THURSDAY, 3 APRIL 2014
SUBJECT/S: Jobs, Abbott Liberal Government’s GST Plans, WA Senate Election, Commission of Audit.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everyone, thanks very much Glenn. It’s great to be in Newcastle at one of the homes of Australian naval shipbuilding. With me today are Pat Conroy, Jill Hall and Sharon Claydon, part of federal Labor’s team in the Hunter region, representing the Hunter region in Canberra.
Today the Abbott Government needs to draw a line in the sand and start defending jobs. In the last 24 hours, we’ve heard the BP refinery closing in Brisbane, we find out that 300 jobs are going at Boeing in Melbourne, as well as 180 jobs at Phillip Morris in Melbourne.
The haemorrhaging of jobs – of blue collar, manufacturing jobs in Australia needs to stop. The Abbott Government has within their capacity the ability to bring forward defence contract purchases to provide this very skilled workforce in Newcastle, along with the very skilled workforces in Adelaide, Melbourne and Western Australia, to be able to provide ongoing work for people who are vital to our national security.
The Defence White Paper – there are clear plans which show that Australia in the future will need to build up to 12 submarines, 14 patrol boats, eight frigates, and two supply vessels in addition to patrol boats we build for our neighbours in the Pacific region. If the Australian Government knows that they’ve got to spend this money, why on earth would you wait a year or two, watch thousands of people lose their jobs across Australia, and then in a year or two’s time, buy these ships off the shelf overseas at the cost of our own national defence apparatus, at the cost of our own capacities to be able to maintain an independent defence posture?
Today the Abbott Government can and should commit to buying Australian-made ships, or warships paid for by Australian taxpayers for Australia’s defence, utilising Australia’s skilled workforce. The money has to be spent; the question is not if the money should be spent, it’s a matter of when. Why on earth would we allow to have in this budget the naval shipbuilding skills of thousands of people dispersed? Once we lose the skills from this worksite we’ll no longer be able to build warships in Australia and one day in the future this will mean that Australian taxpayers will pay up more money at a diminution of Australia’s nation defence capacities.
I might also say just in addition to the discussion we’re going to have about defence shipbuilding jobs in Australia, I might also just make briefly some comments about the surprising developments overnight with regard to the Government and GST. The Secretary of Treasury has given a speech which has raised the possibility of increasing the GST and expanding the GST into health services. This would be a mistake. If we were to add a 10 per cent GST on to the health costs of Australians, that would cost something like $18 billion extra for our health system. It is not right that the Abbott Liberal Government are making health care more expensive for ordinary Australians. In Australia, your health needs should be determined by your Medicare card, not your credit card.
The Abbott Government is again starting to lay the groundwork to break its promises on the GST. It is not right, now there’s been so many false starts about the Abbot Liberal Government and the GST – this is one rumour that never seems to go away, no matter how many various Abbott Liberal Government Ministers raise the idea or have the idea raised dismiss it.
I no longer believe that any Australian believes the Abbott Government when they say they won’t increase the GST. I believe that most Australians now have formed the view about the Abbott Liberal Government, that if they can increase the GST they will, and they won’t just stop at healthcare.
JOURNALIST: It was Labor that lifted the Medicare levy by half a per cent, so that’s a Labor tax rise we’re about to receive.
SHORTEN: It was a bipartisan levy to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I don’t believe that Australians begrudge making sure that people with disabilities and their carers get the fairest go in life. What I think they will begrudge is the Abbott Government said they wouldn’t touch the GST, if every time we turn our backs there’s another Government-inspired leak or speech or thought bubble talking about increasing the GST and increasing a 10 per cent hike on healthcare costs is too much pressure on the cost of living on the Australian middle class. Are there any questions on Forgacs or indeed any other matter?
JOURNALIST: Well Mr Shorten on the valley of death, as you know the delay in funding came about with Joel Fitzgibbon, when he was Defence Minister, delaying defence spending. This is a Labor problem that the Government has inherited. How much responsibility does Labor accept?
SHORTEN: How much longer is the Abbott Liberal Government going to spend blaming Labor for the decisions that this Government can make? If Labor was in government, we would have a ‘Made In Australia’ tag in terms of our defence procurement. If Labor was in Government, these workers wouldn’t be worried about their jobs today.
JOURNALIST: But Forgacs was bleeding money well before the Libs came into power.
SHORTEN: Yes, but once you get into government you have the capacity to make decisions. How hard is it for the Abbott Government to say ‘we’re going to forward order to supply ships for Australian navy needs’. With a stroke of the pen, with a tap of the keyboard, the Abbott Government can remove the cloud of job insecurity over thousands of highly skilled, highly important defence industry workers.
JOURNALIST: Don’t the problems that have been uncovered in this contract mean the Australian Government would be better off buying our defence ships overseas?
SHORTEN: I believe that when an island nation, which is the 12th largest economy in the world, gives up building Australian ships in Australia, well then were giving up our claim for national security propositions in this nation. It’s Australian taxpayer’s money, Australian taxpayers don’t object to buying Australian made warships.
JOURNALIST: So you see this as different to the car industry and other industries that were losing?
