TUESDAY, 8 NOVEMBER 2016
SUBJECT/S: Migration Act; Racial Discrimination Act; backpacker tax; Victorian ALP State Conference; superannuation
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: The Labor Caucus has met this morning and resolved to oppose the Government's legislation. Labor is committed to making sure that the people smugglers never ever get back into business. What we're also committed to doing is maintaining the current policies which Labor has debated and which the Government has in place which are currently working. People who come by people smugglers and make that dangerous journey should not settle in Australia, we do not want to see the people smugglers back in business.
We are on a unity ticket with the Government to stop the people smugglers, but we are not on a unity ticket to stop the tourists. Under the laws which the Government are proposing and seeking Labor's support for, someone who is found to be a genuine refugee, who subsequently settles and becomes a Canadian or an American citizen, can never even visit Australia in 30 or 40 years’ time. A lifetime ban on genuine refugees who become citizens of other countries from ever visiting Australia as a tourist or as a teacher or as a business person.
We are committed to making sure that the people smugglers don't get back into business. But the Government has not established the case that says that current laws aren't working. In many ways the Government's latest proposals are a solution looking for the problem. The idea that a citizen of the United States or Canada or New Zealand faces a lifetime ban preventing them from visiting Australia in 30 or 40 years’ time is simply unacceptable to me and my Labor colleagues.
We recognise this legislation has been a desperate gesture by a floundering government, simply aping the policies of One Nation without any proper analysis or evidence. And the real problem here is whilst the Government is pulling these pathetic stunts and in some ways undermining a policy which is currently working, he is doing nothing about protecting Australian jobs.
The biggest problem in Australia at the moment is that there are hundreds of thousands of people coming here on 457, 417 and other visas with temporary work rights, and that some of these people are being exploited and that Australians are missing out on jobs because we've got a government asleep at the wheel when it comes to cracking down on visa scams and the exploitation of guest worker visas.
We want Malcolm Turnbull to focus on prioritising Australian jobs to deal with the real issues, not to play political games, chasing One Nation's policies by proposing ludicrous and ridiculous ideas.
Shayne and I are happy to take questions this morning.
JOURNALIST: Mr Neumann, maybe, because you were briefed, as I understand by the Government. What rationale was put to you by the Government about this tourism measure? I mean, was there anything persuasive about there being a policy position behind this and whether it was linked to some announcement yet to come?
SHAYNE NEUMANN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION: No. There is no credible evidence from the Department in the briefing that we had that any country had sought this legislation or any requirement covered by this legislation. The Government also has failed to provide us with any evidence there that they've got any arrangements pending in respect of third party arrangements as well.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, in July 2013, Kevin Rudd then said "If you jump on a boat, you going to end up in Australia, that doesn't apply anymore". How does Labor maintain that position but also allow refugees to move from third countries to Australia on a tourist or business visa?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, Labor's policy, which the Liberals have subsequently adopted, is working. We believe that the people smugglers are pernicious, cynical criminals. I recognise that hundreds upon hundreds of people drowned making that dangerous voyage. This has been a difficult issue in the Labor Party but I took the restatement of our policy to the July 2015 national conference and what we said there is we don't want the people smugglers back in business and we will maintain strong policies to deter them.
But what I don't accept is that this Government's created an almost arbitrary equation, where it says the only way to stop people smugglers is to keep people on Manus and Nauru in seemingly indefinite detention.
Malcolm Turnbull needs to get his priorities right. Rather than playing these tricky games, talking about lifetime bans, tourists and other people never being able to come to Australia, he needs to get on with negotiating with resettlement nations and get those people off Manus and Nauru, return those to their home countries where appropriate, and send the other refugees to settlement nations. That is what he needs to do. You and I both know the rest of this stuff, the lifetime ban, it's Malcolm Turnbull desperately trying to pump up his own tyres to appease the right wing of his party and the right wing in the Senate.
JOURNALIST: Will Labor attempt to amend the legislation, making a clear distinction between settlement and visiting?
