SUNDAY, 19 JULY 2015
Subject/s: Bronwyn Bishop; China Free Trade Agreement; Reclaim Australia rallies
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone. This has now become a test of Tony Abbott’s leadership. Does Mr Abbott have the character to tell Bronwyn Bishop to stand aside? Because he knows and the world knows that this arrogant misuse of taxpayer funds needs to be held to account. And furthermore, this arrogant misuse of funds without so much as an apology everyday it goes on is simply making Bronwyn Bishop’s position untenable. It has now become a test of Tony Abbott’s leadership.
Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten do you think long term politicians can lose track of reality? I mean, Mr and Mrs Suburbia at home, on what planet would they consider this acceptable?
SHORTEN: I’ve lived in Melbourne pretty much my whole life, it would never enter my mind to catch a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong. Bronwyn Bishop apparently drove in from the airport into the Melbourne CBD to get a helicopter to go to Geelong; it’s out of touch. But furthermore, this is out of touch because its taxpayer funds of some thousands of dollars to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser. But the real issue today is that everyone knows that Bronwyn Bishop was Mr Abbott’s captains pick to be the Speaker. So he hasn’t yet apologised for her conduct, she hasn’t apologised for her conduct and in fact Mr Abbott hasn’t apologised for making Bronwyn Bishop Speaker and this is now a test for Tony Abbott’s leadership.
JOURNALIST: Are MPs allowed to claim travel allowance to travel to political fundraisers?
SHORTEN: In terms of this event with the helicopter and flying down to Geelong, no we don’t believe it was an appropriate use of taxpayer funds.
JOURNALIST: Have you ever used your travel allowance to go to a Labor Party fundraiser?
SHORTEN: I don’t believe so and I certainly know that I haven’t caught a helicopter to go to a fundraiser. In fact I haven’t caught a helicopter between Melbourne and Geelong in any set of circumstances.
JOURNALIST: Should Mrs Bishop stand down while the finance department investigates?
SHORTEN: Well I actually think Tony Abbott has to ask Mrs Bishop to stand aside. This is now a test of his leadership. Does Tony Abbott have the strength of character to do what everyone thinks should happen and ask Mrs Bishop to stand aside? This is now the test for Tony Abbott. He can’t dismiss this as he apparently has as village gossip. It’s this sort of arrogance which turns Australians off politics. The idea that your somehow you’re so much better than everyone else, that you would catch a helicopter using taxpayer money to fly a very short distance to go to a Liberal Party fundraiser. You know, Mr Abbott’s Liberals are addicted to privilege.
JOURNALIST: Pat Conroy has written to the Australian Federal Police twice now asking them to investigate Bronwyn Bishop’s use of entitlements, is he going too far and trying to influence the investigation?
SHORTEN: Not at all, not at all. Mr Conroy was right to write to the AFP. Now, it’s up to the AFP how they respond. The sheer act of writing to the AFP to ask them to investigate matter’s which are of concern to the public in and of itself is an appropriate thing to do. We recognise that the AFP’s independent, they’ll make their own decisions about what they choose to investigate or not and that’s as it should be. We should never forget that when Mr Abbott and his team were in opposition they were constantly writing to the AFP on all sorts of matters. But let’s be very clear here, we believe the AFP’s an independent institution and it makes its own decisions.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that the fact that Mrs Bishop has paid back the money despite claiming it was within the guidelines is an indication that she knew she was trying it on and it was morally incorrect to charge those charges?
SHORTEN: Well I think that it’s been a number of days since this issue really blew-up and we’ve seen Mr Abbott and Mrs Bishop dragged kicking and screaming to explain themselves. We saw that remarkable press conference yesterday. There’s not a hint of apology in the ranks of the Liberal Party for the misuse of taxpayer funds. All along you keep hearing them say between the lines ‘we’ve done nothing wrong, we’re just paying the money to make the problem go away’. I think what’s shocking people is one, that you would misuse taxpayer funds in this way and be so out of touch. But two, there is no apology from Mrs Bishop, she just simply doesn’t seem to understand what all the fuss is about, about the misuse of taxpayer funds, the misuse of office to go and do a Liberal Party fundraiser. But now what has become very clear is this is now a test for Tony Abbott’s leadership. Which side is Tony Abbott on? Is he on the side of Mrs Bishop, Liberal Party fundraisers using taxpayer money to attend them? Or is he on the side of the Australian people who just know the difference between what should be the case and what this government is doing.
JOURNALIST: Treasurer Joe Hockey has come out saying that this whole saga is kind of a waste of oxygen now, should we be moving on to more important issues?
SHORTEN: I’m sure that the Liberal Party want to move on to other issues the real truth of the matter though is one, there’s been a misuse of taxpayer funds. Two, the Speaker, Mrs Bishop, very important office holder in the Australian Parliament, doesn’t seem to understand what she’s done wrong and three and most concerningly of all, Tony Abbott’s leadership here is not standing up on the side of the Australian people legitimately outraged of this abuse of funds. If the Liberal Party don’t understand what they’ve done wrong here, if they simply want people to move on, then they’re underestimating the character of the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten can I just ask quickly on another matter, yesterday we saw some very ugly scenes in Melbourne, some protests, similar protests around the country today. What are your thoughts on what you saw yesterday and what do you say to those people involved in these types of protests?
SHORTEN: I think that any display of violence, any violence is completely intolerable and unacceptable. I’m deeply concerned if we’re unleashing racism in our community and these scenes of violence are absolutely retrograde. I feel for ordinary people caught up in this, I feel for our police who’ve got to sort out these peoples urge to break the law. And I certainly don’t support these Reclaim Australia rallies and I think Mr Abbott needs to stand with the silent majority of Australians who watch the TV scenes and say what’s going on? Rather than be giving the green light for his MPs to be in there stirring up the problems.
JOURNALIST: Just getting back to the Bronwyn Bishop matter, do the travel entitlement rules need to be tightened to remove any grey areas?
SHORTEN: Labor is always up for reforming the system but in the meantime what we have here, so the answer is we are up for any change which is sensible, yes. But in the meantime we have an immediate problem. We’ve got a Speaker who doesn’t understand what she’s done wrong, we’ve got a Prime Minster who doesn’t want to correct his ally even though the vast bulk of Australians just look at this and say why on earth do you get a helicopter between Melbourne and Geelong? Why on earth do you use taxpayer money to go to a Liberal Party fundraiser? And why on earth won’t Mr Abbott pull Mrs Bishop into line and do the right thing as this crisis goes on every day and make her stand aside. Last question thank you.
JOURNALIST: Just another matter, will you be supporting WA Labor MPs in their push for a better GST deal for their state at the National Conference?
SHORTEN: I’m visiting Western Australia tomorrow, I’ll hear more about their ideas when I visit them tomorrow and the next day.
JOURNALIST: Could I ask about your attitude to the China Free Trade Agreement and your attitude to the apparent union campaign against it?
SHORTEN: Well the rise of Asia and the rise of China is one of the great stories for Australia’s future not just in the next decade but the next century. So Labor has always been keen to improve our trade ties with China. But what we won’t do is allow the labour standards and job security of Australians to be undermined by a weakening of the testing provisions in terms of guest worker provisions in this country. So we believe Australia is smart enough to improve our trade with China but also not sell out Australian jobs and the conditions of Australian workers.
Thanks everyone, see you soon.
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