ABC 774 – JON FAINE
FRIDAY, 16 MARCH 2018
SUBJECTS Labor’s plan for a fairer taxation system; Batman by-election; foreign affairs
JON FAINE: Mr Shorten, good morning to you.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE LABOR PARTY: Good morning Jon.
FAINE: How does announcing franking credits being withdrawn entice Liberal voters to support the Labor Party instead of the Greens on the cusp of a by-election in Batman?
SHORTEN: Reforming the Budget, making changes of a system which disproportionately favours the wealthy, where you can get an income tax refund even though you haven't paid any income tax, is good policy but what it also does is it shows that Labor is determined to make sure that we can fund our schools, that we can reduce the waiting lists for elective surgery, that we can do something about the long lists of aged care where people are not getting support.
FAINE: Sure I understand that's tax reform, I'm specifically asking you though about the wisdom of announcing about franking credits being taken away. You're trying to get Liberals in Batman, in Preston, in Reservoir, in Northcote to vote for you but you're attacking one of their core issues days out from a by-election, how is that smart?
SHORTEN: No I think that treating the voters with the respect to put forward ideas as opposed to just slogans, I think that's actually what Australian politics requires. The last six months of Australian politics I think we would all agree, regardless of one’s political biases, has been tiny and tawdry. What this nation wants is they want to know, who has a vision for the future and of course how can you make sure that it happens. I do want to create space in the Budget so that we can look after our aged, that we can look after our health system and we can make room for tax relief for low and middle-income earners.
FAINE: Do you accept the assurances you're now receiving from any number of pensioner groups, as well as individuals telling their story, that there actually are people dependant on the aged pension, with a tiny little nest egg and withdrawing their franking credits, the cashability of franking credits, will affect their quality of life, will affect their income, they will be worse off?
SHORTEN: I think that pensioners and part-pensioners always deserve the support of governments and oppositions.
FAINE: Do you accept some of them would be worse off under your policy?
SHORTEN: Well I think that pensioners are always better off under Labor and I can say that because it's Labor who has fought for the energy supplement, $360 to make sure that it goes to pensioners, the Government won't do that. It's Labor who has said that we don't want to increase the working age to 70, the oldest in the world. We're the ones who want to close down some of the gap in out of pocket expenses which have occurred under the Liberals.
FAINE: So you give with one hand but you take with the other?
SHORTEN: I think the health costs for pensioners is a number one issue, Jon I have to say that.
FAINE: But income, franking credits income, for some people that's something that they regard as untouchable and sacred and you're taking it away.
SHORTEN: Well it's a system which has been in for a total of 16 years so it hasn't been - when you say 'sacred'. I do think that we need to put some facts on the table about our changes. One, no one’s pension gets reduced, two, no one’s share dividends gets reduced, three, no one pays any extra taxes but how fair is it that the taxes of people who are going to work, listening to your show, they pay taxes to Canberra and then those taxes get paid to people sometimes in the amount of two and a half million dollars to give -
FAINE: Sorry there's one example of that you don't make a policy on the basis of one example of it -
SHORTEN: Well, no I think you'll find that 50 per cent of all of these tax refunds go to the top 10 per cent wealthiest self-managed super funds. What we have is a two class tax system in Australia Jon. You're never going to convince me it's fair that the more money you have that you can opt out of the tax system.
Labor has got a track record in the last two, three years of tackling hard issues, as you would say the sacred issues - negative gearing, why is it fair that property investors get a tax subsidy and first homebuyers have to compete? How is it fair that some people can have big discretionary family trusts and they can split income, when the men and women in our hospitals can't go down to payroll and split their income?
FAINE: Well then attack family trusts then if you've got that problem.
SHORTEN: Well we've done that.
FAINE: But let's just go back to the franking credits, do you repeat your assurance made two days ago that under these reforms no one, no pensioner will be worse off?
SHORTEN: What I said two days ago, and it's been our whole voting tradition of the Labor Party, is that pensioners are always better off under Labor and we'll have more to say about how we'll help pensioners going forward.
FAINE: Are you inconsistent in the message you're bringing to the people of Batman about the Adani mine in Queensland? You're up in Queensland saying one thing to the locals there about jobs and investment and the future and down in the heavily Greens populated areas of Batman, you're saying something quite different.
SHORTEN: Jon, come on you're a bit better than running Liberal propaganda. I have town hall meetings in Central Queensland and I have town hall meetings in Melbourne and Sydney and I say the same thing.
For me, I am a sceptic of Adani, I don't like it, I'm not a fan. And I've said that because it just doesn't stack up commercially, it's not me who's passed judgment on the commercial attractiveness of this project, no Australian bank wants to touch it, no Australian super fund. But what I won't do is create sovereign risk in Government, no responsible Prime Minister would.
FAINE: No but it creates jobs and sometimes job creation requires government assistance, you supported the car industry, that required government assistance to maintain jobs and the Adani mine will require government assistance to create jobs in Far North Queensland.
SHORTEN: Well I won't be providing taxpayer assistance to that mine project full stop. And by the way, not only do I say that in Queensland and Victoria I said it two years ago.
FAINE: To move to Peter Dutton, yesterday he said that he thought that some South African white farmers needed the help of a civilized country to escape persecution. South Africa have expressed their outrage at that and have demanded an apology, but let's go through this bit by bit. Do you accept that there are South African white farmers who are requiring assistance?
SHORTEN: There are some media reports which would indicate that some farmers who are experiencing difficulty. I have to say though that I also read media reports that other South Africans can be the victims of crime. Let's go to the heart of the matter here: we have a non-discriminatory immigration system. It doesn't matter who you are, if you're facing persecution you've got the right to apply for protection. That could equally go for South Sudanese people, refugees or white refugees in South Africa if they're there. For me what matters is that a case should be assessed on its merits, if there are applicants the Department should be allowed to do its job and assess them.
