FRIDAY, 10 JANUARY 2014
SUBJECT/S: The Abbott Government’s border protection secrecy; the Abbott Government’s political attack on the national curriculum; the Abbott Government’s failure to protect Australian jobs.
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, BILL SHORTEN: Good afternoon. Today Australians should be legitimately concerned that the Abbott Government is hiding the truth about what is happening with our border security. We’ve seen today contradictory reports in the Australian and Indonesian press which point to significant disagreements from Indonesia and Australia about how to handle the evil scourge of people smuggling. And we’ve also seen today the Abbott Government cancelling a scheduled public conference to talk on a weekly basis about what’s going on with our border security and tackling people smuggling.
Before the election, and I’m going to quote this directly so I get it exactly right, Prime Minister Abbott, then Opposition Leader, along with Scott Morrison, the phantom Immigration Minister, and also Bill Glasson, the conservative candidate in Griffith, said “The last thing we want to do is to hide anything from the Australian people”. These are Tony Abbott’s direct words. “Well, I absolutely accept that you need to know how we’re going. You absolutely need to know how we’re going, and if we have a good week, a bad week, or an in-between week, you will know all about it. One way or another, we will get full disclosure to the Australian people”.
This is what the Prime Minister said before the election on August 9th. After the election, this is another broken promise. After the election, we know see Tony Abbott hiding the truth from people. The Abbott Government has upped its rhetoric on people smuggling, but it’s now hiding the facts from Australians. There’s one question which I think reasonably all Australians would expect of Prime Minister Abbott: What are you hiding? What’s the truth about people smuggling? What’s really happening? Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What level of disclosure about what is going on would you accept given Tony Abbott’s arguments about not wanting reveal information to people smugglers?
SHORTEN: There’s a common sense test. We don’t need to see satellite footage in real time of blow-by-blow what our very professional people are doing on the water. But I do think it’s legitimate for Australians to know, how many boats are coming? What’s happening to the people who are on the boats? Is there a disagreement with Indonesia about turning back the boats? Is there a disagreement with Indonesia about the best way to handle this? What we know, what Australians know, is that if we want to deal once and for all with the evil trade of people smuggling, which endangers people’s lives at sea, we’re going to need Indonesia’s cooperation. You’re not going to fix people smuggling from one end of the pipeline alone. What you need to do is work with the Indonesian Government.
I don’t think Australians are stupid. I believe Australians understand that on a day-by-day basis they don’t need to know exactly where every ship in the water is, but what we do expect to know is what’s going on? The Abbott Government – this is not my words – the Abbott Government said before the election when they wanted Australians votes, they said if we had a good week, a bad week or an in-between week, we will let you know every week what’s going on. The Abbott Government is now engaging in hiding the truth. They prefer a secret to being straight with people. The evil trade of people smuggling does need to be defeated, it does need to be discouraged. Labor’s regional solution, processing people coming to Australia offshore is working, but the rest of the stuff which is going on, there's just no call for secrecy. Some of the events which have been argued about happened weeks and months ago, there is no need to hide the truth from the Australian people. The Australian people deserve better than a government who hides the truth from them about a matter as important as border security and people smuggling.
JOURNALIST: So do you think releasing information will at all help the smugglers?
SHORTEN: Well again, these are questions which the Government needs to explain. Before the election, before the election, Mr Abbott was happy to promise all things to people and say he'd be an open book, he would keep people informed what was going on, the good news, the bad news and the in-between news. I think everyone understands this is a complex issue. What we need is less rhetoric, less big language, hiding the truth. What in fact we need is just to have a cooperative approach where we deal with the evil trade of people smuggling, we treat Australians as smart, not as silly, we don't keep Aussies in the dark about what's happening on our borders, and we use commonsense. And commonsense says that when you've got a government who's saying one thing, being contradicted by another government in the media, well that's a problem. Where you've got a promise to keep people informed, even by the low standard of weekly press conferences, and they start getting cancelled, I think Australians deserve to be treated with more respect. Now politics should not be a game of hide and seek, where the Abbott Government hides the truth and the Australian people have got to seek it out.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it's time that the national curriculum is reviewed?
