Transcript: Interview with Steve Vizard, MTR, 7 February, 2012

07 February 2012

Please read or listen to my interview on MTR with Steve Vizard.

Audio of interview with Steve Vizard

Topics: Parliament resumes, climate change, problem gambling, superannuation, ALP leadership

STEVE VIZARD:    Well, school is back.  Federal Parliament resumes today in Canberra and the Opposition is tipped to attack the Gillard Government on two current issues, the Craig Thomson affair and the Australia Day tent embassy protest and I guess on two over-arching issues, the carbon tax and Government mismanagement.

This'll be the first full sitting with new speaker, Peter Slipper, who wants, incidentally, to bring back the speaker's wig.  Is that an acronysm - I think it was last worn by Billy McMahon about thirty years ago and his wig is now in one of those parliamentary museums.  That's how long ago it was when it was last worn.

Also this first week of sitting comes after Labor MPs met for a planning session and a barbie on Sunday, amidst speculation about Julia Gillard's future as Prime Minister.  Joining me now on the line, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten.

Bill, great to talk to you.

BILL SHORTEN:     G'day.

STEVE VIZARD:     Bill, as Parliament heads back and the electorate begins to consider the fundamental differences between Labor and the Coalition, how would you describe the fundamental differences envisioned for Australia under a Labor Government and under a Coalition Government?

BILL SHORTEN:     We’re getting ready for the future.  We want Australia ready for the future.  We want to manage the economy for working people.  We want to help people who work and their families.  The Opposition, on the other hand, want to hand back ten billion dollars in mining tax to the richest companies in the world.  They won't explain how they'll fund their promises.  We think they want to turn back the clock in terms of workplace relations and they're generally being very negative.

STEVE VIZARD:     Do you concede that there are some essential flaws in Labor's approach and Labor's process when fundamental policies that were taken into an election - no sale of uranium to India, no gay marriage, no carbon tax, can be reversed?

What would you do about that?  How would you make that process better?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well, I don't buy the argument that Labor is changing everything that it stood for.  On gay marriage it's a conscience
vote.  The Prime Minister's indicated her own view that she doesn't support it.  In terms of tackling problem gambling or carbon pollution, with a minority Government the Prime Minister has negotiated a path which shows that she never gives up on achieving her ideas, but she's not so stubborn that she'll just go one way when clearly the numbers and the Parliament want you to go another way.

STEVE VIZARD:     The Government has the most slender of margins, the most delicate of majorities and yet it seems its controversial program of legislation is almost indirectly proportional to its mandate.  Given its mandate, wouldn't it have been better to go softly softly?

BILL SHORTEN:     I think the idea that we share the prosperity of the mining boom for a mining tax which will allow better tax write offs for small business, allow for greater retirement savings for people, we need to share the benefits of the
mining boom, otherwise we're creating a very lopsided economy.  That's the sensible thing to do.

The Government's also, in the teeth of the second global financial crisis, ensured that Australia still has amongst the lowest in the world for unemployment numbers, some of the lowest government debt anywhere in the western world.

Anyone who gets off an airplane, an Australian visiting from overseas, coming back home, gets off a plane in Australia and knows that this country, is still doing relatively better than everywhere else.

STEVE VIZARD:     Tony Abbott - you speak of the mining tax - Tony Abbott has undertaken to undo the mining tax, undo the carbon tax.  Do you personally find it disillusioning that there's a genuine prospect, a real probability, that all your good work will be undone?

BILL SHORTEN:     I find it disillusioning, the idea that Mr Abbott and the conservatives will hand back billions of dollars to the richest mining companies in the world, who get rich from exploiting our natural resources.  Yet, when it comes to a national disability insurance scheme, Mr Abbott says we don't have the money at the moment and until he's satisfied that there's sufficient money, he's only going to call the dream of a national insurance scheme for people with disabilities and carers an aspiration.

What is it that you don't get about - why do you hand money back to mining companies yet tell people who've been disabled their whole life and their ageing parents we've got no money for you?

