Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Melbourne - Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget and its effects on Indigenous Australians;






SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget and its effects on Indigenous Australians; Constitutional Recognition; Australia’s terror alert level; Asylum seekers; MH17; Tony Abbott’s broken promise on submarines; David Leyonhjelm; Childcare.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Firstly, I’d like to pay my respects to the Kulin nation and the Wurundjeri people on whose land we’re meeting here today.

Accompanying me is Labor's Senator Nova Peris. Also, we have the mayor of Whittlesea council, Cr Mary Lalios both of them will make some comments when I finish. This centre is one of 38 centres which helps promote the best start in the early years for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. This centre, with its marvellous children and families, its remarkable and dedicated staff, faces an uncertain future as the axe of Tony Abbott's cuts hangs over their heads. Tony Abbott promised Indigenous Australians that we would be the Prime Minister for Indigenous Australians. Yet all he has done since getting elected is break his promise to Indigenous Australians. The Government promised there'd be no cuts to front-line services. There can be nothing more front-line than helping little children get the best start in life, yet we're seeing over $500 million being cut from successful Indigenous programs such as the ones we see here.

Tony Abbott is due to visit Arnhem Land next week. Whilst he's there, the Yolngu people of North East Arnhem Land will open their hearts to Tony Abbott. Tony Abbott, however, has closed his heart to Indigenous Australians by his significant cuts. If Tony Abbott wants to help close the gap, it is not enough simply to visit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. He needs to renew his commitment by reversing his unfair cuts and broken promises and lies to Indigenous Australians. What I’d like to do now is to ask my colleague Senator Nova Peris to say some words and then the Mayor of Whittlesea.

SENATOR NOVA PERIS: Thank you, Bill. If I could just also pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land we stand on today. My time just coming up 12 months as a Senator for the Australian Labor Party, of which I'm very proud. I also stood probably this time last year with Tony Abbott, where he announced and professed his claim to be the Prime Minister for Aboriginal Australians. All we have seen is the hurt that he's imposed on Aboriginal Australians by the significant amount of cuts that he has made to frontline services right across this country. As Bill has said, Tony Abbott will be visiting East Arnhem Land next week and the Yolngu people are opening up their countries and their hearts to Tony Abbott and he has closed his heart on Aboriginal Australians. This is not good enough when you talk about a Prime Minister who professes to be the Prime Minister for Aboriginal Australians. All he's done is shut down services like child care services, health and education, which are imperative to closing the gap and we can't afford to have this Prime Minister say one thing and do the exact opposite.

CR MARY LALIOS, MAYOR OF WHITTLESEA COUNCIL: Thank you. I'm Mary Lalios, the Mayor of the City of Whittlesea and it's great to have Bill and Nova with us today. I'd also like to pay my respects to the Wurundjeri clan and Bubup Wilam centre here in the city of Whittlesea is one of two centres in Victoria. It's an absolute wonderful centre. The outcomes that are achieved by our teachers here, especially Lisa Thorpe, who's the CEO, and the teachers who are here do a wonderful job with our community for a relatively small investment here in the centre, because funding has been cut, it was cut - it finished on 30 June this year. For a relatively small investment of half a million dollars, Tony Abbott really needs to put his money where his mouth is and where he actually has made some commitments to the Aboriginal people, he really needs to put his money where his mouth is, and give this centre the chance that it needs and the funding that it needs so that the outcomes for our wonderful young children here in the City of Whittlesea. Thank you very much for all of you being here.

SHORTEN: Thanks, Mary. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: If I could start with Indigenous issues. What do you and Senator Peris make of Noel Pearson's comments in his Quarterly Essay and do you agree there needs to be a halfway move here and perhaps the anti-discrimination clause which was proposed should be scrapped?

