13 Mar 2018

GED KEARNEY, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BATMAN: Good morning everybody, I’m Ged Kearney I’m the Labor candidate for the Batman by-election and here it is on a public holiday in Melbourne and we’re holding this press conference to talk about the issue, the very serious issue of penalty rate cuts. We know that penalty rates cuts affect the lowest paid people in our economy. They are unfair, they are cruel and they are unnecessary. I’m very pleased to say I’m here with Brendan O’Connor the Shadow Minister for Employment and Nikki a worker in hospitality who’s going to tell us first-hand experience with what it’s like to work in the sector and the impact of penalty rates cuts.

I’m very pleased to say that Labor oppose these penalty rates cuts, and introduced a private members bill to stop the cuts going through and they have of course promised to reverse those cuts should they be elected. And now without further ado I will hand over to Nikki who will tell us first-hand about the hospitality sector and some of the issues facing the workers there. Thanks Nikki.  

NIKKI: My name is Nikki Keating, I work in hospitality and for Respect is the Rule, fighting sexual harassment and assault. A lot of people like me rely on penalty rates on public holidays like today and are suffering because of the Liberal Party’s cuts. It is amazing that the Labor Party has reversed those cuts and that it is supporting its workers. As a former unionist, Ged understands this and is supporting us in every way both in penalty rates and in fighting sexual assault and harassment in the industry. And I will be supporting Ged because she supports workers like me and I will now hand over to Brendan O’Connor.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Well thanks very much Nikki and thank you very much Ged. It’s great to be here on Labour Day and we’re here on Labour Day as Ged has made very clear to ensure that the voters of Batman understand that if elected, a Labor government will prevent penalty rate cuts occurring to retail workers, hospitality workers, fast food employees.

As we know, the current Liberal government has chosen to support the cuts to penalty rates last July. Not just last July, this July coming and the July 2019. We’re going to see workers worse off because of these penalty rate cuts. Low paid workers, as Ged has said, will be suffering at a time where we have wage stagnation in this country, the lowest wage growth in 25 years and yet we have a current federal government that chooses to support the cuts to penalty rates.

As Ged has made clear, if she was part of the Labor team she would ensure, along with Bill Shorten and the federal parliamentary Labor party that these cuts will stop. That’s why it’s so critical on Labour Day of all days, that we remind voters of Batman that we need a Labor government. Not just to stop penalty rate cuts I must admit, it’s also to ensure that workers like Nikki are safe in those workplaces.

We need to make sure that we have safer workplaces, not just construction sites, not just depots and factories but work places in hospitality where women who are employed can feel safe at work and therefore Labor does support any efforts that are being made today to ensure that women feel safe in those industries and we need to do more there.

We also need to do more to tackle precarious employment and the reason why I’m here today is, of course I support Ged but Ged will be a remarkable member of parliament. There are 10 candidates standing in this by-election, only Ged can claim to be a local champion, a national leader and by the way, the very first nurse to enter the federal parliament. What a trifecta. The fact is that Ged has fought for working people all of her life. Whether it’s been as a nurse and leading the nurses’ union or leading the union movement of this country and fighting the big fights. Fighting to repeal WorkChoices, fighting to ensure decency and safety in workplaces has been at the heart and soul of the efforts by Ged Kearney and that’s why I think the voters of Batman are very well placed. They have an opportunity to elect a unique individual that brings all of those qualities that are unique in that she’s a local champion, she’s a national leader and she has fought tooth and nail for working people in this country.

So what better day than Labour Day for us to remind voters of Batman that they’re making a very important choice and if you compare Ged with any of the other candidates, she really does show herself to be a standout candidate because of the compassion, because of her passionate advocacy for working people and because of the experience she has. It’s not just about talking about these issues, it’s getting them done and with Ged forming part of the parliamentary Labor party and indeed forming a Labor government if elected we will have a progressive advocate for progressive ideals and policies that we need to bring to bear in this nation and I’m sure that the constituency of Batman recognise that they have in Ged an advocate that will fight for their interests.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: The Victorian government have written to Fair Work and thinks that the country’s lowest paid workers should get a $27 a week wage rise. Do you think that’s enough or would you like to see it higher or lower?

O’CONNOR: I haven’t seen the submission by the Victorian government. I haven’t seen the detail of that but let me just make it very clear. The federal Labor party has made three submissions on the national minimum wage since we have been in opposition. In fact we are the only opposition that has ever made a submission.

For example the Greens party have made no submissions on the minimum wage and we made those submissions because we think wages are falling in this country. For example the minimum wage as a proportion of average wages in this country is declining and for that reason we need to make sure that we see improvements to the minimum wage.

The reason we need to do that is that people are suffering, they are feeling the cost of living pressures. They are having trouble making ends meet because wages have been falling. So I’ll consider in detail the submission made by the Victorian government. I do applaud the Victorian government making a submission to support increases. We will have to look at the detail and we’ll have something to say, but until I’ve done that I can’t make an unqualified statement. We would like to see other state governments say that they will support low paid workers in this country as I say, we will also be making a submission to this year’s national wage case, a further submission, to underline the need to raise wages. We have the lowest wage growth in quarter of a century in this country, people are struggling, cost of living pressures have become more acute, energy prices are going through the roof and yet wages are flat lining. Something has to be done. We aren’t seeing anything from the Prime Minister or the current federal government and I’m not surprised that State government’s feel the need to fill the void left by the federal government.

