SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan for a banking royal commission; Malcolm Turnbull’s bungled Census; Ausgrid; Nauru; City to Surf
MICHELLE ROWLAND, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR GREENWAY: Good morning everyone. I'm delighted to be able to welcome our leader Bill Shorten here to Blacktown in the seat of Greenway.
It's always a delight be have Bill here and even better to meet a number of small businesses here in Blacktown discussing the importance of the banks passing on the interest rate cuts that have been make recently. The impact that that has on their businesses, the impact that has on themselves as mortgage holders and the impact on their customers.
So thank you very much Bill for coming out.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Michelle and it's great to be in Blacktown and it's really good to be visiting Cincotta's Pharmacy talking about issues that are important to small business.
I think all Australians were massively disappointed when the four big banks: Nab, Commbank, Westpac and ANZ, didn't fully pass through the important decision, the almost unprecedented decision of the Reserve Bank to lower the official cash rate to 150 basis points. This was the Reserve Bank of Australia looking at all of the economic data, looking at all the experience of the small businesses in the high street saying the Australian economy is wallowing in mediocrity and we had to take the unprecedented step, the independent Reserve Bank, of lowering the cash rate to attempt to revive the Australian economy, to get consumers and mortgagees to spend some more money. To be able to get small business to be able to borrow with more confidence at lower rates. People with massive credit cards didn't see any relief in terms of credit card interest rates.
The mood on the high street of Australia's suburbs and regions is one of great disappointment in Mr Turnbull and his inability to stand up to the banks. In many ways, the failure of Mr Turnbull to stand up to the banks highlights the need yet again to have a banking Royal Commission. The culture of Australian banking needs to improve. There are literally tens of thousands of our fellow Australians, farmers, small businesses who've done it very tough because of the tough culture of the banking sector. I don't buy the argument that improving the culture of banking somehow undermines banking. Better culture in banking leads to better outcomes in banking and most importantly for the Australian economy.
Labor will not relent on its push for a banking Royal Commission. We do so because we think of the experiences of those hardworking pharmacists, who invest their own money, provide a small business and a service to Australians and this, what we saw in Blacktown, is repeated right across Australia. We need a government who's on the side of small business. We need a government who's willing to work with banks but not just work for banks.
We want to work for the Australian people and again, I ask Mr Turnbull to reverse his position on a banking Royal Commission. Sometimes in life you've just got to make the hard choices. You can't keep the boards of the big banks happy, Mr Turnbull, but you can do something to help the Australian economy and small business. Happy to take questions on banking or other important matters.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Census, the Treasurer hasn't ruled out seeking compensation for the debacle, namely of course IBM if they've found to have not performed to the standard necessary. Do you believe that this is the right way to go to ensure that taxpayers don't spend any more money on what has been a bit of a failure?
SHORTEN: The Census has been a massive shambles. We had a Prime Minister who's, you know, self-styled as having practically brought the internet to Australia, who said we needed to have an ideas boom, but when it comes to practicing what he preaches he's clearly been a bungler of the first order.
Whatever happened to the principle of Westminster Government, where there's such a thing as ministerial responsibility. They send the poor out ABS out to take all the heat yesterday in a press conference that was notable by the absence of a cowardly government not willing to accept any responsibility whatsoever.
In terms of IBM's role, we've proposed setting up an independent Senate inquiry. It seems that the Government, even though we haven't heard from the Signals Directorate what happened, even though we saw theories about Chinese hackers, they've already decided that IBM's the guilty party here. I say to Mr Morrison, why on earth are you going to spend money on lawyers getting compensation when if you'd done your day job properly to begin with, none of this mess would have occurred?
JOURNALIST: Still on the Census obviously...
SHORTEN: Thank you, that's great, thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Census...
SHORTEN: Happy fan.
JOURNALIST: Obviously the time that people had to fill out the form isn't until late September, do you think that should be managed considering not only Tuesday night's shut down but the fact that the website’s up and running and people are still having issues at the moment?
SHORTEN: Yeah, I thought long and hard about how much longer you delay it. I think it's right that there's a moratorium on fines. The idea that the Government would fine people for not filling out a census the Government can't process is just a joke. It does have till the end of the September. I think what will judge whether or not there’s a case of further delay will be the response by Australians between now and then. I'm very committed to making sure that we encourage Australians to participate in the Census. I say to Australians who are frustrated by the Government's bungling please don't give up on the Census merely because the Government was asleep at the wheel. It is important, we do it once every 5 years. I'd hate to see the bunglers triumph and the people just say it's all not worth their while. In terms of extending beyond the end of September, let's see what the response rate is. My concern is that this Government's damaged the quality of the data anyway. Again, they're quick to blame everyone else. The real problem here is that Malcolm Turnbull when he's under pressure lashes out and blames everyone else. I don't know what Malcolm Turnbull thinks he gets his weekly pay packet for but it would appear that he doesn't think the ABS is apart of the Government and now, they're launching a sort of an attack on the ABS, an attack on IBM. I just wish the Government would own up to its own mistake rather than blame everyone else.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, I take it then you won't be demanding the resignation of the head of the ABS over his handling of the Census and do you think the Federal Government should reconsider awarding IBM any future contracts?
