MONDAY, 24 AUGUST 2015
SUBJECT/S: Mabo; TAFE system; NDIS; Canning by-election; MP entitlements; Trinity Inlet
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s great to be here with Labor’s Sharryn Howes who is running for the seat of Leichhardt and also with Norm Jacobsen, Labor’s candidate for Kennedy. Also accompanying us is experienced Labor Senator Jan McLucas.
Today's been a real privilege. We've been at the initial sod turning of a nation leading facility which is going to support young people with acquired brain injury, Indigenous young people with acquired brain injury, to give them and their families and their carers at least some certainty and decent treatment in their lives. So it's a great day, and it was a real privilege whilst there to meet Aunty Bonita Mabo, a distinguished Australian, and of course Eddie Mabo's widow.
And now we're here at Cairns TAFE. This is great facility and what we're seeing here is the health workforce of the future receiving high-quality training, which clearly the students studying here are throwing themselves into with great professionalism and commitment. Now more than ever, Australia and Cairns need to focus on the jobs of the future. We need to make sure that people are getting the training they need to help provide the skills so they can have the jobs for the future, and nothing's more important than healthcare. Of course, youth unemployment in particular, but unemployment generally, is a big problem in Cairns and the surrounding districts. That's why it's only Labor who's offering to put a proper series of funding commitments in place for TAFE. If we've got a well-functioning TAFE system, young people, and indeed mature-age people seeking a change of career, are going to get that life-long learning they need which will mean they will have a greater chance of beating unemployment and also making a contribution to our society.
So today, we've seen several of the areas which are most important to a Labor Government if elected that I would implement. One is properly funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme, we notice that Mr Abbott and his Liberals seem to be crab-walking away from properly funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme. And that isn't good enough when we want to make sure ageing parents who are awake at midnight anxious about who will care for their loved adult children with severe and profound disabilities when they no longer can. People with disabilities and their families can only trust a Labor Government to look after their interests. And of course as I said we're here at Cairns TAFE, where we're seeing really skilled students learning the professional standards that they will need so that they can make a big difference, not only for their own job prospects but for the proper healthcare of the Australian community. And it's really good for me to be able to say to these students that it's a Labor Government who can be most trusted with properly funding healthcare in Australia. Happy to take any questions that people have.
JOURNALIST: Just to start - in terms of tax cuts, how does the Government plan to pay for that and is this linked to the Canning by-election?
SHORTEN: Well I don't think anyone believes Joe Hockey anymore, I think Australia’s given up. When Joe Hockey talks about a tax cut you have to start putting your hand over your wallet because before the last election, Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey’s Liberals said that there would be no increases or changes to tax. And since then we've had a GP tax – not once, twice, but three times they've tried to increase it – they've given us a petrol tax, they've increased income tax, and now they can't seem to control their impatience to introduce a 15 per cent GST on everything. Mr Hockey can't explain how we would pay for these income tax cuts. It's somewhat suspicious that you've got a Canning by-election and there is poor old Joe Hockey out there again huffing and puffing about tax cuts, when we know that all he's done since he's been the Treasurer and Mr Abbott's been Prime Minister, is the taxes of Australians have gone up and up and up.
JOURNALIST: Tony Burke's cost taxpayers close to $2.2 million for travel costs, including charter planes and flying on VIP jets – that's on top of the $2.4 million in office and phones expenses. Do you endorse that level of spending?
SHORTEN: First of all, Ministers – and this was at a time he was Minister – can't be sitting behind their desk. That's not the way in which you get in touch with what's happening and how you see and meet the people you need to meet. Of course, though, I understand community concern in light of the Bronwyn Bishop helicopter scandal, so it's appropriate that we're reviewing entitlements to make sure that what the expenses are being paid for people doing their day jobs actually accord with community expectations.
JOURNALIST: The Australian is reporting that up to 15 per cent of the Australian Workers Union's Victorian branch signed up under you were reportedly phantom members. Is this true?
SHORTEN: First of all, I'm very proud of my record representing Australian workers. In fact, I will put my record up for standing up for people's conditions, pay and conditions, against Mr Abbott's any day of the week. We should never forget that all he did for Australian workers is give them WorkChoices. In terms of specific matters, I answered over 900 questions at the Royal Commission. We all know that Mr Abbott's Royal Commission was set up to smear his political rivals.
JOURNALIST: On a local issue, what's your position in regards to dredging the Trinity Inlet?
SHORTEN: Certainly Labor has got a principled position that we don't believe that capital spoil should be dumped within National Marine Parks. We think that it's always important to get the balance with environment and jobs correct. We don't see that it's either on one hand you're for the environment or the other hand you're for jobs. Tourism is such a massive driver of jobs in North Queensland. We're blessed with the Great Barrier Reef. It's important that we make sure that we maintain the long-term viability of the environment, and that will in turn maintain the long-term viability of jobs in North Queensland.
JOURNALIST: So we've got Mr Abbott visiting Mabo's grave and you're visiting his widow. Why the sudden interest in the Mabo family?
SHORTEN: Well in my case it's a long-term interest in disability. What the facility was that we were at today is the first of its kind in Australia. Young Australians who get acquired brain injury are quite often shunted into nursing homes or age inappropriate accommodation. This is a national scandal. Now, what we see though, is that amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the rate of acquired brain injury is twice that of the Australian average. Yet throughout Australia, there is no facility, a stand-alone facility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, so Cairns is leading the way. Now that's due to a lot of hard work from the Cairns community, from people who are campaigning to make sure that people with acquired brain injury get appropriate accommodation. My colleague Senator McLucas has been one of the driving forces, but so have a lot of people at the State and Federal level. So that's why we're here today.
In terms of Eddie Mabo, I'm actually pleased that Tony Abbott has visited Eddie Mabo's grave. I think hopefully this shows a maturing in Mr Abbott's views from 20 years ago, when he said that Mabo was dividing – he meant the decision – the Mabo decision was dividing Australia. I hope now, this is growing recognition that Eddie Mabo, who was a great Australian and that that decision was important, another step forward to effecting full reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia and the rest of Australia. Last question, thanks.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister's reportedly sleeping in tents up in the Torres Strait. Would you do that yourself for a week?
SHORTEN: I think it's great that he is spending a week in the Torres Strait Islands. I have nothing negative to say about him doing that. I think also what we need to do is recognise in politics, that politics as usual, just denigrating each side of politics leaves a lot of Australians stale. So I say to Mr Abbott, good on you for visiting Eddie Mabo's grave, I think that’s a good step forward, and good that he is staying in a tent. That's fine by me.
JOURNALIST: Would you sleep in a tent?
SHORTEN: I have slept in a tent before and I imagine I will sleep in a tent again. Thanks everyone see you later.
MEDIA CONTACT: LEADER’S OFFICE MEDIA UNIT 02 6277 4053