Bill's Transcripts

Interview: ABC 774 with Jon Faine



FRIDAY, 23 MAY 2014


SUBJECT / S: Tony Abbott’s Budget of Broken Promises; Cuts to Education; Marriage Equality; Euthanasia; Superannuation; Immigration; Rebuilding Labor.


JON FAINE: Good morning to you.




FAINE: Economic credibility in politics is everything and yours is still an issue as the ALP is still in voters' minds regarded as a party of economic recklessness. You've done nothing so far to suggest that you will be any different?


SHORTEN: No, I don't think either assumption is right there. First of all when we talk about Labor's legacy, when Labor went out of power we had a Triple-A credit rating from all three of the global or international credit rating agencies.


FAINE: A legacy of the past but you were spending more than the Government was earning?


SHORTEN: But your point when you opened was that there was some big economic cloud over Labor and I'm just setting the record straight. Only eight countries in the world have a Triple-A rating. Even John Howard when he was Prime Minister never secured the Triple-A credit rating from around the world. So I just make that point without belabouring it.


FAINE: But if things had kept going in that way it would've been lost and there is nothing that you've said, that I’m aware of, so far while you've been Opposition Leader to suggest that you would take a more rigorous and sustainable approach to economic management?


SHORTEN: Well let me reassure your listeners there are choices in this country and first of all the Abbott Budget, the Abbott-Hockey Budget is dreadfully unfair on lots of people of middle and lower income backgrounds –


FAINE: I'm not asking you about theirs. I'm asking you about yours?


SHORTEN: But it’s all comparative, so you’ve got one choice which is the Abbott-Hockey Liberal budget which is dreadfully unfair and they never told us about it before the last election. We've offered up sensible savings to the Government. The first one would be to get rid of their paid parental leave scheme which is an extraordinary act of unnecessary ego where millionaires can get $50,000, yet you’ve got pensioners worrying about cuts to their own very modest incomes.


FAINE: We voted, we voted at an election that was one of their policies. They got a majority. They can implement it. I'll come to their Budget and we'll dissect it in a moment but what's your alternative big-picture view of how you run an economy so that it is sustainable and heading toward as surplus?


SHORTEN: It's all about growth. It's all about skills. It's all about infrastructure. Australia's a country of 23 million people in a much larger world. If we want to succeed as a nation, we want to succeed as a community and as a society, you can either take the low road of tax and cut and sell-off or you can take the approach that says we want to grow the economy and the best way to grow the economy is fund education. Long after the mineral prices have ebbed and the prices have gone up and down, if we spend resources making sure that our kids and our adults get the best possible education and skills in the world, if we invest in science and innovation, if we invest in productive infrastructure and if we have a good safety net underpinning it. So there you go, there’s a trifecta, education, science and innovation and infrastructure –


FAINE: There’s a $20 billion science fund you’ve said that you don’t think should be built?


SHORTEN: I’ll just answer your first question then I’ll go to your second one. Education, if people want to know what Labor stands for this morning, good education, becoming a science and innovation nation, good infrastructure, with a fair safety net underneath. In terms of this medical research fund - the Future Fund that the Government has proposed, you know, I think that's a shabby con job. First of all in the early years there's not much money going into but secondly and much more importantly if a nation believes that science and research is important, which I certainly do, then what you do is fund it out of consolidated revenue. You don't tax the sick and rob the Medicare system. You don't solve the challenges of research in the future by robbing poor people, by robbing sick people, by making the whole medical system two tiered like we see in America.


FAINE: The fuel excise, you say you're against it. Why? I would've thought it was strong Labor policy whether you're in a partnership with the Greens or not to have a tax on fuel and to index it for inflation?


SHORTEN: Well, just again, thinking about your listeners this morning who are battling the wet roads in Melbourne, my observation is why on earth is the Abbott Government increasing the cost of living pressure on families?


FAINE: Because it's a good way to tax fuel -


SHORTEN: Well I don't agree. I think that the contrary is that making it harder for families to make ends meet especially when you’ve got the massive cuts to family payments, when you're attacking the fixed income pensioners, when you're attacking Medicare –


FAINE: It's a cheap populist measure and it's flying in the face of everything that Labor governments have stood for in the past?


SHORTEN: No, I can tell you another thing that Labor stands for. We believe that cost of living pressures are real, families living fortnight to fortnight. It is not the job of the national budget to stuff up family budgets.


FAINE: High income earners, a deficit levy on high income earners. Do you or don't you support it? It's quite ambiguous what you and your Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen have been saying over the last week?


