Bill's Transcripts

3AW Mornings with Justin Smith

E&OE transcript
3AW Mornings, Justin Smith
5 July 2013


Subject/s: Home insulation program; election; asylum seeker policy; Better Schools Plan

JUSTIN SMITH: Bill Shorten is on the line, Minister for Workplace Relations and Education.  So too, Joe Hockey, Shadow Treasurer.  Gentlemen, good morning.

BILL SHORTEN: Good morning.

JOE HOCKEY: Good morning.

JUSTIN SMITH: Gentlemen, I was wondering, if we could, we might adopt a rule in a moment to only talk about the future and look ahead here.  But I think if you don't mind, first up, we might have to talk about the coroner's report on the Pink Batts.  Mr Shorten, the Prime Minister has apologised.  It seems, not only an awful mess, but just absolutely tragic.  But what are we going to get out of this?  What can we learn from it?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, first of all, it is important, I think, that the Prime Minister did apologise.  The Commonwealth is (inaudible) with the legal representation of families at the coronial hearing. 

It is dreadful that four people lost their lives in workplace injuries, working, installing home insulation. That to me is the number one issue.  So your question goes to what are the lessons? 

I had a quick summary of the coroner's report overnight.  He made three recommendations only, regarding the avoidance of fatalities in the future.  He said that the State Regulator should undertake safety regulations, undertake a review of the responses to the Scheme.  That there needs to be more public awareness about electrical safety in roof cavities and that the Queensland Government progress its response to a proposal regarding mandatory safety switches.

The findings, however, do make various observation and comments about missed opportunities in the development of the program, including the failure to clearly reflect installer safety issues, the Commonwealth Risk Assessment, the relative lack of involvement of electrical industry bodies in early consultations and the lack of clear supervision requirements.

Many of the matters that involve any adverse reflection on the Commonwealth development progressed were also recognised by Commonwealth Government investigations at the time on what's happened.

JUSTIN SMITH:  You're a lifelong union man.  It must upset you to see these young men losing their lives at work.

BILL SHORTEN:  Yes.

JUSTIN SMITH:  Joe Hockey, what do we get out of this?  What do we learn?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, the first thing is, you know, I do want to express my heartfelt sympathy to the families.

And one of the boys was sixteen years of age and that's - whenever there is a workplace death, as Bill knows and Bill's long been an advocate in this area.  I mean, it's - for workplace safety.  It's just one accident is one too many.

I'd just say though, that, you know, it's one thing for Prime Minister Rudd to apologise.  It's another thing for him to actually provide all the information he received as Prime Minister about this program.

Now, the fact is that he received, we understand, ten written warnings of the dangers of this program and the calamity that would come out of it because the Government was forcing it out there and four of those letters came from Peter Garrett, who was the Minister and ended up being the fall guy on the Pink Batts program.

If Kevin Rudd is being honest with the Australian people, he should immediately release all the warning letters he received, to prove his good faith, with the families and with all those who have been affected by this program and he's on about honesty and transparency, turning over a new leaf.  Well, he can do it right now.  He can release all the letters of warning that he received about the dangers associated with this program.

JUSTIN SMITH: Minister, is that likely to happen?  Are we likely to see the letters?

BILL SHORTEN: I wasn't in Cabinet at the time, so I don't know all of the correspondence. But what I do know is that the function of this is to make sure it can never happen again.  That's why I think the Prime Minister has demonstrated straightforward leadership.  No shilly-shallying about the matter with the coronial inquiry. 

I also recognise that the companies who are installing need to have proper supervision of their employees.  I also recognise that the most important thing here is to…. nothing can make sense of people's early death, nothing.

But what I do know is that for those families, I'm sure that what motivates them and I saw a transcript of the interview last night of one of the worker's families.  That they just want to make sure this can't happen again.

So that's where I think taking up your challenge earlier in the show of focussing on the future.  It's got to be about when you have good ideas, making sure you consult with the experts before you roll them out.

JOE HOCKEY: I'll just say one thing Justin.  Talking about the future, we will pursue this if Parliament comes back.  We will pursue these letters.

JUSTIN SMITH: Pursue it how?  The letters?

