Bill's Transcripts

PRESS CONFERENCE: CANBERRA - Labor’s plan to protect the pensions of Australians; People smugglers






SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan to protect the pensions of Australians; People smugglers; Tony Abbott’s royal commission; Citizenship.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everyone. We’re here today to talk about Labor’s determination to defend pensioners against Mr Abbott and the changes he’s proposing and the cuts he’s inflicting. If you are on a pension or if you’re in your 50s or 60s and working and looking forward to retirement and hoping to be on a pension, the Liberal Party is coming after your pension. The Liberal Party has proposed that 330,000 pensioners either lose all or part of their pension. But furthermore, the changes which Mr Abbott’s proposing to the pension will mean that another 700,000 people now working in their 50s and early 60s will face cuts to their pension. The Liberals are coming after your pension and the only thing standing between pensioners having significant cuts to their pension and Mr Abbott is, is the Labor Party.


These cuts will affect new retirees. According to the Industry Services Association, the industry funds, that half of the people who are looking forward to retiring in the next 10 years will see their pensions cut. Labor in good conscience cannot stand by. We stopped, after a year of strong defence, the Abbott Government cutting the pensions of 3.5 million Australians and we’re up for the fight again and we will fight as hard as we can. I’d like to ask my colleague Jenny Macklin to talk further about the specifics of why these are such damaging changes.


JENNY MACKLIN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES & PAYMENTS: Thanks very much, Bill. After last year's horror Budget that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey delivered, pensioners came in their thousands to Labor asking us to stand up against the terrible cuts to pension indexation that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey wanted to impose upon millions of Australians. We took that fight up to the Abbott Government and we won. We protected the pensions of millions of Australians. Now we see in this year's Budget, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are at it again. They want to attack the pensions of hundreds of thousands of people. People who have saved hard all their lives, people who’ve worked hard and saved hard, deserve our respect in their retirement.


They don't deserve to have a Government come after their savings in their retirement and that is exactly what Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are doing. There are more than 300,000 pensioners who will have their pension cut as a result of these changes. Around 90,000 of those people will lose their pension altogether. Just to give you one example, a single pensioner on around $500,000 of assets with an income of around $26,000 will lose $8,000. That single pensioner will lose $8,000. Couple pensioners could lose as much as $14,000. So these are very significant cuts to people who’ve worked hard all their lives and deserve our support. We will do everything to defeat these very, very harsh changes that will hurt so many pensioners.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, part of this deal that Scott Morrison negotiated would increase the pension for 170,000 full-time pensioners. I assume, I anticipate the Government’s going to go after you for denying them that increase. What would be your response to that?


SHORTEN: Well first of all, this is classic Liberal Government tactics, setting pensioner against pensioner. There’s 330,000 people, many of whom might have voted for Mr Abbott at the last election on the basis they’ll be no cuts to pensions. Phil, how on earth can we vote to reward Tony Abbott breaking his promise to hundreds of thousands of pensioners? And furthermore, Mr Abbott doesn't have to do it this way. The Labor Party has indicated we will compromise on some measures. We’ve agreed to go with the Government in terms of some of the changes they want to make to senior supplements, in terms of some of the measures they’re proposing around defined benefit pensioners. So we haven't just been intransigent and said no, no, no. But you’ve got to draw a line somewhere in the sand when you’re dealing with Mr Abbott and the Liberal Government, and breaking your promise and cutting 330,000 pensions. But the other group here which your question didn't go to, but they’re a pretty important group watching this, is that there are hundreds of thousands of people in their 50s and 60s contemplating retirement right now.


Now they’ve worked hard their whole life and they want to be sure they that can make sure that the deal that they’ve been promised their whole working life will still be on the table when they retire and Tony Abbott is ripping up that dream of working hard, in being encouraged to save some money and still have the rules apply which they always thought they would apply. I might also say, Phil, that if we want to talk about measures, why is it that Scott Morrison and Mr Abbott and the rest of the Liberal team are willing to die in a ditch over some tens of thousands of Australians who have already multiple millions in their superannuation accounts and still the Government wants to make them pay no tax on the interest income they get which runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. This is a funny Government because on one hand if you’re really, really well off, this Government will fight to defend you but if you have much more modest investments and you have much more modest income, well then Mr Abbott and the Liberals are coming after your pension.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, will a Labor Government ensure that the current rules remain in place or are restored if Tony Abbott succeeds in changing the assets test?


