Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Canberra - Labor’s National Policy forum; Trade Union Royal Commission Joint Police Taskforce






SUBJECT/S: Labor’s National Policy forum; Trade Union Royal Commission Joint Police Taskforce; Tony Abbott’s Petrol Tax; Victorian Election; Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank; Tony Abbott’s dirty deal with Clive Palmer; Renewable Energy Target; Fiji; ADF abuse report; Senator Nova Peris; National Security Legislation; Data Retention.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone one. I have just come from a meeting of Labor’s national policy forum where some of the best thinkers in the Labor Party, having engaged in community consultations with literally thousands of Australians and Labor Party members, doing the work on Labor’s election policies and Labor’s national platform for the next national conference. I have also watched with interest today the Prime Minister's announcement that he is going to create a joint taskforce to deal with corruption in the building and construction industry. This is a very interesting announcement.


It's very interesting because what Prime Minister announced today is exactly what I announced nine months ago. They say imitation is the best form of flattery. This copycat Prime Minister really just has to explain why he has waited nine months to make this announcement. I suspect that today’s announcement and the timing of it, is more to do with Victorian electoral politics because of the chaos he has created for the Napthine Government, by Premier Napthine's Liberal political party leader in Canberra, Tony Abbott introducing increasing new petrol taxes for all Victorian motorists. In terms of the actual announcement of corruption in the building sector, Labor firmly believes, fundamentally believes, that the workplace and industrial relations is no place for criminal activity. I'm pleased that the Government will be putting forward real resources to catch the crooks in the construction industry, be they employers, rogue unionists or criminal elements, rather than just talking about it, which is what they've done so far. Furthermore, when we see the Government talking about workplace relations, we believe that the frame to analyse corruption in the building construction sector needs to be through criminality and police action. That is the best way to handle matters, not through political stunts.


Happy to take any questions people might have.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can I ask you a separate matter about the Chinese proposal re the infrastructure bank? Which side of the Cabinet dispute would you be on, that Australia should join or that we should side with the US and lay off?


SHORTEN: I think the dramatic revelations today that the Abbott Cabinet approved investing in an infrastructure bank initiated through ideas from China and then got overruled by the National Security Cabinet Committee shows that this is a government in disarray. What on earth is the Abbott Government doing? On one hand Treasurer Hockey and the Cabinet have a discussion and they make a decision to give the thumbs-up to the investment bank, then Julie Bishop goes to the National Security Cabinet and rolls Joe Hockey, and what on earth is Tony Abbott doing? I think this sends a worrying signal in Australia, that at the very heart of Government, Cabinet subcommittees and the Cabinet, the fact that they are going in significantly different directions, the fact that we know about it is a worrying sign for foreign relations.


JOURNALIST: Do you have any opinion on that -


SHORTEN: I do, but I certainly don't think the disarray within the Government should go without remark or comment. In terms of the arrangements in an infrastructure bank proposed by China, I think that Labor needs to be and the nation needs to be open to the proposition of involvement. Now, it is fair to say that the governance arrangements need to be examined, all of the matters which go towards the processes do need to be examined, but I think it is wrong just to slam the door on terms of this proposition through an infighting of the Abbott Government.


JOURNALIST: Now that Direct Action is in place, what do you want to see in terms of modelling or extra information about how it's going to work?


SHORTEN: This has been a bad week for the Government. Lurching from a mature debate, so-called about GST to watching Joe Hockey say that the last thing they may want to talk about is GST but it's still on the table, complete chaos and confusion, then announcing a petrol excise in the opening up of the Victorian State election, and in fact the petrol excise will start the same day that Victorians can cast pre-poll ballots. This is a government whose taxation policies, on one hand they want a mature debate, on the other hand they want to rush through an excise through regulation and then force and bully Labor and the Greens to voting for it otherwise oil companies will get millions of dollars of taxpayer money, this is not government policy which is mature. Of course, we get towards the end of the week and see what they are proposing on different matters. This has been a terrible week, and then you get Direct Action. What on earth has Prime Minister Abbott promised Prime Minister Palmer in fine print that we haven't seen? Everyone knows that is paying big polluters to keep polluting, which is terrible policy. It is the direct opposite of free market theory which the Liberal Party says they believe in. But also even if you want to go down the path of this billion-dollar boondoggle, which is all about a dirty deal with Clive Palmer to get his votes on other matters, we know it won't reduce the emissions targets to the point that the Government has committed to. Bad policy, I suggest bad for the confidence for the Australian business community, and in terms of Direct Action, Labor just doesn't believe it is the right way to go. We believe in trusting the marketplace to set the price signal. We don't believe, the Labor I lead, in setting either a carbon tax or indeed this billion-dollar bailout for Clive Palmer and other large polluting industries.


JOURNALIST: Should Clive Palmer's companies be eligible for some (inaudible)?


SHORTEN: That will be a matter for the Government to work through, but I think Australians will be very curious if there is a deal done that will see individuals be enriched. When we raised this question in Parliament yesterday, the Government gave this remarkable, lame defence which said that it is class enemy to raise if someone is going to make a private benefit out of a Government deal, no it's not, it's called probity.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten has direct action heartened your resolve to play it tough during RET negotiations?


SHORTEN: It's not a matter of playing it tough. It is about the best interests of Australian’s future generations. The renewable energy target has created thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in industry and it is also changing our energy mix to a more sustainable climate in the future. That's what motivates us. We're not interested in being tough or any other sort of tactic. We're just interested in what is good for Australia in 10, 20 years' time.


JOURNALIST: What's your view on Australia lifting sanctions against Fiji?


SHORTEN: There has been progress in terms of democracy in Fiji. We haven't seen and I haven't seen the final announcements by the Government. If there is progress, then that deserves encouragement. If there is not progress, then that's a different matter.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Mr Turnbull has questioned whether media should have run elements of the Nova Peris story. Do you agree that the media overstepped the mark in reporting this story?


