Bill's Transcripts

Transcript: Interview on Sky News, Lunchtime Agenda, 24 February 2012

COMPERE:  Welcome back to our continuing coverage of this Labor leadership showdown.  Well, one senior figure that we haven't heard from so far, since the ballot was declared by Julia Gillard for Monday morning, is the Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten.  He joins us now from Melbourne.



Minister, thanks for your time and can I firstly get you to state exactly - and I'm sure it won't come as a surprise to many - the position that you will be taking in Monday's ballot?

BILL SHORTEN: I'll be supporting Julia Gillard.  But I just have to say that you just said you haven't heard from me since the Prime Minister called on the ballot.  I've actually done four press conferences.  I'll make sure that we get the Sky people there next time.

COMPERE:  My apologies, but we haven't heard from you talking to us here on Sky News.  I was...

BILL SHORTEN:  That is true.

COMPERE:  ...I was meaning to say. 

BILL SHORTEN:  That's true.

COMPERE:  We do try to follow your press conferences elsewhere, Minister, but...

BILL SHORTEN: I have been watching...

COMPERE:  ...it's what you say here on Sky that matters the most.

BILL SHORTEN: And just reassure me - you've been doing marathon work here - are you getting enough sleep?

COMPERE: We're doing fine.  I'm more worried...

BILL SHORTEN: Okay, good on you.

COMPERE: ...Labor MPs at the moment and the turmoil...

BILL SHORTEN:  We're okay too.

COMPERE:  ...and bloodletting that's going on there.  Are you really okay, though, because some of the stuff that's being said about Kevin Rudd in particular and his time as Prime Minister is pretty damaging to the Labor brand?

You haven't particularly shared in any of those personal attacks.  Why not?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, let's go to Labor members, okay, and how damaging all this is.  The leadership speculation, which accelerated in the last two weeks, has been damaging.  I think to say anything other than that's not to be talking to real people. 

But what the Prime Minister's done is she's decided to end this matter, following the foreign minister's resignation from Washington about midnight Washington time.  And once he announced he was resigning, the Prime Minister the next morning said, all right, well let's bring it on.  

It is the case in politics, and you only - and you on Sky are students of politics, from time to time there will be arguments about leadership and direction.  And what the Prime Minister's done is she's said, all right, let's have this out for once and for all and she's called it on for Monday. 

I think that Labor MPs on one hand, hate the fact that we've got all this and speculation and debate.  On the other hand, I think are even more committed, to drawing a line under whatever happens Monday and getting on with life and also making sure that Labor's getting on with the issues which we have been for the last 18 months.

COMPERE:  But do you share the view that Kevin Rudd can't lead a functional Government?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I'm supporting Julia Gillard.  I think that in itself speaks volumes.  I think she is the strongest leader.  I'm not going to analyse Kevin in-depth and provide further commentary beyond what you've already heard from others.

COMPERE:  But why not?

BILL SHORTEN:  But what I...

COMPERE:  See, this is the contrast. 

BILL SHORTEN:  Well because...

COMPERE:  Your Cabinet colleagues are doing plenty of that, you're not.  Why are you being more careful?

BILL SHORTEN:  Well, it's not a question of being more careful, it's a question of understanding that I want to talk about the merits of the Prime Minister.  Our Prime Minister is very tough.  What she's done in the last 18 months is conclude a lot of the Labor reforms which we promised to undertake from 2007. 

She - and supported by Tanya Plibersek, have got a landing on private health insurance, so no longer will the secretaries of millionaires be paying the health tax concessions of millionaires.  We've set a price on carbon.  We passed in the Parliament at last, certainly in the House of Representatives, an increase in superannuation from 9 to 12 per cent, so people can retire more comfortably.  Last week we also - so, yeah, the last week it was, we passed laws to ensure that the construction industry and building workers get the same sort of rights that workers in other parts of the Australian economy do.  So she's getting on with business. 

I think another point which is worth making in talking about her merits is that she has I believe the widespread support of the Labor Party and the Labor movement.

BILL SHORTEN:  Individual Caucus...

COMPERE: Sorry, I was just going to say...

BILL SHORTEN:  Individual Caucus members...

COMPERE:  Go on, go on.

BILL SHORTEN:  Mmm.  Individual Caucus members will make their own decisions.  I don't accept this proposition that somehow all the Caucus members are robots waiting for instructions from the mothership.

