FRIDAY, 2 FEBRUARY 2018
SUBJECTS: Batman by-election, Adani Coal Mine; cost of living; Labor Party.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody and welcome to sunny Preston. I am really pleased to be standing here with a tireless warrior for workers rights, Ged Kearney. Did you know, for 10 years plus, Ged was a nurse so she really understands the health needs of everyday Australians. After that, Ged was a leader of the Nurses Federation, and it's fantastic that so many nurses she has worked alongside and represented are here today to wish her well. When Ged was helping lead the Nrses Federation, it was the time of WorkChoices, where Ged helped stand up and be a voice for nurses in defeating WorkChoices. Most recently, Ged has been a leader of the ACTU where she has been leading the fight against cuts to penalty rates and of course, the increasing casualisation and insecure work in our modern labour market.
On top of all that, I'm really pleased to be standing here with Ged because she's a local through and through. She has grown up in this area of Batman. She certainly has lived in Thornbury, Northcote, Preston - just about every post code in the district. So with no further ado, I am pleased to introduce to you the woman who I think will be the next member for Batman and she will certainly be Labor's candidate in the up coming by-election; Ged Kearney.
GED KEARNEY: Thank you. Thank you very much, everyone. Thanks for coming down to support me. It's really wonderful that you came, I'm really thrilled. And I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we are gathered today and pay my respects to elders past and present and those amongst those communities who are emerging leaders.
I have had a real tough couple of days, I had to make a very hard decision. You know, when the Leader of the Opposition rings you up and says, Ged, you know, I want you to run for Batman, you can't just say, you know treat that lightly. It was a big decision. How did I come to the decision? Well I thought about all the things that I have done in my life, in my working life. As a nurse, I was an advocate for my patients, for their families, for the community. I worked really hard as a nurse to do the very best job I could be by them.
At the Nurses Union, I fought hard for nurses rights. I was there at the massive fight for the nurse-patient ratios here in Victoria, which I am proud to say are now law thanks to the Daniel Andrews Government. We fought to save Medicare, for decent public services. We ran campaigns for the most vulnerable people in society, that's people who depend on age care services. These were all big campaigns that I ran with the nurses' union and I am proud of them.
Then of course, at the ACTU, I have been involved in the massive fight to save penalty rates, which of course, Bill and the Labor Party have been great supporters of us there. The fight for a just transition for workers who are, you know, caught up in this whole change to a clean energy society and climate change. I fought for migrant workers, for refugees, for just everyday people who just want to make a decent living and have a good, secure job, to have a minimum wage they can live on. They don't have to worry about casualised work and all the worries that come with being anxious about life because you can't depend on an income. I've done a lot of work at the ACTU that I'm incredibly proud of. Another example of course is fighting for paid domestic violence leave for those experiencing family and domestic violence.
I thought about all those things and I thought how can I best carry on that fight? I can best carry on that fight here in the federal seat. How lucky am I of Batman. I just can't pinch myself. It is so lucky that I can represent the people of Batman, a seat, that as Bill said, I lived in. My kids, it's hard to believe but my kids played Little Aths on this very oval we are on now. I think it was called West Bell, it is a lot flashier now than when I was here. We didn't have the lovely things and that is a good sign that things are getting better here in Batman. My kids went to school in this seat. I have lived here since, I think I was about 15 really. My mother lived and died here. My brother, sadly the same, lived and died here. My two sisters still live here. My beautiful sister, Honora is here supporting me today and she attends the Northern Support Services Adult Training Centre for people with disability, a place that I am very proud to say that I was a board member for a long time. It was only recently I resigned from that position.
This is lucky. This is the place I want to be and these are the people, the people of this community, I would love to represent and continue that good fight I have been fighting for. But I won't forget the local community have needs as well. I will be here every step of the way working with sporting communities, with the schools, with the community sector, with all of the people that make Batman a really great seat and a great place to live, no matter which end of the seat you live. I will be there for them. And I want to say to the people of Batman, I will be their voice in Canberra.
