Bill's Transcripts

ABC Capricornia: Jobs; Infrastructure;






SUBJECT/S: Jobs; Infrastructure; Tony Abbott’s debt sentence; Drought assistance for farmers; Ebola crisis; Rockhampton’s beef produce.


ELLY BRADFIELD, HOST: Have you seen this yet?


[excerpt of Labor Party advertisement on higher education]


The man himself, Bill Shorten, Leader of the Opposition, is here talking about the Labor Party’s new campaign – ‘A degree shouldn’t be a debt sentence’. It’s the first place to take the campaign since the launch. Bill Shorten, welcome to Rockhampton.




BRADFIELD: Why is Rockhampton the first stop?


SHORTEN: Because, unless we have a strong regional Australia, then Australia doesn’t have the best future it deserves. People should be able to raise a family in Rockhampton, plan their futures in Rockhampton and get a higher education in Rockhampton and indeed right throughout regional Australia. And Mr Abbott’s university policies, which will see the doubling and tripling of university degrees, is a real problem for regional Australia.


BRADFIELD: Of course the Government says that deregulating fees will give students more choice and quality of courses will be better. Isn’t that what we want for students?


SHORTEN: The choice they will have is do they have a mortgage or do they have a university degree? The choice which parents will make for their children finishing secondary school is - can we or should we really encourage our kids to do higher education if we can’t afford to repay it? The choice that young people in Rockhampton, in Gladstone, in Mackay, Townsville and Cairns, the choice they will face is do they even go to university and face a lifetime of debt?


BRADFIELD: As I said before, this is the first place to take this campaign since the launch, it is of course a marginal seat with the LNP in power for the first time in about 15 years. Tony Abbott has been here a few weeks ago. Bronwyn Bishop is coming as well. Is that one of the reasons you're here?


SHORTEN: Well, I have a view of Queensland which says that it isn't just Brisbane and South East Queensland. Labor traditionally has spoken up for communities like Rockhampton and we are determined that the future of Queensland and the future of Australia doesn't just involve living in three big cities, and also doesn't mean that unless your parents are really rich, you can't go to university.


BRADFIELD: Speaking of being really rich, almost everyone in Rockhampton is talking about jobs at the moment. Just yesterday we heard the Carina mine is winding down. It of course comes on top of more job cuts from Hastings Deering last week, about 700 central Queensland jobs from BMA in the weeks before that. What would you be doing if you were in power?


SHORTEN: Well there is a downturn in mining. There has been about 12,000 jobs less in mining in Queensland since November of last year. Some of that obviously is to do with global prices but the challenge for finding jobs is to diversify your economy. Mining is fundamental and it is very important, it will keep contributing and when prices eventually increase, there will be improvements there. But what we also need is to be encouraging a more diversified economy. That's where higher education comes into it.


When Labor talks about higher education, it is not just about fairness, although that's really important. Children - in Australia to get ahead, it should depend upon how hard you work and your marks, not the amount of wealth or your credit card. If we have a more educated workforce, then we create more jobs outside mining so in the future we don't ride the roller-coaster of commodity prices.


BRADFIELD: For the people who have lost their jobs, Hasting Deering says the pay cuts of up to 25 per cent could avert future job cuts. Do you think that could be the answer in the short-term?


SHORTEN: Wages growth is at one of its lowest rates we have seen in many, many recent years. The argument that wages are the reasons why mines are closing, I don't think quite holds water. There has been considerable wage restraint, but also when we talk about wage restraint, why is it that the boards and the CEOs of large mining companies seem to talk about wage restraint for the men and women in the overalls driving the trucks and operating the machinery, but they still pull millions of dollars in salaries themselves?


So I'm a believer in wage restraint but I believe leadership starts at the top. Having said that, if we want to help retrain people affected by mining downturns, we have to fund our TAFEs, not be closing them like we have seen the LNP government do, and Liberals make training much more expensive.


BRADFIELD: Bill Shorten, you said that we need to diversify our economy. Michelle Landry, the Member for Capricornia says infrastructure projects like building new dams are the way to go. What are your thoughts?


SHORTEN: Infrastructure is fundamental and Labor has a good record on infrastructure in regional Queensland. No one could argue against improving and supporting infrastructure, it is how you do it. Labor, as I said, moved Australia - when we came into power in 2007, we were ranking 20th in the world in infrastructure expenditure, last year we were ranking first. I want the Coalition Government to show the same commitment to building infrastructure in regional Australia that Labor did. Words aren't enough.


BRADFIELD: Would Labor supply funding for dams if elected?


SHORTEN: You have to make sure you do the cost-benefit analysis. I'm aware there are debates going on right now in the Rockhampton region about the best way to have water mitigation and water channelling. I think it is important local communities drive these debates. We have got a fair way to go before the next election. One thing I have learned in the Labor I'm leading is that we have to give a voice to the regions rather than simply imposing our will from Canberra or the big cities.


BRADFIELD: But could people expect dams to be built if you were elected?


SHORTEN: It all depends on the cost-benefit analysis. For me, I'm guided by evidence. When we talk about evidence, that's why higher education is so fundamental to the future of this country. I don't want kids from Rockhampton and surrounding regions having to pack up and go elsewhere to get their basic undergraduate degree when the option is here for good-quality education. I don't understand why the Federal Government is making it so hard for young people and indeed mature-aged people to retrain. It is a real threat to the regions, the increasing fees of universities.


