TUESDAY, 27 SEPTEMBER 2016
SUBJECT/S: Australian manufacturing jobs; Malcolm Turnbull $200 million plebiscite; Turnbull Government’s backflip on the Backpacker Tax; Steve Irons travel expenses.
GRAHAM PERETT, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR MORETON: Good afternoon everybody and welcome to Moreton. I've been here with Bill Shorten taking on a tour of the OneSteel factory, meeting some of the 85 steel workers and making sure that they've heard about Labor's positive plans for looking after jobs in the steel industry, and we're hoping that the Turnbull Government will back in those steel jobs. Over to you, Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Graham. Good afternoon, everybody. It's great to be in Graham Perrett's electorate of Moreton at an Arrium Onesteel facility which makes important steel for the housing and road and rail markets and the mining industries of Australia.
I'm here visiting another facility in my fourth state around Australia asking Mr Turnbull and the Liberal Government to take some decisive action to help secure the future of 7,000 direct and contracting jobs in our steel industry. Labor is challenging Mr Turnbull, now he's back from his world tour talking to all the very famous people in Washington, to focus again on the important issue of Australian jobs, Australian manufacturing jobs, Australian blue collar jobs.
We ask Mr Turnbull to provide grant funding of $50 million to allow OneSteel Arrium, to be able to invest in energy efficient, innovative technology which will radically improve the productivity and the job security of 7,000 Australian steel jobs. We call upon Mr Turnbull to prioritise spending a modest amount, a modest investment in Australian steel jobs.
In coming weeks, we're going to see tens of thousands of blue collar workers, engineering workers, manufacturing workers lose their jobs as Australia's car industry comes to a halt. Only yesterday in Geelong, for the last time, Ford engines have rolled off the assembly line. There is a jobs crisis in blue collar manufacturing, engineering jobs in Australia, and Mr Turnbull has done nothing. At the very least, we ask Mr Turnbull to allocate $50 million of scarce taxpayer money, a modest but very significant investment, to secure 7,000 jobs and, indeed, Mr Turnbull could help fund the $50 million by not going ahead with the expensive, unnecessary, $200 million government taxpayer-funded opinion poll on marriage equality.
Why is it that Mr Turnbull will waste $200 million on a marriage equality plebiscite which won't bind his own members of Parliament, but yet do nothing to provide $50 million to help save 7,000 jobs? For me the choice is clear. I pick jobs at $50 million over a wasteful opinion poll at $200 million. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: We saw the Newspoll results today, you must be satisfied that the Coalition's slumped [inaudible]?
SHORTEN: Well, you know that I don't talk about opinion polls, but frankly I don't need an opinion poll to know that Malcolm Turnbull is now Australia's great national disappointment. I don't need an opinion poll to tell me that Australians think that the Turnbull Government is hopelessly out of touch with the lives of Australians. I do not need an opinion poll to tell me that Australians are hungry for a Prime Minister who has the courage to lead his party, not to follow his party. Australians are marking Mr Turnbull down because the right-wing tail of the Liberal Government is wagging the Liberal Government dog. When George Christensen now stands up, Mr Turnbull asks him where we are going. That is why I think Australians are greatly disappointed with the lack of leadership by Mr Turnbull and his government.
JOURNALIST: Just on George Christensen, what do you make of his tweet thanking the Labor Party for opposing the same-sex marriage plebiscite in the meetings yesterdays?
SHORTEN: Well thankfully I don't have to take orders from Mr Christensen, he's Malcolm Turnbull's problem. We've just seen this latest backflip from the Government on the Backpacker Tax. There is no doubt that George Christensen and the right-wing of that party are spelling out the song which Mr Turnbull has to sing. When you look at it though, what is wrong with Mr Turnbull? He's backed down on his superannuation changes that he took to the election and said were iron-clad. He's backed down in terms of the National Party baby bonus which he said was a must have in the election and now he's dropped that. He's now dropped the Backpacker Tax in the form which they said they were going to introduce it for the last year. The only thing that Mr Turnbull won't drop or won't compromise on is this plebiscite into marriage equality. Why is it that the only issue which Mr Turnbull is not up for changing, that is, dropping this wasteful plebiscite, this shocking waste of money, why is it that's the only thing he's sticking to his guns on? And when it comes to anything else, Mr Turnbull is happy to drop it, cut it, forget about it and move on and pretend it never happened.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, will Labor back the now significantly lower 19 per cent Backpacker Tax?
