SUNDAY, 16 SEPTEMBER 2018
SUBJECT/S: Peter Dutton's eligibility; Royal Commission into Aged Care; Trans Pacific Partnership; the National Energy Guarantee; Adani; National Integrity Commission
BARRIE CASSIDY, HOST: Bill Shorten, good morning. Welcome.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, Barrie.
CASSIDY: What is the answer to that? Why is it now suddenly critically important?
SHORTEN: Well, I think that there's been a lot of developments, hasn't there? This is not just Labor saying there's a cloud over the eligibility of a senior minister - it's now Malcolm Turnbull, it's now Julie Bishop. The Solicitor-General's advice that the Government relies upon, says that it thinks that it is the better position that Mr Dutton's Constitutionally eligible, but it doesn't give a 100 per cent guarantee and having learnt the hard way myself, you're better removing all ambiguity and submitting it to the High Court.
CASSIDY: But how much ambiguity? Christian Porter points out there now - that you've got the situation now where you need absolute certainty, otherwise you want to refer it to the High Court?
SHORTEN: Well, I think Mr Porter's problem is that the Prime Minister who he supported for the last three years say's there a problem and for the sake of certainty, you're best off referring it to the High Court.
Julie Bishop has said that she think there needs to be greater clarity. The Solicitor General's opinion is not, dare I say it, a black and white matter. I look at the way that Malcolm Turnbull forced Barnaby Joyce to go to the High Court and I just think that now the Government's applying a different standard.
CASSIDY: Who forced Barnaby Joyce to the High Court? Malcolm Turnbull?
SHORTEN: Well, the Solicitor General's advice that they had, that broadly said that the better view that the Solicitor-General thought was that Mr Joyce was eligible, but they didn't give that categorical assurance and that's the same here. The Solicitor-General is saying that, listen, they think that Minister Dutton is okay, but I wouldn't want to be trying to get a bank loan based on the certainty of that advice of the Solicitor General.
CASSIDY: So, will you bring it on this week in the Parliament?
SHORTEN: What we want to do, and we think, without question, the preferred position will be to refer it off to the High Court - let's get resolution. I think that the Australian people hate the fact that the politicians can't guarantee if they're eligible to do their day job. But we need to have Government members support that position, so let's have a look at that and we have to, of course, wait until there is a majority to refer the matter.
CASSIDY: Why wouldn't you bring it on to a vote when Julie Bishop has virtually invited you to do so?
SHORTEN: Let's just see, and I think it's not just Julie Bishop, to be fair to Ms Bishop. She shouldn't have to carry the can for the whole of the Liberal Party as she's had to. I think there's other MPs. But we need to just see Government MPs perhaps ventilate their feelings a little more in the course of the week.
CASSIDY: So you're worried that they might be bluffing and in the end, they wouldn't support you?
SHORTEN: I think there's a lot more water to go under the bridge but the real issue here in terms of Australians and why it matters to the everyday voter, is that you have the Minister for Home Affairs, a very important person, making very important decisions, there shouldn't be any Constitutional cloud over his eligibility to make those decisions, and I think that the Government needs to just clear the issue up.
CASSIDY: The Royal Commission into Aged Care. Now, I presume, based on what you have said in the past that you will support the idea?
SHORTEN: I'd welcome an overdue look at the aged care sector in Australia.
I said that it was a national crisis some months ago. Of course, as you've shown earlier on today, as soon as I said it was a national crisis, the Government rushed out and accused me, rather wrongly, of causing fear-mongering. I wonder if the Minister for Aged Care will accuse his new boss of fear-mongering, like he accused me.
But leave aside who has come up with the idea, the real story here is that many of our older Australians - quiet literally, many of our older Australians are genuinely worried about going into aged care. You talk to parents, you talk to kids - adults who have got older parents, the one thing that I think a lot of older Australians secretly dread is losing control over their own lives. And they are genuinely worried that when they go into aged care, that's exactly what happens. So I hope that this Royal Commission looks at not just individual homes and how they're treating people, but the fundamental, systemic problems.
I mean, what we've seen under this current government is they've cut $2 billion, nearly, in aged care funding. Mr Morrison was the Treasurer who cut funding. You can't repair the system whilst you're cutting it at the same time.
CASSIDY: But is it about funding? What is it that seems to be at the core of this? What is the problem with aged care?
SHORTEN: I'll certainly be watching Four Corners and I thought one of your panellist's comments that maybe the Government was anticipating a pretty tough story, I'll be watching that.
