ABC RADIO BRISBANE
THURSDAY, 22 FEBRUARY 2018
SUBJECT/S: Student overdoses at Gold Coast high school; Coalition division; Adani, Labor’s Plan for Real Jobs in Regional Queensland; Age Pension and aged care; citizenship.
REBECCA LEVINGSTON, HOST: Are you sick of hearing about Barnaby Joyce's private life, just yet? The private life that is not meant to be public that he keeps doing interviews about. Well, hold your nerve, we will have a bit more of a chat with it this morning with someone who is probably okay with talking about it, the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten has spent the last week in regional Queensland talking about Adani and jobs, and no doubt Barnaby Joyce came up along the way as well. Right now, he is in Brisbane. Good morning, Bill Shorten.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning.
LEVINGSTON: Firstly, can we just stay with this student drug overdose which is a big issue locally; seven students taken to hospital, four are in a critical condition and police are investigating whether the students purchased the drugs online. What is your personal reaction to this story?
SHORTEN: I think it's shocking. I've got teenage kids. I just hope the kids get better. I cannot imagine what their parents are going through. I think it's every teenage parent's nightmare, a story like this, and I was listening to the quite impressive caller you just had in, Taylor, clearly she and her parents have done something right, and you'd like to bottle some of that wisdom and sprinkle it around the place. I think being a teenager now is harder than it's ever been before. There are so many pressures, there are so many good things as well. You know, the internet is marvellous -
LEVINGSTON: Well, it's marvellous for buying drugs on apparently too.
SHORTEN: Well, that wasn't what I meant by marvellous. What I mean by it -
LEVINGTON: Is it too easy to buy drugs online though?
SHORTEN: I have no idea to be honest, and if it is too easy, it should be stopped. The age of social media is - it's good, it allows you to connect. If I wanted to learn something, I had to open a book, now you can go online. But it is a very mixed blessing so when I said it's marvellous, it's got a big downside too. The pressure of social media on kids is, I think, horrendous. This sort of very instant age you live in. So the drug issue is much broader than what I'm talking about with social media, but as a parent, and my wife is doing the bulk of the work, let's be honest, because I travel so much, the trick is to have an open relationship with your kids and that's what heartened me about that caller, Taylor. Just the fact that she thinks she could talk to her parents. So I think somehow to maintain that communication. You know, teenage boys, they get to a point where it's pretty hard to communicate, the grunting replaces the sentences, but it’s the same pressure on teenage girls. So I think it is harder than it was 30 years ago when I was a teenager. But having said that, returning to the story today, if kids are able to buy serious drugs online, well then we’ve got to do everything we can to try and stop that. I don't want to sound naive but that should be our starting point and beyond that, I'm sure the parents are in a real state of absolute shock.
CRAIG ZONCA, HOST: But how do you stop something like that? If it is so easy to purchase drugs online, as we're hearing this morning, how do you go about regulating that? You're talking about the internet, it is an uncontrollable beast. So what do you do, Bill Shorten?
SHORTEN: I know it’s hard. I don't know if it is entirely uncontrollable. I think we have got to give a lot more information to parents to help them. A lot of parents try and work out, well how do we do these things? How do you make sure that you regulate your kids’ time on screens? It's a real uphill battle. I think parents need more support. Of course, there's always the police element to this. I think this is something where it would be good to have Liberal and Labor, State governments, the police, the Federal Government, all talking about the same thing at the same time. There's no votes in this, it's just about protecting our kids.
LEVINGSTON: Do you expect Barnaby Joyce to be the leader of the Nationals when he returns from leave next week?
