THURSDAY, 10 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s positive plan for Australia; Tony Windsor contesting for New England; Senate reform; the Liberals cuts to Indigenous programs.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hi everyone and it's great to be in Lismore at one of my Town Hall meetings, of course with Janelle Saffin and Justine Elliott. I just want to say to the media, thanks very much, that was quite a long meeting, I appreciate you going the distance.
It was a great Town Hall meeting. It was a great Town Hall meeting because Australians deserve to hear from their political leaders in open and public forums where people can say what they think. And I have no doubt that after an hour and a half, along with Justine and Janelle, Labor's platform for the next election resonates with Lismore and the district, and indeed the Northern Coast and the Northern Rivers. Labor stands for jobs, fair taxation, a well-funded healthcare system where it's your Medicare card not your credit card that gets you the quality of healthcare you deserve, properly funded schools, TAFE, childcare and universities and of course, real action on renewable energy. Today, the participants at the Town Hall forum made clear their views that they want to see the action, they want to see long-term thinking, they want to stop the waffle and they want to see the detail. Labor has a positive plan.
We're happy to take any questions that people have.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of developments slightly to the south and west around Tamworth today and a new player in the match so to speak?
SHORTEN: When it comes to the New England electorate, the contrast between Tony Windsor and Barnaby Joyce couldn't be starker. One is a serious respected politician, the other is the Deputy Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned the people of Lismore, it's a great time to be an independent. Is that what you said?
SHORTEN: I said for people in New England that it's never been a more exciting time to have a look at a choice from Barnaby Joyce.
JOURNALIST: So Bill, what's the contrast like between Janelle and current MP, Kevin Hogan?
SHORTEN: Janelle Saffin is a trusted, known quality in the seat of Page. Janelle can speak for herself and she does very well in terms of her representation, but let's be blunt - Kevin Hogan, we don't even know where the guy sits in Parliament. We don't know if he speaks a lot and also, what is clear is that the National Party in Canberra are brothers in arms with the Liberal Party and then they come and try and hide themselves out here in Page and also in Richmond and pretend they're standing up to the Government. The National Party for 100 years has held some of the seats and have been politically active in some of this region. But what amazes me is that nine out of the ten of the poorest electorates in Australia are National Party electorates. That's nothing to be proud of. I would have thought that the National Party would have done a much better job speaking for the region, but if you want a fighter in your corner, if you want someone who will say it as it is, if you want someone who has always been on the side of the underdog, well of course you'd vote for Janelle Saffin.
JOURNALIST: How critical will the Page seat be in the upcoming election?
SHORTEN: What's important is that we get the best quality representation. What's important is that the schools in this marvellous part of Australia are properly funded. What's important is that we have a Medicare system where we don't see the sort of cuts that Mr Turnbull and his team are carrying out on pathology testing, on diagnostic imaging, on pap smears and blood test. What's important is that you have a Member of Parliament who stands up for Australian jobs. What's important is that you have someone who actually believes that first home owners should have a level playing field with the property speculators who are buying their 10th house. What's important is you have a member of parliament in Page just as we already have in Richmond, people actually believe that climate change is real and want to do something about it. What's important is that you have someone who wants to oppose $100,000 degrees. The answer is Janelle Saffin on all of these issues. She is on the side of the working people, of the pensioners, of the people, the farmers and the small business of Page.
JOURNALIST: How would you go in characterising the voters in Page after what you saw today in the Town Hall meeting?
SHORTEN: They're politically switched on. They're not afraid to state their opinions, but the voters here know that they live in a special slice of heaven in Australia, they know that this community has to be jealously guarded. You have to make sure that you can't take for granted the safety net. You know, we heard from working mums who are getting themselves back on their feet raising a family, trying to go to university and making sure that they're able to do all of these important things. We heard from victims of institutional abuse about making sure that the forgotten Australians don't get forgotten anymore. We heard from meat workers who are concerned to make sure that there are Aussie jobs and that we have a value added industry in Australia. I heard from people who are most committed to make sure we treat our refugees fairly. We heard from people who are committed to real action on climate change. There were hundreds of people in that room, you were all there, there was no censorship of the questions, there was no filtering of a list of people who are allowed to come and weren't allowed to come. If we are to restore faith in Australian politics, Labor and Liberal need to be able to go out and talk to people without telling people what to think or what they can say and answer their questions honestly. Now, people talk about the next election, Malcolm Turnbull sort of agonising at night when he should call it, that's his big question, you know, the Budget seems to be the second order issue, call the election first and then work out the date of the Budget. His priorities are all wrong. I believe the path to Canberra and the path to a future of a better Australia is through a 100 of these town hall meetings in regional assemblies where people take control of politics back off the vested interests and that's what we were doing today.
