01 June 2016


SUBJECT/S: Labor’s positive plans for Australia; Coal mining; Labor’s pledge for a Northern Australia tourism powerhouse; Townsville stadium; NBN; Asylum seekers; Labor’s plans to protect Medicare; Goldman Sachs

STEVE AUSTIN: Leader of the Australian Labor Party and the Opposition, Bill Shorten, thanks for coming in.


AUSTIN: I went back to your first ever speech to Parliament, which is often the ideological moment of new Members of Parliament, where they roll out who they are and what they value, and you said the Labor Party is the party of innovation, future and hope. So in the lead up to this Federal Election where can voters see hope if they choose to vote for the Australian Labor Party and put you as Prime Minister of Australia?

SHORTEN: Our education policies will mean that every child no matter what their background will get the chance of the highest quality education. Giving them hope to be able to compete for the jobs of the future. Our infrastructure policies are nation-building. We want to de-clog our cities by investing in public transport, such as Cross-River Rail in Brisbane. That will generate a lot of good blue collar jobs as well. The action which we’re taking on climate change, and I'm talking more about that today at a successful solar renewable energy business at Seventeen Mile, will see real action on climate change. So we can hope that we can improve the policies and action on climate change, help save the Barrier Reef, for instance. Also, the equal treatment of women in society. We fundamentally believe that if we can help eradicate the scourge of family violence, if we make sure that women get treated equally in the workplace, then we can hope for a more equal society.

AUSTIN: Does the Australian Labor Party support coal mining?

SHORTEN: Yes. We think coal mining is part of the energy mix going forward, but we also support putting greater investment into renewable energy. The truth of the matter is the world is reaching a tipping point in terms of climate change. We have to act to be able to restrain the increases in temperature which are under way and leading to extreme weather events and the very harmful effect that has on our economy. So we need to focus a lot more on renewable energy, but coal ...

AUSTIN: Do you fully support the Adani coal mine here in Queensland, which will be the biggest coal mine and export very clean Queensland coal to India?

SHORTEN: Whether or not the Adani coal mine goes ahead will be up to the investors of Adani.

AUSTIN: But do you support it, does the Australian Labor Party support it?

SHORTEN: When you ask do I support it, it's not up to me, to support a particular business enterprise. What I do say is that, under a Labor Government, coal mining will still go on. What I also say is that we won't be expending any Commonwealth resources on the Adani mine.

AUSTIN: I ask that because you say you support coal mining, or the Labor Party supports coal mining. Terri - Terri Butler your member in Brisbane does not support coal mining.

TERRI BUTLER: I don't support the Adani coal mining.

RICHARD DI NATALE: Your party does, your party does.

BUTLER: No, no, fair play to our State Parliament they didn't have much discretion, they were using laws that had been amended by the Newman government. But I don't support it. 

AUSTIN: So can you clarify for me, does the Labor Party support or not support coal mines like Adani?

SHORTEN: If Labor is elected on July 2, there will still be coal mining in Australia on July 3. When it comes to supporting Adani coalmining, that will or won't succeed on its commercial merits and on its environmental impacts. A Commonwealth government I lead will not be investing any money in Adani coal mine.

AUSTIN: There are a large number of employees or families of people throughout Queensland that earn their living from coal mines and mining. A large part of your support base comes from coal mining in this place or mining generally. Today in the paper the Resources Council is calling for them to vote against the Labor Party if the mining industry is demonised by the very people that they think they support at the moment. What is your response to that? Are you worried about Queensland Resources Council doing that? Making that call, I'm sorry.

SHORTEN: There's plenty of agendas from the Queensland Resources Council but to go to what really matters ...

AUSTIN: But they're going to your heartland, your base, you know, the workers in the mines of Queensland, what's left of them.

SHORTEN: Well, my whole background is standing up for blue collar workers. I have never been anti-mining but what I also know, so coal mining will continue if Labor gets elected. We need coal to make steel, for example, so I live in the real world. But what I am not going to do is stand here and be backward on the issue of climate change. The truth of the matter is we need to modernise our electricity generation. The truth of the matter is we do need to be part of the renewable energy investment surge across the world. The world added 2 million jobs in renewable energy in the last two years, but amongst the bottom of all of the world though in adding renewable energy jobs came Australia. Australia is not used to being the last in the world or down the bottom. We lost over 2,000 renewable energy jobs.

