Bill's Transcripts

ABC Lateline with Emma Alberici

EMMA ALBERICI:   Bill Shorten, welcome to Lateline.

BILL SHORTEN: Good evening, Emma.

EMMA ALBERICI: Now there's been further developments in the case against Peter Slipper. Federal Court documents lodged today claim Mr Ashby brought the allegations against his boss in order to advance the political interests of the Liberal National Party and/or aspiring Liberal Federal MP Mal Brough?

BILL SHORTEN: Certainly, I think the Liberal Party hope that this matter and this court action would cause a problem for the Government. It does appear that with the unanswered questions from the Liberal Party that it's more problems for the Opposition.

EMMA ALBERICI: And given what's at stake, are you surprised by the role reportedly played by the senior News Limited journalist Steve Lewis in all of this? I mean he's alleged to have texted to James Ashby, with reference to Peter Slipper, "We will get him"?

BILL SHORTEN: I think I, like all Australians, want to get to the truth of the matter. I know that the Opposition was very quick when this court matter first appeared reported in a newspaper. We know the Opposition was very quick to comment. I think it appeared in a newspaper on Saturday 21 April and then at 9:30 am the same morning the Opposition Leader held a press conference; then the next day there were two Liberal spokespeople out on the Sunday TV shows, the current affairs shows, and indeed I think we'll find that the record shows that Mr Abbott did one of his rare appearances on a serious TV show - I think it was the 7:30 Report of your own channel - full of comments about it. I think Australians just want to know the truth of the matter. That's what I know that's what the Government is interested in.

EMMA ALBERICI: What in particular is the Government interested to get to the bottom of?

BILL SHORTEN: I just think people want to know the truth.

EMMA ALBERICI: What in particular is baffling you about all of this? I mean, the Leader of the House Anthony Albanese says people in the media need to recognise whether they're "reporters or participants", whether they're "observers or they're activists", what did he mean by that?

BILL SHORTEN: I think his comments speak for themselves. In terms for the matter are a very serious allegation was made against the Speaker. This matter is to be tested in court. What I do know is the Opposition had been very vociferous very quickly about the matter and today they were saying we've got to let the court process take its role. I do think the Opposition need to explain if any members of the Opposition have, and the Liberal Party, have played some sort of untoward role in this whole serious allegation and process, I think they should just do Australia a favour and come clean about what may or may not have happened and their involvement.

EMMA ALBERICI: In light of today's revelations and the fact that the Commonwealth is indeed a party to the action, will the Government now consider launching a counterclaim?

BILL SHORTEN: Listen, I'm not privy to all the legal strategies to deal with this matter. What I do know is that serious allegations were made against the Speaker, the allegations which have to be tested in court. I also know that the Liberal Party was pretty quick out with a lynch mob. Now it would appear the problems they were trying to seek to lay at the Government's door - is just appears to be more than this than initially met the eye, there's more than one side of the story - and I do think any Opposition members of Parliament who have had anything to do with this should help assist the Australian public restore confidence by explaining what their role was.

EMMA ALBERICI: Now, if we can move on to Fairfax. Your colleague, Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan says Gina Rinehart's play for the media group is a threat to the Australian democracy - is that a widely held view in the Government?

BILL SHORTEN: I know Fairfax is going through great turmoil and we've seen significant changes even in the last 24 hours. I know the impact of the Internet upon our existing traditional forms of media is having a profound effect, and it's clear that people are interested in acquiring shares in Fairfax and want to have a role on the board.

I do think what is important is that editorial independence is championed. I also think at a practical level, the business models newspapers that say they should have editorial independence, reassures readers that people who have financial sway aren't seeking to superimpose their own personal views upon that of the newspaper - so that people who buy the paper, people who advertise in the paper could be confident in the strength of the product.

So I think there is a lot going on in the media. Great change at News, great change at Fairfax. I'd also say something which often gets overlooked when we talk about the sort of business superpowers up in the boardroom, is that 1,900 staff at Fairfax have been told that their jobs are going to go over the next three years.

There's a lot of very skilled workers at Fairfax who have had to explain to their families that mum or dad may or may not have a job. In amongst all the political debate I'd like to pause and give some reflection. There's a lot of skilled workers who are being affected by these changes and the Government will certainly be supporting these people.