Bill knows what I'm like in Canberra, I'm there all the time, banging on doors, taking the fight up there. I bang on Bill's door a lot and he probably wishes I didn't but I am going to continue to do that. And Bill wants me to, exactly. I want the people of Batman to know that I will immerse myself, if elected as their representative, I will represent their values and I will be their voice in Canberra and within the Labor Party.
The last thing I want to see is this wonderful community used to derail the possibility of us having a really good progressive government in Canberra, and that is a Labor Government. So I am up for it. That's all I really have to say as an introduction.
SHORTEN: Before we take questions, I just want to explain what I think is involved in this Batman by-election. If we elect Ged Kearney in Batman, than we are one step closer to getting rid of the Turnbull Liberal Government in Canberra.
JOURNALIST: Ged, you have got a lot of anti-Adani mine protestors here, so that's obviously a big issue in the by-election. Is the by-election a referendum on the Adani mine and what's going to be your stance on it?
SHORTEN: Whilst I'll get Ged to answer your question, I just, with Adani, think we need to talk about the development overnight, the story which has been put up in The Guardian, reveals scandalous allegations that Adani is accused of falsifying scientific evidence and samples. If this is true, then that's a very serious matter and I call upon the Federal Government to immediately investigate these allegations to ascertain if they are true. Because one thing is true, one thing is beyond doubt, that Adani does not deserve a license to operate a coal mine if they are relying upon false statements and false stats. And if the current government refuses to investigate this matter, we will if and when we are elected.
I have been becoming increasingly sceptical of Adani in recent months. Let's be straight, the world coal market doesn't appear to be great economics for opening up the newest, biggest mine in the Southern Hemisphere. There's concerns expressed from other mining regions that this will actually, if developed, threaten their job security. We've had two years of bad coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, and the Reef is still there but it is under pressure since the environmental approvals were granted. And we have also got to see what information about this mine is now coming to light with regards to the impact upon the Great Artesian Basin.
So let's be very clear, Labor is increasingly sceptical and today's revelation, if true, is incredibly disturbing, and if Adani is rely upon false information, that mine does not deserve to go ahead. Happy to hand over to Ged.
JOURNALIST: I think you can hear a lot of voters in the electorate who would like you to just come out and block it and say that's not a 21st Century proposal for Australia. What's going to be your response to that?
KEARNEY: I'm 100 per cent supportive of what Bill just said and welcome to the 350 guys, great campaign - local guys, fabulous. Fantastic, good campaign. Personally I can't really see Adani going ahead. Personally I just can't see it. Bill's outlined a lot of issues with Adani environmentally, in his Press Club speech he talked about a range of issues and a range of concerns that have been brought to him by people about Adani. I know that Adani are not good employers, they don't treat their employees very well, they don't care about the communities, they don't care about the impact on the communities around the world where they work. I don't think it will go ahead myself. But I 100 per cent support Mr Shorten.
JOURNALIST: But Ged, that's not the same as saying that you're opposed to it or you support it. So people around here are going to want a position.
KEARNEY: I think Bill's said we are going to come to that position, and I think people can get a fairly good understanding of where maybe that position will be. But in all of these things I think we have to take a lot of things into account. It's not just a matter of - it is important to make these issues heard by everybody and I think there are a lot of things to take into account, and I think Bill 's made it very clear that we're coming to a position.
SHORTEN: There's no doubt though that the revelations today, if true, are most serious. And one thing's true, that if these allegations are correct, if Adani is relying upon false evidence and false samples and if it's not keeping it's word, well then the mine, the whole basis of the mine has to be in doubt.
JOURNALIST: Ged do you support the Green's policy today to nationalise power assets?
KEARNEY: To nationalise power assets? Look, I think that people are very, very concerned about power prices and I think there's a growing understanding that what happened back in the 80s with privatisation perhaps hasn't delivered the outcomes that it should have had, and I know that Bill is on the record as saying that. To renationalise the grid would be a great big process to go through, certainly it's worthy of consideration.
