20 Dec 2017

KIERAN GILBERT: I’m joined by the Labor frontbencher Brendan O’Connor, Shadow Employment Minister.
Let’s start with the replacement for Sam Dastyari. It looks like if Kristina Keneally wants that Senate spot, it won’t be without a fight, Brendan?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Well it is a very significant position. In the Australian Labor Party people get the right to nominate. There’s a democratic process, and we’ll see what happens.

GILBERT: Given she came back to the political front in terms of running for Bennelong, should she be given a bit of a head start? Given that she gave up a few other things to do that?

O’CONNOR: I think Kristina is a fantastic candidate. She proved that in the campaign in Bennelong. But as I say, Kristina knows - as does everyone else who might be interested in such a significant position - that she’d have to put her hand up and if there are other contenders, then of course she should contest that if she wishes to. In the end, the ALP is a democratic party and people are able to nominate. I wish all the candidates well.
Whoever takes that position, I know they’ll make a great contribution because we are spoilt for choice. We’ve got some very significant people who will make a significant contribution to the Senate, to the Parliament, and to the country.

GILBERT: As you conclude this year, do you recognise there’s been quite a shift in momentum in politics federally, after a couple of by-election wins for the Turnbull Government, the Dastyari matter, the citizenship pressure now turning to your party, and possibly another couple of by-elections next year including in Batman where David Feeney might struggle against the Greens?

O’CONNOR: I think the Australian people are more interested in what’s happening with respect to jobs, wage growth, tax cuts - or in the case of the Government, tax increases on working people.
The Government may have done a little better in the last couple of weeks but it’s had a dreadful year, Kieran. I don’t normally refer to polls, but they started this year 53/47 behind, and they ended it 53/47 behind in Newspoll. That pretty much sums up where they are at.
But more importantly - do they have the answers to the challenges of Australia? We do not believe that a $65 billion tax give away to big business is the right approach, and we do not believe that increasing taxes on over 7 million Australian workers is the right approach either – given that wage growth is at historic lows.

GILBERT: We saw that revised down in the Mid-Year Budget update, but we also saw jobs growth continue to power along. You must give them some credit for that?

O’CONNOR: I am very appreciative of the fact that there has been an improvement to employment opportunities. There is still some way to go. Youth unemployment is very high, underemployment is still very high – but any increased opportunities for working people to get into the labour market is welcome.
What is interesting though – and you have pointed this out yourself Kieran – is that even with a slight contraction and reduction in unemployment, we have not seen a commensurate increase in wage growth.
That’s why an overwhelming number of Australians are struggling to make ends meet – they are not keeping up with cost of living pressures, and at the same time, if the Government has its way, there will be increased taxes on over 7 million workers.
We just don’t think that’s right. A $44 billion tax take off Australian workers over ten years, according to the MYEFO data – whilst at the same time wanting to provide a $65 billion tax cut to the big end of town. That is not the approach I think the Australian people want us to take.

GILBERT: You could well have done the Government a bit of a favour by blocking the tax for the large corporations, because you have given them more scope for tax cuts on an individual level which they are going to pursue in May next year – we know that via the Prime Minister.

O’CONNOR: Well, let’s just see what happens. The MYEFO statement only points to tax increases on working people. There is no formal undertaking that there is going to be a tax cut. All we can see is -

GILBERT: Just doing what Labor did when Julia Gillard was Prime Minister – lifting the Medicare levy to fund the NDIS. That’s exactly what you did.

O’CONNOR: What they are doing is, at a time when wage growth is falling in many areas of the economy, wages are going backwards in many areas of the labour market, they are imposing taxes on working people and cutting tax for multinational companies, banks, and the like.
That is their values, writ large. Our view is that you don’t impose taxes when wages are falling - and you shouldn’t be giving away $65 billion when the budget bottom line is as bad as it is.
The MYEFO statement, just remember, underlines the point that we have the highest deficit/debt Government in our history.

GILBERT: Do you think the decoupling of the employment growth and the wages growth will inevitably merge? Is that something that will happen with the labour market powering on?

O’CONNOR: I am not sure. I think that if that were to happen, it would have happened in other comparable countries. The United States and the United Kingdom have had far faster falls in unemployment over the last three years, and yet there has been no increase to wages.
I think what has happened is that the labour market is transforming, people are getting less opportunity, there is increased casualisation, and there is increased precarious employment generally, Kieran.
That nexus between productivity and wage growth is broken. The Government has to come up with better ways to improve opportunities, to make work places fairer, to provide a dividend to working people who at the moment are missing out. When companies are receiving good profits, their workers are not receiving a fair share of that. I have to say there are no answers being proposed by the Government.
You will see more from us in the new year about what opportunities we want to see for working people to make sure that we grow as an economy, but that people also get their fair share of that growth.

GILBERT: Brendan O’Connor we are out of time, and this is our last chat for the year. Merry Christmas and we will catch you early next year.

O’CONNOR: Merry Christmas to you too Kieran, all the best.

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