THURSDAY, 9 FEBRUARY 2017
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plans for jobs and skills; Malcolm Turnbull’s unfair cuts to families; Malcolm’s meltdown; Banking Royal Commission; South Australian energy; visas; donations.
DOUG CAMERON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND APPRENTICESHIPS: Good morning everyone, it's really fantastic to be here today with Bill, our Leader and Kate who has got responsibilities for TAFE. I have to say for me, it's great to be back here because it brings me back to when I was young and had dark hair and was an apprentice fitter and spent a lot of time in learning areas like this.
So Labor understands the need for apprentices. Labor understands the importance of apprenticeships. As Bill has said, not everyone can go to university, not everyone wants to go to university. I was pretty ordinary at school, but when I became an apprentice fitter and I went to TAFE in the UK. It was need to be able to master my apprenticeship, get my apprenticeship under my belt, it made me study, and it led to me being able to come to Australia with my family, and an apprenticeship and a trade opens the world up for you. An apprenticeship and a trade is fantastic, and it’s really good to see some young women here in the apprenticeship area, which was not common when I served my apprenticeship.
Labor understands the need for apprenticeships, Labor understands the importance of apprenticeships. It gives many young people a fantastic opportunity. We've got the policies that are important for apprenticeships and I'll hand over to Bill who is doing a great job in overseeing all of this work in terms of policy development, it's so important for the future of this country. Thanks Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Doug. I would like to thank CIT for hosting us today. They have got 600 apprentices currently learning a trade. And that is exactly the sort of thing we want to encourage Australians. Kate Ellis, Doug Cameron and I are here because Labor is committed to creating, sustaining and training people for jobs. And you can't have a jobs plan for Australians unless you have an apprenticeship plan for Australians.
Since the Coalition was elected back in 2013, we have lost 128,000 apprentices. People genuinely wonder where the next generation of tradies are going to come from, people are genuinely concerned that what we see at the moment is we are importing skills short-term, but we're not training our own people long-term.
So Labor's putting forward a commitment to actually develop our apprenticeships as part of our jobs plan. We want to see, on major Commonwealth projects, one in every 10 at least employed, one in every 10 employed are apprentices. We want to make sure that TAFE goes back to the centre of our vocational education strategy in this country. There are good private providers, there are good not-for-profits and for-profits. But Labor is the party of TAFE and we intend to save TAFE and help make sure the taxpayer training dollars are going back into TAFE.
And of course, when it comes to apprenticeships, we want to make sure that locals get first crack at the jobs. That is why we are determined to crack down on visa rorts which we have seen, and we have seen some of the scandals with 7-Eleven and other places, where we are bringing in people from overseas, we are not training our locals, and we are seeing overseas guest workers exploited.
That is Labor's plan. We want to look after the locals, we want to give our young people and our mature aged the opportunity to go to TAFE, and we want to give companies who do the right thing and employ apprentices, we want to give them the opportunity to have good taxpayer-funded Commonwealth contracted work.
This is our plan for jobs, because we know that not every young person wants or should go to university. And we want to give a bit of encouragement to the parents at home who want to see their kids look into a trade and say that under a Labor government you can encourage your kids to go into an apprenticeship, they will find one and there will be a job at the end of it.
Our plan for jobs is a plan for apprenticeships. Malcolm Turnbull's only plan for jobs, though, is a $50 billion tax cut for some of the largest companies in Australia including the big banks and multinationals. Malcolm Turnbull talks about jobs, we are getting on with fair dinkum policies which make a difference to working and middle class Australians.
Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Prime Minister has just finished going at you again at a press conference. Could you consider it a personal success that clearly you get under his skin so much?
SHORTEN: Well, I think you're right that he is under enormous pressure. As I said last night on television, I even, and this may sound a little unusual, I even feel a bit sorry for him because I think he came in as Prime Minister when people had such high hopes for him. But obviously, you all work in Canberra, you hear that the drums are beating. There is leadership instability in the ranks of the Liberal Party. And what he is doing is he is firing up about his own job.
But for me, what was important yesterday isn't his name calling, what’s important yesterday is that the Government put forward proposals to cut the family payments to a million Australian families. That is what Labor does, we stand up for middle and working class Australians. Mr Turnbull, on the other hand, I think, well he is clearly showing signs of pressure in the job.
