Bill's Transcripts

Radio Interview: ABC AM





SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s unfair budget; cuts to higher education; GP tax; Wayne Swan’s book.


MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Healthcare, fuel excise and higher education have been the battle grounds of the week. To discuss this we’re joined this morning in our Melbourne studio by the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Mr Shorten, welcome to AM.



BRISSENDEN: Well Bill Shorten, how much responsibility do you, does the Labor Party have to take for the growing unemployment problem given your intransigence in the Senate is blocking the Government’s attempts to deal with the problem?

SHORTEN: The Government’s been in power now for nearly a year. They’ve got to stop blaming the Opposition and everyone else for the decisions that the Government are making. This unfair Budget has stalled confidence in the High Street of Australia.  From about three weeks before the Budget was brought down, and the Government’s carefully calculated, strategic leaks started to reveal to people what was in the Budget, people have shut their wallets and purses and stopped spending. This unfair Budget divides Australia and it’s damaging confidence. The Government should go back to the drawing board.


BRISSENDEN: Surely part of the confidence problem is that it’s stuck in the Senate through isn’t? I mean, we’ve had criticism from senior business figures this week and again today, Dow Chemical’s chairman, Andrew Liveris described Australian politics as an embarrassment and Michael Chaney, the Woodside Chairman, has said that Labor and the Coalition should adopt a bi-partisan approach.

SHORTEN: Michael, the phone lines of Labor MPs have not been lighting up in the last three months with hordes of people saying ‘please vote for the GP-tax, please vote to increase our petrol tax, please vote to cut pensions’. On the contrary, the message we’re receiving from ordinary Australians in cities and in the country right around our homeland is please oppose these unfair measures in the Budget. This is a government who’s so out of touch that this week we heard Joe Hockey say that poor people don’t drive cars or they don’t drive very much. He fundamentally doesn’t understand the regressive nature of the fuel tax he’s introducing. And what’s more though, see I can get that people make mistakes, but it’s the fact that Joe Hockey and now Christopher Pyne and possibly Tony Abbott today, have all dug in behind unfair comments which show how out of touch this Government is with how ordinary people construct their personal financial lives.

BRISSENDEN: Sure, but by continuing to oppose the Government aren’t you doing exactly what you said was damaging the national interest when Tony Abbott was doing the same thing when he was Opposition Leader?

SHORTEN: Well Michael, how on earth can a Labor Party vote to put a new tax on the sick and the vulnerable? How does the Labor Party make it harder for people to have the dream of sending their kids to university? How on earth do we vote to reward Tony Abbott lying to Australia before the last election, where he said there would be no cuts to pensions, no increases to taxes, no cuts to health or education and he’s done exactly the opposite since then? How does the Labor Party reward such bad political behaviour with our meek acquiescence? We’re not going to do it.


BRISSENDEN: If the Budget standoff continues, and if you continue to reject the Budget or the Budget continues to fail to pass through the Senate, the money’s got to be found from somewhere doesn’t it, what alternatives are you offering?


SHORTEN: Well I think the Government does need to go back and rewrite its Budget, I think that’s the view of a lot of people in Australia. This Budget is based upon lies and broken promises and it really should go back to the drawing board. In terms of –


BRISSENDEN: What alternatives are you offering?

SHORTEN: Well here’s a straight forward one. I think the Government should drop its paid parental leave scheme. I think it’s, there’s only one person in Australia who wants it, that’s Tony Abbott. That would save a lot of money to the bottom line. Providing $50,000 payments to people who don’t need them to me is the height of arrogance. How can there be a budget emergency in Australia when the Prime Minister so arrogantly sticks to his one idea which he thinks is more important than all the other hard measures and unfair things he’s doing to ordinary people?

BRISSENDEN: That’s one aspect; it’s clearly not the whole story. More money’s going to need to be found from somewhere. You’ve been out talking this week about opposing the cuts to government funding for higher education and fee deregulation, you’ve been making a lot of it. But it’s true isn’t it that you had higher education in your sights in the last Labor Budget?

SHORTEN: When Labor was in power we fundamentally increased funding to Australia’s universities. The problem with this Government is they say that they want to reform higher education, but the first thing they do when they want to start so-called reform is to make it harder for tens of thousands of ordinary kids from modest backgrounds to be able to go to university. That’s not reform, it’s not reform to higher education to make it harder for people to access higher education. The Government -

BRISSENDEN: Didn’t your last Budget detail cuts of $2.3 billion to higher education?

SHORTEN: Michael as you would appreciate over the six years that Labor was in power, we radically increased the amount of funding to universities. The number of kids who are completing higher education significantly increased under Labor. But again, the Government’s won the last election, they say that they’ve got good ideas about higher education, where are they? They run this argument that says, why should people who don’t go to university subsidise people who do? They fundamentally don’t understand that in the last two generations there are literally millions of Australian parents and grandparents who are pleased that there kids are getting opportunities they didn’t.


What a cynical bunch this government are when they keep saying they want to divide Australia. This Government tries to divide Australia all the time. They divide it between the poor people and motor cars and the rich people and motor cars. They try and divide it between those who have been to university and those whose haven’t. They create this category of the lifters and the learners yet what they actually are doing is making the bottom half of Australia pay more for this unfair Budget than other Australians. This is a divisive Government.


BRISSENDEN: Isn’t the point about higher education reform about making universities better and we’ve heard, we’ve heard today that deregulation in fact is going to increase the productivity of universities, make them better?


SHORTEN: Michael, how on earth can have a discussion about improving the performance of universities whilst you’re robbing them of 20 per cent of their funding? This is where this government always overreaches. If they want to have a genuine negotiation with Labor as opposed to their new lunch buddies the Palmer United Party, then maybe they need to sit down and work with us to articulate what the future of higher education should look like. But no, that’s not the way of this government, they have a born to rule mentality which we’ve seen appallingly on display this week with Joe Hockey’s incredibly insensitive comments. And what they instead do is they cut university funding, they clearly want to make it the enclave, make universities the enclave of where your postcode, where you come from, where you live, how much money your parents have determines your access to university.  And there doing that with the GP tax. I mean, on one hand they say they want medical research funded on the other hand they say there’s a budget crisis. So they put a new tax, a sneak, surprise tax on sick people to make them pay for all of these measures. Not a single dollar of the GP tax is going back into recurrent health care funding. This Government makes things up.

BRISSENDEN: Okay, just finally Wayne Swan, the former Treasurer, has just released a book where he claims that vested interests and oligarchs led by the miners and the Business Council and aided by NewsCorp newspapers worked to destroy the Labor Government. Do you agree?


SHORTEN: I haven’t read Wayne’s book yet, I will certainly buy a copy when he launches it next week and I wish him well –

BRISSENDEN: Do you think that vested interests pitched against the Labor Government?

SHORTEN: Well, I’ll leave the historians to discuss the history of the Labor Government. I’m focused on the future of Australia, what we look like in 2020. I’m focused on making sure the Labor Party has future focused policies and in the meantime I am determined, like every Labor MP, to make sure this unfair Budget does not wreak havoc on the sick, on the vulnerable, on those who are less well off in our society and we will do our day job to the maximum of our ability and passion.

BRISSENDEN: Okay Bill Shorten thanks very much for joining us.

SHORTEN: Thank you.