SHORTEN: I will certainly ask my colleague Nova Peris who is Deputy Chair of the parliamentary committee working on this matter of constitutional recognition to add her knowledge to this matter. Let me say at the outset: Labor understands the important overdue step of constitutional recognition for our first Australians. We believe that whatever changes are proposed, need to do so on a bipartisan basis. If Tony Abbott doesn't want to go very far, he’ll have the ability to make sure that doesn't happen, because for a referendum to succeed, it has to be bipartisan. So bipartisanship is important; constitutional recognition is long overdue. What is also important is that Aboriginal Australians feel that the changes are worth making and they're fair dinkum. It is really hard for Aboriginal Australians to take the Abbott Government seriously when the Abbott Government is cutting programs which are effectively empowering Aboriginal communities as we speak. Aboriginal Australians and indeed all Australians, have reason to doubt the word of Tony Abbott when the actions of Tony Abbott contradict his professed ambitions.

In terms of Noel Pearson's contribution today - I respect Noel Pearson. He's one of the leaders of the debates about improving the lives of Aboriginal Australians, in particular, most recently, through empowered communities. We'll take on board very carefully what he has to say as I do with other Aboriginal leaders. What is also important is that the expert panel has said that there should be change and the change should be meaningful. I take that very seriously as well. What we need to do is keep having the discussion. I welcome Noel Pearson's contribution and again, Labor pledges itself to the task of the constitutional recognition of our first Australians and we know that for this to succeed it has to be bipartisan and we'll seek to have this debate and achieve bipartisanship in coming weeks and months. I might ask Nova to add further because she has been working on this question specifically.

PERIS: Thank you. What I will say is that there has been a lot of commentary in the media of late, but what we need to understand is there is a process. As the Deputy Chair of the Committee for Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution, we've only been out on the road for the past two or three months to actually take to the Australian public what was detailed in the interim report. So what was very loud and clear in the interim report was the expert panel's recommendation and that's what need to do. We need to go out to the wider and broader community to have these robust discussions, not via a number of individuals who have their views through the media. What I will say is it is a difficult conversation to have whilst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people frontline services and you know things like health and education are being affected by Tony Abbott's budget. So it is a difficult conversation. But you know, if we are to have change, the constitution belongs to the Australian people and we can't be drawn to one small group of Australians which are the conservative group. Australia is broader than that. We can't be dismissive of all Australians' views.

JOURNALIST: Noel Pearson was on that panel. Do you think if he is saying that changes need to be made to go halfway towards the conservatives, it should?

PERIS: Noel Pearson was one of 22 people on an expert panel and what we should do is go and ask the views of the other 21 people about what Noel Pearson's views are about.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on another issue, can I ask you if you have been briefed by security agencies about changing the terror alert level and do you think it is warranted?

SHORTEN: The outgoing Director-General of ASIO has made some comments in the last 24 hours that the threat level concerning terror may be increased. We haven't had any updates in recent days about this matter and the Opposition, at my request, has been briefed by the Government. David Irvine is a distinguished Australian. Let me put on record our gratitude for the work he’s done in his time as head of ASIO. These are comments that he’s made. I’ll wait until the Government formally briefs us if there is a specific proposition to increase the threat levels. But let me just underscore this: I accept that the work of our security agencies is fundamental to our national security. The conflict in Northern Iraq and Syria, where you see young Australians for misguided reasons going to join that conflict and then the potential for them coming back here and causing harm, I accept that is a real issue. So Labor will continue to work with the Government. First amongst our issues that this nation has to deal with is always national security along with other important issues, so we're going to keep the politics out of it, we’ll wait until the Government updates us and again I express my confidence in our security agencies for protecting Australians.


JOURNALIST: Do you believe there’s a heightened terror threat in Australia at the moment?

SHORTEN: Sorry I missed - .

JOURNALIST: Do you believe there’s a heightened terror threat in Australia at present?


SHORTEN: I think it's important on one hand not to be complacent but on the other hand not to scare people unnecessarily: I’ll wait until our security agencies form a view about the need to change our threat levels before commenting.


JOURNALIST: We understand Scott Morrison is going to give a speech about asylum seeker policy claiming victory over that debate. Do you think that Labor should take credit for that or do you feel that victory hasn't been won?


SHORTEN: Well there's no doubt that the measures that Labor set in place for the regional resettlement agreement with Papua New Guinea are instrumental in defeating the people smugglers' business model. We also are concerned though reports that Scott Morrison's proposing to water down protections against the abuse of 457 visas. Unemployment is now at a 12-year high in Australia. Our unemployment national average is approaching United States levels of unemployment. I think the government needs to carefully consider whether or not it wants to make it easier to bring in 457 visa holders at a time when Australians can't find jobs. So I hope that he addresses these remarks and clears that up today as well.


