Minister Shorten interview on Sky News Australia First Edition


SUBJECTS: wage theft reform, Australia's aviation industry and interest rate rises.

DANICA DE GIORGIO, HOST: Returning now to one of our top stories. Labor's IR changes are expected to cost employers billions of dollars in added wages over the next decade. That's according to data by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations. It says businesses could pass on the added cost to consumers. The figures are set to further fuel business groups' war with Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke over his second tranche of IR reforms. It's understood, though, the government is a long way off securing crossbench support. Joining me now live is NDIS and Government Services Minister Bill Shorten. Minister, good morning. Thank you for joining us.


DE GIORGIO: Is the government just continuing to wage a war with business here?

‚ÄčSHORTEN: Oh, I think we all need to take a deep breath here. I think there's a lot of hype here about the nature of the changes. Let's go to what's being actually argued about. And really, it's a simple question: do we think that we should be running a two class economy? Do we really think that the future of Australia is having an underclass of low paid, labour hire, casualised, gig economy workers, doing a lot of the work and being underpaid, and in many cases in unsafe conditions? If you think that's the way we want to go, well, I don't think that's the fair go. I don't think you will get the productivity Australia needs for the future.

In terms of wages movement. First of all, that sort of tagline that you ran at the bottom of the show 'billions of dollars'. We already pay hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars of wages over the next ten years. The Regulatory Impact Statement says there'll be an increase as a result of the changes, but it's not going to be very much at all in the grand scheme of things. I mean, if you really want to talk about what's causing inflation for households, let's talk about the big food companies who are using the fog of inflation to increase prices.

Let's talk about the massive profit that banks are making. Why is it that whenever we've got a challenge with inflation, it's some poor person on a - delivering a pizza to you that's, somehow they're the financial crisis? They're simply not, they just deserve to be paid reasonably and work in safe conditions.

DE GIORGIO: Alright, look, let's move on. I've got a few topics to ask you. Firstly, let's start with Qantas and Qatar. The Prime Minister has refused to say whether he held discussions with Alan Joyce about the blocking of more Qatar Airways flights. He said, though, that he had a discussion with someone. Why won't he just say who?

SHORTEN: Ok, let's get to the facts of the matter here too. I was in Parliament yesterday when the Liberals were trying to beat this issue up about the Prime Minister. He made it very clear in Parliament, very, very, very clear, that he has had no discussion with Qantas about Qatar Airlines. The decision was made by the Minister. And the fact of the matter is that we have got one of the most open aviation sectors in the world. The truth of the matter is that Cathay Pacific, China Southern, Singapore Airlines are all getting additional slots. I mean, I can appreciate we want to try and put downward pressure on airfares.

Some of Qantas's individual conduct and the way it's treated passengers in recent times has been less than - certainly below what I think a lot of us expect. But in terms of Qatar, just because an airline and a nation want to have more slots in Australia doesn't mean you automatically say yes. Did you know, for example, that Qatar could have more slots in Adelaide and Avalon, in Cairns, in the Gold Coast, in Canberra. They've chosen not to take that up.

I mean I would have thought that perhaps the Coalition might have been wanting to see airlines fly to different regions of Australia rather than just Perth and Melbourne and Sydney. Also, Qatar can bring in different configurations of planes to their existing slots. So, I just think it's a matter of we are an open market in Australia, but just because someone wants to use Australia for their commercial purposes doesn't mean that the Minister automatically has to say thank you and sign a piece of paper.

DE GIORGIO: The issue is, though, is that the perception is that the Prime Minister is too close to Qantas and we've seen in the papers today that the cost of flights have increased. So, why won't the government just overturn this decision to increase competition? I mean, the travel industry is crying for it.

SHORTEN: Well, I agree that the cost of airfares is too high, but I'm not going to conflate every other issue and just say that it's all part of the same picture. First of all, the Prime Minister was very clear that he hasn't spoken to Qantas about the Qatar, so there's no evidence to the contrary. I absolutely think that the Prime Minister's cleared that up. In terms of Qantas and its treatment of passengers in recent times. I understand the frustration, like I get it.

Tullamarine Airport's in my electorate. I know a lot of aviation workforce. I oppose them getting rid of the baggage handlers the way they did during Covid. So, I've got a track record of being critical of Qantas when I felt criticisms deserved. But on the other hand, I think the challenge for the airfares, we do need to have more competition, but I'm not going to just immediately say, therefore Qatar answers all those questions.

And in terms of explanation, I think we're seeing that Australia has to pursue its national interests. Just because a big government owned airline in the Middle East wants to get its access increased in Australia doesn't mean we automatically just say thank you. No, we've got to work out what's in the national interest. Did you know, for example, that we'd like to have more slots in foreign cities for airlines flying out of Australia? Other countries don't automatically agree. So, I think there's three issues here. One is people are annoyed with Qantas, and I think there some justification for that, absolutely. People are also frustrated with the higher airfares, and I can see that. But I don't think that that therefore means that the Prime Minister has been working to stop Qatar. It was a decision made by the Minister. So, I just don't - there are three dots, but I don't agree that they automatically join up.

DE GIORGIO: Alright, just finally, rates decision today, and, of course, the last for the outgoing Governor, Philip Lowe. What's his legacy, do you think? Do you think he'll always be known as the person that was too slow to act on rates?

SHORTEN: I don't think it's my place to comment on Mr Lowe's legacy. Like millions of mortgage holders, I've got my fingers crossed, my toes crossed they don't increase rates again. People are doing it hard, and the challenges of inflation, I don't think, just are down to mortgage holders. But anyway, inflation's coming down. Labor's got cost of living measures in from cheaper medicine to more bulk billing. In terms of Mr Lowe's legacy, I'll leave that for others to comment on.

DE GIORGIO: Alright, Bill Shorten. We have to leave it there. I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.