BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody. The questions that Australians are now asking themselves about the Prime Minister: what does Turnbull know, that the Australian people don’t know? What is Turnbull hiding? Why is Turnbull allowing this crisis to continue on?
Labor in good faith has offered a solution, which the Australian people are asking for. The Australian people now want to know: what does Prime Minister Turnbull know, that he’s not confiding in the Australian people with? Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What exactly do you mean by universal disclosure? Can you kind of step me through how that would happen?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, what we are proposing is to rule a line under the citizenship crisis which continues to get worse. Labor is now concerned that following the High Court decision of last week, then the admissions that the Senate President that he may be a dual citizen, and following most significantly and seriously, the revelation that senior Government Ministers knew there was a cloud over the Senate President's constitutional eligibility and did nothing, Labor has come to the position that the Australian people should be confident that all the Members of Parliament are constitutionally eligible to sit in the Parliament. So as a sign of good faith, we have offered a proposal to Turnbull which would see MPs coming forward and explaining to the Parliament the circumstances in which they are not dual citizens, or how they have taken reasonable steps to cease being dual citizens.
It is completely hypocritical of Turnbull to say somehow this measure doesn't make sense when he demanded of me, that I demonstrate that I was no longer or at any time a dual citizen. Now, Turnbull set a standard for me he won't set for his own Party. He can't have it both ways – he can’t complain there is not enough detail and on the other hand, when we offer him a proposal, which gives him the chance to contribute to it, that somehow that is not acceptable.
JOURNALIST: Who undertakes the process? What happens if an MP doesn’t want to be involved in that process?
SHORTEN: I think that the MPs have to be. The Labor Party is prepared to be, and we need the Government to do so. You've got to ask yourself, and the Australian people ask themselves, why did Turnbull say about me that I had to demonstrate to the Parliament that I wasn't a dual citizen, and I did that, but having done that, Turnbull has gone suspiciously silent about applying the same standards to his own people?
Listen, forgetting all the politics here for a moment, we put forward a proposition. If Malcolm has got a way of modifying it or making it different, we will sit down and work with him to try and find compromise. But the one thing you can't do is escape the mounting concern of the Australian people that the Parliament is now a circus. The fact of the matter is no less than six MPs have now been found to be constitutionally not eligible to sit in the Parliament. Labor hasn’t invented this crisis but we want to deal with it. The Australian people know that you don't fix a problem by running away from it. Labor recognises there is a constitutional citizenship crisis which is going from bad to worse and the number one person responsible for making a bad problem worse, is Turnbull. Because you go anywhere, as I have today, talking to people, people say - and it is questions of ordinary people, the ordinary Australians are asking - they want to know, what does Turnbull know that he won't tell the Australian people? What is Turnbull hiding? And why won’t he accept a solution to fix the problem so we can get on to issues that matter like jobs, like penalty rates and like rising out of control energy prices.
JOURNALIST: The Greens say a Parliamentary Committee could be used to compel MPs to come forward. Would you support that because I’m kind of lacking some detail here on how exactly you would get MPs involved in this process?
SHORTEN: You're not lacking detail. I just explained what I did, I put forward the proposition for myself. My dad was born overseas. Before I ran for Parliament I rescinded any claim to British citizenship. And Turnbull, he and Abbott, piled in on me. When it's Labor in the gun, these boys are happy to have a crack, but when it comes to themselves they get suspiciously silent. We’ve made it clear, that we think that the best place to resolve this is through the Parliament, through MPs explaining their eligibility to be in Parliament, how it meets the High Court test. The High Court has given us the guidance, both back in the 1990s and again most recently a couple of weeks ago.
I think that now is the time for me to sit down with Turnbull and to sit down with the other parties and work out a process that restores the confidence of the Australian people in the Australian Parliament. The Parliament is very important to the functioning of our democracy, and if there is a cloud over the legitimacy of MPs to sit in the Parliament, that casts a cloud over any laws and any decisions made by this Government. I actually, frankly, think it is in Turnbull's own interests to answer the questions of the Australian people. I do not know, and the Australian people do not know why Turnbull is hiding, why he refuses to tell what he knows and why he won't fix this problem. It is very weak of Turnbull, actually.
JOURNALIST: So why not have an audit? Aren’t you kind of half-pregnant with this suggestion?
SHORTEN: I don't mind what you call our proposal. Call it whatever you like. But the point about it is, I now as the leader of one of the two major parties, recognises, especially since we have discovered the Turnbull Ministers were covering up the eligibility cloud over President Parry of the Senate, once we discovered the Government weren’t even being straight on that, I think enough is enough, isn't it?
