FRIDAY, 18 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s target for full employment; Senate voting reform; chaos in the Turnbull Liberal Government; Safe Schools program; tobacco excise; Queensland Nickel; Jobs; Newstart allowance; refugee processing
JON FAINE: Bill Shorten is the Member for Maribyrnong; he's the Leader of the Labor Party in the Federal Parliament, Mr Shorten good morning to you.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning Jon.
FAINE: You said at the Press Club this week that you would target full employment for Australia, can you define what full employment is?
SHORTEN: Everyone who is able to work, being able to work at their full capacity, that's full employment.
FAINE: It's meaningless in the current context isn't it?
SHORTEN: Not at all, in fact anything but. The best way for this nation to go ahead is when people get the chance to work and when people work to their full capacity. At the moment unemployment is about 5.8 per cent, so that's hundreds of thousands of people not working. But when you look at the rate of underemployment in this country that's something like 8.9 per cent, and when I talk about underemployment what I mean is people who would like more hours at work, would like more permanent work. We have got an entrenched under class who don't have the amount of work or the regularity of work they would like. Also we've got 800,000 people on the Disability Support Pension, many of whom are excluded from the workplace because of discriminatory attitudes and a lack of understanding of disability.
FAINE: It's a throwaway line, it's the sort of thing an opposition leader can say with no accountability whatsoever isn't it?
SHORTEN: No, not at all.
FAINE: Well, how do you create jobs, how does a government create full employment, it's never been done?
SHORTEN: You create the opportunity for people to have full employment by the following ways: one, you give them the proper skills and training in the school system and the vocational education system, and through universities. You help create a fully skilled workforce by making sure that people are not priced out of going to university with $100,000 degrees. You help create a skilled workforce by making sure that every child in every school gets every opportunity through needs based funding from the Federal Government to all schools.
FAINE: Easy things to say, very, very difficult to do. You don't have any money, you don't have the flexibility that a mining boom provided to your predecessors.
SHORTEN: Well that's where the skill of governing comes in. That’s the difference between Liberal and Labor.
FAINE: Well how are you going to pay for something like that?
SHORTEN: Well we're going to clamp down on the excesses of negative gearing, we're going to make multinationals -
FAINE: That's not going to make a dent in the sort of costs that you're talking about there.
SHORTEN: Well that's not right either. The fact of the matter is that the Labor Party has identified $105 billion of improvements to the bottom line of the Budget. Government and politics is all about choices. Labor believes that we want to create full employment, you do that through a well-funded education system from the early years through to school, TAFE and universities, and we fund this by the choices we make. You could characterise our approach as clamping down on the excesses in the taxation system, you can characterise Mr Turnbull and his Liberals by the cuts they make to people who are already disadvantaged in society.
FAINE: So here's the Senate going into self-destruct mode overnight. Senators doing what they do so well, talking about themselves, arguing with each other about their entitlements, their methods of getting elected, anything except the good of the nation. There's an example, here's the Labor Party obstructing reforms rather than getting them through the Parliament.
SHORTEN: Well the first part of your statement contradicted the second part of your statement.
FAINE: In what way?
SHORTEN: Well you're right in the first part, you've got the Greens political party and the Liberals talking about their jobs as Senators, how they change the voting system which will effectively help disenfranchise a lot of people. I mean the reality is that over 3 million people at the last election didn't vote for the Liberals, the Greens or the Labor Party.
FAINE: No and the preferences flow but to block reform for which the Government has -
SHORTEN: This is not reform, this is how the Liberals design themselves to keep in power. Now -
FAINE: It actually will benefit the Labor Party as much as anybody.
SHORTEN: Well no, that's not true and by the way that is not the criteria solely which you evaluate these things on is it. In 2013, if we had had this voting system Tony Abbott would have had the ability to pass his horrendous, promise breaking, nation wrecking Budget of 2014. It's not my job as Leader of the Labor Party representing millions of Australians, to be a rubber stamp for Liberal control of the Senate more often than not.
FAINE: How on earth would Liberal control be an outcome of these reforms? Even Gary Gray your own key strategist, your former trusted Shadow Minister of State who was responsible for these sorts of things, he's counselled against it, he's advised you against it and you're going it as much as anything as best as anyone can see just to be obstructionist. To score points and make it look as if Malcolm Turnbull can't get his agenda through the Senate.
