Transcript: Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW, 17 February 2012

07 February 2012

 Subjects: ABCC, workplace relations, training and re-skilling  

NEIL MITCHELL: Joe Hockey's in the studio with us, the Shadow Treasurer. We're still waiting for Bill Shorten, the Minister, Employment and Workplace Relations to call in. Joe Hockey, good morning.

JOE HOCKEY: Good morning Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL: Let's take a call first up if that's alright. Hello John. Go ahead John.

JOHN: Yeah, Neil, how you going?


JOHN: Listen, seems to me I'm hearing about these penalty rates and it seems to me it's only rich liberals that are going to get rid of penalty rates. Us workers who rely on our penalty rates are in all sorts of jobs - I'm a fire fighter and we have a shift penalty. Why are people who are rich suddenly decide that us workers on wages can do without penalty rates?

NEIL MITCHELL: Well let's pursue that because this was raised by Jeff Kennett a couple of weeks ago on the program. We did talk about it but the Westpac Chief Executive Gail Kelly has raised it again. Thanks for calling John and it's raised in the context of a need to free up workplace relations and look at things like penalty rates because of the jobs crisis. Joe Hockey, what do you think? Would you do away with penalty rates?

JOE HOCKEY: Well no, we don't believe in getting away with penalty rates, even under WorkChoices. There wasn't the suggestion that, you know, there was - everyone was out to get rid of penalty rates. What you want is for people to have higher real wages. That's what matters overall and they've got more money in their pocket. Now how that is paid is the argument and that's the flexibility argument that people come to.

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay, so what would you do with workplace laws?

JOE HOCKEY: Well we will outline our policy, as you'll see before the next election. Currently there is a review of the fair work...

NEIL MITCHELL: But we're in the middle of a crisis now and surely if anybody's got any ideas now is the time to bring them forward.

JOE HOCKEY: Well, for example, yesterday Neil, we voted against weakening the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Now the Government is actually weakening the powers of the independent body. Their view is it should be folded into Fair Work Australia, which is a body that is currently taking four years to investigate Craig Thomson and the Health Services Union, so they think it's a [fine] body that is going - you know, they're giving it more power at this moment when the Fair Work Australia can't cope with its current existing challenges.

NEIL MITCHELL: We'll we've got - Bill Shorten's called in, the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations.

JOE HOCKEY: Very timely Bill.

NEIL MITCHELL: Bill Shorten, morning.

BILL SHORTEN: Good morning.

NEIL MITCHELL: Well, what would you do? Is it time to really look seriously at relaxing workplace laws?

BILL SHORTEN: Well let's get a bit specific here. I heard that Joe Hockey said that they're going to have a policy but it's hide and seek until they decide to tell us, so I'll tell you what I do think and I'm on the record. I...

JOE HOCKEY: Bit like the Labor leadership mate.


NEIL MITCHELL: We'll get to that in moment. Let's just...

BILL SHORTEN: So why don't you - you guys love to talk about everything except the real issues. We've been asked about penalty rates and you gave some half pregnant answer where you said on one hand, well no, we don't want it but on the other hand maybe, whatever. I'll tell you my view on penalty rates and what Geoff Kennett said and Gail Kelly said.

Why is it the top end of town always says that the only way forward is for poor people to take a pay cut? Okay. If you're someone who depends on your shift rate, your shift loading, your fifteen per cent if you're working between 3.00pm and 11.00pm; if you're someone who relies on the thirty per cent because you're doing the midnight shift between 11.00pm and 6.00am, I'll tell you what. Don't touch those penalty rates. I don't agree with Gail Kelly.

Now if we want to talk about productivity and flexibility, we should. But what I don't believe is that for low paid workers in the retail and hospitality industries are two of the three lowest paid sectors. If you're on forty thousand dollars and fifty thousand dollars you need that extra money and I don't believe that jobs challenges are related to penalty rates.

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay, well what are some of the answers? What...

BILL SHORTEN:     [Fine, let's go there].

NEIL MITCHELL:    ...the jobs challenges - some people say crisis. Where do you start?

BILL SHORTEN: Well okay, let's even - if you're losing your job it is a crisis, I do get that. But I have to say also yesterday, much to the discomfort of the Opposition, the unemployment numbers, the failed participation rates have risen. Now...

