Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Canberra






BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone. I’m here today with our Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen to talk about the last five weeks and the upcoming Parliamentary session. Over the last five weeks, Labor has taken its message of strength and hope and fairness right across Australia. Labor has been visiting the child care centres and the schools, the hospitals and the aged care facilities, workplaces and universities. The message is clear from the people of Australia, loud and clear. They do not want, the people of Australia do not want Labor voting for this unfair Budget.


There are reports that the Government is getting in sales consultants and spinners today to help them sell this message. Tony Abbott doesn't have a sales problem, he has a Budget problem, he has a fairness problem. We've seen though in recent days, the Government move from insulting the Australian people, telling them they just don't understand the unfair Budget, when in fact they do, the Government has moved from insulting the people of Australia to threatening the people of Australia. We now see a desperate government keen to draw attention away from its unfair Budget, threatening Australian people with tax rises, threatening cuts in medical research. This is an unfair Budget. No three word slogan will save this Budget. It's time to dump the Budget and dump it now. I might ask my colleague Chris Bowen to say a few more words about this matter.


CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thank you very must Bill. As Bill said for the last five weeks the Labor Party has been in the community, listening, talking about the Budget. The Government has had the same opportunity to listen to the Australian people. This week is the week that the Budget can finally get the message of the Parliament and the people, that this Budget doesn't need a reboot, it needs a complete rethink. And as Bill said, the rolling farce of the Government's lack of a Budget strategy reached a low point just on the weekend with the Government resorting to threats. Only they're so incompetent, they can't even work out what the threat is. Joe Hockey says the threat is a Campbell Newman-style austerity Budget. Mathias Cormann says the threat is tax increases. And Christopher Pyne says the threat is cuts to research funding at universities. So Mathias Pyne – Mathias Cormann's great strategy is to say ‘we will have Budget tax increases if you don't pass our Budget which includes tax increases.’


This Budget strategy has been a rolling farce. It's time for the Government to get the message and drop the unfair Budget. Not bring in the spin doctors as Bill has said, but bring in people who will listen to the Australian people. The Australian people who want a Budget which is fair, a Budget which deals with the long term challenges to the Australian economy. A Budget which doesn't cut away future sources of growth for the Australian economy, but which boosts them. It's time for Tony Abbott to finally take control, and to finally show some leadership and to drop this unfair Budget. This is the week, back in Canberra, that he can do it. They've been on a rolling foot and mouth tour right across the country. It comes to Canberra today, where they can drop the farce and they can drop the Budget.


JOURNALIST: So does Labor believe that we should be heading to address the debt issue in the medium to long term?


SHORTEN: First of all, let's be really straight about what is happening with this unfair Budget. The Government periodically says there is a Budget emergency. The truth is, there is a Liberal government political emergency. Of course you need in the medium term to have a sensible financial position which deals with revenues, which deals with expenditures, which deals with debt. But there has been no case made by the Treasurer or the Prime Minister since they brought down this Budget, that in order to give Australia a bright future, that the poorest half of Australian society should carry the heavy lifting, the heavy burden. Why is it that when you have a Liberal government in Canberra, their only answer is that pensioners should have a cut or that sick people should pay tax to go to the doctor, or the working and middle class kids and their parents have to pay more to go to university? This is a government who lied before the election, they've got an unfair Budget and they're incompetent in the way they even run their arguments justifying this hopeless, unfair Budget.


JOURNALIST: What should the time frame be for returning to surplus?


SHORTEN: Well I think that first of all the Government needs to explain the time frame for introducing their legislation. Ever since the Government started leaking their Budget measures, their unfair Budget measures, three weeks before the Budget, consumer confidence and business confidence in the high street of Australia has collapsed. In the time since the Budget, we've got American-style unemployment numbers across Australia. This is a government who's taken its eye off the ball. We don't need for Australia's future in 2020 and 2030 to be telling kids who will be going at open days at universities this Sunday, ‘by the way, it’s probably going to be too expensive for you to dream to go to university.’ You don't manage the long-term economic growth of this country by cutting, slashing and burning.


