SUBJECT/S: Penalty rates; gas crisis; NDIS; Education; INPEX Project workers 

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody, it's great to be here with my colleague Tanya Plibersek and Stuart Armstrong from Velo Cycles. Today Velo Cycles and Stuart will speak to you in a moment, is making clear that they're not intending to reduce the penalty rates of any of their staff. I think that's a really good news story for hundreds of thousands of Australians who are worried about having their pay cut. What we need is leadership. Stuart Armstrong from Velo Cycles is showing the sort of leadership that Malcolm Turnbull should be showing in Australia. 


The question remains, why won't Malcolm Turnbull show leadership on penalty rates? Why won't he stand up for the wages of low-paid Australian workers who work the unsociable hours, who work the weekend hours? And you can only conclude that Mr Turnbull and his Coalition Government are out of touch. And if we ever needed any evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Coalition Government and Malcolm Turnbull are out of touch, we look no further than the remarkable contribution of his Employment Minister, Senator Cash today who has written in a newspaper today, on four different occasions, what's the problem with cutting penalty rates? It is only a moderate pay cut. If this Government can't tell the difference about how Australians live their lives, then they're not fit to govern. 


There is nothing moderate about a retail worker, a mum, getting a pay cut of up to $77 a week. That pay cut is the difference between being able to buy your child a new pair of shoes or not. There is nothing moderate about a pay cut of up to $77 a week if you are an older worker who needs that extra money to fill up a tank of petrol. 


I challenge Mr Turnbull, is he really this out of touch? I challenge him to tell 700,000 Australian workers that they shouldn't worry about their pay cut because it is only an amount of up to $77 a week. The Government is out of touch. It is time for leadership, the sort of leadership which we are hearing from Stuart Armstrong and other progressive employers. I would like to hand over to Stuart now.


STUART ARMSTRONG, VELO CYCLES: Hello, everybody. We've made this decision to keep our workers' pay exactly as it is. We pay penalty rates, weekends, public holidays. They do a good job, a hard job and at no stage did we really entertain the prospect of giving them a pay cut. Morally we think it's wrong. Whether it's going to save us money or not, morally we couldn't hand any of our workers that we want to keep a pay cut for doing the same job. That was just too much. Myself and the owner of the business spoke about this in-depth and really our main objection is, morally we could not give people pay cuts for doing the same job. We didn't have the option of firing, or like letting all our workforce leave and employing other people that are happy with the lower rate of pay. We want to keep that experience, we want to keep the staff that we've got. So it was a no-brainer for us, really.


SHORTEN: That's great, Stuart. Well, I think our challenge to Mr Turnbull today is this company is showing leadership and not cutting penalty rates. It is time for the Prime Minister to show the same leadership and not cut penalty rates, and as for saying that a pay cut of up to $77 a week is moderate, it just shows how out of touch the Turnbull Government really is. 


Are there any questions on this and other matters?


JOURNALIST: When will Labor make its submission to the Fair Work Commission on penalty rates?


SHORTEN: We will make it before the deadline at the end of next week.


JOURNALIST: A question on energy policy if I could. The PM says it is up to industry, not government to fix the gas shortage. What can industry do to address the shortfall and increase supply? 


SHORTEN: There he goes again. Malcolm "don't blame me" Turnbull. You've got to wonder why he bothers being Prime Minister if he keeps outsourcing the decisions on everything to everyone else. It is not a definition of leadership. 


Let's talk about the facts in our gas and energy markets. Under the Liberal Government prices are up, carbon pollution is up and jobs are down. It is a shocking record. It's been said that the greatest contribution to higher power prices in Australia is the lack of national policy certainty. It is the lack of national policy certainty which is discouraging investment in future-proofing our energy industry. 


Now we've got Mr Turnbull saying that the gas problem is the fault of the gas companies and has got nothing to do with him. Well the fact of the matter is we have enough gas in Australia. The problem is that a lot of the gas is being sold offshore and there is now not enough available for domestic manufacturers and domestic business. 


We should have local gas for local companies. Our country has enough gas. We should just make sure that Australian businesses are getting their fair share of this natural resource of the nation. Now, Mr Turnbull has held an emergency meeting today of gas companies, but he didn't even think to invite the states who have a lot of the say over the planning and the rules around gas development in this country. He didn't think to bring along the manufacturers who are feeling the pinch, plus the tens of thousands of jobs which are at risk. 


