Doorstop, Suncorp Vehicle Assessment Centre – Airport West

10 January 2012

SUBJECT/S: Christmas day storms insurance, hospitality award rates  


BILL SHORTEN: Thanks everyone for coming out to Airport West today. We're at Suncorp's Car Repair Centre, assessing the hailstorm damage on Christmas Day which hit the western suburbs of Melbourne. This car centre here has seen seven-hundred cars a day, dealing with an assessment of a car, fifteen minutes for every driver who comes in.

It looked like being at least 25,000 car claims for hail damage. But in visiting the car assessment centre here today, what's become clear to me is that thousands of people who suffered hail damage to their motorcars on Christmas Day are getting caught in a bureaucratic catch-22, thousands of people who live in the western suburbs of Melbourne.

What's happening is that when a car is determined to have cosmetic damage - and you can see the hailstorm damage on the cars - it's been deemed to be a write-off if the cost of repairing the car panels, repairing the cosmetic damage, is greater than the value of the car. But the car is still structurally sound and there's no doubt that the car can still be driven. But under this current bureaucratic catch-22, even though the car can be driven and is safe to drive, VicRoads is telling people that they cannot drive their cars because it's a cosmetic write-off.

Now in the March 2010 hailstorm, which hit parts of Melbourne, the former Brumby Government got VicRoads to be more flexible. In other words, mass destruction of cars, you've got a lot of pensioners in the western suburbs, you've got a lot of people who are single-car families and needed to take the kids to childcare or to get mum or dad to work. What's happening is that VicRoads, under the Baillieu Government, is applying a different standard to the citizens of the western suburbs of Melbourne than the previous government applied 20 months earlier in the March 2010 hailstorms.

We're calling upon the Baillieu Government to ask VicRoads to adopt the same sensible approach that it adopted only 18 months ago and has been adopted in Western Australia when they had hailstorms. Citizens in the western suburbs of Melbourne should not be told that they cannot drive their car and they've got to pay for a $700 inspection by VicRoads of a structurally sound car. They are all being told they have got to get their whole car repaired and they haven't got the money to do so, yet the car is driveable. This is a loophole which the Baillieu Government can fix in a simple email to VicRoads.

JOURNALIST: If you are arguing that the cosmetic write-offs should be abandoned in this case, shouldn’t it be abandoned in all cases?

BILL SHORTEN: Well let's walk before we run. There's no question that we've got thousands of people, twenty-five-thousand claims, got thousands of people, with damage to their motor vehicles, which is more expensive than the cost of getting the panels changed. But yet they're not allowed to drive their cars.

The point you make may be a good point. We just went over to - see I've got no doubt that, if this hailstorm had hit Hawthorne, Toorak and Kew, the Baillieu Government would be all over this issue like a rash. But it's happened in the north-western suburbs of Melbourne. It's not Liberal heartland. I'm just asking the Baillieu Government to contact VicRoads, to follow the precedent set in March 2010 and set in Western Australia.

The insurance industry is supporting my call, as are thousands of unhappy people who don't have a car.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you've been in contact with your state Labor colleagues. Given that it's a state issue, why…

BILL SHORTEN: Oh yes. Well, I'm the Federal Insurance Minister. And we want to make sure that the insurance industry in natural disasters works well. I took a very active role in terms of reforming flood insurance after the disastrous and tragic floods, which it's the one-year anniversary of today, in Grantham. I have also taken the same interest in resolving bushfire claims.

The Federal Government believes in the Australian insurance industry. We want to see it being responsive. I was as surprised as everyone else to find out, last week in a meeting convened by the state member for Keilor, Natalie Hutchins, that thousands of people were told, even though their cars can drive and they're safe to drive, because of a hailstorm and cosmetic damage outweighing the value of the actual car, thousands of people have been told you can't drive your car even though it's safe to do so. You've got to pay the government $700 to get your car assessed. And the car will be deemed a write-off for its total future history, diminishing its value, even though the car's capable of being driven.

JOURNALIST: On another matter, the hospitality industry has been up in arms today. Can you tell us why they should be paid so much more on Sundays?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, let's be clear. I don't think the hospitality industry has been up in arms. I'm a big admirer of the show, Masterchef. I think George Calombaris is a remarkable entrepreneur and a successful businessman. But I have to part ways. He may be good at making recipes in the kitchen. But his recipes for workforce are not as tasty as his recipes that he serves up on Masterchef.

What we see is a waiter in Australia, the minimum wage is $15.51. A category two waiter, an experienced waiter, the minimum wage is $16.57. A waiter on Saturday gets twenty-five per cent loading, taking his pay to just over $20 - his or her pay over $20. I don't think we're overpaying.