SHORTEN: Let's be clear here, this is rushed legislation and the Government said they're not interested in amendments, so we will vote it down.
JOURNALIST: If you were given any information that this legislation was needed to expedite arrangements with third countries for resettlement, would that change the party's position?
SHORTEN: I have specifically asked the Prime Minister "Are there discussions about third party nations? How is that process going?" He's refused point-blank to tell me. So, I have no idea how their discussions are going. Obviously, anything which can be done to facilitate the people on Manus and Nauru being sent to third party nations, we're up for.
But the Government is not making that the case here. They're saying they've got this legislation, they haven't explained what the problem is they are trying to solve, and what worries me about the way this government is playing politics, is that they are sending the message to people smugglers that the Government doesn't have confidence that the current laws are enough to stop the people smugglers. This is a very poor development.
JOURNALIST: If this does turn out to be a necessary foundation stone for a multi-country agreement that is yet to be announced or yet to be finalised, will Labor revisit the position or is this it?
SHORTEN: Well the Government's given us no indication, so if you're asking hypothetically a set of circumstances that I'm not aware of? When we get those set of circumstances and if they materialise, we will obviously listen to what they have to say. But this government is not doing that.
John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand made it clear, because I genuinely thought they must have some logic behind this proposal. My first reaction when I heard it, is this why Malcolm Turnbull went into Parliament, to come up with right wing desperate stunts? But John Key's made it clear that he doesn't want New Zealand citizens who have differing rights to visit other countries. I actually thought when Malcolm Turnbull said he'd take some refugees from Costa Rica, I thought maybe this was the sort of signal there would be a deal.
Labor's not going to stand in the way of the Government making a deal to help get these people out of indefinite detention. But the Government, unless they've said something otherwise to you, they've got no plan that we can see.
JOURNALIST: Does it not provide some comfort to you that the bill contains ministerial discretion that would allow or override the life time ban?
SHORTEN: I've derived no comfort from the idea that one of the most incompetent ministers in this government, Peter Dutton, will have ministerial discretion. The fact of the matter is that ministerial discretion is lazy law-making. What Malcolm Turnbull's tried to do is have a bet each way. What he's tried to say is "Oh well, if one of these refugees turns out to be a Nobel Prize winner, of course we'd let them in down the track". This is just a fiction where Malcolm Turnbull is trying to appease his conscience, or what's left of it. No, it's bad law-making just to create a whole lot of discretions in the system. I actually think that the Government needs to reconsider its legislation, go back and explain what it is they're actually trying to do.
JOURNALIST: Hypotheticals aside, are there any concessions that the Government could make now that would make Labor consider putting this legislation on the table, consider passing it?
SHORTEN: Peter Dutton said they're not up for amendments. So, it's a hypothetical because the Government's made it very clear it's their way or the highway.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Australia's trying to obtain a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Do you think we should give up on that endeavour based on this current proposal?
SHORTEN: No, I think what the Government should do is give up on this current proposal.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on the backpacker tax, if the Government won't accept your amendments in the Senate, will you vote down the bill?
SHORTEN: Chris Bowen will be up in a few minutes, he'll talk to you in detail about our discussions, but haven't the Government made a hash of the backpacker tax? If it's not the Census, if it's not this latest legislation, it's the backpacker tax. They've got a situation where they've managed to take themselves hostage, where from 1 January, they haven't repaired their own 32 cents tax in the dollar, we're going to see further problems with getting backpackers to Australia.
New Zealand has a system of just over 10 per cent, or just over 10 per cent. This is a complete mess of the Government's making and they really need to reconsider their position. Chris Bowen and my other colleagues will be up very soon to take you through that.
JOURNALIST: Going back to the boats again, last time we had so many people in offshore detention, it took six years to clear the islands. At the time on offer we got help from Norway, New Zealand, Canada, United States. A couple of other Scandinavian countries. This is very unlikely to happen. What would you do, given that this is your legacy that the Government's trying to clean up, what would you do to try and clear the people off the island?
SHORTEN: Let's be straight here, this is a Government who's been in power for over three years.