SHORTEN: You know, the Abbott Government has never seen a distraction that they don't want to wave in front of the Australian people. The Australian curriculum should be non-political. The politicians, whatever their politics, should keep their hands off the schoolbooks and school notes of Australian children. The curriculum process was independent, it was done by of world experts, there were thousands of submissions, the process took a very long time. Now what has happened is the Abbott Government want to put in a couple of mates to start playing political games so they distract people from the truth of what the Abbott Government’s education policy is, which is to cut and slash funding to the schools of our children, thus denying children the best start in life through education.
JOURNALIST: Is there a case though for a review, even if you don't agree with the people who are doing it, in order to lift standards?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, the process is independent. What I would say to Mr Abbott is please keep your hands off the schoolbooks of Australian children. Please stop trying to put your version of politics into the schoolbooks. Children’s education should be above politics. Guarantee education funding, let the experts get on with working out how we have a national curriculum. That's what should happen. We don't need political conflict in the classrooms. We should leave it to the experts, the people who've spent their lives working in it, and we should stop assuming that just because you're an Abbott Government Minister you're smarter than every other teacher in Australia.
JOURNALIST: Alcoa has confirmed it won’t be seeking any further federal or state government aid in relation to its Point Henry plant. Do you think bad news is on the cards for workers there at the end of March?
SHORTEN: It is really worrying what's happening to Australian jobs. I am most concerned with the future of the Alcoa, the future of some of the Alcoa operations on the east coast of Australia. Thousands of people work at Alcoa in Geelong, in Portland, and indeed in Sydney and Melbourne. I'm very concerned that we have an Abbott Government who doesn't like blue-collar jobs and never fights for blue-collar jobs. I am most concerned that the Abbott Government policy on manufacturing is to buy a white flag, run it up the mast and say that Australia can't compete with the rest of the world. These Alcoa workers are the best in the world, they are highly productive plants. We need to be working with Alcoa to secure good jobs in Victoria and Australia, and never forget, that Alcoa generates nearly 10 per cent of Victoria's GDP. If Alcoa goes on the Abbott Government watch, following the decision of Holden, following the complete chaos over what's happening at SPC and Qantas, it'd become very clear that this Abbott Government is not interested in manufacturing or blue-collar jobs in Australia.
JOURNALIST: Alcoa’s already the recipient of generous government subsidies though, not just direct aid but also through subsidy of electricity prices. Isn't it now a decision for the company, they're the ones who are saying that they're not going to be seeking federal or state government funding?
SHORTEN: Well I’ve met with Alcoa any number of times, in recent periods since becoming Opposition Leader. Alcoa want policy certainty. I believe that the Abbott Government has the capacity to encourage Alcoa to keep its operations in Australia. Previous Labor and Liberal Governments have managed to keep Alcoa in Australia. Alcoa generates significant export revenue for Australia, it generates significant jobs in Australia, it generates significant taxes paid to governments by Australians who work for Alcoa. If the Abbott Government says that the world is a too-hard place for the Abbott Government to help look after Australian jobs and fight for Australian jobs, if the Abbott Government won’t lead on manufacturing, if they won’t follow on manufacturing, they should just get out of the way, and let Labor do something to help look after Australian jobs, because the Abbott Government is clearly not interested in blue-collar Australian jobs.
JOURNALIST: So if it’s not taxpayer-funded assistance then what could they do to improve conditions for Alcoa?
SHORTEN: Clearly Alcoa is being affected by metal prices around the world, and also by the high dollar. The high dollar is not always going to stay high. I think we need to get behind our manufacturers and recognise that as the dollar comes down, we want to make sure that there is still some manufacturing in Australia, to take advantage of Australian skills. Other first-world economies are capable of making things. Why is it that the Abbott Government thinks that Australians are not capable of manufacturing, and they’ve given up? I think the Abbott Government’s record on fighting for Australian jobs is pathetic. Thanks everyone.
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