29 May 2018

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Good morning. I would just like to reflect on the fact that we have a piece of legislation, that, if it passed the House of Representatives, would ensure that we would stop the penalty rates decision in its tracks. We have a situation where on July 1 this year there will be a second round of cuts to hospitality and retail workers, as the penalty rates decision continues to cut away at real wages for 700,000 working Australians. 
The bill that the Government introduced into the Senate on the annual review of awards has been amended in the Senate to effectively introduce what was the George Christensen’s bill – to stop the effect of the decision. 
The Government should introduce that bill into the parliament, into the House of Representatives, and support that bill, support effectively stopping the effects of penalty rate cuts, and certainly support the amendment that has been accepted in the Senate. We would be happy to debate why the Government supports cuts to penalty rates. 
That bill has now been waiting to be introduced into the House of Representatives for some time, and we now have just over a month until the cuts to penalty rates go further - hurting retail and hospitality workers at a time of low wage growth, at a time where people are really struggling to make ends meet. They are struggling with energy prices and health costs, and other costs. For that reason, it’s important we do that.
Further, I wanted to say this about the efforts by the Government. There is no doubt that the Government think they are on a winner by providing $80 billion to the big end of town. It may well be true – that there would be some winners in trickle-down economics. Malcolm Turnbull would be the biggest winner in the Parliament of trickle-down economics, because it will go to people like him.
It will go to the big banks, it will go to Malcolm Turnbull – a former merchant banker, the biggest shareholder in the Parliament. 
It might be ok for him, but for ordinary working people - for working class and middle class Australians – it will not be a good thing. Trickle-down economics has been repudiated by the most eminent economists across the world because it looks after the top 1 per cent. It doesn’t look after most of our society.
Well, we know Malcolm Turnbull is in the top 1 per cent. Malcolm Turnbull has never struggled financially in his life. Malcolm Turnbull likes to pretend he has a log cabin story – the problem for Malcolm Turnbull is that the logs were made of bars of gold and the log cabins were made of gold.
Malcolm Turnbull has never empathised with working people that struggle because he has never financially struggled. He has no empathy for these people. He feels far more comfortable in board rooms, he feels uncomfortable in factories, and offices, and workplaces – because he has never sat down with working people to talk to them about their needs and aspirations, and the things that are really troubling them.
What is troubling them at the moment is that prices are rising, wages are flat-lining, and for 700,000 workers they are going to see further cuts on the 1st of July. 
Malcolm Turnbull, former merchant banker, wants to support the banks and turn his back on millions of Australian workers who need a pay rise. 
Malcolm Turnbull effectively is the shop steward for banks. He is somebody who comes from the banking industry. He’ll be the beneficiary of trickle-down economics. He is the richest man in parliament. He has the most shares in parliament. It may well be good for him, but as the leader of this nation is it right that he is introducing policies that will help the top 1 per cent including himself?
The fact that he lives in a harbour-side mansion, the fact that this man, the Prime Minister, wants to say that he cares about working people, lives in that elite social citadel at Point Piper, doesn’t want to concern himself with working people – quite frankly we are sick to death of listening to Malcolm Turnbull say he cares when every policy he introduces is to look after the big end of town. 
He has no empathy, no concern, no interest in working people. He turns his back on them. That’s why he supports cuts to penalty rates, that’s why he doesn’t care that wages are flat-lining, that’s why he doesn’t care that he wants to cut $17 billion out of schools and give it to the big banks.
Malcolm Turnbull will always be interested in looking after merchant bankers. Once a merchant banker, always a merchant banker.
Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr O’Connor, the Productivity Commission this morning has released a big report on superannuation. It says that super savings of millions of Australians are languishing in underperforming funds, and people have too many unintended accounts, and it is proposing putting the power into the hands of an expert panel to decide default funds for Australians. That would effectively disempower employees according to unions. What do you make of the report?

O’CONNOR: Let’s just say that this is a significant report, review by the Productivity Commission. We’ll examine it. It was Labor that introduced compulsory superannuation in to this country. There’s never been an occasion where the Liberal party has voted in parliament for an increase in super. In fact, the Liberal party is on the record as voting against every increase to compulsory super since it originated. 
They have always opposed it, and quite frankly we will examine the review, because we don’t want to see underperforming funds. 
What the review has indicated, and has made very clear, is that industry funds outperformed other funds over a long period of time. So the review has confirmed what Labor has always known, but it also says there are deficiencies, and I think we should review if there are deficiencies or problems with the schemes. 
We should look at them, including how it affects the members. Most importantly - how it affects the members. 

