SUBJECT: McKell Institute report; Political donation reform; Constitutional recognition.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: First of all I'd just like to again reiterate, following up on the speech I gave launching this report by the Mckell Institute, 'Choosing Opportunity', this is a new report which highlights and underlines the importance of pursuing fairness in Australian economic policies. Without fairness, without the fair go all round, without standing up for the middle class who are getting squeezed every day, we are just not going to get the sort of prosperous future which all Australians deserve and should be part of our nation's future.
I'd also like to just briefly make some comments following the resignation of Senator Sam Dastyari yesterday. Sam Dastyari did make a mistake. He has acknowledged that he made a mistake and now he's paid I think quite a heavy price for the mistake of judgement which he made. I also want to say that I don’t think this is the end of Senator Dastyari's career. He's a bright young bloke with a lot of passion and a lot of ideas to offer Australia, and I'm sure that in the future he will come back. But in the meantime, I and Labor intend to pursue the issue of foreign donations. The matter of Sam Dastyari has occurred, he's taken responsibility, he's stepped down. But the problem of foreign donations in this country is still unresolved. So I invite Mr Turnbull to work with me, that when we introduce a bill to reform foreign donations to clean up legitimate concerns that are now being expressed in many quarters of the Australian community, Mr Turnbull and I have an opportunity to restore some faith in the political process by cleaning up the overdue issue of foreign donations in this country. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten the Prime Minister has declared or has said that you have shown a lack of leadership and a lack of courage in failing to sack Sam Dastyari. Why didn't you sack him and why was that decision left up to the Senator?
SHORTEN: Well first of all I'll come to the issue of Mr Turnbull and courage, because he's hardly one to throw rocks on the question of political courage, but in terms of the last 24 and 48 hours, following Senator Dastyari's press conference on Tuesday, I spoke to him that evening and I spoke to him a number of times yesterday. They were hard conversations. I acknowledged that Senator Dastyari has freely admitted he made a mistake and now what he's done is he's said to me, after a series of conversations between him and I yesterday, that he then offered me his resignation.
JOURNALIST: If the Senator, you've said that the Senator deserves a second chance. If that's the case why did you agree to his resignation?
SHORTEN: Well, following my comments on Tuesday, Senator Dastyari held a press conference. Following that I spoke to him again. Over the course of yesterday we had a series of hard conversations, I'm not here to go into every detail and every blow by blow, I'm not here to put the salt into any wounds, but at the conclusion of those conversations Senator Dastyari offered his resignation. He admits he did the wrong thing, he's going to take a step back, he doesn't want to distract from the Opposition's proposals, analysing the Government, and offering a positive platform of our own, and so he's taken this decision, he's paid a price and I acknowledge that, and I certainly think that he's a bright young person with plenty to offer in the future and we'll hear more from him.
JOURNALIST: But are you flagging that he'll be given a chance to return to the front bench, and if so, how long does he have to serve this out?
SHORTEN: Well first of all he's just stepped off, so no I'm not flagging the timing of his return at all. But there is an important issue here and Senator Dastyari will be the first to acknowledge it very clearly now. We have an issue of foreign donations in this country. 114 different countries have outlawed foreign donations into their political process. Labor has previously tried to engage in political donation reform, and at the last election we said we thought it was overdue to have reform in terms of foreign donations.
I say to Malcolm Turnbull, be prepared. Next week you can either work with us or oppose us, but by hook or by crook, Labor is going to propose legislation which will ban foreign donations. We will also make some other changes in terms of political donation laws.
JOURNALIST: What are the other changes are you are offering?
SHORTEN: First change, other than banning foreign donations, is that there is no sensible case anymore for hiding the identity of donors when they donate more than $1,000. Currently the law has crept up to $13,200 across each state division of a political party. So it allows, currently, people to contribute tens of thousands of dollars to their political party and the Australian voter could be none-the-wiser who has paid. Now, I do believe we need to have this disclosure. So we not only want to ban foreign donations, we want to lower the threshold for anonymity to $1,000.
Also, we don't support splitting donations, where you have a corporate donor providing money across different divisions of a political party. And because each is a separate division, therefore you don't add up the total and each amount is treated separate, and they can come under these too-high thresholds as it is. I also think we should have donation declaration in real time. Technology has really improved in the last few years. Some states have already gone down this path, including your home state here in New South Wales.
So there is a series of reforms to the donation system, and I acknowledge that some people in the Liberal Party are calling for that now, it's not just Labor. The Greens political party has called for it and Labor certainly is. So I say to Mr Turnbull, Senator Dastyari has stepped down now, so now we can focus on the bigger picture of donation reform. And it starts with banning foreign donations.
Mr Turnbull has to explain why he thinks that it is a good idea to maintain foreign donations in our political system. Because I don't.
JOURNALIST: Is 'I didn't want to pay for it' a good enough excuse for a Chinese donor to foot the bill?
SHORTEN: Senator Dastyari has clearly found out it isn't good enough because he stepped down.