SHORTEN: I honestly don't know any more. You said before that I'd been travelling through regional Queensland for the last week and I have been, it's been great to get out in the real world. They're not all talking about Barnaby Joyce. I do think most people think his private life and his personal choices are his, and therefore not really fit for, you know, up for open commentary. I do think there's concern if they think that he's used public position for private benefit. But it's gone beyond that now. Malcolm Turnbull poured great shame on him, I think, in quite an abusive fashion in his speech on Thursday, last Thursday. Then the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia has come out and said that his Prime Minister was inept. This is now a division in the government. I think that's the real problem. The two most senior people in Australia are obviously - don't have a high opinion of each other as much as they can pretend after the fight they do.
LEVINGSTON: Since that, they did have a private meeting and they came out and both said they think they can work together.
SHORTEN: Yeah well, if you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you across the river. Sorry, you know when a relationship breaks down and this relationship has broken down.
LEVINGSTON: You've said you would maintain Malcolm Turnbull's ban on sex between ministers and their staff. Did you have to have any tough conversations with your colleagues?
SHORTEN: No. There you go, short answer too.
ZONCA: None at all?
SHORTEN: No. I think everyone thought that, that wasn't the main issue, Malcolm talked about that to distract from the fact that he's too weak to discipline his own Deputy Prime Minister. Also I think the issue is a bit more complicated than just that aspect but we're not going to make that the issue. If that's what Mr Turnbull thinks is required, we're not going to change that. I think there are bigger issues out there in terms of the conduct of ministers and there's been a string of stories about Barnaby's political and professional decisions, which have caused great question marks. I think everyone believes that if Malcolm had his way, he'd have a new Deputy Prime Minister. I mean he exhibited that by saying you've got to take leave and put someone else in charge. But the Government can't be functioning if it's just focusing on itself and every day there's a new story about internal division. It's almost like a triangle of division. Tony Abbott versus Malcolm Turnbull, Malcolm Turnbull versus Barnaby Joyce. I don't know what Mr Joyce and Mr Abbott think about each other but there's just a triangle of division and that story can't end well for not only the government, but the country.
ZONCA: Can you look at your own Shadow Ministry and know that they're all squeaky clean?
SHORTEN: Yes, to the best of my knowledge, absolutely.
LEVINGSTON: That triangle of division perhaps makes it a good time to be the Opposition Leader. Bill Shorten, live in studio this morning on ABC Radio Brisbane. Rebecca Levingston and Craig Zonca with you. You seem to have taken a harsher line on Adani, in particular when you're standing in Victoria talking about it. Are you using different language when you're standing in the seat of Batman compared to when you stand up in Townsville?
SHORTEN: No, our position has been for 18 months, 18 months that the deal has to stack up environmentally and commercially. And in fact, the Queensland Government during it's most recent State Election, arrived at our position. I have been travelling through regional Queensland , and the ABC has been covering it, so in fact, you have evidence that I say the same things in both places. And my position is very straight forward. This deal doesn't stack up by any measure that we have seen so far. They have missed more deadlines, I think in today's newspapers, again they are missing another deadline. You played a clip from my colleague, Tony Burke talking about how the banks don't want to finance it. There are environmental concerns about the arrangement. So we've had the same position, I suspect because we have got a by-election in Victoria, people are more interested in what we're saying on the question.
But I travelled up and did public meetings in Townsville on Monday night, in Mackay on Tuesday night, Rockhampton on Wednesday night, I was in Gladstone last Friday - Friday week ago I should say. In all of those places, I make myself available to talk to people. When I hold a public meeting, we invite the whole town to come. It's not an invitation only, sanitised event where the donors turn up and no one else, and the party members, anyone can turn up. What interested me was that people want to hear what Labor's plans are for jobs, real jobs in regional Queensland. And I have got a very clear view that on one hand, Adani is not the mining industry. So you can be sceptical about Adani but that doesn't make you anti-mining. But somehow, the boosters of Adani say that unless you are a red-blooded Adani patriot, somehow you are anti-mining; that is wrong. But what we also need to do with the resource construction sector coming off, is we need to have a plan for jobs which just doesn't rely on a billionaire multinational coal company coming in in this very controversial project which has a lot of detractors.
