Bill's Transcripts



SUBJECT/S: Griffith by-election; Tony Abbott’s Commission of Cuts; Abbott Government cuts to payments; Indonesia-Australia relations; Nauru

KIERAN GILBERT:  Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten has this week marked 100 days in the job. This morning he’s campaigning in Brisbane with his candidate in the upcoming Griffith by-election, which of course is the seat vacated by the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.


Bill Shorten joins me now, live from the banks of the Brisbane River. Mr Shorten, thanks very much for your time. If we look at the Griffith by-election first of all on February 8. History would say that Labor should win that, the polls would suggest that as well?


SHORTEN:  No I think it’s pretty close actually Keiran. I’m on the ground here, this is my third day of being in the campaign with Labor’s candidate Terri Butler. There’s no doubt that because the election was so recently that it is a difficult fight for Labor. But one of the big issues of course is maintaining our health care system. In Queensland the LNP’s really taken the axe to healthcare services; hospital beds closed, nurses sacked. And of course everyone’s worried about what the Abbott Government will do to Medicare and increase the cost of going to the doctor. So there are real issues around health and our quality of living which are important. But it’s a close election, no question.


GILBERT:  Now as I mentioned in the introduction, you’ve marked 100 days as Opposition Leader. You’ve suggested in a couple of interviews that you’re willing to be constructive when it comes to the Government’s Commission of Audit, that you’re willing to co-operate, yet some of your own MPs are saying that the Audit Commission is simply a Trojan horse for big business. Which is it?


SHORTEN: Let me just explain - as an Opposition Leader I don’t wish to copy Tony Abbott’s mindlessly negative style, because of course if you spend your whole time opposing, if you win an election, you end up like the Abbott Government, breaking your promises because you haven’t done any homework in opposition. But this Commission of Audit, the fact that everything is on the table, well Labor’s not having a bar of that. The Liberal Party at the last election said that health wouldn’t get touched, that education wouldn’t get touched, that defence wouldn’t get touched, they said they weren’t interested in the GST. Now we find out that everything is on the table. There’s no way Labor will be party to rewarding Tony Abbott breaking promises in government.


GILBERT:  If you look at one potential savings in the welfare area, one in five Australians according to the Department of Human Services are now receiving support payments, Kevin Andrews has said this morning that’s unsustainable at $70 billion a year. He’s right isn’t he?


SHORTEN:  I’m a bit alarmed at what Kevin Andrews is saying.  People on the aged pension are getting older, there’s no Abbott Government policy that can make people younger, once you are growing old on the aged pension, that’s it.  What we are concerned about is the Abbott Government is proposing to reduce the rate of increase of the aged pension. Let me repeat that, that’s a big issue. Why on earth should Australians who pay taxes all their life , who are receiving a modest aged pension be told by the Abbott Government, certainly not something they were told before the election, that their rate of the increase of the aged pension could be slowed down. I mean, I don’t know what world the Abbott Government’s living in, but it’s not the real world.


The idea that older Australians who’ve payed taxes their whole life, who are receiving a modest aged pension, would have the rate of increase to the aged pension slowed down. I mean, why is it that the Abbott Government’s view is the only way that Australia can get ahead is putting a GP tax on poor people going to the doctor, is restricting the rate of increase to the aged pension. These guys have never seen a fixed income earner they haven’t wanted to whack.


GILBERT:  But, Mr Shorten, more than one in five Australians are now receiving support payments. In your view is that a sustainable situation, is it sustainable for the Budget?


SHORTEN:  First of all, we run a society and a nation, and what to me is important is what lives people are going to have in the future? It doesn’t seem sensible to me that when you’ve got a challenging budget, and I can see the Government have that challenge, they reach for the rule book which says: let’s go after people that go to the GP, let’s go after aged pensioners.  I mean if this government wanted to save some money, scrap the gold-plated billionaires, millionaires parental leave scheme. Maybe you might want to look at the multi-millionaires who are getting tax free super and have a look at that issue. I mean this is a government who, whenever they see a problem, start with an answer – how do we go after old people, people going to the doctor, people who get low superannuation.


I mean this government’s priorities are all wrong and they certainly Kieran, even if you do or don’t agree that they’re doing what they never told the voters before the election, that’s what I really dislike. The fact is that they were sneaky before the election and they’re being cynical now.


