THURSDAY, 30 OCTOBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s unfair changes to universities; Student debt calculator; Tony Abbott and Clive Palmer’s dirty deal; National Security legislation.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone. It’s great to be here at Telopea Park talking to Australia’s future; 60 to 70 very interested year 10 students for whom the world is at their feet. Here is a particularly special school to visit because this is where Prime Minister Gough Whitlam spent his secondary years of education between 1928 and 1931. There is a link between a young Gough Whitlam being educated here with the world at his feet and these young students, the inheritors of the Whitlam education experience at this school with the world at their feet now. That is why it is more important than ever that we do not discourage young people from believing that they can do and be anything they want and a big part of that optimism they feel about the future is the potential for many of them to attend university. Many of the students here do not come from particularly affluent backgrounds. So their parents and they will be hearing reports that Tony Abbott, by deregulating university fees, by cutting funding to universities, by doubling the interest rate on HECS payments, is putting the prospect of university beyond the dreams and aspirations of many Australian schoolchildren and their families.
Indeed, today Labor is revealing through its calculator, its student debt calculator, how much it's going to cost and the changes it's going to make for kids going to university. Let me quote you some numbers. A pharmacist student now would pay $41,000 or repay $41,000 over seven years. Under Tony Abbott, this student would pay $105,000 and it would take 13 years to repay it. A doctor, a woman doctor now will have to repay $61,000 over seven years, but under Tony Abbott's higher education changes, would have to repay $282,000 and that would take up to 18 years to repay. A female social worker now, $28,755, over nine years, will have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars and the debt will take decades to repay. We need to make sure that Australian parliamentarians pass on a better education system than we inherited for the best interests of our young Australians and indeed mature aged students seeking to reskill. Labor will fight the higher education changes with every ounce of energy; we will fight until we prevail. These changes are scaring lot of people and the Government should abandon their unfair changes especially in the light of some of the new evidence emerging about how much it will cost Australian school students to go to university.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What's your response to the Government's deal with Clive Palmer on its climate policy?
SHORTEN: Is it Prime Minister Abbott or Prime Minister Palmer? Clive Palmer is now calling the shots in the Abbott Government which is not good news for ordinary Australians. What we see here is not a climate change policy, this is a dirty deal to pay big polluters to keep polluting. This is not a deal about climate change, it is a deal to get Clive Palmer's votes. Unfortunately now it would appear we have two Prime Ministers in Australia, Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Palmer.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you wrote a letter to the Prime Minister expressing concern about security legislation, specifically media reporting. Why did you help pass that legislation and why are you calling for a change now? Isn't it all too little too late?
SHORTEN: I believe in recent days we've seen quite a series of informed statements expressing concern about the rights of a free press under these laws which have been passed through the Parliament. Labor, like the Government, doesn't resile from passing laws which improve our national security. Labor, through the parliamentary committee process, put belts and braces around the procedures to deal with the concerns of a free press and media and reporting matters, however, it's clear that upon passing the legislation and subsequent serious contributions from a range of people, that in fact maybe we need to have a second look at this. What Labor has done though, is we have written to the Prime Minister in the spirit of bipartisanship. What we've said is it's a mechanism which exists in the Act that's been passed, in the bill that's been passed, which allows the independent security monitor to review the operation of this section. We believe to allay community concern, as expressed by people in the media, importantly, that why not bring forward the review of the independent security monitor so we can see if the concerns are valid or if in fact perhaps they're not as dire as the predictions as has been said. But either way, there's a mechanism in the legislation to do a review. If there's legitimate community concern since the passing of the bill, I think it is wise to maintain the spirit of community support for national security by bringing in the independent security monitor just to reassure people about what is or should be happening.
JOURNALIST: Is that an admission then that Labor made a mistake and what do you think of George Brandis getting involved as a safeguard in terms of these issues?
SHORTEN: I think it is always wise of people to listen to the community. Politics is not just a photo of a particular moment and everything stops there. There have been considered contributions so there may have been unintended or unforeseen consequences. Labor supports the legislation but we said to the Prime Minister it's important that we bring the community with us on matters of national security. A free press has a very important role in our society, therefore, it would be sensible to have the independent security monitor do what they were going to do but do it earlier. In terms of Attorney-General's remarkable statements this morning, on one hand I think we had the Foreign Minister say, "Nothing to see here, everyone should move along," then we have George Brandis offering to put on his superman cape and be the as the last sentinel on the wall after the public prosecutor might have made the wrong call. I tell you one thing, I'm not excited about having George Brandis deciding the fate of freedom of speech in this country.
JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop said you're playing politics on this issue, is that helpful when it comes to this bipartisanship?
