Bill's Transcripts

Interview: 2SM with John Laws





SUBJECT / S: Tony Abbott’s Budget lies; GST



JOHN LAWS: Morning Bill, can you wink?

SHORTEN: I can wink, yes I can.

LAWS: With both eyes?

SHORTEN: When does winking become blinking?

LAWS: Can you believe all the fuss about the stupid wink?

SHORTEN: No, I think, no at one level I can’t. At another level I think it’s important whatever one’s politics that whenever you’ve got callers you don’t in any fashion roll your eyes or, you know, you’ve got to treat people with respect I think.

LAWS: Well I agree with that, and you’ve certainly got to be careful if there’s a camera pointing at you.

SHORTEN: Yes indeed.

LAWS: Is Australia’s economy in such dire circumstances as some would have us believe?

SHORTEN: No, I don’t believe that the case has been satisfactorily made out to the Australian people why they should suffer all this pain for what is a fairly unfair budget, well not fairly, it’s an unfair budget. Australia always has to be keeping up and changing and evolving but we do have a AAA credit rating, our interest rates are relatively low, we need to have a sustainable budget over the medium term. That doesn’t mean that you can penalise people who don’t earn a lot of money when they go to work.


LAWS: Yeah, look if the states are hit with the cuts to health and education would raising the GST be an option to make sure our hospitals and schools are properly funded? Is that likely to happen?

SHORTEN: I’ve got no doubt that the Abbott Government’s trying to raise the GST by effectively blackmailing the states through massive cuts to funding. I just don’t believe that case, again, has been made out. The challenge in Australia is to grow, it’s to grow and make sure we do so fairly. You don’t grow Australia’s future by cutting back in education; you don’t do that by making it harder for kids to get to university; you don’t do it by cutting back on some of the supplements and payments to pensioners. You’ve just got to have a smarter way of doing things than just cutting and slashing and taxing and breaking your promises.

LAWS: Yeah, well, I mean a lot of people would say and are saying that Labor in fact is to blame for the current situation Australia faces, I assume you won’t accept that?

SHORTEN: What I don’t accept is that Australia’s situation is as diabolical as would justify these unfair, harsh, promise breaking new taxes and cuts, but the case hasn’t been made. Tony Abbott loves to talk about, you know, the Budget’s ‘fire brigade’. The only thing is I think he’s rung a false alarm here. I think it’s unnecessary. The way you advance Australia is you invest in infrastructure so people get to and from work and trucks can move around this country, you invest in education be it pre-school, or schools or unis but you don’t do it by wrecking Medicare and putting extra costs on pensioners and lower income earners.

LAWS: Okay, now tell me this though, the question is, is Labor to blame for the current situation Australia faces, even partially?

SHORTEN: Well again, when we say the current situation, let’s take stock of where we stand in the world. Our government debt to the size of the economy is one seventh that of advanced manufacturing nation –

LAWS: Yeah, so that’s good.

SHORTEN: That’s right, so the situation’s not quite as grim as some of the commentators would say. Then we get to the issue of interest rates. Well remember John Howard famously said that they would always be lower under him, but in fact they dropped 10 times under Labor. You’ve got, we were able to increase the pension reasonably, it’s not, the pension is pretty modest, but we were able to make significant improvements to it. I don’t think this country is the wreck which the Abbott Government would have us believe. I tell you what, most people who get off a plane at Mascot or Tullamarine or another airport from overseas, most people, be they foreigners or be they Australians returning home, they don’t say ‘oh, I’d like to get on a plane and go somewhere else again because this county’s no good.’

LAWS: No, we’ll hardly anybody says that, but has Labor contributed to the condition of this country or should we be thanking the Liberal Party for what they’ve done if people arrive here and say this is great, we don’t want to leave? Who is responsible for making this country great?

SHORTEN: The Australian people are responsible for making this country great, Australian business, Australian communities –

LAWS: Okay, but they’ve got to be guided by somebody?

SHORTEN: The role of the government is to help navigate the future.

LAWS: Yeah.

SHORTEN: But when you have a look at [inaudible] government, one of the biggest things the federal government does is bring down a budget. That is their day job, to get the Budget right.

LAWS: Yes.

