ABC RADIO MELBOURNE – MORNINGS WITH JON FAINE
TUESDAY, 28 AUGUST 2018
SUBJECTS: Liberal Party civil war; appointment of Governor-General; Wentworth by-election; Constitutional change; Victorian Labor’s infrastructure plans; immigration; Adani; drought
JON FAINE, HOST: Bill Shorten, good morning to you.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning Jon.
FAINE: Does Scott Morrison have a majority? Can he guarantee to the Governor-General he has a majority on the floor of the Parliament when it resumes on the 10th of September?
SHORTEN: Well I don't know the answer to that, but I'm not sure that Mr Morrison does. With Mr Turnbull announcing that he'll step down, he won't be back in Parliament, which means that the Government only has 75 MPs out of 150 and one of those is the Speaker, so that means they have 74. So we are in the zone of minority government.
FAINE: We've been there before.
SHORTEN: Yes, but it is a development. Also there's a Nationals Member of Parliament, perhaps a quiet achiever is what you would call him, Mr Hogan up in Page, and he's said he's going to sit on the crossbench as well.
SHORTEN: Yes. So I think the Government doesn't want to have an election, but on the other hand I think the people of Australia are feeling quite left out of all the decisions that have been happening recently.
I mean, wherever I go, Jon, wherever I go, shops or just talking to people, people say that they didn't choose Scott Morrison and so the last thing this nation needs is the axe of a minority government hanging over the head of the nation.
FAINE: Have you spoken to or approached the Governor-General to discuss the constitutional impasse that may be on the horizon?
SHORTEN: No. I've written to Mr Morrison - this is all pretty fast moving as you’d appreciate - what I have written to Mr Morrison is a letter where I congratulate him, but I've also read media reports that they are rushing to appoint a new Governor-General, although the existing Governor-General's term doesn't finish until the end of March next year.
I think this is a government who is going to be tempted to do things on the on the run. I mean -
FAINE: Well they're entitled to.
SHORTEN: Well, but are they Jon when you think about the issue that Australians haven't voted for Scott Morrison. In fact, I think Mr Morrison owes the Australian people a detailed explanation of why last week happened.
Now, I didn't see eye to eye with Mr Turnbull, that's a matter of record, we exchanged harsh words but I do think he's being treated, he and his Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop, have been treated poorly by their own party and people are saying why did this all happen?
FAINE: Your party did the same thing, I remind you, not that many years ago.
SHORTEN: Oh no you're right. It was five years ago and eight years ago and we've learned our lesson though.
First of all, the Party has given me support for the last five years. We are stable, we're steady and we also changed the rules in our party to stop the sort of ambushes we've seen when Mr Turnbull got rid of Mr Abbott, and now Mr Dutton tried to get rid of Mr Turnbull, and Mr Morrison came up the middle.
Australia deserves better from its politicians than what they are currently getting from the Government.
FAINE: Tony Abbott says the era of assassination is over?
SHORTEN: What does that mean, he's not going to assassinate someone? I mean, sorry, but if you want to change the era I think the Liberals need to do some time in opposition to understand how fundamentally people don't like this.
I mean, 40 or 50 Liberal MPs have picked the Prime Minister of Australia. The people of Australia should have a say. I mean, what is really confusing about what's happened last week and what's probably got people legitimately angry, is the Government hasn't answered one question: why?
I mean last week the Prime Minister was Malcolm Turnbull in Parliament. Next week it's Scott Morrison and there hasn't been an explanation of why.
Why did we go through all of this? Why is Australia called the coup capital of the world of Western democracies?
I mean, was this a big debate about policy or was it just that people didn't like Malcolm Turnbull in his own party? Or they were ambitious for themselves?
FAINE: Do you have a problem if Julie Bishop is nominated and installed as the next Governor-General even before the term of the current one expires?
SHORTEN: Well there's two issues there. One is the person and the other is the office. I'll go to the second issue of appointment of Governor-General. This process should be methodical, it should be done with consultation.
FAINE: Do you want to have a say in who the next Governor-General is?
SHORTEN: Absolutely we do, and I certainly think the decision - because it should be for the new government whoever they are, Liberal or Labor
FAINE: You're effectively saying Scott Morrison is a caretaker Prime Minister then if you do that.
