Bill's Transcripts

Interview on Sky News Agenda

Sunday 29 July 2012 

 Fair Work Act Review, Newstart, Kurnell refinery, NDIS

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Battles over the scheme or not, there's certainly a political consensus that it is a good idea to have an NDIS in some form or other. And the person that can take credit for that being on the political debate is Bill Shorten, who's our guest now joining us out of Melbourne. Mr Shorten, thanks very much for your company.

BILL SHORTEN: Good morning Peter, Patricia, Paul.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: We'll get to the NDIS in a moment, but in your portfolio area of Industrial Relations, can I just start by asking you about the Fair Work Act review? Now there's a review of this, presumably you know what's in it. When are we likely to see it handed down and frankly what is in it?

BILL SHORTEN: Well I hope to be in a position to release the report in the very near future. Ideally that would be next week. In terms of how we then work out what we do with the report, we'll consult with the stakeholders as we've undertaken to do - employers, unions, state governments. And then in the number of weeks after we release the report, we would then give a response to whatever recommendations are in it.

PAUL KELLY: Minister, I know you can't be all that prescriptive at this point, but I wonder if you could give us some sort of indication as to whether you see the changes to the Fair Work Act coming from this report as being substantial or are they just tinkering around the edges?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I don't want to be prescriptive, you're right, Paul. In, what's important for me, and this is how to I think judge our response to the report, is that we're keen to create arrangements which enhance productivity. What that also means to me is that a lot of what improves productivity in the workplace occurs at the enterprise level and the idea that you can simply pass a law in Canberra and wave a legislative magic wand and all of a sudden productivity explodes at worksites it naive.

So I see a lot of what the Government does is about enhancing productivity in the workplace. Not necessarily having a debate about which particular law you would change in Canberra.

PAUL KELLY: Okay, I assume therefore from your answer that you recognise that the nature of the IR system is quite fundamental in terms of productivity.

BILL SHORTEN: Well what I recognise is that if we're going to have improved productivity we need greater co-operation and collaboration at high skilled, well remunerated workplaces in Australia. Regulation plays a role in contributing to productivity, as do other factors. As does world class infrastructure, as does a highly skilled workforce, as does the quality of managerial leadership within enterprises itself. There's no silver bullet to productivity, as I think you've even written yourself, Paul.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mr Shorten, the unions are also pushing to bolster their rights in this review. Can you give a guarantee that the pendulum will not shift further towards the union side? And employers also think that it needs to go more to the centre, are you indicating that you would like to move it closer to the side that employers are pushing?

BILL SHORTEN: Well as far as I could tell from the submissions which were put into the review, everyone would like a little bit more of what they don't think they have. But to go to, I think, the deeper point in what you're saying, this reference to the use of pendulum, I don't accept that the proposition that the pendulum favours one groups of stakeholders radically more than any other group of stakeholders.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: That's not the view of Michael Chaney though. He was very strong when he had his meeting with Julia Gillard in Perth the other week. That he felt that the pendulum had clearly gone in the direction of unions, and other business leaders have said that as well.

BILL SHORTEN: Yes, and other union leaders would say that they don't have enough say, so I get that stakeholders will represent their sectional interests. I also listen very carefully to what eminent business leaders have to say. But what I also know is that when it comes to this debate about a simple proposition, which says that industrial relations law simply fluctuates between a pro-worker or a pro-employer position, I don't buy that's the consequences of the current Fair Work Act. 

I don't buy that at all and I can use some simple facts. There's more people than ever covered by collective agreements, that's a good thing. Because it means that there's more discussions going on in workplaces about productive workplace relationships. There's fewer unfair dismissals than ever before being litigated all the way to court…

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, though…

BILL SHORTEN: …and that's a good thing.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: …could, Minister, could you give an indication of where you think the Act has its flaws though? I mean clearly we're having a big review, you've broadened its scope, you wanted to go further than the previous minister. Where do you think change needs to come? Surely you can give us some indication of where you think, from all those submissions, there needs to be some change?

