THURSDAY, 24 JULY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Australian-American Leadership Dialogue ; MH17 investigation; Australian Federal Police; Budget; Marriage Equality.
JOURNALIST: Can you please tell me why you’re in New York and what you hope to accomplish while you’re here?
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I’m part of a bipartisan, business community dialogue with representatives of the political system in America today to talk about the importance of being a science and technology, engineering and mathematics-based nation. The nations which innovate and prioritise education are the nations who will do well in the 21st Century. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten there are about 50 Australian Federal Police now on standby in London to possibly go into the eastern Ukraine. Are you in support of this move? Are you worried at all about the volatility of the conflict zone there and whether they should have some armed support?
SHORTEN: The major priority for Australia right now is to identify the victims and to bring the bodies home. The Australian Federal Police contingent are part of a Dutch-led police contingent who are one, trying to identify all of the victims and thus provide grieving families and friends with the opportunity for some closure in this most awful, awful event. Also, we’ll be working with the Netherlands and an international police force to identify how this obscenity, this evil, evil act has come to be.
In terms of our Federal Police, they’re highly trained, amongst the world’s best. The Government is deeply conscience of ensuring that we don’t put our investigators and people involved in victim identification in harm’s way themselves. There is no doubt that eastern Ukraine and the Donetsk and Lugansk region where these separatists rebel terrorist actions have taken place is a very volatile and violent place. I think it reminds Australians that for our awareness of the world, there are parts of the world which are just totally different state of security and stability to our home land in Australia. I believe that the investigation will be done prioritising proper engagement with the Ukrainian Government and it will only move forward if we’re getting the full cooperation of the Russian Federation.
JOURNALIST: Yeah, but it’s these separatists who are the ones who are armed, who seem to be in control of the site. Would you be worried about the potential for escalation of tensions if there are a team of police including Australian Federal Police of that number?
SHORTEN: It is most important that we identify the victims, that we can bring their bodies home. It is most important that we have a full, transparent, international investigation. But of course it’s important also that our police personnel are able to carry out this work, working with the Netherlands and other nations in a safe and secure manner. I do not believe that the Australian Government would seek to put our police into harm’s way and I’m fully aware through personal discussions with the Prime Minister in the last few hours that making sure that the investigation is completed on one hand as a priority, but on the other making sure that our police personnel are indeed secure.
JOURNALIST: So Tony Abbott is giving you briefings while you’re here?
SHORTEN: I had the opportunity in the middle of the night, American time, to talk with the Prime Minister and also our Shadow Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Tanya Plibersek. This is a violent, volatile part of the region. It’s danger has reached out and snatched 300 people from the sky and now we have families all around the world who are grieving. The recovery of the bodies is crucial, the identification of victims in fundamental, that process we’ve already seen underway. We’ve got the very capable Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston on the ground and Labor has the upmost confidence in Angus Houston’s ability to try and do the job to the best of our national ability in what are terrible, awful circumstances.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you a couple of questions about your visit here, there has been some criticism of the Obama administration for not being engaged enough in the world when it comes to Iraq, Israel and Palestine, now the Eastern Ukraine, the East China Sea. Do you share that concern, or do you think the Obama administration is engaged enough?
SHORTEN: I’m optimistic about the role the United States cam play on the world stage in terms of improving political stability and security. I believe that there are many difficult and complex challenges all around the world, from arguments in the East China sea through to of course Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan. And now we’ve seen this tragedy occur is Eastern Ukraine. The United States is a close ally of Australia. I believe they are playing a constructive role working with Australia in this most recent dreadful tragedy in Eastern Ukraine, and I’m optimistic about the ongoing contribution the United States makes to help improve Australia’s security in the world.
JOURNALIST: And particularly on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal, from your talks you’ve had here and in Washington, how confident are you about this getting up, and getting through Congress in particular?
SHORTEN: Free trade is a very important part of Australia’s economic growth in the future, but of course with every trade agreement the devil is always in the detail. Labor remains and committed and interested to the principle of improving trade liberalisation between Australia and America and in our region. But we always must weigh up what the national interest is, including what role there is for our national courts being subsumed into an international disputes mechanism in terms of trade disagreements. I think there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge in trade negotiations, but I have no doubt that where trade increases, security and stability and growth flourishes.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about the comments of Martin Parkinson, the Treasury Secretary? He’s given a speech in London saying that advanced economies need to make savings in health, education, pensions, structural savings over the long term. Do you agree with that?
SHORTEN: I haven’t seen Mr Parkinson’s comments. What I know though is Australia relies upon a strong safety net. We have a national health scheme, Medicare, which is the envy of the world. People need to be very careful before we start trashing our health system. The current Budget clearly is an attack on the universal and fair access to our medical system. In terms of education, the smart nations will win the race to the future. Labor remains committed to prioritising education, not cutting education, not cutting schools, and certainly not undermining the future of the next generation of Australians.
JOURNALIST: And just one question, you’re scheduled to speak at the Australian Christian Lobby, what do you say to people who are criticising that?
SHORTEN: There are many Australians of Christian faith, and they have a legitimate role in Australian political debate. For myself though, I’ve been a strong supporter of marriage equality and I would also say that when people talk about AIDS, we need to adopt not a religious sort of condemnation view, but a supportive understanding view, and make sure we do everything we can to help people who suffer AIDS, not condemn them.
JOURNALIST: And one final question, what do you like to do while you’re in the States?
SHORTEN: So far it would appear that I seem to be working. What I love about American and New York is the sheer busyness. There is so much enterprise, what I like seeing on the pavements of New York is the multicultural nature of the United States. Coming to New York reminds me that immigrant nations are very, very dynamic nations, and a reminder that Australia with its immigrant background has got a lot to be proud of. Thanks everyone.
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