Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Sydney - Multiculturalism; National Security







SUBJECT/S: Multiculturalism; National Security; Troop farewell in Brisbane; Constitutional Recognition; Scotland; Renewable Energy Target; Abbott Government’s Big Fail.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I have just finished a couple of hours of meetings with some of the top leaders of Australia’s Muslim community, the Australian National Imams Council. I was there to listen to the concerns that ordinary Muslim Australians feel about the current national security debate and the intervention in Iraq. I have no doubt that Australia’s Muslim leaders are 100 percent committed to the safety and security of Australia. But it is also important as we deal with these challenging times of national security that we stand strongly for multiculturalism and tolerance and diversity. Australian Muslims, like all other Australians, love their country, and they do deserve also to be treated with respect in these complex international times.

Happy to take questions, thanks.

JOURNALIST: What did you make of Dr Rifi and Mr Elomar’s barbecue at Lakemba on the weekend? Was it once again shows signs that they wants to be part of Australian culture?

SHORTEN: I think that the seriousness which I saw today from the Australian National Imams Council is that people are mindful of making sure that we have a secure and stable Australia but, again, there are hundreds of thousands of Australian Muslims who pay their taxes, who help build communities and certainly we need to be remembering that what matters in Australia is respect for diversity as well.

JOURNALIST: Are you suggesting that Mr Abbott's measures that he wants to take are undermining the multiculturalism in our country?

SHORTEN: No, not at all. What I recognise is that Australia is an immigrant nation. 27 in every hundred Australians was born overseas. What makes Australia great at its heart is that we are the destination for so many people around the world. We have to deal with the real threat which is ISIS and some of the other terrorist organisations but we should never become a scared insular nation and certainly I had the privilege of meeting with Imams and national leaders of Australia's Muslim community and they were very impressive in terms of their commitment to Australia and also a multicultural Australia.

JOURNALIST: Have you been invited to farewell Australian troops with the PM tomorrow?

SHORTEN: Not yet - I will certainly hope to attend. I think it's important that Australia's defence men and women recognise that all Australians are supportive of their professionalism and the efforts they make on behalf of Australia. If invited, I will certainly attend.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about a referendum on the issue of Indigenous recognition? When do you think such a referendums should be held?

SHORTEN: It's a good question. There's been very few successful changes to our Constitution over the history of Federation. So I think it's important that if we're going to have a successful change to recognise our first Australians in our Constitution, I'd rather that we got it right than it fail. Yes, I would like to see change happen sooner rather than later but I wouldn't want to see change rushed to the point that there was division and controversy and the referendum failed. So I'd rather get it right than rush it. But in working out what we do in our referendum, it is not just a question of the Government or Opposition. Any changes that we make to our Constitution, I think need to be more than tokenistic. They need to be changes which Aboriginal Australians feel speak to the country they live in and the country they want to live in. Of course, we need to make sure that the entire Australian population feels comfortable with the changes. It’s a pretty big balancing act and it certainly has to be bipartisan and I will work with Tony Abbott to see what we can do to secure meaningful change which has real value for Australia now and in the future.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree it's more sensible to wait then till 2017?

SHORTEN: Well, it all comes down to what is the question people are being asked to vote on and is the question people are being asked to vote on involving the recognition of our first Australians in our Constitution and removing old-fashioned notions of race. It's important that people agree with what the question is and what we're trying to do. If that takes a little longer, then so be it; I would rather see the measure succeed than fail because we rushed it. But that shouldn't be an excuse to delay because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that I speak to also believe there's plenty of things going on which need attention now, not the least are which are the half a billion dollars’ worth of cruel cuts that Tony Abbott has carried out in the Budget, disadvantaging Aboriginal services including family and child-care services, access to legal aid, access to health care - these are unfair changes.  We should have the referendum dealt with, we should achieve bipartisanship but I think Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders want to make sure that at the same time the Government is not cutting the services which their families depends on to get ahead in life.

JOURNALIST: The AWU has raised concerns about the aluminium sector and the RET. They think that the aluminium sector should be exempt from the RET. Do you have any sympathy for their concerns and are you willing to negotiate with the Coalition to ensure that Australian business is not driven offshore?