SHORTEN: Again it sounds like the Government has preempted the inquiry. And by the way, if the Government has worked out so quickly what went wrong, that it's the Chief Statistician and IBM, why didn't they work it out before Monday or before Tuesday night? Now the Government, having done nothing and said everything's fine, has now launched a lynch mob to blame everyone else. Let's just work out what's gone wrong. I think Australians want to know what's gone wrong, why couldn't they upload their census surveys? Is their material private, is the privacy being kept? This is a Government who having done nothing, has now rushed to being judge, jury and carrying out the sentence on IBM and the Chief Statistician. Let's find out what's gone wrong, let's find out how you prevent it and of course, if people are found not to have done their jobs, there should be consequences which go with that.
But what amazes me is that you can't find a government minister who is responsible for the ABS. Yet in the last 12 months they've had Kelly O'Dwyer, I think Alex Hawke has had a run on the ball here, and now you've got poor old Michael McCormack who is quick to point out he's only a 3-week minister therefore absolved of any blame. And of course, whose job is it to supervise the ministers? The Prime Minister's. I don't think Malcolm Turnbull understands what a Prime Minister should do. It's his job to make sure that everyone else does their job properly. Having downplayed all the problems before the Census, they decided to amp it up into 5th gear and say they're angry and disappointed. Well we're angry and disappointed with Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison the way they've handled this whole thing.
JOURNALIST: Just moving onto Ausgrid, do you support the Treasurer's decision to ban Ausgrid from being sold?
SHORTEN: If there's bona fide national security concerns then yes, we do. The Government's going to brief us in the near future about the national security complextion of this decision. When it comes to national security and where it's bona fide reasons in national security, Labor does support that. Having said that, we need to hear from the Government exactly what's happened to constitute this decision by the Government. It does raise a couple of other questions the way the Turnbull Government approaches foreign investment. We need to have a discussion, a proper discussion about what assets should never be for sale to state-owned enterprises of any country. We can't just make this an issue about China. The issue is if there are assets which national security says shouldn't be sold, then we should be upfront. The other thing is we should be upfront a lot earlier in the process. I understand for months and months this wasn't regarded as an issue, now it's become an issue. If the reasons are bona fide, the reasons didn't change in the last few days. So I think that if we want to be known as a reliable destination for foreign investment, and we want to maintain our national security, we need to be a lot more upfront with potential investors from state-owned enterprises and we should, you know, if this is such a strategic asset and it may well be, and Labor has said that in the past, then why on Earth was it ever put on the market for state-owned enterprises to buy because all we've done is manage to frustrate everybody. So I think good process will always avoid some of the debate going on now.
JOURNALIST: Would you list any particular pieces of infrastructure you don't think should be owned by foreign companies?
SHORTEN: Well, we saw the Port of Darwin, and this Government, you know, quite famously handed away a long-term lease for the port to a state-owned enterprise with little, if any, cursory examination. I am curious if there's comparable institutions to Ausgrid in other states which have been secured by state-owned enterprises, why was that acceptable then but not now? So I think we need a proper discussion.
This Government seems to do everything, they rush from one bungle to the next rushed decision to the next controversy. What we need to do is the Government's got to work a lot more with the Labor Opposition. When it comes to national security, we're always shoulder to shoulder, as we should be, by the way, but it seems to me that if this is sensitive infrastructure, we knew this some months ago and why didn't the Government act then before even had gone this far down the path and caused some embarrassment. Secondly, maybe we need to have a discussion what are the parts or assets in Australia which we're not going to sell to state-owned enterprises and let's be upfront about that in a structured fashion rather than having this chaotic on again, off again approach which is becoming a hallmark of this incompetent Turnbull Government.
JOURNALIST: Was the Government being xenophobic in its approach?
SHORTEN: Well they say it's national security. Any nation should stand up for its national security and if we're in charge, we too would stand up for our national security. But as I answered in the last question, if you've got really poor process and a lack of foresight and a lack of openness, you are going to frustrate people from other countries who might say well, we're not fair dinkum. If this is strategic infrastructure and there's a national security overlay, why did it take to now to work this out?