AUSTIN: We lost 22,000 jobs in mining here in Queensland in the last 12 months to two years.

SHORTEN: That's right. And what has the Liberal Government done in Canberra about helping these displaced people? Not very much at all. What we need is proper infrastructure projects which generate blue collar jobs. Your very first question to me is what hope do we offer. And I made it clear that I want to see blue collar jobs and nation building jobs such as Cross River Rail.

AUSTIN: The opposition put up $5 billion for development of Northern Australia. You have said you're re assigning or redirecting $1 billion of that for tourism infrastructure projects. Exactly what? Exactly what tourism infrastructure project?

SHORTEN: We would make this funding available for ports and airports, for convention centres and stadia, for eco-tourism, all of the things which make North Queensland and Northern Australia such a global tourism mecca.

AUSTIN: A $300 million football stadium in Townsville?

SHORTEN: We said we would put $100 million in grant funding towards it, absolutely.

AUSTIN:  So you put $100 million into that, but you won't put any money into future coal mining projects?

SHORTEN: Well coal mining, I have to say, depends on the investors. I don't think the mining industry and investing in particular mines is something which governments should be in.

AUSTIN:  My guest is Bill Shorten, Leader of the Opposition, David from High Vale you have a question for Bill Shorten.

SHORTEN: Good morning.

CALLER: Yes, I have three questions, Bill.


CALLER: I'm actually in my mid-50s. I'd like to know, why did you change the pension age? Are you going to change it back to the age of 65? And why is it so hard for people in my age - now I'm currently burnt out, I've got a lot of disabilities, I cannot get on to the disability pension because this current Federal government have made it so hard, you have to be nearly dead.

AUSTIN: How old are you, David?

SHORTEN: He said mid-50s. David, what sort of work did you used to do, or have you done?

CALLER: I used to work in a factory for 30 years. I am burnt out. There's a lot of people burnt out there. And we aren't even near 65 let alone 70, Bill.

SHORTEN: I get that. Labor is opposing increasing the retirement age from 67 to 70. We are opposing that. If the Liberals get re-elected the retirement age will go to 70, if they lose it will stay at 67. You go towards, though, two deeper issues which haven’t had a run in this election. One is people who have had workplace injuries or done very physical work and they're in their 50s and 60s and there's not a lot of rehabilitation or support. Secondly, the job market for people over the age of 50 is very unfair and discriminatory. Specifically the length of period of unemployment for people over 50 is about twice the length of people under 50.

AUSTIN: But you did lift the retirement age from 67 to 65 so you are heading in the same direction as the Coalition.

SHORTEN: No, we are stopping. We've said that going to 70 is not the right way to go. We don't want to take it to 70 for a range of reasons. If people feel they can work, that is fine. We're not against people working. But the truth of the matter is if you've worked in a factory like David, or been a carpet layer or nurse, your body wears out. The other thing is that most workers comp systems in Australia don't allow people to work to 70. You can't get the premiums and the insurance coverage. So this Liberal Government is so dogmatic about lifting the working age to 70, yet they've done nothing about the discrimination in the workplace, I'm just talking about, and they've done very little about lifting the workers comp coverage. So in other words, the Government says you have to work to 70, but the truth of the matter is that very few state jurisdictions have the workers comp rule s which will support employers employing people up to the age of 70.

AUSTIN: Dave, thanks very much. Let me ask you another question and I will go to my next caller. Bill Shorten. I just spoke with Duncan Hart. He was the lone guy that brought an action against Coles in the Fair Work Commission. And he was able to show, and the full bench ruled in his favour, that many Coles workers were disadvantaged by the EBA signed or reached between the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association and Coles. Why do the SDAs keep signing agreements with large employers that appear to be against the financial interest of low paid workers?

SHORTEN: Well I'm glad that this agreement has been rectified. 

AUSTIN: Well it hasn't, it's got 10 days.

SHORTEN: You're quite right. But I assume that all of the parties to this agreement will rectify the points which were made by the full bench.

AUSTIN: But the SDA keeps signing these agreements on behalf of workers that appear to be against their interests, their financial interests.

SHORTEN: I'm not here to defend the SDA. My job though is to make sure we have a workplace relations system that is fair. Now I've been a strong defender of having the independent umpire make these decisions, based on the best evidence. And there's a crucial difference between myself and Mr Turnbull. We have insisted, both in our time in Government and Opposition there be something called a 'no disadvantage test' or a 'better-off overall test' and it's upon that this decision has been made by the independent umpire. Mr Turnbull has voted against putting these safeguards into the system. In terms of the union, you'd have to ask the union about their concerns that individuals members have with them.

