TOM ELLIOT: What’s your official position on the decision of Fair Work Australia today? They’ve come out and cut penalty rates for a wide range of workers on Sundays. How do you see it?
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Look, we’re very disappointed with the decision and we will look to find a remedy to ensure that this does not happen.
ELLIOT: You’ll find a remedy? What does that mean?
O’CONNOR: Well, what it means is that we’ll call upon Malcolm Turnbull for once in his life to stand up for workers and work with Labor to find a Parliamentary remedy IF required or indeed impress upon the Commission not to proceed.
This a terrible decision for thousands and thousands of workers who are struggling to make ends meet, who are having trouble paying the rent, paying the mortgage, putting petrol in the car, looking after the kids, putting food on the table. Awful decision and we will be doing something about it.
ELLIOT: So just that we’re absolutely clear, you think that the decision by the umpire, Fair Work Australia is wrong and therefore you will not abide by it?
O’CONNOR: We’ve been strong supporters of the Commission as you know Tom, generally we would abide by the decision but this is an exceptional decision and I think we need to take a different point of view with respect and we think that the impact is going to be very harshly felt, in fact the Commission’s decision itself talks about how people are going to feel the harshness of this decision.
ELLIOT: Okay. Can I just play you a bit of audio? This was our morning show host, Neil Mitchell, talking to your leader, Bill Shorten on April 21st last year about this very issue, about the decision that Fair Work might make on penalty rates. So here what’s Neil Mitchell and your leader, Bill Shorten had to say.
Neil Mitchell: Will you accept their findings? Given this is an independent body assessing penalty rates for Sundays. If you’re Prime Minister?
Bill Shorten: Yes
Neil Mitchell: You’ll accept them?
Bill Shorten: Yes.
Neil Mitchell: Even if they reduce Sunday penalty rates?
Bill Shorten: Well, I’ve said that I’d accept the independent tribunal.
ELLIOT: Okay Mr O’Connor. What do you say now? That’s Bill Shorten, saying that he would accept the findings of the independent umpire, being Fair Work and he said that even if they cut penalty rates, he would still accept them. Why’s that changed?
O’CONNOR: I have to say that he was asked that question at a press conference today and he quite rightly said that this decision is shocking. It’s not one we envisaged -
ELLIOT: He said he would accept this decision -
O’CONNOR: Well, I’m telling you now what we’re saying.
ELLIOT: Does that mean though, does that mean you could now change your mind next week? Or do you only accept the decision when it goes the way you want it to go?
O’CONNOR: What we said today was the decision was not envisaged by us. We don’t believe the Fair Work Commission is there to cut workers’ wages when they’re looking at reviewing minimum Awards and we think for that reason we have to intervene. We believe the Government, Malcolm Turnbull, should for once in his life, stand with us to support workers.
ELLIOT: Okay, but I’m sorry as you know politicians are not held in high esteem in this country. Correct?
O’CONNOR: Look I’m not going to go through with this game with you. Do you want to talk about the Fair Work decision?
ELLIOT: What I want to talk about goes to the core of the issue is, can we trust what you and Bill Shorten say? You’re saying it’s a terrible decision and we won’t support it. Your Leader said a year ago that we will support whatever the decision is. Why should we believe what you say?
O’CONNOR: I think politicians won’t be held in high regard if they allow the lowest paid workers in this country to lose money. That’s what I think.
ELLIOT: Right so, you can say one thing and lie about it on air -
O’CONNOR: Well you can say lie if you want.
ELLIOT: Well, he did lie. He was asked specifically if Fair Work cut rates would he support it -
O’CONNOR: There was no way, when Labor considered the decision, we did not contemplate real cuts without compensation to the lowest paid workers in Australia.
ELLIOT: But in the question, Neil Mitchell said if they cut rates will you support, if they cut rates?
O’CONNOR: He said he’d support the decision and I have to say to you if there were any alterations to penalty rates, it was our view that there would be comparable compensation.
ELLIOT: But Neil said if they cut rates, you would support it -
O’CONNOR: You can go on and on about it all you like. I’m telling you what we said today. We’ve been asked that question. We’ve made clear why we’ve had to take the position we do. You can focus all you like on this, let’s just focus on the effects on thousands and thousands of workers for a moment. Let’s talk about that.
ELLIOT: Well we have spoken about that a lot today -
O’CONNOR: Did you get Malcolm Turnbull on the line?
ELLIOT: No. No we didn’t.
ELLIOT: We tried to.
O’CONNOR: He’s hiding. That’s why.
ELLIOT: Well, he didn’t want to come on. I appreciate the fact that you’ve come on.
O’CONNOR: Appreciate it too.
ELLIOT: Well let’s say Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t come to the party, which he probably won’t. He’s not going to go against what Fair Work says.
O’CONNOR: Why not? He went against what the Road Safety Tribunal said. He opposed the awards to increase truck drivers rates.
ELLIOT: Okay let’s just assume he doesn’t. I do not think he will, is there anything that you as the Opposition can do to change this?
O’CONNOR: Well we haven’t given up on that. It’s a hypothetical and a hypothetical. We believe that Malcolm Turnbull should for once in his life, defend low paid workers and join with Labor to find a remedy.
ELLIOT: Do you think he’ll do that?
O’CONNOR: I’m not going to dismiss the idea, I think that it’s in his position to do so. It’s within his authority to do so. We impress upon him that this decision is going to have a very significant harmful impact on thousands and thousands of families who work hard, quite often in low paid jobs, trying to make ends meet and we believe, you know, if he wants to be seen to be someone who cares about workers, he would certainly work with Labor to remedy the effects of this decision.
ELLIOT: Alright. Well I wish you luck with that. Brendan O’Connor there, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.