Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP
Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP
DAVID SPEERS: Joining me now is Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry Brendan O'Connor. Very good morning to you, thank you for joining me. Let's just start on the report that's to be released later this week on Labor's election loss. The Craig Emerson - Jay Weatherill report. Are you happy with it all being released, and where do you think the blame should really lie?
BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, & INDUSTRY, SMALL BUSINESS, & SCIENCE: I think it has to be released, there has to be, certainly, the key elements and perhaps the recommendations. I think there is an expectation that we account for ourselves publicly. I have a great deal of respect for both of the primary authors, Weatherill and Emerson. And look it allows us to draw a line in the sand and move forward but at first we've just experienced a shocking result. A shocking loss against great expectation. So, David, it is incumbent upon us to understand why.
As for who is responsible, we take collective responsibility - it's a team game, politics. Quite often leaders are given too much credit and sometimes they get too much blame. It's a team game, and I expect, as Anthony Albanese has already said, we take collective responsibility for what has happened.
SPEERS: Take collective responsibility, but try and nail what you got wrong. You gave your own speech in September about this in which you said "we must identify our failings, but we should not be so foolish to consign what we did well to the political scrap heap". So what did you do well, what do you need to hold onto?
O'CONNOR: I think all the policies should be under review, and they are. That's the first thing I'd say. But it would be incredible for a Labor party to abandon its policy prescription entirely, because no one would believe what you say if you jettisoned all of your policy pronouncements because of a loss. But certainly what I think we might have done well is we have identified some of the structural problems in the economy. We understand we have an environmental challenge, and we sought to respond to that. The fact is though, in many ways, the policies perhaps weren't presented well. Some were not right and I think therefore-
SPEERS: Which ones were they? Which ones weren't right?
O'CONNOR: I'd like to see what the review has to say, and there is some internal conversations about that. I'm in no doubt - I think we had a huge amount of policy. It probably crowded us, and made it hard for us to get a distilled message out to the community. And I think some of the policies allowed for scare campaign or misrepresentations of our position, and I think we have to be much more mindful of that in future.
SPEERS: Franking credit policy? Was that-
O'CONNOR: I think if you look at the policies, there is merit to each and every policy. But in combination David, they were – and from the advantage of hindsight I might add - they allowed for a fertile ground for dishonest scare campaigning. But that's not to say there weren't problems with some of the policies, and I think that's what we need to identify. I think we have been upfront about that.
Look, we are soul searching - we have a soul to search - but there's got to a point, and I think Anthony's speech last week, was a point for us to reset and move forward and of course the last element of that, is this review to be publicly provided this week. After which we have to, of course, become a little more disciplined and move forward.
SPEERS: What do you think about the suggestion from some of your colleagues that Labor’s been too obsessed with progressive issues and this has turned off some blue collar workers in outer suburbs?
O’CONNOR: Well I’m a Labor politician and my focus I guess in most of my political career has been focussed on jobs and I live in the suburbs. I think that’s where most people in this country live. We have to worry about the regions and the suburbs. And so my colleagues who have been highlighting that requirements are quite correct. And I think the policies that we put in place in the main were focused on their needs, but I’m not sure whether we communicated that properly. And that’s why it’s not just about the policies it’s about how we seek to communicate.
I think that’s why Anthony’s effort to focus on the future of work as his first vision statement as Labor leader was absolute right.
SPEERS: But if you turn the focus on some progressive issues, the gender issues, indigenous or even climate issues. Has there been too much focus there?
O’CONNOR: Look, I think you need to be worried about the entire country and if there’s a sense that we are not representing the aspirations and needs of most Australians then we have to be much more mindful of that. Having said that-
SPEERS: Has that happened? That’s what I’m asking, has that happened?
O’CONNOR: Clearly something went wrong because we didn’t win. I think there’s a sense though - look as I said in my speech, it was almost like there was a feeling there was a landslide but it wasn’t a landslide. The election was close it was just a shocking result because of the expectation. So we should not get too carried away about blaming ourselves to such a degree that we jettison things.
As Anthony Albanese has said, quite rightly, if we are not true to our values-
SPEERS: It may only be - it may only be a one seat win for the Morrison Government but over the course of the last, well, two, three decades we’ve seen a steady erosion in labour’s primary results. There is something going wrong.
O’CONNOR: That’s true. The third party in Australia is a left of centre, well left party, and it has taken of course some of our primary vote. My focus has always been we need to focus on workers, families, that should be a focus. And I think that’s why Jim and Claire and others have been saying. And we can’t turn our back on workers in traditional industries. And that’s the point that Joel Fitzgibbon was making.
SPEERS: I wanted to ask you about that, because Anthony Albanese did touch on this during his speech during this week, trying to turn the climate change issue into more of a jobs issue. He reckons we can still have a future for coal mining. Can I ask you as someone who’s got this portfolio in this employment space, if we’re going to see a jobs boom in renewable industry’s and we going to see job losses in coal fired power?
O’CONNOR: Look that may happen as the economy transitions. It’s not for governments to fund options. There is no doubt the market will determine the investment in given industries whether they be traditional or not. But for example as Anthony made clear-
SPEERS: But if the government is giving a shot in the arm to renewables, that is going to accelerate that change.
