Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop Interview: Bentleigh






SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s GP tax and $100,000 degrees; Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Tony Abbott missing in Victoria; Victorian election; Ebola crisis.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: We’re here at Centre Road Bentleigh, an absolute litmus test electorate in tomorrow’s state election. I’m here of course with Labor’s candidate for Bentleigh, Nick Staikos, a son of the local community and incredibly active for his whole adult life standing up for the community. And what really makes this visit particularly enjoyable is we’re here with one of the most respected and much loved Victorians of state politics, of course former Premier Steve Bracks. And the response that we’ve been receiving as we walk and talk to real Victorians, people living in Bentleigh, is that one of the big issues here is that Tony Abbott is indeed ‘box office poison’ in Victoria. Talking to people who are worried about the GP Tax and completely confused this week about the Government’s intentions, but understanding that whatever the Government says, they want sick and vulnerable people to pay more to go to the doctor. Talking to university students who are deeply worried that they face the prospect of $100,000 degrees just for going to uni. One young man said to me, ‘why does Tony Abbott want me to choose between being able pay a mortgage or go to university?’ And of course a lot of older people, very worried about the attacks on the pension.


It is clear that Victorians are paying the price for Tony Abbott’s broken promises and lies before the election. It’s also clear that Victorians want a person, a Premier who will stand up against Canberra, who will stand up against Tony Abbott. Denis Napthine’s failed the test that all Premiers have to undertake. When they have a choice between their own political party in Canberra and standing up for Victorians, people want a Premier who will stand up for Victorians. Daniel Andrews and his Labor team are the only people who will stand up for Victorians against Tony Abbott’s harsh agenda, and the fact that Tony Abbott has been in witness protection throughout the whole  Victorian election  just shows that Tony Abbott understands how unpopular he is.


But I’m lucky to have standing with me Steve Bracks, Victorian Premier, and he will say a few words, and just before he does though I should just pause to reflect upon the passing of Phillip Hughes. Terrible, terrible tragedy. Cricket is one of the greatest sports ever invented, this is an unimaginable, unforeseeable tragedy. This young man in the peak of his life, taken from us. He was not only a splendid fellow, a country boy made good, a great cricketer, a rising star, but he was also a brother, he was also a son, and at this difficult time our thoughts should be with his family, and also I might add the young man who bowled that cricket ball. He’s caught up in a matter well beyond his control and our thoughts are with everyone in this terrible, terrible tragedy.


I might just pass over to Steve Bracks to talk a bit more about the state election.


STEVE BRACKS, FORMER VICTORIAN PREMIER: Well thanks Bill, and I think it's great that we have the Federal Opposition Leader here, Bill Shorten, supporting the Labor campaign for Victoria. As Bill mentioned, it is no surprise really that the Prime Minister is not here. That's unusual. I can't remember a campaign in my memory at a state level in any state in Australia where the leader of the party has not campaigned in that state election. Quite extraordinary, and I'm not surprised, when I move around, in supporting great candidates like Nick Staikos here in Bentleigh, I can tell you what the messages we’re getting about the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Budget which has been forced on people around the country, effectively reducing their quality of life and their standard of living. It is a real issue and it’s important issue.


But what is more important is that Victoria needs a new direction, needs a government that’s going to stand up for jobs, a government that’s going to restore funding to the training and TAFE system, a government that’s going to restore funding to our great services in health and education, and I know Daniel Andrews has a strong and robust plan for that to happen. And I'm a bit disturbed that when you think that when Labor left office in 2010, we had an unemployment level lower than the rest of Australia, 4.8 per cent, lower than comparatively New South Wales, and now we have the second highest unemployment level in the country, third highest, it was the second highest. The second highest on mainland Australia, at about 6.8 per cent, that's a lot of extra people who’ve become unemployed, whilst in the last four years the Government has effectively sat on its hands, worried about internal issues about their own leadership, changing Premiers, worrying about their numbers in the Parliament, suspending the legislation in the Parliament. They've really sort of fiddled while Victoria has burned, and now we need, really, action again and I'm hopeful that an Andrews-led Labor Government will restore Victoria as one of the powerhouses of the economy in the country as it was. As it was through the later Kennett years, as it was through the years I was Premier, as it was for the years that John Brumby was Premier, as it’s not now and hasn't been for the last four years while Victoria has effectively been on hold.


And I know, a very good candidate here in Nick Staikos, he’s had business background, he’s had background in government, ran a coffee shop here. I don't think we went to your coffee shop here today, but it wasn't bad coffee, the one we went to, it was pretty good. It is great to be back here in Bentleigh on the eve of the election. Bentleigh is such an important part of the landscape in Victoria and of course Nick Staikos, you know, he’s rooted here, he’s got connections here, he’ll be a great Member if he wins.


JOURNALIST: Polls show that most voters, even Labor voters want the East-West tunnel to go ahead no matter what. Do you think Daniel Andrews should rethink his vow to rip up those contracts?


