Subjects: Visits to small businesses in Casey; the Prime Minister’s Ministerial Code of Conduct dramas; Labor’s Union Summit; workforce shortages; the Coalition’s plan to let older Australians keep more of what they earn; the Prime Minister’s broken promise to cut your electricity bill by $275.
It’s fantastic to be here in Casey today with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Senator Michaelia Cash, our Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. We’ve been out this morning, visiting local businesses and small businesses, understanding the challenges they’ve got and how we as an Opposition can make sure that this government is helping them with the cost of living pressures and all the pressures they’ve got in business. I’ll now hand over to the Senator.
Thank you very much, Aaron. It’s absolutely fabulous to be here today in the electorate of Casey with Aaron Violi, but also with Peter Dutton, the Leader of the Opposition. As Aaron said, we’ve been out and about this morning talking to the lifeblood of the Casey economy and that is, of course, the fantastic small businesses that Aaron represents. We’re here today at Mainstream Cabinets and the issues that they have raised with us are well and truly known by Peter Dutton and his team. The first is, of course, access to labour. Peter Dutton has put on the table a policy that if Anthony Albanese was dinkum about fixing the labour shortage, he would have already implemented a number of weeks ago. So, there is a real test for Mr Albanese next week in the Parliament, after this Jobs Summit. Do you implement the very sensible policy that Peter Dutton has put forward, or do you capitulate to the demands of your paymasters, the union bosses?
It’s also great to be here at a business that has utilised what the Coalition Government put in place and that is of course the instant asset write-off. We’re here today at a business that has taken that next step. They have invested in their business. They’ve upgraded their technology, which ultimately means they get to increase their productivity. But as we were told, the only reason they were able to do that is because of the policies that the former Coalition Government put in place. Why did we put those policies in place? Because we understand, Peter Dutton understands, Aaron Violi understands, that small business – they are the backbone of the Australian community. Our role is to put in place policies that assist those small businesses in prospering, growing, and creating more jobs for Australians. We do have the Jobs Summit over the next two days and Mr Albanese is going to have to make some decisions. To date he’s made a number of announcements, but the rubber is really going to hit the road after Thursday and Friday and we’ve made it very, very clear he should not and cannot capitulate to the demands of the Australian union movement and put them ahead of all of those employers out there. Governments do not create jobs – businesses do. Businesses like we have here today at Mainstream Cabinets. We will be watching very, very closely to ensure that Mr Albanese is held to account, in particular for the promises that he made prior to the election. He said to people that he would end the labour shortage in Australia; that he would ensure that they got higher wages; and he would deliver full employment. There are very clear tests set for Mr Albanese that we will now see whether or not he meets them over the next two days.
The only other comment, though, I’d like to make is there are three jobs that Mr Albanese needs to consider very, very carefully. Mr Albanese went to the election on a platform of transparency and integrity. He has implemented a new Ministerial Code of Conduct under which his ministers are held to account. Yesterday though, we saw reports that three ministers in Bill Shorten, in Kristy McBain and Tim Ayres are potentially in breach of Mr Albanese’s Ministerial Code of Conduct by holding shares in relevant businesses. The test for Mr Albanese is very, very clear. If they have breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct then those three jobs need to be looked at very, very seriously. Mr Albanese going to an election on the platform of integrity and transparency is now facing his first test. He has serious questions to answer, and we look forward to Mr Albanese providing the answers to those questions.
Over to our leader.
Michaelia, thank you very much. Firstly, thank you very much, Aaron, for having us today in the electorate of Casey. There’s a vibrant community here and I want to say thank you very much to all the small businesses that we’ve seen. We were with some apprentices earlier on, looking at their alternative pathway to school. It’s an incredible story, and the passion of the teachers there, the way in which they’re able to bring those young kids into an environment where they can learn in a different way, means that their lives are transformed and changed and it’s really a sliding doors moment – and the economy needs them more than ever.
At Mainstream Cabinets here, I want to say thank you very much to the team for showing us through here. The investment, as Michaelia pointed out, is possible because the fundamentals of our economy are very strong. I’m worried that the United States obviously is going to go into recession and all the indicators seem to point that out. Clearly, the United Kingdom is in trouble as well. Here in Australia the fundamentals of our economy – with a 50 year low on unemployment rates – the way in which as a coalition we managed the economy over the course of the last decade mean that Labor would have to do some pretty bad things and make some shocking decisions over the next few years to force us into a recession or to provide a really significant downturn. Now Labor’s very capable of that because they can’t manage money or the economy, as we know, and I’m worried out of the Jobs Summit or the Union Summit that they may make decisions that will make a bad situation worse. I don’t want more pressure on families at the moment because there are plenty of families sitting around kitchen tables right now with increased costs of living; petrol’s about to go up by another 22 cents a litre under this government; there’s going to be obviously further increases in mortgage repayments as people come off fixed rates and they go back onto a new package with the bank or whatever it might be; the costs of running a family – everything is going up and up under this government and so I’m worried that some of the decisions which will be made in the best interests of the unions and the union bosses, not the workers, will end up making a bad situation worse so we will monitor that very closely.