You've highlighted greenfields agreements, is that a direction that you'll be moving in?

BILL SHORTEN: Well as much as I'd like to give all of my personal views at this point, I've signalled to an earlier question in this show that it's my intention to release the report as soon as possible. So therefore I think it would be wrong of me to pre-empt the report and second, I want to consult the stakeholders and see what their reactions are to the report. 

But one point you can certainly take from my answers so far this morning is I'm interested in what improves productivity. I'm interested in collaborative, co-operative workplaces. I'm interested in how we create more value, how we move away from the sterile us versus them rhetoric, which permeates a part of the workforce and a part of the media reporting of workplace relations. There's a lot of good news stories happening in Australian workplaces and I do think that they don't receive very much attention at all.

PAUL KELLY: I'd just like to follow up on that answer, Minister. To what extent do you think that there is too much polarisation? That the polarisation in workplaces at the moment is hurting the country and hurting the economy. And to what extent would your review of the Act be designed to create more compromise and more accommodation between employers and employees?

BILL SHORTEN: I think in some workplaces there's too much polarisation, Paul. I think in the vast bulk of workplaces people are getting on with business. Obviously we need to be able to create national wealth to help distribute fairly national income. The private sector is the engine room of jobs creation in our economy, that's both small and big enterprises. So I, we want to see things which create. We want to see regulatory frameworks which enhance the creation of wealth at enterprise level, but also the fair distribution and an adequate safety net. 

So I think a lot of the reporting sometimes focuses on the disputes. If there's going to be a strike, that's far more likely to get covered - and that's the nature of media - than all the good news which is happening in Australian workplaces. Industrial disputation is a third of what it was under the Howard Government era, and that was even with their sort of much vaunted Work Choice laws making it very difficult for people to bargain.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: But just getting back to…

BILL SHORTEN: I look at workplaces every day and I see the creative relationships that are being, that are being engineered. What people want to do is be able to go to work and feel appreciated. They want to feel that their employer's goals and their own are overlap and have alignment. Employers want to know that they've got motivated employees who are taking initiative in their workplace.

There is no legislative magic formula to good workplace relations. It's, by and large, treat people as you'd like to be treated yourself and I'm not sure that you need a legislative ruler run through workplaces in Canberra to be able to tell people to be decent to one another and create value.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: So far we've really been talking in generalities though, it would be fair to say. Now getting back to Patricia's earlier question about greenfields projects. Now this is something where the Opposition has actually been prepared to be quite bullish and there are some suggestions there that there will be changes in that space by them, if they win the next election. What about on your side in relation to some of the particulars around the rhetoric that we've heard so far? Is that something that could see some change?

BILL SHORTEN: Well two points there, Peter, if we want to be specific. One is that there were submissions made by some parts of the ranks of employers. Saying that the greenfields sites, that is the new resource projects where there are negotiations to set up industrial arrangements before workers actually commence. That's why we use the term greenfields. 

Is there a role for bargaining in good faith and light touch arbitration? There have been some complaints from some quarters, saying that negotiations for greenfield arrangements are taking too long to put into place. We're listening very carefully to those submissions. We'll study very carefully what the report has to say on that.

By the same token though, when you say - the second part of what you said was that there's been suggestions from the Coalition ranks about what they'd do. Peter, if you have any, any insight or reportage or intelligence as to what the plans of the Coalition are on industrial relations, we'd be grateful if you could somehow winkle that out of the Liberals. They are vaguer than; it's like wrestling with smoke trying to get them to put up what their specific IR policies are.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Now, Mr Shorten, I'm going to move you a little. Still into the work space, but the welfare to work space, which is also in your portfolio area. There's been criticism of the adequacy of the dole, the Newstart payment by even business groups, let alone obviously the usual people in the welfare sector. 

You're cutting off single mothers, back onto the dole in January next year. You're calling it a welfare to work measure, even though 50 per cent of those women are already working. Isn't it time to do substantial welfare reform and are you committed to that?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, the - I don't know, Patricia, if you've had a chance to have a look at what I said when I was closing off debate on some of the legislative measures, budget measures you're referring to.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I've read every word.