SHORTEN: There’s no doubt that the Abbott Government’s done nothing to fight for any jobs. The only jobs they’ll fight for are their own jobs but there’s no doubt that when it comes to purchasing a war ship that’s the Government’s decision. The difficult issue for the Abbott Government here is that they’ve got no one else to blame but themselves. If they want to have an Australian defence industry they need to buy a mirror and see who the real people in charge are, that’s them, that’s why they got elected and they should start fighting for Australian jobs.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can I bring you to Joe Bullock, apparently you’ve described him as a good man today, yet he’s admitted to being convicted of assault, is he a fit person for parliament?
SHORTEN: I understand that he is eligible to run for parliament so that question answers itself. In terms of Joe Bullock he’s spent his working life trying to improve the conditions of low paid retail workers. I think he will be a good candidate if he gets elected and I tell you one thing that all the Labor candidate will be in Western Australia, they won’t be a rubber stamp for Tony Abbott. Tony Abbott has not trusted the Western Australian people with the Commission of Audit, why should Western Australians trust him? Tony Abbott wants everyone to look everywhere expect the fact that if you vote Liberal in Western Australia you will get a rubber stamp for his cuts and you won’t get people willing to stand up for jobs in Newcastle like the defence jobs.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Government is gunning for you with the Royal Commission into unions, what are they going to find when they start digging around in the AWU?
SHORTEN: The Abbott Government’s Royal Commission into unions is about politics. Labor will cooperate with it, there’s no hesitation from anyone on the Labor side. We will cooperate with the Royal Commission; we do think however that this Government’s priorities, that they’re all about attacking their critics but what they’re not about is fighting for Australian jobs. The Abbott Government, we would like them to spend as much time having a plan for jobs as they do having a plan to attack their political rivals.
JOURNALIST: Do you feel comfortable with all the things you did as a union official?
SHORTEN: I stood up for workers every day, I make no apologies for being a union representative. Trade unionists; John Curtin was a trade unionist, Bob Hawke was, even Ronald Reagan was a trade unionist. So I think there is a role for unionists in our society to ensure a fair go all round but I’m now Labor leader, I recognise that my job is to provide policies for all Australians not just some sectors of the Australian economy, some groups within Australia. So I will be a Labor leader for all Australians not just unions or not just business or not just particular sectors of the Australian economy.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, irregularities in the WA senate election, Clive Palmer concerned, are you?
SHORTEN: I’m concerned if the AEC is getting ballot papers mixed up or contaminated. I’m not about the pack up and cancel the election though. We shouldn’t be having this election; the Australian Electoral Commission should have lost the 1,370 votes which lead to a different outcome in the Senate. Western Australians have been inconvenienced by the AEC but let’s not kid ourselves, Western Australians have an opportunity to say yes to a jobs plan, to say no to education and health cuts, and they do that by voting Labor in the Senate this Saturday.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Greg Marsh from Ten News just two questions, in relation to your Medicare statement about not putting GST on it, what taxes do you think we should be putting up if we need to do so?
SHORTEN: Oh well I’m not the Treasurer of Australia, let’s see what the Budget does. I tell you what, If I’m being asked what economic advice I’d give the Government though on taxes or anything else I’d say this, get behind Australian ship building jobs, don’t waste the talent of the 900 people here of the 1,100 or 1,200 at BAE and indeed the 2,000 other ship building, naval ship building workers. If this Government wants to do the right thing by Australians future have a plan for jobs, don’t cut the education and the health services of Australia.
JOURNALIST: Last question, do you accept that we can’t afford our current standard of living without raising taxes?
SHORTEN: I accept that Australia’s futures in our hands and what we need to do is have good infrastructure, good education, good healthcare and good jobs. I believe that the Abbott Liberal Government know the price of everything and the value of nothing and certainly with Labor you won’t be seeing the GST or [inaudible]
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] does have a costs base way above most other comparative counties, how do you get around it?
SHORTEN: The future of Australia is by working smarter, by being more productive, it’s not by cutting peoples wages. The middle class of Australia are the people who built this county they’re battling with cost of living, they want to make sure their kids can one day grow up and buy a home, they want to make sure their kids get good education, they want to make sure their aging parents get proper healthcare. Australia’s future is not a race to the bottom; it’s a race to the top. Australia’s future is in getting smarter not poorer.
JOURNALIST: Can I take you to the ICAC, Eddie Obeid shenanigans continuing, is that still hurting Labor?
SHORTEN: I haven’t seen the tweets or evidence from today, I understand Liberal Minister Arthur Sinodinos has been in there today and you’ll probably got a better idea of how he’s fairing today than I do.
JOURNALIST: In light of Joe Hockey’s comments last Friday about giving states [inaudible] for selling assets [inaudible]?
SHORTEN: The Abbott Liberal Government is so bereft of ideas. The only idea they’ve got is to sell the family silver to pay issues. What we need to do is have a more productive economy with infrastructure, skills, healthcare and a plan for jobs.
JOURNALIST: Many of the assets are in the process of being privatised what would you say to [inaudible]?
SHORTEN: I’m not an ideologue, I’m not that left wing, I’m not that right wing. What I understand though is the only plan this Government’s got is a plan to pay millionaires $75,000 to have an extra baby, if the only plan they’ve got is to hand out four knighthoods a year then this Government’s wasted the first six months of their time in office. This budget is a test for them, they’ve confected a budget emergency, what they need to demonstrate is do they have a plan for jobs and will they keep their pre-election promises not to cut defence, not to cut health, not to cut education.
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