DRIVE 720 ABC PERTH
WEDNESDAY, 12 MARCH 2014
SUBJECT/S: WA Senate by-election.
JOHN MCGLUE: Bill Shorten, welcome to Drive.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much John.
MCGLUE: It was a tough election for Labor in September. Not least of which here in Western Australia. What is Labor doing differently this time around with its pitch to the voters in WA?
SHORTEN: Labor cannot succeed nationally if we don’t succeed in Western Australia. So that involves Labor, I believe, engaging in a new dialogue with Western Australians. I’m an optimist by nature. I believe the Australians are looking for more authenticity and less cynicism. I also think that Australians and Western Australians are in particular – whilst they’re interested in the previous arguments that happened in 2010 and 2013 – I think they want to know what it is that political parties will do for them in 2016. What’s their new ideas, what’s their next plan?
So I think that if Labor can help explain to Western Australians that being involved in politics can actually fix problems that people’s – that politics is a way of all Australians gaining a better map of the future, then if we can rebuild people’s sense of optimism that politics is a positive force in people’s lives, then Labor will be in a good position in 2016.
MCGLUE: So in terms of policy with this election for the WA Senate, you want to look forward, you want to move forward, get people to look at Labor as a force going forward. What’s that mean in specific policy terms, what’s got to be different?
SHORTEN: One of the challenges I’ve found since receiving the remarkable privilege of becoming Opposition Leader in Australia is that on one hand people want you to oppose – you know, that is our job, to keep the Government to account. But on the other hand they don’t want you to be too negative. I congratulate the Prime Minister, in between 2010 and 2013 he was relentlessly negative but he’s now Prime Minister. I believe my and Labor’s path to be competitive in the 2016 election cannot be by imitating our current Prime Minister’s pretty tough and negative approach in Opposition.
So specific things is that Labor needs to I believe reboot – to use an IT term – reboot our relationship with the resources sector. I believe that Labor need to be the champions of science and research, education and technology. I believe that Labor needs to speak to the middle class of Western Australia, people who are perhaps increasingly concerned about jobs, cost of living, wanting to make sure that our decent standard of living doesn’t get too squeezed by government decisions.
MCGLUE: The Greens are going to be a threat in this election, in terms of Labor’s desire to get a second Senate seat. Obviously the carbon tax, climate change in general, are big issues in this election. How does Labor differentiate from the Greens in pitching for that vote?
SHORTEN: I think Labor has both a heart and a head –
MCGLUE: What does that mean?
SHORTEN: We understand that acting on issues of environment are fundamental, you can’t ignore it, that’s our heart. But we also have a head. In other words, we recognise that we’ve got to make sure that the changes we advocate are done in a way that improve the economy, not disrupt the economy.
So for instance, we have said that we would be willing to repeal the carbon price if it was being replaced by a better climate change policy. See, we believe that climate change is real. We know that people and other forms of pollution can’t simply just pollute the environment without their being some sort of a recognition of an obligation to clean it up.
The Abbott Government’s got a plan which justifies, they say, of repealing the carbon price, which is that they’ve got a better plan on climate change. The problem is no serious scientist agrees with them.
So we’re different to the Greens in that we recognise that when you’ve got a policy you’ve got to measure the cost of it, you’ve got to understand the impact of it. But we’re different to the Liberals in that we do not see any alternative to having real action on climate change.
MCGLUE: You’re with John McGlue on Drive 720 ABC Perth, and my guest in the studio is Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Federal Opposition. Labor’s position in this Senate election, Bill Shorten, in relation to preferences – what deals is it going to do?
SHORTEN: We haven’t finalised our preferences arrangements. What we’re interested in is securing two quotas out of the six in our own right, so we’re going for number one votes. But the party administration is no doubt doing what it does every election: talking to people, seeing what preferences it can get, and who wants Labor preferences in return. But it’s not a finalised matter yet.
MCGLUE: Would you do a preference deal with Clive Palmer if you thought that a deal like that was going to shut out the Greens, your biggest threat, for that second Senate position?
SHORTEN: Our plan, the famous Plan A, is to get two quotas in our own right. We know that for the West Australian Senate election this has never happened before. Just when you thought nothing new could happen in Australian politics, this has never happened in the history of our Commonwealth. So it’s all new ground. We believe that our message to Western Australia which is that we’ll stand up for Australian jobs, that we’ll resist hard cuts in education and health, that we will make sure there’s no cost of living pressure from a new GP Tax on your visits to the doctor which the Abbott Government is considering. We believe that our message is you should elect senators who will stand up for Western Australia, not simply be a rubber stamp for the Government of Tony Abbott.
MCGLUE: That’s in an ideal world for Labor, but the reality is that the minor parties have done really well in the Senate election back in September, they’re lining up again for this election on the 5th of April. It will be a Melbourne Cup field again. The reality is Labor needs to do preference deals, so my question to you, directly, is would you be happy to do a deal with Clive Palmer’s party if you thought that was going to edge out the Greens?
