THURSDAY, 21 APRIL 2016
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s positive plans to put people first; Leadership; Royal commission into banking and financial services; Penalty rates; Labor’s Budget savings measures; S. Kidman & Co.
NEIL MITCHELL, HOST: In the studio with me is the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, good morning.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning Neil.
MITCHELL: Well done.
SHORTEN: Melbourne traffic, love it.
MITCHELL: Now I’d like to get to the banks in a moment but first credibility. In many ways the election is about credibility, now a couple of months and we went through this, a couple of months ago you admitted lying to me, you replaced two leaders to whom you professed loyalty, Malcolm Turnbull's only knifed one, why should people trust you now?
SHORTEN: Well towards that radio interview back in the day, I've said to you then and I'm happy to say it again that whilst we were under pressure at the time, I shouldn't have given the answers I did.
MITCHELL: I don't want to revisit that, I'm talking about credibility generally. Why are you more credible than the Prime Minister?
SHORTEN: Because we've got positive plans for Australia. At the end of the day -
MITCHELL: But why should people believe you? That's not credibility that's a plan. Why are you more honest and more credible?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, what I'll do is that the promises I make we will keep, and that's why we're articulating our plans up front before an election. I believe in Australian jobs, I've spent my adult life representing people and I believe in keeping Australian jobs where we can. I believe in a good health care system, everything I've ever done in public life has been about promoting and defending Medicare. I believe in the power of education to change lives and everything I've ever done is to vote to help improve our schools and support our schools. Consistency is the best guide.
MITCHELL: But we all believe in those things, the point is why should we believe you when you say you'll do it or Malcolm Turnbull. Are you are a more credible person than Malcolm Turnbull?
SHORTEN: Well I'm fortunate because I don't have to pretend to be what I'm not. As leader of the Labor Party, I and the Labor Party have the same set of values. I don't think Mr Turnbull does have the same set of values as the party he leads. He's had to change a lot of his views since he became Prime Minister, views he was stating immediately before becoming Prime Minister. For example, before he became leader of the Liberal Party the second time, he said he didn't want to lead a party who didn't have serious policies on climate change. No one seriously thinks that the Abbott policies on climate change which Mr Turnbull's kept are serious about tackling climate change.
MITCHELL: So you believe you would be a better leader, why?
SHORTEN: Because Labor's got the best plans for the future of Australia and because my party is united.
MITCHELL: What about you personally?
SHORTEN: In terms of -
SHORTEN: Because I am able to do the things which I promise to do. I know that - and I respect people at the core of what I do. For me leading people isn't always about making people like you on every matter, and it isn't always being able to do everything that people want. But what it is about is meaning what you say, and what I'm able to say and what I'm able to do if elected Prime Minister is deliver on Aussie jobs, is deliver on well-funded, properly defended Medicare, an education system where your parents wealth or your postcode don't determine what happens to you in life.
MITCHELL: If you look at the polls some people would say it looks like a choice between chicken pox and measles. That you're not - if you're right and you are credible and these things, why are you so unpopular?
SHORTEN: Well I don't think it is about the personalities, I think it's about the policies. At the end of the day people don't want to see school yard bickering, politics as usual. Now sometimes you get caught up in the name calling, that's an occupational hazard, but what I do recognise is that what Australians want to know at the next election is what's in it for them? What is it that you're going to do for people, and by that I just don't mean a fistful of cash, Australians are a bit more long-term thinking than simple promises or short-term promises I should say. They want to know who's going to build the nation, they want to know when their kids grow up will they be able to afford to buy a house. They want to know that as their parents get older can they get dignified aged care; they want to know can they afford to go to and see a doctor and will they have enough money when they retire. Labor's polices are aimed at the middle class and the working class of this country and that's where our focus exclusively rests.
MITCHELL: Well what's rich? If you're looking at the middle class what's the rich class? At what level?
SHORTEN: I don't think that you could put a set number on it, but I’ll tell you what isn't rich, I'll tell you what isn't rich - its people who are paying their mortgage, who don't have ten negatively geared houses. What isn't rich is people who don't have millions of dollars in superannuation. Our policies are focused upon looking after people who go to work every day. I'll tell you who aren’t rich; our teachers and our nurses.
MITCHELL: Well it's a key question, what is rich? Because you seem to be targeting, well and I understand when you're targeting middle Australia and working class Australia and the balance of that is probably to some extent that the rich have to pay don't they?