As Michaelia pointed out, in June of this year, I worked very closely with my colleagues to propose a policy which was well thought-through, it was properly costed by Treasury, and it allowed people who are on Age Pensions or Veterans who are on a pension, who choose to work, to be able to work without it affecting their pensions and without them losing the money from their pension. Now, it does a couple of things. Firstly, it provides an immediate workforce in a very tight labour market. As Aaron Violi has pointed out to us today, this is a problem here in Casey, but across the country. It doesn’t matter what area we go to, doesn’t matter what region we visit, it doesn’t matter which business we go into, across every sector the labour market is screaming out for workers. Those businesses need the workers so that they can increase their productivity and the government could have picked up this policy in June and they didn’t. We could have had those workers working in aged care, working in hospitality, in retail, in childcare, across the economy. It’s good for them and it’s good for the economy – and, yet, the government stubbornly rejected the proposal we put forward in June. We would have had three months of that already and they could have done it from day one. They’ve had 100 days in office, they haven’t done it. Now, I suspect they’ll pick it up as part of the Union Summit that’s about to get underway – I would support that. Frankly, I would say to the government, if there’s more that you can do, if you can extend it to those who are on unemployment benefits or those who are on a pension otherwise who choose to work, who have a capacity to work and a desire to work, then we would support that. That’s the way in which the opposition is going to approach these measures. We want to make sure that we are a constructive opposition. We’ve demonstrated that. We’ll work with the government where they come up with sensible policies. But I am worried about a summit where the unions are calling for higher taxes, for economy-wide strikes that will cripple small businesses like this. The supply chains close down and at a time when cost of living pressures are being made worse by this government, we just don’t want an extra layer of pressure on families and small businesses.
I’m happy to take any questions.
Plenty of business figures and groups will be at the Summit. By you not attending, is that making the Opposition irrelevant to the discussion?
I think one of the most concerning elements of this union summit is that out of the 142 participants, you’ve got 33 who are from the unions. Now, that’s at a time when union membership in our country is less than 10 per cent and you’ve got 33 out of 142 sitting around the table who are union figures and many other union sympathisers, I’m sure, that are feeding in from the sidelines. So, this is a stunt by the Prime Minister. It’s got all the hallmarks of the 2020 Summit conducted Kevin Rudd back in 2007. I would look at the results more than what the claims are being made by the Prime Minister at the moment. They’ll claim victory and success and there’ll be consensus and he’ll claim all of that. The question is whether you can actually deliver on it, and we’ll see over the next few months, I suspect, that this is this is more froth than substance.
There’s still over 100 other non-union groups who will be attending. Is that, you know, part of the consideration? They are striking deals in the lead-up. Why are you still refusing to participate?
Well, as I say, I mean, the opposition put forward probably the most tangible policy that you could implement to address this problem immediately, and the government’s rejected it since June. We’ve been constructive, we put forward a policy which would allow workers tomorrow to go into the workplace, to fill those jobs. Employers are screaming out for them. We were speaking to Matt before about his need to get apprentices into a cabinet-making business like this. He just can’t find the staff and that is true of cafes – the cafe that we were at this morning. But as you move across the country, I mean that is the reality. We’ve put forward a policy which is going to allow hundreds of thousands of people to enter into the workforce without their pensions being reduced. The government rejected that in June, they may well pick it up now, and as I say, we’d support them if they did it. And I hope that they can extend it beyond even what we’ve suggested, should it occur.
There are other measures that they’ll promise in relation to migration numbers, but we won’t see the proof in that for a number of months. I hope that they live up to the promise and the expectation, but my concern is that if you’re a union leader sitting around that table, you have the greatest say with this government. The CFMEU, I mean, they are involved in criminal conduct, with practices that have been criticised by the courts. They donate tens of millions of dollars to the Labor Party, and of course, they are one of the most influential voices in the ear of the Prime Minister. So, many of those people who are sitting around the table will be there with good intent, but I can promise you, their views won’t be listened to, and they won’t be part of the solution in the government’s mind because the government really has this connection with the unions which is the basis of the financial model that exists between the Labor Party and the unions.
