THURSDAY, 23 JUNE 2016
SUBJECTS: Labor's positive plans for South Australia; Medicare; Liberal Party fundraising, Penalty rates; CFA; Liberal Party smear on Anne Aly
KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: I'm delighted to welcome you all to beautiful Adelaide today. In Adelaide and in South Australia we know that it is more important than ever we have strong MPs fighting for our state and we have a strong government led by a Prime Minister who will stand up for South Australian jobs.
We have seen South Australia be hit harder than, I would argue, any other part of the country. Whether it be with Holden and former Treasurer Hockey pushing them away. Whether it be the fact we had to stand up and fight until the last minute to secure submarines. Or whether it be that the Turnbull Government has again shown they are all about slogans but when it comes to Arrium, they are not prepared to stand up and support South Australian jobs to the effect they need to.
I am really pleased to be joined here today by strong South Australian MPs. Amanda Rishworth fighting for the residents of Kingston. Nick Champion in Wakefield. Penny Wong in the Senate. I am really pleased we will be part of a Labor team who prioritises South Australia because our leader knows we need jobs, we need education and we need quality health care. I am delighted to introduce Bill Shorten to launch our positive plans for our State.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. One of the challenges of course of a winter election is rain. I am glad everyone here is dry. I want to say there are several issues which I want to start off talking about today. First, I want to address Labor's plan for jobs and our plan for South Australia. I will also address though some issues which go, in recent times, to the credibility of the Prime Minister. I also intend to talk a bit further about the important case to defend Medicare.
First of all, let me launch Labor's positive plans for South Australia. The key focus of this obviously is upon jobs. It is a real privilege in this election to go around and meet hard working men and women of Australia. Only Labor has got the solid plans for jobs, which Australians and South Australians really need to see leadership on.
Labor is committed to building infrastructure in South Australia which will generate real jobs. Labor is committed to saving Arrium and we have gone with the best option recommended by the administrator, which will see a positive future for the steel workers of Whyalla and indeed all through Arrium and OneSteel. Labor is committed to the employment of apprentices. Labor is committed in South Australia to renewable energy jobs. We are committed to rolling out first-class NBN technology. We are committed to making sure our schools, TAFEs and universities are properly funded, giving the future workforce of South Australia the best skills. We are committed to making sure working parents, in particular working mums, don't have to face the invidious choice of going back to work and seeing most of the money they earn being eaten up in child care, through Labor's very sensible and practical proposals to increase the child care rebate. La bor is also committed to making sure the hard hit automotive sector, once a backbone of the South Australia manufacturing sector, gets the funding to make transitions into new markets. It is the Labor Party who has been committed to defending ship building and submarine building in South Australia.
Labor has an outstanding track record, not only of standing up for jobs but of standing up and supporting penalty rates. On behalf of the Labor Party, I put in a submission, even as Opposition Leader, supporting the retention of penalty rates. Mr Turnbull refused to, in the most recent debate we had, to go for penalty rates. He wouldn't put a submission in at all.
From penalty rates, right through to Senator Xenophon's challenge, where his own candidate in the Senate, his standard-bearer, is on the record as opposing the retention of penalty rates, and as recently as this week said he would be open to considering the Liberal proposition on penalty rates. Penalty rates are an important matter for South Australia workers, just as jobs are, just as education, apprenticeships and TAFE, NBN and renewable energy, ship building and submarine building are. You name it, Labor has got a plan for jobs in South Australia.
I also said I wanted to talk briefly about Medicare. Medicare is important, as not just a fairness mechanism in our country, but it is important to the productivity of our country. On July 2, voters have a clear choice. They are going to make a choice about the future of Medicare. Mr Turnbull is trying to pretend, he says, he will guarantee Medicare; he won't. Under Mr Turnbull, if he gets re-elected, you will pay for to see the doctor, you will pay more for medicine and more for tests. You'll pay more to see specialists. We see Medicare and bulk-billing as under threat by Mr Turnbull. If Australia's workers are not able to afford to go and see the doctor, two things happen: They either stay sick until it’s worse, or they ask their employer to pick up the health insurance tab. Medicare helps Australian jobs and Australian employers, because otherwise we go down the path of the American system where large manufacturers a nd large employers are required to pay the health insurance bills of their work force. It is one of the many reasons why defending Medicare is in the national interest.
As I also said at the start, I want to raise some questions concerning the Prime Minister's credibility. There have been three serious matters in the last 24 hours which go to Mr Turnbull's credibility. First, there is the Cory Bernardi scandal. Mr Turnbull said earlier this week on television he had a conversation with Cory Bernardi of a certain nature. Senator Bernardi has straight out of the blocks said Mr Turnbull is wrong. Clearly one of these two gentlemen is lying. It is now up to the Prime Minister to come clean about who is telling the truth and who isn't. They both can't be right.
