SUBJECT/s: Northern Territory election; Parliament; Marriage equality; Government division; Melton protests; Protecting Medicare
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody.
First of all, I would like to congratulate the new Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Michael Gunner and his Labor team, for the best result for Labor in the history of self-government in the Northern Territory. It is an outstanding result.
I think that whilst many of the scandals and issues were particular to the Northern Territory, I think there is a lesson for Mr Turnbull, and indeed, Mr Abbott, Mr Morrison and Julie Bishop too - disunity is death. What we saw was the Northern Territory Liberal Government thrown out on its ear by a people who are sick and tired of disunity. Now I think the alarm bells should be going off in Mr Turnbull's office and for the Liberal Party nationally. Where you have divisions of the sort that we see in Canberra, where we see the arguments between the right-wing of Mr Turnbull's party and others in his party, where Mr Turnbull is not able to pursue his own conscience and has to take the orders of the right-wing, we see great disunity. Australians hate it when they see decisions about division and point-scoring and score-settling within a political party, taking priority of decisions in the best interest of the nation.
By contrast, when Parliament starts this week, Labor will be taking forward it's positive agenda, in particular to save and protect Medicare. Mr Turnbull in the last couple of days has been talking about the sensible centre. Well, no issue is more in the centre of Australian politics than Medicare. Labor wants Mr Turnbull to listen to the people of Australia and do no harm and no damage to Medicare. That should be the standard of the sensible centre of Australian politics. Do no harm to Medicare. Medicare lies at the centre of Australian politics. Labor will never support Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison cutting aspects of Medicare which see damage being done to our great Australian healthcare system.
By contrast, we certainly won't be voting for policies which see $50 billion to the top-end of town when at the same time, Mr Turnbull's cutting Medicare. So this week, we will be standing up for people who want us to defend Medicare. We will be making sure we continue to offer our rescue plan to superannuation - such that we won't have retrospective laws throwing doubt upon people who invested in good faith for their retirement and now, Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison are introducing laws which retrospectively penalise these investors. And of course, we are going to stand up for local jobs. Australian jobs should be at the centre of what any government does and that's why, when it comes to fighting for jobs or trying to defend our superannuation system, making sure our banks are accountable to consumers and customers, and of course, most importantly from the last election, standing up for Medicare. That's our very positive approach that we will take to this Parliament and this coming week. And again, we ask Mr Turnbull to heed the lessons of the Northern Territory election, division is death. It doesn't matter who you are and what we see is that ever since the last election, a Government who has been more inclined to whinge and moan about how hard their job is rather than getting on and looking after the jobs of Australians.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, have you decided to oppose a plebiscite on marriage equality?
SHORTEN: We want to have marriage equality and we want to do it as quickly as possible. That's why we think a vote in the Parliament is quickest, cheapest, least divisive mechanism. We haven't seen Mr Turnbull's plebiscite legislation. We will cross the bridge of what he intends to do when he presents that legislation. But in the meantime, I say to Malcolm Turnbull, stick with what you use to think. Be true to yourself and true to Australians. Why on earth should we spend $160 million, or indeed, some quotes put it as high now as $250 million of taxpayer money, to hold a non-binding plebiscite upon Liberal MPs. How can Mr Turnbull in good conscience make it compulsory for all Australians to vote in a plebiscite when he can't make it compulsory for his own MPs to accept the result. We need to see the detail. I believe that Mr Turnbull supports marriage equality, certainly he always use to. I certainly do. What I think we need to do is make sure we have the quickest, most fuss-free, least controversial approach. The idea of making all of the Australian people, 15 million people, return to the polls in February of next year, which will cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention all the campaigning one way and the other. There is a better way to do this and that's just to let the members of Parliament do what they were voted to do which is get on and make laws, pass laws and give their opinions. I think there is a sensible way through this.
Mr Turnbull also needs to come clean with some of the detail of his marriage equality plebiscite plan. For instance, we've heard that Mr Turnbull is not allowed, if there is a question to be put to the Australian people about marriage equality, that the right-wing of his Party won't even let him put in the question 'Do you support Marriage Equality?'. I think there is a lot of detail and a lot of cost going down Mr Turnbull's path when we could do it a lot more simply and efficiently and with a lot less rancour than the Parliament just do what it's meant to do.
JOURNALIST: You clearly are opposed to a plebiscite though. Why are you failing to rule out supporting one?
SHORTEN: Well I think a plebiscite is a second-best option. And I think first of all, we should have a vote about whether or not marriage equality can be legislated in the Parliament itself.
I think it is ridiculous that Mr Turnbull's Party has members in it who support marriage equality but when the proposal comes to Parliament, they're sort of gagged from voting according to their own views.
I think Mr Turnbull needs to explain to the Australian people why the rest of us should pay between $160 million and $250 million of tax payer money to hold an opinion poll just to keep the right wing of his party happy.
And Mr Turnbull needs to explain also, why in the question he wants to put to the Australian people, why he can't even mention the words 'marriage equality'.
No, I think this plebiscite has got a lot of problems with it and we are being upfront. We are also stating that we think have got the better path and Mr Turnbull, I think, needs to outline a lot of the detail of what he is proposing. He still hasn't even done that.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that if a plebiscite is defeated in the Parliament, that marriage Equality is going to be put off the agenda?
SHORTEN: No. First of all, I don't accept the assumption of the question that there are not a majority of MPs who wouldn't vote for marriage equality now.
The Liberal Party says it is 'the party of conscience', but when it comes to marriage equality, it has become suspiciously quiet about its conscience. I have no doubt there are good people in the Liberal Party who would like to vote for marriage equality.
I have no doubt that there are millions of Australians saying 'why on earth are we having a whole election rerun, costing between $160 million and $250 million, just to sort out a question that people are elected to Parliament to sort out every day?'.
