TUESDAY, 14 OCTOBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Tony Abbott’s cut to pensions; Tony Abbott’s comments re: Shirt fronting Putin; Australian Defence Force personnel pay offer; Development in Northern Australia; Tony Abbott’s comments re: Coal
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: We’re talking to ordinary pensioners and part pensioners and self-funded retirees about their concerns regarding Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey’s unfair Budget. For Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott, the image of the unfairness of their Budget just won’t go away. We’ve got pensioners here who’ve worked their whole life. They’ve raised families, they’ve contributed to their communities, they’ve paid their taxes. Now they’re confronted with a situation where they have to pay a tax to go to the doctor; they are going to have to pay more for their pharmaceuticals and heaven forbid they actually want to get imaging or X-rays or a mammogram which will cost a lot more because of this unfair Budget. Pensioners are also very upset that Tony Abbott wasted over a $1million of taxpayer’s money to tell Australia’s pensioners a fib. Tony Abbott says there is no problem with the pension because the pension will be coming in half yearly amounts with modest increases but what he doesn’t tell pensioners and pensioners are awake to his game, is that the indexation rate of the pension will fall. In other words, the amount of money Australian pensioners were going to get, courtesy of pensioners increases, is going to be less under Tony Abbott then it would have been under a Labor Government. Australian pensioners are well and truly awake to Tony Abbott’s slippery, unfair Budget.
Also talking to pensioners today, they remain very concerned that whilst our general health care system and funding of Hospitals is an important issue for the Federal Government, they are also terribly worried that the Abbott Government is going to pull money from Queensland Hospitals, and indeed all hospitals across Australia, which is going to put greater pressure on the health system here in fabulous towns like Townsville.
Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: What is your view on the latest planned increases for Defence Force personnel being touted?
SHORTEN: I think the Government is being mean-spirited. Their offer of a one and a half per cent pay rise is definitely on the too low side. I’ve spent my adult life negotiating win-win situations between employees and employers about wage rises, but I never foresaw a set of circumstances where the Government of the day, who would send Australian Defence personnel into harm’s way, would be asking them to take cuts on their recreational leave and also accept a pay rise which is incredibly mean-spirited. I think the Government needs to go back to the drawing board. Our Australian Defence personnel shouldn’t be put in this position where they have to either accept a ridiculously low pay offer or be seen to complain. What Australian Defence Force personnel want is to be able to get on with their job, use their skills, be the professionals they really are and they want to make sure though that they aren’t falling behind and their families aren’t under anymore financial pressure then the pressures that the families of Defence personnel currently face. The Abbott Government doesn’t have an idea how to treat people in negotiations. It doesn’t matter if you’re a sick person with a GP Tax or Defence personnel serving our nation in the Middle East. The Abbott Government offer of one and a half per cent has insulted 70,000 members of our Defence Force and their families.
JOURNALIST: What would be the minimum increase of what you think would be appropriate?
SHORTEN: North of the one and a half per cent. I am up for the Defence leadership to work out what is a fair offer but what I do know is that the minimum wage in Australia grows faster than one and a half per cent. I do know that one and a half per cent doesn’t even keep pace with the cost of living. Our Australian Defence personnel are not over-paid. They shouldn’t be put in the position where they have to push and shove to get an ‘ok’ pay rise. The Government of Australia should be able to take on board the interest of Defence personnel and their family without being dragged kicking and screaming to the bargaining table. I think the Government needs to shelve it’s one and a half per cent pay offer and come back with something that is a bit more respectful and it is not above the wit and wisdom of the Government and if they are not sure how to do it, I am happy to give them a hand and work out something which is fair for Australia’s Defence personnel but this is the day job of the Government. You can’t send our troops into harm’s way, yet tell their families back home that we are only going to give you one and a half per cent. That is ridiculous.
JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott has threatened to ‘Shirtfront’ Vladimir Putin, what’s your response to that?
