ABC 24 BREAKFAST
THURSDAY 23 JANUARY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Asylum seeker policy; Griffith by-election; Government secrecy; Jobs; Economy.
BEVERLEY O’CONNOR, ABC NEWS BREAKFAST HOST: We're joined now from Brisbane by the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. And good morning to you, Mr Shorten, thank you for your time.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, nice to be with you.
O’CONNOR: Let's start with this situation in Indonesia. Tony Abbott's sort of basically saying this amounts to sledging of the Navy with these reports of the asylum seekers with burnt hands. What is your view?
SHORTEN: First of all, what is really important here is maintaining a sensible relationship with Indonesia. There's no doubt in my mind that the Abbott Government's policies and addiction to secrecy is undermining this. It isn't satisfactory that we can find out more in the Jakarta media than we can find out from our own Government. But in terms of the specific reports, concerning reports, in recent days, let me just be very clear: Labor believes that the Navy and its personnel are professional. They have an extremely tough job to do. It's made, I think, extremely more difficult by the Government's policies, but I believe our service personnel are professional, I believe they do good work and in very tough circumstances.
O’CONNOR: So you would not believe these claims?
SHORTEN: Well, there are processes in place to investigate these concerning reports, but what I won't do is join in and start attacking our own military personnel because they need to know that regardless of what the Opposition thinks about the Government policies, the Opposition supports the work of our military. We think they are professional and to all their families in Australia who have to, you know, see these reports second-hand, they should rest assured that I for one don't want to see our military being used as some sort of political football.
O’CONNOR: Let's talk about that issue of controlling information which has been a hallmark of Tony Abbott's government. They are arguing strongly that it is containing the situation, that the boats are slowing as a result of it. It was a great issue for your government. Can you see that there is some payoff by shutting down the information?
SHORTEN: Well, this goes back to Tony Abbott's broken promises. Before the election he said in the electorate of Griffith, where I've been up campaigning this week supporting Labor's Terri Butler. He said that if it was a good week, or a bad week, or an in-between week, he would be upfront with the Australian people. Well Tony Abbott, what happened to your promise before the election? Why is it good enough for you in opposition to have one view, but when you get into government to break your promise to be straight with the Australian people?
O’CONNOR: But it is having some effect, isn't it, this containing information and hosing down the issue, to a degree?
SHORTEN: Well, I don't know if anyone could say the issue is hosed down when you've got the strained relations with Indonesia. But importantly, why is it that Tony Abbott believes that when he was in opposition he could say that he would be straight with the Australian people, if it was good news, if it was a week with good news or if it was a week with bad news or indeed in between news? Tony Abbott said, I'm not writing his lines, I don’t put words in his mouth. The Opposition Leader, now Prime Minister, said he would be straight with the Australian people. Now he's the Prime Minister he doesn't feel the need to keep his promises from the election. Labor didn't ask Tony Abbott to mislead the Australian people before the election, he's done it all himself now he's Prime Minister.
O’CONNOR: The Human Rights Watch report came out yesterday, that roundly condemning both this government and your government, describing the situation with the treatment of asylum seekers as egregious. Why is it that we have come to this point where we are being internationally condemned?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, it is a difficult issue. In terms of tackling the challenges of people smuggling, it's not an easy issue to deal with. I think in light of what everyone's saying, what the current Government should do, and they are the people in charge, that's their day job, to help run Australia, is just be straight with the Australian people. I think where there is controversy and debate, the best way to deal with the issue is to tackle the secrecy, the culture of secrecy. I mean our Navy's getting caught up in the culture of secrecy being promulgated by the Abbott Government, our relations with Indonesia, I don't think any reasonable observer thinks that they’re in a great place at the moment. The best way to deal with a problem is to be straight up about it.
O’CONNOR: So how would you be straight? How would you explain that you have to send asylum seekers to Nauru as you did to Manus Island, potentially turn back boats, how would you explain that?
SHORTEN: Well first of all I don't have all the facts that the Government has, so asking me to, you know, report the news that only the Government's in the position of is a bit difficult. But what I would do is just tell people what's going on. I respect Australian people, I think that Australians can cope with being told what's going on. I think if you've got difficult decisions, one of the best ways to solve problems is to bring people into your confidence. I mean it wasn't Labor, it was Tony Abbott before the election, he said that if it's a good week or a bad weak or an in-between week he will be straight with the Australian people. Now we can't find Scott Morrison and the Government just want to shut down any discussion or debate on the issue. When the Government were in Opposition, you know, you'd trip over Liberal LNP spokespeople trying to talk about boats. Now you've got to send out a search party to find an LNP person, a conservative government Abbott representative to talk about boats.
O’CONNOR: Bill Shorten, lots of publicity in the recent weeks about this spike in terrible alcohol-fueled violence. There is a call now to have a national summit. You have been quite vocal on this. Would you support a national summit? It was a problem that plagued your government as well.
