Bill's Transcripts

ABC 774 WITH JON FAINE

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

RADIO INTERVIEW
ABC 774 WITH JON FAINE


MONDAY, 24 FEBRUARY 2014


SUBJECT / S: Manus Island; Fiona Nash conflict of interest; Craig Thomson; Qantas; G20; Royal Commission.


JON FAINE:
Well the Greens have called for Scott Morrison to resign, Bill Shorten is the leader of the Labor Party, the Federal Opposition, speaks to us this morning from our Canberra studios at Parliament House. Mr Shorten good morning to you.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning Jon.

 

FAINE: Does the Labor Party also call for Scott Morrison to resign?

SHORTEN: Ultimately it will be up to Tony Abbott if he gives up on this hapless Minister but I think all Australians are shocked that we’ve got a Minister for border security and immigration who tells us that one set of things happened about this tragedy, including the death of a young man - and then we find out at quarter to nine on a Saturday night, that what we were told was exactly wrong in that situation.  That what was described by the Minister was completely false.

FAINE: As soon as the Minister found out that there was misleading information he corrected it, what’s wrong with doing that?

SHORTEN:  Well Tony Abbott says he doesn’t want a wimp for a Minister, I just want someone who knows what’s going on. He was very clear, he said that he can guarantee the safety of people within the wire and there was the implication that because this young man and others were outside the wire, that somehow that they were taking their own chances then it turns out that this young man who died was not outside the wire. This is a serious issue, this is a tragedy -

FAINE: But is it a sacking offence?

SHORTEN: Well that will be up for Tony Abbott but I mean if Tony Abbott thinks that this is appropriate ministerial conduct, then what would you get sacked for in the Abbott Government?

FAINE: Well you wouldn’t get sacked for getting a detail wrong about an issue within your ministerial responsibility, whether someone’s inside a wire fence or outside a wire fence, is that a sacking offence for you?

 

SHORTEN: Jon, I saw how much this Government went after the ABC when they said that the ABC had got details wrong. Now I would suggest to you and I think all reasonable people would agree that the death of a young man and the implication that once he was outside the wire that he was taking the risk upon himself, this turning out to be false and he died within a facility run by Australian-funded contractors, Australian Government funded contractors, that’s as serious as it gets.

FAINE: Surely though this entire issue of the safety of people who are within our care this is the inevitable sequel to the outsourcing and offshoring of responsibility for asylum seekers which of course accelerated when your party was in Government?

 

SHORTEN: The government of the day, the Minister of the day Scott Morrison, has made great play of the fact that the regional processing centre Manus Island wasn’t going fast enough when Labor was in power. They made it very clear when they were the Opposition that they could do everything better than Labor, that they were the adults, they were the competent people.

 

Now, several months into their reign, several months into their Government, we’ve got a Minister for Immigration who Tony Abbott says ‘is not a wimp’ - we don’t need people who are wimps or not wimps running our ministries and our government, we need people who know what they’re doing.  Clearly it has astounded a lot of observers that you’ve got a Minister who comes out and says that this young man died but, you know, when you go outside the wire the risks are much greater. He went on television and guaranteed that if they were inside the wire that they would be safe. Clearly this is not the case.

 

The other thing is that at no stage does Minister Morrison ever embrace the culture of openness.  We know that he’s had the dragged kicking and screaming to tell us what’s going on, so that Minister Morrison is in real trouble is partly of his own making because he’s addicted to the culture of secrecy. He could have said when this first talk of the riots came out ‘I’ve been advised’, he never says that, he just says ‘I know this’ and ‘I know that’. Well if you’re the Minister who knows everything that’s going on and then you find out that everything you’ve told the public of Australia is wrong, when do you become accountable?

FAINE: The terms of reference for the independent investigation by former head of the Attorney-General’s Department Rob Cornell are not yet settled. What do you think it should cover, how wide an inquiry do you think it should be?

SHORTEN: Well we need to know how this has come to be, what are the circumstances which have led to this pressure-cooker exploding, we need to know the circumstances in which a young Iranian refugee has been killed. We need to know also what the Government knew and when they know it.

 

FAINE: But is about more than what happened on that night at Manus Island, is it about the contacts between the Government and the service providers, the private companies that run the facility? Is it about the relationship with the PNG police, with the locals? Is it a broader inquiry or is it just to do with what happened that night?

SHORTEN: Well you can’t I think understand what happened on the night without going to the broader questions -

FAINE: But then if the terms of reference aren’t broad enough you won’t go to those issues?