SHORTEN: I've always got sympathy for the argument about keeping jobs in Australia. That’s why I so strongly believe in our submarines being built here, that is why I am appalled that the Federal Government waved goodbye to the car industry. I don't accept the proposition that having a Renewable Energy Target costs jobs. On the contrary, having a Renewable Energy Target has delivered, is delivering and will deliver billions of dollars of new investment and tens of thousands of jobs. We see 1.2 million Australian households with solar energy panels on their roofs. Renewable energy is a plus for Australia's future. There's no doubt that we have to make sure that vulnerable emissions intensive trade exposed sectors like aluminium are carefully considered in the design of any Renewable Energy Target. It's fair to say that Labor when they were in office gave a 90 per cent discount to the aluminium sector in terms of renewable energy, something which John Howard when he introduced his first scheme neglected to do. Labor and I are attuned to the needs of blue collar jobs. We will work on this to both maintain a Renewable Energy Target but make sure we keep jobs in this country. The real problem here is that the Abbott Government has created a year of uncertainty and then they came down with the Warburton review which is basically get rid of renewable energy targets all together. I think it is the Government which is the danger to jobs. We will make sure we have good policies which get the balance right.

JOURNALIST: Would you consider a deal with the Government to end the uncertainty over the Renewable Energy Target?

SHORTEN: Labor has always believed in renewable energy targets. We believe they should be bipartisan. The only thing which has changed in the last 12 months is that before the election, Tony Abbott when he was Opposition Leader, was all things to all people including being pro-renewable energy. Now he's in government he's forgotten his election promises like he has on so many other matters. So Labor's for renewable energy, we're for the jobs it creates, we're for the investment it creates, we're for the lower energy prices which it delivers consumers. We will work with anyone to achieve those goals, but we're not up for just scrapping renewable energy targets or fatally wounding the system so it sends Australia backwards and households face higher energy costs.

JOURNALIST: Back on the Constitution, do you think an anti-discrimination clause should be included in the Constitution as you suggested in your speech at the GARMA festival?

SHORTEN: I do believe that change has to be more than just preambular in the Constitution. That is the view of the expert committee who has been reviewing this matter, a score of Australia's most eminent experts in terms of constitutional recognition. I think Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in seeking recognition want to have real recognition, meaningful recognition. That is why you would have these debates about change. I also understand that there are many Australians who need to be persuaded a great deal before them voting to change the Constitution. So this is a process of negotiation. What we do need to do is we need to recognise that for the referendum to be held, we need to get an agreed question, something which all sides of politics can agree on, even more importantly than all sides of politics, something which is a meeting of the minds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and also other Australians.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about Scotland, do you like the idea of an independent Scotland?

SHORTEN: I've got family who came from England and Scotland and in some cases, from Scotland to England to here. I also have a fair bit of Irish in me too. In terms of this referendum, I think the world has enough borders. I wouldn't want to see any more borders being created. It's a matter for the Scots and the English. But I think the world already has enough borders. It would be a shame to see new ones being created.

JOURNALIST: The PM has given each of his Ministers a performance review and rated them either A or A plus. How would you rate the Minister's performance so far?

SHORTEN: Has he really rated them A or A plus?


SHORTEN: Oh my lord.  It sounds like anyone could front up to the Abbott class and get a good mark.

I think the Government's been a fail when it comes to so many of its election promises. It is not the feelings of the Ministers I'm worried about; it's the GP tax on sick and vulnerable Australians, it's changes the indexation rate of pensioners, which will see them worse off. It's the people who are being discouraged from going to university because of higher fees or it's the people who have already been to university and to have got to pay more in HECS debt. This is a Government who I think after a year in its power has proven to be a great disappointment. I get that they were given an opportunity and the trust of Australians at the last election. I think a lot of Australians were uncertain about Tony Abbott at the last election but they were prepared to give him a go. I think now after 12 months most Australians have had their views about Tony Abbott confirmed that they don't trust him.

JOURNALIST: General Dempsey in the US Select Committee has suggested that the involvement in Iraq could go beyond the current air strikes. Are you concerned that the door is still ajar for troops on the ground?

SHORTEN: Labor's position is that we support a role in Iraq in terms of humanitarian relief, by that we mean taking the pressure off innocent civilians, degrading ISIS from its ability to commit genocidal and violent acts on part of the population. We want to see an Iraqi national government secure and stable. Our motivation in terms of our support has been to promote a humanitarian intervention. There will come a point where intervention achieves that aim. In terms of sending ground combat units to Iraq, Labor doesn't support that.

Thanks everyone, have lovely afternoon.