SHORTEN: No we didn’t - Malcolm Turnbull after six months has defined reform, the case for being Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, as voting systems in the Senate. Really, is that all the man has got? Is that why we have the Government of Australia so the Liberals and the Greens can design a voting system which more often than not will favour them? How on earth did it come to pass that the nation has devolved into a debate about the date of the election?
I had higher hopes for Mr Turnbull when he became Prime Minister, I knew my job would be harder, but what I didn't figure on is that he'd shrink into the job. The reality is these days Mr Turnbull's following his party, he's not leading it, whereas the Labor Party by contrast has changed the rules of politics. We've got funded policies, we are going to fight for needs based education, we are going to fight for first home affordability. We are going to fight for real action on climate change, defend our Medicare system and for Australian jobs.
FAINE: You sound like you're on the election hustings already but you can count -
SHORTEN: Let's face it, Mr Turnbull has effectively stopped governing, I mean he's got the nation playing a guessing game when Mr Turnbull's going to - what date he's going to call an election to suit Mr Turnbull. But that's, you know we think it'll be July 2, that means for the next 107 days everything the Government does is purely about electioneering, they've stopped governing and this chaos and dysfunction we see, his own party's split.
FAINE: If there's one thing Bill Shorten can do its count, we've seen you manipulate the numbers internally in the Labor Party.
SHORTEN: Oh hang on Jon.
FAINE: If you can count so well, how come you can't count the numbers in the Senate and see that inevitably you're going to lose this attempt at filibuster on the Senate reforms. The Greens and the Government have got the numbers, they'll get it through, you're just wasting everybody's time.
SHORTEN: Well no Jon. Ideas do matter. Principles do matter.
FAINE: This is not about ideas Bill Shorten.
SHORTEN: Well you're right. The Liberal change is not about ideas, I agree with you. But the Labor Party will not be a rubber stamp. Now, if I'd taken all the advice that some people gave me when I became Leader of the Opposition nearly 900 days ago, we would have waved through the 2014 Budget. If I took some of the advice and some of the media that Mr Turnbull's ascendancy meant that he was untouchable and no one could disagree with him, we'd have a 15 per cent GST - they've temporarily shelved that. So, the Labor Party is in the game of ideas. We're looking forward to an election, where it's the completing vision for the future of this country and the difference is people know what Labor stands for these days and you spoke about full employment and perhaps you were dismissive of it. I wouldn’t have sent these supply ships to be built, two Navy supply ships, to be built in Spain. I wouldn't have turned my back in the last two years on the renewable energy industry which has seen the rest of the world add one million jobs in renewable energy and we've actually gone backwards. We've come bottom -
FAINE: On those - both those two issues you would have blown the Budget.
SHORTEN: Not at all.
FAINE: If you want to build ships in Australia instead of Spain, you don't have the money to do it.
SHORTEN: Jon, I'm not going to join the talk down Australian manufacturing brigade. I'm not joining that brigade. My dad was a ship worker, I understand Australian seafarers and Australian shipbuilding. I just want to say to all those people who are working in South Australia, Williamstown, in Newcastle, in Tasmania, in Western Australia, in Cairns: I back Australian shipbuilding and yes, I think taxpayer money, provided it's high quality equipment and the best our Defence Forces need, should be built in this country. It's never been a more exciting time to be a Spanish dockyard worker but that's not what I think Australian politics should be about.
FAINE: It's coming up to a quarter to nine, Bill Shorten the Leader of the Opposition in the Federal Parliament is my guest in the studio.
The Safe Schools program looks as if it might be under review and a petition that was circulating in particular amongst the conservative backbenchers yesterday has attracted as many as 40 or so signatures. That's a significant body of opinion calling for a review of the Safe School program.
SHORTEN: It's a significant body of opinion expressing a lack of confidence in the Education Minister and Mr Turnbull but I don't accept that the right wing of the Liberal Party represents a significant body of Australian opinion. What we're being put forward here is a proposition which says that the anti-bullying program, Safe Schools, is somehow illegitimate, suspicious. We've seen some horrible attacks from right wing MPs, and I know not all Liberals agree with them so you know I'll be very fair on that, horrible attacks which undermine anti-bullying programs in schools. This Safe Schools program is a program which schools choose to belong to. Over 500 schools have signed up to it. I believe that we as a nation should be opposing bullying in whatever forms. Growing up a teenager is not easy. If there's racial vilification, homophobia, all the other sorts of bullying which we see on the internet, then we need to provide support and who would I trust more to sort out and protect our kids at school: teachers, principals and school administrators or the right wing of the Liberal party?
