MONDAY, 21 AUGUST 2017
SUBJECTS: Marriage equality, Liberal Party division, Government’s dual citizenship crisis
MATT THISTLETHWAITE: Good morning everyone and welcome to Qantas, and Kingsford-Smith. I'm very very pleased that Alan Joyce and the team at Qantas have hosted us here today. And it's fabulous to have Bill Shorten back in our community, talking about the issues that matter to Australians: Jobs, keeping their electricity prices reasonable, support for marriage equality and action on climate change.
Qantas is one of the largest employers in the community that I represent, providing good, high-skilled, stable jobs for people living in our community. I know this because my father worked at Qantas for 37 years, so Qantas has been a staple in our family and in the community that I represent.
So thank you to Alan and the team for having us here today. It's also wonderful to see a progressive employer in our community, because we all know that Qantas has been very vocal and supportive of making the change to ensure that we get marriage equality in Australia and for that, we thank Qantas, we thank Alan and the team for having us here, and most importantly, I'm very, very pleased to have Bill back in our community, talking about the issues that matter for Australians and I'll now hand over to Bill to say a few words.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody, and I just want to thank Qantas for having Matt Thistlethwaite and myself visit the A380 maintenance hangar where we see really quality Australian workmanship and a great international company, based in Australia, competing with the world and winning. And it's very important for me to come visit here today, not just because of the excellent leadership of Mr Alan Joyce and the excellent work of the company but I think Australians are very disillusioned at the moment with the state of affairs in national politics.
And what I wanted to say to the workers today, and I had a chance to say, is the following: the Government may be obsessed about every issue but jobs, the Government may be talking about early elections, or the Government may be talking about the eligibility of their ministers to even do their day job, but I said to the workers is don't worry about what you read in the news about the Government, the Government's in a shocking mess and there's nothing that I can do about that. So what I said to the workers, is that, Labor and I are getting on with the job. We are focusing on policy, policy, policy. We are focusing on the jobs of everyday Australians, and the issues of everyday Australians.
Prime Ministers in this country should be focused on tackling energy prices, making sure that the kids are able to afford one day to buy their first home, making sure that the kids are getting a quality education, and we're having quality apprenticeships in this country.
Labor is focused on the issues that matter: jobs, housing prices, energy prices, quality education, quality healthcare.
My message today to the hard working workforce at Qantas and indeed the leadership of Qantas, is that the Government in Canberra may be a parliamentary farce, a circus, disappearing in their own naval gazing. Labor is working on getting on with the job of policy, policy, policy - out there with the workers listening to people.
We are happy to take questions that people may have.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can you tell me what date did you renounce British citizenship from your father?
SHORTEN: I renounced it in 2006. Let's just talk about this a little further. I am fully aware that the Government is desperately trying to peddle its newest conspiracy that I am a secret English agent. The reality is that no, I am not. I renounced my citizenship in 2006, and there's no whiff of evidence of anything to the contrary.
So let's be straight here. This is a Government desperate to distract attention away from the fact that not one, but two of their senior ministers, have a cloud over their constitutional eligibility, including the Deputy Prime Minister. We don't even know if they are able to be Cabinet ministers or ministers. An earlier minister stepped aside. The Prime Minister needs to explain why he is hanging on to two ministers who have a cloud over their constitutional eligibility, but he was happy to let another one go.
This is a Government who doesn't do the basic homework, doesn't check the eligibility of their candidates and we think that they need to get back to business. I offered a peace treaty of sorts to Mr Turnbull yesterday. I said, hold back any of the really controversial legislation which may require passage by just one vote. Hold back the really controversial stuff, there is not that much of it, until the High Court has decided and just get these two people to stand aside as ministers and we can get on with the business of governing Australia.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just further onto the issue of (inaudible) – what would be the problem if just all politicians undergoing some sort audit to create a level of clarity and stability within the Parliament?
SHORTEN: First of all the Constitution wasn't invented last week. It's been there since 1900. Most candidates know that you have got to make sure that you are not in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution. These so-called constitutional conservatives in the Liberal and National Party don't even read the Constitution, it is clear. It is on the form which every candidate has to sign to nominate.
