SUBJECT/S: Labor Government; Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Tony Abbott’s broken promises; Economy; Immigration; Higher education; Superannuation; G20; Mini-Budget; Shipbuilding in Australia; ADF pay; Mining Tax.
LAURIE WILSON: Thank you very much, Mr Shorten, time now for our usual round of questions. There's a very long list of questions today, I doubt we'll get through all of them. But I would appeal to my media members to keep their questions to a single question and keep them short if they could, please. And the first question today is from Mark Kenny.
JOURNALIST: Mark Kenny, Mr Shorten from Fairfax Media. I wonder, you've been quite frank about the Government's failings, I wonder if I can invite you to be frank about your own party's failings. If you could outline the main policy reasons why your party was tossed out in 2013 and yesterday, given that you finished on the question of trust, yesterday I believe you withdrew an interjection where you said you will see our cuts when we’re in government. Is that an accurate reflection of what you said and what do you mean by that?
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, BILL SHORTEN: Taking your second part first, I didn't say it, so that's why I insisted the Government stop saying that. In terms of the debate yesterday, though , and the Government's tactics. We know yesterday, as I said in my speech, as a metaphor for this Government, you know, we all know, Australians know that this is a Government uncomfortable in the skin of a government, much preferring the uniform of Opposition. They would much rather talk about us than talk about their vision for the nation. Tony Abbott would be better advised to focus on the future of Australia than play politics all the time. We know this is what he does so I expect the Government to attack Labor, I just wish the Government would do its day job. I do not believe after a year and a quarter that the Abbott Government has made the translation from Opposition to Government. The G20 was an unqualified failure when it should have been an unqualified success. What on earth was the Prime Minister and his minders thinking giving that eight minute excruciating Little Australia rant? Imagine telling the Prime Minister of Turkey that you've got problems with a GP Tax, when they've got 2 million refugees. Imagine telling China the challenge, or Germany that we want to actually increase the cost of going to university when they're desperate to make sure that people, be in developed or developing economies, go there. This is a Government who is most comfortable in Opposition.
We didn't ask Tony Abbott before the last election to make all the statements he did, but he did. He did because he wanted to win the votes of Australians. But there is indeed a trust question in this country. The question of Tony Abbott's trust and what he did before the election, like no other politician in the contemporary era, he put himself on a pedestal, he tried to crucify Julia Gillard and he said that with Tony Abbott what you see is what you’ll get. He said famously before the last election when he was asked will you use the Budget upon coming into power as an excuse not to keep your promises? He said, I'm not that sort of bloke. And then yesterday he just assumes that the nation suffers political amnesia and that he can say that black is white and white is black. So when it comes to the questions of trust, what Australian people want and what I'm determined that Labor does, is that they want to see people engaged with the ideas of Australia and navigating a plan to the future. His Budget, his Budget is lost in space. His foreign policy reactive, lost in space. These are the challenges for the Government and if the Government seek to attack Labor for being a fierce opposition that is their prerogative but Australians elected this Government to keep its promises and to work on the future. The attack on higher education is not a future-focus policy. Not accepting or wanting to work with the multilateral institutions that a rise in China is seeking to put out in our region, that is not the future. It is not the future for productivity and workplaces to slam a GP Tax discouraging people from going to the doctor. So if they want to have a debate we will give it to them on their policies and a plan for the future.
JOURNALIST: What about your own policies as I asked you earlier?
SHORTEN: Well certainly before the next election we will advance the case and what I have said today is that we are sufficiently ambitious for this nation. We are sufficiently ambitious for Australian democracy that we will submit a platform which is not just ‘we are not them’. It is not just a list of Tony Abbott's lies, compendious as it is. We will submit a view that at the next election a post grad science student will look for the Labor how to vote card because we've got the best science policies. Mum and Dad who’ve educated their kids through 13 years of school will know that at least with Labor there's a reasonable chance that their kids can go to uni and not have a lifetime of debt. We want people who are worried about the care of people with disabilities, their family members, the midnight anxiety of the 80-year-old parents wondering who will love their children like they have, their adult children, at least they know when they go to the polling booth, whenever the next election is, they will know what Labor stands for. But it will also be the case in small business, it will be the case in our foreign policy, it will be the case in innovation. We're ambitious for this country and we want to have an election based on the best ideas.
JOURNALIST: David Speers from Sky News. Mr Shorten, in the vision that you've outlined for Australia's future I don't think you mentioned the debt that we all share as a nation. I'm just interested in the priority you give that in paying it off and whether you will be honest about how long that's going to take and whether you're prepared to take longer than the Coalition to pay it off. And just to repeat Mark's question about the policy problems Labor had at the last election, are you willing to acknowledge what policy mistakes there were?
