ABC South East NSW, Breakfast with Simon Lauder
SIMON LAUDER: The minutes of Labor Party caucus meetings are normally kept secret, so eyebrows were raised recently when they were leaked to the Herald Sun newspaper and they showed division within the party over the decision to pass the enabling legislation of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a huge global trade deal.
Labor’s Skills and Apprenticeships spokesman Doug Cameron was quoted speaking out against the decision and Senator Cameron joins me now in the studio.
Senator Doug Cameron, good morning.
SENATOR DOUG CAMERON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SKILLS, TAFE AND APPRENTICESHIPS: Morning Simon.
LAUDER: What are your concerns about the Trans Pacific Partnership?
CAMERON: Well I have had concerns about these so called free trade agreements for a number of years. They are not really free trade agreements. Technically they are bilateral preferential trade agreements, so people trade off bits and pieces and it’s not true free trade and I have always been concerned that workers need to be considered, the social impact needs to be considered as well as the economic impact.
LAUDER: So why is Labor preparing to let it sail through Parliament?
CAMERON: Because it has been to the caucus and the caucus has made a decision that on balance that they would support the TPP.
I don’t think it was as much division in the party as basically people voicing a legitimate concern, proper debate, good debate in the caucus and unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the argument as I am on a number of occasions.
LAUDER: But I understand Labor has decided to amend the legislation after the fact if Labor has the numbers in Parliament after the next decision. Why do that rather than blocking it now? Are you just giving up on the argument?
CAMERON: Well again it was on balance that we want the capacity for our exports to increase, we want to deal with that quickly, but any of the negatives the party has decided we will deal with them in government. We will try and renegotiate some of the worst aspects of it.
LAUDER: Now in part of the leaked quotes from you in caucus you said that the politics are that working class people are insecure and Pauline Hanson is manipulating their insecurity, it’s time we took a different view.
Are you still worried about the impact that is going to have and Pauline Hanson being able to say that Labor is letting working class people down?
CAMERON: Look I am worried about having Pauline Hanson in the Senate. I have seen her antics in the Senate and I just think it’s an absolute disgrace.
I don’t think there is any room for racism in this country, I don’t think there is room for dividing the community, I think people should be working together to make a better society, not use fear and racism as the basis of your political campaign. I just think it’s wrong.
LAUDER: But if she is prepared to stand up on the TPP whereas Labor is just going to wait until after the next election, does that create concerns for you, I guess in terms of representing Labor’s base at the next election.
CAMERON: Well politics are all about balance and when people see our policies on health, on education, on workers’ rights, I think they will understand that Labor is the best to form a government at the next election.
Certainly we want to ensure that people have got decent rights in this country, that they have access to a decent hospital system; that the education system is there for everyone and Labor is very, very supportive of an independent ABC that can actually operate without the political interference that we have seen recently.
LAUDER: Do you think Labor is getting a bit timid when it comes to representing workers’ rights? I mean News Corporation is keen to paint Labor as being very close to, you know, the “thugs” in the union movement. Do you think there is a problem there that Labor is responding to in a bad way?
CAMERON: Well look, I was a union official for twenty seven years and I just can’t understand this argument about thuggish behaviour.
I was a leader of the AMWU, we had tough negotiations to make sure that our members got decent wages and decent conditions. The problem is now that when I was a union official I had decent rights of entry to look after workers - that’s gone. I had the capacity to negotiate effectively on behalf of workers – that’s gone, and that’s why there is frustration in the trade union movement.
If somebody gets hurt sometimes you just can’t get access to help those workers and I just think that’s wrong.
LAUDER: Do you think industrial relations should be a big election issue? Are you confident that Labor will take up the fight?
CAMERON: Yes, I am pretty confident that Labor understands that we can’t continue to have wage stagnation. You can’t have massive profits by multi-national corporations operating in Australia, massive profits by local businesses and that not being reflected back in the wages of working people.
Some workers are battling to put food on the table for their kids – that’s not good enough.
LAUDER: You are here in the South-East, you have been travelling around with Labor’s candidate for the State seat of Bega Leanne Atkinson, what are you hearing from local people?
CAMERON: Well firstly, I think Leanne is a great candidate and I think it’s about time we had a change of Member down here.
The feedback that I am getting is that there are real concerns about the future of TAFE. I am Shadow Minister for TAFE, Skills and Apprenticeships - we don’t want to see the Bega TAFE college close down.
We want to ensure that young people have got an opportunity to learn skills in the area and if there is a Snowy 2.0 we want to train the people to work on it in this area.
You can’t do that if you close the TAFE system down and we just think that TAFE is so important and Leanne and Mike Kelly are really supportive of continuing TAFE.
We have got a number of policies in relation to TAFE, we say that TAFE should be the anchor of the vocational educational system.
We are putting $100 million into refurbishing TAFEs across the country. Mike Kelly has been talking to me about what we could do to refurbish and assist TAFE in this area because TAFE is where working class kids go to get an education.
The recent study I have seen shows that about 14% of working class kids go to university but about 60% go to TAFE and TAFE is where the funding cuts have been under Coalition governments and we have got to turn that around.
LAUDER: But why is Labor talking about the government closing down the TAFE College in Bega when what they are actually doing is building a brand new state of the art facility?
