JOURNALIST: Good morning and welcome to the program. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will in the next few hours meet the South Korean Prime Minister to discuss the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, he's in Seoul and Mr Shorten joins me live where he's accompanied by the Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong for this visit.
Mr Shorten thanks very much for your time, you are meeting with the Korean Prime Minister Lee in the next few hours. In your view does President Trump's intervention here, his latest provocative tweet, does this help or harm the handling of this crisis?
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, first of all, Penny Wong and I are here because we want to demonstrate that both sides of Australian politics are supporters of both the Korean people and the Korean Government in what is the worst crisis in sixty years. In terms of the contributions from the American President, I think the real issue is the success in recent days of getting the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution to put in place stronger sanctions. So I'm focused on the actions and certainly in the next twenty four and forty eight hours I'm looking forward to getting the best possible briefings from the Korean Government and the military here on the peninsula.
JOURNALIST: We can explore those, the sanctions in a bit more detail shortly but just on that point that you said about expressing the bipartisan support for our allies in the region, what will you be telling the Korean Prime Minister specifically about the Labor Party's support and if you win office?
SHORTEN: Well, the Australian Labor Party has been a strong supporter of improving our relations with Korea, we supported the Korean-Australian Free Trade Agreement which is delivering lots of benefits for both sides of the equation and in terms of security in the North Asia region, I'll be explaining that Korea along with Japan and China are our three biggest, or amongst our three biggest trading partners. So what happens in North Asia, does have an effect on both our security and our economic prosperity so our message will be one of continuity, in the event there was a Labor Government it would be steady as she goes in terms of supporting our allies in the region.
JOURNALIST: We've heard some strong comments from President Trump in relation to retaliation if North Korea were to attack one of the US allies in the region. If North Korea attacked Guam, would you support Australia aiding the US in joining in any such conflicts?
SHORTEN: Well we've got our treaty obligations but before we get to that – that's the ANZUS treaty – but before we get to that, let me just state that I think that the path to de-escalation of the tension on the Korean Peninsula has to involve diplomacy first. It has to be about containment and deterrence and taking a long-term strategy. That's why I mentioned in my opening words to you Kieran, what's important is the work of China and Russia, they're the ones who've got perhaps the best immediate leverage to help get the North Korean regime focused on alternatives to their escalating military trials and testing of nuclear capacity.
JOURNALIST: It is the alliance of course as you have argued yourself, a fundamental pillar of our nation's security. Explicitly though, if the US said that, you know, that it was activating a response to North Korea, do you reassure the United States and President Trump that a Labor Government would back them in any such action?
SHORTEN: Well we've got our ANZUS alliance commitments and whoever is in power is going to honour them but before we get to this prospect of North Korean first strikes and some of the sort of scenarios and hypothesis, let's just go back to what we've got in front of us: what we need is for the world to put whatever pressure we can to encourage North Korea to engage in a diplomatic de-escalation of their testing. This is where China and Russia play such an important role; over the weekend and in recent days the United Nations Security Council has escalated its sanctions and what is good symbolically is that China and the Russians have supported these resolutions.
Now the trick will be, to be able to put more than just symbolic support for these resolutions, and to see these sanctions come into place, which help focus the mind of the North Korean Government on less provocative sabre rattling and nuclear missile testing, and getting back to engaging with the rest of the world.
What we need for North Korea is a long-term solution. What we need is a consistent pattern from the rest of the world to encourage North Korea to open up. At the end of the day I'm here in South Korea, South Korea is a vibrant economy, the 11th largest in the world, they're getting on with business here, so I think what we need is consistent long-term action rather than a whole lot of perhaps short-term language.
GILBERT: Sure. I guess many people would read that as referring to Donald Trump - what's the next step then if those sanctions and economic pressure -
SHORTEN: Kieran, let me just go to that. Listen, the issue here is not President Trump's language, the issue here is how do we, in the long-term, get the North Koreans to de-escalate their military testing. That's the long-term game. The South Koreans, the Japanese, the Americans, they're doing their thing, they're doing their work supported by Australia and what we need is for China and Russia to help encourage the North Koreans to turn away from the path which they are currently embarked upon.
GILBERT: What's the next step then in terms of that economic pressure you're talking about? Our Government has been urging restrictions on oil, as have others around the world, that's happened now, the Chinese Government say - then commit to then implementing this, what's next if all that doesn't deter Kim Jong-un?
SHORTEN: Well let's give that a chance. Some of these sanctions have only just come into place. The proposition behind the sanctions in part was to put pressure on their oil supplies, and also the North Korean regime gets a lot of revenue from people, from their citizens, working in Russia and China. If some of that dries up hopefully that will focus the mind of the regime upon a more constructive engagement with the rest of the world. So let's give those sanctions - I think we need to give them some time.
GILBERT: Is there a risk there we're overstating the impact of Chinese influence here. I know that your message is similar to ones we've heard from leaders around the world, but the fact is, Kim Jong-un has never met President Xi Jinping of China, so they're hardly the closest of allies, and the influence I guess could be questioned in that sense, over Pyongyang.
