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Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


January 22, 2019

MICHAEL BAILEY: Joining us now in the studio of course, as we said earlier this morning, a bit of shadow boxing with the Shadow Minister Brendan O’Connor. Of course he is the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations – Shadow Minister. You must be looking forward to getting rid of that “shadow” so you can do some real work?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Well you always want to be doing something in parliament, and there’s no better place than to be than in Government. To do that, of course, we have to earn the trust of the Australian people, and that includes the good people of Gladstone. That’s why Bill Shorten and a number of his Shadow Ministers are here today to make an announcement about jobs, about creating the hydrogen capital of Australia here in Gladstone. It’s a real opportunity for jobs - blue collar jobs, good jobs and ensuring we have a diversified economy in the region.

BAILEY: I’ve got to say locals hate the word boom, because we’ve been boom and bust so many times. But on this occasion let’s give it the tick of approval, hydrogen, the next LNG boom. This is going to be fantastic. And it’s good to see Bill and the team are putting their hand in their pockets because we’ve got a councillor PJ, have you had words with him yet?

O’CONNOR: No, I haven’t, no.

BAILEY: You’ll bump into him because a couple of years ago he came into this radio station mouthing off. Everyone was going “yeah, yeah, yeah we’ll look into it, we’ll do it” you know he is one of the biggest supporters of this hydrogen, which is fantastic. So, let me guess, there must be an election on? I have to say that because if and we love that word “if” Labor gets in, a $3 million hub will be opened up in Gladstone so we can start exploring the possibilities of exporting this wonderful stuff.

O’CONNOR: That’s right. We’re looking at investing $1 billion out of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation for this particular remarkable potential export. And Gladstone is the natural hub because of its infrastructure, its port infrastructure, its history of exporting resources. The fact that we can look to transform or provide opportunities for hydrogen to travel along gas pipes that you already have - that exist now. So it’s got already the conditions for us to be able to make an investment. And it is the new energy source which is growing exponentially around the world. You’re looking at Germany and Japan transforming their energy mix including hydrogen. We’re perfectly placed in this nation, and it just so happens that Gladstone is perfectly placed to be at the centre of that.

BAILEY: Now, Japan is already wanting to sign on the dotted line, I do believe, with this hydrogen. What time span are you looking at? Obviously you’ve seen the plans behind the plans. Is this a three year, five year, ten year?

O’CONNOR: Well, firstly, we’ve outlined that we want to invest, and we want to invest in renewable energy, which will create jobs. In fact, over time, thousands of blue collar jobs in the region. The timeframe - we are making an announcement today and Bill will have more to say, as will some of the other Shadow Ministers.

One of the reasons I’m here to add to our presentation, if you like, to the region is to say that not only do we want jobs but one of my roles, as Employment Shadow Minister, is to make sure that they’re decent, good jobs. One of the real criticisms in recent times is that people have had to have casual or labour hire jobs only.

What we’ve sought to do is say we are not only investing in jobs, we want those jobs to be as secure as possible, and wages to be as fair as possible. One of the ways to do that is to ensure labour hire workers get no less than direct employees. That’s a very important change to the labour market for those workers, the many thousands in Queensland, that are actually paid less, even when they stand next to someone who is actually working in the same way, getting more wages. It’s another part of the –

BAILEY: I’m glad you brought that up because that’s one of the big things that Zac Beers has been pushing, also myself, because there are so many casuals in this great city of ours. You walk up and down, I would say nearly two thirds of people are casuals. What makes them absolutely furious is, and I might add, they don’t mind, because a job is a job, it’s when you try and get a loan. The banks look at you and just go, get away, you’re not worthy of a loan – nick off.

O’CONNOR: That’s happening around the country I’m afraid to say for too many workers. Now, of course, there is a legitimate use of casual and we know what jobs are that are casualised and don’t have the same form of security. But many of the jobs in this area, indeed around the country, are full time – they go on indefinitely – year in, year out –

BAILEY: I’ve seen the rosters –

O’CONNOR: You’ve seen the rosters.

BAILEY: It’s just absolute BS.

O’CONNOR: As you say, our Labor candidate, Zac Beers, has been fighting hard to make this a very big issue. In response to that, Bill Shorten and I announced a labour hire policy saying you cannot pay less to labour hire workers when they work in the same workplace as direct employees.

We are going to define casual in the way it was originally intended, to ensure that those types of workers I’ve mentioned about indefinite years and on permanent rosters, are afforded security of employment. So that when they go to the bank for a home loan or even a car loan they’re not going to struggle the way they have been.

BAILEY: Now, this is going to be in the first 60 days, 3 months, 12 months?

O’CONNOR: So what we’ll do, in the case of labour hire we know that we’ve got to deal with this sensitively because there are many, many thousands, tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Australian workers on labour hire conditions. We will set a time frame as has happened in other countries where we give the opportunity for the employer to fix these conditions and the timeline will be between about a year or 18 months in terms of finalising all of it. But what’s already happening, I’m glad to say, in lieu of our announcement, is that many employers are already starting to take that into account. And I do note recently a very large company has just decided to make their labour hire workers direct employees and improve their employment conditions as well as their security. I think in part that’s happened as a result of our announcement to say that’s what we’ll do if elected.

BAILEY: So they’ve seen the light?

O’CONNOR: I think they’ve seen the light, they’ve decided to go ahead with that and make a decision in the interests of their workforce. And I pay tribute to those companies that are doing that already.

BAILEY: Well keep chipping away because that’s what we need to get some confidence back into our workforce. We’re not just a, you know, thousands - and you’re right you know it’s not just thousands, it’s millions of people who are actual casual workers. It’s been inflicted. It’s just a terrible situation.

O’CONNOR: Queensland has the highest, according to the ABS, at 29 per cent. And there are other forms of work which is also precarious. So there’s a bit to do there but we know this, at the moment we have the lowest wage growth in 25 years and people are feeling the pinch. The way they feel it is cost of living. One of the reasons is wages are falling or flat lining and prices as we know it are rising.

BAILEY: It’s fascinating, because you know, I’m just looking at the Sarg over there. I bet he’s got a few stories to tell too because you know the police are always in demand and underpaid and everything is just stretched. It’s not just the police. It’s the nurses, you know you go everywhere, everything is just so stretched.

O’CONNOR: Yes. It’s a bit tough at the moment and that’s because we’re going through historic low wage growth across the public and private sector.

BAILEY: Well, Shadow Minister, Brendan O’Connor, thank you very much for coming into 4CC.

O’CONNOR: Appreciate the invitation.

BAILEY: Enjoy your sharp, quick visit.

O’CONNOR: We’re here. We go to Rocky later, we’ll be back but Bill’s been here many, many times.

BAILEY: He has indeed. I’ve been to many of his Town Hall meetings.

O’CONNOR: Yes. He’s got another one coming up too.

BAILEY: Yeah. No. It’s all good stuff.

O’CONNOR: Yes, it’s number 77, I think. Not bad. He really wants to meet people without going through the sort of filters that too many politicians decide to use. It’s a good thing.

BAILEY: It’s all good. Brendan, thanks very much for coming in.

O’CONNOR: Thank you.