SATURDAY, 13 OCTOBER 2018
SUBJECTS: Five year anniversary of leadership; stopping discrimination against children; tax reform; Wentworth by-election.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Over the last five years Bill has led a united and stable team. The team that's been focused on doing the best for Australians. On policies that give Australians a good job with decent pay and conditions, the ability to lead a good life. We've been focused on health and education, making sure that all Australians have access to great services.
What you will see over coming months and years is a real contrast between a divided, dysfunctional Liberal Party that's obsessed with itself and governing only for the top end of town, it's cutting services for ordinary Australians. Or a united, stable Labor Party under Bill Shorten, focused on a strong economy and fair society, delivering a fair go for all Australians.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Tanya, good morning everybody. It's great to be here, it's the 5th anniversary of Tanya and my leadership of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. I would like to thank Tanya for all of her hard work and support.
It was on election night in 2016, two and a half, three years ago, where I said that Labor was back. It was true, I think, that night, and it's been true most days since.
I am quietly proud of the fact that Tanya and I, in the last five years, along with our colleagues, have taken Labor from a very bad place in 2013 and put it in a more competitive position now. We will take to the next election real policies, a real platform for social and economic change.
But I would just like to say at the reporting of the five year mark of our leadership, the greatest single asset I've got is my team.
My colleagues, on the frontbench and the backbench, are intelligent and they're in touch, they're idealistic. It's a great balance of female and male Members of Parliament - we've got the balance just about right. There are parents and they come from all walks of life. My best asset as Leader of the Labor Party is my united team and I want to put on record my gratitude for their remarkable service.
Also, what I recognise is that the next election is going to be very competitive. And what we're going to do is offer people a platform of the fair go for all. We're motivated by our desire to hand on a better deal to the next generation than the one that Australians have received from the previous generations.
This is fundamental to who we are.
We've got a fair go action plan. We want to make sure that we can fix our schools and hospitals. That we ease the cost of living pressure on families. That we help ensure that working people in this country get a better deal.
We want to make the economy work for all. And we want to see cleaner, cheaper energy.
This is our plan for Australians in the next 30 weeks, whenever the election is called. Also, I'd just on a personal note say that since 2013, our time has had its moments, both good and bad, but I really do enjoy the job I've got. There's only one other job I would like to have, but in enjoying the job I've got, it's because when I joined politics I wanted to make Australia a better place. I wanted to change the things that need changing and improve the things that need improving.
And that is what we're doing, albeit from Opposition. Happy to take any questions for Tanya and I.
JOURNALIST: You just said it's going to be much closer this next election, despite all the Newspolls. Is that reflected in your decision to backflip on tax cuts for small and medium business?
SHORTEN: Listen, I understand the question but let's go to the heart of the matter. I don't want to use your language, I'd rather look a bit more positively.
I think Australia, after a number of years, is sick and tired of the constant Liberal and Labor warfare. That doesn't mean we don't disagree on fundamental things, we absolutely do. We believe in a fair go for all people, not just the top end of town. But where the opposing party has an idea that you think is one which you can work with, I actually think people are happy to see us do that.
Labor has been big supporters of small business, and all of my travels in the last five years have helped inform me further about the needs of small business. It's not - small businesses' challenge aren't just taxation, but if there is a proposition that the budget can afford to lower the rate of tax paid by small business a bit, well we're going to be up for that.
We crunched the numbers, we made hard decisions. We're willing to back small business but we also want to make sure that that is not at the price of cuts to schools, cuts to public education, cuts to hospitals and health care. We are able to balance the books and deliver that outcome, and I think that is what Australians want. They want a constructive opposition where the opposition agrees, and I promise Australians that just as I am constructive on the right issues in Opposition, we will work with the Opposition of the day if we get to form a Government after the next election.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned some of the high points and accomplishments over the past five years, but can you run us through some of the low points?
SHORTEN: Well without a doubt at a professional sense, I still bitterly regret the closure of the car industry. The fact that the Government did nothing and we lost tens of thousands of jobs when other countries are still building cars from start to finish, I think is a great shame.
I also absolutely am frustrated at the cut to the penalty rates and the low wages growth. I am concerned at the out of pocket costs for health care are increasing and of course, the lack of action on climate change is just an unmitigated disaster.
But if I might, even more than the professional frustrations, my mum passed away in the time I’ve been Opposition Leader. That's a much bigger issue that any of the day to day challenges we have.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can you confirm Labor will support the Government's plan to prevent non-government schools expelling gay students.
SHORTEN: I will start the answer on that but as Tanya is our education spokesperson I will invite her in to answer too.
This debate has sort of, moved quite quickly and I think that is a good thing, and there is now a degree of cooperation which might have been unthinkable in the past.
