Bill's Transcripts

ABC AM - Gough Whitlam; Ebola;



SUBJECT/S: Gough Whitlam; Ebola; Joe Hockey’s Budget Disaster; Cabinet Division; Biosecurity 


CHRIS UHLMANN: Good morning.




UHLMANN: Well Gough Whitlam's death gives us all a chance to reflect on what our best hopes for politics in this country are. What lessons do you take from it?


SHORTEN: Well, you're right. Gough Whitlam's passing has received near universal respect. People, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, have looked back and realised that he was a political leader who literally redefined the identity of Australia. There was this pent-up pressure through the 60s and the early 70s that Australia should be more than what it was - from the arts to land rights, to the rights of women, to universal Medicare, to higher education, to the suburbs.  He told Australians what we probably knew inside ourselves but he articulated the mood for change and he led us on a road of change and he changed our identity.


UHLMANN: And he articulated the best hopes of the nation at the time. How would you imagine you stack up? What does Australia under Bill Shorten look like should you win government in 2 years’ time?


SHORTEN: Well you did ask me in that earlier question what lessons are there for Opposition Leaders in the way that Gough Whitlam conducted himself in the lead up to the 1972 historic election. He did his homework. He spent years and years preparing his and Labor's ideas for government. I think that is one of the big lessons. He used his years in Opposition, remember he was in Parliament for 20 years before he became Prime Minister. He was Opposition Leader for five and a half years before he became Prime Minister. And in that time what he did is he developed Labor's view for the future. So my challenge, and the lesson for me, from Gough Whitlam the Opposition Leader, is let’s use this time now between now and the next election to have a view of Australia not just at the next election but what sort of country we want to be in 2024 –


UHLMANN: And what is that view?


SHORTEN: We want to be a modern country, we want to be outward looking and not afraid of the rest of the world. We want to be a fair country. We want to be a country which reaches for higher ground, that brings people together, that has growth at the centre of what we do but understands that growth and equality, equality and fairness is not the child of growth, it is the twin of growth. Where we have a fairer society with more Australians able to participate, men and women equally, then we have a greater chance to be a better country.


UHLMANN: Do you think that Tony Abbott would disagree with any of those things? Aren't all of those things really motherhood statements? How do you make those real?


SHORTEN: Well there's about three questions in that. First of all, whether or not Tony Abbott rhetorically agrees or disagrees: you have to look at his actions. We are not moving the country forward when we're cutting access to healthcare. We are not moving the country forward when we're making it harder for kids to go to university. We're not moving the country forward when we're turning our back in terms of building modern infrastructure, the NBN, which allows this country to engage more with the rest of the world. So I worry –


UHLMANN: But just taking one of those things, looking at the NBN, you keep trumpeting that as a great triumph. It cost the nation billions of dollars, it was written on the back of an envelope, it wasn't well prosecuted, it wasn't well thought out.


SHORTEN: Well, you asked me in that earlier question ‘wouldn't Tony Abbott say the same things as what I just said’ and what I'm saying to you is that be it climate change, be it infrastructure, be it the internet, be it healthcare, be it universities, this Government, in my opinion, isn't thinking about the future. It's more trying to deal with arguments in the past. This is a Government who is most comfortable trying to blame Labor for the last six years rather than explain its vision for the next 16 years.

So when you ask me, and I think this discussion started off with what is the lesson of Whitlam, I don't think the Abbott Government did enough homework in Opposition. That's why they're struggling with their Budget now. They don't have an idea of how to get to surplus, they don't have a view about doing much other than cutting conditions for the most vulnerable in our community. I want Labor in the next two years - and I will lead this - to making sure that we have positive views as well as holding the Government to account.


UHLMANN: When will you put meat on the bones of these statements? When will we see the policies that are going to take you into the next election?


SHORTEN: We will reveal our policies well before the next election. You can appreciate, Chris, being a political veteran, that this is a Government who would rather talk about the Opposition than talk about what they're not doing. But in the meantime, we will also hold the Government to account. Their budget's disappeared without trace. I think that the MYEFO or the statement that the Treasurer has to make by Christmas will be a mini budget. So we will hold them to account. But in the meantime, and I think there's millions of Australians who are hungry to hear Labor's alternative because frankly they're not satisfied that Abbott has panned out the way they hoped he might.


UHLMANN: Alright, to a couple of issues, Ebola, the President of the International Crisis Group told us this morning that he did think personnel from Australia would help. But do you believe that you’ll be able to properly protect them if they go there? Are the health facilities in place to look after them, that's the Government's concern?


SHORTEN: Well, other nations have addressed this same question and have drawn a different conclusion to our own Government. Labor's basic proposition isn't that you send people in harm's way. Of course we've got to make sure –


UHLMANN: You can't avoid getting them in harm's way the question is whether or not you can treat them.


SHORTEN: Of course we need to make sure they're safe. But what leaves a lot of ordinary Australians scratching their heads is this. The Government’s been willing to lean forward in international matters on other occasions but it doesn't take a Rhodes scholarship to work out that if you don't deal with this deadly disease at the point of outbreak and if it is allowed to spread we will need more costly solutions down the track. The idea that Ebola is no challenge for Australia and if it is we just wait until it reaches Papua New Guinea to deal with it to me is a very dangerous idea. This is a clear case where you should help do what you can now to avoid it being a much bigger problem down the track.


UHLMANN: And do you believe that immigration should have a greater hand in the border protection of this? It seems to be a bit of a tussle going on in Cabinet at the moment over who has responsibility?


SHORTEN: Well, I've read about a split emerging in the Government about biosecurity. It seems to me that the insiders would say this was another Scott Morrison land grab at the expense of his colleagues. For me though, the real issue here is biosecurity, which helps protect our agricultural industries, for example, has a scientific role as well as a compliance role. I'm not sure that just moving everything into Customs would help our farming communities be secure from international diseases.


UHLMANN: Bill Shorten, we'll have to leave it there, thank you.


SHORTEN: Thanks.