JOURNALIST: It would be a huge blow to our, sort of, national reputation as an investment destination -
SHORTEN: Let's just be clear, the Greens have put a stunt on this morning, and they've just promised they're going to buy it all back. Let's be realistic, that's not going to happen. But there is a concern and it's a legitimate concern across Australia that the Turnbull Government hasn't got a plan for energy prices. One of the facts of life these days is that every time you get an energy bill you're prices are going up and up.
If you're a small business, if you're a manufacturing business you are really struggling with all of the gas price increases for example. What this country needs to do is it needs to set a framework so we can get people investing in renewable energy.
You can make all the promises you like because you never expect it to happen, that's the sort of, Greens' strategy. But as I said in the closing remarks of our address - of our opening, voting for Ged in Batman brings us one step closer to getting rid of the Turnbull Government.
And a very good reason to get rid of the Turnbull Government is their complete paralysis when it comes to renewable energy. On one hand, they're sort of talking up the virtues of the Adani mine, and on the other hand they're torpedoing renewables by making them a political football. Every time there's a black out, every time a light bulb flickers, they spend the whole of Question Time attacking renewable energy.
Ged and I, and Labor, we want to see 50 per cent renewables by 2030 and we're putting forward the policies which not only get us to the future with lower cost energy, more renewable jobs and more renewable energy, and a real policy on climate change.
But we do it in a way which is realistic rather than just pretending you can turn the clock back to 1982.
KEARNEY: It would be a massive undertaking.
JOURNALIST: The Greens have made steady in roads into Labor's primary vote here over the last decade or so, so why is this going to be any different this time?
SHORTEN: Well Ged Kearney's our candidate. I'll be interested to see if Mr Turnbull even runs. He's fond of saying everything's a challenge for me, but it's a challenge for Mr Turnbull. He knows that if he runs a candidate, they'll probably do worse than last time. So he doesn't want that test.
In terms of us, Ged Kearney as we've heard, a very capable candidate, and I think even for journalists who are used to business as usual, I think when you listened to Ged then, you get a sense not only of her capacity but of her compassion.
The Labor Party is putting up a top flight candidate here today, and I don't think anyone, even critics of Labor can complain that Ged's not a very good candidate. She's a local, she's been working hard, she's been a nurse, she's stood up for nurses. She's got a track record of fighting for the underdog and if we can get that chance for her in Batman she will make a great mark not only for the Batman community but I think in Australian politics. We've just got to get that chance up for her.
JOURNALIST: Given David Feeney only won on Liberal preferences, do you want the Liberal's to contest it?
SHORTEN: What the Liberal Party do is up to them. Let's face it, increasingly this - if Turnbull doesn't run, that tells you the one thing we know, that he's going to get a vote against him. If he runs, so be it, he'll get an increased vote against him won't he.
So I no longer spend my waking hours, unlike my rival, thinking about him. What keeps me up now, is working out how we tackle cost of living. How do we get a fairer deal for workers, how do we stop becoming two Australia’s where too many Australians are left behind. How do we make sure that kids can afford to go to university and go to TAFE? How do we make sure that we start reducing the 100,000 people on the waiting list for aged care. We've got to make sure that we have a proper policy in the future on the climate, that we protect the reef. We don't want to be a generation who hands on a worse deal to our kids and says it's all your problems to fix up.
I think that if we can get Ged Kearney up in Batman, what happens next is we are one step closer to getting rid of the Turnbull Governent and that's the game in town.
JOURNALIST: How does it feel to have Labor royalty in the form of Brian Howe here with the seat realistically in the ballots?
KEARNEY: It's a great honour to have Brian and I should have acknowledged Brian. I was really thrilled to see him. Brian has of course worked very closely with me, and I've worked very closely with Brian while in my time at the ACTU. We put together the incredibly important report on insecure work, which showed just how difficult and how anxious people's lives are when they're caught in a cycle of casual short-term labour. Nearly 40 per cent of our workforce doesn't get paid leave. A lot of people don't even know if they've got a job the next day until they get a text message the night before telling them whether they've got a shift. A lot of people just don't know what their income is going to be from week to week.
