FRIDAY, 16 SEPTEMBER 2016
SUBJECT/S: Global Progress Summit 2016; Resignation of Senator Stephen Conroy; South China Sea; Marriage Equality.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody. I've been very fortunate in the last two days to have a series of high level meetings with progressive leaders from around the world. I attended a summit in Montreal yesterday, convened by Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada. I had the opportunity to meet with the Vice Chancellor of Germany, with senior Nordic leaders, British leaders and of course Secretary of Labour Thomas Perez from the United States.
Today I've been fortunate to meet with Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, and I'm looking forward to attending at the White House and meeting senior representatives of the current administration.
One thing which is very clear to me is that there is a push across the developed world to redefine the best strategies for sustainable economic growth. Many countries are now grappling with the issue of how to provide jobs for people going forward in the future, how to make sure that their citizens don't get left behind with the pace of economic change. There's no doubt in my mind that some of Labor's policies in Australia speak very much to the way other nations are grappling with change. A well-funded, needs based education system, universal healthcare, making sure that all the groups in society receive improvements in income and better treatment at work.
So Labor's policy prescriptions have been renewed through the discussions I've had and I look forward to further meetings today before returning home to Australia next Monday.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten were you disappointed by the way that Senator Conroy handed down his resignation yesterday?
SHORTEN: This is the first time I've been able to say something publicly about Senator Conroy's stepping down. Stephen Conroy has served the Australian Senate and the Labor Party and the Australian people with fearless energy and great passion for 20 years. I only wish him, his wife Paula and daughter Bella the very best in the future. He's chosen to prioritise his family over a future engagement in politics. After two decades he steps down with the best wishes and the blessings of the Labor Party.
JOURNALIST: When did he advise of his intentions to resign and when were you notified and why didn't anyone notify Tanya Plibersek?
SHORTEN: Well I got a text message whilst I was in Montreal – as you know Canada's 14 hours behind Australia – I tried to contact him back; in the meantime he'd made his statement. Let's be clear here, we can have a debate about who should of known what, when. But for me and for the Labor Party we wish Stephen Conroy well, he led the debate and the drive to have a National Broadband Network, I think that will be one of his most important legacies.
JOURNALIST: Who was the text message from? Was it from Stephen himself?
SHORTEN: I'm not going to go into the logistics. Senator Conroy endeavoured to contact me by text, of course different time zones in Canada, he then made his statement. I've got to say Stephen goes with the best wishes, if he's choosing to put his family first which he is, well then I'm not going to criticise him for that.
JOURNALIST: What are the next steps? When can we expect to see a preferred candidate announced and are you going to fill the position on the frontbench?
SHORTEN: We'll certainly fill the position on the front bench and yes we will go through the party processes and elect a replacement. It's not the first time a Senator has stepped down and it won't be the last. One thing I've found in politics is that when there's a vacancy there's normally more people who want to fill it than positions available.
JOURNALIST: On that point do you think you should have a few more vacancies now. Is that a good signal to others to clear out some old hands, bring in some new blood?
SHORTEN: Well the best way to create vacancies will be at the next general election and elect more Labor MPs across the country. In the last election we created 16 or 17 vacancies amongst the Liberal ranks, that's what I'm interested in. I've got a good blend of experience and new blood. I have to say you need to keep experience in your ranks and my style of leadership of the Labor Party has been to work with my whole team from all the points of views, the long servers, the more newly elected MPs. I think what's important is to make sure you've got good diversity in your ranks. I'm really proud of the fact that 40 per cent of our Members of Parliament are women. I'm proud of the fact that Labor has 3 Aboriginal Australians amongst our ranks, I'm proud of the fact that we've got the first ever Muslim woman elected in the Parliament. Labor is actually making sure that we include all Australians in our ranks and I think that that's going to stand us and the nation in good stead because our policies will be policies which have put people first and include all Australians.
JOURNALIST: Can you give us a time frame on when we might expect a reshuffle?