STEVE VIZARD:     Why not just press this question of a mandate?  On the question of a mandate, is it your view that a government once elected is entitled to change its view on any policy, irrespective of the policies it put to the electorate at an election?  Where do you draw the line on that?

BILL SHORTEN:     What this Government stands for is acting on climate change.  It stands for acting on problem gambling.  It stands for acting on sharing the boom - the mining boom across all Australia.  It stands for making sure that we have an Internet which is a freeway not an old single lane road in terms of the economy.

I think our Government show - has shown complete commitment to achieving its goals but what I like about our Prime Minister is, if you don't have the necessary number of votes by going from path A to path B, well, she'll go another way to get from A to B.  But what we have is a leader who actually gets things done.

STEVE VIZARD:     What did Bob Hawke have to say that was relevant to the Labor Government of 2012?

BILL SHORTEN:     What he said is that all of the people who represent the Labor Party aren't elected because of their - if they were Independents they probably wouldn't have been elected.  In fact, we're all members of the Labor team. And what he was saying is that people don't elect you to put down your colleagues anonymously in the newspapers, that you're elected to in fact represent a set of ideas.

The idea that we can engage with the future and prepare it - prepare Australia for the future, so our kids and our grandkids have jobs.  The idea that we're living longer, making sure people don't retire poor, the idea that as the three billion
customers emerge in Asia that Australia remains strong and we're able to benefit from the rise of all these customers to the north of us, and still keep the Australian way of life, that's what he was speaking about and he made sense.

STEVE VIZARD:     Rob Oakeshott says he's been approached by Kevin Rudd supporters, canvassing him about a leadership challenge.  Doesn't this make a mockery of Labor's claim hitherto that leadership challenges are being fanned by the media?  Clearly Kevin Rudd's canvassing?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well, no, no one from any camp has approached me except the media camp to talk about a leadership challenge.

STEVE VIZARD:     But they've approached Rob Oakeshott though.

BILL SHORTEN:     Well, I haven't had a chance to speak to Rob about what actually…

STEVE VIZARD:     Let's assume what he says is right.

BILL SHORTEN:     Yes.  Well, people - if some people have been speaking to him, that's their business.  I'm not going to start jumping at shadows.  What I do know is that the Labor team in Canberra does fundamentally support our Prime
Minister.  I also know…

STEVE VIZARD:     When you say fundamentally, Simon Crean says that Kevin Rudd, he's not a team player.  Do you agree with that?

BILL SHORTEN:     No, I'm not going to go where Simon went.  He's an ex-leader; he has some flexibility in what he says.

STEVE VIZARD:     Why does he have flexibility and you don't?

BILL SHORTEN:     Because he's been a leader of the Labor Party over many years.

STEVE VIZARD:     You're a potential leader.


STEVE VIZARD:     You are.

BILL SHORTEN:     I'm - Steve, I think what Australians want, the people who stop me in Puckle Street in Moonee Ponds where I live or on Main Road East St Albans, they say to me, can politics and politicians stop talking about themselves and talk about the issues which are important to us?  I actually think that extends to the media.

Mate, we could have a great interview talking about gossip and I guess that's an easy thing to do, but I know you've accomplished a lot in your life Steve, and we know that what people want us to focus on jobs, on education, on making sure that Australia is strong within our broader world, I know what's important and it's not gossip.

STEVE VIZARD:     Let's talk Craig Thomson.  That enquiry seems to have been lingering forever.  You've spoken eloquently about it.  You've said they're independently conducting their enquiry.  It's self-serving though for the
Government to say we're hands off on this.  Shouldn't the Government be forcing an outcome on this…


STEVE VIZARD:     … just for due process?

BILL SHORTEN:     When you've got investigations by statutory bodies which have their own law in Parliament, it is not self-serving to respect the independence of institutions.