SHORTEN: Well David, your question assumes that we will lose this argument and if we’d taken that view then we would have lost the argument on pension indexations. I promised the pensioners of Australia, we will go one day longer than the Abbott Government to fight these changes. I do not believe that if Labor had simply said ‘oh well, they’ll get it through, we’ll work out what we will do on the pension cuts’ - remember last year, this Government spent all year tyring to con all of you saying there were no cuts to the pensions. Remember the speech after speech that Mr Abbott gave you all, there’s no cuts to pensions to see here. Now we know that’s a lie and we won that fight. So David, we don't contemplate failure, but we don’t contemplate failure. Your question assumes that Tony Abbott will get up. Well I'm not in the business of surrendering to Mr Abbott's broken promises.


JOURNALIST: Just back to Phil’s question though, because those on a full pension they do get an increase under the what the Government’s put forward, do you still want to give them that increase or not?


SHORTEN: Well let’s be clear, not everyone would be affected by these changes full stop - so when you say all the people on the full pension would get an increase, that’s actually not right. It's just not right.


JOURNALIST: Those who get the increase, do you still want them to get the increase or not?


SHORTEN: I have trouble with rewarding Tony Abbott for breaking his promise and maybe some people have got so used to public life to Mr Abbott breaking his promises they just think we should have pensioner against pensioner, I don't buy that argument. I haven’t seen the case made. The Government says that the case for cutting 330,000 pensioners is that the age pension is unsustainable. Yet in the next four years the Government's own Budget papers, they point to what is unsustainable, it's that superannuation tax concessions will go pass the cost of the pension.


JOURNALIST: Who did Labor consult to come to this decision and did that include ACOSS?


SHORTEN: Jenny has been consulting with pensioner groups practically her whole parliamentary working life and beforehand and I am happy for her to talk about.


MACKLIN: Thanks very much, Bill. We have certainly talked with the groups that represent senior Australians and of course talked with those who represent some of the superannuation funds who have done some analysis looking at this very important question of what the impact will be not just on pensioners today. And I think this is the critical issue, Phil in answer to your question, there will be millions of Australians, future retirees affected by these cuts. People in their 50s and 60s who are contemplating and planning their retirement right now, have to know that these cuts will hurt them. These cuts will hurt those people who are planning their retirement now. There are around 700,000 people in that category and they are very much in our minds as we make this decision.


JOURNALIST: You have repeatedly attacked last year's Budget on the basis of unfairness. Is it not the case that this proposal is calibrated such that people on more modest means get an increase and those at the upper end get a decrease. How can this not be fairer than the indexation change question last year?


SHORTEN: As much as I don’t want to disagree with the assumption of your question, it isn’t quite right. When you make the implication that somehow there is a binary competition, in one corner some pensioners and in the other corner other pensioners. The group you missed in your analysis is people who have multiple millions of dollars in superannuation. Let me unpack that a little bit more. What the Abbott Government is saying, they want to keep tax-free income for people who have, say $5 million in super. Say they get 5 per cent return, $250,000 per year - $250,000 per year. We've said that the tax concession, that shouldn't all be tax-free. That's what we have said. Yet what Mr Abbott wants to do is have a fight between different groups of pensioners about fighting over their portion when in fact, Mr Abbott is giving a leave pass to people who simply don't need you or I, or the taxpayers of Australia to give them tax-free income from massive millions of dollars.


The other point when we talk about fairness, right now there are hundreds of thousands of Australians going to work every day in their 50s and 60s. They are working hard. They don't have a big superannuation nest egg. But what they are counting on, they are working hard to save as much as they can. What the Government is taking away is the prospect of the safety net of a part pension or access to the pension for these people. I will give you a couple of examples. A single pensioner with more than $289,500 in assets will have their part pension cut. What the Government wants you to say ‘oh gee that’s a lot of money’- it's not an unreasonable amount but it’s not a lot of money. When you look at what assets, it could be the car, it could be your furniture. These don't generate income stream. This Government has been very sly, they are willing to defend their pension changes by looking at what the asset is but not the income that generates. That's what you live on. Yet on the other hand, when it comes to superannuation, they know that they are defending the Howard-Costello excessive generosity given at the top of the mining boom which is now unsustainable. Superannuation tax concessions in the next four years are going to pass the cost of the age pension – that’s not fair.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, there was another story about your time at the AWU in 'The Australian' today. What is your response to claims you were directly involved in Labor agreement negotiations which would secure union kick-backs?