JOURNALIST: Is it appropriate for Senator Dastyari to remain on the Foreign Affairs and Trade Senate Committee given he has failed to answer questions about the payment from Top Education?
SHORTEN: I don't think we have finalised our committee make up. And indeed, Senator Dastyari has just stepped down yesterday.
JOURNALIST: He says he resigned because he didn't want to become a distraction. Don't you think he is missing the point?
SHORTEN: N, I think he said he's resigned for more than just that reason. I understand your question. He said he acknowledges he made a mistake. And indeed, from the conversations I've had with him subsequent to his press conference on Tuesday afternoon, and certainly a number of hard conversations I've had with him yesterday, Senator Dastyari offered me his resignation and I give him full credit for that.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister says you didn't have the courage or the integrity to stand him down yourself. Is that true?
SHORTEN: Well I said, and sort of the same question was asked earlier and I refer you to part of the answer I gave before. But this point about courage I said I would certainly return to. Getting a lecture from Malcolm Turnbull about courage is laughable. What happened to the old Malcolm Turnbull who believed in marriage equality should be decided by a vote in Parliament? What happened to the old Malcolm Turnbull who believed that Australia should be a republic? What happened to the old Malcolm Turnbull who believed in taking real action on climate change? What happened to the old Malcolm Turnbull who made iron-clad guarantees about superannuation as recently as the election, but is now backing away from it? What happened to the old Malcolm Turnbull who use to think that negative gearing needed to be reformed?
Malcolm Turnbull does not have the political courage to stand up to the right wing of his party. And Malcolm Turnbull now needs to show some courage on foreign donations. Why is it that Malcolm Turnbull, on one hand, is critical of Senator Dastyari, but on the other hand fails to understand the problem which foreign donations represent to the confidence Australians have in our political system?
JOURNALIST: Can I please ask about Indigenous recognition in the Constitution. Two former Prime Ministers now, John Howard and Tony Abbott, have rejected the idea of pursuing a treaty. Do you think that discussions about a treaty can happen at the same time as discussions about constitutional recognition?
SHORTEN: First of all, I notice that John Howard has ventured back into current political commentary. That's his right as a former Prime Minister of Australia. But I tell you what, we couldn't even get John Howard to concede to say sorry to the stolen generations. So I think that there'll be a lot of Australians saying, well you didn't even want to do that, now you're telling everyone, first Australians, about the nature of the arrangements they can have in this country going forward.
My position and Labor's position is very clear. We support constitutional recognition of our first Australians in the Constitution. Our Constitution is, for want of a better expression the nation's birth certificate. How on earth can it be the nation's birth certificate if our first Australians aren't even recognised in it?
Having said that, many Aboriginal Australians are saying to me, Bill we're up for constitutional recognition, but without having a discussion about post-constitutional recognition – post, after constitutional recognition – about all the other arrangements which occur in Australia, well then they say that the changes are just symbolic and why would we go for all of that difficulty and expensive debate, if it isn't matched with a subsequent commitment to talking about everything else? Which includes a treaty. Now I know there's some people who as soon as they hear the word treaty, run screaming for the hills. I just say to them, just calm down, have a bex and a sit down, it'll be alright. Our first Australians have put up with a lot from the rest of us for the past 225 years plus, I think it's appropriate we get recognition in our Constitution, and we should of course talk it over with other issues which go to a settlement with our first Australians.
JOURNALIST: So you don't think there should be any formal discussions about a treaty until recognition?
SHORTEN: I think there can be discussions. We're having the discussion now. But what I am saying to you is that the sequence I have in my mind, is looking at the report of the Advisory Council, who both Tony Abbott and I tasked to come back and talk to us. And then we have Constitutional recognition, we've got to get agreement on that question. But I think if Aboriginal Australia says they want to talk about arrangements post-constitutional recognition, I'm willing to listen.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, sorry to take you back to it, but Sam Dastyari has pulled out of book launch commitment that he had this evening. Is there any fear that by not turning up to these public events, that he may be contributing to a perception that he's trying to avoid public critique of what's happened?
SHORTEN: I don't think he thinks he's avoided public critique. And again, if you have any fear about seeing the last of Senator Dastyari, you won't. He'll be around.
JOURNALIST: Will you refuse to accept any further donations from foreign donors from this point?
SHORTEN: That's the path we're headed down. What I'd like to do is do it with the Liberal Party. Let's make it legislation. If we know what the right thing to do is, why on earth doesn't the Parliament do it?
So I say to Malcolm Turnbull, let's ban foreign donations. And if the Liberal Party think by not banning it, and Labor not doing it, that somehow they can gain a multi-million dollar advantage, I think that would be a very disappointing low note in Australian politics.
I understand Mr Turnbull can reach down the back of the proverbial couch and allegedly donate up to $2 million to his own party. Most Australians can't do that. But I think we can start showing some courage. Ban foreign donations. 114 other nations, approximately, 114 other nations have banned foreign donations. I'm up for it. Malcolm Turnbull, why won't you ban foreign donations? That's the question.