FRIDAY, 22 MARCH 2019
SUBJECT/S: Fiona McLeod SC; Higgins; One Nation preferences; Sally McManus; Victorian fast rail; climate change.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody.
I am going to utter some words I didn't think I'd say as Labor leader: It's great to be here in the seat of Higgins campaigning to encourage people to vote Labor at the next election. Higgins has always been a Liberal seat ever since its creation. But Labor is running, and I'm pleased to announce, Labor's new candidate, one of the most credentialed women that the Labor Party, and indeed Australian politics, has had as a candidate. I'm pleased to say that Fiona McLeod SC is going to be Labor's candidate in the upcoming federal election for the seat of Higgins.
Before I talk about Fiona's remarkable list of accomplishments and why this is such an exciting development for the voters in Higgins and indeed across Australia, I want to acknowledge the outgoing Labor candidate, Josh Spiegel. He is a young man with a bright future in front of him and I think it reflects very well of him that he saw and recognised that the almost unique opportunity that Fiona McLeod represents to Australian politics was a reason for him to stand aside on this occasion. He is a young man with a very bright future.
But what we have today is Labor can unveil a new candidate for Higgins. This is a sign of how seriously we're taking the election in Higgins. Traditionally it's been a safe Liberal seat but there is a mood of change across Victoria and across Australia. So Labor is very fortunate to be able to present Fiona McLeod as our new flag bearer for Labor in Higgins. Fiona is a senior counsel, she's been president of the Australian Law Council, president of the Australian Bar Association. There are not many firsts in her career as a barrister that Fiona hasn't accomplished. She's worked on important public law. She's been handling cases in our human trafficking, slavery, to stand up for victims.
Fiona has been running important public cases throughout her legal career. She's been leading the human trafficking cases to stand up for vulnerable women. She's done a lot of the work in the cases to do with flood damage, to do with bushfires. She's been conducting the class action on behalf of victims in the Murrindindi Shire. I'll let Fiona talk more about some of her accomplishments in a moment.
But the fact that Fiona McLeod is willing to run in such a uphill battle, speaks volumes for her personal commitment to being a representative in the Parliament but also, what I think it reflects is this mood for change. In the seat of Higgins and right across Victorian, right across Australia, increasingly people are saying they're sick of the instability of the current Government. They're looking for stability. They also want to see women take their rightful place as equal partners in the Australian political process. One of the challenges is that the outgoing member Kelly O'Dwyer, she was a woman in a political party which hasn't done a lot to promote women and she was a representative in a political party who hasn't done enough on climate change.
Of course Fiona represents all of the things which Kelly O'Dwyer couldn't accomplish. She's going to be a woman in a political party who values women. She's going to be a candidate in a party who wants to take real action on climate change and she'll be a candidate for a party which has great stability in its conduct and going forward to the election.
So Fiona McLeod SC; Labor's new candidate, an exciting development, a highly credentialed woman running in the seat of Higgins, one of the most highly credentialed women we've had run in Australian politics. Why don't I handover to her to talk a little bit more about why she's running then we can take some questions.
FIONA MCLEOD SC, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR HIGGINS: Thank you very much and thank you very much, Bill for that really warm, embracing welcome.
I'm absolutely delighted to be here today and to have this opportunity to represent the people of Higgins in the upcoming election. It's been something that has been on my radar for a little while and in my work as a lawyer, I've been very conscious of the need for decent people to be in politics working to make a better Australia for all of us.
I want to thank you, Bill, for your warm embrace and your welcome into the Labor fold. I have had a number of conversations with Bill and I found him to be warm, intelligent and authentic and I thank you very much for your welcome.
I want to thank Josh Spiegel too for your gracious and generous note on standing aside. I really hope that we can work together and I look forward to Josh standing beside me as we walk through the streets of Higgins, to benefit from his strong campaigning so far and the work that his volunteers and the local members have undertaken so far.
So why would I with my 30 years nearly in practice as a barrister and my focus on individual cases want to step away from the courtroom and step into the hurly-burly of politics? Why would I want to give that up? It seems to me that we are at a tipping point in our nation and we have some hard choices to make. I look at my daughters and I wonder what world we are leaving for them, what planet are we leaving behind for them. And I realise it's time for a government that is serious on climate change. Only Labor can deliver that seriousness about climate change and what we need to do to address this fundamental and existential threat.