NEIL MITCHELL: Macquarie's losing 1000 jobs a week.

BILL SHORTEN:...what this tells...

JOE HOCKEY: Well that's not right. Year on year participation rate has actually fallen Bill.

BILL SHORTEN: Oh my goodness me. Yeah, you're right. In December it was 65.5 per cent...

JOE HOCKEY: No, year on year means January to January.

BILL SHORTEN: Okay Joe. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to answer your interruption. You go, then I'll go. I think listeners want to hear one at a time.

NEIL MITCHELL: I want to hear some answers and not all this crap.

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, I will.

NEIL MITCHELL: I mean seriously. When you look...

BILL SHORTEN: Well alright, alright Neil. You know what? You know what's crap?

NEIL MITCHELL: what's happening, look at what's happening in Canberra and you're all up there throwing things at each other...


NEIL MITCHELL:...and people are getting thrown out of the House and people are losing their jobs and they're saying rather than Joe Hockey saying I will give you an answer sometime and you throwing, you know...


NEIL MITCHELL:...barbs back at Joe Hockey, what about some positive ideas...

BILL SHORTEN: I'll tell you what Neil.

NEIL keep and create jobs?

BILL SHORTEN: Okay Neil, two points; one is I'm not going to be some Liberal punching bag because they want to hide their lack of policy. I'm going to...

NEIL MITCHELL: Fair enough, fair enough.

BILL SHORTEN: ...stand up. Secondly and more importantly about job policies, the two things that we are doing; one is we're training people like never before. Now I use a number like three and a half billion dollars extra and that - there's too many zeros to really comprehend what that means. What that means practically is 130,000 new apprentices.

Do you know last year 320,000 people were doing training? Like the best way to help people through a crisis is to make sure they've got the skills to get through it.

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay, what about long term? What about long term and...

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, well the other thing is we're [dealing] with the car industry...

NEIL MITCHELL: disappearing?

BILL SHORTEN: Well listen, I'm not going to sort of paint a rosy picture when you can't. I used to be an organiser for the rope industry, you know Kinnears and Footscray?


BILL SHORTEN: That's gone. That hasn't gone because of penalty rates. That hasn't gone because of the carbon tax. That has gone because in China it is just a lot cheaper to make rope. Now a lot of those workers unfortunately were never retrained. They were migrant workers who came off the boat here at Station Pier.

It was their first job, great people from the Balkans. Their employers never trained them properly and so what happens is they hit their fifties, they're carrying injuries but they'd always never make a claim because they wanted to keep their job. In their fifties older workers are treated like used tissues.

NEIL MITCHELL: So what are we talking about? We're talking about retraining?

BILL SHORTEN: Training is an important part of it.


BILL SHORTEN: Well you know what? I reckon blue collar workers are smart and if you give them a chance there's a lot of natural leaders on the shop floor, there's a lot of people who can move into the health services and aged care. There's smart people out there...

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay. Bill...

BILL SHORTEN: ...and employers need to be encouraged. We're providing support. They need to start investing in their people...


BILL SHORTEN: ...for their next job.

NEIL MITCHELL: Is that a start Joe Hockey?

JOE HOCKEY: Well I'm going to agree with some of what Bill said there...


JOE HOCKEY: ...and when it comes to training it is important for re-skilling the workforce, but ultimately if - what we've seen is volatility in the Australian dollar which is having an impact, for example, on manufacture and exports. What you've got to do is find ways to help to reduce the cost of manufacturing in Australia, particularly when it comes to exports.

And I know you're going to say don't say it Joe but I'm saying it; the carbon tax adds to the cost of exports. A car produced here is going to cost four hundred dollars more. Aluminium produced here is going to end up costing considerably more and that has an impact. All these things add up so that the bottom line is people, consumers and businesses will take more risk if they have more money in their pockets.

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay, we need to take a quick break. We'll come back and take some calls and discuss that point further. 96900693, 131332. Bill Shorten said to me earlier this week that the carbon tax was really going to be like a mosquito bite.


NEIL MITCHELL: Bill Shorten and Joe Hockey are with me. We’ll take a call.  Alex, yes Alex? Hello Alex?


NEIL MITCHELL: Yes, go ahead.

