Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Darwin





SUBJECT/S: Welcoming home the troops


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s an absolute privilege to be here today to help be part of the welcome home for 250 of Australia’s finest from Afghanistan. To see the faces of families who have had to be away from their loved ones, knowing that the people they love, their husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, or sons and daughters, are putting themselves in harm’s way so that Australia can be a safer and better place. It is a great day today it’s a real  privilege to be part of the welcome home.


Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST:  Are you glad you changed your mind about coming?

SHORTEN:  I think my decision to come here is the right decision because it’s a real privilege to see so many of Australia’s marvelous military forces coming home. It’s really important I think when people have been in a conflict zone, our soldiers, our sailors our air-men who have been in a conflict zone, that they realise that the whole Parliament, and indeed Australia generally, supports their efforts and recognises their efforts. I think it’s also important their families realise how much other Australians appreciate the sacrifices they make.

JOURNALIST: But you weren’t going to come originally and that was read as a snub to the troops?

SHORTEN: I believe that me coming here today shows that the  Parliament as a whole does support our troops, and anyone who has been here knows that it is a privilege to welcome home some of Australia’s finest citizens who have been serving Australia in a war zone, dealing on a daily basis with the uncertainty what comes next. Australia’s troops are amongst the most professional in the world, they’ve done us proud, and it’s appropriate I believe that both sides of politics are here to just say, well done and your contribution is an important part of what makes Australia the best country in the world.

JOURNALIST: Well then why were you going to send a Parliamentary Secretary and why did you reject David Morrison’s invitation in January to come and be a part of this welcome home parade?

SHORTEN: I think my presence here shows that both sides of politics recognise that we can leave no doubt about the importance of the work that we are doing. Our presence here, be it the Prime Minister’s or my own, shows that whatever else we may argue about in the day to day of Australian political life, when it comes to our soldiers, when it comes to recognising their sacrifice and professionalism, the quality of their efforts in Afghanistan, there is no daylight between the political parties.

JOURNALIST: Did the friction of this week, where your defence spokesperson made some comments about Operation Sovereign Borders and the Commander there, did that affect your decision to come here today?

SHORTEN: I believe it was important that there could be no ambiguity, no debate, no doubt, that the national Parliament supports our troops. We've seen in a previous conflict the very difficult time, the Vietnam War, when Australians returned home. There was debate and rancour and division. It is incredibly important that we let our troops, who have been in this most recent of difficult conflicts, recognise there is complete support.

It's been a privilege for me to be here today and I'm really pleased that I had the opportunity to be here today.

JOURNALIST: So the original decision not to come, was that just a brain fade?

SHORTEN: I can't make it any clearer than I have. It's a privilege to be here. It is a privilege to see our Australian troops, to be part of the ceremony, and when they you talk to the families here, they appreciate both sides of politics supporting their loved ones’ efforts. And I think today is a day where the Australian armed forces can get some well-deserved thank you from a grateful nation.

JOURNALIST: How annoyed were you personally with Senator Conroy's comments regarding General Campbell?

SHORTEN: I have made it clear since becoming Leader of the Opposition that I think that the Australian military do a fine job. I do think there are questions to answer by the Government of the day in terms of its addiction to secrecy on Operation Sovereign Borders. But for me, the Australian military do their job professionally, in tough circumstances. I wish the Government of the day would be more transparent, but I recognise that our Australian military, from General to Private and every rank in between, does their job well, and they and their families should understand this is the view the Labor Party has along with the Government of the day.

JOURNALIST: Do you acknowledge that Senator Conroy's comments this week have put yourself and these decisions in a political context that maybe they should have been taken out of, or maybe they weren't to be taken into, and makes these decisions look like they've been done on the run?

SHORTEN: My view is that people who put on the Australian uniform shouldn’t be political footballs, that in fact we ask a lot of our troops and we ask a lot of their families. That's why I'm pleased that I'm here today.

JOURNALIST: I've come in late, but can you clarify when you decided to make the trip up here to Darwin?

SHORTEN: In the last couple of days I formed the view that in fact the Australian military, who are returning from Afghanistan, should see the highest level of commitment from both sides of politics. It is a good thing in Australia that both sides of politics recognise that our soldiers are amongst the best in the world. The mission they've done in Afghanistan has been incredibly difficult, but there is no doubt in my mind, as I don't think there should be any doubt in the minds of any Australians, that because of the efforts of the Australian military and the sacrifices they've made, and their families, that Afghanistan is a better place now than it was before Australian troops put their boots on the ground there.

JOURNALIST: So did you always plan to catch the last plane to Darwin?

SHORTEN: I am really pleased to be here today and I don't think anything can take away from the importance of welcoming our troops home and I think it's been a magnificent matter and we've seen remarkable Australians who are professional in every sense of the word, getting the recognition they deserve. And for me to be here, I realise is a distinct privilege and it’s one I'm grateful for.

JOURNALIST: Realistically, can Senator Conroy ever be Defence Minister in a future Labor Government?

SHORTEN: Oh Mark, first of all let's deal with the issues. The issues are, we support the Australian military, we don't like them being used as political footballs, we do think that the Government of the day does have some explaining to do over what's been going on in terms of Operation Sovereign Borders. But as you heard, because you were there, I don't think I could have made it any clearer about my and Labor's support for the Australian military. Thanks guys.