Bill's Transcripts

ABC Insiders - China Free Trade Agreement; G20; Taxation;






SUBJECT/S: China Free Trade Agreement; G20; Taxation; Defence pay cut; Asylum seeker policy; Rebuilding Labor; Ebola.


BARRIE CASSIDY, HOST: Bill Shorten, welcome.




CASSIDY: We will pick up on those labour issues in a moment, but just on the deal itself - this is something that has been negotiated now for about a decade or so and it looks as if Tony Abbott is about to seal the deal.


SHORTEN: I saw Andrew Robb's comments and where he says he doesn't want this deal to be attacked for being a scare campaign. What I’d just say to Andrew Robb is tell the Australians the truth. What is in the deal? What we have seen this week with the Free Trade Agreement - and Labor goes with the principle of free trade, that is why we supported the Korean deal and the Japan deal – is what’s in it, what's the good news and the bad news? This week the Government has been leaking out selectively good news. I just want to see all the detail, and the Government should tell Australians what’s really the case.


CASSIDY: It does seem that the last piece of the puzzle was access for Australian farmers, and in return of course there has to be increased investment opportunities for the Chinese here in Australia.


SHORTEN: I think there's a number of issues which we will carefully study in the detail of the agreement. First of all, does China - will China lift tariffs on our mineral imports, especially in aluminium and iron ore? What will they do about sugar? The live export beef deal looks promising, that part of it. I am also going to be curious, will Andrew Robb get a deal which is equal to or superior to the deal that New Zealand has? There’s a lot of detail. Labor has been constructive on trade agreements. What frustrates me is the Abbott Government’s so addicted to politics that they treat Australians as silly by selectively leaking out bits and pieces and holding back information and then softening up the people to see - for whatever nasties they may have in it.


CASSIDY: But you know with these sorts of things it’s give and take. And you’re now throwing in demands that perhaps the Chinese rejected, but in the end they've been able to strike a deal that Labor couldn't.


SHORTEN: We haven't seen what the deal is first of all, Barrie, so to that extent we're having a hypothetical discussion. In terms of the matters which I raise, it's not just a demand to say that sugar should get access to Chinese markets, it is not just a demand to say that China should lift the tax as it's put on our iron ore going into China. Everyone knows iron ore prices are very low and now we have got extra taxes to pay on it. I think that a trade agreement is good if it works for your national interests. A trade agreement is bad if it doesn't. We're interested in the creation of jobs and trade, but not necessarily just signing up to anything like a blank cheque.


CASSIDY: On that issue of Chinese workers now, and what Andrew Robb did say there, he gave a guarantee there would be no cheap Chinese labour, that Chinese would be paid at Australian rates.


SHORTEN: Again, it’s all in the detail. When it comes to trade, Labor believes in having open borders, we believe in international trade. We also want to make sure that it creates jobs, it doesn't just take Australian jobs. I know the Government is sensitive about unemployment. I have been travelling through regional Queensland in the last week and before then through northern Tasmania. Unemployment is a real problem. We have got discouraged job seekers dropping out altogether, we’ve got high levels of youth unemployment. The Government promised a million new jobs. They’ve got no chance of achieving that target. So Labor will stand up for making sure that we deal with opportunities for unemployed Australians as well as promoting trade.


CASSIDY: But you are not saying as part of this that the Chinese can't bring their own workers out under some circumstances?


SHORTEN: We just haven't seen that detail. And frankly, if there is a big development in Australia I would rather see Australians get the opportunity to be employed first. And that is not a case we shouldn't have guest workers, Australia has always had guest workers. But Labor understands the real misery which occurs when people are unemployed. You and I both know there are many older Australians who’ve just given up looking for work because the job market is not what it should be be. So when this Government says ‘look, we’ve managed to have a meeting in another capital and conclude a trade agreement’, for Labor the detail always matters.


CASSIDY: On the G20 summit now, and there does appear to be early signs that Tony Abbott and the G20 partners will reach some sort of agreement on global growth by 2 per cent. That would be quite an achievement on Tony Abbott's part, wouldn't it?


SHORTEN: What will be the achievement is if we get global growth by 2 per cent more than is expected. I want the G20 to be a success. This is not a matter of politics. It was Wayne Swan, Julia Gillard who helped lead the negotiations to get the G20 here. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey get to bring in hopefully some of the opportunities which arise from having the world's leaders in Australia. What I also know though is that we need leadership at the G20. For me, what I will be interested in – and what millions of ordinary Australians will be interested in – arising from the G20 - is are we advocating for inclusive growth or austerity? Are we arguing for policies which increase jobs or don't? And will we deal with the issue of climate change? The Government doesn't want to talk about the elephant in the room. The rest of the world is moving to take real action on sustainable policies to tackle climate change and we know the Australian Government has slammed Australia into reverse gear and is taking us backwards.


