FRIDAY, 10 NOVEMBER 2017
SUBJECT/S: Turnbull’s citizenship crisis, manufacturing; Manus Island.
SAMANTHA ROWE, STATE MEMBER FOR EAST METROPOLITAN REGION: Hi all, welcome. For those of you who don't know I'm Sam Rowe I'm the Member for East Metropolitan Region and it's great to be here in Perth in Welshpool, at one of our great manufacturing companies in Perth. We've had a fantastic tour, looking at what's happening in manufacturing, talking about jobs, but more importantly we have the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten, here in Perth, often in Perth, visiting one of these great manufacturing companies. So I'm so pleased to welcome him today to Welshpool.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much, Samantha. It's great to be at RCR Tomlinson. This is an Australian success story; a manufacturing enterprise. It's diversified and whilst it's an important contributor in the mining industry, RCR Tomlinson is into everything from solar power, delivering reliable energy, cheap energy to Australians right through to helping make sure that our public transport and rail networks are humming in the interests of industry and people.
But of course, not much good companies like RCR Tomlinson making their investments, their workers working hard here, when the Turnbull Government lurches from crisis to crisis and Australians are increasingly angry at the inability of the Parliament, in particular the Turnbull Government, to be able to say that they're passing laws with MPs and Government Ministers who are legitimately elected. The people of Australia are getting frustrated with the Parliament and Mr Turnbull.
I accept Labor has a role here to be constructive. Last Friday, I proposed in light of the crisis where the Liberal President of the Senate in Australia had to vacate his position, and the subsequent emerging detail of Liberal Ministers knew there was a problem over this gentleman and said nothing. Last Friday Labor led, and we said that we must have a universal disclosure to the Parliament of all the steps people have made to demonstrate they're not a foreign citizen by birth, or indeed a foreign citizen by descent by virtue of their parents or grandparents.
As Mr Turnbull sometimes unfortunately does when Labor has ideas, he sneered at it. But he did have an apparent change of heart on Monday, for reasons which are not immediately clear other than the fact he may be aware he has more problems because of the eligibility of his parliamentarians.
I made myself available at the first opportunity to meet with him on Wednesday. It was a constructive discussion but we didn't bridge all of the gaps. Mr Turnbull said it was constructive on Wednesday, his mood seemed to perhaps be less complimentary on Thursday. But the point about it is, Labor wants MPs to disclose to the Parliament a tougher standard and sooner. This crisis needs to be fixed, and the Labor Party is willing to work in a bipartisan fashion with the Government not to try and score every cheap point, but rather to say the people of Australia are getting fed up with the Parliament generally.
We all have an obligation to make our system of democracy work in this country. Labor has proposed to the Prime Minister, a method, a proposal, which will be a tougher disclosure standard to the Parliament and a sooner disclosure standard to the Parliament, so Australians can get on with all the important issues just like the workers at RCR Tomlinson are doing, just like Australians are doing right across this fantastic country.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, questions are being asked about three of your WA MPs, Sue Lines, Madeleine King and Josh Wilson who may have been a citizen when he nominated for Parliament. Are you confident that they're all not dual citizens?
SHORTEN: Yes, I am confident, and what's more, is we know why the questions are getting asked. The Government has been blindsided by a failure to properly vet its candidates in the lead-up to elections or put in more plain English, they've ignored the Constitution and they've been caught.
Imagine the shock we all had when the Deputy Prime Minister no less, the acting Prime Minister when Mr Turnbull is overseas, turns out that he was illegally in Parliament. And then we had another minister, Minister Nash, she's gone, turns out she hadn't done the homework. And then we had the President of the Senate, that's one of the most senior office bearers in our Parliament, turns out that Liberal is not eligible to be in Parliament, and now we have a cloud around Mr John Alexander, a perfectly nice fellow I might add, but there clearly is a cloud and no-one has seen him since the cloud has been reported.