SHORTEN: Good, sorry, I should have addressed that, sorry, Mark, thanks. Just going to that point, there's no doubt that, and we've taken responsibility for various matters over the last year and a quarter. But we missed an opportunity in 2009 with the collapse of Copenhagen and in hindsight, and I'm not saying I had this view at the time but in hindsight, and hindsight’s an invaluable tool, we've all used it. Is that we should have pushed for a double dissolution. And there is no doubt that Tony Abbott ran a very effective campaign against the high-fixed price on carbon that we put in that term. So yeah, I get that we need to rebuild trust. We embrace our responsibility and that's why in the Opposition that we're leading and we are pushing for Australia, you will see us put forward positive propositions before the next election. And then you asked, what was the second part of your question?
JOURNALIST: About debt and priorities?
SHORTEN: There's no doubt the Budget faces pressures. Chris Bowen, who is here today, has made that point, we all have. Commodity prices are down and we've seen, though, with the Budget the current Budget that they've put, they have torpedoed confidence, no-one who deals with the high street of Australia thinks that business confidence is there, so there's external factors. But there's also the dilemmas in the Budget caused by this current Government. First of all they've got the wrong priorities. What they've done, and you can talk to people, high street traders across Australia. But two or three weeks before the election when the Government brains trust decided to cleverly, they were dragged kicking and screaming to drop their Commission of Audit, they deliberately held off after the South Australian and Western Australia elections, they didn't provide that same courtesy to the Victorian Liberals I might add with the Petrol Tax. But they held off on the Commission if Audit but really from when they started leaking that, through to leaks in the Budget, confidence has just flat lined. It has flat lined. So I think they've got to take some responsibility for what they've done there. We've seen our wages growth shrink, so I think the challenge in the medium term is to make sure that our revenues match our expenditures, but what I also recognise is that the policy prescription to ensure we deal with the issues that you raise is not to make the income, the bottom half of income earners in this Australia do the heavy lifting. We need to go for a productivity agenda which involves making our people smarter. It's the creation of wealth rather than an argument about who should get what. It's the creation of wealth, it's the building of opportunity for small business. It's support for the many women who are starting their small businesses. That's the game in town. It is having a search or a reach for higher ground, that is how we deal with the issues that you refer to today.
JOURNALIST: Sophie Morris from the Saturday Paper. Mr Shorten you've spoken a lot about fairness and I want to ask you about Labor's approach to fairness to people who come here seeking asylum. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is pursuing various bits of legislation to reintroduce temporary protection visas, make it easier to cancel citizenship, to revoke citizenship and cancel visas. Do you see merit in these proposals or do you think that he's gone too far?
SHORTEN: Well, when we talk about fairness and we talk about immigration, we talk about refugees, let me put down some markers which the Labor that I lead believes in. First of all, we believe unreservedly that immigration has been a benefit for Australia. We believe that it's contributed, continues to contribute from great citizens to broadening the diversity of our community, to entrepreneurs, to a deepening of Australian culture. Now we recognise that our immigrants come by various means. Family reunion, skilled migration and refugees. We do not seek to demonise refugees, but we do also believe that we need to discourage the people smugglers' model and I think that Labor, and I don't think, I believe, that Labor's push for regional resettlement has been the cornerstone upon which the people smugglers' model has been broken. In terms of this Government and what they're doing in terms of their temporary visas, we need to look at the detail carefully. I don't particularly trust this Government about treating people fairly. On the other hand, we will do what we've always done. We will weigh up the interests of the nation and the interests of individuals and we will review the legislation, and we will debate it as it is presented to the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: Paul Osborne from Australian Associated Press. Thank you very much for your speech. Just wanting to pursue the question of your budget philosophy. In Government, what areas would Labor quarantine from cuts or efficiency dividends, and I'm thinking of things like defence, pensions and so on, and would you deliver a surplus earlier than Mr Hockey plans?
