SUNDAY, 13 NOVEMBER 2016
SUBJECT/S: Regional resettlement deal; NSW By-Elections; Inequality.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Labor is committed to making sure that the Australian economy works in the interests of all people. The working class families, the middle class families of Australia. This message has been well received this morning. Labor's looking forward to continuing to develop our policies to prioritise jobs at the centre of everything that we do between now and the next election. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Prime Minister has announced a one off resettlement deal with the US, have you had any discussions with the Government in regards to this?
SHORTEN: No, the Government hasn't briefed us at all. However, let me just say that, if the detail as has been reported is correct and there is an opportunity for people to be regionally resettled in the United States, I welcome that.
Labor would be hypocritical if we didn't welcome this because this is the very thing we wanted with the Malaysia solution some years ago.
It has taken the current government three plus years to negotiate this one-off deal but we are pleased if it means an end to indefinite detention, especially for genuine refugees and they get the opportunity to be regionally resettled. Because after all, Labor and Liberal are on a unity ticket to defeat the people smugglers and we will work with the Government as they talk to us and subsequently brief us on the detail.
JOURNALIST: Could Donald Trump’s election win have an impact on this going forward?
SHORTEN: I sincerely hope not. I guess it would have been better to conclude this before the United States election so the very issue you are raising doesn't come up but it is what it is.
We will certainly, in principle, work with the Government subject to seeing the detail, we do welcome this. We want to see people moved out of these facilities. Labor's commitment to regional resettlement is based on, one, stopping the people smugglers and their cruel and evil trade and, two, making sure that we don't have people stuck in indefinite detention in facilities which Australia has indirect responsibility for.
JOURNALIST: In your speech, you mentioned Donald Trump and you also mentioned that real wages growth is stalled, inequality rising, people locked out of the housing market - are you planning to tap into a similar wave of sentiment that occurred in the US about people feeling disillusioned and locked out of the mainstream?
SHORTEN: The American election was of course very important to the world and also Australia. But 30 years ago, Australia took a different economic path. We didn't go down the path of Ronald Regan and trickle down economics, where the very rich and the top companies get all the benefit and the theory is that'll miraculously, magically flow through to everyone else. We don't think that path works. Instead 30 years ago we supported the idea of a social wage. That a strong safety net and a strong minimum wage and Medicare, it's what helps keep working middle class families in the game.
Now 30 years on, we're not in the same state as the United States. But having said that, there are worrying signs. Living standards have fallen since the Liberals were elected, down two per cent. Most of the jobs that get created now are part-time jobs. Even more worryingly, most of the jobs getting lost are full-time jobs. Inequality is high, mums who go to work are seeing their wages devoured by childcare fees. First home owners are locked out of the housing market. We've got got this tax system with the wrong priorities, where we see taxpayers' money going to reward people for investing in their fifth or tenth property but new home-owners have got to bid in a market against people being subsidised by their very own taxes.
So, inequality is a challenge. You can't grow the economy without a fair dose of fairness in the system. That's why we're going to focus on jobs, jobs, jobs. And one of the key messages for me to tell our conference today, is where you have over a million people who say they'd like more work, where you've got hundreds of thousands of people trapped on the disability pension and 700,000-plus people who are unemployed, we need to reform our temporary overseas guest worker scheme, the visa system. What's happening is we've got people coming to work in Australia, nearly one million people-plus with temporary work rights and, in some cases, they're getting ripped off and exploited, lowering wage outcomes and taking the jobs of nurses, motor mechanics, carpenters, auto-electricians. These are the jobs which can be done by Australians and we make no apology for saying Labor's approach to the Australian economy is buy Australian, build Australian, employ Australians.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it's fair to say your speech had a little bit of an anti-globalisation bent and is that a deliberate shift in policy from you or more a matter of nuance or rhetoric?
SHORTEN: No, there was nothing new in what we're saying. You'll see me today in that speech, saying we've got to embrace Asia. We've got to have an outward-looking economic system. We've got to grab the benefits of trade. We want to make sure our manufacturers are part of global supply chains. That ticks all the boxes of saying we need to engage in our region and the wider world.