But I think some of the problems - and I've been holding town hall meetings all over Australia and I hear it first hand from people - one, the staff don't get paid properly. Two, I think we need a discussion about enough ratios of qualified people in the aged care facilities. Are there enough nurses? Are there enough doctors? Do we have the local pharmacist involved enough in terms of what is happening in the administration of care? Three, you can't cut billions of dollars of the funding going to hostels and homes for people with high need, complex conditions, and expect a better result. So there are some of the issues.
And I think we also need to make sure that retirement villages get examined. I am hearing lots of stories about people feeling ripped off by the retirement villages. So this is a big issue, Labor will support a good examination but it has got to be everything - staff, training, funding, and making sure that people get the care that they deserve.
CASSIDY: It couldn't be wrapped up and then responded to between now and the May election, could it?
SHORTEN: I don't see how that's possible. We'll have to see what the Government is thinking and they need to consult on the terms of reference.
The other thing to say here is that there's been 20 inquiries. I bet that there are people right now watching the show who have been calling for reforms, and we actually know a lot of what we need to do. A lot of good people have contributed what they think the solution is. So what we need to make sure of is this Royal Commission, and it shouldn't be rushed, shouldn't be used as an excuse not to carry out reforms that need to be done now. We know now that aged care workers aren't paid enough. We know now that there's not enough active inspection of facilities. We know now that there's problems with retirement villages. We know now already that the Government cut the dementia supplement. That was a payment made to nursing homes for people who are diagnosed living with dementia. Cutting dementia supplements? The Government was just mean when they did it. So we know some of the answers now. But certainly, I do think that there is a national crisis. I don't think that I'm fear-mongering and I'm pleased that the Government is moving in the same direction.
CASSIDY: On the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP, you've raised concerns in the past about this, quite substantial concerns, in fact, and now you're on board. What happened?
SHORTEN: Well, you'd have to say that we're on board somewhat reluctantly. There are some positives in this arrangement, no doubt. And we think that there are some negatives. What we'll do is cooperate to see the positives implemented and we're going to change the negatives if and when we get elected.
For example, one of the problems we see with it is just allowing no labour market testing to happen. What that means is that people can come in from these treaty countries, and even if the employer here hasn't demonstrated a shortage of labour, people can still come in and take jobs. I think that is a mistake.
CASSIDY: That's still the case, and you've signed up to it.
SHORTEN: We'll change that when we get into government because I don't agree with that.
CASSIDY: But can you? That would mean renegotiating the whole thing?
SHORTEN: No. Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, the Labour Prime Minister there, went to a series of countries on provisions which a conservative government had signed up to, and executed letters with those countries and both countries agreed not to go ahead with that. That's our plan there.
I also have to say that there are other things that we can do to look after the working conditions of Australians. We're going to put more money back into TAFE. I don't think that there should be people coming in from overseas taking up skilled labour vacancies for a day longer than it takes to train an Australian. I believe that some of our changes will help to take that away.
But one thing that I do put the Government on notice: there's a discussion which the electricians have raised with me, that people could come here as electricians and not meet the adequate local safety standards, and I need the Government to clear that up, because we don't want untrained tradies coming in to Australia and not doing work sufficient to Australian standards.
CASSIDY: I don't think that the unions are satisfied that you can sort all of this out after the event. The Australian Manufacturing Union has described it as a disaster and a break with Labor policy.
SHORTEN: Yeah, I accept that some of the unions would rather that we handled it in a different way –
CASSIDY: Or not be in it at all - they just want out.
SHORTEN: Well, there are positives in this agreement too, for our farmers, for our steel industry, for our higher education sector.
This is not the agreement that Labor would have done - no way. But what I'm not going to do is just oppose everything, full stop. They're still the Government. They'll do what they think, we'll extract what value is in it. But if we form a government, we're going to clamp down on this lack of labour market testing, the lack of proper standards. But the way we fix better workplaces with better wages and conditions won't just be through a trade agreement, it will be through proper wages policy in this country, proper TAFE, proper apprenticeships, proper buy local and prioritising local jobs.
CASSIDY: Another policy, the energy policy, the NEG, the National Energy Guarantee, is certainly dead to the Government. But is it dead to you? Are you thinking about using the NEG as a basis for your policy and then perhaps adding your own targets?
