Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Brisbane - Labor’s plan for more university graduates; Coalition reshuffle

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

BRISBANE
WEDNESDAY, 23 SEPTEMBER 2015


 

SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan for more university graduates; Coalition reshuffle; GST; Liberal divisions, Peta Credlin.

 

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Today's visit to QUT reminds me of just how important it is to ensure that Australian students aren't discouraged from university by $100,000 degrees. On Monday, Labor announced a new approach in higher education which we think all Australians will like. We're proposing not to go down the path of the Liberals increasing the cost of going to university, instead we've made a student funding guarantee which means that universities won't have to force up the prices of going to university and thereby discouraging the next generation of Australian job seekers from getting the skills they need.

 

We're doing more than that. We understand that two in every three jobs in the future is going to require technical qualifications, science-based tertiary qualifications to help people to get those jobs. We understand that 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations require science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees. Labor's got a plan to encourage more students at secondary school and primary school to study science and we've got a plan by writing off the HECS debts of 100,000 future Australian university students in science to encourage people into science - it is a pretty exciting prospect.  We want to see downward pressure on the price of going to university, we want to see more kids and adults from modest backgrounds and middle-class backgrounds being able to go to university and we also want to make sure that kids fall in love with the study of science and technology and maths when they're at school and then go on to university to use these remarkable world-class facilities so they can get the jobs of the future. What I'd like to do is ask my Parliamentary Secretary Jim Chalmers who's been doing lot of policy work in this area to expand on Labor’s ideas to make sure that Australian kids can get the jobs of the future.

 

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much, Bill and welcome back to Brisbane. I wanted to thank Peter Coaldrake and his colleagues here at QUT, a terrific university campus. The way we see it on the Labor side is our remarkable national run of a quarter century of economic growth and in jeopardy unless we invest in science and technology, teach and train our young people for the jobs of the future and grow our economy in a way that makes sure there's enough opportunity and prosperity to go around. That's why the announcement Bill and Kim Carr and Amanda made on Monday is so crucial to the future of this country because unless we invest in education, unless we ensure that kids graduate with high-quality degrees and not a lifetime of debt, not a debt sentence, then we'll be selling the country short. That's why the announcement they made a so important and especially that focus on access and equity and affordability and quality and most of all job readiness in the Australian economy of the future.

 

SHORTEN: Thanks, Jim. Any questions about our higher education policies or any other matters?

 

JOURNALIST: Simon Birmingham says he's not wedded to the idea of uni deregulation and he'll reopen talks with the sector about reforms. Does that please you?

 

SHORTEN: Labor has been campaigning against the Liberal plans for deregulation for the last two years. The problem with the Liberal philosophy of deregulation at universities is by cutting 20 per cent of the funding to universities and then deregulating the price of going to university, universities will be left with no choice but with fewer funds to increase the price for young people going to university. Now for a lot of Australians the prospect of paying much bigger university debts is a disincentive to come and study.

 

If you're a young person, perhaps the first in your family to contemplate going to university, the idea of a lifetime of paying off university debts is a real disincentive. If you're one of literally millions of Australians thinking about changing skills in an ever-changing job market, you may have a family, a mortgage, you're thinking about going back to university, the Liberal plan of deregulation increasing the price of going to university is a real disincentive. The only issue now is that Labor does not trust the Liberals to simply drop their nasty plans for $100,000 degrees. What I'm concerned about is that for the last two years Malcolm Turnbull, Simon Birmingham and the rest of them were all enthusiastic supporters of Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey's plans to increase the price of going to university. Now I think the real challenge here is that parents of young people who want to go to university, adults who are thinking of changing their degree degrees, they know the Liberal way of increasing the price of going to university is not in the best interests of Australia. I truly believe Labor's policies are the best way forward and we call upon Malcolm Turnbull to adopt the Labor policy of making it easier to go to university for smart kids not harder.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you talk about putting more Australians through university. What are you doing about the number of international full fee-paying students which are taking a lot of the places from Australian students?

 

SHORTEN: I don't want to get into a debate about bagging international students coming to Australia. I think that’s part of our future. So let me state first of all, I welcome international students coming to Australia but what we've got to do is increase the overall pie of what gets spent on the resources going into higher education. I think the problem with the Liberals is that because they've been so keen to increase the price of going to university for local students, that now we've seen the unfair debate about international students versus local students.