But what I will never do is apologise for putting Australian jobs first. I do not believe that we're doing enough to prioritise local apprenticeships. Did you know that 170,000 apprenticeships have been lost or we have 170,000 fewer apprenticeships than five years ago? Did you know that when it comes to infrastructure contracts, not enough is done to prioritise Aussie steel, Australian-made, in taxpayer-funded contracts.
It was the Labor Party who went against the tide over two years ago to defend an Australian build of our submarines, for which we received some criticism from a few people at the time but now everyone is on the bandwagon of building Australian defence equipment. I will never apologise and never take a backward step to fighting for Australian jobs.
JOURNALIST: If refugees refuse to return home, and their claims are rejected, they could face 20 years. Is that something you will support?
SHORTEN: We haven't seen the detail. We'll sit down and get properly briefed by the Government. But the whole proposition of defeating people smugglers is not that you have people in indefinite detention. So I’d expect the Government to do everything they can to move people on from Nauru and Manus.
JOURNALIST: What message is that sending if it's true?
SHORTEN: First of all, it's a hypothetical so I'll give the Government the benefit of the doubt and hear the facts about what they're putting forward. But let's be straight about the message we give people smugglers. It doesn't matter who is in power in Canberra, we're on to your shonky game. And none of us support people making unsafe voyages, at risk of life, being exploited by criminal syndicates. We do that by making clear that you'll never achieve permanent settlement in Australia if you come by that means but that doesn't mean that you keep people in indefinite detention. That's why we're not going to play the sort of politics we saw the Liberals play when they were in opposition. When Labor proposed a Malaysia settlement, which would have seen people resettled there, the Liberals and the Greens formed an unholy alliance against that, and then we saw a lot of the chaos that happened since then.
No, the Opposition I lead will where practicable will work with the Government and we welcome today's announcement.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of the swing against the Nats in the Orange by-election?
SHORTEN: The National Party and Mike Baird in New South Wales are just as out of touch as Malcolm Turnbull - and when you're out of touch you pay the electoral price. One of the big unspoken debates in Australia is the National Party have treated the regions of Australia as their own fiefdom and they haven't done enough for them.
Did you know nationally, nine of the ten poorest electorates in Australia are National Party electorates? This is the same National Party who never supports increasing the minimum wage, who does nothing about buying Australian and making sure we defend Australian manufacturing. I'm not surprised by the result at all. And the message here is for Barnaby Joyce: as long as you're the country branch office of Malcolm Turnbull's harbourside Liberals, you are going to pay a price.
JOURNALIST: Have you, as Paul Keating says, drifted away from the centre? And is the party too under sway from unions and factional bosses as he said on Saturday?
SHORTEN: Well, I've got a lot of respect for Paul Keating and I listen to him in particular. I think there's a hypothesis or a proposition, which is an eternal of Australian politics: this country is run best from the centre and the more that we can do to help our middle class, the better that the whole economy and the whole stability our nation goes.
If there is a vacuum and there are insufficient policies prioritising the jobs and opportunities of middle class Australians, politics hates a vacuum and more extreme voices will fill it. I agree with this hypothesis about the need to be in the centre and to help make sure that the middle class are getting their fair share of the economic dividends of Australia. Perhaps one final question if there is one.
JOURNALIST: Just to follow up on that, he says your primary vote of between 35 and 36 indicates you're not in the centre at the last election. Is that fair or not?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, we did better in the last election than we did previously, but there is a job to be done. Paul Keating is saying what a lot of people are saying and it's something I agree with - that you can only ever run Australia from the middle.
That's why I'm defending Medicare. That's why I'm defending making sure that working class kids can go to university and that it's their marks, not their parents' income, that determines their opportunities in life. That's why I'm fighting for Australian apprenticeships. That's why I believe in a system where it should be your Medicare card, not your credit card, that determines the level of health care.
These are very important institutions to help protect middle class and working class Australia and we will be relentless in our defence of the middle class. It's why I think giving a tax cut of $50 billion to the richest companies in Australia is just very poor economics.
It's why I don't believe the time is right to pass on a $17,000 tax cut for a millionaire but for a family on $80,000 or $100,000 a year, see their standard of living decreasing. It's why I'll fight for a strong minimum wage and it's why we also think in this country that we need to reform our temporary overseas labour schemes to make sure that Australians are getting opportunities for jobs first.