SHORTEN: I think a lot of this is a hypothetical because we need to see what Joe Hockey's going to do. I note that he's trying to leave his mini-budget until the last possible moment in the year. I think that the Government's got some numbers to front up to the Australian people and present to us. There's no doubt in my mind that they've worsened the deficit since they came into power. You know, it's been 445 days for those of you who haven't been keeping count, since the Government got elected and at some point in that time there going to have to stop being able to blame the rest of the world or blame their predecessors and start dealing with the issues. In terms of how we present our economic policies for the next election, as much as I'd like to win the good will of the people here, at the Press Club today, these are still early days for us. But when we talk about priorities and part of your question went to priorities, the Government needs to dump its Rolls-Royce paid parental leave scheme. They've got to stop going soft on multinational tax evaders. I think they need to hand back some of the superannuation tax breaks they’re give to the very wealthy, who simply don’t need the assistance of the taxpayer to move from $2 million to $2.5 million in savings. I do also think that if the Government has troubles with its Budget, which it does, they should stop paying polluters to pollute and introduce a market-based system.
JOURNALIST: David Crowe from The Australian. Thanks for your speech, Mr Shorten. There was a startling fact in your speech which was that by 2050 there will be 2.5 workers only for every person who is over 65. The trend has got to put more pressure on the pension system, it's got to make pensions a bigger share of government outlays than they already are. Do you see that as a problem that needs to be addressed? Are you saying that a Labor Government would do anything to stop that increase?
SHORTEN: There's a number of levers which governments who think - I mean your question is dangerously conflicting with the Abbott doctrine of not just today but thinking about the far distant future 16 years’ time. I think you're asking me to think 36 years in advance, don't ask the Prime Minister. In terms of how we deal with that, the most successful nations with participation rates are ones who have the highest education, the highest rates of education. You look at some of the Nordic countries, you look at nations with high participation rates their people are well trained, that allows people to work older in life. The second thing is, of course, the Government likes to talk about people working longer, but have they ever tried to change the workers' comp laws in States so the workers' comp will cover employees over 65 years of age? This is a Government who is long on the thought bubble and short on the detail. But one of the key changes which this Government's dragged us back and, you know, I call upon that journal of record, The Australian, the join me in this issue. It's the reduction in superannuation, it's the freezing of superannuation at 9.5 per cent. What a backward, backward, backward decision. You know, they said that there's 3.5 million Australians who earn less than $37,000 a year. Currently the Government's reinstituted a system where they're putting more tax on their compulsory savings than they pay on the income they earn. Labor got rid of that but there's sort of the F Troop of this Government, the barnacle removing brigade, decided to remove a beneficial tax treatment which will allow people who earn less than $37,000 a year to save super. So what we have now, this Government has introduced an involuntary arbitrage where if you are compelled to save and you earn less than $37,000 , you pay more tax on your savings than you do on your pay-as-you-go income. Ridiculous. Only the Conservatives could have dreamt that up. So the other issue though is by freezing super at 9.5 per cent and not taking it through to 12 per cent as they promised before the election, of course, they've so traduced our expectations of keeping promises, that's just one on the list, that's under the letter S, you know. What they should do is allow superannuation to go up in the increments we proposed so we have a larger pool of savings. The beauty of superannuation is this; the more that we encourage people to save for themselves the less of a drain it will be on the pension. I think the other thing they need to do is work on how they treat women equally because the more that you can encourage women to work, the more money that people will amass in their time at work, so the less they’ll have to rely on the savings. So I look with great interest at what the Government’s going to do on the question of child care. They’ve spent a lot of time working on the first 9 months of a child's life, what are they doing on child care? These are all challenges, they’re long-term levers and of course there's higher education generally.
JOURNALIST: Laura Tingle from Financial Review Mr Shorten. You've talked in the speech today about the fact that the economy's not doing very well at the moment and you've had a particular focus on higher education. So what I wanted to ask you was, we're expecting the mid-year review of the Budget out as you mentioned next month. What's the appropriate fiscal policy for - or the appropriate economic policy for that statement? Should the Government just let the expected deterioration in the Budget go because things are a bit weak or should they be trying to offset it? And on higher education, would you be looking to unwind any changes that the Government does get through on its higher education reforms?
SHORTEN: Let me deal with your second question first. There's a big hypothetical in that. If the Government gets their changes through. At this stage there is no prospect of that. We believe the best thing we can do for our universities is defeat these rotten changes and we start again in the process. So we are not contemplating failure on our defence of higher education. As Laurie generously said at the start, you know, Labor's certainly got its act together this year. We have been fierce this year. I'm discovering as Opposition Leader it's a thin line between being too strong or too weak and some of you helped me navigate that line imperfectly. But what I do get is that when it comes to higher education this Government has got a snowflake's chance in that hot place where bad people go to get through the doubling of the bond rate. If they want to get through a 20 per cent cut to universities that will be the greatest act of vandalism we've seen a political party do to higher-ed. Now I wonder if one of the barnacles that the Government's going to remove is higher-ed. I hope for the sake of the hundreds of thousands of year 11 and year 12 kids who went to open days this year that is one of the barnacles that the barnacle-removing Government are going to take off the hull of their higher education policies.
