Bill's Transcripts

Press Conference: Canberra

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
PRESS CONFERENCE


TUESDAY, 24 JUNE 2014
CANBERRA

SUBJECT/S: Changes to the Shadow Ministry; Abbott Government’s unfair budget;, Arthur Sinodinos; ICAC; national security; Peter Greste; New Senate.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION:
Good afternoon everybody. Today we farewelled some longstanding members of the Labor caucus. As I told caucus today, each and every one of these departing Senators has helped write a chapter in the Labor story. A story of helping people, of lifting them up, of building a better, fairer nation. All of these fine men and women will continue to contribute to the life of our nation beyond next week, and we wish them well in the future.

 

As a result, there have been some small changes to our executive, the details of which have been circulated. We have an extremely strong team and we have renewed it with some new blood to take up the fight on behalf of Australians in particular about this unfair budget. And it’s the budget to which I’d like to address the majority of my remarks.

 

Today the caucus met and we considered the Government's social security budget changes. Labor has been and always will be guided by what is fair for Australians. We will make responsible decisions but large parts of this budget are fundamentally unfair and will be opposed. I will not stand by and let this government make it harder for parents to take sick children to the doctor. We will not stand by and watch pensioners be slugged and families be slugged up to $6,000 a year. We will not stand by and allow this government to ruthlessly cut $80 billion from Australia's schools and Australia's hospitals. This is the equivalent of sacking one in every seven teachers. This is the equivalent of closing one in every five hospital beds.

 

Labor today will move amendments to remove the unfair attacks that are hidden in the Government's legislation. For example, we will not support cuts to pensions. We will amend the family payment changes to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected, not hurt. We want responsible changes to the seniors supplement, ensuring the payment doesn't go to millionaires but we won't allow hundreds of thousands of pensioners to be hurt by this government. These are responsible amendments that will protect those who can least afford to be hit by this unfair budget.

 

Tony Abbott has bundled together nearly $15 billion in cuts in two pieces of legislation. He has now gagged debate to rush through these cuts through the parliament without proper scrutiny. This government is running scared from its own budget and it will not allow anyone else to analyse these dreadful changes. The ball is in Tony Abbott's court. Australians know where I and Labor stand on this budget and these most unfair measures.

 

Labor will stand with the pensioners, we will stand with the families, we will stand with people battling to make cost-of-living ends meet, people who are taking their children to see the doctor and shouldn't pay extra tax. Tony Abbott most certainly has a fight on his hands with this rotten, unfair budget. If Tony Abbott want to get at Australia's pensioners, Australia's families, he will have to come through me and the Labor Party.

 

I might hand over to my colleague, Shadow Minister Jenny Macklin, to talk a bit further about the detail of our amendments.

JENNY MACKLIN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES & PAYMENTS: Thanks very much Bill. Right now in the House of Representatives the Government is seeking to gag debate on these critical bills. These are the most brutal changes to Australia’s social safety net that we have ever seen. This government is seeking to cut the indexation of Australia's pensions, to the aged pension, the disability support pension, the carer payment, veterans payments, all of these pensioners will have their incomes cut because of the indexation measures contained in these bills.

 

These measures are not off in some far distant future time. They are contained in this legislation right now. The Government is also in this legislation seeking to introduce a new age pension age, introduce an age pension age of 70. That would mean Australians have to work longer than any other people in the developed world. Labor will oppose these changes to the pension and to the age pension age because they are unfair.

 

We will also oppose another very important change in these bills and that is that the Government wants to remove, completely abolish the seniors supplement. This is more than $800 that goes to around 300,000 Australians, senior Australians who are on the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. The Government is directly attacking the living standards of 300,000 Australian seniors by removing the seniors supplement.

 

Labor will oppose that measure. It is unfair and a direct attack on the living standards of those seniors. We will also make sure that we protect those families from these most brutal changes. These changes will see a single income family on $65,000 a year with two children, losing around $6,000 a year – $6,000 a year, around 10 per cent of their income. That is why we are opposing these measures. They are unfair, and we will fight them all the way through the Senate and try and make sure we can protect the living standards of Australians.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you are opposing $15 billion in cuts, don't you have a responsibility to put forward your own savings that will sort of counter that?