SHORTEN: And what they’ve done here is they’ve, the Abbott Government and Joe Hockey have certainly said what they want the future to look like; American style health care, American style class division when it comes to being able to go beyond school to further studies, they’ve said that everyone’s got to pay a petrol tax. You remember it wasn’t so long ago that Tony Abbott said that putting a price on carbon was the end of the civilised world as we know it. The petrol tax is far more significant in terms of the cost impacts it’s going to have.

LAWS: Yeah, well the petrol tax affects more people.

SHORTEN: It affects every aspect of our life and there’s no compensation for it and what problem is it fixing? So it’s a hit on the cost of living. I know Australians want governments and oppositions to stop the arguing and get on with running the country –

LAWS: Yes.

SHORTEN: We are prepared to work with the government but what we can’t do is have a gun put to our head and say well you’ve got to give up on accessible Medicare. I mean, GPs are already saying people are stopping coming to see doctors now. Now some people might say well that’s a good thing, I would beg to differ. Most people go to the doctor because they need to get help with being sick. If you get people to defer going to the doctor that’s not going make them better, it just means they wait until they’re more sick and they’re more ill and then that’s more costly.

LAWS: Yes, but there would be a section, and I’m sure it’s very small, but I’m sure there would a section of the community that do go to the doctor for a bit of a chat.

SHORTEN: That is entirely possible, but what I would say is I don’t want Australians self-medicating or using doctor Google. I don’t want, I’m concerned, the way to fix up costs in the health system is by working with the clinicians and the doctors, not by putting a bouncer at the door of a GP in the form of a new tax and refusing entry.

LAWS: Yeah, your polling numbers have increased since the Budget was revealed, would you contribute it to your own policies or the government’s failure to sell their own ideas?

SHORTEN: There’s no doubt that this Budget is so unfair that it’s woken people up, people pay more attention to this Budget than they have in 20 years –

LAWS: Okay, but tell me in one sentence why is it unfair?

SHORTEN: It creates a permanent underclass and divides Australia.

LAWS: Well, you’ve answered the question. Do you really believe it creates a permanent underclass?

SHORTEN: I do. I think that it’s, people on fixed incomes do worse. The pensioners, they want to slow down the rate of the pension increases. They want to make it, they want to discourage young people from going to university and their parents having that aspiration by increasing the level of debt people pay. They want to put a petrol tax which obviously affects middle and poorer, middle income and poorer people more –

LAWS: Yes.

SHORTEN: And they, with Medicare they’re putting a tax on people who go to the doctor. And we see with their families payments, there’s been reports in the Fairfax newspapers today that the people hit hardest are the people on between $30,000 and $50,000 a year.


LAWS: That’s right.


SHORTEN: And they’re the ones who work and don’t get paid a lot as it is, they’re the ones who, as someone said, they clean up after everyone else, they cook their meals, they drive them to work, you know, these are the people who make this country run. And we don’t want an underclass like they have in America.


LAWS: No, I don’t believe we do, I think it would be a tragedy if there was ever and underclass. A classless society has worked pretty well, I don’t think that we’re class conscious are we, in Australia?


SHORTEN: No we’re not, and Labor does best when we’re not hung up about class. But what I also think is the Liberals and the Nats also need to stand up for people on ordinary incomes, not just the top end.


LAWS: The poorest 20 per cent of Australian families are going to $1.1 billion more into the Government coffers than the richest people, as a result of this Budget. How the hell can that – I mean, the burden is falling on the poor. How the hell can that be right?


SHORTEN: It’s crazy. We need people who aren’t doing well to feel they’ve got a stake in the system, and that the harder they work the better they can do.


LAWS: What do you think Joe Hockey was thinking when he came up with this?


SHORTEN: I don’t know, I think they’re out of touch, frankly. I don’t think they realise how people earn their money and how people structure their lives. Most Australians are not greedy people, we know that, you know that. You can see them every Sunday turning over sausages at the barbeque for the local football, you see them behaving in a civil manner to each other on our trains and on our roads, you see them working hard. They don’t ask for a lot. I think though, they can reasonably expect of a government, no matter if they’re Liberal or National or Labor, that you can expect the Government to work out a way of running the Budget without stinging the people at the middle and lower ends of the spectrum.


LAWS: Yeah, well I would’ve thought that in a country like Australia, we are a compassionate people, we should be doing our best to look after people who need a hand up, and there are plenty of them. Do you think we do enough for pensioners?


