Bill's Transcripts

ABC 774






SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s unfair Budget; Forrest Review of Indigenous Training and Employment; Work for the dole; Alcoa Port Henry jobs; Tony Abbott’s Royal Commission.



JON FAINE: Bill Shorten, Leader of the Opposition is on his way down to Geelong to talk to Alcoa workers and try to draw attention to the ongoing jobs crisis down in Geelong and the western region. Bill Shorten, good morning to you.




FAINE: Is it time for a mini Budget, as some commentators are calling for, with Joe Hockey’s Budget plans still deadlocked in the Parliament?


SHORTEN: Well Jon before I talk about Joe Hockey’s failing Budget, there was just something that you said in the opening about where have I been. This week, for instance, I was talking to the party faithful in Sydney on Sunday, I’ve been in Avondale Heights talking to aged care residents about the unfair GP tax. I’ve been out to Burwood to talk to the great Medicare Local covering the whole inner east of Melbourne and their concerns about the Abbott Government’s attack on Medicare. And I was in Blacktown yesterday talking about jobs and Medicare, and today I’m going to Geelong –


FAINE: Are you bristling at my suggestion that you’re running a small target strategy?


SHORTEN: No, I’m not bristling, I’m just correcting the record Jon. Because as you appreciate – and you probably know better than most because I’ve been on your show five times since the election, I think Tony Abbott’s been twice – that sometimes it’s hard to get the Opposition the same attention as the powerful and strong government. But the point about it is when we talk about the Budget, I think the Opposition is doing its job, which is standing up for ordinary Australians. And that’s the message I get every day.


FAINE: You may be talking to people, it’s a question of what you say to them and whether or not in fact it gets any traction that matters –


SHORTEN: It does, and that’s why –


FAINE: You can run an underwhelming but still busy program –


SHORTEN: Well first of all, when I talk to Australians I do more listening than talking. And I tell you what they’re telling me, Jon: they’re saying the GP tax is rotten, they don’t know why Tony Abbott is making it harder for kids from middle and poorer income families to be able to go to university, they don’t know why the Government lied about new taxes – saying there wouldn’t be new taxes, and put a petrol tax, they don’t know what this Government’s got against real action on climate change, and they certainly are underwhelmed, and angry in fact, at the attacks on the pension and the attacks on schools and hospitals funding in this country.


So I tell you what Jon, it mightn’t get the headlines, but I know what the real person is thinking and they think that Tony Abbott’s Budget is appalling, it’s a lie, and they certainly don’t want Labor just rolling over and giving Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott everything they want. That would be a betrayal of the Australian people.


FAINE: So strategically, do you block the Budget or do you work with them to repair the damage that you say the Budget is doing?


SHORTEN: What we do strategically is say what’s in the best interests of the future of this country? What sorts of towns and cities –


FAINE: Or what’s in the best interests of Bill Shorten and the Labor Party?


SHORTEN: No Jon, perhaps – I know it’s Friday and maybe you’re allowed to be a bit cynical, but I just tell you straight up, I didn’t dream this Budget up. I didn’t dream up the crazy, unfair, rotten notions in it. I didn’t ask Tony Abbott to relentlessly put his whole reputation before the last election on being a special kind of politician who wouldn’t break his promises, and I certainly didn’t ask him to break his promises.


Jon, what is the point in sending a message to Australians that if you go to the doctor, you’re going to have to pay a new tax? How does that help the vulnerable and the sick? What is the point in discouraging kids from working class backgrounds and middle class backgrounds from thinking they can’t afford to go to university, or they’ve got to choose between a mortgage or going to university? What is the point in asking dementia patients in Avondale Heights at the Doutta Galla Aged Care services, of which there are 35 people there with a diagnosis of dementia, saying ‘oh you’re going to have to pay $7 extra when the GP comes in’. How on earth do we ask hardworking GPs to go and collect an extra $7 off people?


FAINE: If you do indeed believe though that there are people who are wasting public funds, if you believe there are people who are not prepared to match government subsidies with some of their own hard earned, if you believe there are people – and I think this has been used time and time again – who are leaners rather than lifters, then that it is what you do. You try and turn around what you think has become an indulgent and a smug society, one that is resting on its laurels and not prepared to work to remain prosperous and competitive.


SHORTEN: The only indulgence and smugness I see in our society is those ministers sitting on the front bench of the Abbott Government. I don’t buy the proposition that most Australians are leaners, not lifters. I don’t accept this Tony Abbott-Joe Hockey view of the world which divides the world into ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. You know, the people driving into work this morning, they are people who are lifting. The people in the suburbs who are trying to make ends meet, caring for people with disabilities, the older pensioners. They’ve done their lifting, now what we’ve got is a government who just wants to make life – why is it that this is such an unimaginative, right-wing government, that the only way they see to improve the Budget bottom line is to ask the bottom half of Australian society to pay more?


