Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Melbourne - Australia Day; Australian Republic





SUBJECT/S: Australia Day; Australian Republic; Liberal Party divisions


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone. It's fantastic to be celebrating Australia Day at Brimbank, arguably Australia's most multicultural municipalities, at one of the largest citizenship ceremonies in Australia. I wish all Australians a happy Australia Day. And today, right across this vast amazing continent of ours, there are 17,000 new Australian citizens joining our ranks from over 145 countries. And today as well, Labor and I wish to put on record our congratulations for David Morrison being made Australian of the Year. It is an extraordinary award for an extraordinary man. His leadership, both in the armed forces of our country, and in public life in our country, means he is an extremely well qualified and highly deserving recipient of Australian of the Year. I also congratulate the winners of Australian of the Year in the other categories as well. It's a real mark that these people give so much of their time to make Australia such a fantastic place to live in, in the world.


I think it's also important today that we recognise that this is the 228th anniversary, when British marines started a penal colony at Botany Bay. 228 years later, I believe we are ready for an Australian to be the Australian head of state. We're ready to run our own show here in Australia. Last year, I said it was time to have a debate about the Republic. At the same time the Liberal Prime Minister knighted Prince Phillip, it was a remarkable thing to do. Now, the point about that debate is that it's a year on and something's changed. We have an avowed republican as Liberal leader and avowed republican as Labor leader. Not before in Australia's history have we had this important consensus of our national political leadership. All of our Premiers have stated they too support becoming a Republic. The stars are aligning for a debate about Australia becoming a Republic.

I recognise that Malcolm Turnbull was badly bruised by the failure of his 1999 campaign to make Australia a Republic. But Malcolm Turnbull needs to shed the ghosts of the past generation and indeed Tony Abbott and the right wing of his Liberal Party. Now is the time. We have such political consensus. I offer bipartisanship to Malcolm Turnbull. Let us together make Australia a country where at least one qualification to be Head of State is that you're an Australian citizen. When we take our place in the 21st century, the rest of the world looks at us and says is Australia a country which stands on its own two feet? And we do in so many ways. From our defence forces, helping bring peace to the Middle East. Through the calibre of research and knowledge, arts and culture, we bring the rest of the world, through the harmonious and multicultural society we are, but it is out of date to remain a constitutional monarchy when we can be a republic and so many political leaders agree. Now is the time, and I call upon Malcolm Turnbull to stand up for what he believes in, for what he said he believes in his whole life. I will work with him. I am happy to work with him as Opposition Leader to bring about something he said he's believed in his whole life, just as I have believed in it my whole life. Now is the time for actions, not words. And I look forward to his cooperation in advancing the cause of an Australian Republic. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Those actions would involve a referendum on the republic? Should that happen before or after the referendum on recognising indigenous people in our Constitution?

SHORTEN: Well first of all, I would like to hear Malcolm Turnbull sit down and work with myself and the Australian people and their representatives, a timetable for a republic. I think the use of a plebiscite for a republic is a sensible mechanism. Let's test opinion, talk to people. This cannot be a politician's republic. It has to be the people's republic. That is the lesson from 1999. I have no doubt, just as we should have constitutional recognition of our first Australians, that at 228 years on, we're ready to have an Australian Head of State. We should not wait until the passing of a monarch in many ways. If we were to prepare the process to becoming a republic, that would actually immortalise Queen Elizabeth II reign as an excellent monarch, the longest serving monarch in British history and it would be a fitting end to her time if then we seamlessly move to become a republic. But we cannot leave the debate until another time. You know, politics' time waits for no man or no tide and we need to get on with it right now.

JOURNALIST: You say first of all, is the Republic a higher priority of those two referendums?

SHORTEN: No, constitutional recognition of our first Australians is an overdue righting of a wrong. Indigenous Australians deserve to be on the national Constitution. It is like our national birth certificate. But there is nothing to stop the process for debating the modelling of what a republic looks like to engage the Australian public. What we need to do this time is make sure that we don't make the republic referendum an A list celebrity event but make it something meaningful which includes all Australians and hears the voices of all Australians.

