WEDNESDAY, 8 FEBRUARY 2017
SUBJECTS: Malcolm Turnbull’s angry rant; one million families who are worse off because of the Liberals cuts; Labor’s plan for jobs and protecting Medicare; school funding; One Nation preferences
LEIGH SALES, HOST: Joining me now from Parliament House in Canberra is the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten. Welcome to the program for 2017, Mr Shorten.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you Leigh, good evening.
SALES: That was a pretty extraordinary attack on you, that you're a sycophant, a social climber, a parasite, that you sucked up to Melbourne's elite. What do you say to that character assessment?
SHORTEN: Well, there were two arguments today. I was fired up about a million families losing family payments - for a family on $75,000 a year, they’re going to be about $1000 worse off courtesy of Mr Turnbull. And Mr Turnbull was clearly fired up but that's about saving his job. I mean this may sound a little incongruous, a little unusual, but I feel a little bit for Malcolm at the moment, he is under great pressure. You would know as well as I do, Leigh that the drums are beating in the corridors of Canberra about whether or not he will remain Liberal leader, and I think he is showing pressure. I don't think Australians have seen that sort of anger from him since his famous election night speech.
SALES: Can I ask you though, to get to the heart of what he was talking about, how tight are you with Melbourne's multi-millionaire business leaders? And even if you are, what sort of influence does that have on your views or on your policies?
SHORTEN: We take our orders in Labor from the middle and working class of Australia. Now, it is true that I was a good friend with the late Richard Pratt, he died eight years ago. I think Malcolm Turnbull wants to criticise our position on families and we’ll have that argument, we should do that. But I think he was showing his pressure when he referred to a bloke who died eight years ago. I think we've got to lift the tone of the debate, that goes for all of us, occasionally I let that down. I think Malcolm is under pressure. I mean -
SALES: On that point of lifting the tone, you often mocked the Prime Minister's wealth by calling him 'Mr Harbourside Mansion'. You are on close to $400,000 a year yourself, plus perks, that doesn't exactly put you in close touch with the struggles of the average punter, does it?
SHORTEN: Judge us by our policies, I mean the fact of the matter is I don't begrudge Mr Turnbull's wealth. But I do begrudge when he has seriously out of touch policies which are massively disappointing. It's not Labor's plan to give a $50 billion tax cut to large corporates. It's not our plan to treat Centrelink recipients as quasi cheats and criminals. It’s not our plan to not tackle housing affordability and to defend negative gearing. Mr Turnbull's policies, leave aside his personal attack on me, his policies are seriously out of touch. I mean -
SALES: You said judge us on our policies, so let me ask you about some Labor policies. Why didn't you get rid of the gold pass when you were in government, the luxury perk for retired politicians that Malcolm Turnbull axed this week?
SHORTEN: I think you will find in 2012 the gold pass was terminated. There was some argument about whether or not people who already had it, previously who'd retired, but it was terminated in 2012. I support what Mr Turnbull said this week about expenses. I mean over summer we saw the Health Minister resign, but these sort of matters, of where they think politicians are not in it for the people but for themselves damage all of us not just the Coalition Government. So I am absolutely committed to the three point reform plan. One, reform the expenses and I will work with Malcolm Turnbull on that. Two, we need to look at the merit of the National Integrity Commission, and three, we need to reform political donations.
SALES: Well, let's have a look at some other policy areas so that viewers can assess if Labor's performance for ordinary Australians matches its rhetoric. Labor spent a fair bit of time today criticising the Government's plan for the family tax benefit that you mentioned before, saying it hurts the most vulnerable people in society. But just four years ago the Labor Government saved $700 million over four years by cutting payments to single mothers, one of the most vulnerable groups in society, taking up to $100 a week away from them. Where is your credibility?
SHORTEN: I think that policy was a mistake, that’s something we said some years ago and indeed if you want to look at what the Government is doing today, I think they're making mistakes. But -
SALES: But voters can only judge you on your past record, that's the most useful indicator of how you might act in the future.
