Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Canberra - The Abbott’s Government’s cut to pensions; Tony Abbott’s broken promise not to cut pensions before the election

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

TURNER, CANBERRA

TUESDAY, 24 MARCH 2015

 

SUBJECT/S: The Abbott’s Government’s cut to pensions; Tony Abbott’s broken promise not to cut pensions before the election; Industrial relations; Polls.  

 

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone. It’s fantastic to be here with Australia’s pensioners in Canberra who are absolutely doing interesting things and ensuring that they have quality of life as they grow older. This is why Tony Abbott's lies before the last election, where he promised not to cut peoples' pensions is so upsetting to millions of Australians.

 

Before the last election, Tony Abbott said that he wouldn't cut anyone's pension. Yet in the last Budget, he put forward proposed cuts to the pension of $80 a week. It’s now only six or seven weeks until the next Budget, we say on behalf of the pensioners of Australia, if the Liberal Government can rule out cuts to foreign aid, why won't they rule out cuts to the pension in the upcoming Budget?

 

We will certainly be fighting for pensioners. We are starting a campaign which my colleague Jenny Macklin will be talking about in a moment, but the big issue between now and the Federal Budget is that Tony Abbott should keep his promises, not cut pensions. If Tony Abbott can promise not to cut foreign aid in the upcoming Budget, then he can promise not to cut pensions in the upcoming Budget. Jenny.

 

JENNY MACKLIN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND PAYMENTS: Thanks very much Bill, thanks everyone for being here with us today at this senior citizens’ club and if I could just thank all the pensioners and the people who run this senior cits’ club. It is terrific to see everybody coming together doing their porcelain painting, exercising, making sure that pensioners are able to keep active and engaged in our community. As Bill Shorten has just said, today Labor is launching a new campaign saying Mr Abbott, Mr Abbott don't pocket our pensions. Tony Abbott promised before the last election that there would be no cuts to pensions, no changes to pensions, Mr Abbott said before the last election. We know he broke that promise. No pensioner voted for a cut to their pension indexation. If Tony Abbott gets his way, pensioners will see an $80 a week cut over the next decade to their pension. That is the real impact on pensioners of Tony Abbott's cuts to pension indexation and Labor will do everything we can to campaign all around the country against these cuts to pension indexation.

 

SHORTEN: Thanks Jenny, are there any questions?

 

JOURNALIST: So how would you make the pension system sustainable Mr Shorten?

 

SHORTEN: Well, first things first Mark. The first way we create certainty in the pension system in Australia is Tony Abbott should stop lying to Australians and breaking his promise. Labor proposed changes to the pension when we were in office and what we were able to do is see pensioners get reasonable and modest increases. Let's not exaggerate here about how well off pensioners are. The pension per annum delivers about $20,000 a year for someone on the full pension. If Tony Abbott's only plan for Australia's future is to cut the rate of increase of pensions, well then he has no plan for Australia's future.

 

JOURNALIST: What is your plan though?

 

SHORTEN: I will come to that Mark, I just want to keep – I’m not going to let the Government off the hook here. Today, in light of - over the last 24 hours, what we have seen is that a fight between Julie Bishop and Joe Hockey about proposed cuts to the foreign aid budget and now what’s happened is that the Government has ruled out cutting the foreign aid budget.

 

If the Government can rule out cutting the foreign aid budget, they can rule out cutting pensions.

 

In terms of going forward with the pensions, we’ve made it clear that we think that the indexation rate that the Government's using is simply too low, and we prefer the pension indexation rate which we’ve supported in the past, and I’m happy to have Jenny explain further that rate of indexation which we pushed. But let’s be really clear, the Government has made the aged pension a political issue. They didn't tell anyone before the last election they were going to cut it. Now they are cutting it $80 a week, it’s in their Budget papers, and now they won't even rule out further cuts or changes to the pension. There are 3.5 million people plus who receive a pension in Australia. Now they’ve got to have weeks of anxiety because this Government can't tell them the truth.

 

MACKLIN: I just want to emphasise that the pension is sustainable. We know how important it is that pensioners are able to live a reasonable life on the pension. As Bill Shorten has just emphasised, the full pension is worth around $20,000 a year. We spend one of the lowest amounts on the aged pension in the developed world. What we also know is it’s very important to encourage and support people over their working life to take out superannuation, to contribute to their own retirement incomes, and so it’s this Government that is making retirement incomes less sustainable by freezing the increase in the superannuation guarantee.