First of all, this week, the report into religious freedom, which I think the Government rather unwisely has not chosen to trust the Australian people with before the Wentworth by-election, elements of the Liberal Party appear to have been leaking this report. And there was a report earlier this week which said that some people were thinking about extending the ability to discriminate against gay kids in schools. Labor immediately said this is just crazy, rubbish, we're not going to have that at all.
But what has been good is that yesterday, Scott Morrison joined with us and said that there is no basis for discriminating against gay kids, and any law which allows that is out of date, if it was ever actually in date.
I wrote to Scott Morrison yesterday, I said, listen I've heard what you've said, let's actually scrap this law, let's have the laws catch up with the real world and the way we live our lives now and the fact that all children are entitled to human dignity.
So I am pleased with this step, I might just ask Tanya Plibersek - I'm pleased that the Government has listened to us as well, I might ask Tanya to talk a bit further about this issue.
JOURNALIST: Tanya yesterday you said-
SHORTEN: Why not let her answer your question and then ask the next one?
PLIBERSEK: Thank you, thanks very much for the question. Look, we are delighted that the Prime Minister has listened to Labor's comments yesterday and obviously received Bill's letter, asking him to change the laws to put beyond doubt that children won't be discriminated against in our schools.
We think that is a very important step forward. Our Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and our Spokesperson on Equality Louise Pratt, have been working on this issue with Bill and I, and we are very pleased to support the Government in putting beyond doubt that children will not be discriminated against.
JOURNALIST: Why not extend it to prevent teachers from also being discriminated?
PLIBERSEK: Well this is an issue, first of all I would like to say let's get the protection for children as a first step, it is a very important first step. But the issue around teachers and other school staff has actually been raised with us quite a lot. We are listening very carefully to this.
By and large, schools and school systems are saying to me that they don't use this provision and they do not want to. If they have got a great geography teacher, a great chemistry teacher, who that person lives with on the weekend and who they love is not really of interest to the school.
Schools by and large are saying that they are not interested in using the provision and in fact, a lot of schools, religious schools, are very supportive of their gay and lesbian staff, and really not paying any attention to what they are doing in their personal lives. So it is something that we can talk with the school systems about.
JOURNALIST: Do we need legislation going forward to prevent schools from allowing a gay students enrolling in non-government schools?
PLIBERSEK: I'm sorry, could you ask that question again?
JOURNALIST: Well the Prime Minister has suggested we prevent non-government schools from expelling gay students, does the law need to go further to prevent them-
PLIBERSEK: There should be no discrimination against students on the basis of their sexuality. And remember, you are talking about children and young teenagers. I mean, most of these children aren't thinking about their sexuality. When you're talking about kids as they get to 16, 17, 18 years old, perhaps this becomes something that is in their minds but I think it is a very unhealthy thing to be so focused on the sexuality of children.
JOURNALIST: How do you think this should be policed, given that children, students can be expelled for a number of reasons?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I am sure the schools will be able to work sensibly on this issue. But let me tell you, I talk to schools and school leaders all the time, every single day, and their absolutely overwhelming desire is to look after, protect and nurture the children in their care.
The overwhelming message to me is that they wouldn’t discriminate and wouldn't have any desire to hurt the children in their care.
JOURNALIST: I hate to pressure you on this Tanya but the bureau has asked me to ask you this, does that mean you would support further legislation to prevent non-government schools stopping a gay student from enrolling?
PLIBERSEK: Look, we need to see the legislation that the Government is going to propose, but there should not be discrimination against children, and I frankly don't know how a school or school system would be deciding whether a five year old or a ten year old or an eleven year old is gay. I think it is a very unhealthy thing to be focused on the sexuality of children. It's actually quite a bizarre thing.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, if you could just elaborate a bit more, you said that, how has the Wentworth by-election effected Scott Morrison's decision to change his position on this?
SHORTEN: Well, politics isn't a maths problem. Sometimes the motivations getting to the right answer aren't as important as getting the right answer.
So I'm not going to throw bricks at Scott Morrison today. I think this is an overdue change on all sides, and I just want to acknowledge, Tanya has been a leader in equal rights for LGBTIQ Australians, and she has certainly helped educate me about some of the pockets of discrimination which, I think a lot of people don't realise exist unless you experience it.
So I am pleased that the anti-gay lobby, which exists in some outdated and unpleasant parts of Australia, are going to see another law changed which favours the human dignity of all kids, and that is what Tanya has said.
In terms of the Wentworth by-election, I think Mr Morrison will be well advised to just released this expert report. We all know it exists. You, the taxpayer, have paid for the report, you do have some property in the report. The Government's been hatching this report now since they sort of put it on the nest in May. I do not know what is in it which is so bad that the voters of Wentworth, and indeed all the voters of Australia, could not be trusted with it in the next week.
