Bill's Transcripts

Interview on Sky News with David Speers


SUBJECT/S:  foreign investment, jobs, NDIS,

DAVID SPEERS:           Bill Shorten, thanks for your time.  Now Tony Abbott says it would rarely be in Australia's national interests to allow a foreign government or its agencies to control an Australian business. What's wrong with that?

BILL SHORTEN:           Well Tony Abbott's had a shocking trip overseas, at least to China.  I mean, I know he's the leader of the Opposition and he mightn't be familiar with some of the jurisdictions. But to go to China and say, I want to change the way you run your country, but then say, and by the way, if you've got state-owned enterprises investing in Australia, I've got a concern about that too.  I mean, doesn't Mr Abbott get how the economy works in Australia?  We do need foreign investment.  Part of that foreign investment comes from state-owned enterprises and not just in China.

DAVID SPEERS:           But he does say the Coalition welcomes foreign investment and welcomes foreign investment from China.

BILL SHORTEN:           Yeah, but he drew a distinction between government-owned enterprises and private money in China.  Let's be clear, there are sovereign wealth funds throughout the world; that is, government investment funds.  The Norwegians have a sovereign wealth fund.  Malcolm Turnbull has said he thinks the sovereign wealth fund's good for Australia to invest overseas.

                                 So the first problem Mr Abbott's got - or the Liberals have got, I should say, is they don't like Chinese sovereign wealth funds buying in Australia but Mr Turnbull said he likes Australian sovereign wealth funds investing overseas.

                  The second problem is that there's more than just Chinese sovereign wealth funds.  Etihad Airlines, Etihad Stadium in Melbourne's Docklands; Etihad is a state-owned enterprise.  So what is Mr Abbott saying, we should change the name of our football venues if he doesn't like a state-owned enterprise?

                  More importantly than the name of football stadiums and even airlines, is we've got significant state-owned enterprises who are investing in jobs in Australia.  Optus, Virgin, the petro-chem industry Qenos in Melbourne in Melbourne's Altona and in Botany.  All these jobs depend upon foreign investment from state-owned enterprises.  All of them rigorously analysed by the Foreign Investment Review Board.  My view is the national interest is what matters.  National interest equates to jobs.

DAVID SPEERS:           But he's not saying a blanket no to investment by state-owned enterprises.  He's saying rarely would it be in our national interest to allow these state-owned enterprises to control an Australian business.  Now, are any of the examples you've given there involve control of an Australian business?

BILL SHORTEN:           Yes, some of them do.  What happens when you invest - when foreign investment occurs in Australia is if it's above a certain amount, two-hundred-and-forty-four million dollars if it's from private sources, it gets checked out.  See what is it, does it line up with our national security, our national interests, what are the consequences? 

                  When it comes to state-owned enterprises, they get scrutinised from the floor up, especially in our farmland.  So there are lots of checks and balances.

DAVID SPEERS:           But you've got to acknowledge there's a fair bit of concern in Australia about this.

BILL SHORTEN:           Yeah, I agree.  There's always concern about making sure we protect Australian jobs.  There's always concern to make sure that we protect our military secrets and our special - you know, if there's a particular mineral that we have which might be used in missiles overseas.  So yeah, there is a legitimate national interest question.

DAVID SPEERS:           I mean this - under this Government we've seen a bid by Huawei, the Chinese state-owned firm winning a tender on the National Broadband Network.  We've also seen the Singapore Stock Exchange bid for the Australian Stock Exchange knocked back.  So it does happen.

BILL SHORTEN:           Precisely, and your point highlights the mistake that's been made in China.  We've got a system.  We've got checks and balances, but what we shouldn't be doing is lifting up the drawbridge and telling particular governments that we don't like state-owned enterprises or we've got concerns about you, you're not welcome.

                                 I mean what's ironic is the British royalty have owned parts of Australia ever since Captain Cook, you know, found Australia.  So Mr Abbott doesn't complain about the Duke of Westminster or Lord Vestey controlling our agricultural interests, but when it's a Chinese Government state-owned enterprise, it becomes a question mark.

                  I wonder when Mr Abbott goes to London, does he ever say to the Duke of Westminster, you know, hello Your Highness and we've not a national interest issue about you - of course not.

DAVID SPEERS:           So just to be clear though, you're completely comfortable with Chinese state-owned enterprises controlling Australian businesses.

BILL SHORTEN:           What I'm comfortable with is that using our current national interest test which already exists, that where we have an opportunity to save good Aussie jobs, I'm not fussed about whether or not it's Chinese currency, Middle Eastern, American or English. 

                  What I'm interested in is the livelihood of families in Australia, of our manufacturing sector, of Ausminerals, of a whole range of businesses.  We should have an intelligent debate about foreign investment, but it is just absolutely naive - it's risky foreign policy and it's a risk to our foreign investment profile and it's a risk to our sovereign financial situation if you have alternative potential leaders of Australia putting up the warning sign and saying you're not welcome.

DAVID SPEERS:           A couple of other issues: the National Disability Insurance Scheme - you've been a strong proponent of this over the years - it has been discussed at the COAG meeting today.  Are you comfortable with where the progress on this scheme is now at?

BILL SHORTEN:           I think it's one of the success stories of Labor in government, is the development of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  For decades people with disabilities and their carers have been treated as second class citizens.  The Federal Government has flagged that it's going to invest money.  We're now talking about launch sites.  There's important discussions with the states.

                  What I would say to some - if there is any state premieres who are reluctant to engage with the national government about disability reform is, have a chat to the parents and carers who are up at midnight, who've been looking after their adult children with severe disabilities for decades, wondering who's going to look after their lovely, loved adult child when they no longer can.  I don't think anyone should be against the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

DAVID SPEERS:           And a final question on what's happening in your party at the moment, some of your colleagues, Mark Bishop, says the polls should be a clarion call to make dramatic changes or face a decade in the political wilderness.  Nick Champion says the results are a kick in the pants. Joel Fitzgibbon says unpopular leaders will eventually be replaced.  Do you think Julia Gillard is being undermined at the moment?

BILL SHORTEN:           When I look at the polls, the polls are tough, but what I'm pleased about is today's announcement that headline inflation is one-point-two per cent…

DAVID SPEERS:           But when you look within your party…

BILL SHORTEN:           Well that's just it - if some of our party want to look at particular numbers, that is their opinion and they're entitled to it.  I'm interested in the fact that in Australia, even though it's tough for people, unemployment's at five-point-two per cent, now that's a good number.

DAVID SPEERS:           But are they…

BILL SHORTEN:           Inflation…

DAVID SPEERS:           …entitled to do this or should they pull their heads in and give the Prime Minister some clear air to sell these sort of things?

BILL SHORTEN:           Well I think the numbers that matter are inflation one-point-two per cent, which means there's no barrier to potentially the Reserve Bank lowering interest rates.  We've got the cash rate at three-point-five per cent and…

DAVID SPEERS:           So they should focus on that and not the polls?

BILL SHORTEN:           I'm saying the important numbers, I think, are the numbers which affect households every day: unemployment, inflation, interest rates.  They're the numbers that count to me and, I believe, to the Gillard Government.

DAVID SPEERS:           Bill Shorten, thank you.

BILL SHORTEN:           Thanks.


Mr Shorten’s Media Contacts: Sam Casey 0421 697 660