Bill's Transcripts

Sky News: PM Agenda - Putin and G20; Ebola crisis; Iraq;

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

TELEVISION INTERVIEW

SKY NEWS, PM AGENDA

MONDAY, 13 OCTOBER 2014

 

SUBJECT/S: Putin and G20; Ebola crisis; Iraq; National Security legislation; Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Renewable Energy Target; Climate Change; Immigration.

 

DAVID SPEERS: Bill Shorten, thank you for your time. The Russian President will attend the G20 in Brisbane next month. China, the US, Germany and others apparently want him to be there. Are you actually saying that Tony Abbott should stop him from coming?

 

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: No I think to be fair to Tony Abbott he’s in a devil of a position. On the one hand I’m sure that personally he’d rather not have footage of him greeting Putin in Australia, but on the other hand it’s an international conference. All along I’ve made clear it’s an international conference, but by the same token, I don’t think reasonable people think that Putin has shown any great degree of interest in getting to the bottom of how MH17 was shot down and how hundreds of lives were just snapped away from us.

 

SPEERS: You said today when you deal with international bullies, you shouldn’t lay out the red carpet. What did you mean by that?

 

SHORTEN: Well I think that Putin just thinks he can get away with stuff with the rest of the world. I think the world needs a better strategy for standing up to people who carry on in the manner in which he does. But I get that Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop probably took soundings with other nations, found that other nations weren’t inclined to veto his attendance, so I think Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop have had to just accept these facts. But let’s be straight about this- and that’s what I want to be, let’s be straight. Putin hasn’t shown any remorse, any inclination of accepting any responsibility for the shooting down of this jet, and why should Australian’s forgive and forget that?

 

SPEERS: Can I turn to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The Prime Minister says it would be irresponsible to send in, force in, in his words, doctors and nurses on behalf of the Government. He says the appropriate precautions aren’t and can’t be put in place. What exactly do you think Australia should be doing?

 

SHORTEN: Well Labor has supported providing some money there, the $18 million, which is a useful first step. Some people might say what happens with Ebola in West Africa is not Australia’s concern, but by the same logic that sees us providing humanitarian support with our military intervention in northern Iraq, the Ebola crisis is a real issue in West Africa and if it’s not properly managed it can spread. So I think that the money is a good first step, I also think that the Government should be exploring how our volunteers, people who are not forced to go and help but people who want to go and help, how that can be facilitated. Australia has got some of the best nurses and doctors in the world, some of who want to provide support. I get the technical issues that the Government’s saying, that medevacing people to Australia is not an option, but I do wonder if we can’t do more. If we’ve got volunteers who want to go and help, facilitate arrangements with countries closer to the West African problem area so that if people do get sick they can get professional care in America or in Europe.

 

SPEERS: And those arrangements aren’t in place, or aren’t being negotiated at the moment?

 

SHORTEN: Well I hope they are, my point is that Australia can’t turn its back on the rest of the world just because it’s a long way away. Part of our challenge is that a disease which has killed thousands of people in West Africa is something that has to be watched very carefully. It’s a principal of humanitarian support, just the same as we’re applying in our intervention in northern Iraq. Australia can’t fix all the world’s problems, nor should we try to, but we can do our part as an international coalition.

 

SPEERS: Now you mention Iraq, I want to ask you about that. Labor, you have ruled out sending in combat troops on the ground. Labor did support sending in combat troops in Afghanistan to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban, why is this different?

 

SHORTEN: Well first of all, the Iraqi Government hasn’t asked for us to send combat troops in. Secondly, I think, and nor interestingly have the Americans asked us to do that. I’m not sure that sending ground combat units into Iraq will make a material difference in terms of what happens. The solution, in terms of Iraq wrestling control back from the crazies and from the terrorists, has got to lie in the people of that nation. Now we’re sending special forces in to provide assistance at battalion level, that makes sense, but I haven’t seen the case, the Government certainly hasn’t tried to make the case to me for sending ground combat units in. In terms of Afghanistan -

 

SPEERS: But is it wise to rule it out though at the outset -

 

SHORTEN: That was a different set of circumstances -

 

SPEERS: Well is it wise to rule it out though at the outset of a conflict and essentially telegraph to the enemy what you are and aren’t prepared to do?