I have been concerned for some time about both a strong economy and some serious social issues. I have been concerned that we have failed to address our First Nations and their rightful place in Australia. To shut down the conversation about the Uluru Statement from the Heart was a deep disappointment to me and I am confident that we will move forward with a serious and respectful conversation about what needs to happen on the path to a referendum. And I've seen the growing inequality in Australia.
I've seen what needs to be done so that those who are vulnerable can stand up and be included, fully participate with the rest of us. Those who are missing out on proper health care. Those who are missing out on proper educational opportunities. And only Labor can provide these things.
It is a great honour to me to be included in the team. I'll be walking these streets every day until the election and I look forward to the support of the local branches who I'll be talking to later today. I look forward to the endorsement that I hope will come on Monday and I look forward to meeting you all, the people of Higgins.
This is a sacred trust. Public office is a sacred trust. I take that responsibility very seriously and I'll be looking forward to delivering for you should I have that trust, in Canberra.
SHORTEN: Thanks Fiona. Good words. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: It's a question for Fiona. How long have you been a member of the Labor Party and why Labor?
MCLEOD: So I've joined the Labor Party last week, so Sunday, I joined but I've been associated with Labor for a long, long time. My godfather was the former state Attorney General, actually a Labor Attorney General and his influence runs right throughout my life. His commitment to principles of fairness for people who are vulnerable, his social policies and particularly, his commitment to the Uluru.
JOURNALIST: Who is that, sorry?
MCLEOD: Andrew McCutcheon his name was, he was a state Attorney General and Minister for Housing in the Cain Government. There are a number of people who in my life, who've been strong mentors from the Labor side and I've supported Labor candidates at the last several elections. So I have a strong connection to Labor and its principles.
As the chair of Transparency International and doing political work through our legal professional membership bodies, it was appropriate for me to remain above politics and not to join at that time. But I have been a longstanding supporter
JOURNALIST: Labor got less than 15 per cent of the primary vote in Higgins three years ago. What has changed so dramatically that you think you could actually win?
SHORTEN: What happened to Malcolm Turnbull? I'll tell you what's changed in the last three years, we're on our third Liberal Prime Minister. They are just an unstable rabble. Wherever you go - and you know I'm a Victorian - wherever I went in Victoria over the summer past, people would come up to me and say 'Bill, I'm a lifelong Liberal'. They don't agree with everything that we're saying but they say 'for goodness sakes, can't we just have one Prime Minister for three years' and they acknowledge that we are the party of stability.
I think also what's changed is people are fed up with inaction on climate change. This government, if you've thought that the LNP or the Liberals could do anything on climate change, Malcolm Turnbull would still be Prime Minister. The fact that he's not Prime Minister shows you this government is broken at its core and can't act on climate change.
I also think what's changing in Victoria, but not just Victoria, is people want to see a better deal for women and they want to see more women in Parliament. So when you look at it, stability versus Liberal instability, Labor climate change versus Liberal inaction on climate change, and of course, Labor's excellent track record at generating more women MPs, and we've got the fabulous Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek in my leadership for example. And now, the outstanding Fiona McLeod as our candidate. We're competitive.
You're quite right though, Higgins is a hard seat to win but what Labor wants to do is put up the best possible candidates and that's what we're doing today.
JOURNALIST: When it comes to how to vote cards will you be putting One Nation last on all of those cards?
SHORTEN: Yes. I can say again today that the Labor Party will preference the Liberals ahead of One Nation. One Nation - or, I mean if there's three different extreme right wing parties one of them goes last, one of them goes second last, one of them goes third last. But as the general principle we're putting the extremists at the bottom. And even though you know, Scott Morrison I don't see eye to eye on many issues I accept that the Liberal Party is a much more mainstream party, although it's got some unfortunate tendencies to the right.
So I think it's just sensible that the main democratic parties of this country preference to each other before we go to the extremists. I think though that Mr Morrison now has to demonstrate a true test of leadership. Put the country first, put One Nation last. If he can't do that then I think that they've got a real problem and I think we all know what's really happening and we saw Mr Morrison and the interview last night on Channel 10.
People can make up their own mind what they thought of his performance but there is one question that Mr Morrison, the Liberals and the Nationals cannot escape. What arrangements, deals, above board or below the table, secret or not secret, are they going to strike with One Nation? What we all know about Mr Morrison and his evasive answers last night about this question of preferencing One Nation ahead of Labor. What we know is this, the Liberals and Mr Morrison want to do a deal with One Nation, want to put One Nation higher up in their preferences but they're too ashamed to admit it publicly. They're too ashamed to admit it publicly.