CAMERON: Well the “state of the art” facility is not really a traditional TAFE facility and wherever they have been built separate from the TAFE, the TAFE ends up being closed down. So we are very concerned about that, and it’s like self-service in the supermarkets - people lose jobs and people lose an income.
If you have these sort of self service centres off the TAFE we are concerned that the TAFE will be closed down and that’s what’s happened in a couple of other regions.
LAUDER: OK. Now back to federal issues and you mentioned the ABC already. We saw the shock news this week the Managing Director Michelle Guthrie being removed and this morning revelations in the Sydney Morning Herald, or claims at least, that a Malcolm Turnbull complaint about Emma led to the ABC Chairman Justin Milne telling Michelle Guthrie to sack her. What are your views on that?
CAMERON: I think it’s outrageous and I think it’s typical of this government, the Coalition government.
They have placed their apparatchiks in so called independent organisations such as the Registered Organisations Commission, the ABCC, the Fair Work Ombudsman, they put their people in and they don’t operate independently.
And it’s clear that the Chairman Milne was operating on the say so of the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and I think Emma Alberici is one of the best journalists we have in this country and the attacks that have been on her and the ABC generally are outrageous.
We think the ABC is an absolute icon in this country and the ABC should be supported.
We will return the funding cuts to the ABC because we want a clearly independent ABC.
You know, I don’t come here and expect to get any treatment that is not fair and equal, you should not be treating me because I am a Senator any different to any other interviewer and that is exactly what we are getting now when the ABC is attacked by the government. It’s not a good look and it’s not a good thing for this country.
LAUDER: I imagine now is a period of reflection for you as you come to the end of what – ten or eleven years in the Senate, you won’t be standing again. What would you say your greatest achievement is and also your greatest regret or failing?
CAMERON: I have been very fortunate in the eleven years I have been in the Parliament. I think the greatest achievement was being part of a government that acted in an appropriate manner - timely, targeted, temporary support for communities who were facing huge problems during the global financial crisis. That is undoubtedly one of the best responses around the world in terms of the global financial crisis.
I have always been a strong supporter of workers having decent rights to bargain and negotiate and I have taken that view consistently in Parliament.
Looking after working people, working families, giving them an opportunity to get a better education, giving them an opportunity to have decent health facilities.
To oppose the Abbott 2014/2015 budget that was going to cut $80 a week from pensions, young kids who were unemployed would have had no income for six months.
Being part of a collective Labor opposition and a government who did good things I think is an excellent ten or eleven years in Parliament.
LAUDER: Was there something you set out to achieve or were determined to achieve that you failed? I mean is there I guess a mission for whoever takes your place?
CAMERON: I have always been a voice for working families, that’s what I took the view, I thought there were too many voices in Parliament that basically pushed the big business approach and that workers weren’t getting a fair go. I have been consistent in my support for working families and Tim Ayres who is replacing me as a Senator has got similar views to me that workers need support in Parliament, workers need a voice in Parliament, and hopefully I have been that voice for the last eleven years – along with many of my other colleagues.
LAUDER: Politics has changed no doubt in the time you have been there. We saw the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years, I think voters didn’t really like that and now the Coalition have kind of taken notes out of that playbook and once again voters don’t like it.
What’s gone wrong? Can you blame the media or social media?
CAMERON: You can only blame yourself. When Labor was last in government we made many mistakes and I thought that the Coalition would have learned from those mistakes because we have learned from those mistakes.
We have been an absolutely cohesive opposition focused on the real issues for working families and to watch the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government pull themselves apart, I just think is crazy.
They should have learnt their lesson from us. The public don’t like this disunity and Bill Shorten has brought a unity to the Labor Party that is way ahead of anything you have seen in the Coalition and we focus on the key issues for working families. Build a better society, give them more security.
LAUDER: But has something gone wrong in politics? What’s that a response to in Labor’s case and the Coalition? Has politics changed?
CAMERON: I have been a politician for eleven years but what I keep hearing is there is this sort of twenty four hour news cycle and it’s always got to be filled and the pressure is on people on a day to day basis. I think pressure is on leaders more than has ever been and I am not blaming the media but that’s a fact of the media and I think some people just can’t handle it.
LAUDER: That around the clock scrutiny?
CAMERON: Around the clock scrutiny, everything you say is looked at and I have got to say the Murdoch Press, The Australian, are an absolute disgrace.
They are just pushing an agenda from Rupert Murdoch. If Rupert Murdoch doesn’t like the Prime Minister they turn all their guns on that Prime Minister whether its Labor or Liberal and I just think it’s a real problem for democracy in this country that the media is so focused on that basis and that’s why it’s absolutely essential that we have a change in the leadership in the ABC, that Milne should go, that we should get a truly independent Chairman and we have an ABC that can present the facts, unbiased and in the interests of the community.
LAUDER: You are calling for him to go, don’t you want to wait and see what his response to this is, for him to respond to these claims?
CAMERON: Look I think it’s clear that he was put in there as a mate of Malcolm Turnbull. He was doing Malcolm Turnbull’s bidding and that’s not what the ABC should be. The Chairman and the board have got a responsibility to act independently. I think it’s quite clear that Milne has not done that and I think he should go and I think the ABC are far too important to be treated in this political manner by the Coalition and their apparatchiks on the board.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra