The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Transcript of press conference, Western Australian Parliament House, Perth
2 APRIL 2014
Subjects: Penalty rates, WA Senate Election, cuts to health and education, jobs, whaling
Tanya Plibersek: I’m here particularly today talking with workers and young people about the effect of a possible cut in penalty rates for the workers of Western Australia. We know that the cost of living in the West is high, particularly when you factor in things like rent and a lot of families and a lot of individuals rely on penalty rates to make ends meet. Right across Australia there’s about four and a half million people who rely on penalty rates and the fear is those workers could lose up to $14 000 a year or around 30% of their pay if penalty rates are cut. Now the Productivity Commission is looking at the industrial relations system and the leaked terms of reference from that inquiry show that the Government is interested in cutting penalty rates. We’ve also heard from the Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Mr Cheney the representative on the Prime Minister’s Business Council here in the west, all calling for cuts to penalty rates. The sort of workers who rely on penalty rates are not your high-flyers. They’re your school cleaners, they’re prison guards, they’re nurses, paramedics, people who work in aged care, people who work in hospitality and the retail sector. They’re quite often people just earning the bare minimum of their award, you’re talking about people who might earn just over $17 an hour for example and their penalty rates might take them up to $22 an hour. You’re not talking about people on very high incomes. You’re also talking about people who have chosen to work nights, overnight, weekends, public holidays because their families are desperate for that income, because their families rely on those incomes and penalty rates to make ends meet particularly in places like Western Australia where the cost of living is very high. So I’m here today to stand with Louise and the workers from different industries we’ve met from different industries this morning to say that a cut to penalty rates particularly to these lower paid workers is completely unacceptable. Louise did you want to say a few things?
Louise Pratt: Right around the state this issue is resonating with people because if you talk to students in Western Australia who are studying, who are going to face to face classes, who are then having to do their assignments and then are juggling often two and three jobs in addition to that. Without penalty rates it’s almost impossible to contemplate actually being able to finish a university degree. You also talk to families who are often working different shifts, you’ve got two parents working different shifts and they need that extra money to make ends meet but also to make up for the fact that they’ve got parents who are working unsociable hours. So this is a vital issue right around Western Australia, people are raising with me that they want to see their penalty rates and their overtime protected.
Journalist: What sort of message are you getting from WA voters about the Carbon Tax and the Mining Tax?
Plibersek: Well in fact WA voters are not generally raising those issues with me. The things that Western Australian voters are raising with me are the fears of further cuts to services that they rely on. We see Tony Abbott saying he wants to be a Prime Minister like Collin Barnett is a Premier here in the West and we know that Collin Barnett has cut $183 million for the school education system here. We know that 350 teachers have been sacked and 350 teachers’ aids and all those programs that help kids with special needs and learning difficulties in the schools have been cut as well. So I think Western Australians are very worried about further cuts to education. I know they’re also very worried about further cuts to healthcare. We’ve got the Fiona Stanley Hospital here that’s running a year late. You’ve got a security firm that’s being paid $250 000 a week to keep open a hospital that’s got no patients. It’s like something out of ‘Yes Prime Minister’, this terrific, beautiful new hospital that cost a fortune to run but has got no actual patients in it. So when I’ve been travelling around Perth and other parts of Western Australia the things that people are raising with me is they don’t want Tony Abbott to get the message that he can treat Western Australia the same way Colin Barnett is treating Western Australia, which is cutting education, cutting health and cutting the services Western Australians rely on.
Journalist: What’s your response to the suggestion that the United Party are buying votes in this election?
Plibersek: Look, it’s obvious they’re outspending the other parties but that’s a decision for the party to make. We live in a democracy and as long as they abide by the rules they’ve got a right to run.
Journalist: Does that give you guys a disadvantage though?
Plibersek: Yeah, of course it puts us at a disadvantage, they’re outspending us by a fortune. But that’s democracy. As long as a political party declares all its donations and abides by the rules they’ve got every right to spend the money they raise.
Journalist: How are you feeling about how Labor will do this Saturday, particularly given you’re here with number two on the ticket Louise Pratt and Joe Bullock again isn’t at an event with a senior federal politician?
Plibersek: Well it makes sense for our senate candidates to be campaign in different parts of the state. It doesn’t make sense for us all to travel in a pack and I know that Joe Bullock today is talking to members of the Shop Assistants Union where he’s chairing a conference. The fact he’s stood up for working people here in the West for thirty years makes him an excellent candidate for the senate but I’m delighted to be here with number two on the ticket Louise Pratt who has made such a terrific contribution in Canberra and who has stood up for progressive causes here in the West for many years. I hope that both Joe and Louise will be elected and if we go to number three and four on the ticket as well that would make me even happier.