The gas crisis is immediate. This is not an issue which he can kick down the road or blame someone else. He needs to act now. Labor, for nearly two years, has been warning of an impending gas crisis. We brought a strong policy to the last election which said there should be a national interest test as we develop new gas fields, to make sure that before we start exporting new gas fields, new gas resources from new gas developments overseas, that we make sure we are reserving enough gas for Australian use. Mr Turnbull has to bite the bullet and deal with this issue that we have local gas, it's just got getting to local business. 


I also notice that Mr 'Don't Blame Me, I'm only the Prime Minister' Turnbull - I also notice that he is saying he wants to look at fracking. Well, before he starts giving everyone else a lecture on fracking, he has to answer three questions; why didn't he ask the states to the emergency meeting when they are in charge of a lot of rules around fracking? Secondly, has he checked with his friend, Barnaby Joyce, the Leader of the National Party, who are deadly against fracking in many parts of Australia? And thirdly, did he bother to ring Sarah Henderson, his local member in Corangamite or the Victorian Liberal Party who have all supported moratoriums on fracking? Mr Turnbull doesn't have a plan for gas, he's just got a plan for blaming people.


And I notice that he has used the words today that gas companies have a 'social licence' and somehow that's going to fix the problem. The last time we heard these weasel words was when Mr Turnbull said the banks have a 'social licence', and somehow by declaring that, that he was going to change everything. Well, the banks have ignored Mr Turnbull, the gas companies are going to ignore Mr Turnbull. Australia needs more leadership.


JOURNALIST: On the reservations policy, you've called for a reservations policy to be considered. But do you believe that's the only option?


SHORTEN: I think that there is a number of problems in our gas industry and our energy industry. One is the lack of policy certainty. Two is the ideological war that Mr Turnbull has been waging against renewable energy. Three, we've got to make sure that our national gas markets and energy markets are working as a national market. Four, we've got to make sure that we are encouraging local supply of gas and reservations as part of that. I think we do need to look at storage of renewable energy so we can help deal with the peaks and demands of our industry. 


This is not one single solution to solve the gas problem, but one thing is for sure, when Mr Turnbull says it's not his issue and it’s everyone else's fault, we know that we are going backwards and not forwards. Labor will work with the Government because this issue should be above party politics, but I do think Mr Turnbull needs to turn his mind to make sure that local gas is going to local industry.


JOURNALIST: And industry is concerned that the reservation policy will discourage investment, could represent a sovereign risk. Why do you disagree with that?


SHORTEN: I think that's rubbish. Other jurisdictions have got national interests test or forms of reservation policy. The Queensland Government has got a policy which I think is very promising. The fact of the matter is that we have an immediate problem. The immediate problem is that of the gas which we are producing, there is not enough to supply our local needs whilst we export. Now, this is a problem which the Government needs to address. It is not going to be solved overnight, I understand that, but what we don't need is just politics. 


I mean, South Australia put forward a plan for reliable energy yesterday, and Mr Turnbull's response was to go and see the lawyers. This country, when you've got a gas crisis, it needs leadership, it doesn't need a legal opinion.


JOURNALIST: Just on penalty rates, retailers are looking at phasing in the penalty rates over the next 12-18 months. Are they just feeling the bite of the unpopularity of that?


SHORTEN: Probably. The fact of the matter is just simply cutting people's pay is a bad idea. We have got the lowest wages growth in 20 years. Families are finding it hard to make ends meet. This Government is so out of touch that you have got Michaelia Cash saying it's only a 'moderate' pay cut. Well maybe she should take a moderate pay cut and stop inflicting a moderate pay cut on low paid workers. The fact of the matter here is that people who depend upon penalty rates often live from week to week, or fortnight to fortnight. They make ends meet, but there is not a lot of margin, there is not a lot of fat in their household budget. When you start cutting people's pay, you are putting people under water in terms of their financial commitments, in terms of what they are able to do.

This Government should not focus on the less well off in society and say that they have got to do the burden of lifting to drive this economy. If they really want to help people, this Government, don't give multimillionaires a tax cut, don't give giant, large companies a tax cut, and don't stand by and see penalty rates being cut. This Government has got to make a choice - is it on the side of the people or on the side of the vested interests in the big end of town?