I think there has to be an accounting. I actually think a good way would be for MPs to explain to the Parliament the circumstances of their eligibility. But if people have got other propositions, Labor will sit down and work with them. See, where Turnbull's position is completely inconsistent, is you all know, if I went to him with 100% detailed proposal he would find a problem in it and if I don't go with 100% detailed proposition, he finds a problem with that. Let’s just remember, when Turnbull thought he could score points off me in some cheap political way, he was all for me having to show my documents, to demonstrate what steps I’d made. Now, in order to help restore confidence in the Australian political process, I was happy to do that unilaterally. But now the time has arrived following the cover-up by Senior Ministers, following the cloud over President Parry's eligibility, now that Senior Turnbull Ministers say they knew there was a problem, and wouldn’t tell the truth until President Parry took the step, I think enough is enough.
The Australian people are sick of the politicians, they’re sick of the circus. I know we need to restore credibility in the Australian parliamentary process and what that involves is all of us accounting to the Parliament. And if Turnbull doesn't want to account to the Parliament and through the Parliament to the Australian people, I think that is a terrible error of judgement. And we all know he has bad judgement.
JOURNALIST: So why not an audit?
SHORTEN: So when you say an audit, what do you mean by it?
JOURNALIST: You tell me? Everyone’s throwing around the word audit…
SHORTEN: As I said earlier...
JOURNALIST: The special Minister of State has said the AEC does not have the power to do it, is there a way to do it -
SHORTEN: In answer to your question - I think the Parliament does have the power to examine the question and the eligibility. The High Court are the people who make the final decision, but the Parliament meets on a regular basis. The Parliament is elected by the people of Australia. It is the ultimate voice of the people of Australia between elections. I think it's a good start that we demonstrate to the Parliament our bona fides. And remember, when Turnbull thought he could get me on the ropes, he was happy for me to have to account to the Parliament. He did it on ABC or maybe other outlets, and said if Shorten is up front, he should present to the Parliament. Well, let me return the compliment to Turnbull and the Liberals. The Australian people want to know that their Parliamentarians are legitimately elected, and I’m saying, let’s go to the Parliament.
I am happy to sit down with Turnbull if he has a better plan. We will be constructive. But one thing is for sure, this citizenship crisis cannot be allowed to roll on and Turnbull arrogantly dismissing the concerns of the Australian people, he knows best, that Turnbull knows best, what would the people of Australia know? That doesn't cut it any more.
JOURNALIST: So what you’re saying is there’s no negatives which you’re aware that would constitute what is being described as an audit? Which would mean everyone in Parliament having their citizenship tested in some way?
SHORTEN: I actually think transparency is a good test. So, people are using all sorts of language, you can call it audit.
JOURNALIST: No one is calling it an audit. Sorry.
SHORTEN: OK, I'll take that as a comment.
JOURNALIST: It needs something that compels them. Would a parliamentary committee be the way to do that?
SHORTEN: I think actually the MPs should get up and explain to Parliament. What’s wrong with the old fashioned, here I am, this is what I am, this is what I’ve done?
JOURNALIST: But they could lie.
SHORTEN: If you are going to a realm – if you’re saying MPs are going to lie in Parliament, that's a serious matter. The very fact is your questions reflect the frustrations of the Australian people. Six members of parliament were found, or decided they were not eligible to be in Parliament. There is now a citizenship crisis. These are the facts. We were, perhaps, happy to take people at their word. But once it emerged Thursday and Friday this week that senior Government Ministers knew there was a cloud over President Parry and they weren't prepared to do anything, the Australian people said enough is enough. I hear the Australian people. The question which Australians ask me is, what is Turnbull hiding? What does he know that we won't know? Why won't he just move to solve the problem?
JOURNALIST: How do you feel about – Parry’s gone, that’s wonderful – how do you feel about some of the commentary that’s been made to do with Josh Frydenberg in terms of the fact that his mother’s family were fleeing Holocaust, and that is a unique circumstance?
SHORTEN: Yes, I feel for Josh Frydenberg. Labor has had no part of having any attack on Josh Frydenberg. I feel for him, no question. I think his story is a story which is compelling, so for us, he's not the issue. The issue here is why is Turnbull refusing to be transparent about all his MPs? I am. The other parties are. Why does Turnbull think that he can have a separate set of rules for him? The real problem here is it is not Labor saying, "Mr Turnbull, show us the bona fides of your MPs". The real problem is that the Australian people have lost a lot of faith in recent months and weeks with the Parliament of Australia. That is a crisis.
If there is a problem over the constitutional eligibility of MPs, that is a crisis for the Government. Turnbull is not going to resolve this problem by sticking his head in the sand, by pretending there is nothing to see here and telling the Australian people to move on past the train wreck which is the current parliament. I am proposing in good faith, to be bipartisan. I’m proposing that we have a declaration, a disclosure to the Parliament of what efforts people have made where there might be a question of dual citizenship. Turnbull needs to come to the party pretty quickly.