SHORTEN: We'll have more to say about energy policy in the next couple of months but I think you're right. The Government did some work on the National Energy Guarantee and we are prepared to use that as part of our framework going forward. That's not our final position, I hasten to add, and we'll have consultation and discussion with my colleagues. But I think people are sick and tired of the climate change wars. The climate denialists, for all intensive purposes, Tony Abbott, have taken over the Liberal Party. They didn't want the Clean Energy Target. They didn't want an Emissions Trading Scheme. The real issue here is that we've now got a climate denialist party in power, and the only policy they can do, now they've rejected the National Energy Guarantee, is one that will drive up power prices and do nothing to encourage more renewables.
So I'm happy to work with the sensible part of the Liberal Party, with industry, with environmentalists, and we'll come up with a framework which will look a lot like, I hope, parts of the National Energy Guarantee, and, of course, we want to see lower prices and more renewables.
CASSIDY: You did seem to accept all the way along that the NEG was a good framework?
SHORTEN: Yeah –
CASSIDY: And that's still your position? You can build with that?
SHORTEN: We think that there's something that we can work with there, yes. I mean part of the problem though, Barrie, and I think that we need to have this discussion, is that the market is dysfunctional in terms of energy prices. And one thing I'm certainly convinced of is that the rampant privatisation of our power generators and the system hasn't led to lower prices. It just led to a loss of jobs, higher prices and greater unreliability and a lack of investment.
CASSIDY: Over the weekend, your environment spokesman, Mark Butler, said of the Adani mine that he's against it. Are you with him on that?
SHORTEN: Well I think that is essentially Mark's judgement, that he doesn't think it is going to happen and he doesn't support it. I think a lot of people feel that way. Our policy is that we won't put a single taxpayer dollar into the project. There's a lot of scepticism if the project is ever going to happen.
CASSIDY: What do you think the prospects are of it going ahead if Labor was to be elected in the next election?
SHORTEN: First of all, there's what happens before an election. I don't know, Barrie, I think that a lot of people think that despite the press releases coming out of Adani, there's more hype than substance - and history would tend to indicate that.
If and when we're elected, and that's a big if, of course, we have to get elected, I'll sit down with my Cabinet colleagues, we will work on the best science available. There will be no taxpayer money subsidising this coal project and we'll see from there.
CASSIDY: Now, there was another story in the papers this morning that we didn't get to but you've written to the Prime Minister asking him to support a National Integrity Commission, which is basically a commission to keep an eye on politically elected people, politicians -
SHORTEN: And the Commonwealth public service.
CASSIDY: And the public service. Now, you made a similar request to Malcolm Turnbull and he was, I think from memory, open-minded about it at the time?
SHORTEN: Well, far be it from me to judge the Turnbull legacy but I think that this is another opportunity that he missed. I do think that we need a national anti-corruption commission, so I give a tick to my colleagues in the Labor Party for pushing that.
The best way to create a National Integrity Commission is through bipartisan support. I tried, but didn't get very far with Mr Turnbull, so I have written to the new fellow, Mr Morrison, and said - let's work on this together. I think that Australians want to see us - their faith in politics is at an all-time low. We saw $444 million handed to a private foundation made up of ex-bankers and executives in large part. There's not enough transparency in some of the decisions, so I think that a national anti-corruption commission is at least one way that the political system can demonstrate to disillusioned voters that we're willing to be held to the same standards.
CASSIDY: But what sort of things are you looking at? What sort of things go on in everyday political life that you want to nail?
SHORTEN: Every other level of government has an anti-corruption commission, other states have. I think that there's a lot that we can learn from those lessons. I don't think that there's a whole lot of criminality - any criminality, if there was, I'd report it. But the point about it is that it's a gap in our integrity system, and I think a lot of Australians say - why is it that the Government, the Liberals, don't want to have an anti-corruption commission in Canberra?
CASSIDY: Now, it's been a big week for the "why" question. You've been asking the "why did you sack Malcolm Turnbull?" There is a why question for you, I think, given that you're so far ahead in the polls and yet Scott Morrison, in the latest Newspoll, leads you as preferred prime minister. Why?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, I haven't commented on the polls for the last five years. I think that - and today, it is even more important than ever that we talk about policy. I think that the Australian people want to see - what are the ideas that we're going to do to improve the lives of our fellow Australians? So I don't comment on the polls, haven't, be they good or bad. I think that there's probably the wisdom in that -
CASSIDY: Does it bother you when you see –
SHORTEN: I tell you what, the last Prime Minister or the last leader who worried about the polls, is probably watching this on iView from New York. I don't think it's done me a lot of harm not talking about the polls.
CASSIDY: Thank you for your time this morning.