SUBJECTS: Liberal civil war; Mr Turnbull’s weak leadership; Racial Discrimination Act; Child care fraud allegations.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I'd just like to make some quick remarks. Last night, Tony Abbott has said that he will speak whenever he wants, and he'll speak about whatever he wants. Mr Turnbull lacks the leadership strength to control or bring him into line, and this is a diabolical scenario for Australia. At a time when we need strong leadership, when we need strong government, a divided Liberal Party led by a weakened Mr Turnbull is giving us exactly the opposite of strong leadership and strong government.
Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the suggestion raised by Mr Abbott last night, about rethinking the Racial Discrimination Act and some of the changes that he proposed?
SHORTEN: I think Mr Turnbull – this is a test of Mr Turnbull's leadership. Mr Turnbull should rule out any changes to Section 18C, making it easier, deregulating the ability to have hate speech. This is an early test for Mr Turnbull. If Mr Turnbull really runs the Liberal Party, he will say that Mr Abbott's ideas are not going to get oxygen. If he can't rule out Mr Abbott's ideas, then what we have is a divided, dysfunctional Liberal Party, led by a very weak Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: Will this though be limiting free speech though, shouldn't people be able to express what they feel?
SHORTEN: People don't have a God-given right just to go around and say whatever hateful things they want, which diminish other people. No, I support retaining the existing laws. Labor has not seen the case made out for change. Mr Turnbull agrees with Labor, but he's too weak to tell his Liberal right-wing to not go ahead with these issues.
This is an early test for Mr Turnbull's leadership. He's had a shocking start since the election. He fumbled the Northern Territory Royal Commission, the Census has become a laughing stock, we've got the banks not listening to Mr Turnbull at all – and they're carrying on in a very arrogant fashion – and Mr Turnbull still hasn't got the message about Medicare from the election. He's still embarking upon billions of dollars’ worth of cuts to our Medicare system, and now he can't even run his own party. I think it was John Howard who said words to the effect, that if you can't run your own party, you can't run Australia. A party which can't govern itself, can't govern Australia.
And whether or not the Liberals hate each other, whether or not they're too lazy now to even hide their own bitterness and personal animosity and hate, that's one thing. What concerns me is that they're too busy fighting each other and they're not standing up for Australia. We've got flat-lining economic performance, our economy is wallowing in mediocrity. We've got cost-of-living pressures, we've got real wages growth flat-lining, and we see peoples' standard of living going backwards. We've got a housing affordability crisis in some of our big cities, we've got massive insecure work for millions of Australians who would like more work. And all the Liberals can do is fight each other about this question of, is Tony Abbott right or is Malcolm Turnbull right. The Liberal Party need to stop putting themselves first and put people first.
JOURNALIST: Just going back to Section 18C, you don't see it in anyway curtailing freedom of speech?
SHORTEN: No I don't.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any comments to make about the investigation, the counter-terrorism investigation, into family day care in Western Sydney?
SHORTEN: Yes. This is a most serious matter. It's a serious matter when taxpayers are getting ripped off, and when there is a national security implication, that even makes it incredibly more serious. We'll of course cooperate and support the Government. They need to clamp down on this. Can't allow this rort to continue. They need to work out how it's happened, make sure it can't happen again, and if anyone's done the wrong thing they need to brought to justice.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned, if the allegations are true, that it's even gotten to this point?
SHORTEN: I am concerned. It is a very serious matter. Any idea that somehow people ripping off our social security system to pursue terrorist aims, to support actions which undermine our national safety, that is outrageous. It is a most serious issue. We'll be asking the Government about it, but we give the Government all the support we can, because this one shouldn't be allowed to go through to the keeper. It shouldn’t have happened. We need to make sure that it’s stopped and stopped now.