Release type: Transcript


Media conference, Sydney


The Hon Tony Burke MP
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Minister for the Arts


The Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force figures have come out, and I'm very, very pleased to report not only the reduction of the unemployment rate down to 4 per cent, but also the Government has now hit half a million full‑time jobs. That's half a million full‑time jobs in the time we've been in office.

In two years, that half a million full‑time jobs is the same figure that under the previous government, it took them five years to achieve.

That's half a million households with security of income. That's half a million people who have confidence as to how much money is coming in each week. That's half a million reasons that we are able to say that what we promised would happen with the Secure Jobs, Better Pay legislation is exactly what people are now living.

They are living with more job security, and they are living with better pay.

As well as those half a million full‑time jobs, we now have a total of 870,000 jobs which have been created under this Government. Those 870,000 jobs represent the fastest growth in employment for any first‑term government.

The participation rate has remained steady during this time. There's an interesting variation that has happened with the monthly statistics, and obviously the monthly statistics will bounce around. But whereas the story for the first two years of the Government and the monthly figures had very much been an overwhelming growth in full‑time employment for women, this is the really the first time we've started to see a big growth of full‑time employment for men as well, and so we've got that in the statistics today.

That's not to say there isn't some softening in the economy, there is. The number of hours worked has slipped a bit. It's not a large fall, but that said, that is consistent with the concept of there being some softening in the economy.

I would simply close out on my opening statement by saying, when we introduced our workplace relations legislation, our opponents said that it wouldn't succeed in getting employment in and it would actually result in fewer jobs.

We're now seeing the combination that the Government wanted; inflation moderating, wages growing, job security increasing and more Australians in work.

Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: In trend terms, unemployment is rising, do you think it's rising at the right pace to prevent early interest rises in employment position?

BURKE: I'm certainly not going to second guess the Reserve Bank. If the Treasurer won't, then I certainly won't.

What I will say, though, is today's figures are consistent. The unemployment figures are consistent with the Treasury forecasts, which makes it hard to read too much into it in terms of the inflation side of the equation.

The thing you can certainly read in today's figures is when you've got that number of full‑time jobs in the Australian economy, there's definitely a positive change being made in people's lives.

JOURNALIST: Economists are predicting the labour market will struggle to continue absorbing foreign workers as the migration intake is still relatively high, do you think this needs to be addressed; are you concerned about this?

BURKE: The significant changes to the immigration intake that have already been made by the Government will have an impact. The changes that have been made have been principally due to the extraordinary growth that occurred on the uncapped student numbers, and so that change has been made. We've been able to do that in a way that doesn't in any way undermine the skills that we need for the Australian economy, unlike the thought bubbles that Peter Dutton has put forward, which effectively run the risk that you won't have enough people or the right people to be able to build the houses or build the roads that you need.

The changes that need to be made to the immigration system, the Government has already announced things that are sensible changes there and dealing with a section of the immigration intake that previously had been without limit.

JOURNALIST: Apologies, Minister, for being slightly off-piste but should the CFMEU be threatening billion-dollar projects and the jobs that come with this over the [indistinct]?

BURKE: First of all, in terms of industrial action overall, can I just start with this, because it's a figure that came out yesterday, and I'll deal specifically with what was said, don't worry.

In terms of industrial action, one fact that didn't get much reporting yesterday, if any, the quarterly figures came out for industrial action. It was 16,800 days lost to industrial action. The last quarter that we had from the previous government was seven and a half times higher.

There has been a massive fall in industrial action under this Government at the same time that we're getting better wage outcomes, and I think in any discussion about unions that needs to be acknowledged and appreciated.

In terms of the issues that have been made clear about the ABCC, I draw a really sharp distinction. First of all, the ABCC was a politicised organisation, a bad organisation that the previous government should not have established, and that's why we abolished it. We did the right thing abolishing it.

When you want to deal with workplaces you should not have the big issues being whether or not someone's got a sticker on their helmet or whether or not someone's flying a flag at a building site. 

