Bill's Transcripts



SUBJECT/S: Parliament; Racial Discrimination Act; Abbott Government’s budget blowout; Regal honours; Infrastructure and transport funding; Australian Labor Party.

JON FAINE: We invited the Prime Minster to join us this morning, he was unavailable, he’s attending to the ceremonial swearing in of the next Governor-General a littler latter this morning. The Leader of the Opposition accepted our invitation, Bill Shorten, good morning to you.

FAINE: Parliament became distinctly personal yesterday. Tony Abbott withdrew his insult to you at the end of Question Time but is it in the nation’s interest for the business of the Parliament to be conducted the way it is at the moment and you have some control over how it’s conducted?

SHORTEN: No, I don’t have any control over the priorities of the Prime Minister. He lost his temper two days in a row, that’s for him to work out. I think, I’m sure he would regret that now –

FAINE: But you set the tactics of the Opposition which have inflamed the Government and the speaker.

SHORTEN: Jon, I think most thoughtful Australians have been appalled that this is a government who wants to water down protections against hate speech. I think everyone was just simply stunned and bemused that the priority for the Abbott Government this week was to reintroduce knighthoods so no, I’m going to say that the Government owns most of that capacity; they’ve made those decisions. We would never, I never thought that I’d hear an Attorney General of Australia like Liberal Party Attorney General George Brandis say that you’ve got a right to be a bigot. No one’s got a right to be a bigot, to put people down because of their ethnicity.

FAINE: We’ll come to that in a moment as a separate issue, but the tactics that the Labor Party are adopting are something entirely within your control. Are you entirely comfortable with tactics that have led to I’ll say the most unproductive and inefficient Parliament that we’ve seen in modern times?

SHORTEN: Jon, the minority government of Julia Gillard saw Tony Abbot conduct the most amazing set of tactics, there were votes of no confidence, suspension of standing orders, question times with the Opposition, never ever got to the end of the question time frequently because Tony Abbott was without a doubt, and I say this, he’s a very skilled person but he’s a superb political brawler. So when we talk about what’s been happening in recent days, again I just say first of all I remember what it was like when Tony Abbott was the negative leader of the Opposition. Secondly, there’s been 99 Labor MPs thrown out by Bronwyn Bishop, not a single government MP. I do not believe that any fair minded person thinks that 99 out of 99 times is a problem, it’s purely the Labor Party’s fault.

FAINE: The argument is that the Labor Party have not adapted to being in opposition, you’re still behaving as if you’ve still got the numbers you don’t have?
SHORTEN: I think that the bigger argument is that the Opposition hasn’t adapted to being in Government with Tony Abbott. You know, they’ve got to have an agenda beyond just slogans like axe the tax. Where is their agenda for jobs? We asked them questions day in day out, I know I do because I’m the person asking them, what’s your plan for jobs? I mean I’ve been and we’ve met the people at Alcoa who are losing their jobs. I’ve been down to Port Melbourne and talked to the car workers who are losing their jobs, and I don’t see a government white car turning up with a government Liberal Minister talking about plans.

FAINE: Well that’s what for instance removing red tape from the economy is about, that’s what brining the Budget back under control instead of it being excessive as is claimed under when your party was in office. That’s what creating jobs from their perspective is all about.

SHORTEN: Well the Abbott Government’s got twisted priorities. When they talk about removing red tape they talk about what they actually mean is getting rid of consumer protection and financial planning advice. When they talk about getting the Budget back in, they’ve invented a Budget emergency. They’ve added $68 billion in deficit since they got elected, some of that’s through their spending commitments and some of that’s through basically through cooking the books.
I’ll use one example. They say they don’t intend to move to the Millennium Development Goals on foreign aid which is 0.5 per cent of our GDP [GNI] in foreign aid. Yet what they, so they’ve said they’re not going to do it. Yet if you read their mid-year economic statement that they put out in December, Joe Hockey said that they would get to it by 2017/18. Of course by putting it in your books at 2017/18 they’re saying there’s x billion dollars of deficit. They’re not going to pay it. They’ve said they’re not going to pay it, so what they’re doing is creating straw man debt which they’re then going to miraculously cut, so what they’re doing is they’re inventing an emergency which doesn’t exist, and then they’re going to miraculously fix it, and in the meantime they won’t work on the public transport of the city in Melbourne –

FAINE: All parties, all parties when they’re in charge fiddle the books to suit their political agenda Bill Shorten, why should not this government be as entitled, speaking of entitlement, to do what they are planning to do and in order to assert their policies in exactly the same way as you and your colleagues did when you were in office?

