SUNDAY, 6 NOVEMBER 2016
SUBJECT/S: Proposed refugee ban; Senate chaos; ABCC legislation; Marriage equality/plebiscite; Backpacker tax; Disunity and dysfunction in Malcolm Turnbull’s Government; Presidential election in the United States.
BARRIE CASSIDY, HOST: Bill Shorten, welcome.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, Barrie.
CASSIDY: Are you about to tear up the unity ticket on this issue?
SHORTEN: Labor is on a unity ticket to defeat the people smugglers and we need to be strong on that. We certainly agree that people who come here by people smugglers, shouldn't be allowed to settle here permanently. But this latest proposal from Mr Turnbull, it's just ludicrous on face value. It doesn't seem to make any sense to say that someone who is found to be a genuine refugee, who then becomes a Canadian or American citizen couldn't visit Australia in 40 years' time as a tourist or teacher. That's over the top, Barrie. It is a distraction from the real problems.
CASSIDY: So we can take it that you will be opposing this legislation?
SHORTEN: We received the legislation late Friday afternoon, in classic Turnbull Government style. They said it was a giant issue a week ago, then they rush around the legislation a week later. What we will do is we will take it through the Caucus processes. But certainly, on its face, the idea that you somehow are going to deter people smugglers by saying a genuine refugee who becomes a citizen of another country couldn't visit Australia in 2056 - it's just ridiculous, Barrie.
CASSIDY: Ok, I know you have to go through your processes, but how could you possibly support a piece of legislation that you now describe as ludicrous?
SHORTEN: Well I think I am making very clear what my instinct is. Mind you, this was my instinct when I first heard about it last Sunday morning. Really? is this why Malcolm Turnbull went into Parliament, to put a ban on, to stopping the tourists in 40 years' time?
CASSIDY: In your conversation though with Malcolm Turnbull, he did phone you about this, did he make any mention of the fact that they're close to tying up a deal on resettlement and that this might be an important part of that process?
SHORTEN: In all fairness, Malcolm and I speak periodically, as I think the people of Australia would expect us to do. Whilst I won't go into the detail of those conversations, I've certainly asked the Government: What are you going to do about getting the people out of Manus and Nauru? Labor's view is very clear. We want to stop the people smugglers and we want to stop people coming by unsafe boats to Australia, full stop. But I don't accept that the equation is the only way you defeat people smugglers is by keeping 2,000 people in semi-indefinite detention in Manus and Nauru. I would like the Government to start negotiating with settlement nations, getting those people sent elsewhere or, indeed, sent home if they are not genuine refugees. That's what the Government should be prioritising.
I think the latest legislation smacks of a political stunt designed by a weak Prime Minister to keep the right wing of his party - and indeed some of the more right wing elements in this dysfunctional Senate - from eating him alive.
CASSIDY: But do you suspect though there is something in the works on resettlement?
SHORTEN: You'd hope so but no, we don't see any signs of that. The Government are not being forthcoming at all -
CASSIDY: What if Malcolm Turnbull was able to persuade you of a link between the two; between the legislation and the prospect of finding resettlement for these refugees?
SHORTEN: We see no signs that the Government has got any resettlement plans to conclude. Now, I did wonder, as I think many Australians did, that when Malcolm Turnbull said he'd take refugees from Costa Rica, I thought: Oh well, perhaps he is going to do a swap with North America or the United States or Canada. I thought maybe this might be part of an architecture of a bigger deal but they've rushed out and denied that.
I also wondered, when this legislation, which I think most sensible people think is over the top, was floated, I thought maybe they have a deal with New Zealand. Just the sort of thing you are raising. But John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, a conservative Prime Minister, has said the idea that they would create New Zealand citizens with different standing to be able to travel around the world, he wasn't up for.
We don't see much sign of them actually doing what your question is raising. And if they are doing that, well they should sit down and talk to us.
CASSIDY: On the ABCC legislation, the Prime Minister is now saying he won't put it up unless he is comfortable about the numbers. What's your reading on the numbers?
SHORTEN: Why did we have a double-dissolution election? Malcolm Turnbull said that the $50 billion tax cut for large companies and the industrial relations legislation were the big reasons to vote Liberal at the last election. We see no sign of them advancing either of these matters now and it's been four months since the election. In terms of the Senate, what happens there is anybody's guess.
We have zero tolerance for malfeasance in the construction unions but we also know this ABCC doesn't have criminal powers and that we would think that the Government would be better advised looking at our sensible proposals which will ensure that we have proper industrial relations without going down the path of creating separate laws for construction workers.
CASSIDY: What is your response though to union misconduct because commissioner Dyson Heydon was absolutely scathing - he said that there is wide-spread misconduct in every state. He talked about blackmail and bribes, and the threat of violence. What would Labor do to stop that?
SHORTEN: We would triple the penalties. In fact, I did when I was the Minister -
CASSIDY: They seem to have big pockets when it comes to penalties.
SHORTEN: Let's be clear here, all the evidence which the Government relies upon to conduct its latest anti-worker, anti-union laws has come up from the regulators that Labor established. The point is that they're already been taken to court when they break the rules.
