THURSDAY, 1 DECEMBER 2016
LEIGH SALES: Joining me now from Canberra is the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten. Good to have you on the program again.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good evening Leigh.
SALES: There's been so much time and energy spent this week on the backpacker tax. In the end, the 13 per cent, 15 per cent row that it descended into between Labor and the Coalition was over a few bucks extra a week in tax on a $500 pay cheque. What was that all about?
SHORTEN: Well, the Government proposed 18 months ago, introducing a new tax on backpackers of 32 per cent. That immediately led to a drought of backpackers and farmers and tourism operators said we're losing people. So Labor proposed a tax on backpackers but quite a bit lower than the Government. The Government has gradually moved from 32, to 19, to 15. So, we thought fair enough and we should make a movement towards their position. But the problem is that the Government instead of taking our sensible solution came up with a deal with the Greens because the Government is so keen not to work with Labor because they see us as the enemy that it cost taxpayers $100 million extra just to buy the votes of the Greens. $100 million of taxpayer money, what a waste.
SALES: But it was 13 per cent. You guys ended up at 13, they were at 15. It was a negligible difference in the end. Can you understand why voters might think, why couldn't you just meet at the 15?
SHORTEN: Well, we started today at 10.5. We thought, fair enough, the Government has got itself into a corner. The Senate rejected their 15, so we showed some leadership. We went to 13 per cent. And the problem though is that the Government has done a deal with the Greens, which the Greens concede as effectively a 13 per cent tax. But the problem is the Greens on the way got bought off with $100 million of extra funding and in the meantime what this Government has done is got a higher headline rate of tax, which will discourage backpackers coming here and they've had to pay out more money from the budget bottom line. I mean the real problem here is that Australia's got to deal with a Budget deficit, but this Government is more interested in playing political games, proving they can beat Labor and on the way through now, it’s going to cost taxpayers an extra $100 million.
SALES: Well, when you look though at issues that the Parliament's been preoccupied with over the past couple of weeks we had this backpacker tax, George Brandis, the ABCC, the resettlement plan in the US for refugees on Nauru, do you really reckon that these are the issues that most Australians would have as their top priorities?
SHORTEN: Well, whilst I certainly want to see people resettled from Manus and Nauru, I think you're right in general. This Government is pursuing a series of niche obsessions. Do you know this week in order to get some votes on their anti-union legislation, they've agreed to demand that the board of the ABC has got to meet in different cities to where they meet?
They were protecting George Brandis, I mean really. I mean they couldn't even guarantee there won't be a reshuffle over summer and they'll send this very incompetent Attorney-General off to London as a reward for his incompetence. I agree what's turning people off politics is when the niche issues seem to dominate the debate and in the meantime our parents can't see their kids get apprenticeships. We've got people in their 50s and 60s looking for work who can't get a job interview.
SALES: You point out the deals but you guys had to do plenty of deals when you were in minority Government.
SHORTEN: Well, let's be straight here. Malcolm Turnbull gave us this Senate we've got. He had this failed Senate reform. Now we've quite a lot of fringe parties in the Senate. So now Malcolm Turnbull, because of the last election and his own lack of performance, is going to have to play games with every sort of, every Senator from every political persuasion, just to get the basics done.
What Malcolm Turnbull should do is sit down and work with Labor. The best accomplishment since the last election have been a reduction in $6 billion in the deficit and that's come through a deal working with Labor. And on the national security legislation, Labor will always support keeping Australians safe and we've managed to get all of that done. Six difference tranches of legislation in the last three years. I think what the Liberals have got to do is stop worrying about Labor so much and start focusing on jobs, jobs and jobs, focus on the important issues.
SALES: You say that the Senate is his own doing and all of the rest of it, but over the past couple of weeks the two bills that he used to call the double dissolution have gone through, he’s managed to work with the crossbench and the Greens today. It's paid off for him, hasn't it?
SHORTEN: Do you really think that the division and dysfunction of this Government has paid off? On the anti-union laws which they're keen to pass through, they've had to do all sorts of deals which they would never have thought of doing. And when it comes to this backpacker tax, they've just given $100 million of taxpayer money to issues that the Greens asked for, when the Liberals could have had the same deal with Labor without spending an extra $100 million which taxpayers know we need to use to reduce the deficit.
SALES: In your address to the Parliament this morning which we heard a clip of before, you said that there's national secret, which is that behind closed doors you and Malcolm Turnbull actually get on quite well. Why do you feel the need to keep that behind closed doors?
SHORTEN: I don't think I did, did I? I said it.
SALES: Most of the time people who follow politics would see you guys, you know, really at each other, sometimes in pretty aggressive ways.