 

JOURNALIST: So there are no plans, no Labor plans to try and make the pension - any reforms to the pension to make it more sustainable into the future, everything is fine?

 

SHORTEN: Well Joe first of all as Jenny’s just said, we believe our aged pension is sustainable and here’s a plan for Tony Abbott if he wants to have fewer people relying upon the aged pension, lift the superannuation. You know what’s hypocritical about this Government, they treat themselves to a better superannuation deal but they have frozen the conditions of superannuation in Australia. Tony Abbott before the last election said superannuation would be about 9.5 per cent when he got elected. He said he would freeze it for a short period and then it would start increasing again. As you appreciate, as your superannuation increases, over time with compounding interest, preferential tax treatment as the superannuation goes in, you will have more money and less need to rely on the pension. But since the election, he’s broken his promises on superannuation not once but twice. In the last Budget, he indicated that he would freeze superannuation for longer than he said even before the election and again in September when he did a dirty deal with Clive Palmer, he then said that they’d be freezing increases in superannuation for an even longer period. So this is the Government’s plan for superannuation and pensions: 1. Cut the rate of increase of your pension, 2. freeze the superannuation. This is a Government with no plan for the future of older Australians.

 

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) what’s your response then to the fact that under indexation arrangements you support, single aged pensioners would be about $22 worse off than under the Government's arrangement?

 

SHORTEN: You go Jenny, that is just a joke.

 

MACKLIN: That's just false. That is just completely untrue and another blatant lie from Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison. A blatant lie. What we saw last week was the pension go up as a result of the Consumer Price Index. Labor's policy, put in place when we were in Government, is to say that pensions will go up by whatever gives them the largest rise, whether it's the Consumer Price Index, the Male Total Average Weekly Earnings benchmark or the Pensioner Index. What Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison want to do is get rid of the wages benchmark and get rid of the Pensioner Index and only rely on the Consumer Price Index and what independent research has shown is that over the next 10 years if Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison get their way, $23 billion will be taken out of the pockets of pensioners, $23 billion as a result of their pension indexation cut. And over the period that the Intergenerational Report demonstrated a couple of weeks ago to 2055, pensions would go from around 28 per cent of male earnings to 16 per cent of male earnings, forcing pensioners into poverty, so Scott Morrison should stop lying.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Prime Minister's office says his trip to Melbourne on the weekend was work related and within the rules. Does that satisfy you?

 

SHORTEN: Well, ultimately this is a matter for the Prime Minister to account for how he uses taxpayer funds but on a previous occasion when he was doing a fundraiser down in Melbourne for the Liberal Party, he also had some quick press conference the next morning at the Peter McCallum Hospital and said this was, you know, the rationale for the trip. I think it would be wise and prudential for Mr Abbott to indicate what were the work functions and the work tasks he carried out and that’ll help clear the air.

 

JOURNALIST: Doesn’t Labor have form with this as well seeing as Julia Gillard once used a taxpayer flight to go to a staffer's wedding?

 

SHORTEN: The only reason you're asking me the question is because Tony Abbott's got some explaining to do. I think what we need to do is have Tony Abbott do the explaining that Australians want to see him do.

 

JOURNALIST: Coalition MPs say today's Newspoll shows that voters are starting to question Labor's policies and don't think you're a credible alternative. Does this put more pressure on you to reveal more of your key promises?

 

SHORTEN: I wish the Coalition MPs would go out on the doors of Parliament and talk about the numbers of the pension cut that they're implementing. I wish Coalition MPs would get as hot and bothered and excited about the fact that unemployment is 6.3 per cent. I wish the Coalition MPs would start talking about the $6,000 in family payments, the only thing which seems to put a smile on the face of the Coalition is their own political interests. I tell you, when you talk to these remarkable older Australians here, what they're interested in is they just want some certainty out of the Government. They're sick and tired of being told that their pension’s going to be cut. They're the numbers that matter. They're the numbers which Australians really care about, they're the numbers that Labor care about.

 

JOURNALIST: You're not at all worried that Labor's going backwards in the polls?

