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July 20, 2017

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much for coming. I just wanted to make some comments in relation to the ABS data today on the June unemployment figures.
Clearly it is of concern to Federal Labor that the unemployment rate has increased. And whilst we welcome any increase to the full time job numbers, which has occurred last month, we have concerns that there is still a record number of underemployed Australians in this country – more than 1.1 million Australians who are looking for more work but cannot find it. You add that 1.1 million to the over 700,000 unemployed Australians, and we have 1.8 million Australians looking for more work, or just looking for some work, and not being able to find it. It’s something the government needs to redress.
Just on some other matters in relation to the figures, I just wanted to say it’s also of concern to Labor that the youth unemployment rate has increased from 12.7 per cent to 13.1 per cent. At a time when we are looking to ensure young people who are entering the labour market get opportunities, it is very concerning to see the unemployment rate for young people to be more than double that of the national unemployment rate.
And I have to say it’s an indictment on the failure of the government to redress problems with youth unemployment. And it’s also, I think, a mark against the so-called PaTH program that was established to allow for employers to pay young people below the award with taxpayer subsidised jobs, and not require those jobs to be additional to the effective full time rates in that business. We’ve said that there are significant flaws with this program seeking to redress youth unemployment. These figures are very concerning, and the Government needs to do more when it comes to youth unemployment.
There’s something else too, beyond the figures. We’ve got the Minister who is just happy to stick to talking about the data. Well, Federal Labor is talking to workers throughout Australia. Yesterday I was in Rockhampton talking to electricians at the company Aurizon whose jobs are being threatened, and indeed they look like they’ll be unemployed this year and some of them next year - because the company is going to sack them and employ labour hire employees and contractors. In fact, these workers I was talking to yesterday with Senator Murray Watt in Rockhampton, have said that they have to train those people who are likely to replace them on inferior conditions of employment.
So, when we look at the data – whether it’s the underemployment rate or the unemployment rate – we need to do more than that. We need to look at what is happening in the labour market.
We have to understand that there are fewer and fewer permanent full-time jobs across the labour market. We have to understand there is something changing insofar as some employers in some sectors of our economy are seeking to precariously employ their staff, either by further use of independent contracting arrangements where there is not a genuine contractual relationship; whether its labour hire employees who are on inferior conditions; whether its deeming people to be casual, even though they are working indefinitely in the same job, while their employers suggest they are casual, removing any permanent rights that they might have to their employment.
These are of concern. You add to that the widespread exploitation and the widespread underpayment that is occurring – particularly in some sectors of our labour market – the Government has not lifted a finger to redress exploitation and underemployment.
They continue to delay any legislative approach to these problems. It’s a Government that has a callous disregard for workers in this country. It appears it has no plans to deal with underemployment, to deal with youth unemployment, and to deal with this growing concern amongst all workers about job security.
The only job security the Prime Minister seems to be concerned about is his own, as we watch him change the machinery of Government in areas of National Security just to increase his own security in the office of the Prime Ministership.
Quite frankly, the Government needs to focus now more on these issues. Not just jobs – but good jobs, secure jobs, and redress exploitation, and underpayments and indeed this shift that’s gone on where the power in the workplace has shifted away from workers.
Finally, I want to make it clear how we know that. We know this because wage growth is at its lowest in a generation. Wages have been falling in real terms according to the ABS. As I say, we have not seen this flat lining of wages – a wage recession – for at least 20 years. You have seen Dr Lowe, the Reserve Bank Governor, come out and say this it is not fair, that workers are not getting their fair share. You have had John Fraser, the Treasury Secretary saying there is a problem in getting revenue because workers are not getting their fair share.
So unlikely commentators defending workers and their rights of getting a fair share, a fair slice of the cake, just affirms what Labor has been saying all along - that workers in this country deserve a job, but they deserve a decent job, and the Government needs to help ensure that happens.
Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr O’Connor, is Kevin Rudd right when he says the refugees he sent to Manus Island and Nauru would have eventually been resettled in Australia under Labor?

O’CONNOR: That’s not my recollection of the decision that we took before the 2013 election. Kevin Rudd is right to say that we would expect these people to have been resettled much more quickly than has happened, but resettled in other resettlement countries. That was the plan that was being articulated by the then Labor Government just before the 2013 election.
I think it is fair to say that the Government has sat on its hands and allowed people to stay indefinitely in offshore centres, when instead they should have been expeditiously engaging with countries to ensure that if those detainees were refugees that they be settled in other countries with refugee programs. There has been a failure by the Government to act quickly enough, and therefore I understand the frustration people are feeling. But it’s not my recollection that that would occurred insofar that Australia would have been the resettlement country.

JOURNALIST: Well, would Labor have been willing to see the refugees resettled in Australia if they failed to find any other countries that were willing to take them?

O’CONNOR: Well that’s a hypothetical question. We were very confident that, because this issue was of concern to us, that first we wanted to make sure we found a way to deter people getting on unseaworthy vessels, on perilous journeys when they were actually moving from secondary countries where they were not facing persecution, and yet endangering their lives.
We needed to prevent that happening. Because we had no cooperation with the then Federal Opposition - who refused to support us on the Malaysian Arrangement and other ways that we thought we could best deter those people taking such dangerous risks for themselves and their families - we chose to instead engage with PNG on this issue with the full understanding that we would have worked - as a priority, if we’d won the 2013 election - to ensure that those people would have been settled in other settlement countries.
We just don’t believe the Government has seen it as a priority, and to that extent I understand the frustration of the former Prime Minister and indeed others who’ve watched as the Government has failed to respond to this after four years since they were elected in 2013.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Kevin Rudd is deliberately re-writing history?

O’CONNOR: Look, you might have to ask Mr. Rudd what he means by what he said this morning. I didn’t hear the full interview.
My recollection is, however, that we sought to deter people endangering their lives and I think to that extent we did that. You might recall that those very dangerous journeys fell by 90 per cent. I know the current government likes to claim credit for such matters, but the reality is that was a very significant fall in those very dangerous journeys from secondary countries.
I’m not talking now about those fleeing from a country of origin where you may or may not be persecuted - I’m talking about moving to a secondary country and putting yourself at such risk.
That was the first thing we wanted to see happen. But we would have put all of our energy in ensuring that those that would deem to be refugees would be settled in other settlement countries. We take people from other countries through bilateral arrangements. We were willing to provide refuge for those people by engaging with other countries - like-countries who are signatories to the refugee convention - and that’s my recollection of our intention.
It is still our intention, and I therefore call on the Government to act more expeditiously to end people indefinitely detained on those offshore centres

JOURNALIST: One final question Mr O’Connor. Does Labor stand by the current Government policy that anyone who comes to Australia by boat should never be permitted to re-settle here?

O’CONNOR: Our policy has been consistent since after the 2013 election. We agree with the government that we need to make sure that these dangerous journeys do not continue, and that’s why at the national conference in 2015, the ALP recommitted to ensuring that we had the same position as that of the Government of the day, and nothing’s changed since then.
Thanks very much.