Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Parliament House - Abbott Government backdown on sacking 1,700 scientists and researchers; $100,000 degrees






SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government backdown on sacking 1,700 scientists and researchers; $100,000 degrees; National security; Metadata; East-West Link; Cyclone Pam.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everyone. I’ll have to be brief because Question Time is starting very soon, but we've just heard that the Abbott Government and Christopher Pyne have been forced into a humiliating backdown about their threats to cut science funding in Australia. What we saw is Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott take science funding in Australia hostage unless Senators agreed to vote for $100,000 university degrees. Now the Government's backed down on this crazy proposal, as they should have, and it should never have been made in the first place.


But what we know is that Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne only ever back down on their extreme agenda when they think their own jobs are under threat. What Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne now need to do, having had their tactic to take Australia's science funding and Australian scientists' job security hostage, is they should actually do the job properly, back down all the way and drop their proposals for $100,000 degrees. The nation cannot afford to have its research, science and higher education at the whim of these extreme ideologues.


Before I take questions, just one other matter I'd briefly like to touch upon, I wrote to the Prime Minister over the weekend on a matter of great importance to me and to the Labor Party. I refer to the question of press freedom. Labor will work as we have done on - with the Government on improving our national security. But we also want to make sure that we get the balance right. Over the weekend I reiterated to the Prime Minister again, my and Labor's concerns that we must maintain in our democracy freedom of the press, there must be a satisfactory mechanism to protect journalists' sources and not see that compromised in the broader suite of national security laws.


Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the splitting of the bill though doesn't it make it easier, hypothetically, for the Coalition to pass these changes?


SHORTEN: Christopher Pyne is shameless in his policy approaches. One day he's saying that they'll cut off scientific research, $150 million per annum, 1,700 scientists' jobs on the line, terrible view for the future, and then, you know, hours later he says is ‘we never really meant that and can we vote for the rest of our rotten legislation in’.  This Government is dysfunctional and chaotic. On one hand they want to try and coerce people into voting for unfair changes, $100,000 university degrees by the vehicle of taking funding to scientists hostage. When that blows up in their face they then want to pretend that never happened and just trust them on the other matters. This Government cannot be trusted with higher education or science in this country.


JOURNALIST: Given that the new metadata regime is being phased in over two years, would you consider insisting on changes regarding journalist sources before you pass the whole bill?


SHORTEN: I think you raise a very good point there Lenore. We’ve got a parliamentary, joint parliamentary committee into intelligence and security matters. We've demanded that the Government, that this committee, just investigate the arguments because Labor both on the committee and more generally hasn't been convinced by the protections that the Government's proposed so far. We are prepared, and I've said this to the Prime Minister directly, that if concerns about press freedom are not dealt with, then we would seek to move an amendment in the Senate.


JOURNALIST: But would you insist on an amendment?


SHORTEN: Well first of all, I think the Government needs to reconsider its approach. Obviously you don't want to do national security over megaphone diplomacy but again I reiterate to Prime Minister and the Government, this issue of press freedom is a fundamental issue in our country, the ability of media outlets to be able to protect their sources is fundamental to your ability to operate. I’m hopeful that the Government will see the sense of what we and many others are saying.


JOURNALIST: Would you consider insisting on the amendment?


SHORTEN: Well we would insist upon voting upon an amendment in the Senate, yes we would.


JOURNALIST: Do you have any indication as to what that amendment would entail? Are you looking at exemptions or warrants?


SHORTEN: Well they're the two models. One is just a blanket exemption, another option is setting a higher standard of proof to justify any measures which might be taken to investigate data including a warrant. But I  understand very clearly that it has to be a satisfactory safe guard to assure the media that they're able to do their job and talk to their sources without fear of retaliation. This is the test.


JOURNALIST: You're not sure which of those Labor prefers?


SHORTEN: We’ve got experts who will be giving evidence. We of course take very carefully the views of the media. One thing’s for sure, the Government currently doesn't have a proposal which provides any of us, you or me, with sufficient concern. Perhaps if I can take two more brief questions.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you support the building of the East-West Link in Melbourne?


SHORTEN: Historically I have supported improved road transport systems in Melbourne but what I also say to that question, and it should be covered in full, is you can't sort out Melbourne's road congestion unless you sort out our rail congestion. Unless you, I've lived in Melbourne all of my life, what I know is that unless you’ve got a good rail system giving people options, you're never going to get on top of car congestion.


JOURNALIST: So do you support the building of the East-West Link? You've written two submissions previously broadly supporting Sir Rod Eddington, do you now support the building of the East-West Link?


SHORTEN: No not in the current circumstances. I think the idea that the previous Liberal Government, who lost the election and East-West Link was one of the big issues, could sign away contracts which would see literally hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars given away without so much as a bucket of dirt being moved, you know, I think that was a rushed deal. I did say that I'd take two more questions.


JOURNALIST: Just one more question about Vanuatu, how much support would you like to see being given to that nation following the Cyclone Pam?


SHORTEN: Certainly a lot, that's the short answer. It seems like there’s dreadful damage done, we’ve got to get reports. I know that Tanya Plibersek has briefed me about what's happening from the Government response. She’s advised me that that there are warships heading towards there but that will take some days. I understand the Government has offered $5 million initially but as a big country in the South Pacific, Australia I think has an obligation to make sure that our smaller neighbours when they do it tough in times of terrible extreme weather events we should be not miserly in our response. Thanks everyone, see you in Question Time.