MONDAY, 6 NOVEMBER 2017
SUBJECTS: Citizenship crisis.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Four days ago I invited the Prime Minister to join with me to help solve the citizenship circus, which is undermining Australian's confidence in the parliament. At the time Turnbull quickly dismissed our offer of a bipartisan solution. In fact he was rather sneering in the way he dismissed our idea. However, today, for reasons that I don't think are fully clear to Australians yet, the Prime Minister has had a last minute change of heart and now he's seeking to engage with me about how we restore the Australian people's confidence in our parliament.
Now I don't know the reasons why the Prime Minister has changed his mind. I did say at the time that I suspected his reluctance to act meant he was hiding something or that he knew something the Australian people didn't know or it could well be that his Cabinet's rolled him in the last 24 hours.
Anyway, to some extent that's the problem of the Government's. The problem of Australia is that we have uncertainty over the Constitutional eligibility of parliamentarians to make laws affecting all Australians. So I made my offer in good faith and I will stand by my offer to try and resolve this crisis together in a bipartisan basis with the Government. So I am prepared to meet with Turnbull on Wednesday and engage constructively.
Of course, there can be no arrangement worth striking unless it is fully transparent, unless it's fair dinkum, unless it satisfies the Australian people that there are no remaining clouds over the eligibility of parliamentarians to sit in parliament. To that end, whilst I'm more than willing to be constructive and engage with the Government on a bipartisan basis to resolve this crisis, I will do nothing which stops the High Court from arbitrating on matters, should the emerging facts and situations and parliamentarians require referral to the High Court. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: As you've mentioned, it is quite a similar proposal to yours initially. Will you support it, you said (INAUDIBLE).
SHORTEN: I have to say that Turnbull ruled out Labor's proposal on Friday, and as I said, he was pretty arrogant and sneering about it. But nonetheless, I then expressed the concern on Saturday that perhaps he was hiding something. The Australian people want to know what does Turnbull know that he's not telling the Australian people. So we've seen a rather dramatic about-face by Turnbull this afternoon. I will of course, I will of course meet with the Government in good faith but whatever the proposal that we ultimately settle on, it has to be one that can be owned by the whole parliament. It has to be fair dinkum, it can't be a whitewash. I mean for instance, questions which I'll be asking Mr Turnbull on Wednesday; would his proposals mean that Barnaby Joyce would still have been able to illegally sit in Parliament for over a year? Would Turnbull's proposals mean that the Stephen Parry cover-up would have gone undiscovered? The are plenty of questions here, and what we've seen is pretty scant in the way of detail. But the Australian people want us to be fair dinkum, so I will work constructively to resolve this. Of course, I am interested to see what has triggered Turnbull's about-face. Are there more shock developments and news coming which Turnbull hasn't levelled with the Australian people which has forced him into a pretty rushed proposition this afternoon.
JOURNALIST: Just on that, you mentioned that his Cabinet could have rolled him, what makes you say that?
SHORTEN: Turnbull was pretty emphatic wasn't he after meeting the German President on Friday, that he thought Labor's proposal was wrong. He was emphatic again on Saturday and his people have been out in the media on Sunday emphatically saying our idea is a bad idea. Your earlier question said doesn’t it look a lot like Labor’s idea; surely something has gone on here and I do wonder that this Government who doesn't have a track record of levelling with the Australian people, I do wonder what's caused them to engage. Having said that, my offer, Labor's offer was a fair dinkum offer. This parliamentary crisis was undermining Australian's confidence in their parliament and their politicians and the laws of the land. So I think I owe it to the Australian people to be constructive whilst keeping all options on the table.
JOURNALIST: Given that Barnaby Joyce was an Australian born man with a New Zealand born parent is in a similar situation as you as you also have a foreign-born parent – the difference being paper work, do you think the Constitution needs to be changed?
SHORTEN: Well there's a big difference. Before I ran for parliament I read the Constitution, I complied with the Constitution. Barnaby Joyce faced a number of elections and never bothered complying with the Constitution and that's what the High Court found out to be the case. There's another big difference. The Deputy Prime Minister of Australia has since said, since the High Court made its decision, that he probably thought he was a goner anyway. How does this bloke in good conscience sit in the job for over a year thinking that he doesn't necessarily belong there anyway? There's a big difference. As for constitutional change, Labor's view is it's not the Constitution that needs to change, it's the members of parliament who don't respect the Constitution.
JOURNALIST: So would Susan Lamb or Justine Keay pass these tests?
JOURNALIST: So you've had - Turnbull says that he's been advised by the Liberal Party Director that all members believe they comply with the Constitution now, have you received similar advice or do you need to get similar advice?
SHORTEN: Well, let's just go back to what Turnbull said; Turnbull got up on August 14 of this year and he advised Australia that the High Court would give the tick to his Coalition Ministers. They didn't. So next time - and then Malcolm Turnbull after the High Court said, no more problems. Then it turns out that senior Ministers kept the truth from the Australian people about Senator Parry's status. So, you'll excuse me for being a bit sceptical. When Malcolm Turnbull says there's nothing to look at here, that's the time you put your glasses on and study the detail very carefully. One last question.
JOURNALIST: What do you think the process should be if an MP's disclosure has errors in it?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, I think that all MPs need to comply with the Constitution. For me it's not Malcolm Turnbull who decides if a parliamentarian should sit in parliament, it's the High Court of Australia and the Constitution. Labor has said that following Senator Parry's revelations and the revelations that senior Government Ministers knew about the problems and did nothing, we said enough is enough. We said there has to be disclosure to the parliament. Then Turnbull's come out and did what he normally does when Labor's constructive - he just rubbished us and sneered at us and gave his sort of, talking down to us, that lecture-style he gives. And the problem with all of that is, that he's now changed his mind. I will constructively sit down with the Prime Minister, I will constructively sit down with Turnbull, to see what they're proposing and see what we're proposing. But what I won't do is come to any arrangements which undermine the Australian people further in the parliament, I won't be party to anything which subverts the Constitution and if there are MPs, Government MPs currently sitting in parliament who don't pass the test set by the High Court, well, that is a problem for the Government and a problem for Australia.
Thank you - I did say last question.
JOURNALIST: Sorry - I just need to get your Melbourne Cup tip?
SHORTEN: Oh - I wrote it down before. I'm a bit wary about giving tips, I mean Turnbull's been giving tips on the Constitution. It did well at Caulfield, I just want to make sure I get the name right - Boom Time.