 

SHORTEN: I'm worried that the Government is still persisting ten and a half months after the last Budget with a broken promise and a lie which will see the cut in the increase to the pension of $80. I'm worried they're trying to spin the difference between their new confected cut to pension indexation and say people are better off when the truth of the matter shows that if their model had been in for the last 10 years pensioners would be worse off and as Jenny Macklin spelled out, that their implication of their changes over the next 10 years will see $23 billion less going to millions of pensioners.

 

I'm concerned that this Government doesn't even want to talk. Remember the Intergenerational Report? The Government announced it with fanfare, now you're going to have to send out a search party to find it because the numbers in that show their changes to the pension will see that the relative proportion in terms of the pension to male average weekly earnings will go down from 28 to 16 per cent.

 

This Government will only ever fight for their own political skins and they are not concerned at all about the damage they're doing to the comfort levels of pensioners.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what is your plan for rolling out policy? Are you going to play the contemporary game, just keeping it up your sleeve until the election campaign? You've said this is the year of the idea, are you going to share a few with the electorate or just keep them to yourself?

 

SHORTEN: I appreciate, Mark, you giving me the opportunity to re-state some of what we've said already and, you know, that is important, you're quite right. It's not enough in Australian politics to propose a new idea, you've got to keep talking about it, although I have to say the Abbott Government giving a lecture from their conduct in opposition about offering ideas, we all know is a little ironic. But I proposed two weeks ago that we crack down on legal loopholes for multinationals. This is a most important issue. Labor's been heartened by the response of Australian business saying, ‘you know, this should have been done ages ago, let's get on with it, Bill.’

 

I'm also heartened that the Australian Tax Office is redoubling its efforts. There is a real issue in this country when some corporations, because they can shop around in different global jurisdictions to pay less tax on where they allocate their debt, are able to use legal loopholes which not available to you and I. There is real red-hot anger in the community that a high street small business or indeed a person such as yourselves going to work every day, you know, you pay as you go, paying your marginal rate of taxation whatever that is, you don't have the opportunity to shop around in international jurisdictions to offset your income so we've said that this is an important issue. Raising, even on conservative estimates, nearly $2 billion.

 

We also proposed in the last few weeks the need to talk about the scourge of domestic violence at the political level. Now I recognise in saying that there have been people for 40 years raising this issue. I'm always privileged to stand next to Jenny Macklin who helped open one of the first women's refuges in Canberra some time ago, to help stand up for the women who are the victims of family violence.

 

What we have proposed to the Prime Minister, both at the National Press Club, both in the stated policy and a costed policy, is that we need to make sure that Australian women in particular, who are the victims of family violence, don't walk through the system on their own. We've made these very clear. I'm hoping that some of you will take an interest in what we say tomorrow at the submarine institute of Australia.

 

We've also made it clear that it's not simply  a matter of saying no to the Government and their Budget, we've supported nearly 20 or about $20 billion worth of their cuts but there are some proposals which they just simply don't deserve support on, do they?

 

Imagine if Labor had been the rubber stamp that some in the Liberals want us to be? We’d have a GP tax now but thank goodness for Labor. Imagine if we just rubber stamped their pension cuts? So you can define us by the strength of our opposition and in the course of the year, as your question correctly identifies, we'll keep working for ideas but we’ll do it in a disciplined way.

 

See unlike the Government, remember 40 days out the evidence came out from their last Budget, they came up with new ideas. We are doing our work in opposition so that if we get the privilege to form a government in this nation we can articulate to Australians a plan for the next decade and two decades not this sort of slap-stick comedy where measures are on and off and on and off again as we see under the current chaotic crew.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten just on business, the SDA's proposed a deal whereby penalty rates on weekends would be slashed in return for a higher base rate of pay. What do you think of that template agreement? Do you think it could be rolled out across other areas of Australia?

 

SHORTEN: I read some of the reporting of this in The Australian this morning. I'm not sure if it came out clearly, these changes have been made under the current Fair Work system.

 

Now if you believe Tony Abbott and their Workplace Relations Minister, whose name I'll come to in a minute but anyway - Eric Abetz - they say that the Fair Work system is a break on productivity in this country.

 

So if you believe the Liberal view of industrial relations, what was reported today in The Australian couldn't have happened but the point is it has.

