Bill's Transcripts

Interview with Alan Jones on 2GB

ALAN JONES: It's seventeen after eight. Bill Shorten was first elected to the National Parliament in 2007. He is currently the Assistant Treasurer and the Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation. He's also a former National Secretary of the AWU. He's on the line.

Bill Shorten, good morning.

BILL SHORTEN: Good morning.

ALAN JONES: Thank you for your time. Hello?

BILL SHORTEN: I can hear you Alan.

ALAN JONES: Oh that's right. It seems to be an awkward line. I'll wait til you start talking. It seems to be breaking up. But can I just ask you firstly though, as a former Secretary of the AWU, about this chap Thomson? I mean well over one-point-three billion dollars of union members' money is given to Australian unions and the spending of that money is left entirely to the discretion of a small group of union secretaries. You were one of them. Did you ever spend money that wasn't in the interests or the benefit of the membership?

BILL SHORTEN: No. I have to say that I'm also Minister for Industrial Relations, so it's fallen to me in the last couple of months to conduct some of the matters which we've now seen come to light in terms of bringing matters to account. The report into the actions of some individuals and the HSU, some parts of the Health Services Union is incredibly disturbing to a union person, like nearly two million other Australians. It's extremely disappointing—the findings. In my own union, we had systems and accountability. You have to submit your returns to your committees of management. They then have to be audited and then annually they have to be submitted in the Federal Industrial Relations system to the Federal regulator.

ALAN JONES: So, if some kind of scrutiny was placed just say on you or on others. There are many members, former members, of the union in the Labor Government in Canberra. Would they pass muster? Or would they find irregularities similar to, if not as extensive as, those about which Craig Thomson is being alleged?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, I believe that the vast majority of trade unions and trade union representatives are honest and hardworking and would pass muster.

ALAN JONES: But nonetheless, at the end of the day—I mean, one former union official told me that an elected union secretary is a privileged person who spends their days surfing a wave of cash—his words—flexing their muscles in the Labor Party factional arena and occasionally saying something on television, and he pointed out to me there is an executive. But the same person told me union secretaries seek out the most uninterested and compliant people to sit on the executive. They don't want an executive that will challenge spending decisions or scrutinise credit card payments. So it's hard to believe that Thomson is just one person out of all of these that may well have misappropriated union funds.

BILL SHORTEN: I can't accept the proposition that all unions and all union officials…

ALAN JONES: No, I didn't say that.

BILL SHORTEN: Well, when you say hard to believe, the implication is that there is an endemic problem…

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] no, I'm not. I should say then—I should preface my comments by saying. I'm not saying that every union thief—every union boss is a thief. I'm just simply saying the system is open to abuse and it's hard to believe that Thomson is the only person allegedly who may well have abused the system.

BILL SHORTEN: Without commenting about some of the individuals in the HSU, what I would say is that union officials work very hard. I don't accept what that disgruntled person was saying. I know that they get up early. They work hard all day. They're interested in promoting the better job security, workplace safety and financial conditions of their members. But what I also believe is that this conduct in this report is appalling. What I also know is that this Government has proposed putting in an administrator into the HSU East Branch. This Government has—is proposing to tighten up the Government's rules, so that people such as yourself can have greater comfort. But what happened here is an isolated event and is not the order of the day.

ALAN JONES: But see, people are wondering why did the Gillard—particularly Julia Gillard—the Gillard Government continue to both shut up about this issue and Thomson and continue to support Thomson, if it weren't for the fact that there may have been many people in that Government who were terrified that the light might be shone on them?

BILL SHORTEN: No. That's not fair. The investigation into the HSU, parts of the HSU, has taken too long. I've said that. I've become the Minister in this area. It's taken too long. But what I also know is that during the investigation stage that report had to conclude. I actually believe that the eleven-hundred pages of the report plus supporting documentation, shows that the report is a thorough report. It now moves to the courts, where the findings in the report will be tested. Mr Thomson strenuously denies these claims. It will have to be tested in the courts.

But in the meantime, this Government with the substantial nature of this report is disappointed. It's appalled and furthermore, we will be proposing changes to the old legislation on governance. I think it is appropriate that union officials are required to disclose their remuneration…[inaudible].

ALAN JONES: I'm just—I don’t whether you're moving around. But I didn't hear anything of that last sentence. Can you hear me?

BILL SHORTEN: Yes. Sorry Alan. What I'd also say is that, as a former union official, when I see the sort of pay that some people are receiving, it takes my breath away. I never received those sort of salaries as a union rep.

ALAN JONES: But can you understand the cynicism in the electorate when they say the reason you may have intervened in the Federal Court, in order to take over or appoint an administrator, is that you would then sort of get in and move that in the shredder, get rid of documentation and remove the union from public scrutiny? The public are genuinely worried about this.

BILL SHORTEN: Oh well, the cynicism isn't deserved. In terms of proposing an administrator, clearly, this branch of this union is wracked by in‑fighting. We will—the O'Farrell Government following our lead, has now said it wants to put an administrator in, to the state registered union and we're happy to work—and I'd say this on your radio show Alan—we are happy to work with the O'Farrell Government to identify a mutually agreed administrator. There is no cover up. We actually just want this union to be returned to the control of the members.

ALAN JONES: So you've been—Williamson was a president of the ALP two years ago, Williamson. Are you being a supporter of Williamson?