SHORTEN: First of all the increase, when you say a deficit levy, let’s call it what it is. This is an increase in income tax levels.


FAINE: A temporary tax, call it anything, but do you support it or not?


SHORTEN: It sounds like you’ve been reading out of the Tony Abbott weasel words book. It's not a temporary deficit levy, it's a new income tax which they said they wouldn’t do before the last election –


FAINE: Do you support it or not?


SHORTEN: Well I’m just setting up, some issues take longer than five seconds to answer. First of all, this is a broken promise and it's increasing people's taxes. However, we have bigger priorities to fight. We'll have more to say about this deficit levy in coming days.


FAINE: So you're going to support it?


SHORTEN: Well we've got bigger priorities. So Australians understand what Labor’s thinking, because they get to hear what the Abbott Government’s thinking incessantly. We believe on one hand it's a broken promise but on the other hand the broken promises attacking the pensioners, attacking Medicare, attacking the petrol excise, attacking kids going to university from modest backgrounds, they are bigger issues for us to fight along with family payments.


FAINE: So a Labor Government will support a tax on the rich? Hardly a headline but it's astonishing that a conservative government is even trying it?


SHORTEN: Unfortunately, we're not the Government.




SHORTEN: But I appreciate –


FAINE: You will support in measure and let it go through the Senate?


SHORTEN: We haven't got to a final position but I certainly just say to Australians who are worried about the Budget; Labor's going to fight it as its top priorities, the attacks on Medicare, the attacks on pensioners, the attacks on the petrol and cost of living, the attacks on people trying to send their kids to uni or get a proper education after secondary school.


FAINE: Deregulation of university fees is one of the key features of the post-budget economic horizon. Do you support the deregulation of university fees at all?


SHORTEN: No, our view is that this is an ill-conceived policy because it's increasing the debts which will be put on students and their parents. The big thing from Gough Whitlam onwards is that we believe in making university accessible to all. This shows the sheer lunar hypocrisy of the Abbott Government. They say they're all in favour of research but they're taking money out of the universities.


FAINE: What have you offered Clive Palmer for support to stop and block measures in the Senate?


SHORTEN: Nothing.


FAINE: Have you met with Clive Palmer?


SHORTEN: Spoken to Clive Palmer but we've had no transactional negotiation whatsoever.


FAINE: What's he asking for?


SHORTEN: Well we haven't got down to that level of detail. The Budget came down last Tuesday and like most Australians, we're all just trying to work out - I think we've all been taken by surprise quite how mean and unfair these attacks are. The other thing is Tony Abbott made himself the patron saint of being the politician who would not break promises. He lied before the election. He's done it wilfully and systemically.


FAINE: Politicians do that apparently. The carbon tax has killed –


SHORTEN: Jon, let's not have throwaway lines. Tony Abbott –


FAINE: Well your side of politics when in office said all sorts of things that then they either changed their minds on or lied to the electorate about and now we're seeing the same sorts of political strategies.


SHORTEN: Jon, I’ve heard the replay of your very interview where you got Tony Abbott to say when, you know, he was making promises before the election. You said that ‘will you be one of these politicians who there’s a crisis after the event and therefore you have to change your promises or break them?’ He said no he wouldn't be. This guy held himself out to be something special and something different. He's lied and what's worse about his lies they're hurting millions of real people and Labor's not going to stand up, we’re not going to let that go through to the keeper.


FAINE: We have to get to callers; a carbon tax has dealt with and killed the careers of two of your predecessors as Labor leaders. Are you committed to a carbon tax if in future you do get your hands on the levers?


SHORTEN: I'm committed to real action on climate change, not this Tony Abbott climate sceptics policy where you pay big polluters to pollute. We believe that there should be a mechanism which tackles the challenge of climate change and we will reveal all our policies in good time before the next election but there's a big difference between Labor and Liberal. We think that climate change is real.


FAINE: Do you concede the boats have stopped?


SHORTEN: In terms of the boat policy I concede that the Government is addicted to a culture of secrecy. You know, they've got this Cambodia deal which they won't tell anyone about. They won't tell anyone, they won’t release their reports about what happened on Manus Island so –


FAINE: Do you concede the boats have stopped?


SHORTEN: What I concede is that this Government has got an approach which is totally different in terms of its addiction to secrecy. Let's just wait and see how the rest of the policies are going.


FAINE: So you won't even concede that what was one of the key planks in voters abandoning support for Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd that that's been well managed by Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott’s government?


