Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Canberra - Labor’s positive plan for innovation and the sharing economy; Marriage equality






SUBJECT/S: Labor’s positive plan for innovation and the sharing economy; Marriage equality; China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.


ED HUSIC, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY ASSISTING WITH DIGITAL INNOVATION AND STARTUPS: G’day everyone. Thanks for joining us here at the Canberra Innovation Centre. There's a lot to be excited about here and thank you Sarah who I’ve been invited a number of times to come down and it’s a great pleasure to be able to see what's happening here because it’s a bit of a hidden secret what the work that is being done here is the work that will generate the jobs of the future. It will unlock wealth, create growth and build a smart economy, and Labor has been very focused on this because we recognise you've got to get on board early, start the thinking, get the action happening because we know 13 out of 19 industry sectors are going to be affected by technological change and we need to prepare for that now and not be basically chasing other countries as they're getting the handle on his.


So again, it's about creating jobs, unlocking wealth, building a smarter economy and it is a pleasure to be able to tour the facility with the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and also with Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh and local member and local champion for the Canberra Innovation Network and both Bill and Andrew will be outlining the details of 6 months of work thinking about the sharing economy and the type of principles we think need to be observed to make sure that the sharing economy and the innovation that's unlocked by that works for us all but works fairly and I might hand over to Bill.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks, Ed. Good morning, everyone and I want to thank the Canberra Innovation Network for hosting us today. I'm here today with my newly appointed point man on digital start-ups, Ed Husic, and Andrew Leigh, who as Assistant Treasurer has been doing a lot of the grunt work in terms of developing the sharing economy principles.

Today's announcement about Labor's principles on the sharing economy follows upon months of consultation and thinking about this exciting new edge of the Australian economy. It also comes on top of other announcements that Labor's made, making sure that Australia is part of the wave of the future and the creation of new and meaningful jobs in Australia. We've spoken about a Startup Year; 2000 graduates from around Australia when they finish their undergraduate degrees have a chance to spend another year at accelerators, at universities, backing in the idea that they may have been pushing around in their own mind during their studies. But the Startup Year is not just about sitting in the ivory tower of universities theorising about the future. It will involve mentoring from business, collaboration with business, so that bright people with amazing ideas – maybe a future Uber or Airbnb idea – get that business edge so that Australia can capture the creative potential of our young people.

We've also said that we want to have two new visa categories so that bright foreign students, rather than just simply heading home, have a chance to spend more time in Australia and back in their idea here, so we keep their skills and capacities right here. We've also proposed an entrepreneurship visa which means if you're someone bright somewhere else in the world, you can have the Australian dream and combine it with your own dream and have a net win-win for yourself and Australia.

But today we're doing more of the work backing up our innovation partnerships, our commitment to science, technology and engineering and mathematics with 100,000 HECS debt-free places for young people in the future.


Today we're taking the next step and talking about the sharing economy principles. A lot of Australians are exploring the sharing economy and I'll get Andrew to talk in more detail in a moment about it. There's lots of Australians now when they look at their holiday, might go on Airbnb to see what's possible. A lot of Australians are looking at the possibilities of Uber to be able to get transport at times when you need it in a most cost-effective manner.

But it's important as we develop these new ideas that regulation keeps up. Labor's sharing economy principles can be summarised as light-touch regulation. Our priority and the principles which Andrew will take you through has been to get the balance right between the rights and conditions of people at work, making sure people pay their taxation, making sure that public safety remains foremost, understanding that primary property is yours to use and making sure, of course, that people pay their fair share of taxes.

Once we establish these principles, and sit down and talk with states and territories about regulation, at that point we want to make sure the rules apply to everyone. We have zero tolerance after that for people not paying their taxes, not adhering to the regulations. But Labor knows that the sharing economy offers exciting potentials at the edge of today so that we can do better in the future.

We also understand we have to get the balance right between the conditions of people, consumers and the public good. Now I'm going to ask Andrew to talk more about our sharing economy principles but what Labor's doing today is what we promised we would do at the start of this year. We said this would be our year of ideas, we've been rolling out policies in a range of areas. We understand Australians don't expect governments to do their, you know, to be in their lounge room sorting out their future for them but they do expect a government and political parties to have a view about the future, today Labor's saying we have a view about the sharing economy, it's not too hard and we will put forward the principles which make the sharing economy work for everyone. I'll hand over to Andrew Leigh now.


ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks very much, Bill, and it's a true delight to be here with Ed and Bill at terrific Canberra innovation centre. I want to thank Sarah as well and acknowledge the work that she's done in order to ensure that the Canberra Innovation Network is as diverse as possible. The accelerator part of the Innovation Network is 50 per cent women which is a higher share than any other innovation hub in Australia.

Back in March I launched a sharing economy discussion paper for Labor at the National Press Club. It was a discussion paper that garnered over 500 submissions from people wanting to be part of the conversation as to how we make sure the sharing economy works for all Australians. It's a mark of the ubiquity of the sharing economy that within a year of Uber starting in Sydney, a tenth of Sydneysiders have used a ride-sharing service. Back in March, 1 in 300 Australian homes were listed on Airbnb, now it's 1 in 200. The sharing economy is growing fast and we need the rules to keep pace. Here in the ACT, the ACT Government is working to provide a set of rules that legalise the entry of ride sharing and in Victoria you've got a Labor Government engaging with Airbnb to make sure that when disaster hits, people who want to offer a bedroom in their house for someone who's been displaced by a bushfire or flood are able to do so – Labor Governments leading the way on the sharing economy.


We want to make sure that big international sharing economy companies face a reasonable set of rules that uphold workers' standards, that provide consumer protections, that entrench the principle that primary property is yours to share, that ensure public safety and to make sure that opportunities are available to people with disabilities.

This is about a light-touch regulatory approach which contrasts with the current morass where sharing economy firms often just aren't quite sure what rules apply to them and we want the new startups like some of those we have been meeting today to be able to take on the world. Australian sharing economy firms like Park Hound which helps provide more parking places and was started by a couple of young entrepreneurs who couldn't find a carpark when they were going to the MCG. Like Newcastle based Camplify that wants people to rent out their caravans and camper vans given that they only use them for 3 weeks a year. Like DriveMyCar, GoGet and Pawshake  which are bringing Australians together and making better use of the resources we already have. Labor hopes the Government will work with us on the sharing economy principles but if the Government continues to have a head in the sand approach to the sharing economy, we will actively engage with state and territory governments to make sure the sharing economy works for all Australians. We're happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, one problem with the sharing economy is whether or not the likes of Uber are paying their fair share of tax. Would a future Labor Government force Uber for instance to pay the GST?


SHORTEN: We think that everyone should pay their fair share of tax. Now we understand that when you have new technology, some of the old regulations don't automatically catch the developments of new technology. I do not think it is an insurmountable problem to ensure that Uber pays their fair share of taxation. But what I'm not going to do with the new economy is drown it in red tape. We'll get the balance right. I really understand that for the taxi industry  a lot of people have invested money in the plates and the leases but we also want to make sure that we, on one hand, protect that business investment, but on the other hand we don't hold back ride sharing or progress.

The ACT Government itself started to address this and I think their regulations and how effective they are will be a good test to see where we go on this. Other jurisdictions around the world are grappling with the same problems. I'll ask Andrew to perhaps expand in more detail on this issue but I just want to make one clear point - the new economy's here, the sharing economy's here. Governments can either help guide and navigate the future using the principles which we've enunciated or they can throw up their hands in the air and say, it's all too hard and we can't cope with change. Labor's putting forward principles for the sharing economy to show that. We'll get this right, this is not the hardest problem this nation has to deal with. I'd like to get Andrew to perhaps talk in a little bit more details so that you get the fullest answer possible.

Well as you know, there's a case on foot between Uber and the Australian Taxation Office on payment of GST and that will take its usual course through the courts, but I'm yet to find a sharing economy provider that thinks that their main comparative advantage is in tax dodging. Sharing economy providers want to pay their fair share of tax and indeed through platforms that track sales, it ought to be easier for providers to comply with the appropriate taxes that fall on their shoulders.

We don't have any tolerance for tax dodging but nor do we think that this sector ought to be drowned in additional taxes and additional regulations. We just want to get the rules right and so innovative companies can prosper and help to deal with big Australian challenges such as traffic congestion and housing affordability. You know we've got 10 million spare bedrooms unused in Australia today, making better use of those can help deal with the big challenge of housing affordability.


