SUNDAY, 10 MARCH 2019
SUBJECTS: Linda Reynolds and Liberals’ “deliberate” low wages growth; living wage; Liberals’ shambles on energy policy
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Thanks for coming out so I can respond to some comments made by Linda Reynolds this morning on Sky. This was a shambolic interview, but with a very clear message: the Liberal Party wants to keep your wages low. This is yet another Liberal Minister confirming that stagnant wages is a deliberate design feature of their economic strategy. On Friday, Mathias Cormann said that keeping wages low was a deliberate feature of what the Liberals are trying to do to the economy and today Linda Reynolds backed that in.
This is another Liberal Minister letting the cat out of the bag. The key feature of the Liberals' economic policy is to keep your wages low. This is another episode of the Muppet Show, but Australians stopped laughing ages ago. No matter how many Liberal Ministers humiliate themselves on TV, their policy is clear and their message to Australians is clear: they want your wages to be stagnant. They want your wages to be low.
Low and stagnant wages are the defining feature of an economy that has stopped working for ordinary people. For as long as this divided and out-of-touch Government is in office, the economy is floundering and people are struggling, because everything is going up except their wages. These will be the key issues at the election in May and the only way to see these issues addressed is to elect a Shorten Labor Government and to kick this mob out.
JOURNALIST: So what would Labor do? Would you legislate to increase the minimum wage if elected?
CHALMERS: We've got a range of policies to increase wages for Australians in this country. What we want to do is to restore penalty rates, we want to crack down on dodgy contracting, dodgy use of labour hire to undercut wages and conditions. We want to crack down on dodgy visas. There are a whole range of things we can do. We also want to see the minimum wage lifted, so that it becomes more like a living wage. The point that Bill Shorten has made repeatedly is that gap is widening. There's a role for Government, and there's a role for the Fair Work Commission as well. We are working through other ways that we might be able to lift wages for working people in this country, because the defining feature of the economy today is that wages are historically stagnant and that's why the economy is soft.
JOURNALIST: Without legislating it though, how will Labor ensure that the minimum wage became a living wage?
CHALMERS: There are a whole range of things that we can do to lift wages in this country as I've said - restore penalty rates, deal with sham contracting, dodgy use of labour hire, dodgy visas. But there's also a role for the Fair Work Commission in making sure that the minimum wage is lifted. We would work with them to ensure that is the case and there are other ways that we are working through at the moment to ensure that Australians get a pay rise, because that's the only way to make sure that we have the fair go in this country for Australian workers.
JOURNALIST: But how can you ensure that an independent authority would do anything?
CHALMERS: We'll work closely with the Fair Work Commission. We'll encourage them, we'll have an assertive role with them to make sure that they understand that one of the key challenges in the economy is stagnant wages. That's why we have a soft economy under the Liberals. That one thing that we will do, but not the only thing that we would do. We have a strategy right across the board to lift wages in this country, because under the Liberal Party, they have been historically stagnant.
JOURNALIST: Mr Chalmers, you said this morning that you would encourage the FWC to "do the right thing", was your terminology. How exactly would you do that?
CHALMERS: Well, I've just covered that in some detail.
JOURNALIST: But you (inaudible). How does a Government encourage an independent authority to do the right thing?
CHALMERS: I've said repeatedly this morning on another program and here today at this doorstop interview, we would work with the Fair Work Commission to encourage them to lift the minimum wage. That happens to an extent now. We make our submissions. We want to get a fair crack for people on the lowest incomes in this country. That means working with the Fair Work Commission, but it also means all of those other things that I've identified - restoring penalty rates, cracking down on sham contracting, the use of labour hire to undercut wages and conditions, dodgy visas. Right across the board we have a strategy for wages and the Government does not.
JOURNALIST: The ACTU says the living wage should be 60 per cent of the median wage. Do you accept that?
CHALMERS: We'll come to our own view on the appropriate level of the minimum wage. The ACTU has made an important, valued contribution to this conversation about stagnant wages in this country. We'll always listen, of course, to people who represent the workers of this country, but we'll come to our own view. We do believe that there is a responsible way to lift minimum wages in this country so that people on low incomes can get a fair go and that means doing all of the things that I've just outlined.
JOURNALIST: Turning to another issue: coal. Do you think the Government should make any decisions to underwrite energy projects before the election?
CHALMERS: The Government's a shambles on energy policy. They're hopelessly divided. Their key ministers can't even explain key parts of their own policy. We've made our view very clear. The Government should not be underwriting coal projects. They shouldn't be using taxpayers' money or exposing the Commonwealth Budget to these sorts of projects, especially before an election, but entirely. The reason for that is because the future of energy generation in this country is renewable. That's how we get cheaper and cleaner energy. Almost all of the Australian population understands that. The only people who don't is the Morrison Government.
JOURNALIST: If the Government does decide to underwrite the projects would you cancel that contract if the Government (inaudible)?
CHALMERS: Our general approach is not to cancel contracts where they've been signed before an election, but it's a hypothetical question, and we'd obviously play the cards that we're dealt. We call on the Government not to proceed down this path. The sensible, rational approach, which is good for the economy, good for energy prices, good for lowering pollution, is to invest more in renewable energy. That's the future of the economy. That's the future of energy generation, and that's our policy in the Labor Party.