Bill's Transcripts

RADIO INTERVIEW - ABC AM - TUESDAY, 2 AUGUST 2016

SUBJECT/S: Labor’s win in Herbert; Budget repair that’s fair; Parliament returning; Banking Royal Commission; Malcolm Turnbull’s marriage equality plebiscite; Constitutional Recognition; Kevin Rudd 

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN (HOST): A month after Australians went to the polls, the Australian Electoral Commission is due to finally declare the Townsville seat of Herbert today. Labor's Cathy O'Toole claimed victory over the LNP's Ewen Jones by just 37 votes. The win leaves the Coalition with just a one seat majority in the Lower House.

Parliament resumes at the end of the month but the business of politics is already well underway. 

For more, I'm joined live from our Townsville studio by the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

Bill Shorten, good morning.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, Michael.

BRISSENDEN: So Labor's claimed victory in Herbert, do you expect a challenge? 

SHORTEN: What I expect is that Cathy O'Toole and the Labor team will get on with working here in Townsville. As far as we're concerned we've won the election, and what matters to us now... 

BRISSENDEN: You've won the seat of Herbert.

SHORTEN: Yes, we've won the election in Herbert, that's right. And so what we've focused on is jobs. Unemployment in Townsville is 13 per cent. Our policies for Townsville involve prioritising jobs. The Liberal Government made promises. We'll make sure they keep them. I think Cathy O'Toole will do an outstanding job. 

BRISSENDEN: One Nation also did well in Townsville, comparatively. This is an example really of one of the parts of Australia that have been left behind to a certain extent over the last decade or so. 

What can you do from opposition to ensure that things will improve for the people there, and to ensure that you keep the seat?

SHORTEN: Well in no particular priority, we can do the following things, for example: We can make sure the Townsville stadium gets the investment which was promised. Both parties were promising investments so this is a promise which we expect the Government to keep, and we'll make sure it gets kept. That means this will become a focus for more tourism, for more jobs. 

We're also going to pursue pretty strongly the entitlements and making sure that the Palmer workforce, the people who lost their jobs at QNI don't get forgotten. We want to make sure that they get the opportunities to retrain. Another issue which is important to us is to make sure when defence contracts are allocated that there's local content, that the local sub-contractors and small businesses get their fair share of access to these national contracts. We also want to make sure that the NBN gets rolled out properly so that businesses in this region get the opportunity to compete and get the opportunities which come from having a first class NBN. So there's a lot we can do. 

I'm visiting apprentices today in TAFE because we think that where you've got good opportunities for young people to get local apprenticeships, that sets kids up for life. And of course we know in the last three years there's been a real reduction in the number of apprenticeships in Townsville and across Australia. So there's some very practical measures where we'll help put people first in Townsville. 

BRISSENDEN: And obviously a lot of that is determined - is going to be determined by a healthy economy, by growing economy. Both sides spent a good deal of the election campaign warning about a possible downgrade to the AAA rating. Now budget repair is clearly going to be one of the issues that this Parliament is going to have to address closely. 

Should there be some bipartisan consensus to get at least some budget repair measures through what will be a difficult senate? 

SHORTEN: Well we indicated during the election a range of measures that we were prepared to support. I think the Government needs to have a good look at Labor's positive platform. We proposed some changes to revenue. We proposed clamping down on unsustainable tax concessions at the top end of town. And of course, we proposed some changes in spending. So a combination of this we think would be a good work agenda for the Federal Liberal Government. 

The Liberals talk a lot about consultation and cooperation and consensus but it seems to me that whenever Labor has an idea, these guys are quick to try and shoot it down. I think that Mr Turnbull rather than looking to the fringes should consider working with Labor to help do budget repair that is fair, not which unfairly puts the burden on families. 

BRISSENDEN: Will you also have a good look at the Government's platform, and look for areas there that you can support?

SHORTEN: Well we did have a good look at the platform, but part of the problem is we don't think that you actually save the budget money by taking the axe to Medicare. The idea that somehow you're going to help sick people get better and actually improve the bottom line of the budget by undermining bulk billing, for example, is just silly economics. It's poor patient healthcare as well. 

BRISSENDEN: Surely, there must be some budget repair measures you can support. 

SHORTEN: Well we've certainly said we want to work on the superannuation changes for instance that the Government's proposed. Of course, we've got grave concerns like many in their own party, about the retrospective nature of the changes. I think if the Government doesn't rush things and actually sits down and genuinely listens to its critics and those who don't immediately cheer them, they could probably come up with better policy then they currently do. I also think the Government's got to reconsider the way it approaches this 10 year plan for corporate tax cuts. The nation can't afford a $50 billion hole in the budget over the next 10 years just to give large multinationals an improvement to their bottom line.

BRISSENDEN: Parliament returns at the end of this month. It's pretty clear now that Malcolm Turnbull only has a one vote majority. 

How difficult are you going to make the Parliament? What sort of approach will you take? 

SHORTEN: Our aim is to be constructive. The Australian people wanted better politics than they've seen. Now, the Liberals traditionally haven't been good at negotiating. When they had 90 seats in Parliament and Labor had 55 they were pretty quick to give everyone a lecture about the way the world should be run. But what I want to say to Australians is that Labor is going to be constructive. We are going to be positive. Obviously, we received an improved vote on the basis of sticking to our guns on jobs, education and Medicare. But I don't think this country has this sort of false choice that the Liberals offer that the only way we can advance is by a $6 billion reduction in, you know, Medicare and hospitals and bulk billing. I think we don't advance this country by underfunding our schools and not having a needs based approach.

