Bill's Transcripts

Press Conference: Sydney - Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians; Malcolm Turnbull’s 15 per cent GST on everything






SUBJECT/S: Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians; Malcolm Turnbull’s 15 per cent GST on everything; MYEFO; Paris climate change deal; Dysfunction in the Coalition; Closing the Gap targets.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone. Both the Prime Minister and I have just attended the inaugural meeting of the Referendum Council concerning constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. It was a really good start. It is another step forward to the overdue recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in our constitution. The Referendum Council's still meeting but both Malcolm Turnbull and I addressed the group at the start. It is important to recognise that if we were writing our constitution today, as opposed to 115 years ago, there's no doubt in my mind that the very first sentence we'd put in our nation's birth certificate would be a recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Now, it's not an easy debate. There are plenty of views about what should be done and how it should be done. But the Referendum Council is an important bipartisan initiative of both Malcolm Turnbull and myself, bringing together great leaders in Australian society from both Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous communities, and it's also important to note that one of their roles will be to help go out and educate and engage the population of Australia about the importance of constitutional change. And of course, all of this debate about updating our constitution to reflect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders' role in our society has to be taken in the context that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders don't get an equal deal in Australian life. From health, to unemployment, to jail rates, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders receive very unfair treatment compared to the Australian population at large. But I'm optimistic this Referendum Council, ably led by Pat Dodson and Mark Leibler, will help advance the case for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Happy to take questions on that and any other matters.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten are you expecting Scott Morrison to use tomorrow's MYEFO to dump unpopular Abbott Government measures?


SHORTEN: Well, the Liberal government last week, on tax reform, took Australia backwards. This week on the Budget, Australia's going backwards. It seems to me that the Liberals, who pride themselves on talking up their economic management credentials, don't seem to be taking Australia forwards. In fact they're taking us backwards. Economic growth is below trend at 2.5 per cent. We've seen living standards actually fall since the Liberals were elected two and a bit years ago. We've seen capital expenditure for the September quarter down. A lot of economic indicators are very troubling, and now we see Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull, who've been senior ministers in the Abbott Government, softening Australia up for another punishing round of cuts and trying to convince Australians that a 15 per cent GST price on everything is actually good for them, which it's not.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten do you accept the fundamentals of the economy at the moment – that the revenue growth is down, we’ve got a problem with tax in terms of receipts, the mining boom is over. I mean, what is your tax reform plan or what are your intentions on tax reform apart from cigarette tax?


SHORTEN: Well there's a lot in what you said and in your question you said something that the Treasurer of Australia has yet to say. You said there's a revenue problem. You said that there's a challenge with tax receipts being down. Yet Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull keep pretending that the only idea they have is to have cuts to everything – or indeed, the contradiction inherent in Scott Morrison's case is it that he says on one hand there's no revenue problem, even though you and I and millions of people know there is, but when it comes to that, Scott Morrison stubbornly refuses to look at Labor's good ideas and instead wants to put a 15 per cent GST on everything which Australians need. Now Labor has outlined alternative policies. We outlined in the course of this year proposals to make sure that multinationals pay their fair share, as they should. We've also outlined proposals to reduce the superannuation tax concessions at the very top end which are excessively generous and just not sustainable. And as you observed in your question, we've also proposed an increase in the tobacco excise. The Labor opposition's done something that no opposition has done in a generation: we've outlined literally billions of dollars of improvement to the Budget's bottom line. The difference between Labor and Liberal is that at the next election we will have a complete rational set of economic policies and a program to advance Australia and it won't be at the price of hurting Australian families. In the meantime, we see a Liberal government who's not managing the economy, wages growth is down on where it should be, we're seeing confidence not where it should be, and all they can think of is a 15 per cent GST on everything, which hurts Australian families.


JOURNALIST: But surely those things go in tandem, so I mean what are your plans for spending – I mean, you can only spend what you've got. So are you going to cut or spend? I mean what would you do?


SHORTEN: Well we've already outlined some of the changes we would make. We've said that the Emissions Reduction Fund – that's the discredited Abbott/Turnbull Government’s plan to ignore climate change and instead pay big polluters literally billions of dollars to keep polluting – we found billions in savings there by not going ahead with that. And we've just seen the conclusion of the Paris Climate Change Conference. You know, the world has signed up to doing more to reduce the rate of increase of global warming and what has become clear in the aftermath of the Paris conference, where the whole world came together to work on the real problem of climate change, is that the Abbott/Turnbull Government policies of Direct Action are discredited. In fact, it is high time for Malcolm Turnbull to show some leadership, to scrap the deal he did with the extreme right of the Liberal and National Party’s in order to become Prime Minister, and take real action on climate change.


JOURNALIST: What do you make of that deal done in Paris? If Labor was there, what would you have to done differently?


SHORTEN: Well, first of all, we would've taken to Paris policies which would've won the respect of people who are fair dinkum about tackling climate change. What Labor would do differently is we would back in the market to provide the answers for climate change, through an emissions trading scheme which is internationally linked. We would've come with proposals about ensuring that renewable energy is at the centre of our economic growth and becomes a key source of energy in the next 15 and 20 years. Furthermore, what we would've done is we wouldn't have brought the discredited Direct Action policies. See if you want to have someone who's fair dinkum on climate change, you can have the Labor Party where the whole party is dedicated to meaningful action on climate change, or you can have the discredited Direct Action policies of Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, because of a grubby deal for Malcolm Turnbull to keep the extreme right of his party happy.


JOURNALIST: Do you believe Australia will be able to meet the targets set there in the agreement in Paris?


