THURSDAY, 29 SEPTEMBER 2016
SUBJECTS: Marriage equality, Turnbull’s divisive plebiscite, South Australia’s super-storm; Charity regulation; Stuart Robert scandal; AFL Grand Final
GAI BRODTMANN, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR CYBER SECURITY AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Thanks everyone for coming down to the Women's Legal Centre, a centre that provides an invaluable service to the Canberra community, particularly for women who are experiencing domestic violence.
I want to thank the Women's Legal Centre for hosting us here today and for organising a meeting, a very important consultation with members from the rainbow Canberra community, the parents of lesbian and gay Canberrans as well as parents of young children who are members of the rainbow family here in Canberra. I wanted to thank, so much, to the centre for organising that community and the consultation which was vitally important and provided us with some really important feedback. Thank you and now over to Bill Shorten.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Gai, and before I talk about the very powerful forum which we've just heard the voices from the gay and lesbian community. I just want to express Federal Labor's support and solidarity for the people of South Australia. They've been hit by a super storm, by a one in 50 year storm. In particular I want to acknowledge the fine work of the emergency personnel and the emergency services volunteers and professionals in South Australia and of course this storm cell will still travel across Australia and we encourage people who are effected by the storms to stay safe and of course follow the advice of the authorities in all circumstances.
Having said that, I think it's important to discuss briefly the very powerful and moving forum which I and Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Andrew Leigh and Gai Brodtmann have just attended. We've heard from parents, we've heard from leaders within the gay and lesbian community, we've heard from health professional experts, people who work with vulnerable young people every day. And after this forum we are still in search of one good argument in favour of the plebiscite. I encourage Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis and the other people promoting the plebiscite to go and listen to the voices of gay people, parents of gay people, people who deal with challenges within the gay and lesbian community of bullying and harassment.
We've heard again today, people simply say, "Why would we waste $200 million of taxpayer money when it can be spent on many other things?" Why on earth is there a plebiscite when in fact it will be compulsory for 15 million Australians to vote; in the case of many of them, people will be compelled to vote or face a fine. Whereas it would not be compulsory upon Mr Turnbull's backbench to have to accept the result. Compulsory for all Australians to vote in Malcolm's ballot, but not compulsory for Malcolm's party to accept the ballot. And I think most importantly at the apex of concerns about this plebiscite, again time and time we heard today mental health professionals, parents, explain very clearly that they are truly concerned that a campaign will not be civil, as Mr Turnbull seems to promise, that he can't quarantine and guarantee some of the homophobia and voices of hate which will emerge.
And today from parents of people who are gay and lesbian, today from leaders in within the LGBTI community, they were saying, "Please do not support the plebiscite. " It's a message we are going to consider very seriously as we lead up to the return of Parliament in the second week of October. I would now like to introduce the Chief Minister of the ACT who has taken time out of his own election campaign to come and listen to the issues because he is committed to making sure that people in Australia can achieve marriage equality.
ANDREW BARR, CHIEF MINISTER OF THE ACT: Thank you very much, Bill. This is an important opportunity and I thank Bill and Gai and Andrew for organising today's forum to hear from Canberra's LGBTI communities. Canberra is the most socially inclusive city in this country, We've showed a leadership role over many years over questions of equality. We were the first jurisdiction to legislation for marriage equality. We've led this debate nationally so it was really important for this community to have the opportunity to express their views directly to Bill as Leader of the Opposition and of course to the two outstanding local members in the Federal Parliament.
I have been pleased to attend, to take some time out of our campaign, but I must say that this is an issue that is resonating in the ACT election campaign, people are raising this issue with me around what our stance will be on the plebiscite. I say personally I would very much like the opportunity to marry my long-term partner, but I am, like many, many others, extremely concerned by what could happen and what we have already seen happen in the context of this debate nationally and what we've experienced locally.
So there are real risks and real concerns about the approach of the Prime Minister and his senior Ministers on this matter. We've seen his backbench running all over the place with some pretty outrageous claims. I've already had to step in locally to support the Safe Schools program as a result of the sort of far right, hardline interventions that we've seen from conservative politicians elsewhere in this country.