So I understand that the Liberals and Mr Turnbull want to throw as much mud as they can at Labor, just to try and sort of distract from their own travails and problems. There's two things which need to be remembered in all of this. One, Labor sets a standard where we vet our candidates. We make sure that if they've got foreign born parents or they were born overseas, then they've taken all reasonable steps to renounce citizenship. That's the test of the High Court. The other thing which we've done is we've said to Mr Turnbull, we'll work with you, and the first step has to be all MPs put their case or their story or their facts on the table in the Parliament, not this death of a thousand cuts and innuendo and gossip. Let's all, together, try and revive a little bit of confidence in our Parliament.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, your Shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus said that where a question does hang over an MP , and I quote "then of course it should be considered by the High Court." Does that still hold?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, we've got to see who's asking the questions and what the question is. Merely because you've got Mr Turnbull, demon dialling cross bench MPs and running his own star chamber on the telephone trying to check dates, that's not a job for the Prime Minister of Australia. Let's put all of the facts in a row, and I mean the media have tried their best here, let's be fair, trying to get to the bottom of it all, and I appreciate the role of the media in that. What we need to do is have a universal disclosure to the Parliament -
JOURNALIST: Sorry, will you -
SHORTEN: Sorry, let me just having said I want to be fair to you - what I'm proposing is a universal disclosure to the Parliament. We've written to Mr Turnbull after our meeting on Wednesday, we took technical advice. I wrote to him as soon as Thursday and said if we're going to have MPs disclose let's have the same rules for everyone and let's all do it at the same time. Labor's proposition, Labor's sensible proposition, to resolve this crisis, to stop the mounting frustration in Australian households and workplaces is every MP presents their case to the Parliament, they disclose by midday on December 1. MPs have had plenty of time to do this. Mr Turnbull wants to give them more time. I think everyone's had more than enough time, and we want the same standard to apply to everyone.
JOUNRALIST: So does that mean you will not support referring Keay, Lamb, King and Wilson to the High Court, and if not, why?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, I think it was Attorney-General Brandis, he's the one who said getting opposing political parties, referring people to the High Court was a very dangerous precedent. Unfortunately like so many of Mr Turnbull's principles when it becomes his own job at stake, all of a sudden what they said the previous week, that doesn't matter at all.
So let me be very straight here. We are not ruling out that anyone shouldn't go to the High Court. But what we are saying is let's get every Parliamentarian to put all their facts on the table. Let's have a common disclosure standard. Everyone reports the efforts they made. What did they do, what did they know, what didn't they know and what steps did they take? And then upon the survey of that evidence I think the Parliament can make the next decisions. But what Labor won't do is merely because you've got Mr Turnbull ringing MPs from Vietnam, conducting mini interrogations on the phone, that's not - Prime Minister, that's not the way to run the country.
JOURNALIST: Do you support the idea that a dual citizen cannot sit in Parliament. I mean, does it matter? I understand that there's political advantage but -
SHORTEN: No, let's clear that up -
JOURNALIST: If you're Australian-born and you don't even know what does it matter Mr Shorten?
SHORTEN: Let's clear that up about political advantage.
JOURNALIST: I'm sure you'll answer the other question but -
SHORTEN: No, I'll answer all of them because you're got enough to ask them I'll give them the respect the question deserves. First of all about political advantage, Labor didn't write the Constitution. It was drafted in the 1890s. It was ratified as a British Act of Parliament back in 1900. You know, this is - the Constitution is not something new. It's not a tweet or something which was dreamed up on Instagram or social media. It's been there for 117 years. I am staggered that you have MPs with such abysmal ignorance of the Constitution that they never thought to take any steps.
Now, that, of course, means that we've got to have a standard. The High Court has interpreted the meaning of the Constitution in 1992 on this very point and again on October 27, the High Court this year, had another look at all of the matters of section 44 (1). Section 44 (1) is a requirement that you're not a dual national. The High Court has interpreted the Constitution to say that if you're a dual national you can't sit in Parliament, you're disbarred with the qualification- did you take all reasonable steps?
I think it is appropriate that all MPs attest in a disclosure to the Parliament have they met that test or not. Once we have all of that evidence then I think we're in a position to say how we resolve the crisis. I mean, I am not going to delay this issue. I think that we need to have it resolved. Everyone puts their cards on the table on December 1.
In terms of the other part of your question, is it the right rule to have. Whether or not the Constitution is something that you agree in every clause with, it's the Constitution we have. You mightn't agree with speeding limits but that doesn't give you the right to ignore them and the Constitution dare I suggest, is even much more important than speeding limits.
JOURNALIST: But the Prime Minister -
SHORTEN: Sorry, your turn and then I'll go to you.
JOURNALIST: Why should we accept your confidence that none of your MPs have a case to answer, yet (inaudible)?
SHORTEN: Well, what I'm saying is that let all MPs put forward to the same standard their evidence and then it will be available for the public to see. I am not actually asking you to take Mr Turnbull's word or mine. What I am saying is we have a Constitution and the High Court has interpreted and we use the High Court, when there's arguments, to interpret the meaning of the Constitution. The High Court has set a crystal clear definition, they set a crystal clear standard and test and then they - they got in behind it and reconfirmed it 7-0. That's seven judges, a unanimous decision. That's very powerful in legal terms.
I think that the MPs together, doesn't matter if you're a Green or the crossbench or the Liberals or Labor, let us all put our evidence out there together. Let us all demonstrate whether or not we satisfy the Constitution and to the extent to that we think we complied with the standards of the High Court.
