FRIDAY, 7 DECEMBER 2018
SUBJECTS: Federal Election; Labor’s positive vision; Liberal chaos and division; Emma Husar; Barnaby Joyce; Negative gearing; LGBTI students and teachers; Liberal stacking of the Fair Work Commission; Border Force cuts.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. I just thought as it's the end of the Parliamentary year, I just wanted to say thank you to the Press Gallery for the work that they have done this year. Also, to make a few brief comments on Labor's year this year.
Labor has had a positive year. We have been a strong Opposition, but I believe we're emerging as an alternative government. Labor's led the debate this year about the establishment of a National Integrity Commission to restore the faith of the Australian people in our political process.
We have seen the work of Labor's Banking Royal Commission conducted this year, and that has revealed the shocking depth and the malaise within our banking sector and the treatment of customers, small businesses, farmers, individuals and families.
Labor's outlined strong policies to create universal child care for all 3 and 4-year-olds in Australia.
We've articulated a bipartisan energy policy, adopting, in part, former Prime Minister Turnbull's National Energy Guarantee and, of course, committing to a 50 per cent renewables by 2030, and the rollout of solar batteries to make sure that the 2 million households who have solar panels and other Australian households who would like to access renewable energy have an easier path to do so.
Labor's outlined our commitment to an independent foreign policy. A foreign policy with an Australian accent. We have also outlined a range of other policies about reversing cuts to schools and hospitals.
By contrast the Government this year has reached peak division. They have lost a Prime Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister, a Foreign Minister. They are racked by division. This Government is famous for its cuts and its chaos and its division. It lurches from embarrassment to embarrassment, scandal to scandal, chaos to chaos.
Last night, I formed the view that the Parliamentary year shouldn't end on a note where there was no sensible conclusion to a national security matter. The Prime Minister ran away from Parliament. It was all too hard. He said, "well, we will sort this out next year."
Now, I understand in the Parliamentary process there can be debate between the Senate and the House of Representatives, the need to improve legislation. The people of Australia, though, often don't have time for what they perceive to be games. I thought it was important that we reach at least sensible conclusion before the summer on the important matter of national security. We will seek to improve the legislation in the New Year, there are legitimate concerns about the encryption legislation. But I wasn't prepared to walk away from my job and leave matters in a stand-off and expose Australians to increased risk in terms of national security.
So, Labor has shown leadership this year, we've shown unity. My team is united. My team is outlining policies for the future and alternative government. In contrast, the Government is marked by division and chaos. Happy to take some questions this morning.
JOURNALIST: So when did you change your mind on encryption, because it must have been pretty late?
SHORTEN: Well, as you know, the Government tabled this encryption legislation and their proposed amendments and the Parliamentary committee report the day before yesterday. So, in the course of the late afternoon, once the Government just simply gave up, once the Government ran away from the Parliament, at that point I thought we need to get to a sensible conclusion. Frankly, I was surprised that the Government just ran away. Hardly ever in the history of Australia has there been a government so desperate not to turn up to Parliament. So, once they had done that, we needed to draw matters to, I think, a sensible compromise.
And I acknowledge the work there of our Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Penny Wong, and Senator Mathias Cormann.
JOURNALIST: How confident are you that the Government will amend the legislation in February? There was some, I guess, a little wish-washy language they put out last night about agreeing to consider the amendments in February. Will they actually legislate the amendments in February?
SHORTEN: I don't agree with your characterisation that Senator Cormann's language was -
JOURNALIST: Christian Porter's said he was going to, they would consider the amendments -
SHORTEN: Sorry, if I can just answer your first observation. Let me quote from Senator Cormann last night, on Hansard the official record of the Parliament:
"I finally also confirm that the Government supports in principle all amendments that are consistent with the recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security recommendations in relation to this Bill."
That will do.