But I can say to my local constituents and Canberrans who I know to be progressive people, who value equality and who respect the right of everyone to be equal before the law, that we will stand up for their rights in our local campaign and on the national stage in order to ensure that every Australian is equal before the law and we will argue for a better way to achieve marriage equality, and there is a better way than the plebiscite, and that's a tree vote of all Parliamentarians, that's what our Federal colleagues were elected to do. That's what should happen here, not a divisive plebiscite that runs the risk of hurting thousands and thousands of our fellow Australians. I think it's a real line in the sand moment for the Federal Parliament and what we've heard today has only further reinforced my views. Personally I'm prepared to wait - there is a better way to achieve marriage equality.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Andrew, for the very well put statement. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what do you say to same sex couples who may be supportive of a plebiscite who think it maybe an opportunity to burn off negativity in the community and have a unified Australian position on same-sex marriage?
SHORTEN: Well, I have to say wherever I go in Australia, same-sex couples come up to me and encourage me not to support the plebiscite. Parents of gay people come up to me and say, "Please Bill, don't support the plebiscite." I'm not inundated by a whole lot of people in same-sex relationships saying, "Please vote for the plebiscite."
Exactly the opposite.
People in same-sex relationships, in loving relationships, do not understand why they have to put their relationship to a public opinion poll of their neighbours and everyone else in Australia. No-one else in Australia has this. A couple in loving relationships have said to me very clearly, "Why is Malcolm Turnbull proposing a different law-making process for gay people than anyone else in this country?"
I was very moved by a 70-year-old lady who has been in a long term relationship and she made it clear to me, she said "Bill, I don't want the plebiscite. I'm happy to wait until we have a vote in the Parliament when the issues can be properly discussed."
Malcolm Turnbull keeps promising Australians that he can quarantine the negative debate that somehow if you don't support a plebiscite, that you think that somehow that you're underestimating Australians. Well, I'm not. I don't underestimate the generosity of Australians, but what I do recognise is the lived experience of our fellow Australians who happen to be gay. They tell me what happens, they tell me the harassment and bullying. I've got parents who have spoken about their kids and they say, "Bill, why should our kids have to go to school and have them asked that somehow their parents relationship is illegal or it's not normal or it's not right?"
Surely this country is a bit cleverer than stigmatising one group of Australians. Let's have the debate in Parliament. Labor is not asking every Liberal MP to vote for marriage equality, but what we are asking them is to have a vote on marriage equality.
Now I was heartened that there was one report in the media today which said that Malcolm Turnbull is considering a Plan B, in the event that the plebiscite is defeated, in the event that Labor finalises a decision and we decide to oppose the plebiscite. I am heartened by the that there is a report which says Malcolm Turnbull has a Plan B, that in the next Parliament, 46th Parliament, remembering we are in the 45th Parliament, that the Liberals will allow a free vote of MPs.
All I say about that is if you can contemplate having a free vote of MPs, why wait two years? Why going through the farce of waiting two years of foot-stamping and complaint if the plebiscite doesn't get supported. We can make marriage equality a reality the next time Parliament meets. That to me seems the best way forward. I just need Malcolm Turnbull to grow a spine and back in a conscience vote rather than the hard right of his own party.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on the blackouts, what do you make of the conservative criticism today of South Australia's strong reliance on renewable energy and do you agree that State-based renewable targets should be abolished in favour of a purely national target?
SHORTEN: I think it's disgraceful that the Conservatives are playing politics with what is a natural disaster. Now even if they want to play the blame game, surely isn't it appropriate to wait until all the houses have their power back on, until we know the bill, until we know what's happened?
This is a super-storm, a one in 50-year storm which has hit South Australia. I salute the emergency personnel, I'm not gonna talk about politics while they're helping, helping families and lifting trees and repairing damage. This is a super-storm, 80,000 lightning strikes. That didn't happen because of a renewable energy target. That's the weather. The fact that we've had a one in 50-year storm is not due to renewable energy, it's due to the weather. The fact that 20 transmission towers were blown down by almost cyclonic winds is not due to a renewable energy target, it's due to the weather. This Government will do anything to politicise an issue, a disaster. If the Greens had blamed, while a bushfire is under way, if they had talked about climate change, Barnaby Joyce would have been all over them like a rash, calling them un-Australian and all the rest of the nonsense, yet here we have the conservatives trying to play politics about renewable energy when this is a storm, it is the weather blowing over towers. 80,000 lightning strikes has nothing to do with a state renewable energy target.