JOURNALIST: So when he called you a sycophant and a parasite is that [inaudible]
SHORTEN: I'm just not going to take the bait.
JOURNALIST: You say you felt sorry for him though, that's patronising isn't it?
SHORTEN: It is actually genuine. Because I think, and I think a lot of Australians, you get out and talk to real people, we all do. What turns people off politics is the absolute, just you know, yelling at each other. I am not perfect. I'm not going to say that at all. But what I do understand is that we have got to try and lift out of politics as usual and go to a better place to restore confidence in politics. That's why we are seeing the rise of minor parties. Because people feel the mainstream politicians are just always on at each other like a Punch and Judy show. So yeah, we don't always get it right in Labor but I know that we're on the right track today talking about apprenticeships, and I know that we were on the right track yesterday, calling out cuts to the living standards of a million Australians.
JOURNALIST: For months you have been calling him 'Mr harbourside mansion' which is the thing you're criticising, this name-calling in politics. Is that not waging a kind of class warfare and playing into that?
SHORTEN: I think there's a couple of issues in what you say. First of all, I think the author of the name 'harbourside mansion' was Malcolm's former chief of staff –
JOURNALIST: You have been using it for months now.
SHORTEN: I am coming to that. We do need to lift. I think you're quite right –
JOURNALIST: Are you saying you won't use that term any more to describe him?
SHORTEN: What I say is that I don't think Mr Turnbull, to go to your question about wealth, I don't begrudge Mr Turnbull's wealth. He has had a successful career as an investment banker. Good luck to him. What I do begrudge the massive disappointment that this seriously out of touch Prime Minister's policies are. How out of touch is it to give a $50 billion corporate tax giveaway to the largest companies in Australia and at the same time chase Centrelink recipients for a few hundred dollars? How out of touch is it to propose a $50 billion corporate tax cut, which the big banks will get $7.4 billion extra in their bottom line, and at the same time, take money, family payments from a million Australian families?
It is not Mr Turnbull's wealth which is the issue, it's the fact that his policies are so out of touch. They aren't creating jobs or they aren't looking after Medicare. How out of touch is it to say there is no real problem with the negative gearing rules and housing affordability in this country? It’s Mr Turnbull's policies which show what he does.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of George Christensen saying he will cross the floor to support a banking royal commission?
SHORTEN: I will believe it when I see it. George is big in Canberra, he is big in his local constituency, but I hope he does stands up for a royal commission vote in Canberra. The banks do need a royal commission. Labor will, if elected, implement a royal commission into the banks, because something has got to give. We see scandal after scandal in banking and there is always the apologies and "oh, we have learned our lesson" until the next time. So I hope George Christensen votes for a royal commission. And again, It just shows you how divided the Coalition are. There is a number of backbenchers in the Coalition who would love to vote for a royal commission but Malcolm Turnbull's representing the banks in Canberra, so that puts the kybosh on it until we change the government.
JOURNALIST: You called the Prime Minister out of touch. Yesterday, he says that you're the fake one, that you appear to represent the workers, but you're not. You being here in this trade skills training centre, is that your way of proving him wrong?
SHORTEN: I have been representing workers for 25 years. My dad was a fitter and turner. I am relaxed in my own skin. I am relaxed with my record of representing people. I am consistent. I think the problem is that we have got a Prime Minister who is being forced more and more to the right in his own party. The more he yells at me, the more I wonder if he is judging himself. The more he yells at me and calls me names, I really think he is looking in the mirror and he is worried about the fact he has sold out on climate change, the fact he has sold out on marriage equality, the fact that he has sold out on Australia becoming a Republic, now he is Prime Minister he can't find the time to do anything about it. The fact that he is going after a million Australians.
There's one million Australians who receive family payments, none of them are billionaires. There is a million Australians who will see a reduction in their payments. This is why I am going to keep defending Australian families. The average family affected by the family payments earns $75,000. They will lose $1,000. Now, maybe for Mr Turnbull that is not a big amount of money, but for these families, that is a massive development and it is an adverse hit on their living standards. That's why we will keep on his case about it.
JOURNALIST: Is this what we are going to see now? As his attacks get more personal, you're going become Mr nice guy?
SHORTEN: I am the Leader of the Opposition. We will put forward alternative policies. Where we agree with the Government, we will work with them:
Expenses reform, tick, we will work with them. We want to see that refugee deal with President Trump, we will work with them.