JOE HOCKEY:  Well, we will be asking for the letters from Kevin Rudd, because this goes to the heart of everything Bill just said.  It goes to when a Prime Minister is warned that a program could result in death and injury, why would the Prime Minister proceed with the program as its being rolled out?

These are fundamental questions that need to be answered. If Parliament comes back, we will go after this.

JUSTIN SMITH:  And aside from using it for political ammunition, what are you going to be able to do with those letters?  Are you able to launch some form of legal action or some sort of liability on behalf of the families?

JOE HOCKEY:  Well, it certainly gives rise to a whole lot of other issues that may lead to compensation for the families, but also where does the buck stop when a program keeps going ahead after a Prime Minister is warned on numerous occasions of the risks of the program for people by it?  I mean, this is - you know, if Kevin Rudd were a director of a company, he would be in deep trouble, in deep trouble, associated with this.

Therefore, someone needs to get to the bottom of exactly what happened when the warnings were given to the Prime Minister and why the Prime Minister will not release those written warnings?

BILL SHORTEN:  Joe, I get that you want to make some points here.  But I'd be careful of…

JOE HOCKEY: [Interrupts] No, no,  it's not points. It's about the reality. If it was a company director doing exactly the same thing.

BILL SHORTEN:  But, it was a company director.  There were companies who were prosecuted over this.  If your argument is that the Prime Minister is criminally liable for what happened to the deaths of these guys, I think you are really taking this issue down a political path, whereas I'm not sure that's that what helps any of this.  I mean, it's your prerogative to do that…

JOE HOCKEY: No, no hang on.

BILL SHORTEN:  Well, hang on…

JOE HOCKEY:  The Prime Minister…

BILL SHORTEN: … excuse me; I'll just finish my point quickly.

JOE HOCKEY: Sure.

BILL SHORTEN: You raised oh, if he was the - the Prime Minister was a company director, you know, he'd be prosecuted.  Well, you are making all sorts of steps in the law, which I don't believe is sustainable and there's justifiable anger about the speed of which the program was rolled out.  The Prime Minister has accepted that.

But the argument that somehow an individual, a representative in Parliament has got a direct line of sight to what is happening in someone's roof, you know, I’m just wary.  I'm not sure that's entirely sustainable, in terms of…

JOE HOCKEY:  [Interrupts] Well hang on, hang on, hang on…

BILL SHORTEN: …what you are trying to…

JUSTIN SMITH:  Mr Hockey, if we could have your response and then we might move on to something else.

JOE HOCKEY:  Yeah, sure.  Look, the fact is, that Peter Garrett, as Minister for the Environment, warned the Prime Minister in writing, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in writing on four occasions that we know of, that at least ten different warnings were given to Prime Minister Rudd in writing, that this program posed risks, posed risks.

Now, we're trying to get to the bottom of it.  I think everyone should want to get to the bottom of it, because it's not one warning, not two warnings, it wasn't verbal.  It was ten written warnings to Prime Minister Rudd that there were dangers in this program.  People have died. I think everyone has a right to know exactly what the Prime Minister was told and when and if Kevin Rudd is being honest with the Australian people and, you know, he is over there saying - he's apologising and all this sort of stuff.

But actually, if he is honest with the Australian people, he will reveal all the information he received, all the warnings he received and why he did not respond to them.

JUSTIN SMITH:  Mr Hockey, thank you.  Please hold on, gentlemen, both of you.  We'll take a break.  We'll come back with Bill Shorten, Joe Hockey.  The election date's got to be talked about, asylum seekers, Gonski and what are the top issues for these gentlemen for the coming election?

 

[audio break]

 

JUSTIN SMITH: Twenty-three past nine. Minister Bill Shorten and Joe Hockey, Shadow Treasurer, with us today.  Gentlemen, the future.  Do we need to actually put down an election date or call an election before we can start nutting out and debating a few issues?  Minister?

BILL SHORTEN: The Prime Minister has made it clear that upon being elected to the leadership that there are a number of matters which he wants to resolve.  In terms of setting the election date, we know that there will be an election within the due time period this year. 

