Bill's Transcripts

ABC AM with Chris Uhlmann




SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s unfair budget; Abbott Government raising the retirement age; Climate change; Emissions Trading Scheme.

Bill Shorten is the Opposition Leader, good morning.

Good morning Chris.

UHLMANN: Bill Shorten, does a Government that wins a thumping majority in the House of Representatives have a right to expect that it can get its Budget passed?

SHORTEN: Chris, what matters here is this a fair or unfair Budget? Our Constitution gives the Senate the role to be the house of review. The idea that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer stamping their foot, complaining because Senators and Labor won’t agree to an unfair Budget doesn’t mean that the Senate is wrong or that Labor is wrong, it may mean that the Budget’s unfair. A little historical footnote, for 40 of the last 60 years Australian governments, the party in charge of the Government hasn’t had the numbers in the Senate, yet they get their Budgets through. So if on other occasions governments without control of the Senate have succeeded in persuading people to support their Budget, maybe the problem isn't everyone else, maybe the problem is Tony Abbott.


UHLMANN: On a historical note, you're now not even agreeing to cuts that you proposed yourself. For example, $5 billion worth of higher education cuts. Why is that?


SHORTEN: Well Chris, first of all, the world has changed a lot in the last 12 months. The Government is proposing to cut the benefits of pensioners by reducing the rate of indexation.


UHLMANN: And we’ll get to that but why won't you even back your own cuts?


SHORTEN: Chris, we're the Labor Party. We're not going to start putting new taxes on people who earn $19,000 a year, especially when the new Government is doing them over in 10 different ways.


UHLMANN: Given that, I understand that. Why won't you back the cuts that you proposed yourself?


SHORTEN: Because the cuts that this Government are doing are so drastic and unfair, Petrol Tax, GP Tax. How on earth can a conscientious Labor Party representing, standing up for ordinary Australians and people on low incomes -  how can we agree to what this rotten Government's doing?


UHLMANN: In government you fought to try to get back to surplus, in fact you made a very big deal of that. You have said since then that you believe there’s a budget task. What is that budget task and how would you deal with it?


SHORTEN: The Budget task is always to make sure you’ve got a proper balance between expenditure and revenue, to make sure that your excises and other forms of taxes get the balance right between encouraging productivity and enterprise and making sure that Government can carry out its functions. A budget task is not, though, what Tony Abbott is doing. It is not cutting $80 billion from hospitals and schools. It is not lying before an election saying there will be no change to pensions. It is not about introducing new taxes like a new Petrol Tax, increasing the excise. It's certainly not about discouraging sick and vulnerable people from going to the doctor with a new GP Tax.


UHLMANN: Alright, well let’s just look at some of those things. Did you tell people before the 2010 election that you were going to cut single mothers' benefits to try and get the Budget back to surplus? Is that unfair?


SHORTEN: Well, the challenge for government, whoever the government is, going back to your earlier question, what is the Budget task, Labor's always been up for sensible reform -


UHLMANN: And cutting single mothers' benefits was?


SHORTEN: I'm coming to answer your question but giving it the context first Chris. We've always been up for means testing and improving the precision of the welfare system. Now I’ve said on the record that I think that some of the measures we took with single mothers went too far. So I’ve publicly repudiated the position we took then –


UHLMANN: But they haven't been repealed of course because you got the support of the Coalition?


SHORTEN: Well Labor doesn't have the numbers in the House of Reps. So when we talk about welfare reform, when we talk about sensible budgets, you’ve always got to try to be restraining costs. But what I know is this: this Government's gone too far. They're creating two Australia’s, they’re creating a new underclass. Chris, every person, doesn't matter who they are in Australia, or what walk of life they're from, thinks that the idea that you can make unemployed people have no income for six months, that's just ridiculous.


UHLMANN: What about the idea that as the population ages that you do need to push up the time at which someone’s benefits kick in by way of pensions from 67, which you did, to 70? What’s unfair about that?


SHORTEN: Chris, first of all when people are in their mid-60s their ability to keep working depends on a whole range of factors. One, can they keep doing the same physically demanding work? Two, can we get rid of discrimination in Australian workplaces? The reason why a lot of people can't keep working is because frankly, employers take a jaundiced view, a negative view of older Australians applying for work. The idea that we're going to force people to keep working when there aren't the jobs and there isn't the correct attitudes in the community. When you’ve got people who've been brick layers their whole and just say you’ve got to keep doing this, let people encourage them to work later but don't force them to work later.


UHLMANN: You in essence did that by pushing up the age from 65 to 67. What's the difference between you doing that and this Government doing that? It's three years?


SHORTEN: This Government is such a bogus Government. They have these extreme right wing thought bubbles and then inflict them on Australia without consultation -


UHLMANN: They haven't been inflicted at all at the moment. They haven’t been able to do anything at all.


SHORTEN: Thank goodness for Labor, thank goodness for Labor. But let's look at this working to 70. Let's look at one of the things you never hear this incompetent, sloppy Government do. Most workers' comp schemes don't cover people till they're 70, so you've got a Government who says you have to work to 70, yet you have workers' comp schemes which don't cover people till they're 70, so they are just trapping people. The reality is a lot of people who go on to the old age pension are on the disability pension. You think it saves the Government a lot. But a lot of people have already been forced out of the workplace.


UHLMANN: If the carbon tax goes, as it is expected to, will you campaign to reinstate a carbon price at the next election?


SHORTEN: We will not support a fixed carbon price. I've said clearly in the Parliament in this debate, Labor believes that in 2009 the Parliament could've been a place of inspiration where we dealt with climate change on a bipartisan basis -


UHLMANN: Will you campaign for an Emissions Trading Scheme at the next election?


SHORTEN: I’ll try to be as concise as I can but it's an important issue. I think all of Australia wants to see us move beyond 10 second sound bites. In 2009 we had an opportunity, Malcolm Turnbull got knocked off by Tony Abbott, the Liberal Party destroyed the bipartisan consensus. I have said that Labor should have in retrospect called an election. Then we could've had a proper scheme for the future which was an Emissions Trading Scheme which would've seen us working with the price around the world. Instead we settled for second best with a fixed price. We've seen now that will now be repealed. Labor will go back to basics; we believe climate change is real, we want to act and we will do so in a way which ensures Australia’s competitive with the world -


UHLMANN: To be clear on that, you will campaign at the next election to introduce a carbon price by way of an Emissions Trading Scheme?




UHLMANN: And how will you see that playing out? Will it be attached to the European system?


SHORTEN: We'll further work on our policies before the election. What I can promise all those Australians, including people listening to this show, is that the Labor Party will be true to our principles about tackling climate change. Tony Abbott's an environmental vandal, he's called himself a weather vane. This week is the seventh anniversary of when John Howard said that there would be an Emissions Trading Scheme. It's not Labor, John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull who are out of step with the world or Australian opinion, it’s Tony Abbott.


UHLMANN: Bill Shorten, we'll have to leave it there thank you.


SHORTEN: Have a lovely morning.