Bill's Transcripts

Radio Interview - ABC - Syrian refugee crisis; China FTA






SUBJECT/S: Syrian refugee crisis; China FTA


MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Mr Shorten, good morning.




BRISSENDEN: Is 10,000 enough? The Green’s for instance say 20,000, Mike Baird last night said it’s easy and simple to put a number up but who’s to say we can’t do more.


SHORTEN: Well first of all, the amount of people affected by this refugee tragedy in the conflict in Syria is much greater than 10,000. 11.5 million people in Syria have been forced to move. Imagine, that would be half the population of Australia having to move. If that was to ever happen here, and heaven forbid that it ever does, I’d hope that other people in the world would contemplate supporting some Australians in distress. So 10,000 is a start but I think –


BRISSENDEN: So it’s only a start though. You think it could go higher?


SHORTEN: Well, let’s see what Mr Abbott says. We’ve spoken to re-settlement experts and immigration experts and I think the view was that 10,000 was something that our systems could cope with without overstretching them. That would be on top of 13,750 refugees we already take. Labor's point is this, the rest of the world’s dealing with this unprecedented humanitarian crisis. I think it is right that Australia makes a decision that we play our role to help an international response to help with the neighbouring countries around Syria.


BRISSENDEN: But you could see it going higher because clearly, as you say, there is a lot of people moving, the biggest movement of people since the Second World War. Germans are saying they expect 800,000 to arrive there in the next year.


SHORTEN: The numbers are staggering and that's why we do think we should do what we can. So yes, if the Government - one of the things we suggested along with the 10,000 extra places is that we would like to sit down with the Government and the State Governments and community organisations and religious organisations to see what this nation can do. This is one of those times in history which we wouldn't have picked the circumstances but the nation has to step up.


Malcolm Fraser did it with the Vietnamese boat people. Bob Hawke did it with tens of thousands of Chinese students after Tiananmen. John Howard did it with Kosovo refugees and whilst each conflict and tragedy was different, the point is that this is now time for all of us to step up and be the decent compassionate country that we all think we are.


BRISSENDEN: Do you accept Australia is actually in a better position now to take more refugees because of the Abbott Government policies, essentially stop the uncontrolled flow of refugees coming here?


SHORTEN: There’s no doubt the measures adopted by the previous Labor Government and current Government have deterred the people smugglers. That’s why –


BRISSENDEN: Under the previous Labor Government’s we had 50,000 coming.


SHORTEN: That's why at my recent national conference, Labor made the hard decisions, hard decisions and you covered it at the time Michael on your show, so we are prepared to do our bit. I think the issue here is that should Labor, should Liberal, should Australia take more refugees? We think the answer’s yes. We’re also proposing that we work together with an emergency meeting and the third leg of what we’re proposing is that we’re providing more resources to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees because the truth of the matter is that money spent in these border countries will be a very effective way of relieving pressure.


I've got a little bit of research here that shows that if we were to provide this $100 million, it would help rehabilitate schools and learning spaces for nearly a million kids and it could help distribute food assistance for over 100,000 Syrian people, children with health and housing. I think this is now a time for the nation to recognise that events are sometimes bigger than the day to day politics and we all need to step up.


BRISSENDEN: Okay, is it also now a time to extend our mission and extend it to bombing in Syria?


SHORTEN: There’s been bipartisan support for helping the Iraqi Government and people defend themselves against these terrorist organisations. The Government’s given me an initial briefing saying that they have had a request to extend the military efforts against the terrorist organisations across the border into Syria. Labor’s carefully considering our position. We want to be assured that there is a legal basis for this, that we are not putting our airmen into illegal action, I don’t think we would be.


There is other interesting questions you just raised with the Foreign Minister which I'm not sure the Government has fully answered yet. It’s ‘what’s the end game, how long would we be there, what is the strategy behind it?’ Now I do believe that the terrorist organisations are genocidal organisations, they need to be defeated. But it's important also that we understand that you’re not going to drain the swamp of terrorism just by military action alone. That's why I think our action on refugees is incredibly important.


BRISSENDEN: So ultimately would you support it provided it meets most of the things that you’re saying, that it is an action against the terrorists. Is there a danger that the bombing campaign –


SHORTEN: Sorry, Labor hasn't adopted a final position, I just need to say that.


BRISSENDEN: Okay, I accept that.


SHORTEN: But I see some of the case the government is making. But again, I think there’s a lot of Australians who think that the use of military force far from our shores needs to be done with the most considered way possible and that's the responsibility we are adopting and analysing this.


BRISSENDEN: And is there a danger it could make the situation worse?


SHORTEN: Well, I get that for long-term peace in the region it's got to be owned by the people and the governments of that region. Australia, with a number of aeroplanes is not going to resolve that issue and peace in the Middle East or peace in Syria. I don't know how long the Assad regime can hang on. They’re the Government of Syria. They have got a terrible track record.


Of course these terrorists and ISIL are genocidal organisations, it is not clear cut what the long-term picture looks like. I know that when I've met with, for instance, the Foreign Minister of Turkey and others, that they are concerned to make sure there’s a long-term plan, not just a military solution.


BRISSENDEN: Okay, just on another issue, on the China Free Trade Agreement. The Government will today move a motion in Parliament to force a vote on the China Free Trade Agreement, clearly trying to force your hand. Is it time for you to stop the politics of this and support it?


SHORTEN: I think it's the Government would be trying to cause politics. We haven’t even had the legislation presented to the parliament Michael. Our position on the China Free Trade Agreement is simply that we want ChAFTA Plus. So we do support a China Free Trade Agreement plus we want safeguards for Australian jobs. The Government has been very quick to howl down any criticism of this China Free Trade Agreement and accuse THE people standing up for Australian jobs of having base motives.


BRISSENDEN: What if ChAFTA plus means China walks away?


SHORTEN: Well first of all, China’s interested in Chinese interests and I respect that. But I didn't become a member of Parliament just to become a rubber stamp for Tony Abbott. Imagine if in the last two years of the Abbott Government, the Opposition just rolled over and said ‘tickle us on the tummy Tony and we just take your first effort as your best effort’. We’ve got very clear propositions and I brought some with them with me for this interview. We want to make sure that the enabling legislation, not the actual treaty, make sure that there’s mandatory labour market testing.


Currently it's proposed that for projects of over $150 million, it's not mandatory that the jobs market in Australian has to be tested so that Australians get first crack. I've also brought with me a copy of the summary of the side letter. So there’s three matters, labour market testing related. It's not overly complex. But there’s now, Australia’s signed a letter which removes the requirement for mandatory skills assessment for the following 10 occupations, automotive electrician, cabinet maker, carpenter, electrician, diesel motor mechanic. These are occupations –


BRISSENDEN: And these are lines in the sand? Without this then it’s off in your view?


SHORTEN: I think that the Government has a chance to help, belt and brace this agreement and satisfy the legitimate concerns of the Australian people that Australians are getting prioritised for jobs in Australia.


BRISSENDEN: So but, my question remains, without these changes you won't support it?


SHORTEN: Michael, I've been in many, many negotiations standing up for Australian workers, it's what I've been doing my whole adult life. I am confident that nothing that Labor is saying is a deal killer. What we need is the Government not to assume that you either have to 100 per cent agree with them or, you know, they take their bat and ball and go home. I think this nation has had a gutful of Mr Abbott's stubbornness on so many different issues. Let's sit down, work through the issues. That's how we get better outcomes in this country when we work together, not against each other.


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


SHORTEN: Thank you.