Bill's Transcripts

Radio: ABC RN Drive






SUBJECT/S: Iraq; National security; Abbott Government’s unfair higher education changes.


WALEED ALY: We’re joined by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, good evening.




ALY: We’ve already been discussing now the possibility; the Government has left open the possibility of military involvement here, is that bipartisan?


SHORTEN: I do not believe there has been any discussion about the use of troops. What I understand is that discussions have strictly been limited to humanitarian effort in the specific area of air support. Labor does support the use of our highly professional men and women of the Air Force to provide humanitarian support in the face of the terrible struggle which these Kurds are receiving from these fundamentalists. But there’s been no discussion to my knowledge or the Opposition's knowledge about troops.


ALY: Well okay, but it was a question that was put to the Defence Minister today and he certainly wasn’t prepared to rule it out. Do you have a position on it?


SHORTEN: Well I think even by discussing it that we’re implying that it is an option, I’m not aware of it being an option. Our understanding from the Government is this discussion of troops is not the case. So you’re quite right the way you characterise what the Defence Minister was saying, but I don’t know if that’s the case and I certainly haven’t heard that it is.


ALY: I’m interested to get your perspective on what it is that you think has delivered us to this point because I’m getting text messages already, and I don’t pretend this is representative of anything particularly, but people are saying getting involved again, are we mad? The Iraq horror is the direct result of the idiotic war that was initiated to save Bush junior after 9/11 and so on and so forth. Even David Miliband, who of course was Foreign Secretary under Tony Blair, has admitted that the original invasion is partly to blame for what we’re seeing here. What’s your analysis?


SHORTEN: Well, just to give people a bit of history because in this modern age we seem to move on from things pretty quickly, when Simon Crean was Labor leader Labor opposed our involvement in the second Gulf War, so that was the view Labor had then. I think that was the right call then. Of course Simon Crean and Labor got attacked for not being patriotic. Labor always supports our service people, our men and women in the defence forces but Labor took the view that that wasn’t the right war to be in. This issue today that were talking about is to do with the rise of this ISIL - the Islamic State of the Levant. They seem to be a breakaway group out of the extremists in the Syrian civil war from the al-Qaida, they seem to be, well not seem to be, they are very blood thirsty and the reports are that they’re doing dreadful things to civilians and to people and their enemies. We’ve seen that shocking, shocking image printed in the Australian of a little boy and, in the war zone. So this organisation is a definite threat to the peace in Iraq but the best thing that Labor can do is to support measured, calm, responses which deal with the humanitarian crisis which is the use of our highly professional Air Force to help drop food and support the innocent civilians caught up in a struggle well beyond their means to cope with.


ALY: But the humanitarian crisis is linked to the political crisis that is there, that is part of the problem. The reason I’m interested in your analysis is not just for its own sake but surely it would affect what you think might be appropriate for us to do now. That is if foreign intervention or military intervention in the first place was a problem, how do we draw the line and figure out what sort of intervention won’t merely make the problem worse?


SHORTEN: Well I think that’s a fair point you’re raising, that’s why I was at pains to just take you through the history of Labor’s position. We’ve got people who will be going to provide humanitarian assistance, Labor supports that decision. That’s what our Air Force personnel need to hear, I think and their families, the nation needs to know what the Opposition thinks about providing our Air Force Hercules to support civilians in this terrible, terrible conflict but that is all that Labor’s doing; we’re supporting the humanitarian relief. The Government has told us that there is, that’s what they're seeking to do. I think the spectre of troop involvement, whilst it may be of great, you know, debate I don’t think it’s a real issue and I’m not aware that it is at this point.


ALY: You mentioned the shocking image that has been circulating today and this connects very much back to Australia and I note that Islamic groups in Australia have been out in force talking about their denunciation of this image. But none the less it does raise the question, not just of the threat in Iraq, but potentially of the threat back here. The Government last week announced a suite of counter-terrorism measures, at this point it’s unclear to me exactly where the Opposition stands on it, have you developed a position?


SHORTEN: I don’t think that’s fair about what we think. We haven’t seen the legislation, so to that extent we can’t tell you chapter and verse what we think about the legislation. The Government made an announcement last week, and I said last week the following things: I regretted that they were making an announcement on national security on the day they were doing their overdue backflip on water downing hate speech laws. I think the two events should have been separated. In terms of national security we accept that we constantly need to be reviewing the effectiveness of our national security laws as we deal with an increasingly complex digital society where the internet can provide opportunities to provide information for security agencies but we also said along with that principle there is an equally important principle. That is, the right of our citizens to privacy. We’ve got to be vigilant about not running the risk of treating ordinary citizens as criminals.