SHORTEN: Well the Backpacker Tax has been a mess from day one. It's been a failure. In fact, in many ways the Backpacker Tax tells you everything that is wrong with the Turnbull Government. They make a poor decision, which is poorly executed, they then refuse to back down until they are dragged kicking and screaming, and then they come up with a new policy which is made on the run. This is everything that is wrong with the Turnbull Government. We'll study carefully Backpacker Tax 2.0, but one thing is for sure, for the last 12 months we have said that this Backpacker Tax was going to lead to a strike, a de facto strike by backpackers, and the Government said that's not true. Now of course it was true. We have stories of farmers and orchardists not being able to get their harvest picked, and the Government said that wasn't the problem, and it already is. And now the Government's come up with Backpacker Tax 2.0, I'd like to see the modelling to show whether or not it will have the effects which they say it will or will have other unintended effects. And the other proposition which we need to study carefully, is now they're going to make every traveller pay more tax because this Government can't even do a Backpacker Tax properly. So we'll study it very carefully.
JOUARNALIST: But does Labor except that backpackers should pay some tax?
SHORTEN: I think that there's an issue here to be dealt with, absolutely. But what I don't accept is this Government ever does anything right. Now really, you'd have to be a true optimist to believe – this Government announced the policy, they said it was a brilliant idea, they've announced it in I think the 2015 Budget, they kept it in the 2016 Budget, they took it to the election. We kept saying this was a poor policy, poorly executed. They kept telling us that we were wrong. Now they've decided, well actually, it was a poor policy, it was poorly executed, it was poorly consulted. And now they've rushed out to say, but it's alright we've now got something new which won't have any negative effects. We'd be mugs just to sign up to something this government says at first blush.
I mean, remember the last time the Government said they had something which was iron-clad and brilliant? It was the superannuation changes. They dropped that. Remember before the last election when Malcolm Turnbull rolled Tony Abbott, he signed up to a National Party baby bonus? Well they've dropped that. No, we'd be mugs to simply agree with something Malcolm Turnbull says today, because by tomorrow he might have a different view. Remember, he wanted to increase the GST and he dropped that. Remember, he wanted to take away all federal funding from government schools, he dropped that. Now really, anyone who believes that Malcolm Turnbull says it's raining should go outside to check, because Malcolm Turnbull has got this knack every week to manage to get things wrong and to stuff things up.
JOURNALIST: But if the lower rate was charged would Labor support the scrapping of the tax-free threshold for backpackers?
SHORTEN: Oh you're getting us into the weeds of the detail of a policy which the Government's just announced an hour ago. All I say is, buyer beware. Every time the Turnbull Government's come up with a Budget measure or a new iron-clad commitment, the one thing we know about this government is if they tell you that this is their policy on Monday, you're well off waiting to Tuesday before you're betting on it, that's for sure. I mean for the past year and a half, we've seen the tantrums from former Treasurer Hockey, then Treasurer Morrison, saying they weren't for changing this Backpacker Tax. We told them backpackers around the world have got the message they're going to pay higher rates of tax. We told them the orchardist and the farmers and the tourism operators were complaining about the impact of this policy. Now they have been dragged kicking and screaming to a compromise they didn't want. We will do what the Government doesn't do. We will study the detail, we will consult with industry and we will be very thoughtful.
JOURNALIST: The policy has been out in the public forum for a while now, why hasn't Labor formulated its own stance?
SHORTEN: Well, what is the old saying? If you had your way, you wouldn't start from here. This is the Government's economic policy. I mean, if it wasn't for Labor, they wouldn't have got any budget savings sorted out. It's Labor who has had to go and rescue the Government on a number of occasions. You know, they wanted to have a baby bonus which was a silly idea, and we got them to drop it. They wanted to tax people who – reduce payments to people on $260 a week. We said that's not a great idea. The Government has come out today, after telling everyone for over a year that their backpacker tax was a stroke of economic genius, you will have to forgive us if we don't immediately – that's why they give you hard hats – you will have to forgive us why we don't immediately stand up and clap when the Government finally admits they were wrong about something.
And indeed, I would like to say to Mr Turnbull, perhaps you should take a leaf out of the book you've adopted on Backpacker Tax, superannuation, 15 per cent GST. Perhaps while you're at it about backing down, you should back down on your cuts to Medicare, and you should reconsider wasting $200 million of Australian taxpayer money on a marriage equality plebiscite which, for the record, it will be compulsory for every Australian to vote but it won't be compulsory on members of Mr Turnbull's parliamentary party to have to vote for the outcome.
JOURNALIST: Back on same-sex marriage plebiscite, given that Mark Dreyfus and George Brandis weren't able to make any compromises yesterday, and Mark Dreyfus came out saying [inaudible]) and still opposed to a plebiscite, isn't Labor then playing into hands of the conservatives? Are you worried your legacy on this issue will be stopping same-sex marriage from becoming a reality in this term of Parliament?
SHORTEN: First of all, what is the case to spend $200 million of taxpayer money on an opinion poll which Mr Turnbull can't even make members of his own party agree to? Sorry, I am just going to answer your question, Sam. It's a very important issue. Mr Turnbull is saying to Australians, it will be compulsory for 15 million people to vote on same-sex marriage, to vote on marriage equality. It will be compulsory for them to vote. If they don't vote, they will be fined. But it's not compulsory upon Liberal Party MPs to accept the result? That is a sick joke.
