SUNDAY, 12 FEBRUARY 2017
SUBJECT/S: Putting people first; Liberal deal with One Nation
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody and welcome to East Keilor in the heart of my electorate. I've just had a great opportunity to talk to about 120 pensioners, people who depend upon family payments, people who live in the real world. And what I've said to them is that I've promised to recommit Labor to fighting on the issues which people care about, to put people first. I think most Australians were amazed last week to see the Prime Minister's fairly hysterical rant. But what I explained to people today is whilst it would be easy to respond to the unfair comments, I made a promise at the beginning of this year to try and take politics to a better place. Australians are simply sick and tired of both Turnbull and myself having petty school yard arguments and doing the squabbling over what people think has nothing to do with them. I concede I don't always get to the standard which I seek to apply. But what we will do, what Labor will do, this week in Parliament, is it doesn't matter what the Prime Minister or his team's fireworks are, doesn't matter what their personal insults are. The easy option is to take the low road and get back into the personal insult business. Labor won't do that, because what we're going to do this week is focus on the issues that I know people are worried about. If you take the time, like I did, to listen to people, people are telling us, they're worried about the cuts to the pension and the changes to pensioners' entitlements, the reduction. They're worried about the attack on Medicare. There are a lot of people in that room who will be negatively affected by the cuts to family payments and of course, I haven't met anyone who likes the idea of being forced to work to the age of 70. The highest retirement age in the world.
So the message is loud and clear to me since I left Parliament and people here today were reiterating it. 'Bill we want the politicians, you and Turnbull, to focus upon our issues, the issues of the people'. And what I pledge to do this week and throughout the rest of the year, is not give into the bait, not give into the easy, schoolyard constant bickering which turns people off politics. People want to see us do better and this week, Labor will recommit to the promise we made earlier this year to do better on behalf of the people of Australia. Jobs and Medicare. And people want more jobs, they want more industries here. People want their Medicare system to be safe. People want to make sure that pensioners are not threatened by constant changes. People want to make sure that their kids are able to afford to buy a house in the future.
I'm happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Is Cory Bernardi taking Australian politics to a better place?
SHORTEN: Well we know that the Liberal Party and the Nationals are deeply divided and when you've got members of the Government attending pretty extreme events and saying, participating in some events where pretty wild and divisive things are said. I think this is a divided Government and the truth is, that if you are a divided Government, you can't run the country.
JOURNALIST: The WA Liberals have entered into a preference deal with One Nation where they will preference Pauline Hanson's Party ahead of the Nationals in some Upper House contests in exchange for One Nation preferences ahead of Labor in all Lower House seats, what do you think of this move? How dangerous is it?
SHORTEN: Frankly, I'm staggered that on one hand the Liberals spend so much time telling Australians they dislike One Nations policies but then they cuddle up to One Nation when the Liberals get desperate. Frankly, I'll leave the One Nation/Liberal deal to the judgement of the Australian people. But let me be clear, Labor will not be giving its preferences to One Nation. In politics you've got to stand for something. John Howard didn't give his preferences to One Nation. I won't give our preferences to One Nation. You've got to stand for something in politics.
JOURNALIST: Back to Cory Bernardi, he told Sky News this morning that he is open to the possibility of increased vetting for refugees to ensure they integrate into Australian culture, do you, does Labor support stricter immigration policy?
SHORTEN: Well we believe that the people who come here should respect our laws. If you become an Australian citizen you should adhere to our laws and to our expectations and our beliefs. But I'm not going to start participating in a race to the bottom in terms to demonising groups of Australians.
JOURNALIST: Just back to this Q Society speech, well speeches I guess, in Sydney and Melbourne. Do you think it’s the right of those individuals, the individual speakers at the event to make the comments they did to make anti-Islamic and homophobic slurs as part of free speech or do you think they should be called out as inappropriate?
SHORTEN: It's not just inappropriate, its wrong. I don't believe in demonising our fellow Australians. Now more than ever, this country needs to work together. But where you've got majorities, picking on minorities, that’s a recipe for disaster. I'm not into racial profiling. The debates about sexuality, I think shouldn't be happening, I just think that's no one’s business but people's own. I mean, the fact of the matter is that there is so many more important issues going on in this country.
I'd also like to stay, talking about a very important issue going on right now, the New South Wales fires are underway, I remember, it was only a few years ago, we had the terrible fires in Victoria. Bushfires are very confronting, they're very scary, you can prepare all you like for them but when you are faced with it, it's a very terrifying ordeal. Our thoughts are with the emergency services personnel, the professionals and the volunteers, for the people caught up in the midst of these terrible, terrible, bushfires. It's times like this you realise that some of the other political debates going on in this country are really a second order issue.
JOURNALIST: What are you telling your state colleagues in Queensland and WA that are facing the rise of One Nation and Cory Bernardi like politics and those issues? You've already spoken about it as inappropriate but seems to be attracting people’s attention at the very least.
SHORTEN: Well I think what’s turning people off the mainstream parties, is when people of Australia think that Turnbull or I are just interested in ripping each other down and not focusing on them, that's why it would have been easy to respond last week to the bait of a hysterical rant and personal insult, I chose not to. And the Government this week, if they want to put on similar fireworks, well we've put them on notice. We're not going to go down to the low road. There are bigger issues in this country. What the people of Australia want us to do is to fight for more jobs and more industries. What the people of this country want us to do is make sure that pensioners aren't getting affected by sneaky policies and by cuts to their basic conditions. What the people of this country want us to make sure that this generation of Australians hands on a better deal to their kids, not a worse deal. They want the politicians of Australia to say what they mean and to do stuff and get on with it. They’re over the schoolyard shenanigans which we saw in turbodrive last week.
In terms of One Nation and the rest of them, I am staggered that on one hand whilst the Liberals say they dislike the policies of One Nation, they're now cuddling up to One Nation when things are getting desperate for the Liberal Party. Labor state and federal will not be giving preferences to One Nation and in politics there is not much point being in it if you don't stand for what you believe in. John Howard wouldn't give his preferences to One Nation. I won't give my preferences to One Nation and I hope that that is the same for the federal Liberal Party.
JOURNALIST: Why has it taken you this long as a politician to come to the realisation that the Australian public is fed up with, as you put it, schoolyard shenanigans?
SHORTEN: I think we've known it, but I also think that in 2017 when you've seen after the last election, the growing disillusionment, people voting with their feet so to speak or walking with their vote to vote for small parties. That is a wakeup call. Yes we nearly won the last election, but we didn't. And the point about that is, for me, well what is it that Australians, what message were they sending us and to Malcolm Turnbull? I'm in there with 120 people in the real world. Sure, they're interested in politics, but they're interested in what politics can do for them. So I don't always get it right, I'm the first to admit that sometimes in the past I've been guilty of playing the name game and the blame game. But what Australians want, and I said this at the National Press Club on the 31st of January, is they want us not to do politics as usual. Now I didn't expect so quickly to have the opportunity to have my resolve tested as it was last week. But I'm pleased we didn't take the bait. And I think there is an opportunity for Labor to offer positives, we'll be fierce in disagreement with the Government, but on the issues. We don't think this is the time for a $50 billion tax cut when you're going after pensioners. We don't think this is the time for a $50 billion tax cut when people can't even afford their own home, to buy their first home. That's what Australians want from us. They want a legitimate argument, full of red meat and robustness but about issues that affect people, not just us. And this week we're going to keep to that approach, because that's the message, loud and clear, I've been getting since Parliament rose last Thursday.
Thanks everybody, have a lovely afternoon.