Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Brisbane - Tony Abbott’s unfair changes to higher education; ADF pay cut;






SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s unfair changes to higher education; ADF pay cut; China Free Trade Agreement; G20 Leader’s summit


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It's great to be at Southern Cross Catholic College, the largest Catholic school in southeast Queensland. I'm accompanied today by the hard-working state member for Redcliffe, Yvette D'Ath, as we are talking to really impressive 16-year-olds whose are the school leadership for next year.


Today we listen to the dreams and the hopes and the optimism and the courage of remarkable young Australian students, and they are an example of what is present in the senior ranks of secondary schools right across Australia. Young people who have dreams and hopes and hard work to go with it. But when we talk about their dreams and hopes, there is real concern amongst Australia's youth and their parents that Tony Abbott's unfair changes to higher education may compromise the opportunities for young people to better themselves in this world. We should have a higher education system that rewards the hard work and good marks of students, not how wealthy their parents are or the postcode that they live in.


Higher education is the key to Australia's future. There are so many young people who are keen to explore their passions and knowledge and skills. The role of Government, the role of any Parliament, is to improve the educational system they inherit from a previous Parliament. But Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Christopher Pyne are on a wrecking mission for Australia's higher education system. They've got a triple-whammy discouraging young people and mature-aged students from going to higher education. They want to completely deregulate the university system so that universities can charge whatever they want. And what they're also doing is they're going to cut 20 per cent of funding to universities in Australia, which means that universities will have to charge more than they otherwise would which will put greater pressure on university fees. And then to top things off, they're doubling the interest rate so that the nearly million Australians who already have HECS debts are going to have to pay more than they otherwise would have.


This is a Government who told us nothing about their higher education policies before the election. They said there would be no changes and now what they've done is they’ve lied to Australians and even worse than that, to justify their unfair Budget, they're damaging the hopes of hundreds of thousands of young Australians who wish to go to university. Labor will oppose these unfair higher education changes. We'll make sure that every parent can promise their child that if their child wants to go to university they'll be able to do so under Labor's plans.


I might just make one brief comment before we go to questions. We see the scandal of the Government's mistreatment of Australian Defence Force wages continuing unchecked. The Abbott Government is giving an effective pay cut to tens of thousands of Australians who serve this nation, who are prepared to go into harm's way so that we can be safer in Australia. There should be no real pay cut to the Australian Defence Force and their leave arrangements shouldn't be cut as well.


The Australian Defence Force is there for us and we will be there for them. That is the contract which Australia makes with Defence Force soldiers and their families. We promise them that if they go in harm's way we've got their backs when it comes to decisions which affect their terms and conditions. A 1.5 per cent pay proposition from the Government, which is lower than inflation, means that every time the partner of a Defence Force personnel goes shopping in their local supermarket, they've got less money to keep up with the cost of living. And the Australian Government, the Abbott Government, has used the Australian Defence Forces to try and lower wage outcomes for public servants across Australia. The ADF should be off limits from the politics of the Abbott Government. It is shonky, shabby, and Labor will fight the unfair pay deal that the Abbott Government has done by betraying Australian Defence Forces. We'll fight it all the way.


I’m happy to take any questions.


REPOTER: Mr Shorten, just on the ADF pay issue, that was set by an independent tribunal. How exactly do you think Tony Abbott should intervene?


SHORTEN: First of all, the Remuneration Tribunal hears submissions from the Government. The Remuneration Tribunal has endorsed the Government's submissions. So this Abbott Government, they are like the Pontius Pilate of politics, they’re always washing their hands and saying, “it's not my responsibility”. But we know that's not how the system works. The Government of the day puts forward a pay plan for the Remuneration Tribunal to agree or disagree with. The Abbott Government put forward a 1.5 per cent pay proposition which is lower than inflation, it is a pay cut because it's not, even the wages of our Defence Forces are not keeping up with inflation.


Our Defence Forces aren't greedy. They don't want to be caught in this political argy-bargy, they just want to get on and do their day job, but they want to be comfortable their families at home are not missing out because they're serving in the Defence Forces. Make no mistake, if the Abbott Government says this is an independent tribunal, they are lying to Australians because the independent tribunal hears the Government's submission and the Government’s submission was for a per cent and a half. There was nothing to stop the Abbott Government making a slightly larger offer, helping the ADF and their families keep up with inflation. This Government loves to talk about patriotism, they love to have their photo taken with the military, but when the rubber hits the road, when actions count more than words, this is a Government who is missing in action and what they are doing is they are undermining the real pay and conditions and terms of our Defence Forces.


REPORTER: Should the tribunal be scrapped?


SHORTEN: No, I think the Abbott Government's offer should be scrapped.


REPORTER: Do you think - the Labor Government in the past has defied the recommendations of the independent tribunal when it came to politician pay freezes, could this be done here in this case?


SHORTEN: If I was in Tony Abbott's shoes I would scrap the 1.5 per cent pay offer, and what I would do is I’d offer something which keeps up with inflation, and I wouldn't mess with people's leave arrangements. Who are they, just in the lead up to Christmas, to start interfering with leave arrangements? This is a Government who's out of touch, and by the way, the only reason they're doing this is because they want to run a sneaky, shonky pay strategy across the rest of the public service. And what they're going to do is they’re going to say to everyone else, "we've given the Defence Forces a real pay cut, and you don't wear a uniform so we're going to cut your pay more”.


