RADIO NATIONAL WITH JONATHAN GREEN
WEDNESDAY 22 JANUARY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Griffith by-election; Jobs; Commission of Audit; Welfare cuts; Climate change policy.
JONATHAN GREEN: Bill Shorten joins you this morning from our Brisbane studios. Mr Shorten, welcome.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning.
GREEN: Griffith, a very important contest.
SHORTEN: Well, it’s most important for the voters of Griffith that they have strong local representation. This is an issue which will be fought on – this is a by-election which will be fought on local issues, but of course local issues which are affected by the Abbott Government and the Newman Government. It’s very interesting that they’re hiding Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott in this by-election, as if they don’t want to remind people that when you vote LNP you get more Campbell Newman and more Tony Abbott.
GREEN: Tony Abbott is of course in Davos. I presume he will join the fray when he is back. But if the issues are fundamentally local, how do you explain your presence?
SHORTEN: Well, when I say the issues are local, what matters to people in Griffith, or indeed in any suburb or country town in Australia are the sort of battleground issues in this by-election. It’s Medicare, it’s the quality of healthcare. People in the rest of Australia may not be aware but the Newman Government really has slashed the health system in Queensland, there’s red hot anger. I have to say, spending the last 4 days up on the streets of Brisbane, you have to be here to appreciate the level of anger there is by ordinary Queenslanders against the LNP Government, and what they see with Tony Abbott is more broken promises. The Liberal Party before the federal election said there’s no way that health would be on the chopping block and now we have their Commission of Audit, which is a thinly-veiled smokescreen to justify lifting the GST, they’ve got the Commission of Audit saying everything is on the table including healthcare.
GREEN: Everything’s on the table, but nothing’s been decided. And I’m wondering –
SHORTEN: That’s a good point about nothing’s been decided. I don’t know if people are aware, but the Commission of Audit was due to report at the end of January. Then we’ve got this by-election on February 8th, now they’re delaying the Commission of Audit report to the Government until after the by-election.
GREEN: A coincidence, you think?
SHORTEN: No, I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
GREEN: What would a Labor candidate in the seat of Griffith, a Labor member in the seat of Griffith do about cuts being made to Queensland health by Campbell Newman?
SHORTEN: Well Terri Butler is our candidate, she’s a lawyer, she’s got a very good professional reputation. She’s married, she’s raising 3 school-aged children. She’s in touch with the real world, paying the mortgage. She is capable of speaking up against silly decisions made by LNP at the state or national level. For instance, yesterday morning we saw the Abbott government, I don’t know, floating the balloon or talking about attacking pensions. We made it clear that age pensioners shouldn’t be anywhere near the chopping block and by yesterday afternoon the Government was in damage control trying to say they never meant that, even though their Commission of Audit said in the Senate last week everything’s on the table. So strong, determined opposition MPs speaking up, fighting for their local community can even change the actions of a large, powerful Abbott government.
GREEN: On that issue of welfare, that inquiry announced yesterday, and figures that the government announced from the department that showed the growth areas in welfare spending, and the key issue, the key area of growth was in the age pension. Why shouldn’t that be looked at?
SHORTEN: Well I think older Australians who have paid taxes their whole life, if they don’t have enough saved because compulsory superannuation – a Labor idea – was only implemented in the 90s and the 2000s, if people haven’t had the opportunity to save enough money, but they’ve paid taxes their whole life, why shouldn’t they have a modest payment free of the fear of Tony Abbott and his gang taking the axe to it. I mean, the other thing which the Abbott Government have said, and it’s interesting, they’ve been rushing out to say ‘if you’re on the age pension you’re ok, but if you’re a disability pension or a carer or unemployed, well watch out’. Well my experience, people with disabilities and their carers would give all the tea in China not to have the disability – but they do. So I think that this idea that the Abbott Government has for whatever financial ideology that they want to introduce into the government, that the idea that they go after the most vulnerable, the sick and the needy first, just shows that the Abbott government’s got its priorities all wrong. And I don’t know Jonathan, but I do not remember them saying before the election which was barely 4 months ago, ‘hey disability pensioner, hey carer pensioner, hey person on Newstart, we’re coming after your conditions’.
GREEN: It was your government last year that put single parents onto Newstart, and your government too that refused to adjust the level of that benefit, the level of which has very broadly seen to be leaving people in penury.
SHORTEN: Well I’m glad you’ve raised that. I think that the single mothers decision – the sole parents decision – probably was too hard. But I tell you what, if you think it was wrong, don’t we agree that two wrongs don’t make a right? And certainly, never in our wildest dreams did Labor think that restricting the rate of pension increase for carers pension and people on disabilities was the economic salvation of this nation. If the Abbott government’s fair dinkum, and they want to govern for all Australians and not just some sections of the Australian economy, why is it that they always start with people at the bottom of the tree, to slug and to hurt?
GREEN: Six minutes away from 8’clock on RN Summer Breakfast, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten joins you. Significant, Mr Shorten, that there you are in Griffith, Kevin Rudd’s old seat. In that is all the signs we need perhaps of the great change since last year, of the great change within your party as well ?