AUSTIN: Let me play for you what Duncan Hart, this young man just said.

DUNCAN HART: I thought his position where he argued that he wouldn't cause any fuss if the Fair Work Commission cut penalty rates was a pretty appalling one. I thought it showed a total lack of any sort of political will from the supposed leader of the Labor Party to defend workers' rights. And I thought that was pathetic. And I also think the response generally of Labor figures to my case has been pretty ... not particularly positive because I think it shows up failings of the Fair Work Commission that they've allowed these agreements. Like, as I said it's not just Coles but has implications for Woollies and McDonalds. All these agreements have been passed by the Fair Work Commission, and yet all we have seen from Labor is just a defence of the Fair Work Commission as if they are still playing this, what's the word ...?

AUSTIN: Honest broker role?

HART: Yeah, a broker role. Whereas I think there's got to be big questions asked about what is the purpose of the Fair Work Commission if they are passing agreements that breach minimum award conditions? And if the Labor Party won't fight for workers’ rights around penalty rates when they are so blatantly being breached in such a large scale, we are talking about the biggest companies in Australia, it really shreds any credibility of their claim to fight for penalty rates.

AUSTIN: And that's the young man who today is in The Australian. He wants to know, if you are the man who represents the working class, the underpaid, the poor and the oppressed, and you're not defending them in places like the Fair Work Commission, are you not going to do anything about the SDAs either?

SHORTEN: Well the assumption that you're making there is wrong.

AUSTIN: Well, he called it pathetic. Do you lack political will?

SHORTEN: I’ll just answer your question in your statements. The reason why I say your assumptions are wrong is that the independent umpire are the ones who have made the decision to go back and get the agreement reworked. What's happened in the last couple of days is proof positive that the system actually does work. Now I can share frustration if an agreement has got past which upon subsequent review doesn't meet standard but that's why we have a ‘no disadvantage test’.

AUSTIN: This lone person had to basically go by himself to the Fair Work Commission and argue a case that the Shop Distributive Allied Employees Union should have done in the first place. 77,000 workers, 30,000 of them disadvantaged, and one poor little Marxist from Brisbane took the case against Coles, and basically won. Where was the Labor movement in this?

SHORTEN: Well first of all, I said at the start of this discussion that I'm glad the agreement has been rectified or will be in the next 10 days I assume by the parties involved. But when you go to this core issue about the role of the independent umpire, I know that for the last 110 years conciliation and arbitration, the ability to have an honest broker, at the end of the day, hear the complaints and hear the concerns and hear the appeals is what gives workers a voice. The idea that if you took a way the independent umpire that somehow miraculously you trusted Parliament to set the conditions in every Australian workplace, that will be providing a loaded gun for a future Conservative government to radically reduce conditions in Australia. The whole reason we have penalty rates is because cases have been made by unions, using evidence to introduce them. It goes back to 1907, after the Second World War and much more recently. So having a ‘no disadvantage test’ with a Labor Government supporting the defence of penalty rates, I put in the submission, the first Opposition Leader to do so in Federation history, supporting the position of keeping penalty rates in the five awards that are currently being reviewed.

AUSTIN: I want to take some more questions. Eugene from Wollowin. Your question for Bill Shorten?

CALLER: G'day mate. NBN, I am keen to know whether it's part of your electoral manifesto to keep the NBN to the home rather than NBN to the node, as Mr Turnbull seems to have now adopted.

AUSTIN: We have major problems with internet access in South-East Queensland. Unreliable. There are still people who don't have internet access from the problem with Telstra last Thursday or Thursday a week back.

SHORTEN: It's a real problem. We will be announcing our final NBN policy in the course of this election, so it’s certainly uppermost in our mind. A couple of points I can make though even before we reveal our policy - one is Mr Turnbull promised in 2013 that he could build it for $29 billion. Now it's $56 billion and the price is rising. 

AUSTIN: So $15 billion over budget?

SHORTEN: No, it's double - $27 billion so far. Of course NBN and Mr Turnbull never like hearing the bad news as we've seen.

AUSTIN: That is hardly just there their fault. You guys didn't do a business plan when you started it in the first place?