In the last 24 hours, we have seen Mr Turnbull scramble with a new ad where he guarantees Australians funding for education and Medicare will be guaranteed. That couldn't be further away from the truth. The funding for Medicare is absolutely not guaranteed. We know he is going to freeze the GP rebates, increase the price of medicine and he is getting rid of the bulk billing incentives. His proposition Medicare funding is guaranteed is simply not true. He is deliberately making an ad which misleads Australians. The third strike against his credibility, is we have seen him come out as recently as this morning and say thousands of volunteers will be subordinate to the union. This is an outrageous lie and it isn't true.
The point about these three issues, the Senator Cory Bernardi debacle and the issue around guaranteeing Medicare funding and education funding when they are making massive cuts, the issue around misleading volunteers and meddling in the state issue of the CFA, this all goes to the Prime Minister's credibility. This Prime Minister has serious questions about his credibility and he is fast forming a perception in the minds of Australians he will say anything to get into office. Certainly being credible is not one of his requirements. Happy to take questions on all these matters.
REPORTER: Mr Shorten, on same-sex marriage, you've described the plebiscite on same-sex marriage as a taxpayer-funded platform for homophobia. Is anyone who votes against gay marriage a homophobe and would you vote for or against legislation to set up a plebiscite?
SHORTEN: Thank you for those questions. First of all, not everyone who opposes marriage equality is a homophobe. Some homophobes certainly oppose marriage equality. I get there are people of religious conviction who really don't agree with marriage equality. I’ve said that all along. I said that to the Australian Christian Lobby in a speech I gave to them in my support for marriage equality. But let's call it as it is. The truth of the matter is, Malcolm Turnbull said in a debate against me his preferred option was a conscience vote in Parliament. He said it's my party that makes me do it. What a weak fellow we have leading Australia. Even though he knows the best option for Australia is one which he supports, he will surrender that to the diktat of the right wing of his party. That is not leadership. That is weak. We all know, and I’ve seen the experience and spoken to people who campaigned in th e Irish referendum. This plebiscite, which won't bind MPs, will give a platform for people with some hateful attitudes to ventilate them in the public debate and they may well receive taxpayer funding. We all know the best option on this issue. A conscience vote within the first 100 days of a Shorten Labor Government.
REPORTER: On foreign investment, nine out of 10 Australians according to a new poll are opposed to foreign investment in agricultural land. My question is how will you convince voters higher thresholds for scrutiny is a good idea?
SHORTEN: The only people who can have a real objection to foreign investment in this country will be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The Duke of Westminster has owned Australian property, Lord Vestey has. We have always had foreign ownership of some Australian agricultural land. I understand the concern of Australians if there is no transparency in arrangements.
A Government I lead believes in treating our voters as intelligent. We believe in providing information to Australians. We don't need to hide the facts of the NBN. We don't need to smother all the issues of Manus and Nauru in a cloak of secrecy. We certainly don't need to be secretive about transactions in terms of ownership of Australian assets. I believe in a more open Government which will deliver, I think, greater confidence. If you want to bring people with you on a path of change on any issue, be straight with people, tell them what is going on. I think if you treat Australians as intelligent, you will be surprised the rewards you get back.
That is why we are not a small target opposition. We have all seen Turnbull shrink into a mini replica of the man we thought he would be when he became Prime Minister. It's because he is not treating Australians as smart. He flirted with the idea of a 15 per cent GST. You know he wanted to, you know he was keen to. Then he got a bit of stage fright because he was concerned of losing his popularity. Goodness knows what he will do after an election. The truth of the matter is, when it comes to foreign investment to your economic plans, your views about a whole range of matters, treat people as smart and they will reward you accordingly.
REPORTER: There are reports around today there are bikies in Peter Dutton's electorate with your official save Medicare placards. Is Labor conspiring with bikies to try and bring down Peter Dutton?
SHORTEN: Complete rubbish.
REPORTER: To the CFA dispute seeing you raised it earlier. There are reports today Daniel Andrews was acting on your request to end the dispute when he sacked the CFA board. Did you ask him to intervene in the dispute to end it before the campaign? Secondly, Jack Rush has said today this deal provides unprecedented powers within the CFA to the UFU and the EBA undermines the role and independence of volunteers. Doesn't that mean you should support what Malcolm Turnbull’s trying to do with the Fair Work Act?
