Bill's Transcripts

Sky News - From Beijing - Visit to China; NSW election; Martin Ferguson






SUBJECT/S: Visit to China; NSW election; Martin Ferguson; Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Foreign investment; Superannuation; $100,000 degrees.


DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Bill Shorten, thank you for your time. Can I start with what you have been doing there in China. You’ve called this your year of ideas. What ideas have you picked up in China?


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I’ve had a great opportunity in China in the last three days to meet with Chinese leaders, Chinese business people, international experts and Australians doing business with China. It is clear to me that the Chinese Government is leading a change as the Chinese economy shifts gear from being investment focused to consumption focus. Or in plain English, they want to put more Chinese citizens into the middle class. So what Australian policy should be doing, is helping work with China as they seek to improve the quality of life and living standards of their population.


SPEERS: China’s growth has slowed though; we’ve seen China’s central bank Governor in recent days warning even of deflation. How concerned are you about where China’s growth is going?


SHORTEN: What the Chinese officials have been saying is that their previous rampant growth of the last three decades is easing to between 6 and 7 per cent. But this is off a much larger base. So I am optimistic about China’s progress and I am optimistic about how Australia can work with China to help improve China’s opportunities and of course, our own on the way through. We are talking about ideas; China is very committed to increasing its mix of renewable energy. They are very committed to expanding their higher education opportunities and also, they see Australia providing leadership in these areas previously. Interestingly they are very switched on as well about the terrorist threat from I.S in the Middle East and they are very committed and interested to see how Australia can work with them as they create a more middle class society.


SPEERS: I might come back to higher education, but immediate impact of slower growth in China is less demand for steel, for iron-ore from Australia. The iron-ore price has hit a further lower price of $53-a-ton. This does have an impact on our Budget and without deep spending cuts, do you acknowledge taxes will have to rise to make up for that fall?


SHORTEN: There’s a lot in your question. You’re right, as China moves from investing into its basic materials into more quality based consumptions and improvements in living standards - there is less demand for iron-ore and some of the other based commodities. But again, I just sort of caution some of the dooms-sayers that prices are down but I still believe that the volume of demand out of such a massive nation of China, provides us with opportunities in those base materials. In terms of how that affects the Australian Budget, you’re right, there are revenue write-downs because with lower-prices comes lower tax-take for the Federal Government. As we see the upcoming Budget, the Government has got to balance that but they’ve also got to make sure that they don’t do through unnecessary austerity, impede Australia’s confidence.  Just as China is moving from an investment phase into improving consumption in their country we are moving from a big transition in the mining sector to the non-mining sector. So what that requires I believe is getting Australia ready to being less reliant on minerals, as important as they are, and expanding into areas which don’t require or rely being a resource based commodity. You know what we need for that? It’s education, that’s infrastructure, that’s making sure Australians have the confidence to spend in the High-Street. All of these are test which our Government has previously failed and we will have to see if in this Budget, they have learnt anything over the disastrous 12 months for Australia that they have inflicted.


SPEERS: Alright, but we need the Budget resources to do any of this and without increasing the GST, which you have repeatedly ruled out, are you prepared to increase taxes on superannuation either on the contributions or on the withdraws?


SHORTEN: Well there are two parts to that question and they are both really important. Let me reiterate again, Labor is not convinced that increasing taxes which hit hardest on people with lowest incomes, that is fair or appropriate, or that it will stimulate confidence. That is exactly counter-intuitive of where this nation needs to go. Now in terms of superannuation, this Government has made a real mess of superannuation since they got elected. On the one hand, they have cut or frozen superannuation increases for Australians and on the other hand they have taken away tax support for low income Australians, so they have go no idea about encouraging Australians to save for the future. And yet at the same time, they are restricting growth of the pension so they want Australians to save for themselves they say but on the other hand they are cutting the pension.


SPEERS: Ok but I’m asking whether you’re prepared to increase taxes on super contributions, the Greens have now had their policy of increasing the tax on contributions costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office. It would raise $10 billion over 4 years it says, this is to have a 30 per cent tax rate for those earning more than $150,000.

Well in terms of superannuation, that was the second part of your question. Labor had a policy at the last election that when you look at the draw down phase of superannuation, there’s a real loop hole where you could have millions of dollars in your superannuation and you draw down on that and pay no tax at all, it’s a 45 cent tax concession, or 47 cent tax concession and yet many Australians don’t have enough superannuation in their accounts. I believe it is appropriate to debate going forward that once you have millions of dollars in your superannuation accounts for retirement, you simply don’t need taxpayer funded concessions. What I want to see, what Labor wants to see is not the few already well off getting a disproportionate benefit from a tax concession, but the vast bulk of people who don’t have enough, being encouraged to save more for their retirement. So we are open for a debate at the top end to see, is it appropriate to use your taxes and mine for millionaires, multi-millionaires who’ve already got multi-million dollar accounts in their superannuation, you know, good luck to them but they simply don’t need the same degree of taxpayer support as ordinary Australians.


SPEERS: Let me bring you back to the row going on in Labor ranks here about Martin Ferguson, your former ministerial colleague, he was of course critical of the New South Wales Labor campaign against electricity privatisation. He described it as dishonest and blatant scare mongering to suggest Chinese buyers would raise national security concerns, subsequently Sam Dastyari and others have suggested it was a bastard act, there’s no place in the Labor Party for Martin Ferguson, do you think Bill Shorten he should be expelled?


SHORTEN: Well first of all as I said before the election, Martin Ferguson’s held these views for quite a period of time and he holds no position in the Labor Party and was not reflecting New South Wales Labor policy. Now we get to after the election, there is legitimate, passion and frustration about those Liberal TV ads highlighting this disagreement. Now I think on one hand the Labor Party’s a broad church and we’ve always allowed individuals to have license on what they say, not just senior former minister’s but a whole range of people. But on the other hand, if there’s been active cooperation with another political party to undermine Labor’s electoral chances, that’s a different issue altogether. I said before the election and I say again now, that I would expect the Labor Party, the administration of the Labor Party to investigate this matter and see what’s gone on.