ZONCA: It sounds like in many respects there, Bill Shorten, that you are treading a fine line; not anti-mining but not that supportive of the Adani proposal, saying it needs to stack up on its own two feet. What do you say to those people in Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton who don't have a job at the moment and to the business owners in the main street who are facing, in some circumstances, some pretty dire financial consequences at the moment because the main streets are dying in those towns. They want employment, they want jobs and they see Adani as that future.
SHORTEN: Let me put a caveat; those towns aren't dying and I get annoyed when I hear people in Brisbane say those towns are dying, so that's the first thing I want to say. But having said that -
ZONCA: I am a big advocate for Rockhampton; it's my home town, I was there at Christmas time. I can tell you, speaking to business owners, that they are struggling at the moment. You can talk to anyone in Rockhampton, they will say that they are struggling. They need jobs for adults, they need jobs for people who are leaving school and the jobs are not there at the moment.
SHORTEN: Yeah, that's alright but I am just going to say to you that people in regional Queensland, and you'd know this better than most then, don't like being talked down. The issue is that there are for lease signs on the shops in Rockhampton. I was there last night, I was speaking to the local leadership. But there is, in fact, 30,000 people unemployed. Now Adani has promised 10,000 jobs but no one I have met actually believes that. So what I will do, it doesn't matter what part of Australia it is, I will tell people the truth, not what some people want me to say or what some people want to hear.
The real fact of the matter is that we have announced if we were elected, if I was Prime Minister, we will widen the channel in Townsville; that generates hundreds of jobs. We've said that in Mackay, we will start the work on Stage 2 of the Ring Road so that that creates easier flow of traffic, more productivity, and more jobs. I've said that we'll build Rookwood Weir and match Annastacia Palaszczuk's 50 per cent funding of it, that'll generate 2,000 agriculture jobs. We've said that we'll do the same with access to Gladstone Port. We've said that from the Yeppoon-Rockhampton road, and your old neighbourhood, 12,000 cars a day go up and down that road, we'll duplicate the road which not only has a safety benefit, but it has a productivity benefit and jobs.
What I won't do - and it's not just construction jobs, but we'll properly fund hospitals. You talk to anyone working in the emergency wards or the geriatric wards, they need more funding. That generates jobs. We'll properly fund schools, we'll put more teachers into country schools and regional schools. Labor's plan is to diversify the economy in Central and North Queensland. Not to pretend that there's going to be some billionaire come down in a helicopter and rescue it all, because I just don't believe that.
LEVINGTON: But Ian Macfarlane, the head of the Queensland Resources Council who we had in studio yesterday would argue that the royalties from coal are a great proportion of the State Budget, indeed there would be a sort of, bumper budget this year in Queensland because of coal royalties, which are up at the moment. He says Queensland needs the money from projects like Adani.
SHORTEN: I like Ian. He's a former Liberal politician and now he's the trade union leader of the mining industry, except the employers. So he's got a job to do and I respect that. But what he's doing there is conflating - you can be sceptical about Adani he says, but therefore it means you're sceptical about all mining. That's not right, and it's about time some of the boosters of Adani put their hand up and say you can be critical of Adani, but that doesn't mean you're anti blue-collar jobs. I was there at the last shifts of QNI in Townsville, Clive Palmer's nickel refinery, or nickel operations. I've seen what happens when large companies make big promises and let people down. So, I as the alternative Prime Minister of Australia, have to have a plan which diversifies, which builds to the strengths, not just one project which even privately I'm sure conservative politicians don't believe is going to go ahead.
ZONCA: You say that you're not anti-mining, you've taken that stance against Adani. Where do you stand on something like the New Hope Acland expansion in Southern Queensland, just outside of Oakey, where 700 could be out of a job by the end of this year now that the State Government hasn't approved an environmental authority to expand that mine?