SHORTEN: Well, Labor congratulates the Paris agreement and all the participants. What they've said there is that they've dedicated themselves to use the science of climate change and making sure that this planet has got a better and brighter future as the guide for how they work out their policies. You look at the problem, you look at the scientific solution, and then you come up with the policies. We all know that Tony Abbott and now Malcolm Turnbull have signed up to a set of climate sceptic policies which aren't fair dinkum. So we're pleased that the Paris conference has committed itself to reducing the rate of increase of temperatures to less than 2 Celsius degrees on pre-industrial levels. Labor's pleased that there's a commitment to start trying to reduce the amount of carbon pollution going out into our environment and not put the problem off to our children and our grandchildren. These are the things that we do differently.


JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop said that the deal didn't necessarily mean abandoning coal. Where do you stand on that? Coal obviously is important at the moment, it's very blue-collar with the unions.


SHORTEN: Coal is part of our energy mix going forward and I have said this in the past, but I think Julie Bishop's problem is we're now seeing yet again another Liberal backbench revolt. It doesn't matter if it's Ian Macfarlane jumping from the Liberals to the Nats, it doesn't matter if it's the backbenchers openly contradicting what Julie Bishop said in terms of the importance of the Paris agreement. What we believe is that the market can be relied upon to ultimately find the investment decisions for the future of our energy mix. There will always be a role for coal. There's no question about that. You need metallurgical coal to make steel. But what Labor will do is we'll have an emissions trading scheme which is internationally linked. That's best practice in the world. What Paris has taught Australia is that Australia cannot afford to stick its head in the sand and pretend that climate change isn't real and Malcolm Turnbull needs to show climate leadership, real leadership, by not sticking his head in the sand and slavishly sticking to a deal with the far right of his party which are comprised of people who don't really accept that there's any real need to take any real action on climate change.


JOURNALIST: Just on Ian Macfarlane - the LNP is meeting up in Queensland to discuss him moving across. Do you have any tips for parties in dysfunction like this?


SHORTEN: Well, it's a matter for the Liberal and National Party what they do. But it is staggering that you could have the Deputy Prime Minister and his most likely replacement as Deputy Prime Minister, [Barnaby] Joyce, collaborating and conspiring with Ian Macfarlane to encourage Ian Macfarlane to leave Malcolm Turnbull's own party to join the National Party in order to get a promotion and all of this is happening behind the back of the Prime Minister. It is not healthy for Australian politics, for Australia to have a Prime Minister who doesn't know what his Deputy Prime Minister is doing or what his coalition partner, the National Party, is doing. Now what happens today remains a matter for the Liberals and the National Party but the very fact that we're talking about this disunity is gravely concerning when tomorrow, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are going to unveil effectively a mini budget, a financial statement, an update on where the Budget is at, and all we're hearing is reports that for the last 2.5 years, nothing that the Liberals in Canberra have done appears to be working.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on the passing of the former South Australian Premier?


SHORTEN: Thank you for asking that Ursula. John Bannon was a very significant leader of South Australia, and indeed an Australian leader. His loss will grievously affect his family and of course he was a leader in very difficult times in South Australia. He took political responsibility for the turmoil in the South Australian economy. His legislative and political record will stand the test of time. He was a true leader of South Australia. He loved South Australia deeply and all South Australians and Australians will mourn his passing.


JOURNALIST: Just on the referendum, are you concerned that Australians are losing confidence in the political process of reconciliation?


SHORTEN: Well, I think Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are becoming increasingly cynical about constitutional recognition. What I mean by that is that I think all Australians, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, know that if we were drafting our constitution today, the first sentence of the first line of the first paragraph of our Australian Constitution, which is effectively the nation's birth certificate, would include a reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. But the challenge now is that we've had a number of opportunities in the history of Australia; the Mabo decision, native title legislation, the Apology and we've made some progress, but we haven't closed the deal in ensuring that Australians of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent are treated equally. It is wrong that our little precious babies in their first few months of life, if they're Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, are less likely to survive. It is wrong that an Aboriginal male of the age of 18 is more likely to go to jail than to go to university. It is not right that the unemployment levels amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are so high. So there is, I think, cynicism which we need to tackle, which involves not just looking at the Constitution, but taking the process of constitutional recognition to form a post-recognition settlement with our first Australians, to ensure that we do provide genuine empowerment, that we do actually give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders a voice in our politics, that we're not just ticking boxes and making sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are complying with government policy, but that the Parliament of Australia is also accountable to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


JOURNALIST: What's your solution to these problems?


SHORTEN: Well, vote Labor, because Labor will close the gap and put resources into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policies which we haven't seen from the current government. The truth of the matter is, leave aside constitutional recognition, that in terms of some of the closing the gap targets, in fact most of the closing the gap targets, we're simply not closing the gap. Closing the gap means the difference between quality of life and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and Australians who are not of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent. We are a smarter, cleverer country than simply shrugging our shoulders and kicking a stone with the toe of our shoe and saying, 'well, it's just too hard to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders get true equality'. So our answer is not just constitutional recognition. I would like to see the constitutional recognition process continue in its bipartisan fashion, which is fantastic, be a process which genuinely consults Indigenous Australians about what they want but is also the start of a conversation, and indeed a process, to close the gap. It is not right in Australia that you're more likely to go to jail because of your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent than if you weren't from that particular part of our population. I also recognise that we need to do a lot more to tackle the scourge of family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The statistics about the injuries and the mortality rates of Aboriginal women are horrifying. So a Labor government will not only back in the political debate about changing the constitution in a bipartisan fashion, but we will also ensure through our policies that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders see the gap closed and all the things which really mean a lot to us - health, education, employment, justice.


Thanks everyone. Have a nice day.