BILL SHORTEN: But I was, I think I was pretty clear there that I thought the move that was proposed to have a Senate Committee look at the adequacy of the welfare to work arrangements in terms of Newstart was a timely idea. What's motivating the Government is to see what we can do to break intergenerational cycles of long term unemployment. Whilst many Australians are doing okay, there are some who are missing out. 

Intergenerational unemployment is a disaster for generations of people. But by the same token, I am fully aware that trying to get along on $249 a week is an incredibly difficult ask. So certainly we think that what the Senate investigation comes up with will be something which we'll look at with great interest.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Obviously in the disability space this comes in too. Because there's an incentive still to go onto the Disability Support Pension because of the inadequacy of the Newstart Allowance. Do you think perhaps adopting a single welfare payment, where there are top-ups for different sort of levels of disadvantage, is a potential idea that the Senate Committee should look at? And the Government would also look at, considering the problems we've seen of the unevenness in the welfare section of, you know, where people go when they need help? There's this incentive to get onto the higher payments, which can't be helpful to productivity and work.

BILL SHORTEN: Well I think there are a number of things in what you say. The first thing is with the DSP there is the difference on the Disability Support Pension to the Newstart Allowance. The theory behind that has been that the Newstart Allowance is for people who are in between jobs. Whereas the Disability Support Pension is a pension for people who have a permanent impairment full stop and it isn't going to get any better or get fixed up.

But your point about barriers to people going to work. I do think that there's a lot of discrimination out there in the workplace against people with disabilities. If you look at the fastest growing groups of people going onto the DSP, it's older people. And that tells me that what's happened is that as industry has structural adjustment, or to put it not too fine a point, people lose their jobs in their fifties and early sixties, especially if they've done one job for many years. 

They've generally been carrying injuries and impairments, but they've turned up to work. Now the job they've had has gone they've gone onto the DSP, which is legitimate, they've got a permanent impairment of some significance. The barriers for these people going back into work are tremendous and I do think that when we look at solutions to people participating, partly it's a debate about income support. But to me it's also about tackling the endemic discrimination, which happens to people with disabilities every day.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: I wonder if we could move on, Mr Shorten, to the twin political issues of the week, which is the Disability Insurance Scheme debate, as well as Caltex. I wouldn't mind starting with Caltex though. I wonder, who do you agree with in the dispute with Caltex in relation to job losses? Your protégé, who's now the head of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes, who's been scathing of the organisation as well as critical that they've been underselling the number of job losses that are imminent. Or Martin Ferguson, your colleague in Cabinet, who basically slapped Paul Howes down on a number of those scores and doesn't think that that's the case?

BILL SHORTEN: Well there's some pretty sweeping generalisations in what you said, Peter, and so I'll try and…


BILL SHORTEN: …catch a few of them as they go by, mate. First of all, I understand the role of Paul Howes and the Australian Workers Union to stand up for their members and that's their job. I also understand that Minister Ferguson's made clear that in terms of the Caltex decision, Caltex had informed him that they're simply losing tens of millions of dollars with the Kurnell refinery and it's not commercially sustainable to keep it open.

But what we then have to do is look at all the issues behind that. First of all, it is important we keep refining capacity in Australia. Energy security is always something which is front of mind for the Government. Secondly, we want to make sure that the employees who are affected by this decision get proper support and are looked after. So the union's got their role to raise their concerns. The Government's got to look at a range of other interests. 

It's got another two years to go, the Kurnell refinery. For me, the biggest part of that news is I visited the Kurnell refinery previously. I know that the workforce was highly skilled, highly qualified. I don't think there's much more the workforce could have done to keep this place going. So I'm, first and foremost, motivated to make sure that those employees affected by this decision, that they get looked after. Because that's the centre of matters.

