THURSDAY, 17 AUGUST 2017
SUBJECTS: Labor’s commitment to science, Barnaby Joyce’s dual citizenship crisis, NDIS
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. It's great to be here at the Academy of Science, out of Parliament House, talking about the future. Labor is very committed to promoting basic scientific research in this country. Australian science minds are the best in the world but they're not getting the sort of support from the political debate in this country that they deserve. Labor is committed to prioritising science to making sure that we move Australia to the front of the pack in terms of basic science research because when that happens, that's a real strategy for growth.
I have to say, that it is also a pleasure to be out in the real world, talking to scientists and researchers and leave behind me for a few minutes, the chaos and confusion which is the Turnbull Government in the Parliament.
I think most Australians are fed up to their back teeth with constitutional uncertainty, with chaos and with politics. I just want to reassure Australians that Labor is focusing on policies which talk to the future, which make sure that this generation of Australians hands on a better deal to our kids. We are happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, will Labor be offering the Prime Minister a pair when he goes to the Pacific Islands Forum soon?
SHORTEN: Yes. Let's be clear here, I don't think the Prime Minister is doing a very good job but having said that I respect the office of Prime Minister. When he travels overseas he represents our nation and I respect that job that he has to do.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it's acceptable for a member in your party, the party that you lead, to discuss domestic politics with another country and potentially discuss putting a question into their parliament?
SHORTEN: This is the Julie Bishop international treason plan of the Kiwis and Labor to undermine the Australian Government. I think we have all seen the mad conspiracy theories of the last 48 hours and I don't think the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister have done themselves any favours whatsoever.
Let's be clear here. Labor didn't ask the Government to refer their Deputy Prime Minister to the High Court. The Government did that. Labor didn't ask the Government to make their Deputy Prime Minister come out and declare that he was the citizen of a foreign power. Labor didn't go back to 1924 and make Barnaby Joyce's father be born in New Zealand, and Labor didn't cause the bungling lack of homework where some candidates, who are now in senior offices in this nation, didn't check the detail of the Constitution when they nominated for parliament to sort out their eligibility issues.
JOURNALIST: You have been accused of treason, what is your response to that?
SHORTEN: It is just a joke.
JOURNALIST: Did you authorise a $25,000 donation of union money to your 2007 election campaign when you were secretary of the AWU?
SHORTEN: Listen, this Government is absolutely keen to chuck all of the rubbish it can at me because they are desperate to distract from their own matters. I'm not going to go into every in and out of every issue but what I will say is this -
JOURNALIST: But did you authorise -
SHORTEN: I am going to answer your question. What I will say is this. I am very proud of my record of standing up for workers. Very proud indeed, and I also had a whole Royal Commission, a glorious taxpayer waste of money to ask us a thousand questions and now the Government wants to have another crack. I'm not getting into that game. I'm proud of my record and that's how it stands.
JOURNALIST: What was the criteria you gave to donate to your own campaign?
SHORTEN: I will refer to my previous answer and I'm absolutely, absolutely going to keep standing up for workers and I am going to stand up for the role that unions have in standing up for workers and the Government had a whole royal commission - and I might just remind you of the outcome of that royal commission - there were no adverse findings about me.
JOURNALIST: Was that really an appropriate use of union funds?
SHORTEN: It has been covered. I have had a thousand questions on this.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the dual citizenship laws should be changed?
SHORTEN: I think that candidates running for Parliament need to make sure they comply with the Constitution. I mean, the Constitution was written in 1900 - it was actually written before then. But I think If we are going to change the Constitution there are greater priorities for Labor to change. Not just sorting out retrospectively the eligibility of National Party MPs.
If I could have a serious conversation with the Prime Minister about constitutional change, I'd say, "Prime Minister, let's get on with recognising Indigenous Australians and enshrine their voice in the Constitution, step one. And step two, let's have an overdue discussion about having an Australian head of state." They are my priorities for constitutional reform. I think, in terms of the current constitution, they are the rules that people play under, and I just think the High Court will now have to tell us, whether or not Barnaby Joyce is eligible.