SHORTEN: Very firmly on the morning that this story broke 48 hours ago, I came out and said I and Labor support Nova Peris. She is a distinguished Australian. We are fortunate to have her in the Parliament of Australia. I said then that these mattered predated her election to Parliament and they were deeply personal. Senator Peris made a strong statement yesterday and I think many of you have been generous enough to recognise that. I think she has spoken on the matter and she is leaving it at that. I shall  certainly do the same. I think Australian readers of newspapers will make up their own mind as to what they think about it.


JOURNALIST: The Senate committee has handed down its report in relation to the Government’s response to sexual abuse in the Defence Force. Among those recommendations it is suggesting that the Minister for Veterans Affairs should take a look at what the legal obstacles are to some of those victims of sexual abuse to getting access to DVA benefits. What's your response to that? And have you had a chance to look at that report?


SHORTEN: If I can answer the second part first, no, I haven't. This has been a deeply troubling and concerning history for people who have been veterans. I think I would do their story the best respect by actually reading the report carefully and talking to my shadow spokespeople.


JOURNALIST: In theory, would Labor support a Royal Commission into abuse within the Defence Force? That report says it shouldn't be ruled out.


SHORTEN: Well, I will read the report. I do recognise, though, that for these cases of abuse, it's incredibly troubling and for many people who haven't had closure, I do the best service I can to these victims by considering our position rather than just having an off the top reaction.


JOURNALIST: You wrote this week to the Prime Minister about media and the security laws. That was on coverage of special intelligence operations. A bill introduced this week would also have 10-year jail penalties for publications of news items about recruitment of terror suspects. Do you have any concerns about that? Would Labor actually seek to amend that and change that bill that was only introduced this week?


SHORTEN: Well, to go to the principled issue you raised first, in terms of the freedom of our press, Labor made some propositions and made some amendment, what I call belts and braces, recognising the concerns that are expressed with the first of the foreign or national security bills. Clearly, in recent days and weeks, more concerns have emerged and emerged more strongly and advocated I have to say, much more strongly. I want to keep national security bipartisan. That's why I wrote to the Prime Minister and said that we have a mechanism in the first bill which goes to the whole issue of press freedom and reporting, and it allows the independent security monitor to review the operation of these clauses and these sections. We are waiting for the Prime Minister's response. I think that would be a sensible way to bring that review forward because I think that the volume and the amount of discussion and debate does require an answer. Now, I notice that the Attorney-General said that the answer is the Attorney-General and that he will sit there as a sort of last sentinel on the wall of press freedom. That's not satisfactory. In regard to what you're talking about with the most recent legislation, I think the Government, and it has to carefully nurture not only bipartisanship, but the public confidence in our national security rules, so the way to do that, I think, would be to bring forward the review, so that I've seen muted amendments. We can have that discussion, so that people can be confident that we're upholding the national security of Australia, but preserving the liberties, including press freedom which makes the Australian way of life amongst the best in the world.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) should be a part of the review?


SHORTEN: I think having the review on the first Act will answer the questions, won't it. I think that what we need to do is that whilst it's important to have the views publicly debated, I also think we now need to get to a landing on making everyone comfortable, that we're getting national security right and press freedom in this country.


JOURNALIST: One of the reasons that the Government had a really bad week was its timing on the introduction of the changes to petrol indexation vis-a-vis the Victorian election. Are you suggesting it wouldn't have been as bad or egregious if they had introduced it at some other time? While you're on that, your views on how the changes to indexation will play into the Victorian election?


SHORTEN: Well, you're right to draw that point to my attention. The Petrol Tax excise increase, the Petrol Tax ambush, is something which Labor has opposed since the Budget. We think it is a bad idea. The Government keeps saying they've got a mandate to lift the petrol excise because it was in the Budget. That's wrong, Tony Abbott. If you want to increase or change taxes, take it to the people of Australia. That's where you get your mandate from, not a rotten unfair budget. So in terms of a bad week, the fact that they're bypassing Parliament is bad. The fact that they haven't got the courage to take it to the people of Australia before they implement it, that is bad. It's Australians who have had a bad week because of this introduction, which you're quite right, Denis Napthine and the Liberal Government in Victoria has also had a bad week because if you want to stop Tony Abbott doing bad things to Australia, you don't do it by voting for the Mini Me alternatives in Victoria.


JOURNALIST: Have you had any further thoughts on mandatory data retention. The bill was just tabled yesterday, you weren’t sure right then. Do you have any concerns in the debate that’s emerged in the past day about where it might be going, there’s no definition yet. Do you have any thoughts so far on mandatory data retention?


SHORTEN: What I think is that the Parliament needs to take careful consideration of the mandatory data it retention bill which was presented for the first time yesterday. Labor saw the bill or the draft bill for the first time yesterday. I think its right that the parliamentary committees examine the report. We hear evidence from the security agencies, but we also hear evidence from the telcos, from civil liberties groups and hear evidence from ordinary Australians. There is a balancing act here between the ability of the police and the security agencies to do their job, and Labor is most committed to keeping Australians safe but at the same time we have to make sure there is not unintended consequences which go to the liberties of Australians, which go to the cost of implementing new regulation. So I think the next best step is to have parliamentary committee consideration of the measures and I would also say that Labor has been very cooperative with the tight Government timetables in terms of national security. In this case I think we can take a little bit more time to examine the detail of the propositions so that all Australians can feel comfortable that we're not rushing any unintended assault on the privacy of Australians and we are getting the balance right, though, giving the tools that our security agencies and police need to keep Australians safe from both foreign enemies and domestic.


Thanks everyone.