Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Tamworth - Chaos and division in the Abbott Government; Tony Abbott’s plan for $100,000 degrees





SUBJECT/S: Chaos and division in the Abbott Government; Tony Abbott’s plan for $100,000 degrees; Tony Abbott’s broken promises; Abbott Government’s lack of agricultural policy; Water security; Medical marijuana; NSW election; Tamworth Country Music Festival.


BILL SHORTEN – LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s great to be here at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in New England. Although whilst in Tamworth everyone is having a lot of fun - well deserved, it’s clear to me as I talk to local people that a lot of Australians, town and country, are very concerned about the first 500 days of the Abbott Government. This is a Government who continues to pursue its vendetta against sick people by trying to put a tax on going to the doctor, and it’s all of over the place when it comes to making higher education a real option for country young people. There’s real concern in Australia at the moment that the Abbott Government 500 days in is really in a state of chaos and division.

JOURNALIST: Just while we’re on that topic, Tony was interviewed in Melbourne on radio this morning defending the decisions that he’s made saying to ‘look at his track record’’. What’s your response to that?

SHORTEN: There’s no doubt the Prime Minister was in a real train crash today on radio today in Melbourne. When he’s got his own Liberal voting base ringing up and attacking him, there’s a real problem. And they’re doing that because the Liberal Party and the people who sit behind Tony Abbott are now speculating about who will replace Tony Abbott. The Liberal Abbott Government cannot government themselves, so how can we expect them to govern the nation? There is a real mood of disappointment, effectively the jury of the Australian public opinion is in – after 500 days the Abbott Government hasn’t lived up to its promises, it’s broken too many promises, from Medicare to higher education, this is a government in chaos and confusion.

JOURNALIST: And how are you planning on exploiting  what you see as the divisions, are you planning on using that to your advantage?

SHORTEN: Well what concerns me is not the political debate, what concerns me is the future of this country. It’s about making sure people can get quality GP care rather than having to wait till they go to hospital. It’s about making sure that kids from Tamworth and the regions of Australia can access higher education which is affordable, and doesn’t discourage kids from the country from bettering themselves.

JOURNALIST: Can we see $100,000 degrees at University of New England if these changes go through?

SHORTEN: There is real concern that the Abbott Government, what it calls higher education reform, mean the price of University goes up, and the number of students going to university goes down. Regional universities will be hard hit, the Government should go back to square one. It should work with not only themselves; work with the Opposition, work with students, work with parents. They need to totally drop this proposition of just holus-bolus deregulating universities where prices will go up and fewer kids will go to university, that is not reform.

JOURNALIST: Do you support Nick Xenophon’s push for a broad-scale enquiry into the university sector?

SHORTEN: Labor’s prepared to work with the crossbench. We believe the Government should stick to its election promises. Before the last election, both the hapless Minister for Education and the beleaguered Prime Minister said before the election that there would be no changes; they said that there would be no increase in fees. Now, they want to create a system where fees go up and the number of students going to university will invariably go down. The Government needs to go back to scratch, it’s wasted 500 days, and it needs to stop scaring parents and prospective university students from the prospect of going to uni in Australia. Labor believes that it should be how hard you work and your merit which gets you to university, not how wealthy your parents are or whether or not you live in a city.

JOURNALIST: There’s been comments made about unrest and anger in Abbott’s backbench. What does that say to you?

SHORTEN: It’s a real concern that if the Abbott Liberal National Government can’t govern themselves, how can they govern Australia? The Prime Minister and his colleagues seem more intent about fighting for their own jobs rather than fighting for the jobs of all Australians.

JOURNALIST: And we’re in Barnaby Joyce’s electorate, what do you say about the Abbott Government’s agricultural portfolio these past 500 days?

SHORTEN: Well, I think everyone’s been disappointed by the glacial pace of agricultural policy in the last 500 days. The Government has been sitting on its agricultural policy, over half its term is up – they really need to start prioritising farmers. There’s been terrible drought; the regions need to make sure they get their fair share of school and hospital funding. The Government needs to stop blaming, its predecessors and get on with the hard work of standing up for the regions.

JOURNALIST: Barnaby’s launching his Green Army this week, is this going to have any impact on Co2 emissions?


SHORTEN: Barnaby Joyce, the member for New England I think needs to focus on making sure that his Government isn’t ripping itself to bits. What Australians want is they want certainty, they want a Government that won’t break the trust of the Australian people, they want a Government whose not focused on increasing their cost of living through making it more expensive to go to the doctor or more expensive to send your child to university.


