Interview on Tasmania Jobs Expo, Newstart and workers compensation with Leon Compton, ABC 936 Hobart
- Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Financial Services and Superannuation
LEON COMPTON: On to more serious matters. The unemployment rate in Tasmania – 7 per cent at the moment. The highest in the country - would also seem that it's rising. The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations - also Financial Services and Superannuation - is in Tasmania today, amongst other things, to announce a jobs expo for Hobart. You'd probably recognise it to being similar to events that have been held in Launceston, Burnie, Devonport in recent times.
Bill Shorten, good morning.
BILL SHORTEN: Good morning, Leon.
LEON COMPTON: And thank you for coming in. The unemployment rate in Tasmania is the highest in the country and rising. One feels that this jobs expo will probably be about promoting employment opportunities in other parts of the country rather than here.
BILL SHORTEN: No, I wouldn't assume that. What I'm announcing at a jobs forum today, organised by Senator Carol Brown, is a jobs expo. What a jobs expo means is bringing together people who are looking for employees and people who are looking for work. There's been nearly 70 of them held around Australia – 5,000 employers have attended it, 25,000-plus people have found work arising out of it. So a lot of time it's about access to information. So, to me, it makes sense not just to rely on the internet or the newspapers, but to get people in the same room who want to find employees and people who want to find jobs.
LEON COMPTON: Are there the jobs in Tasmania though? One would imagine, looking at the figures on how many people are leaving the state at the moment, that this will be about providing job opportunities for Queensland and Western Australia. That's what it'll be doing in large part, won't it?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, I sincerely hope not. I think the news in Tasmania and the prospects are good. Again, I admit a personal bias. I live in Melbourne, but I've spent a lot of time in Tasmania. I think there is a lot of good news as well as some tough news in Tassie. But I want to sound particularly positive about one thing which has been on my mind over the Christmas break. It is this: is Australia going well, including Tasmania? And I think that, when you look at the fact, the key reason why I think we've got a bright future, including Tasmania, is that we're in the proximity of the rise of Asia. I think the more we deal with Asia the more bulletproof we become.
LEON COMPTON: No doubt that is true in the long term. It is also true for our resource states, particularly, that are benefiting from exporting minerals to China. But Tasmania, in this situation at the moment, seven per cent unemployment, of four of eight economic indicators we trail the country by significant margins. We're not doing particularly well in other areas. The Labor Party holds, what, four or five federal rep seats, six of 12 senate seats, and Government here for 13 years at a state level. On those economic indicators this election year you should be judged on that record, shouldn't you?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, everything's a comparison. It is important. Jobs is the number one issue. That's why I'm here today. But I'd also say to people if it wasn't for a Labor Government we wouldn't have had the building school halls and school rooms program which generated jobs. If it wasn't for a Labor Government we wouldn't have the much greater amounts of money being spent on infrastructure in Tassie. If it wasn't for a Federal Labor Government we wouldn't see hospitals getting some of the funding they're getting. If it wasn't for a Labor Government we wouldn't see the extra money being spent on training and education. So yes, things are tough. But I actually believe that, but for a Federal Labor Government, things would be tougher.
LEON COMPTON: The unemployment rate is 7 per cent and rising. The figure that you don't see in that - but I'm sure you're aware of - is that the part time employment rate is, in fact, starting to dominate at increasing levels, the employment rate. People are under-employed. That's what you should be judged on, isn't it?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, I think that when it comes to the challenge of under-employment we need to constantly be educating people throughout their lives. The best person to find a job is the person looking for the job. And the best thing that a Labor Government can do is give that person skills. That is, old jobs go and new jobs and opportunities arise that people can pursue their new interests and new jobs with some confidence. I think the view that people stop learning in a formal sense, you know, at Year 10 and that's it - that view has to be dispensed with. I believe that all of us are going to have multiple jobs in our life, multiple careers. There's no such thing as a job for life. And so therefore the best thing a Labor Government can do is - and parents and families - is encourage people to train and retrain.