JOURNALIST: Julia Gillard's due to give evidence to the Royal Commission. Do you think that's going to drag up some issues that Labor would prefer to keep buried?


SHORTEN: Well, I've said since the Tony Abbott's trade union, or Royal Commission into Trade Unions started that I wouldn't provide running commentary in terms of evidence and the agendas people have. What I do know though is that Julia Gillard has constantly and repeatedly denied the allegations made against her of wrongdoing.


JOURNALIST: The revelations so far aired at the Commission justify the cost of having it [inaudible]?


SHORTEN: I’ll leave people to judge this at the end of the Royal Commission process. I shan't be making a running commentary on the Tony Abbott Royal Commission into Trade Unions.


JOURNALIST: Do you welcome the report by Dutch investigators into flight MH17?


SHORTEN: I think the Dutch investigators have done a remarkable job. As always, when I think about MH17, I think about 38 people who were citizens or residents in Australia who lost their lives in the blink of an eye. I've had the privilege of meeting the families of people who were lost in that disaster. Anything which helps families get some measure of rebuilding or reconciliation or just help in dealing with their grief is welcomed. So I am grateful for the work of the Dutch investigators to try and put some more facts on what was an act of evil.


JOURNALIST: Yesterday you said purchasing submarines from Japan would be outsourcing national security. Does that standard apply to the purchase of joint strike fighters?


SHORTEN: There's no doubt in my mind that the Abbott Government, before the last election, made it very clear that they would build the submarines in Australia. I think the Abbott Government hopes that there's such a low opinion of politicians, such a cynical view of what politicians say and what his Government says, that he can just get away with a big lie. Before the election, he enlisted the votes of South Australians and people who are committed to jobs in Australia, on the basis of saying unequivocally, unequivocally that there would be, the submarines, these 12 submarines worth billions of dollars, a program which will go for 40 years, 40 years, that these jobs would be in Australia, that the submarines would be built in Australia. He clearly lied about it. I think he is counting on the debased currency of the Abbott Government in terms of they break so many promises, that people will just say well it's Tony Abbott, it's another promise broken, who really cares? It's just what they do at the Liberal Government office these days. So I am determined to keep fighting for jobs in Australia. I'm determined that this Government should be held to account for keeping its promises. So yes, I am concerned that we are offshoring, outsourcing our national security. I am concerned that the largest employer of apprentices in South Australia will lose its economic viability over the medium-term. I am really concerned we lose skills , we lose intellectual property. It is not right in uncertain times for this Government to be making such crucial decisions in the manner in which they're doing so dishonestly.


JOURNALIST: David Leyonhjelm has employed Helen Demidenko, I think Helen Dale is her name now, as an adviser. Do you think she’s the right person to advising one of our key I guess independent senators?


SHORTEN: Who a crossbench Senator employs is up to them. Thanks everyone.


JOURNALIST: Sorry just lastly, bringing back here, why didn't the Rudd-Gillard Government provide operations funding for centres such as these when they were in Government?


SHORTEN: The Labor Government - and thanks for making this point - the Labor Government significantly expanded what we do in terms of childcare funding. We've worked Federally and State and with the Council of Whittlesea to create operations like this. Labor has an excellent record. What we are concerned about, and I think your question recognises this, is this is special and none of the visiting media here I'm sure could fail to be impressed at the opportunities here for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to connect with their culture. What is special about this centre is it doesn't just stop when the kids finish kindergarten. Like many parents, it's a big step when your child moves from kindy to prep and of course some of the challenges here are even greater in terms of getting families ready and the children ready and making sure that it's done in a culturally sensitive manner. That’s what's special about this centre and why the Abbott Government is putting this in jeopardy I do not know. I do not understand how the Abbott Government thinks when they makes cuts like this is that this centre helps work with the children up to the age of 8. So they make sure there is a seamless transition from the early years of learning in to school. So I again place on record my thanks for the work of the council, the work of the staff, the work of the parents and it’s a real privilege to be here this morning with these children.

I hope all of you have a lovely day. Thank you.