JOURNALIST: Will Labor put in any funding or investment into the start-up economy? As part of -
(Phone rings)


LEIGH: Thanks for sharing.


SHORTEN: You can tell a lot by a person's ringtone.




HUSIC: That's Sky being an innovator.
JOURNALIST: Will Labor put any funding or investment into the start-up economy - will you move to try and fund spaces like this where sharing economy innovators can come and work with subsidised price?


SHORTEN: What I'll do is I'll leave Ed to talk a little bit about some of the specific policies in startups but let me preface Ed's answer by this; we're proposing to properly fund universities in this country, we're proposing to make sure that kids can afford to go to university, that's important. We're proposing to make sure that research is properly funded in this country and that's what we've said with our announcements. That's the seed bed, general research; there's been $3 billion of cuts under the Liberal Government, hundreds of millions of dollars from the CSIRO and basic research from other research institutions. So our first part of the answer is we will properly fund universities and research in this country. We also said on my Budget night reply that we would create a Smart Innovation Fund to help startups; we've also proposed that we would provide income contingent loans for people to have their Startup Year. So we are proposing a series of measures but Ed's been working on a lot of our policies as I said he's our point guy in terms of the digital economy and startups so I might get him to expand.


HUSIC: Thanks Bill, and the way we've been approaching it is identify the things that are holding back the startup economy and the growth of startups because when you look at us compared to other parts of the world, the rate of startup formation is very low so we know that things like, for example, not having enough talented people around and having the skills there for when startups are ready to grow, that's an issue. It's why we're talking about encouraging primary students to start coding, to be able to get them into university, into STEM courses and make sure we've got the skills there and address the fact we are pumping out 50 per cent less IT graduates now than what we did 10 years ago. Big issue, got to deal with it.

We also want to encourage a change in mindset as well and not only in terms of seeing through the Startup Year 2000 new potential enterprises form, but also change the mindset too, that is that you go to school, university and a salaried career when instead what we are saying, what Labor is saying, is you go to school, university and potentially start your own business and grow our economy. Get the money flowing into support good ideas; we’ve been talking about that as well.

So we think there's a number of things where we are trying to attract talent, attract capital and we also announced this week that we'll be bringing together the superannuation and venture capital community to identify the barriers that are stopping the flow of funds. We have one of the largest savings pools on the planet and we need to make it work harder to help support early-stage innovation in this country and so we're not just talking the talk, we're walking the walk in trying to make sure we speed up those flows and there will be a number of other things so watch this space


When it comes to the type of things that are underpinning your question and one final thing if I can say is on equity crowd-funding which will help support early-stage innovation as well. We have previously said to Joe Hockey and to Bruce Bilson we were prepared to work collaboratively with them on this. I had a number of meetings with Bruce Bilson when he was Minister to try and advance the legal framework. This week we had the reheated announcement that equity crowd-funding laws would be introduced in December which was also announced in February and we'll be writing to the Government extending to them our commitment to work with the Government on a non-contentious piece of legislation which is introduce equity crowd-funding. If New Zealand can do it so can Australia; let's just get cracking instead of talking all the time about what's coming. So let's make those things work.


SHORTEN: That was excellent. Thanks, Ed.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, in order to achieve marriage equality in Australia in the shorter term, would you support a plan to have a parliamentary vote before the next election and then have that vote ratified by a plebiscite in the next term of Parliament?


SHORTEN: Well, many of us in Labor believe in marriage equality. I’ve voted for it for a number of years. We think the quickest way to achieve marriage equality is to have a free vote in the Parliament. We don't believe and we're not convinced of the merit of having a plebiscite after the next election which could be a very divisive debate. It is not a question of whether you want people to have a view, people have a view, people have a view already. But of course we need to think what are the consequences as a plebiscite rolls out? It's not just about the $158 million of taxpayer money being spent. Just imagine for a moment the campaign - there's a ‘yes’ case and there will be a ‘no’ case. Do we really want to subject members of the LGBTI community to a ‘no’ case? Do you really want to see government funded campaigns attacking the moral basis of same-sex marriage and of your choices about your sexuality?
My concern about a plebiscite isn't just the top-line issue, is it a good or bad idea to give people a say? Everyone agrees it's always a good idea to give people a say - but can you imagine the ‘no’ case? I don't want young people in regional Australia, who might already feel pressured and stigmatised, to have to subject to a TV campaign where they're told that their sexuality and their choices are somehow not fit to be allowed to be married. So we have reservations about a divisive debate which will cause a lot of harm, especially when we already have a thing called the Parliament and we make choices every day in Parliament.