But that's done. That's been abolished, and it's certainly not the Government's position in any way that you should then go after individuals who worked there. Public servants do the job of the government of the day. The government of the day established an organisation that they shouldn't have, that's now been abolished.

I’d also add two final things with respect to that. The first is industrial action outside a bargaining period, those laws: we have not changed. Those laws we have not changed. So, a lot of what's been said at the moment, I'd countenance in terms of outcomes there. The second thing I'd say is as a rule of thumb if you want to win over the Australian people, don't start attacking the AFL. 

JOURNALIST: I apologise also, and I appreciate the full answer, but sort of I guess with that language and you touched upon it, the CFMEU saying that people associated who work ABCC should be hounded to the end of the earth, that sort of language. Is that part of or is that something ‑‑ ?

BURKE: I think I've answered that really squarely. Our position is, if an organisation, a Commonwealth organisation is rotten, then you get rid of the organisation. You don't blame the public servants for obeying the rules of the public service for the government of the day.

I work with a whole lot of people who had a very different minister before I was in the job and who were tasked with doing very different things before I was in the job. That's their role as public servants, and I just think we need to draw a very sharp distinction there, and that's not in any way to make excuses for the organisation that had been established. If I'd supported it I wouldn't have abolished it.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it's gone too far, has the CFMEU gone too far in this case by personally going after someone?

BURKE: I've made clear what we would do and what we would not do and what we have done and have not. At the moment there's a war of words that's running through the media. When you say gone too far in terms of what they've done, things haven't been done. But I would also say anyone making any threat to Australian sport, it's not the way to win over the Australian people. I find the whole thing very odd.

JOURNALIST: Is the Government doing anything to rein in Setka's threats to the AFL?

BURKE: The key thing there is the laws about unlawful industrial action have not changed. They have not changed. They are very specific and have been in Australia for a long time now about the limitations of industrial action being assigned to specific bargaining periods, not because you don't like someone who's running umpires.

JOURNALIST: Setka said though his new work to rule campaign would be within the law, in other words they wouldn't work extra over time, they wouldn't go to work on an RDO, so in that sense it would still slow down a project but may not breach any industrial laws.

BURKE: I think you'd better check the definition of industrial action then.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it could come under these the rules?

BURKE: If something is organised as a ban, then it comes under the definition of industrial action.

JOURNALIST: You know what, there's a lot of government money tied up in these AFL projects, the Tasmanian stadium, I think the government might be putting about 200 million. You could say ‑‑

BURKE: I think you're about seven steps in front at the moment. At the moment there's some things being said that we don't support being said. I think the likelihood of follow‑through given what the law is. What I don't want to do is to try to pretend that someone making comments that I think are not only comments that ought not be made but comments that actually work completely against the interests of the public's view of a union and the union movement, I'm just not lending any support or legitimacy to it.

JOURNALIST: I believe today’s population really shows a deep fall in net numbers in migration in the quarter down to a percent or a quarter of last year. Do you think that net overseas migration is now slowing, and will it reach the budget forecast of three-ninety-five thousand for the current financial year?

BURKE: You're beyond the Employment Minister brief at this point, and I really can't add to what I said earlier about the actions that have been taken in respect to overseas students.

JOURNALIST: One more on the [indistinct].

BURKE: Okay.

JOURNALIST: Just heard a story earlier today about a teacher, a gay teacher in Sydney who was sacked because of his sexuality. As this happened as your government is sitting on changes that, I think, do you think it's right that teachers at these schools can be fired because of their sexuality and are you seeking to change that?

BURKE: I need to deal with the premise of the question, which is where you use the term “the Government's sitting on legislation”. I don't think with where Australia is at right now the sort of debate that would potentially inflame a big discussion about hate speech is in the interests of people who are most likely to be targeted by it.

We have put legislation to the Opposition, and should we end up in a situation where there is bipartisan support, then the Government will proceed. But that's where the Government's position is, that the best outcome for people who will be protected by this sort of legislation is not to have an ugly divisive partisan debate.