WEDNESDAY, 2 NOVEMBER 2016
SUBJECTS: Jobs; Bob Day; Abbott vs Turnbull ‘War’; refugee laws
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon. I think it's important to be up here with Senator Chris Ketter, the duty Senator for the area and of course, Zac Beers, Labor's candidate for Flynn at the last election.
We want to be up here now when Gladstone needs a chop out. People tell me that Gladstone is doing it as hard as they've seen it do recent memory. This is a great town, it's a town which has frequently driven its own destiny; backing in industry, backing in jobs. And when Gladstone goes well, it does very well but when you've got a resources slump, when you've got the challenge of keeping jobs then Gladstone is doing it very hard.
It's great though to be here meeting half a dozen plus apprentices, young men and women who are interested in becoming skilled tradespeople of the future and they're giving it their all. And they just want to have a government in Canberra with the same degree of ambition for Gladstone that the apprentices have for their future.
So we're here to talk about jobs, jobs and jobs. For us, that's the start, the middle and the finish for what is most important about what's happening in Gladstone. We're interested to see Gladstone develop it's tourism capacity, there is a great story to tell here. We're interested in seeing Gladstone expand its industrial opportunities. We want to see mining doing well and we appreciate the jobs that come with opportunities in mining.
The people of Gladstone have got one great resource that is often underestimated, I think, when they look at the landscape of Gladstone's future is looked at: it's the people themselves. They have a knack of sticking together and backing Gladstone and making sure that Gladstone has a bright future.
It is tough at the moment but Labor is here because we got the message loud and clear: that we will need to work even harder to win the confidence of people. So I think that when the times are tough, when you turn up and you’re talking about the issues when the town is doing it hard - that's our down payment of our commitment to greater future in the Gladstone and Central Queensland area.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Talking about jobs in Central Queensland, the Rookwood Weir project will create some infrastructure jobs. The Coalition says that State Labor is dragging its feet on it. Do you agree with that?
SHORTEN: Let's face it - the Federal Coalition are pretty keen to blame everyone else for the woes of the Federal Government. In the case of the weir, it's a matter of making sure the business case stacks up. We want to see the intelligent use of taxpayer money. Water infrastructure is very important but you've got to make sure the numbers add up and that's what I think the Queensland State Government is doing. I will certainly carry the message back to them that people are keen to see things move along.
JOURNALIST: If the Government only received advice last week that there were constitutional problems with Mr Day's validity in the Senate, how can you claim that they should of came out earlier?
SHORTEN: Well, I think this is a very dodgy Government covering up its improper behaviour. This issue of whether or not Senator Day was eligible to be elected didn't just start at the end of last week. I think the Government has to explain when did it think it was a problem with Senator Day eligibility? How long has it thought there was a problem with Senator Day's eligibility? How long have they been accepting a vote on legislation and turning a blind eye to all of the issues surrounding Senator Day and his conduct? I think this Government has to explain who knew that there was a problem? How long have they known there was a problem? How high up the food chain in the Government have been the attempts to keep this a secret for the longest possible time? Is it right that this Government has been able to utilise this Senator’s votes, even though there was concerns about his eligibility.
The Turnbull Government has an attraction for swapping guns for votes, or keeping a Senator in place when there is a clear question mark over his eligibility in return for votes, the secrecy has got to stop. The Turnbull Government and the Prime Minister need to spell out what they knew, when they knew it, how long they've known it and what are they going to do about it.
JOURNALIST: When should they have come out and spoken publicly?
SHORTEN: Well I think the Government needs to explain when did they first think there was a problem with Senator Day's eligibility. I think that starts to answer a lot of the questions. But no-one thinks that the Governments been upfront with the Australian people. This problem of Senator Day's eligibility did not start last Thursday. We know that there's been the Department of Finance, it's emerged, has expressed concerns about some of the business dealings. Government Ministers have now said that they have known for at least four weeks. I think the Prime Minister needs to explain what'd he know and when did he know it and how long has this Government been relying on the vote of a Senator to get through their anti-worker legislation in return for turning a blind eye to what may have been going on, in terms of this Senator's lack of eligibility to be a Senator.
JOURNALIST: Only last weekend you were arguing the Government's propping Mr Day up for his vote and now we discover they were seeking to have him disqualified. Is that embarrassing that you got it so wrong?