But let's also go to the heart of the matter here. The court's going to hear if Barnaby Joyce is eligible, there is a question mark over his eligibility. When Senator Canavan had a question mark over his eligibility, he stood aside from his ministerial responsibilities and he hasn't exercised a vote in the Senate. The Green Senators actually went a step further and resigned their places. Why does Malcolm Turnbull have a different standard for Barnaby Joyce than he did for Minister Canavan? That has not been adequately explained. I think everyone knows that Prime Minister Turnbull would lose majority Government if Barnaby Joyce has to stand aside if he can't exercise a vote. But to be fair, that is not our problem. The High Court will sort this out. In the meantime, I think Barnaby Joyce should do the right thing, let the nation move on from this constitutional crisis which he and his colleagues have embroiled us in. He shouldn't be exercising responsibilities as a Minister, when we found out that he was a dual citizen.
JOURNALIST: Will Labor back the Medicare Levy hike to guarantee NDIS funding?
SHORTEN: We are not going to increase taxes on working and middle class Australians at the same time that Malcolm Turnbull is reducing taxes for millionaires. Let's be clear, there is more than one way to fund the functions of government. I think it is horribly wrong of the Government to hold the NDIS hostage and say that the only way to be funded is through increasing taxes on people who earn $50,000 and $60,000 a year.
There are many other ways to fund the functioning of Government. You don't need to give away $65 billion to large multinationals. You don't need to give a tax cut to millionaires rather than just increasing taxes for 8 million Australians who haven't had a wage rise in many cases.
JOURNALIST: What if the Government raises the salary threshold to $87,000?
SHORTEN: Well if they come up with our policy, fine.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that given where the week has ended up there is merit in holding an audit for all MPs' citizenship?
SHORTEN: Well, I am not going to start reversing the onus and treating everyone as guilty until proven innocent. Senator Brandis actually covered this issue - whilst I don't often quote him for obvious reasons - in this case I think he was right in where he said that: you only refer people to the High Court if both sides agree. Once you set the precedent of majorities in Parliament referring minorities off, then you go down a very slippery slope. It was the Government's decision to refer Barnaby Joyce. As it turns out, he was a dual citizen - and it does contravene the Section 44.1 of the Constitution on its face. He will put forward his defences in the High Court but in the meantime, this Government is lurching from chaos to crisis to incompetence.
Last week we found out we are going to spend $120 million of taxpayer money on a postal survey. What couldn't the scientists here today do with that for research funding? What an amazing waste of money.
And then, this week we find out that the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia is a New Zealander. He has to go off to the High Court but they are not do anything about taking him out of his post.
Then on Tuesday we got embroiled in an international-conspiracy-treason sort of drama show which has got everyone in New Zealand and Australia scratching their heads and saying who is running Australia?
JOURNALIST: Jobs figures are out today. Do you have any plans to boost full-time employment, particularly given the slow wage growth in this country?
SHORTEN: Absolutely. We want to get the infrastructure spending rolling. We want to make sure that we invest in industries such as tourism and renewable energy. We want to invest in greater basic research. We want to properly fund our schools so our kids go out with the best skillset possible so they can apply and be able to win the jobs of the future.
Labor is most interested in how we boost jobs in this country. We are also most interested in how we reduce inequality in this country. You don't boost jobs in this country by increasing the Medicare levy or income taxes on people on $50,000 and $60,000 a year. You're not going to boost jobs in this country by giving millionaires a tax cut and giving large multinationals large extra profits that they can remit overseas through unsustainable tax cuts.
JOURNALIST: If the Government does refer four Labor MPs to the High Court, will you respond by challenging the eligibility of individual Coalition MPs who you believe are facing questions?
SHORTEN: I don't believe the Government is going to refer Labor MPs to the High Court. That would be an amazing abuse of their power. I suppose nothing should surprise me about this Government. The Prime Minister is so desperate I almost feel sorry for him.
JOURNALIST: Has Michael Keenan got questions to answer?
SHORTEN: Pardon -
JOURNALIST: Michael Keenan, does he have questions to answer?
SHORTEN: That is up for him to deal with. Every day is a new drama and a new surprise out of this Government.
What I want to say to Australians who have watched this week is this: I get that this has been a week of chaos where we don't know if the Government can form a majority. I get this has been a week of mad conspiracy theories trying to say New Zealand is trying to interfere in Australia.
I get that this has been a week where we see the Finance Minister making it up as he goes along to retrofit the $120 million postal survey on marriage equality.
I get that this must really be annoying Australians. But I am here today talking to our best scientific minds. I know that in politics, we can do better and we need to do better and Labor will do better.
Thank you very much everybody.