JOURNALIST: So default -

O’CONNOR: In the hands of this Government however – to give Kelly O’Dwyer responsibility for superannuation is like giving Dracula control of the blood bank. I mean former banker Kelly O’Dwyer sought to change financial advice in our system which would have made it very unfair for consumers that were seeking that advice. 
We would say they are entirely conflicted given they have an ideological predisposition against industry funds, and they have always sought to attack them.
In fact, it was Kelly O’Dwyer only last year that said that industry funds should be more like retail funds - more like the funds that are controlled by the banks. Well, only the Liberal party could think the best thing for us to do is to attack the high performing industry funds and actually make then more like the underperforming set.
Having said that, we will review the recommendations of the report, and we will respond once we’ve had a proper look at it, but we’d be very concerned about the motives of the Government given their conduct since they were elected in 2013 in relation to this very important area of public policy.

JOURNALIST: This is saying neither unions nor employees should have control over it. It should be an expert panel deciding-

O’CONNOR: Who is the expert panel? They’ll appoint it.

JOURNALIST: Well that’s what will be decided through the Productivity Commission. Would you not be in favour of-

O’CONNOR: Will this Government appoint the expert panel? Well let’s look at the recommendations they make. It’s in the eye of the beholder, expert panels. So look, of course we will have to ensure that if there are any changes that it is within the interests of those that are recipients of those funds. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t trust Malcolm Turnbull or Kelly O’Dwyer or any Liberal front bencher with the savings of hard working Australians given their history of turning their back on retirement savings, and always opposing compulsory superannuation contributions for working people. 
We will look at the Productivity Commission’s review, we will consider the recommendations, and of course if we can improve a system that Labor created and the Liberals opposed, of course we will do that - but we need to respond after fully looking at that Productivity Commission review.

JOURNALIST: If the Government is forced to split up its personal income tax plan in the Senate, Labor hasn’t yet said that it would definitively vote against the latter two stages of that tax plan. What’s your take on those? Should Labor vote against those?

O’CONNOR: What the Government should do - let’s just be very clear here - the Government’s talking about seven years. Malcom Turnbull is so arrogant he thinks he is going to win two more elections, and then we can talk about his third tranche. 
Malcom Turnbull, if he wants to see tax relief for working people, should support Labor’s position which is almost double that of the Government - providing more tax relief because we don’t want to give $80 billion to the big end of town. That’s what they should do, and that’s our position.  
Our position is - we support the first tranche, but we would rather they double the amount for middle class and working class families. That’s what they should do. You ask what they should do, well that’s what they should do. 
What should we do? We should hold to our position, and make sure that they provide tax relief to those in need. Now, as for those other tranches in the never-never, in the fantasy world of Malcom Turnbull, I don’t think that’s something for us to discuss today. The Government has an opportunity if they want to provide relief - immediate relief in the form of taxation relief. They can do so by negotiating with Labor and the cross bench. But to get into the ‘in two more elections, in seven years’ time we are going to be entertaining some tax relief for the higher income earners’ - apart from the fact that I don’t support that particular third tranche, is just fanciful nonsense, and nobody believes it, so why should you even be asking me questions predicated on some myth that can even happen?

JOURNALIST: On company tax as well, the latest Newspoll has found that the majority of Australians actually support that. Is there any cause for reconsideration there?

O’CONNOR: Did you read the questions in that poll?

JOURNALIST: I read that one.

O’CONNOR: Go back and read the questions.

JOURNALIST: Would you think it’s appropriate for Bob Carr with his new role at a Chinese think tank to be funnelling questions to Kimberley Kitching via Kristina Keneally in Senate Estimates to be asking about an advisor to the Prime Minister?

O’CONNOR: I don’t know anything other than Senator Keneally asked the questions, she wrote the questions and they were absolutely relevant at Senate Estimates. Thanks very much.

JOURNALIST: Is Labor supporting the foreign interference laws? We understand it is before a committee at the moment.

O’CONNOR: Look, I am not aware of our position. You might have to ask the appropriate shadow. Thanks very much.


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