SHORTEN: I don't have all the information that the State Government based its view on. The one which I've been concentrating on is Adani. But you mentioned Oakey, and I am going to put a plug in for a group of Oakey coal miners who don't always get the coverage they deserve. That's the 180 Oakey miners at the North Oakey Coal Mine owned by Glencore. They've been locked out for over 200 days.
ZONCA: Very different mine that we're talking about - Oaky North is in Central Queensland -
SHORTEN: No, I get that.
ZONCA: I've asked your view on Oakey in Southern Queensland.
SHORTEN: I get that, but my point is that there's a whole lot of coal miners who we stand up for and unfortunately when they get locked out by large multinationals they've got to battle for their coverage.
ZONCA: Do you condone their behaviour on the picket line?
SHORTEN: I don't condone any illegality, okay, that's a sort of motherhood question, or parenthood question.
ZONCA: No, no, because they have been accused of abusive comments -
SHORTEN: They've been accused haven’t they, if it's proven -
ZONCA: You haven't seen the video footage? There has been video footage circulated online of it.
SHORTEN: No. Let's not play gotcha games here. I've said very clearly -
ZONCA: I’m not.
SHORTEN: Well I answered earlier, I said I don't support illegality full stop. But I'll also speak up against Swiss or global multinationals - they don't pay any tax in this country, they lock out the workers and these coal miners are fighting just to keep their existing terms and conditions. Understand with this lock out, they're not locked out because they went on strike, they're locked out because the workers won't accept a reduction in conditions. And the problem with this dispute is that there's no way of resolving it unless the workers accept a cut. Now it's not as if Glencore's hard up for a dollar.
LEVINGTON: Bill Shorten is the Federal Opposition Leader live in studio at ABC Radio Brisbane, 27 minutes last nine with Rebecca Levingston and Craig Zonca. Can we move onto mining to the seniors of Australia. Just before the news we had Ian Henschke, the Chief of Advocacy for National Seniors.
ZONCA: You've even got his business card, Bill Shorten.
SHORTEN: He handed it to me. He didn't miss an opportunity.
LEVINGTON: He's no dummy, but they've already outlined their kind of, budget wish list, because they're thinking that this may be the final budget before the next Federal Election. I just want to play you one of the things that Ian Henschke and National Seniors are seeking:
HENSCHKE: I'll announce to you today that National Seniors is joining forces with the Benevolent Society and a wonderful man, Everald Compton here in Brisbane, to push for an independent tribunal to set a proper aged pension because we want this to be set independently because we know that there are 1.5 million Australians who are living on the Age Pension, and we know that the vast majority of those Australians who are on the aged pension have as little as $20/week on top of their pension.
LEVINGTON: Is that something you'd consider or commit to?
SHORTEN: I've met with Everald Compton and as people in Queensland know, and around Australia, he is a formidable advocate. I'm not convinced about an independent pension tribunal. But I understand the problem that Everald and National Seniors are trying to solve. It was the last Labor Government who did the biggest increase in the Age Pension in history. What we can promise pensioners straight away are the following couple of propositions. We'll make sure they keep getting Energy Supplements. So if you go on the Age Pension under the current Turnbull Government, you won't get an Energy Supplement, and we know that electricity prices have being increased six times average wage increases, which is more than, absolutely, increases in the pensions. So we'll help them with their energy.
The second thing I promise them is we'll unfreeze the Medicare rebate so that it's not pensioners paying more out of pocket to go and see the doctor. The third thing I want to promise pensioners is that we - I am appalled at the massive explosion in aged care packages waiting lists. Now, that sort of sounds a bit of a bureaucratic term, so let me put it in plainer English. There's 100,000 Australians, older Australians who've been assessed as eligible for aged care packages, which means they can be supported in home, for example. There's 100,000 people who, if they don't get that support, are going to have to go into more expensive forms of aged care. It's always cheaper to help people, and better for them, in their own homes.