JOURNALIST: If the encryption laws were bad, Anthony Albanese left last night, said they were terrible laws, wouldn't the right thing to do be to stick to your guns and fight them and hold out for these amendments? I mean, these laws aren't going to come into place over Christmas, there's no real urgency.
SHORTEN: Well, let's be very, very clear here. I think the laws were rushed. It was Labor doing the work at the public hearings, with I have to say government members of the Parliamentary Committee who investigated the legislation. This Government sought to, I think, initially use these national security laws to try and get an angle or an argument with Labor. Anyway, the Parliamentarians did the work. It was a unanimous report to improve and update the legislation. What we recognise is because the Government just simply left the building, and ran away from Parliament that we didn't want to see this matter not have any conclusion and just leave it all in a vacuum over the summer. But I acknowledge that Senator Cormann and Senator Wong were able to say that the amendments we wanted yesterday, we will do them in the first week back, consistent with what a bipartisan committee's recommended. It is not a perfect solution and to all of those who are concerned about the economic impact of this legislation, we hear you. And we've said that we want to review it. But in the meantime, I think Australians are over the games and people standing in two different corners yelling at each other and throwing rocks and insults. I will take half a win and move forward than simply continue this sort of angry shouting, which I think does mark - I think you'd all agree - the Government's conduct.
JOURNALIST: I just want to go to the migration law amendement -
SHORTEN: Sorry, you go then you go.
JOURNALIST: So that's going to come up again in February?
JOURNALIST: And should it go through the House of Representatives? Do you think that will be a trigger for, or do you think it should be a trigger for the Morrison Government to call an early election?
SHORTEN: Well, this is the problem with Mr Morrison running away from Parliament. He's deferred the issues. He hasn't solved anything. He is a Parliamentarian. Part of that means in your title you turn up to Parliament. The real problem is that this is the Government. In fact, if you strip away a lot of the individual policy arguments yesterday, the biggest problem - the biggest disagreement that Labor has with the Government - is that the Government don't want to turn up to Parliament. And when they are afraid of a particular outcome through the Parliamentary process, they shut Parliament down.
So, no, Mr Morrison's got all problems that he had yesterday, which he ran away from - they will still be there in February. But in the meantime, we took a view to have a sensible conclusion to at least one matter, and move forward. I mean, the real issue here is that every time you see Scott Morrison speaking, he's talking about Bill Shorten. The public don't really care what he thinks about me. The public want the know what the Government is going to do for the country, what they are going to do for the challenges of Australian families. We got some pretty disappointing economic numbers this week. It shows that economic growth is stalling, wages - wages growth is stalled. Economic growth is slowing. We're seeing access to credit harder, we are seeing living standards actually dropping, and we're seeing Australian households having to dip into their savings just to pay the weekly bills. These are the real challenges, but Mr Morrison would much rather attack the Opposition than talk about the people of Australia.
JOURNALIST: But back on the Bill Mr Shorten, you spent five years trying to ensure that there wasn't even a chink of light between you and the Government on issues of border protection, national security.Why have you opened up a potential fight on this front with the Government? Is it the pressures of the ALP National Conference?
SHORTEN: No. First of all, just to set the record straight over the last five years, when it's come to national security legislation - it is correct, I managed to work with Tony Abbott, I managed to work with Malcolm Turnbull. But in the process, in something between 12 and 15 national security laws that the Government moved, we made over 150 changes.
So what we've done as a conscientious Opposition is we have the goal of keeping Australians safe and working wherever we can with the Government, but I think a fair minded observer like yourself would acknowledge that what we've managed to do is civilised and make sensible, rushed government security legislation.
In terms of our borders, we will turn back boats where it is safe to do so. We will still keep offshore processing full stop. But if Mr Morrison is trying to argue that the only way you have borders, protections, is not to provide timely medical treatment to some asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru, that's rubbish. I mean under this Government, they have had hundreds of people come from Manus and Nauru for medical treatment. But somehow when Labor and the Crossbench proposed some rules around it, this became an unacceptable attack on our borders. That's rubbish. You know it, I know it, possibly Mr Morrison knows this.