I think that Mr Morrison if he keeps failing this test our leadership is hoping that he can get towards the very end of the election and sneak through but actually not put One Nation and like-minded parties last. I don't think the people of Australia are going to buy that evasion or secrecy.
JOURNALIST: Your candidate has just said that climate change is an existential threat. Why is Labor still considering using a so called accounting trick to meet its emissions targets?
SHORTEN: Well, be a bit fair in your question I've said that we're taking that question on notice and we're going to announce our policy on climate change before the next election.
We've already I think, even our harshest critics would say we've already put out more policies than anyone’s seen in two generations. For example we've committed to 50 per cent renewables in our energy mix by 2030. We've committed to 45 per cent greenhouse gas emission reduction reducing the carbon pollution by 2030. We've said we want to get to zero net carbon pollution emissions by 2050. We've said that we want to make sure that we encourage more renewables for consumers.
Two million Australian households already have solar panels on their roofs. We want to encourage the roll out of solar batteries so that people can use that energy in the evenings and at other times and to put downward pressure on consumer energy prices.
JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison says Sally McManus has been attending Shadow Cabinet meetings. I think Sally has denied that online what's the truth and would that be appropriate?
SHORTEN: I would have thought the last day in the world that Mr Morrison wanted to talk about what happened at a Shadow Cabinet meeting would have been today after his own people are contradicting each other and him.
No, Ms McManus hasn't attended a Shadow Cabinet meeting, that's just wrong but I think that the reason why he's trying to make up porky pies about Labor is because Mr Hunt, the embattled and beleaguered Member for Flinders has actually belled the cat. Where he recently denied that Mr Morrison said anything wrong about Muslims but back in 2011 when the story came out Mr Hunt said he wasn't at the meeting. Like, Mr Hunt were you at the meeting or weren't you? And if you weren't at the meeting how do you know what Mr Morrison said firsthand?
But anyway no Ms McManus, we'll talk to all people business, unions, consumer groups, environmental groups but we're not going to be the servant of any sector, of any sector of the Australian economy rather we'll be the servant of the people.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of Scott Morrison's $2 billion dollar announcement to build a high speed rail between Melbourne and Geelong? Good idea, will Labor match it?
SHORTEN: Well as I said, I've lived in Victoria for half a century. It's almost like he's declared the elections on isn't it? How do you know when there's going to be a federal election, the Liberal Party discover infrastructure in Victoria. What a coincidence.
You know last financial year were you aware that in Victoria the Government spent $7 out of every hundred it spent nationally. So Victorian public infrastructure, courtesy of the Liberal's Sydney-centric MP's we've had- Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison - last year we got seven cents in every dollar that was spent nationally. So I think it's too little too late.
We love the idea of fast rail but of course Mr Morrison you know a bit sneaky said, I'll actually only have $40 million for a $4000 million project and then what he said is I'll spend more so long as Victorian Government does. So you know, this this bloke's got more out clauses than an insurance contract.
JOURNALIST: So you've got two though, high speed rails are now being discussed for Melbourne one to Geelong one all the way up to Brisbane. Which of these if any will Labor commit to?
SHORTEN: There's been a lot more work done on the high speed rail between Melbourne and Brisbane. The real issue for me when it comes to Geelong and I'm not going to bury any idea no matter how fortuitous the timing is for the Liberals six weeks before an election. The real issue is that on the other side of Geelong from Armstrong's Creek right along the coast we've seen massive suburban expansion. What we want to do is make sure that the train services between the Surf Coast and Geelong are better.
We want to make sure that we work with the Victorian Government. You can't do public transport in Victoria just from Canberra, you've got to work with the state men and women.
We'll talk to the Andrews Government we're very committed to the outer metropolitan ring rail that Mr Andrews has been talking about. But let's go back to the reason why you're asking these questions. It's six weeks out from an election, the Morrison-Turnbull-Abbott Governments have cruelly neglected Victorian infrastructure, spending only 7 per cent of the national infrastructure spend last financial year in Victoria. They want everyone to forget what they haven't done and pretend that six weeks before an election they've changed their stripes.
Well the people aren't so easily fooled.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Pauline Hanson is a racist?
SHORTEN: I think some of the things that she's said have been racist. I don't think that Islam is a cancer. I think some of the things she's said don't reflect the thinking of mainstream Australia.
JOURNALIST: What do you think about Michael McCormack urging now people to put the Greens last?
