Bill's Transcripts





SUBJECT/S: Griffith by-election; Abbott Government’s cuts to payments; Tony Abbott’s Commission of Cuts; Jobs; Tony Abbott’s attack on Medicare.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s great to be here at the Hawthorne Ferry Terminal with Labor’s candidate for Griffith, Terri Butler. We’re getting a great reception this morning, but one of the issues that’s being raised with us by people is they’re saying the Abbott Government is not the government that people were told they would be before the election by the Abbott Opposition. People don’t like the broken promises. In particular there’s concern that following Campbell Newman’s cuts to the health system, that Tony Abbott will just trash Medicare and we will see a greater burden on people going to the doctor.


But in particular this morning, concerns are being expressed about Abbott Government Minister Kevin Andrews raising the prospect that people on the Age Pension will see that the rate of increase of the Age Pension will be damaged, that people on the Age Pension are going to suffer, effectively, real cuts in terms of their pension. People are very concerned because I think all Australians understand that people on the Age Pension have paid taxes their whole life, the Age Pension is a modest payment to help people in their elder years. If they’re on the Age Pension, no amount of Abbott Government wishing can make you younger, people rely on the Age Pension.


Our concern is that the Abbott Government – breaking promises in terms of health, putting everything on the table with their Commission of Audit – is now going to slug age pensioners and diminish the value of the Age Pension in coming years. Age pensioners should be off limits to the Abbott Government’s Commission of Cuts. Happy to take any questions, but before that I might ask Terri to give some of her feedback on this morning’s campaign.


TERRI BUTLER, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR GRIFFITH: We’ve met lots of people from the local area, from Hawthorne, from Bulimba, from Morningside where I live. It’s been a really good morning talking to people about the by-election and speaking to them about the need to have a member in this electorate who will be a strong voice, who won’t be a rubber stamp, who won’t describe Campbell Newman’s attacks on healthcare as ‘just being a few job losses’, but someone who will speak out against those healthcare cuts. It’s been a really positive morning, we’re getting a great reception and it’s been fantastic to have Bill here again. Thanks very much, I really appreciate your support.


SHORTEN: Are there any questions?


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, is the welfare system as it stands unsustainable?


SHORTEN: What is unsustainable is targeting fixed-income age pensioners, and for the Abbott Government to say that the only idea the Abbott Government has got about the future of this nation is about slugging age pensioners. Age pensioners receive a modest amount of payment, they’re not bludgers, they’re not rorting the system. Age pensioners deserve the support of the Abbott Government, they do not deserve to be on the chopping block in this year’s Budget, and I think the Abbott Government needs to rule out attacking age pensioners. The amount of money that an age pensioner receives is modest, and so it defies belief that the Abbott Government thinks that somehow the path to Australia’s salvation is attacking literally hundreds of thousands of age pensioners. It’s not on Tony Abbott, keep your hands off the Age Pension.


JOURNALIST: So who should be on the chopping block, Newstart?


SHORTEN: Tony Abbott spent a lot of time in Opposition being negative and now they’ve come into government, and clearly they don’t have an idea what to do. We’ve seen their broken promises on education. Before the election they said there’d be a unity ticket, and then after the election they cynically said that they would cut funding to schools over the next six years. Now we’ve seen them float the proposition of extra taxes on people going to the doctor. But this morning’s latest thought bubble from an Abbott Government Minister, from an Abbott Government who doesn’t have an idea in January of 2014 what to do in May of 2014. We will listen carefully to whatever the Abbott Government has to say, but what we won’t do is be party in mugging aged pensioners just to suit Tony Abbott’s inability to run his Budget.


JOURNALIST: Can you see any room for change in the welfare system overall, outside of the Age Pension?


SHORTEN: Let’s be clear, before we can get on to what the Abbott Government should be doing, we want them to be clear about what they’re not going to do. Age pensioners in January of 2014 should not be worried until the Budget about what’s going to happen. If the Abbott Government before the election said they were going to slow the rate of increase to the Age Pension, they should have told us. They should have told people, then people could have voted on whether or not they thought it was a good or bad idea. But this sort of sneaky, cynical, promise-breaking Abbott Government tactic won’t wash, and the Labor Opposition will not be party to mugging old-age pensioners and decreasing the amount by which the Age Pension goes up.


The Age Pension is modest, and when the Abbott Government can live on the Age Pension, perhaps then they can start floating ideas about restricting the growth of the Age Pension. Age pensioners spend their whole life working and paying taxes. The Age Pension is not a reward for growing old, it’s not a holiday in the sun, and no one should be talking on either side of politics, saying that the only answer we’ve got for Australia’s future is that somehow the age pensioners have got to pay for Tony Abbott’s broken promises. I’ll tell you where they can start, get rid of the multi-millionaires’ welfare, get rid of this gold-plated parental leave scheme which will benefit some people and receive windfall gains which they don’t need. If they want to tackle the real problems, don’t start with people at the bottom of the heap, don’t start with people who haven’t got a voice, don’t pick on the people who can’t fight back. They should drop any discussion about hitting the Age Pension.


JOURNALIST: So is Abbott targeting the poor to fund his spending?


SHORTEN: The Abbott Government doesn’t have much idea. I mean, if you want a slogan, go to the Abbott Government. That’s what they’re good at. But if you want to have a government which looks after all Australians, well then they’re at the back of the queue. We’ve got the secrecy on the boats, you’ve got the mess in education, you’ve got the inability to stand up for Australian jobs. You know, wave goodbye to any Australian icon under the Abbott Government, SPC, Qantas, Alcoa, Holden. Now you’ve got the medical attacks, the GP taxes. And now they’re floating restricting the rate of growth of the Age Pension. I don’t know what these guys are drinking in the Cabinet room, but they need to get off the Kool-Aid which says slug the poor to pay for the Abbott Government’s broken promises.


JOURNALIST: The Minister has pointed to a large increase in the number of people on Newstart allowance. Labor moved single parents onto Newstart. Should that be part of what could be reversed?


SHORTEN: This challenge on Newstart is for the Abbott Government to stop seeing unemployment rising, and to get people working. Rather than slug the people who can’t speak for themselves, create some jobs in this country, Tony Abbott. And defend some of the jobs that are already there, like the car industry.


JOURNALIST: The Commission of Audit was to report its finding at the end of the month, but it looks like that’s been delayed now for another two weeks.


SHORTEN: Yeah, what a coincidence. Commission of Audit was due to report until the Griffith by-election was called, now it’s after the Griffith by-election. You know, that stinks. If they’ve got a plan to cut Australians’ conditions, to cut health care, to go after age pensioners, don’t be cowardly. Tell people, let people decide at a by-election what they think. Don’t hide your bad news until after people have voted. That’s cynical.


JOURNALIST: Are there people on Newstart who also get the Disability Pension who can work and that should be moved off welfare?


SHORTEN: People with disabilities, in my experience, would love to work. There are very few people in my experience want to have their disability so they can get a pension. Most people with disabilities – they’d rather have the opportunity to work. So this idea that we blame the victim, that we blame a person because they’ve got a disability, or we blame a person because they’re old, and we say that somehow you’re the problem, we’re all going to be old one day. The sort of country that I want my kids to grow up in, and that I want my parents to grow old in, is not one that has a go at people on the Age Pension. That’s not the Australian way. Thanks everyone.