But we will be constructive just as we were, for example, on the matter of proposing an Aboriginal Royal Commission. And we're pleased in this very important Royal Commission into the shocking things that we saw revealed by the ABC barely a week ago in Northern Territory youth justice. So we're happy to be constructive. We'll put forward our ideas. Our ideas will be based on listening to people. They will be based upon fairness. I think the way we get proper sustainable economic growth in Australia is by bringing people with you. 

When you look at the excesses of what we see from Brexit, some of the debates in the American political system at the moment, what you have is you get a move to the margins, a move to the extremes when people feel left behind by change. Labor's got a sensible, sustainable plan for economic growth which brings people with us, as you do when you’ve got strong Medicare and great funded schools. 

BRISSENDEN: This Parliament will no doubt offer up some political opportunities for you as well over time. Will you be using them? For instance, will you be putting up of more of your own bills, hoping to get some Coalition backbench support? 

SHORTEN: Well we come to this Parliament with a well-defined set of values. I think Australians are a lot clearer about what Labor stands for after this election than perhaps a couple of the previous elections. We've got a very united team. I've got a new look line up in my frontbench. It's a blend of experience and new energy. 

We do have clear views for instance on a banking Royal Commission. I don't see why the Government is so persistent in defending and covering up excesses in the banking sector and financial services industry. That issue is not going away and Labor is going to keep pursuing that, for example. 

BRISSENDEN: Alright. Just on a couple quick issues then. The dust has settled. The campaign's over. Will you now commit to supporting a plebiscite on same-sex marriage as a way to settle this in this term of Parliament? 

SHORTEN: Oh we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Let's see what the Government's actually proposing. I think a lot of Australians have reservations about spending a $160 million of taxpayer money, plus a lot of money which will inevitably get spent by the protagonists in this debate, on an opinion poll which people in Mr Turnbull's own party have said is not going to bind them.

BRISSENDEN: But if you block it, you could be denying marriage equality for another three years.

SHORTEN: Well I think the quickest way to do it is to go back to the old Malcolm Turnbull view and my view which is that you have a vote in Parliament, according to conscience. I think the votes are there just to get it done and we could save $160 million plus and not have the rancorous divisive debate which a non-binding opinion poll will bring.

BRISSENDEN: So it sounds like you won't support it then.

SHORTEN: Well I said let's cross that bridge when we get to it. But I do think, I do think, Michael, that we need, Australians expect us to show leadership. I think many Australians are deeply sceptical of a non-binding taxpayer funded opinion poll which members of Mr Turnbull's own party have said won't bind them. I mean of course then you've got to work out how much taxpayer money do you give each side of the argument.

There are plenty of questions here which the Government's being vague on the details about so if you're asking me to give them a blank cheque, I wouldn't be doing my job as Leader of the Opposition just to say the Government can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, to whoever it wants. 

BRISSENDEN: Okay. Two more quick questions. A lot of discussion this week about Indigenous affairs. You've been pushing for a treaty as well as a recognition vote. I know that Ken Wyatt, the Indigenous member from Western Australia, is warning that recognition will fall off the agenda if this argument is expanded in that way. 

Do you risk the whole thing by pushing for a treaty? 

SHORTEN: Well first of all, I just wanted to correct something you said. I don't have a particular treaty in mind, but what I have been doing is speaking to many, many people across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia. I am a complete supporter of constitutional recognition. Liberal party leaders may change from Mr Abbott to Mr Turnbull, I've been completely consistent. 

I do think the nation's birth certificate should include our first Australians. But what I also recognise when I talk to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders is they see that there are issues beyond the Constitution which need to be talked about and I've said I'm open for that discussion. I'm not going to engage in this sort of dumbed down view of Australian politics which says you can only do one thing at a time.

But let's be really clear, I completely, and Labor completely supports constitutional recognition of our First Australians in the nation's birth certificate. The Parliament will consider the consultations of the Referendum Council which is set up of eminent Australians - both Indigenous and non-indigenous. I'm looking forward to hearing proposals on a path forward. 

For me, the fair go for Aboriginal Australians is not about just symbolic recognition or practical recognition. It's about both. So for me, a discussion about constitutional recognition isn't jeopardised by making sure that we have a Royal Commission to ensure that the youth justice system is not unfairly treating our Aboriginal children. For me, a discussion about constitutional recognition isn't compromised by saying that we need to have better education outcomes, job outcomes and health outcomes. 

BRISSENDEN: Alright, finally on Kevin Rudd, he's obviously disappointed but he's released his correspondence with Malcolm Turnbull and now he's aired his grievances publicly describing Malcolm Turnbull as a "great brick wall of life". 

Is that appropriate? Should he have just taken this decision on the chin? 

SHORTEN: I think Mr Turnbull's got a fair bit of explaining to do here about his actions. Clearly, and we've seen revealed in some of today's newspapers on the front pages of some our papers, that a majority of his Cabinet backed Mr Rudd, and it was just Mr Joyce and Mr Turnbull's intervention at the very end which changed that. You had poor old Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who thinks she's doing the right thing, and probably clearly thinking she had some sort of agreement or some sort of signal from Mr Turnbull it was the right thing to do. Yet we've got reports that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recommended this. And of course we've got Mr Rudd's own recollections.

It's clear to me that Mr Turnbull's put his own political survival ahead of prior positions he may have had. It's as simple as this for me. The right wing puppet masters of Mr Turnbull's Government pulled the strings, and he's danced to the string pulling.

BRISSENDEN: Okay. Bill Shorten, we'll leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us. 

SHORTEN: Thank you. 

BRISSENDEN: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

ENDS


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