SHORTEN: Oh well, it's not going to be a reshuffle; it's just going to be a replacement of a position. We'll work it through. Again, it's happened before, it'll happen again I predict.
JOURNALIST: So in that sense you would add the portfolio to someone else's existing portfolio or you would promote someone?
SHORTEN: We will fill the vacancy. In terms of the specifics, I will consult with my colleagues. There's no great black magic about how we do it. We've got rules and processes.
JOURNALIST: Bill you enunciated a South China Sea - on the freedom of navigation position today. It's a slight recalibration from what Senator Conroy I think said when he was the Shadow Defence Minister, i.e. we should go through the 12 nautical mile zone. You've essentially said today what the Government's doing, fine, you don't want to necessarily tack onto the back of a US ship. What's just changed that ever slight calibration?
SHORTEN: There's been no change. Let me be clear, the only additional thing I said today about the South China Sea is I got asked a question, ‘should an Australian warship accompany an American warship?’ In my experience our warships are tough enough to do their own thing and so are the Americans. I don't think that's necessary. But there has been no change, full stop.
JOURNALIST: So you could potentially - an Australian ship on its own, would you policy be to potentially go through the 12 nautical miles?
SHORTEN: No, let's be really clear here, I believe in freedom of navigation, I believe in the use of international laws and frameworks, the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea should be adhered to. I think the best way is to have peaceful resolution, de-escalate the tension. I've got great confidence in the skill of our defence forces, the Royal Australian Navy, Air Force and our ADF generally to be able to ensure we have freedom of navigation exercises. The last thing our sailors and our Air Force people need is Members of Parliament saying they should be in spot A or reef B. They will sort that out. Perhaps one more question.
JOURNALIST: Will you be advising the Labor Caucus to vote against the same-sex plebiscite and Malcolm Turnbull did leave open - well he didn't close the door, if you like, on negotiating the Bill. Is that something you would be open to doing?
SHORTEN: First of all, Malcolm Turnbull's without a doubt the weakest politician in Australia. There is no case being made to have a $200 million government taxpayer funded opinion poll. Why should gay people in Australia be subjected to a policy and law making process which is different to any other Australians? It's discriminatory really. I will consult my colleagues. I think I, like most Australians, have failed to be convinced by the fairly weak arguments put forward by Malcolm Turnbull to have a public opinion poll which is not binding upon members of the Government. I mean really, does anyone think that if Malcolm Turnbull was actually in charge of the Liberal Party he'd be going through this circus of a plebiscite? Of course not. So if he's not strong enough to stand up to the right wing of his political party, why do we have to do what he says because he's too weak?
JOURNALIST: So will you be advising Caucus members to vote against the Bill?
SHORTEN: Now the legislation has been tabled, we'll have a discussion at our next caucus meeting. As I say, I have not yet heard an argument which is satisfactory for treating gay people differently, through a different policy making process, than the rest of Australians. As Members of Parliament, we meet on a regular basis in Parliament. Every other change to the Marriage Act has been done through a vote in the Parliament, and what has Mr Turnbull now every time he gets a difficult question going to throw his hands up in the air and say we better go and have a plebiscite of the people? No, I just think he's being weak and if he needs us to be strong for him we will.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly on Labor's own same-sex marriage bill. Would it be a conscience vote or would it be a bound vote?
SHORTEN: It will be a conscience vote.
JOURNALIST: And how confident are you that the majority of the Caucus supports the same-sex marriage bill?
SHORTEN: Because I've asked them.
JOURNALIST: Do you know how many?
SHORTEN: I think the vast majority of Labor members have decided we should just get on, have marriage equality, and then we can focus on all the other issues which Australians expect us to: promoting local jobs, standing up for Medicare, making sure that we have the overdue Royal Commission into the banks and in the meantime marriage equality, we could make it a reality, just a vote in Parliament and be done with it. Thanks everyone.