ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
THURSDAY, 10 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: Election; Another Turnbull Liberal attack on Superannuation; Dysfunction and division in the Liberal Party.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: Speculation about the Budget being brought forward to cater for an early election continues and it has the Coalition and Labor already identifying which seats they will be targeting when the campaign is officially called, whenever that is. The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten joins us now from Sydney to talk about this and other issues. Bill Shorten, good morning.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good Morning Virginia.
TRIOLI: Are you tipping a double dissolution election for July 2?
SHORTEN: I have given up trying to read what's in Malcolm Turnbull's mind. To be fair, I'm not sure he always knows from morning to afternoon what's in his mind. I think this whole debate is a distraction from the Budget and the economy. I think Mr Turnbull needs to keep the promise he made when he justified rolling Tony Abbott and he said he would bring new economic leadership. Six months on, we're just getting distraction from the real issues which is the economy and jobs.
TRIOLI: What do you think about an early Budget? Just looking at it forensically, without a whack over the Prime Minister's head, do you think it's feasible at this stage, is it actually practicable that it might happen?
SHORTEN: I don't particularly think it is, actually. A Budget is the most important thing that a government hands down each year. The idea that it's sufficiently flimsy, it can move around from week to week, I think, damages the ability to prepare a strong Budget. I think Mr Turnbull just needs to do the basics properly. I would say that about any government including my own if we're elected. The Budget is set down for May 10. Bring down the Budget. Let it be examined by the Parliament, let it be scrutinised and then submit it to the Australian people. But in the meantime, the Government keeps talking about the date of the election. The date of the election is not the key issue. It's what are the plans of the Government and the Opposition for Australia? And the Budget is the real test of economic leadership. Mr Turnbull set his own test to justify becoming the boss, which is new economic leadership. He should just focus on the Budget, we need to do Budget repair, need to see how we stimulate jobs, how we do schools and hospitals properly. They're the basic bread and butter of any Prime Minister, all talk and rhetoric aside.
TRIOLI: We will get to some of those policy areas in a moment but just staying with the election if and when it's called - you would need 21 seats to turn over in order to win. How likely is that?
SHORTEN: There's no doubt we're the underdog, Virginia. Clearly, the Government's division and dysfunction have led to an appreciable and growing disappointment with the Australian people. But we would enter an election an underdog. We've been ticking the boxes of a strong Opposition. I mean if I'd said to you on this show 2.5 years ago that 2.5 years on I'd be an Opposition Leader who'd seen off Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Bronwyn Bishop, the 2014 Budget, that we'd stopped the mooted increase to a 15 per cent GST, you would say -
TRIOLI: You're claiming personal responsibility for all of that rather than a great deal of that actually being the Government's own back-bench?
SHORTEN: I'm saying it was the Opposition. I'm not talking about myself personally. What I'm saying to you is that we've ticked the boxes of being a strong Opposition. But now, I think it's the challenge on my party to tick the boxes of being a strong alternative government. There's an obligation on my party to break the mode of being a small-target opposition which is the policies favoured over the last 20-30 years, just let the government fall over; instead, what I want to do is be able to offer a positive platform for future of this country and we're starting to do that as well.
TRIOLI: But in the meantime though, the Opposition, as we see, has pulled back in the polls, but your personal approval is poor. So while the Opposition might've got up on the two-party-preferred basis to that 50/50, you have better Prime Minister according to Newspoll, Malcolm Turnbull 44, you 21. How can you lead your party to victory when the people don't seem to approve of you?
SHORTEN: Well, the truth of the matter is what matters to the Australian people is who's got the best policies. I think -
TRIOLI: The leadership seems to matter given how much your side and the other side passes it around?
SHORTEN: Well, I think you find that a fair-minded observer would note that Labor's had the most stable period since the beginning of the 21st century, 2.5 years of strong party unity. So I'm confident -
TRIOLI: I have to jump in there and acknowledge, since one of the least stable periods probably in the party's history. We have to acknowledge that this morning.
SHORTEN: I think that goes without saying. You're quite right. But what we now see in the last 2.5 years is complete unity of purpose on the Labor side. And that's what Australians expect of both political parties. I don't think anyone in their wildest imagination thinks that the Turnbull Government's unified at all. I mean, in the last seven days, we've seen a very nasty book attacking Tony Abbott and his team. We've seen the Attorney-General overruled about the timing of a plebiscite on marriage equality. You've got the Immigration Minister yesterday talking about the economy and you've got the Treasurer in witness protection. You've got the Prime Minister who wasn't even able to go for a walk on Saturday night in the Mardi Gras march. They're a very disunited team in Liberal land. We are united, but the point really is: Labor's working, not just on being a strong opposition, but being a strong alternative government. That's why we've got good, sensible, costed policies on taxation, on education, on schools, on renewable energy, on higher education. Labor's been doing the homework in opposition that people expect political parties to do.
