THURSDAY, 6 DECEMBER 2018
SUBJECTS: Encryption legislation; Nauru; 2019 Federal Election
LEIGH SALES, HOST: Mr Shorten, thanks for joining us.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good evening Leigh.
SALES: Today the Prime Minister accused you of being a clear and present threat to Australia's safety. He was talking in the context of asylum seeker policy. I'd like viewers to understand where Labor differs from the Coalition, if it does at all in this area. So let me ask you a series of questions.Do you support the Government's policy of offshore processing of asylum seekers who attempt to come to Australia by boat?
SHORTEN: Yes. I mean, the Prime Minister, you said something that he said which deserves answering and this is the first occasion I've had to answer it since his remarkable press conference. I'm disappointed in what he said but I'm not going to get distracted by it, and that name calling is just not going to solve a single problem.
SALES: As I said, I'd like viewers to try and understand the basic facts as well as the politics. So let me ask, do you support the Government's policy that people who end up on Nauru or Manus Island will never be allowed to resettle in Australia?
SHORTEN: We believe that anyone who comes here via people smuggler should be resettled in a third party nation, yes.
SALES: Does Labor support boat turn backs and will that policy continue if you're in office?
SHORTEN: Yes, we will, we will support boat turn backs where it's safe to do so, which is existing policy.
SALES: Prime Minister Morrison's point is that Kerryn Phelps' Private Members Bill, if it's passed, will allow people smugglers to say to potential clients, "listen, Australia has changed the legislation, you won't have to stay on Nauru or Manus you just get some doctor to sign off in Australia and it's all good mate." This is where he has the point of difference with you. Is that a valid point that he's making?
SHORTEN: There's a point of difference but not the one he's claiming to make. I think after five years this Government should be ashamed of the fact that there are still people on Manus and Nauru and they haven't been resettled. Labor does not accept that the corollary between discouraging the people smuggling trade and keeping people in detention for five plus years. That's shameful. And the specific issue which Kerryn Phelps, crossbenchers, Labor and other parties were discussing, was where you've got two treating doctors say that a child needs a treatment in Australia, then that's got to be taken very seriously.
And by the way, what Mr Morrison says is so bad about Labor, they quietly do anyway, but what we want to do is put some rules and certainty around it. It is not the case that to deter people smugglers and defeat their trade, we have to keep people in indefinite detention. That is not a healthy Australian way to do business here.
SALES: So you reject Mr Morrison's suggestion that if this Phelps Bill were to pass that it would give people smugglers an opening to restart the trade?
SHORTEN: The thing giving people smuggler's the best encouragement in 2018 is the constant billboard which the Government do when they say, oh if Labor gets elected, which is possible at the next election, they are egging the people smuggler's on to try their hand again. It is the Government who constantly say "oh well, if it's not us then the people smugglers will be back in business." These criminal syndicates are pretty sophisticated.
So it is the Government sending a signal to the people they say they're trying to stop, that if they're not in Government, the Liberals are encouraging them to try again.
SALES: We know that this Bill has now been delayed until Parliament resumes next year, that's a few months away, a couple of months away, what happens to children who need medical evacuation during that period of time?
SHORTEN: Well, I just hope that the treating medical advice gets taken seriously. You know, there have been some children coming here anyway. I just think it's a shame that the Parliament of Australia, because the Government didn’t want to sit past five o'clock on a Thursday night, can't deal with this issue and other very important issues. The real problem today - and no wonder people hate politics, probably sick of the lot of us - is that they found out today that the Government who is paid big dollars, say it's five o'clock we're going home now.
I mean, they've done that not because they care about what's happening on Nauru but because they didn't want to lose a vote in Parliament. This is all about protecting the pride of the Government and the Prime Minister, than worrying about the big issues which should be dealt with.
Did you know Leigh, that on many occasions at the Christmas sitting of Parliament, we go past five o'clock in the House of Representatives if we have important business to finish. The Government didn't want to work past five o'clock because they were simply embarrassed that they wouldn't get their way on important issues.
SALES: Let me ask you about another issue that came up today.
SALES: The Government's accusing Labor of being weak on national security again, because of some of your concerns about the encryption bill. This morning you did vote in of it despite saying you wanted more time to consider it, despite concerns about the way it was drafted and despite the Bill containing amendments that you hadn't seen. It's now stuck in the Senate until next year. Why did you end up voting for it even with all those
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, the Government a few weeks ago said that they wanted to look at how we can break through the encrypted telecommunications of people who are criminals, terrorists and the like. We said that's fair enough. The Government presented draft legislation and there were hearings into it. A parliamentary committee which is majority government and minority Labor heard them. But what happened is that we had an agreed approach which would have seen the Bill dealt with this week.
Unfortunately the Government on Sunday or Monday said "no, we're going to have a fight with Labor." They're not worried about the outcome. Just the angle. And then what happened is that when we finally got back to an agreed approach, the Government presented 170 changes to very serious matters which go to digital privacy, security, safety.