PAUL KELLY: Just on that point, Minister. Do you think that it should be a strategic objective of government to retain a significant refining capacity in this country? If so, how does government achieve that?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, in the first instance, there are still a number of refineries operating in Australia. I think the tough issues start to emerge if in the future other refineries close. Now other refineries' cost structure is, and size and scale, is more competitive than Kurnell's. But it is important that we have some refining capacity in Australia. 

At this stage our energy security is still fine and that's what Minister Ferguson said. In the long term, what we've seen is the emergence in Asia of super refineries with massive production capacity, which does mean that their cost base is lower to produce and refine fuels. Our dilemma in Australia, of course, in the long term is we're an island nation. Now I know the Government's working and the relevant ministers are working and continue to work on issues of energy security, diversifying our energy sources, but it is an issue. I don't have a one size fits all answer, Paul, about what we do in 20 and 30 years on refining capacity, to answer the second part of your question.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Just on the issue of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Now you were the person that really threw this into the political debate when you were the Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Services. At the time the idea of a levy was something that I remember you floating as a possibility. Why do you think that the Prime Minister's so opposed to the levy that you've mentioned, as well as what the premiers raised in this week just past?

BILL SHORTEN: Some first things first. In terms of who's responsible for what idea, I think Bruce Bonyhady and a whole range of disability activists were keen to have a discussion about social insurance and disability as early as 2008. And it's - what informed my views on having a National Disability Insurance Scheme were literally meeting thousands of parents and people with disability and trying to relieve them of that midnight anxiety of who's going to look after their adult children when they no longer can.  So what's happened this week is the result of a whole lot of people having a view and finally it coming together in the negotiations, led by the PM this week.

In terms of how we fund the - and I think that's a big outcome - whilst I heard Paul say in his introduction he thought that, you know, politics is pretty tough and around this topic. I guess that I take a more optimistic view, that knowing as I do the thousands of people whose lives are affected by impairment and the unfair deal they've got, I regard Friday's announcement as remarkable progress.

In terms of how we fund it - one of the ideas which was floated was a levy. Now what the Prime Minister's made clear is that we're doing four launch sites - and I'm terribly pleased that New South Wales and Victoria have sort of come off the ledge that they'd backed themselves onto - and for that, we can fund that from the government revenue. She's said that we're not interested at this point in terms of talking about doing it other than funding it through Commonwealth General Revenue. 

We're not asking the States to pay, you know, a whole lot extra. We are asking them to come to the party and to do some of that funding, but I think we can do it from…

PETER VAN ONSELEN: But can I just jump in and ask you a question about that though, Mr Shorten?

BILL SHORTEN: Yes, sure.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Because at the end of the day, I found it frankly staggering that the Prime Minister's primary reason for having a problem with the levy was that she was worried - this is according to reports from her dinner at the Lodge on Tuesday evening - that she was concerned about attacks that might follow from Tony Abbott. I mean surely, given the significance of this policy space, the primary reason for being opposed to a levy should be if you had some sort of policy concern about it? Rather than a political fear that Tony Abbott might beat you up in terms of his campaign against it.

BILL SHORTEN: I read the article you wrote yesterday morning, I don't know, is that product placement, Peter? In The Australian about the debate of the week in terms of a National Disability Insurance Scheme. I thought the Prime Minister was pretty clear. She's determined to get the Scheme up. You know, some of the journalists in Canberra write about her resilience, but I think sometimes people miss why she's resilient. 

She's resilient because she wants to see the best thing for the Australian people. She's resilient because she wants to see a National Disability Insurance Scheme work. That's why she went in so hard to get the launch sites up, along with her colleague, Senior Minister Jenny Macklin. They were determined to get the deal up. A debate about the levy was going…

PAUL KELLY: But Minister, what about the levy?

BILL SHORTEN: Well the debate about the levy was going to be a distracter, as you observed, Paul, in your introduction.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: But it would have been a distracter that led to a permanent long term funding mechanism for an NDIS. I mean that's a pretty good distraction.