What we also know is that when the former Prime Minister Gillard set the election date well out, everyone said oh well, you know, that was a mistake. And let's be fair, the Opposition know there's going to be an election this year.  It will be held on a Saturday.

JUSTIN SMITH: Who said it was a mistake?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, you just have to listen to media commentators.  My point though is that…

JUSTIN SMITH: Did anyone in the Cabinet say it was a mistake?

BILL SHORTEN: My point is that it is a bit rich for the Opposition to say we won't start debating the future of Australian until an election date has been set because they've had an election date since the end of January.  You would have thought they would have done their homework and be ready to have a debate.

JUSTIN SMITH: Yeah.  Minister, just before we go to Joe Hockey, I'm not talking about the Opposition.  I'm honestly saying are we going to keep talking about an election, preventing us from talking about the issue until one has been called.  And the reason I say that is because one actually was called and then it was stopped.  So it's human nature that we're going to be saying ‘okay, when's the new date? ‘

BILL SHORTEN: I'd actually think that the fundamental issue here is that the Opposition's had nearly three years since the last election to say that they're ready to govern. I think it's a complete technical argument for them to say that they won't have a debate about the future of Australia. 

JUSTIN SMITH: That's all right.  Look, I appreciate that.  I'm not talking about the Opposition, I'm talking about the Australian people.

BILL SHORTEN: Oh well, we're ready to articulate our views about the future with or without an election date.  I think you started the show, Justin, by saying what mattered was the future. 

JUSTIN SMITH: Yeah.

BILL SHORTEN: So let's talk about what the policies are in education.  Let's talk about their policies on workplace relations, let's talk about their NBN, let's talk...

JUSTIN SMITH: [Interrupts] I'm only worried about those things, being prevented from us talking about those and debate it properly because the election date is yet to be called.

BILL SHORTEN: Justin, do you really think Australians are prevented from talking about the future of Australia because we don't know which Saturday the election is going to be held on?

JUSTIN SMITH: No, I wouldn't say which Saturday.  I would honestly say that - you've just asked me a question so I'll answer it - I would honestly say that most people think look, let's have an election, we'd like to get it fixed now. You've got a new guy in place there, you've got a new leader there.  Tony Abbott's settled in his job, let's have our election now and let's sort it out.  I would say most people would say that, yes.

BILL SHORTEN: Well, most people also know there will be an election this year, Justin.  What I think most people don't know is what the Liberals would do if they formed a government.

JUSTIN SMITH: That bit has been handed down by law.  I'm just wondering what the Prime Minister's got to say.

BILL SHORTEN: Justin, we can have a debate about which Saturday the election is going to be on or we can…

JUSTIN SMITH: No, no, I'm not, I'm not.

BILL SHORTEN: …have a debate about the future of Australia.

JUSTIN SMITH: You asked me what I thought people would think and I gave you a straight answer.

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I'm not in a position to tell you which Saturday the election will be on.  What I am in a position to do though is to do as we've done frequently on this show with yourself and Neil, and Joe, is try and debate issues.

JUSTIN SMITH: Yep, let's do it.

BILL SHORTEN: Okay, good.

JUSTIN SMITH: Joe Hockey, though, first - I think you deserve a response to the election though, I'm sorry.  Go ahead.

JOE HOCKEY: Oh look, it's just a game for Labor.  I mean Labor announced that there was going to be an election on September 14.  They changed leaders and now they say there's not going to be an election on 14 September.  I mean, this is just a game.  It's the same old Kevin Rudd. It's all fake.

BILL SHORTEN: In the spirit of cooperation, Joe, I'll pass it onto Kevin.  Joe, what date would you like the election on?

JOE HOCKEY: I'd like it as soon as possible.

BILL SHORTEN: All right, so you'd like the Prime Minister - so that's five Saturdays.

JOE HOCKEY: Like the Australian people…

BILL SHORTEN: So in five Saturdays time?

JOE HOCKEY: Yeah, get on with it.

BILL SHORTEN: All right, but if we were to do what you say, when will Tony Abbot debate Kevin Rudd?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, as soon as the election's called.