What we've managed to do in the course of today, in one day, is we got an agreed position last night, Liberal and Labor working together as we should, and today the Government gave us the 170 changes. They're now being debated in the Senate. The Prime Minister said this law was fundamental to keeping us safe over Christmas but because the Senate hadn't done it by three o'clock today, what's happened is the Government's gone home. That's not a way to run safety. Terrorists don't knock off at five o'clock on the first Thursday in December.
SALES: Let's go to some of the other issues that were on the radar this week. The Government says it will return to a surplus from the 2019 Federal Budget. At the last election you had a slower return to surplus timetable than the Government. If the Government does deliver a surplus in April, will the Budget remain in surplus if Labor forms government or do you anticipate you'll need to go back into deficit to fund all of your promises?
SHORTEN: I'm confident, based on the economic reforms that we've engaged in in Opposition, that we will a very positive position on surplus over the four years, and a much better position than the Liberals over the 10 years, because we're winding back unsustainable tax subsidies at the top end, which in fact the Government want to keep.
SALES: Does a very positive position on surplus mean you anticipate staying in surplus?
SHORTEN: That's our aim and the point about it, but just to come to that, we do need to see what numbers the Government have got. I know people get sick of politics but this Government is going to bring down a Budget on April 2 and then rush off to an election. They're not really looking for scrutiny of their conduct.
SALES: On climate change policy, will Labor put a price on carbon?
SHORTEN: We're not going back to the policies of the past. We're not going to have a carbon tax.
SALES: No, but will you price carbon?
SHORTEN: No. What we're going to do is prioritise, and I'll give you the key features of what we're doing. We're not getting to, with respect, announce all our policies before the election tonight, but what I can say through you to your viewers, we want to see that by 2030 half of our energy sources come from renewable energy.
We do want to reduce our carbon emissions in Australia by 45 per cent. We want to make sure that we are prioritising renewable technology, it's getting cheaper all the time. So we will absolutely going to have very positive climate policies which we'll unveil. I've already announced our energy policy six months out, which will see us investing in solar batteries for households where the income is under $180,000. Two million Australian households have got solar panels on their roofs. What we want to do is encourage the take-up of batteries so people can get lower prices and take control over their power bills and help in the fight against climate change.
SALES: At the last election when Labor proposed to wind back negative gearing, the housing market was experiencing much stronger growth than it is now. Now in some places it is actually going backwards, houses are losing value. Will you rethink that negative gearing policy?
SHORTEN: We're going to stick to our existing policies. It's just not fair for our younger generation to not be able to afford their first home when the Government of the day is giving a tax subsidy to property investors to buy their fifth or sixth. We want to keep the dream of Australian home ownership alive.
SALES: Sorry to interrupt, but, and what's going on in the property market at the moment doesn't give you pause on that?
SHORTEN: What's going on in the property market at the moment is the banks are restricting credit. It's unrelated to our policy. What we want to do is provide a level playing field for first-home buyers. I'm a parent of teenagers. They're still at home, I don't know where they're going, that's great, but one day they're going to want to buy their own home.
I think I'm like a lot of parents and indeed grandparents who wonder how will their kids ever enter the housing market? So what we want to do is level the playing field. The issue around housing prices, that's driven by the fact the banks aren't lending as much money as they once were, not our policy. We're not even in government, and we have said to everyone who currently enjoys this tax subsidy, we're not changing the rules for you. You've invested under one set of rules. We won't change the goal posts but we want to make long-term reform to put fairness back into the housing market for first home buyers.
SALES: How many times have you spoken to Malcolm Turnbull since he ceased being Prime Minister?
SHORTEN: I've spoken to him a few times. But I notice the conspiracy of the far right against Malcolm Turnbull. I mean, they kicked him out.
SALES: But what do you talk to him about?
SHORTEN: First of all, the first conversation I had for him was to thank him for his service to the nation. I've spoken to former Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard, I've spoken to John Howard on occasion, I've spoken to Tony Abbott. I respect the office of Prime Minister. And I think the toxic partisanship, where we've got to take the view that because someone from another party said something, that you've got to hate them. I won't be that sort of Prime Minister. If I'm Prime Minister I want to reach out to all our former Prime Ministers and make sure we utilise some of their capacity. But let me be really clear, not that Malcolm needs me to speak for him, he's a Liberal, he's not voting for me, but he was Prime Minister for three years. He was a smart man. I didn't agree with a lot of what he was saying but I think the idea that I should never speak to a former Prime Minister because he's of a different political party, that thinking is just weird.
SALES: Finally, 2019, there's an election year as we've alluded to several times, for all of the campaigns in memory, the leaders of the major parties have committed to two prime time interviews during the campaign on 7.30. Are you happy to agree to that again for 2019?
SHORTEN: Yes, let's do that, Leigh. That would be great.
SALES: Look forward to seeing you next year. Bill Shorten, thank you.
SHORTEN: Thank you.