They shouldn't be using the ADF as some sort of pawn to advance their far right-wing industrial relations agenda. Everyone in Australia knows you can't trust the Liberal Party and Tony Abbott when it comes to workers' conditions. I just think everyone's surprised that you now - the Defence Forces of Australia cannot trust Tony Abbott when it comes to maintaining their real terms and conditions. And Tony Abbott will wear on his shoulders that he is the man who gave a pay cut to the Australian Defence Forces.


REPORTER: What do you make of Senator Jacqui Lambie's comments this morning, that she will vote against Government legislation until the Defence Force get a pay rise?


SHORTEN: I don't think that Clive Palmer or his Senators are the main game here. The main game is Tony Abbott. Tony Abbott gives marvellous speeches about our Defence Forces but he sends his lawyers in to the independent tribunal and he directs them to argue for a real pay cut for the Defence Forces. I think Tony Abbott and his Government Ministers should spend less time having photo opps with the military and a little more time working up a better pay deal for the military.


JOURNALIST: In terms of Jacqui Lambie's claims though, do these constitute blackmail?


SHORTEN: I'm just not going to go to where some of the crossbench Senator’s comments go. Labor is focused on what Tony Abbott's doing. He needs to reconsider his pay offer. One way or the other, the longer this goes, the Australian Defence Forces will never get back what they've lost. What happens is once you've got a pay rise which is lower than the cost of living, even if in the future there's a pay rise which keeps pace with the cost of living, the military never get it back and it flows on. This lower pay offer will flow on into the superannuation of our diggers, it will have repercussions which will see families not keep up with the cost of living. It's hard being a Defence Force family member. Your loved one can have tours of duty overseas or away from where you are. You've still got to raise the kids, you’ve still got to do the shopping and the Abbott Government's answer to you and your loved ones is, "By the way, we will give you an effective pay cut”. If wages can't keep up with the cost of living, that's a real problem for our Defence Force and their families. And the Abbott Government, why the do they turn every issue into politics? That's what they have done with Defence Force wages. Labor is very clear on this, the Defence Forces have been there for us, we will be there if them.


JOURNALIST: Is Jacqui Lambie not turning this into politics though?


SHORTEN: The issue is Tony Abbott should just reconsider his pay offer - 1.5 per cent is a joke, it is a rotten joke. The Defence Forces are there for us, we should be there for them. The Parliament of Australia should keep its solemn understanding with the Australian Defence Forces that if you wear our uniform, if you go in harm's way, your real terms and conditions shouldn't fall behind the rest of the community which is what Tony Abbott's done to the Defence Forces.


JOURNALIST: Will Labor support a free trade deal with China which offers no gain for sugar growers?


SHORTEN: We see the Government again just playing politics. They're doing selective leaks to soften up the electorate for the bits of the free trade agreement they don't get. You know, you dribble out bits of good news or potential good news each day. I think the Abbott Government should realise that trade with our partners is important to our farmers, it’s important to our mining sector, it’s important to Australians. I think rather than run clever media strategies, what they should do is issue a statement, give Australians an update. Where's the gains they're making, where is the progress not as good as they hoped. When it comes to sugar, that is a relevant issue. When it comes to access for beef cattle into Chinese markets, that's a relevant issue. There's also tariffs on our aluminium, on our iron ore which the Chinese have put on. The Federal Government has to address that too. If there's a good deal in services, that's a plus, but let Australian see the total package. Australians are capable of weighing up is it a good deal or a bad deal. Don't treat the Australians as mugs, dribble out bits of good news and then have some elaborate media strategy. If it is a good deal, Labor will support free trade with China. My advice to Tony Abbott is treat Australians the way you would like to be treated. Treat Australians as intelligent, just tell them the truth Tony, then we can work out if it's a good deal or a dud deal.


JOURNALIST: Do you support an extended live cattle export deal with China?


SHORTEN: Again, we've got to see the detail. I'm not going to go into hypotheticals. Live export arrangements are important to Australia and they are valuable to Australia but, again, this is the classic Abbott Government magic show. They never actually tell you what's really going on behind the curtain. What they need to do is tell Australians what's going on. If Tony Abbott tells the truth to Australians they will mark him up. If he wants to play games with Australians they will mark him down. Last question thank you.


JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about China’s animal rights record?


SHORTEN: Again, you're asking me to go into hypotheticals about it. We've got codes of conduct in terms of animal rights, in terms of live trade export but, again, why doesn't the Government, rather than allow a damaging debate to unfurl and go on unchecked, if the Abbott Government really cares about agriculture, just be straight with us. If he really cares about the mining industry, just be straight with us. If he cares about services and free trade, just tell people what's going on. I find in life the straighter you are with people, the more that they will actually respect whatever decisions you present to them. Thanks everyone.


JOURNALIST: Can I ask you one final question?


SHORTEN: Alright.


JOURNALIST: Thank you. Will you be attending next week’s G20 Leader’s summit in Brisbane?


SHORTEN: I will be attending. I’m looking forward to meeting with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands today and again, I will be meeting with world leaders across the G20. Labor helped bring the G20 to Brisbane. It is a great opportunity for Australia and I want Australia to succeed next week and the following weekend. This is a chance to showcase Brisbane and I think as importantly, it is a chance for Australia to put issues on the map. I do regret however that Climate change is being ignored by the Australian Government when the rest of the world is doing something on climate change. But on balance, I am looking forward to talking with world leaders, understanding what the future looks like and Australia’s role in the world.


Thanks everyone.