CALLER ALEX: G’day Neil, how are you? I’ve just had an absolute gut full of listening to these two with the left and the right. Get on, agree upon something and make some changes. We’ve had enough. We’ve had enough of the both of you getting on here and pushing your party’s lines and your crap politics.

The only reason you're in power at the moment, the Labor Party, is because your opposition is so inept that we’ve got this hung parliament that’s ridiculous. Get in there, make some changes and do something for the people.

NEIL MITCHELL: I’m afraid Alex is showing a sense of frustration that’s pretty common around the electorate, Bill Shorten.

BILL SHORTEN: Oh yeah, but I don’t quite agree with Alex. Fair enough, he’s entitled to his opinion. I think we are getting on with it. What I was going to say Neil is that you're going to the issue of jobs; that is a fundamental issue. But the good news - and life’s full of bad news and good news -but the good news never gets an airing.

I’m going to suggest to you that I’m not just making up that there is some good news out there because people deserve a bit of hope. I’ll send you guys a list, or you can connect it to your website, of the jobs that are being created in the various places around Australia.

NEIL MITCHELL: Fair enough, we’ll do that. Joe Hockey?

JOE HOCKEY: Well yeah, I mean there is…

NEIL MITCHELL: [Unclear] to Alex, he’s really saying a pox on both…

JOE HOCKEY: Yeah look we can’t control what’s reported everywhere.  Eighty-seven per cent of all legislation that went through the parliament, we agreed with, we support it, eighty-seven per cent. So…

NEIL MITCHELL: Have we got a jobs crisis or not? You say we have. Bill Shorten says there's a problem but it's not a crisis.

JOE HOCKEY: Well, there is unquestionably structural change in the Australian economy occurring. It is - you know, the thing is Neil, and I’m sure Bill will agree with this, the biggest employer in Australia is the health sector which is essential state and federal government investments, a huge amount of money.

But after that the biggest employers are roughly retail, manufacturing and tourism and hospitality. It’s those three sectors which are not necessarily getting any of the benefits or some of the benefits of the mining boom. The mining industry represents two per cent of employment in Australia, just two per cent and about nine per cent of our economy.

So we have a huge amount of investment going into what is two per cent of employment and the other 98 per cent in one way or another is feeling a degree of pain associated with a high Australian dollar and a whole lot of other challenges.

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay Sam, go ahead please Sam, we’ll take a call, yes Sam.

CALLER SAM: Hi Neil, how are you?


CALLER SAM: I've got two quick ones.  I've just got one quick question for Bill Shorten. It's in regards to like with Qantas and when Parliament fly, do you guys currently pick the little button or select to pay the carbon off that, when you fly, the extra ten bucks for a flight?




CALLER SAM: No? So how…

BILL SHORTEN: Okay I’ll tell you why. When I fly, that’s the taxpayer funded so it’s the same way we don’t get frequent flyer points nor should we. I’m not going to add any optional costs on to [unclear] fly. But do I do stuff to reduce the carbon footprint? Yes but not that particular button because the airfares get paid for by the taxpayer. If you’re happy for me to tick that, then I will.

NEIL MITCHELL:    Okay Sam thanks for calling. Now Bill Shorten you did mention to me on Monday something about carbon tax and mosquito bites. You might have forgotten but this is what you said.

            [Plays recorded excerpt]

BILL SHORTEN:     I do get that some people are getting frightened of it but that’s why in March to June, when you see the actual concrete measures roll out, people will realise that, even its critics will realise it’s more a mosquito bite than anything less than that and I don’t even accept it's that.

NEIL MITCHELL:    Joe Hockey?

JOE HOCKEY: Well the carbon tax doesn’t start until after June. And to describe something that is going to raise taxes by at least $30 billion as a mosquito bite is just unbelievable. It’s going to cost jobs, it’s going to increase the cost of a car four hundred dollars, it’s going to mean the depletion of more than 61 per cent of the aluminium industry in Australia. I mean…

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay well Bill Shorten…

JOE HOCKEY:…out of touch.

BILL SHORTEN: Alright, let’s apply it. When Joe says what it raises in terms of revenue, I mean what he doesn’t do is talk about how we’re using the money; it’s all going back to industry and to families. So in other words, not a single cent of this goes into the general revenue of the government.