FAINE: Some critics of Peter Dutton's situation, particularly the Greens with whom you're locked in battle in Batman, have said his comments are racist. Do you think he's racist in these comments?
SHORTEN: I think observing that there are some people in a minority group get persecuted, I don't think that makes you racist -
FAINE: No but saying you'd give priority to white farmers from South Africa over people -
SHORTEN: My view is very clear. We have a non-discriminatory immigration system. If it's Rohingyas in Burma being persecuted, if it's Hazaras in Afghanistan if its Christian South Sudanese in Northern Sudan or if it's other groups. For me it is not the skin colour of the refugee or the, the victim that matters to me its whether or not they're the victim of a crime and that's the way we treat people in Australia and if that's the way we treat people in Australia I think that's a sensible principle to apply across the world.
FAINE: Is Peter Dutton being inconsistent then in his treatment of this group as opposed to other persecuted groups?
SHORTEN: I don't know what's motivated Dutton to make those comments, you'd have to ask him.
FAINE: You don't know or you're just not prepared to say?
SHORTEN: No, I don't agree with quite a lot of what Peter Dutton says so, to be honest-
FAINE: He's appealing to a base, surely he knows precisely what he's doing, he's appealing to people who are wary and suspicious of migration from some parts of the world and are welcoming migrants from other parts of the world.
SHORTEN: As an alternative Prime Minister I'm not going to deep dive into every motive of Dutton or any of the other conservative ministers. What Australians want from both sides of politics is a plan for the future and what I'm offering is a plan for the future. This year alone we've said we want to create a national anti-corruption commission, I've said that we will take on the private health insurers and we're going to cap the exorbitant price increases at two per cent a year for the first two years of a Labor administration.
FAINE: Sure but Peter Dutton is an alternate Prime Minister if indeed Tony Abbott is true when he says after 30 losing Newspolls, which is looming for Malcolm Turnbull, then the leadership should be reconsidered. It may be Peter Dutton that you contest the next federal election with, would you rather contest Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott or Peter Dutton?
SHORTEN: I don't care who the Liberals pick, I think none of them are any good for this country in terms of their policies for the future. No, listen you're going to find this year, I'm not always going to keep this, I'm going to try to talk less about the day to day opponents and more about the big picture, where we want to take the nation.
Quite frankly I've been walking around Preston Market with Ged Kearney this morning. I'm interested in how people are dealing with cost of living, the fact that our power bills are going up, the fact that out of pocket costs to go and see the doctor are growing, the fact that wages growth is flatlining, that young people are concerned if they're going to afford to go to university. I want to make sure that pensioners don't feel scared by whatever hysteria the Government's whipping up.
So I'm interested in how ordinary Australians are making ends meet and we've got a plan to lift productivity, we've said to business if you invest in job creating technology well we will back you in with tax support. We've got a plan to improve wages, I'd like to see fair wages, productivity growth, I want to see the economy growing but most of all I want to see our economy work in the interests of working people. At the moment a lot of our fellow Australians Jon, think that the game is rigged, that the fix is in and that unless you're a part of the vested interests, unless you're a part of the top end of town nothing happens for you. I intend to change that cynicism by offering good policies and we're going to stick to our guns, fight for what we believe in, that's what people want to hear.
FAINE: If you were the Prime Minister would we be expelling Russian diplomats as Theresa May says she's going to do?
SHORTEN: If a Russian diplomat had committed crimes in Australia then we would.
FAINE: No no they haven't in Australia but would we be showing solidarity and support.
SHORTEN: Oh okay I thought your question was would we expel them in Australia. No I actually think that Malcolm Turnbull is right on this and that we should show solidarity with the UK. I am still angry that Putin has never fully cooperated with the circumstances around the shooting down of the Malaysian plane over eastern Ukraine. So, if I guess people believe this is as it should be I think Turnbull is right to be calling out the behaviour and to be supporting Theresa May.
FAINE: Would you go further and expel any Russians from Australia and say we are lining up with Theresa May, we'll dispatch a couple out of Canberra as well?
SHORTEN: Well to take actions in Australia I'd want to know what actions had been taken against laws of Australia.
FAINE: In other words no you wouldn't?
SHORTEN: No I'd wait to see what would happen and I'd be advised by our security agencies. One thing which is little known sort of -
FAINE: This is what emboldens Mr Putin isn't it? He conducts an act of aggression and there's no doubt that he's behind it, everyone acknowledges that and next to nothing is the response.
SHORTEN: Well actually if you go back and look at the response when Tony Abbott - forget about his shirt fronting comments to Putin - but when he expressed his anger at what happened to Australians on that plane we were in complete solidarity with Tony Abbott and again with Malcolm Turnbull here. I'll be guided, when it comes to the defence of Australia, by our security agencies and our defence experts.
FAINE: Alright I've got one minute left. Indonesian President Joko Widodo says Australia should now be allowed to join ASEAN, the meeting gets underway in Sydney today. Would you be encouraging Malcolm Turnbull to do so?
FAINE: And that gives us as clear an answer as ever. We will see what happens in Batman by-election, we will see whether or not indeed the plastering of the neighbourhood with Adani signs, 'stop Adani' the Greens’ signs has had the desired effect. Thank you for your time this morning.
SHORTEN: Well I'll just put in a plug for Ged Kearney, she's been a nurse, she's stood up for workers and the disadvantaged, she's just what the Batman electorate could use.
FAINE: There's a headline: Bill Shorten supports Ged Kearney, thank you for your time this morning.