SHORTEN: Steve, at what point does the Liberal Party take responsibility for the last 1,000 days?

AUSTIN: The same point you do before that?

SHORTEN: I'm sorry but for the last 1,000 days mate, they've been in charge. And it would be a terrible mistake having looked at their last 1,000 days to give them another 1,000 days. Did you know Australia has dropped from being ranked 30th in the world for internet speed to 60th?

AUSTIN: It's a problem in Brisbane, it's a major problem. What are you going to do about it?

SHORTEN: Mr Turnbull is using old technology. He is relying excessively on copper technology. We will announce our policy before the election but I can say that is the critique we have of Mr Turnbull's maladministration of NBN.

AUSTIN: Eugene, is this answering your question?

SHORTEN: Steve, not everything can be done in a 15 second sound bite which the media like. I am going to answer Eugene's question if I can. What we will do is have a greater proportion of fibre in our solution on NBN. We are not going to rip up everything the Liberals have done because I think something that drives people crazy is if I came in here and said that everything that happened is just all bad and we will start again at scratch, that doesn't help anyone. But what I can promise, Eugene, is there will be much more fibre in our NBN propositions and we are not satisfied that just sending it to the node is a sufficient solution. We will have more to say in the next couple of weeks.

AUSTIN: I think that answers your question, Eugene. Thank you very much. Peter on Facebook wanted to know how much are you going to increase low to middle income wages to help the lowly or poorly paid workers?

SHORTEN: I think there is a legitimate debate in this country about the relativity between the minimum wage and the median wage, the median wage being the halfway wage which people get. The independent umpire, which I will keep defending against all comers because it's the best institution to give workers a voice, has just introduced its latest minimum wage decision and it's increased the minimum wage to $17.70. If we didn't have an independent umpire doing that, imagine what a Liberal government would do on the minimum wage. The Liberals over the last 30 to 40 years have very rarely supported an increase in the minimum wage. What happens when you don't have the independent umpire is you get American industrial relations. The minimum wage in America has been frozen basically since the time of Jimmy Carter and Ford for the last 40 years and Obama has only recently made any significant increase to it a nd its well below Australia. So that is the first thing. Independent umpire, we defend because it does set minimum conditions. The second thing we want to do is make sure that people get a proper apprenticeship or trades education, as well as those who want to go to university. Skilling up the work force is the best way for people who are less well-off to get opportunities and I will make a quick third plug. We are going to defend the family payment system for people in particular on $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000 a year which the Government is cutting.

AUSTIN: I want to take another call from listeners on 612 ABC and we are also broadcasting on our Facebook page. Pria of West End, your question for the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten.

CALLER: Hi Bill. I am wondering why, since it's become abundantly clear, the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru are in contravention of every basic human right that refugees who have fled war are finally killing themselves in Australia's concentration camps. At the moment in Brisbane over the last two months one young man has died from self-immolation and another young woman who is currently brain dead, people who should be students at university with me, I'm wondering why although the Labor Party has always supported offshore processing considering your started it off to begin with how you can justify the continuation of these torture camps for any reason other than virulent racism and Islamophobia?

AUSTIN: Is it racist to offshore detention centres?

SHORTEN: No it's not. There's a couple of points of what Pria is making. We are not racist and we're not Islamophobic at all. But let's also be straight here. 1,200 people we know of drowned coming via people smugglers to Australia. Having a system which incentivises or puts people smugglers back into business is a truly harmful policy and Labor won't do that. In terms of the point you make more generally about semi or indefinite detention, if we get elected I will send my Immigration Minister as soon as we are sworn in to sit down with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees and make regional resettlement a reality. This Government has done very little to try and move people out of these facilities into a regional resettlement and third party nations. But we will not reopen the seaways between Java and Christmas Island because having a policy where you know that people will drown or be exploited by criminal syndicates and drown is not a policy I can sign up to.

AUSTIN: Barbara of Northgate.

CALLER: My question is about lifetime health cover penalty for people who join a health fund late in life, they're levied a penalty that lasts for 10 years and the dying days of the last Labor Government the Labor Party removed the government's subsidy to that penalty. I am wondering if they're re-elected will may they put become subsidy to the lifetime health cover policy which costs me over the 10 years $12,000 extra for the same product that someone else pays much less for.