The Labor Party has got very strict vetting processes. The real issue here is that the Government - I feel sorry for Senator Xenaphon and the others. They say that they didn't know; Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash and Matt Canavan. The High Court is now going to have to check if they are eligible or not. What we should do is not have the Government of Australia frozen like a wallaby in the headlights. What we need to do is park the Constitutional eligibility, the High Court's got its processes. In the meantime, all Mr Turnbull has do is say that he will park the really controversial legislation, which may only passed by one vote in the House of Reps, and let's get on with running Australia.
We are getting on with our job today and I invite the Government to follow our lead.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible question)
SHORTEN: Sorry, I will come back to you.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible question)
SHORTEN: We have a strict vetting process. There is no cloud over any of our people, let's be straight here. What this is, is the Government stuffed up. I don't blame the individuals, although the Constitution has been around, it is not a surprise note which we have just discovered, and they should have done their homework. It is not Labor's fault if Government MPs and senior Government ministers are not in compliance with the Constitution. That's their fault and the Constitution needs to be upheld and honoured until it is changed, if it is, in fact, changed.
In the meantime let's get on with business. The real issues in Australia: can your kids afford to be able to buy their first home? What is being done about energy prices? What's being done to keep jobs in Australia? Do you know Qantas employs 3,100 engineering staff - that's a success story. What we need to do is be backing jobs, lower energy prices, affordable housing, and making sure that our young people get the best quality education they can.
JOURNALIST: Would you support a proroguing of Parliament to clear up these legal issues?
SHORTEN: Well it is a pretty drastic step to prorogue the Parliament for the next number of months until the High Court meets. I think there is a happy compromise, and again I reiterate my invitation to Prime Minister Turnbull: stop doing everything you can to focus on your own job and go back to doing your day job.
It is beyond reasonable doubt that there is a cloud over the eligibility of senior Government ministers. That is as it is. The High Court will follow its true and tested procedures to evaluate that. In the meantime Labor is saying to you just don't have any controversial votes, don't have any controversial votes and let's get on with business. Just park those couple of ministers, apply the same standard to Ministers Nash and Joyce that you applied to Minister Canavan.
Labor didn't set up this Constitutional farce. Labor didn't set up the standard of getting your Minister to step aside, but now that standard is in place. Now there is a question mark, I think the Government should play consistently with an earlier set of rules that it set for itself.
So I don't know if we need to go to proroguing - that seems a pretty drastic step - but does seem to me that if we are not to have gridlock in the Parliament through self-inflicted parliamentary farce by the Government, let's just work together. People out there have told me constantly since Parliament rose Thursday night, the Parliament is a joke, it seems a farce. Whatever people think about the fairness of the Constitution, the rules have been in place for 117 years. It shouldn't have come as a surprise. So in the meantime, only Labor's offering a sensible, pragmatic way through this mess. Let's park the controversial votes, let's get those couple of ministers sitting on the interchange bench as ministers for the time being and let's get on and help run the country.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten on the Newspoll today there was one aspect of it which suggests that Labor voters are calling for greater religious protections if marriage equality were to be legalised
SHORTEN: Thanks for raising that question, Pachi. I just would say this, the statistical survey costing $122 million of taxpayer money will have one question, "do you support marriage equality or not?" All of the other issues being raised by those who are against marriage equality are other issues. This statistical survey changes nothing about your ability go to church or religious freedom, let's be straight about that, let's be unequivocal, it is a distraction.
Labor didn't want to have this $122 million optional postal survey. There is a lot more better ideas that we could spend $122 million of taxpayer money, or indeed we could just save it for the Budget and do something about the debt and deficit that is out of control under this Government. But if we have got to go through this farce, if the High Court says there is no choice, you have got to do this statistical survey, I just say to the marriage equality opponents: you wanted this survey and now you are trying to throw every other issue into the mix. Fair's fair. We should have just had a vote in Parliament but if we have got to have this vote don't muddy the waters, don't cloud the issues by trying to throw every issue in including the kitchen sink. It is not fair and I think it demeans the argument.
JOURNALIST: Does that mean that you don't accept that Labor voters do have some concerns about religious protections?