FAINE: You’ve already said that you don’t think, and your shadow ministers have said that they don’t think, that the new work for the dole rules are fair or appropriate. Would you agree to a refined or toned down version of the same?


SHORTEN: Well, we’ll always look to see what is in the best interests of getting people back to work, of course. But I mean even the Government, even this Government’s realised that the ideas they’ve come up with are stupid. This idea that you’ve got to – that every unemployed person who is going to work for the dole, if they’re under 30, 25 hours a week, and they’ll also just get home and bang off on this sort of Liberal fantasy, they’ve all got their printers and they’re going to peel off their CVs and resumes and send it off to 40 different companies. Let’s face it, Australian business does not want to have a tidal wave of job applications for jobs that don’t exist. The real challenge in this country is to make sure that we’re creating an economy where jobs get created. The real challenge is to make sure that people have got the skills that they can apply for the new jobs in the new industries.


I’m going down to Geelong today, not because I have to, but because I want to. They’ve switched off for the last time the hotlines at Point Henry refinery at Alcoa. I know a lot of the people who work there, they are very good people, they’ve been productive, there wasn’t a bad industrial relations history, it wasn’t the carbon tax. Basically what’s happened is the price of aluminium has fallen and the Australian dollar has risen, and this refinery has been squeezed to the point that Alcoa shut it. Now I know that there are hundreds of very clever men and women who are going into the job market, these are people who in many cases haven’t been – ever had to be unemployed. They’ve always turned up to work, they’ve done the shifts, they’ve been productive. Now they’ve got to ask what is their future. One thing’s for sure – Tony Abbott doesn’t have a clue what to do with these people.


FAINE: Well we will see whether or not you – I’m not sure you actually dealt with the question, would you work to refine the work for the dole test –


SHORTEN: Sorry, I thought I did, but I’ll be clearer. We will always look at how you can make schemes work in order to help people find work. So Labor’s always up for a good idea, we’re the party of jobs –


FAINE: But the principle that people at the moment are – your party introduced measures of a similar kind, similar nature but not to the same extent. So you can hardly disagree with this on principle, can you? It’s just a question of degree.


SHORTEN: I’m not disagreeing with the principle of helping people find work and looking at various measures. But what I am disagreeing with is, let’s face it, this is a government who thinks about the press release first and the substance second. They’re all about the spin but they never think about the people behind the spin. I bet they probably high-fived each other in the Liberal cabinet room as their war-gaming their solutions where they said, ‘I know, we want to look really tough on dole bludgers’, because that’s the way they view unemployed issues. And they say ‘we’ll make them have to do 40 applications, 40 applications a month’, and they’ll have also said ‘that’ll really complement our proposal that for six months if you’re under 30 you don’t get any money at all, we’re going to be tough on these issues.’ They’ll have thought this’ll go well, they’ll have done their push-polling. And then what’s happened it is just didn’t pass the common sense test because people know rubbish when they hear it.


FAINE: Well, it’s two applications –


SHORTEN: So don’t ask me if I’m going to back in something which is spin and rubbish. It goes into the dustbin of bad ideas, which this Government has got an overflowing dustbin, it has got a landfill of bad ideas.


FAINE: It’s two applications a day, that’s not onerous for most people.


SHORTEN: Alright Jon, I hear what you’re saying. If it’s not onerous, then let’s see if the Government does it.


FAINE: Ok, so you’re prepared to sit back and wait and see what happens. I asked several times whether or not you would fight it –


SHORTEN: There’s no point in us falling in love with a stupid government idea, this is a government who doesn’t even have the conviction to get going with them.


FAINE: As matters stand on another issue today, I’ll come to Twiggy Forrest’s launch which is taking place as I stand, as I speak, he’s saying ‘I stand here as a servant of the Indigenous people of Australia’ as he teamed up with Tony Abbott as he launches the report, we’ll come to that in a moment. First Bill Shorten the Immigration Department yesterday at a Human Rights Commission inquiry were accused of gagging doctors and fiddling stats on mental health issues in particular for young people detention, in immigration detention, and asylum seekers being deprived of medications and the like. What, if anything, does the Labor Party intend to do to follow up on those extraordinary disclosures in yesterday’s hearings?