But I am not going to sell out my beliefs merely because Mr Turnbull is yelling at us. Mr Turnbull, yesterday, didn't want to talk about the million Australian families, he wanted to talk about me. It is your classic sort of look over here, don't look at what I am doing. I will drag this debate back to what the Australians want to see politicians doing.
My job is to protect middle and working class families. The case is not made to lower peoples' family payments when at the same time this government is giving $50 billion to big banks. The sting in the tail of their measures yesterday, is they say "we're doing stuff on child care" but if you look at the Budget bottom line, this government is putting their hand in the pockets of families, taking out $2.7 billion over the next four years.
Let's put that in human terms because those numbers are almost so big as to to defy understanding. A family on $75,000 gets family payments, many introduced by John Howard. John Howard always knew about the middle class. And now, what Malcolm Turnbull is changing, is take $1,000 off people listening to this interview on $75,000. I think that is outrageous.
JOURNALIST: Andrew Forrest has warned thousands of Australians will lose their jobs if you continue to block the Government's company tax cuts. Is he wrong?
SHORTEN: Andrew Forrest would say that, wouldn't he? It is in his interests to see company taxes reduced. He is entitled to his opinion. But you know what I think is a bigger problem than what Mr Forrest is alleging? That a million Australian families are going to have their family payments reduced. I'll tell you what I think is a bigger problem, that we have lost 130,000 apprenticeships in the last four years. I'll tell you what I think is a bigger problem, when people have to pay up-front fees to get blood test and cancer tests. What I think is a big problem is when we don't have needs-based funding in schools. What I think is a big problem is that we have over 700,000 people unemployed, we've got over a million of our fellow Australians who regularly record they would like more work, we've got people who have given up looking for work. We've got pensioners worried about changes to the pension assets test.
Mr Forrest and Mr Turnbull can worry about large corporates, I am going to worry about the people of Australia.
JOURNALIST: There has been another major black-out in South Australia. Is it good enough?
SHORTEN: No, it is clearly not good enough, but I think it is important, and what Australians want and what South Australians want, I am sure, is to stop the blame game.
We have a national power grid. There is clearly problems with it. I think what people want us to do today is to deal in facts. They want two things today – why did it happen? And to make sure it doesn't happen again.
I think the federal minister who is in charge of the federal regulator needs to tell us what they did and didn't do. There is talk that there was a generator available to be turned on in SA and that decision wasn't made. What we need to do is find out what happened, we need to make sure that the national energy grid is working properly, and we need to make sure it doesn't happen again. That is what people want from us. Not everyone pointing the finger at everybody else.
JOURNALIST: Will you be calling your counterpart in South Australia to ask those questions?
SHORTEN: Of course we will be talking to people, but I have to say that the federal minister in charge has a federal regulator, we need to also know what they did do.
JOURNALIST: The visa validation, your party was supporting it, was for it, why have you now changed your mind and turned your backs on it?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, that is not right. The Caucus –
JOURNALIST: But you didn’t oppose it in the committee –
SHORTEN: Well first of all, that is not right. What we reserved our right to do was to have a look at the legislation. Caucus met on Tuesday, concerns were expressed. Now the concerns are these – we obviously want to make sure that we stop people who shouldn't come to Australia from coming to Australia, we are all up for that. But I think we have all seen the Donald Trump experience in America, where all of a sudden, a whole lot of people, because of what country they've come from, are universally banned. We are reluctant to give Trump-style powers to Peter Dutton. And the case hasn't been made for it. And it's an overreach on a problem which can be solved in other ways.
JOURNALIST: Do you fear an authoritarian regime somewhere down the track could take advantage of something like that?
SHORTEN: We fear that making sure that we don't see the sorts of things which we saw in America happening here.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] entitlements legislation to Parliament so that an independent advisory panel should be set up and the gold pass scheme scrapped, will Labor support the measures?
SHORTEN: We will study the whole thing, but yes, I have spoken to Malcolm Turnbull in early January and I do think that we need to have an overhaul of expenses. I think what we saw, and this is not just an issue for the Coalition, it is an issue for all of politics, there are two things that turn people off politics more than anything else. One, when they think that the politicians are in it for themselves and not the people. That is why we must do expenses reform and that's why we have also added on that a trifecta of changes. We want to study the merit of a National Integrity Commission and we also want to overhaul the political donations system, and we want to eliminate any hint of foreign donations, so we've got those.