SHORTEN: I don't accept that religious practice in this country is under threat. It is a separate discussion. I'm always up for having discussions about religious freedom in this country, I respect faith. What I won't do is say that somehow by voting yes in a statistical survey about marriage equality, that somehow this is a great assault on the religions in Australia. That is not the case.
If people want to talk about religious freedom in this country, I'm happy to. What I am not going to do is confuse all of the issues. Let's face it, the marriage equality survey was a stalling tactic by the opponents of marriage equality and now we are seeing other arguments being brought into it which don't need to be brought into it.
JOURNALIST: Just with the latest Newspoll, is Labor cruising to victory in the next election?
SHORTEN: Listen I'm not going to get distracted by the polls. The Turnbull Government is totally obsessed with Newspoll. I'm going to get on with my day job, talking to the highly qualified engineering staff at Qantas, hearing about their concerns on housing prices, wages, job security, energy prices, will their kids be able to get a quality education? Are we training enough apprentices in this country?
Let's be really clear here, I don't need an opinion poll to tell me this Government is a three-ring circus but what I know Australians want to do, and I don't even need an opinion poll for this, is they want their politicians and parliamentarians to get on with business. So I am here talking policy, policy, policy. That's what I am here to do.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, I just wanted to ask you about airport security, it's an issue that you've raised in the past. It appears that there's going to be some movement when it comes to ID checks, potentially on domestic flights. Are you happy that that is happening? And Mr Joyce I'm not sure if you want to get involved here. Do you accept that there does need to be greater security in security checks at a domestic level?
SHORTEN: Perhaps before we go to Mr Joyce, and I'm really obviously happy for that, are there any other questions and then we will just come back to the airport one?
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you one final question on the peace treaty you've offered regarding citizenship. Do you see that Tony Burke should withdraw his motion to the House given that you are asking for this compromise? Should Tony Burke withdraw that?
SHORTEN: Before Labor withdraws its resolution in the House, Mr Turnbull I think, has to pick up the phone and agree that his Ministers step away from their ministerial responsibilities and that any controversial items are not brought to a vote. If we do that then I think everything is on the table as you suggest. But first things first, Minister Canavan stepped away when he had a cloud over his eligibility. But as soon as it came to the House of Representatives and Deputy Prime Minister, the rules changed on the people of Australia and this Minister didn't step away. Then after Parliament had essentially risen, Minister Nash in what I thought was a little sneaky fashion, gets up and tells us Thursday night actually she's got a cloud over her eligibility too.
I think what the Government needs to do is get back to business and looking after the interests of Australians and not fighting so hard just for their own interests. The Ministers step aside, we have a truce in terms of the really controversial votes - and by the way, they are actually far and few between - if they do those things then I think Labor certainly will be a lot more relaxed about the way the Government's conducting itself.
But let's face it, this Government is a circus and it is a parliamentary farce and there are much more important issues.
And in that vein, before we go to the airport security, I should also say, as I know millions of Australians are thinking, about our absolute shock and grief for what's happened to Julian Cadman. I have a seven year-old daughter. I cannot imagine how his parents feel at this moment. The English language has got words for a child who loses their parents: orphan. We have no word in the English language for parents who lose their child. I think this is absolutely shocking. And I just want to again reassure Australians, that when it comes to terrorism, wherever it is, Labor and Liberal work together and by the way, that is only what should be, that we work together.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible question)
SHORTEN: The question was about bollards. I think that is a step in the right direction. If that is what our security experts are recommending then I think we are foolish to ignore that advice. And I'm going to say something which politicians don't always say. Sometimes you have got to worry about cost, as you always should, it is taxpayer money, but this is one issue where cost shouldn't be the driving issue. If it needs to be done, it should be done and it should be done as quickly as possible.
On airport security, if the experts say we need to improve our security procedures around airports then we should. My default position is not to be suspicious of the measure but to see does it work? Do the experts recommend it? But what I've also got to say on behalf of passengers who catch aeroplanes around Australia, if we are going to put in tighter standards we need to make sure they are properly resourced. No good having tighter standards for scanning and screening if you still only have the same number of crews in or if you only have them on for set hours. So, if the passengers of Australia are going to be asked to put up with higher security standards and I'm sure they are, by and large, we need to make sure that this is backed up with adequate resources so that we don't unnecessarily inconvenience passengers for want of a few dollars.