Press Conference – Sydney – Wednesday 11 May 2022




SUBJECTS:  Election; Wage increase; Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund; polls; Labor’s plan for a better future.

TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: The mask came off the Prime Minister today. For a long time, he has wanted to fudge around low wages, with a former finance minister who said that low wages were a deliberate design feature of their economic management. They’ve tried to walk away from it, they’ve tried to evade it. But in this campaign, we now have three critical moments where the mask has come completely off Scott Morrison. First of all, they said they would bring back the omnibus legislation, legislation that allows for pay cuts. Then, in the debate on Sunday night, Scott Morrison was asked whether every Australian should at least be paid the minimum wage, and his response? It depends. And then today, faced with a clear choice of what you would welcome, ‘Would you welcome a pay increase, that means people don’t go backwards? Or would you welcome an effective pay cut?’ Mr. Morrison decided that the pay cut was his preference, decided that he would argue that the state of the Australian economy under his watch was so vulnerable, that if the lowest paid workers got an extra dollar a week, the sky would fall in. Mr. Morrison has established himself today as the pay cut Prime Minister.

JASON CLARE, LABOR CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON:  Thanks, Tony. Well, there’s 10 days to go till Election Day. Ten days to go to vote Scott Morrison and this rotten government out. And I genuinely believe that Australians have had it up to their back teeth with Scott Morrison and this government. That they’re sick of the lies and the rorts and the waste and the scandals and the incompetence. That they’re sick of the excuses, the blame shifting and the buck passing. The only buck that stops with Scott Morrison is the buck in your pocket. And while your wages are going backwards, this is what Scott Morrison is spending your money on.

Number one: $9 million on a COVID-Safe App, that didn’t work.

Number two: $10 million on a regional fund that allocated money to a swimming pool just across that dirt track that you just went on, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in North Sydney. $10 million from a regional fund for a swimming pool in North Sydney.

Number three: $12 million a year on jobs for Liberal Party mates.

Number four: $33 million on a block of land in Western Sydney worth $3 million.

Number five: $100 million of taxpayers money on sports rorts, on sporting infrastructure to try and save the skin of Liberal Party MPs, leaving sporting clubs around the country high and dry.

Number six: $660 million on imaginary car parks for railway stations that don’t exist.

Number seven: $3 billion spent on an urban congestion fund, where 83 per cent of that money went to Coalition seats or marginal seats.

Number eight: five and a half billion dollars replacing the Collins-class submarines with the Non Existent Class.

Number nine: $20 billion on JobKeeper payments to companies like Harvey Norman, that increased their profits during the pandemic.

And number 10: $50 billion of taxpayers money on a copper-art version of the NBN. They bought enough copper to wrap around the world one and a half times. And now they have to go back, pull out the copper and put fibre in.

The idea that Scott Morrison and the Liberals and the Nationals are good economic managers is a bad joke. You wouldn’t trust them with a tin piggy bank. Okay, now, happy to take a couple of questions.

JOURNALIST: To Tony, on the specifics of this Fair Work Commission submission, Anthony Albanese said yesterday there will be a proposal going. Will that proposal explicitly have an increase? If so, will it be the 5.1 per cent that your leader agreed to yesterday?

BURKE: I’m not going to make a further announcement in this media conference. What we have said is what we would welcome. What we’ve said is what we would welcome and the debate right now, between the two leaders could not be starker in terms of what each would welcome. Anthony Albanese would welcome an outcome where people don’t go backwards. Mr. Morrison believes the sky will fall in if that’s the outcomes. That’s where the debate are right now.

JOURNALIST: Is it explicitly a number and you just can’t tell us here today?  Or are you saying we’re not sure if we will put a number in our submission?

BURKE: I’m telling you I’m not making a further announcement today. Where we’re at right now, right now is Anthony was asked, we’ve been saying for a long time that people shouldn’t go backwards. And back to you point, ever since the inflation number came out, was always 5.1. So when asked directly on that yesterday, he made clear that’s what he’d welcomed. And so that’s where the debates at right now.

JOURNALIST: So, you’re saying that productivity is your way to keep inflation and interest rates low, what exactly is your target for labour productivity? And how long will it take to get there? And just quickly, if I may, Mr. Albanese said earlier that he was “under promising and over delivering”, is this a confirmation of Labor’s small target strategy?

BURKE: In terms of productivity, if I could put it in those terms, at the moment, productivity is running at around one per cent. Productivity is an indicator where you don’t get massive variation year to year. There are different productivity measures that we’ve got, be it an investment in childcare as an economic measure, be it improving the NBN, be it training Australians, all of those make a sizeable difference to productivity. And we’d be in a very different situation now if we hadn’t had a decade of neglect in those areas. In terms of the economic debate, where productivity directly intersects with wages, which gives a complete lie to what Scott Morrison was claiming in his media conference earlier today, you go to both the Governor of the RBA and the Secretary of Treasury had both made the same comment for years now, which is that if you have a pay increase of wages plus productivity, you can go that high and still not be adding to interest rate pressure.