SHORTEN: No, and I think that this current debate is devastating for pensioners.


LAWS: So do I.


SHORTEN: I mean, I talk to pensioners every day. There are pensioners on my street who help mind our kids, they’re good people, they make a street. You know, you can buy a house, you can pay whatever you like, but it’s the neighbours that make your house.


LAWS: You bet.


SHORTEN: And I am lucky that in my suburb where I live, I’ve got great pensioners. But they talk to me, and they say ‘Bill, we’re just scared.’ And now Tony Abbott says people like myself are exaggerating. Well, he’s taking away money from the states who give it to the pensioners for transport and electricity concessions. He’s said that he wants to lower the rate of increase to the pension to the lowest denominator. What is going on?


LAWS: Yeah, well, I don’t know. I guess he figures that money needs to be saved and what –


SHORTEN: I beg your pardon John –


LAWS: No, go ahead.


SHORTEN: What sends pensioners ballistic, you know, it’s like a new space program, this government, powering pensioners into orbit, is when they find out that millionaires can get $50,000 for having a baby.


LAWS: That’s crazy.


SHORTEN: I don’t know who the political hard heads around Tony Abbott are but they should be – I don’t know why they’re persisting with this. That’s $22 billion over four years.


LAWS: I know. Yesterday I talked to the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who I have to say equipped himself very well, I think he’s a very bright fellow. But I think he wasn’t too clear on the details of this Cambodia agreement. Do you think it’s safe to send refugees to live in a place like Cambodia?


SHORTEN: I honestly don’t know. You read what you do about life in Cambodia, I don’t know. But we can’t send anyone until the Australian people are satisfied that it is safe.


LAWS: Yeah I agree with that. But how can we ever be sure it is safe?


SHORTEN: I value the counsel of Richard Marles and my Shadow Cabinet team, that is an issue that will be at the front of their mind.  


LAWS: Ok, well it should be.


SHORTEN: I think it’s a legitimate question of safety so I’m sure that – the Government needs to address that, and I’m sure they’re conscious of that. But what I will also say is that whilst they’re talking about Cambodia, I think they also need to re-assess some of their priorities in Australia, they’ve got the wrong priorities at the moment.


LAWS: In Australia?


SHORTEN: Yeah, I think this Government has – you know, they got elected, good luck to them. They got more votes than Labor, I respect that outcome. But this Budget isn’t what they promised the Australian people before the last election.


LAWS: No, but do you think that politicians or governments ever stand by what they’ve said prior to an election? I mean, we’ve only got to go back to the boring ‘no carbon tax.’


SHORTEN: True, but Tony Abbott did make himself the patron saint of never breaking promises. Rarely have I seen a human being stake so much of their political reputation on being a ‘what you see is what you get’ person, and this Budget is not what they said they would be before the election. If you set yourself up to be the moral paragon, if you want to live in a glass house you shouldn’t throw rocks. He has constructed a situation of his own making. And he says to Australians ‘oh you people hear different things’ – no they didn’t. They heard him say before the election, and now he’s doing something else.


LAWS: The extraordinary thing about it is I’ve got his statements, all his statements, his voice making the statements that nothing would change here, nothing would change there, nobody would be hurt here, pensioners wouldn’t be hurt. And he still went ahead and did it, even though he allowed himself to publicly make all these statements. Now I don’t believe it. Do you accept the fact that it’s fair that people prior to gaining office, to make all sorts of rash statements and then say ‘oh well sorry we can’t afford it’?


SHORTEN: No I don’t, and we’re very conscious of that as we develop our ideas for the next election. It is one thing to break promises, but I think another thing which is a factor that’s making this so hot at the moment is that the promises they are breaking are hurting so many people.


LAWS: And the wrong people.


SHORTEN: That’s exactly right. I don’t have a class war mentality, I don’t begrudge people their success. But I do think that scarce taxpayer resources should be designed to lift people up, not be used to withdraw to punish people.




SHORTEN: I have a different view of the world to Tony Abbott, I think that this country works best when we’re pulling together, not pulling apart.


LAWS: Yep. Ok, good to talk to you Bill, I appreciate your time, you’ve been most generous with it.


SHORTEN: Thank you, and you have a nice day too.


LAWS: And hopefully we’ll get to talk again soon.


SHORTEN: I’d like that.