SHORTEN: I’m not going to give this Government too much credit when I'm dealing with the implications of their Budget, I’m sorry.  This is a Government who lied their way into office, they're fundamentally trying to create a permanent underclass in this country and Labor will fight them. I know that some people say Labor shouldn't just oppose the Abbott Government. Well, this Government is doing things which are obnoxious and unfair.


FAINE: Do you support gay marriage?


SHORTEN: I voted to legalise it.


FAINE: Do you support voluntary euthanasia being introduced in Australia?




FAINE: Under any circumstances?


SHORTEN: Well, I think that the current system, for instance, represented by the majority opinion I believe --  first of all let's not rush this euthanasia point because it's an incredibly complex matter. What I think about euthanasia on one hand is that there's a spectrum of views. What I believe has been working reasonably well is some of the advanced care guidelines which Australia has and I think they're some of the best in the world. Empowering clinicians, empowering doctors to deal with their patients in an informed manner and getting the discretion of the doctors who are treating patients that's what works best in my opinion.


FAINE: If you can't get your internal reforms of the Labor Party through the Victorian State conference, your home base, what hope have you got of doing it nationally?


SHORTEN: Labor will rebuild, we've started that process. We’ve got thousands of more members than we've had previously.


FAINE: That's the headline. My question specifically is about if you can't get it through the Victorian State conference, what hope is there?

SHORTEN: Well we are getting our processes through.


FAINE: They didn't go through?


SHORTEN: Yes, some of them did and some of them are going to take more work. Jon, Rome wasn't built in a day. Labor's determined to rebuild because we want to be a stronger party. We're getting thousands more members joining the party. I'd say to anyone who's listening who's interested in Australian politics from a progressive point of view the Labor Party‘s interested to get your involvement.

FAINE: Let’s get to callers Richard in Camberwell. Good morning.

CALLER: Good morning Jon.

FAINE: You’re through to Mr Shorten, go ahead.

CALLER: I’d like to ask Mr Shorten what is there policies on negative gearing, reforms to superannuation for very wealthy people, capital gains tax and family trusts?

FAINE:  Well there’s a lot in there Richard, negative gearing Bill Shorten?

SHORTEN: Well there is a lot in there. The overarching answer is we’ll be working through our policies before the next election, we’ll reveal them in good time. When we reveal them we will keep them.

FAINE: Do you revert back to Henry and the Henry recommendation’s?

SHORTEN: Well there was one set of changes which this Government’s moth-balled which I’ll go to specifically because I’m on the record about them previously. This is reform to superannuation. In the pension draw-down phase of superannuation some Australians are fortunate enough and have been supported by the taxpayer to have millions of dollars in their accounts of which they will then, in interest, in other words not their principle by the interest they earn annually would be in excess of $100,000. We propose that there should be a modest tax paid on the earnings of a fund where you’ve got millions of dollars in it so I think there is further work to be done there. This Government’s scrapped it. So on one hand if you’re a multimillionaire you pay no tax on your interest in retirement but on the other hand if you’re a pensioner on $20,000 you’re losing supplements worth hundreds of dollars.

FAINE: So you’d hit up people with self-funded super funds?

SHORTEN: No, what I’ve said is I’m already on the record on this matter. You can use the emotive language that you like about it, what I would be very clear about here is that we’ve got to recognise that when you’ve saved a certain amount of money in retirement into the millions of dollars, you probably don’t need tax free income, do you? Shouldn’t we use scarce taxpayer dollars to help everyone, not just some people?

FAINE: Rowan in Deer Park, morning Rowan.

CALLER: Morning chaps, how are we?

FAINE: Very well.

CALLER: That’s good. Now Bill you say this Budget’s about truth and honesty, well you’ve got form on truth and honesty as well mate, so which do we believe, the wicked witch of the east or the wicked witch of the west? Who’s going to tell me the truth?

SHORTEN: Well what I can say to you Rowan is that if you look at all of the Tony Abbott ads and interviews before the last election for weeks and weeks you couldn’t turn on a TV set without his head appearing on television saying ‘yeah, I’m not going to increase taxes, health and education there will be no cuts.’ He even said he wouldn’t cut the ABC. The problem is Rowan, what this guy’s doing now he’s got elected is there’s nothing that he didn’t say which he’s not putting back on the table to revisit and change his mind on.

FAINE: John in North Caulfield, good morning.

CALLER: Good morning. First of all I want to ask whether, if the Labor Government get into power again , well before they get into power were they to call for a double dissolution, refusing supply. I just also want to say that the Abbott Government has been wrecking the Australian economy, it’s probably been the most destructive government in Australian history –

FAINE: Can you make a question out of it John?