SHORTEN: First of all I make it very clear that I'm prepared to co-operate with the royal commission and I'm very proud of all of the things that I've done standing up for workers, both in my previous 21 years and now in Parliament. I have zero tolerance for corruption and this goes to the specific question you are asking. I have zero tolerance for corruption. Doesn't matter where the illegality is, if it's an employer, employee or union rep. What I've also said about Tony Abbott's royal commission into trade unions, it will be an opportunity for vested interests and for people to try and settle old scores of all sorts of baseless allegations, baseless allegations and what I would say is that it shows the Government's priorities. We’ll cooperate with the royal commission, we will answer the questions we need to at the royal commission.


JOURNALIST: Why can't you address Parliament, not wait until August, September, when you will give evidence to the royal commission? Why can't you set the record straight now?


SHORTEN: First of all, I am answering all of the specific questions with this proposition: I'm proud of my record, I have stood up for workers, it has been on the public record, it isn’t news to anyone I was an active union representative. I'm proud of it. But I will also say, is merely because Tony Abbott's royal commission into unions gives an opportunity for people to settle old scores with baseless allegations, it certainly doesn't mean that I'm going to respond to these baseless allegations when there is nothing in them.


JOURNALIST: Just on people smugglers, Labor asked a series of questions of the Government yesterday about whether any payments were made to people smugglers. Have you asked that question of some of your own colleagues about Labor's time in power?


SHORTEN: Labor did not pay, and I am informed that Labor did not pay people smugglers to turn around boats.


JOURNALIST: On land, Mr Shorten?


SHORTEN: If you are going to security matters about what happens elsewhere, you are more experienced journalists here than I have even served in this Parliament. You know it doesn't matter what party the politician is from, when it comes to security matters, we simply don't comment.


JOURNALIST: Given the same circumstance, clearly you are aware that ASIS agents made payments to people smugglers during the Rudd-Gillard years in Indonesia. So why would you expect the Government to?


SHORTEN: I'm not saying that at all. I’m not saying that at all, I'm saying I won't comment on ASIS matters. And again Chris, you’ve been around the block long enough to know, no serious leader of Australia would start talking about ASIS matters. But what I can absolutely say is that I have been informed that Labor has never paid people smugglers to turn around boats at sea.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, there’s an inherent contradiction in that the reasonable man, the front bar test, you can say money wasn't paid on the water but you can't say money wasn't paid on the land because of national security restrictions. Why is there a difference? Isn't there a national security restriction against saying it wasn't paid on the water? What is it in the law that makes the difference between water and land?


SHORTEN: Well, I can say to you that Labor has never paid people smugglers to turn back boats and that appears to be what the Government is doing. And when we talk about contradictions, I think the King Kong of contradictions in the last week, is that last week the Immigration Minister said that that hadn't happened and then in Question Time he said nothing, he wouldn't answer it. Last week the Foreign Minister commented that it hadn't happened, this week she won't comment at all, and then George Brandis, never to be left out of any government chaos story, got up and said yesterday that it’s an academic question but it didn't happen. So either we have a government full of incompetent ministers or they are not being truthful.


JOURNALIST: Is it equally absurd that you can say categorically no money was paid on the water to turn a boat around but you can't say categorically that no money was paid on the land to stop a boat leaving?


SHORTEN: Well first of all, I'm not using the land-sea distinction, what I am saying is Labor has never paid people smugglers to turn back boats as it appears the Government has done.


JOURNALIST: So ASIS has never done that?


SHORTEN: Now you go to matters to do with ASIS, and you guys know -


JOURNALIST: But they haven’t done, you’ve just told us that haven’t done it.


SHORTEN: No, we don't know who’s paid what to where, but what I am saying to you, is when it comes to national security, there is bipartisanship on that. I think the question is, what on earth was the Foreign Minister doing last week freelancing? What on earth was the Immigration Minister doing last week? Why didn't George Brandis read the memo as late as yesterday about the change in whatever the Government is saying. It would be really straightforward if the Prime Minister just denied paying people smugglers taxpayer money to turn boats around.


JOURNALIST: Can you do the same thing?


SHORTEN: Yes, I just did.


JOURNALIST: Can you just deny that Labor didn't condone any payments to people smugglers in Indonesia during your time in government?


SHORTEN: I'm certainly not aware of that but what I would say to you is this, when it comes to national security matters - and as I said, you are a veteran of these matters, we don't talk about that. No serious leader does.


JOURNALIST: You’re not aware of that happening?


SHORTEN: Sorry, I'm answering Chris's question. But when it comes to not paying people smugglers taxpayer money to turn around boats, Labor did not do that.


JOURNALIST: You told the party room this morning that Labor had made mistakes in the past in respect to boats. What are those mistakes?