Why should it be that gay people get a different system to judge their relationships and laws affecting them than every other Australian?
I think we've also got to be clear here - how is it the case that Mr Turnbull will fine Australians who don't vote, who just can't be bothered voting in this because they actually think that's what the politicians should do, or they actually think it is none of their business what sort of relationships people enter into - how is it that people who don't want to get involved in this debate will be fined $52 each, or some comparable amount by Mr Turnbull, yet when the vote is had, according to his plan, or Tony Abbott's plan, then what happens is no Liberal MP gets into trouble if they don't agree with the vote.
No, the plebiscite has plenty of problems with it. And it is my job to work with Malcolm Turnbull to make sure we can make marriage equality happen but in the most effective way.
This country doesn't have the time and doesn't have the resources just to spend $250 million. What we have got to worry about is Australians who can't find work for their kids, apprenticeships which are being replaced by 457 visas, whether or not we have local manufacturing doing it very hard in a tough international climate, and all Mr Turnbull wants to do is a $250 million vote on a matter which everyone else thinks should be decided in Parliament and so we can get on and talk about other issues.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government won't put in enough effort into a 'Yes' campaign is a plebiscite is voted on?
SHORTEN: Oh, I wouldn't trust this Government with the implementation of really complex issues at the moment. Remember they were going to have a royal commission into Northern Territory (youth justice system) and then they had to change royal commissioners within a week? The census is still ongoing. We've had to spend a lot of money reminding Australians not to give up on the census.
I don't necessarily think that they have got a well organised plan on this plebiscite. They also haven't told Australians how much it is going to cost. They haven't spelled out to Australians what fines they pay if they don't vote. Do we really think that someone who doesn't really give a toss about this issue of Marriage Equality should be fined if they don't even want to vote in it? You've got a compulsory vote costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars and Malcolm Turnbull can't even make his own backbench acknowledge that they will accept the result.
This is not a good idea.
JOURNALIST: Just back on the Northern Territory election, do you agree of the assessment from the Prime Minister as well as from the out-going Chief Minister up there; that this was an election pretty much entirely decided on local issues?
SHORTEN: I certainly agree there were lots of scandals by the Liberal Government in that part of Australia, no question.
But if Mr Turnbull thinks that there wasn't a verdict being passed by the people about a disunited, divided government, then this guy will never learn anything. It is his own party, admittedly at another level, we've had a 20 per cent swing against them.
Now Mr Turnbull can put his hands over his ears and say 'it has nothing to do with me', and at one level it was about scandals in Darwin and everywhere else up in the Territory. But at another fundamental level, ever since July 2nd, the Liberals have looked most uncomfortable about forming a Government. All they have done is whinge about everybody. You've had Tony Abbott out running a different line to Malcolm Turnbull. You've got Scott Morrison who seems to be determined to undermine Medicare despite what Mr Turnbull said in the days after the election. They are a very divided Government. If Mr Turnbull's Government really doesn't think that voters dislike disunity, division, and Mr Turnbull sees no lessons about the price of division, well then, I don't know what on earth will ever get through to him.
JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, there's an anti-Islam protest in Melton taking place at the moment. They claim that they're rallying against the rise of Islam. Does this concern you? Do these protests concern you?
SHORTEN: First of all, you never want protests to be violent, they've got to adhere to the law. I don't share that view at all. Australia's a diverse country and I don't believe in fermenting religious paranoia or hatred. That's not the way this country works together.
What we need if we want to get people working together is worry less about what church they go to, worry less about who their partner is, worry more about getting local jobs, worry more about standing up for Medicare, worry more about the fact that our superannuation system is in disarray because of this Government.
No, the issues which Australians care about is making sure they - can they afford to go and see the doctor? Are their kids getting a quality education? Will they have enough money to retire upon? Can they find and keep a job, will their kids be able to find and keep a job? That's what matters.
A lot of this other stuff really takes us down the wrong path and the wrong direction.
Perhaps I may take one or two more questions.
JOURNALIST: You're going back to Canberra tomorrow, do you expect - what do expect from the first week of Parliament?
SHORTEN: Well I'm going to take Mr Turnbull up on his latest line which is that he believes in the sensible centre. Everyone knows that in the very middle of the sensible centre of Australian politics is Medicare.
Medicare, the idea that you can get affordable, quality healthcare based upon you Medicare card not your credit card, is a central value of Australian life in my opinion. If you believe in the sensible centre and you accept that Medicare is one of those issues which all Australians really support, and they showed that at the last election, then Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison need to agree to do no harm to Medicare. Do no damage.
So, if you ask me, you know, this week in Parliament, Medicare remains the number one issue. But we'll certainly be working on Budget repair that is fair. We'll certainly try and work with the Government in terms of trying to improve the superannuation mess they've got us all into.
We're not going to give up pushing for a banking Royal Commission. But this week we've seen Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison talk about co-operation, which is a good thing. But what they seem to confuse is co-operation with simply giving them a blank cheque. These people seem to be born to be bosses. They don't understand that you can't bully your way into co-operation.
Mr Turnbull wants our agreement on a range of measures and we're looking at them. Well I'd like Mr Turnbull to tell Australians, what are his trophy policies he's willing to give up? Why is he still persisting with a $50 billion tax cut? Why does he keep trying to do everything he can to protect the banks? Why is he still continuing with policies that will do harm to Medicare? Why is he determined to cause disarray in our superannuation system?
Mr Turnbull should realise that co-operation is a two-way street. We'll work with him. We understand the importance of some of the issues he's talking about. But Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison should realise that bullying people is not the way to get co-operation. It's compromise. It's working with people, rather than always lecturing.