JOURNALIST: When should we be in surplus?


SHORTEN: First of all, this government has no plan seriously to improve the economic position. We are not going to let the Government off the hook. This is a government who says ‘well it's everyone else's fault.' Basically the proposition this government has been running is ‘we don't know what to do, can someone please tell us?’ No Joe Hockey, no Tony Abbott, you won the election, you brought down this unfair Budget, you justify your measures to the people of Australia.


We are not getting stopped in the street with people saying ‘please vote for this government's promises and its election lies.’ We are not getting stopped in the aged care facilities by GPs who treat people with dementia saying ‘gee I really want Labor to vote for me to be able to ask this patient for an extra seven dollars.’ We do not get stopped in the child care centres by people saying ‘please put up our fees.’ We do not get stopped by pensioners saying ‘please back in the Liberal Party for breaking their promises and cutting pensions.’


JOURNALIST: Haven't you made yourself irrelevant though by not being willing to negotiate at all? I mean what is Labor trying to achieve here, going around in circles?


SHORTEN: This issue is never about Labor. This issue is about the Government. They've made themselves irrelevant to the future of Australia by telling lies before the election, by breaking promises, by being incompetent managers in government, and by introducing an unfair Budget. This is a government who blames everyone. They even blame you, the media, for the problems with this Budget. This is a government who just needs to buy a mirror, have a good look in it to understand what's wrong with this Budget. It's unfair and it's not going to wash with the Australian people.


JOURNALIST: At what stage of the electoral cycle do we expect to see alternative proposals from the Opposition on the Budget?


SHORTEN: Labor will introduce solid and sensible measures for the next election so that the Australian people in good time will see it. But we're not going to let the Government off the hook. This is a government – and you all know it too, and Australians know it – the Abbott Government doesn't want to talk about themselves, they'll talk about everything else, they just don't want to talk about their own economic stewardship of this country. Let’s be really straight about the economic numbers: unemployment's up, business confidence has stalled, we have got an unfair Budget, you have got anxiety amongst the most vulnerable in our community, their strategy for unemployment is to punish the unemployed. This is a government who simply isn't up to the task of bringing down this Budget.


JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Barnaby Joyce’s comments this morning that Australia could go broke if this Budget isn't passed?


SHORTEN: I am going to ask my colleague to answer this, but again this is a government that – it's a different day, it's a different emergency. Some days there's no Budget emergency, other days there is. This is a government – and you are on to it too, and the Australian people, even more importantly, are on to this Government's trick. They don't want anyone looking at their unfair Budget. No one at the last election voted for the Liberal Party of Australia and Tony Abbott to make – to double and triple university degrees, to cut pensions, to introduce a new tax on the sick, to break their promises about not increasing taxes on petrol. This is a government who lied their way into office, they brought down an unfair Budget, but I might ask Chris to go into more detail about your specific question.


BOWEN: Thanks Bill. Well Barnaby Joyce is just the latest of a long line of Cabinet Ministers who haven't adjusted to being in government. There is a responsibility on members of the Government, on senior Cabinet Ministers, to keep their rhetoric in line with the national interest. So we've seen Joe Hockey talking about Budget emergencies. We've seen Andrew Robb talking about sovereign risk in the Budget. Now we see Barnaby Joyce reverting to his old role as Shadow Finance Minister, which he was sacked from when he made similar sorts of comments.


When you're a senior Cabinet Minister, your words count. And what we're seeing is shrill and irresponsible and ill-judged rhetoric from the Government, from the Treasurer, and his colleagues which are having an impact on confidence in the community, and which are extremely irresponsible. It's a very rare situation – you have the Government talking the economy down and the Budget down, and the Opposition being the responsible people actually having this conversation in a mature way about the long-term Budget challenges but the strength of the Australian economy as well.


JOURNALIST: The Government has said it’s willing to negotiate on Budget measures. Have you got the call, are you in those negotiations?