JOURNALIST: Can I just get you on…I’m thinking what you’re talking about, whether it’s audit or you want to use another word, is the difference between people voluntarily coming forward, and everyome being assessed in some way?
SHORTEN: Let’s be clear. My party, my MPs, are happy to come forward, all of them. I would expect every MP would now want to clear the cloud over the constitutional citizenship crisis engulfing the Parliament. These are extraordinary times.
Let's face it, if there are a couple of Government MPs who are not eligible to be in the Parliament, how can this Government claim to be a majority Government? What is the basis on which they make laws? We hope everyone is actually eligible. But the Australian people, this is not me or Turnbull, it is not about us, it is about the Australian people and their confidence in the Parliament and the Government to make laws. It is a very unusual set of circumstances but I think it is a completely gutless lack of leadership to just fob off the Australian people and say nothing to see here.
They told us that when Barnaby Joyce was questioned. Turnbull said the High Court will so hold that he is eligible. Well, he was wrong on that. They told us there was no other problem and then President Parry has put his hand up, and then we find out that Minister Fifield, a Senior Minister, one of Turnbull’s sort of Victorian guard, knew about the problem weeks and months ago, and said nothing. That’s what’s been the final straw that’s broken proverbial camel’s back.
Labor is putting up a proposition in good faith. If Malcolm wants to meet and talk about the detail of how we do it, we're up for that. But the idea that somehow he's not going to solve the problem just fuels the suspicion, the legitimate suspicion in the minds of many Australians, what is he hiding and what does he know that we don't.
JOURNALIST: Is it time for a referendum to alter section 44?
SHORTEN: I think actually it is time for the politicians to adhere to the constitution.
JOURNALIST: On Manus Island, what do you make of the UN’s latest comments?
SHORTEN: I think the UN has got a point here. Let's be clear. We don't want to see the people smugglers back in business, but I think there is something going on at Manus which is deeply disturbing to the Australian people. I suggested yesterday, following the New Zealand Prime Minister’s re-issuing of the invitation to take 150 people, that the Government should accept that offer. I also think when Turnbull is meeting with President Trump in coming weeks, in Asia, he should raise again the possibility of taking some people.
I think the Government needs to, in the meantime, treat people in a humanitarian fashion. I think a lot of Australians - most Australians do not want the people smugglers back in business and I share the view 100%, but I think there’s a lot of people who are seeing the reports now, and the certain sort of brutal nature of what’s happened to the people there, and I think they would like to see our Government behave in a more humanitarian fashion. And I certainly echo those sentiments of everyday Australians.
JOURNALIST: Does it mean keeping Manus Island open?
SHORTEN: I am not going to try and micromanage the Government's business. But where you have got 600 people without food and water for days, I think that the Government needs to take an active interest in their welfare.
JOURNALIST: Raising it with New Zealand, the US, is not an immediate – won’t immediately solve the problem?
SHORTEN: They could with New Zealand.
JOURNALIST: It is 150 out of 600, isn't it?
SHORTEN: Still, that’s 150, isn’t it. I think the Government should take very seriously the invitation on the table from New Zealand, and beyond that, I would just encourage the Government, that you can discourage the people smugglers but that doesn't mean that you’ve got to treat hundreds of people in an inhumane fashion. We would give them that support if they took that stand.
JOURNALIST: With Annastacia Palaszczuk's disclosure yesterday that she wouldn’t, about the Adani issue, what do you make of her vetoing the NAIF?
SHORTEN: Well clearly her family has been targeted by the LNP and I just say to the Liberal-Nats, there is a rule families are off limits. And she has my sympathies for that. In terms of Adani, what decisions she makes is up to her, it’s the Queensland Government’s decision, but Federal Labor will not support taxpayer money going to the Adani coal mine, full stop.
JOURNALIST: This morning, what we know, and it’s early days, a Federal Police Officer took their own life with the firearm they’d been issued in the Melbourne offices of the AFP. That’s the second time this year that has happened. How concerning is that and should more be done to look after the welfare of those officers?
SHORTEN: Well, listen, I've heard just very brief reports like yourself. First of all, my sympathy goes to the family of the deceased officer and to his work mates. But beyond that, I think you're best off talking to the Federal Police. I think the matter was only a few hours ago. I have spoken briefly with the AFP, I think in the first instance, especially as it is just hours after the matter, I will leave it to the AFP. And put it on record again: the AFP do a fabulous job.
And anyone, anywhere, who's mentally unwell and doing it hard or you know someone who is, please go and get help. Mental illness is a real problem in our community.
Thanks everybody. Cheers.