SHORTEN: Well the Labor Party since the election has clearly heard the message that if the Labor Party just wants to talk about itself, and if we want to undermine each other, well then the Australian electorate will mark us down. What is also I think significantly different is that the Abbott Government before the election said there would be a unity ticket on education, then Christopher Pyne jumped head-first into causing a mess there and frankly no one in education sincerely believes the Abbott government is fair dinkum on the funding of schools now. We’ve seen before the election they promised no secrecy when it came to boats, where now getting information out of the Abbott Government is like trying to find a four-leaf clover, it’s just impossible. And now we’ve got this issue around pensions. I do not recall before the election the Abbott Government saying that they were going to go after disability pensioners and carers. I just don’t remember them saying that, and I followed this election pretty closely.
GREEN: You’ve said that earlier this week, that you can win back government within a term, that you can make Tony Abbott a one-term PM. He’s come back from the World Economic Forum in Davos accusing you of being cocky. Are you getting a bit ahead of yourself?
SHORTEN: Just how arrogant does Mr Abbott have to be? The only way he wouldn’t have had a go at me would be is if I said that there’s no way I can win the next election. It’s not cocky to disagree with Mr Abbott, it’s not wrong of me to say that Labor can form possibly an alternative government in this country. Is Mr Abbott so flushed with power from tackling pensioners, from the world stage at a Swiss resort talking with, rubbing shoulders with world leaders. It is not cocky of the opposition in Australia to say that they think they can win the next election. What really matters is not the name-calling Mr Abbott, it’s what are you going to do about jobs this year? What will you do to prevent our world quality health system from being undermined? It’s not wrong of the Opposition to say that they think they can win. What sort of opposition leader would I be if I said ‘oh no, Mr Abbott’s doing a great job’ ?
GREEN: And yet, if you did win, you would face some of the same issues that the Abbott government now faces around budget, around the structural issues around that budget, and probably have to take some of the tough choices that the Abbott Government will confront as a result of its Commission of Audit. Aren’t they right to be taking a good hard look at Commonwealth spending?
SHORTEN: You’ve always got to make sure that you’re getting value for taxpayer dollars. But Australia can take the high road, or the low road. The low road is cutting services, it’s going after millions of the most vulnerable in our community. Or the high road is being pro-jobs and pro-growth, pro-science, pro-innovation. Those are the jobs of the future.
GREEN: What do those things mean though, Bill Shorten? Pro-jobs, I mean surely everyone is pro-jobs. It’d be hard not to.
SHORTEN: It means having a car industry in Australia. I mean, how smart is it of the government, I mean they’re so consumed by their far-right wing economic textbooks that they would do nothing to save tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs. The federal government should realise that it’s a lot easier to have people in existing jobs than to have them go onto Newstart or the disability pension and then reduce the rate of the disability pension –
GREEN: Holden was going to close anyway, we knew that from Holden. Would you pay South Australia the $2.8 billion that it wants as compensation?
SHORTEN: What you would get with me is that someone would fight for the jobs every day. People just say Holden was going to close, if Holden was going to close and it was so obvious that it was going to close, why was the federal government so flat-footed to have a transitional package for the workforce? 29 other countries in the world have Holden car plants. Do you think that they’ve all said ‘oh it’s all too hard to make cars’? There are many first world countries, many of the world leaders that Mr Abbott is rubbing shoulders with, they would – they’re determined to hang onto their car industries. Why do we have a government in Canberra, an Abbott government who cares so little for our high-skilled manufacturing jobs, they just wave goodbye?
GREEN: Just finally Bill Shorten, you said that earlier in the week you don’t want to just be blankly oppositional. You want to talk policy and ideas. Does that mean you will give the government the tick for its repeal of the carbon tax?
SHORTEN: We’ve said that we would repeal the fixed price on carbon, but we’re not going to simply give a blank cheque to inaction on climate change. Labor will be guided by the best available science in the policies that we make. What interests me and my colleagues in the labour movement and the Labor party is what will Australia look like in 3 and 10 and 20 years’ time? We want decisions that Australian parliaments makes in 2014 to be about the long-term positive wellbeing of Australians and their families. We think that inaction on climate change, paying big polluters not to pollute, that’s just a cop out. Climate change is real and we can’t turn our backs on the science.
GREEN: And what about the mandate that this government has to enact its program?
SHORTEN: By all means, the government won the election, they got a majority of seats. But there is plenty of people who voted for Labor and what people want, I think, from a strong opposition, even some Liberal voters and I think most Australians actually, is that we have a debate about the matters which affect the nation. Should we have a real policy on climate change, should we be a country that still makes things? Should we be a country which navigates its way in the future without attacking the most vulnerable? So yes, we will be a positive opposition, not relentlessly negative like the government was when they were in opposition. But what we won’t do is betray the future just to placate Mr Abbott’s present conservative worldview.
GREEN: Bill Shorten, thanks for your time this morning.
SHORTEN: Have a nice year, thank you.
GREEN: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is in Brisbane to launch the ALP campaign in Griffith tonight.
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