SHORTEN: Well it's a problem which plagues young people and as a parent, and indeed or as an aunt or an uncle, I share the concerns I think all Australians share, that we don't want our young children going out and being subject to cowards who want to demonstrate their martial arts prowess, or who have just have such little empathy with their victims that they would conduct these dreadful assaults. It’s everyone’s problem, it's not just a state government issue or a federal government issue, it's for all of us in the community. So I do support the AMA's proposition of a national summit. I've got my shadow ministry meeting in Brisbane today, we’re all talking about issues at the start of the year, but we're also going to be campaigning apart from that in the electorate of Griffith for Terri Butler, where it's important we get a strong local representative. But one of the issues the community's raising with me on the streets of the Southside of Brisbane is in fact alcohol-fueled violence. I people want everyone working together on this issue. And I think this represents an opportunity for bipartisanship and being constructive.
O’CONNOR: Let's just talk about the seat of Griffith for a moment where you are campaigning. The Greens have decided to preference five micro-parties. How much harder is that going to make it for Labor in Griffith?
SHORTEN: This is going to be a tough by-election, full stop. We've got a good candidate, Terri Butler, and for me one of the reasons why I think we should be able to just get across the line is the calibre of our candidate. Terri Butler is a working mum, two children just below school age, she's a very accomplished lawyer. What we need in our seats and by-elections in Australia is representatives who will speak up. The problem for a government candidate is that they're going to sign off on the GP tax. They're going to endorse a tax to the standard of healthcare and education and jobs through this bogus Commission of Audit that the Government's concocted to justify breaking promises at the election. So now more than ever, local communities need strong representatives who can speak up and disagree with the Government. I mean it was people power that got the Government to start backing away from their broken promise on education. That's why you need strong local representatives and that's what the community's interested in.
O’CONNOR: How is the mood different? Of course Dr Bill Glasson really took the fight up to Kevin Rudd at the last election, is there at the different feel on the streets at the moment?
SHORTEN: There's a different feel on the streets. In the last election all the Liberal literature had Tony Abbott all over it. Now they've put any literature with Tony Abbott into witness protection. I've not seen within four months of a general election the complete disappearance of a Prime Minister, a Liberal Prime Minister, from the literature of their own candidates. Now the conservatives don't want to talk about Campbell Newman, the hugely unpopular Premier of Queensland, they don't want to talk about Tony Abbott, they just want to say it’s all local. In a local by-election, the issues are local but the representatives you're electing have to stand up in the national Parliament for local communities. It's very difficult for Government MPs to disagree with Tony Abbott on a GP tax, on a range of cost of living pressures which the Abbott Government's doing nothing about.
O’CONNOR: Bill Shorten, I want to go to Davos but while we do, I might just play this grab of Tony Abbott when he was asked about your comments that he may be a one-term Prime Minister. Let's have a listen.
TONY ABBOTT (CLIP): Well, I'm just not going to engage in that kind of speculation. He seems very cocky, doesn't he, for someone who has only been in the job a few months.
O’CONNOR: 100 days you've been in the job, is it a bit cocky?
SHORTEN: Oh, I don't know what the Prime Minister thinks. Does he think people aren't allowed to disagree with him or say they're going to contest the next election? I mean, I think it's cocky of the Prime Minister to dare Holden to take car jobs away, which they did. I think it's cocky of the Prime Minister to break promises when it comes to health cuts and putting everything on the table. I think it's cocky of the Prime Minister to be willing to say to Australians that I'm going to break my promises before the election and everything's on the table, cuts in defence, health in education. That's cocky.
O’CONNOR: In this transition to government, I guess it shows the difference of one to the other. Tony Abbott often talked down the economy as Opposition Leader, now he's talking Davos of the economy leading the way, the businesses leading the way. What is your thoughts on that in terms of should governments abrogate the responsibility to business?
SHORTEN: Private sector is the engine room of the Australian economy. Labor's always believed that. But I find it unusual that our Prime Minister, before the election there was nothing good in Australia. Now he's taking credit for the strength of the Australian economy. When he says that the Government's going to get out of the way, there was almost an unwritten, an unspoken extra sentence, wasn't there? ‘Except where the National Party will bully the Liberal Party into doing over GrainCorp.’ Let's not forget that it's only been a few weeks since the Liberal Party caved into some pressures about knocking off a bid for foreign investment in GrainCorp. The share prices in GrainCorp are significantly down on what they were before the Abbott Government got involved. I mean imagine the uproar if a Labor government had made a decision which would have wiped value off the listed shares of a company. Imagine the uproar if Labor had stood in the way of investment, in badly needed investment in grain infrastructure and capital works. The Abbott Government, they go overseas, back in Australia they're happy to trash our economy and bag it but when they go overseas they want to claim credit for what is going on, and I think that the Abbott Government needs to focus on the key issue of 2014 which is jobs. Keeping them and creating them.
O’CONNOR: And as you mentioned earlier your shadow Cabinet meets today. 100 days in office for you. What are your priorities? Where is your focus going to be as we start this new year?
SHORTEN: Well there's no doubt emerging from the streets of the Southside of Brisbane that Labor's agenda, which is focusing on jobs, keeping the Government honest and making sure the Abbott Government doesn't slash healthcare and education, making sure that we're a conscientious Opposition that holds the Government to account for broken promises. That's our focus, to be a conscientious Opposition and to focus on jobs. There's no doubt that the Abbott Government's decisions would see increases in premiums to private health insurance, the GP tax, the attack on superannuation of low paid workers. This Government's had a rough start but it's largely their own making and we will hold them to account.
O’CONNOR: Many thanks for your time this morning, do appreciate it.
SHORTEN: Thanks Beverly, bye.
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