CALLER: Well, there has to be a concerted campaign to get these people out of power.

FAINE: Okay, I’ll take it as a question. Would you block supply to trigger a double dissolution?

SHORTEN: Convention is that Labor will not block supply, that doesn’t mean though that some of his nasty proposals that Mr Abbott’s proposing to put through the parliament we won’t block, but the actual appropriation, the supply bills which go towards the parliament giving power to raise money, to pay the public servants, to pay the pensioners Labor wouldn’t block them.

FAINE: Glen in Boronia good morning to you Glen.

CALLER: G’day guys. Mr Shorten I just wanted to say that I previously was a Labor voter, last couple of elections I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for you. It’s such a turn off when every single thing that comes out of yourself, mouth is just negative, it is extremely negative. You cannot say one positive thing. If you could just acknowledge that you guys made a mistake – the Liberals will make mistakes, you guys make mistakes, why don’t you just admit you made the mistakes, with the boats and that the Liberals are [inaudible]?


FAINE: Okay Glen, Good point, why won’t you acknowledge that?


SHORTEN: Well Glen also made another point, and he said Labor’s negative and that’s why he won’t vote Labor. I don’t know who you might have voted for in the last election because Tony Abbott was the emperor of negative. In terms of ourselves, we will work with the Liberals on sensible propositions, we do believe in a sustainable Budget, making sure it’s on track. But what you call negative is me defending Medicare or me defending the pensioners, or indeed me wanting to make sure you don’t pay more petrol tax when you fill up in the car you’re probably driving at the moment. If you call that negative, I call that standing up for Australia against Tony Abbott’s extreme collection of unfair broken promises.


FAINE: Specially, Glen says why not acknowledge that they’ve stopped the boats? Which is clearly a very important policy in Western Australia and Western Sydney?


SHORTEN: The facts show we’ve had far fewer boat arrivals in the last few months, this is true –


FAINE: Or have we just been told about far fewer boat arrivals?


SHORTEN: The problem is, we’ve been asked to sort of agree with both sides of the coin and we’ve only seen one side. I don’t know what happened on Manus Island, I don’t know the terms of their deal with Cambodia. And it’s not the job of the Opposition to get a sunny stamp to rubber stamp the Government. We’re not going to give a green light to Tony Abbott wrecking this country. I wish he wasn’t wrecking the country. The truth is, what he’s doing is negative. We’re being positive because we’re for Medicare, we’re for pensioners, we’re for kids from modest backgrounds being able to go to university.


FAINE: A couple of more calls, and then the former Business Council of Australia president and the Chair of the National Commission of Audit, whose blueprint was the bones upon which Joe Hockey’s Budget was built. He’ll be joining us, Tony Shepherd, that’s coming up shortly. Annie in Geelong, good morning Annie.


CALLER: Good morning Jon and Bill. I’ve been a rusted on Labor voter my entire life until the last election. And I just don’t believe now that either party is worth voting for, the negativity that comes from both sides of politics is counter-productive to a successful economy. We’ve lost all our manufacturing. To talk about training and education – what would you do, Bill, in creating employment for these young people who are forced into education and training?


FAINE: Bill Shorten?


SHORTEN: Well Annie, Labor is positive but the nature of the coverage which we’re going to get when opposing their Budget is invariably going to put us as people who say ‘we don’t like his really bad ideas.’ So I get why you might be frustrated with the political debate. But if you were in my shoes, you wouldn’t want to waive through the cuts to Medicare, the cuts to the pensioners or the increasing cost in living. In terms of positive views, I’ve spent a lot of my adult life representing workers, so I’ve spent a lot of time in Geelong, be it at Alcoa, at the Shell refinery, indeed at other places which have subsequently, in manufacturing, been shut. I know that you’ve got to have an environment where you build and create jobs, you do that through good infrastructure, so that people can move their goods and services to airports and ports. Labor’s been doing that down in Geelong. The other thing though, is take your big manufacturing powerhouses like Alcoa, like the car industry, like Shell – what this Government’s got to do is stand up for manufacturing. I don’t see them having any positive policies. Do you know, they’ll go down to Geelong for a fundraiser, the Liberal Party, but they haven’t been down to Alcoa to see how the workers are coping with the closure.


FAINE: It’s been fascinating to bookend Tony Abbott here on Wednesday and you here this morning. People can make up their own minds and I’ll take calls about that right through the morning. Bill Shorten, thank you for your time this morning and undoubtedly we’ll speak again soon


SHORTEN: Good morning, have a lovely day.