 

Labor's got a plan and I can promise every mother and father who's battling hard to send their child through secondary school if you want your child to go to university, if they're inclined to go to university, Labor will make sure they get the chance to go to university without a debt sentence for the rest of their life in terms of university fees. That's the way to do it. You tell a Government and their plans for the future by the priorities they choose. For the last two years , the Liberals have been an enthusiastic cheer squad for increasing the price of going to university. It's almost like they think only some people should go to university and everyone else should know their place in life. I don't share that view, I come from a relatively modest background. We believe it's how hard you work and your marks that give you a chance in life, not what school you went to and how much money your parents have. That's why international students are popular, because they pay more than we do to go to university.

 

I think Australia should be exporting education services to the rest of the world. I welcome international students. We've got to make sure we don't create a system of policies in this country which forces universities to rely on the income from overseas students. The very problem you're raising is one which Labor's policies can fix. It's not good for the universities of Australia to have to rely upon just having the income flow from international students to sustain the operations of Australian universities. Only Labor's got a costed plan to make sure that bright kids from the city and country regions of Australia, doesn't matter how well off their parents are, they get the chance to go to university and fulfil their potential in life and be skilled for the jobs of the future.

 

JOURNALIST: Do you want to see Senate voting rules overhauled in the next election?

 

SHORTEN: We certainly want to see what the Government is proposing before we commit to a position. Labor fundamentally believes in one vote one value. We don't approve of the gaming of the political system in Australia, but what I also recognise is that if the Liberals want to try and lock out small parties because they can't control the small parties in the Senate, well, Labor's not up for mugging minority parties in this country. Our parliament operates best when we have consensus. The truth of the frustration for the Liberal Party in the Senate is they've had such bad ideas of broken promises that Labor and some of the smaller parties in the Senate have had to combine to stand up for Australians. The real problem which the Liberal Party's trying to solve here – at least I worry this is what's motivating Malcolm Turnbull and his group – is that what they want to do is they want to get through their unfair policies, they want to silence their critics by changing the rules. We're always up for sensible reform of the Senate. We'll wait and see the legislation but Labor won't be a party to making it easier for the Liberal Government to put through their pension cuts, their hospital cuts, their school cuts, their lack of action on Australian jobs and their $100,000 degrees for higher education.

 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]

 

SHORTEN: I saw the sharks circling around there - this is a computer adjusted image and I think it's great for the kids to be here. What I read in The Australian makes me about as nervous as the computer altered image here. No, I'm not, that story wasn't correct. The issue is what we want to have in Australia is a debate about who's got the best ideas for the future. As I said on Monday night's Q&A show on the ABC, I'm not going to pretend that I'm unhappy that Mr Abbott is gone. I think that leaving aside the person, his policies weren't the right policies for Australia. What I am concerned about is whether or not the Liberal Party's fair dinkum. Have they totally changed their policy stripes or have they just changed their sales people? I'm very keen to see politics done differently to the way it's been done in the past, less of personalities, less of the poll-driven discussion, more about what's in the best interests of families who have kids at secondary school right now. You asked about what I'm feeling, I'm interested in what's in the best interests of prospective students going to uni and how do we make sure that bright kids get a chance in life? I'm interested in whether or not adults who have got to try and find aged care facilities for their ageing parents are getting the support they need. I'm interested if there is enough jobs to go around for Australians in the engineering and construction sector, I think this is a great time in Australia at the moment if we can have a debate about ideas. Labor believes fundamentally in growing the economy but we believe in making sure that people don't get left behind. If that's the debate we can have in Australia about who's got the best plans for the future, well let's bring it on.

 

JOURNALIST: You talk about the sales person, are you the right sales person for Labor then?

 

SHORTEN: Absolutely and indeed, you know, we focus on the sales people and that's a good point but the answer I gave before was inviting not just the politicians but the media to go beyond the debate about the cosmetic and get to the substance. See Labor's got a plan to have 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. Labor believes that we don't need to spend $160 million to have a taxpayer funded opinion poll invented by Mr Abbott to delay marriage equality, just let the Parliament do its business. That's what we're elected to do and have a conscience vote in this Parliament. Labor believes that we can do higher education better. Really for the last two years you've seen a line-up of Liberal Ministers say that the only future for higher education was to increase the price and make it harder for kids from modest backgrounds to go to university. Labor's got a different way and we're unveiling our policies, we unveiled them on Monday and we've been working on them for six to 12 months.

 

JOURNALIST: In terms of your team to prosecute those policies, you've talked about the need for a modest reshuffle to your frontbench. Does it need to be broader now to match up with Malcolm Turnbull's ministry?