BRADFIELD: One of the other big issues for listeners particularly further west is obviously the drought. Yesterday Barnaby Joyce says that he wants to change the concessional loan scheme. He is hoping to adjust the terms of the loans out to 10 years and to drop the interest rate to just above 3 per cent. 3 per cent isn't much especially when the interest rates are quite historically low anyway. What's the Opposition's take?


SHORTEN: We think drought policy should be bipartisan. It is a real issue, I think people sometimes in the cities forget how hard people are doing it on the land, and also how extensive drought has been through large parts of Queensland and indeed New South Wales. But the Federal Government, Barnaby Joyce, they've been in charge for over a year. They've done tours and visits, they've had the Prime Minister, they have had Joe Hockey. I'm amazed that they're now talking about drought when what have they been doing for the last year and a bit? There has been a very small take-up on the loans. I think the Government needs to do less talking about drought and more active assistance for ordinary people.


BRADFIELD: What assistance would you provide?


SHORTEN: I think that one of the big challenges is making sure that the paper work to do these applications isn’t so time consuming that it drives people crazy. I’ve got a quote here from an MP who said that ‘people who have raised the difficulties of filling in forms for the farm household support payments. The forms are too long, the time that it takes people to fill them in takes too long’ - and that was a Government MP that said that. If you are dealing with drought, it adds insult to injury that you’ve got a bureaucratic system on top of drought in order to get funding and I think the Government needs to have a look at how it’s cutting the red tape in drought assistance as a first priority.


BRADFIELD: But obviously you just can’t hand money out to people – How  would your government cut red tape for primary producers?


SHORTEN: There is no doubt in my mind that the forms that need to be filled, need to be done in a way which is much, much more speedy. Also, when we talk about cutting the red tape, you just can’t have people get funding, but I do think there is no doubt that we can help people access the resources much more quickly than they are doing. Some of the amounts will surprise people. The Prime Minister announced in February, it is now nearly the end of the year, that there would $280 million allocated in concessional loans. Yet only 14 per cent of that $280 million has reached farmers. Clearly there is a problem in the system.


BRADFIELD: The big story today is obviously about Ebola, Bill Shorten, the Government committing $20 million for private company Aspen Medical to run this 100 bed Ebola treatment clinic. Yesterday, you said the Government’s response wasn’t enough. Would you send Australians troops to South Africa [sic]?


SHORTEN: First of all, we think the Government’s made an overdue first step, so let me be positive in the first instance. Whilst I think this decision should have been made some weeks ago when the rest of the world was dealing with this crisis, it is good that the Government is allocating more resources. That’s a plus.

But what I don’t understand is this crisis in West Africa, with a deadly disease which has high rates of mortality if people contract the disease, you are far better off dealing with the disease at its source in those countries in West Africa than of waiting for it to spread elsewhere including to our northern neighbours.  So the Government, I think, has sat on its hands.


One of the key issues is that the medical experts, the AMA, the Nurses Association, are saying there's lots of volunteers who want to go over and help in West Africa. One of the big problems the West African countries are facing is they lack the trained medical staff to deal with this Ebola disease and contain it. So I don't understand why the Government is not putting in place more steps to make it easier for volunteers to go and provide assistance. In terms of the Army, I think that in the first instance it - if there are volunteers who are willing to go and we can work out evacuation plans in case they get sick, just as other countries are doing, I think it's time we didn't just put dollars but we put our volunteers and our best medical staff to provide assistance. If we don't deal with it now, we will deal with it later with greater repercussions.


BRADFIELD: So you would be sending troops?


SHORTEN: I don’t know if the military is the right people to send here. But what I do know is there has been calls from the Americans, from the English, from of our traditional allies, from non-government organisations asking us to send our volunteers, who are medically trained, to go and assist. I don’t understand why the Government is dragging its feet on this issue when other countries have come up with safe solutions to be able to allow this to happen.


BRADFIELD: What would you be doing that is different?


SHORTEN: We would sit down with our coalition partners, look at what protocols we can put in place to provide support in case some of our people got sick. But once you’ve resolved that issue, I think our skilled personnel, if want to assist, that is what the West African nations are requiring. The principle that Labor has here is this: whilst Australia is an island, if we waited for this disease to spread further then it would take a further effort to defeat it then if we defeat it now.


BRADFIELD: Bill Shorten, what is on your agenda for the rest of the day?


SHORTEN: I am getting the opportunity to visit CQU, the university here, talking to young people. This higher education issue where the Government is going to increase the interest rates for repayments for HECs, where they are cutting 20 per cent of the funding to universities and proposing to fully deregulate university fees, is going to create a two-tiered education system in this country. We want to be talking to kids in regional Australia, academic staff, general staff, older students, and let them know that Labor does not believe that the right answer for Australians being smarter in the future involves discouraging people from going to university.


BRADFIELD: And Bill Shorten I have to ask you, we know from earlier in the week that you are a pretty good cook yourself. Will you be having a stake in Rockhampton?


SHORTEN: I would like a good barbeque, I don’t know if time is going to permit me to eat meat, but the good news is –


BRADFIELD: It is the beef capital.


SHORTEN: I did work in a butcher shop for two and a half years, so I like a good plate of meat.


BRADFIELD: Bill Shorten, Leader of the Opposition, thank you.