SUBJECT/S: HSU Report, Melbourne by-election,
LEIGH SALES: Tonight the ABC has obtained a leaked copy of the long-awaited Temby Report into alleged corruption and misuse of funds within the East Branch of Health Services Union. The investigation was prompted by accusations against Craig former union leader and now federal Labor MP Craig Thomson over the use of a union credit card for prostitutes. It's just one more headache for federal Labor. A short time ago the Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten joined me from Canberra.
Bill Shorten, the Temby Report makes a series of recommendations for the HSU East that it should call for tenders for work that it commissions, that family members should be excluded from work, that credit card expenditure should be explained and justified. They're all pretty basic standards that you'd expect from any organisation. How did this union get away with not doing that for so long?
BILL SHORTEN: I think that everyone is disappointed by the reports emanating from the HSU East Branch. I haven't seen the particular report you're referring to, but the Government's own regulator Fair Work Australia has concluded an investigation. What the Government's done since we've heard all these matters is put in an administrator. We've also tightened up union regulation for all unions. But again, in answer to your question, I want to stress: the vast majority of Australian trade unions, trade unionists, people representing unions, are - work very hard and their conduct is exemplary, and I don't think that a few rotten eggs, a few rotten apples should be allowed to describe the whole of the labour movement in Australia.
LEIGH SALES: The report lists the salaries of the 12 most highly paid HSU East officials, all of whom earnt over $100,000; Michael Williamson was on almost $400,000. As a former union boss, what do you think about union figures earning that sort of money off the back of the dues of some of the most lowly paid workers in the country?
BILL SHORTEN: I can offer you my own example. I didn't get paid over $100,000 in the union. So, I think it's - I think the figures - some of the figures quoted are too high. Mind you, I've also got the same view that some executives get paid too much - in business get paid too much for what they actually do. What we need is transparency. It is only this government who's put in regulations which will require the reporting of the highest salaries in registered organisations including unions, or in other words, Leigh, some of the problems you're correctly identifying, we've acted on.
LEIGH SALES: To follow up on the by-election in Melbourne on the weekend, what do you think is Labor's best electoral strategy regarding the Greens: treat them like the enemy? Preference them last?
BILL SHORTEN: Well first of all the by-election in Melbourne was for a state seat. I don't believe that federal elections played a great part in the outcome. I think Daniel Andrews, the Victorian Labor Leader's been a quiet achiever. He's now won three by-elections in a row. This was a by-election which the political pundits had predicted Labor was going to lose. We didn't. I think one point which has been reflected to me anecdotally from voters in the Melbourne electorate is that a lot of people are disappointed that the Greens are taking such an ideological position on trying to deal with the evils of people smuggling. And I do think that there is a view expressed to me personally by voters who said that sometimes you've got to just compromise in life to be able to get an outcome rather than just always maintaining one position and ignoring all the others.
LEIGH SALES: Should Labor preference Greens last, though; do you agree with those calls that we've heard from the New South Wales branch?
BILL SHORTEN: I think - I don't think, I believe that the most important issue to debate first off is not the issue of what we do with preferences at election - although that's always relevant. What I think is most important is to have the best policy. And I would make this comment equally about the Greens, but even more so about the Liberals, who are potentially the alternative government of Australia. They are making unfunded promises. When you make promises - anyone can make a promise; the trick is being able to complete the promise. And the Liberals, and to a lesser extent the Greens, sometimes engage in making unfunded promises.
LEIGH SALES: Do you think that it's a truism that populism matters in politics and that leaders who remain unpopular long enough will eventually stop leading their parties?
BILL SHORTEN: I think the truism is that people want politicians to think long term, not short term. What I think we have in the federal Labor Government is admittedly the polls are hard for us. But what we are trying to do and what I think we're succeeding in doing is trying to set Australia up for the future. We're spreading the benefits of the mining boom, we've increased compulsory savings from nine to 12 per cent so people don't retire poor. We're spending more money than ever on education, skills and training. Long after the mining boom ends, Leigh, what we need in Australia is a skilled, diverse workforce. That's what we're accomplishing. So I think Australians want - I think whilst it's always good to be popular, I think what people want is tough leaders for the times.
LEIGH SALES: There are many members of the Labor caucus who are nervous that if Labor's position under Julia Gillard doesn't improve that they'll be out of jobs when they lose their seats at the next election. What would you say to those people in the caucus who are contemplating a change of leadership as a desperate bid to save their own seats?
BILL SHORTEN: What I would say - and most members of the caucus, and I do talk to them quite frequently, they want to see Labor get its message out. They want to see that Australia's set up not just for the next 24 hours or the next opinion polls, but for the next 10 and 20 years. That's why we've increased the retirement age; that's why ...
LEIGH SALES: So why shouldn't they change leaders then?
BILL SHORTEN: Well because ultimately it's ideas that win the day, not just popularity polls week in, week out and Labor has to be for the long haul, not the short term.
LEIGH SALES: How would you describe your relationship with Kevin Rudd currently?
BILL SHORTEN: It's positive and professional.
LEIGH SALES: Did you have talks with him when you were in Washington?
BILL SHORTEN: I had talks with Mr Rudd, Kevin Rudd, I had talks with Julie Bishop and I had talks with Joe Biden. It was ...
LEIGH SALES: Did you discuss the leadership with Kevin Rudd?
BILL SHORTEN: No.
LEIGH SALES: Have you ever discussed the leadership with Kevin Rudd since he was dumped?
BILL SHORTEN: No.
LEIGH SALES: Would you be willing ...
BILL SHORTEN: But I tell you people I most discussed the leadership with: it's journalists who are focused on the leadership and not the substance of the difference between the two parties.
LEIGH SALES: Would you be prepared to serve in a future Rudd cabinet?
BILL SHORTEN: But it's - it's your show; I guess you can ask whatever questions you want, but I - of course you can - but what I would say as a minister in the Government is that to the electorate of Australia, this is a government focused on implementing a National Disability Insurance Scheme, this is a government who's focused on improving the educational opportunities for all Australians regardless of what postcode you live in. The media can talk about leadership and polls. I want to talk about having better schools for our kids, a better deal for carers, making sure that we've got - we're tackling unemployment.
LEIGH SALES: When you have in the past week the Chief Government Whip effectively putting the Prime Minister on notice, union leaders meeting and discussing the possibility that Julia Gillard will be replaced before the next election, a by-election in Melbourne in which Labor barely held on to a seat that's been a heartland seat for a century, it's just wishful thinking, isn't it, to say that's all a media beat-up?
BILL SHORTEN: There's an art to the question, isn't there? If Labor had lost that by-election, you would’ve said Labor's lost the by-election. We won the by-election. It was largely fought on state issues. I tell what you people in my electorate in Essendon and Mooney Ponds and St Albans are raising with me: they want to know why Ted Baillieu's cutting TAFE funding. They want to know what our plan is to help self-funded retirees. They want to make sure their kids are getting quality education. They want to make sure that even as adults that they're still getting access to training, because the best form of job security in the future of Australia and the best chance to have a good job is to have skills and training. We're working on the issues that matter - disability, pensioners, self-funded retirees, education, health care, fair workplace relations.
LEIGH SALES: Bill Shorten, thank you very much for joining us.
BILL SHORTEN: Thanks, Leigh.
Mr Shorten’s Media Contacts: Jessica Lindell 0408 642 804