JOURNALIST: Put it another way, could those be held together, those referendums?

SHORTEN: Well, I think there's got to be some discussion and much of this is in Mr Turnbull's hands. I would like to see the Constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians to be got on with and get done. That is a no brainer. The idea that anyone would not agree with including indigenous Australians in our Constitution beggars belief. I accept with the republic debate there are legitimately held counter views but I think we need to work through the concerns. Malcolm Turnbull needs to signal that he will get on board now, not wait for another date, another time. Leading Australia is not a matter of putting the urgent work and the matters which matter to Australia in the too hard basket and leaving it to another time.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there is enough public support for a referendum to get through on a republic?

SHORTEN: Well we'll never know if we don't try. My point is that there wasn't in 1999, that's because the republican movement was divided and the Prime Minister of the day was a Monarchist. But that's changed. There are people who weren't eligible to vote then in 1999, a generation practically who can vote now. There were children who were only born in 1999 who will be eligible to vote from next year. The world is moving on, the idea that in the 21st century, when we get up and we're with the President of the United States or the President of China, we toast them and yet when we toast Australia we toast The Queen of Australia. Australia's ready to have its own Head of State. Malcolm Turnbull knows this. This is not a question of me having to convince the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister convincing the Leader of the Opposition. This is not even a question to having to convince all the States. When was the last time all the States agreed on something, the Federal Opposition and the Federal Government. Malcolm Turnbull needs to seize the moment, he needs to be consistent with what he believes before he became the leader of the Liberal Party. Now he is leader of the Liberal Party, he shouldn't sell out what he has believed his whole life.

JOURNALIST: Bill just on Australia Day, there's some protests underway in Melbourne and other cities as has happened on many Australia Days, by people feel it's an inappropriate holiday to indigenous Australians. Is there any validity to those concerns from your point of view?

SHORTEN: I certainly believe that when we talk about our national day, today marks a British penal colony being established in Australia. For me what it is to be an Australian does a lot more than that first British penal colony of Botany Bay. It means a lot more to me than a public holiday. I can understand that indigenous Australians don't see January 26 as a day of celebration. For them it was a day of disposition. Since then, we have seen a great unfairness meted out to indigenous Australians, to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. For me, if I was an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander I could absolutely understand the frustration when you've got - the gap is not being closed in so many different standards of living and basic rights which non-Aboriginal Australians take for granted. I can understand the frustration and anger. It is ridiculous and it is a scandal that in Australia in 2016, a young Aboriginal man of 18 is more likely to go to jail than actually go to university. That's a national disgrace. The incarceration rates, the unfairness in many parts of our justice system mean that for Aboriginal Australians, they still live a second class life.

JOURNALIST: Just away from Australia Day for a second, what are your thoughts on Tony Abbott flying to the US to address an anti-abortion and anti gay marriage group?

SHORTEN: What Tony Abbott does at one level is up to Tony Abbott. What it represents for the Liberal Party to me is very important. Some of the people that he's going to speak at, some of those people have been associated with the worst excesses of the far religious right in America. Everything from their trenchant and radical opposition to the right to choose, right through to people talking about criminalising homosexuality. What Mr Abbott does is up to him, but he's the former Liberal Prime Minister of Australia. What worries me is that his views are commonly held within the right-wing of the Liberal Party. Malcolm Turnbull would like everyone to believe he's the one person in the Liberal Party. The truth of the matter is that many Liberal MPs and a lot of the people who the powerbrokers of the Liberal Party think like Mr Abbott and they've simply installed Malcolm Turnbull as the front man. The real problem is who's pulling the strings in the Liberal Party? I am greatly concerned that Malcolm Turnbull may be the presentable front man of the Liberal Party, but the people pulling the strings, their views are identical to Tony Abbott's and that's not good for Australia's future.

JOURNALIST: Given that do our most important ally, the election season is under way, any of the candidates you'd like to support?

SHORTEN: I'm not going to choose to get involved in American politics. My natural tendency is for the Democrats. Thanks everyone.