This is a problem with a resolution. This, I promise Australians we will resolve this problem.
What I can't promise while the Government has dug in and being intransigent, is how quickly we can resolve it but there's no doubt in my mind the Constitution is black and white, the court is black and white, and I look forward to everyone putting their evidence forward and then from that position, I think the nation can start the business of trying to rebuild confidence in a crisis ridden Government.
This is not a crisis of Labor's making. This is a crisis where the Constitution's been ignored and it falls to all of us who are privileged to serve in Parliament to do our level best to restore confidence of business, the community of taxpayers and members of the - of Australian citizens.
JOURNALIST: What was the -
SHORTEN: Sorry, you were next and then I'll have to come back to you.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister is willing to bring the deadline for disclosures forward to December 7, is that something you are willing to consider?
SHORTEN: Well, the problem with it is - fair enough, you might think well what's the real argument Bill, between December 1 and December 7. But always with Mr Turnbull it's not what he says, it's what he doesn't say. If we don't provide the disclosures until December 7, then Parliament will have to be reconvened. And that will be at the cost of nearly $1 million a day.
The other thing is in the meeting we had with Mr Turnbull, and it was constructive although we didn't bridge all our gaps, he certainly raised in a constructive fashion, he wasn't demanding - that we defer the start date of the House of Representatives. It's next scheduled to sit on November 27. And then I said no, I rejected that, I have to say that I didn't want to defer the start date of Parliament. I think that the work of the Parliament needs to go on.
And then he proposed - again, he wasn’t dead set on it, but he proposed maybe we should defer dealing with controversial matters. I said, I don't want to defer dealing with controversial matters such as a Banking Royal Commission or restoring penalty rates. Let me be very clear, if the leaders of the major parties start doing deal, political arrangements to defer the Parliament, we do it once and we'll do it again. That is a very slippery slope to an assault on the core of our democracy.
Sorry, you were next.
JOURNALIST: What evidence though is needed for example, a UK citizen to prove that they have renounced. You talked about evidence and putting on the table. What specifically do you mean?
SHORTEN: Well, I can speak for myself. My dad was born in Tyneside, that's in the north-east of England. I understood that before I ran for Parliament I needed to take all reasonable steps to renounce my citizenship. You write off - you get the forms, you write off to the Brits, you pay some money, there's always a cost. And then at some point they then process it. But what you've got to do, is you've got to take all reasonable steps. Now, I don't have X-ray vision, I can't see into what every Liberal MP has done including Mr Alexander. I don't know what they've done – what Julia Banks has done, the Member for Chisholm with her Greek citizenship, I don't know. And to be fair, whilst the Labor MPs who some of you have mentioned they've already put their facts out there in large part. I think we should all have a common standard of disclosure, it should meet the tough High Court standards, it should be consistent with the Constitution and I think and I believe we need to get on with it.
You know, this is a great manufacturing workshop here, but I'm sure that one motto they have at RCR Tomlinson when they deal with this massive machinery is that you do it once and you do it right. And that's what I want to do. Tough standards, done quickly and that's what Labor are up for and we'll work with the Government.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask quickly another question, if Dean Smith was to propose a same-sex marriage bill the day after the results of the plebiscite come out would Labor support that?
SHORTEN: Oh we'd give it very favourable consideration. Let's be very clear on marriage equality. It didn't need a $122 million survey - postal survey. I haven't seen the result, I don't know the result. I'm optimistic that Australians, a majority of them, will have said, let's get on with it. But I think it's been a colossal waste of money, a colossal abdication of leadership and I think a lot of gay people in Australia have felt that their status in Australia has been questioned in a way which they haven't experienced for decades. So we owe it to those Australians and we owe it to Australians generally who just think Parliament should just do its day job. Let's get on with it, let's do it this year.
For the record, I think Mr Turnbull shares my positive view on this and this could at least be one moment where he and I are working together and I just put on notice some of the conservatives in the Liberal Party who would try and undermine the result of the postal survey. You won't just be arguing with me and Labor, you'll be arguing with the Australian people. I think we need to get on with it.
Very last question and then I've got to go.
SHORTEN: I think the Government should be doing a lot more to help people, now of course, whatever I say is on the basis that we need to stop the people smugglers. We don't want the people smugglers back in action and again, this is one of those topics which Labor and Liberal agree on which is a good thing. But I don't believe that deterring the people smugglers involves some of the treatment we've heard and seen especially in today's media about Manus Island.
I again encourage the Prime Minister, in amongst his other matters he's dealing with - take up New Zealand's offer. If New Zealand wants these people and these people want to go to New Zealand why on earth are we stopping it? I think that would be a good start.
Thank you, everybody.