 

SHORTEN: If you think that Islamic State is going to not make tactical decisions because we have or haven’t ruled out ground combat units, I’m not sure that’s right David. What I do believe to be the case is that the requests for support that we’ve received involve air power, we’re doing that. Our principals about this, and that’s why we’ve been upfront early on is we don’t see that sending formed up groups of Australian ground troops is going to make a fundamental difference, and it may well cause more problems than it seeks to solve.

 

SPEERS: Well I see the leader of the Anbar Province, west of Baghdad, is quoted today issuing a plea for western ground forces. He says the situation there is very bad, so could this reach a point where some ground forces do need to be considered?

 

SHORTEN: Well certainly the news from Anbar Province is very serious, and the fact that there are IS militants relatively close to Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, is greatly concerning. But do you really believe, David, that an Australian ground combat unit is going to make the material difference? As I understand, part of the problems we have here were caused by the 2003 Gulf War, and what we need to do is make sure that we have a strategy rather than just reacting to each issue. I also believe fundamentally that we need a coalition of Arab countries to take responsibility for peace in the Middle East. We’ll do our bit, but ultimately the solution for draining the swamp of terrorism isn’t going to come from military action alone, it’ll involve a democratically and representative government within Iraq, made up of not only the majority Shia people but minority groups, that’s the long term strategy. Whether or not we send a battalion of infantry, I’m not sure is the right question to be answering.

 

SPEERS: On the fight against terrorism here, Anthony Albanese has labelled ‘draconian’ the new laws that have already been passed through Parliament that could see journalists jailed for up to ten years for reporting special intelligence operations. Was Labor wrong to support those laws?

 

SHORTEN: No I don’t think so. We had a good discussion within the ranks of Labor before voting for this legislation. I mean Anthony’s right, to the extent that there is a debate about press freedom, we need to jealously guard it. But we’ve got, not automatically competing priorities, but we’ve got two principals here; one is national security, and to Labor and Liberal certainly working together when it comes to fighting domestic terrorism. And we’ve also got to uphold the liberties of our nation, you know, we believe in certain Australian values, one of them is freedom of speech. I believe on balance the changes which Labor lead in terms of amending that first legislation does strengthen the public interest test. I note today the Herald Sun has run information about operations in South East Melbourne. I think some of the concerns that some have expressed aren’t necessarily coming home to roost, but Anthony’s right, and indeed people in the media are right, we’ve got to be very careful about making sure that we don’t compromise a free press in this country.

 

SPEERS: So just to be clear on that though, are you willing to revisit these if you are in government, to see whether they’re working, and do you think there is a problem with journalists damaging the national security interest at the moment?

 

SHORTEN: No, to answer the second part of your question first, no I don’t see a problem with the way journalists are covering matters. In terms of the first part, it wouldn’t matter who is in government, you’re always reviewing your legislation, but, the legislation we’ve put in place, we’ll have to see how that works first of all.

 

SPEERS: Alright. It is one year today since you became Labor leader, less than two years until the next election. From where things stand right now, Bill Shorten, do you think you’ll win the election?

 

SHORTEN: Well in the first twelve months I think Australian’s can see that the Labor Party is a lot more unified than we once were, so that’s a positive. I think it gives people the opportunity to say well if Labor’s working together, then we can start considering their policies and ideas. The other big development in the last twelve months of course has been the remarkably unfair Budget of Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. They said there was a crisis upon coming to power and they did nothing for seven months, then they gave us a Budget of broken promises based upon lies before the election. The fact that they wanted to hack into the pension and we’ve been successful in stopping that. The fact that they want to cut funding to schools and hospitals, the fact that they want to create $100,000 university degrees, that has certainly sharpened some of the political disagreements in this country -

 

SPEERS: So does that mean that you think you’ll win?

 

SHORTEN: I think it means that Labor is getting its act together and we’re speaking to the values which the Labor Party stands for; a fair go for all, reaching for higher ground for every Australian, not dividing the country. As to whether or not we’ll win the election, I believe that Labor is doing better than people would have thought a year ago, but there’s a long way to go. And what we will do between now and the next election is not only maintain our fierce efforts to keep this government to account, to hold them to account, but we’ll also annunciate a positive vision of Australia which is not just about the next election but about the next ten years and the next 20 years. Where are the jobs of the future coming from, how do we make sure that we still have social justice and fairness -

 

SPEERS: I appreciate the policies are yet to come on  those fronts, but can I ask you just on the Budget bottom line, are you committed to returning to surplus on the same timeframe as the Government, or are you willing to stay in deficit for longer?