SHORTEN: There's a range of issues across there. To your first point, complete rubbish, it’s a State issue. In terms of Malcolm Turnbull and the concern about the CFA negotiations. I have this view: What it is about is the safety of Victorians. What is about is the speedy resolution of this dispute. I am a Victorian. I am up for solutions which actually move this dispute along to a resolution. I am up for proposals which improve the safety of Victoria. I think it has dragged on, but the point about it, is every dispute has a beginning, a middle and an end. This dispute will be resolved.
In terms of Mr Turnbull's contribution. Does anyone think if there wasn't a Federal election Malcolm Turnbull would have anything to say about this issue? I have a track record of supporting volunteers. I voted for that in the Federal Parliament. There is a section in the Fair Work Act, it is division eight, it’s sections 108-112, but you will need to check yourself. These sections, in case you are not familiar with them, go towards the rights of volunteers when they are off fighting fires and doing other volunteer matters, to make sure they are not unfairly prejudiced by their existing employer. Labor put those protections in for volunteers.
We are not new arrivals on the issues of respecting volunteers who are at the heart of the CFA. What we also know, is the Liberals voted against the final Fair Work Act in the Senate. That’s why I say I have no doubt Mr Turnbull wants to use volunteers as political pawns in his pursuit of power. The truth of the matter is, you look at the solutions, I am interested in solutions to improve the safety of Victorians. I'm interested in solutions which speed up the resolution of these matters. These are difficult matters. What they don't need at a state issue is a grandstanding from federal political leaders chasing votes on another agenda altogether.
REPORTER: On the privatisation of Medicare, how can you argue the Coalition wants to privatise this vaccination contract when in 2008 it was Labor that awarded the Human papillomavirus national register to Victorian psychology services?
SHORTEN: First of all, when we talk about the privatisation of Medicare, we all know the Government got caught with their hand in the cookie jar. They didn't want to reveal they were spending $5 million to investigate the privatisation of the payments system. That came out in Senate Estimates, $5 million. Of course, as Mr Turnbull does, he now pretends it never happened. There was the effort of the media to seek information for Freedom of Information, they were told at the time ‘this is cabinet and confidence, we can't give it to you.’ Now, of course, Mr Turnbull says it never went to Cabinet. This is a Government trapped in its own contradictions in these matters.
But going to the issues you’re saying, there has always been some private operations in terms of our Medicare system. What Labor is doing is putting a stake in the ground, and we say beyond that point, no more. What we are saying, is when you increase the proportion of our medical system, our Medicare system, when you increase the proportion which moves from Government funding to asking individuals to pay for their own services, what you are doing is you are ruining Medicare. We will defend Medicare. We are not convinced this Government can be trusted with the health care of Australians.
We are certainly not convinced by the Government when they propose the following measures. Billions of dollars in cuts to GP rebates, because what they are doing is freezing the rebates at the 2014 level which will put an intolerable strain on doctors' surgeries. The Royal Australian College of GPs has said one-third of all doctors will have to stop bulk billing. You cannot pretend like Mr Turnbull to be guaranteeing Medicare when you are increasing the prices of prescription medicine. You certainly can't pretend you're guaranteeing Medicare funding when you are taking away bulk billing incentive payments.
REPORTER: Following up from Lauren's question. You can't really expect the Government to intervene in a public tender process, which your health spokesperson, Catherine King, is suggesting the register, the vaccination register, should be guaranteed, that it would not go to a for-profit organisation. The Government can't intervene in such a process?
SHORTEN: It depends how far the tenders are along and the contracts are along. Of course we'll respect contracts which are signed. You have to. But let's be clear, if we want to talk about tenders and contracts, the grand-daddy of all big contracts was the submarines contract. That process at first, if Labor hadn't been strong, that was a done deal. It was going to go to one bidder. That was the giant contract, $50 billion.
This Government, when they come to quoting about tenders and contracts, has form. They were willing to park money in the Victorian East West Link project even though the first road hadn't been built; they were parking billions of dollars. This Government is dodgy when they do their work about tenders and contracts.
Of course we won't interfere with any contracts which are signed. That's just sensible, reasonable, moderate Government and politics. But when I think about the submarine debate, and some of you followed this issue diligently over the last two and a half years because you are interested in jobs in South Australia, imagine if Labor hadn't dug in and opposed that process? There would have been no tender process for the subs. Imagine if Labor hadn't stood against the tide of Tony Abbott's determination to have the submarine contracts sent to Japan? We'd have a very different prospect for the future of ship building in Australia.
REPORTER: Would you consider a new code of conduct for Labor affiliated unions that takes into account the issues in raising the Royal Commission whereby senior officials who breach those guidelines would put at risk that union losing their affiliation status?