JOURNALIST: It took six years –
SHORTEN: Sorry, let me answer your question and you can have another one. This Government's been in power for over three years. I don't buy the argument anymore that somehow whenever the Government finds it heavy going that it's not their fault. This is a government who never takes responsibility for the mess on their watch. I mean, you had Malcolm Turnbull yesterday in Parliament not even taking responsibility for the Bob Day office scandal in 2014.
No, I don't buy that argument. If we get elected, we will negotiate with a United Nations High Commission for Refugees and settlement nations to resolve this issue. But I really hope that Malcolm Turnbull can actually prioritise this issue of getting people resettled without it having to be still a problem at the next election.
JOURNALIST: Do you admit Labor got it wrong in 2008 and 2009 and do you worry that by not adopting the Government's bill here, it will lose you votes at the next election?
SHORTEN: No, what's important to me is defeating the people smugglers. What's important to me is not maintaining a system of indefinite detention on Manus or Nauru. They're the things that worry me. What worries me is that we've got a government more interested in appeasing the right wing, the extreme right wing of Australian political opinion, than actually getting on with the job. I am amazed that Malcolm Turnbull missed an opportunity when he was taking refugees from Costa Rica not to say, "By the way, we've got some refugees, how about you could resettle some of them?".
JOURNALIST: Why would we believe –
SHORTEN: Sorry, I haven't finished my answer to your News Limited colleague.
In terms of '08 and '09, Labor has recognised that we needed to change the policy. Kevin Rudd did that in 2013 and I took a policy to our national conference which I argued and won.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten –
SHORTEN: Sorry, Michelle and then I'll go back to –
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Labor won't supporting any change to 18C but would you be willing to contemplate some changes to the Human Rights Commission processes for dealing with complaints under that section?
SHORTEN: Let's talk a bit about 18C and Malcolm Turnbull. Malcolm Turnbull, who said that this wasn't a priority for him, has now been dragged kicking and screaming to have to deal with this issue. For me, the issue and debate around 18C is not a mainstream issue in this country.
Let me put back some questions to some of the commentators who say 18C is such a massive issue. How many new jobs were created by amending section 18C? How will it help protect our AAA credit rating by amending section 18C? How many more teachers or nurses or apprentices will be created by reforming or changing section 18C?
If Malcolm Turnbull has to engage in a debate to keep his restive backbench happy, or conservative commentators who are massively disappointed in the Turnbull Government, that's his problem, it is not mine. I'm going to focus on jobs, on Medicare, on making sure that we've got policies which improve the lives of middle class and working class Australians.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, in 2015, HSU No. 1 Branch Secretary Dianna Asmar cashed out her 12 weeks maternity leave to top up her salary. That was $25,975 on top of her salary, which was then nearly $180,000 anyway. On that issue, do you think that action of cashing out that maternity leave in any way undermined the purpose of the entitlement? And secondly, how confident are you about the HSU No.1 branch having cleaned up its act given that on the weekend it is looking to re-affiliate with the Victorian ALP?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, in terms of the cashing out of leave entitlements, it is not just an issue in work places of maternity leave, it is the issues around annual leave and around sick leave. I have always had a view over 20 years that you're better off taking leave than cashing out some of those entitlements. But it is not unknown in workplaces to cash out some of those entitlements too.
JOURNALIST: It doesn't undermine the entitlement?
SHORTEN: Well, as I have said, my preferred position over 20 years when people have accrued their holidays or when they have accrued other leave entitlements, you're better off taking it because that's the purpose of them. But it is not unknown in workplaces for people to periodically cash out their leave entitlements rather than take them.
JOURNALIST: And are you confident that the HSU No. 1 Branch –
SHORTEN: That will be a matter for the Victorian Branch.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, I know Mr Bowen will talk about superannuation in a moment, but can you explain Labor's thinking about this, and should have voters known about Labor's superannuation policy before the election? Because you opposed the Government's and in the end it is a bigger tax grab than what the Government is going for?