BRACKS: Well I think I was talking to someone before and, you know, everyone interprets polls, don't they, but the reality is that it's not just the level of support for a proposition, it is the level of importance that that proposition has for you. So people are saying really they want a change of government, and I understand that. I mean, the unremarked-upon issue here in Victoria over the last four years, which I don't think the media has picked up on, is the collapse of the Liberal vote here in Victoria. You know, 35 per cent is a very, very low polling result. That has to do with the dysfunction of the Government of the over the last four years and the lack of direction going forward.


And for example, you know, most governments, and I can remember we did this in our first term, will usually stand on their record and talk about their achievements, and then talk about what they’ll do in the future as well. I just haven't seen any commentary about the record of this Government. They’ve defaulted to attacking the opposition, defaulted to effectively to trying to scare the Victorian public and you think well okay, if you've wasted four years and you try and recover in a campaign, I guess that's all you can do. They should be talking about what they’ve achieved, not just on election eve, but what they did in the last four years, and they haven't because not much has happened in Victoria. So I think people are making that judgment overall, to come back to your question, and issues of importance, I think the economy and jobs is very important. I think health is very important, I think education is important and I think they are predominant, and they want who’s best for that in Victoria, and I understand that.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you've said that no one from the Federal Government is on hand here, or at least Tony Abbott’s not, but Julie Bishop, a pretty senior member, is only a few hundred metres away.


SHORTEN: Well, first of all, let's call it for what's really going on in Victoria. Tony Abbott does not want to come to Victoria. Tony Abbott, and his research shows that his unfair Budget and his broken promises are not going down well in Victoria. So what we've had is the former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard here, we’ve probably had the next Liberal leader here, the only thing is that we haven’t had the current Prime Minister here. And I think that just shows his understanding of the issues in Victoria and his interest in Victoria. The real challenge is, what's the plan for the future? What’s Tony Abbott's plan for the future? They've been in government now for well over a year and they are adrift at sea. They have no clue about what they’re going to do with their GP Tax, they want $100,000 degrees, and they have no plan for jobs or the economy. Unemployment in Victoria is 6.8 per cent plus under Tony Abbott. It was lower when he came into power, and the problem for the Napthine Government is they’ve done nothing for four years, they’ve been adrift, and we see the prospect of a first-term state government, remarkably, potentially being dumped because they just haven't done anything and Tony Abbott knows that's his problem too.


JOURNALIST: Julia Gillard stayed away from a few state elections as well?


SHORTEN: Well again, Tony Abbott’s the Prime Minister of Australia and where is he? I think it speaks volumes that he sends his foreign minister to Victoria, because I think he thinks that Victoria’s not a part of Tony Abbott's Australia. And the real challenge here is what's Tony Abbott’s plan to work with the State Government in terms of education? They’re cutting funding to schools, health, they’re cutting funding to hospitals and indeed unemployment in Victoria has risen on Tony Abbott's watch. Before Denis Napthine and Tony Abbott, we had a car industry. Now we don't.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Tony Abbott said that the election is a referendum on the East-West Link. If Victorians vote Labor in, should they fund it’s transport priorities?


SHORTEN: What a thug of a fellow Tony Abbott is. He is threatening the Victorian people saying, ‘I will take taxes that you actually pay and send them to other parts of Australia unless you vote for Tony Abbott's mates in Spring Street’. Tony Abbott should stop bullying Victorians and come and listen to Victorians. Tony Abbott has taken $3 billion away from public transport funding in Victoria with new metro rail. Tony Abbott has never caught a train in his life on the Melbourne rail system. He probably doesn't know what a tram is and he has no plan for our level crossings. Only Daniel Andrews has got a plan. You can't fix our roads unless you fix our public transport and this is the big black hole in Tony Abbott's analysis of Victoria, and he should stop threatening Victorians. He’s the Prime Minister of Australia. He was elected to govern all of us, so where does he get off saying that unless you vote for my puppets in Victoria, I’ll take $1.5 billion of taxpayers’ money and I won’t provide other money to Victoria. That is bullying and Victorians will react baldy to being told that Tony Abbott will take will their taxes, spend it somewhere else to punish people merely because they won’t vote for Tony Abbotts puppets in Victoria, Denis Napthine.


JOURNALIST: On Mr Abbott, fresh analysis of the carbon tax shows that there’s a wide variation in what consumers are saving. Did he exaggerate how much people would save after the repeal?


SHORTEN: Everybody knows that Tony Abbott said one thing before the election and is doing something else now. Tony Abbott said before the election that every household would get hundreds of dollars back with his changes in terms of carbon pollution policy, and in fact many households are not seeing their cost of living going down, but up.


But of course Tony Abbott said before the last election, no cuts to education, no cuts to health, billions of dollars coming out of state hospitals and schools in the future. He also said no cuts to the ABC or the SBS, and indeed we're seeing hundreds of millions of dollars being taken out, and hundreds of Victorians losing their jobs. And he also said no changes or increases to taxes, and during the state election Tony Abbott is increasing the cost of petrol for every Victorian motorist. He is out of touch, he doesn't keep his promises, and I think on the eve of the state election, everything that Tony Abbott says should be treated with suspicion, because we know what he’s like, he has got form. On the eve of the federal election, he made promises and now he is not keeping them, so at every state election between now and the next federal election, when Tony Abbott rushes out with a statement, treat it with a large dose of scepticism.