SHORTEN: I’m fully conscious that whatever the party negotiates in terms of preferences, you’ve got to live with those consequences. I think voters expect the Labor party to be consistent, so whilst I’m sure that I can work with Clive Palmer just as I can work with Christine Milne, the Labor Party is the only party other than the Liberal Party who is serious about forming a government in Australia. So my party will work through the processes of preferences in the course of this week, we’ll make a final decision by Saturday. But in the meantime we’re seeking people’s first preference vote, because only Labor has the full range of policies we believe which can hold the Abbott Government to account and form the basis of providing an alternative government in the future.
MCGLUE: You’re listening to Bill Shorten. The Opposition Leader is in Perth, he’s campaigning with the Labor Party for the April 5th Senate re-run election, hoping that two Labor candidates will grab seats in the Senate, the new Senate, when it sits from the 1st of July.
Bill Shorten, you’re a staunch supporter of Labor’s ties with the union movement, which goes far beyond your natural affection as a former union official. Does your support extend to giving your personal tick-off to the deal that was done here in Western Australia to put a former union leader, Joe Bullock, on the number one spot on the Senate ticket and relegating Louise Pratt, a sitting Senator, to the second spot? Are you in favour of that union preselection deal that was done?
SHORTEN: First of all, the language you’re using is heavily laden with emotive terms. As I understand, the West Australian Labor Party met and under its rules has picked its candidates. Louise Pratt is excellent, Joe Bullock is excellent. What I sincerely hope is that they will both be elected. But the processes were done according to the rules. What I also think –
MCGLUE: Well the deal was, Mr Shorten, was that between the two unions, between Mr Bullock’s union and between one of the other unions, there was a deal done to get a state candidate from one union into preselection for a safe Labor seat for the state election last year, and in return Mr Bullock got the support of the other union to get into the number position on the Senate ticket. That is a union deal, you wouldn’t deny that surely?
SHORTEN: One lesson I learnt from 2010 to 2013 is that when the Labor Party spends a lot of time arguing with itself, talking about itself, people switch off. I’m not about to make that mistake on this show. I am interested in the Labor Party having excellent candidates. I look forward to Labor when it preselects candidates in the 2016 election, drawing people not just from its traditional base, but from small business, from the land, scientists, professional women. So I am very keen to see the party draw its base in the future from the broadest possible breadth of Australia and Western Australia. But the rules of the party were adhered, we have had our processes. I’m optimistic and confident that our two candidates will both do very well, indeed our third is Shane Hall, he doesn’t always get mentioned in interviews. He grew up in Kalgoorlie, proving there’s still gold in Kalgoorlie, and he’s our candidate, he lives up in Geraldton, so we’re running candidates from the region.
I think that what’s important in the Western Australian Senate election is making sure that now the Abbott Government won the 2013 election, that they’ve got a Senate who can keep them honest. The last thing we need is a chorus of rubber stamps agreeing to whatever Mr Abbott proposes.
MCGLUE: Well a broader question about the Senate. Given the size of the mandate Mr Abbott did get at September, what right has Labor or any other party or any other individual to block his legislation in the Senate? Given the vast majority of Australians, or the majority of Australians supported his policies.
SHORTEN: In 2007, the vast majority or the majority of Australians supported us. I didn’t ever see Mr Abbott drawing a breath from opposing things. Indeed when it came to climate change, Mr Turnbull and some of his own party clearly wanted to see real action. So did Labor. And Mr Abbott, who didn’t even have - because the policy that the 2007 election was - Tony Abbott walked away from it, his own party. ,So when we talk about mandate, and it is important that we be constructive. But there are millions of Australians who voted for Labor, hundreds of thousands of Western Australians who voted for us. They expect Labor to be true to its values too. What we will be is a constructive Opposition.
MCGLUE: Your Labor colleague and former Prime Minister Paul Keating famously called the Senate ‘unrepresentative swill’, was he right?
SHORTEN: No, the Senate was put into our Constitution as a state’s house, as a check and balance on the power of the House of Representatives. I think quite often the Senate will vote along party lines, but when it comes to maintaining support for services in Western Australia – the hospitals, childcare, schools funding, infrastructure and funding for public transport – Labor will stand up for Western Australia.
What I think it disappointing in this election is that the Abbott Government has got a 900 page report about cuts it’s proposing. It’s contracted out its policy work to the Business Council of Australia, and whilst they’re legitimate commentators they’re not the only experts in Australia big business. And what we see is they’re hiding their report for two months. I understand that if they only got the report on April the 3rd the mightn’t want to release it until after April the 5th. But we’re going to have a state election in Tasmania, a state election in South Australia, and now a Senate election in Western Australia. It is too much of a coincidence to believe that the Abbott Government is not delaying a report of 900 pages for two months, if not to gain an electoral advantage by not telling Western Australians the truth.
MCGLUE: Bill Shorten, thank you for spending some time with us on Drive. Good to see you here in Western Australia.
SHORTEN: It’s a real pleasure, I look forward to coming back again. Thank you very much.
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