SHORTEN: Clearly we introduced - there were policies which saw the people smugglers try to take advantage of Australia's generosity. We are working through these issues. But what I would say is that Labor will not see the issue of border security to the Liberal Party. Labor is determined to make sure that we have a strong policy which is humane towards refugees, but is also safe and make sure that the people smugglers can never get back into business. And I do think that this current debate about boats has come about because either the Government is incompetent and is saying things that aren't true or is incompetent and saying things that they oughtn't be talking about. You and I both know Tony Abbott can clear these matters up very simply with a yes or no just as I've done.


JOURNALIST: You mentioned there about how you did things wrong when you were dealing with boats. Your approval rating has now dropped to 28 per cent, what are you doing wrong as leader?


SHORTEN: Well when it comes to polls, I make a practice of not focusing and worrying about them, what I do instead is focus on what this nation needs. What Australia wants, is we want policies and a political debate which gets beyond the 24-hour news cycle. That’s why we are so committed at the centre of what we believe to promote jobs and economic growth. What we are saying today, is we will fight for pensioners. We say to people in their 50s and 60s who are working hard right now that Tony Abbott’s coming for your pension. We say to 330,000 full and part-pensioners, yes, some of you may have voted for Mr Abbott, but he let you down, he’s broken his word. We are also making it very clear that when it comes to outlining a plan for the future of Australia, that's what we are focused on.


JOURNALIST: Is Labor going to change its position on turning back the boats?


SHORTEN: Well in terms of our refugee resettlement approach, we are fundamentally committed to the regional resettlement of refugees. We are working on all of our policies, we’ll have a full suite of policies at the next election which I'm sure you’re going to like a lot. Two more questions thanks.


JOURNALIST: Back on pensions, the Government’s tried twice, they had their indexation measure in the 2014 Budget which you rejected, you rejected this compromise, is this Labor drawing a line in the sand saying the current age pension system as is, is sustainable and you don't see any need to touch it in future?


SHORTEN: I will have a bit of an initial go at this but might ask Jenny to talk further at length. First of all, what you’ve outlined is two broken promises by the Government. The Liberal Party at the last election in order to persuade Australians to vote for them, said there’d be no cuts to pensions. They tried it on last year for a year and they tried to pretend black is white and they weren't cutting pensions. In the end they just gave up because of Labor's strength and the outrage of pensioners. They are at it again, they’re coming after your pensions, they are just addicted to it. If they were to win the next election, they will come after people's pensions again. When it comes to talking about the future of the age pension, we don't believe that the crisis is there that the Government is making out. I will hand over to Jenny.


MACKLIN: Thanks, Bill. If you look at the evidence from the OECD and from other organisations that look at the sustainability of pensions across the world, Australia's pension system, in fact, rates as one of the most sustainable in the developed world. We have a highly targeted system to those who need it most with our income and assets test. What isn't sustainable is the very significant and fast-growing superannuation concessions for those at the top .


JOURNALIST: On citizenship, Mr Shorten, you said in Caucus today that we need to jealously guard the separation of powers. I understand the Bill hasn't been tabled yet but is it a red line issue for you that there would need to be a terrorism conviction, not a Ministerial decree but a terrorism conviction, before someone's citizenship was revoked?


SHORTEN: When it comes to fighting terrorism, Labor is in this together with Liberal. We are very committed to making sure that Australians are safe. Also, though, we are committed to maintaining our western liberal values of democracy. Yesterday was the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which really set the basis of the separation of powers which has emerged to be part of what makes Australia such a marvellous democracy. We haven't seen the legislation. The Government has been threatening this legislation, to bring it in for a fair while, and I think everyone would just like to see what it is. What we have said is that when it comes to Section 35, I think, of the Act, there is already a provision which says that someone who takes up arms against Australia for another nation, it is possible to have their citizenship, if they are a dual citizen, revoked. We are open to the debate about modernising that. I’ve said that to the Prime Minister, we’ve said it publicly to you guys plenty of times, we’re open to that. But we need to see how they propose to do it. We are committed to the separation of powers, and therefore, we’re going to see - I think it is of great concern to me, a lot of Australians and possibly yourselves that Bret Walker, Senior Council who was the driving force, his ideas, has said that what he is hearing is not what he actually proposed. I think it’s of great concern if the Solicitor-General has got concerns that the Government is contemplating a law which mightn't even be constitutional. And I think we were all surprised when we read the leaked government documents which showed that the Government's more interested in turning national security and these matters into a political issue, I just say to Tony Abbott, please be cautious. When we deal with national security, Labor is consistent. We are constructive. Please do not use these laws as a chance to score political points. The security of our nation is simply too important.