WEDNESDAY, 13 AUGUST 2014
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s unfair budget; Australian troops; Rebuilding Labor; Clive Palmer; Tony Abbott’s Unaffordable Paid Parental Leave Scheme
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s great to be here in Perth with Labor’s Alannah MacTiernan and State Opposition Leader Mark McGowan.
This has been a great forum, listening to literally hundreds of older Australians, self-funded retirees, half-pensioners and full-pensioners expressing their concerns about Joe Hockey’s unfair Budget. There’s no doubt in my mind that from the west coast of Australian to the east coast, and every point in between, Australians fundamentally don’t want Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget.
Joe Hockey’s flown into town to try and sell this Budget, but he said on radio this morning, and I’m going to specifically quote it because it’s so remarkably arrogant and out of touch that I couldn’t believe an Australian politician would say it. Joe Hockey just doesn't get how rotten his Budget is. He said that poor people won't be hurt by his fuel tax because poor people don't drive cars, or don't drive cars very far.
Are you serious, Joe Hockey? Are you really the caricature of the cigar-chomping, Foghorn Leghorn of Australian politics, where you're saying that poor people don't drive cars?
That's particularly galling in WA where the Abbott Government has cut half a billion in public transport projects, and yet Joe Hockey says they don't drive cars, yet they don't give them another alternative. It is almost though the Treasurer believes that poor people should be sleeping in their cars, not driving their cars.
This is an out of touch Budget. People don't want their Budget. The Government has spent three months and the Treasurer has spent three months whinging that everyone in Australia doesn't like their unfair Budget.
Today I say again on behalf of the Labor Party to Australians: Labor hears the people of Australia, they don't want this unfair budget. Labor won't vote for the unfair features of this Budget under any circumstances. No amount of deal making, no amount of back sliding is going to make an unfair Budget any better than it is. It's a rotten Budget, the Government should start again.
I might just make a couple of quick remarks on Iraq, if I can too, and ask my colleague Alannah MacTiernan to make more comments about the unfairness of this Budget and the West Australian pensioners forum.
With Iraq, we've seen overnight the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop say there won't be troops going to Iraq and Labor has supported that position. We've seen President Obama and Secretary Kerry say that America won't be sending troops. Yet in the last couple of days we've seen the Defence Minister David Johnston saying that we may send troops, we've seen the Assistant Minister for Defence last night contradict the Defence Minister, and again overnight we've seen Tony Abbott say from England that he's not ruling out sending troops.
I think it is important for peace of mind for Australia that the Government holds one position about whether or not there will be troops going to Iraq. Labor understands the Government's position is that there will be no troops. We would like to see different Government Ministers clarify what exactly is the Government's position on this important matter of national security.
I might hand over to Alannah MacTiernan to make some further comments.
ALANNAH MACTIERNAN, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Thanks, Bill. We've had nearly 4000 people contact our office, write to our office, telling us how unfair they believe the Budget is and these are people over the age of 65.
So we had this rally here today, and the overwhelming message that we are getting from Senior Australians is ‘listen, we are the generation that has worked hard, we are the generation that has really given this nation and we are now made to feel almost guilty that we are living too long. That Mr Abbott is telling us that by surviving into our old age we are creating a problem for the economy, for the economy and for the nation that we actually worked so hard to build.’
So this is not the Australia that we want. This is not the Australia that most Australians want and that's why we are not going to support a Budget that makes us such an unfair, unequal Australia.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Alannah. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, to what extent is it important for the Prime Minister to spell out exactly what kind of military action Australia might be involved in in Iraq?
SHORTEN: I think it's very important that Australians know what the Government has in mind. To be fair, I understand the position that Julie Bishop said - that there wouldn't be Australian troops being sent to Iraq - was the Government's position. That's certainly Labor's position.
But we've seen the Defence Minister, David Johnston, not rule it out, raise the question. We've even seen Tony Abbott overnight not rule out the question. I think it's important that this Government tells Australians what exactly is going on.
JOURNALIST: So it is your position that Australian troops should not be sent to Iraq?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, Australia fundamentally deplores the violence of this terrible organisation and the havoc they're wreaking in northern and western Iraq.
We are pleased to see moves, to see the Government of Iraq become more cohesive, including Sunni and Kurd elements within the Government. We certainly support the deployment of our professional RAAF people to help provide humanitarian relief. But the Government has made it clear that they're not sending troops to us. We would just like them to make that clear to the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: Have you had a briefing from the Government on this position?
SHORTEN: The Government has given us the clear indication that they don't want to send troops. But then every time we turn on a television set we see different positions from the Government. So I think it's in everyone's interest for the Government just to state one position. Is David Johnston right, is Julie Bishop right, or is Tony Abbott right?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on another matter, do you support rank and file preselection ballots?
SHORTEN: I really support having the best team possible at the next election. I believe it is important that we involve our membership in our choice of candidates. Labor will have a great team at the next election.
I know several differences between Labor and Liberal. We will have not just one woman in our top 20 when it comes to our shadow cabinet, we will have more women in our executive and we already do than the Liberal Party. We will also have, on average, a younger team with a good blend of experience and we will involve our members in the processes.
JOURNALIST: What's your view on reports the New South Wales head office and Opposition Leader are trying to impose a candidate in the state seat of Lakemba?
SHORTEN: I haven't seen that so I couldn't tell you. I think that sounds like it's a state preselection matter in NSW and I will leave that to the state branch of the Labor Party to deal with.
JOURNALIST: Yet Mr Shorten, you letter boxed the rank and file a year ago when you were asking for their support in a ballot against Anthony Albanese. Are you being a hypocrite? What's changed?
