February 02, 2017

SUBJECTS: The Government’s lack of a jobs plan; the Prime Minister’s political donation.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much for coming. Today I wanted to respond to the speech made by the Prime Minister at the National Press Club yesterday, and really go to those issues that were not mentioned. Firstly the failure of the Government and indeed the Prime Minister to focus on skills and invest in our people. There was not a word about how we’re going to ensure the workforce of today and tomorrow are equipped with the skills necessary to grow our economy and to provide employment opportunities for the Australian people.

We have over 700,000 unemployed, 1.1 million Australians are looking for more work but cannot find it. That’s 1.8 million Australians either looking for some work or looking for more work and not being able to find that work. That is a massive challenge and none of those issues were raised, none of the answers to that problem, if you like, were raised by the Prime Minister in his speech yesterday at the National Press Club.

For that reason, we have areas around the country where unemployment is in excess of 10 per cent. We have youth unemployment at the moment over 13 per cent. And in some areas youth unemployment is north of 20 per cent. There is no plan by the Government put in place to create opportunities for unemployed Australians. No plan.

We’ve seen a contraction in our economy with the economy shrinking in the last quarter. We’ve seen unemployment rising, underemployment rising, youth unemployment in some areas of this country at crisis level, and yet nothing in the speech by Malcolm Turnbull.

The other thing that was not mentioned in the speech yesterday, of course, was him disclosing the amount of money his decided to donate to the Liberal Party to buy the last election. The Prime Minister chose not to disclose the amount of money - $1.75 million - that he made to the Liberal Party in order to buy the election. And the reason he chose not to do that is because he knows many people think it stinks.

The fact is whoever wants to be Prime Minister in this country should disclose the amount of money they are donating. I think it matters, particularly when you’ve got the scale of the money that was donated by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. In fact you could buy two houses in Melbourne or in Sydney - it’s 22 times the average weekly wage.

I mean this is an enormous amount of money for anybody in this society, and yet he thought it fitting not to tell people and eventually he was dragged kicking and screaming to disclose that secret donation only last night. Well, no wonder this Government and this Prime Minister are out of touch with the cost of living pressures of Australians.

We’ve seen them cut the pension of hundreds of thousands of pensioners from January 1 this year. We’ve seen them send letters of demand for money not owed by people, and being fraudulently asked to be paid money that was not owed by those people to the Government. We’ve seen a lack of regard for working people. We’ve seen a complete opposition to the maintenance of penalty rates, We’ve seen no support for the minimum wage. We’ve seen no response to worker exploitation in this country, with the 7-11 scandal and many examples of exploitation continuing without any response by the Government. And all we’ve had instead is a Prime Minister try to hide how much money he was willing to donate to win the election. Well, Mr Turnbull has to understand that the Australian people expect more from him than just sticking closely to the law.

The problem with Malcolm Turnbull is he thinks when he says it’s lawful he thinks that means it’s always ethical. People expect their Prime Ministers to lead by example, and for that reason we would hope that the Prime Minister would understand that he would actually be ethical in his dealings. He should have, of course, disclosed that donation well before the election that he was intending to donate such money, he didn’t do that, he waited until the election result.

Now that election result was very, very close. But let’s remember Malcolm Turnbull is in a position, and good luck to him, but he is in a position to donate $20 million but it’s not reasonable to think that you can donate $1.75 million or for that matter $20 million and not disclose that gift, that donation to the Liberal Party. So we call on Malcolm Turnbull firstly to explain exactly when he donated the money and give a commitment to immediate electoral reform. And that includes reducing the disclosure requirements of donations so the current threshold of $13,000 or just over $13,000 is in fact reduced to $1,000 donations.

Now Labor has always supported a reduction in the disclosure threshold and it’s about time the Prime Minister did the same. Instead we have a Prime Minister willing to hide his own donations, not accept any reform on electoral donations. Indeed we have also questions around his failure to reform tax evasion and tax avoidance, I mean he’s a person of course who’s got a lot of his own money in the Cayman Islands. It’s a question of perception as much as reality that if Mr Turnbull cannot understand why people want a transparent government, a transparent system, a system that instils confidence within the Australian people that things are done properly, they’re done honestly and they’re done above board.

Now I believe it’s incumbent on the Prime Minister today to say he will immediately propose change to the electoral donation laws so that we get better transparency, we get lower disclosure thresholds and we allow the Australian people to make a decision, if they wish to make a decision or not on this, upon the donations to any political party or any political candidate running in an election that’s controlled by the Australian Electoral Commission. That is something the Prime Minister should do now, make a commitment that when he returns to Parliament next week there will be an immediate response to the problems with electoral donations and say that we’re going to bring about reforms. And if he does that Labor will support him and if he doesn’t do that Labor will act to bring about the changes by proposing reforms in the Parliament ourselves.

It’s up to him though, if he wants to lead this country, he must lead it by example. So firstly he should apologies to the Australian people for not disclosing his donation and he should set about proper electoral donation reform so there is greater transparency and accountability and therefore as a result greater confidence in our political system that it is honest, transparent and accountable.

Thanks very much.