TRIOLI: According to Chris Uhlmann, Labor has high hopes for the seat of Brisbane. I just want to get through a couple of these election type issue questions before we get to some policy in the seat of Brisbane. Is Campbell Newman's possible return to politics in that seat; is that going to kill off your optimism there?
TRIOLI: Do you fear or think there will be an early election in Queensland and how will Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk go there?
SHORTEN: I haven't thought about whether or not there will be an early election in Queensland. I think Annastacia Palaszczuk is doing a very good job. I think there was -
TRIOLI: But has lost her majority of course.
SHORTEN: Well, remember she came from 7 seats to 11 seats to be able to form a government. So her win was nothing short of inspirational. I'd be very surprised if Campbell Newman ran again, if the LNP, if the best that the LNP's got is a premier who lost government and power in Queensland but that's up to the LNP who they pick, we have a very good candidate there, Pat O'Neill. He's in the military; you know he's a very strong campaigner. Again when he runs in Brisbane, he will have good policies backing him up. I don't think the same can be said for the LNP.
TRIOLI: And who do you tip in the seat of New England, Barnaby Joyce or a returned Tony Windsor? I imagine the ALP will do a preference deal with Mr Windsor?
SHORTEN: Well first of all Tony Windsor hasn't announced he's going to nominate although that's clearly the speculation in today's news. I can only take Tony Windsor and Barnaby Joyce as I find them. Tony Windsor, as an Independent, was tough to deal with when we were in government. He worked hard at moderating some of my ideas about reforming financial planning but he was very constructive and some of the protections which consumers now enjoy in terms of the financial planning industry, he helped drive. But ultimately it's up to Mr Windsor what he does. Although it's pretty interesting, isn't it? In New England, there will be two people running for Parliament. One's a respected politician, the other's the Deputy Prime Minister.
TRIOLI: Let's turn to superannuation and according to the Financial Review we'll soon see the Government's plans to superannuation tax concessions, the changes there. You've proposed to cut super tax rates at the points of retirement for those earning more than $250,000 a year but how will you prevent spooking younger people from putting money into super and staying with that system? They'll probably hesitate to put money in if they feel the rules are going to change down the track?
SHORTEN: We've said we want to create a long-term policy institution for superannuation, so we don't want changes just to be done willy-nilly. In terms of our very moderate changes, I can reassure young people right now that Labor is the party of superannuation. We're the party who each time the Parliament's legislated to increase the level of compulsory superannuation; the Liberals have always opposed it. We were the party who's proposed that- we've opposed I should say some of the government speculation that they want to increase the tax rates on contributions going in. The only time that we would have a cap if you like on some of the overgenerous superannuation tax concessions is if you're earning over a quarter of a million dollars and alternatively if you have millions of dollars in retirement, we want to make sure that you have the ability - that you can't draw all that income down tax free. Your first $75,000 you can, but we think there should be some modest retreat of concessions. There's no point in the Australian taxpayer having their taxes paying to keep people who've already got millions of dollars in superannuation and providing them more income tax free.
TRIOLI: Just finally, do you think voters around about now are willing to forgive Labor for the chaos of the Rudd/Gillard era and give you guys another shot?
SHORTEN: Well, we'll have to see, to be honest. What I can say to voters is that for the last 2.5 years the Labor Party's exhibited a level of discipline which shows that we have learned but it's more than just learning. What we understand is that only a united team can run the country. I think our unity of purpose contrasts very favourably with the absolute civil war going on in the Liberal Party. Now, this isn't just me as the Labor Leader just having a dip at the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is busily engaged in disembowelling each other in terms of political legacy. There's a whole lot of Cabinet ministers who served in Tony Abbott's Cabinet for the best part of 2.5 years or 2 years, now they're all saying that was a terrible era. Well what were they doing for the first 2 years that Tony Abbott was in if it was all so bad? I mean, I notice that everyone's been quick to have a crack at Peta Credlin, who's a strong, professional warrior for her point of view and she served Tony Abbott loyally. You know this argument that all of a sudden the Turnbull faction saying everything bad that ever happened in the first 2 years or everything that didn't happen in terms of economics and jobs is purely the fault of Tony Abbott or Peta Credlin. To me, these people are not taking responsibility for their own actions and they are bitterly divided and the divisions aren't just between the Turnbull faction and the Abbott faction.
TRIOLI: We'll have to wrap it up there I'm afraid Bill Shorten. A lot of it sounds echoing of politics that we've heard down the line on both sides for many, many years now. But good to talk to you this morning.
SHORTEN: Okay, cheers Virginia. Bye.