SHORTEN: Well then that will be on the head of the Government if they want to do a cover up.

FAINE: So how broad an inquiry do you want?

 

SHORTEN: We’ll you need to understand why this has happened. Now if you look at any situation of safety you’ve got to understand what are the circumstances leading up to it and how do you make sure it won’t happen again. The matters that you raise Jon I think are legitimate questions.  Our concern of course is that this Government, when there is political advantage, they’re all over an inquiry but when they’re on the back foot, when there is politics involved for them, then all of a sudden they are in full retreat mode, they slam into reverse gear.

 

I hope they don’t engage in a cover up and do as you’re asking me as potential risk that they go narrowly. People have got a right to know what’s going on, we know that dealing with refugees, people coming to Australia by boat is an incredibly complex issue and where there is very strong opinions, but at the epicentre a young man has died. At the epicentre we’ve got a Minister who told us one thing, and then has had to come out and totally contradict himself. Does this Government know what’s going on in the facilities its running or doesn’t it?

FAINE: But Tony Abbott is basically saying to the Australian people you’ve got to be tough if you’re going to stop the boats. Do you accept that equation?

SHORTEN: I don’t accept the sort of muscularity of Tony Abbott’s language, you’ve got to be smart. I just want people who are smart and know what they’re doing. The question of Mr Abbott characterising Mr Morrison is not a wimp, what’s that got to do with this issue?

FAINE: Moving on, the main beneficiary of Scott Morrison’s problems is his colleague Senator Fiona Nash, the assistant health minister, do you accept her explanations of her former chief of staff Alistair Furnival conflict of interest, that that’s now fully explained?

SHORTEN: Well the Prime Minster and the Assistant Minster for Health have continued to dodge questions on these matters every day. What we saw was the Assistant Minister for Health’s Chief of Staff had declared that running a food, lobbying business for the food industry. Now what we see is there was a conflict of interest already now determined by the Government for the Chief of Staff the Senator in question.  The Abbott Government Minister Senator came in and mislead the Senate on this occasion –

 

FAINE: So the Parliament’s been misled what’s the consequence, what’s your tactic or strategy when the session of the Senate resumes?

SHORTEN: Well again, we just want to know who knew what, when. The Prime Minister’s Office and the Prime Minister say that they’re responsible for vetting all the staff. If this conflict of interest was known and then decisions were being made then I think the Prime Minister needs to explain what he knew and when he knew it.

 

FAINE: So you’re saying that Senator Nash’s problems are internal to Tony Abbott’s office?

 

SHORTEN: I’m saying that we need to know what the Prime Minister knew, what Senator Nash knew, and we need to know what steps they made to tackle the conflict of interest. The chief of staff of Senator Nash is gone, the question is: is he just a sacrificial lamb for the Minister, or is he just a lone operator and the matter ends with him? What the Government needs to do is just explain what it knew and when it knew.

 

FAINE: From outside the bubble of Parliament, Bill Shorten, to those of us who watch parliamentarians and politicians and parties and governments come and go, this is – it seems – this is what happens because of the way your party tried to support Craig Thomson. This is where we end up, with parties looking in behind Ministers in situations that in the past would have been regarded as completely unsustainable.

 

SHORTEN: The Abbott Government made a virtue in Opposition of how they would operate in government. You’ve got two different Ministers who are certainly in a world of trouble, and now we see the Abbott Government who is happy to lecture an Opposition Labor, but they’re happy to set up standards themselves which they promised in opposition, which I don’t believe they’re delivering in government.

 

FAINE: Moving on to other things, this week will be crucial for Qantas and its staff, with different figures circulating on how many jobs may be lost. There seems no argument that there will be job losses. What does Bill Shorten say is the solution to Qantas’ problem?

 

SHORTEN: First of all, this week my thoughts are with the Qantas workforce, there are a lot of people who work for Qantas live in the area where I live, in the north-western suburbs of Melbourne. They work very hard, they want to be confident that for all their hard work they’re not going to get thrown to the wolves. That’s the first thing. So any approach Labor takes is how do we retain good quality jobs in Australia. We don’t believe it’s necessary for a foreign government to acquire the majority of interests in Qantas or that we can’t keep the majority Australian-owned. We would like the Government - and I’ve issued this invitation now on many occasions over the last number of months – the Government should work with us. If there’s a strategy to help Qantas go through its current difficulties with capital raising, well let’s roll up our sleeves and work together. What I don’t want to see is all those skilled maintenance crews which work out at Tullamarine, those jobs lost overseas. Because once they go we’ll never get them back again. And I am sick and tired of this government giving up on Australian industries and saying we can’t compete with the world.

