Interview with Adam Spencer on ABC 602 Sydney Breakfast Show

05 December 2011

Read or listen to my interview with Adam Spencer on ABC 602 Sydney Breakfast Show about an NDIS and the ALP Conference. 

Interview with Adam Spencer on ABC 602 Sydney Breakfast Show

Subjects: National Disability Insurance Scheme, ALP National Conference

Adam Spencer:  Lost somewhat in the noise over the ALP National Conference at the weekend with decisions like gay marriage, uranium and the like was also a significant development for the National Disability Insurance Scheme which is being championed by the Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten.

Bill Shorten joins us here now. Bill Shorten, thanks for your time.

Bill Shorten: Good morning Adam.

Adam Spencer: Now Labor has unanimously backed a National Disability Insurance Scheme. You’d have to be happy.

Bill Shorten: I am. Two and a half years ago I supported a resolution that it should be investigated. Progress has been made in committing political will into building up the scheme that will change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities and their carers. It is really great news and I am pleased to be talking about it.

Adam Spencer: Do you have sufficient support from the Greens, from the opposition, etc? When will we see something like this as law?

Bill Shorten: All the political parties have said that in principle they will look at it. I can’t see anyone that would stop it, that’s my point. People that are listening in that are carers, or people that claim disabilities they appropriately want it tomorrow.  Unfortunately it can’t happen tomorrow. What’s been put in place is the commitment of the states to work with us, what’s been put in place is an office to start researching how you set up an insurance commission.

This is the proposition. The proposition is: at all stages of your life if you could get individualised packages of support based on your need rather than how you got your impairment, than a whole lot of people are going to have a lot more control in their lives than they otherwise would.

At the moment in Australia, say for instance you are in Sydney and you have a terrible car crash in Queensland or Western Australia and no one can recall what happened even though you might have a severed spine and a Queensland or Western Australian number plate. If you are in New South Wales you will at least get lifetime care, while those in those other two states will just get a very basic system because they can’t prove fault. It’s just crazy.

Adam Spencer: So that’s a decision that has been made at this week’s conference, but some people might be slightly confused because also coming out of the weekend’s conference you want to change the party’s platform on gay marriage but there are no guarantees that’s going to come through as law. It’s being panned by some as a weak or gutless decision on the Labor’s party’s part. If the majority of people at conference agree with gay marriage, the public opinion polls significantly show a majority of people in favour of this, then why has Labor gone halfway and then stepped back?

Bill Shorten: I think the Labor party position we’re docking on a conscience vote is the only smart and respectful thing to do. Let’s face it, there are some people in the community who believe same sex relationships should be recognised under the marriage act. There are people with religious convictions with a range of views who don’t agree with that, they think marriage should be between a man and a woman. On these issues of great moral value it is not inappropriate to allow individual members of Parliament to exercise their own choice. I mean if you want to get tolerance and respect, you don’t do so by forcing everyone in disagreement with you to do something different, do you?

Adam Spencer: The other thing that has come out of the weekend, Mr Shorten, is the suggestion that whilst there were individual policy areas like uranium to India, gay marriage, etc debated to some extent, the big question of what has been dogging the Labor party   ̶  the falling membership, the structure of people who go to conference, reinvigorating the party   ̶  have really been dodged.  Peter Hartcher says today on the front page of today’s Sydney Morning  Herald  ‘Labor’s 400 delegates enjoyed their politics mightily and they showed that by ignoring the big challenges  they’re just no good at it’.

Bill Shorten: I couldn’t agree less with Peter Hartcher. He writes about politics, I live it.

Adam Spencer: But there were a raft of reforms that were going to be presented to conference and half of them didn’t even make it to the floor because they were sorted out by the faceless men and there has not been much movement on the others surely.

Bill Shorten: Do you know what my reaction is to that? Blah blah blah, more clichéd analysis of what didn’t happen at the Labor party conference.  I don’t agree with that. First of all I don’t accept this prognosis that the Labor party is dead. I don’t accept the negative prognosis that the Labor Party cannot improve its membership because we can and we should. I’m not about to get myself into some kind of melancholic slump saying the old days were great and the new days are hopeless.

There are a lot of people coming into the Labor party and the Prime Minister has said let’s get more in. Politics is still incredibly relevant and the Labor party is still fighting on a whole lot of fronts to make the world a better place, including the story we started at the top of this interview which was the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

It is legitimate to say that the Labor Party could and should organise its paid membership and activity better but I don’t accept this critique from the knockers who say the Labor party is doomed and divided between the far right of Tony Abbot and the far left of the Greens. I don’t buy that.

Adam Spencer: But in terms of pursuing the suggestions of John Faulkner, Bob Carr, Steve Bracks, on party reform, they were resoundingly ignored over the weekend surely.

Bill Shorten: No, over 60 of them were endorsed. Let’s face it Adam. Peter Hartcher’s not going to write a story on the front page saying how wonderful the Labor party is and he didn’t.

Adam Spencer: Another story on the front page of that same paper suggests an analysis, a post mortem of the ALP, suggests strongly that Kevin Rudd or his supporters were behind a series of leaks that hampered the party significantly in the lead up to the last federal election, so that within 12 hours coming out of National Conference where all the news is meant to be good, again the dominant analysis is the tension between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.

There is even a suggestion in today’s Australian Financial Review that Kevin Rudd could be a stalking horse to bring about your own leadership. It’s not good for Labor to have this much concentration on these issues is it?

Bill Shorten: That last bit of the story is just absolute rubbish. In terms of alleged tension between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, Julia Gillard has the resounding support of the caucus and Labor Party conference and I think it’s easier for newspapers to focus on the personalities than focus on the issues of substance. One of the reasons I was so pleased that you rung up this morning to talk about National Disability Insurance scheme is that some of those other journalists won’t write about disability but will write about the goss,  and the personalities and conversations between unnamed source A and B . It would be good if we had a standard in journalism that said, instead of saying unnamed source A bagged unnamed Source B, let’s put a name to them. People get sick of just hearing gossip. I mean gossip is fun but what people want to know is the Labor party has a plan about the future. I mean compare Julia Gillard to Tony Abbot.  Julia Gillard is a strong, positive lady that’s interested in the future. Tony Abbot just says no reflexively.

Adam Spencer: But the reality is that if there was a secret Labor party report analysing the last election that’s made these findings that are now on the front page of the Herald someone in the Labor party has received that secret report and has leaked it. That is not this journalist’s fault, surely.

Bill Shorten: I’m not blaming any journalists. Journalists have got a job to do. I’m just not going to accept this sort of glass-half-empty analysis of the world.

Adam Spencer: In terms of where the Labor party is in the lead up to the next Federal election, do you accept you have a lot of work to do in terms of <inaudible>?

Bill Shorten: Yes, for sure. Let me be clear, I would like more people belonging to the Labor Party, I’d like to have plenty of ideas debated.  We certainly need to work out to gain the confidence of Australians.  What I’ll also say is that I know how much we are doing. I know that compared to the rest of the world our economic numbers are much, much better. I also know there are important issues such as getting people with a disability and their carers a better deal. Only the Labor party has made this a political issue

Adam Spencer: I’ll let you go Mr Shorten. Thank you for your time and congratulations on the result of the National Disability Insurance Scheme over the weekend.

Bill Shorten: I appreciate that, it is good. Thank you.