SHORTEN: Hang on a second here, I think last weekend I was saying that the Government was propping up Senator Day's vote. I had no idea about the extent to which they've been propping this vote up. If there is a problem with a Senator's eligibility, did they know this before the last election? Did they know it, when did they know it from the last election? And in the meantime, if you think that you're accepting a vote of someone not eligible, possibly not eligible to vote in the Parliament don't you think you should tell the Australian people? This is a dodgy deal and the Government needs to explain how long it has known.
JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied that none of your MPs or Senators have any financial interests or contract of any kind?
SHORTEN: Yeah to the best of my knowledge I absolutely am.
JOURNALIST: Kevin Rudd's written a piece today rather scathing of the Government's proposal to ban asylum seekers who arrive to Australia by boat for life, do you think those sort of comments (inaudible)
SHORTEN: Well I think the real issue here is that Malcolm Turnbull's had a thought bubble. He wants to look tough on refugees, he's trying to appease the right wing of his party and some of the more extreme right wing views in the Senate. My initial reaction when I heard about this latest effort by the Government to look tough, was that the idea just seemed ridiculous. Now on one hand Labor's committed to stopping the people smugglers and we will work with the Government on sensible policies. But this is a ridiculous overreach, I think it looks like, a ridiculous overreach. Well what they're saying is someone who is an American citizen or a Canadian citizen in 40 years’ time because they were once a refugee couldn't even visit Australia on a tourism visa. It doesn't make sense does it? I mean what happens one day if one of these refugees wins a scientific prize and wants to talk to our academics? You could go through all of these scenarios.
This Government is playing politics. What they're trying to do is distract from the fact that they've got a couple of thousand people in semi-indefinite detention. What they're trying to do, is they're pressing the ‘look over here button’ to look tough on refugees to distract from the Government’s instability. And we've seen examples of this instability in the last week. The Government was caught out in the last week of Parliament, weakening gun laws for votes, they've been propping up the beleaguered Senator Day, and they've got to explain how long they knew this, and of course, you've got the civil war in the Liberal Party between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.
I mean, only yesterday we see emissaries and friends, good friends of Tony Abbott saying: 'Look what Malcolm Turnbull needs to do is put Tony Abbott into the Cabinet', but the problem for Malcolm Turnbull is that if he puts Tony Abbott into the Cabinet, well there's still the ongoing division. If he doesn't put Tony Abbott into the Cabinet there's ongoing division.
We've heard radio silence from Tony Abbott about this latest proposal to promote him. We've heard radio silence from Malcolm Turnbull about his response to it. The fact of the matter is, that whatever Malcolm Turnbull does with Tony Abbott, division is ongoing. There will be division in this Government as long as this Government goes on.
JOURNALIST: Just back on Senator Day, you said to the best of your knowledge you don't know if looking into it with your MPs and Senators?
SHORTEN: We have had screening processes. I've got no doubt the Party would have looked at these matters. And let's be clear, Senator Day now wants to start blaming everyone else, the question here is, what did the Government know about Senator Day's eligibility? When did they know there might be a cloud over his eligibility? How far back does this problem go? How far up the Government food chain? What discussions have there been with Malcolm Turnbull about Senator Day's eligibility?
This is a dodgy Government propping up a dodgy Senator, and in return we've seen laws that have been voted upon, possibly with dodgy votes. It's not good enough, the Government needs to reject this addiction to secrecy and be upfront and tell the truth with the Australian people. Quite frankly, the whole Senator Day scandal reeks of improper behaviour and it goes to the heart of the Turnbull Government.
JOURNALIST: Just back in Gladstone, with the apprentices, while there's no Labor member in the Flynn electorate, what can we be doing, what should the Federal Member in Flynn be doing for our apprentices?
SHORTEN: Who's the Federal Member?
JOURNALIST: Ken O'Dowd.
SHORTEN: Oh that's right. Well I think Ken O'Dowd probably needs to lift the work rate doesn't he? I mean, to be fair, we've seen the lowest number of apprenticeships in recent times now happening in Flynn. The Government needs to start standing up making sure that we clamp down on the dodgy private providers who are ripping off young people doing training, we need to properly support TAFE and group training, we need to make sure that when there are Commonwealth projects, that there's a requirement to employ apprentices on those Commonwealth projects. There are a range of things which can be done even before the next election, but the best chance to give apprenticeships and local jobs a go in the electorate of Flynn in Gladstone is vote Labor at the next election. Thank you everybody.