 

I've spoken to the leader of the Shop Assistant's Union in South Australia overnight, this is the proposal he's enunciated, obviously he and South Australia business are much more across it, but what they’re doing is they're looking at trimming some of the penalty rates on the weekend. They're not getting rid of penalty rates, let me be clear about that, but they're doing is increasing the overall base rate of pay. Australia's shop assistants - and maybe it's worth remembering next time we buy something at a shop - are not amongst the highest paid people in Australia, along with agricultural workers and hospitality workers they're in the lowest three groups of pay. What I understand the Shop Assistant's Union in South Australia's been able to do is lift the base rate of pay.

 

See when you hear the far right and their allies in the Abbott Government talk about penalty rates, they never talk about lifting the base rate of pay, and Labor has believed in a better off overall test, so I think today's story in The Australian demonstrates the strength of the current system of unions and employer groups working together.

 

We know the Abbott Government can't ever sit down with unions. We know they've never supported a serious wage rise. We saw how they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do something on Defence Force pay.

 

So I like what I've seen of today's deal in terms of the retail industry in South Australia but for me the lesson is you can do it in the current system and if your focus isn’t cutting your workers’ pay overall trying to get the right balance so it’s a win/win, not the Abbott Government’s, you know, workers lose then you’ve got the chance to have more productive workplace.

 

JOURNALIST: Will unions take this up elsewhere?

 

SHORTEN: That’s a matter for working out circumstance by circumstance I wouldn’t tell your union MEAA how to negotiate with the media industry. What I will say though is that the lesson here is this is the current system so why on earth is the Abbott Government still pushing on with the frolic about attacking the minimum wage? Why do we still have some of their crackpots in the Senate and elsewhere just simply saying that penalty rates are the scourge. If you earn $40,000 a year and part of that comes from penalty rates, why is it that people who earn a million dollars are always giving people on $40,000 a lecture on why they should take a pay cut? That's not what the SDA deal proposes.

 

JOURNALIST: How do you respond to Martin Ferguson's criticisms of Labor's opposition to the sale of poles and wires in New South Wales?

 

SHORTEN: Martin Ferguson's held this position for a period of time, it comes as no surprise, but he holds no office in the Labor Party, he is not a member of the Caucus. It is not the view of New South Wales Labor and it does not reflect Labor Party policy.

 

JOURNALIST: But someone with that level of experience within the party and within parliament itself, surely they should be given some credence to what they are saying?

 

SHORTEN: Well, again, he holds no position in the Labor Party. It is not the view of New South Wales Labor.

 

Luke Foley's run an excellent campaign. He's made it clear what he stands for. He's made it very clear that he stands for better funding for hospitals and schools. He's got a jobs focus which is long overdue in New South Wales. He's made it clear his view in terms of the privatisation of poles and wires and he's also made it very clear that in Luke Foley you'll have a Premier who will stand up to Tony Abbott. The real disaster for New South Wales is that Tony Abbott's been largely responsible for the future funding problems in health care and in schools. Last question, thanks.

 

JOURNALIST: Just on fairness, just going back to the pension, obviously you’ve campaigned on fairness, I'd like to ask you about the eligibility requirements for the pension, Mr Shorten. How fair do you think it is that someone who has a house that's worth quite a few million dollars could still get the aged pension, is that fair in your view? Does that need to be changed?

 

SHORTEN: I'll ask Jenny to go into more detail on it because she's been working on this policy formidably for a very long time but just let me talk about fairness in the pension. Tony Abbott, don't pocket our pension. It is not fair that you go to the election and then lie about what you're going to do and then cut the pension therefore thereafter. I do not believe that the vast bulk of pensioners, the vast, vast bulk of pensioners are living the sort of lifestyle that's implicit in your question. Labor's always been up for appropriate means testing but I don't think that when it comes to assets like the family home it's simple enough to say that everyone's sitting on, you know, a goldmine so I think we've got to be very careful here in the way we demonise pensioners but I'll let Jenny talk a little bit more about Labor's record.

 

MACKLIN: Thanks very much, Bill. First and foremost, Labor will not allow the family home to be counted in the pension assets test. This is a very important issue for the security of pensioners. They need to know that they are able to stay in their own home while they're reliant on the pension. Labor made sure when we were in Government that we delivered the most significant improvement to the pension in 100 years. We're very proud of the change. We improved the indexation of the pension and we are now going to campaign against every single Liberal and National Party member to protect the pension and that's what today's campaign is about. Thank you.

 

SHORTEN: Thanks, everyone. See you at Question Time.

 

ENDS

 

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