Release type: Transcript


Transcript — Labour force figures press conference, Sydney


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

17 NOVEMBER 2022

SUBJECTS: Unemployment rate, Svitzer dispute, Cost of retirement, NSW rail dispute.

THE HON TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: If anyone still needed proof that wages won't move unless we change the law, today it's case closed. We see unemployment - a great result - the unemployment figure going down to 3.4 per cent. But this is the day after we have seen a wages figure where the improvement was entirely driven by the fact that there had been Government action with respect to the annual wage review. 

The old argument that if you have sustained low unemployment, that in and of itself will get wages moving, is simply not holding up against the evidence that we get every day. The unemployment figures today are good news for Australia. We have significant improvements, we have also, with respect to the last time that we had a rate lower than 3.4 per cent, was 1974. That's how good these figures are. 

Full-time employment grew by 47,000, slightly offset by a fall in part-time employment of 15,000. We had - with youth unemployment, in particular the youth unemployment is down to 7.3, but female youth unemployment down to 6.6 per cent, a record low, and these statistics have been collected since 1978. 

So across the nation we find we now have what was meant to be the key in getting wages moving - sustained, low unemployment and we're still in a position where Australian workers are going backwards and where real wages today are lower than what they were a decade ago. 

Anyone who questions whether or not the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill is urgent just needs to look at these figures.

All the macroeconomic conditions that you should have for real wages to be going forward in terms of what's happening with unemployment, what's been happening with productivity, they're all there. The drivers for real wage growth should be there and certainly while real wages aren't going to be in front of the extraordinary inflation figures that we see at the moment, they should be at a figure higher than 3.1. That won't happen unless we change the law and the key way to get flexibility and productivity outcomes from business while at the same time getting better wage outcomes for workers is to get bargaining moving. That means simplifying the situation for single enterprise bargaining and opening up pathways for multi-enterprise bargaining.  

SPEAKER: The Home Affairs Minister, Clare O'Neil, says letters sent to hundreds of asylum seekers were inappropriate and won't happen again. What was wrong with the letters, in your view? 

BURKE: You'd have to refer that to Clare O'Neill, I'm sorry, I'm not in a position to be able to answer that at all.

SPEAKER: Has Novak Djokovic been given a special treatment having a three-year visa ban overturned?  

BURKE: Sorry, I haven't had an immigration briefing in advance of doing this today.

SPEAKER: How concerned are you that Svitzer could go ahead with its plan to lock out workers from tomorrow or do you expect the Fair Work Commission to find in favour of the government? 

BURKE: Well, we're in front of the Fair Work Commission today. The hearings start at 1:00 today. Our written submissions are already in. Our priority is to make sure that this action does not go ahead. There are tests that the Commission has to apply and, you know, I have a lot of faith in the Fair Work Commission to be able to do its job professionally and carefully. 

But I have to say as disputes go, if you wanted to find a dispute where a company was willing to recklessly endanger the Australian economy without any care as to who else they have an impact on, this is a dispute and for anybody who has been running scare campaigns about what trade unions would do under a Labor Government, the nationwide threat to the economy is coming from a reckless employer in Svitzer. So, we are making clear that there is an imperative that this action does not go ahead and have a lot of faith in the Commission as to how they find the best pathway forward.

SPEAKER: What is your reaction to the news today that the cost of a comfortable retirement has shot up by 7 per cent over the last year? 

BURKE: The cost of a…? 

SPEAKER: Of a comfortable retirement. So, a retired couple now needs $70,000 a year through a combination of super and the pension to live but that relies on them owning their own home and one in five retirees do not.  

BURKE: I think that information points to two things. One, the importance of continuing to enhance compulsory superannuation. The previous government just viewed it as rainy day money without actually understanding this is an important investment in the economy now in the way that money gets invested but an investment for people to have a secure retirement and the previous government had a very reckless attitude to superannuation and, you know, it was meant to get to 12 per cent years ago and didn't because you had a Coalition government that didn't care. 

It also goes to the challenges that have been faced with cost of living. There are some areas there that government isn't able to have an impact on. There are some where we are. But certainly, if we hadn't gone for the last decade without an energy policy, we would have some of those prices would already be much lower than what they are today.  

I might also just say a couple of things about what the NSW Government have put forward with respect to the rail dispute. I won't say I was surprised because I thought they might do this but the arguments from the NSW Government today about me - about my response to their request that I personally intervene is either naive or deliberately misleading.  

The NSW Government, and they should know this and if they don't know this then they are incompetent, they have a particular power under the Fair Work Act, under section 424, for any State Minister to be able to go to the Fair Work Commission and to be able to argue for industrial action to be stopped. The Fair Work Commission has to apply a very specific test. If that test is satisfied, then the action stops. 

Instead of using their power and going to the umpire, they decided to go directly to me to ask a minister to exercise a last-resort power which no minister, Labor or Liberal, has ever exercised in the history of the legislation. They did this knowing I would say no, go to the Commission. They did this as a political game instead of doing their jobs, presenting the arguments to the Commission, or better, settling the dispute.  

I'm someone who catches a train in Sydney as well. We just want the trains to run and we expect the government to sort this out. I get tired of the games of blame shifting between state and federal. When you have a federal piece of legislation, and there's not that many federal pieces of legislation that give particular powers to State ministers, but this is one. It's there for them in black and white. And instead of playing a blame game, I just wish the government would do its job. The NSW Government is in charge of running the trains, they have a power to be able to deal with this, they should use it.