JOURNALIST: The Foreign Minister has announced that 17 Australian health workers are being sent to Sierra Leone in the following days as part of Australia's response to Ebola, a $42 million response. You welcome that presumably?


SHORTEN: We are pleased that the Federal Government is finally providing assistance in terms of tackling the deadly disease of Ebola in West Africa. For too many months, the Federal Government pretended this wasn’t their problem. The rest of the world, France, England, the United States, China, were all moving to tackle this deadly disease a lot earlier. Belatedly, the Federal Government’s coming to the party because they realise that they've pulled the wrong foreign policy decisions, but we are pleased and I commend the volunteers and I commend the people who are going there. At the G20 I met a series of world leaders and they made it clear that in order to tackle this terrible disease in West Africa, what West Africa needs is trained medical staff, not just money, trained medical staff, and now at last the Government seems to be belatedly getting the message.


JOURNALIST: What do you think about this confusion over the GP co-payment? People being briefed yesterday that it was off and now they’ve been briefed that it’s back on again and could potentially be reintroduced?


SHORTEN: It was the worst week of this government's fairly lacklustre term so far. What we had at the beginning of the week is the Prime Minister tying himself up in knots because he just can't admit he’s wrong. Why do we have a Prime Minister who just can't say they were wrong? He did say before the last election there would be no taxes and now he’s putting on the GP Tax. Now what we see is that on Wednesday, the Government, every couple of weeks now, seems to have a re-boot or a de-barnacling or a paint job or a makeover for their Budget this year, and what happens is you've got the Government’s, the Prime Minister's office, people who work for him, running around telling journalists ‘we're back in control now, we're just going to dump this GP Tax for the time being’. And then what happens is Joe Hockey and Peter Dutton, their noses get out of joint because no one’s included them in the Government's plans, funny, being the Treasurer and the Health Minister, so they go out and contradict the Prime Minister. So at the end of the week, we know two things about this Government - one, they desperately want sick people to pay money, to pay taxes to go and see the doctor, and it doesn't matter if they’ve changed their tactics, they haven't changed their minds. And two, this is a government who can't get their lines right. What we see here is a divided government, contradicting each other. This is a government who is seriously adrift, they’ve got a crazy right-wing plan to tax the sick and they can't even work out how to get themselves out of the mess they’re in.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what would you cut from the Budget to make it more sustainable?


SHORTEN: Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme should definitely be on the chopping block. And while we’re at it, but the problem there is there’s only one person in Australia, or two people who like it, Tony Abbott and couple of his advisers, maybe three people who like the scheme. His own people just hate it. The idea of giving millionaires tens of thousands of dollars to have babies is ridiculous. Again, Tony Abbott has a problem with admitting that he’s wrong. And so he should cut that, but the other thing they should cut and change is they gave tax breaks to people who have millions of dollars in superannuation, they can earn all their interest tax-free, but you and I, anyone who goes to work, ordinary pensioners, they've got to pay their taxes, so he should do something about the superannuation loophole at the very top end. And then of course the other proposition which he needs to address is multinational corporations. They're making profits in Australia, they're shifting their profits to low-tax jurisdictions. You know, the Abbott Government, you know, they have no idea how to tackle these issues, so if they want to talk about a Budget problem, maybe they need to buy a mirror and have a good look at where the real problem is.


JOURNALIST: Mr Bracks, can I just ask you about the proposal to breath test politicians?

BRACKS: I think it wasn’t just politicians, I think it was judiciary and law makers, yeah. It’s part of parliamentary reforms which I think was announced by the Opposition Leader and I think it’s a sensible move and I think it will go a long way to improving standards in public office.


JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s also good to remove Dorothy Dixers, I might open that question up to Mr Shorten too?


SHORTEN: Listen if we want to talk about how we can improve Federal Parliament at the moment perhaps, perhaps the Government needs to not be adopting such a – silencing the Opposition by kicking every Opposition member out of Parliament as soon as they ask a hard question. This Parliament is in danger of becoming a protection racket for the Government. This is a government who doesn’t like to answer questions, and when you do you’ve got half a chance of being kicked out of parliament for the temerity of asking it.


Australians expect Parliament to be robust, but they do expect government to be able to answer questions. This is a chaotic week, the chaotic scenes in Parliament show the signs of a Government who has no idea what to do. Their unfair plans of the GP Tax, $100,000 degrees, cutting pensions, are rejected by the Parliament, rejected by the people of Australia. This is a government – it’s not a question of the message being wrong or changing the talking points or changing the spin, this is a government, at its substance, is taking Australian in the wrong direction and the scenes in Parliament just reflect that.


Thanks everyone and look forward to seeing Nick Staikos the next member for Bentleigh.