Press Conference – Sydney – Tuesday 10 May 2022

TUESDAY, 10 MAY 2022

SUBJECTS: Federal election; National Anti-Corruption Commission; Inflation; Minimum wage; Productivity measures; Fair Work Commission submissions.
JASON CLARE, LABOR CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: Okay, thanks very much for coming along. We’ve got 11 days now until election day, Australians are already voting and your vote is important. We’ve got the chance to change the country for the better. Every day, we see a Government in decay. Every day we see a Government which is literally falling apart in front of the Australian people. 

I’ll give you four examples of that. The first is Scott Morrison can’t even visit a whole bunch of different seats at the moment where he has sitting members, whether it’s Wentworth, or North Sydney, or McKellar, here in Sydney, or whether it’s Goldstein or Kooyong in Victoria, he can’t go there because he’s political kryptonite. His own members would keel over and fall into the fetal position if he went there, because he’s toxic, he would lose them votes. 

I’ll give you a second example. You’ve got members of the Liberal Party and the National Party fighting with themselves more than they’re fighting for you. Whether it’s on climate change policy, whether it’s on a National Anti-Corruption Commission or anything else. And you saw more evidence of that today at the press conference that Scott Morrison did with Dom Perrottet, where you saw the two Liberal leaders with two different positions on a National Anti-Corruption Commission, and how you tackle housing affordability. 

The third is ministers that are literally going missing. Where is Alan Tudge? This campaign is now deep into the fifth week. And we still don’t know where Alan Tudge is. He’s gone missing. We’re told that he will be the Education Minister in 11 days’ time, if the Government is returned. If you’re running for parliament, you can’t run from scrutiny. He should be here. He should be available to answer questions from journalists. I said the other day, you’d need Scooby Doo to find him. Someone’s got to find him. If you’re going to be the Education Minister in 11 days’ time, I think it’s only right and proper that journalists should have a chance to talk to him, to scrutinise the allegations that have been made against him, whether it’s the half a million dollar payment that’s been made to a former staffer in compensation, or whether it’s the allegations that those WhatsApp messages between him and a former staffer are real, and whether they constitute a breach of the law. Remember what that was all about? Text messages which indicated that he was encouraging his former staff member not to provide truthful information to Australian security agencies. If those WhatsApp messages are real, that constitutes a breach of the law, a prima facie case of a breach of the ministerial standards and grounds for him to be sacked. 

And then fourth, you’ve got this. You’ve got Liberal candidates who are now under investigation from the Federal Police, Liberal candidates who’ve been referred by the Australian Electoral Commission to the Federal Police for investigation and other candidates who’ve admitted in interviews that they may have broken the law themselves. 

This is your Government at the moment. This is what the Liberal Party is offering the Australian people after a decade in office, and asking for another decade in power. A Prime Minister that can’t visit some seats where he’s got sitting members, a Prime Minister fighting with his Deputy Prime Minister and even members inside his own party and other Premiers about what they want and should do. A cabinet where you’ve got ministers who’ve gone missing, who you can’t find, and candidates that are currently under investigation by the Federal Police. We are the best country in the world. You deserve better than this and you’ll have a chance to vote for it in the next 11 days. Happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: You did touch on this briefly, but what’s your thoughts on this assertion that the differences between State issues and federal issues warrant a different ICAC?

CLARE: Scott Morrison’s tried to make the argument that somehow or another corruption is different in New South Wales than it is in Canberra. That by virtue of the fact that different levels of government do different things that it warrants a different type of independent process. That is a rubbish argument. Corruption is corruption. If you’re serious about wanting to tackle corruption, you need a body with teeth to be able to investigate it, weed it out and stop it. That’s why we’ve said, if you want to make sure that you weed out corruption in Canberra, and if you don’t think it’s there, then you’re not looking for it. I saw it when I was a minister in the Gillard Government and in the Rudd Government. And I did something about it. We saw corruption of customs officials at the airport getting drugs through the airport. And it was the effort of the ACLEI there, that body that fights corruption inside law enforcement, that helped to weed that corruption out. We expanded the work that they do. But if you’re serious about tackling corruption, you need a body with teeth. Now, what does that mean? Well, it needs to be able to trigger its own investigations. Under the model that Scott Morrison’s put forward, the cabinet would need to approve any investigation into another politician. Now, that’s the sort of thing you would expect in an authoritarian regime overseas, not in Australia. If you seriously want a National Anti-Corruption Commission that can do the sort of work that we want it to do, it needs to be able to determine what it investigates. And secondly, it needs to have the ability to hold public hearings. Royal Commissions  hold public hearings. The structure of Scott Morrison’s model here is that if you’re a federal police officer, and you’re under investigation for potential corruption, there can be public hearings. But if you’re a politician, and you’re under investigation for corruption, you can’t. That’s why it’s not just the ICAC commissioner here in New South Wales or Dom Perrottet that’s attacking Scott Morrison on this and saying your argument is wrong or your argument is weak. It’s the federal police. The Federal Police Association last week, came out in a scathing attack on Scott Morrison on this, saying what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If a federal police officer needs to be the subject of a public inquiry and a public hearing, then so should a potentially corrupt politician.