JOURNALIST: So how will you make it easier for farmers [inaudible]?


SHORTEN: Well I think the first thing is we’ve got to look at, and we agree with the Government on this measure I have to say, that we want to make sure that the banks and the lending institutions are not gouging desperate farmers merely because of drought. We think the Government needs to finalise its position on the White Paper and tell Australians where it’s headed and what its plans are. In the meantime I’ll be visiting plenty of regional centres, I’ve been right through Queensland and now I’m in Tamworth, we want to talk to people. Labor’s formulating its policies for the next election, this is the year of ideas for the Labor Party and we want listen to people, not preach to them or increase their cost of living.


JOURNALIST: Water security is a really big issue in this region, what are on thoughts on the water trigger that’s in the Senate at the moment?


SHORTEN: Labor supported the hard working former member for New England Tony Windsor about having a water trigger and we recognise that there are competing uses for scarce land, mining, farming. We think it’s very important that when we look at our water resource, our water asset, that that’s not simply traded away for some short term profit. So Labor proposed with Tony Windsor to put a water trigger in, that meant that the Commonwealth Government would have independent scientific review of the decisions to develop the Liverpool Plains and other areas of importance with great natural water supplies and make sure that it was the best science and the long term interests of all were being prioritised, not some very quick and dirty state deals done on mining development and nothing else taken into consideration.


JOURNALIST: Medical marijuana’s been a big issue in this election, will the ALP be supporting Richard de Natalie’s bill in the Senate?


SHORTEN: We’re still reviewing what Richard’s proposed bill will be, but let me just state some principles that I have on medical marijuana. First of all we believe that state jurisdictions who want to conduct clinical trials should be supported to do so. Beyond that though the very human issue is, I’m a parent, I can understand parents who have children or people they love with debilitating illnesses. If the medical marijuana can provide relief which other therapeutic goods can’t, I can understand why parents want to see us get on and resolve this question. They’ve had plenty of clinical trials in New South Wales and I know that State Labor in New South Wales with Adam Searle has said that they will certainly back in medical marijuana. The science is in, the evidence is in, then I think we’ve got an obligation to listen to the families who are desperate to get that relief particularly if it’s safe.


JOURNALIST: It’s coming up to the state election now, Joe Hill, while an old school Labor member is a fairly fresh candidate, do you think he stands any chance in a very strong Nationals electorate?


SHORTEN: This has historically been a very strong Nationals electorate but I think the lesson of modern politics is if you take voters for granted you shouldn’t assume the voters will vote for you. As a Labor leader I don’t regard any area as safe for Labor and I would say any other political party who would automatically assumes an area is safe will pay a high electoral cost. There’s no doubt that when Tony Windsor was the member he got a lot done for New England and he was an independent. Joe Hill is an experienced person with many decades of community service and involvement. You can’t put an old head on young shoulders, I think he’s an experienced candidate and he will do well.


JOURNALIST: We are here in Tamworth, the country music capital, Festival’s on at the moment, I guess is that why you’ve chosen to come here now?


SHORTEN: Well the Tamworth Country Music Festival’s famous and my family all love music so I’ve been in Queensland and my wife encouraged me to have a look at Tamworth and visit the festival. I’m very committed to visiting the regions this year. I’ve got to congratulate the community of Tamworth. I live in Melbourne quite near the racecourses and when the spring carnival occurs, the whole community lifts, is an exciting place, if you like the mood lifts, and clearly this is a warm community. It’s welcoming to the visitors and being able to see musicians like Lee Kernaghan just play on the street or the calibre of acts both well-known and not so new. I’m going to recommend to all of my friends they come to Tamworth, this is a very special festival and I’ve really enjoyed and I look forward to coming here again.


JOURNALIST: And most importantly, who’s your favourite country musician you’ve seen so far?


SHORTEN: Well, I polled my kids because their opinions are important. I’ve got a soft spot for Casey Chambers and my five year old daughter loves her song Pony, but I’ve got to give a shout out for the less well known bands. There’s a band Damien Howard and his Band of Brothers playing at West Leagues Club tonight. I know a couple of the musicians there, they’re professional music teachers but they love to come to come up to Tamworth every year and perform, there are a lot of good bands here. Thanks everyone.