SHORTEN: The Government hasn't tried to negotiate with the Opposition. One thing I neglected to mention is that we've seen the unedifying spectacle that when Tony Abbott was overseas, the de facto Prime Minister of the Liberal Cabinet, Clive Palmer, holding meetings with Liberal Party Cabinet Ministers. They go cap in hand to have a meal, to have dinner with Clive Palmer, to beg him to pass their measures. This is no way to run Australia. Now the Government doesn't know how to negotiate. It's their way or the highway. They're pretty arrogant in the way they approach matters. They would not dream of talking to us. Labor will vote for sensible measures, as we have. But on these key issues of unfairness, Labor must be true to the Australian people and stand up for the sick, the vulnerable, those who were promised they wouldn't have to pay extra taxes, those who want to have the dream of seeing their kids go to university. We will fight for what is right.


JOURNALIST: So Labor hasn’t had any talks to Christopher Pyne about higher education, Peter Dutton about GP co-payments, those key issues?


SHORTEN: Not to my knowledge, and the other thing, is I can be very clear and send the message through you – the GP tax is a tax on the sick. We're not voting for it. Australians already pay for their healthcare through their Medicare. We're not into making it harder for people who need healthcare to get it. In terms of higher education, we don't support a 20 per cent cut in the funding of universities and the way they function. Australia's future in 2020, to put a positive note, is all about being a smart nation, not a nation where we dumb things down. Our future in 2020 and 2030 is through the economic growth of the engine room of the capacity of Australian people. You don't do that by cutting higher education.


JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about the reports today about the Government considering an extended military role for Australia in Iraq?


SHORTEN: I did read those reports. The Government hasn't informed the Opposition of that. We have had discussions with the Government, constructive discussions, about humanitarian relief and the use of the RAAF. Of course it's appropriate and necessary that our RAAF, as they go and help people, do so in the safest possible manner. Labor understands it's a risky proposition and I would like to put on record again the Opposition's support for the work of our Defence Force. The RAAF are flying in, they are trained to do this work and they're the best in the world, but I don't doubt the hazardous nature of this. Labor is for their safety and making sure that we support what they do. Any further extension beyond that, again, the Government hasn't made us privy to their deliberations in this matter.


JOURNALIST: But would you be inclined to supporting the RAAF dropping bombs in Iraq?


SHORTEN: I think on such important matters, Paul, I'm not going to speculate at a press conference. We've made it clear to the Government that we will be available for briefings. I think our record shows that we've extended, as we should by the way, an appropriate level of cooperation to the Government. It's been a dreadful time in terms of MH17 and then this – the IS in Iraq, and this is not an issue of political debate. We will do this professionally as if we were the Government we would expect the Government, if they were the Opposition, to do.


JOURNALIST: If we do get more involved in Iraq or Syria, wouldn't that put Australia back into the quagmire that we escaped from a couple of years ago?


SHORTEN: Well again you use that magic word at the start of your sentence, ‘if’. I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. The job of the Opposition is to hold the Government to account. On matters of national security, we will work with the Government in the best interests of the nation, and we won't start speculating aloud about what has or hasn't happened.


JOURNALIST: Andrew Wilkie has called for a vote in Parliament on military action in Iraq, is that a good idea?


SHORTEN: I haven't seen what Mr Willkie’s done but again Australian Labor believes that when it comes to the use of our Defence Force, there can be no more important decisions made. We recognise at the same time that we need to conduct our national security debates ideally free from the hothouse of day-to-day debate. That doesn't mean there shouldn't be scrutiny but I’m not going to get ahead of myself. We will sit down and talk to the Government, which is what Australians want of their Opposition. One last question, thank you.


JOURNALIST: What’s your response to news that Caltex will cut 350 jobs?


SHORTEN: I hadn’t heard that. We do have a jobs problem in Australia. I get that our small business sector’s working hard to create jobs, I get that we’ve got growth industries, but we're seeing blue collar jobs and we’re seeing manufacturing jobs being hit. This government has no plan for the future of manufacturing. They have no plan for helping people dislocated by changes in economic circumstances. This is a government who doesn't get employment should be its top priority. But we will keep holding them to account.


Thank you everyone. Look forward to seeing you in Question Time tomorrow.