SHORTEN: I think Mr Abbott has probably chosen the wrong language there when it comes to ‘shirt-front’ Putin. I understand what really is at stake here is that 300 people, 298 people were shot down out of the skies of MH17 over eastern Ukraine. The families want justice. This just wasn’t bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, this was a senseless act of brutality which should of never have happened. It is very clear to most observers that the missile system that was used most likely came from Russia. I don’t believe, on all reports, that the Russian President has thrown himself into the task of trying to identify who the transgressors or the perpetrators of this evil act were and bring them to justice. I don’t think it is the language which Tony Abbott uses now of shirt-fronting, I’m sure if he had his time again, he would use different words. The real test will be when Putin lands in Brisbane. I get that the Government is in a difficult position. It is an international conference but I don’t believe just because someone is the leader of another country, that they can waltz around and not be held to account for their actions, especially when some of the people who died were Australian citizens or residents in Australia. Some people who say there should be nothing done or that’s another matter unrelated to the G20, experience in history shows that it is wishful thinking that by not standing up to international bullies, that somehow everything would be made right. That isn’t the case, but I also think that the way we resolve this probably requires a sensible approach which doesn’t necessarily involve shirt-fronting.
JOURNALIST: What is Labor’s evaluation of the Abbott Government’s proposal to develop Northern Australia? Has their actions matched up to their rhetoric?
SHORTEN: It has been a year now and the Government got out a big mirror when it comes to Northern Australia and they’ve looked into it but we haven’t seen a lot come out of it yet. Northern Australia is an exciting part of Australia’s future. It is the part of Australia closest to the fastest growing economic region in the world. Obviously higher education is important in Northern Australia, how we use our Defence resources up here and invest in our resources up here is important. Obviously Northern Australia is a marvellous food bowl not only for Australia, but the rest of the world. The Abbott Government talked big before the last election, there hasn’t been a lot of action since then and what we also see most concerningly, is the high levels of unemployment and youth unemployment, but not just youth unemployment. We are seeing the Newman Government slash and cut services in Queensland and it is has affected North Queensland and Far North Queensland quite significantly. I think the Conservatives talk quiet a lot about Northern Australia, but their actions don’t meet their rhetoric.
JOURNALIST: Does Labor have any regional plans or any economic plans for this part of the world?
SHORTEN: We’ve got an excellent track record of investment in Northern Australia and before the next election; Labor will unveil its policies. Australia, under a vision that Labor has, isn’t just about three large capital cities on the eastern seaboard plus Perth. It isn’t just about Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney or Perth. Labor has a great track record of investing in infrastructure, in higher education or in the public services in the northern part of Australia and also encouraging private sector development. We will have a lot more to say before the next election, but in the meantime, the current Government who are paid to do their day job need to pull up their socks and get on and do something.
JOURNALIST: The PM made some comments yesterday about coal being good for humanity. What do you think about that comment?
SHORTEN: I am sure the PM was quiet excited to be amongst the large trucks and the mining machines, so he was obviously having a big day out yesterday with his language. The straight forward facts are these. Labor supports our coal industry. It’s an important export source of revenue. It is an important jobs generator but also delivers part of our energy mix in Australia. But Labor also supports having a renewable energy industry in Australia. It is absurd that Germany, which has one third of the sun that Australia, has an solar energy sector three times as large as Australia. We support investment and jobs. We also value the benefit that solar energy for instants, brings to domestic households. Over 1.2million Australians have solar heating systems on their roofs as we speak. If Tony Abbott wants to create a false debate between coal and acting on climate change, that isn’t the case. What is embarrassing is at the G20, most countries who are going to be there are initiating policies to tackle climate change in a meaningful way. While Tony Abbott is slamming Australia into reserve gear and walking away from real action on climate change, so all I’d say is that coal is a part of our energy mix, it is an important source of jobs and export dollars, it is important. But we are a nation that is smart enough to be able not just to rely on fossil fuels and to have a practical approach on climate change which helps do something to make sure that our children and our grandchildren don’t have to pay a bigger bill because Tony Abbott wouldn’t act now.