And I'm really proud, in Bill's Press Club speech the other day he highlighted that this is going to be an area of importance to the Labor Party. This is going to be an area where we can depend on progressive policy and hopefully we can make people's lives less anxious.
JOURNALIST: There are reports that Sally McManus is now looking to abolish the role of President at the ACTU after your resignation. What do you have to say about that?
KEARNEY: I think that's a matter for Sally and the ACTU right now. I'm just totally focused on moving into this phase of campaigning hard for the people of Batman.
JOURNALIST: Now are you guys going to abandon the approach that you tried to take in Northcote which was local kitchen sink issues that failed? Are we going to see a different approach here in Batman?
SHORTEN: Listen, I didn't follow the State by-election too closely. For us the issue is we're presenting an outstanding candidate of merit for the people of Batman to consider. Just to go back to what we think some of the issues are. We've got someone who was a nurse for 10 years of her working life, then lead the Nurses Federation standing up against Work Choices and the dreadful conservative attacks on the conditions of working people in this country.
She's served at the very highest ranks within the ACTU giving voice to a whole group of Australians who are missing out. The people in insecure, casualised, contract work. Now, she at my request has decided to accept the view that she wants to be the candidate for Labor running for Batman. She's lived in this area like we said. You know I think she actually does tick a whole lot of boxes which can be summarised by authenticity. Ged is the real deal, what you see is what you get.
Let's face it in 2018 people want politics to be better than it was in 2017. As I said at the Press Club, parliament and politicians I don't think finished the year on a very good note with the Australian people other than perhaps, of course, the marriage equality vote and Labor's campaign on a banking Royal Commission. But 2017, on average wasn't the finest year for Australian politics, I think we all agree. In 2018 I have said that I will take politically difficult positions, that what we will do in the course of this year is not rely on the Government to fall over, but offer positive policies which are about saying to Australia, we can be better, Australia can do better. But also on the basis that we don't leave anyone behind. I am very concerned that what we see is whilst we've got some good economic numbers in terms of growth, the corporate profits last year were up 20 per cent yet wages only 2 per cent. The price of housing is increasing far higher than the price of wages. What we see is energy prices going up and we see the private health insurers taking Australians for one big ride, it's a con.
So what we need to do in Labor is we need to demonstrate that we're up for dealing with the issues which affect workers and families. In picking Ged Kearney I can't think of a finer representative - she's authentic, she's worked as a nurse, she's spent her whole working life standing up and looking after people. If she's given the chance in Batman by the voters of Batman and the very fact that Malcolm Turnbull will probably not run shows that if Ged Kearney wins in Batman, we are one step closer to defeating the Turnbull Liberal Government at the next general election.
JOURNALIST: Ged you mentioned earlier the importance of a decent minimum wage, do you think it should be higher at the moment and if so how much higher?
KEARNEY: Well I think we've been very clear on that, that the minimum wage simply hasn't kept up with the cost of living, it's been stagnant. Everybody from the Reserve Bank Governor through to the Treasurer through to your everyday economist is saying that the major problem with our economy right now is wages stagnation. And so yes I think the minimum wage needs to rise, I think where it's pegged is important or what that gap is but, I will leave that up to the experts to decide exactly what the economy needs for that but certainly people need a pay rise in this country.
Part of that, of course, is that our IR laws make it very difficult to bargain properly, with your union for pay rises. We know that the bargaining system is broken, we know that that needs to be looked at, that needs to be fixed. Bill has spoken at length about the fact that employers can just terminate bargains and throw people back down onto the award or onto the minimum wage. You know that is just wrong, that shouldn't happen. You should be able to stand up, you should be able to bargain and every single bargain that you make should take you forward, should improve your living standards and at least keep up with the cost of living. That's not happening in this country right now, it is not happening, and so there needs to be a big change to give working people more power to bargain for better wages.