There was the first part of your question about how Treasurer Hockey should handle it. Well the first thing is he should just go down to Bunnings, not Bunnings, go to Kmart or Target, buy himself a white tea towel, put it on a wooden broom and wave surrender on his silly changes. The GP Tax, silly, silly, silly. Who on earth - I mean I just assumed it was a new government and they just, either - actually, they're a new government who’s never really liked Medicare and then what they've done is they've said well we're going to somehow find ways to discourage bulk billing. They should drop their changes to Medicare full stop. Then while they're at it, if they don't do it before their mini-budget, they should drop the higher education changes. I think that need to revisit what they do about breaking their promise to pensioners around Australia. I think they should tidy up the defence pay deal while they're there. This Government needs to work on policies which, as I've outlined, they should also drop their paid parental leave scheme for millionaires. I think there's opportunities for them to re-invigorate their auditing of multinational organisations and in terms of tax, profit shifting. I think they need to reconsider the tax break they've given to a few thousand of our wealthiest citizens who have multi-million dollar superannuation accounts. I think they do need to revisit Direct Action. One, Direct Action won't achieve the targets they say they will without the expenditure of billions of dollars more money and two, there are far cheaper alternatives to achieve the same environmental outcome. So I think in terms of general approach, we've been willing to work in the past on means testing, the baby bonus means testing, the PHI rebate. But what they need to understand is that if they want to create value in the Australian economy they need to invest in people. If they drop the Medicare, I still think they need to question what they do with research, getting rid of 900 CSIRO scientists is just shocking. So I think they need to - the reality is they got into Government without doing much homework except a very narrow right-wing ideology. And now a year and a quarter in, or 445 days in, they're adrift.
SHORTEN: Sorry, I'm happy to talk to you again later.
JOURNALIST: Nick Pedley from ABC News. Mr Shorten you described Mr Abbott's opening speech to G20 leaders as weird, excruciating and cringe worthy. You had a celebrated speech at Adelaide ship yards which could be described as, well, celebrated. You made pledges at that speech that the submarines and the ships would be built there. Do you stand by those pledges even if the Government enters into contracts before the next election?
SHORTEN: Well, I also described Tony Abbott’s speech as a missed opportunity for Australia. I also said about Tony Abbott’s speech that he didn’t see Obama going or Xi coming. I also said that his much hyped up shirtfront with Putin turned into a kola photo opportunity. So I do think that Tony Abbott missed the biggest peace time foreign policy opportunity that we’re going to get in the foreseeable future. Yes and I did cringe and I think that a lot of ordinary Australians cringed. When he complained about the, you know, difficultly - he gave a negative character reference about the Australian people. We invite the leaders of the world here and he says ‘I’m have trouble convincing Australians’. You’re not having trouble convincing Australians, they just don’t like your ideas. So I don’t think he was in order at all to give a negative reference about the Australian people.
Then we get to submarine corporation and talking about pledges. Let me remind you of a pledge that you didn’t go to in your question. May 8th 2013, David Johnston the beleaguered, is he still the Defence Minister? Anyway, the beleaguered Defence Minister, he promised the 12 submarines would be built in South Australia. He promised it. He promised it. And then yesterday he made that dreadful comment, that the ASC, you know, you wouldn't trust them to build a canoe. Well if he really believed that, if we want to talk about authenticity of pledges, does that mean that the Australian Government should now ask all the submarines built in that time, because he's tried to back track ineffectually after who knows who in the Prime Minister's office has said you better get up, you know, and try and mop up the stain of what you said. Then he said, ‘I wasn't talking about today, I was talking about previously, historically.’ Well the Collins class submariners are our deadliest form of defence. They are crewed by system of our most trained submariners and representatives of the Roya Australian Navy. I've had the privilege to be on them. And what I know is that if he thinks that these are nothing better than canoes, because they were built in the time when he was still describing as canoes. If he has any conviction about what he said, because his subsequent statement has buried him as much as much as his first statement, they should recall these submarines right now. They should not put submariners in harm's way if they think that the ASC has built bad submarines.
They are providing $500 million a year to the ASC to upgrade our military hardware. The ASC is in alliance building the AWD, three AWD destroyers. If they really think that they're that bad they should stop right now. This is a Government addicted to politics. As for what I said, and in the implication of what you said, I do think that they should build the submarines in Australia. This idea that somehow this Government's going to do a contract for 40 years for X billion dollars, this Government’s not down that path so the question you raise about contracts is a moot point. It's a hypothetical. This Government with its C-1,000 future submarine program has for 15 months literally been at sea. Their Land 400, the replacement of our armoured vehicles, hopeless, just all over the place.