JOURNALIST: It's okay, the public details on that asylum seeker policy obviously Scott Morrison is lining you up for a campaign debate about asylum seeker policy, says you're going to weaken the borders so what are Labor’s principles now, how long should people stay in detention if five years is too long and should all those children come off Nauru now?
SHORTEN: Well, our principles are that we want to make sure that the people smuggler trade doesn't start again. And I say to those people who just think we should take anyone who comes here by boat, who arrives by boat, that's not a safe system. And we do not want to see people drown at sea exploited, vulnerable people, exploited by people smugglers and criminal syndicates.
That's why I find so reprehensible the Government constantly putting a billboard up to criminal syndicates in South-East Asia saying that if Labor is elected they should try their hand again. That is dangerous and reckless conduct and the Government should be ashamed of themselves.
But going to the other point, the other balancing point is that if we have regional processing, which Labor supports, I think most Australians agree with me that five years is too long. So what we will do is actively negotiate resettlement arrangements. I do not understand for the life of me why Mr Morrison and the Government were happy to resettle people in the United States but not New Zealand. So I do think that the - it is not an automatic correlation that you can only deter people smugglers by keeping people in indefinite detention. That is not the Australian way.
JOURNALIST: On two points if I could, what's Labor’s limit, how long is enough? Is it two years, is it a year, and the children will they all come off, should they all go off?
SHORTEN: Sorry you did ask that other point, I beg your pardon. In terms of timing what I will do if we are elected is prioritise resettlement. I am optimistic that it won't take five years. I'm not the Government -
JOURNALIST: Another five years -
SHORTEN: Just hang on, I'm just answering Mark's question. I am confident if we form a government, we can resettle people who are in resettlement facilities in Manus and Nauru in a much more timely fashion than the Government.
But what I can't do, when we're not the Government is predict the outcome of individual nation to nation negotiations until we are the Government. So I can't put a time on it but what I can say is I wouldn't leave people waiting for five years - to me, it's a priority.
In terms of children where they require medical treatment and where two doctors, two treating medical professionals say that the treatment is necessary in Australia, we think that should be taken very seriously.
Now of course, we still say the Minister should resolve and retain ultimate discretion, in terms of security or other matters, but at the end of the day, all we are saying is let's exercise some common sense and some compassion for kids, or indeed, other people requiring medical treatment which is not available there, which is available in Australia, which is the advice of treating doctors.
I'm not going to start pretending as a politician that I'm a better doctor than the treating doctors. Michael was next.
JOURNALIST: Should people who are brought here for medical reasons, will you maintain the Government's hard line that they never be permanently resettled in Australia?
SHORTEN: Yeah, we want to resettle people overseas. And what we have got to do is make sure the people smugglers can't sell their crooked and wicked - you know, promise and exploitation of vulnerable people by saying, "if you get on an unsafe vessel that it will be happy so long as you get to Australia." That is the path which has led to drownings at sea.
At the end of the day, I do think we should take refugees in this country, but we have got to make sure that we don't have a policy which is actually dangerous to people.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you made the point that the Bill has just been deferred, Scott Morrison as just put it off he hasn't solved it. Historically, in 1929, 1941 when a Government loses a Bill like this Stanley Melbourne Bruce and Arthur Fadden went to the Governor General the next day. Is that the way that you would interpret this kind of loss?
SHORTEN: It's a serious matter but it's not a matter of confidence or supply.
In other words, voting for this legislation doesn't stop the functioning of government. The old age pension still gets paid, our troops are still there, you know, the business of government still carries on and the business of the nation.
It is a serious matter but perhaps another way rather than the Government looking at some sort of apocalyptic Armageddon, maybe we shouldn't burden kids on Nauru with being responsible for the fate of the Australian Government. Maybe what they should do instead is just vote for the legislation. Sorry, I did say you were next sorry.