SHORTEN: First of all, I don't accept the proposition inherent in the question all unions are doing bad things. But in terms of the standards, I expect of any member of the Labor Party, I am not going to single out union people, I will single out all people - in fact, the standards I expect Malcolm Turnbull would expect of some of his people - is you don't break the law. If you get those criminal findings against you, you are not welcome in our party. You shouldn't be welcome in any political party. Whether or not we need another standard in addition to the law of the land, we've got our own standards in terms of what we apply and move on, we've already got them.
What I would say to you is this: no political party should have any time for any shonky conduct. I still haven't heard this Government answer what’s going on with Parakeelia, have you? We still haven't found out what's happened with that Liberal washing machine turning taxpayer money into Liberal Party profits. That isn't good enough. I think that part of your question goes to standards in politics. I think it's about time the Liberal Party fronted up and answered questions on campaign finance reform. Why is it the Liberals have so much trouble with sailing close to the breeze on fundraising? Why is it they won't support the declaration and disclosure of donors who donate over more than $1,000?
REPORTER: The Prime Minister says you are run by unions and you would run the country like a union. We fully expect you to reject that.
SHORTEN: Thanks Tim, so what's the question?
REPORTER: I'm coming to that, can you give us insight into the way a Shorten Government would incorporate the views of unions and how much influence they would have in your Government?
SHORTEN: I've spent my adult life representing people. I've spent my adult life trying to stand up for working people and also make sure they work in cooperative enterprises. You saw the way I went around this work site. Whilst I have never been to this work site before, I'm interested in what the office staff do. I'm interested in what the engineers do. I'm interested in what the management's doing to employ apprentices. I am interested in how people are getting paid and are they happy at work. I would make sure we would work with employees and their representatives and employers and their representatives. I would work with business and I always have. I just won't work for business.
I think there is another question inherent in all this. I am happy to explain and put up my record of standing up for working people and happy to explain to Australians how we would govern in the national interest. What I would do is bring people to the table. I don't believe in just having the idea, the old fashioned idea, of employee versus employer. That’s not the future for Australia. Just as I don't believe in the CFA dispute we are going to see, over the long term, this fissure which has currently occurred between volunteers and career firefighters. That has to mend and that will mend. I see my job as a leader of Australia to bring people together. My inspiration is watching what Hawke and Keating did in 1983. Not everyone in Australia agreed with the changes they brought in, but I liked the way they used to try and drive change. It's bringing people to the table. We know Mr Turnbull has got a hang up about trade union members and he complains about them. The fact of the matter is, all voices are legitimate in Australian public life and deserve to be heard.
I have to say though, one thing which I don't understand, is why Mr Turnbull decided unlike every other section of Australian economy, why unlike workers and their representatives, why is Mr Turnbull so determined not to have a banking Royal Commission. A banking Royal Commission is an issue which affects every Australian. I wish Mr Turnbull would perhaps shed some of his background and instead respect the voice and views of the Australian people who absolutely want a banking Royal Commission.
REPORTER: Just clarifying on the CFA dispute. Will you look at any proposed changes the Government puts forward in terms of legislation or are you saying you don't believe any changes are needed?
SHORTEN: Very clearly, if it is a solution, I have provided the test. Let me spell it out. I don't mind who has the idea. It could be Malcolm Turnbull, it could be Daniel Andrews, it could be a volunteer fire brigade captain or it could be a career firefighter. The identity of the person proposing the change is not the issue for me. The issues are twofold: Are proposals to try and resolve the dispute going to achieve two things? One, make Victoria safer. At the end of the day, that’s why the volunteers are the volunteers, that's why the career firefighters are the career firefighters. I want to see a safer Victoria.
Secondly, we want to see a more speedy resolution of the dispute and a definite listening to the concerns of volunteers. Whether or not that involves federal legislation, we will wait to see the detail. I understand no one has seen the detail. I don't know if you've seen it, but I certainly haven’t. So I'm not going to rule anything out at all. What I'm interested in, is not the political grandstanding or using volunteers as some sort of cannon fodder in a Federal election campaign. What I am interested in is the safety of Victorians, respecting our volunteers and making sure we get to a speedy resolution. It is pretty straight forward proposition.
REPORTER: You were addressing the workers there and talking about the Xenophon penalty rates policy. Do you and your candidates in South Australia feel as though you are fighting two forces?