We all know the plebiscite was created - the architecture of it – was created by Tony Abbott who will do what he had to do, to delay any choice about marriage equality. The Liberal Party love to talk about their values of being a party of the individual, well they should just let their people vote, they should just let their people vote.


I think the other issue here, and we're seeing now the argument which is being reported importantly in today's media, that Eric Abetz and the hard right of the Liberal Party are saying they're being ambushed by their own Prime Minister, again. The issue here is that there is division in the Liberal ranks.


Tony Abbott was in charge of the right wing of the Liberal Party, Malcolm Turnbull is a prisoner of the right wing of the Liberal Party and it's all the same outcomes.


JOURNALIST: (inaudible) actual proposal though, would you - if there is to be a plebiscite would you like to see that it's resolved if binding somehow?


SHORTEN: I think that goes to the heart of the issue too. A concern Labor’s had about a plebiscite is, is it binding on the collective Liberal Party? We've have seen three interpretations emerge out of the Liberal party about a plebiscite - one, it will lock everyone in and Malcolm Turnbull's trying to retrofit that lock-in by passing a law now which says that if the plebiscite gets up every Liberal Party member has to vote for it. The alternative we have seen individual right wing Liberal MPs says they will follow their own electorate, not the national result and then of course we have seen other Liberal MPs say they're not going to be bound at all.


What we don't want is a divisive debate about peoples’ sexuality. We don't want that debate. I don't think that is a genie we should have let out of the bottle where a whole lot of people are able to stigmatise each other. I will talk to Malcolm Turnbull because I'm interested in supporting marriage equality. Obviously we will look at his ideas that he's offering, and I'm looking forward to talking to him about that because Labor wants, by and large, to cooperate to make marriage equality reality.


Our concern, though is that there's divisions in the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott may have been captain of the extreme right of the Liberal Party but as I say Malcolm Turnbull is a prisoner of the extreme right of the Liberal Party and the same results are happening. I just want marriage equality to become a reality, so we will talk to Malcolm Turnbull.


JOURNALIST: But Mr Shorten Warren Entsch's latest push to change the Marriage Act before the plebiscite - could that be useful? Would that be better than the Government's current position?


SHORTEN: Well, our preferred position is just to have a conscience vote, a free vote of the Members of Parliament. But we're not going to artificially obstruct other endeavours to try to get marriage equality up so I make it very clear of course I'll talk to Malcolm Turnbull about his ideas because we believe in marriage equality. But my concern is that the Liberal Party is starting to show today that elements of them are going to resist Malcolm Turnbull locking them in.


The real reason why there was a plebiscite in this country wasn't the sort of face reason it's all about giving people a say. It was Tony Abbott's way of kicking the issue down the road for a number of years and hopefully that something else would come up to stop them having to deal with marriage equality. People elect their parliamentarians to do their job, I think that is what we should. Do but I will clearly talk to Malcolm Turnbull. My reservation about a plebiscite is do we really want a nation-dividing debate where the taxpayers are funding not only a ‘yes’ case for marriage equality but a ‘no’ case and what are the consequences of that being, the consensus in the community just being ripped up? I have real concerns with that.


JOURNALIST: Are you going to speak to Ged Kearney and other union leaders about their concerns with the China-Australia free trade agreement following this parliamentary vote we are expecting soon?


SHORTEN: I speak to all stakeholders all the time. I've had a number of conversations with representatives of workers in Australia and their union leaders, just as I've spoken with business. Labor said when the ChAFTA was announced that we had real concerns about the protection of Australian jobs, Australian wages, Australian standards. Now, initially when we said that, remember the Government and some elements piled in on us and said how dare we question the magnificent ChAFTA, we just have to get down on our knees and worship it in an unchanged form and we would be just economic wreckers if we stopped up for Australian jobs.