This Government is looking for an excuse to undermine the role of collective bargaining in the workplace. We see the consequences when you have low wages growth in the economy generally, we see the economy flat-lining, confidence is down. No, this is a government more interested in lowering wages and having arguments about unions than they are about productivity because once they got rid of the ABCC, productivity in the construction sector went up and fatalities went down compared to when the ABCC was there, Barrie.
CASSIDY: But how ready are you to 'offend' the CFMEU? There are reports this week of a video; union leaders boasting that they plan to take ownership of the Labor Party, replace the politicians who stand in their way. Are they gaining an influence?
SHORTEN: No. What two blokes say on a YouTube home video –
CASSIDY: They were senior officials in WA.
SHORTEN: Well, let's be straight here, these are a couple of people talking to their friends on a YouTube video. They don't give us orders. We are determined to make sure we, if elected at the next election, govern for all not just for some.
CASSIDY: Did you see it in any way as a threat to you?
CASSIDY: Apart from the ABCC, there is also the question of the plebiscite. Do you expect that will be put forward?
SHORTEN: The Government has made a real hash of marriage equality. Everyone knows that the best and quickest way to debate issues isn't to have a plebiscite but to have a free vote in Parliament.
Why is it that gay people have to have their relationships voted upon by the other 15 million Australians? Any other changes to laws relating to gay people, we didn't have a plebiscite on it. When we decriminalised homosexuality, we didn't have a plebiscite on it. We don't do that for any other form of laws.
Also, it is tremendously wasteful and expensive –
CASSIDY: I know your arguments against it but I am wondering if you now plan to exploit this situation in the Senate now, the uncertainty over a couple of Senators and bring it on prematurely?
SHORTEN: First of all, let's go to the uncertainty in the Senate. I think we need to see what happens Monday and I think the Government needs to give a full accounting of its actions.
In terms of the marriage equality legislation, our position remains consistent. We would like to see a free vote in the Parliament. I'd like to see the Liberal Party reconsider their position. That would be the tidiest way and just allow a free vote.
CASSIDY: On the backpackers' tax, it has been reduced now, the plan is to reduce it to 32.5 to 19 per cent. But Jacqui Lambie has said that she will introduce an amendment reducing it further to 10.5 per cent, in line with New Zealand. Would Labor support that?
SHORTEN: This whole backpacker tax was ill-conceived. The Government proposed a 32 per cent tax. Everyone in the industry said that's a disaster. Labor said that was discouraging backpackers, we have been proven right. But what this Government does - this is the same government who brought us census and so-called changes to superannuation - is when they realise they made a stuff-up of things, they come up with a bad compromise. They still can never fully get it right. There will be a Senate report into the merits of the Government's legislation. That will be received this week. We'll study it carefully but we are certainly not against ruling out what the Tasmanian industry has been saying, including Senator Lambie and my own Labor representatives in Bass and Lyons and other seats. The Government cannot count upon our vote to simply support its latest botched compromise.
CASSIDY: So you're saying that 19 per cent is a bad compromise so you would look at the 10.5 per cent?
SHORTEN: We are open to it. We will see what the evidence of the Senate report says because remember, what the Government is also doing is they are now putting a passenger movement charge on passengers who fly. This is a government who, whilst they love to say they never increase taxes, that's exactly what they are doing to travellers right now.
CASSIDY: Now Tony Abbott seemed to have made a pitch through an intermediary to return to the ministry. If you were in Malcolm Turnbull's shoes, would you have him back in?
SHORTEN: Clearly they are a divided party. As long as this government goes on, the division will go on. Malcolm Turnbull doesn't have to take my advice but you are better having the troublemakers in the tent than outside.
CASSIDY: You found that with Kevin Rudd?
SHORTEN: In the Opposition I lead, I haven't had any of the troubles Malcolm Turnbull has had. We are united. We understand and we have learnt the lessons from a Rudd-Gillard era, that a party which is not united cannot govern the country.
And you just have to look at the division in this government - Malcolm Turnbull too weak to control Tony Abbott, too distracted by the Right Wing of his party and by the Senators. We've got this whole mess in the Senate, which is fundamentally Malcolm Turnbull's doing. He gave us a double dissolution, which meant you needed fewer votes than normal to get into the Senate than a half-Senate election - the consequence is more One Nation, more Family First, more chaos, more mess.
CASSIDY: Just finally on the United States' election, and you have already said of Donald Trump that he is barking mad and entirely unsuitable. Now there is a prospect that he might be elected, have you got anything to advance on that?
SHORTEN: Well, I have got my fingers crossed Hillary wins. And I say that because I think, not only would any sensible person in Australia be concerned about what Trump said, for instance, about women, but Hillary has got some good policies about engaging in Asia and our region. I think she has some positive agenda which will be good for Australia's interests.
Having said that, the American alliance is a stronger than a particular personality in either Australia or America, and obviously, Australia would work whoever the American people choose.
CASSIDY: Would Donald Trump represent a security risk for the region?
SHORTEN: I sincerely hope not but let's worry about that after the Americans have voted. It's this close now. I think that all eyes, whilst Parliament is sitting, all eyes will be on what happens in the United States.
CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Barrie.