Bill's Transcripts

Transcript: Interview with Rafael Epstein, ABC 774, 7 March 2012

SUBJECT:  Victorian nurses dispute

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: One person who's been trying to get some get some resolution in this is the Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten.  We can also ask him about the growth figures out today. Good afternoon, Mr Shorten.

BILL SHORTEN: G'day, how are you?

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I'm good. Look, do you have any idea why the Nurses Union and the state government are suddenly sitting down and talking to each other?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I think there's been a stalemate for well over 100 days.  The nurses have deeply held convictions and beliefs about a range of issues. The Baillieu Government - and I'm a different political party to them, but they've got to balance their books and they probably don't want to give away anymore than they have to - but what I think has become clear to everyone, including some people in the government and the nurses in this issue, is that people need a circuit breaker. You know when you get in a corner. You've got a stronger held view than somebody does. It's not that unusual in life, but in this case it affects the welfare of tens of thousands of nurses and of course, their patients. So I think in the last few days there's no doubt have been intelligent, pragmatic discussions and I think these statements in the last 24 hours signify people think they can go to a process to resolve the matter.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Sure. Do you think the state government just realised it was a bad look?

BILL SHORTEN: I think it's a bad look, but having said that I'm more interested than scoring points off the Liberals, I'm more interested that they solve the dispute with the nurses.  I've got a lot of respect for Victoria's nurses. If you've got 40,000 nurses who are unhappy, chances are they've got to have a point of view. But by the same token if the Victorian Government's getting on with business, getting down to chatting with the nurses, well, okay I'm not going to - now, is the last possible time you need a lay person being a smarty pants about it. I'd rather they fix the issue.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Well, let me ask you to put your financial services hat on, if I can. 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The floods in New South Wales and Victoria, it seems there are really two implications from that. Number one, insurance and how much people are going to pay in future. Number two, there are people already talking about half a billion dollars' worth of road repairs in New South Wales alone. The Federal Government's the only people who can cover that sort of tab. What's it going to do to insurance premiums, the floods? What's it going to mean for your budget bottom line?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, first things first. I don't think the flood waters fully reached all the towns that are expecting the high levels, so my first thoughts go out to the people who haven't received the brunt of the floods. The second thing is there has been a couple of reports of loss of life, it's just an unmeasurable disaster.

In terms of flood insurance, we seemed to have learned - well, hopefully we've learned a bit from the Brisbane and south-east Queensland floods of a year-and-a-half ago.  I've been the Insurance Minister in the intervening period and I found to my surprise back then that you may think you're covered for a flood, but if a flood was caused by a river and it's blue sky above you and not a storm immediately causing the flood waters to rise over the floor of your house, some insurance companies would say, well, that's not really a flood.

Now, that's sort of double-talk sends people absolutely berserk. The Financial Ombudsman Service, which is the appeal process, external appeal process for people unhappy with their claims, reported to me a tenfold increase against insurance companies, as compared to bushfires, hailstorms and all the other sort of things. So, we've spent the last year trying to get the insurance industry to agree to one definition of what a flood is.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The premiums are going to go up either way, no matter what changes you might be able to influence.

BILL SHORTEN: Yes, that's right. It's a bit like - if you've had claims your premiums go up, but what we're hoping is that by having one definition of flood, it means that people who are home owners, who've paid their home insurance, home and contents insurance year in year out, no one likes paying insurance but we do it because of these - literally these rainy days, we want to make sure people have paid.

Secondly, I'm hoping that if all insurers are starting to offer the product to the extent that you can, at least it can create a more competitive market. If you've got a hundred different insurers offering home insurance, all with flood cover, you can actually price so you can get more competition. 

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Can I ask you though…

BILL SHORTEN: There's no simple ending though, it'll get more expensive.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: What's it going to do to the budget bottom line in May? You're already looking at a very, very thin surplus and I know the Treasurer is sticking by the surplus, the aim for a surplus, but can you really reach that if you're going to have to pick up the tab for the floods. Maybe you're going to have to extend the floods levy.

BILL SHORTEN: Well no, we've said we won't extend the flood levy. The cost in Queensland went north of $6 billion dollars for the Federal Government to help out the State. I should say this, having given the Liberal Party a bit of a leave pass just on the Nurses' dispute and not catcall from the sideline, I do hold against the Liberal Party that they voted against the flood levy in Queensland. It raised $1.8 billion dollars. Now, the government found another $4 billion dollars to help pay it.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Sure, but what's it going to do - can you…

BILL SHORTEN: I can't say.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  I guess the question is can you guarantee the surplus?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, we're determined to get that surplus come the proverbial hell or high water. We're determined to get there because we think that's important. The national accounts that came out today showed that our economy continued to grow in the last quarter of last year. This is quite…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Although it shrunk, without mining it shrunk, didn't it?

BILL SHORTEN: Well okay, mining is part of Australia.


BILL SHORTEN: We get all of the bad news; we've got to take some of the good news.  This is in contrast to the rest of Europe, what's going on there. The problem party though with mining is I think it helps contribute to our high dollar, it a dollar five, a dollar six today American, that is just hammering and accelerating problems in other parts of the economy. That's why…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: So, hell or high water we're going to have a surplus anyway, so even if…

BILL SHORTEN: Well, that's our plan.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: …you've got a slightly lower growth figure, so slightly lower receipts and you've got an extra tab from the floods, that means you have to cut more government programs than you expected, doesn't it?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, there's no easy way to make these decisions. I know the Treasurer's given his commitment and that's what we're determined to do. In saying that that's what we're determined to do, I think it does draw out two points, doesn't it? One, why did the Liberal Party oppose the mining tax against the richest companies in the world, who were making the best profits they've ever made, yet the mining boom is causing dislocation in other parts of the economy?

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  Yeah, we chatted about that with Anna Burke and [inaudible] about an hour ago.

BILL SHORTEN: But it is true, why do they want to give back $10 billion dollars to the richest companies in the world? The second thing I've got to say about all of this is that the Liberal Party's got a problem with their own costings.  Like, say it's easy for an Opposition to say, we could do better, we're the best…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: [Inaudible] says Andrew Robb was verballed that he was only talking about the policies they hadn't set their minds to. But look, I just want to ask you another…

BILL SHORTEN: Oh well. Well, that's convenient. They think they're one sort of heart attack away from forming the government. Being in the Opposition isn't some game of hide and seek, where they hide their policies and we've got to find them.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Look, we did give this a good going over. 

BILL SHORTEN: Fair enough, Raf, that's fair enough.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I thank you for your contribution today. Look, just one final question, we're going to have a chat to Rene Redzepi, you probably haven't eaten at his restaurant in Copenhagen, what's the best meal you reckon you've ever had?

BILL SHORTEN: The meal I get at the end of the week when I come home with my family.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Nice. What do you usually get when you come home at the end of the week?

BILL SHORTEN: My wife's an incredibly good cook.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You don't get much cooking in I'm guessing?

BILL SHORTEN: No, she cooks; she feeds three kids, she feeds me and she does a great job.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Okay, I appreciate it.

BILL SHORTEN: So just being at home that, seriously, that’ll do me.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:  I share with that. I think we can all feel that joy. Thank you very much for taking the time.

BILL SHORTEN: Cheers, thank you. Good bye.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:   Bill Shorten, Workplace Relations Minister. As I said, coming up after the news headlines our interview with Rene Redzepi.


- ENDS -