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Transcript of interview with Ashleigh Gillion: Sky AM Agenda: 5 March 2009: Ashleigh Gillon interviews Brendan O’Connor, Minister for Employment Participation and\nSteven Ciobo MP, Shadow Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors, Tourism and the Arts.

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The Hon Brendan O'Connor

6 March, 2009


5 March 2009 - Transcript - TV Interview - Sky TV


Ashleigh Gillon interviews Brendan O’Connor, Minister for Employment Participation and Steven Ciobo MP, Shadow Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors, Tourism and the Arts.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Joining me now from Sydney, the Minister for Employment Participation, Brendan O’Connor. Good morning Minister.


ASHLEIGH GILLON: It now appears that the majority of the Government’s pre-Christmas cash bonuses were saved rather than spent with household savings at a level we haven’t seen in 20 years. Does that suggest that the $10 billion package was misdirected as the Opposition’s claiming?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Now what we’ve seen of course over the, since the economic security strategy of the Government was announced in October last year, are very healthy figures in the retail sector. And again, announced this week, other figures substantiating the contention of the Government that the $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy will help the retail sector and of course, support jobs.

What we have also seen Ashleigh has been a very, very important sustained employment in this sector. Now, it’s a huge sector for the economy and that’s why the initiative was welcomed by employer bodies and experts generally. It’s been a very important announcement and that’s because the Government will continue to act decisively and early to respond to the biggest global economic recession in our living memory.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: How much responsibility though does the Government claim for yesterday’s negative growth figures? Was this always inevitable? Just a few months ago Kevin Rudd was saying that it looks like we would be able to maintain positive growth.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Look, can I say that you have to compare the country’s position with comparable countries. And in fact if you compare the growth figures, there has been a contraction in our economy. But if you compare those growth figures with like countries, for

example, all G7 countries, we are doing better than them. And one of the main reasons for that is the fundamentals are right and the decisions by Government have improved our position.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: But as the former Treasurer, Peter Costello said this morning, Australia entered this crisis in much better position than most other countries, with record unemployment, a strong budget position. Here he is speaking on the nine network this morning.

“Out of that $20 billion surplus which I left him, he went and spent $10 billion before Christmas and this is the criticism I make. We have nothing to show for it. What they should have done, is that they should have engaged in job creation. Either by bringing forward public works, or by subsidising businesses which were creating jobs. What they did is they send cheques to everybody. And those cheques were saved. Quite a rational thing to do but those cheques, $10 billion, Karl, you imagine what you could do with $10 billion, didn’t make one iota of difference before Christmas.”

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Let’s bring the Liberal frontbencher Steve Ciobo into the discussion now. Good morning Steve. Even with a strong base, how does the Opposition expect the economy to continue growing when 17 of the world’s advanced economies, including seven of our 10 top trading partners are now in recession?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well Ashleigh, it’s not about what needs to be done to keep the economy growing. Of course everything and all efforts should be directed towards keeping the economy growing, as much as is reasonable and is feasible. But the key concern that the Opposition has is the mismanagement of the Australian economy by Labor which is actually making this problem worse. No one is doubting that there’s international economic tumult. But what we’re seeing are decisions that are being taken in a knee-jerk reaction from this Government that is more concerned about being seen to be doing something than actually pausing and making the right decisions; decisions that will help the Australian economy. Yes, ideally it will keep the economy positively growing, but we’re also mindful that, around the world, we are seeing difficult conditions. But the key is not to make those conditions worse in Australia, but to actually make them better.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Brendan O’Connor, back to my initial question. How much responsibility does the Government take? Is it simply throwing up its hands and saying ‘look around the world, things are bad there, so it follows that things are going to be bad in Australia.’

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Now look, clearly the Government and indeed the Prime Minister has been upfront with the Australian public from the beginning. We have to, of course, explain to everybody in this country that we’re confronting the largest global economic recession in living memory. We therefore have to make, we have to be upfront about that. Then we have to make decisions decisively and early and of course the announcement firstly to support the deposits and support our banking system was critical, followed by the Economic Security Strategy last year and then of course, the Nation Building and Jobs Plan announced only two weeks ago.