And you want to look at the Defence pay while we're talking about pledges? The Opposition, now Government, when they were in Opposition, criticised Labor when there were three years of 3 per cent pay rises. Stewart Robert, I don't know, he's the Assistant Minister, I think. He attacked Labor when in Opposition said ‘shameful’ that Labor would only give 3 per cent for Defence per year. This mob are giving 1.5 per cent, 1.5 per cent. Not even keeping up with real wages. And as for the Defence Minister, didn't he famously say in October the 22nd that he didn't attend the National Security Council because he didn't think he had anything to add? So when we talk about pledges, this Government who loves wrapping themselves in the flag of patriotism, they love a parade, they love a photo-op with the military and that's okay, that's fair enough. But when it comes to the real things, long-term decisions, not trashing the reputation of Australia's manufacturing, sorting out the matter of pay which they've already Budgeted for, this is a most ineffectual government and a most ineffectual Defence Minister.
JOURNALIST: Tim Lester, from the Seven Network Mr Shorten. You say that Tony Abbott’s broken promise’s debase our democracy, you of course also were in a Government that lost office partly on the back of an infamous broken promise with regards to carbon. What has this taught you, how has it informed you about the promises, of the way you will make promises in the next two years, not whether you’ll keep them, but your approach to what you’ll promise on and how many you’ll make. And is it even possible for a leader like you these days to under promise and over deliver?
SHORTEN: Yes, that is exactly the strategy, under promise and over deliver. Tim, that will be our strategy.
JOURNALIST: You can do that?
SHORTEN: Yes, I can answer questions quickly too.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Andrew Probyn from the West Australian and you can be more expansive in answering mine. I note that you’ve suggested that the 2016 election will be a character contest, but I imagine the economies going to be heart and soul of that election too. You’ve suggested that there might be, or you’ve said there should be on changes on superannuation, can you tell us what other changes aside for millionaires? And on the mining tax you’ve said that you want to bring that back, how would you do that given that iron ore in now under 70 bucks which is pretty close to breakeven?
SHORTEN: Well you raise and number of points and in reference to your sort of first humorous reference about being expansive to yours and Tim’s question, I’m not going to announce our election policies today. But we understand that the process of forming our policies is important. One of the things I’ve found instructive about the passing of Gough Whitlam is not necessary even what happened to them in 74’ and 75’ but in Opposition the way that he worked on his polices and indeed having a clear plan upon getting to government how they implement them. So I do believe, in all seriousness, that you don’t have to make a promise on everything and I’m sure that there’s a lot of political rule books being rewritten after the debacle of Tony Abbott’s SBS interview on the night before the election. But we do have to make sure that we anchor our policies in listening to the Australian electorate. We do have to make sure that we do it by expand the ranks of the Labor Party to include groups and segments and voices that haven’t traditionally been heard. My shadow ministers are working on policies as we speak; we’ve got a process working in with our National Conference in July of next year.
So in all seriousness, both Andrew and Tim, we are interested in the best, broadest, anchored views, talking to people before we make the promises, listening to the Australian community. That’s what will win respect. I notice for instance that one of the big debates, to use a live example and I’m quite impressed by, is the Victorian election. Tony Abbott’s interested to give $1.5 billion to East-West Link without a business case, whereas Daniel Andrews has said that through the privatisation of the ports they’ll build 50 level crossings. Now these 50 level crossings, some of you have raised in Victoria, Melbourne’s a flat city. It is a ripper of a policy, it’s costed, it’s paid for and it goes towards improving productivity, the utility of both our roads and public transport. Public transport in cities is a topic that the Federal Government has an aversion to. So I think that’s a good example of what to do.
In terms of mining tax, we’ve made it clear that there were mistakes and, this perhaps even goes to a couple of the earlier questions too, it’s another example, where the scale of our aspiration, of my predecessor ‘s aspirations outstripped the level of detail and of course we saw the resulting hue and cry about that. So in terms of a mining tax, we would not do anything before we speak with states and mining companies and furthermore when we look at these issues you’re quite right, with commodity prices where they are it’s just not an issue on the table. But thank you very much for your question.
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BILL SHORTEN - TRANSCRIPT - NATIONAL PRESS CLUB Q&A - WEDNESDAY, 26 NOVEMBER 2014
26 November 2014