LEON COMPTON: But the question that I asked you was about the significant rise in part time employment, which suggests that people are not just - we don't just have a rising unemployment rate, but also a rise in the amount of only part time employment.
BILL SHORTEN: Yes. Not all people want to work part time, and some want to get more hours of work. There are other people for whom part time work is a sensible solution. The big change in the last 20 years has been two income households. The fact is that with both mum and dad - to use the vernacular - working, sometimes part time, sometimes full time. That's been, I think, the big change in families in the last 20 years.
There are growth industries in Tassie. What Labor needs to do is to make sure that people have got the skills. What we need to do is invest in the infrastructure in Tasmania. I think there's a huge message in - about the lifestyle of Tasmania. I think the fact that there's 60 extra flights coming into Tasmania is good news. It's not easy if you don't have a job, but I do believe the Labor Government's priority should be to help create good jobs, create confidence, building infrastructure, sell the message of Tasmania.
LEON COMPTON: Let's talk about the population then. The population here is, effectively, flat lined while the rest of the country is growing significantly. Tasmania's population - and particularly its population of people of working age - is really diminishing.
BILL SHORTEN: Well, what we need to do is to encourage the creation of good jobs. I've been down to see what Tas Hydro's doing, for instance - Hydro Tas - what they're doing, for instance. They're selling services and ideas to the world. I don’t think we can simply rely on existing industries to generate all the future jobs growth.
People live in towns and communities for a range of reasons. I think central to that is access to a good job. So we've got to encourage that confidence. But they also live in towns and communities because of the quality of life. They live there because of the quality of services and, indeed, the quality of the arts.
I mean what you're doing with tourism in Tassie - for instance, the MONA. I know that's a bit of a flagship project, but that's really impressive. So I agree seven per cent is high. I agree that it's a big challenge, number one challenge. But I also think that there's some good news out there which - we need to focus on the future. And if we know where we're going, then we can get there. If we don't know where we're going, any road will do.
LEON COMPTON: You're the Minister for Workplace Relations. Let's talk about the story that's been dominating news in the last 48 hours: the captain's pick. As Minister for Workplace Relations was the Labor senator for the Northern Territory, Trish Crossin, sacked fairly?
BILL SHORTEN: Oh no. It's an important issue you're raising, but I don’t think the workplace unfair dismissal analogy you're drawing holds. What this is about is the Labor Party picking candidates for seats. That is never an easy process when more than one person wants a seat. The Prime Minister believes that it's time for a change in terms of that seat. I think Trish Crossin, the existing Senator, has done very good work. The Prime Minister believes it's time for a change there, time to bring in a new candidate who's also got, I think, very good credentials.
LEON COMPTON: Do you support the Prime Minister's decision to handle it in the way that she has; to go around, effectively - in this case Territory Labor membership - and make the decision unilaterally?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, I think that the Prime Minister - I do support her, yes. That's not a secret. In terms of processes, the rules of the party are being adhered to. So yes, I do.
LEON COMPTON: Do you think that a similar thing could happen in Tasmania then?
BILL SHORTEN: Oh, I don’t know. I believe that there was a Labor senator candidate preselected down here.
LEON COMPTON: And, indeed, Kevin Rudd stepped in.
BILL SHORTEN: And the former leader, Mr Rudd, said he didn't like him and he got dropped. Politics - members of Parliament work hard. Senator Crossin's worked hard for 15 years. But periodically there are changes. Some of these changes can be uncomfortable if they happen, but I also think the Prime Minister is picking a candidate who will serve the national Parliament well, so...
LEON COMPTON: But this is a question about the fairness of the way that it was handled. Just in terms of - I mean let's make it about Tasmania. You have Labor Party rank and file members. They turn up. They have a vote. They preselect their candidate and then that is shown to be for nothing.