SPEERS: Alright but you’re the leader, I’m just wondering what your view is. He says, Martin Ferguson says he didn’t authorise the use of his comments in the Liberal ads, if he didn’t, was he just expressing a long held view as you say and is there any grounds to expel him?


SHORTEN: Well again, what I would say to you is there will be a process to investigate this matter, I’m not going to pre-empt it, but I’ve laid a couple of markers here. On one hand the Labor Party is a broad church and individuals periodically contradict the policy or they even publicly have a disagreement, which you wish they wouldn’t, but that happens. But on the other hand, if there’s been an element of working with the Liberal Party to damage Labor’s chances, that’s in a different category of action altogether. I expect the Labor administration to investigate this matter fully.


SPEERS: Can I ask you more broadly, do you want to see more Chinese investment in Australia?


SHORTEN: I would like to see more broadly foreign investment in Australia. Ever since Captain Cook first made landfall in Australia we’ve had foreign investment. It’s an important part of our economic future. We’ve got to make sure that foreign investment is in the national interest so we always asses it against certain criteria. But from, you know, the 19th Century where it might have been the British Royal family to the 21st Century where it might be a state owned enterprise or a pension fund from overseas, foreign direct investment is part of Australia’s economic mix and it should be welcomed within that test, so long as it’s in the national interest.


SPEERS: Does it scare off foreign investors though, when New South Wales Labor’s warning about Chinese national security risks, the Victorian Labor Government is threating to tear up a contract on the East West Link. What does that do in terms of scaring of foreign investors?


SHORTEN: Well you could’ve also mentioned some of the changes made to land ownership in the residential property areas by the Liberal Government, but what I can reassure you and through you to thousands of people watching, is in China, no one has raised any of these matters. I’ve had fantastic access to leaders in Chinese business, to leaders in their Government and I do not believe that these debates which you raise now are in fact issues which are on the radar of foreign investors from China, and I think they understand that in Australia we have a robust democracy where we debate issues, we have a press where matters get looked at pretty carefully. I get the very clear impression that from taking action on climate change and renewable energy, through to encouraging deeper links between international students and Australia, to fighting terrorism, to investing in infrastructure in Australia, to Labor’s support for the Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank, that there is a fairly deep reservoir of good will from China to Australia and from Australia to China too.


SPEERS: Ok, but this is an important issue, an important opportunity I suppose with you there in Beijing to clear this up. Do you as Federal Labor leader believe Chinese investment poses national security concerns and do you agree with the Government tearing up a contract and even passing legislation to do so?


SHORTEN: Well they’re two different issues. In terms of our national security interests, they always have to be part of any assessment of foreign investment, so I can’t give a blank cheque to all foreign investment and I wouldn’t, I am committed to our national interest first and foremost. But as a general principle the, whether or not money is raised domestically in Australia or from overseas to purchase businesses and to invest hasn’t been for me the issue, it’s are the jobs being created in Australia? Are there opportunities for Australians? That’s the key test, along with national security. So I think foreign investment is on balance welcome in Australia. In terms of the East West Link and I think that’s the issue you’re referring to, before the last election the state Labor leader went with a clear policy saying that was not his policy, that the East West Link wasn’t the preferred position of the state Labor team, they’re working through the issues with the East West Link consortium. I’m optimistic something will get resolved, I’m not going to start catastrophising. So I do believe that that matter will work out, but again I just reiterate when I talk to not just Chinese investors and leaders but also other international observers and business people who look at Australia, they see Australia as quite a lucky country. They see us as a very liveable community, a safe community where the rule of law is uppermost and they see Australia as having huge opportunities in the 21st century. But in order to grab the opportunities of the 21st century we need to have a better higher education system, and the deal this current government’s giving us. We need to lift our superannuation savings so we can be part of building a national savings base for this country, we need to be creating a national infrastructure market, we need to make sure that our kids get the best education in life. The 21st century could be a bright one for Australia, but what we need is a vision in the political debate which is more than just the next election and that’s what I and the Labor team are determined to do before the next election.


SPEERS: Alright final question, you mentioned higher education, China is a big market for our higher education sector. If deregulation isn’t the way to go how do you believe we can make universities in Australia more internationally competitive? Are you prepared to put more money in?


SHORTEN: Well we’ll have more to say about higher education policy in coming weeks, but what’s clear in particular with international students is we’ve got to make sure that the quality of the higher education in Australia is up to scratch. We’ve got to make sure that there’s a focus on quality in terms of outcomes for students, domestic and international, we don’t need to be raising the prices for local students as the current Liberal Government’s proposed. I think there’s, we compete with American and English universities, we’ve got to make sure that a degree from an Australian university is seen to be held in the same quality and respect as a degree from an American or English university. We’ve also go to make sure that when international students come to Australia, they’re not just treated as a money making venture, but that they have a good experience in Australia, so I’ve had some really warm and productive chats with people in China and I’ve certainly got a few more propositions for us to discuss with our universities about quality, making sure that international students aren’t just viewed as a revenue making exercise. But we do need for Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott to stop banging on about their failed propositions, they’re just slow learners when it comes to higher education policy. Even the Group of 8 Universities has I think given up on the current mob on higher education and we look forward to further meetings with our university vice chancellors to talk about the future, not the past which includes Christopher Pyne’s failed propositions about $100,000 degrees.


SPEERS: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, we will have to leave it there, thank you for joining us from Beijing.


SHORTEN: Lovely to speak to you, have a nice day.