Sky News The Morning Shift

17 August 2017




SUBJECT/S: Barnaby Joyce’s dual citizenship crisis; labour force figures; industrial relations; automation and jobs; Ed Balls’ visit; Medicare Levy


TOM CONNELL: Let's go now to Jim Chalmers, of course the Shadow Finance Minister, who's here in the studio with us during a pretty busy week in Parliament this week. Any...


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JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: ...This is a total shambles of the Government's making. We've got a situation where the Government can't tell us whether they've got a legitimate majority or not, the Deputy Prime Minister even admitted he was a New Zealand citizen until this week, and just when you think it can't get any worse, then enter Julie Bishop with this daily humiliation of concocting a diplomatic incident to try to distract from the problems that they've got. It reminds me of, you would have seen The Thick of It. You know, the Malcolm Tucker character: "this is an omnishambles". Malcolm Tucker would call this an omnishambles, what we're going through right now. It's not good for the country and they really should stop making it worse with these ridiculous claims about New Zealand.


CONNELL: He'd probably say a few other things you can't put on camera as well. But you say good for the country. I mean, if we really want to clarify this, send anyone with even a modicum of doubt to the High Court, including Justine Keay presumably, because the final clarification wasn't provided until after she was elected. Why not just clear that up?


CHALMERS: What makes me confident that the people on our side are good to go is I've been through the process myself. It's a really rigorous process in the Labor Party when you nominate, you can't actually nominate without going through the process that we've all been through. So that's what makes me confident about it. The focus is on Barnaby Joyce. By his own admission in the Parliament, he was a New Zealand citizen as Deputy Prime Minister and the Constitution's very clear on that.


SAMANTHA MAIDEN: Those jobs figures out today, it was steady at 5.6 per cent, but there was a big rise in part-time employment and a fall in full-time employment. What does that tell you about what's going on in the economy?


CHALMERS: That's the perfect question, Sam. We need to get used to looking beyond that headline figure. The headline figure is roughly stable, as you say. It's roughly what the Coalition inherited when they came to office. It's not that much better than what it got to at the peak of the Global Financial Crisis. But underneath the headline, with those seasonally-adjusted numbers - 20,000 less full-time jobs are very concerning - but there's another number as well that people don't focus on, which really gets to what goes on in the labour market. The stats that were released today show that there are 14 million less hours worked in our economy in that month - 14 million less hours worked.


MAIDEN: A huge reduction in productivity, you'd think?


CHALMERS: The story really there is about underemployment. We've got record high underemployment. We've got 1.1 million Australians who want to work more and can't find more hours. And that headline figure doesn't really capture that underemployment problem. We've also got problems of course with wages growth, the labour share of national income - all of those other things too.


MAIDEN: We were talking to Sally McManus earlier and she was also making the point that the number of people that are reliant on the minimum award conditions is also growing. Does that justify Labor making some fairly significant changes in terms of powering up unions again? 


CHALMERS: I do think we need to look at ways to make the voice of workers in the work place stronger and that's collective bargaining, and there’s other ways. But that is an important challenge, right around the world. One of the reasons why we've got growing inequality, why we've got stagnant wages growth is because the voice of workers has been progressively diminished and we do need to work out a way to strengthen that.


CONNELL: They're also just not joining unions though.


CHALMERS: That's part of the issue. Union density is down.


CONNELL: Are unions failing on that level?


CHALMERS: They know that they've got a challenge. The union movement itself - Sally, all of the great people who work in the union movement - know that that is their big challenge. From our point of view at the federal political level, we need to make sure that we've got the right kind of industrial relations arrangements so that we've got a level playing field, so people can get the wage rises that they need and deserve.


MAIDEN: Sally McManus suggested that one change would be to allow unions to negotiate enterprise bargaining across industries. That's currently illegal. That'd be a very big change. Would that be something that you would countenance?


CHALMERS: That'd be a fairly substantial change. We haven't announced a change of that nature. But Brendan O'Connor gave a very considered and very thoughtful speech to the Sydney Institute in the last fortnight or so. And what that did was sketched out some of the directions that were headed around some of these important issues.


MAIDEN: Unions, including Ged Kearney, have suggested that they need to make it easier for unions to strike. Is that something that you'd really like to see under a Labor Government - more strikes?


