BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody. Senator Wong and I have just concluded a meeting with Prime Minister Turnbull, because we want to help end the citizenship crisis that is engulfing the Government.
It was a constructive meeting; we went there in good faith to try and resolve this constitutional and citizenship crisis. We made some progress, but unfortunately it is not yet resolved.
There are essentially two issues where Labor is apart from the Government but we think they are very important issues. Let me put it simply: the first issue goes towards the test if a Member of Parliament has a parent or a grandparent born overseas. We believe the High Court has been unequivocal and what matters is not just the statement of belief or knowledge by a Member of Parliament, but the material facts, the statement of facts, what steps has the person who's aware that their parent or grandparent was born overseas to investigate that by virtue of their parent or grandparent being born overseas, are they in fact a foreign citizen as well as an Australian citizen.
Unless this issue is resolved, and unless we get MPs being upfront and fair dinkum about this matter, then there is no solution which is worth the paper it's written upon. The Government has said they will send us some views in light of our position, and we in turn will send them what we think upholds the High Court and the Constitution.
There's also a second issue. The second issue is the timing of when we resolve this citizenship crisis. The Parliament is due, the House of Representatives is due to meet as scheduled on 27 November. We think that on that date the Parliament should pass an agreed resolution in the House of Representatives, which will require MPs to have fair dinkum disclosure of what they did or didn't do. We think that document, or the MP’s statements, should then be provided no later then around midday on 1 December, or the Friday, five days after Parliament resumes. This would allow the disclosures to be checked out and then if there are any problems requiring referral to the High Court, that could be done in the last week of the Parliament.
Now the Government's saying that people need longer. we do not believe Australians should pay $1 more to sort out the Government's problems. As I said, it was a constructive meeting, it is not resolved but substantial progress, at least there was discussion. But on these two issues, unless they are resolved, the timing and making sure the MPs don't rely on the "well I didn't know defence" but rather, demonstrate they've taken active steps, this is what we think needs to be resolved, so once and for all, we can restore the peoples' confidence in the Parliament.
We're happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there should be an early election?
SHORTEN: Well I think we need to be clear about whether or not MPs are eligible to sit in the Parliament. The Prime Minister did promise Australia on August 14 that the High Court would find that his ministers, Joyce and Nash, that they would be fine. He said that himself. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister was wrong. Now, we've got a situation where we have laws and decisions made by people who are not eligible to sit in the Parliament.
And we've seen, even since the High Court decision, we've seen no less a person than the President of the Senate have to put their hand up and say actually, they might not be constitutionally eligible. And furthermore, we've seen that senior government ministers were aware of this problem but were not transparent with the Australian people or the Parliament.
So I think what we need to do is not change the Constitution, we just need to make sure that the MPs are obeying the Constitution.
JOURNALIST: On that matter, are you confident the two Labor members are all above board?
SHORTEN: Yes, I am. I know that Mr Turnbull and others are trying to cast aspersions about the legitimacy of Labor MPs. But I'm not about to take legal advice from Mr Turnbull, am I? Because he got it so horribly wrong with his own ministers, his own Deputy Prime Minister and now the President of the Senate, a Liberal appointee. I am confident Labor has pretty exhaustive vetting procedures and I'm confident steps have been taken, yes.
JOURNALIST: What is the time frame now - the Prime Minister spoke about - you said you don't have agreement on anything, what is the time frame to come back and resolve those issues?
SHORTEN: Well I think this is crisis which unfortunately needs to be dealt with immediately. When I say "unfortunately" it shouldn't have got to this but it has.
What we've said is that we're apart on two issues. It's the question of MPs disclosing not just where their parents and grandparents were born to the best of their knowledge but if you know, for example, that your parent was born overseas, what steps have you taken to find out that the law overseas in that country doesn't confer citizenship upon you?
Now, it is a matter of fact Mr Turnbull's resolution only goes to what the actual individual MP might believe but I think that we require, and the High Court set a higher test of us. Labor is not going to support watering down the High Court decisions to help a few MPs scrape back into Parliament.
JOURNALIST: Have you given an undertaking when you two will meet again?
SHORTEN: The Government has, in the last 20 minutes or so, forwarded some amendments to their resolution which we will consider and I've undertaken to do the same, most promptly because this matter shouldn't be allowed to drag on.
JOURNALIST: Is that days, next week?
SHORTEN: Obviously, we want to do it as soon as possible, as soon as possible. Let's be clear: we don't want a half-baked solution. Having seen this crisis, Labor wants to help but the problem is we can't just sign off to a half-baked solution which means the Australian people could be again thrust into this problem because we just accept the first thing that the Government said will deal with the matter.
But you know we went in good faith and I brought Senator Wong along and we certainly are doing our level best to help the Government resolve a crisis which is not of Labor's making.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Prime Minister mentioned that you guys were, finished off that meeting and were going to take some advice on some matters - are you able to tell us what you are going off to take advice on?
SHORTEN: We want to sharpen up the Prime Minister's resolution to make sure it is foolproof. No point in constructing a net which has more holes in it is there?
So the Government suggested some alternatives following constructive discussions, I might add. We want to examine them, we only got them a few minutes ago and we will do the same to the Government once I've concluded this press conference.
JOURNALIST: But that's legal advice?
SHORTEN: We want to make sure we're not watering down the High Court. Let's keep it simple here and at the end of the day, it is pretty straightforward. Labor has two concerns really remaining and whilst there was plenty of other discussion on plenty of other matters, our concerns are that the timing - we don't see Australians should spend one extra dollar being reconvened, the Parliament reconvening - when we are scheduled to meet for two weeks at the end of this month and I think Australians want this crisis resolved, absolutely.
The other concern we have is making sure that the MPs aren't just allowed to waltz through and "I didn't know". What we have to do is make sure that the red flags, the propositions which should alert people to whether or not there might be a citizenship issue from another country are dealt with. I say to Malcolm, let's do it once, let's do it right and that's what the Australian people want.
JOURNALIST: Would you consider lodging a vote of no confidence in the Government, if John Alexander isn't able to clear up his citizenship concerns?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all I think Mr Alexander and the Government need to explain Mr Alexander's status. This matter shouldn't be allowed to drag on at all. We're focused on being constructive, I'd rather focus today on what Penny and I can work out to help the Government establish a gold standard which means that Australians again don't have to pull their hair out because it would appear MPs don't even know what the Constitution means. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Just on a slightly different topic, the Turnbull Government says it is seeking urgent discussions with the French Government over plans to build a wind farm on a site where Australian diggers are buried. Are you aware of this and what are you hoping to see out of those discussions?
SHORTEN: No, we will speak to our Veterans Affairs Spokesperson, Amanda Rishworth and get back to you.