STEVE VIZARD:     I want to talk about Peter Slipper.  I mean [chuckles] that we read today he's about to get the wig back out of a museum, the one that Sir Billy Sneeden once wore thirty years ago.  What's your personal view about this?  Do we really need the wig back?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well, I know our judges in court, some of them wear wigs and others don't.  I've never been a wig man myself, but again, I think that what the real story here is, is that the Liberal Party and some of the Opposition are unhappy that there's an Independent speaker and I suspect that the - we finally got an Independent speaker in Australia and I think today will - and tomorrow and this week and this will all be exciting because we'll have someone chairing Parliament who is neither Liberal nor Labor.

STEVE VIZARD:     And wigs, are you for it or against?

BILL SHORTEN:     I'm not - as I said, I'm not big on wigs.

STEVE VIZARD:     You're happy not to have it.  Is Ted Baillieu - is Ted Baillieu getting in the road of your workplace reform?

BILL SHORTEN:     Oh [pauses] no.  I think Mr Baillieu struggles with workplace reform.  I noticed he's got problems with forty-five thousand of his nurses.  Like, you know, he gave the police what they wanted and the police are tough.  If I was Mr Baillieu, I wouldn't under estimate - Victoria's health system is well served by its nurses.  I am perplexed that Mr Baillieu lacks the bargaining skills to resolve a matter with forty-five thousand nurses.

So I - and as for any advice he gives Canberra about workplace relations, I think that's the old pea and thimble trick.  He's distracting us with the movement of his issues when his fundamental problem is that he's got a lot of his own people off side.

STEVE VIZARD:     Bill, very quickly, Gina Reinhart.  She's taken a fair share of Fairfax.  Your fellow minister, Stephen Conroy, said that we need stronger public interest laws to protect against any media acquisitions.  Doesn't
this strike you as naked self-interest - political self-interest, that Stephen would make these remarks after the conservative Gina Reinhart takes a share in Fairfax?

BILL SHORTEN:     If we were to talk about self-interest, I don't think the queue starts with Senator Conroy.  I am uneasy at having any person have disproportionate control of our media outlets, as I'm sure you are.  We've got a
marketplace, shares get bought and sold.  I can understand there's an unease in the community about a person, doesn't matter who it is, controlling a disproportionate share of the media.

STEVE VIZARD:     Then why make those remarks after she's taken a share?  If you've got philosophical views about it, it's an appalling time to make the case, the minute someone makes a move.

BILL SHORTEN:     Well, until a matter - until something occurs it's only a hypothetical, isn't it?

STEVE VIZARD:     Bill, you were up at The Lodge on - you were up at The Lodge on the weekend.  Is your view that we ought to have - as a Victorian, as a Melbournian - that we ought to have a similar sort of a lodge as Sydney does down in Melbourne?  Would that serve our country well?

BILL SHORTEN:     I'd have to think about that.  The Prime Minister lives in Victoria.  Sydney does have a - it's got its building, Canberra's got its building.  I'm not sure though, as we get the budget to surplus, which is a prime goal of
this Government.  We want to get the Government in the black when we're already doing much better than every other western country, that a discussion about another residence in Melbourne, it's not the right time, I don't think.

STEVE VIZARD:     Bill, just in a nutshell, what are your big issues for the year?

BILL SHORTEN:     I want to help see superannuation lift from nine to twelve per cent, so people don't retire poor.  I'm very keen to develop a national disability insurance scheme.  I also am very committed to making sure that our workplace laws not only reflect a fair for both employer and business and employees, but we start dealing with the future issues of work.  Seventy, seventy-five per cent of people don't live in that sort of construct of unions
and big business and there's a lot of issues in the workplace, and I want to make sure that we're dealing with issues like bullying.

I want to make sure we're dealing with issues such as more people working from home or partly or full-time at home, looking at the issues that more and more women are going to participate at more and more levels in the workplace.  So it's the future of work, it's a fair workplace, it's lifting compulsory super from nine to twelve per cent and a national disability insurance scheme.

STEVE VIZARD:     Bill Shorten, really appreciate your time today.

BILL SHORTEN:     Thank you.

STEVE VIZARD:     That's Bill Shorten, Federal Employment and Workplace Relations Minister.  Steve Vizard, Melbourne Talk Radio, MTR 1377.


Bill Shorten’s Media Contacts: Adele Holman 0421 589 012