EMMA ALBERICI: Now you made reference to protecting the independence of the editorial judgments at newspapers like the mastheads at Fairfax. Obviously there's great debate around Gina Rinehart's intention, given she has specifically rejected the idea of signing this charter of independence. Is there a role, in your view, for Government in protecting the independence of commercial newspapers?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I think it's even more than just a role for Government, it's a role for society and it's a role for shareholders too. I wasn't aware that there had been a specific rejection of signing the charter of independence. I think that one of the propositions you get when you read a newspaper in Australia is that the newspaper is free of undue influence, it's free of conflicts of interest. I think that anyone - and I've never been rich enough to buy a newspaper or a significant share, but I can only imagine - that one wouldn't wish to trash the brand of a newspaper by seeking to exert undue influence. I think that having multiple newspapers in states and cities is a good thing. I think it adds to diversity in the media, but I also think there's a lot of issues caught up in media independence but I think it's something we need to cherish.

And is it something the Government might need to look at, how it could embolden independence?

BILL SHORTEN: The Government's working through the Finkelstein inquiry. The Finkelstein inquiry, for those who aren't familiar, but I'm sure you are I should say, is an examination of all of the issues around media independence. This Government certainly... we don't always like what we read in newspapers about what's written about us but we understand it's the right of a free press to analyse the politics of the day and debate the issues. I don't see how any society, no matter what economic reason, is well served by stifling free speech.

If we can just go to the issue of asylum seekers. Now Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, the Independents, are urging MPs to stay in Canberra until the matter is resolved. Given the bitterness in between the two main parties over this issue and of course many others, what prospect is there for a compromise to be reached, do you think?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, when you say the bitterness, let's unpack that. The Labor Government believes that its offshore processing solution about processing people in Malaysia, working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, is a good solution. We want to break the back of the people smugglers' model - that idea that unscrupulous criminals can sell you $10,000 and $20,000 tickets on unsafe boats when you face the prospect of perishing at sea, we recognise that's the way to go.

Labor has been willing to compromise on earlier policies. We have, with much angst within the Labor Party said to the Liberal Party that we will not say that we're all right and you're all wrong. So when we talk about bitterness, the Labor Party - and let's put this right on the record right here, right now. We have said we will compromise.

Now we think that Malaysia's a good solution, the Liberals clearly think Nauru is a good solution, we've said why don't we look at offshore processing legislation which allows Malaysia to be developed as a solution, which allows Nauru to be developed as a solution. There is no bitterness, I just wonder how many people have to drown before we can get a consensus to work this issue out. This is now no longer a time for politics and point scoring. We now need, and I think most Australians expect us to do this, we now expect... I think Australians expect members of Parliament to come up with a solution which stops things like what have happened in the last few days, like what happened on Christmas Island.

We offered a compromise before the last two terrible tragedies and I think actually, and maybe some people listening will say you would say this, you're a Labor guy, but Tony Abbott is giving politics a bad name because he's so determined that he thinks he's right that he won't listen to anyone else or compromise people in his own party, cross-benchers and Labor. Now is not the time for politics, now is time to fix the problem.

EMMA ALBERICI: But the fact of the matter is that under the Coalition when they were in power they did manage to stop the boats - there weren't the tragedies we're seeing now; isn't that the truth?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, when you have a look at some of the years of the Howard Government, there were more people coming than now and in other years there were less.

EMMA ALBERICI: When they come up with the Nauru solution, there seem to have been less, didn't there?

BILL SHORTEN: The Malaysia solution is a good idea. What the Government is suggesting here, we're not asking that everyone agree with us; we don't even necessary agree with what Mr Abbot's saying. What we have said, what Chris Bowen has said, what the Prime Minister has said is that we want to have an offshore processing solution because that was struck out by the High Court. We believe Malaysia is the way to go; we said we're willing to countenance a discussion with detention facilities on Nauru.