JOURNALIST: In relation to wages Anthony Albanese said today, said that he absolutely thinks that the minimum wage should increase by 5.1 per cent. After headline inflation would that not be inflationary and risk leading to a wage spiral where inflation still increases fast—

CLARE: James my response to that is, what’s controversial about wages keeping up with the cost of living? The alternative to that is that Australians on low incomes are poorer, that they go backwards, that they’ve got less money in their pocket this year than they had last year. Now we’ve already seen over the course of the last 12 months real wages go backwards. It’s forecast for real wages to go backwards again. Is Scott Morrison really making the argument here that we want Australians that are on some of the lowest incomes in the country, to not have enough money in their pocket to pay the bills, because we’re talking about Aussies here for who, a couple of bucks, it’s not the difference between whether the kids go on an excursion or not, it’s the difference between whether you can pay the rent or not.

JOURNALIST: Some of the big employers, on the minimum wage, Wesfarmers, Woolworths for example, have indicated that they will back a minimum wage rise of about 3.7 per cent, underlying inflation rather than the headline.

CLARE: Well, this is the subject of the Fair Work Commission’s work at the moment. Let’s wait and see what it recommends, whatever it recommends governments should support, make sure that it’s implemented. What’s important here, and I would hope this is bipartisan, is that governments of whatever political persuasion, Labor or Liberal, work constructively, maturely and sensibly with business to make sure that they can implement those. I just think that’s common sense.

JOURNALIST: This goes back to the central question of how Labor would increase wages. One of the direct ways that the Government could lead to an increase in wages would be to put a submission to the Fair Work Commission. Mr Albanese has today backed a 5.1 per cent increase to the minimum wage. It goes to the central question of how Labor would increase wages without increasing inflation.

CLARE: Well the short answer to that question is the measures government can take to drive productivity, and we learned this lesson under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. If you can drive productivity, if you can make the economy more productive, if you can do more with less, then that is the way in which you can raise wages, raise living standards, without having inflation take off. Think about it. If you build a road from A to B and a truck can travel there quicker and deliver more things to the port or to the warehouse, do more jobs in a day, that’s productivity. And it’s not just a road or a port, it can be the NBN. There’s a whole bunch of different ways that you can boost productivity. Let me give you a very practical example of this. We’ve talked a lot in the campaign about childcare. And some people in press conferences here have derided that and said, Well, look, that’s just a bunch of money to make it cheaper for parents to get their kids to childcare. Wrong. This is all about productivity. It’s good for kids, it’s good for mums and dads, but it’s also good for the economy. Have a look at the front page of the Herald and the Age today, they’re talking there about how many women, and in particular it’s women, that are working part time at the moment, that are skilled up and ready to go. And could be in the workforce working four days or five days rather than two or three, the productivity improvements to our economy of having more skilled workers into the workforce, because there’s no disincentive to go to work an extra few days would be massive, would be enormous.

JOURNALIST: I’m sorry, I’m still a little bit unclear on how Labor would control inflationary pressures. If you’re backing a wage increase, minimum wage increase, of 5.1 per cent. Would that not leave—

CLARE: Have a look at what the Commonwealth Treasury have said on this, have a look at what the Reserve Bank has said on this. Their advice, their evidence is, if you’re investing in measures that boost productivity, then you can keep a lid on inflation at the same time as having wages grow. The key is investments in productivity. Now I’ve given you one example, childcare, others are the reforms that we seek to make to energy to make it make energy cheaper. If you’re a business out there, struggling to make ends meet or struggling to pay your employees more, a cheaper energy bill for many businesses will make the world of difference. We’ve got policies there in place to do that as well. So, it’s productivity. You know, there’s a famous economist, I think it was Krugman who said, at the end of the day, it’s not everything, but it’s almost everything. And this Government has dropped the ball when it comes to productivity. It’s not easy. It’s not sexy, it’s hard. But if you implement reforms, they’re long-term reforms, then you can make a real difference. And the other problem, James, is almost everything this Government is promising, evaporates in 11 days’ time. Evaporates. Now this Government have put in place some measures to help people with the cost of living. But what exists after May the 21st. There’s no long-term plan, there’s short term fixes. But there’s no long-term plan. The cost-of-living crisis that we’ve got now, didn’t start last Tuesday when interest rates started going up. They’ve been a decade in the making, partly because – hang on a sec – partly because you’ve had a deliberate effort by the Government to keep wages low. We’ve had the worst decade of wage growth in history. But on top of that, there’s just plain old neglect. We’ve got fewer apprentices and trainees in the system today than they had, than we had, 10 years ago. Think about that. If you want to drive productivity, there’s a whole bunch of different ways. I’ve talked about infrastructure but haven’t talked about skills. I’ve talked about childcare and the skilled workers there that are ready, raring to go. But we’ve also got to skill up more Australians for the jobs that businesses are desperate to fill. We’ve got a plan to do that too – more free TAFE places in areas of skill shortages. They’re the sorts of reforms that you would hope a government with 10 years under its belt would have cause to think about, all we’ve got from the Coalition, all we’ve got from the Government here, is a black hole.