 

SHORTEN: I don't mean to embarrass Jim who's standing next to me, but I'm looking forward, if the caucus chooses its way, for Jim and other talented people to join my shadow executive. I think there's been a little bit of a rewriting of history. Malcolm Turnbull has said that he's going to have some more women on his front bench; all he's done is reached some of the levels that Labor's already at. Malcolm Turnbull's decided to have younger people than the John Howard Ministry on their frontbench; Labor's already done that. And what you will find with our reshuffle is we will take these issues further and we will do well in our reshuffle.  But I'm also going to say Malcolm Turnbull had to have a dramatic reshuffle because he had to reward the people who voted for him and punish the Abbott backers. You know, we see poor old Immigration Minister Peter Dutton swinging out in the breeze. He was on the National Security Cabinet Committee, now he's not. You know, when you've got someone responsible for immigration and border security in their title, the fact that someone responsible for border security is not invited to be on the security committee of the cabinet I think speaks volumes for the regard which Mr Dutton is held in by some of the new leadership. Fundamentally Labor has a very good team, a very united team, but we will be bringing in new blood and I think we can do that because we've already done two years ago a lot of the things which the Liberals have been belatedly catching up on.

 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]

 

SHORTEN: Well, they are serious allegations and no amount of sugar coating changes it, they are most serious allegations. I've made it clear ever since the Royal Commission was created that I wouldn't be providing a running commentary. But let me underline for the record yet again, Labor has zero tolerance for illegality and corruption.

 

JOURNALIST: Based on what you've already heard is there a place for Michael Ravbar in the ALP on the executive?

 

SHORTEN: I think the Royal Commission, it's got its processes to go through. We've heard some evidence, I say again, some serious allegations.  I'm not going to provide a running commentary on the Royal Commission and let me emphasise that there is no place for criminality in Australia's workplaces full stop.

 

JOURNALIST: The Commission, though, has heard evidence that security cameras were covered up and 7 tonnes of documents were destroyed, allegedly, at Michael Ravbar's instruction. Is this the kind of fellow that belongs in the national party or the national executive?

 

SHORTEN: As I've said, there's no sugar coating these allegations. You'd appreciate that there hasn't been all the evidence fully examined, but I'm not going to sugar coat this or just dismiss it -

 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible interruption]

 

SHORTEN: Sorry, I was answering your question. That's the first action I'll take. It is most serious. But what I also say is the royal commission is hearing lots of evidence. I'm not going to provide a running commentary but the answer to your question is this. If there is criminality established, if there is illegality established, well Labor has zero tolerance and no place for that within the ranks of the Labor Party.

 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]

 

SHORTEN: Well, I was asked this question on Monday night on 'Q&A' and I think I might refer to that again. If there is criminality in Australian workplaces, by union reps, by employers, just as if there's criminality in corporate boardrooms in Australia by company directors, Labor has zero tolerance for that. And what we're interested in, though, is making sure that these people are brought to justice wherever it's demonstrated to be the case. Labor believes that there's already powers, that there's already police agencies who can do this. We're not convinced that every matter the Royal Commission's pursued has warranted this expenditure of resources by the taxpayer.

 

JOURNALIST: Will your best interests be tax cuts [inaudible]?

 

SHORTEN: Tax is a really important issue in Australian politics and what we've seen since the Liberals got elected two years ago is that the proportion of taxes as a percentage of economic activity in Australia has gone up. The Liberals love to talk about lower taxes yet what they've done is managed to increase taxes. We know that they increased the income tax that people pay, they've put on new taxes on a range of items, and they've certainly been most aggressive in trying to introduce other new taxes such as a GP tax. So we are sceptical, when the Liberal Party says they want lower taxes. Why for the last two years have they increased taxes?

 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

 

SHORTEN: I'm just setting the context. Taxes, in your question, is so important that a 3-word slogan would not be sufficient, because Australians really do care about what's happening with our taxes. So the first point I'm establishing is that under the Liberal Party of Australia, since they got elected two years ago, taxes have gone up and up and up. Now Labor is looking at all of our policies for the next election. We believe in some cases there is a case made for looking at taxes to be levied which haven't been levied: see, I don't accept that some multinationals are paying the appropriate taxes in Australia. I hate the idea that some multinationals view Australia as a soft touch. That somehow they can gear up all their debt in Australia on businesses, much more than perhaps would be their average worldwide in their operations, so they gear debt up in Australia and they reduce their taxable profile, even though they're making a lot of money in Australia, I hate it when other people think that somehow Australia's a soft touch on tax.

