Transcript of doorstop in Melbourne CBD, 13 January 2012

13 January 2012

 Please read the transcript of the presser I did 13 January 2012.

Subject/s: Economic Freedom Report, funding for the auto industry, OHS Harmonisation laws

COMPERE: We will just take you now live to Melbourne where the Assistant Treasurer, Bill Shorten, is addressing media. Let’s take you there now live.

BILL SHORTEN:  …for our economy and the Government’s handling of the economy.  There’s been the release of the Heritage Foundation and The Wall
Street Journal’s
annual 2012 Economic Freedom Report - the Index of Economic Freedom. Australia has been ranked number three in the world in the Index of Economic Freedom.  That’s well ahead of the United States and well ahead of most of our trading partners. Our overall score of eighty-three-point-one is higher in fact than even last year.  This is testament to Australia’s record of solid economic growth and fiscal discipline. It’s testament that even despite the problems in the rest of the world, Australian industry and Australian workers, and Government, are working to do very well for the Australian people.

The expert report has stated that Australia’s regulatory environment is one of the most reliable, efficient, and transparent in the world.  It offers a high degree of certainty for business planning. It certainly emphasises the very favourable conditions for a continue in investment in Australia and it also confirms in Australia that our economic fundamentals are rock solid - strong growth, low inflation, contained unemployment, and very low national Government debt. This is on top of last month when Australia got the gold-plated triple-A credit rating from all three global standard reporting agencies.

The Government knows in 2012 that we cannot be complacent; we must continue our emphasis on skills, infrastructure, and productivity. But indeed, this is also an opportunity to address two others issues in the light of today’s endorsement of our regulatory system in Australia from The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation - two other issues which threaten our continued prosperity.

I refer of course to the fact that the Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, has cut and run from the auto industry. He’s used very strong language, saying that the refusal to support the car industry is an important line in the sand for the coalition.

Today we’ve seen from Mr Hockey the declaration of an economic civil war within the Opposition; on one side marked by the leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott; the leader of the National Party in the Senate, Mr Barnaby Joyce - proponent of Barnaby-nomics - and some Liberal MPs, and on the other side Mr Hockey and other Liberal MPs - some named and some unnamed - who have said that we should abandon the car industry.

The Government in recent days has been instrumental in securing further new investment from Ford and Holden overseas to maintain a strong Australian car
industry. Forty-six-thousand direct jobs are affected by the decision of the Government to continue this support and investment from overseas in the Australian car marking industry. Forty-six-thousand jobs which the Opposition have said they simply won’t support, or at least some in the Opposition have said that.

The second thing which we wanted to talk briefly about today - which is a threat to our prosperity - is our efforts to create a strong seamless national economy.

Prime Minister Gillard has said this morning that she will withhold payments to states and territories in the Commonwealth if they don’t continue down the path of building a seamless national economy.

When we were preparing national laws for occupational health and safety, the regulatory impact statement indicated that the cost of having eight separate systems for OH&S regulation in Australia was costing Australian business, Australian industry big and small forty-three-million dollars a week.

We put through new model laws through the parliament.  I'm pleased that Queensland and New South Wales, the Northern Territory and the ACT have supported these new laws.  The South Australian Government has indicated that when its parliament resumes in middle of February they will push through
these laws.  The Tasmanian model national laws are stuck in their Upper House, but disturbingly Victoria and Western Australia have indicated they don’t want to be part of national model occupational health and safety laws.

How on earth can a national business in Australia be expected to be as successful as it can be if it has to, every time it crosses a State border, speak a new language, a new currency in occupational health and safety regulation?

We call upon the Victorian and West Australian Governments, in particular, to join the national economy.  You can’t want to be part of the nation of Australia for some things, but opt out other times for petty political reasons.