JOURNALIST: There’s obviously no concern, you have no concern that inflation would increase, minimum wages increase by 5.1 per cent in line with inflation, but what about people who are not on minimum wage who would not be getting the rise of 5.1 per cent? Who would then potentially face higher cost of living, more expensive groceries. Isn’t it true that if inflation continues to increase if minimum wage increases, that people would have to pay more at the grocery store?

CLARE: What we want to do is, make sure that the economy’s capacity to grow is not held back by inflation out of control, you’ve got inflation growing, you saw those awful figures two weeks ago, right? At the same time, you’ve got real wages going backwards. And so, people are worse off today than they were last year with the real threat, the real risk that they’ll be even worse in the months ahead if the forecasts in the Budget are right. You got to take action here to help to make sure that people’s wages keep up with the cost of living. There’s a whole bunch of different ways that we can do that. We’ve talked during this campaign about the importance of the minimum wage. We said, as part of this campaign, that gig workers, the Uber Eats drivers that knock on your door, and hand over the food, should be paid the minimum wage, guess what they not always are. Albo asked Scott Morrison at the debate, don’t you think they should be paid the minimum wage? And his answer was, Well, it’s complicated. No it’s not, not really. They’re the sorts of things that if we, if we win the election, we will do that will make a meaningful difference. It’s not just that, it’s making sure that wage theft is a crime. We tried to pass laws to that effect in the Parliament over the last 12 months or so, the Liberal Party voted against it. We need to close the gender pay gap. That should be a no-brainer, but still faces resistance. And you know, it’s separate, but supportive of this, it’s making sure that aged care workers and the work that the Fair Work Commission is doing there, you get a pay rise as well. There’s a strike, that’s happening today, of aged care workers. I can’t think of many occupations that are more important and that are paid lower than aged care workers, lots of aged care workers on barely the minimum wage, 24, 25 bucks an hour, often working double shifts, often working at two or three aged care centers because they don’t get a full-time job at one. The Prime Minister’s admitted that people are leaving the system because they’re not paid enough. And that’s creating a crisis there where people are either, you know, you’ve heard the stories, maggots in wounds, people being malnourished, literally starving to death. If you had a mother or father on the verge of going into aged care at the moment, you’d be terrified about putting them in there. It doesn’t have to be like that. We can fix the crisis in aged care. It doesn’t have to be a nightmare. But it just takes a government with enough political will to do something about it.

JOURNALIST: Just to clarify, when you do, when you ask the Fair Work Commission to take into consideration inflation, which measure do you want it to consider, where it is now, or where it is predicted— 

CLARE: I’m not asking the Fair Work Commission to decide on any particular measure. They’re the experts there, they’ll make the decision. I make the, the general point, which I think most Australians would understand is that we want to make sure that people’s wages keep up with the cost of living. Because if they don’t, then you’re worse off, you’re poorer—

JOURNALIST: Did Labor put in a submission to the Fair Work Commission on the minimum wage this year? And if not why not?

CLARE: In government, we put in submissions, we’re in opposition at the moment. And we’ve made the point that if we win the election, we will. Now contrast that, James, with the Liberal Party, the current Government of Australia that put in a submission to the annual wage review that talked about the importance of “low paid work”. I wish this was bipartisan. It should be, it should be uncontroversial that we all want Australians to have enough money in their pockets to pay the bills, that their wages keep up with the cost of living. We’ve got a Liberal Party here which has deliberately kept wages low now for the best part of a decade, that voted to get rid of penalty rates, that opposed wage theft legislation in the Parliament. We’ve had previous prime ministers come into the Parliament and say that workers should be treated like bread, that they should both be as cheap as possible. Now seriously, we can do so much better than that. And we will if we win the election in 11 days’ time. Thanks very much, everyone.