Bill's Transcripts

Sky PM Agenda





SUBJECT/S: WA Senate by-election; MRRT; Tony Abbott’s secret budget cuts; asylum seekers; Australian flag; Australian republic.


DAVID SPEERS: Bill Shorten, thanks for your time. If we can start with the campaign there in the west, the Senate re-election. Voters are of course deciding on the Senate teams of both sides. Your number one Senate candidate is Joe Bullock. Can you explain to us why voters should vote for him, and perhaps why we haven’t seen you campaigning with him?

I have been campaigning with Joe Bullock. And what he’s spent the last 30 years doing is making sure that some of Australia’s lowest paid retail workers get a fair go. So he will be the sort of person in Canberra who will stand up for Western Australia against the Abbott Government’s cuts. The problem if you vote for one of Tony Abbott’s Liberal candidates is you’re just basically putting a rubber stamp in the Senate to allow Tony Abbott to do to Western Australia what Colin Barnett has been doing.

SPEERS: Well the campaign Tony Abbott is waging there is really about the carbon tax and the mining tax, the need to repeal them. Can I ask you about the mining tax in particular, we see this week that it’s raising so far only $232 million this financial year, well short of the $4 billion it was initially forecast. Is it really worth spending the political capital to defend this mining tax?

Well the Abbott Government can’t have it each way on the mining tax. What Australians want to see is when mining companies are doing really well exploiting Australia’s natural wealth, and once it’s been dug up it goes forever, I think Australians want to make sure, and Western Australians in particular want to make sure that they get their fair share. But of course if you believe the Abbott Government, their argument against the tax is that it’s too hard on mining, and now they say that the mining tax isn’t collecting enough revenue. I would like some consistency out of the Abbott Government about why they believe that Australians shouldn’t get their fair share. But that of course recognises though that Labor will over time have to reach out to the resources sector and we’re looking forward to doing that over the next two years.


SPEERS: What does that mean when you say reaching out to the resources sector, does that mean repositioning on this mining tax?

What it means is that I think the resources sector in Australia, and in particular but not limited to, but in particular in Western Australia, has done a lot of good. What it means therefore is that for a marvellous modern city like Perth, with its fantastic quality of life, should really try and become not just the iron ore capital of the world, but indeed the resources capital of the world. Everyone in the world is aware in the oil industry that Houston, or Aberdeen in Scotland, they’re sort of global capitals of that sector. I believe that Perth could become the resources capital of the world. So what Labor’s interested to do is stimulate more research and development, we’re interested to see how we, working with the resources sector, can transform the image of mining so that lots of young people are keen to come and pursue a career in the resources sector. I think the future is bright, and what we need to do is make sure that we’ve got the best skilled workforce, that we maintain our decent standard of living, and we also make sure that we have the best infrastructure so that companies can do business in Western Australia.


SPEERS: But on the mining tax, the resources sector simply don’t like it. Will you really go to the next election promising to keep it, or indeed bring it back?

Well when we talk about what the resources sector don’t like, I think there is a lot of miners and resources people outside of iron ore and coal which the mining tax goes to, who are greatly concerned by what the Barnett Government’s proposing with royalties. I know that what the resources sector want, is that they want to make sure that they’ve got a really great pipeline of skilled workers to come into mining. I know that they are keen to see research and technology and science play an even greater role in making Perth and Western Australia the resources hub of the world.


SPEERS: Sure, but the mining tax is something that is within the control of the Federal Parliament and the Federal Government, is it something you will continue to support?

The principle of a resources based tax is a solid principle. I don’t think most Australians seriously doubt that when companies are going really well, and making really strong profits, that some of that should be ploughed back into investing in Australian infrastructure and other aspects of Australian life, which is one of the reasons why mining does so well in Australia.


SPEERS: Sure, that principle might be arguable, but is this mining tax something you continue to support?

Well first of all, I don’t think the principle is arguable, in my case I believe it. I think most Australians do. There’s no doubt David that I think part of your question is correct, when you look in particular at the first version of the mining tax, the Resources Super Profits Tax, that the scale of the reform was more ambitious than the dialogue which Labor entered into. So I can guarantee that before the next election, when we have policies which go to the resources sector, we’ll be maintaining an active dialogue, and Labor’s already put down some early markers by indicating our interest and support for stimulating research and development, for value-adding what mining does, and working with our strong resources sector to ensure that young people are attracted to the mining sector.


SPEERS: Okay, but I’m just after a straight answer on this mining tax, will you continue to keep saying you support this mining tax?

What I’m saying to you is that the principle of a resources based rent tax is a good principle and one which Labor supports. In terms of what we do in our policies affecting the resources sector for the next election, we will engage in a dialogue with the resources sector. What I certainly believe and what I think all Australians want, is they want to see positive policies from both Labor and Liberal, and they certainly want to see policies which reflect consultation and dialogue, not just someone decreeing that they know best.


SPEERS: Okay, well a few other issues. Budget cuts is something that you’ve been campaigning on. Treasurer Joe Hockey has signalled the Government may look at increasing the pension age to as much as 70. Labor had started this process in government with the gradual increases that are going to take it to 67. Would you support going further?