JOURNALIST: What will be your pitch to the increasingly affluent voters who have sort of flooded the zone in the south and who is – the south of Bell Street and who are now moving increasingly north of Bell Street and in every election they make up a larger proportion of the electorate, so what's your pitch to them?
KEARNEY: I think I understand - I've lived in the inner north, as I've said, nearly all my life and I'm pretty in tune with their values and with what they believe in and I know that the people of Batman, no matter where they are, north or the south, they care about the burgeoning issues that are growing in this country.
Inequality is at an all-time high, the top one per cent wealthy people in this country own more than the lowest earning 70 per cent. You know, this is, these are issues that they care about. They want a decent health system, they want their kids to go to decent public schools, they want to know that their kids can get a job, that they can afford to buy a house, that they can plan for a future, they want to know they can go to university without a lifetime of debt. I think all of these issues are universal and I know that they know that they are important to me and that I will take those values, I will be their voice in Canberra.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten do you think the Andrews Government has been chasing the Greens vote by going too far to the left?
SHORTEN: Thanks for the question Sam. Listen, what matters to me in this by-election is the opportunity to get a tip-top authentic representative for Batman into Parliament. Ged Kearney is the real deal, she's authentic. I don't think we have enough nurses in Parliament. She knows how the health system works and she's worked in it, she knows what nurses do for a living, she's represented them successfully. Her time at the ACTU has been marked by the implementation of values of just standing up for people who don't have a voice.
Ged is exactly the sort of person in 2018 we should be attracting to politics. In terms of policies which are right or left, you know the names and where they fit on the grid, that doesn't worry me as much as, is the Labor party serious about helping people. That is why we want to stand this year and say that the core to doing politics better in this country was a National Integrity Commission because I think that too many people think that politicians are just in it for themselves. So what we have to do is try and break that stereotype and we do that by setting up the equivalent of a federal anti-corruption commission as we see at the states. But beyond that, Labor and Ged will be a great advocate, if she's given the opportunity by the voters in Batman.
What we want to do is tackle cost of living. You've got an unfair tax system in this country where the really rich if you have enough money can basically sub-out of the tax system that most people have to pay into. We've got a system where the wages are just stagnating and standard of living is going backwards. We're not seeing the benefits of this great country being shared fairly. What Labor will do this year is we will present policies which will genuinely tackle cost of living, which will tackle the big insurance companies which will actually put downward pressure on electricity prices by backing renewables. We're going to properly fund our schools instead of cutting them, we're going to properly fund our hospitals instead of giving multinationals and millionaires a tax cut. So I think they're the issues and I can't think of a better representative to carry that message forward than Ged Kearney.
Perhaps if we could take just one more question.
JOURNALIST: Just on the National Presidency of the ALP Bill. Do you think that frontbenchers should be allowed to apply for and get the job of National President?
SHORTEN: I think Mark Butler has done a good job in his term, so that's the first thing I want to say. Beyond that I'm going to leave it to the people most interested in ALP rules, to talk about ALP rules. The people in Preston I suspect, have zero interest in terms of some of the machinations in the party and what I'm going to do in 2018, my job, is to help convince Australians that my platform and Labor's platform is a fair dinkum platform which will make sure that Australia does better and we don't leave people behind, that's my priority.
JOURNALIST: Ged just wondering if you're aware of and if so if you support the movement known as Boycott Divestment Sanctions which is pushing for a series of boycotts against Israel for its treatment of Palestinians?
SHORTEN: Listen, on the BDS movement it's we've - most of our party don't support the BDS movement but that doesn't mean that we don't want to see improvements in terms of the way that we have a two-state solution in the Middle East. I guarantee you though, in Batman we see the issues as being making sure that we're actually are fair dinkum on the environment, that we're fair dinkum about chasing and putting renewable energy at the centre of our energy policies, that we're fair dinkum about the lives of people living here. And I can promise people who are a bit over politics after 2017 that we want to get into the big issues. Ged Kearney is going into to politics because she's not in it for herself she's in it for the people, that's what people want to see out of their politicians and I think she will do a great job if given the chance.