SUBJECTS: Constitutional recognition; Marriage Equality Plebiscite; Banking Royal Commission.
SABRA LANE: The federal opposition's canned the Government's idea. The Labor Party leader, Bill Shorten, joined me a short time ago.
Bill Shorten, thank you very much for talking to 7.30. The Prime Minister's going to ask Parliament now to support his idea of hauling the bank CEOs before Parliament every year to explain themselves. Will Labor support it?
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well I think the Prime Minister's proposal today is a joke. It's too little and it's too late. On Monday the Reserve Bank of Australia took the unprecedented step of lowering the official interest rate to one and a half per cent. Now that's been done by the Reserve Bank so that we can revive the economy. And what's happened is off the back of that, the banks have decided instead not to pass that through to the economy and to customers but to pocket nearly a billion dollars. Now Mr Turnbull's been -
LANE: We've gone through that last night with a couple of people.
SHORTEN: And I appreciate that but the point about why I say Mr Turnbull's response is a joke is that he said yesterday to the banks ‘I want you to pass this interest rate cut in full’. They've just ignored him. So today the best he can come up with is another Parliamentary inquiry? I mean the banks regularly present themselves to Parliamentary inquiries. It hasn't stopped the rip-offs and it hasn't stopped the scandals.
LANE: By ignoring the Government. I mean they're not alone on this, Wayne Swan when he was Treasurer I think he urged 50 times, 60 times, during his time for the banks to pass on in full. He was ignored, so, you know, it doesn't matter that they're Liberal or Labor, the banks always thumb their nose at politicians.
SHORTEN: There's a big difference. Labor's now pushing for a Royal Commission. Mr Turnbull knows that if you want to get to the bottom of a matter, if you want to see how widespread problems are have a Royal Commission. I mean he was appropriately moved to act following an important ABC story about youth justice in the Northern Territory. He knows the best form of inquiry ultimately is a Royal Commission. Yet when it comes to banks he said before the election ‘ASIC can do the job’, now that they've humiliated him on not reducing the interest rates and passing it through, he's come up with this one day in a year visit to Canberra. He should just bite the bullet and listen to the people of Australia rather than the banks and have a Royal Commission.
LANE: It's more scrutiny. They're never going to implement a Royal Commission, they've been on the record about that. Isn't more scrutiny a good thing?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, we've been down this path before of Parliamentary inquiries. Secondly it's one day in a year.
LANE: So Parliamentary inquiries are a waste of time, is that?
SHORTEN: No but I think when it's something as important as our banking and financial services sector and so many people in Australia want to have this Royal Commission. There was an assumption in your question to me which I don't agree with. You said that there'll never be a Royal Commission. There'll be a Royal Commission. Either the Government will give in under the pressure of the wishes of the people, or after the next election if we're successful I'll have a Royal Commission of the banks. I won't be giving them this multibillion dollar tax cut and an empty lecture once a year.
LANE: The banks are clearly unhappy. The Bankers Association today has said that no other commercial business in Australia is hauled before Parliament to explain their commercial decisions. Why should they be singled out? They've got a point haven't they?
SHORTEN: Well the Reserve Bank of Australia in reducing the official interest rates is doing it because our economy under this Government is in the doldrums. It's wallowing in mediocrity. And the problem here is that the banks are snubbing the Government. They're not afraid of this Government.
LANE: As I've pointed out they weren't afraid of the last one either.
SHORTEN: Well, they're afraid of a Royal Commission aren't they Sabra, and that's what I'll give them.
LANE: You met with the Prime Minister this morning to discuss the referendum on Indigenous recognition in the Constitution. Are you both in agreement on how to make it a success?
SHORTEN: Well I believe that we both are committed to seeing our First Australians included in what I call the nation's birth certificate, the Constitution. We jointly appointed a Referendum Council to advise us on the best way forward. There's been a lot of work done by a lot of meritorious people but I think it's now time for the referendum, made up of half Indigenous leaders half non-Indigenous leaders, to give a recommendation to Malcolm Turnbull and myself about what the referendum should look like. If they're in a position to tell us what the question should be, or their plan for the Parliament to implement a referendum on constitutional recognition.