Let the record reflect we were right. The Government I'm pleased to say has made constructive changes Labor put in three requirements, we want labour market testing, we want to make sure if someone comes to work in this country, it doesn't matter if they're from China or anywhere else, they're not working at a wage level that undercuts the local wages market. We want to make sure that people doing skilled work in Australia, which requires licencing in Australia are actually able to do that work to the licencing standards in Australia. Now the unions have expressed concerns, they're not sure that the safeguards go far enough. That is entirely up to them to say that and I'm not at all concerned if they want to see an even better deal. That's what unions do, they always push for the best possible deal by their definition. I believe we did make some wins, I appreciate the Government being constructive, I feel there is enough there for us to move forward, which is what Labor is about. But I've got no doubt there are other remaining issues. We have 800,000 people in Australia with temporary work rights due to their visas, 800,000! We have un employed people in Australia, 800,000. We have 800,000-plus people on the disability support pension. We've over a million people who have insecure work or complain they don't have enough work.


The unions have a general case. So let me be really clear we think there is enough here to deal with ChAFTA in its current form but Labor is not giving the debate about good quality jobs in Australia, making sure we don't have repeats of the scandal of the 7-Eleven workforce, thousands of people being underpaid temporary guest workers who have very few rights and are not willing to speak up or not able to speak up. Unions have got a point, we'll keep talking to them. But what we did yesterday is we made our position clear that if the Government made some changes and put it into regulation, we would do a deal and that's what we have done. Second last question.


JOURNALIST: (inaudible) Labor MPs have a conscience vote on the issue now, will Labor MPs have a conscience vote or will they be bound if legislation goes to this Parliament to legalise same-sex marriage if it's ratified by a plebiscite after the next election?


SHORTEN: We will need to see the proposals from Malcolm Turnbull. What I've done today, though, is outline our principles. We can go the long way around, have a debate about the plebiscite, can a law now be used to bind a future Parliament - and I want to see what Mr Turnbull's ideas are on that. I think there's a simple way and life as in politics you don't have to make things too complicated. If there's a simple way or a complex way, simples normally the better way. The Members of Parliament know what they think about marriage equality. We should have a free vote now. We'll have a look at the legislation not that we've seen it, I don't know that anyone's seen it. But my concern is that if we leave this issue to drag on and on and on, if there is an opportunity for a funded ‘no’ case against marriage equality, I'm just concerned what that will do to public debate about people's lifestyles, the choices people make, people's sexuality. By I'll listen to Malcolm Turnbull because we're interested in good debate in this country. My real concern, though, is as I said at the outset: Tony Abbott was in charge of the right wing of the Liberal Party, Malcolm Turnbull is its prisoner, and the result is the same on marriage equality so far.


JOURNALIST: How influential do you think the ongoing union campaign against the China free trade deal as it stands will be on the public’s perception of the agreement and your decision to support it?


SHORTEN: Well, I am grateful for the community campaign and union concerns expressed about ChAFTA, without that the Government wouldn't have budged. You're all students of politics, you’re here every day. You heard day after day Labor would come in as we said we've got concerns. Remember we got lectured we didn't know what we were talking about, that it was racist, the Labor Party was stuck in the past. But something has happened hasn't it and I think the community campaigns been part of it. The Government's actually look at the detail of what we said. What we said in our changes is we don't want to be discriminatory about a particular country, including China. We believe that whatever changes are made can't go to change the actual treaty but we did say is that we think that improvements can be made to Australians' job security. Now the Government has seen to agree with what we've been saying.


Now in terms of future arguments as I said in my longer answer earlier, I do think there are concerns about the temporary work rights and how the system is working for 800,000 visa workers in Australia. I am concerned about insecure employment. I am concerned the Government loves to keep talking about reducing penalty rates but they are vague on details but you get a sense that they don't think the weekend should exist for low paid workers. I am concerned that we have 800,000 people on the disability support pension, many of whom don't get the chance to participate and of course I'm very concerned that we have the highest unemployment numbers we have seen in 20 years. Labor will keep fighting for Australian jobs. Thank you.