SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; Vanishing Budget surplus; Robodebt; Zero emissions.
LAURA JAYES, HOST: Shadow Minister Bill Shorten joins us. Thanks so much for your time, Mr Shorten. This is a health crisis as stated by the Prime Minister, when it comes to the Coronavirus, not an economic one. Was the Government right here to declare a pandemic, seemingly ahead of the rest of the world?
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Well, I think you'll find that what the prime minister announced yesterday had been online since February the 18th. But I think it is sensible to take precautions. Labor, both Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen have been constantly briefed. I congratulate the work of the chief medical officer. It is sensible to take plans. I mean, the big challenge with the Coronavirus is once it jumped the Chinese border, and it clearly has, that means that the potential for spead is real. It's a highly contagious disease, is more lethal than the flu, but it's not as lethal as other diseases which we've seen in recent times, like SARS. So people should be confident that the Parliament is working on prevention. We've got a good health system, a great health system, but this is a challenge and the sensible plans do need to be put into place.
JAYES: We've seen these cards yesterday outlined by the Prime Minister, he says they are scalable, again, saying this is a health crisis, not an economic one. But do you acknowledge that this is going to have an economic impact, and therefore affect the government's budget?
SHORTEN: Well, first and foremost, it's about keeping people safe. There must be some economic consequences if there's a reduction in tourism. If foreign students aren’t coming to our universities, we've seen the share market hit in the last few days. But what I also suspect is that it will pass eventually, it will be difficult, but it will pass. In terms of the budget bottom line, their budget bottom line was already dodgy before Coronaviruses and before bushfires. So what I wouldn’t want to see is the government using Coronavirus as an excuse for their own lack of delivering on promises because the fact of the matter is their budget was shaky before Coronavirus appeared on the horizon.
JAYES: So you don't think Coronavirus is the one reason that the government can stand behind to say (inaudible) surplus at all
SHORTEN: No, I think the problems in the Australian economy have been there for some time. Wages growth is in the toilet let’s be honest and consumer confidence is down. But there's no doubt the Coronavirus will make a contribution just as the bushfires have. But fundamentally, this government's been raiding the National Disability Insurance Scheme for the last couple of years to prop up its numbers, for example.
So anyway, today what people are concerned about is Coronavirus. There’s a plan which has been out for the last ten days. People should be, in my opinion, confident that all that can be done is being done. In terms of their budget and those matters, well, excuse me for being a bit cynical but this Government is not going to waste a crisis to try and cover up for their lack of financial management.
JAYES: Let's talk Robodebt because I know you’ve certainly been on the case here. Government lawyers say the Government doesn't owe a duty of care to Centrelink recipients. That's the view expressed by Government lawyers. I know there’s a class action underway but is there going to be compensation on the horizon, or are you perhaps encouraging some false hope there?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, Robodebt was the use of a computer algorithm where a Centrelink recipient might be eligible that particular fortnight for a safety net benefit because they're unemployed. But what happens is that the Government's tried to average their income over a year and just got the wrong answers. So it's been found to be an illegal scheme and hundreds of thousands of Australians were unlawfully levied money that in many cases they didn’t owe the Government. Now what the Government's done is file a defence against a class action being run by Gordon Legal – 11,000 people in the class action now and it's growing. The Government's bizarrely said, ‘Oh, yeah sure we might have had an unlawful scheme. But, by the way people, we don't owe you a duty of care.’ I know the Morrison Government doesn't believe in big government. But the idea that you don't owe citizens a duty of care is ridiculous. And in Question Time this week, the Prime Minister no less contradicted his own Government lawyers when he was asked the question, ‘Do you owe a duty of care to people?’ He said, yeah of course we do. And yet his lawyers in court are saying the direct opposite. So this is a Government covering up its incompetence and its illegality.