FAINE: What's wrong with reviewing it though? What's wrong with giving it a bit of a tweak or fine tune here and there?
SHORTEN: You and I Jon know that this is not a tweak. This petition is saying the program should be suspended. If this program, and I'm sure it has, has helped kids from descending into mental illness, trauma or even worse than I don't want to be a party to scrapping it. And that's what these generally men of the right wing of the Liberal Party are doing. Mr Turnbull has got a choice here, he needs to either lead his party or he can follow it. The truth of the matter is six months I think a lot of us thought that he might change the Liberal Party, the Liberal Party has changed Mr Turnbull.
FAINE: So you've got your Safe Schools program and you've also got the same sex marriage legislation pretty much caught up in exactly the same cul-del-sac have you not? It's probably exactly the same people who are determined to block the same sex marriage as deferring on the Safe Schools program.
SHORTEN: I suspect that's right. I suspect also these people...
FAINE: Well they represent a considerable body of opinion, particularly in rural electorates and particularly in Queensland.
SHORTEN: They represent a considerable body of opinion of people who want Mr Abbott and not Mr Turnbull.
FAINE: Don't you want those voters in Queensland to consider you as an alternative Prime Minister? In which case you've got to take their views into account.
SHORTEN: I take the views of all Australians into account but what I won't do is compromise my principles. See, unlike Mr Turnbull I don't have to pretend to be what I'm not. I'm the leader of the Labor Party, the Labor Party knows where it stands on a range of these issues. For voters in rural Australia I can promise them better NBN, more chance of getting jobs, I can promise them that their schools will be properly funded, their hospitals be properly funded. I can promise them that Medicare will be a system where it's your Medicare card not your credit card which guarantees the quality of your health. I can promise them real action on renewables. But what I want do is say that I'll have a plebiscite on marriage equality, I actually think that's a job for the Parliament. I don't support having a taxpayer funded opinion poll of $160 million where taxpayer money will be used to vilify relationships. Why is it children going to school whose parents are in a loving relationship, who are also gay, have to have a stigma about that relationship compared to other families?
FAINE: To callers in just a moment, but finally it's seems that from what Scott Morrison was saying at the National Press Club, what Malcolm Turnbull says whenever he gets the chance that the contest at the next Federal election, whether it's two months, three months, four months away, whenever it is, it's going to be between a Liberal-National Coalition promising small government and lower taxes, somehow, in some configuration, and they will characterise you and the Labor Party as being big taxing big government and old school.
SHORTEN: I've got true Labor values - that's absolutely correct. But I don't accept the characterisation that the Liberals are low taxing and small government. If they were low taxing, why are they wasting over $4 billion on an emissions reduction fund? Which is paying big polluters for poor environmental outcomes. If they were a low taxing Government, why on earth are they spending $1.4 billion on a baby bonus that Malcolm Turnbull gave in to the National Party in order to secure the acquiescence to him deposing Tony Abbott?
FAINE: But they're already characterising your negative gearing as a tax on housing.
SHORTEN: Oh well, we both know that is rubbish. I mean, State and Territory Governments of both Liberal and Labor persuasion, in the last five years have all withdrawn direct subsidies for first home owners in existing housing but supported it for new housing. If Mr Turnbull's nonsense scare campaign was true, then why didn't he say anything in the last five years when Liberal governments have taken the same policy approach that we have? The truth of the matter is our measures on negative gearing are designed to do Budget repair. They're also designed to provide a level playing field so first home owners can compete with property speculators buying their tenth house. Mr Turnbull thinks the great Australian dream is being able to minimise your tax on your tenth house. I think the great Australian dream is for our kids to be able to buy their first house without a lifetime of debt.
FAINE: 10 minutes to 9, Bill Shorten taking your calls. Enough from me now, over to you. Ken from Rosebud, good morning to you.
CALLER: How are you Bill?
SHORTEN: G'day Ken.
CALLER: Bill, I'll put that first of all that I am a Labor voter. You stick up for the less well off and pensioners, as you do. Is that correct?