National occupational health and safety laws have been on the agenda and spoken about for twenty years.  We’ve finally got a proposition which other states have signed up to. The Prime Minister has been unequivocal; there are reward payments for states from the Commonwealth, from the national resources of our taxes, so long as all the states and territories are willing and able to work to create one set of national laws from ocean to ocean. It doesn’t matter if you run a business in Victoria, Queensland, or Western Australia, we want to see the same laws apply everywhere.

I’m happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Mr Shorten, do you think Joe Hockey is trying to kill the car industry?

BILL SHORTEN: I think Joe Hockey is probably trying to position himself for the Opposition - for internals within the Opposition. I do not understand wh some in the Liberal Party do not like the Australian car making industry.

I drive an Australian car.  It’s a perfectly reasonable car.  The Australian car making industry does support thousands of direct jobs; it supports small business and component manufacturers; it supports research and development; it also supports the training up of our young ones from apprenticeship into being skilled tradespeople of the future.

You cannot be half pregnant about the future of the Australian car industry.  The Liberal Party or Joe - the Shadow Treasurer has drawn a line in the sand. He’s saying that he doesn’t support the future of our car industry through Government support in any shape or form, even though our decisions have confirmed and attracted new investment from both Holden and Ford overseas.

You have to make a decision - do you want to be - live in a country that still makes things or doesn’t make things, and a nation which stops building cars altogether I think is giving up on manufacturing altogether.

It also raises the other issue - it’s not just about the car industry that Mr Hockey’s raising uncertainty over, they were against paying for the flood levy which was vital in paying flood reconstruction; they said they’d use the money which we had allocated to help the car industry instead to pay the flood levy, but where else will they stop?

They didn’t support - they don’t support our mining rent resources tax.  They certainly haven’t indicated what they’ll do on a range of other issues.  All of
2011 the Opposition went on one long negativity binge; they were happy to party all year long and say no to everything - 2012 could be the Coalition’s hangover year where they realise that you cannot be all things to all people and promise to be everyone’s friend without identifying how you will pay for it.

QUESTION:Does the Government support moves by the US, Europe, and Japan to stop dependency on Iranian oil?

BILL SHORTEN: Certainly oil - energy security is an ongoing issue for Australia, as it is for the rest of the world. We are blessed in Australia with our natural gas resources. We’re certainly seeking to develop more alternative sources of energy, in terms of our - we also are pleased that we have still significant amounts of refining capacity within Australia.

QUESTION: Do you support their moves though to do so?

BILL SHORTEN: Well which particular moves are you referring to - sanctions or?

QUESTION: Well I guess just the move to end the dependency on Iranian oil. If so, would that push prices up in the petrol?

BILL SHORTEN: We in Australia are fortunate that we do have some reserves of oil and gas within our national onshore and offshore
boundaries.  Certainly we seek to diversify our energy sources. I’m not able to comment specifically on particular decisions of particular other Governments about their relationship with Iran.

QUESTION: What’s your response to news today ANZ may be cutting seven-hundred jobs?  Were you briefed on that?

BILL SHORTEN: We’ve certainly seen overnight the announcement of the Royal Bank of Scotland. We haven’t been briefed specifically on any decisions of the ANZ in terms of jobs.

Financial services in Australia over the next five years are slated to grow in jobs.  We regard any job losses as unfortunate.  By the same token, financial services has been an - in Australia - has been an area of growing productivity.  We’ll be available to work through with people the consequences of any particular company decision.

QUESTION: [inaudible]?

BILL SHORTEN: Well I think the RBA’s made a business decision that it feels intensely consumer pressure. That they all - that the big banks are forced and have to respond to community, legitimate community expectations, that when the RBA announces a cut in the official cash rate, that then the banks feel that they have to - well with courtesy of the Government and consumers, they feel the pressure to immediately respond.

So as I understand, the ANZ's business decision, it's to move itself out of the cycle of immediately having to respond to the RBA. That's a business decision for them.

Our view is that if the RBA announces a cut in official rates we do expect financial institutions to pass on these benefits. There are reasons why the RBA announces it. It's to do with stimulating confidence. It's to support business within the economy. That's why the RBA takes those decisions.