BILL SHORTEN: Well, the rules of the party - and I'm not familiar with every branch's rules - but as a general principle, state and territory branches of political parties pick their candidates. But it is not unprecedented for national bodies to step in and preselect a different choice that's consistent. There was the famous argument 22 years ago when the Victorian ALP dropped Senator Button, the formidable Minister for Industry, into an unwinnable spot and put up John Halfpenny, the former union leader, into the number one spot. The national executive stepped in and changed that. So it's happened in all political parties. I think there was a Liberal senator, Guy Barnett, who wanted to have another opportunity and he didn't.
LEON COMPTON: Is this about clearing out Kevin Rudd supporters?
BILL SHORTEN: No.
LEON COMPTON: Let's talk for a moment about the decision that's made a lot of people angry, to place mothers on to the dole when their children reach eight years of age. Is the Government going to change their position or, indeed, change the dole so that what they land on makes them better able to care for their kids?
BILL SHORTEN: The history of this issue is that back in 2006 the previous government said that sole parents should not get one amount, they should get what's called Newstart, or whatever the dole was called then. That is less than the sole parent's pension. But what they did is they grandfathered a certain number of sole parents. So from 2006 some sole parents have been on Newstart.
Then, two Budgets ago, the Government took some of the people who'd been grandfathered when their kids turned 12 and said you're now on the Newstart Allowance. But what we also did then - my predecessors did then - was put in place uncapped child care funding so that - one of the big challenges is quite frequently finding child care. You can get the job, but if - there's no-one to look after your child.
Then in the last Budget it was proposed that sole parents whose children have turned eight should be - go on to Newstart. I think the amount of Newstart would be very difficult to live upon. Very difficult. I know that this is a Government who believes the best way to help people out of unemployment is to assist them find a job. Sixty per cent of the people on Newstart do find a job within 12 months, but there are some groups of people, I think, are doing it particularly tough.
LEON COMPTON: And do you think the decision to make this change - to drop the age to eight years of age - is fair?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, I'm a member of the Government who made the decision, so yes, I supported the decision. Do I think it is very tough if you're long term or very long term unemployed, if you're single and renting, if you're over 60 or, indeed, if you're a mother of a child who's between eight and 11, yes. So, certainly, I've been listening carefully to the welfare groups, to representatives, to single parents, to see whatever ideas we can do to help them find work and to make the process of being unemployed and get back into work easier than it currently is.
LEON COMPTON: Alan's Pelverata. He's given us a call. Alan, good morning.
CALLER ALAN: Good morning, Leon. How are you?
LEON COMPTON: You've got a question for Bill Shorten.
CALLER ALAN: Yes, I have. Good morning, Bill. I'm 61 years of age and my partner has just turned 65. And, unfortunately, 18 months ago she had an accident in the workplace that left her with a fracture below the hip joint, and she's still out on workers' comp. And as recent as in December of just last year she was contacted by her employer's superannuation company to tell her that because she was having the anniversary of a birthday on 11 December they would be no longer covering her wages as part of the workers' compensation. Under the legislation in this state it turns out that once you turn 65 there is no obligation on the part of the insurance companies to have to continue to pay the wages...
LEON COMPTON: Alan, we're about to get news. I'll get a response from Bill Shorten. Hang on there. Have a listen to this.
BILL SHORTEN: Alan, that story does make me angry. Currently, workers' compensation laws don't extend 65. It's based on an outmoded view that somehow older workers are a greater economic or insurance risk, even though they're still working. It is long overdue for governments and for insurers to change the rules and to lift it beyond 65 because I think it's a loophole which ignores the fact we're living longer and have to work longer.
CALLER ALAN: Can I just share this with you?
LEON COMPTON: No, you can't because we're about to hit news. But what I'll get you to do is just to hang on hold for a moment and we'll come to you in the news bulletin - if you've got time, Bill Shorten. Thank you for coming into the studio. Off to the jobs expo. I think you're off to talk with some fish farmers as well, and down to Sorell on the issue of asbestos. So we'll catch you again, no doubt, between now and the federal election. When do you think it's going to be, early in the year, late in the year?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, I've always thought this Government will go its full term, so I certainly think the other side - the second half of the year.
LEON COMPTON: Appreciate you coming in.
BILL SHORTEN: Thanks very much.