CASSIDY: On the issue of the crackdown on tax avoidance, now given the revelations from Luxembourg during the week, do you expect any sort of global tax agreement to emerge from the meeting?


SHORTEN: I think many nations in the world have ignored the problem for a long period of time. But now we see the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis and falling government revenues. Governments are feeling the pressure from ordinary people to say,  ‘hey, why is it we the people pay our taxes, yet if you’re a multinational corporation you can shift your profits and go hunting for the best tax jurisdictions in the world?’ It is wrong in Australia that a high street newsagency can pay more tax than Google or Glencore in Australia. But the problem for the Government is they discover that they need to do something about taxation, but they always have a plan to increase taxes on the poor.


CASSIDY: But Joe Hockey has been saying the same things that you're saying now.


SHORTEN: But the difference is Joe Hockey's actions don't match up to his words. One, he proposed to put on a tax on going to the doctor. Two, he is proposing to make it more expensive to get a higher education in Australia. Three, he has cut back the Australian Tax Office efforts to collect taxation from multinationals. So this is a bloke who loves to say one thing but when it comes to actually doing what he says you get a different prescription altogether. You and I know that they would rather increase the GST by blackmailing the states and cutting their funding, than they would chase multinationals for taxation earned in Australia.


CASSIDY: Vladimir Putin, now there will be a meeting apparently, with him, between Tony Abbott and Vladimir Putin in Beijing and that will clear the decks. And you would think that would be the sensible way to go about it, rather than have some sort of diplomatic incident in Brisbane?


SHORTEN: I’d sympathise with Tony Abbott's initial position about Putin. For me -


CASSIDY: What, with the shirtfront?


SHORTEN: No, not the shirtfront. His initial position. Tony Abbott went too far when he said that, and everyone knew it, and in some ways that weakened our legitimate outrage. The Russians support the separatists in the Ukraine. Separatists fired the missile which killed people. I don't believe that the Russians don't know what's happening. Or in other words, if they opened up the books and they told us what's really going on, we could get closure for a whole lot of people who are caught up in something well beyond their control with devastating consequences. I met with some of the families on Thursday in Brisbane, and one of them made a remarkable point. I don't know how someone who has lost your parents could be so – not even forgiving, just mature or move beyond the grief. They said perhaps what Australia should do is be encouraging there to be peace in Eastern Ukraine. So I am hoping that Tony Abbott uses this opportunity with the Russians to get to the bottom of what's happened. I agreed with what David Marr said before though, Putin is not going to tell us the truth but Tony Abbott has to at least ask. Also I think that we need to show leadership and be supporting European efforts for peace in Eastern Ukraine. That at least might make some sense of senseless barbarity.


CASSIDY: Let's move on to the Defence Force pay rises now. And you’ve already been critical of this, the restricting it to 1.5 per cent. But the Government, through no fault of its own, has a $40 billion deficit.


SHORTEN: The Government can't lie straight in bed on Defence Force pay. They have been shameful on this.


CASSIDY: But how can you deny the deficit figure and therefore how can you claim that they're in a better position to meet wage rises with indexation?


SHORTEN: This is a Government who says that running the government is too hard for them to do. There was money allocated in the Budget to afford a pay rise of greater than 1.5 per cent. I know the Government don't like talking about their unfair Budget, but the money was allocated to provide an increase in wages. The truth of the matter is this, on Defence Force pay: One, the Government loves to put the flag around themselves, this Government are flag patriots. They love to be photographed with people in uniform. Yet they have put up a pay offer to the independent tribunal which means that effectively every soldier, sailor, and airman in Australia is going to take a real pay cut because of this Government. And what makes this Government particularly shameful on Defence Force pay is because they're going to say this: because we're giving our uniformed people 1.5 per cent, they're using them to justify no pay rises for the rest of the public service. So they are using the military to force through a right wing wages policy. It is not even keeping up with inflation. If you look at wage increases across Australia, they're already down, but this Government is driving them further and they’re using the military. They talk about Team Australia, the Government, yet they won't even pay the team players, the Defence Force, properly.


CASSIDY: Ok, but then if they do allow the military – they get 2.3 per cent according to inflation, that flows through to the public service and then right across the workforce. Can the country really afford wages to keep up with inflation?


