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Transcript of doorstop: Melbourne: 13 September 2018: ABS Labour Force Figures; Peter Dutton's eligibility to sit in parliament; bullying in the Liberal Party

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SUBJECTS: ABS Labour Force Figures; Peter Dutton’s eligibility to sit in parliament; Bullying in the Liberal Party.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: I’ll begin by talking about the ABS figures for the month of August and welcome the fact there’s been some improvement in job numbers, but make it very clear there’s a long way to go.

What’s clear is that we have underemployment at record highs. Well over 1 million Australians are looking for more work and not being able to find it. Of course there’s over 700,000 unemployed. This is over 1.8 million Australians who are looking for more work or looking for any work at all and yet not being able to find it. So quite frankly the hubris of Prime Minister Scott Morrison to boast about the labour market when 1.8 million Australians are looking for more work or any work is a little bit rich.

It’s also really telling that the government continues to boast about the improvements in the economy when clearly workers are not sharing in any benefits that might be arising in our economy. For example profits: profit growth is five times that of wage growth. Wage growth is at its lowest in a generation. We have in most sectors of our economy wages going backwards in real terms. That’s why people are struggling with cost of living pressures.

That’s why people are having trouble paying the bills, paying the exorbitant energy bills that they are getting in their houses. Paying for petrol, to put petrol in the tank or to put food on the table. These are genuine cost of living pressures that are being acutely felt by many households and yet the Prime Minister continues to boast about how things are going well.

The reality is this: Australians deserve a pay rise. They are not getting it from this Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government. They are not getting it because this government is fighting amongst itself internally, obviously embittered, dysfunctional, divided and quite frankly incapable of concerning itself with the plight of working people.

So we do of course welcome any net improvement to the employment numbers, but that’s not the full story.

Underemployment is at its highest and of course wage growth is at its lowest in more than 20

years - one of the reasons why, I imagine, they tore down Malcolm Turnbull.

One final thing I just wanted to add, of course, is about the comments made by the former foreign Minister Julie Bishop in respect of the eligibility of the Home Affairs Minister and indeed questions around the bullying that’s clearly gone on within the Liberal Party in the time they tore down Malcolm Turnbull.

Firstly, with respect to the eligibility question, every other member where there was a cloud over his or her head about eligibility was referred to the High Court to settle that matter. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison, if he has any integrity and leadership capability whatsoever, must refer the Home Affairs Minister to the High Court to establish whether in fact he’s eligible or not, pursuant to Section 44 of the constitution.

If the Prime Minister fails to do that then he fails the test of leadership and he fails of course the test that has been applied to every other member of the House of Representatives to date. That’s the first thing.

With respect to bullying we’ve clearly seen a Prime Minister in denial. Scott Morrison refuses to accept the assertions made by many, many party members, many, many MPs in his party room - particularly many women MPs in his party room - about the bullying that went on during the course of the period in which they tore down Malcolm Turnbull. Well, the former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has made clear that she is adamant that there has been bullying, that bullying has gone on and something must need to be done about it.

So too the former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has made clear that questions around eligibility for Members should be determined by the High Court, particularly if they are Ministers who could invalidate legislation if indeed there is eligibility questions about their right to be a member of parliament. She’s already made clear she will consider whether she votes in favour of a referral when that matter arises.

So the government can actually take the stand it should take. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, he could of course take a leadership decision and refer Peter Dutton. What does he have to fear from Peter Dutton that he won’t refer Peter Dutton to the High Court, although every other member where there has been a question as to their eligibility has been referred to the High Court for determination.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: About these job numbers, the figures show a pattern of long term sustained job creation under the Coalition government.

O’CONNOR: Well firstly, the fact that under Labor we almost saw 1 million jobs created and it was during the Global Financial Crisis, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What we’ve said is if you’re not creating 1 million jobs over five years, you’re not even keeping up with natural growth. The fact is the unemployment rate of 2013 is not much different from the unemployment rate of 2018. Why is that the case? If job numbers are so good, why has unemployment not fallen?

The unemployment rate has not fallen because we’ve had natural population growth which has taken into account pretty much most of the growth of jobs. Now we applaud job growth, don’t get me wrong, but if Labor could do almost similar figures at a time when we were confronted

with the Global Financial Crisis I don’t think this government should be boasting too much, particularly given we have the lowest wage growth in more than twenty years in this country and that is why people are struggling to make ends meet, and of course we are seeing the highest underemployment rate.

The underutilisation - if you put that together, those who can’t find work and those that can’t find enough work - you are seeing an economy that is not performing as well as it could. Yes I welcome the job numbers when they increase, and I do so, any extra job is a good thing, but let’s not skate over the other figures; highest underemployment rate, lowest wage growth and the lowest household savings in a decade.

So what’s happening is households are eating into their savings to make ends meet. So if things were going very well, if they were going swimmingly, as Scott Morrison thinks they are, then why would people be reducing their household savings to pay for the bills? The fact is their wages are not keeping up with cost of living, that’s causing acute pressure for households and the government has got to turn its mind to ensuring that Australians get a pay rise.

JOURNALIST: Will Labor back unpaid domestic violence leave?

O’CONNOR: Well firstly can I say we welcome the belated effort by the government to introduce something with respect to domestic violence leave. Labor announced earlier this year that we want to see paid domestic violence leave incorporated into the National Employment Standards of The Fair Work Act. We think it’s one of those areas that needs attention.

I think Australians are increasingly concerned about the extent to which women are subjected to violence in their own homes and we need to do what we can in a combination of ways to provide support for those women. One of the ways is to allow them to access some paid leave in order to get advice, to get counselling, to get legal advice, often to move homes to remove the risk to them and their children. These things sometimes need support.

Now I applaud Virgin and Qantas and NAB and CUB and Telstra and all of the other companies that have already provided support of paid domestic violence leave to their workforce. We say to the government they should join Labor, accept that the leave should be paid and start really, genuinely supporting women who are subject to this horrific violence rather than paying lip service to this matter.

So they have an opportunity to join Labor and we can work together on this. As for whether we will support the Bill, I haven’t read the Bill, it was only introduced today. Look any step forward is better than no movement whatsoever but we have not given up impressing upon this government that more has to be done with respect to domestic violence leave and they should embrace Labor’s proposition of ten days domestic violence leave. It would only be used in those exceptional circumstances, and let me tell you this, many employers do this already so why not have a universal entitlement for women who have been subject to horrific violence?

I call upon Scott Morrison and Kelly O’Dwyer to consider Labor’s proposition so that we could together enact legislation that would actually ensure that women get access to paid leave when they need it in these very exceptional circumstances when they are in a very dire situation. Thank you.