SHORTEN: Well the balance is that the effort where government goes should be in helping working people; working class people exercise their potential in life. My view is very straightforward; if you're in the top one per cent of income earners in this country you probably don't need a tax concession to take you from your fifth million dollar to your sixth million dollar.
MITCHELL: Yeah but do the rich have to pay more now?
SHORTEN: Well I think that what we need to do is look at some of the concessions they currently receive.
MITCHELL: What level do you look at though, that's why it comes down to what is rich? Is $180,000 a year rich?
SHORTEN: No it's not, but what I would say to you is that if you have $5 million in superannuation and retirement you probably don't need the rest of the taxpayers stuck in the traffic this morning paying for you to get a tax concession.
MITCHELL: But that's my point, at what stage do you start to look at the tax concessions, how - what level of income will you target?
SHORTEN: I think common sense is a good guide. I respect people who are successful in life and who've amassed a good pile of money, I respect that. It's not just about simply increasing taxes but the point about it is, in this country at the moment we spend more money on taxpayer subsidies on negative gearing than we do on higher education. Is that the country we want to be in Neil where we spend more money on a tax concession which some people get than higher education which would benefit a lot more people?
MITCHELL: You could argue some tax concessions are actually beneficial to the economy but that's another argument.
SHORTEN: You certainly can, but when you look at Labor's policies what we are doing is we know we've got - the Government has to restrain its spending. Now, the question is it's a matter of priorities. Do we cut the funding of schools and hospitals or do you look at tax concession to people who already have millions of dollars already.
MITCHELL: While we're in this area, I want to get to banks in a moment. But will the overall tax burden for Australians increase or decrease under your government?
SHORTEN: I think we'll have to see what happens with the Budget because it's such a moving feast with the Liberals and they're bringing down their Budget in barely two weeks’ time but what we are focused at doing is three things. We're looking at some excises and revenues, such as making multinationals pay their fair share. We're looking at restraining some tax concessions which are simply unsustainable and we are looking at how we reduce government spending. These are all tools in the Budget. The point about a Budget though is to help build the nation for the long term. I've got a very clear view that the way you make a Budget sustainable for the long term, is you have economic growth. The way you have sustainable economic growth is you make sure everyone’s got the chance to participate in the economy. You've got to have fairness. Where you've got widening inequality you are ultimately not creating sustainable economic growth and you're always going to have problems in this country.
MITCHELL: So you're unable to tell us whether under you the overall tax burden will increase or decrease?
SHORTEN: No, what I’m saying to you is until I see the Government’s Budget...
MITCHELL: Well as of now, as it stands now, is it in the right place or not?
SHORTEN: In terms of which number?
MITCHELL: The overall tax burden.
SHORTEN: Well, we would rather see taxes go down than up Neil.
SHORTEN: There's no question about that.
MITCHELL: Of course you'd rather do that. Would you commit to that?
SHORTEN: Well I've got to see the Budget.
MITCHELL: OK, let’s get onto the banks. Do you believe there's institutionalised corruption in the banks?
SHORTEN: I believe that there are systemic and wide spread problems in the banking sector.
SHORTEN: Do I think specific illegalities? If I was aware of specific illegality, I would report that to the police.
MITCHELL: Yeah, but institutionalised corruption and which would normally be the reason for a Royal Commission.
SHORTEN: Well no, not necessarily. The issues which we've said and we've said very clearly in our reasons why we want a Royal Commission is both Labor and Liberal over recent years have put in place laws to deal with specific issues. When Labor was last in Government I worked on trying to reform payday lenders and some of their exploited practises. We wanted to clear up financial planning, where the planner was receiving a commission from the product and then they went on selling it to the customer and they weren't necessarily acting in the customer’s best interests. We also fixed up the definition of flood insurance. But the problem you discover is that you can put up laws to deal with individual issues but the scandals keep happening. In the last twelve...
MITCHELL: But the scandals are not corruption?
SHORTEN: Well some are and some go to specific issues.
MITCHELL: But the point that people kept saying the issue about banks is fees, is services, very grass roots things. Will your Royal Commission improve that? Will it reduce fees, will it improve service? Will it stop branches closing?