BILL SHORTEN: No. I haven't dealt with Williamson a lot in the past. He's out of New South Wales. I haven't dealt with him a lot. The matters which have come to light now weren't available then and I think you'll find that the broader trade union movement has exactly the same reaction that people have about grossly inflated salaries and some of the other findings, which frankly do not describe what goes on in most organisations.

ALAN JONES: But with these extraordinary allegations against Thomson, is it moral, ethical and correct for the Gillard Government to still be accepting his vote?

BILL SHORTEN: As this—the first thing is that these findings are terrible findings. But as difficult as it is for some people to accept, they still until they have been tested in court, Mr Thompson is entitled to defend his case. In terms of his involvement with the ALP, he and the Prime Minister both reached the view that he should be suspended from the ALP. So he sits on his own in parliament.

ALAN JONES: Why would you suspend him? He's innocent.

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I think that this—the volume of the findings…

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] But that's the argument, isn't it? He's—because he's innocent, you're going to have his vote and yet the allegations are so bad that you've got to get rid of him from the party.

BILL SHORTEN: No. I think you are a well researched student of history and familiar with parliamentary convention. Periodically, it's not a common [inaudible], be they Conservative or Labor, have been charged with various matters, until the charges are determined and they have their day in court, they're vote has been exercised. You'd be aware that before 2007 election a number of Conservatives were accused of misusing entitlements. They were given the opportunity to vote in the parliament and they did. In terms of the suspension of Mr Thomson, he reached that view, as did the Prime Minister, that these matters were sufficiently serious. That continuing involvement within the Labor caucus was going to not be appropriate.

ALAN JONES: Do you understand the demoralisation amongst union people out there who work their guts out every day and willingly give their funds over and then they read that uncontrolled union credit card use totalled six-hundred-thousand dollars over four years?

BILL SHORTEN: Yes. It's hopeless conduct. When I was running my union, one wasn't able to just withdraw cash amounts on credit cards. The procurement of escort services by use of members' money completely not on.

ALAN JONES: Can I just ask you, because time is always against us…


ALAN JONES: …and back to the old chestnut. Interest rates have dropped, so self-funded retirees have got less income. I've spoken to you a million times about these drawdown provisions. We've—even Julia Gillard is saying that superannuation funds have taken a real bashing. Superannuation growth is in negative territory. Self-funded retirees are our heroes. They don't rely on anything from the Government. I've asked you before why you couldn’t reinstate the two per cent drawdown as opposed to the three per cent. You said you'd get some information to me about Treasury and the cost of this involved. You didn't get that information to me. Can I ask you, is there any possibility that the draw down will be returned to the two per cent?

BILL SHORTEN: The issue of performance in the markets of people's pension funds is a real issue. I agree with your observation. When we've spoken in the past, since we spoke, we were able to in fact indicate a further period of time where the drawdown rate wouldn't return to what it was pre-GFC crisis. I don't know why you haven't got the further information, which we agreed that I…

ALAN JONES: No. That was four per cent. That was four per cent. It was cut to two. Then you took it back to three and I said well in the light of the problems, interest rates are going down. They've got less income and then, of course, superannuation funds are in negative territory in terms of growth. These self-funded retirees are in awful trouble. Why couldn't we go back to the two per cent?

BILL SHORTEN: I see the point you are making about drawdown relief. That is why after one discussion we had on air—in fact, we were able to confirm it further will remain a three per cent rate for the next twelve months. I'm not in a position to make policy on radio. But I can see your point and I would just draw to people's attention, whilst the media appropriately always look for the bad news in the Budget, we're now providing much greater support in the area of aged care, including the ability for people to have a better funding model.

ALAN JONES: Sure. But I don't want to get into aged care, because we could go all day. I'm just on this with self-funded retirees, because I want to make another point here and time, as I said, always beats us. But you may not be aware that many of these people—so where are we on the two per cent?  Are you going to look at that or what?

BILL SHORTEN: Yes. I will pass that on to the Treasurer and I can see the point that you're making.

ALAN JONES: Yeah and it's a serious one. Now, there's a further problem, if I could just say to you, because whether or not you agree with the carbon dioxide tax or not, just forget that for a moment. Self-funded retirees' only source of income is the drawdown from—often, the drawdown from their superfund. They do not lodge a tax return because the fund pays the tax on their behalf. They may not be of pension age. So they can't register to receive a compensation payment.

Now, they've already missed out on the nine-hundred dollars economic stimulus payment for that reason and they're raising with me the issue that they have no way of being eligible for the compensation for the carbon tax, in spite of the fact that the compensation was designed for that purpose. How do these people qualify for that compensation?

BILL SHORTEN: I'll have to take on notice that point you've just raised. I…

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] can I write you a letter about that?


ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] because it is a critical issue, Bill. Bill, there are many people writing to me about that.

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah. It's a fair enough point.


BILL SHORTEN: I will—we'll obviously get your producers and…

ALAN JONES: No, no producer. I'm the producer.


ALAN JONES: I'll drop you a note. I'll drop you a note.

BILL SHORTEN: I appreciate that.

ALAN JONES: And we'll see if we can get an answer. Okay.

BILL SHORTEN: Absolutely and can I also just say, because you've helped push it in the past, concrete steps towards a National Disability Insurance Scheme were announced last night too and I think for all those carers out there and under the campaign for carers. This is real prospect that you know, the anxiety that the aging parents feel with their adult children with severe disabilities, who is going to look after them when they're gone? I think we're genuinely making progress.

ALAN JONES: Okay. We've got to go, both of us.


ALAN JONES: But thank you for your time. Okay, it's half past eight.