PAUL KELLY: Do you think a levy could work?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, it seems to me that if you want to - if you use the analogy of the NDIS being a motor car. Before you get people to pay for the motor car by whatsoever means, be it levy, be it government revenue, be it whatever. It seems to me that you've got to show people that the car works. That is why the Government…

PETER VAN ONSELEN: But there's no point taking it for a test drive if you don't have the funds to buy it.

BILL SHORTEN:  You've got to see if you want to buy it, you've got to see if it can work. And what we're doing is following pretty closely the recommendations of the Productivity Commission Report. You know, I've been a little perplexed at some of the coverage. You know, if the Prime Minister hadn't been able to get this deal up, that would have been a failure. Now she's got this deal up, people are still looking for the problems in it.

 I just put myself in the shoes of people who live in the Hunter region or people who live in the Barwon region in Victoria. The Hunter region in New South Wales - they have a chance now…


BILL SHORTEN: …to have an individualised care-based system, where they control packages of funding support. So that they can make the best decisions in their own interests and that of their families.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Absolutely and that's in those…

BILL SHORTEN: That to me is the victory.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: …and that's in those very specific areas and now we have a trial and absolutely. But let's talk about the future funding of this. Tony Abbott has proposed…

BILL SHORTEN: Well you're right, let…

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Tony Abbott has proposed a bipartisan approach. He's said to Julia Gillard, meet with me, we can get together and move as one. Political ownership of this thing will be bipartisan. It will take away a lot of the problems with the ongoing funding of the scheme. Why don't you urge Julia Gillard to meet Tony Abbott and to do a deal within the Federal Parliament?

BILL SHORTEN: First of all, you used the word trial. I think the Government's been more - trial site. I think the Government views these as launch sites. We want to see how the Scheme works, but there's complete commitment from us to implement the Scheme. Secondly, when Mr Abbott talks about bi - and that may seem like splitting hairs, trial or launch, but what I want to convey to carers and people with disabilities is that we are fair dinkum about making sure that this genie's out of the bottle and no one's ever going to put a cork and push that genie back in the bottle.

 People said, when I raised the idea of an NDIS in 2008, be careful of getting people's hopes up. Well, people with disabilities and their carers, they know the lives they live. So it's - not talking about their issues doesn't mean that their problems go away. So we're fair dinkum.

 Now when Mr Abbott says bipartisanship. Where was he on the phones this week, speaking to Premier O'Farrell, Premier Baillieu and Premier Newman about working with the Government? Like, it's one thing to say you're bipartisan when you're in opposition. It's another thing that when you've got a chance, when you're in power, to actually deliver. 

And what I saw this week is a number of the state premiers, because their polling numbers are high and the Federal Government's numbers are low, I almost got the impression they thought they could roll into town. They could just cuff the Government around and say, give us more money. We like the idea but we're not going to spend a cent. We're not going to reorder our own state priorities to fit in with the lives of people with disability, but the Federal Government, we'll just get them to do the lot.

Now what we've said is, to make the Scheme work we need the States engaged. They are involved in the delivery of disability services. But what happened is, this week I think that some of the state premiers discovered, not from the Federal Government, that they'd got it wrong but from the people. The people said this is not right. So when we talk about bipartisanship, the Opposition had a chance to deliver their state colleagues. They're in the same political party, after all, and they couldn't.

So, do I think there should be bipartisanship? Yes, I do. But I also know that when you get a chance to do something, as opposed to talk about it, that's when your bona fides go on trial, they go on display.

PAUL KELLY: Well let's talk about the funding of the Scheme, Minister. Does the Labor Government believe that the states need to make a significant contribution to the funding of this Scheme?

BILL SHORTEN: I certainly believe that the State Governments need to do more than what they're currently doing. Where that number ultimately ends up will be partly negotiation, it'll partly be seeing how the launch sites work. But I can be unequivocal in terms of aspects of traumatic injury.