The other thing Australians hate, is they hate it when all they think the politicians is doing is yelling at each other and forgetting about the people. That is why today we are here talking about apprenticeships. That is why we will we will keep fighting for family payments. At the end of the day, when you turn down the noise of parliament, the people in Australia say 'what are you doing for us?' That is why we will make sure that young people can go and do an apprenticeship as easily as going to university. We'll make sure that we employ more apprentices on Commonwealth jobs. We will clean up the dodgy visa system. But what we will also do is make sure that we hold our ground as an Opposition and stick to our values.
The case has not been made by the Government to reduce the payments of a million Australian families, family payments. The case has not been made to reduce and attack their standard of living, whilst at the same time the Government pursues a top end of town strategy which is prioritising giving a $50 billion tax cut to some of the largest companies in Australia.
JOURNALIST: Do you commit to not using the term 'Mr harbourside mansion' anymore –
SHORTEN: I will do my best. I will do my best.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any advice heading into Question Time today, do you have advice for the Prime Minister heading into Question Time today?
JOURNALIST: Can I ask about political donations. There are two cases last year when Labor accepted major donations. One was from the Pharmacy Guild, the other was from the National Automotive Leasing and Salary Packaging Association. And within a week of both those donations, Labor made policy announcements. They didn't switch their policy, they made announcements. So is that a coincidence or is Labor accepting cash for policies?
SHORTEN: No, I think that is way out of line. And we have explained to the ABC before your question today, after we saw your story. In the 2014 Budget, not a week before our policy – just let me answer, you've made a serious point there. In 2014, we indicated our opposition to the Government increases to the price of medicine. Our policy is what drives us and our values. We had a car leasing policy in 2013 which didn't go well and we backed away from that policy very soon after that. So let me be very clear here, the Labor Party is committed, we are the party who will keep the cost of living pressures downwards on the price of medicine and we will always fight for that full stop.
JOURNALIST: The question wasn't about policy switches, it was about policy announcements being made. In one case you have written a letter and the other case there was an announcement. I'm not saying it wasn't your policy beforehand but there was an announcement. Is that a coincidence that it has happened in the same week as two major donations?
SHORTEN: I think it is good when the Labor Party has a policy in 2014 which we again talk about in 2015 and we again talk about in 2016.
JOURNALIST: But is it a coincidence that it happened in the same week as donations?
SHORTEN: I have answered that.
JOURNALIST: You haven't answered whether it was a coincidence.
SHORTEN: I reject completely the proposition you're putting. It's not answering it, I reject it. And let's go back to the issue of donations because I think that's an important issue. We want to see the threshold for disclosure of donations lowered from $13,200, or whatever it is now, down to $1,000. We want to make sure there is no hint of foreign donations. And of course Mr Turnbull is sensitive about his donation. It is up to him what he gives. But I think that it shows the need to have donations declared in real time. In other words, elections are the property of the people. They have a right to know who is donating. And of course, we need to all do better in that. Listen, thanks everyone and I will see you all in Parliament.
JOURNALIST: Jacqui Lambie passed yesterday –
SHORTEN: I did say last question, but because you've been very nice.
JOURNALIST: Jacqui Lambie yesterday introduced a bill to effectively ban the burqa when Australia's security threat rises. What is your position on it, would you support it and is it divisive?
SHORTEN: States already have regulations about whether or not , you know, your ID, you can have head coverings and you can't. I am not sure that having a generalised sort of discussion about that is the right way to go. I think our law enforcement agencies tell us what they need and when they need it. They have made it clear they have rules already in place. So you can't, for your driver’s licence wear a motorcycle helmet or a fetching set of sunglasses or indeed a burqa.
But beyond that, for me, what is important is saving Medicare, fighting for apprenticeships, employing local, cleaning up the visa system. There is a million Australian families who will lose funding, have reductions in family payments because of Mr Turnbull's legislation he introduced yesterday. They want to make our young people wait for extended periods of time before they get any payment.
JOURNALIST: So you think it's a step too far really?
SHORTEN: I just don't think it is the main game. What Australians want is to focus on them. That is what we're doing.