SHORTEN: Well, let's judge us on our record - we defend penalty rates, we are determined not to pass on corporate tax cuts to large companies, we want to have a banking royal commission. We are the ones who are in there fighting to save Medicare. We are committed to needs based funding in schools. And today, what the Government introduced, I asked the Prime Minister no less than four times how many Australian families - forget his attack with me about whether I live in a mansion, I mean, I have a mortgage, I live in Moonee Ponds, I'm proud of it, forget his personal attack. I asked him four times today, how many Australian families with school age children are going to lose out under the legislation they introduced today? He wouldn't answer the question. Our best guess shows that one million Australian families are being reduced in payment. And I mean -
SALES: Since you raise school aged children, let me ask you about the Federal Government recently announcing that it was considering curtailing the growth in funding for some of the wealthiest private schools in Australia. Labor criticised that move and stood up for the private schools. How does that square with standing up for the most vulnerable as Labor says it does?
SHORTEN: Well, what we actually said is that we don't want to start the public versus private debate, but we believe in needs based funding. If the Government -
SALES: Well, why do some of those schools need funding?
SHORTEN: Well, I think that there is a point which you are raising, which is legitimate. If the Government is serious about properly resourcing schools and putting forward a proposition which says that very wealthy schools which are in excess of the resource standard, if the Government is serious about looking at that, we will work with them. See my job as Leader of the Opposition this year is to prepare policies for the next election, social and economic policies that put people first, and it is also though, I have to say my title is opposition - where I disagree and my values and Labor values don't agree with what the Government is doing, we won't take a backward step. Mr Turnbull can call us all the names under the sun but are going to stand up for these million families who have done nothing except be the target for Mr Turnbull's very tough cuts.
SALES: To keep looking at Labor's record, how about the Government’s superannuation reforms, where they wanted to cap retirement accounts at $1.6 billion and then tax above that at 15 per cent. Labor under your leadership sided with the super-rich in opposing it.
SHORTEN: No, what we did is we believe we had a better plan to cap the excessive tax concessions in superannuation. But I do think it is a very poor principle of lawmaking to retrospectively punish people, no matter who they are. Mr Turnbull says that somehow Labor is just into class war, we're not. We believe though that laws shouldn't be retrospective and Mr Turnbull was creating massive uncertainty in the superannuation system. No, I think Labor is on the right track with our policies. In 2017 we're going to stand up for Australian jobs, we're going to put TAFE back at the centre of vocational education, we've got the only fair dinkum plans on housing affordability and we will push for the banking royal commission. We're not going to let the Government off with savage cuts to Medicare, and today, Mr Turnbull I think showed that he is about defending his own job. Does anyone seriously in politics think his pressured performance was anything other than appealing to his backbench? My concern is he is so keen to impress the right ring of his party that millions of ordinary Australians are the price he's willing to pay to keep his job.
SALES: On those ordinary Australians you mentioned, a poll this week found that 44 per cent of Australians would support a policy such as President Trump has introduced, to make it harder for citizens from seven mainly Muslim nations to enter the US. You look at Pauline Hanson's One Nation, which is anti-Islam, its polling about 8 per cent of the vote. What do those two things suggest to you about what the ordinary Australian is thinking?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all I don't believe this country will make genuine progress if we practice the politics of division. The Labor Party stands true to its values and this is why we do have a fundamental disagreement with One Nation on these matters. We don't think a person’s religion or lack of it should be the basis for policy making. I believe that immigration has been a net good for this country and we don't think people's country of origin should be the topic for divisive politics.
I thought the Liberals used to believe this, but I've been very disappointed that since John Howard to now the Liberals are now looking at preferencing One Nation ahead of a mainstream party like Labor. We won't horse trade our values in the Parliament. We can work with One Nation in the Parliament professionally, but we're not going to horse trade our values in the Parliament or at the ballot box and I think Australians want consistency out of their political parties, not the politics of fear and division.
SALES: So Labor rules out preferencing with One Nation?
SHORTEN: That has been our policy and it remains our policy, full stop. And I would expect Malcolm Turnbull, should stand up for the same views. You and I know that he would agree with me on this issue, but he doesn't control his party. The good thing about Labor is we are united and the Labor party I am sure will back the position which I have enunciated tonight, which has been our policy.
SALES: Bill Shorten, good to have you on the program. Look forward to seeing you through the year.