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Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


May 02, 2019

MICHAEL BAILEY: I’m here with Brendan O’Connor, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplce relations, and Zac Beers in town. And what, 16 days and what did you say Zac? Ten hours?

ZAC BEERS, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR FLYNN: Yes, it’s 16 days and 10 hours until the polls close, MJB.

BAILEY: And of course you’re in battle with Ken O’Dowd yesterday. How did that debate go?

BEERS: It went well, it was a good conversation about what’s happening in our area, what our commitments are and what our priorities are, and we got a chance to press our case, so it was a good day.

BAILEY: You beauty. Now, Brendan O’Connor I believe you have breakfast with of course our Mayor Matt.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Well I talked to, really, the council workers about the issues around casualisation and then labour hire.

BAILEY: So how did that go?

O’CONNOR: I think workers in Gladstone and across the country understand that everything is going up except wages, and we need to do something about that. And the other problem is in Queensland and across Australia is casualisation. It just gets bigger and bigger. People don’t have secure work.

BAILEY: How come there is such a disparity between the wages? I mean, you know, if you are in the mines, you know $2,500 - $3,000 a week. If you are on the island they are pulling $2,000 a week. If you look after aged pensioners it’s $16 a week, $26. I mean it’s such a huge gap, isn’t it.

O’CONNOR: You need a long time to answer that question because often that is about values society places on people. And quite rightly you point to the fact people do some remarkable work and yet don’t get fairly remunerated, properly paid. We’d like to do something, that’s why we actually said if we are going to have young people studying and preschool kids, 3 and 4 year old preschool we need to have a professional childhood educator group and that’s why we are looking to lift their wages. But more importantly we are looking to lift the wages of everybody that’s struggling.
Most people haven’t seen wages grow in the last five years. Wages have flat lined, profits are up five times faster than wages. We need to attend to that. So the two key issues for me, at least in my portfolio, is jobs security and wages growth. And we have policies, we would argue, that will help lift wages and make work more secure. And that’s what people in Gladstone and across the country want.

BAILEY: I’m speaking with the Minister for Workplace Relations Brendan O’Connor on 4CC. Now Brendan, was it wrong for Bill Shorten to just announce childcare workers get a 20 per cent pay rise? Because it’s a private industry and what gets me is hey, I don’t begrudge that, any way to get a pay rise is fantastic, coming from maybe the new Prime Minister goes a long way. But the people who are actually operating the child care facilities are making a matzah but they are not returning it to the workers.

O’CONNOR: Ok, so just on that issue, firstly, the package does this: it provides up to $2,100 per child for the parents to deal with cost of living pressures. This is a whole package, you can’t just pick one part. So families on an income of up to $174,000 will be better off in terms of cost of living pressure relief by giving more money per child, to them, as I say up to $2100 per child. That’s the first thing. The second thing is we’re going to extend education in this country to 14 years, bringing in universal education for three year olds. Why does that matter? Because the most competitive countries in the world, the best education systems in the world have an extended period of education and we are falling behind.

So to do that we are bringing in universal preschool education for three year olds, that will mean 15 hours for 40 weeks a year. That will give our young kids a chance to compete in a globalised, knowledge based economy. We need to have the best and brightest workforce, that’s why we need the best education system. Coming to the final point, yes we need to make sure we stop the churn of childhood educators. If we can’t keep people in the sector and we aren’t attracting and retaining the best people to teach our impressionable minds, the young three and four year olds, we’re not going to have the best system. So what we’ve said is that we will lift wages of a very, very low paid workforce, very low paid.

BAILEY: But they are not the only low paid workforce.

O’CONNOR: No they are not. They ran a case in the Fair Work Commission and it didn’t succeed because the Commonwealth, the current government didn’t support them. The fact is though, based on their qualifications, their responsibilities, their skills, they are paid lower than people who do not have qualifications of any sort. It’s not just for them. If we can’t keep them in that sector, we can’t properly educate our kids. So it’s an investment in education that’s critical to our economy. That’s how we see it. There are other people that I believe who we need to attend to but we can do that by amending the Fair Work Act which will allow for submissions to be made so we can look at pay equity and work value cases, but that’s something that will happen after we legislate, if we are elected.

BAILEY: Here’s something radical, if you are so concerned about education why don’t you bring that group into the education department so there is no profiteering?

O’CONNOR: Well I think we’ve got a system –

BAILEY: No you haven’t because the people running these childcare centres are making a matzah.

O’CONNOR: Just on that other point because you’ve said that twice now. We’re not going to allow one cent of investment in education, whether it is providing relief to parents by way of subsidy per child, because they’re struggling paying the childcare costs, or whether it’s investing in education of childhood educators so they get a decent wage to keep them and look after our kids and educate them, we’re not going to allow one cent of that to go to operators. It’s in the interest of the childcare centres because they will attract people. But what Bill Shorten has made clear is that we will use the ACCC if we find one cent not going to the hands of parents in terms of subsidy or go to those wages. And if they misbehave we’ll look at capping child care fees. So we’ll not allow operators to gouge or take money that’s not owing to them.