Poor old Mike Baird, he's been touting Ausgrid on the international market, a fair way down the track, I understand, now Morrison's pulled the rug from underneath his feet. Now if it's for national security, let me stress, that's a good reason. But, what I don't know is when you're dealing with these sort of highly expensive, highly commercial, highly reputation important issues, why did they leave it till now to tell the buyers it couldn't happen? What are the facts which changed now which weren't in play during the election or before the election?
JOURNALIST: There have been some suggestions, including from your colleague Anthony Albanese, that this decision may have been influenced by the crossbench. Mr Morrison this morning has said, his words, that that's crap. Do you agree with what Mr Albanese said or do you trust the decision that Mr Morrison has made?
SHORTEN: I'd like to see the reasons for Mr Morrison's decision, I think that will help clear things up. There's no doubt this Government is twitchy about the crossbench and in some ways you got to wonder if the Government is trying to make One Nation happy or Nick Xenophon happy and what's happened to long term policy making? Again, what I say is if this has been decided for national security, then Labor's up for that, obviously. But if it's been decided for national security why have we only found out now? Why has there been a process? Why was such a sensitive asset put on the market to be sold to state-owned enterprises? What we need I think so that Australia is known as a reliable destination for investment and that governments are known for consistent policy is let's be upfront be people well before we get this far into the transaction.
I get the idea that there could be national assets which for national security shouldn't be sold and I'm up for that. But I think that we need to have a proper discussion because all of this just puts a question mark over Australia in terms of the way we make decisions and this Government, and it's not just me saying it, you've got to admit, they've had a very chaotic start.
They rushed the Northern Territory Royal Commission; right answer, poor implementation. They seem to have led Kevin Rudd up the garden path in terms of his chances for being supported by Australia. We've seen them talk to the banks but be completely ineffectual. We've seen the Census turn into a shambles. Now we've got a national security argument, which is a legitimate point, but seems to have been brought as a case of total surprise to the investors.
Is this the way we want to run Australia in a sort of incompetent Turnbull-like fashion? I think this Government really needs to pull its socks up because I can think of four or five issues that I just listed where this Government just doesn't seem to have a clear idea what they want to do.
JOURNALIST: But are you seriously suggesting that the crossbench could have influenced Mr Morrison on such a big decision?
SHORTEN: I think everyone knows that the Government's going to have to rely on the crossbench to get any of their negative cuts through and healthcare or in education or higher education. This is a Government in full horse trading mode with the crossbench because this Government, because of their election result, hasn't convinced Australians of the merit of their policies.
JOURNALIST: Do you - when are you expecting that briefing that you were offered today and will you or your...
SHORTEN: Very soon. To be honest, I haven't spoken to my office about when we're having it but that's an important thing but we are interested to understand the reasons.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask one question on Nauru please Mr Shorten, isn't Peter Dutton right when he says that many of the Nauru files were untested incident reports that have not been investigated by police?
SHORTEN: I'd ask Mr Dutton, how many abuses would there have to be before he thinks he should act? There may well be some matters which incident reports in the manner in which he's described but I would think he would have to be very certain of his facts to categorically rule out all of that evidence.
Now let's state Labor's view clearly here. We're committed to stopping the people smugglers getting back into business, Liberal and Labor are the same on that. But I don't accept that you have to keep people in indefinite detention in Nauru and also without transparency in the manner in which they're detained. It's not an either/or. You don't maintain the fight against people smugglers by having thousands of people languish semi-indefinitely in Nauru in conditions in which we can't see transparently.
Being very candid, I welcome the Government's response to what we saw happening in the Northern Territory but what I don't accept is that therefore we turn a blind eye to what's happening in Nauru. We're proposing an independent child advocate. I think the Government should do that. I don't know why they won't allow that transparency, protecting children from harm shouldn't be an issue which is there's any political point scoring about. Also I think the Government must redouble its efforts on regional resettlement. The idea that the only way we deter people smugglers is by keeping people in indefinite detention to me it's not the right way to go. Perhaps one last question.
JOURNALIST: I understand you're taking part in the City to Surf for the first time this weekend. Are you ready for that race and are you raising money for any particular charity?
SHORTEN: I am running in my first City to Surf. I understand that Heartbreak Hill will test me but I think it will be a wonderful day. I think the tens of thousands of people out there running to raise money for charity, for good causes, thousands of other Sydneysiders having picnics, parties, I'm really looking forward to seeing Sydney on display. In terms of my own athleticism, I will make a better Prime Minister than I will runner.