The Treasurer has left the door open to pensioners joining the workforce. Is that a promising sign?
I hope so, I genuinely do. I just wish he had have done it in June, because there would be hundreds of thousands, potentially, of workers in the workforce now. Hundreds of thousands of days of work being completed, that would add to our country’s productivity. It would add to the economic multiplier in a business like this, and the suppliers that they have and the apprentices that they want to put on. It would be great for the individual because it would mean more cash in their pocket and the beauty of that policy that we’ve proposed is that if the economy does tighten over the next couple of years, if the labour market does contract, or if those people decide that they don’t want to continue that work – they’ve got the safety net of their pension to fall back to and that’s why we thought it was a well-considered policy. We put it forward in good faith and I can’t understand why the Prime Minister didn’t pick it up in June because we knew then that there was an acute problem within our economy. Workers were needed and the Prime Minister should have adopted it then.
On the other end of the spectrum though, could we be getting thirteen year olds, say, to be helping out joining the workforce?
I don’t understand that question?
The minimum age is 14 and nine months, I believe. Could we be lowering that to get more people into workforces?
Oh ok, no, I don’t think anyone is seriously suggesting that.
Do you believe that the trade and construction industry is where our focus should be in getting labour shortages under control? What about healthcare, aged care, education and training in those areas as well?
Again, really good points and we’ve made these points over a series of months now. It’s not just in agriculture, where we were in WA, only a month or so ago with Michaelia and Andrew Hastie and others, where fruit is rotting on the trees and on the vines because they can’t get workers. Aged care facilities at the moment and childcare centres, where aged care residents aren’t getting the attention and the care that they need because they can’t find workers. In childcare centres, families are being turned away or not given extra days or having days taken off them to give to other families who are in need because they can’t find the childcare workers. In hospitality, you’ve got restaurants who are opening for lunch but not for dinner because they can’t find the staff to cover two sittings.
These problems have only got worse since June and that’s why we’ve constantly called on the Prime Minister to adopt this policy. He’s now, I’d guess for political reasons, waited until the Union Summit now, in September and I really think like a lot of businesses around the country and a lot of people on these pensions who are willing to work, they’re scratching their head as to why the Prime Minister’s not taken up this policy sooner.
Skilled migration is one of the items on the Summit agenda. Obviously, with agriculture, with farms, and we’re in the Yarra Valley, we rely heavily on skilled migration. How do you view that as helping the situation that we’re in right now?
Skilled migration is a key part of the solution here, and again, we were talking yesterday with some recipients of visas who’d just been waiting too long. They’d paid their fees and the processing times were unacceptable. Now, again, the government’s had 100 days to surge some of the public servants into those positions at Home Affairs and across the relevant departments otherwise to process those visas so that people can get here more quickly so that they can work. It doesn’t mean that people are compromising on the processing or the integrity elements to the application or checking the bona fides of somebody’s identity, and I worry that there’s a lot of window dressing here.
The Prime Minister is talking about a lot of issues but the most important ones. The most important issue at the moment is cost of living pressures on families, the cost of doing business. We were talking to a cafe manager this morning where they were talking about a case of tomatoes going up four-fold. A business in Sydney last week where the electricity bill that they’d budgeted in for a quarter was $69,000 and it came in at over $200,000. The Prime Minister promised before the election that he would fix these problems. We will support the government in sensible suggestions that they make and policies that they put forward to help address these most acute needs. But, at the moment, the Prime Minister is off mixing with celebrities from the United States and elsewhere. I think he’s been distracted, at a time when we need the Prime Minister focused on helping families that heard the Prime Minister say before the election that he had the answers, which clearly, he doesn’t.
Why did you choose this location, this region, to hear about the labour shortage and construction and to view a small business like this today?
Because I think Aaron Violi is a great Member of Parliament and a great local member and he’s a great advocate for his community. He’s spoken to me and to Michaelia and to other members of the frontbench about issues that are relevant in his community. He’s very keen to have us here to listen on the front line to issues that that are really concerning businesses and in opposition, yes, we want to support good policies and be positive, we want to hold the government to account where they get it wrong, but we also want to listen to businesses like those we’ve met today and workers that we’ve met today so that we can formulate the policies, so that when we’re elected in 2025 we’ll have the answers to cleaning up Labor’s mess. They are making a bad situation worse at the moment and families are really feeling that in their hip pocket. So it’s great to be here with Aaron. I really commend him for the work that he’s doing in his local electorate.
Thank you very much. Thank you.