THURSDAY, 24 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: Terror attacks in Brussels; ABCC; Turnbull Liberal Government choosing company tax cut over personal income tax cuts.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Mr Shorten, welcome to the program.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning Michael.
BRISSENDEN: Good morning, first to Brussels, do you agree with the analysis there from the Prime Minister that Europe has lost control of its borders and that we're in a better place to deal with this terrorism threat?
SHORTEN: I agree with the second part of what he said. Our island nation makes it harder for millions of people to cross our borders. Our security agencies are very efficient. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be vigilant but I do think that people can afford to carry on with their daily business. I think we do have a better idea of the refugees who come here and our screening processes. Having said that, it's a bit early, in my opinion, to start diagnosing everything that's happened in Brussels. I think one thing I've learnt in this job as Opposition Leader when we've seen unfolding crises elsewhere and terror attacks is that you don't always have all the facts in the first 24 hours.
BRISSENDEN: Sure, it does seem though that Europe has a particularly difficult problem, perhaps more difficult than anywhere else at the moment?
SHORTEN: Well their land geography means it's easier to get into Europe. Also, it is within Europe - it is possible to move around the various nations more easily. So I think that's just to be honest a bit of a statement of the obvious. I think the challenge, though, is to make sure that we learn any lessons from here, I mean one of the venues which was attacked was an airport. Airports are public places, it's important we do whatever we can, though, understanding they're public places. I also -
BRISSENDEN: So do you think the sort of security we have at airports should be changed?
SHORTEN: No, I'm going to leave that to the security experts. I just recognise that there are always points of vulnerabilities in open societies, and I do believe that our security agencies look at the security at airports and other places pretty carefully. No, I think what we've seen in Brussels is a terrible disaster, it's an atrocity. I think that the French and the Belgians - and the French went through this four months ago, they've got prosecutorial systems, they're keeping information relatively tight until they can work out whom and what and why. I think the challenge for us, though, is to understand that we are in a relatively better position. We're not immune from terrorism in Australia but the combination of our agencies, national bipartisanship on security, our geography means that we're not in the same position that countries with land borders are.
BRISSENDEN: Okay let's turn to domestic politics and the election campaign which we sort of, seem to be in at the moment. What's wrong with forcing the union movement in the construction industry to be more transparent and accountable?
SHORTEN: There's nothing wrong with better standards of governance at all. Labor's got proposals to increase penalties, we've got proposals, sensible proposals to have ASIC, who help regulate corporations, have some oversight in terms of the governance of unions. But the argument that tradies need to have a different set of laws to people in other workplaces hasn't been made out. The Government's based this whole union campaign, this anti-union campaign, on an argument that says that in the building industry, whilst you had a second regulator, there's already one regulator in Fair Work Australia, without the creation of a second regulator, productivity falls, that you have greater industrial action. The truth is that regardless of the existence of this Liberal anti-union agency the ABCC, productivity didn't change from when it existed to when it didn't exist. Industrial lost time didn't change from when it existed to when it didn't exist.
BRISSENDEN: Well, if it's so ineffective, why are you worried about it being brought back?
SHORTEN: If it's so ineffective why bother, why bother? The truth of the matter is that I don't think that Australian workplaces should have two different sets of rules depending on the industry you work in. Now I'm absolutely up for making sure that unions and employers stick to industrial agreements and there should be penalties if they don't. My track record was sticking to industrial agreements when I represented workers. But the Government loves to talk about corruption and criminality; they know full well that the ABCC isn't a crime-fighting organisation; it's a civil body with civil powers. So I think what we're seeing, be it the spurious arguments on productivity, the spurious arguments on lost time industrial action, or the arguments that somehow a civil body's going to be a crime-fighting agency, this Government isn't anti-corruption, they're just anti-union.
BRISSENDEN: Okay but it is true isn't it that the construction industry is particularly bad, it's an industry plagued by disputation as the Prime Minister says, by thuggery, by standover and bad practice. I mean, almost anyone in the industry says that.
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, there is no place and I said that in my earlier answers, and it's a point worth reiterating, is that where unions and indeed employers don't adhere to industrial agreements they've signed off on, well there is no place for that. I couldn't agree more. But the Government then takes matters of industrial relations and then says this is all about fighting crime. That's the bridge too far that they take. The problem with the Liberal Party under Mr Turnbull or Mr Abbott is that they always overreach. They always overreach and they always try and go after unions generally. I have no doubt that if the Liberal Government could make it harder to belong to a union, they would do so on the basis that they could then go after the penalty rates and safety net conditions of Australian workers. What is the case for having a different set of laws for tradies on building sites than people working anywhere else? Why is it that the Liberal Party so resent the strong safety net in Australia of the strong minimum wage, of penalty rates, of shift allowances, that they're always trying to variously undermine the safety net which keeps Australian workplaces fair?
BRISSENDEN: Well, I think the case is corruption - the corruption in the construction industry isn't it?
SHORTEN: But Michael, you know, you say the criminality or corruption in the construction industry. That's a job for the police. They know - and any reasonable study of the Government's legislation shows that it's not a crime-fighting body.
And it's a bit ironic to get lectures from the Liberal Party about corruption in the light of the fact that the Victorian director of the Liberal Party's in jail for taking $1.5 million, and now we've got the unprecedented situation of the New South Wales Electoral Commission refusing to authorise public funding of the Liberal Party because the Liberal Party won't reveal the identity of donors who've given $4.4 million to the Liberal Party. This is scandalous.
BRISSENDEN: Okay well the ABCC will perhaps provide the trigger for the double dissolution, but it's unlikely the election campaign will be fought exclusively on those issues. It's not entirely clear yet if personal income taxes are likely this year of course, but a company tax cut does appear to be on the cards. Would you support that?
SHORTEN: Well first of all it's not entirely clear who's in charge of the Budget. We see today that the Treasurer, the economic wingman of the Prime Minister is not in his inner circle, his middle circle and doesn't even seem to get into his outer circle and so what we've seen from the Treasurer and the Prime Minister is a series of proposed tax reforms which they keep walking away from. Now what they're proposing is a company tax cut. What is it about Mr Turnbull -
BRISSENDEN: So you wouldn't support it?
SHORTEN: Well it's as straightforward as this: if you have to make a choice between cutting funding to hospitals, cutting funding to pensioners, cutting funding to schools, or giving large corporations a tax cut, the Labor Party will always pick people first. Mr Turnbull and the Liberals will always pick the big end of town, with corporate tax reductions. They must be truly out of touch if they think that Australians want to see cuts to company taxes ahead of making sure that people can get into a hospital, an emergency ward without waiting for hours or that they want to make sure their child with special needs get a teacher's aide or they want to make sure that part-funded retirees and pensioners shouldn't get their pensions cut.
BRISSENDEN: Okay, Bill Shorten, we'll leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us.
SHORTEN: Thanks very much.