SHORTEN: No, I'm just saying that he can make decisions which affect them now, but appointing - this is the Head of State of Australia.
FAINE: Well Scott Morrison is the Prime Minister. It's within his authority to choose the next Governor-General.
SHORTEN: I think it would, be if they rush this, this will be an act of desperation, and what they want to do is try and assert decisions for which they don't have any responsibility after the next election if they are unsuccessful.
There's nothing wrong, because we all know we're going to have an election sometime between now and February/March of next year, there's nothing wrong with extending Peter Cosgrove's term for another six months. So we get the election out of the way and the new government of the day has its appropriate say. And that could be Liberal.
FAINE: If Scott Morrison is the Prime Minister after the election you're saying it's only fair then he obviously gets to appoint -
FAINE: Is that because you don't want Julie Bishop as Governor-General?
SHORTEN: No that was the other part of your question, I said come back to it. So I think Julie Bishop's, for a Liberal, done a good job in foreign affairs. I think she presented Australia's image on the global stage of some panache.
I have a hesitation about just appointing serving politicians to the position of Governor-General straight away. It's not without precedent, but I don't want to make this about Julie Bishop. I want to make this about the proper process. Get the process right.
This is a government who was happy to throw Tony Abbott overboard to put in Malcolm Turnbull, then they're happy to throw Malcolm Turnbull overboard to put Scott Morrison or Peter Dutton or someone in.
I just think this is a government who needs to get its priorities right. The issue is what's going to change in policy between this Government led by this Prime Minister and the previous government which had all of the same people in this Government in it except for Malcolm and Julie? What's going to change?
FAINE: No all of them either way. Does the Labor Party run dead in Wentworth or do you run a serious campaign?
SHORTEN: I think Wentworth is a hard seat for Labor to win. It's a margin of nearly 18 per cent. But we're still considering our options there.
FAINE: And apart from anything else, if you're going to look at constitutional change, if you're going to look at arrangements in the Parliament, what about making proper constitutional change? From time to time ideas get floated about everything from the Republic to a Makarrata. But what about fixed four year terms? They're working in state politics around the country.
SHORTEN: Well, changing the Constitution is very difficult. And in fact, this period of Australian history, unlike tenure of Prime Ministers, has been the longest period in which our Constitution hasn't been updated.
My priorities would be of course to look at having an Australian Head of State. It would also be to ensure that our First Australians are included in the Constitution.
Four year terms, though, does make sense. With four year terms, I'd need to get the cooperation of the opposition of the day. I can't see these guys running it if they're the Government, but people are over these sort of revolving door governments. People just say, just get on and do your day job. So I think four year terms does make sense.
FAINE: Do you deal with the dual citizenship issue that's caused so much havoc in the last 12 months as well?
SHORTEN: Well, it has caused havoc and some can argue the rule is outmoded but it wouldn't be my immediate priority. I think politicians just need to get their house in order and get their eligibility sorted out. It wouldn't be my number one priority.
Let's go to the heart of the matter here and a number of questions, Jon, have gone towards the current Government, election, change of government. We're determined to win the next election but we want to do it based on the merit of our case. We want to earn the respect of the Australian people. I don't want to just see us fight an election based on their negatives. I don't automatically assume, and I'm not complacent, that the Government's negatives of instability and being with the wrong policies, automatically translates into a positive vote for us. We've got to work hard for that.
FAINE: How convincingly does Bill Shorten claim the moral high ground on anything?
SHORTEN: We've got the policies which are in the interests of working and middle Australia. To people listening to this show now who are just fed up with politics, I get that. That's why I want to reverse the five years of cuts to TAFE and apprenticeships, for example. It's why I would like to see a better deal on child care and universal education for our young ones; three and four year olds. It's why we'd like to see first home buyers in the cities get a fighting chance and not have to compete against taxpayer funded concessions going to investors.
FAINE: Let's get to one of the other big announcements this morning. The Victorian Labor Government, campaigning for the November election, have announced today that they're going to commit $300 million to an underground outer urban rail loop. So this is an outer ring-rail, underground the whole way, which goes - well, you can imagine. It goes from Cheltenham across to Monash, Box Hill, across to Doncaster, to Heidelberg, Bundoora, to Latrobe, out that way and then across from there to Broadmeadows, to Sunshine, to Werribee - $300 million dollars. First of all, would a Federal Labor government contribute to it?