JOURNALIST: Why do you oppose changes to the system of Senate voting? Given the fact, what's on the table at the moment pretty much mirrors what the ALP have been championing for a number of years now.
SHORTEN: Why on earth would we want to crush the voice of independence? Why on earth would we want to institutionalise Liberal-National control of the Senate? Why on earth would we just sign up to a tawdry Greens political party deal with the Liberal Party? The Greens have been conned by the Liberals. You know, the Liberals saw the Greens coming and have conned them. If we had this voting system, which the Greens are so crazily enthusiastic to force everyone to sign up to, Tony Abbott would have the majority in the Senate for his dreadful 2014 Budget. We would have had the cuts to pensions that Labor successfully opposed, we would of had $100,000 degrees which the Liberals are still pushing, I've got no doubt we would have had the 15 per cent GST, I've got no doubt that there'll be further cuts to hospitals and schools because the Greens are pushing a voting system which is going to damage the interests of working people right across Australia.
JOURNALIST: Would you consider preferencing the Coalition ahead of the Greens then? Because you seem to be fairly anti them.
SHORTEN: No, I'm just pro-the Australian people. I'm anti-dirty deals which are going to disadvantage Australians who want to go to University or TAFE. Australians who rely on a fixed income pension, Australians who want to see Australian jobs. When it comes to the issue of political preferences let me just spell it out really straight, people who are considering voting Green must understand that it's highly likely that their vote will go to elect Liberal Party MPs, a vote for the Greens political party is dangerously looking like a vote for the Liberal Party. Last question.
JOURNALIST: Would Labor preference Tony Windsor?
SHORTEN: Listen, Mr Windsor is going to saddle up. He's an independent; he's got a strong track record. Now there are some issues which Labor agrees with Tony Windsor on. Tony Windsor and Labor believe in funding regional schools, we believe in making sure it's possible for working class kids and kids from the bush to go university. We don't support a second rate, slow, expensive NBN. So we'll have a look. I think the real issue here though is that we've got an independent candidate running against Barnaby Joyce. I think that Tony Windsor could make history; I don't know if a Deputy Prime Minister's ever lost his seat before, it's possible, but I think Tony Windsor is making history. New England, Page and Richmond; the voters in these electorates, no-one should take for granted. I know Justine doesn't, I know Janelle won't and I know that Tony Windsor has got a track record of speaking his mind. Neither political party own him. As I said at the outset, the contrast between Tony Windsor and Barnaby Joyce couldn't be starker. One's a serious, respected, free thinking political leader; the other chap's the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia.
JOURNALIST: What do you think about Campbell Newman popping his head up Brisbane?
SHORTEN: April Fool’s Day has come early. I'd be surprised - I mean it's up to the LNP who they pick. If they want to pick Campbell Newman that's fine, but of course Queenslanders rejected Campbell Newman in the largest swing that's ever happened in Queensland politics. If they bowl up Campbell Newman, Labor will continue with our strong campaign. What Campbell Newman can't do is promise to properly fund our schools, to protect our Medicare, to take real action on renewable energy, to stand up for Australian jobs and of course to have a fair taxation system which ensures that we can repair the Budget without damaging family household budgets. Thanks everyone lovely to catch up.
JOURNALIST: One quick question sorry, it's just on Indigenous funding. We had 150 programs, 155 cut under Tony Abbott, will those be restored, will we see a restoration to Indigenous services? Please.
SHORTEN: Alright, this really is the last question, but I appreciate it, Indigenous politics and concerns don't always get an air into the mainstream so thank you. Labor's committed to closing the gap. Now we can't identify yet in the Budget the full extent of the cuts that the current Government's done, but what we can promise is that we'll close the gap in education outcomes, that's why we're making the commitment to the 'Your Child. Our Future' funding program which prioritises amongst other groups the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids.
We are most committed to cutting the incarceration gap. What happens in Australia is that if you're black you're more likely to end up in jail. Now this is wrong. We're very committed to it and to show our bona fides in terms of ensuring that our First Australians get these, sort of level playing field which other Australians enjoy, we've started picking great Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates.
We've got Tammy Solonec in the seat of Swan, we've got Linda Burney running in Barton and of course Pat Dodson has agreed to - the Labor Party's unanimously selected him to fill a Senate vacancy and we already have Senator Nova Peris. So Labor is committed to ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have a political voice as we endeavour together as a community to close the gap. Thanks.