JAYES: Can I talk to you about emissions now. Labor has now supported a 2050 emissions reduction target – zero net emissions by 2050. You’re not alone, many countries around the world have done this including the British Government and we see states right around Australia doing the same thing. To what extent do you think this was a factor in Labor's election loss? And what do you think needs to change in terms of the messaging if this is your policy?
SHORTEN: Ok, well there's three points in that. I'll try and deal with them each quickly. Labor has said that we want to get to zero net emissions by 2050. This is not a radical statement, despite the squeals of horror from the climate deniers in the Government. Did you know and I don't know if every Australian knows this, but every state and territory is committed to zero net emissions. So when the Government says that the Opposition's wrong to commit to that target, why didn't they say that when the Liberal states at the state level committed to an identical target? So I think what's happened is the Government’s had a horror summer - from sports rorts to the Prime Minister’s handling of bushfires.  So what they want is to re-fight the last election. Going to your second point, they’re trying to weaponise a not-particularly radical emission target, a sensible emissions target and say  ‘Oh look at this, this is terrible.’
Well the fact of the matter is, what is really terrible is - if we don’t take action, if we don’t set a target for 2050, the world’s temperatures is going to increase by 3 degrees. Now that is terrible. There’s a tremendous cost and this Government would rather play cheap games.
JAYES: Sorry to interrupt you, but that argument was prosecuted at the last election, not just by you but by the entire Labor frontbench, that the cost of doing nothing was far more than the cost of acting on climate change. You’ve got to look at the result here and think well that didn’t work, so what needs to change?
SHORTEN: Well I don’t think that’s why the election was lost, but I do think that one thing we need to do - because the Government ran a crude and thuggish and ignorant argument against taking sensible steps to take action on climate change - I think what we need to do is explain to people the jobs’ benefits, the jobs that will be created by a result of a having a better renewable energy industry. I think we need to explain the consumer benefits, for example the Government ran an absolutely ridiculous campaign saying that electric vehicles meant the end of the weekend.
JAYES: But scare campaigns aren’t new are they?
SHORTEN: That doesn’t make them right, does it?
JAYES: No that doesn’t make them right, but they are probably going to re-prosecute some of the same arguments if they think it worked last time around.
SHORTEN: We’ve now had a terrible season if bushfires and climate is not the only issue, there’s fuel reduction and other issues.
JAYES: So do you think that that has changed the whole political landscape?
SHORTEN: I think a bit, but I’m not saying that the bushfires were solely triggered by climate change, there’s fuel reduction and plenty of other factors, but the world is coming to grips with the fact that if we don’t reduce our emission the consequences are going to be devastating. More extreme weather events, more strain on our farmers, higher insurance bills, rising water levels. At some point in Australia, the Government needs to move beyond just saying ‘If we can use this as a stick to beat Labor, we’re not going to worry about the future, we’ll just worry about the next 5 minutes, not the next 30 years.’ How did we get ourselves into a situation in Australia that science is just viewed as another argument as opposed to being the fundamental evidence? If the Government is going to propose that we have more technology to help improve our response to climate change, that’s a good thing. But I sort of laugh to myself yesterday when we had poor old Angus Taylor, their misnamed Emissions Reduction Minister saying we’re going to have a technology based approach on climate change, yet you’ve got ‘Scotty from Marketing’ at the last election saying that an electric vehicle means the end of the weekend. You can’t have it both ways and I think one of the reasons why people hate politics is because they get a sense the politicians are just engaging in partisan, tit-for-tat and they don’t seem to be thinking about the people or the future. So I think our emission reduction target is sensible, I think it’s entirely consistent with what every thoughtful Liberal and Labor person is saying in Australia, and 73 countries around the world, Rio Tinto, and the business industry. We are not the radicals here. The radicals are the Government, they’re the ones who are trying to pretend that you can not plan for the future and just go on as you are.
JAYES: A much longer conversation perhaps required.
SHORTEN: By all means.
JAYES: Bill Shorten, thank you for your time.
SHORTEN: Thanks.