SHORTEN: Well I don't think we can do just business-as-usual. There are problems with bank and some of the - I wrote down a little list as I was coming in here because obviously this is a key issue. I think a Royal Commission will have to look at vertical integration, are banks being - because they're expanding to so many different products is there pressure to cross sell things, and is there proper whistle blower legislation? Are the remuneration structures in banks working properly? How are the compensation schemes going when there are problems? And should there be a scheme of a last resort compensation? The issue...
MITCHELL: You just mentioned remuneration there, are you talking about executive payment, would you be looking at the payment levels to executives in the bank?
SHORTEN: I'm not sure that that's the specific that I was getting at. What I'm getting at is that we've got a system where all of the incentives are heavily weighted towards flogging products to customers who don't need them. You know, the - how many people have you met or know who've received in the mail irresponsible lending, in others words credit cards and credit card limits that they can't sustain and then you see people go to the wall.
MITCHELL: So, will it ultimately bring down fees and improve service?
SHORTEN: I believe a healthy banking sector which is more customer focused has to be good for customers. I'm not going to make a prediction about a specific number but what I can promise is that a Labor Government will push ahead with this Royal Commission because what the Government’s said is that they'll restore some of the funding they took off their regulator but really we're just back where they started in 2014.
MITCHELL: They're going to let the banks pay for it, can they stop the banks passing that on?
SHORTEN: You know, even a crocodile wouldn't swallow that. Well first of all, what I'd do is have a Royal Commission. The issue is that the Government’s trying to make the Royal Commission issue go away. The only people that are happy with not having a Royal Commission are the banks and their representatives, the Australian Bankers Association, rushed out a press release yesterday to congratulate the Government. Now that speaks volumes doesn’t it. The banks don't want a Royal Commission because you can't just - if you keep trying to deal with each issue after its happened then what you're doing is your guaranteeing more business-as-usual.
MITCHELL: So what will it cost?
SHORTEN: We've got it costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office at $53 million over two years.
MITCHELL: Can we move on to something else, the Fair Work Commission will report soon on Sunday penalty rates. They're an independent body, in fact you had a lot to do with the way they operate now when you were Minister. Will you accept their findings given this is an independent body assessing penalty rates for Sunday, if you're Prime Minister.
MITCHELL: You'll accept them?
MITCHELL: Even if they reduce Sunday Penalty rates?
SHORTEN: Well, I said I'd accept the independent tribunal and that makes a big difference between us and Labor - us and the Liberals. There were minimum rates set for owner drivers in the transport and logistic industry and when the Government didn't like what the tribunal did they abolished it.
MITCHELL: Do you think there is a need for a review of penalty rates for a change to penalty rates?
SHORTEN: I think there’s a need to make sure that we have a strong set of minimum conditions and I am supportive of people having penalty rates.
MITCHELL: You're supportive of them having penalty rates?
SHORTEN: Yes I am.
MITCHELL: Sorry I didn't quite understand that. So should we be looking at a different penalty rate on Sundays and weekends?
SHORTEN: I think you can't just simply cut penalty rates on Sundays just like that. No I wouldn't be supportive of that.
MITCHELL: So even if the Fair Work Commission reports it, you'll accept it? If they recommend that, you'll accept it?
SHORTEN: I've got my opinion. At the end of the day though, the way wages get set in this country is the minimum wages get set in this country is through evidence, it's through the submissions of workers, their representatives, and employers. I've got a very strong view that the people who basically rely upon penalty rates are shop assistants, for example, are people who do the shifts, nurses. People who do hours outside of the ordinary span of hours, they should be paid for their extra effort and time. Remember when we're taking ANZAC day off, we'll have people serving us, we'll have people working. They're not with their families. The argument that's put to get rid of penalty rates is generally put by people that don't rely upon penalty rates for part of their basic income.
MITCHELL: Put often by small business that do rely on hard work to get where they are.
SHORTEN: Yeah. It's not about being for or against small business, I'm very pro-small business, but what I also understand is the vast bulk of people who receive penalty rates are on thirty and forty thousand dollars a year.
MITCHELL: Is it correct that you're considering a deficit levy on high income earners?
SHORTEN: There's already a deficit levy on high income earners. We haven't seen what the Government's going to do on that. I will have to see what they say in the Budget about that measure.
MITCHELL: Is it an option on the table, it's reported today that it is.
SHORTEN: I think that's just speculation and the -
MITCHELL: Is it accurate speculation?