CLARE: Just on this second part of your question, and we’re giving you a second questions as well. This idea of a small target, we’ve got to rub out this silly idea. What we’re offering here is a smart target. Well developed policies, and Scott Morrison might not like this, but are backed by the Liberal Party as well. The childcare policy that was the focus of the of the press conference and the conversation that Anthony had this morning, is backed by Dom Perrottet. He said that’s a good idea. The aged care policies have been backed by a former Liberal Premier, who’s now working in the aged care sector. The climate change policies are backed by the Business Council of Australia, by the Chamber of Commerce. This is the point I want to make: the Liberal Party are desperate to run scare campaigns, the problem they’ve got is that our policies are backed by the people who know what needs to be done. So whether it’s childcare and you’ve got Dom Perrottet, whether it’s aged care, you’ve got former premiers of New South Wales who were backing that as well, whether it’s climate change, where you’ve got the Business Council of Australia, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, or the Farmers Federation, or whether it’s in housing, where we’ve got everyone from The Property Council to the Real Estate Institute, right through to ACOSS and National Shelter backing our policies. This is the problem that Scott Morrison’s got. He’s hyperventilating at press conferences, desperately scrambling to try and find something to latch on to, to scare the pants off Australia, because that’s all he’s got left. Talk about small target: this bloke has no target at all.

JOURNALIST: Mr. Burke, obviously the Fair Work Commission is front and centre at the moment. Would you commit to overhauling the Commission or independent commissioners, and to Mr Clare is it wrong to lift (inaudible)

BURKE: Well, first of all, in terms of the commission, we’ve been for a long time critical of the appointments that the Government’s been making to the Commission. It used to always be people in an even handed way, and this government, right through to the appointment of Sophie Mirabella have used the Fair Work Commission in a partisan way in which they shouldn’t have. That will take some time to be able to correct but there needs to be some correction and appointments to the Fair Work Commission. In terms of the links to CPI, you need to remember, we are in a very unusual situation right now. Right now we’re in a situation where Australian workers are looking down the barrel of going backwards for two years. That’s where we’re at right now. So that’s why you have a particular importance right now, of making sure that you don’t go further backwards. That’s why it’s important. That is something that in the history of the Fair Work Commission, we have not faced previously, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about future years. But that’s where we are right now.

JOURNALIST: Thank you. Can I ask you on aged care wages about backing the HSU case which is currently running in the Fair Work Commission, they’re calling for an increase of between about $5.40 and $7.20. When you say you back to the HSU case, do you back that increase specifically? And in the submission you plan on making to Fair Work regarding the HSU case, will you name a number? And if you’re not, how can you really say you’re actually offering anything different from the government on wages, given they already make submissions to the Fair Work Commission?

BURKE: I’m really glad you’ve raised that. Now, in terms of that case, what we’ve been saying, quite specifically, is we will back a pay increase and that’s the way we’ve been describing it But even though, (interrupted) I’ve heard your question and I’m going to complete it. What the government have been doing is either going missing completely, not saying there should be a pay increase, or when they do make a submission, don’t just think, ‘Oh, they’ve made a submission. Look at what the words say. Their current submission at a time when in terms of the annual wage review, has a chapter heading at 7.1. This is not Labor spin. This is their words in their official submission. Chapter heading, ‘the importance of low paid jobs’. The Government’s interaction with the Fair Work Commission has been deliberately aimed at keeping wages low. They said they had low wages as a deliberate design feature. They have acted on it, they have delivered on it. And now people are going backwards to turn up and argue for pay increases is the complete opposite of what this government has been doing for nearly a decade.

JOURNALIST: Back to Jess’s question. Mr. Albanese, at the press conference just now, what he said was, ‘we are in a position whereby we have a trillion dollars of debt so we are not promising to do everything that we would like to do in our first term’. Just to play devil’s advocate, isn’t that just playing into the government’s hands when they say that Labor’s not telling you, you know, all of the things that they’re going to do. You just don’t know, you can’t trust them, language like that.