JOURNALIST: Submissions are due tomorrow, what’s your submission going to say?

O’CONNOR: Our submission will very much be echoing the submissions we’ve made in the past in relation to ensuring the proportion of the minimum wage vis a vis the average wage is improved. What we’ve seen in the last 20 years is a decline in the bite – that is the proportion of the minimum wage to the median wage. I think it’s now time that we ensure that we see an arrest of that decline.
We will also be looking at putting in a supplementary submission after the budget in May. So there are two opportunities for us to finalise our submissions. Firstly is the initial submission and if you want to have some regards as to what we might be saying for tomorrow then I would just alert you to the fact that you can read our submissions from previous years. But we will also have another opportunity after the budget to make a more detailed or additional submission. That will be I guess in keeping with hearing what the government has to say with respect of the budget.
But there is no doubt in our minds that when you are seeing flat lining wages, when you are seeing penalty rates being cut, when you are seeing people precariously employed, when you are seeing 1.1 million Australians underemployed, then something needs to be done.
You know in this electorate, we have one in six workers who are suffering losses in their wages because of penalty rate cuts. 13,000 workers in Batman have lost up to $1,000 a year as a result of the penalty rates cuts. That’s fast food workers, that’s people in hospitality and retail, pharmacy, we are seeing lots of workers who are low paid, in many cases precariously employed, losing up to $1,000 since the cuts on July 1 last year. Something has to be done. We don’t see anything coming from Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals, but we need to ensure that we do respond to that.
Of course, as Ged has said Labor introduced a Private Members Bill to stop the cuts to penalty rates and revert the penalty rate back to what it was at June 30 last year. That has to be done as a matter of urgency, but we don’t expect that the happen while Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: On the TPP, how likely is it that Labor will back it in the parliament despite your reservations about the intellectual property provisions and labour mobility?

O’CONNOR: Look, we’re very concerned as to what may or may not have been traded away in respect to the TPP. No one has been provided any information about the detail of this. As people say the devil is in the detail when it comes to very complex agreements. We do prefer multi-lateral agreements to bi-lateral agreements, but unless you see the detail, how can you conclude you can support or oppose such an agreement.
Shadow Trade Minister Jason Clare and Labor leader Bill Shorten have made clear we want to see the detail on the partnership agreement before we make our position clear on our support or otherwise.
Labour mobility is a huge issue. If you diminish the protections of local workers, you could be displacing those workers. You could be putting downward pressure on wages by allowing for easing the inflow of temporary workers at a time when people are already feeling the pressure due to casualisation and precarious work.
I don’t think the Liberal Party really have a sense of this or really have a concern about what some of these agreements can do to the labour market. Labor is always concerned about the effect that trade agreements might have on working people. That’s why we need to see the detail until which we won’t be making an unqualified statement.

JOURNALIST: Christian Porter said last night that child sex abuse survivors have every right to feel upset about the Catholic Church’s initial response to the national redress scheme. How do you feel about the way the Catholic Church has responded?

O’CONNOR: Look I haven’t seen the response, but if it is the case that there has been no full understanding or appreciation of what is required from now then Labor would share that concern.
Let’s be very clear here it was Labor that knew it was critical that we have a royal commission into systemic abuse of children involving institutions, including the Catholic Church.
What we have seen through that process has been victims being able to tell their stories, which was firstly critical. But there needs to be reparation. There needs to be compensation for victims of abuse. If there are attempts to resist that requirement, then yes, people who resist that deserve some censure.
Until people are properly compensated. Until there is recognition that damage was done, not that everything can be repaired through financial compensation, but it is critical that the government ensure that there is proper compensation to those victims.
If the Catholic Church or any other institution seeks to resist that, then I would be supporting the government, if it’s of the view, that they are acting in a manner that is against the interests of the victims and protecting the interests of the institution.
So I am glad to hear that the Attorney General has some concerns about the institutions resisting that. You can be assured of this, Labor is very concerned if there are attempts to deny justice to these victims of child sex abuse.

JOURNALIST: I have a question for Ged about the by-election. The Greens seem to have stepped up their campaign about your stance on refugee policy. I know you declined to attend a refugee advocacy rally here at Northcote town hall on the weekend. Do you think this will be a real weak spot for you ahead of the election?

KEARNEY: I’m prepared to stand on my reputation with regards to my advocacy for refugees. All my working life from the time I was a nurse, caring for refugees in the community, right through to my time at the nurses, and of course at the ACTU, I have had a very well recorded activism record standing up for refugees and humane policy. I’m not going to walk away from that. I will be a strong voice for progressive, humane policy within the Labor party.

JOURNALIST: Would you ever go against Labor Party policy and not support offshore processing of refugees?

KEARNEY: I will within the party do my very best to be a very strong progressive voice for human policy and at this stage that’s all I can say.

JOURNALIST: The Greens have said this will be the issue that loses you the election because it is such a strong issue here in Batman, do you agree with that?

KEARNEY: I stand by my record on this. I think everybody who knows me knows very well that I have a very good record in regards to activism and progressive policy for refugees. It’s certainly what I’m telling electors whenever I get the chance and I get a very good response.

JOURNALIST: There has been a lot of [inaudible] Is that a sign of nervousness among Labor supporters?

KEARNEY: That was quite an upsetting and nasty development in this election. It’s something that I certainly don’t condone – defacing a poster. I think it was a very unfortunate development. I certainly just stand by my record which is quite strong and good on this issue.

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