SHORTEN: I don't know why Julie Bishop saying that. The independent security review is in the legislation. If there's legitimate concern in the community, why don't you listen to it? This is a Government who perhaps doesn't like to take advice. They are entitled to their opinions. Our record of promoting national security is equal to that of the Government's but I think you'd have to live on another planet not to have noticed increasing concerns about the issue of press freedom. I think it is arrogant not to take stock, to reflect, if there is a mechanism in the bill to review this matter, why don't we bring it on and resolve the matter. What we can't afford to have is being distracted from the important function of national security and if there are legitimate concerns and debates in the community, I think you are well advised to listen to the community.
JOURNALIST: Maybe they do live on another planet but weren't those concerns, debates and fears being expressed before you voted in favour of the legislation?
SHORTEN: As you would be aware, Labor did make amendments to put belts and braces around this provision. Clearly, though, that hasn't satisfied everyone and now there is a mechanism which is in the bill and we should use that mechanism.
JOURNALIST: In your letter you also said you had concerns prior to the legislation passing and now you're saying you have concerns again. Surely you should have worked that out before passing that?
SHORTEN: I again refer to my previous two answers. Labor did propose an amendment to put belts and braces around this provision. The record reflects that. Having said that, what is also important here is there has been even louder concerns expressed now and I think the record also reflects that. Labor is responding to the concerns about free press and I think that what we are doing is a sensible proposition. We're not undermining national security by saying there's legitimate concerns. What we're doing is drawing to the attention of the Prime Minister a provision in the Act which I believe provides a circuit breaker to deal with the concerns which have been expressed by many of your colleagues.
JOURNALIST: What is your take on the introduction of the metadata bill today?
SHORTEN: It's been introduced. Up until today we hadn't seen the bill. We'll have to consider it carefully.
JOURNALIST: You haven't had a briefing?
SHORTEN: Not up until this morning, no.
JOURNALIST: Do you have concerns about what it means for privacy?
SHORTEN: We believe fundamentally in the promotion of national security. The security agencies say that they need metadata retained for two years. We balance against that the legitimate concerns for privacy. The good thing is that we have a parliamentary process and parliamentary committees which will review these matters. We'll hear the evidence and calmly and rationally, we'll make sure we get the balance right.
JOURNALIST: How is Nova Peris holding up?
SHORTEN: I have spoken to her. A difficult day yesterday but, again, I would just refer you to what I said yesterday. The Labor Party supports her, it's a deeply personal matter which pre-dates coming into parliament and there's nothing further that I can add.
JOURNALIST: Do you think she should speak publicly about it and get it over and done with?
SHORTEN: Again, I'd refer you to what I just said before; it's deeply personal matter which pre-dates her involvement in politics. The Labor Party and I have confidence in Nova Peris. She's a distinguished Australian with a remarkable record of achievement, both in her sporting endeavours but also in her support for the rights and potential and future for Indigenous Australians.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it's grubby story? Should it never have seen the light of day?
SHORTEN: I think Australians can work that out for themselves.
JOURNALIST: Going back to the Government's action plan, do you think Clive Palmer needs to be reined in?
SHORTEN: Well, Clive Palmer and Greg Hunt are best friends, best buddies, they're on their road trip to do nothing about climate change. My concern is that Prime Minister Palmer's pulling the strings of the Abbott Government. On one hand the Abbott Government spends every day rubbishing Clive Palmer but when Clive Palmer stands up the Abbott Government says "where are we going?"
JOURNALIST: Clive Palmer said he won't support the education reforms . Are You worried he'll change his mind on that too?
SHORTEN: I'm worried the education reforms get through and damage the future of hundreds of thousands of students. We had a remarkable, delusional spectacle yesterday where Minister Pyne says he has an avalanche of support. The only avalanche coming is the avalanche towards him in outrage about doubling and tripling the cost of going to universities, by americanising our universities, by creating a two-class Australia. Christopher Pyne says people who haven't been to university resent paying for people who have. Christopher Pyne is wrong, wrong, wrong. There's not a parent or grandparent in Australia who isn't pleased if their child or grandchild gets the opportunity to get a further and better education.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of a new video showing a Muslim youth group in Sydney expressing extremist views?
SHORTEN: I haven't seen the video although I've seen reports about it. I think it's disturbing if 6 year-olds are being exposed to extremist rubbish. It's wrong.
JOURNALIST: What do you think about the reported death of Baryalei in Syria? Do you think that's good news?
SHORTEN: People, Australians I would urge them do not go and get involved in this conflict. There is no good that can come of it. I say to anyone who thinks that there is any sort of twisted definition of faith or adventure, Islamic State and other terrorist groups are bad and it will all end in tears and I just strongly encourage; Australians do not get involved, there is nothing good to do there.
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