COMPERE:  Mmm.

BILL SHORTEN:     I think that interpretation of Caucus members disrespects them.  I don't mind, if MPs are voting for Kevin Rudd that's fine.  If MPs vote for Julia Gillard that's fine.  What I do know is that each of these individuals will be arriving at these conclusions based on their view of the merits and Julia Gillard's leadership and whether or not she's the best person to lead the nation. 

COMPERE:  If she is delivering on those reforms that you listed there: getting on with the job and implementing Labor reforms...

BILL SHORTEN:  I forgot the mining tax too, thanks.

COMPERE:  Okay.  Add that to the list.  Why isn't this reflected in public support?  But more importantly, why are we now seeing your own colleagues, like Nick Champion, Ed Husic, Martin Ferguson, Kim Carr, Robert McClelland, all now saying we need to change leader?

BILL SHORTEN:  Well first of all, in terms of public support some of these reforms are tough.  Remember the terrible time we had explaining the first go at a Resources Super Profit Tax. It was Julia Gillard supported by Wayne Swan who landed the Minerals Rent Resource Tax, which will see something like ten billion dollars provided to - from the super profits of mining companies to share with the rest of Australia, who are doing it hard with the high dollar, who aren't receiving all the benefits of the mining boom.

I mean, she's got on and done those laws - our Prime Minister, and yet at the same time Tony Abbott wants to give that money back to the richest companies in the world.

Now, some of these reforms aren't always popular - putting a price on carbon.  There are some in the community who think that superannuation should be abolished rather than increased from 9 to 12 per cent.  When you make hard decisions, as good leaders do, when you implement hard decisions, as good leaders do, you will cop some short-term pain. 

In terms of the second part of your question, individual members of Caucus are entitled to their opinion - that's fair.  But what I'd also say to you about...

COMPERE:    But can you understand that is the point that I'm making?  I mean, can you understand why your...

BILL SHORTEN:     Mmm.

COMPERE:   ...own colleagues, your own Cabinet colleagues...

BILL SHORTEN:     But I...

COMPERE:   ...some of them...

BILL SHORTEN:     I...

COMPERE:   ...aren't confident in Julia Gillard's ability.

BILL SHORTEN:  But I can also understand that time doesn't permit you to read out the roll call of people who are supporting the Prime Minister, quite accurate...

COMPERE:  But you would expect that support for the Prime Minister.  I'm asking about those who...

BILL SHORTEN:  Well, hang on, but when does Julia Gillard get a break from some in the media who say, well, if she's got a majority of people voting for her you would expect that.  Well, hello - there's a leadership ballot, and what's happens is a vast majority - and you've heard many eminent senior respected ministers and backbenchers commenting.

COMPERE:   I'm not disputing that.  I'm just saying...

BILL SHORTEN:  We...

COMPERE:   ...It is unusual.

BILL SHORTEN:     Look, when you list, when you list, but when you list five people or six people who support a change that's their opinion and they're entitled to it.  And I'm not going to criticise people for what they'd said. 

But what I also would say is I've seen at least forty-six member of Caucus...

COMPERE:   Mmm.

BILL SHORTEN: ... publicly reported, on the record, as supporting the Prime Minister.  Well, I think we just - let's have Monday.  And the other point I'd make is that this is a - this is not, it is a very unedifying spectacle but leadership contests sometimes are.

I remember the terrible Howard - Andrew Peacock, sorry, I forgot his name, but Andrew Peacock years. They were fighting each other like Kilkenny cats for years.  I also recall Peter Costello having dinner at the WatersEdge restaurant, not that he asked me, in 2005 where he boasted to journalists that he was going to take down John Howard.

Then, as we know, the controversy was that he came out and said that never happened.  That became a bit of a scandal because then journalists were put in the uncomfortable position of giving up a source and confirmed Peter Costello...

COMPERE:  I mean, that's fair enough but I can never recall Cabinet ministers openly declaring, like they have over the last 24 hours...

BILL SHORTEN:  Well...

COMPERE: ...that John Howard should go, that...

BILL SHORTEN:  Well...

COMPERE:   ...there's someone who can do a better job in their ranks.

BILL SHORTEN:  Oh, is that right?  I actually thought that, well to begin with, Peter Costello never had the ticker to challenge John Howard, although his memoirs, the Prime Minister - former Prime Minister Howard's memoirs, apparently, I'm sure you would have know, that he desperately wanted to...

