TUESDAY, 15 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: Greens selling out on their ‘principles’; Marriage Equality; Malcolm Turnbull saying one thing and doing another; National Press Club address; Unions; 2016 Election.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good evening, Leigh.
SALES: So is anybody in the Senate acting in the national interest or is it all about the self-interest?
SHORTEN: I think this current Senate conflict is a problem of the Government's making. I thought when Mr Turnbull became leader replacing Mr Abbott, that we would see an end to the Government chaos but it's still there. Specifically what I mean Leigh, is today Senator Muir proposed if the Government's so concerned about the Australian building industry that the matter should be brought on to be debated. After all, that's what Mr Turnbull's justifying for a potential double dissolution. And we saw a remarkable thing happen. The Government, who says that the Australian Building and Construction Commission is such a vital issue, wouldn't vote to bring the matter on. In fact they voted with the Greens political party not to have the matter brought on. So this is chaos. Also the Greens voted against a resolution put up by one of the independent Senators calling on a vote on marriage equality, it was the Greens' own motion and the Greens voted against having a debate about marriage quality today so there's a deal under way and there's chaos and the Government really needs to look at their own performance.
SALES: Do you think that voters would buy that everyone else is acting irresponsibly but that Labor just happens to be acting responsibly?
SHORTEN: The facts speak for themselves. Today, whilst Malcolm Turnbull is angsting over when to have an election or making a decision about having a decision, I was at the National Press Club talking about Labor's key issues for the election. We've said its jobs, Medicare, education, renewable energy - there's real action on climate change and of course a fair taxation system and housing affordability, and not to forget the equal treatment of women. They're the issues we're talking about.
SALES: I'd like to run through that speech in some detail with you and compare some of your words to Labor's record. Firstly you said that the Abbott/Turnbull Government should have legislated for same-sex marriage by now, it should have surged forward on Recognition, it should have moved on the Republic and yet Labor was in Government you held power for six years until just 2.5 years ago and you did nothing on those things?
SHORTEN: That's not quite right. I actually voted for marriage equality when the legislation was presented into the Parliament several years ago and the mood has changed on marriage equality. I think it's fair to say that in the last three to four years a whole lot of Australians have said either, listen, what's the big deal and why is everyone so obsessed about it? And secondly, why can't people in a loving relationship be able to get married? Instead we've got this crazy plebiscite notion where all of a sudden some people's marriages are going to be voted on through a plebiscite of a taxpayer-funded opinion poll.
SALES: Yet after six years of Labor in power, we don't have same-sex marriage legalised, we don't have a Republic and we don't have Constitutional Recognition.
SHORTEN: Well, I think, though, the fair record would reflect in the two and half years that I've been leader of the Labor Party, I've worked very cooperatively with Mr Abbott and to be fair to Mr Abbott, which is something I don't think many of his own party are doing anymore, on Constitutional Recognition I thought he had more energy for the topic than Malcolm Turnbull. On marriage equality, I have proposed legislation and it's Mr Turnbull who is not allowing a conscience vote of his party. Instead he's been captured by the far right of his party and adopting the delaying tactics of a taxpayer-funded plebiscite with all the divisiveness of that. And in terms of the Republic, Mr Turnbull seems to take the view that because he failed in 1999 we're not allowed to talk about it again and I don't share that view.
SALES: Let me take you to another point, you said that Labor's committed to addressing inequality in poverty yet also in government recently one of your most noted policies in the social arena was cutting payments for single mothers by $60 to $100 a week.
SHORTEN: I've said that that was a mistake and what we're going to do tomorrow night is, Jenny Macklin, my Families Shadow Minister has been doing a lot of work in the last two years with a lot of my colleagues consulting with people, business and the social investment sector. She will be releasing a report about 'Growing Together'. The nub of that story is that we think that the best way to have sustainable economic growth in Australia is to have fair distribution of income. We've got to ensure that we have inclusive growth. Inequality, and it's at a 75-year high, is a handbrake on economic growth. When we've got efficient Medicare systems, when we've got effective well-funded schools, when we have a well-funded National Disability Insurance Scheme and a safety net of fair conditions in the workplace you create the preconditions for growth which is sustainable and most importantly shared by all people. The only way to lift national living standards is to make sure that all people are sharing in the benefits of our wealth of this country.
SALES: Let me take you to a third area of your speech today. You said today that you had no time and no tolerance for corruption from unions or business and yet Labor continues to accept donations and influence from the CFMEU, an organisation which had 73 representatives before the courts last month and which has been branded by judges all over the country as an organisation that repeatedly flouts the law.
SHORTEN: You're right, I do have no tolerance for union corruption. Some of the reports which came out of the Royal Commission where you see officials taking members' money just makes me sick to the guts. And it's the same in corporate Australia, but I don't -
SALES: But I'm talking about, sorry if we can go to the union's point, I'm talking about the CFMEU having been branded in numerous Federal Courts around the country as an organisation that regularly flouts the law, not individuals, as an organisation with that culture.
SHORTEN: Yes, but you said - first of all I wanted to restate absolutely for the record my and Labor's intolerance of corruption and criminality.
SALES: Yet you continue to accept many hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations from the CFMEU, so how is that zero tolerance?