JOURNALIST: Don't you agree that there is still some fragility in the South Australian energy market? We've seen a report from the Grattan Institute released on Sunday which cited the huge spike in the wholesale price of energy in South Australia during July because of their reliance on renewable energy, and even a report by the energy market operator saying that in the event that SA was cut off from the rest of the Australian grid, that it probably wouldn't have the ability to sustain itself and then would in fact go dark? Doesn't that mean there is still inherent fragility in that reliance on the renewable energy sources?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, the efficiency of a national energy market is one issue - I get that - but let's not doubt why this issue has been raised right now. The Liberals and the Nationals, I think quite cynically, are trying to take a disaster which has hit the State and use it for their own political purposes. Shame on Malcolm Turnbull for doing that. This is a super-storm. 80,000 lightning strikes, 20 massive power towers blown over because of the velocity of the winds. This is a super-storm, a one in 50-year occurrence. The experts have made it clear, what has taken the power out in South Australia is the weather, not a government policy.
JOURNALIST: But do you accept that there is still that fragility there?
SHORTEN: I did answer your question -
JOURNALIST: You cited it back to the weather, but as a whole, as an issue, because this is something that the entire nation will have to deal with going forward over the next few years, few decades, do you accept that there does need to be better planning to ensure that those sorts of events can't happen because of a reliance on renewables?
SHORTEN: Those sort of events, weather events?
JOURNALIST: No, the whole idea of potentially going to black -
SHORTEN: Sorry, in order to answer your question about electricity supply on a national market, do you accept the proposition I am saying it the weather that blew the tower over?
JOURNALIST: Yes, and I think Malcolm Turnbull has well.
SHORTEN: Well, that's good that Malcolm Turnbull has decided to join the scientific community and leave his other colleagues behind. As I said at the outset of my answer to your same question before - we are up for a discussion about the efficiency of the national energy market. Absolutely up for that discussion, but what I'm not going to do is allow this government to blame renewable energy for cyclonic winds and for a super-storm and for 20 towers being blown over. It wasn't a piece of paper with renewable energy policy pushing those towers. It was over 80,000 lightning strikes. How poor is it? How poor form when our fellow Australians are struggling through a massive storm and the clean-up and you've got the Government in Canberra trying to play cheap politics? Really, this country deserves better than that.
JOURNALIST: We do need to find out the answers, though. Would you support an inquiry into the blackout?
SHORTEN: I'm sure the South Australians are going to have an inquiry into the blackout, absolutely.
JOURNALIST: What about the Greens idea of having an inquiry into -
SHORTEN: What have they said?
JOURNALIST: The climate change impact on infrastructure in Australia. Do you support that?
SHORTEN: We already know the impact of climate change. Someday it is would be good if we could get Barnaby Joyce and the Greens and put them in a room and they can talk to each other. In the meantime, what matters to me in South Australia is that people are safe, is that businesses are up and running, and that power is restored.
Even as we speak, there is still 7,500 houses whose power hasn't been restored. I do congratulate the South Australian authorities for what is clearly a one in a half-century situation that they've managed to get the system back up so relatively quickly. I do absolutely sympathise for people who have been affected by the storm. And of course this super-cell and this weather is still moving across Australia. What I ask though of Mr Turnbull, could he just get his ministers to focus on thinking about people who are trying to get their power back on, rather than just playing politics? It's not good enough, really.
JOURNALIST: On that broader debate, Mr Shorten, about climate change and about those renewable targets, the Prime Minister says that in some states and territories, the targets are aggressive, unrealistic and pay little to no heed to national security. Do you accept that? And here in the ACT, there is a target of 100 per cent renewable by 2020, is that putting national security at risk?