JOURNALIST: Just on the NDIS, do you think there's a potential conflict of interest with Westpac's West Australian Chairman sitting on the board of the NDIS while Westpac buys a stake in the company that will help deliver the NDIS?


SHORTEN: We will take that question on notice. We were unhappy with the way the Government dumped the old board of the NDIS and then seemed to put in new appointees, but I don't want to rush to judgement on that yet, I'll need to get more facts. What I would I look to do though is, because I'm fortunate enough to have Tanya here as our education spokesperson as well, there's been some developments with the Government talking about education which we would like to address.


TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks so much, Bill. Look I just wanted to take the opportunity while you're all here of making a few comments about Simon Birmingham and his response to more detailed analysis of the two big international tests, TIMS and PESA. 

Just as the Prime Minister is looking around for someone to blame for Australia's energy crisis and a range of other issues that we face, we have got an Education Minister who is blaming everyone but himself for what's happening in our schools. We have got an Education Minister who says that the problem with schools is the kids in them. He is trying to blame the behaviour of children for the poor international test results that Australia is achieving. 

Now, I'm the first to say if kids are mucking up in class, then parents need to actually work with the school to pull them into line, and there are too many teachers and principals who will tell you if the kids are mucking up, the parents take the side of the kids and not the side of the teacher or the principal, to bring order to the classroom so of course we have to deal with that. 

But the point about discipline in classrooms is a minor point in a report that really focuses in on disadvantage in our schools. The fact is that we are seeing bigger gaps between kids in the most advantaged schools, and the most disadvantaged schools. In fact, kids going to poorer schools are up to three years behind their peers in the schools that are better resourced.

We also see a huge number of principals reporting that they don't have enough teachers in their schools, and principals reporting that they don't have the proper resources to teach children. They don't have the equipment, they don't have the classroom space or the buildings. This is a feature of underfunding in our schools, and Simon Birmingham's only response is to cut $30 billion over the next decade, an average of $3 million cut from every school, the equivalent of sacking one in every seven teachers.

Everything that this Government has done will make education results in this country go backwards, and instead of addressing this, instead of actually working to lift standards in our schools, Simon Birmingham is having a go at school kids. It is just unbelievable. Thanks, Bill.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just really quickly, you have been touching on the idea of a gas reservation policy, but back in 2012 a Prime Minister's task force actually recommended something around a reservation policy and the Labor Government back then that you were a part of wasn't keen on that at the time. Were you wrong then or are you wrong now, what's the change of heart?


SHORTEN: It's called Curtis Island. The reality is that we've seen massive expansion in export of our LNG, of our gas, and what we've seen is now there is so much export, there is not enough left for the locals. That's been a big change. Let's be clear, we've got a gas crisis right now. I'm worried about the 40,000 manufacturing jobs which are affected when manufacturers who rely upon gas in their manufacturing process can't get gas contracts. There is an immediate problem. 

Frankly, if Malcolm Turnbull would just take some sensible steps rather than get a lawyer's opinion about South Australia, we would work with him. People are sick of the to and fro of the politics. We have a crisis. We've said that he should look at a national interest test for the last year and a half - we took our policy to the National Conference, got the tick there, took it to the last election. 

There is a real problem right now and all Malcolm Turnbull can do is blame renewable energy or blame the states. South Australia has come up with a plan to secure reliable energy for South Australia and Mr Turnbull's response was to go to the lawyers and get a legal opinion? This gas crisis requires leadership, not lawyers' opinions. Mr Turnbull needs to act and act now. Thanks everybody - perhaps one last question.


JOURNALIST: What could and should be done to support those INPEX workers who have been laid off, [inaudible]?


SHORTEN: Yes, there has been a breaking issue this morning that up to a thousand blue collar construction workers have been laid off from the INPEX project near Darwin, but they haven't been laid off because they've done anything wrong. There is a contractual dispute between the construction contractor and the client, and all of a sudden these thousand workers are the cannon fodder in a legal battle between two employers. These people should be reinstated. There is work that needs to be completed. But I think it is a pretty sad state of affairs when a thousand blue-collar tradies get sent home from Darwin and sent interstate because one company cannot sort out a contractual dispute with another company. It is not fair, and I think the Government should try to facilitate talks to get these guys back to work because the work needs to be done and they are a good workforce. 


Thank you.