BAILEY: Well I agree with you, but I think you missed my point, because they are still making a fortune and not sharing the wealth with the workers. If they did that, the government wouldn’t have to step in and give them a pay rise

O’CONNOR: That’s not actually right. I know the sector pretty well. There are some not-for-profit providers, so it varies enormously. And I agree with you. We have to work on the existing system. The best thing we could do was to invest, firstly by extending education for three year olds. That’s been a very well received policy. I think parents understand that in a very competitive world, if we don’t have, or provide, our kids an opportunity to get the education that’s happening in other countries around the world - that’s why Australia has been going backwards in education in the last 20 years and we have to do something about it. One way to do that, the best way to do that we would argue, is extend pre-school education, invest in the workforce that we expect to be professional, so we can look after the future of this nation – and that’s our children.

BAILEY: Ok, what else is on your mind because you’re only in town for a couple of hours and Zac Beers has been dragging you left right and centre all over the place. What’s your buzz about Gladstone?

O’CONNOR: Well I just think my concern for the workers of Gladstone is when I talk to people here they say too few people have permanent work. They say they’re not getting wage increases. And I guess, we want to make sure that if we’re elected, that we bring in policies that redress job insecurity and wage growth. They’re I guess they’re my two key issues – it’s my portfolio, you’d expect me to say that. But I do think that’s becoming an increasing problem. We have a situation in this country where the few are getting much and the many are not getting enough. I think if we can’t make sure that we govern for all and provide opportunities for working people to have decent lives by having decent jobs then we’re letting the country down. That’s why Bill Shorten is saying this election is a referendum on wages and job security.

BAILEY: But do we have enough money in the can or is there just more tax going to hopefully pay for all this?

O’CONNOR: Well firstly, just with respect to business, we have matched the government in terms of providing tax cuts for small business and medium businesses. In fact we do better than that because we have the Australian Investment Guarantee which provides even greater relief for investment in small business. We are matching them for tax cuts for 10 million workers – and I think that’s the right thing to do – people deserve some relief. But the best way you can provide relief for workers is to give them a wage increase, and that’s not happening. We’ve had the lowest wage growth on record for five years. We’ve got profits growing five times faster than wages, and we’ve got a government cutting penalty rates for hard working low paid retail and hospitality workers. We need to reverse that. If we’re elected we’ll restore those penalty rates. We can’t have a situation where only the very few benefit in this country. We’re a relatively wealthy country why can’t we share the dividend of economic growth? It’s not happening at the moment.

BAILEY: Time will tell. Look, I’ve only got two minutes. Zac Beers, do you wholly agree with Brendan O’Connor?

BEERS: Look, absolutely. We’ve been talking about these issues for a long time MJB.

BAILEY: Jobs , jobs , jobs. That’s all we’ve been talking about.

BEERS: Absolutely.

BAILEY: And the buzz is still out there and you know a lot of people can say, look here, the environment, you know, this and that. It’s all very nice but at the end of the day unless we have job security we are stuffed.

BEERS: If people can’t put food on the table and keep a roof over their family’s head and know that when they wake up in the morning they’ve got a job to go to then they don’t have much else. And that’s what people are worried about right now. They worry about how they’re paying their bills, how they’re going to hold down a job, to make sure they can support their family.

Everywhere I go across the region, that’s what people are talking to me about and that’s why Brendan’s here with me having some meetings this morning. We’ve had some meetings yesterday, talking about these issues, because we know that we need to change the government to get this stuff sorted out. We need to get job security back into the workplace. We need to fix problems with casualisation. We need to fix the problems with the misuse of labour hire. Labor’s got a plan to do it. I challenged Ken O’Dowd to debate as you know him, MJB, we challenged him on air. I had one with him yesterday which was a little bit different to what we challenged him on. We challenged him on air to debate about industrial relations and he hasn’t responded to that. He hasn’t come back to me on that. He’s completely ignored our challenge. I know he came on air here and made some comments about it but-

BAILEY: I think he said yes, but closer to the election because we have 16 days, 9 hours and 58 minutes right?

O’CONNOR: So it’s going to happen then?

BEERS: That’s right?

BAILEY: It’s going to happen. Yes. Absolutely.

BEERS: Well that will be good.

BAILEY:  Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.

O’CONNOR: Thanks

BEERS: Thanks

BAILEY: Enjoy yourself in Gladstone. How many times have you been to Gladstone now?

O’CONNOR: I don’t know. Half a dozen I guess since I’ve been in the portfolio.

BAILEY: It really is a growing city, isn’t it?

O’CONNOR: It is indeed. It’s a fantastic place.

BAILEY: Good man.