 

I also have to express my concerns and disbelief that the Liberal Party of Australia are happy to have a conversation about increasing your GST, my GST, the GST of every student we see here, yet they won't go after loopholes in the superannuation system at the very top end. My concern is that the Liberal Party of Australia, whenever they talk about tax reform, what it means is you pay more tax on your GST. You pay more to go to university but the big end of town, those who are really well off who have got highly paid accountants, can utilise the system and minimise their tax when the vast bulk of Australian society can't minimise their tax.

 

JOURNALIST: Just finally, Mr Turnbull said all policies are under review, including asylum resettlement, the economy. He wants to move quickly on the economy but he won't be rushed. Do you think there's anything he should be doing right now to boost Australia's economy?

 

SHORTEN: Do you find anything ironic that in the last week Mr Turnbull says he's keeping the policies of the Government at the same time he's reviewing them all? On the one hand he says we've got to move quickly, on the other hand he won't be rushed. I'm not sure the Liberal Party has much of a plan other than changing their sales people. The truth of the matter is, though, that members of the Turnbull ministry, in many cases sat at the cabinet table of the Abbott ministry. My concern is what we see is this is a Government who has simply dumped Tony Abbott because they were worried about their own jobs and they don't have a plan for Australia. I can trust that with Labor's policies that we've already announced, climate change - everyone knows we've got a superior climate policy which will actually take real action to preserve our environment and sustain the national estate for future generations at the same time attracting the jobs of the future for around the world, and also helping consumers take control of their own energy prices by increasing the mix of renewable energy. That's a clear set of policies on climate change.

 

Labor's made it very clear for the last year that we've got a clear set of policies on science and technology, especially in our schools and universities. It's Labor who has led the debate on science around technology by proposing 100,000 HECS free places for students HECS debt-free places for students to go to university in science and technology engineering. It's Labor who has led the way on a range of important social issues from supporting a vote on marriage equality, right through to making sure that we have real action on domestic violence. So we've been putting forward our policies in a sensible manner and on Monday we announced our vision for the future of higher education. I think it's really important that we have a debate about ideas in the future but I can promise you that unlike the Liberals who for the last two years have taken Australia nowhere – we've seen our economy wallowing in mediocrity, we've seen unemployment go up, the deficit go up – what Labor's doing is preparing an economic and social program for the future of Australia not just for the next opinion poll, for the next 10 and 15 years.

 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]

 

SHORTEN: I might say this on the record for Peta Credlin. She was a very formidable Chief of Staff. She served Tony Abbott with great loyalty, far greater loyalty, I suspect, than some of his colleagues displayed to him. But I think it is fair to say that Peta Credlin has been the victim of certainly in some cases of sexist attacks because she was a strong woman doing a strong job in a very tough position. Now I don't say that's all of the problems that were happening with the Abbott Government, but what I do know is that it is really gutless of some of the current Liberal Government to blame everything that's happened in the last two years on Peta Credlin. They were all willing hander-upperers to whatever Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey had to say. I watched two Budgets brought down by Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey and I saw the rest of the Liberal Party clapping and cheering like they were at a grand final. Now there's been a lot of rewriting of history, air brushing of the role of everyone except Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin. I think Peta Credlin is a very strong warrior for her code. She served Tony Abbott loyally. There was elements of sexism in the way she's been treated and the new members, the new Ministers in this Government shouldn't be blaming her. The real problem with the Abbott Government wasn't the personalities, it was their policies. Last question, thank you.

 

JOURNALIST: You talk about the right sales person. Do you feel you have the backing of Labor Party in the lead up to the election?

 

SHORTEN: Absolutely and I have to say, for the last two years – and it's a good chance for me to put this on record – the Labor team after the defeat two years ago have pulled together with a real sense of effort and unity of purpose. When we look at what's been happening in the Liberal Party, I can't work out in the last two years – was Mr Abbott being undermined or was it in the last week? I can't work out if they all backed everything the Prime Minister said – the former Prime Minister said – or if they were all conscientious objectors rebelling against what the Prime Minister said. I think the real problem in the last two years is that Australia's been going nowhere under Liberal policies and my Labor team have been a far stronger Opposition than I think anyone expected, and I also know that going forward to the next election our eyes are firmly cast on the goal of good policy for the better future of all Australians.

 

Thanks everyone.

 

ENDS

 

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