SUNDAY, 6 DECEMBER 2015
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s year of ideas; Union governance; Mal Brough; Liberal disunity
BARRY CASSIDY (HOST): Bill Shorten, welcome.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, Barrie.
CASSIDY: So, 2015 was supposed to be the year of the big ideas. How do you think that went?
SHORTEN: Well, Labor's announced over 50 practical policies. We've costed them. We're focused on the needs of everyday Australians. That's why our policies have gone towards making sure that working-class kids can go to university, that we have a priority on renewable energy as part of our energy mix in the future. And of course we've done something that oppositions haven't done in a generation: we've explained how we would pay for our promises through cracking down on multinationals, through going after superannuation tax concession loopholes at the very top, and also with our tobacco excise.
CASSIDY: So 50 ideas and you finish up with an approval rating of 15 per cent. Why would that be?
SHORTEN: If you look at where we started this year to where we've finished, we've ended up with a new Prime Minister and that in large part because of the pressure that Labor put on Tony Abbott's unpopular policies. We've also seen at the end of the year that in many ways, the Liberal Government's finishing the year the way they started. They're talking about themselves Barry, they're not talking about Australians.
CASSIDY: The Royal Commission findings are still to come, and even if they clear you of any wrongdoing, you can be certain they will condemn the practices of many of the trade unions affiliated with the Labor Party. That's a nasty one around the corner?
SHORTEN: We always said that the Trade Union Royal Commission was set up with politics in mind. And I think we've seen that in the way they've handled a lot of their processes. But Labor also believes in constantly improving the governance of unions. We think that unions play an important part in our society, improving workers' wages, making sure people are safe, working cooperatively with employers. But unions should always be seeking to improve their performance and there has been some evidence come around the HSU and one of two other unions which to my way of thinking means we need to talk about improving governance.
CASSIDY: So what will do you?
SHORTEN: Well, in the very near, near future we'll be announcing, Brendan O'Connor and myself on behalf of Labor, new standards in terms of penalties, in terms of protecting whistleblowers, in terms of making sure that unions are operating to the best practice of corporate governance in this country.
CASSIDY: So, there's justification for the royal commission right there, it forced your hand?
SHORTEN: No, I think the truth of the matter is that if you look at my record when I was Workplace Relations Minister, it was me who put administrators in to the troubled Health Services Union. It wasn't the Liberals. And when you look at the royal commission, do we really need to spend $80 million? I mean, some of that royal commission report in my opinion could be written on the way to a Liberal Party fundraiser. But when it comes to improving governance, Labor's up for that, because we know unions serve an important role but they must always be acting consistent with the standards in the community.
CASSIDY: Now, the Special Minister of State Mal Brough is staying on. Though in Queensland, there doesn't seem to be any distinction between Liberals and Nationals so - I'm sorry, on Mal Brough, when Parliament sits in February, do you think this issue will be resolved?
SHORTEN: Listen, as you showed with your package leading up to this interview, Mal Brough's position is untenable. This isn't just a matter of what happened during the Slipper Affair. Now, it's the way he's handled himself. What on earth was he thinking going on 60 Minutes and answering a very straight question where he confirms that he wanted to procure the diary of his political rival. Then we got the ridiculous scene in Parliament where he misleads on several occasions. Now, I do not know for the life of me why Mal Brough's still there other than he was one of Malcolm Turnbull's backers. And the problem is, what is Malcolm Turnbull doing hanging onto in guy when, in Parliament - sometimes you can't pick up the atmospherics through the television - but every time my shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus asked a question to Mal Brough, the Liberals behind Mal Brough were squirming. Do you know, not once in two weeks did any Liberal get up and give an impassioned defence of him. Everyone in this Parliament, except it would appear Malcolm Turnbull, seems to have the view that Mal Brough should go. I mean he's the minister in charge of government integrity. So I do not know, other than for factional reasons, why Malcolm Turnbull's hanging onto Mal Brough.
CASSIDY: Though he did tell the Parliament that he did not, he did not do what he is accused of. He didn't try to procure from James Ashby the diaries, so in what way did he mislead Parliament if that is in fact the case?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all I'm not sure a crocodile would swallow that, mate. You know, what was he doing on 60 Minutes? So, what he is saying is ‘I went on 60 Minutes and lied’? Remember -
CASSIDY: Yeah, but he might've misled 60 Minutes and not the Parliament?
