TUESDAY, 20 SEPTEMBER 2016
SUBJECTS: Marriage equality plebiscite; ‘investment approach’ to welfare; offshore processing.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody, it's great to be here. I am accompanied by some of my senior frontbenchers, Mark Dreyfus, Julie Collins and Terri Butler.
We have just had the privilege to listen to leaders in the LGBTIQ community, hearing their concerns about Mr Turnbull's $200 million opinion poll on marriage equality. The people we have been listening to have explained to us their deep concerns, their persuasive concerns, by this plebiscite, is a divisive, expensive and very poor idea in terms of marriage equality. Mr Turnbull needs to start showing courage. The people I met with, they have courage, the families they represent, they have courage. This country wants to see more courage from Mr Turnbull, they want to see the courage to show leadership. Increasingly, you just can't escape the conclusion that Mr Turnbull is not interested in what everyday people are saying on marriage equality. He's just being led from pillar to post by the hard right of his party and people who never want to see marriage equality be a reality.
The case, according to the people we've met with, hasn't been made out to spend north of $200 million. The emotional torment for people having their relationships examined in a divisive debate hasn't been made out to the people we've met with. Also the fact that his own party will not be bound by the outcome of a plebiscite, shows what a shocking waste of taxpayer money this is. Really, when you think about it, we've got so many issues which $200 million could go a long way to help alleviate. New medicine, more nurses, more teachers, more doctors, improvements to Medicare which would mean sick people get to see the doctor more. Instead of spending $200 million on things which Australians really need, he is spending it to shore up his power base within the Liberal Party. Australians are sick and tired of the lack of leadership of Malcolm Turnbull. He won't lead on climate change. He won't lead on other issues, such as marriage equality. But he is happy to backflip on superannuation, backflip on the backpacker tax. Why is it that Malcolm Turnbull is more interested in changing his policies on superannuation or the backpacker tax? The only thing that he is sticking to is having a wasteful, divisive plebiscite.
I want to thank the people we met with today, and I and my colleagues are happy to take questions on this matter.
JOURNALIST: If there is so much emotional torment you have discovered today, why are you dragging out your decision on whether or not you will support a plebiscite, and aren't you actually running your own small plebiscite within your own party and one side of the argument?
SHORTEN: No. Let's be very, very unequivocal here. Malcolm Turnbull presented legislation to the Parliament last week. We are actually interested in the views of the community. That's why we have been meeting with leaders representing plenty of groups in the lesbian, and the transgender, in the gay communities right across Australia. I think it is courteous and respectful to talk to people and hear their views. That's exactly what we are doing.
Mr Turnbull's recently on the weekend been sending signals that he wants to have compromise. Compromise is letting your own MPs vote according to their conscience in Parliament. I have a great deal for Malcolm Turnbull - we can save $200 million, you can trust your own MPs to vote according to their conscious. Labor isn't asking Parliamentarians who don't support marriage equality to change their mind and vote for marriage equality. But what we are asking is letting the Parliament do its job. It's as simple as that. Malcolm Turnbull's got to start showing leadership. This is a massive shocking waste of $200 million.
Our Caucus will make its proper decision in the first week back in Parliament. And in the meantime, we are letting the voices of the communities be heard, because in all of this, I don't think Mr Turnbull has met with any of the groups since he has brought down the plebiscite proposition.
JOURNALIST: You are only meeting one group as I understand what you have just said. Those of the LGBTI communities –
SHORTEN: No, that is not right.
JOURNALIST: Are you meeting those who –
SHORTEN: We have met with community mental health services, I'll certainly –
JOURNALIST: From the other side of the argument?
SHORTEN: I'll certainly, as I've always done, talk to our leaders of faith-based institutions, churches, of course.
JOURNALIST: Don't you already know what they think?
SHORTEN: I think that - I want to hear what they have to say, but I also want to explain to them what we think. I want to explain to them that I don't think this is worth $200 million. I don't think it’s right in this country that Mr Turnbull's contracting out his day job as a Parliamentarian and leader of Australia to a plebiscite.
There is a question which people have to answer. Why do gay people in Australia have to go through a legislative, rule-making process that no one else does? Why do their relationships have to undergo a $200 million taxpayer-funded opinion poll on the merit of their relationships? It is deeply, deeply unfair. We have made many amendments to the Marriage Act since the Marriage Act was brought into Parliament, first bought into law. But only when it affects gay people, all of a sudden we have got to change the rules. That is not right.