O’CONNOR: There is a great opportunity for us in renewables as Anthony made clear in his speech in terms of jobs. Remember this, coal helps make steel, we need steel to build wind turbines. It’s not a binary choice. Metallurgical coal-
SPEERS: But mines like Adani, should they be opening or not?
O’CONNOR: I think mines, if they tick boxes, the regulatory boxes, they should go ahead. And I think we should’ve been much clearer at the last election about if the regulatory authorities tick the boxes then the mine should proceed and we didn’t do that sufficiently. And that doubt I think fed into a sort of scepticism and people were worried we were anti jobs.
SPEERS: Do you see a future for thermal coal in Australia or not if we’ve got this big future of renewables what is the future for thermal coal?
O’CONNOR: I think around the world it is under challenge but it has a future as far as I can see in this country. We should be using our resources, our traditional industries should be supported as should investment in the new areas. That combination should work and that’s why Anthony is made clear, and he is right, it’s not a binary choice. I think we failed to articulate that as effectively as we should.
SPEERS: He’s spoken in his speech too about the growth of the gig economy and the drivers and so on. Is this growth something labour should support, in your view?
O’CONNOR: Well we have to embrace technology. Any country that turns it back on technology will fall behind, there’s no doubt about that. But having said that we need to cultivate the environment for new technologies, innovation and create the opportunities there for growth. But at the same time as a Labor party we have to make sure people are not victims of that change. So what we’d like to see, and this is a point we’ve been seeking to make, is that Labor will look to navigate the structural changes in our economy. I mean, the fastest change in the labour market in human history is before us and we have to make sure we embrace the change but mitigate against those things that will affect people adversely.
SPEERS: So should they, for example - what does that mean in practice? Should Uber record drivers be required to pay superannuation to its drivers, workers compo, that sort of thing?
O’CONNOR: I think we need to look at that area as countries are around the world. I mean the sharing economy is an important part, and a growing part, of our economy. But equally we need to know - for example in New York they set minimum standards for wages for Uber drivers. Now, we should be considering those options, yes.
SPEERS: So that is something Labor is focused on developing policies around minimum wages, superannuation and other entitlements for gig economy workers.
O’CONNOR: What I’m saying is saying, and I think it as said in the speech by Anthony, is the labour market is complex, and there is varying degrees of conditions of employment for working people. Now, technology should be used to improve our opportunities. It should not be used as an excuse to diminish the employment rights of workers.
SPEERS: The Prime Minister, as you would have seen on Friday, wants to ban protesters from boycotting Australian businesses. He’s worried about climate activists in particular. He said it’s important to save jobs and particular in small businesses in the mining sector. What do you think of this idea?
O’CONNOR: I think it was tried before. I think Tony Abbott sought to bring in secondary boycott provisions when he was Prime Minister to go after environmental groups. Look, people have to respect the law but we are a democracy and the right to protest is an important element of democracy and it seems the Prime Minister has lost that. To me this is a stunt by the Prime Minister, a thought bubble by own bubble boy. There is no legislation proposed, we haven’t seen anything. I have to say it smacks of intolerance actually and it really is not focusing on the big issues for this country. But if he’s got a real plan and not just a thought bubble well I guess we’ll see the legislation. But even the far right think tank the Institute of Public Affairs opposed this idea when floated by Tony Abbott.
SPEERS: Do you think though there is a threat though to some of these businesses even airlines and abattoirs then PM referred to, if we do see more of these boycott movements against them?
O’CONNOR: Look I have no tolerance for groups that destroy property, use any form of violence. That is unconscionable conduct. But consumers have the right to choose. And if they don’t like the behaviour of a particular company it’s not for a government to deny the right of a consumer to make a choice as to where they want to buy the product. And therefore that’s why you see most good companies are always considering how they are perceived ethically. And I think that’s a good thing. I think the idea that you would constrain consumers from making choices by bringing in legislation would be wrong. The idea that you can use secondary boycott laws in this way, as I say, has been rejected in the past. I don’t think it’s going to go ahead. But if there’s a plan then we want to see it,
SPEERS: Can I ask you just finally about an issue many other small businesses will be worried about and that’s phoenixing where companies go insolvent, go broke, don’t pay their debts. The government is committed to tackling this but at Seven News reported the other night it could take up to three years before we see some of the changes put in place. Would Labor have moved any faster on this issue?
O’CONNOR: Yes, we would have. We had a policy, which in fact the government embraced before the election introducing a director identification number to make directors more accountable and make it hard to phoenix. In fact it was a provision in a prorogue Bill and they re-introduced that Bill since the election but they have taken out the guts of it. They have taken out the provision that was going to make more transparent, more accountable directors, for conduct of businesses. And I think that’s a terrible shame and I think the Government if they’re serious about tackling phoenixing would actually re-introduce that provision that was to tackle phoenixing properly. So yes we would have and they should be doing more, without a doubt.
SPEERS: Brendan O’Connor Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry thanks very much for being on with me this morning.
O’CONNOR: Thanks very much David. I might see you on Insiders
SPEERS: Thank you.