SHORTEN: No, we are standing up for penalty rates. I know exactly who I am fighting for. I am fighting for workers and their penalty rates. Anyone who wants to come after penalty rates via a legislative mechanism, I will fight them. They will have to come through my Labor candidates and me if they want to go after penalty rates. I don't mind if it's Stirling Griff, the Xenophon candidate, or if it's some standard issue Liberal who's always keen to go after penalty rates. They have to come through Labor if they want to try a legislative means to attack penalty rates. We will stand up for them.
REPORTER: Justice Minister, Michael Keenan, has effectively accused Labor's candidate for Cowan, Anne Aly, of being soft on terrorism because she wrote a letter suggesting Junaid Thorn and another young person would be candidates for a de-radicalisation program in counselling during sentencing submissions. Are Mr Keenan's comments a smear? Do you think it is because the Liberal Party is struggling to hold Cowan?
SHORTEN: I think it is a desperate smear. I'm not going to repeat the allegations. That is what the attack dogs of the Liberals want me to do. Let me just say some positive things about Dr Anne Aly. She's a migrant girl who's come across here and done very well for herself. She's a respected researcher and leader in counter-radicalisation. I suggest I would be more likely, you would be more likely, to go to Anne Aly than Michael Keenan for how to de-radicalise at risk youth. You don't have to take my word for it, President Obama and the White House, the Department of Homeland Security in the United States invited Anne Aly to the White House. They didn't invite Michael Keenan. So I don't know if Michael Keenan is jealous of Anne Aly or if there is a sort of political motive to smear an up and coming Labor candidate.
But it's not good enough for Mr Turnbull to say he doesn't know what is going on. This guy cannot wander around Australia disowning the Liberal Party. He is the Liberal Party leader. He needs to call his attack dogs off Anne Aly. If President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security regard her as a global expert on de-radicalisation, I think we can do a little better than Michael Keenan trying to imply the opposite. In fact, I'll go as far as to say: Anne Aly has made it clear because of her views of standing up, of counter-radicalisation, she has been put on the kill lists of extremist groups. The truth of the matter is, Anne Aly is an outstanding Australian. I know the Liberal Party want to get votes by smearing Labor candidates. I think they should back off this one altogether.
REPORTER: Should the Liberal Party review the way it goes about its fundraising, having had to apologise to the Prime Minister's wife coming on top of the Parakeelia issue you mentioned?
SHORTEN: I've got a great deal of respect for Lucy Turnbull and I wish the Liberal Party had not embroiled her in their fundraising. The Liberal Party time and time again seem to sail pretty close to the wind when it comes to fundraising. I don't know what it is about Liberals and money but it seems to get them into quite a lot of trouble. I think the Liberal Party would be well advised to back in our sensible reforms to campaign finance. Why on earth does the Liberal Party fight tooth and nail to hide the identity of donors when we say if you are willing to give $1,000, you should put your name to it.
Secondly, this Parakeelia scandal still wanders on. I think the Liberal Party's just hoping everyone has forgotten they have a Liberal Party-owned company being paid by taxpayer money and then funnelling the money back to the Liberal Party in the form of profits. But of course, no less a figure than Ron Walker back in 2002 handed over the Treasuryship of the Liberal Party to none other than Malcolm Turnbull. Now Malcolm Turnbull doesn't seem to know anything about this either. Malcolm Turnbull cannot pretend he is a separate person to the Liberal Party. He's got to stand up to them on marriage equality. He's got to make a stand about them smearing a great Australian like Anne Aly. He's got to clean up his shop when it comes to finance campaign reform.
I also think he needs to come clean in terms of his not credible ads. He is not guaranteeing education or Medicare funding. He is clearly at contradictions with Cory Bernardi. We all know Cory is itching to tell his side of the story and Cory's already started to do it. I thought he would wait until 3 July. But we can see Cory Bernardi, Senator for South Australia, is clearly frustrated with what he considers to be the lack of credibility of what Malcolm Turnbull is saying.
Finally, Malcolm Turnbull, this pattern of behaviour about his poor credibility is also exposed when he sort of wanders into this CFA dispute. There's no detail. I am interested in working with him and with Daniel Andrews. What I do want to do, is any contribution the rest of us make at the national level for, what is primarily and principally a state issue, has to achieve better safety for Victorians and speedy resolution and get the volunteers back working with the career firefighters. Perhaps I might take one more question.
REPORTER: Have you been briefed on this situation with these two Australians kidnapped in Nigeria?
SHORTEN: No we haven't. It's very serious obviously. Macmahon is a very large contracting company with great South Australian affiliations. This is a most serious matter and I expect the Government, consistent with caretaker provisions will brief us. I think on that note of unity, when you are talking about these Australians whose whereabouts are unknown, I think that is probably an appropriate ending to this press conference.
Thank you every body.