 Each year between 4000 and 5000 people acquire a severe or profound disability. A proportion of those - and these numbers are approximate, so don’t hold me to them exactly - but a proportion of these acquire their severe or profound disability catastrophically. It could be through medical misadventure, motor vehicle, workplace injury, just diving off the pier into shallow water.

 Now what the Productivity Commission recommended is that we have a National Injury Scheme to work with the Disability Insurance Scheme. The distinction being that the States currently look after people who get traumatic injury in the workplace and to some extent with motor vehicle injury. Now the States cannot expect to avoid their responsibilities. 

Did you know, Paul, that in Victoria and New South Wales, we have no fault motor vehicle coverage? In other words, if you have a terrible spinal injury, you're a quadriplegic, you don't have to prove fault if it happened in a motor vehicle incident. You get the level of care because they look at the injury. What happens in Queensland and Western Australia - and indeed South Australia - is that you have to prove fault before you can access support.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: But can I jump in though and ask you though, Mr Shorten?

BILL SHORTEN: Now, that State government, that's a State government responsibility and the States need to do more in the field of catastrophic injury than they're currently doing.


BILL SHORTEN: And I can't sugar coat that pill.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: But, in a funding sense though, that takes you out of step, doesn't it, with the Productivity Commission? Which says, yes, the States need to put in the current pool of funding that they're providing to the sector at the moment. But the rest has to be funded by the Commonwealth, that's what the Productivity Commission says. Now I believe that's what Tony Abbott is arguing as well. You take a different view. You think the States need to stump a bit more?

BILL SHORTEN: Well the Productivity Commission did talk in exactly the terms that I'm talking about. Yes, the Commonwealth Government - I'm not totally disagreeing with your proposition. The Commonwealth Government will have to do more and we are prepared to. But what I found slightly odd about the debate this week is this assumption that it's Commonwealth do it or nothing changes.

 Let's assume that we'd never had the debate about the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Let's assume that Labor never came up with that idea. Costs are going to increase in state systems seven per cent per annum. The costs are going up anyway. So when states say, we can't do something without the Commonwealth just totally paying for everything. Well if nothing happens the state systems are going to get overwhelmed. Queensland has a very…

PAUL KELLY: But just on this point Minister…

BILL SHORTEN: …creaky system.

PAUL KELLY: But, but…

BILL SHORTEN: Yes, but the idea that state governments can go on a holiday here - and I’m not saying that's what they're going to do - but that idea to me is a fiction, it's a myth, it's a fairytale.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: But where do they get the funding from? Because the difference is that it's pretty well recognised that states taxes are highly regressive and they don't have the revenue raising opportunities that the Commonwealth does. This is recognised right across the board - it's called Vertical Fiscal Imbalance. Where does the states find the money going forward for this, as opposed to in other areas like health reform for example? Where the Commonwealth made the point that it needed to step up on health reform because it understood that state governments didn't have the revenue streams going forward to be able to continue to fund this growing area in an ageing population?

BILL SHORTEN: There's no question that government revenues, local government, state and indeed federal are under pressure. We see that across the Western world. There's no question that we have to find cleverer ways to use scarce government revenue and scarce government revenue sources. 

But I have to say, that if we, if the Libs or the Opposition now running several of the states, truly believe that this is the one impediment to a National Disability Insurance Scheme, why do they oppose a mining tax? Why do they oppose us putting a price on carbon pollution? 

These are new sources of incomes. I'm not saying they go to the NDIS, but if governments are under pressure for revenue - because it seems to me your question's moving into the whole area of how do governments fund the functions which citizens expect them to provide, which is a real long term challenge. Why do they, whenever there is a new levy or a tax, why do they always say no? Why do they oppose the flood levy in Queensland? And yet the State governments…

PAUL KELLY: Okay, well let's talk about a levy then, Minister. I mean, the core proposition here is that the States at the moment are under fiscal stress and they are not in a position to make a significant contribution to this scheme. Now in that sort of situation, are you prepared to rule out a levy? Or might the Government be prepared to entertain that as an option?