SHORTEN: I support involving our members in the party. Labor will have a good team and we're a united team. I cast back 12 months ago where Labor was riven by disunity. One thing Australians know about Federal Labor is we're united. We understand what Australians want is for political parties to talk about their issues being the issues of the Australian people. That's why Alannah and I are here today talking to hundreds of pensioners who are legitimately anxious. These are real people. These are people who drive cars, Joe Hockey, these are people who get sick and go to the Doctor, Joe Hockey. These are people who are concerned with the broken promises and the cuts to pensions. Labor is focused on being true to its values and we'll have the best array of candidates at the next election.
JOURNALIST: Sorry Mr Shorten, on Iraq just briefly again, are you concerned or to what extent are you concerned that anything offered by Australia beyond humanitarian assistance could inflame tensions in Iraq?
SHORTEN: I think tensions are pretty high in Iraq with the dreadful ISIS terrorist organisation and Labor supports the Government's condemnation of this organisation. There is, as someone once said, not a cigarette paper between us and the Government when it comes to providing humanitarian relief and when it comes to condemning the actions.
We also think it's important that the Government explain to us how Khaled Sharrouf was able to elude Australian authorities and leave this country six months ago. The Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said on or around February the 15th, so 6 months ago, that he would get an urgent report into what was happening and how this could happen. Six months on, we've seen the dreadful images of Khaled Sharrouf's son, which were put forward on the front page of The Australian, and we are none the wiser how this man managed to leave Australia.
JOURNALIST: Sorry Mr Shorten, back on rank-and-file. The NSW State conference which you attended less than a month ago unanimously endorsed these type of preselections. What would you have to say about that?
SHORTEN: I was pleased with the actions of the NSW conference. I gave a speech there where I talked about the importance of the Labor Party rebuilding. That we should be a membership based party, not a faction based party. That we need to attract candidates from the widest possible sources and also what was important is that we made sure that we involve our members in our decisions. But also at the State conference, we made it clear that Labor will fight and fight and fight to defend Medicare. We think that the Government's debates and their changes to Medicare are completely dreadful. We don't like, we're upset that older Australians are made to feel like they're a burden and a problem when in fact Australia should be grateful to our older Australians. Labor has got its unity together and we are pushing hard against this Government. I think the Government thought three months ago they could roll over the top of Labor and what we're doing is we're fighting back on behalf of Australia to make sure that this unfair budget never sees the light of day and we will keep doing that. What Joe Hockey needs to hear in Western Australia, what Tony Abbott needs to hear across Australia, is that Australians don't want this unfair budget, it's built upon broken promises and lies before the last election. Labor won't compromise on an unfair budget which is going to hurt ordinary people. This Government doesn't seem to understand it or they won't listen to people.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on the Budget, Clive Palmer has accused Mr Abbott of deserting Australia during the budget negotiations, is that how you see it?
SHORTEN: I think it's been quite a spectacle this week that Prime Minister Abbott's overseas so you've got Clive Palmer convening a meeting of the Liberal cabinet. I think all Australians are a little confused to see Malcolm Turnbull have a social drink and a meal with Clive Palmer one week, he's a Cabinet Minister in the Abbott Government. Last night we got the spectacle of Joe Hockey, the Treasurer going cap in hand to Clive Palmer and today there's reports of Education Minister Christopher Pyne. I think they should get it out of their system and Clive Palmer should convene the Liberal Cabinet meeting and tell them what they can and can't do. But in the meantime, let me tell them both Mr Palmer and Mr Abbott, that Labor is not going to stand for an unfair budget. We will stand up on the side of Medicare, pensioners, kids who want to go to Uni from working class and middle class backgrounds. We'll stand up on the side of people who drive cars.
JOURNALIST: Are you also meeting with the Palmer United Party to express those sentiments in person?
SHORTEN: Our sentiments have been expressed in Canberra to them and our sentiments have been expressed to the Australian people. I think it is a debacle you've got this untidy, messy spectacle of Treasurer Joe Hockey going around cap in hand to everyone all of Australia trying to justify his unfair cuts. This is work the Abbott Government should have done before the Budget. It's too late now. They should start again. It's got the thumbs down from the Australian people because it's so unfair this budget.
JOURNALIST: The reported changes to the Government's paid parental scheme, a victory for the Opposition?
SHORTEN: This paid parental leave scheme is, I don't know when they're going to present it to Parliament. Tony Abbott has said that he's a conviction politician and he's not for turning on this matter. We keep getting targeted leaks or anonymous leaks from his colleagues, begging Tony Abbott to drop it. The reality is that when we spoke to these pensioners in this bowling club today and said on one hand you've got to pay more to go to the doctor, you're going to have your pensions cut and you've got to pay more in fuel tax and on the other hand millionaires will be getting $50,000 to have a baby, it sends pensioners white hot with anger. The Government should drop this crazy idea. It has no friends and what it shows is if there was a budget emergency in the country to justify this unfair budget, why on earth is Tony Abbott so arrogant and out of touch he's persisting with this gold-plated scheme no-one in Australia wants or likes.
JOURNALIST: Back on Iraq for one last question, if Australia does commit to giving assistance beyond humanitarian assistance in Iraq, are you concerned about that inflaming tensions within Australian within the Muslim community and within the community more broadly?
SHORTEN: I've seen no signs the Governments going beyond what it's told the Opposition. The Government would have to consult the Opposition about sending troops overseas. We haven't been consulted so it's a hypothetical question. We support sending humanitarian relief. We support making sure that we’ve got the best national security, that people who’ve gone to this conflict and trying to come back to Australia realise the consequences of what they've done. But the Americans have ruled out sending troops and I'm not going to start speculating. It would be handy though if the Government could get its ducks in a line and make sure all its Ministers are saying the same thing so the rest of Australia knows what's going on.
Thanks everyone, have a lovely afternoon.
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