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Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


November 25, 2018

BARRIE CASSIDY: Brendan O'Connor, good morning. Welcome.
So talking there about lessons for the coalition, pretty straightforward isn’t it? Disunity is death.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Well that’s right but firstly we should congratulate Dan Andrews and the Labor team. They did a remarkable job. A stunning victory repudiating fear and division, but also really do what they said they would do. Invest in schools, hospitals, public transport, renewables and, as a result, a remarkable victory.
CASSIDY: Well that was Dan Andrews’ contribution from your point of view, what do you think the other side contributed?
O’CONNOR: Well I think if the federal Liberals think this is all just about state issues, they’re in denial. Clearly the division, dysfunction, disunity, the civil war within the Liberal party in Canberra has certainly contributed to the scale of the victory in Victoria yesterday.
The fact is that tearing down a Prime Minister has significant costs to any party, and we are seeing that as a result of the efforts, by many Victorian Liberals too, who were of course the architects of the destruction of Malcolm Turnbull.
CASSIDY: Do you think that Federal Labor is entitled to raise its ambitions in Victoria?
O’CONNOR: Well, we really believe we’ve got a tough fight. We don’t assume anything. I think the Australian people expect us to present an alternative vision for Australia and Bill Shorten is focussed on that, as of course are all of my colleagues.

Ensuring that we can present an alternative vision, whether in terms of proper tax reform, standing up for workers, providing a clean energy future, lowering energy prices. At the same time, delivering on what Australians expect us to deliver upon. So, I think it’s fair to say that certainly it provides confidence to us going into an election but we take nothing for granted, Barrie.
CASSIDY: I want to ask you now about some of your portfolio responsibilities and particularly around wage increases. What is Labor’s policy to boost wages going beyond what you’ve already said on penalty rates?
O’CONNOR: Well, as it’s clear now, Scott Morrison as Prime Minister and before that as Treasurer has presided over the lowest wage growth in 25 years. It’s a real problem in the economy. We will be addressing and in fact have more to say in the some of the ways we’d like to lift wages in this country and it’s something we need to present before the next election. We’ve already said as a priority we will restore penalty rates if elected for 700,000 Australians. We believe the government support for cutting penalty rates, that’s cutting real income for low paid hospitality and retail workers was a terrible mistake –
CASSIDY: It will need to go beyond that?
O’CONNOR: Of course we do, and that's why we're already announcing policies about preventing exploitation that happens in the labour market. Just quickly, making sure that labour hire workers are not underpaid, making sure that all workers in the same workplace who are doing the same work get the same pay, is something that needs to be dealt with. Making sure that we allow for bargaining. Ensuring that we reset the bargaining framework so workers actually can sit at a table and bargain with employers.
CASSIDY: So what the trade unions are saying - they want wage deals cut across all industries. Now, are they going to have to be reined back a bit?
O’CONNOR: We're engaged with employers and indeed the unions about what the future IR framework should be. We need to make sure that the framework is reset because clearly, workers are not getting a fair share of the dividend of economic growth. It's not just Labor saying that, Barrie. The governor of the Reserve Bank made clear that wages are flatlining, so what we believe we need to do is ensure that the balance is reset to restore power.
CASSIDY: But talking about whether that involves increasing wages across all industries.
O’CONNOR: I'll go to that.
CASSIDY: Because you've got a national conference coming up. They're asking for more than that as well, of course, right of entry and changes and so on. What is your message to the trade unions? Do they have to be a little more realistic about these things?
O’CONNOR: I think it's fair to say that we need to look at enterprise bargaining or collective bargaining. Let's be clear, collective bargaining has been at the centrepiece of Australian law now for 25 years with one interruption - WorkChoices. So it's been part of delivering uninterrupted economic growth. However, enterprise bargaining as it currently stands has been falling insofar as outcomes for the labour market. There’s been fewer enterprise bargains struck today than was the case some years ago. There's a greater reliance on minimum conditions of employment. So we need to explore what other avenues are needed to enable workers to be empowered to get decent outcomes, and in keeping with that, we're looking at multi-employer bargaining as part of the options.
CASSIDY: But you might have to tell the unions that they can't have everything that they want, right?
O’CONNOR: We should be looking at a framework that grows our economy, ensures that workers get their fair share. As for the bargaining mechanisms, the Fair Work Act now allows for a multi-employer bargaining, but it hasn't worked for a decade. It's failed to deliver outcomes for those workers who are covered under that particular provision.
So, we're absolutely focused on examining the bargaining mechanisms so that there are decent outcomes, whether you be a nurse, or in fact, a childhood educator or an electrician. We need to make sure that people get decent outcomes. That's not happening under the current fair work regime, and we need to look at that, and we're engaged with the unions and with employers to get a decent outcome.
CASSIDY: Just finally, the Newstart allowance. You get plenty of advice from people that that is inadequate at $270 a week for a single person. What's your commitment there?
O’CONNOR: We recognise that it's very hard for people on Newstart to live. And it's very hard for people who are on Newstart to find work. They just don't have the means by which to prepare themselves for employment. And for that reason, if elected, a Shorten Labor Government will have a comprehensive review of Newstart to ensure-
CASSIDY: The review doesn't add a cent, necessarily.
O’CONNOR: No, but we’ve made clear we recognised already that Newstart is too low. When last in government, we enacted increases to the pension and the disability pension. And there was no examination of the relative proportion that was applied to Newstart. We think that that needs to be examined and we've accepted that it is too low for people to find work, and it is too low for people to live on. So, of course, we need to work out the fiscal implications. But we do believe that it is now time that we do something in this area and we would hope that Scott Morrison would show some heart and concern for those people who are on the margins and work with Labor to do something about it.
CASSIDY: Thank you for coming in this morning.
O’CONNOR: Thanks Barrie.