CLARE: Let me play devil’s advocate. What are they going to do? What happens on the 22nd of May if this mob crawl across the line again? Nothing. Everything that’s in the Budget to help people basically evaporates. Where’s the long term plan to tackle the big challenges that Australians face? Buggered if I know because it isn’t there in the Budget, and it isn’t coming out of Scott Morrison’s mouth. We’re setting up real, practical, sensible plans to help Australians. Whether it’s with childcare or aged care or Medicare or buying a home or getting more manufacturing done in Australia or setting up an ICAC to make sure that corrupt politicians don’t get away scot-free. I think Australians when they see that, they say good, at least one party is telling me that they’re going to do the sorts of things I’ve been asking for. I think Australians are craving that. I think Australians are reaching out saying, ‘Is there something better?’ Because they’ve had a gut full of this mob that have let them down, wasted and rorted their money and just looked after themselves for the last decade. There is something better, it’s on offer. It’s Anthony Albanese and the Labor team. We’re asking people to put their trust in us and give their vote to us on the 21st of May.

JOURNALIST: Is it possible that Labor could take seats like North Sydney (inaudible) independent challengers gone up against Liberals?

CLARE: Well, isn’t it funny that you’ve got Anthony in North Sydney and Scott can’t go? Why can’t Scott Morrison go to North Sydney? Why can’t Scott Morrison go there? Because he’s political kryptonite. If he goes there, you can imagine the sitting Liberal member keel over and go into the foetal position because Scott Morrison is toxic there. There, or Wentworth, or Kooyong or Goldstein or McKellar. Scott Morrison can’t go there because he is a vote losing machine there.

JOURNALIST: How do you rate your candidate in North Sydney?

CLARE: Oh, look. I don’t think we’ve ever won that seat, have we, Tony?

JOURNALIST: Catherine Renshaw was telling us that seat is in play. Do you agree?

CLARE: Well, Catherine is a fantastic candidate. We went to the same university at law school together. If anyone can win it’s her, but we know we’re up against it. North Sydney is a very, very hard seat for Labor to win at any time. But the fact that Scott Morrison can’t go there, tells you everything that you need to know in this election campaign.

JOURNALIST: Thank you. If Labor considers the lowest paid workers need a pay rise, why not come out and unequivocally state that those on welfare payments will also get a rise? And are they struggling even more with the cost of living?

CLARE: It harks back to that earlier question. A trillion dollars of debt. You can’t do everything. As much as we would like to. There’s hard decisions that you’ve got to make. And so as we tackle this issue, looked at it, we’ve made to two important decisions. One in every Budget, you review it and see what capacity there is to do more. But the second thing is, you look at the people in Australia that are doing it the hardest and we’ve spoken today about people who are on the minimum wage, people are on 20 bucks an hour, saying, what’s the the argument Scott Morrison’s making? That they don’t deserve an extra dollar an hour? But there are other people in Australia who are doing it even tougher than that. They’re the people who will sleep in the park outside this building tonight. And as part of the package of measures we’re taking to this election and asking the Australian people to vote for is a Housing Australia Future Fund that will build 20,000 social housing homes, building homes for homeless Aussies. One in 10 of the people that will sleep in a park or on the street in Sydney tonight is a veteran. Someone that this government trained, sent off to war and promised never to forget, but we have forgotten. How else do you explain the fact that they’re sleeping in a park or on the street in Sydney tonight? If we are elected in 10 days time, we will do something meaningful about that. This government never will.

JOURNALIST: In your opening statement, Mr. Burke, you said $1 a week.

BURKE: Sorry, a dollar an hour, I apologise. I misspoke. Don’t presume that people on the minimum wage, there’s a reason I always use $20.33 as the rate and I don’t go to the weekly full-time rate is because people on the minimum wage are the people least likely to have job security as well. So the concepts if you’re on the minimum wage of getting 38 hours at a single employer is really hard. And not that common. That’s why we’ve been focusing on the job security issues as well the whole way through. So, in terms of what is the weekly rate, it’s harder to pick for these these individuals because they’re doing even worse in terms of their hours but yeah, $20.33 and a 5.1 per cent increase is roughly $1 an hour.

JOURNALIST: Is Mr Albanese is only going to North Sydney because Scott Morrison cant go there, isnt that bit cocky?

CLARE: He’s not going there because Scott Morrison can’t, I’m just making the point. Isn’t it interesting that Scott Morrison can’t go.

JOURNALIST: On the polls, and I know the only poll that matters is polling day, whatever.

CLARE: If you want to, you can come up here, Jen.

JOURNLIST: What do you make of the polls out this morning in The Australian that shows Josh Frydenberg losing Kooyong and all signs point to a Labor victory?

CLARE: Don’t listen to the polls, don’t don’t even look at the polls. Haven’t we learned, guys? Havent we learned?

JOURNALIST: You look at the polls.