 

FAINE: Joe Hockey says very explicitly that the reason why all these jobs are being lost is because of the appalling decisions by you and your colleagues when you were in power during the years of the Gillard, Rudd years, which have created the absolute inevitability of job losses because the economy is unsustainable.

 

SHORTEN: That’s just a lie, the –

 

FAINE: Which part of it?

 

SHORTEN: The idea that - not what you said - but what the government’s saying is the problem. Whatever the question, this Abbott Government always wants to act like the Opposition in charge and attack the previous Labor Government. If this government finds governing too hard, well then they should just get out of the way and let someone who is prepared to do it actually get on with it. The car industry did not have to go without a fight. Qantas can be supported without surrendering majority national ownership. The issues which have challenged a lot of Australian industries has been the high dollar, have been prices around the world and how we compete, and -

 

FAINE: And unsustainable subsidies, and the G20, and the leaders of the global economic movement who have been in Sydney this weekend, all say yes, we’ve got to stop propping up things that aren’t sustainable like Qantas or car industries or jobs in places where they don’t pay for themselves.

 

SHORTEN: Let me tell you, the rest of the world – there’s 12 other countries, including first world countries, who still subsidise their car industry. Let me tell you, eight of the 10 top airlines in the world are owned by foreign governments. So this argument that the rest of the world is more economically rationalist that us and we need to just simply give up on Australian jobs, that’s not how the rest of the world is working. We do need to be competitive, we shouldn’t be providing subsidies to inefficient companies - government intervention and support should be the exception, not the rule. But also we shouldn’t just give up on key industries. Manufacturing is the basis for a lot of our high-tech innovation in Australia, be it Qantas, be it car industries, be it Alcoa – they all contribute to fuelling small business, the training of apprentices, the development of new industry, new start-ups, the development of new technology. If we de-industrialise our manufacturing and related services base, then we’re going to miss out on the rise of Asia because we’ll have nothing to sell them other than our farm goods and our mining. Australia is a country that can still makes things, Jon, but you just need a Government who’s wants to be in a race to the top, not the bottom. And by the way, if Joe Hockey really cared about what was happening around the G20, why has he made it easier for multinationals in Australia to syphon their profits to offshore jurisdictions so they pay less tax?

 

FAINE: Well in fact it’s the other way around, they’ve come up with a protocol to try and make sure companies pay tax somewhere, if not in the highest taxing, at least some taxing regimes rather than not paying tax anywhere.

 

SHORTEN: When Joe Hockey became Treasurer - don’t judge him by his rhetoric when he’s showing off to his new pals at the G20. Judge him by what he does when he’s back home in the Parliament. And he has made it easier, not harder, easier for multinationals to remit profits to offshore jurisdictions.

 

FAINE: Just finally and briefly, the Attorney-General George Brandis with Chris Uhlmann on AM this morning said the Royal Commission into the pink batts situation will not automatically be given access to cabinet documents, but at the same time they’re pressing for secret documents relating to Craig Thomson to be made available to the Royal Commission into trade union activity. Is this something that the Labor party will be challenging in the High Court?

 

SHORTEN: On this issue of Cabinet confidentiality with the Abbott Royal Commission into the home insulation program, this issue of cabinet confidentiality has been raised. For the listeners, what it this is – this Government is breaking a principle of a 113 years.  Ever since we’ve become a nation, that deliberation of Cabinets as a rule were not released until 30 years has expired. This is to allow good collective decision making in essential to arguing without fear over all the pros and cons of all the case. In this matter, the Abbott Government is not acting like a conservative government, they’re acting like a radical government. They want to upend constitutional convention. Now the Chris Uhlamnn interview, thank goodness for the ABC, seems to see George Brandis slamming on the brakes and moving into reverse. This is nasty politics, it undermines constitutional convention, we’ve seen former distinguished Prime Ministers including Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke say what is going on with this crew? This is a government who, whatever the issue, can turn it into politics.

 

FAINE: Thank you for your time on all those issues this morning and we’ll see where the session of federal parliament gets to as another busy week gets under way. And thank you for giving us your time.

 

SHORTEN: Good morning, John, have a nice day.

 

ENDS

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