 

SHORTEN: How on earth can Labor be blackmailed into selling out the people of Australia because Tony Abbott and his government haven't got an idea how to run a budget? How on earth could Labor be true to itself if we were to allow pensioners to lose their supplement? How on earth could Labor be true to itself if we were to allow this petrol tax to sail through, and not fight about cost of living for Australian families? How would we be the Labor Party of Australia if we just signed up to their new co-payment tax on everyone going to the doctor?

 

Labor gets the job of responsibility, we have offered and we have worked through some of the processes and we are agreeing with some of the changes. But let me be really clear here, if they want to save money, scrap the paid parental leave scheme. That's $22 billion. This is a Government who is saying to Australia that you must do their decisions, and they don't offer any fair alternative. Where was the Government before the election when they said, ‘oh, we are going to cut pensions, we are going to increase taxes, we are going to cut health and education’?

 

If we did anything other than stand up for ordinary Australians we would be accomplices in the travesty which these people, this Abbott Government is doing wrecking fairness in Australia.

JOURNALIST: You said you wanted to amend the family payment changes, so what changes are you proposing?

 

MACKLIN: We will oppose the changes that the Government is proposing to freeze the Family Tax Benefit rates. That is grossly unfair and will take billions of dollars, more than $2 billion, out of the pockets of families. You talk about how much money is involved in these bills – this is money that is coming out of the pockets of families. That's where it's coming from, and that's why we will oppose the freezing of those Family Tax Benefit rates. What we –

 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

 

MACKLIN: No, the top threshold's already been dealt with. What we are prepared to look at is, and we have just made this decision in the caucus, you'd be aware that also contained in this legislation is the proposal to reduce the income test for people on Family Tax Benefit Part B, from $150,000 down to $100,000. Labor will not oppose that measure. It's not designed in the way that we would have done it. We think the harsh cliff at $100,000 is not the best design, but Labor has always been in favour of targeting our family payment system.

 

In fact, I recall introducing the target of $150,000 income test and Joe Hockey, hopping into me saying I was a class warrior. Well he is now introducing a measure that will see the family income test at $100,000, and we won't oppose it.

 

JOURNALIST: These measures that you want to carve out of the omnibus bill –

 

MACKLIN: The two bills.

 

JOURNALIST:  The two bills. Just at first glance many of them, you have stated your position before, is there anything new in there? Have you taken further decisions in recent days?

 

MACKLIN: Well the one I have just answered –

 

JOURNALIST: Sorry I mean as to oppose, is the senior supplement a new decision?

 

MACKLIN: The senior supplement is a new decision. We hadn't announced that before. We have decided to oppose the abolition of the seniors supplement. We think it's unfair to 300,000 seniors to take nearly $900 a year off them.

 

JOURNALIST: Are they all deserving?

 

MACKLIN: These are people who have worked hard all their lives, saved for their retirement, and this is a small way of saying ‘we will give you some support in your retirement’. And this Government is going to take it off them.

 

JOURNALIST: Just to follow up on that, there are millions of people who get aged pensions, so there's only 290,000 who get the seniors supplement.

 

MACKLIN: That's right.

 

JOURNALIST: What are the grounds for them to get that? I mean, do they have to show a special need in order to get that supplement? Is that why they deserve it?

 

MACKLIN: There's an income test. So you can't get the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card if your income is above $50,000 for a single or $80,000 for a couple.

 

JOURNALIST: But are they getting the aged pension as well?

 

MACKLIN: No.

 

JOURNALIST: So of the $15 billion of savings, how much – what's the value of the bits you support and the value of the bits don't support?

 

MACKLIN: A little over $2 billion we will let through. We understand it's important to look at each and every measure. We have done exactly that. We want to make sensible decisions where it's possible, but the vast majority of this legislation is unfair, and brutally unfair, particularly to some parts of our society.

 

SHORTEN: And ask yourself this question – the Prime Minister lied before the last election. He said there would be no change to pensions, he said that would be no cuts to health, no cuts to education. How do we in good conscience reward the Prime Minister for systemically and wilfully misleading the Australian people before the last election? There is no choice. On one hand you’ve got Tony Abbott's lies, on the other hand you’ve got the people of Australia. I know which side we’re going to be on.

 

JOURNALIST: So you’re blowing, what is it, about a $12 billion hole in the budget?