Journalist: But do you have a sense that Louise is in a better position than she was in September?
Plibersek: I think Louise is in an excellent position because the Labor party members here have been out working hard, because both Joe and Louise have both been just flogging themselves to talk to the people of Western Australia about what’s important for the West and why they can’t afford to send a message to Tony Abbott that the cuts are just fine, that the attacks on penalty rates are just fine.
Journalist: Just in your portfolio area, are you concerned that the whaling decision could impact at all on free trade negotiations with Japan?
Plibersek: I’m delighted to see the whaling decision. It is something that Labor in government began, this legal process, and to see it resolved so clearly in favour of Australia’s position that Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean is not scientific research makes me very pleased indeed. I don’t think it will have an effect on our relationship with Japan because we have such a long and close friendship with Japan. We’ve got a strong trading relationship, we’ve got very good lines of communication and we have had for many decades now. We’ve talked to the Japanese government about this in the past and we’ve always I guess, agreed to disagree. We’ve known that while we have so much in common and such a good relationship, this issue of whaling was one that we were not going to agree on so we sent that off to an international judicial process. Both the Australian and Japanese government agreed that they would abide by the findings of the court case and the Japanese government have indicated that they’ll do that. So I think that it’s certainly a terrific decision from Australia’s perspective. I’m delighted that this will end the slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean but I don’t think it will negatively affect our very close relationship with Japan.
Journalist: Sorry, one more-
Plibersek: No bunny ears.
Interviewer: What do you think of the Phillip Morris announcement that they’re shutting down their plant?
Plibersek: Well, I’m very concerned at the job losses of BP in Brisbane which are very substantial. I’m afraid I feel very sorry for the workers of Phillip Morris because I feel sorry for any Australian who loses their job. But if the reason that a cigarette company is losing business is because people are smoking less, I’ve got to say I’m delighted by the fact people are smoking less. We know that smoking kills half of all regular smokers and our government took some very strong measures to reduce tobacco consumption in Australia. I think the bigger question really is, does this Government have a plan for the jobs of the future? We’ve seen the car industry close, we’ve seen SPC Ardmona in trouble, we’ve seen Alumina production in Gove in trouble, we’ve seen BP now in Brisbane closing. And it really feels like this government, the Abbott government, has no plans for where the jobs of the future are coming from. As our economy changes there will be opportunities for Australians to do new and different types of work but we have to plan for that and we have to make the most of our future opportunities. We live today in the fastest growing region of the planet. Asia has got the fastest growing middle class on the planet. Asia is making the most, making the most goods and producing the most services, but soon we’ll also be consuming the most here in Asia as well. And so, as a nation, we need to be able to take that opportunity and run with it. And I don’t feel like the Howard government has got a plan to take that opportunity and run with it.
Journalist: Just back on the Senate race, um the micro party that’s given-
Plibersek: Sorry I just want to say one more thing about the jobs thing?
The car industry is a really, really important case in point here because the government said “oh anybody could predict that the car industry was going to close down.” Well if that’s the case, if they did indeed predict the closure of the car industry, what do they think is going to take its place? What’s going to take the place of the 50 000 direct employed jobs there and the 200-250 000 indirect jobs. And we’ve got an announcement from the Abbott Government that they’re, you know, going to have this 100 million dollar car package, no details, no progress in months now and no clarity about how that money that they’ve said will be spent on helping workers and communities readjust, no detail on how it will be spent or when it will become available. So I’m concerned about any job that is lost but I also think that part of that responsibility of government is working out where the jobs of the future will come from. Where is the employment growth going to be and how do we prepare for that? How do we educate our workforce? How do we make sure our kids are ready for those jobs? How do we make sure our infrastructure here in Australia means that we can take up those opportunities that being part of the fastest growing region on earth gives us?
Journalist: Just back on the senate race, the micro party that’s given the best chance of winning a senate seat is the Hemp party whose party platform includes the legalisation of marijuana. As a former health minister, what’s your thoughts on that?
Plibersek: Well I don’t support the legalisation of marijuana. I think that it’s important to recognise that smoking marijuana has some very serious health consequences, and it’s you know, obviously there are some emerging links with mental illness and particularly early start to smoking marijuana but there’s also, of course, smoking anything is not good for you – it’s not good for your lungs and it’s not good for your body. So I don’t support the legalisation of marijuana.