SHORTEN: I don't think it's just China's responsibility alone. Not for nothing is the North Korean regime and North Korea known as the hermit kingdom. We need to help encourage them to engage with the rest of the world. I think what we need is to have a constant and long-term approach to North Korea, it's not going to get sorted out overnight by a particular resolution or a particular speech, or a set of words, and I think that all of those nations in the region and more broadly, need to focus on making the sanctions work, and we need to encourage the North Koreans to look away from their very isolationist approach, which they've had so far.
GILBERT: Okay quickly a couple of domestic issues before I let you go. Newspoll has the gap narrowing in same-sex marriage postal survey, is that a concern to you, or that lead still should be leading to a confidence within the Yes campaign - what's your sense of things?
SHORTEN: I would just encourage people to vote in this survey. I'm quietly confident that the Yes answer in the survey will prevail. We all know the survey is an amazing waste of money, $122 million dollars. The fact that we've got a Newspoll survey telling us what we're going to spend a $122 million dollars to find out really highlights the futility of it, having said that, it's the path which the Governments embarked us on, I would encourage people to vote Yes. In terms of the debate, and which way it's going, I think there have been some real fringe dwellers emerge.
I was taking my little girl and a friend for a walk on Saturday and I was bailed up by some of the No case and they were giving some of the silliest arguments I have heard, saying that little 7 year old girls will be boys by the time they're 17. Some of these arguments are just preposterous.
I am quietly confident that the Yes answer will prevail in the survey. But really the fact that we are seeing such a polarising debate at the margins shows why these debates are often better had in Parliament. Because I worry in particular for a lot of my gay friends who for the first time in two decades feel not welcome in terms of having to fill in a survey to justify their own relationships. It really wasn't the right way to go but we are in it, so I am confident the Yes vote will get up.
GILBERT: On the margins obviously some concerns but there are some serious, and I think fair concerns, in relation to religious freedom. What's your view on the best path to deal with that?
SHORTEN: Kieran, when you say concerns about religious freedom; religious freedom will be the same after this survey as they were before this survey. I am happy to have a discussion about how we improve religious freedom in this country but I don't think it's in a crisis at this point but always happy to see how we can improve people's concerns.
But this survey is about: do you agree with marriage equality. This is about the freedom to marry, it's about the freedom to marry the person you love and I just want the nation to get on with it. I think that's what most people actually think.
GILBERT: Just on energy policy just quickly to wrap up. The Australia Institute has found there needs to be a Renewable Energy Target of at least 66 per cent by 2030 if we are going to meet the Paris targets. Is that something you would countenance? That's beyond Labor's 50 per cent target.
SHORTEN: That's certainly not our work plan but what I would say is that for this divided and out of touch government to be saying that power prices aren't going up and to say that we don't need a Clean Energy Target - it is the lack of clear government policy which is stopping investment in new energy which means businesses pay and households are paying more for energy. We need a Clean Energy Target and we need it now.
The fact that this nation is being held to ransom because of internal fighting within the Liberal Party just means that ordinary Australians and ordinary Australian businesses are paying more for their energy.
We are not in the realm of debating 66 per cent Renewable Energy Target at all but what amazes me is we can't even get the Government to create policy certainty and in the mean time, ordinary Australians are paying more for their power bills every month.
GILBERT: Are you, just finally, still committed to 45 per cent Emissions Reduction Target?
SHORTEN: There is no doubt we need to be more ambitious than the Government. We've said that we will look seriously at a Clean Energy Target but before we get on to Labor, the Government has got to have a clear position. The problem in Australia at the moment isn't an argument between Liberal and Labor. The problem is that the Liberal Party think that when they get agreement amongst themselves, that is a victory. They can't even agree amongst themselves on a Clean Energy Target.
We had Malcolm Turnbull looking more out of touch than ever when he was declaring that power bills weren't going up. I don't know what planet the Liberal Government live on but it's not the same one that Australians get every month when they receive their power bills. We need a Clean Energy Target, we need it now -
GILBERT: So what about the 45 per cent target?
SHORTEN: It's stopping investment in energy -
In terms of emission reduction, we should be aiming at reducing our emissions in that range, absolutely. But the point is, we are not going to reduce anything under this current Government. I would be just happy, Kieran if they could get their act together and give us single answer.
GILBERT: Yeah, OK. Well you said the range, is that recommitting to 45 per cent, yes?
SHORTEN: Yeah, we support that reduction. The point though I am getting at, Kieran is, mate we are not even on the field of that because we can't get the Liberals to agree to their basic position about what the Chief Scientist said.
It's all about reducing power prices and more renewable power. You're not going to get that unless you have a Clean Energy Target. We need policy certainty and that is absolutely missing in action right now in Canberra under the Turnbull Government.
GILBERT: Mr Shorten, thanks for your time live from Seoul, South Korea. Appreciate that.