 

SHORTEN: Well, the assumption in your question, David, is this Government can even reach what it said it would do, and I don’t think they can.  It’s interesting, I was out in my electorate this morning and NATSEM did some research which reveals the people in my electorate are paying three times as much in this Budget as the people in Tony Abbott or Joe Hockey’s electorate. I don’t believe this Budget which you’re asking me to say ‘can Labor match it in terms of timetable’, I think this Budget is falling into disrepair. It is a train wreck. I mean, we had the ridiculous spectacle last week of Joe Hockey trying to use the war in Iraq to justify the unfair Budget, even though he brought down the unfair Budget, and the intervention in Iraq has occurred after that. So these guys –

 

 

SPEERS: But will you get back to surplus on the same time frame?

 

SHORTEN: Well I don’t think they’re going to get to what they’ve said on their time frame, so you’re asking me to compare what we do to a hypothetical deadline which I think every seasoned observer of politics recognises this Government isn’t up to for their own Budget measures and they know –

 

SPEERS: But –

 

SHORTEN: A mess and a wreck, in terms of what –

 

SPEERS: But you’re blocking a lot of Budget measures that they want to implement to get back to surplus, so putting the government to one side I suppose, when will we get back to surplus, when do you think we should get back to surplus?

 

SHORTEN: We’re more likely to get back to surplus under a Labor Government than this current mob. I mean, this current Government’s plan for Australia is to divide Australia and then it’s to make people who are less well-off do the heavy lifting. There are suburbs in my electorate, Braybrook, Sunshine - they’re Australians just like the people in Tony Abbott’s electorate, but the issue is they’re suffering cuts up to $1000. These are people who don’t earn a lot of money to begin with. How on earth did we get ourselves into a situation where this current government thinks the only answer to Australia’s future  is to do over half of Australia or more than half of Australia? That’s not a plan for the future, that’s a recipe for disaster –

 

SPEERS: You said the cuts are too unfair, too harsh –

 

SHORTEN: I certainly do –

 

SPEERS: You’ve just said you’ll get back to surplus faster, or before this Government would. So I’m just wondering how?

SHORTEN: We’ll unveil our policies before the next election. Remember when Tony Abbott was Opposition Leader, you know, he’d run a million miles before unveiling anything other than just a negative critique of the Government. But this Budget has defined Australian politics in a way that Budgets in the last 30 years haven’t’ done. Australia needs to have a pro-growth strategy but it can’t be at the expense of equality. A more equal society actually drives economic growth. What we see is that cutting education and cutting hospitals cutting, you know, they’ve got this debacle over what they going to do, incompetence, over submarines contracts. This Government hasn’t got clear [inaudible] of the future.

 

SPEERS: They’re still increasing funding on education and hospitals, just not as much as outlined in the Gonski spending plan. Can you guarantee you will stick to the out years of health and education spending that you left office with?

 

SHORTEN: David I can’t just let that statement you made go by without responding to the first part. Where you said they’re still increasing funding just ask a State Premier how happy they are with the cuts to education or to health care. In their budget paper they clearly

 

SPEERS: Will they’re not happy it’s not going up by as much, but you can’t deny it’s still going up?

SHORTEN: But you can’t deny that they’re not significant cuts and they didn’t tell us before the election and remember they said there would be a unity ticket on education, what happened to that? Tony Abbott –

 

SPEERS: But will you commit to those increases?

 

SHORTEN: Well first of all, I’m not getting off the Government here to begin with, they’re in charge, this is their day job, this in their moment in the sun and they’re squandering it. Before the last election Tony Abbott –

SPEERS: So you’re not committed to that?

SHORTEN: Well no, you raise a fair number of issues and this is an important opportunity to just remind people that before the last election Tony Abbott said that there would be no cuts to health, not cuts to education, no changes to the pension, no new taxes. He hasn’t kept any of these promises has he? So –

SPEERS: Yep, just finish that one.

