MONDAY, 19 NOVEMBER 2018
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s commitment to an National Integrity Commission; APEC; Manus Island Naval base; Nine-Fairfax merger; industrial relations; national energy policy.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody. Today I've written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison requesting a bipartisan approach to establish a national anti-corruption commission. I am absolutely convinced that the people of Australia want to see the national Parliament and the Commonwealth accountable to a National Integrity Commission. Labor announced this proposal in January. We wrote to the then Liberal Prime Minister Mr Turnbull, putting forward this idea and seeking his support. Unfortunately there was no real response from the Coalition except dismissal. Subsequently, in September when Mr Morrison became the current Liberal Prime Minister, I again said that Australia wants a National Integrity Commission.
Today, we write to the Prime Minister again. I offer a process where the Attorney-General and the Shadow Attorney-General would lead the consultation to develop the proper framework for an anti-corruption commission. Australians want to have their trust restored in Parliament and the matters of the Commonwealth. A National Integrity Commission I believe, is a down payment to ensure that the Australian people can have confidence, a renewed confidence, in their political process. The idea of a national anti-corruption commission is not a Liberal idea, or a crossbench idea, or a Labor idea. The people of Australia simply want to have the protection of a National Integrity Commission. I believe that it is long past time for this change to be enacted. I make it clear that if we are elected at the next election, we will respect the wishes of the Australian people and we will establish a national anti-corruption commission. But it doesn't have to wait for a federal election for us to move forward on this important piece of legislation. I believe that we're capable of working on it right now. Mr Morrison to the best of my knowledge, has never publicly declared his support for a national anti-corruption commission. After three months, time's up Mr Morrison. You should now declare your support for this body.
I want to make it clear that when Parliament resumes at the end of November, we will be seeking the support of the crossbench to help develop a national anti-corruption commission. We will work with the Coalition Government, we will work with the Liberals, but we won't wait for them. The people of Australia deserve nothing less.
I'd now like to invite my colleague, the Shadow Attorney-General , Mark Dreyfus, to talk further about Labor's proposals for a national anti-corruption commission.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks Bill. The Government is all over the place on this question of a National Integrity Commission. It's another example of the chaos and confusion that's engulfing this government. Just this morning a senior Minister, Mr Pyne ruled out the possibility of a national anti-corruption commission, and by contrast the Attorney-General has said in the past - that's Christian Porter, he's said he's open to the idea, and thanks to the ABC we learned last week that Mr Porter and the former Prime Minister Mr Turnbull had been working on a model for a national anti-corruption commission for some months.
So as Bill’s just said, the time is up for Scott Morrison to say what his position is, to end this chaos and confusion. Does he have to be dragged kicking and screaming as he was to the banking commission, which he voted against 26 times, only to finally relent and establish a commission as he should have all along. Does he have to be dragged kicking and screaming to establish a national anti-corruption commission, or will he come to his senses. As Bill has said, the time is up.
SHORTEN: Again, I just reiterate this is the final week of hearings for the Banking Royal Commission. Mr Morrison, the current Liberal Prime Minister, voted 26 times to stop the Banking Royal Commission. On this issue of a national anti-corruption commission, I ask Mr Morrison to drop his trademark stubbornness and work with all sides of politics. The Australian people want us to do it, and if the Government is not prepared to do this, when Parliament resumes next week Labor will seek to work the crossbenchers to develop a national anti-corruption commission. And of course I believe, and I understand that there are government backbenchers who would support a national anti-corruption commission, and I think that the Parliament should express the will of the Australian people on this matter as soon as possible. Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, have you spoken to Kerryn Phelps or any other crossbenchers recently about supporting the integrity commission?
SHORTEN: I've had some discussions with crossbenchers, as have some of my colleagues. We believe there is an appetite across the Parliament for a national anti-corruption commission. People don't understand why the Government is so slow on this matter, why are they so stubborn. Labor has backed this idea for the whole course of this year. There are crossbenchers who equally support the proposal. I also believe there will be some members of the government backbench, and perhaps even Mr Morrison's frontbench, who don't understand why the Government is dragging its feet on a national anti-corruption commission. The Australian people expect nothing less of us than that we be accountable to them. I believe that a national anti-corruption commission would go some way to restoring some trust, that politicians and people who work in the Commonwealth are willing to subject themselves to the same rules as everyday Australian - and that's what Labor's putting forward.
JOURNALIST: And just some questions on other issues, the APEC summit failed to produce a final statement. What's your view on how Scott Morrison handled the summit?
SHORTEN: Well APEC was first set up towards the end of the 1980s to help bridge some of the divide between Pacific nations, including Japan and the United States. APEC is a piece of Australian foreign policy architecture. Therefore I like many Australians, are disappointed at the lost opportunity of this most recent APEC meeting. I would have preferred if President Trump had been able to attend. But more than that, I also recognise that we have a growing sharp economic divide across the Pacific, between China and the United States. I don't think that we can live in a world of denial and pretend that APEC was a success, when it wasn't. Australia will have to redouble its efforts with other members of APEC, to help bridge the sharp economic divide which is currently growing across the Pacific. Australia needs to make sure that we can do everything we can through our foreign policy and diplomacy, to stop the current division cementing into a more permanent trade and economic argument.