SHORTEN: Well here we are again, with the Abbott Government and Joe Hockey just raising thought bubbles about making older people work longer. I think that before the Abbott Government can seriously ask Australians to look at increasing the pension age, tell us where the jobs for older Australians are going? 63,000 full time jobs, many of which affect men in their 50s and 60s, have gone. So I think its inconsistent of the Abbott Government to say to people you’ve got to keep working longer, but by the way, we have no plan for jobs for older Australians.


So I think the Abbott Government needs to do more homework and fewer thought bubbles. Before they start telling people how they should live their lives, why don’t they make sure that older people don’t get discriminated in the workplace, why don’t they work on making sure that older Australians who currently have good jobs in the car industry, at Qantas, at Forge in Western Australia? Why don’t they do more to keep Australian jobs so that older Australians at least may have a job when they turn 65, 67 or older.


SPEERS: Okay, but what about the pension age? Would you support, or not, taking it to 70?


SHORTEN: That question puts the cart before the horse. Why don’t they tackle unemployment for older Australians, discrimination against older Australians, why don’t they start fighting for Australian jobs? This is a government who boasted before the last election, you can vote Liberals, you’ll get a million new jobs. All we’ve seen since they’ve come in is tens of thousands of jobs go. This is a government who says they’re not going to lift a finger to help protect or fight for Australian jobs, but they also want to tell the same people whose jobs they’re not defending, by the way, in our fantasy world we live in, we want all of you to work longer, even though we don’t have a plan to find you a job.


SPEERS: You won’t support it until unemployment is tackled?


SHORTEN: I live in the real world, and when you’re a person in your 50s or 60s, a man or a woman, an Australian, who’s lost their job in part because the Government’s got no plan, the idea – it’s insulting to say but you won’t be able to get the pension. Is their only plan to make people live longer on the unemployment queue before they can get the pension? That’s not a plan, that’s an excuse.


SPEERS: Can I ask you about asylum seekers Mr Shorten, its’ been more than 80 days now since a boat has made it to Australia. Does Labor still oppose the turn back of boats?


SHORTEN: Well when we look at what’s happened with people coming to this country, asylum seekers coming to this country, Labor set in place a lot of the preconditions for what’s happening now. The prospect that if you try and come here by boat and you pay and unscrupulous people smuggler money, that you won’t automatically get to Australia, and you will have to engage in a process of regional resettlement, that has been going well.


I remain sceptical of the secrecy around the Federal Government’s policies in terms of what they’re doing on the seas. I think before one can answer some of the questions that you’re raising, we need the Government just to be upfront with people. Why is it that this is a government, doesn’t matter if it’s to do with boats or budget cuts, why is it that they are so addicted to secrecy? Before the election the Government said that they would be upfront with people in a good week, a bad week or an in-between week. Now we’ve got the remarkable situation David, where there is a 900-page report, it exists, presumably it has all sorts of bad news because otherwise why is the Government sitting on a report for two months?


SPEERS: Okay sure, but the question was on asylum seekers, does Labor still oppose the turn back of boats, which you did at the election?


SHORTEN: Well what I’m saying is I think, you actually in your question raised a couple of points about boats, and what I’m saying is I think a lot of the reasons why we’re seeing people smugglers not get the advantages they once had is because of Labor’s policies promoting regional resettlement. We don’t want people –


SPEERS: That might be right but –


SHORTEN: Well I think it is right.


SPEERS: I’m just asking do you still oppose turning back boats.


SHORTEN: Well in terms of you asking me how do I evaluate every aspect of the current government’s policies, they don’t even tell us every aspect of the current government’s policies.


SPEERS: But this is a pretty key one that Labor has railed against for years. I’m just asking do you still oppose it?


SHORTEN: You’re asking me to comment about policies which are effectively put in a sealed envelope and we don’t know. What I do know is that any government policy tends to do better when it’s exposed to the sunlight of transparency and explaining to people what’s happening. So you’re asking me to agree to something of which details the Government have chosen not to share with Australians.


And that point about secrecy is the point I make about this Senate by-election. The Government’s had a report, a 900-page report, for two months, or by April 5th they would have had it for two months. Why is it that the Abbott Government doesn’t trust 1.4 million Western Australians to tell them what they’re doing before they cast a vote in the Senate. Surely it shows that the news is not that good.


SPEERS: A final question, the flag, New Zealanders may well vote in the coming years on whether to change their flag. How wedded are you to the Australian flag?


SHORTEN: I think our flag has served us well for many years. I think it reflects our heritage and reflects our place in the world with the Southern Cross. I believe that a more important issue for me to debate is should we become a republic. I believe it’s overdue for us to have an Australian Head of State. But beyond that answer, what I would also say is for me, the issues as I walk around the streets of Perth or I visit parts of regional Western Australia are about making sure that the Abbott Government doesn’t conduct the same cuts in education and healthcare that we’ve seen the Barnett Government do. The Abbott Government, and the Prime Minister himself said on the radio yesterday that he looks at the Barnett Government as a role model for the way he should act. So he’s directly injected state politics into this national Senate election.


What’s important I think, and you know the debates about the flag are always interesting topics to have, but I think what’s taxing the minds of Western Australians and all Australians is, does the Abbott Government to keep and create jobs? Does the Abbott Government have secret plans to cut healthcare and education? Do they understand that putting more charges onto people visiting the doctor is a new GP Tax which will slug cost of living for the middle class of Australia?


SPEERS: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, thanks so much for joining us today.


SHORTEN: Lovely to catch up. See you later.