THURSDAY, 19 FEBRUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Cost of living; GST of fresh food; Biosecurity; David Hicks; Census; Bali Nine; Metadata.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s great to be in Big Sam’s Market in St Albans in Melbourne’s western suburbs. This is a great example of small businesses supplying high quality, low cost food and vegetables to the local population here. But, of course, as I walk around and talk to the stall holders and small business people and as I talk to pensioners and other customers here, they are greatly concerned that the Liberal Government in Canberra said one thing before the election and has done something since. It is really true when it comes to cost of living. There’s real concern that there’s a discussion about a possible GST either being increased or going on to fresh food. Some of the stallholders have said to me that fresh food’s what’s going to make the young people have better diets, it’s going to be better for people's health and yet at the same time the Government’s contemplating putting a new GST on fresh food. The pensioners in St Albans and the pensioners around Australia cannot afford a Liberal Government. This Liberal Government’s out of touch, they’re all feeling the pressure already. The cut in the rate of increase of the pension, new taxes to go and see the doctor, there’s been cuts to family payments of up to $6,000. This is really hard and of course, a lot of the people here are grandparents of kids that want to go to university and they are also concerned about their grandchildren having to pay for $100,000 degrees. The Liberal Government in Canberra is out of touch. Cost of living’s a real issue and Labor will fight to keep downward pressure on cost of living.
Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Isn't it true if there was any increase in GST, that would be offset with support for pensioners and those on low incomes?
SHORTEN: Well the Government, if it has a secret plan to help pensioners, it’d be the best kept secret in Australia. In the last Budget the Government made it clear that they were going to save hundreds of millions of dollars from the pension. They were going to decrease the rate of the increase of the pension which is effectively a real cut in the value of the pension from year to year. So no, people don't trust the Liberal Government in Canberra and it doesn't matter who’s in charge, Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop or Tony Abbott, they all voted for the same unfair Budget, which is slugging pensioners.
JOURNALIST: Would you support an increase in the GST under any circumstances?
SHORTEN: No, I don't believe that the case has been made at all for increasing the GST on fresh food and vegetables, for health products, for school fees. This Government should be smarter than slugging the households of ordinary people to pay for the Budget of the Government. If Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop can't manage the national Budget without harming household budgets, well then they’re out of touch with ordinary Australians.
JOURNALIST: So what alternative do you offer to balance the Budget then if increasing taxes and increasing costs is not one of them?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, let's be very, very, very clear. I've walked around here, you’ve been with me, no-one here wants an increase in the GST. For a lot of Australians, what they spend on food and the other essentials takes up a fair bit of their existing income. So when you propose increasing the tax that they pay, that just means that they’re going backwards and people don't want a bar of it. I do believe –
JOURNALIST: Yeah, but what alternative would you offer?
SHORTEN: I'm coming to that, but I'm just really establishing that a GST on fresh food or other items, health products or school fees is a complete disaster. In terms it of other alternatives, we made it clear and we successfully campaigned against the Government's paid parental leave scheme, which is the wrong priority, which is going to cost billions of dollars. Thankfully Labor won and the Liberals have now retreated on that silly policy. What we would also do is have a look at the multinational tax regime in Australia. I think it's a national disgrace that some large companies in Australia are paying little to no tax and ordinary people are paying a significant proportion of their income in tax. That isn't fair and I think the principle of taxation should be that everyone pays their fair share. Labor’s also voted for $20 billion plus worth of changes and savings that the Federal Government have put forward. Our problem is that Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop, the only idea they have for Australia is to make people on lower incomes do the heavy lifting.
JOURNALIST: Lots of fresh berries here, Australian grown, do you support stricter labelling laws after what’s happened on food safety this week?
SHORTEN: Well I think it is alarming and really confidence-sapping that somehow berries which have hepatitis have come into Australia. I think the Government needs to give a full accounting of how this happened. They like to talk about border security but now what are they doing to make sure that the food that comes in here is healthy and isn’t making Australians sick. What we have proposed, is that a series of changes in the past, the Government’s dragged its feet and now they’re not even going to have an Inspector-General of Biosecurity. So I think the Federal Government needs to do a lot more to make sure that the food we eat is safe and it’s really I think has rocked the confidence of a lot of Australians in a way that some of the other issues out of Canberra haven't come close to in touching people's lives. I also think when it comes to fresh food in Australia, we should be encouraging people to buy Australian grown and have more Australian made and Australian labelling campaigns. To that end though, again, why doesn't the Federal Government just say that the Liberals will never introduce a tax on fresh food? Why should Australian berries have to face this prospect of being taxed more? This is a Government that’s hopelessly out of touch with the real world.
JOURNALIST: Charges against David Hicks have been dismissed overnight. Is it time for Australia's Government to apologise for the way that he was treated?