These announcements are to respond quickly to this crisis. I believe the Opposition of course have been dithering. You have the Deputy Leader of the Opposition talking about waiting and seeing what happens. Well, we cannot afford to wait and see what happens to our economy. We

have an increase in unemployment; we have a lot of challenges; and we need to act quickly and combat them immediately.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Well both the Government and the Opposition have been accused of talking down the economy and having a negative impact on business confidence. But a lot of economists are saying that we just really need to be realistic. A lot of analysts this morning saying that if we are not in recession now, we will be by the next quarter.

Steve Ciobo, do you agree with that assessment?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look Ashleigh, the reality is that whether we’re technically in a recession or not technically in a recession, there’s no escaping the fact that Australians are looking around them and they’ve got serious concerns about what they’re seeing happening in Australia.

In addition to that we’re seeing now of course unemployment queues starting to increase and this is happening at a time Ashleigh they we’ve got the Government talking about imposing a whole raft of new costs on business. Whether it’s a lot of significant changes to the industrial relations system, the new so-called modern draft Award that the Government is championing, that is looking in the restaurant and catering industry and in the retail industry, that is looking at increasing costs for retailers and restaurateurs by 15-20 per cent. Now Ashleigh, this is the very worst thing that could happen. To have a Government imposing extra costs on business. That is only going to do one thing and that is drive up unemployment. So I simply cannot agree with Brendan when he says that this Government has acted decisively and acted early. It’s one thing to act early, but it’s entirely separate thing to get it wrong and then not admit that you have made mistakes. And that’s the fundamental charge that this Government has failed to answer. That’s the fundamental problem with this Government’s so-called early and decisive action is that they’re making mistakes, they’re getting it wrong and it’s costing jobs.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Brendan O’Connor, just to get your response to that. In your portfolio, are you hearing a lot of concerns about the impact that the Government’s I.R. changes may have on jobs? Are the people worried that this is going to lead to more job losses?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: The Government is committed to having a fair and balanced industrial relations system. We inherited the most extreme legislation in our history in the form of WorkChoices. We know that the Opposition will continue to find excuses so they can revive such legislation. We know that many in the Opposition advocate privately, and some publicly, that we should maintain WorkChoices. Now let’s just remember that two years ago, we had legislation inflicting damage to conditions of employment across the country. We had working families suffering, we had individual contracts imposed on workers without genuine consultation; we had conditions of employment—penalty rates, overtime, other conditions— removed unilaterally. These things were occurring very recently. We made a commitment to the Australian people that we’d remove those unfair laws. We went to the election with a comprehensive plan to do that and indeed we are now, legislating to bring back fairer and more effective laws.

But we are concerned, of course and in my portfolio in particular, we are concerned that the legislation ensures that we have productivity growth and we have fairness in the workplace. We can do these together. We don’t have to sacrifice fairness for productivity growth and we’ve got the balance right. There are people who wanted us to go further and there are others who are concerned about where we sit now. But I believe we’ve got the balance right in industrial

relations. We don’t support the extreme legislation that’s been of course, that’s been the main element of the Opposition’s position on I.R. for many years.

STEVEN CIOBO: Ashleigh …

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Steve Ciobo, go ahead…

STEVEN CIOBO: Well look, can I just say that frankly that line is boring. This line that Labor trots out…

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: But true, but true…

STEVEN CIOBO: No it’s a boring line. Labor trots out this line that we’re trying to revive WorkChoices…