BILL SHORTEN: Does he really need the election being called to have a debate?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, they debated each other in Parliament on the last sitting day, the only sitting day Kevin Rudd has faced.  But let's bring back Parliament.  Let's bring back Parliament and we can debate…

BILL SHORTEN: All right, but if you want to bring back Parliament  you know we can't do that and call the election in five Saturdays time, so which is more important to you?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, I'd rather have an election, to be honest. I think the Australian people would

BILL SHORTEN: Okay, do you know what's more important to me? It's having a debate about the issues.

JUSTIN SMITH: All right, okay.  Let's honestly...

BILL SHORTEN: So I'm happy to relate that to Prime Minister Rudd. 

JUSTIN SMITH: Let's - no, if you don't mind, gentlemen, I think we will  honestly leave it there, and I know I asked the question about it and I still think it's an important one, but let's leave it there.  Let's go with asylum seekers first, and I'll talk to you, Mr Hockey, if you don't mind.  It's probably something that's got to be fixed by both sides, or at least both sides will need to have a very good answer to it.  What is yours?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, we've got a three-prong approach which we've always said.  Number one - where possible turn the boats back, as the Sri Lankan Government did recently.  Number two - proper offshore processing and the Government's even managed to screw that up on Manus Island, and Number three -  temporary protection visas, which is what this Government won't do, which is what we've done.

Now, the interesting thing is, in the last six days under Kevin Rudd there have been more people arrive illegally by boat than the last six years of the Howard government.  The last six days more people than the last six years of the Howard government, and it was Kevin Rudd that started it.  45,000 people have come by boat since Kevin Rudd changed the laws, over $10 billion dollars of cost to the Australian taxpayer and he has no answers because he started it.

JUSTIN SMITH: Minister?

BILL SHORTEN: I think Prime Minister Rudd has the Opposition rattled.

JOE HOCKEY: [Laughs].

BILL SHORTEN: The way they're personally attacking him.  Okay, maybe laughter is your sort of defence mechanism there but I do think that Prime Minister Rudd has the Opposition rattled.  We can't get them to debate the issues about the future of Australia.  In terms of the immigration matters, there's no question that by 2009 the international situation has changed markedly from 2001 and the Howard immigration rules.

JOE HOCKEY: How?  How?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka are seeing thousands of their people leave for other countries.  We put forward proposals…

JOE HOCKEY: Sri Lanka's had a civil war for 25 years.

BILL SHORTEN: Yes, but what we're also seeing is the rise of economic refugees which I'm sure you'd appreciate.  Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, we're seeing much more increased number come from there than before.  Now, we then put forward proposals which we believe were strong enough to deal with the situation in 2010 and 2011.  The Libs joined with the Greens to block it.  The problems that we now have to address are even markedly different to the situation that was being addressed in 2011.  So photocopying the 2001 Howard Government rules I think is not going to work. The first step in dealing with this is to be upfront.

JOE HOCKEY: That's it.

BILL SHORTEN: Well, the first step in dealing with the problem is to be upfront about the problem, to be upfront about when each side of politics should have acted.  We have made it very clear that people who get on boats will not be issued with a visa any sooner than those who wait in camps.  Processing's resumed on Monday. 

JOE HOCKEY: So Bob Carr said for the first time recently, he said a 100 per cent of the people coming by boat are economic refugees.  Tanya Plibersek refused to say that.  What's your view, Bill?  Are a 100 per cent of them economic refugees as..

BILL SHORTEN: The vast majority appear to be economic refugees and what we…

JOE HOCKEY: The vast majority.

BILL SHORTEN: What we are seeing - well, I haven't investigated and interviewed every person, so the Foreign Minister…

JOE HOCKEY: But Bob Carr apparently can.

BILL SHORTEN: Well, the Foreign Minister is closer to the matter than I am.  What I know though is that the situation has changed - that the people who are coming to Australia for the first time in a long time by boats are not political refugees it would appear, but a lot more of them are economic refugees who are seeking a better life.

I can understand that but we've got the principle of no advantage so that the message is loud and clear that if you come here by boat you're not going to get a special deal.