Furthermore, with that $200 million, we're seeing how the Government is turning itself inside out on backpackers or on taxing superannuation accounts or cutting the money in Medicare. Well there is $200 million. I can think of 100 better ways to spend $200 million, indeed if you wanted to save it and reduce the debt and deficit, but on this, what is the case made out not to provide $50 million to help rescue our steel industry and save 7,000 jobs? What is the case against getting rid of bulk-billing incentives for people who need blood tests? What is the case for Simon Birmingham, the Education Minister, announcing a secret hit list of schools? Yet at the same time they want to waste $200 million on a non-binding opinion poll forcing everyone to turn out to vote and they are not even going to accept the result of it. It is just a shocking waste of money.
JOURNALIST: Plebiscite aside, are you worried your legacy may be stopping same-sex marriage from becoming a reality?
SHORTEN: No, for me it's not about legacy. For me, what it's about is marriage equality. What I don't understand –
SHORTEN: Because I have to say, and I'm happy for you to offer me good reasons, Sam, about why it's a good idea, but I haven't heard a lot of good reasons. What is the case for spending $15 million on TV advertising about a vote that most people think we should get on and have in the Parliament? What is the case for spending at least $160 million, and I am sure the estimates actually north of that, to make everyone come out and vote on marriage equality?
Can I tell you, there are some people who really want it, and I support that. There are some people who really don't want it, I don't agree with them. Most Australians, I don't think actually want to be forced to come and vote on other people's relationships. What is the case to make gay people in Australia have to go through a rule-making process which is separate to every other Australians? Why is that gay people have got to climb an extra hurdle that has never been applied before in the Marriage Act? Why is it Mr Turnbull is so reluctant just to do the day job of Parliament and vote on marriage equality? Labor is not asking Liberal MPs to vote for it. What we are asking is, we are all going to be there together. Like, I guarantee in two and three weeks time, we are all going to be there. It's not hard, you put up the vote, you have the debate, for and against and you vote on it. It doesn't cost Australia an extra cent.
I'm much more interested in Australian jobs. For me, it's about jobs, jobs, jobs. I'm here today talking about how I make sure this very efficient company, One Steel, Arrium and all the thousands of people who work there, all the tens of thousands of people who depend upon it, I'm here fighting for Australian jobs. Mr Turnbull is fighting for the right to spend $200 million of people's taxes on an opinion poll which he can't even make his own people accept. That is a shocking waste of money.
One final question perhaps if there is one.
JOURNALIST: On the polls, Mr Turnbull is now facing [inaudible]?
SHORTEN: Sorry, could you repeat the question?
SHORTEN: I don't mind if the Liberals put up Tony Abbott. I don't mind if they put up Malcolm Turnbull. My job is to stand up for middle class and working class families in this country. I don't need an opinion poll, nor do I suspect Australians, to be told that Malcolm Turnbull is out of touch. To be told that his policies of cutting Medicare, a hit list on schools, not properly funding childcare, not standing up for Australian blue collar jobs, I don't need an opinion poll to tell me he's taking Australia on the wrong path.
My job is not to talk about every opinion poll that happens. It's to formulate a positive platform of alternative ideas which will improve Australia's economic and social future. I have got a platform and a program, and I'm determined to keep fighting for Australian jobs. Mr Turnbull may want to talk about backdowns on super or backdowns on Backpacker Tax, or the merit of the marriage plebiscite. I am going to talk about jobs, jobs and job. That's what Australians want. Thank you everybody.
Oh, one last question, sorry, one last question because you were very patient.
JOURNALIST: Coalition MP Steve Irons, do you think he did the wrong thing when he took that flight to his own wedding – a taxpayer-funded flight?
SHORTEN: It is certainly not a good look. It is up to Mr Turnbull to answer the question, is it satisfactory and what is he doing about it? Mr Turnbull has got a lot of lectures for everyone else. I think he just needs to explain, does he think this is appropriate conduct and what steps is he taking, if he doesn't think it's not appropriate conduct to make sure it doesn't happen? And what the consequences of this?
I know that Australians don't think that you should be using taxpayer money to go to a wedding. I think that's a bad idea. I think it’s a bad look. In fact, it's not just a bad look, it's just a bad idea. Mr Turnbull, though, again, Steve Irons is a Liberal MP. What is Mr Turnbull saying about his Liberal MPs? Does he control them? I mean, he does rely upon keeping government by one vote, so I don't know what capacity he has to discipline anyone in the Liberal Party anymore. And by the way, the Liberal and National Party backbench know they have got a pretty free run under Mr Turnbull because after all, Mr Turnbull doesn't lead his party, he follows it.