SHORTEN: Let's cover the whole range of those issues. First of all, I just wish Malcolm Turnbull would hold a position consistently from one year to the next. He used to be a champion of taking action on climate change, and now he seems to be such a puppet of the hard right of his party, that he is now doubling down on climate sceptic policies.
In terms of the national energy market, absolutely, happy to work, and the Opposition will work with the Government to ensure we have the most efficient possible. But in terms of the argument that the Government are sort of advancing in drag, that somehow renewable energy policies trigger the sort of blackouts that we've seen caused by the wild weather in South Australia, that's just scurrilous and unscientific. Not supported by any of the independent advice.
In terms of the ACT, I'm very fortunate to have the Chief Minister here, so he why not get the best expert to talk to you to you about is it?
BARR: Thank you, Bill.
The ACT has of course embarked on an aggressive policy of sourcing renewable energy through reverse auction process so we've put best practice public policy to get the lowest possible price for renewable energy. We are sourcing that renewable energy from a number of different renewable sources. We are focused particularly on local solar, but also wind farms in Victoria, in New South Wales, South Australia and the Canberra region. So he we have a diversity of renewable energy sources within - that make up our total renewable energy mix. We are exceptionally well connected into the national electricity market. Given your location here in New South Wales, close to Victoria. So the issues that are pertinent in South Australia are not in the ACT. But we have demonstrated the best way to procure renewable energy at the lowest possible cost.
And our policies over the last 3 or 4 years have in fact kept this industry alive nationally - particularly during the years of the Abbott Government, when renewable energy providers were really at a significant disadvantage and there was no progress at a national level. So what the ACT was able to achieve was very affordable renewable energy, and I compare our electricity bills with those in other jurisdictions. It is affordable, it is reliable, and because of our position in the national electricity market, it is the right decision for this community. It is very strongly endorsed.
I do note that even my Liberal opponents have in the last two weeks locked in behind Labor's leadership on 100 per cent renewable energy for Canberra.
JOURNALIST: So is the Prime Minister right when he says that little or no attention has been focused on national security and those risks, and if this meeting of energy ministers seeks to bring down the national target, will you fall in line with that?
BARR: No, the Prime Minister is wrong on both counts. And we have sourced our energy from a number of different sources within this region, predominantly solar and interstate predominantly wind power through a competitive auction process around the country.
Canberra's power sources are secure. Our place in the national electricity market is secure. In terms of our targets, they are locked in, legislated, we've signed contracts. We are getting our electricity 100 per cent from renewable sources by 2020. It's all signed up, all delivered, and I've got tri-partisan support for this policy here in the ACT, including that of the Canberra Liberals. So the Prime Minister would appear to be at odds with his own party, certainly in this territory, unless his own party locally are about to perform a massive black flip on this particular issue.
SHORTEN: Wouldn't be the first time he is at odds with his Party. Are there other questions?
JOURNALIST: Just to be clear, you don't support a single national renewable energy target, you think that states should still be able to set their own targets?
SHORTEN: I think that has to be seen in the context of a national electricity market and we are happy to sit down and talk to the Government.
But what I don't support is when Malcolm Turnbull somehow says that taking action on climate change is a problem for national security. I think not taking action on climate change is a problem for national security. Our nation's security comes in all sorts of threats and challenges. Obviously we've got the threat of terror. We've got to make sure that we have strong borders. But if we don't take action on climate change, we will see a far more challenges, the cost of insurance, the reliability of food supply, the effects of harmful weather events such as bushfires, so I think that climate change is a challenge to our national security. Taking action on climate change actually enhances our national security. And if Mr Turnbull wants to say that somehow action on climate change is not in our national security interests, he should travel to the Pacific Islands where you could see fragile systems and islands, which have lived in harmony for hundreds of years between the wind and the waves, under threat. He should visit Papua New Guinea, where there is vast areas of drought occurring. And he should indeed look at the challenge of our own Barrier Reef and the effect that harmful global warming has upon the reef and therefore the tourism and the jobs.
No, I have to say to Malcolm, let's go back to the old Malcolm where he understood that climate change was an economic challenge and a challenge to our economic security.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on a completely different topic, there are calls for new laws to stop charities from bombarding Australians with phone calls if they've signed up to the 'Do Not Call' register. Would Labor support those changes?