 

SHORTEN: Well in terms of what we will do, we will work out our policies before the next election but it’s not going to be based on a lazy cutting measure which forces the states to argue for an increase in the GST because the Federal Government is too weak to argue in favour of a GST.

SPEERS: Okay, the carbon price, you want some form of price on carbon, not the same carbon tax we had. But will it mean higher electricity prices necessarily?

SHORTEN: Well in terms of acting on climate change, we do believe fundamentally that climate change is real. It’s ironic, at the G20 we’ll probably have the most climate sceptical government out of the other 18 countries who are attending.  So this is a government who doesn’t have a clear view about the future. In terms of electricity, I think before we even get to our policies, and you’re quite right, we’re not going to have a carbon tax, let’s have a look at the mess the Government’s making of the Renewable Energy Target. That’s an issue which is right here, right now to be decided. Labor’s said we’ll support the Government –

SPEERS: Okay, but I’m just asking about your, your plans for a carbon price. I know they haven’t been formulated or finalised –

 

SHORTEN: That’s right, they haven’t.
SPEERS: But will what you do necessarily mean higher electricity prices, the whole point I suppose of having a price on carbon?

SHORTEN: You know that we haven’t finalised our polices, we’ve ruled out certain things. In terms of giving the Government ammunition for their scare campaigns, I think the Government needs to explain to the 1.2 million Australians who currently have solar power on their roofs, what they’re doing about that. I think they need to explain this –

SPEERS: Okay, but just the principle, the principle of pricing carbon, pricing electricity?

SHORTEN: Hang on, you keep not wanting to talk about - I want the market to set the price son these matters. I believe in the role of the market to allocate resources. But we keep not talking about the biggest single issue right now, which is renewable energy. What are the Government going to do, are they going to keep trashing a multi-billion dollar industry? Now that’s not good for sovereign risk or investor confidence. There are hundreds of jobs, thousands of jobs at stake and of course there is the ability of people with solar panels on their roof tops to put downward pressure on their electricity prices. I mean the Government needs to get its own house in order before it starts worrying about everyone else.

SPEERS: Last question Bill Shorten. On asylum seekers, I know you’re yet to finalise whether you will keep in place things like turning back boats and what not. On those who are still stuck on Manus Island and Nauru, they’ve been there many of them more than a year now and many of them still haven’t had their claims processed, would you ever taken them back in to Australia?

SHORTEN: Well the Government’s got a proposal on the table for temporary protection visas. I think the detail of that’s not at all clear how that would work. We’ll talk to people who help people in Australia right now and see what they think. So there’s not enough detail on the table from the Government to, you know, make categorical statements. You and I both know this Government –

 

SPEERS: But what they’re talking about wouldn’t apply to Manus and Nauru, so they’re the ones I’m asking about, so would you be prepared to bring them back here?

SHORTEN: Well let’s see how their Cambodia deal goes first. I mean, I think we had this remarkable scene where our Government said they were going to provide $40 million to Cambodia and the Cambodian minister said we’ll probably take five people. That’s $8 million a pop. Now I think the Governments got to explain what’s happening, what’s going on and we will hold them to account. But again what I can say again is that in good time before the next election we’ll have our polices and they’ll be policies which help the future of Australia. But in the meantime this is a Government who wants to –

SPEERS: But you’re not saying they should never step foot on Australian soil?

SHORTEN: David, no, before you start putting words in my mouth I’ll say this back you; this is a Government who wants to talk about everything expect their own policies and Labor is not going to let this Government off the hook. People want not only a strong Government but they want a strong Opposition, After 12 months as Leader of the Opposition, I am pleased that our team is united, we’re working on our polices and we’re holding this Government to account in manner and fashion which I think has surprised some people but we will continue to do so. Because it doesn’t matter if you vote Liberal or Labor, what does matter is that we have a strong Opposition and I’ve got a united team and a strong Opposition and that, I think, adds to the quality of democracy in this country and we’ll continue to hold them to account and at the next election we’ll have a competition on the best policies.

 

SPEERS: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, on your first anniversary, we appreciate you joining us this afternoon, thank you.

SHORTEN: Thank you very much David.

 

ENDS

 

MEDIA CONTACT: LEADER’S OFFICE MEDIA UNIT 02 6277 4053