CALLER: Absolutely, well why are you going to put these cigarette taxes up? Mate, for some people that's the only thing they have got. I know it's for health.
SHORTEN: Well, the issue for me is that some people say that increasing tobacco excise is hard on workers. The truth of the matter is that proportion of tobacco cancer, tobacco related cancers also affect workers more. The truth of the matter is, I think smoking is also a working class cancer. The truth of the matter is that smoking costs Australians much more than any tobacco excise will raise. My parents, both in my view, had lesser lives and lives weren't as long because of tobacco related illness.
FAINE: I don't think, Ken, you're not arguing the health issue are you? You're just saying it hit poor people hardest is your point is it?
CALLER: Yes, it's a demographic you see. Some people love their one cigarette or two cigarettes a day, Bill. And you know, that's wouldn't absolutely kill you if you know what I mean?
SHORTEN: I get your point, I've knocked around with working class people my whole life. I do understand what you're saying. But what I also say is in a matter of choices with scares taxpayer money, I've got to find the money to help my hospitals, I've got to find the money for the schools and I don't want to hit the pensioners. I don't want to do the sort of things that Mr Abbott and now Mr Turnbull are doing in reducing family payments for less well off people or for pensioners. It is not easy but what I also say to you is that I am committed to making sure that we diminish inequality in this country. It's at a 75 year high. If what you say is Labor's got to stand up for people who are left well off, that's what our policies are doing.
FAINE: Good on you for your question, Ken. Thank you. Ajit in Narre Warren. Ajit, good morning to you - you're through to the Leader of the Opposition.
CALLER: Good morning, Bill and good morning to you too. How are you going?
SHORTEN: Good morning, Ajit.
CALLER: I've got a simple question. You spoke about funding the schools for skilling students up. You've got university funds so you can reduce the fees and not have the obligation hanging over their head for the rest of their life; not studying in debt. What are you doing, you haven't answered the question that was originally posed to you - what are you doing for increasing employment? You didn't address that question at all.
SHORTEN: Well, Ajit I outlined one of my factors about what drives full employment but we moved on further to other matters. It is correct that the more skills that people have, the more likely it is that they can find work. The more skills people have and the more skilled the Australian workforce, then what we do is attract international investment because we have got a skilled Australian workforce. But further things we would do to support Australian employment, and I came at it a bit tangentially in terms of defence manufacturing. Where we have taxpayer, big wads of taxpayer money being spent on vital defence manufacturing, Australian infrastructure, we would support prioritising Australian jobs in those contracts. Also -
FAINE: But at what cost is the fundamental question. I'll build on your question Ajit, at what cost?
CALLER: We have been losing industry and manufacturing at an alarming rate -
SHORTEN: That's right.
CALLER: If all that was there, if the availability of employment was there, then the skilled workforce already exisiting would then be employed as you, yourself, stated. There wouldn't be struggling to pay the mortgages and losing their homes. So all the other knock on effects would have benefited everybody, including the Government and available taxes if there was employment.
FAINE: Mr Shorten.
SHORTEN: That's what I am saying.
SHORTEN: Well that's what I'm saying. The fact of the matter is that there's several ways in which we support greater employment: skills, backing in Australian industry through government decisions. But we also support greater Australian employment by making sure that we have advanced manufacturing and a commitment to scientific research.
FAINE: But the current Government, the Turnbull Government have just announced a massive defence commitment. Most of it to be spent here in Australia, particularly, in fact a lot of it in Victoria, and you're saying you could do even more? Because the money is just not there to pay for it, it's as simple as that.
SHORTEN: Well John, you can see the fingernail marks on the concrete as the Liberal Party is being dragged to building those submarines in Australia.
FAINE: Well whether they've been dragged or not, the point is they've made the promises... and your party was in power for long enough to commit and never did either.
SHORTEN: I'm not so quick to forget the last two-and-a-half years where the Liberal Party have done everything but commit to Australian shipbuilding and the building of the Australian submarines. Mr Turnbull and his Government had a chance with these Spanish supply ships, or the supply ships being built in Spain, to build them in Australia. Unlike Mr Turnbull, I've stood at the end of ships where blue-collar workers have received their termination notice and been sent down the road. This Government doesn't understand blue-collar jobs and manufacturing.