SHORTEN: Well, we'd have to see the numbers and decide if we wanted to do that. But in light of this announcement, let me just say, I think Dan Andrews is on the right track -
FAINE: You are going to say that but it's about congestion busting -
SHORTEN: No, no. Let's -
FAINE: For increasingly crowded cities. Melbourne hit 5 million population yesterday.
FAINE: And congestion is directly tied to immigration which was one of the drivers for the Liberal Party's unrest last week.
SHORTEN: Well first of all, I understand the frustration of Australians about crowded infrastructure, and our immigration should be what's in the national interest but part of that debate has to be fixing up our infrastructure.
But going back to where we started with the proposal from Victorian Labor about a railway - an underground railway, a sort of circle railway around Melbourne. This has been the holy grail of public transport. Did you know back in 1890, 1890 we had a ring railway in Melbourne. I should know because where I grew up in Murrumbeena-Oakleigh, there was still clear land which had actually been a working railway. But that was between 1890 in 1893 and what happened then, Melbourne was in boom then it went into bust and the railway closed. I always thought that was one of the great missed opportunities in history because this is 130 years later and we're debating it –
FAINE: Would you -
SHORTEN: I like the principle, that's my answer. I think the principle of it.
FAINE: But this is about people's concerns as cities become increasingly congested, people's response is not to blame politicians for the failure to deal with infrastructure but instead to turn around and say let's cut immigration. Does Bill Shorten want to cut immigration?
SHORTEN: Listen, our immigration is one issue but let's talk about the failure of politics. The reason why I went back in detail to the history of an outer ring railway in Melbourne is we've been debating this for 130 years - that's the failure of politics. And so when Dan has a good idea, of course you've got to study the numbers, you know, you're not going to get too excited yet but I think we've got to applaud vision.
What I see when I travel around, not just Victoria but Australia, is people want vision. The job of government is to lift the eyes of the nation up to be a better Australia.
The problem with what we see with Quentin Tarantino writing the scripts for the Liberal Party at the moment with this sort of, civil war and revenge and more civil war and revenge, is that every time this happens we're not dealing with the big questions.
Australians are sick and tired of the fact that their politicians can't agree on climate change and energy. They're sick and tired we can't build infrastructure for a generation and instead, it just comes down to sniping and counter-sniping.
FAINE: So on immigration, simple yes or no answer, do you want to change the way we do immigration? Do you want to reduce the number of people who get permission to move to Australia?
SHORTEN: It's not a simple yes or no issue. If we can take people in based upon our infrastructure, based upon the moving to the regions that's a plus.
FAINE: So you agree with Alan Tudge, the newly sworn-in Minister, who says let's try and get migrants to go to the regions rather than Sydney and Melbourne.
SHORTEN: Yeah I think that there is - and it's not just the regions. You know, South Australia, there are plenty of places who would like to take some migrants. Immigration has been good for Australia but there's no point in bringing in masses and masses of people if our infrastructure isn't keeping pace. So I guess what I'm saying is you can't just look at one part of it. We're an immigrant nation and immigration has been good.
Jon your family, my family, pretty much anyone other than a first Australian came from somewhere else. But having said that we've got to make sure that we're not you know just being ignorant of what happens if we're overcrowding our cities so that's why you've got to deal with the frustration people have on infrastructure.
FAINE: All right, the Financial Review front page says Morrison sticks to Paris, the Morrison Government will resist internal pressure to walk away from the Paris climate change target.
SHORTEN: Good, that's good. There you go.
FAINE: So there might even be the prospect that the Labor Party and Scott Morrison would work together to solve one of the great riddles of Australian politics?
SHORTEN: We're up for that. I mean people are sick of just the negativity. Labor's record though is that when Mr Turnbull was supporting an emissions trading scheme that's one way of dealing with energy prices, we said yeah we think that's okay, but he got rolled by his party.
Then he proposed what they call an emissions intensity scheme and without getting into the ins and outs, we thought that seemed like a good framework. Then the Government backed away from that. Then they proposed a clean energy target, supported by the Chief Scientist, we said we're prepared to sit down and look at that. Then the Government walked away from that.
