Transcript of interview with Tim Webster on 2UE Mornings, 11 January 2012

11 January 2012

Please read my interview with Tim Webster on 2UE Mornings.

SUBJECT/S:  Newstart allowance, pay rates in hospitality industry

TIM WEBSTER: The Employment Minister Bill Shorten is facing calls from really an alliance that are not traditional bedfellows - business, welfare groups and the unions.  Like I say, they’re not usually mates.  They have joined together to call for an increase in the cash rate of the dole. Now, at the moment, it’s called Newstart as you know. It’s about $250 a week.  Now, understandably, business and the various unions and welfare lobbies are not happy with that given the cost of living these days. But Government has to consider quite a few things.  If the dole is too high, obviously there’s no incentive to work.  We really would be a nation of bludgers then, or accused of it. So, I thought we’d invite the Employment Minister on the line to have a chat, and also about the very nice article, very good article he wrote for The Daily Telegraph today.

Bill Shorten is on the line.  G’day.


TIM WEBSTER: Is there any chance you’ll look at raising Newstart?

BILL SHORTEN: Not in the near future. It does increase slightly by CPI, but that’s a small amount. What people are saying is the dole is just too low, and I wouldn’t like to try and live on $250, $270-$250 a week.

TIM WEBSTER: No, me either.

BILL SHORTEN: So I’m not, not being, I don’t want to sound that forever and a day it’s not going to increase, but by the same token one of the complaints which the business community has is they said that our disability pension is now a little bit higher than the dole. I’ve got a different view about people with a permanent impairment. It’s more expensive having a disability than not having a disability, so I understand why the disability pension - and this is - to be eligible to get that, you’ve got to be tested as being able to work less than 15 hours a week. But, I think we can do things to help people who are unemployed.  They also get a range of other healthcare benefits and other allowances. I’m not pretending that, you know, puts you on easy street. But the best thing we can do is to encourage people and help people find jobs.

TIM WEBSTER: Yeah, look, if you can’t be employed because you’re physically or mentally impaired, that’s a separate issue, but surely Bill any money you pay as a Newstart allowance should be about getting people back into work, shouldn’t it?

BILL SHORTEN: Yes.  I mean jobs are what this government is passionate about.  If you’ve got a job - there are two things in life that set you up - a job, a good job and an education, and ideally that’s supported by a decent healthcare system and retirement savings. So getting the job is the magic ingredient and we are spending tens - we’re spending billions of dollars in employment programs to encourage people and support people to find work.

TIM WEBSTER: Look, it’s a constant call from the welfare groups - and I understand that - and from the unions too, and business taking part now, and I think what they’re after is a root and branch overhaul of our welfare system. Bill, that’s a big ask, but is it possible?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, first of all nothing ever stands still.  We have been increasing a range of the aged pension. We overhauled and made sure
that singles pension used to be 57 percent of a couple’s pension. We have lifted that to 66 percent of the combined couple’s pension.  We have increased the disability support pension more than ever before.  We’re introducing new programs all the time.  We’ve got a program we announced on the first of January where we’re going to help teen parents.  We’re targeting a thousand teen parents to make sure they don’t drop out of school, that we support them to do Year 12 or a skills equivalent. But, always happy to hear new ideas, but at the end of the day we are doing a range of things.  Unemployment is still relatively low in Australia.


BILL SHORTEN: There is no consolation if you don’t have a job. But at 5.3 percent, that’s lower than - you know I met with visiting American senators yesterday and they couldn’t believe our numbers in Australia.  They were impressed.

TIM WEBSTER: Look, this idea has been advanced by many and I have heard it often - the idea that dole payments should be based on the length of time that you’re on the dole.  So in other words, the longer you’re on it the less you get paid so that you’re not entrenched in some sort of lazy dependent lifestyle. Is that worth a thought or not?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, some people say the dole is too little as it is.  We’re certainly not contemplating reducing it. I think the challenge for us is to help people who are long-term unemployed - second, third generation unemployed - and there are some postcodes in our big cities and indeed rural Australia, where the jobs just simply aren’t there. We’ve got to make sure we’re educating people, giving them the skills and a lot more individualised support for people.  Everyone’s different, so what we’ve got to do is find a way to support each individual. But the aim’s got to be not keeping them on welfare; it’s getting them into a job, then they control their own lives.

TIM WEBSTER: And good piece in The Telegraph today in response to George Calombaris, because you’re making the point that you’re talking about pretty low paid workers here and waiters pretty much exist on tips anyway don’t they?

BILL SHORTEN: What Mr Calombaris said is that he thought that the Sunday penalty rates were killing the restaurant industry. Listen, I think he is a pretty talented entertainer. He’s forthright, he’s a good chef. I have eaten in his restaurants.  But I don’t agree that what you do to help an industry survive is you cut the wages of low paid people. You know, the argument goes from some of the some in society that oh these are just uni students and you know…

TIM WEBSTER: Part-timers.

BILL SHORTEN: Whatever, but I know uni students. It’s the Sunday which helps justify the rest of their week. At the end of the day, the people who tend to say you should get rid of penalty rates are people whose basic salary is quite high. You know they don’t live on the penalty rates. So, it’s pretty easy to give away something you don’t need, but just spare a thought for the people who do need it.  We don’t want to become like the Americans, at least in the extent that that industry over there relies on tips.

TIM WEBSTER: Almost wholly.  That’s right.

BILL SHORTEN: We’re not a charity game in Australia.  We want people to be able to stand on their own feet. The minimum wage for a waiter is $15.51. The penalty loading on a Sunday is 50 percent in the modern award and if you’re a casual you get another 25 percent. We’re talking $25/$26 dollars. I wouldn’t, that’s not worth…

TIM WEBSTER: Giving up your Sunday for. The only thing I’d say is - bit of a balancing act isn’t it, because we tend to like to go to restaurants on the weekend and if it’s going to cost you, $150 or $250 bucks to go, you’re probably more likely to stay at home.  So, there’s some balance there somewhere.

BILL SHORTEN: That is true.  There has to be balance, but the observation I’d make on that is, the people who propose cutting penalty rates on the weekend never proposed lifting the Monday to Friday wage of low paid people.

TIM WEBSTER: That’s true too.

BILL SHORTEN: In society we need people to be able to afford to go out as well as those who can.  We want to make sure everyone can enjoy it. Generally, a recipe where you cut people’s wages generally leaves a sour taste in people’s mouths, because you can’t just have some people doing well and everyone else forgotten about.

TIM WEBSTER: And I think the perception might be - great fella that he is - that George is doing okay I think, Bill.

BILL SHORTEN: He’s very successful. I won’t quote the millions of dollars he’s got, but he’s successful and I respect success, but I do think that sometimes some really successful people forget that because they’re successful the way to be successful isn’t to cut the wages of people who are low paid.

TIM WEBSTER: Good on you.  Thanks for the chat.  Appreciate it.  Thank you.

- ENDS -