So the other thing that I'm saying to pensioners, is that we want to make dementia and tackling dementia a number one priority, a mainstream political debate. There's 412,000 Australians currently living with dementia, and one of the ways we do that is start the debate about reducing the waiting lists. And how do we pay for these promises? Just like how do I pay for my promises in regional Queensland, I'm not going to give multinationals, banks, the top end of town, massive corporate tax cuts. My priority is you look after the pensioners, look after the jobs in regional Queensland and all the other good policies we've got on health care and education. That is a better use of scarce taxpayer money, than giving it to large companies who will remit the profits overseas.
ZONCA: Bill Shorten, we go to news soon on ABC Radio Brisbane. Just before you go, how lucky is Susan Lamb that Barnaby Joyce has been dominating headlines?
SHORTEN: They're separate issues.
ZONCA: Will you refer her to the High Court?
SHORTEN: Susan has done everything she's meant to do under the law as it stands, so no.
ZONCA: You won't?
SHORTEN: No. What we have offered the Government though, not unilaterally, what we have offered the Government is a compromise. And sometimes the Government views compromise as weakness, I don't. I just view it as getting on with business. We've said we've got concerns about a couple of their Members of Parliament, they've got concerns about ours. I am confident based on all the legal advice we've received that Susan Lamb has done everything that she was required to do. But if we need to resolve it, let's do it together with one rule for all. And I think the real problem – and you go to the question of whether or not it's Susan Lamb or any other issue, aged care, jobs in Queensland, is that this Government is distracted. I mean, today we read that 10 million Australians have got a pay rise, which only is the equivalent to inflation. How can we have that situation and yet the Government is going to give tax cuts to millionaires and give large multinationals tax cuts. This Government doesn't know how real people are living their lives. Cost of living is a real issue.
ZONCA: Just back to Susan Lamb, because you said you're satisfied, why not test that in the High Court and see if the High Court is satisfied?
SHORTEN: We've offered a compromise to the Government. What I I'm not going to do is let the Government just get off scot-free. So, we could resolve it, no question -
ZONCA: But at the moment Susan Lamb is getting off scot-free.
SHORTEN: Well no, that's only if you believe what the Government spinners are saying, I don't. I've seen the legal advice. She's been very upfront. She's talked about her personal circumstances, she's explained what she's done and why she's done it and when she's done it. We all know that the Government is desperate to distract from their internal division, and what I say to the Government is if you've got a real concern about citizenship - you've got concerns about a couple of ours, we've got legitimate concerns about Falinski and others in the Government ranks. But we do it together. This idea that one side just gets out a cudgel and beats up the other side is really annoying. But I do agree with perhaps the sentiment inherent in your question. Last year was a poor year for politics with a couple of notable exceptions; the banking royal commission and the marriage equality vote, but it was a poor year. We seemed consumed about ourselves. That's why at the beginning of this year I've said that we need to restore faith and that's why I'll support a National Integrity Commissioner, or a National Anti-Corruption Commission. But the last two weeks we've descended into division and soap opera, and at the same time people's wages are going backwards and we've got aged care waiting lists. The Parliament needs to lift its socks, we're up for working constructively with the Government, but at the moment Mr Turnbull's too weak to control his own people. I bet he was pretty happy to get on the plane, to leave his problems behind for a couple of days.
LEVINGTON: On Monday Malcolm Turnbull lost his 27th Newspoll in a row. If he hits 30, should he consider his position?
SHORTEN: I think he should reconsider his policies. Who's in charge of the Government, and let's face it, that's not immediately clear anymore is it. That's the issue for them. For me the issue is, how do we control electricity prices; how do we make sure people can an okay pay rise; how do we make sure that the we are looking after older Australians. You know, there's so many issues, how do we ensure there's regional jobs in Queensland. There's real issues and then there's what the Government is talking about. The problem is, there is a giant gulf between the two.
LEVINGTON: Bill Shorten, really appreciate you taking the time to drop into Brisbane today, thanks so much.
SHORTEN: Super. Thank you.