SHORTEN: Well goodness me. Remember before the election Malcolm Turnbull said he gave an ironclad guarantee that the superannuation policies he took to the election would be the ones he would be implementing. I don't know what that fellow thinks the word 'ironclad' means. It used to mean that you wouldn't change them, but now, because of his restive backbench, because of poorly designed, retrospective superannuation laws, because of the mess they made with the superannuation system, he has been chopping and changing his policies.
Chris will talk further about our plans and our voting intentions when it comes to it. But what this government has done is before the election they said one thing and after the election they are doing something completely different.
JOURNALIST: Haven't you done the same thing?
SHORTEN: Sorry, I'll just answer Laura's questions, David.
JOURNALIST: You did the same thing though, you didn't have a superannuation policy really at all?
SHORTEN: No, we had an absolutely cracker of a superannuation policy, and we are looking to constantly improve upon it.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you went to the election with a budget saving on superannuation of about $3 billion. You have announced a policy today or you will, Chris Bowen will, that is a $4.5 billion revenue increase. There is a $1.5 billion difference between the policy you took to the election and the one you're outlining today. Why the difference?
SHORTEN: First of all, I am not going to let the Government off the hook. They said there was an ironclad policy. Remember, and I think your paper even printed it, that Mr Turnbull said there was no retrospectivity in those changes? I am not sure if you recall that. Of course those changes – the experts said they were retrospective. Now the Government has had to change a lot of its policies, a lot of its policies. Now, you are saying that even if the Government changes everything it does, that we have to be static and not respond at all to the changing circumstances brought by a promise-breaking government. If the Government put up its policies that it was said before the election, then maybe I could see some of what you're saying then. But the issue –
JOURNALIST: What I am saying is I don't think anybody in this room has let the Government off the hook on what it has done on superannuation with the changes it has gone through. But at the same time, should we not hold you to account for taking one policy to the election and announcing another policy now?
SHORTEN: Just to be clear, I wasn't saying that everyone had let the Government off the hook in this room. In terms of superannuation policy, this government has made a dreadful hash of it. And if you recall my Budget Reply speech, two days after the budget, I predicted that this government's superannuation policy would cause great consternation and undermine confidence. What we're committed to doing at all times is improving the budget bottom line and Chris will further explain our policies in the next half hour.
Sorry, I am just going to give anyone who hasn't had a question and then I said I would come back to you. Anyone else? Go on, Andrew. Last question, thanks.
JOURNALIST: Just further to David's question, because there is an extra $1.5 billion, is some of that money going to compensate the fact that you're probably going to lose about half a billion dollars by pursuing a lower backpacker tax at 10.5?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, your question assumes that the Government will stick to their latest position of 19 per cent, doesn't it?
JOURNALIST: I am asking about your idea –
SHORTEN: Sorry, I hadn't finished. Your question assumes that the Government is going to persist with its 19 per cent policy. Now, Chris will be here very soon, but let's be clear, this is a government who has caused a drought of backpackers in rural industries and hospitality. This government, before the election, said their backpacker tax was a very good policy. Now apparently no one owns the 32 per cent policy. You can't find a single Liberal or National Party member who likes that.
But what has happened is that since they’ve consulted about their latest proposal, the 19 per cent, their post-election policy, they have had a real backlash from commodity groups, from people who employ backpackers. We have seen the numbers actually emerge. I predicted there would be almost a de facto strike of backpackers coming to Australia, and that's become true.
So now, the Government will put forward its position, Chris and my colleagues will outline our position in some detail. But I wouldn't assume, when your question does, that somehow the Government's view will prevail. We are interested in what helps creates job. You've got this remarkable situation where the Government is advocating higher taxes and pretending somehow they think that will generate even more jobs for backpackers. No, I think the real challenge here is for the Government to be consistent, to listen to the Senate and we will see how we go.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten –
SHORTEN: Thanks. I did say last question Sarah, but alright, just for you.
JOURNALIST: On party issues, could I just ask you do you support giving rank and file members more say in Senate pre-selections? It will be debated at the State conference this weekend?
SHORTEN: I always support modernising our party rules, that has been my track record. Thank you.