, very difficult to support. Thank you very much everyone.