JOURNALIST: Thanks Mr Shorten. You mentioned the economy is slowing. What date would Labor’s proposed changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax take effect from and will it partly depend on the state of the economy and the housing market?
SHORTEN: I will go to the second part of your question first. We're committed to reforming negative gearing. You know, we've had our policy out for three years. I just don't see it as fair that first home buyers - you know, perhaps people in their late 20s or early 30s - go along to bid at an auction against someone who's getting a taxpayer subsidy. That's not fair.
I see the Government again and some of the vested interests saying it's terrible policy. We have said that for the people who currently invest under the existing tax laws, that won't change. So, at a point after the election before our first budget or at our first budget that will change we haven't picked the final timing of that. But for us, our policy about the Australian dream of owning your first home, that's what is driving us.
The Government says it's going to be terrible for the housing market, what is difficult for housing prices at the moment is banks restricting loans. We're not in, we're not in power. So, when I watch the Government running around like Chicken Little saying the sky will fall in - give us a break.
I actually think they should talk to parents and grandparents who have got adult kids who turn up to an auction on Saturday, they get the deposit together and it is just out of range.
And why should Australians whose are paying taxes, pay taxes to subsidise someone else competing unfairly for the chance to get their first home?
JOURNALIST: Just on some unfinished business, discrimination against gay students and teachers.
JOURNALIST: Do you see that now as an election issue? Or do you commit to working with the Government in those two sitting weeks in February to deal with that and on a related note, are you still banking on a May election or are you war gaming with the possibility that the Parliament might not return next year?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, I don't think the issue of removing an exemption against discriminating against kids or, indeed, Australians should be an election issue. We should just remove the exemption which authorises discrimination against kids.
Now, I said that this is a vexed issue, I actually think, as my Deputy Leader said - Tanya Plibersek, the solution is simple. I accept, though that are people in religious educational institutions who are not sure how it would work. I just want to say, to most of the religious schools that I'm aware of, don't use an exemption to allow them to discriminate against kids or, indeed, staff. I would like to resolve it in the first two weeks. In fact, the only two weeks that this Parliament's allowing before an election. And we should work together. But we are determined to be a country that doesn't authorise discrimination. I think most people agree with me on that.
In terms of when the Government is going to call an election, or come back, I don't know. It’s very hard to keep them here. They don't like to turn up and they're afraid of coming to Parliament.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on Emma Husar, as Labor leader, you've got enormous powers of persuasion and authority -
SHORTEN: Thank you.
JOURNALIST: You're welcome. Would you use that to save Emma Husar's political career?
SHORTEN: Well, I said at the time when Emma wrote saying she wasn't going to re-contest the election, that I felt that was the right decision then both for her and the Party and I haven't changed my mind.
JOURNALIST: She says she wants to continue her career.
SHORTEN: I understand that but I haven't changed my mind.
JOURNALIST: So if she runs as an independent, you will be mightily cross?
SHORTEN: No, I'm not about to start judging Emma at all. She has said she was launching some legal proceedings. I said at the time when she was the subject of some attacks that I wasn't going to add to any media controversy and I'm going to practice that rule.
JOURNALIST: Barnaby Joyce has renewed his calls to have MPs allowed to hire their spouses. Do you think that passes the pub test or is that something you would consider?
SHORTEN: I don't know about the pub test, but Labor has no plans to change the existing policies.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, are you concerned about the appointments to the Fair Work Commission by Ms O'Dwyer?
SHORTEN: I think it is disgusting. This is a government who's appointing six deputy presidents today or - did they do it today or yesterday? This is institutional stacking. Each of these positions carries with it an emolument, I suspect, of half a million dollars. So what the Government is doing is putting six employer reps, giving them each half a million dollars of taxpayer money until what – the age of when they're 70 or 75? I mean, what crass conduct by this Government.
They've actually appointed, in this independent umpire, 20 people in a row with employer backgrounds. Like, they are tainting the Commission, they are stacking it with mates. Where is the big crisis that - I don't think that there was a big jobs vacancies for deputy presidents of the Fair Work Commission.