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: No, it’s a fact…

STEVEN CIOBO: No, the Opposition position states unequivocally once again …WorkChoices is dead; we’ve said it a thousand times. But frankly it is no good to have the Minister for Employment in the government saying that they believe they are getting the balance wrong. You know what? People are voting with their feet and what we’re hearing from business, especially from small businesses in this country is their great concern that their labour costs are going up; that their business costs are going up; and they vote with their feet by frankly, either moving offshore or putting people onto the unemployment queues. So it doesn’t really matter what Labor ministers think. What matters is what’s happening in the economy. And what’s happening is that Labor is simply not listening to what people are saying. Of course it’s important to have fairness in the workplace, that’s something the Coalition supports. But it’s also very important, Ashleigh, that people have a job, especially in tough, difficult economic circumstances and Labor is getting this very, very wrong.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Brendan O’Connor, we’re also hearing a lot of concerns about the Government’s plans to introduce an emissions trading scheme next year. We’ve seen the Australian Industry Group calling for it to be delayed until the year 2012. The Minerals Council now seems to think we shouldn’t have one at all in the foreseeable future because of all the grim economic data and the grim outlook facing the country at the moment. How can the Government look at putting this extra tax essentially, on businesses when they are already struggling so much?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, look, climate change is an environmental phenomena. It’s not going to go away because we choose not to act. We have to act quickly and early and we have to act of course in collaboration with other countries. And that’s why we’ve got a target which we believe is a reasonable target of five per cent reduction in emissions by 2020 with the option of increasing that up to 15 per cent dependent on of course what other countries do. And we’ll get some indication of their position at the Copenhagen conference later this year. We’re not in a position to wait and see what happens in this area. Again the Government must act. It must act responsively. It must concern itself of course, on one hand with jobs, ensuring that we protect our industries and that’s why we’re putting in place support for those industries that will be affected by these decisions. But we also know Ashleigh, that there are also opportunities here. For example, the alternative energies sector is going to increase thirty-fold by 2050. We have great opportunities to get involved and indeed, ensure that we have employment opportunities in

that regard. What we cannot do is, and indeed the Opposition seems to be doing, is dither or indeed believe climate change is some fantasy and not act. Now the Opposition has three or four positions on this…

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Well let’s let Steve Ciobo explain. Steve is momentum growing within some parts of the Coalition for the need not only perhaps delay the introduction of this scheme but perhaps, shelve plans for it all together?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look Ashleigh, unfortunately the Government doesn’t know if it’s ‘Arthur or Martha’ on this issue. I mean, Brendan just said well, ‘we want to work cooperatively and in collaboration with other countries’, yet the Government’s policy is to act unilaterally and sign us up to an E.T.S. scheme that they’re doing without knowing what’s going to happen in Copenhagen, without knowing what the United States, India or China are going to do.

Now let’s contrast that with the position of the Coalition, because despite what Brendan says, our position is very straight forward. What we’ve made clear is that we want to work in collaboration with the great emitters of the world. We are saying to the Rudd Government, ‘put pause to this, wait until we see what happens in Copenhagen, wait until we know what India and China and the United States are doing. It’s the Government that’s all hairy-chested about this issue, racing out there and saying, ‘no, no, we don’t need to see what India, China and the United States are doing, we’ve got our own plans, we’re going to go forward’ and Ashleigh this is the problem. They’re trying to design this whole scheme in the dark. They don’t really know what the consequences are and they’re going to put Australian business and most importantly, employment on the front line because if they get it wrong and all signs indicate so far that they are getting it wrong. If they get it wrong jobs will be exported overseas and there will be more Australians thrown on the scrapheap. You know, all we’ll get from the Government is this tired old line about ‘well, we acted swiftly and we acted decisively’ but once again ASHLEIGH, they will have gotten it wrong.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: And can I say Ashleigh, that’s why there’s a stark difference between the Government and the Opposition. In relation to the global financial crisis we say ‘act early, act decisively, don’t wait and see’, which is of course the mantra from the Opposition…

STEVEN CIOBO: That’s just wrong, that’s fundamentally wrong…

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: In relation to climate change we say we must make decisions, take some leadership, but also in consultation with our sectors, with our industries to make sure we look after jobs. And what’s the Opposition’s position? ‘Let’s wait and see’. We cannot afford to wait and see whether it be the global financial crisis or indeed the challenges of climate change.

ASHLEIGH: Steven Ciobo, Brendan O’Connor, we have run out of time for this morning’s panel chat. Thank you for joining us this morning. I’m sure these sorts of discussions will dominate when Parliament returns next week.

STEVEN CIOBO: Thanks Ashleigh.


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