GILBERT: But you’re saying you want to be constructive with any proposals put forward by the Commission of Audit, but every saving that the Government has put up you’ve opposed, even savings that the Labor Government had proposed yourself, so you might be sounding constructive, but you’re actions seem to suggest otherwise.


SHORTEN: Well no, our principle is be constructive. But being constructive doesn’t mean doing over people who have fixed incomes. What’s constructive about agreeing to the Government to take the axe to our healthcare system? To slow the rate of the aged pension?


A lot of the generation ahead of us Kieran worked their whole lives, they paid their taxes, we didn’t have compulsory superannuation for a lot of time the aged pensioners were at work so they didn’t have the chance to get that payment, be able to save for their retirement. And now we’re saying to them, the aged pension, the aged pension is not winning a ticket in Tattslotto, it’s a modest payment. These people in the Abbott Government, say ok, we don’t have any ideas, what will we do? Oh of course, light bulb moment with Tony Abbott’s ministers, let’s go after the aged pension! Why didn’t we think of the before the election? I’ll tell you why, because they weren’t upfront with the Australian people, so yes Kieran, I’ll be constructive, but I’m not going to be complicit in doing over millions of people on the aged pension.


GILBERT:  A couple of issues to wrap up Mr Shorten, a senior Indonesian MP says Australia is stupid for claiming that the Navy had inadvertently made incursions into Indonesian territory. What do you make of that suggestion? The Indonesian MP, a member of their foreign affairs commission saying that the Navy of course knew where they were?


SHORTEN:  First things first, while I think this government, the Abbott Government needs to be upfront with the Australian people on what’s happening, whilst I think they’re being wreckless with our Indonesian relationship, I’m not going to have anyone, whether it’s Scott Morrison or an Indonesian MP pay out on our Navy. Our service people work hard, they go into harms way so we can have the quality of life we do in Australia. They spend long periods of time away from their families. I’ll be very clear, I don’t not believe that what is happening, with Scott Morrison and our relationship with Indonesia, the turmoil in our relationship. I’m not going to start blaming the Navy and I’ll stand up for them, no matter who is criticising them.


GILBERT: This Indonesian MP though says there is no way that the Australian authorities did not know that they had crossed the Indonesian border. Do you think that that’s a fair assessment?


SHORTEN: I’m not about to start blaming our Navy, I think those people on the boats and ships protecting our borders are being asked to enact policies which I believe the Abbott Government’s not being upfront with the Australian people. This is the problem,  when you’ve got a government who before the election said they’d tell everyone what’s going on on a weekly basis and now have gone to ground, then you create oxygen for other people to criticise Australia’s military – well I’m not into that.  I do wish that the Abbott Government would start just being upfront. If you want to defeat comments overseas  paying out on our military and our nation, the best way to do it I think is to just be upfront with your own people, with the Australian taxpayer. Australian citizens are not interested in bagging the military because I think they are doing a great job.  And to all the families of our service personnel, let your husbands and wives know that a lot of people in Australia respect what they are doing.


GILBERT: Finally, the legal crisis in Nauru given our links to the country and reliance on it when it comes to asylum seeker co-operation. Should Australia be demanding a judicial inquiry into that legal crisis which we’ve seen unfold in the last couple of days?


SHORTEN: I think it’s very concerning that you’ve got Australian jurists, eminent Australian lawyers – you’ve got all this kerfuffle with the Nauruan Government, so I am concerned by that. Yet again the first step is, the Abbott Government should come off holidays, they should tell the truth to the Australian people. Explain to us what is going on. In my experience and I’ve got a middle of the road view on a lot of matters, the best way you create a national consensus about what you’re doing, bring people into your trust. If the Abbott Government doesn’t trust the Australian people, to tell them what’s going on in Nauru, or border security, well to me, that’s going to be the seed of their problems in these issues. I find if you tell people upfront what’s going on in terms of these big national matters of immigration and borders, you generally get the Australian people, even if they don’t agree with everything you’re doing. Treating it all as a secret for the Australian people to try and work out what is happening, that’s just not smart.


GILBERT:   Mr Shorten, thanks for your time in Brisbane this morning, appreciate it.