SHORTEN: Oh well, the National Party they're more lost than Burke and Wills. There are just wandering around trying to get any attention they can.
Listen, whatever people think about the Greens and I'm, you know, I have many disagreements, I don't accept that the Greens are an extreme racially motivated party. I don't buy that. I don't agree with a lot of them, that's why we're running Fiona McLeod, we want you to vote for us not the Green political party - but I think for the conservatives to start contrasting the Greens to Fraser Anning I don't buy that at all. I don't think you buy it. I don't think most Australians buy it.
JOURNALIST: Just on IFM Investors, is a bonus of $26 million there abouts okay?
SHORTEN: I'm not familiar with the issue.
JOURNALIST: Why don't we know? Shouldn't industry funds disclose what their executives are getting given the ethos and criticism of CEO bonuses (inaudible)?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, I still don't know any more than I did before your last question. But on the general issue of executive bonuses yeah I think they can be too high. I think there should be transparency generally.
Of course that's why Labor didn't support, didn't support tax cuts for big business. It's why Labor pushed for the Banking Royal Commission to expose poor behaviour. It's why we voted 26 times in favour of a Banking Royal Commission and the government didn't.
More transparency in reporting is always desirable.
JOURNALIST: Will you be swapping preferences with the Greens in this seat?
SHORTEN: Yeah, I mean we do that, we've put forward a recommendation the Victorian branch will work that through. But if there's an implication somehow there is something special - Labor intends to win the election. We're not going to form coalitions with the Greens or anyone else.
But again let's get back to the heart of why preferences is the issue today. Mr Morrison faces a test of leadership doesn't he. He needs to decide will he put the country first or the extremist right wing parties first, because you can't do both. And Mr Morrison I think, should do the same as I'm saying. So I don't want Mr Morrison to win the election, we want to win it, but one thing's for sure I don't want to see the extremists get a bigger toehold in Australian politics. That's why Labor will do what I think most Australians expect us to do which is we'll put the Liberals ahead of the extreme right wingers.
JOURNLAIST: Another one from left field here, should Tina Arena be appointed to the Australia Council Board?
SHORTEN: You know I haven't given that a lot of thought. I like her music, I'm not the sort of fanboy that the current Prime Minister is but that's fair enough. In terms of appointments to these committees I think the more transparent we can do it, the more arm's length the better. She's a very well credentialed Australian. Her parents live in my electorate.
JOURNALIST: Can I just get one for Fiona?
SHORTEN: Yeah sure mate.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned that you were disappointed about the Coalition’s response to the voice statement, do you agree with the idea of having a representative body for Indigenous people?
McLEOD: Yes I do. I support the idea of a representative body to parliament and the mischief that's been said about this is that that representative body would somehow be a third chamber of parliament, which is ridiculous and it's just wrong. What we need to do is have a process that empowers our first peoples. Empowers them to speak directly to those in power and the Uluru Statement of the Heart lays out that pathway. It lays out a respectful, inclusive pathway and it's one we should be looking to follow.
JOURNALIST: Fiona do you live in the seat of Higgins?
McLEOD: No I don't.
JOURNALIST: Where do you live?
McLEOD: I live outside, I live in Fitzroy I used to live next door and certainly I'll be listening to the people of Higgins as to whether they think that's appropriate. But I'd love to live here and in fact we've already started that conversation.
JOURNALIST: If you are elected then that gives you three years or so to move here, so will you commit to moving here if you are elected then?
McLEOD: Yes, I would very seriously consider it and I've already started the conversation -
JOURNALIST: That's not a commitment though is it?
McLEOD: Well I've got family to consider and I would be very keen to move.
JOURNALIST: Do you see that as a disadvantage? I mean people often like to look to a local candidate who's been living in the community and understands local issues.
McLEOD: Yeah I do understand that people might have a concern about that and the people of Higgins have to come first and so if that is a concern, that's repeatedly raised with me that would weigh very heavily in my decision about that and the decisions I take about where and when we move.
I want to remind you that my view is that it's the people of Higgins and what they want that has to come first.
SHORTEN: Thanks everybody, are there any other questions? So I just want to say to the voters of Higgins and right across Victorian Australia.
We have got a highly credentialed woman barrister running for parliament yet again highlighting Labor's commitment to ensure diversity, but in Higgins we're saying to the voters here we're taking your vote incredibly serious and we're presenting to you an almost unique candidate in Australian politics and I think it will be very exciting.