This is a government who can't sort out people's penalty rates, they can't sort out a range of issues to do with workers' conditions but they're going to find no less than six people and make them deputy presidents and give them jobs for life.
And one reason why they're doing it? Because they're panicking they might lose the next election. This is not the way to run a nation.
JOURNALIST: I just want to ask about Border Force, budget cuts is the story today that budget cuts are causing Border Force to lay off staff at airports over Christmas and perhaps suspend boats that are patrolling northern Australia. Insiders are saying that's a threat to border security. Can I just get your response to that? Do you think this is a threat to border security?
SHORTEN: Yeah, I did read this story that the Australian Border Force is cutting, slashing staffing numbers. I don't know what this Government is on - they can find money for six deputy presidents to do a job which would be lucky to take them through to morning tea time, but yet we do have to maintain border security. I don't think Australians are going to thank Mr Morrison this summer, when they've got to wait in long queues to get processed at airports. The last thing Australians want to do is spend a long time in airport queues because Mr Morrison is cutting the numbers for safety, and the other thing of course, it jeopardises safety.
You can't visit parliament without tripping over a Coalition minister shrieking about national security but when it actually comes to walking the walk, rather than just talking the talk, they're cutting job numbers - very reckless conduct.
JOURNALIST: Yesterday, the Prime Minister said you were a clear and present risk to Australian safety. He is obviously trying to drag you into a bare knuckle brawl in the coming campaign. How are you going to approach that?
SHORTEN: Every time you see Scott Morrison on his feet, he talks about me. Every time you see the Coalition talking in Parliament, they're talking about me. In Question Time this year, they personally referred to me 1,260 times. I don't know what they would do if they couldn't talk about me.
But the more serious problem is that the Australian people don't really care what Mr Morrison thinks about me - they want to know what he is going to do for the country. They want to know what he is going to do for them.
So my strategy - when they go low, is we'll go high. My strategy is when they go negative, we will talk about the issues which are affecting Australian people. We will reverse the cuts to hospitals, we will properly fund our schools, we will provide universal access for 3 year olds. We'll put more money back into our system to make sure that we have a properly funded university and TAFE sector. We will absolutely make sure that we put downward pressure on energy prices. One, by the cunning strategy of having an energy policy, and two, by backing renewables and new technologies. We are working and we will be working very hard at our national conference and into next year, to have a positive vision for this country.
People say to me as I travel around Australia, with the Government's disunity and chaos, "Gee, your job's easy, just go on a cruise or something." Well, actually, the pressure is quite different. People are looking to Labor as possibly an alternative government. For the first time in a generation, Liberal voters are actually thinking of voting for Labor.
What I want to be is reaffirm the trust of millions of people who just want a government to do their day job. We will turn up to parliament, we are not afraid to come here, we will work on positive policies. And every time you see Mr Morrison talking about me, talking about Bill Shorten, he is not talking about you, the Australian people. I won't fall into that trap.
Thanks, everybody, that has been great to catch up with you all and let me just - oh well, you have had a promotion, ok, alright - one go, sorry! But you can't say that I ignore on you any other occasion now. A little Christmas present!
JOURNALIST: You started by saying that the Opposition is emerging as an alternative government. Do you really think you are only emerging - the election is just around the corner?
SHORTEN: I think we're ready for whenever the election is called. I understand that people have looked at the end of this parliamentary year and said, "what a shower, what are these people doing." Well, last night, I decided to make what I think was a sensible resolution to at least one issue.
We're ready to come back next year, we're going to do it with positive policies, we have been doing that hard work. At the start of this discussion, I outlined our wins on a banking royal commission, putting on the table a National Integrity Commission. But what we will do next year is come back refreshed.
But I just want to promise the Australian people - I get it, I hear you, less about us, more about you.
Thank you, everybody, and Merry Christmas.