SHORTEN: Jon at a certain point we need to substitute cynicism for what’s really going on in this country. The argument that you just put that everyone does it and therefore it’s okay for this mob to do it, doesn’t really hold water. We’ve got real issues in Victoria, you know we’ve got congestion in Melbourne, there is real congestion. What they’re proposing to do is add a billion and a half dollars on to the East-West Link, which isn’t going to buy you very much tunnel, I can assure you, but in the meantime we had budgeted for building extra underground railway. If you want to fix up transport in Melbourne, it’s not a question of rail or roads as Tony Abbott would have you believe, you’ve got to have both. But there’s no way you can fix up the roads until people have got a choice about public transport. Tony Abbott wrote in his book Battlelines that he doesn’t believe in public transport. I don’t, I mean I’m sure that’s true, I don’t think he’s ever caught a train in Melbourne, so what we have is that you’ve got is a government who’s not funding urban rail, and it’s not just Melbourne, which would really help productivity –

SHORTEN: But on the other hand they’re talking about knighthoods and dames?

FAINE: Well specifically on that would you reverse this announcement if indeed at some point in future you’re in a position to do so as Prime Minister?

SHORTEN: Well I believe that if you’re going to have better infrastructure which you need to make sure that we’re productive, the problem I’m trying to solve is the amount of time people waste getting to and from work. There will be people listening to us now who’ll have been in traffic for 30 or 40 minutes plus and it’s, you know, you do that every day, couple of hours every day for 48 weeks of the year, you are losing a lot of time.

FAINE: You completely ignored my question about knights and dames Bill Shorten.
SHORTEN: No I haven’t –

FAINE: If you’re in a position to reverse this announcement of knighthoods and dame-hoods will you do so?

SHORTEN: Yes I would. But again Jon, everyone’s fascinated about knighthoods and dame-hoods, I actually think the real issues are what I was talking about, I wasn’t ignoring your question, I thought we were still talking about transport and infrastructure. But on knighthoods and dame-hoods, what an anachronism. The Labor Party since 1918 has been against imperial honours so again, we didn’t ask Tony Abbott to define himself by knighthoods and dame-hoods, if that’s the right word, we didn’t ask him to get his Attorney General to get up and say that everyone has a right to be a bigot. This is a government who whilst we’ve got unemployment queues lengthening, wants to talk about everything else but the real issues.

FAINE: The CFMEU according to the front page of The Age newspaper are possibly going to be deregistered. Nigel Hadgkiss, who headed up the ABCC, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, is building up a dossier for the Federal Government on whether or not the CFMEU could face complete deregistration . And this comes at exactly the same time as Paul Howes, your former close friend and colleague –

SHORTEN: He still is my friend, Jon.

FAINE: That presupposes the next question. Paul Howes is quoted in the Financial Review saying that the Labor Party has to ‘un-couple’ from unions if it is to have a future, and Dean Mighell in The Australian newspaper, former Electrical Trades Union boss, writes about the need to disaffiliate as well. It seems as if there is momentum building on these issues and it may well be that the future of the labour movement and the Labor Party are quite separate from each other, Bill Shorten.

SHORTEN: Jon, that’s a long question and I want to go to each part of it. First of all, about the CFMEU, and there’s two parts, there’s one about the CFMEU and allegations of corruption and law-breaking in the construction sector, the other one is about the future of the Labor party. And whilst they’re all the one question, I think they’re two distinct issues. With construction and corruption in the construction industry, no one on the Labor side has any time for crooked behaviour, full stop. It is not acceptable – never has been, it isn’t and it never will be. Talk about gangs, and construction, and corruption need to feel the full weight of the law.

FAINE: Is this, are you putting this in for the comedy festival, Bill Shorten? This is on the very day when Michael Williamson, the former president of the Labor Party is to be sentenced, and the same week that a Labor Member of Parliament has been sentenced to a period of imprisonment.

SHORTEN: No I’m not putting it in, I don’t think there’s anything comedic about this. I’m appalled. I would never have imagined that individual union officials would be personally behaving and enriching themselves in the way that we’ve seen come out. It goes against everything I believe in and everything I’ve ever worked for. In terms of the construction –

FAINE: But you go to dinner at some Labor Party mate’s house and you have a look around at the multi-million surrounds, you don’t wonder how they came about that wealth?