SHORTEN: He also gave some other answers which were very tricky answers which would constitute a misled. So, that's not his only answer. The person in the street looks at this debate and they say ‘what are our politicians doing for us’? And what they've got is this 60 Minutes interview. What Mal Brough's defence basically is, is ‘I can lie on television on 60 Minutes, you know, I can mislead there, just as long as I don't mislead in the Parliament or I've misled in the Parliament’. But both stories can't be correct. The other point here is: what is Malcolm Turnbull's judgment in all of this? Why is Malcolm Turnbull hanging on, fighting tooth and nail to keep Mal Brough, yet he demoted Ian Macfarlane? And that's come back to bite him on the proverbial political bottom now as well.
CASSIDY: Where do you think that will go, the Macfarlane matter?
SHORTEN: In some ways the Macfarlane matter is an even bigger crisis for the Liberals than the Brough matter. Sooner or later Malcolm Turnbull's going to have to make a decision about Mal Brough. This guy's teetering on the edge. But the Ian Macfarlane issue goes to deeper disunity within the Liberal Party. See, for the last 11 weeks, Malcolm Turnbull 's been able to run the line that he could get rid of the previous leader and everything's fine.
But what's happened in the last 11 weeks is that you've had the Deputy Prime Minister, that's Warren Truss from the Nationals - they're in coalition, National Party/Liberals. Your Deputy Prime Minister has been negotiating with an unhappy former Liberal minister to change parties. Now, maybe people think that's just the way of politics. But if your Deputy Prime Minister knows that this is going to embarrass the leader, Malcolm Turnbull - and it clearly is embarrassing - if he knows it's going to make Malcolm Turnbull angry - and it clearly has, Malcolm Turnbull pulled out of a Macfarlane function over the weekend - and then he still does it, there's a real issue there. And of course, flowing on from there, the National Party have a coalition agreement with the Liberals. And if there's a certain number of Nationals as a proportion of the total coalition, they get a certain number of Cabinet seats. Now, this Macfarlane flip from the Liberals to the Nationals, that gives the Nationals the chance to have another Cabinet seat. Now what's Malcolm Turnbull going to do here? Is he going to give in to this stunt, to this undermining, reward about with a new Cabinet spot hand and that of course is going to make all the younger Liberals very angry, or does he say no, nd then you've got a coalition in crisis? Now, I'm sure they will be working overtime to paper over the cracks, but this is the first visible fault line of a government which is bitterly divided. I think that's a coalition in crisis.
CASSIDY: You talked about Warren Truss's role in all of this. Do you think he will be round for very much longer anyway?
SHORTEN: Well, I don't know with the Liberal and National Party you wouldn't want to predict what the future of any of them is. You know, one day you could be on the backbench, next day you're in a new party, you could be on the frontbench. Barnaby Joyce must be laughing - just sitting back and laughing. I mean, as we know the Nationals didn't want Turnbull. But again under this sort of bizarre coalition arrangement, Malcolm could get a narrow majority of Liberals to knock off Tony Abbott but then there's 20 Nationals sitting out there on the outside. If you put the Nationals plus the Abbott camp, Malcolm Turnbull couldn't have been elected leader of the coalition. All of this means that in the meantime we are finishing the year with a deeply divided Liberal Party. The major difference is in the last 12 months: I've announced policies, we got through our national conference, we worked out policies on renewable energy, on the tough issues around immigration, we've got - you know, next year we are excited by the prospect of having an election on jobs, education, health care, renewable energy and of course no GST.
CASSIDY: And what about the prospect of an early election, ‘The Australian' in fact editorialised on this week, saying the sooner that Malcolm Turnbull got his own mandate the better, there should be an early election and partly as well because Tony Abbott is getting angrier with the passing of time?
SHORTEN: Well, I think that Malcolm Turnbull hasn't really had to sit any real tests. I mean he's got a test of party unity, that's not going so well. Then he's got the test of the economy. Let's see how Malcolm Turnbull brings down a budget. If that bloke and his team don't even bring down a budget and instead try to go for an early election, it's legitimate to say: what is it about the economy they're not telling us? What about their plans for a GST they're not telling us? Is Malcolm Turnbull just really going to go to the election with Tony Abbott's policies and a more pleasant salesman?
CASSIDY: Thanks for coming in this morning and have a good Christmas break when you finally get one.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Barrie, see ya.
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