SHORTEN: I personally like Malcolm Turnbull. But the problem that he's got is that he can't run the Liberal Party. And the Malcolm Turnbull I thought would - who came in as Prime Minister, I thought he would be massively different, but he's a massive disappointment.
So do I like him personally? Yes. But I'm watching him shrink into his job, sell out positions he's always thought were really important just to keep his party happy. The real issue is that as the Liberals approach the end of 2017 is that Tony Abbott's on the war-path. I meant there's great division and dysfunction in the Liberal Party and the problem for Australia is that when Malcolm Turnbull always got to look over his shoulder, he can't see where he's going. I mean, quite frankly, if I was to lay a bet on this matter, I don't think I'll be facing Malcolm Turnbull at the next election. I think the Liberal Party will move on to someone else.
SALES: And who do you believe that you'll be facing?
SHORTEN: We all know that Tony Abbott laid out a job interview, the Sunday before the last week of Parliament for an hour. I've got no doubt that Julie Bishop might think she served three different leaders as deputy, it might be her turn. The point about it is, for me it's not who the Liberals pick, they're not going to change their policies. They still think that the Medicare cuts are a figment of imagination. They don't understand the message out of the last election.
SALES: Well, let's talk about some of your policies actually. Given that it is the final sitting day of the Parliament, I want to turn to having a look forward to 2017 as I did with the Prime Minister last night. If you have to give me the three issues that you think Labor thinks will define 2017, what do you think those three issues are?
SHORTEN: Jobs, fighting for, creating jobs. Building Australian, buying Australian and employing Australians. So jobs is one.
I think Medicare is always right up there.
Defending our health care system, making sure that it's peoples Medicare card not their credit card that gives them access to quality health.
And I think for the third one, it's going to be economic management in the interests of middle-class and working class Australians. This country cannot afford to give $50 billion away to large companies. Now is not the time to be handing millionaires tax cuts of $17,000.
Instead what we've got to do is look at sensible Budget repair that's fair. That's why I would like the Government to take up our ideas on negative gearing, reforming the system, so we have greater affordable for first home buyers. It's running the economy properly, but in the interests of Australians, not despite them.
SALES: In the last Parliament, Labor took a calculated gamble that you would release actual policy, for most of the period in the lead-up to the election, is that your intention up until the next election as well?
SHORTEN: I'm very aware that we lost the last election. But from where we started at the beginning of the year to where we end I believe has been a year of progress. I said on election night, Labor's back. What we want to do in 2017 is continue to make more progress in our policies and prepare a social and economic program for the next election. We don't want to be a small target Opposition. I think Australians want to see what you would do and well in advance of the election.
SALES: Given that you didn't win the last election, can Australians assume that you'd be taking much of the same policy to the next election, given that you didn't get to implement it last time around?
SHORTEN: We're reviewing our policies, but there's certain things I can say right now. We're going to support Medicare. We're going to make sure that we have negative gearing reform in the interests of first home buyers. We're going to make sure that we reform the TAFE sector, we need a national training agenda. We think we're on the right track when we talk about building infrastructure in Australia. We desperately need something to replace the economic activity from the mining boom which has come to a halt.
SALES: And is there any -
SHORTEN: And it's got to be infrastructure investment.
SALES: Sorry to interrupt.
SALES: Is there any policies that you think you would drop?
SHORTEN: Well, we're reviewing the rest of our policies. But one things for sure, as I travel around Australia and one thing I'm definitely going to keep doing in 2017, that I did in 2016, is town hall meetings. We invite anyone in a suburb or a postcode to come and talk and give us their ideas. What I want to do is make sure that Australians have got some renewed faith in the political system. That's my job for 2017.
SALES: There's been a lot of talk since the election of Donald Trump in the United States that we are in a new phase now, that we're operating in a post-truth world. What do you think - how loose do you think politicians can be with the facts if they're tapping into the public mood?
SHORTEN: No, I don't think that we are in a post-truth phase. What happened in America I think was due to a great deal of disenchantment with business as usual, with vested interests. But no, I don't think that the Australian people have moved beyond wanting to hear the truth. That's why we're going to treat Australians as intelligent and we're going to roll out our policies in a sensible and considered manner in the course of next year.
I mean, this Government as you know, expected to do much better at the last election, but they've been narrowly re-elected and they have no agenda. The Prime Minister has no authority. Their basic mode of operating is to respond to events. We think Australians deserve better. That's what we're going to do.
SALES: Well, as it's the final sitting day, we probably won't have you on the program again before Christmas. So thank you very much for coming on regularly to speak to the viewers. And Merry Christmas to you and your family.
SHORTEN: Thank you very much and for the work the ABC does.