We've said on temporary protection visas - which we don't think were a disincentive because 95 per cent of the people who got them were allowed to stay here - we said let's get something independent, let's review that. Where we don't see any sense in the Liberal position is where they say they can safely do it is they will tow boats back out to sea. Now the Navy thinks that's stupid, we think that's stupid, the Indonesians think that's stupid. But other than that particular proposition, if the Liberals think that Nauru is the holy grail of discouraging the people smuggling model we're happy to talk to them about it. We also happen to think Malaysia is a good idea. Why on earth...

EMMA ALBERICI: But is your Government prepared to back down on Malaysia and go just with Nauru?

BILL SHORTEN: We're prepared to look at both solutions. The other side are saying it's our way or the highway.

EMMA ALBERICI: Are you prepared to abandon Malaysia if that means you can find a bipartisan approach?

BILL SHORTEN: Bipartisan means we both look at each other's point of view. Emma, there's no escaping this issue, there's no escaping that Labor are saying it's willing to compromise. The Liberals are saying option A is the way to go, we're saying option B is the way to go. After a long enough time of butting heads I think most Australians expect us why can't you look at some combination of both options. We're prepared to do that. There is only one person in Australia who is saying that their way is the only way, full stop, forever. I think that this is... I mean let's face it...

EMMA ALBERICI: Tony Abbott says the real issue here is one of pride. The Prime Minister's pride and the Government's for that matter, that you're all too proud to admit that your policies don't work and the Coalition's did?

Well, I don't think the issue is one of pride. I think the issue is one of human life. We've seen people drowned, we've seen people perished. We have made it clear, even before the last two terrible incidents where people have died. We've said alright, we think our way is the best way, but we're willing to talk to you about your way as well.

EMMA ALBERICI: But there was already an offshore processing mechanism in action when you took office; you dismantled it.

BILL SHORTEN: Sorry, but we managed to get the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to engage with Malaysia because we think there's people who deserve an opportunity to come to Australia - refugees who can't afford to pay people smugglers.

We want to break the people smuggling model. But at the end of the day, if you've got two very strongly held convictions, only Labor's saying, "We'll have a look at yours but they say no, we won't look at yours." It's ridiculous, it's petty, it's a disgrace to the Australian political debate, and I know there are people across the whole range of politics who feel sick at the intransigence. We're willing to compromise.

That's one fact Mr Abbott can't run and hide and escape from. He won't compromise, and he thinks that somehow this is a brand of toughness. I don't accept that. If we knew that a football game was going to be held on Saturday and 10,000 people were going to attend that football game and we knew that 400, 4 per cent wouldn't come home safely, you'd probably cancel the game. I mean that's the sort of percentages we're seeing in people smuggling, people who just die, 4 per cent, four in every 100, 400 in every 10,000.

What we are saying to Mr Abbott is the time for politics is well and truly past. It's time to put other people first, not just what Labor or the Liberal view, and we are willing to compromise.

EMMA ALBERICI: Are you saying he won't even sit down with you, is that the point? Because he says he's had no approach. Who's right on that? Is there a negotiation under way? Is there actually some talking happening?

BILL SHORTEN: Mr Bowen made clear last Christmas he's available and we've been making that clear and the Prime Minister made it clear as late as today. This idea that Mr Abbott's waiting for a gilt-crested invitation to come to the party is just wrong. Again, if he hasn't heard the invitation I'll do it again with you, Emma: Mr Abbott, we're waiting for you to negotiate a compromise, we're prepared for a compromise, why can't you meet us some of the way?

EMMA ALBERICI: And just finally on another matter, one of your backbenchers, Nick Champion wrote an opinion piece in the Australian today in which he says the party needs to reform itself if it's to have any chance of winning the next election, do you have some sympathy for his views?

I listen very carefully to Nick Champion, I think he's fair dinkum. He doesn't cut the cloth of his comment to suit the political fashion of the day. Political parties, the Labor Party especially - we always need to be renewing our structures. I'm optimistic that Labor's message of hope about the future, I'm optimistic that what we're doing about reforming pay day loans which we passed through the House of Representatives today, increasing compulsory superannuation so people don't retire poor, introducing a national disability insurance scheme - these are the signs of a healthy Labor Party, but we can always do better and I know that Nick will always be forthright in his views.

EMMA ALBERICI: Alright, we have to leave it there. Bill Shorten, thanks very much for being there for us this evening.

BILL SHORTEN: Thanks very much, Emma.