JOURNALIST: Would Labor back the Coalition's plan for a naval base on Manus Island, or is it something you would review in government?
SHORTEN: Labor has previously said that we're open to improving poor facilities at Manus Island, so Labor has already said that we would do this in government.
JOURNALIST: And do you have any ongoing concerns about the Nine-Fairfax merger? And have you sought any briefings on it?
SHORTEN: I am concerned that when you create media concentration, that when you create greater concentration of media power, that diversity will be the casualty. I would certainly be keeping this media organisation as honest as we can in terms of making sure that regional media outlets and jobs aren't lost for working journalists. In my opinion, when you have greater concentrations, you see a diminution of diversity. But also it makes it very important to me and to Labor, to see us stand up for an independent national public broadcaster. Now more than ever, with decreasing media competition, we need to have a strong ABC; independent, properly funded. That's why Labor if elected, will reverse the cuts of the Morrison Government to the ABC because with the concentration of media power in fewer and fewer organisations, now we need the ABC more than ever.
JOURNALIST: I've got two more. What would Labor do in terms of policy to ensure causal workers are not ripped off? There is an ACTU study showing they're being short changed and do you think the unions are demonising casual work for their own purposes?
SHORTEN: Well first of all some people like working casual, I understand that. But there are literally hundreds of thousands, indeed more than a million Australians who monthly record that they wish they had more work. Insecure work for workers means that they're not able to get loans, they're not able to get mortgages, they're not able to get - take for granted some of the things which people who have permanent jobs do. When you're a casualised worker and you get notified of your shift the night before by text, when you can't take sick leave because you're not guaranteed whether you've got a job when you come back. When you can't even take a holiday even though you've worked for a company year after year because your job mightn't be there when you get back. We need to do better to look after casual workers.
There'll always be some casual work, in seasonal industries and tourism industries. But the idea that people year after year can be put on a revolving door contracts or treated as a casual and denied some of the employment benefits which permanent workers have, to me this is to greater deregulation of the labour market. I don't want us to go down the American path of labour relations where we have an underclass of people who have to hold two or three jobs just to make ends meet, where they have no security of employment. It's also been demonstrated that where you've got strong permanent workforces, what you see is an improvement in productivity. So I do support measures to improve the treatment of casual workers, and we've got a couple of measures already in place, one of which is to review the definition of permanent casual. If you work for a company for a period of time, say for example more than a year, and you do the same job every day and you turn up to work reliably every day, then surely you should be treated not just as a casual.
The other thing which we want to look at doing is the overuse of labour hire. It's appropriate to bring in specialist labour into businesses where they don't have that core skill set within their business. But where you have two people working alongside each other -they may wear the same uniform of the company, but because one person works for a labour hire company and the other as a direct employee, the person on labour hire can be paid far less. Even though they're doing the same work, of the same skill, to the same benefit of the company with the same qualifications. We do think that there's a need to review the treatment of labour hire workers to give them some greater say in the jobs that they actually commit to everyday.
JOURNALIST: And will Labor be releasing an immigration policy?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, I think one of the biggest challenges for immigration is congestion. When we properly fund public transport, when we properly fund our roads, when we have a proper NBN which means that people don't have to travel hours to go to work every day, this is - where we have a properly skilled workforce and people can get permanent jobs. This is how I think we tackle some of the frustrations of congestion in our cities. We believe that immigration should be a bipartisan policy. We've always taken some immigrants from other countries, but we've got to make sure that we're not relying on an army of temporary labour where people have temporary visas to work in this country, and they get exploited and Australians are missing out on jobs.
I'll just make one comment in closing. I noticed some comments in the media about our negative gearing policy from people who make a lot of money out of the housing market. I just want to make clear our commitment to our negative gearing reforms. They are future changes. If you presently negatively gear you will not be affected by our changes full stop. But where I noticed a barrage of criticism coming from the multimillionaire brigade who make their business models out of negative gearing, which sees that their wealth is being subsidised by taxpayers - I simply say it's not fair in the future. I say it's not fair for first home buyers not to be able to get support for when they're going for a house, and they've got to compete on an unlevel playing field with someone who might be buying their fifth or six investment property being subsidised by the taxpayers. Our priorities are to look after first time buyers, our priorities are to make sure our schools and our hospitals and our aged care and our apprenticeship system are properly funded - not create ongoing tax subsidies for a very lucky few people.
JOURNALIST: Can I just have one more question, I just got the last one through, sorry. The Greens say there should be a carbon price can you guarantee your emissions reduction plan won't increase power prices?
SHORTEN: Well the real problem with power prices in this country is we haven't had an energy policy for the last five years. We haven't had a climate change policy for the last five years and power prices go up and up and up. This government just lives in another world when they keep telling everyone that power prices are going down. No, they are not. Ask any Australian who gets the bills, pays their gas and electricity bills, prices are going up. Ask any businesses trying to pay the gas bills and electricity bills for their business, prices are not going down. The number one driver of the spiralling power prices in this country is a lack of climate and energy policy. Because if you don't have a policy you can't get the investment, the necessary investment in new power generation that we need to drive prices down.
This government's very right-wing and extremist attitudes against climate change are just contributing to rising power prices, and that is why Labor at the next election is committed to increasing the proportion of renewables in our energy mix, because we want to create pressure for lower prices and real action on climate change.
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