What happens is it comes in and we help industry adjust and we also help families, we compensate low to middle income families. So you know…

JOE HOCKEY: For the…

BILL SHORTEN: Well let’s pretend we can just stay as we are, let’s pretend for a moment the world can change around us and we don’t have to change. That’s not a recipe for leadership.

JOE HOCKEY: But Bill the world isn’t changing, that’s the issue.

BILL SHORTEN:     Joe, do you believe in global warming, do you think it's happening?

JOE HOCKEY: Yeah I think climate change is real. I’ve always said that. But I also recognise for example, you guys cite China. The Chinese are not letting their airlines pay the carbon tax in Europe. Now here in Australia Qantas has to pay for domestic flights one hundred and ten million dollars a year for the carbon tax.

BILL SHORTEN: Well let’s deconstruct those big numbers. What it means is about three dollars extra per plane flight per sector, okay? Alright, well that’s a scary number isn’t it?  $3 per flight.

JOE HOCKEY: It does matter, every dollar matters.

BILL SHORTEN: I know every dollar matters but let’s get a little bit of grip of reality here, three dollars per flight. You could tip that over the edge of your glass when you order a drink on the Virgin flight.

NEIL MITCHELL: I know that both of you need to get away. Just quickly on the issue of leadership because that’s been, after the Four Corners appearance, there have been a lot of attention on that.

Bill Shorten, it strikes me that if you removed your support from the Prime Minister she’d be finished, when I look at the numbers. Is that right?

BILL SHORTEN: Neil, when you ask questions about leadership, any answer I give gets interpreted through the prism of what’s going on and what does it all mean. I’m just, like you know I’m not going to play in that sandpit. Sorry.

Do you know what? I actually think, if people are irritated by politics, they’re irritated by both sides of politics always just talking about ourselves and pointing the finger…

NEIL MITCHELL: They’re probably a bit interested in who’s Prime Minister.

BILL SHORTEN: Absolutely and that’s why I don’t want Tony Abbott, I want Julia Gillard.

JOE HOCKEY: Or the next Treasurer, Bill. We know you’re talking to Ruddy about being his deputy, we know that.

BILL SHORTEN: No, you don’t know anything about that.


NEIL MITCHELL:  Well he said…

BILL SHORTEN:  Alright Joe, Joe…

JOE HOCKEY:  We don’t know anything about that.

BILL SHORTEN: Joe, for once I just want one Liberal politician in Australia to back up their bluster with a little bit of evidence. Give me a bit of proof mate and maybe I’d take you more seriously on economics.

NEIL MITCHELL: I’ll ask you. I’ll ask you. Is it true that you’ve been talking to Kevin Rudd about the possibility of becoming Treasurer in his government?

BILL SHORTEN: I don’t want to play in the sandpit but the answer is…

JOE HOCKEY: Oh here we go.

BILL SHORTEN:…the answer is no because I just don’t want another bit of…

JOE HOCKEY: Because it was your supporters, we know that.

BILL SHORTEN: No, the answer is no to Neil’s question. But beyond that, remember that caller who was saying a pox on both your houses and Neil, you were saying that’s right, that’s right?


BILL SHORTEN: Well I’ve got a memory longer than a goldfish. Why don’t we stick to the issues which the listeners care about?

JOE HOCKEY: Yeah Bill, but listen, wait a second guys. It wasn’t the Coalition or everyday Australians that were out there talking about leaks from Cabinet, they weren’t out there talking about polling, they weren’t out there talking about Australia Day and the behaviour of the stuff. It is coming out of the Government that it’s dysfunctional.

BILL SHORTEN: Joe, you want to go there because what happened is…


BILL SHORTEN: …when they made that sort of silly school boy debating point in Parliament wasting a question when it could have been about the economy, the Prime Minister did remind the nation that the leader of the Opposition offered to put out a missive that no Coalition front bencher could do anything without putting it in writing.

JOE HOCKEY: Come on.

NEIL MITCHELL: Okay gentlemen, thank you very much for your time again. I hope we can see both of you in the studio…

JOE HOCKEY: I’m going out to the Sungold Field Days with Dan [unclear] at Warrnambool so…

BILL SHORTEN: I’m going to go and speak about a national disability or traumatic injury scheme, so we’re both working hard and I hope the listeners realise that.

NEIL MITCHELL: Good on you. Thank you very much. Bill Shorten and Joe Hockey.