SHORTEN: There is no doubt that on one hand David Hicks was probably, was foolish to get caught up in that Afghanistan conflict but clearly there has been an injustice done to him. The American courts have finally established that. I do think there is an issue here for the Australian Government. We can't control what American military courts do, but I do think that the Australian Government needs to examine, did they really do all they could of to ensure injustice didn't occur and bring David Hicks back to Australia? So yes I do believe that there has been injustice done and I think it's a salutary lesson that whilst we want to absolutely maintain the security of this nation, we must always be really careful to make sure that injustice is not done to individuals.
JOURNALIST: There have been reports that the Government might be considering dumping the national census to save money. What are your thoughts on this?
SHORTEN: Well on one level that would be a shame because I think the Australian census is an Australian ritual, where wherever you are once every five years, you help measure what this country is and it allows to see where we have come from and where we are going. I think what the Government really needs to do though here is to explain the benefits of any proposed changes. I think there are problems with the way the census covers facts and an up-to-date basis, every five years as opposed to annual measures. I do think important issues like homelessness can get overlooked in the census, but deep down I can't help wondering why is this Government's first response to every situation just to cut and cut and cut. Why is it that when it comes to researching facts and providing more information for the Australian people, they want to cut the fact gathering body which can tell Australians important information about ourselves.
JOURNALIST: But it’s possible, it could be done more efficiently, isn’t it?
SHORTEN: I'm sure things can always be done more efficiently, but why is it that the Government's knee jerk reaction to everything is to cut? Whenever they see and issue, they go cut, whenever they see facts they want to reduce the number of facts going to Australians. That doesn't mean the census is done perfectly correctly, that doesn't mean that we can't look at changes, but I am just deeply sceptical of this Government. Whenever there is a series of new facts that come out, they want to cut. Whenever there is a change to be made, they just want to cut.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned Australia is on a collision course with Indonesia over the fate of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan after the Prime Minister's comments yesterday?
SHORTEN: Listen, on this dreadful issue about the possible execution of two young men, again I wish to state Labor's principle position; we do not believe in the death penalty anywhere at any time. The death penalty will not discourage the kingpins, it will not, I think, aid justice in any measure at all. These two young men have clearly seen the error of their ways. By all accounts the work they have done in the Bali prison is remarkable. They have rehabilitated. Indonesian people are a very generous group of people and I believe that mercy is what is required in this situation. I'm not saying that the Indonesian people should forgive what has happened. I'm not saying these two young men should be set free. I just don't believe that anything will be added to by the execution of these young men. When it comes to Tony Abbott's comments, this issue has got to be above politics. I'm not going to start picking flaws in what I think Mr Abbott should or shouldn't do. I believe that the Government officials have been working hard. There is one thing that matters, not about what happens after a possible execution, the only thing that matters is that in whatever time that possibly remains, that we speak with one voice, that we don't lecture Indonesia, we just explain that we have a view that mercy is what is required here.
JOURNALIST: Was it appropriate, though, for the Prime Minister to reference tsunami aid and link it to the fate of these men?
SHORTEN: I don't believe any Australian, when they saw the images of 250,000 people being drowned in a tsunami at that time thought anything other than we should help in what is the greatest natural disaster in living memory. So I don't see that Australians believe that the tsunami aid was conditional about an event 12 years after we provided the aid. But what I also understand is that now is not a time for politics between the Liberals and myself. Labor absolutely believes the death penalty in any circumstances is wrong. The death penalty demeans us all as human beings and now is certainly not the time for me to start being critical of Tony Abbott on this matter. Last question.
JOURNALIST: Just one on metadata. The cost of the scheme apparently is going to be around $400 million annually. How much of that should the Government contribute and how much should come from private enterprise?
SHORTEN: Well the Labor Party has had a win. We have flushed out how much the money is going to cost. The Government didn't seem to want to reveal this information, they didn't want to reveal the facts to the Australian people. I think the Government will need to explain how it gets paid for. It's a big amount of money. On the other hand, the price of national security is incalculable. But I do think we will have to have an intelligent, cogent, sensible discussion about how it gets paid for, rather than rushing it through and not thinking about the consequences until after the event. It is a big cost. That does not mean it shouldn't be paid but the Government needs to calmly, sensibly, without any shouting or shrieking work these issues through with the Parliament and people of Australia.
JOURNALIST: So is it reasonable that that would be split between Government and private business?
SHORTEN: Well I don't know how it gets paid for in terms of the metadata yet. I think the Government need to work, sit down with the telecommunications industry. We in Labor fundamentally believe in fighting terror. We are as dedicated to national security as the Liberal Party, but what I also recognise is that if we rush these matters we may well be creating unforeseen consequences and problems. Let's all work on this together, we, Australia is smart enough to work out the answers to the questions, but you do that though negotiations not through yelling at each other. Thanks everyone, have a lovely day.
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