ALY: So I understand there you might be talking about the metadata proposals which have gained a lot of interest, but what the one that I think perhaps was expecting there to be more conversation about was the reverse onus of proof aspects of this, that if you’re in a particular place and come back to Australia you have to prove your innocence effectively.


SHORTEN: The Opposition hasn’t given a blank cheque on this matter of reverse onus of proof. We’re fortunate the Opposition has people of the intellectual calibre of Mark Dreyfus and Tanya Plibersek working on these matters. And they’re respectively our Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesperson and my Deputy Leader. We want to examine the circumstances in which this would apply. We don’t automatically think that because someone’s visited Syria or Iraq or Lebanon that somehow there’s a reverse onus. At first blush the Government authorities have been at pains to indicate to us that isn’t the case but that’s why I think I said at the outset of this part of the discussion Waleed, that we need to see the detail because –


ALY: But do you have a position in principle on the reverse onus of proof?


SHORTEN: You’d want to use it very, very, very sparingly so what I’m saying is we’re not going to give a blank cheque to the Government. Now it’s always difficult, there are some people who say that as soon as you raise the issue of national security we’ve got to rally around and anyone who questions any proposal of national security is not being a full blooded patriot. I respect our need for national security as a fundamental and primary task of governments to make sure their citizens are safe. But it isn’t the only principle we operate by and I fundamentally believe that we need to be vigilant about making sure that the rights of individuals don’t get trampled. Now, within those two goals there’s a lot of detail to be sketched out but, so that listeners are very clear about Labor’s view, we’re committed to national security but we’re also committed to the rights of our citizens and we want to make sure that we don’t sacrifice some of the things that we hold dear in the pursuit of defending them.


ALY: Alright, 28 minutes past six, Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition is my guest, just the last couple of minutes before I let you go Bill Shorten. If I can go more broadly and look at some of the budgetary and economic conversations that are around today and particularly on education. Education minister Christopher Pyne has said that he’s expecting crossbench Senators will eventually agree to the Governments plans to deregulate university fees in whatever form that ends up taking. There is a process of negotiation that is underway here; does the Opposition have any room for negotiation on making university fees less regulated than they are now?


SHORTEN: I do not believe you can have a conversation about the deregulation of university fees in the current climate created by the Abbott Government. I say this for a few reasons. Before the last election Tony Abbott promised Australians - in fact he said it on ABC’s show the Insiders on September the 1st 2013 before the election when he was seeking people to vote for him - he said that ‘there will be no cuts to education’. There will be no cuts, that was Tony Abbott’s promise to Australia –


ALY: Cut’s is not the same as deregulating fees though.


SHORTEN: Well no but I’m saying that we can’t have a discussion about deregulation in the current climate and one of the, and I said there’s a few reasons. The first reason is Tony Abbott lied about cuts. The second reason is they are cutting university funding, they are significantly cutting the funding to universities which means that any debate about the deregulation of university fees has to occur in a climate where universities will be trying to replace the hundreds of millions of dollars that this government is taking off individual universities. So how on earth can we agree to that? The other thing, the other reason why we are completely opposed to what this Government’s trying to do is they’re cutting money, they’ve lied about cutting money, they’re going to put pressure on universities to increase fees. We’re concerned this will lead to a two track Australia where how, whether or not you go to university doesn’t depend on your capacities or the dreams of your parents, it depends on your wealth or the wealth of your parents and not only that, they’re also proposing to increase the interest rate –


ALY: Well that, I think, is one of the aspects that they’re looking at negotiating on. So I guess what I’m trying to figure out is are you prepared to enter the negotiations at all? I mean if I were to judge what you’ve just said there I’d get the impression that you’re not, there’s no negotiation to take place here because you object to the environment in which it’s happening.


SHORTEN: I guess it boils down to this then, they're not negotiating. They’re saying cop 100 per cent of their bad ideas, or cop 50 per cent of their bad ideas, or cop 80 per cent of their bad ideas. We are happy to negotiate about the future of universities and how we make it better and brighter for Australians. But you can’t make a silk purse out of this proverbial sow's ear of a policy. There’s nothing... this Government started the process of higher education reform from the premise that it will cut money, it will lie to the electorate, it will make it more expensive. They are basically turning the dream of a degree into a debt sentence.


ALY: Alright it sounds then it’s the Government left to the crossbench to try to hammer this out then, Christopher Pyne seems –


SHORTEN: Or the Government could reconsider the way their doing higher education reform and start again, and maybe take it to the people.


ALY: Well starting again is perhaps not what’s on the cards at their level, but their talking to the crossbenchers.


SHORTEN: Why not take it to the people and let them decide?


ALY: Well a couple of years that may well happen. Bill Shorten I do appreciate your time, I know that I have you for a very limited time so appreciate you giving it.


SHORTEN: Thank you for giving me the chance to talk.