26 Mar 2018

BARRIE CASSIDY: Brendan O'Connor. Good morning. 


CASSIDY: That would be the consequence, if these cuts don't go through wages will fall.

O’CONNOR: We don't support that proposition. We don't believe that's credible. In fact, we don't support the idea that you give $65 billion away to big business and that doesn't have consequences. It does. You have to find a way of funding it. Of course, the way the Government's looking at funding it is increasing taxes on workers between $21,000 and $87,000 a year, and slashing services, health and education. That's not the way to go.

CASSIDY: The Labor party has supported company tax cuts in the past. You do accept surely that will increase investment and, therefore, there's a flow on effect?

O’CONNOR: We support tax cuts and tax relief for small businesses. We've said we will support that. Indeed, we've announced, Barrie, a tax - well, tax relief for businesses that invest in assets in Australia which is something that's conditional. It's conditional on investment, that will provide growth, that will provide opportunities for our economy.

CASSIDY: But why does it work with small business, and yet you don't feel that it would have -

O’CONNOR: It is about what you can afford. The overwhelming bulk of the $65 billion will go to multinational companies, the majority of the largesse will go to foreign shareholders, banks. At a time when many of these companies are running a very good profit, or, indeed, in the case of recent times, have not been paying tax. It's a question of what will happen if we provide $65 billion? We don't ascribe to the trickle-down economics theory, we think it's discredited. We don't believe there will be some commensurate wage increase come out of this largesse. And we are concerned that there will be increases on workers' taxes, which has already been announced. Some of these workers will get further penalty rates cuts. We're concerned there will be funding cuts to health and education. We have seen it to education and in health.

CASSIDY: If they go through, Labor in Government would repeal them?

O’CONNOR: Let's just see. We haven't given up arguing with the Senators. Clearly some of –

CASSIDY: When you say let's just see, how can you have one position in Opposition and then –

O’CONNOR: Let's just see what happens in the Senate. Firstly, there is argy-bargy going on. I did say earlier this week that no Senator would be naive enough to support them on the basis of a letter from the BCA, half of the signatories of which haven't paid tax in the financial year 2015-16. Clearly I was wrong when it came to One Nation and Pauline Hanson. She's shown herself to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the Liberal party, but we will see as to how other Senators go. We will see what is the outcome before we finalise it. 
You can be sure of this Barrie, we want to support workers, we want to see some relief for them, and we want to see health and education properly funded in this country. 
Clearly Malcolm Turnbull has a view that it should be providing it to the big end of town, and he has such a strong faith in market forces he believes that somehow, through osmosis, we will see wage increases. That's not a view held by many economists and certainly not by Labor.

CASSIDY: What is happening is that jobs are being created. The Government every month has a good story to tell. It’s been 16 months now - each of the last 16 months jobs have been created. That's never been done before.

O’CONNOR: Well, we welcome the employment growth that occurs. Let's be clear - the unemployment rate is still the same or thereabouts as it was in 2013. Much of the growth of employment is because of population growth and insofar as the jobs are concerned, too many of them are part-time. We have the highest underutilisation rate for a very long time, at 13.9 per cent. That's 1.8 million Australians either with no work or looking for some work and not being able to find it. That's what's happening in the case of too many of our Australians, and so whilst, of course, we welcome the job figures, if they are improving, too many people are in casual work, fixed term contracts, labour hire, and that's why so many people are struggling to make ends meet, regardless of the sort of one statistic that the Government likes to talk about – which is if you have got one hour's work or more.

CASSIDY: Sally McManus raised that issue of casualisation of the workforce at the National Press Club. After six months of casual labour you ought to have the opportunity of a full-time job. Innes Willox from the Australian Industry Group argued is the casual employment had been steady for years. He says it's been 20 per cent for 20 years now.

O’CONNOR: That's not the case. If you look at it in a binary way between casual and permanent, you might try and argue that. The fact is firstly the ABS said that casualisation has increased from 23. 5 to 25.1 over the last five years. 
It isn't just the casualisation form of employment. It's the fixed term contracts, it's the use of labour hire, it’s the misuse of independent contractors for people that are actually genuinely employees. It's actually this new emerging area of the economy where we see Uber riders and Deliveroo riders getting $6 an hour, so there are a whole combination of problems.

CASSIDY: They get benefit on top because they are owner operators?

O’CONNOR: No. What happens – 

CASSIDY: Taxation benefits -

O’CONNOR: Let me say, they don't make enough money to get taxation benefits. All that happens is they pay for their workers' compensation, they have to pay for all other costs, the cost has been shifted to workers. 
We support independent contractors, but they have to be genuine. We support - of course casual employment is a legitimate form of employment, but too often people are working year in, year out, precariously employed, having trouble getting a home loan, having trouble getting a car loan. That's not the way in which we believe the labour market should operate. Of course, we need a combination of employment, but we do not want to see ongoing precarious employment that makes it unfair for too many Australians.