SHORTEN: I agree with you Jon. Those disclosures yesterday were extraordinary and deeply concerning. The level of statistics, or the level of reporting around mental health problems is incredibly concerning. But for us, the first question is, what are the real statistics? We’re concerned that Scott Morrison or the Department are covering these matters up. This government and the Minister have an appalling track record when it comes to transparency in the area of this policy. You know that, you know if they’ve got some announcement about a boat there’ll be a full-court press interview, but when there’s bad news they go missing. We need to know what’s going on at these facilities –




SHORTEN: Because we should. Because there are people in the care of the Australian Government, and the Australian taxpayer, we should know what’s going on. People need to be given the confidence that the children in them are being treated with the very best of care –


FAINE: Mr Morrison is regarded as having turned around a portfolio area where you were taking hit after hit after hit, and his tough love approach – well, maybe not tough love, his tough approach – is regarded generally well within Coalition circles as being one of the best managed portfolios in the entire Government.


SHORTEN: Do you think it’s one of the best managed portfolios in the Government, Jon?


FAINE: What I think doesn’t matter, that’s the way they regard Mr Morrison’s tenure in his office.


SHORTEN: I don’t even know what’s going on in their portfolio, bluntly, and that’s our big problem, isn’t it, Jon? The point is if they’re so confident everything they’re doing is right, why do we have to go through hearings and inquiries and the press have to chase the Minister down to tell us what’s going on? Scott Morrison as the Minister needs to be doing everything he can to make sure that the conditions applying to children in detention are as best as they humanly can be.


FAINE: So are you planning or proposing to do anything to follow up, was my initial question to you.


SHORTEN: Absolutely, we’re going to keep the pressure on this Minister. See we don’t accept because merely Coalition cheer squad people say that the issue’s not the issue it once was, for us it’s not about the politics here, it’s got to be about the people, plain and simple.


FAINE: And in relation to Twiggy Forrest’s plan, the details are just being released as he together with Tony Abbott launches it in Sydney this morning. There’s a proposal for a welfare card, there’s a proposal for no cash to be released, and for much more supervision and intervention into the lives of Indigenous Australians.


SHORTEN: We had our first briefing, at my request and Twiggy Forrest’s request, with myself and five of my colleagues yesterday. We’ve arranged another face to face meeting next week. So what we’ve got is just the media filter of what he’s saying. Yesterday I got the impression that Mr Forrest was frustrated that the Government was just going to dump it all or not pursue the key ideas that he had, so I’ll be interested to see what Tony Abbott says today.


For us, I guess there’s a couple of points, and I can only go on the media reportage at this stage. An argument that says all 2.5 million people of working age need income management and can’t be trusted with what they spend their money on – I’m not going to buy that argument. I think – income management has been used in certain parts in certain communities and Labor has supported that in the past. but I am incredibly wary of a one size fits all approach when it comes to defining all people getting Government payments and just saying they all need to be treated the same way.


FAINE: You’re rejecting the entire direction, the whole thrust of this report?


SHORTEN: No, again I can only go – I think I said at the start of my answer to your question – I’ve only seen the media reportage. To be fair, Twiggy Forrest has put his heart and soul, as have other people, into this report. I’ll do them the dignity and the respect of reading the whole report. I’m aware that there is a big emphasis on school attendance, now that to me is all in the right direction. So I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater here, I’m going to do the courtesy to the people who put their passion and efforts into this report to read it, to talk with my colleagues, and not just have a knee-jerk reaction.


FAINE: And finally Bill Shorten, there is a Royal Commission at the moment underway at the moment into Trade Union Corruption and Governance, which I’m sure has not escaped your attention. Have you been served with a notice to give evidence?




FAINE: Have you been asked to give evidence?


SHORTEN: On the Royal Commission, I’m not going to give a running commentary on what may or may not be before the Commission. You understand that this Commission provides a platform for all sorts of people to settle old scores and make claims, sometimes with credible evidence and sometime without. This is the Abbott Government’s Royal Commission and the Liberal Party and others will try and take obviously whatever political advantage they can out of it.


FAINE: Are you being asked to give evidence or not?


SHORTEN: I will, as I’ve said on plenty of occasions, cooperate with the Royal Commission, no problems.


FAINE: So you haven’t already given evidence –




FAINE: And you haven’t been asked to give evidence –


SHORTEN: That’s right.


FAINE: That’s what I wanted to clarify.


SHORTEN: I thought I said that at the outset, but again, I won’t provide a running commentary. It’s a platform for people to settle old scores. Of course I and the Labor Party will cooperate, but we understand that this is Tony Abbott’s Royal Commission into trade unions and the Liberal Party and others will seek to take whatever political advantage they can.


FAINE: I’ve used up a lot of your time this morning and I understand you have other commitments. I’m grateful for you giving us so much of your time and look forward to seeing you one day in the studio.


SHORTEN: I appreciate it and I look forward to seeing you again.