SHORTEN: Well we need to see what the Government's doing, but I tell you I can say this, if it comes down to a choice between cutting funding for hospitals, cutting the pensions, cutting funding to schools or looking at either corporate tax reductions or reducing tax cuts to the highest income earners, I'm on the side of the pensioners, the schools and the hospitals.
MITCHELL: Would you set up a razor gang, cut spending?
SHORTEN: We've already got an expenditure review committee of our shadow cabinet. We've been doing a lot of work on how we fund our policies and how we repair the Budget. In many ways what has been interesting about this year is that the Government's acting more like an opposition, they've always got more to say about the opposition than they do about their own policies, but we've been providing positive policies going forward.
MITCHELL: Is there anything not on the table, not under review for spending, pensions for example?
SHORTEN: We're not interested in going after aged pensioners at all.
MITCHELL: Any other areas you won't go?
SHORTEN: Oh listen -
SHORTEN: The whole range of - I can tell you some general core principles. One, we think there should be more funding into our schools, TAFEs and universities, not less. We think there should be more support for Medicare. We don't believe that the attacks which age pensioners have received have been justified by this last Government whatsoever. But within the broader range of everything, we'll see what the Government says and on May the fifth I'll be providing my Budget reply.
MITCHELL: What are Labor doing to stop the sale of the Kidman Property to offshore investors?
SHORTEN: Yeah I've been looking at that arrangement. On one hand Labor is very committed to Australia being a strong trading nation with good flows of foreign investment, it helps generate jobs here. But on the other hand, you've got to make sure that Australian assets which are sold are in the national interest. I know that the first attempt to sell these, the Kidman properties, fell over because there was some other land was viewed to be in a sensitive area for Australia's military interests. With this deal we want the Government to brief us on all of it. We don't know the whole deal, but I have a general reservation about just putting everything up on the market to sell everything. It makes me feel uneasy.
MITCHELL: Should, it's been suggested today that ASIC should investigate Channel Nine over the Sixty-Minutes issue in Lebanon, do you agree?
SHORTEN: Well, first thing is just so long as the Australians who are caught up in the gaol there -
MITCHELL: They're on their way back -
SHORTEN: They're on their way back. That's my first priority. I think there's two issues here. One is the issue of Channel Nine and ASIC. I don't know, and that'll be a matter for ASIC, but there's another issue here which is when families break up and one partner takes the children overseas and the other partner can't see them, I think that's a very difficult area of law and I think that's a bit overlooked in these sort of debates about Channel Nine and 60 Minutes.
MITCHELL: Is your slogan 'People First'?
SHORTEN: Putting People First. Labor -
MITCHELL: That was Bill Clinton's one.
SHORTEN: Well I think you'll find plenty of people have talked about putting people first and it's generally an idea from the Labor side of politics around the world. My slogan is Labor will Put People First because we'll prioritise and defend school funding, Medicare, real action on renewable energy, a fair taxation system.
MITCHELL: Couple of personal things, you may or may not want to answer, is it true that you've been having voice lessons?
SHORTEN: I get advice from lots of people.
MITCHELL: Acting lessons?
MITCHELL: The zingers, are they prepared?
SHORTEN: Which ones? Which jokes?
MITCHELL: I don't know, the ones, do they come off the top -
SHORTEN: I've discovered that now that I'm into my mid-40s, well heading towards 50, and now I'm a dad, the jokes which I thought, which made my mates laugh in their 20s, would now be called zingers or dad jokes.
MITCHELL: Your wife has been attending press conferences, press events with you, why?
SHORTEN: My wife supports me, she'd like to see Labor do well at the next election.
MITCHELL: You know, are we seeing the real Bill Shorten here?
SHORTEN: Yes. I'm sitting in front of you.
MITCHELL: You've been a bit of a larrikin over the years, have you calmed down, have you done a Bob Hawke?
SHORTEN: No. Listen, everyone's got their own style, but one thing in life is it's a journey, you have your ups and downs, and you do learn lessons.
MITCHELL: But this isn't the Bill Shorten of Beaconsfield, much more controlled.
SHORTEN: No I think a lot of the values which made me the union rep I was at Beaconsfield and elsewhere, they're still there and they're very strong to who I am.
MITCHELL: Thank you for coming in, hopefully we can talk regularly.
SHORTEN: Look forward to it.