Whenever a bank decides to make its announcements on rates we still expect them to be mindful that no business is an island, independent of the rest of Australia. And that they should be mindful that the decisions they make which affect small business and mortgage holders, will be watched very carefully.

We've also - so I think that the ANZ Bank picking different days when they announce their rate movements is a business decision for them. I understand why they're doing it. By the same token it will not - I do not believe a decision about when you announce your rates inoculates you from the general community
expectations, that if there's confidence required in the Australian economy, banks should play their role.

QUESTION: [Inaudible]


QUESTION: Is the Gillard Government looking to punish the states for not implementing COAG reforms by their due dates?

BILL SHORTEN: In Australia, whilst the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal say we're doing third best in the world in terms of economic freedom, we cannot be complacent. The world does not owe Australia a living. We're a small country of twenty-three million people. We punch above our weight when you look at our numbers in the economy, from inflation to unemployment, to net public sector debt; to future infrastructure investment. We're going very well. But what we need to do is not rest on our laurels.

There is no reason, in 2012, why we can't have national laws. You're able to get in your car and drive across Australia. We all speak the language. We all barrack for at least two football codes across Australia. We all watch the same television, by and large. Why can we have the same national occupational health and safety laws?

QUESTION: Will you be holding back funding though if they don't implement those reforms by the due date?

BILL SHORTEN; The Prime Minister has indicated that the rewards payments for states who refuse to participate in long negotiated, long consulted, sensible ideas, will be punished, yes.

QUESTION: Earlier in the week Ford received funding to keep operating in Australia. Should General Motors Holden get extra money to do the same?

BILL SHORTEN:All of these matters are case by case negotiations. They depend upon circumstances. There's a lot of detail and a lot of hard work goes into all these decisions. I'm not going to start pre-empting amounts or non-amounts.

There is a clear fault line though in Australian politics. There's - the Hockey faction of the Liberal Party have said that they don't mind if we don't make cars in Australia anymore. There are others, I suspect, in the Coalition who don't agree with that. And the Government certainly believes that if we're going to have a viable manufacturing sector over the next number of years, that these decisions to encourage Ford and Holden are sensible to maintain a pool of skilled works, private sector employers who are training people; the multiplier effect to small businesses, from the caterers right through to the component makers who rely upon the car industry.

We should be able, in a country of our size and our complexity, to make cars here.

QUESTION: Sorry, Mr Shorten, you said they - the Prime Minister has indicated they will be punished - the states - for not implementing the [inaudible] reform. How will they be punished?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, there are reward payments which are due to states if they are - keep their national partnership agreements. There are reward payments of over one-hundred million dollars each for some of the bigger states, who I've mentioned are not currently honouring their part of the deal.

In politics and in Government relations - just like in commercial life or, indeed, in the life within your streets or your footy clubs - a deal is a deal. The
states signed up to support national laws and skills licensing in occupational health and safety. Any small business person will tell you - any big person will tell you - it just makes sense - if you want to have a mobile labour force - that we have skills which are capable of being recognised throughout Australia. If you want to have a business in more than one state you should have the same occupational health and safety laws.

What we're talking about is asking states to remember that they're part of something bigger than just the states, and that it makes sense for the good of the future of the Australian economy, that we have a seamless national economy. This is not as hard as some people are trying to make it out to be.

Thanks very much, everyone. Last question.

QUESTION:  [inaudible]

BILL SHORTEN:The Government takes very seriously what's happening in Europe. We take it very seriously at a number of levels. Be it the tightening of credit, be it the impact upon confidence. But we also believe that our future is in Asia. We believe that Australia can be a financial services hub for Asia.

Just as we hear bad news, I am also aware of good news in terms of Government policy decisions and decisions by Australian financial services companies to expand into Asia.

Despite the difficulties in Europe we are still in the right place at the right time to benefit from the supercharge growth of Asian economies.

Thanks very much. That was the last question. I'm happy to talk to you offline.