COMPERE:  Sure.

BILL SHORTEN:     ...but he couldn't get, he couldn’t get above about forty in the Caucus of a hundred-and-ten.  And if he couldn't get to that number he was never going to challenge.

COMPERE:  I guess the point I'm getting to here is to those people - and yes they may be a minority in Caucus and are a minority in Caucus at the moment - what can you say to them to give them any sort of comfort that things will change if they stick with Julia Gillard, that their concerns will be addressed?

BILL SHORTEN:  Well first of all, no one needs a lecture from one member of Caucus to another about how they're voting.  I know those individuals.  They're entitled to their opinion.  They've all done service for the Labor Party.  They are entitled to their opinion.

What I would say, though, is that if you want to see things lift, that once we have the ballot on Monday then it's a bit like the siren in the district grand final.  Once you've had the grand final I think it's reasonable for supporters of all teams and the bystanders to know that you don't have a grand, a grand final the next week and the next week and the next week. 

I think Australians can get that periodically in Canberra people want to seek power for all the good reasons, but at a certain point you draw a line under the leadership speculation.  That's what our Prime Minister's done.  She's submitting herself to the - a jury of her peers, the members of the Caucus, the people who've worked alongside both candidates for the last four years.

These are the people who work day by day, shoulder by shoulder.  They'd have a fair idea I think of the merits of the candidates.  That's why I support Julia Gillard, because she's a strong leader, she was able to pull together a - the - a sufficient number of people in the hung parliament.

Never forget, in the hung parliament Australians voted for seventy-two Conservative Members of Parliament and seventy-two Labor members and six crossbenchers.  That was the will of the Australian people. 

Now we've - and Julia Gillard was the only person, not Tony Abbott, with the capacity, the emotional intelligence to pull them together.  Then what happens is that Tony Abbott, ever since then he wants to have an election every day of the week.  I mean, he's a bad loser, a sore loser and what we see now is our Prime Minister said, all right, there is leadership speculation, let's have it out.

And she's also said, I note, that in the event she's unsuccessful she'll go to the backbench and renounce her intentions for leadership.  She - it takes a tough person to call it on and say, righto, let's get on with business, let's make the decisions for the good of the nation and the Labor Party.

COMPERE:  Just on that, if Julia Gillard wins on Monday, as we expect she will, Kevin Rudd loses but problems continue for the Gillard Government.  Towards the end of the year people are saying and questioning, well maybe we need to revisit this.  Can you say before us right here and now whether you will at any stage in this term be a candidate for the leadership?

BILL SHORTEN:  Well first of all, your answer assumes that people - or the candidate is unsuccessful will continue to or will decide to be disloyal once there's been a decision.  I don't believe that will be the case.

COMPERE:   Why?

BILL SHORTEN:  I think that underestimates...

COMPERE:  You don't...

BILL SHORTEN:  Well, I'm sorry.  If you know something...

COMPERE:  You don't think so?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well, let's be clear.  Some of the people who you've mentioned I know are forming the views they're forming on both points of view, because they have a view about the best interests of the Government and the nation.  But this idea that you're predicting so we can have more twenty-four hour blow by blow...

COMPERE:   [Laughs]

BILL SHORTEN:  ...leadership controversy...

COMPERE:   We've just heard a number of Rudd supporters - Doug Cameron, Robert McClelland - all pointing to the fact that even if he loses next week the problems aren't going to be over.  It won't be the end of it.  So just getting back to my...

BILL SHORTEN:     Well...

COMPERE:   ...question to you...

BILL SHORTEN:  The first problem that we solve...

COMPERE:  If this becomes an issue again at the end of the year, will you - are you able to rule out being a candidate yourself in this term of Parliament?

BILL SHORTEN:   Yes.  I support our leader.  Any discussion of third candidates is a distraction from the debate we've got right now.  What Australians want to hear is in the difficult patch for the Labor Party they're going to have their arguments, they're out in the open, people are saying what they think.  But they also want to hear - and I think they reasonably expect - that the Labor Party, the oldest political party in Australia, is capable of having its disagreements, as we have, as the Coalition do, that we get on with business.  That's what people want to hear.

COMPERE: All right.  Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, I appreciate your talking to us today.  Thank you for that.

BILL SHORTEN:  Thanks.  Grab a little sleep.  Cheers.

COMPERE:  [Laughs] We'll try to do that.  Thank you.