SHORTEN: That is a good question. We haven't announced all our final policies in terms of health insurance. We have to make choices as we approach the election. Our priority in health care has been to knock off the freeze which the Liberals are putting on the Medicare payments to GPs, which is effectively forcing GPs to scrap bulk-billing and put up-front fees. We have also made the decision to scrap the price hikes to medicine and we're also committed to properly funding hospitals to a better fashion than Mr Turnbull.

AUSTIN: Her question was about lifetime health cover penalty that she has to pay.

SHORTEN: I will take that on notice, because we haven't revealed all our final health policies, but you make a point. But what we are doing and what we have already announced is that to help keep downward pressure on the cost of health care we want you to be able to go and see the doctor or get a pathology test or an X-ray and not face up-front fees. We want to make sure the hospitals in Queensland are well funded so we can decrease the waiting lists and we want to put downward pressure on the price of medicine, that is why we're not going ahead with the price hike. The way in which the price hike Mr Turnbull’s wants on medicine, the College of General Practitioners have said if the Liberals get back, under their current policy, 14.5 million Australians who go to the doctor in a year will pay more to go and see the doctor. It's as blunt as that. We can afford to do that because we're not going down the path of giving large multinationals and banks massive tax giveaways that Mr Turnbull is doing in his Budget. It's a choice this election. We're backing in middle and working class people and Mr Turnbull, his theory of economic growth is if you look after big business and look after the banks then good things happen to everyone else. I don't buy that logic.

AUSTIN: Goldman Sachs has sent out a research paper to their clients looking at the cut for big business in Australia. It's been argued there was $48 billion cost to the Budget. Goldman Sachs have argued that it's really better calculated at $23 billion over a 3-year period. I know you've had a quick glance at that paper, have you got any response? Goldman Sachs is saying it's much less than was originally calculated by Treasury.

SHORTEN: Mr Turnbull's old bank that he worked for has come out with this report. I am going to take the Treasury department of Australia, that is the organisation who Mr Turnbull relies upon for his Budget numbers, and they have said that Mr Turnbull's Budget which he doesn't like to talk about much anymore, even though it was less than a month ago, that he is giving away $50 billion in terms of off the bottom line of the Budget in tax cuts which will flow principally to large companies. The banks, Westpac, ANZ, NAB and CommBank, courtesy of Mr Turnbull over the next 10 years are going to get $7.4 billion extra. And the other thing in this Goldman Sachs report is that it says in one sentence that 60 per cent of this tax giveaway of Mr Turnbull's is going to go to overseas shareholders. So the choice in this election is we can go to what Barbara was talking about with health care, you can spend more money on a health care system, Medicare, cheaper medicine, or you can give it away to foreign shareholders and big banks, the choice couldn't be clearer in this election. A massive give away, the Treasury department of the Australian government estimates $49 to $50 billion, Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, Mr Turnbull's own old bank that he worked for, says 60 per cent, 60 per cent at least of this tax giveaway is going to go to foreign shareholders.

AUSTIN: But the overall figure is much less, they calculate at $23 billion, not $48 billion.

SHORTEN: If Mr Turnbull is walking away from the Treasury numbers his Budget is in tatters.

AUSTIN: What will you do about Australia's national debt, Bill Shorten? It's large, apparently manageable at the moment but very large and the global economic future looks very wobbly. This is making a number of people very nervous. What commitments can you give to reduce Australia's national debt?

SHORTEN: First of all, under the Liberals in the last 1,000 days, national debt - or the deficit in the Budget has gone up three times. They have added under the Liberals $5,000 net public sector debt to every man, woman and child. Our strategy -

AUSTIN: So what are you going to do about it?

SHORTEN: I want to set up the problem because the Liberals love to say that basically they're not responsible for anything in the last three years. And they want a second chance to repeat the mistakes of their first chance. What we will do is we will prioritise that we will have more savings to the bottom line of the Budget than spending, and that we've got plans to improve our overall surplus position in the medium term, and we will be, as we've released all of our policies at the end of that, we will be in a position to explain how we are improving the Budget both in the four-year period and the next 10 years. This election is not just about what happens on July 3, it's about the next 10 years. Labor is offering a very positive plan in terms of how we generate real growth and genuine jobs through a strategy of an educated work force, a healthy work force, nation building infrastructure, prioritising loc al content.

AUSTIN: Bill Shorten, thanks for coming in.

SHORTEN: Thanks Steve, appreciate it, and thanks to all the listeners for their question.