CHALMERS: I spent a bit of time with Ged this morning and with Ed Balls, who's here from the United Kingdom, talking about some of these issues. How do we re-write the rules of the economy, so that people can work hard and get ahead, so that we can have inclusive economic growth? Those are some of the ideas pitched up by the union movement. I think that really our emphasis should be on collective bargaining. How do we strengthen that, so that workers get those wage rises? We've got wages growth at record lows, and that's a big reason why we don't have that demand we need in the economy to grow the economy.


CONNELL: What about some of the broad issues, for example automation? A report out recently suggested it's going to be great, we'll remove two hours a week of the worst sort of tasks, a big boost to the economy. Are you glass-half-full on this front?


CHALMERS: Well bless you Tom for giving me an opportunity to plug a book that I've got coming out next month with Mike Quigley, who used to be the boss of the NBN - the first boss of the NBN. It's called Changing Jobs: The Fair Go in the New Machine Age. This is really the defining anxiety of our time. People are so concerned in their own workplaces, but especially for their kids, about what will happen to jobs. The report you refer to is that AlphaBeta report by Andrew Charlton and his colleagues, a very insightful report. And what it says is that all jobs will change and we need to be much better at adapting to that change and preparing people for that change, and that's what our book's about as well.


CONNELL: To go to some specifics. So right now, a 40-year-old taxi driver. In 10 years, if that's all automated, what do you imagine that sort of person will be doing?


CHALMERS: Well we need to have the capacity to re-train people or to put them somewhere else in the logistics industry. We need to match their skills, if not their actual jobs and jobs titles - we need to think about their work in a really granular way and match those skills up.


CONNELL: And how would you match them up, as an example?


CHALMERS: Well a driver is using GPS technology, they're used to deadlines and timing and logistics. There's all kinds of possibilities for people. But the point is, and as the AlphaBeta report mentioned, we have to think about those skills in a granular way. And we have to start now in thinking about what needs to be different about training, industrial relations, things like superannuation and portable benefits, the social security system. All of those things need to change to accompany the big changes in the workforce.


CONNELL: And who trains them up? Are we talking Government? Government making sure business does it? Automation taxes?


CHALMERS: All of the above. Not necessarily the taxes, but in terms of who has a role in training. We need to think about permanent re-training rather than just somebody just working a job for as long as they can, the job disappears, they are displaced, they can't afford to retrain, they need to find another job - that's more and more difficult. We need to think about constant re-training in the work place and there's a role for Government in that and there's a role for the employers as well.


CONNELL: You said not necessarily automation taxes. But something to be considered to discourage widespread automation? Or embrace it, it's good for the economy?


CHALMERS: Well when someone like Shiller, who's one of the most prominent global economic voices, says that we should consider how we properly tax capital, whether it's robots or other changes in the capital mix, then people will pay attention to that. It's certainly worth a conversation. We're not proposing it. It's not on our agenda. But a lot of smart people are thinking along those lines.


MAIDEN: And just finally, you mentioned that you were having talks with Ed Balls, perhaps best known for appearing in Strictly Come Dancing. Have you thought for your own political career, maybe a turn on one of those dancing programs? Is that something that you'd be prepared to countenance?


CHALMERS: (laughs) I'm not an avid watcher, but as I understand it, it's an elimination process so I can't imagine that I'd last very long.


CONNELL: That's it?


CHALMERS: That's it. I'm not a real flash dancer.


MAIDEN: Didn't you do any training for when you got married to your lovely Laura? You didn't do any waltz lessons?


CHALMERS: If I did any training, it didn't stick.


MAIDEN: Ok. Disappointing.


CONNELL: Did you do the first dance? We're really getting to the big issues here, aren't we?


CHALMERS: (laughs) That's right. What about the Medicare Levy? Ask me about the Medicare Levy.


MAIDEN: Oh, we should ask you about the Medicare Levy! That's true. We didn't get to that. What do you think's going to happen? Because you're saying $87,000, the Government's on $20,000. Where do you think it's going to end up?


CHALMERS: I just think it shows how spectacularly out of touch they are. They want to jack up taxes on people earning less than $87,000 a year in this economy at the same time as they want to give tax relief to the top end. It says it all really about the Government. But also, remember in Question Time on Monday, Malcolm Turnbull stood up on Monday and said the biggest risk to wages and jobs is increased taxes. By Thursday he's jacking up income taxes on eight million Australians in the Parliament - not even 72 hours after saying that would be the biggest risk to wages and jobs.


CONNELL: We're right out of time.


MAIDEN: That's some fancy footwork. We look forward to your dancing lessons.