I've been up at Queensland Nickel in Townsville where 550 people have lost their jobs. I've asked the Government to help provide some immediate relief for these workers. They're just not interested. We've got the steel industry in South Australia in Whyalla -
FAINE: What, you think the taxpayers should bail out Clive Palmer's nickel factory?
SHORTEN: No, I don't. But what I do think is that the Fair Entitlements Guarantee, the safety net scheme, which is the law, should be made available to people who've got this business has no reasonable prospect of surviving in its current form. That's the law. And what I want Mr Turnbull to do is show some heart and understand that when people lose their jobs, not helping them, or not helping Australian industry, doesn't ultimately save the taxpayer any money.
FAINE: Jenny in Drouin, good morning.
CALLER JENNY: Good morning Mr Shorten and Jon. I would like to know, I know that you're supporting jobs and people who are you know, you were just talking about the jobs in the nickel mining, of Clive Palmer and whatever, I totally applaud what you're saying, however please think of unemployed people who are on the Newstart. I want to know that you're going to increase the welfare net for people on Newstart, because at the moment it is absolutely impossible to survive on it.
SHORTEN: Thanks Jenny. My colleague Jenny Macklin and I launched a report Wednesday night, it's called Growing Together, it's Labor's values about we think that the best way to have sustainable economic growth is to improve equality as well -
FAINE: Is that why you were nodding off while she was speaking?
SHORTEN: No Jon, I'm not even going to go there, that's not right. We spent two years working on this. Surely when we spend two years working on a policy, let's debate the policy rather than the little gotcha moments, but when we talk about Jenny's important question, we've said that we will review the Newstart rate. I can't say to Jenny that we will absolutely increase it, because we haven't made that decision, but I get what you're saying Jenny. We think that it's long overdue to have this debate and we would review it in government.
We're also proposing a series of other measures. We get, for instance, and we'll be announcing more about social housing, because one of the challenges when people are on fixed incomes and low fixed incomes like the unemployment benefit is secure housing. So Katy Gallacher, my housing spokesperson, and I will be having more to say about tackling the issue of people having secure housing as well.
FAINE: Good on you, and thank you for your dorothy dixer I think it was Jennifer, Jenny.
FAINE: Lewis in Brunswick. Morning Lewis. Hello Lewis?
CALLER LEWIS: Morning Jon, morning Shorten. Can you hear us?
FAINE: Go right ahead.
CALLER LEWIS: I've just got a quick question for Mr Shorten. Right now we're seeing extraordinary stories come out of the Royal Commission and I think that's been made possible by the children who were victims now being adults and being able to tell their stories. So I'd ask Mr Shorten, what's going to happen when the children who are currently on Nauru are adults? And what sort of commissions will be forming to hear their stories?
SHORTEN: Thanks Lewis. You go to a very important issue and this is the issue of the de facto long term detention of children and adults on Manus and Nauru. Labor's committed to no re-opening the seaways between Indonesia and Australia for the people smugglers who exploit vulnerable people who seek to come to Australia. By the same token, we believe that regional processing shouldn't involve the intolerable delays in processing which we've seen under the current Government. Now I've got no doubt that if we are elected, we can do a lot to speed up the processing of people, so that children -
SHORTEN: And adults -
FAINE: How? You were in Government and you didn't do it then. Why do you think you can do it next time round when you didn't do it last time round?
SHORTEN: Well again John, that's not right, but I'm not here to fight the wars -
FAINE: What's not right?
SHORTEN: Well I’m not here to fight the wars of the last Government. I'm here to fight -
FAINE: When the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Government were in power that's when the blowouts started to mount up.
SHORTEN: I want to answer Lewis' question, but in fairness to you, if the Liberals and the Greens hadn't voted against the Malaysia solution, which would have seen regional processing and people being sent to Malaysia, I do not believe we would have these delays.
FAINE: How do you resolve the delays?
SHORTEN: Can I turn to Lewis' point, because that will also answer yours. Lewis, what we would do if elected is that we would put in more independent oversight of these facilities. I don't accept the argument that merely because it's indirect that Australia doesn't have a responsibility for the safe care of people in our indirect funding and care. Also what we would do is work with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, we would allocate more money to help refugees in first neighbour countries where there are people leaving, also we would just settle down with the regional nations and work on processing people.
FAINE: Bill Shorten, thank you for coming in this morning.