BILL SHORTEN: The Prime Minister's made it clear, as she's said in answer to questions, that she wants this scheme to be funded and the launch sites to be funded from Commonwealth General Revenue. Beyond that, when you talk about, Paul, the points about states and not being able to fund the functions of government. 

Well I can tell you what, in Victoria Ted Baillieu's putting a level crossing at Brighton Beach. Now for people who aren't citizens of Melbourne, Brighton Beach, it's the 223rd least dangerous or most dangerous, so it's well down the list of level crossings. So they can find $10 million for that, but they struggle to find $40 million to join the Barwon package. So I don't accept that some state government priorities are what they should be.

The longer term point you make about funding schemes. Let's get the launch sites working. Let us demonstrate to Australians, let us demonstrate to tax payers. Let us demonstrate to people with disabilities and their carers that we're capable of coming up with an individualised system of support and then I believe that the political landscape changes significantly about the issues of disability.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mr Shorten, do you think that voters would be prepared to accept a levy? I'm just interested in what your views are on a, you know, how voters might respond to this, if this proposition was put to them? Because certainly the bipartisan support that the premiers offered to the Prime Minister gave the indication that there wouldn't be such a strong campaign against it. So do you think that voters - considering it is an issue that touches everybody, as you point out, continuously - would accept a levy for such a thing?

BILL SHORTEN: Well first things first. I think that whilst we talk about a National Disability Insurance Scheme, for a lot of people they're not quite sure what that means. So I think the launch sites is a fundamental step towards universal acceptance. I think that a National Disability Insurance Scheme could become something as fundamental to Australia as superannuation or the minimum wage or the age pension or Medicare. But we do need to be able to demonstrate to people what it means and how it works.

 In terms of Australians' willingness to look at funding disability. Because it could happen to any of us or because any of us could have a child who at one or two doesn't start to develop and grow in the way which we hoped and expected, it could happen to any of us. And the same with that catastrophic injury I was referring to earlier - a car crash, you know, misadventure. I think there is a generosity in Australians towards issues of new ways to support disability. But first things first, let's get the launch sites up and running.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: See, I agree with you Bill Shorten. I think that there is a generosity amongst Australians, which is why what I think you're implying there, without actually outright saying it, is that there probably is a willingness amongst the public to accept a levy for a scheme like this. And it leads me ask one final question, if I can. Given that generosity, do you share the same fears that Julia Gillard had in relation to a levy? Which is that it might be used as a political attack by Tony Abbott?

BILL SHORTEN: Well first of all, I wouldn't want you implying something then putting it to me. I believe the path that we've taken about seeking to fund the launch sites from General Revenue is the most sensible approach. In terms of the political climate, do I share the Prime Minister's concerns about the consequences of a negative campaign from the Opposition? Yes, I do, but I know that when it comes to disability reform this is one topic which we're going to have to keep lifting out of the muck of day to day toxic politics. 

And I do know that, as much as it may make some diehard Liberals squirm, it's Prime Minister Gillard and it's Labor who have put the NDIS on the table and we're driving it forward. We do want to work with the Opposition, but I do believe that the Liberal Premiers miscalculated this week and thankfully by the end of the week we've got things back on track.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Alright, Minister Bill Shorten, we're out of time. But one very quick final question. Do you think that the title needs to change? Because calling it an insurance scheme is something that probably is confusing. The Prime Minister herself acknowledged that, when she did an evening interview on the Wednesday night after COAG.

BILL SHORTEN: I know the NDIS, National Disability Insurance Scheme, because I was involved in the formation of that title, it was a working title. But I suspect the working title, for the time being, has become the official name, you know. So I don't know, I see what you're saying. But the idea that we should have a social insurance, so that if you have a child who acquires a severe or profound disability or if you get it catastrophically - the idea the community insures that, I think is important. But I do accept the title was a working title and it seems to have stuck for the time being.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Alright, fair enough. Bill Shorten, you've been generous with your time. We appreciate you joining us on Australian Agenda. Thanks very much.


BILL SHORTEN: Thanks everyone, bye bye.

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