SHORTEN: Well, in terms of do you assume that everyone’s a crook, no you don’t. But I tell you, the evidence which has come out, and I would never have been to a dinner at Williamson’s house or Thomson’s house so I don’t know what their houses were like. But I do know that people who are crooks, doesn’t matter if you wear a white shirt and a beautiful tie, sitting in a board room, or if you’re a union rep, or if you’re anyone else. No one is above the law.

In terms of the second part of what you were talking about, which was the future of the Labor Party. I’m passionately interested in the future of the Labor Party. I believe that when the Labor Party says that we want Australia to be confident, outward looking, democratic, then the Labor Party has an obligation itself to be confident, outward looking and democratic. So I am interested in and committed to the modernisation of the Labor Party. Plenty of people have plenty of views now.

I spoke at the National Press Club on Wednesday, I made it very clear that I do not believe that there are people who should have to join a union in order to be representatives of Labor. I think a union connection is important, it does keep us in touch with the real world experiences of millions of people who go to work every day. I make no apologies for my union background, I think the skills you learn in forging consensus, the lessons you learn from the faces in the factories and the quarries and the hospital wards are important lessons. But what I also recognise is that the Labor Party needs to appeal to more constituencies than its traditional base.

We should no longer let the Australian tax legislation define which side of the fence Labor chases votes, do we write off all the votes of the contractors or the small businesses and the self-employed –

FAINE: Okay but internally the battle is going to be asking trade union bosses with great clout and power from the union in the Labor Party at the moment, you’re going to be asking them to surrender that power and that’s an exercise in futility, I put to you, Bill Shorten.

SHORTEN: Well, I need to probably have a question to go with your statement Jon, and I don’t agree with your statement –

FAINE: The question is, is it an exercise in futility to ask –

SHORTEN: No, it’s not –

FAINE: Union bosses to give up their power in the Labor Party, that’s the question.

SHORTEN: No. If people want there to be a modern progressive workplace relations system, if we want to see that we can have economic growth, building a fair society, then we need a successful Labor Party. To have a successful Labor Party, we need to do things differently. Not everything, but we need to do more things differently than we’ve done in the past.

Fronting up to the 2016 electorate with structures that we designed 20 and 30 years ago isn’t going to work. So what I’m interested in is how to I have a conversation and engage with all those small business people who’re working right now? How do I appeal, for instance, to the scientific community? All those clever researchers, working hard to try and design the next generation of Australian prosperity. How do I reach out to professional women to talk to them about why they should become candidates for the Labor Party. How do we make sure that people know that Labor is up for being a champion for the regions, not just the cities?

FAINE: Okay, 12 minutes to nine, I only have another few moments before you too have to head off to the swearing in of the Governor-General, and the question is about amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act, and what’s now being called the ‘bigot provisions’. The Attorney-General George Brandis in the Senate, Senator Brandis saying Australians have a right to be bigots. I mean, effectively now this is a battle between political correctness and right-wing ideologues, is it not?

SHORTEN: No it’s not, it’s about whether or not it’s okay to be a bigot in this country. And it’s not okay. It’s about whether or not it’s okay to be a racist, and it is not okay. We’re already seeing the dysfunctionality of the Abbott Cabinet with leaks from at least four ministers. You’ve got Malcom Turnbull with his opaque comments that he couldn’t possibly say what he thinks because that would be unhelpful. I say to Malcolm that just keeping silent on these matters doesn’t help anyone actually. If you’ve got a view, tell people what it is, don’t tease people with your views but not be strong enough to not actually enunciate any of them. I do not want to see Australia taken back to an age where bigotry and racism was more acceptable than it is now.

FAINE: Well I don’t think anyone is heading down that path, and Senator Brandis tried as best he could, I thought, both in the Parliament and for instance on our Drive program yesterday with Raff Epstein to say this is not a licence for people to turn around and start expressing things that previously were not acceptable. Those racist views are still unacceptable in the community, it’s just –

SHORTEN: Oh Jon, please listen or give Attorney-General Brandis of the Liberal Party a leave pass. When the Attorney-General, who is tasked with the administration of the laws in our country, says people have a right to be bigots, there’ll be people out there, some of those people who say the crazy stuff on the internet, there’ll be other people who will be punching the air with joy, they’ll say ‘see, the Attorney-General says I can be a bigot, I’ve got a right to be a bigot, I’m going to’. Leadership starts at the top.

FAINE: Thank you for your time this morning, and I trust that the next Governor-Generalis, what was the phrase that was used this morning? As classy as was your mother in law, who has left the office in distinction. Thank you for your time this morning.

SHORTEN: Thank you Jon, have a lovely morning.