 

SHORTEN: No this Government's put up changes which, do you seriously think that they expect to get all of it even through? I don't know what possessed this government. They get elected, they say there’s a terrible debt and deficit problem before the election, they go to sleep for seven months, you know, other than the odd frolic about the feudal system, we don't hear much from them for seven months, and then a couple of weeks before the election [budget] they release their Commission of Audit.

 

Then they release the budget, which shocked everyone with the extent of its swingeing cuts. Does anyone seriously expect that any Labor Party worth its salt would just simply put their hand up and say, "thanks for misleading us, thanks for creating a false budget emergency and you can have whatever you want." No way, not now, not ever.

 

JOURNALIST: Were you surprised now that the Greens will also oppose the indexation of the fuel levy?

 

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, the fuel excise was a clear breach of Tony Abbott’s promise. Why is it that he thinks he can get up in such an arrogant fashion, months after the election. Before the election, the night before on SBS he does this big TV interview, ‘I'm not going to increase taxes, no new taxes’, then he increases the tax on petrol. We were never going to vote for that. A crocodile wouldn't swallow his nonsense.

 

And then what’s happened is the Greens have finally got on board, we could have told them, what the right answer was, weeks and weeks ago. The only thing that surprises me about this petrol excise is that the National Party haven't stood up for their rural constituents. What surprises me is that Coalition backbenchers, who don't – go to an outer suburban petrol station anywhere in Australia and ask anyone filling up their car, ‘are you happy that Tony Abbott lied to you and now we’re putting up the tax on petrol?’ No-one in Australia wants his new petrol tax except Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you commit to rolling back all of these things if they are successfully passed through the Parliament, including changes to the indexation of the pensions, the fuel excise and these other things?

SHORTEN: Mark, I commit to doing my very best to stopping these changes happening. As I said in my opening remarks, Tony Abbott has a fight on his hands. We didn't ask him to do these crazy ideas, these unfair ideas. He's got a fight on his hands. I'm not going to go down hypothetical world. I am not going to give Tony Abbott any sense of optimism that his unfairness, his unfair blueprint for Australia will see the light of day.

 

Some people say, you know, you just have to accept it, it's the budget, whatever. No way known, we are the Labor Party, we know whose side we’re on. That's why we’re standing up for the 300,000 senior citizens getting the supplement. That's why we’re standing up against the petrol tax. Tony Abbott, we all know, has conflated a budget emergency, he's absolutely wrecking the hospitals and school funding system in the future. We’re not going to vote for that and we will argue and argue and we will do okay.

 

JOURNALIST: Can I ask a follow up though, is it possible that pensioners will go to the next election with a choice between two forms of indexation the, assuming the Government is successful, the lower indexation in prospect, and that you'll be proposing to retain the indexation that's applied up until now?

 

SHORTEN: If Tony Abbott wants to lower the indexation rates in Australia that's up to him, but Labor does not support that. We'll have to see if Tony Abbott will continue with this is crazy idea of providing pensioners with an effective real cut in the value of their pension.

 

He said he wouldn't touch the veterans, well their pensions get hit. He said he wouldn't touch pensioners and he clearly is. In his budget paper, you know, we’ve been doing a dozen, 20 Question Times we say to the Prime Minister, you know,’ have you read your own budget? It's in about page 203 or 206 of the budget.’ He's banking saving money by cutting pensions. The only person in the world who doesn't seem to realise that that's what he's doing is Tony Abbott. Stefanie?

 

JOURNALIST: Just on another matter, just in relation to the Daily Telegraph's report this morning regarding Arthur Sinodinos. If there is no corruption finding, is that good enough, even if there are other question marks for Labor for him to return to the frontbench?

 

SHORTEN: I wouldn't want to speculate about news reports about something ICAC has yet to do. But what I clearly do think is the case is that the Prime Minister should explain to Australians when we will have an Assistant Treasurer. I also think that he needs to explain what, if any, is his own involvement in these matters. He has questions to answer.

 

JOURNALIST: Do you think we need a Federal ICAC?

 

SHORTEN: Well we’ve seen, like everyone who has seen the New South Wales matters, I think we’ve all been shocked at the revelations that have come out in the New South Wales ICAC. I don't believe the same case has yet existed to demonstrate these problems are prevalent in the national political debate in Australia. But I have indicated, publicly on the record, and I do so again today, to Tony Abbott, that we are happy to sit down with him and work constructively in a bipartisan fashion to ensure we have the strongest possible defences against any perception of corruption full stop.
JOURNALIST: You just referred to the Prime Minister's involvement. What involvement are you thinking of?