CLARE: I look at them and I say, be very sceptical. Rewind, let’s get in the time machine and go back to 2019. We were all wrong, weren’t we? And these polls will be wrong as well. What matters is seats, not polls. We need to win seats, not polls. So, I can’t tell you they’re right. What I can tell you is that I think Australians are fed up to the back teeth with Scott Morrison. I see it in my own community. Tony and I have been on pre poll this week. You hear it when people come in to vote, okay? They’re sick of the lies, sick of the rorts, sick of the scandals, sick of the incompetence. It’s not just me saying it. They say why did this blood go to Hawaii when Australia was burning? Why did our community get locked down for so long when we were waiting for vaccines? And I’ve got to tell you, it was our two communities that bore that burden more than anywhere else in the country last year. And they asked the same question about floods. They saw what happened in the North Coast and in Queensland and they think, why is it that somebody has to hire their own helicopter sitting on their roof, and the government never comes to their aid?Now, Scott Morrison will need one of those neutralises for Men In Black to whipe people’s memories of all of that. Australians are smart, they remember that, they’re angry with this government. They gave this bloke a chance three years ago. This is a government that’s 10 years old, he’s been Prime Minister for three years. Australians gave him a go, but I think over the course of the last three years, they’ve worked this bloke out. He never takes responsibility for anything. Always makes excuses for everything. And I think you’ll see more of that in the debate tonight.

JOURNALIST: Anthony Albanese said it’s nonsense that a 5.1 per cent wage increase will worsen inflation and lead to higher interest rates. Do you have any economic data to back this up considering the business and economists disagree?

BURKE: Well, let me pick two economists: the Secretary of Treasury and the Reserve Bank Governor. There the two economists, both of them have argued two things for some time. The first they’ve both been arguing for the sake of the economy, and we need to get wages moving. But the second thing, both of them have publicly argued, is when you look at what wage rises are inflationary, and what are not. They both made clear, if you had the inflation rate, plus the productivity rate, you won’t put upward pressure on on interest rates. Now, that would mean arguably, you could go to 6.1. Now, what Anthony has simply said is, you shouldn’t go backwards. What Mr. Morrison saying today, trying to run this extraordinary level of fear that the sky is going to fall in, if the poorest people in the country are able to just keep up with the cost of living no more. If the poorest people in the country are able to just keep up with the cost of living, that somehow the sky will fall in, that’s against his own two principal economic advisors, the Secretary of Treasury, and the Reserve Bank Governor.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to the Chamber of Commerce and industry, the Australian Industry Group who’ve come out and said that that would be too hard?

BURKE: I’ve got a lot of respect for those organisations, I meet with them. And we’ve had a lot of conversations about different ways that we can get productivity moving. But I’ll also say this. For the last 10 years, those organisations have been saying we can’t have a pay increase, because inflation is low. Now they’re saying we can’t have a pay increase, because inflation is high. There’s a pattern there. Workers can’t be expected to go backwards, particularly the most vulnerable workers in the country.

CLARE: All right, last question. Matt Doran and I promised it to you.

JOURNALIST: That’s very kind of you, thank you. Tony Burke, while you’ve been here talking to us, Barnaby Joyce, at the National Press Club has just announced a review of Australia’s sovereign maritime capabilities, looking at things like reviewing tax arrangements for surrounding ship owners to put them (inaudible). But looking at issues like that to increase Australia’s capability. Is that enough to tackle the issue that we have seen pop up during the COVID 19 pandemic around supply chains and all that and if you will indulge me just Jason Clare, in response to Jen’s question your response on polls, how much of that response is directed at your own troops not to get complacent in the next few days?

CLARE: All of that is directed to the Australian people because that’s my view. And I think that’s most Australians views, isn’t it? Aussies are tuning in now. They’re starting to think about who they’re going to vote for. But I think most Australians know that national polls in particular don’t give you any real bearing on who’s going to win the election. This is going to be a fight for every single vote, particularly in those key marginal seats. And this is going to be a nail biter. Does anybody in this room honestly think that it’s not? It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be tight. But I do think that that there are two things that will shift people’s vote as we get into the last few days of this election. It’s going to be that lingering thought in the back of their mind that this bloke does not deserve your vote, not after everything he’s done and failed to do over the last three years. And the second thing is that what they see in us, what they’re yearning for is what they will get from us, which is policies to build a better future for all Australians. Whether it’s in childcare or aged care or strengthening Medicare, making it easier to buy a home, making it easier to see a doctor, making more things here in Australia, a voice to the Australian Parliament for our indigenous brothers and sisters, or an ICAC to try and scrub our corrupt politicians. Tony, did you want to wrap up?

BURKE: It won’t surprise you that I’m not going to comment on an announcement that I haven’t seen. I think that that’s a reasonable position.

CLARE: All right. Thanks very much for coming along everybody. 10 days to go.