So I think for the sake of good process, for the sake of faith in the Australian voter, we all know the report is there, parts of it have been leaked by different parts of the Liberal Party to try to embarrass other parts of the Liberal Party, let's just get beyond that. This is about people, it's about faith, it's about the future of our society, it is about how we work together. Why don't you just released the report?
I will say I am very pleased that Mr Morrison responded positively to our letter, saying let's not have any more discrimination against children, and let's have the important conversation about where remaining pockets of discrimination exist, and see how together, we can move forms of discrimination which are simply outdated and indeed, ill-conceived to begin with.
Sorry, one and then I will come to you, I beg your pardon.
JOURNALIST: The polls in Wentworth are running at 50-50. If the Liberals fail to hang on to that blue-ribbon seat, should the Prime Minister immediately call an election?
SHORTEN: No, Mr Morrison has received the assurances of a couple of the crossbenchers that he will be able to continue govern. So whatever happens, on Sunday, Mr Morrison will still be the Prime Minister. Whether or not I like that is another issue. But he will still be the Prime Minister. The Government has said they intend to govern their full term. In much more difficult circumstances, Prime Minister Gillard governed her full time.
So I think people can make up their minds in Wentworth on the issues. I think the big issue in Wentworth, or one of them, other than this issue around the rights of gay Australians, is the inaction on climate change. I think that is what has stunned people.
The Government received a report last week from United Nations scientific committee which the Government is just ignoring. They are sort of putting their hands over the ears and saying la la la, not going to listen to real action on climate change. That is the real issue in Wentworth.
The Government will still be the Government on Sunday morning that was the Government today, that is a fact. I understand the Liberals want to say that is not the case, but that is not true. Mr Morrison will still be the Prime Minister. But I think there is an opportunity, which a lot of other Australians are quite jealous of, that given the untidy and messy circumstances where the person they voted for, Malcolm Turnbull, is no longer the Member for Wentworth, people have got a chance to send this government a message. That if you are not happy with the way this government has been running things for the last two and a half, and indeed five years, send them a message - not this time. And in the general election, people can weigh up national election issues, but there is a chance to send a message in Wentworth. Whether or not you vote for whichever candidate, and we are very happy with our candidate, Tim, but the Government will still be the Government on Sunday that it was on Saturday.
JOURNALIST: Do you support the Government's move to force NewStart recipients into farm work (inaudible).
SHORTEN: I think this is a headline looking for a story at this stage. Now, maybe there is more detail to it. What I mean by that is that I think Mr Morrison has read out the existing rules. In other words - and I went and had a look at them - people who are unemployed must apply for suitable and available work. They can travel up to 90 minutes, and that is defined as suitable and available work. Provided the job does not interfere with their parenting, childcare obligations, or provided they are qualified to do the work, then they have got to take it. There is already a penalty in the system, you get four weeks of docked payment of your Newstart if you do not take up suitable available work within 90 minutes to which you're qualified to do.
So I understand that it may be easy points to go and shame someone who is unemployed, unemployed shaming by the Government. I think so far, unless there is new detail, and there may well be, but what I have seen in this morning's reports is that the Prime Minister has just announced what they are already doing.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on tax cuts. Specifically, The Australian is reporting that you would consider extending low and middle income tax cuts to higher wage earners and those on the top marginal rate. Is that correct and if so, why?
SHORTEN: Well, what we have always said is that we would like to do something to lower personal income rates across the system. But what I have also made very clear is I have a very different set of priorities to the Prime Minister. He wants to pass on tens of billions of dollars of tax cuts to the top end in the next three or four or five years. I am not convinced the budget can afford that.
My priority is to make sure that we provide better income tax cuts to people who earn less than $100,000, people who earn less than $120,000 a year. Tanya and I, and Chris Bowen have got proposals on the table which will see eight or nine million Australians over the first three years of a Labor government get nearly $3000 back in income tax refund. My priority is to look after everyday working people. In my experience, the top end are generally pretty good at looking after themselves.
Our other priority, we have got scarce taxpayer money, is to fix the cuts to schools and hospitals. And the fact of the matter is that this government, this Liberal Government has cut $14 billion over the next 10 years from public education.
I want every kid in every school to get an excellent chance in the future. Our priority is to make sure that we extend universal access for all three and four year olds to preschool. Our priority is to make sure that we unfreeze the Medicare system so that patients can get higher rebates back when they go and see the doctor. Our priority is to reverse cuts to penalty rates. Our priority is to take real action on climate change and not leave it to the next generation to fix up the mess, because current politicians are too scared or lazy to act on it.
So yeah, the story is that we would like to do more about helping people at all levels, but my first priority, middle class and working class Australians.
Thanks, everybody. Have a nice day.