CASSIDY: But with Uber drivers, people are getting around town cheaper than they used to. That's a saving.

O’CONNOR: Well, if you believe the junior Minister, you would think that Uber drivers are making $100,000 a year. I don't know what fantasy world the Minister is living in. That's not the case for most people. 80,000 of those registered drivers are not even considered employees. I'm not saying it's an easy area to resolve. But we have to grapple with the emerging area of the economy where it isn't properly regulated. We need to attend to that. But the Government has no interest in this. 
I mean, Malcolm Turnbull's view is that wages should be as low as possible. That's what he said when he voted for WorkChoices. He believes that! He believes the market should set everything. He equated wages with the price of a loaf of bread.

CASSIDY: OK, well how do you get them up? Is enterprise bargaining dead? Should it be put away?

O’CONNOR: It isn't dead, but it is failing and it’s failing too often. There were far fewer enterprise agreements that were struck in the last quarter than was the case 20 years ago. Far fewer. More workers are relying on the minimum wage than was the case years ago. So, there is certainly problems with the system. It's not working - and that's why you see profits going quite well - or going very well in some cases - wages flat lining, productivity in many of the sectors of our labour market and economy doing well. Wages flat lining. The losers of this economy at the moment happen to be too many workers. 
Yet, what's the Government's answer to that? Tax relief for the big end of town, tax relief for millionaires who are making a million dollars a year and tax increases for the bulk of the Australian workforce and we think that's utterly unfair and is going to compound inequality in this country.

CASSIDY: Why does the Labor party put up with a CFMEU when key people in the union have said you sell out morons?

O’CONNOR: I’m not going to support attacks on my colleagues and I don't support any attacks that occur that are unjustified, but politics is a robust game. People say things of each other they shouldn't say, and sometimes they’re leaked. Malcolm Turnbull said something of Tony Abbott and that was leaked, but I don’t think that really matter. What matters, Barrie, is the policies we put in place for our economy and country. I'm not getting into the ephemera and the guff about what people say of each other.

CASSIDY: But this sort of stuff passes for debate. John Setka, the secretary of the CFMEU in Victoria, he said of Wayne Swan, who put his hand up to be President of the party,  that "He's a maggot. A piece of shit" He said Greg Combet he is a traitor, ought to be held to account. This is not normal discourse.

O’CONNOR: Again, I say if you want to talk about normal discourse, there are politicians that sometimes use expletives in private communications. It's not necessarily something you want to be aired to public.

CASSIDY: So this is just par for the course? This is normal political discourse?

O’CONNOR: No. I'm not supporting that - those words. I certainly do not support that description of Wayne Swan. Wayne Swan was very significant - absolutely vital - to our response to the global financial crisis, which, in fact, because of the decisions made, led to the growth of construction workers' opportunities in response to the biggest economic shock in 70 years. It is, of course, unacceptable that he be described that way. I don't condone it.

CASSIDY: Given that's the way they think - of the Labor party - why do you put up with it? Apart from the fact they are big donors?

O’CONNOR: Can I just say to you, as I say, there's been exchanges that I don't think particularly useful or appropriate that occur constantly between politicians, between constituents of any party, and politicians. That happens. I don't condone it. But I don't think that's the primary focus. The focus for us is ensuring that we can deliver to the Australian people by providing, for example, a decent wage increase for workers who are struggling to make ends meet now.

CASSIDY: The raid on the TWU offices –


CASSIDY: Yes. It’s 150 days ago now almost. Or maybe more. Still the Federal Police haven't spoken to the Minister, Michaelia Cash. What do you think is going on there?

O’CONNOR: I think this has a long way to run. The Federal Court Justice has delayed a decision, delayed set down dates, but has made clear he thinks it may well be necessary that documents that have been not provided to the AWU about this matter be provided to them. That's a decision that's pending. It hasn't been made yet. I do believe Minister Cash is completely in an unviable situation. She still is the senior Minister for Employment, and yet refuses to answer questions about the extent and nature of her offices involvement in acting unlawful.

CASSIDY: She's given one key answer. That is, the first time she heard about the rate is when she watched it on television.

O’CONNOR: Well, as I say, we think it's far greater than that. In fact, we think there are other offices involved. We've made that clear. Of course, what the Government has done is defended itself by using a defence - public interest immunity test - defence. We don't think that's going to hold up to scrutiny. I believe the Government - this will come back to bite the Government. We will find out more as the legal process continues and finalises.

CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning.

O’CONNOR: Thanks, Barrie.


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