 

SHORTEN: I don't know, you'd have to ask him. There’s obviously been issues around the Liberal Party fundraising in New South Wales. Again, you are asking me to speculate about the New South Wales ICAC through press reports. I'm not in a position to be able to do that. So therefore I do think that he needs to explain what, if anything, is his involvement and these are questions he's been asked in the House.

 

JOURNALIST: Can I ask about Australians fighting in Iraq and Syria? Scott Morrison told the Coalition party room today that most of them aren't dual citizens, presumably just Australian citizens. Is there much that can be done about that?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all the violence that we have seen in Iraq and indeed the earlier and continuing violence in Syria, is a dreadful affront in terms of humanity and what's happening to civilians in both of those war-torn countries. So Labor is up for working with the Government to promote both humanitarian support in the region and also ensuring the national security of this country.

 

I'm like all other Australians, the idea that people who carry Australian passports, through some misguided gesture to their faith are engaged in this brutal sectarian conflict in that part of the world, is repugnant, and certainly we will work with the Government to see what can be done to monitor the activities of these people.

 

But I'd just say to any young Australians who’ve got any misguided sense of faith or commitment, that they should not, should not, should not, be in any fashion contemplating participating or attending that part of the world.

 

JOURNALIST: Just on the costings issue, do you accept that at some point you'll have to outline an alternative view where you'll find revenue or alternative savings? When will you do that?

SHORTEN: Before the next election and we'll do it in good time and we’ll do it through the process of listening to people and working with people. As an illustration, let's pick the health system. I certainly wouldn't be creating a barrier or a bouncer at the door of the health system, discouraging people from entry into our health system. The way you work through health economics is through working with clinicians and experts in the field, not just rushing around in the last few weeks devising a system.

 

We heard in Senate estimates that this medical research fund, the department was only asked to start working on it in April for a May budget. A $20 billion scheme only started work 40 days before. We’ve heard the Chief Scientist of Australia say they weren't consulted, that’s not how you do policy. We will do it in plenty of time before the next election.

 

JOURNALIST: Are you basically sceptical about the need to find billions of dollars in savings, do you think an alternative way is to fix what some people are saying is a revenue problem, not a spending problem?

SHORTEN: Again, the budget task, and I’d refer you to my budget reply speech, does require diligent work over the medium term, making sure that revenues and expenditures balance out, making sure that we have a sustainable budget bottom line. The way you don't do it is through unfair cuts. This government loves talking about lifters and leaners. What this government's doing is leaning on the bottom 40 or 50 per cent of the Australian population and expecting them to do all the lifting. That's not the way you frame a budget.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can I ask you about Peter Greste? Is there anything that the Opposition can do to, with the Government, I mean, to offer bipartisan support for some of those calls or is there anything material that you are doing?

SHORTEN: Well like plenty of people last night as the news was breaking, we were shocked and appalled at the devastating news for Peter Greste and his family. This is a journalist just doing his day job, reporting the news. The sentence, it was a terrible shock.

 

We have contacted the Government, both in writing and verbally, and said that we will support their bipartisan propositions to do whatever they can. Now is the time for cool heads and calculated measures. I'm sure that some people, and many people are having are having an emotional reaction to it, which is so completely understanding, but what matters for me and for Labor is that we have got an Australian citizen, a reporter, in jail in Egypt, and getting him out of there is the priority. It's not a question of politics or megaphone diplomacy, it's just whatever works to get him out.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, last night Labor and the Greens voted to amend the asset recycling legislation. Will you be insisting on those changes if the Government overturns them in the House?

 

SHORTEN: Well we’ve put forward our amendments because we believe that's in the best national interest. In terms of asset recycling or privatisation, we are not automatically against privatisation, it's on a case-by-case basis. But we are most committed to making sure the decisions are made in the national interest, not just a particular, you know, spur of the moment revenue raising decision.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, are you disappointed the Greens won't support the fuel excise?

 

SHORTEN: I'm disappointed the Government's proposing a fuel excise. We don't want the fuel excise increase. We think it’s a tax on ordinary Australians. Labor will oppose because we believe it's the right thing to do. We will oppose this and other unfair tax increases which were not told to us before the election. I’m just disappointed the Government hasn’t worked out that it’s a rotten idea. Thanks everyone.
ENDS


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