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January 29, 2019

GILBERT:Let’s bring in now the Shadow Minister for Employment Brendan O’Connor. What do you make of numbers. Obviously you wouldn’t be rattled by them, but still Mr Shorten’s approval rating it is in negative territory and quite significantly.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Good morning, and happy new year Kieran and Laura. Look the fact is there will be polls that come and go. We’ve been very clear that we’re not really focused on each individual poll. I mean we know the margin of error is at least three per cent in Newspoll, but who knows about these polls.

What we do know is the government is dysfunctional, divided and there’s an internal civil war. You just have to look at Oliver Yates now looking like running in Higgins. You’ve got Julia Banks looking to run in Flinders. You’ve got other independents of the centre right running against incumbent Liberals. But I think Gilmore is the classic. You’ve got a woman who’s been displaced by a man who was then displaced by another man, Scott Morrison’s pick. And now that person, Warren Mundine, has been challenged by a Nationals Party candidate. That is to me a metaphor for the internal civil war in the Coalition.

LAURA JAYES: You’ve got a number of retirements at this election in your ranks as well. Kate Ellis is one that comes to mind in Adelaide. I wouldn’t suggest that she was jumping ship ahead of the election. But Brendan O’Connor what’s the mood like within Labor at the moment. Are you just trying to keep hubris in check at this point?

O’CONNOR: We never believe in a two-horse contest that there’s a fait accompli in any outcome. Therefore we are very much focused on presenting an alternative vision for Australia. That’s why you’ve seen Bill Shorten for the last ten days campaigning particularly in Queensland, to present our position on, to explain Labor’s plan for Australia. And we won’t take anything for granted, regardless of what other people might predict and forecast. I can assure you that Bill Shorten and my team in the federal caucus, my colleagues, we are very much focused on fighting every day until election day because we should not take anything for granted. And we don’t.

GILBERT: Is there some tweaking you could do to sharpen up your political case here? Because as we saw here with Mr Shorten at a couple of town halls in Queensland last week the issue that seem to come up time and again was from retirees and in terms of particularly franking credits.

O’CONNOR: The good thing about Bill Shorten is when he campaigns he doesn’t filter an audience. The Liberal Party have contrived meetings. Scott Morrison does not expose himself to a room full of unfiltered people who aren’t being checked at the door. That’s why people get to ask every question they possibly conceive of to Bill Shorten - and he answers every question. But let’s be honest here. Our lines are very clear in that we know our policies. We’ve been putting our policies forward for years. We’re looking at investing more in education and more in health. We’re looking at making sure the tax system is fairer. We want to see working people have genuine jobs and we want to see wage growth start to grow.

GILBERT: But you said that he listens to authentic audiences, will he listen to this argument from a number of people? I saw in Townsville at the end of his bus trip, you know, crucial seat, this could be pivotal to your prospects in Queensland on this issue –

O’CONNOR: We’ve been upfront and, you know what, we haven’t been –

GILBERT: You’re not going to backtrack at all on that?

O’CONNOR: You always consider your policies, of course, in light of them being examined publicly. But also you shouldn’t be dishonest with the Australian people. We have presented a plan for Australia’s future. We haven’t been a small target. We have been honest and upfront. We have been announcing policies for five years. We took many of the policies, including negative gearing reforms, to the Australian people in 2016.

JAYES: Sure but a lot’s changed since then, Brendan O’Connor. The independents, some independents, are concerned about that particular change that you bring up as well. The Government, today, warning about a recession under Labor. Is that possible?

O’CONNOR: Well, I’m not sure they do. It seems there’s a fight within the Cabinet whether they’re supposed to say that there’s a recession or not. It’s quite a joke, isn’t it? Scott Morrison’s speech must start off ‘once upon a time’ today because it’s an absolute fairy tale.

The reality is that we have seen debt more than double, we have seen 1.1 million under-employed Australians, 1.8 million Australians. The lowest wage growth in Australia in 25 years and yet, apparently, everything is going to be remarkably better if the current government is re-elected. There is no reason for the Australian people to believe a word Scott Morrison says on the economy. As for economic credentials, it was Labor that really started the reforms that gave us more than 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth. It was Labor that kept us, the only developed nation, out of recession. We’ve got a great history when it comes to the credentials of looking after our economy and, therefore, it’s laughable. No wonder the Finance Minister didn’t agree with the Defence Minister and refused, nor did the Prime Minister, and they refused to back in the comments of Mr Pyne.

GILBERT: So you talk about a time of soft wages growth, you know, not everyone is keeping up with this growing economy that we’ve seen now for well over two decades. Is it time to just have a rethink, not just about retiree tax but negative gearing changes as well, as people’s net worth has been falling with the property boom coming off.

O’CONNOR: Well, we believe that these policies are fine. That they are responsible, they’re trying to ensure that people get a chance to enter the housing market.

GILBERT: No recession?

O’CONNOR: Well, the fact is we’ve seen this government preside over the lowest wage growth in 25 years, an anaemic economy. Indeed, household debt is at record levels, people are eating into whatever household expenditure they have, but really they’re increasingly going into debt. That’s largely due to the fact that there’s been the lowest wage growth. I mean, this government has not provided sufficient opportunities for working people to maintain their standard of living. Cost of living pressures are so acutely difficult for so many.

JAYES: But Brendan O’Connor, in 2013 on this very program you doubted Tony Abbott’s pledge of one million jobs in five years, that was achieved under Malcolm Turnbull. Why couldn’t the Government achieve it again and do you apologise for that?

O’CONNOR: Well, population growth has really been the factor for employment growth. The fact is that, it was just over five per cent when we lost office in 2013, there’s still a five in front of the unemployment rate. That’s because population growth takes into account those job numbers. I mean, the fact is there’s more people unemployed today than was the case in 2013 when we lost.

JAYES: Brendan O’Connor, thank you.

O’CONNOR: Thanks for that.

GILBERT: Appreciate it, thank you.