SHORTEN: Maybe if Tony Abbott dropped his paid parental leave scheme they could. Maybe if they didn't cut back efforts to chase multinational taxation they could. This is a Government who are long on lecturing and short on consistency. There's no leadership on what they've done here. Any mug can cut the wages of people. It takes a really clever person to grow the Australian economy, to create the set of circumstances where things go forward and you don't have to ask your men and women in uniform and their families to help subsidise the running of Australia.


CASSIDY: A week ago now, when Richard Marles raised this prospect of Labor in certain circumstances turning back the boats he was slapped down very quickly. Why did you do that?


SHORTEN: Labor hasn't changed its policy and we needed to make that perfectly clear. Richard has been doing a great job in his portfolio and of course the success in terms of discouraging people smugglers, Labor submits and I believe, is driven by regional processing which was put in place by Labor.


CASSIDY: Graham Richardson, who is a former Senator and Minister said Labor's policy resulted in too many trying and too many dying. Where is he wrong?


SHORTEN: That is why we need to discourage the people smugglers, and regional processing discouraged it. That's what Labor's policy has been put in place to do, and the Liberals have kept it. I mean -


CASSIDY: And you don't accept that the turn back the boats policy has been a factor at all?


SHORTEN: I don't see that the evidence is at all clear yet, Barrie. First of all we don't know the details of the incursions into Indonesian waters. We don't know the regime under which these have been done safely. What I do accept though, is that when it comes to discouraging people smugglers and creating greater safety at sea, that what we need to do is keep - Labor needs to keep the path of regional processing.


CASSIDY: In the last couple of days, a couple of people - former leader Bill Hayden and now last night Anthony Albanese - have both called for a need for Labor to reduce the influence of factions. Have you got any plans to do something about that?


SHORTEN: Well, I welcome the calls of both of those people and I am really pleased they have done that. It reinforces what I said back in April, that Labor needs to be a membership-based party, not a faction-based party. And what we’ve got to start doing is reaching out to candidates from all walks of life. I regard in the next 12 months ensuring that we’ve got the widest range of candidates promoting the best range of policies as being fundamental to Labor connecting with the Australian people. So I do believe that the changes which are coming in will assist that. But no political party can ever stand still. Labor needs to be as modern and as outward looking and as democratic as the nation which we aspire to run.


CASSIDY: Do you have real plans to do something about it?




CASSIDY: What would they be?


SHORTEN: First of all we proposed that it shouldn't be compulsory to belong to a union to join the Labor Party. This is not an issue which -


CASSIDY: You’ve already announced that –


SHORTEN: Of course –


CASSIDY: But my question is have you got anything up the your sleeve?


SHORTEN: I do believe we need to encourage more rank-and-file participation in our preselections, and I  do believe that we need to have an element of direct election to our nation conferences. What I also know, though, is when we look at the Labor Party, the challenge is to get the best possible candidates and have the best possible policy processes. We have already started the work of developing our policies for the next election. Public forums, involving our party membership in a way that's never happened before. I want to encourage Australians that if they've got views about the direction of this country, the Labor Party's interested in what you have to say and we want more people to get involved in the Labor Party and join us.


CASSIDY: Just finally on Ebola in Africa, are you pleased now the Government is finally making a contribution on the ground?


SHORTEN: Yes I am, but it is belated. I think it is shameful that we have followed the rest of the world. It's been a lack of leadership. Labor has supported on a bipartisan basis international efforts by the Government to do trade agreements with Japan or take the intervention that we have in northern Iraq. But on other matters this Government has shown a shameful lack of leadership. They won't talk about climate change. They have got a very narrow definition of security, they look at military security -


CASSIDY: They were being cautious. And you can understand why –


SHORTEN: Security –


CASSIDY: - they don't want Ebola in Australia


SHORTEN: You and I both know, as many Australians do, that security and protecting Australians comes in many forms. It is not just our men and women on the frontline, it’s not just trade agreements. It’s climate security and it’s and health security. To deal with a contagion like Ebola you are far better off dealing with it at source. It defies belief that when we all know that what West Africa needs is trained health professionals that this Government has dragged its feet about allowing health professional volunteers to be able to go to West Africa. This Government needs to show leadership, not just on some issues, but if we're trying to be international citizens, the rest of the world has worked out you tackle Ebola at its source. Why has it taken this Government so long to do what the rest of the world and many Australians have already worked out needs to be done?


CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning.


SHORTEN: Great, thank you.