In the hospitality industry, the average median wage is below the average wage in Australia. If you pay peanuts, you're not going to get the best staff. I don't think it sends a good message about young people going into the hospitality industry that somehow we've got to cut people's pay. As much as I admire America, I don't believe the American way of a very low minimum wage, backed up by the variable nature of tips, is what we want to see in Australia. I think Australian tourism is a strong value proposition. But cutting people's money, when they're already low paid, it's not a good recipe.

JOURNALIST: You said that it's possible for bosses to bargain with their workers on their wages. Does that mean that it's possible to undermine the award and pay people less than the award?

BILL SHORTEN: No. What I mean is, if you pay people ordinary time for five days a week, 25 per cent loading on a Saturday, and a 75 per cent loading on a Sunday, you can average that up and make it a salary. But when you're just paying someone casual, you have the flexibility of only calling them in for a few hours and then not needing them again.

There's a lot of flexibility in the hospitality industry. Any young person who has ever worked in hospitality knows that most people who are regularly employed, they're casually employed. I think the challenge in the restaurant industry isn't about paying the money, as far as the award rates goes. It's stamping out cash. It's stamping out poor food safety. Like, you look at the menu. You look at the prices people pay. Who's going to be able to afford the prices in Mr Calombaris' restaurants if you haven't got any money?

JOURNALIST: Mr Calombaris has also labelled awards as uneconomical and sometimes cause for some restaurants to have to close down. What's your response to that?

BILL SHORTEN: I think businesses open and close in Australia for lots of reasons. I don't think paying someone less than a 25 per cent loading on a Saturday and 75 per cent on a Sunday, that's going to make a difference to the restaurant. There's plenty of other businesses which don't make a lot of profit [inaudible]. [Inaudible] wages in Australia to be that you can make a go of your business.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what is your response to the story in The Financial Review that retailers are finding it too hard to calculate pay? Will you ensure that the nature of the modern awards are fixed through you?

BILL SHORTEN: I received that report late yesterday about the findings of the Ombudsman. There are ranges of issues – people not paying properly, through to confusion. We’ll work with the industry to make sure that all of it is transparent.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it's an issue where the Government needs to change the legislation or more an education campaign around having more understanding of how it works?

BILL SHORTEN: Running a business is never easy. I've employed people in the past. It requires a lot of time and effort. But sorting out people's pay is important. What makes a successful businessperson, it doesn't matter whether it's a TV company or a restaurant or a shop or any enterprise, is the time you spend working with your employees, treating them with respect.

…if people are saying they're confused, then we'll keep educating them.

JOURNALIST: The report found that 25 per cent of retailers are confused. Do you think that's acceptable?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, if people are confused, we need to work on it. There's no question. But that doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. It doesn't mean that we start slashing [inaudible] conditions. The three lowest paid sectors in the Australian economy are hospitality, retail and farming. You know, they're below the median wage. [Inaudible] future of these industries [inaudible], cutting rosters or cutting shifts, cutting entitlements. What we need to do is make sure that we pass on jobs which are at least as reasonable as the shape we found them in. We don't want to take them over some jurisdictions overseas.

JOURNALIST: In regards to the [inaudible].

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, I think if you're interested in a job, you’ll know about it.

JOURNALIST: Senator Abetz has said that…

BILL SHORTEN: We advertise our elections in the paper. Most people seem to work out what’s happened.

JOURNALIST: It's Senator Abetz' criticism [inaudible].

BILL SHORTEN: Senator Abetz, I'd like to know what he thinks about the real issues, which are does he agree with Mr Calombaris' call to cut wages in the hospitality industry? Does he think that people should never be able to take industrial action? Senator Abetz has a lot to say about some issues. But you need Bear Grylls to go out and find him in the wild on some of the key issues.

There's two policies in the Liberal Party. One, bring back WorkChoices. Two, don't talk about bringing WorkChoices and then wait til you get elected, then bring back WorkChoices. I think, if Senator Abetz wants to make a valuable contribution, he should explain what the Liberal Party policies are on industrial relations.

In terms of Fair Work Australia, it's no secret that, during the Howard years, our of all of the appointments they made, only one of them ever had any background in terms of representing employees out of all that they made. I don't accept Senator Abetz trashing the backgrounds of people and saying they're not appropriate appointments.

But of course we'll work through the issues. Senator Abetz has views and I listen very carefully to them. I just wish he'd give us more of the issues which affect people out in the suburbs rather than just the hobby horse negativity of Mr Abbott's opposition.





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