SHORTEN: I am fortunately accompanied by my shadow spokesperson on this issue. So I am going to ask Andrew Leigh to answer in detail. But I will just make this point: Australia, as we've seen in the United Kingdom, we've seen vulnerable citizens, older people being preyed upon and seen very inappropriate tactics being used to sort of fleece them of their money. So Labor is up for a very intelligent discussion to protect older Australians, amongst others, from unethical marketing practices but I might ask my shadow spokesperson Andrew Leigh to talk further about Labor's ideas.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CHARITIES AND NOT-FOR-PROFITS: Thanks very much, Bill. I've read Choice's report and have been briefed by them in the last parliamentary sitting week. Certainly, what we've seen in Britain is unprecedented fundraising scandals and we never want to see that happening here in Australia. There is a range of ways of tackling the problem, but one of the key ones is to make sure we have a strong charities regulator.
Since they came to office, the Abbott-Turnbull Government spent years trying to scrap the Charities Commission. Labor has fought for the Charities Commission, and now we have ensured that if you have someone knock on your door, you can go to ACNC.gov.au and check out whether they are legit.
Labor also supports a uniform fundraising code. Another way of making sure that we have uniformity in charity regulation and ensuring good fundraisers aren't sullied by the problems of a very small minority of fundraisers who are putting undue pressure on vulnerable Australians.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Andrew. Are there any other questions? Maybe a couple more if there are any more.
I just wanted to correct one thing. I said that there was 7,500 homes out of power. I understand the number is still 75,000.
And I just want to conclude this press conference, just to say to my colleagues in the Government: I know that you want to focus upon attacking policies on climate change. I just want to again reinforce the role of the emergency services personnel. South Australia has been hit by a once in a half-century storm and I just want South Australians to know that there is at least someone in Canberra who is interested in you recovering, and then having all the other discussions and not trying to play political blame game.
JOURNALIST: Just lastly, does the Prime Minister still have questions to answer in regards to Stuart Robert's conduct?
SHORTEN: Well, frankly, I've been surprised at Malcolm Turnbull's handling of the Stuart Robert matter. He was very quick to give advice about how Senator Dastyari should be handled - and Senator Dastyari resigned within several days. Malcolm Turnbull today, though, chose to hide behind Stuart Robert's statement. When the Prime Minister was asked about the conduct of a chairman of a senior parliamentary committee, which Stuart Robert chairs, he said, "I will just read his statement." I know Malcolm Turnbull blamed someone else for the Census, he has blamed someone else for the backpacker tax, he has changed his views and watered down his views on superannuation, but he can't hide behind Stuart Robert. Malcolm Turnbull has to decide: does he back Stuart Robert, or will he sack him Stuart Robert? Will he back him or sack him? That's the question he has to answer.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Chief Minister has proved his Territory's power bill, saying they are some of the most competitive in the country, based on his green credentials there. South Australia has some of the highest power bills in the country and they have the highest reliance on renewable energy. Wholesale prices spiked back in July last year - sorry, this year by thousands of thousands of dollars. For consumers in South Australia, does this mean this is all ok, or does there need to be more planning there?
SHORTEN: Well, certainly power bills are the preserve of the companies and the South Australian Government. But I do think that we need to have an overdue discussion in this country about an efficient national electricity market, and I think you start from what is the system we want, which will deliver reliability and security of supply. And once we have that discussion, then I think we can feed through all the other issues including some of those you have today.
JOURNALIST: Can I just raise one more?
SHORTEN: I did say last question three questions ago.
JOURNALIST: I think you will want to answer this one. Will the Dogs have what it takes to take the flag on Saturday?
SHORTEN: The Doggies haven't won a grand final since about 1954. They were last in a grand final in 1961. I live in the western suburbs. My wife barracks for the Bulldogs. I'm a tragic Magpies supporter. I own two British Bulldogs. I reckon that the Doggies will win by two goals on Saturday. And I reckon that for people, that too, people have waited a very long time for this, so I really hope for the Bulldogs they can get up. The Swans have enough grand finals at the moment. Let's see one for the Doggies.