SHORTEN: No and I'm about to come to that, Leigh. First of all, the CFMEU generally hasn't actually been deregistered. I don't accept that all of the people in the CFMEU are bad people. I think that if you had a relative working on a building site you'd want to make sure that there were proper rates of pay and that people were treated safely and the union helps contribute to that. But again, if we want to talk about criminality, the laws that the Government's proposing aren't criminal laws. It's about creating a second industrial bureaucracy, it's about creating two sets of laws for different groups of workers in Australia. Now I am up for sensible governance. Labor's proposed doubling penalties, we've proposed making sure that ASIC, the regulator, can clamp down on unlawful behaviour. What I'm not going to do, though, is allow this debate to be turned into an attack on the ability of unions to organise workers across Australia. We've seen what happens when you don't have unionised work forces. It's called 7-Eleven, it's called Pizza Hut. It's called the sham contracting -
SALES: Four out of five Australians aren't members of unions. There's plenty of non-unionised workforces in Australia.
SHORTEN: Doesn't that then show that the case about unions sort of running Australia is overcooked? You can't have it both ways. You can't say the unions have too much power and then say, you know, four out of five people aren't in unions. The truth of the matter is, and unions can speak for themselves, but my experience of creating harmonious and cooperative workplaces is that we need to create safe workplaces, productive workplace, well remunerated workplaces. Unions have a legitimate role. The real issue here is that I and Labor are anti-corruption but I'm afraid Mr Turnbull and Liberals are just anti-union.
SALES: Let's get you to flesh out more detail on things you touched on today. One thing you said Labor is committed to trying to take the economy to full employment. What percentage of unemployment do you consider to be full employment?
SHORTEN: I believe this economy functions best when we've got the right economic settings and business confidence to ensure that all those who can work are able to work to their full capacity.
SALES: So what would be your target for the unemployment rate?
SHORTEN: Five per cent, but what we've got to do when we talk about full employment is also look at - it's not satisfactory that we've got six per cent plus unemployment, that's 750,000 people, but it's also not satisfactory that we have under-employment of over 1 million Australians who regularly record they don't have enough work, they're dissatisfied and not getting enough hours, they want to do more work. It's also not satisfactory that we've got 800,000 people or so on the disability support pension and many of them are excluded from the job market because of discrimination and the unconscious bias against people with disability. When you total all those numbers up, it's somewhere between 2 and 3 million Australians who I think are not fully employed and that's the challenge. We've got to do more to support Australian jobs. I mean a small example of that is that I do not understand for the life of me why this Government handed away 3,000 ship building jobs to a Spanish dockyard to build two ships for the Australian Navy in Spain. And it's also the challenge around insecure work. Brendan O'Connor, Lisa Chesters and myself announced measures to prevent the exploitation of temporary visa workers that we saw at 7-Eleven. We also want to have a discussion in this country about people who have insecure employment. There was a story in yesterday's media about a forklift driver who has worked for a company for five years continuously but doesn't enjoy any of the rights of permanent workers. We can't create a permanent underclass of Australian workers because we won't get the productivity and growth that we need for sustainable economic growth in the future.
SALES: Just again to try to get a specific number, you spoke today about wanting to reduce government spending and to cut waste. Government spending is currently at 25.9 per cent of GDP, historically very high. In numerical terms what do you consider to be a good target for government spending?
SHORTEN: Well, we don't want to see waste. In numerical terms we will see what the Budget presents in terms of what's happened but what I was spelling out today is that it's not -
SALES: Sorry just to interrupt there, you don't actually have a target in mind? You don't thing, say 23 per cent of GDP is a good target to aim for or a different number?
SHORTEN: Less than what the Government's doing at 25.9 per cent, but let's be fair, we need to see what the Budget is, we need to see what revenues are coming in and what expenditure there is. But what I can assure you and through you, the viewers of Australia, is that Labor's prepared to cut wasteful programs. We will cut the Abbott-Turnbull Emissions Reduction Fund which is costing billions of dollars to pay big polluters for poor results, we won't go ahead with the $1.4 billion deal worked out between Mr Turnbull and the National Party in return for the National Party's support for his leadership to provide a baby bonus of $1,000 to parents who are not working. And also we're not going to go ahead with the $160 million taxpayer-funded plebiscite for an opinion poll when really the parliamentarians are elected to make decisions in Parliament.
SALES: You said today that this election will be fought on leadership. Do you really want to fight on leadership when you're at 22 per cent as preferred Prime Minister and Malcolm Turnbull's on 61 per cent?
SHORTEN: Yes, leadership is what I'm prepared to fight this election on. Leadership, ideas and real changes and real choices for Australia. I think everyone's been massively disappointed in the last six months. I knew when Mr Turnbull deposed Mr Abbott that I was in for a harder fight, but part of me also hoped that he would take politics to a higher place, to a better place and we would have a debate about ideas. But in the last six months, you know, I think the politics of hope has diminished in Mr Turnbull. I think he's a diminished character in terms of shrinking into his job. Everything he stood for before he got elected he's changed his mind on. It doesn't matter if it's marriage equality and a conscience vote, it could be what he said about the republic. Climate change, he was the king of climate change, the champion of climate change before he became leader of the Liberal Party and now it seems to me that the right wing of his party will only let him talk about Labor and unions and not much else.
SALES: Just very quickly before you go, we could find ourselves very soon in an election campaign. For as long as I can recall your predecessors as Labor leaders have appeared on this program at least twice during the election campaign for lengthy prime time television interviews, will you be happy to join me during this year's campaign for at least a couple of appearances so viewers can hear about your approach in detail?
SHORTEN: Yes, and I say so not just because Labor is a friend of the proper funding of the ABC and SBS, but I think that this election, if we can get the ideas out and have a good debate about ideas, who's got the positive plans for Australia, well why wouldn't I want to be in that debate?
SALES: I will issue the same invitation to the Prime Minister when he's next on. Thank you very much, Mr Shorten.
SHORTEN: Good evening, thank you.