My fear with dealing with the Government is that there's such an obsession with hating Labor and partisan politics in parts of the hard line right and such a suspicion of renewable energy that whatever Mr Morrison says, he can't deliver his party. Energy policy is taken down any number of conservative leaders and it's been a tricky debate on all sides on all sides of politics.
I just want to say to Australians who are listening to the show, I do support seeing more renewable energy in our energy mix. That doesn't mean we won't be using coal fired power but I do believe renewable energy is the technology of the future. And with the developments in battery storage and pumped hydro, I don't know why we're still arguing about it at all.
FAINE: 28th of August, Adani, yes or no? On the 28th of August because it seems your position has shifted from time to time on Adani.
SHORTEN: No the deal has to stack up on its own merits. I do not support putting a single dollar of taxpayer money into this project. They've missed plenty of deadlines.
What I'm going to do for Queenslanders and Central Queenslanders is focus on projects which are going to deliver real jobs. That's why we're proposing to upgrade the infrastructure of Townsville Port for example, or ring roads in Mackay or port access roads in Gladstone, real jobs.
Also what we want to do is improve essential services in Queensland we've just said we're going to properly upgrade the emergency department for example at the Emerald Hospital in Central Queensland. I'm not going to start worrying about private sector projects which may never materialise. I'm going to focus on what I can do for the future.
FAINE: Yesterday a boatload of Vietnamese people arrived up at the Daintree River in far north Queensland, is that a failure of Australia to secure its borders?
SHORTEN: Well the Government sets great store on these matters. It is important we have secure borders but the irony of a boat arriving whilst the former Immigration Minister was competing against the current Home Affairs Minister is not lost on anyone I think.
FAINE: So do we need to –
SHORTEN: These guys have got to stop focusing on themselves and do their day job. Now I'm sure that will lead to angry comments from the right wing of the Liberal Party but, if they think that what they've done in the last week has made Australia a better place they're sadly mistaken.
FAINE: Do we need to upgrade Border Force because of this incident?
SHORTEN: Well we've got to find out why it happened and what happened. I'm not going to leap to any conclusions.
FAINE: Alright. I don't want to make you late for your next appointment and we've gone well over time already. Just finally, do you get regular text messages from Alan Jones or Ray Hadley or the Sky News after dark team telling you what to do?
SHORTEN: No, that doesn't mean that people never talk to me but listen I think that what we've got to do is - the media plays an important role, people are entitled to their opinions.
FAINE: Malcolm Turnbull called some of the people in the media partisan and thought that they stepped across the mark. Do you think that, do you agree?
SHORTEN: I can understand why Malcolm might say that but I have to say when you're Labor and you deal with some of the critique in the media you don't let it distract you from what's important.
FAINE: Do you agree with Kevin Rudd's assessment that Rupert Murdoch's a cancerous influence in Australian politics?
SHORTEN: That's Kevin's opinion. What I'm going to do is -
FAINE: Did he go too far?
SHORTEN: Who, Rupert Murdoch or Kevin Rudd?
FAINE: Kevin Rudd.
SHORTEN: No, I'm not going to criticise Kevin there, I think he's entitled to his opinion, he's earned it the hard way and I think also, in answering that question about Mr Rudd that's the difference between Labor and Liberal. I acknowledge what Kevin and Julia have done, they did some good things. We've learned the lessons of instability. People haven't heard a lot from me in the last week because frankly, people can work out for themselves what's gone wrong in the last week and a half. But I just want to reassure listeners we're not complacent. We don't assume that the negatives of the Government become our positives but instead we want to earn their respect and that's what we're doing.
FAINE: Alright, we'll wait and see exactly how the cookie crumbles, how the cards are played in the next week or two. Either way we're heading to an election and I suspect that the election campaign is pretty much kicked off with Mr Morison's visit to drought affected areas of Queensland yesterday, we'll see where we get to.
SHORTEN: Well that's good he went there, I'm not going to complain about that, that's good he went there. Chloe and I went up to Western Queensland to have a look, I mean the drought has been there for years, it sort of finally got onto the national agenda. I think drought policies should be something which isn't partisan. I think most people recognise farmers do it hard and in these times that we've got to be there for them. So that's good he went there.
FAINE: Thank you for your time this morning.
SHORTEN: Thank you Jon.