JUSTIN SMITH: All right, gentlemen…

JOE HOCKEY: [Interrupts] But they are, they're still coming by boat.  I mean, more in the last six days than the last six days than the last six years of the Howard Government.

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, the message is very clear, Joe, that you come here by boat, if you're not a bona fide political refugee, you will not get any advantage.

JOE HOCKEY: But they're still coming, Bill.

BILL SHORTEN: Okay, but then we've got to work on a regional solution, which means that we've got to work with our…

JOE HOCKEY: Oh

BILL SHORTEN: Well, you guys say turn back the boats, but there really is - there's three words in invisible ink before that, how will you turn back the boats? A three word slogan does not make an immigration…

JOE HOCKEY: I just told you, three pronged...

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, you're working with more than three...

JUSTIN SMITH: Gentlemen, we might say - if that's all right, we might move on.

BILL SHORTEN: Sorry, Justin, I'll just make this point because turn back the boats is a three word slogan bereft of any visible means of support.

JOE HOCKEY: It's a four word slogan by the way because there are…

BILL SHORTEN: Turn them back.

JOE HOCKEY: I thought you were a numbers man.

BILL SHORTEN: Joe, I'll give you that one.  When you're right, I'll concede it.

JUSTIN SMITH: Because I want to move onto education just to finish off on.  Gonski, Bill Shorten, it' s now yours, but it's gone?

BILL SHORTEN: No.  What it is, is we want to have a plan for better schools in Australia.  We believe that the best thing we can do as a government is to make sure that kids - children between prep and year 12 get the best start in life. 

As a parent I understand that one of the best things a parent can do is make sure that your kids are equipped well enough and resilient to cope with being adults in this modern changing world.

 We want to make sure that there is the efficient use of taxpayer dollars to support better outcomes in schools for our kids.  That will include more teacher's aides to help kids with disabilities in the non-government sector for instance.  That will help provide homework tutors in maths and science. 

We want to see our schools as a number one issue in terms of resources so that kids get the best start in life and we will work with the state bodies, and I'm meeting with the National Catholic Education Commission after this interview, the non-government schools, meeting with the State Minister for Education.  This is a good area which we can achieve a lot in.

JUSTIN SMITH: Mr Hockey?

JOE HOCKEY: Oh, I can feel credit card Kevin coming back.  I mean, if Bill's fair dinkum he'll rule out spending any additional money on top of what's already been pledged, but you're not going to do that, are you, Bill?  You're going to spend what you have to spend. 

JUSTIN SMITH: And Mr Hockey, what have you got for education?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, from our perspective we said we will increase the base rate.

JUSTIN SMITH: You just may win this thing so what have you got for education?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, we've said we will increase the base rate but the starting point is - the starting point is you're not going to get a new funding mechanism in place by the first of January next year. It's ridiculous.  Even, you know, some of the biggest supporters of the Gonski reforms are saying they're running out of time, and it's just again another case of the Government making big promises, being unable to deliver.  So the question is how much is the Government going to keep throwing at it in order to try and solve a political issue?

JUSTIN SMITH: Gentlemen, we'll have to wrap up.  I thank you both.  Mr Hockey, Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, Shadow Treasurer.  And Minister, just before you do go though, I've just got one last question for you if you don't mind.  The Prime Minister going after New South Wales Labor, are there any current MPs or even Cabinet Ministers that might be involved in any of this?

BILL SHORTEN: No, I don't believe so, and so the answer's no.  The proposition that you started this show off with, Justin, was let's be positive about the future.

I'd just say, so listeners don't think that we forget what's said at the start - the schools plan is positive.  We've costed it, and Liberal state New South Wales has signed up to it.

So if we can put aside the politics, the timetables are completely doable.  We're not proposing to change the financial parameters that we've already specified in the Budget, but most importantly, what good is a government if it can't help our kids get the best start in life in schools? 

We've got a positive plan for the future, and I look forward to perhaps on the next show the Libs articulating not why they don't like us and why they're negative about us but what are they going to do for the kids.

JUSTIN SMITH: Bill Shorten, Minister for Workplace Relations and it's now his job, education to boot.  And I thank them both for being on today. 

 [ENDS]