LANE: We're running out of time. People were hoping that this referendum would be held next year, the 50th anniversary of the last referendum. That's nine months away, time's marching on.
SHORTEN: It is. We need to see what the Referendum Council recommends. Labor is absolutely committed to constitutional recognition. I think there's bipartisanship on that from at least Mr Turnbull. I see some of the more right wing elements of his party are hedging their bets, but I think there is generally a fair amount of good will across most of the mainstream political spectrum. But we need to see the Referendum Council tell us what the outcome of their consultations. Pretty quickly after that I think the Parliament can form a view.
LANE: You seem to support the idea of a discussion of a treaty at the same time during the election campaign. Your deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, yesterday has said that the debate over a treaty could actually slow momentum for constitutional change. Is she right?
SHORTEN: No I don't think that's quite what she said. What we do both agree, and I think most Australians agree, is that constitutional recognition is the first step. But I've been speaking a lot to Indigenous leaders, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, they want to not just have a debate about symbolic recognition, and the first step should be constitutional recognition, but there's a lot of unresolved issues between the treatment that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders receive in Australia compared to non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And some of the best thinkers in Aboriginal Australia and I include but they're not limited to Pat Dodson or Noel Pearson or Galarrwuy Yunupingu, they've said that we need to look at having a debate, a discussion, about post-constitutional recognition. How do we actually achieve genuine settlement between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia.
LANE: The Prime Minister made the point earlier this week that to get a successful referendum you need to virtually have nearly 100 per cent consensus. And he pointed out that if you cloud that in any way or you chip away at that it makes it less likely to get a successful result. Do you agree on that?
SHORTEN: Well I certainly agree we need consensus. And I certainly agree we need everyone pulling in the same direction, rowing in the same direction. But I don't accept that the equal treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is a one issue at a time proposition. See I don't think that having a Royal Commission into the Northern Territory youth justice system should have to wait until we have constitutional recognition. I don't think that we need to wait until constitutional recognition to start closing the gap in terms of educational outcomes. Health outcomes. Job outcomes.
LANE: Did you discuss the same sex marriage plebiscite with the Prime Minister this morning as well?
SHORTEN: We did have that discussion. Malcolm Turnbull certainly pressed his case to me about the plebiscite. I certainly explained Labor's views and I think the views of a lot of people in the community that we think a Parliamentary vote rather than a non-binding, taxpayer funded opinion poll was the better way to go.
LANE: But by saying that what you're effectively telling the Prime Minister is to break a solemn commitment because that was a clear election commitment of his. He took it to the public. The last two Prime Ministers who broke clear commitments, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, were severely punished for that.
SHORTEN: I think you and I both know and many Australians know that if Mr Turnbull had his way he'd be doing what we're suggesting, a conscience vote in the Parliament. We both know that his hands are tied a bit by the right wing of his party. In fact it was a decision of the Liberal Party room even before Mr Turnbull rolled Mr Abbott. It's not the best outcome, it's not the.
LANE: Are you taking it to the leadership of Labor to discuss this now, where to on the plebiscite?
SHORTEN: Well you were just asking about why don't I just simply agree with Malcolm Turnbull? It's because I'm not in the Liberal Party room. I'm the leader of the Labor Party and we know that if we want to have marriage equality the quickest path to that is a vote in Parliament. Now I hear what Mr. Turnbull's saying. I understand that completely and it was a civil discussion. But I also know that there's literally thousands of people who've spoken to myself and colleagues and said a damaging public debate where all of a sudden some people's relationships are being subjected to an evaluation an opinion poll about their merit or worthiness is very divisive. This country doesn't need division. We've got big challenges from jobs and the economy to looking after our environment to making sure that our education system's looking after people. Do we really need in this country a massive public debate about marriage equality at the same time?
LANE: Bill Shorten, we're out of time. Thank you very much for talking to 7.30 tonight.
SHORTEN: Lovely, thank you Sabra.