JOURNALIST: You want the Prime Minister to show leadership on this matter and make a decision that you want him to make. You are not making a decision for weeks, essentially, on this whole matter, allowing it to drag out. You are doing that for political purposes, aren't you, just to have the Prime Minister on toast? Why don't you make a decision?
SHORTEN: I love your question, Tony because it goes to the heart of the matter. Why does Mr Malcolm Turnbull want to drag this issue out to February next year when we can have a vote in Parliament, next week of parliamentary sitting? If you believe in what you are saying there and I know you do, let's get on with this - let's have a vote the next week when the parliament sits. You're quite right, what is the case to drag this debate out, have kids, have their parents' relationships, analysed, dissected on taxpayer funded campaigns? No, no, I think this whole thing has become a circus. Australians want this country to deal with a range of issues.
We can have a vote on marriage equality if Mr Turnbull has the courage to let his MPs vote according to their conscience. It is a marvellous compromise. It doesn't cost an extra dollar of taxpayer money. We can get on and do it and the nation can focus on a whole range of other issues which I know many Australians want us to do – jobs, Medicare, a Royal Commission into the banks. There is plenty of stuff for this parliament to work on and Mr Turnbull knows, he knows that if he was actually in charge of his Government, he would snap his fingers and we would have a parliamentary vote. That is the compromise, that's the sweet spot in this debate. That's one which we're going to work towards.
JOURNALIST: He went to an election promising a plebiscite to be held. He won the election –
SHORTEN: I went to an election promising to legislate for marriage equality and I am keeping my views and values.
JOURNALIST: You didn't win though.
SHORTEN: This is this theory that Mr Turnbull says that because he got 76 votes out of 150, the other 74 have to fall in line and be forelock-tugging butlers to Mr Turnbull. No way, not ever. I tell you what, if Mr Turnbull wants to compromise, he should stop acting so arrogantly, you know, Mr Harbour-side mansion, just expecting everyone to agree with him. He knows, in his heart of hearts, that this plebiscite is going to cause harm. He knows in his heart of hearts it is a shocking waste of $200 million. He knows in his heart of hearts what the right thing is to do. But because we have a Prime Minister who is so weak, he is captive, he is the ventriloquist’s dummy to the ventriloquists in hard-right of the Liberal Party.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government's new investment approach to welfare is a worthy idea?
SHORTEN: We always believe in long-term investments in welfare. But I think if the Government really believes in the welfare for individuals and getting people out of the cycle of poverty, they shouldn't cut Medicare. They should properly fund our schools. They should properly fund child care. And while they are at it, they should spend less time investing in the long-term welfare of our big banks and foreign multinationals, and more time in looking after pensioners and people who are looking desperately for a job.
JOURNALIST: Do you think they can be trusted to do the right thing by young people given they want to make them wait longer for the work for the dole payments?
SHORTEN: This Government is the worst friend that young Australians have ever had. They want to make it more to cost to go to university. They want to send them off to dodgy private providers in TAFE. They want them to pay more to go and see the doctor. We all know that if they had their way they would make them pay more GST. They want to cut their penalty rates, and now they want to make those who are unemployed wait longer for the small money they get. This Government is not the friend of young people, and don't get me started on what they're not doing on climate change and leaving for future generations the problems that this lazy Liberal Government won't do right now. Perhaps one or two more questions if there are any.
JOURNALIST: Will you support the Immigration Minister's plans to make changes to the Migration Act so that if people from Nauru and Manus are given citizenship in another country they still can't come to Australia?
SHORTEN: I just wish the Immigration Minister would focus on stopping indefinite detention of people on Manus and Nauru. Labor does support keeping the people smugglers out of business. I don't accept though, that means that some people have got to stay in indefinite detention. And I notice that a lot of Mr Turnbull and Mr Dutton and the others are out there lecturing the rest of the world. Well I think they need to explain to not just the rest of the world but to Australians what's really going on in Manus and Nauru, and when are they going to get those people out of indefinite detention and make regional resettlement a reality?
JOURNALIST: Do you think we should be increasing our humanitarian intake in Australia?
SHORTEN: Labor took a policy to the last election, we're reviewing it, but we don't see any reason why we shouldn't increase our humanitarian intake. The fact of the matter is we want to stop the people smugglers. The best way we can do that is help the nations in the conflict zones, make sure that they are able to cope with the influx of refugees there. That means that there is less pressure for people to come to Australia. And we should do our fair bit internationally. But what the Government needs to do about Manus and Nauru is actually negotiate genuine regional resettlement so that people aren't stuck in indefinite detention. Thanks everybody.