Transcript: Meet the Press, Channel 10, Sunday 5 February

06 February 2012

Topics: Today’s Labor Caucus, The National Disability Insurance Scheme, Fair Work Australia, and The Queensland State Election.

PAUL BONGIORNO, PRESENTER: Hello and welcome to the 20th year of Meet the Press – a milestone for us, as the longest–running Sunday morning political program. And what a year already. Julia Gillard was looking for a fresh start, but was soon mired in the quicksand of a hung parliament and dreadful opinion polls. Undaunted, the Prime Minister presses on – for her and Tony Abbott, it was time for the ‘vision’ thing.

JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER (WEDNESDAY): A new economy which is prosperous and fair, creative and skilled –  where mining and manufacturing flourish and services grow, where the Government manages the economy for working people and for the future.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER (TUESDAY): My vision for Australia is to restore hope, reward and opportunity by delivering lower taxes, better services, more opportunities for work, and stronger borders.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Kevin Rudd's vision inspired by the Year of the Dragon's symbol of power and authority. Simon Crean thinks he should forget it – he's no team player.

SIMON CREAN, CABINET MINISTER (TUESDAY): One thing the Labor Party's gotta learn is that it doesn't solve its polling problems by simply changing the leader.

KEVIN RUDD, FOREIGN MINISTER (WEDNESDAY): We're all members of a ministerial team. It's a pretty hardworking team. I work with these women and men every day, every week, every month.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE, LIBERAL MP (TUESDAY): Where the scene on the Labor side of politics is starting to resemble a scene from the movie 'Gladiator'.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But the Prime Minister has her own guard.

BILL SHORTEN, WORKPLACE RLEATIONS MINISTER (TUESDAY): She's a very strong leader. In tough times, you need strong leaders.

PAUL BONGIORNO: It's welcome to the program, Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten. Good morning, Minister.


PAUL BONGIORNO: The meeting today in Canberra with the Prime Minister – is this a chance for Julia Gillard to clear the air? It seems to be billed as something of a crisis meeting.

BILL SHORTEN: I think billing it as that just shows the febrile nature of reporting of the Government. I think most MPs are attending this meeting, frustrated that there's so much of this debate about leadership. They want to get on with the
job of promoting what we're doing and talking about ideas for the year ahead. I think it will be a constructive meeting.

PAUL BONGIORNO: It's also reported that Kevin Rudd won't be there, but in a sense, will he be the elephant in the room?

BILL SHORTEN: No. He's doing his job as Foreign Minister. There'll be a few MPs who won't be there. Not everyone can get to every meeting. What people want to know is that, is the Government focused on making sure that Australian families are going to be able to make ends meet? People in Australia are worried about the scenes they see in Europe. They want to know that the Government is focusing on jobs in the future. That's what this Caucus meeting will be discussing.

PAUL BONGIORNO: One of your backbench colleagues, Bernie Ripoll, a supporter of Julia Gillard, says that the Rudd people should “bring it on.” He's confident that they haven't got the numbers. Do you think it would be a good idea to bring it on next Tuesday, maybe?

BILL SHORTEN: I think this whole leadership debate has been overcooked. The nearest analogy I can use when I explain it to people in the street is to say, "Bill, we want politics in Australia not to be short–term, negative sloganeering and backstabbing and egos." The nearest analogy I use to explain this latest outburst of media reporting is it reminds me of the millennium bug in the lead–up to 2000. Remember, in the lead–up to the millennium, we thought every computer in the world would crash. We woke up the next morning, perhaps some with a hangover – and the computers were still working. This is well overcooked, this issue.

PAUL BONGIORNO: The latest round of talk was set off by the Galaxy poll, followed by the Newspoll, and tomorrow 'The Age' and the 'Sydney Morning Herald' will have the Nielsen poll. If that follows the trend of the other polls – in fact, it's
been worse for Labor in recent times – won't that just be another nail in the coffin?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I think we need to look at what some of those polls said. I, like most students of politics on both sides of the political fence, know that polls go up and down. The Galaxy poll last Monday reported Labor's primary vote
as going up from 29% to 34%. That's good news for the Government, so it wasn't at the front of the paper, was it? Even beyond debating the merits of individual polls – what Australians want is what the Prime Minister is actually doing. She gave a speech about skills –

PAUL BONGIORNO: But is it too late for her? You've got – Dick Adams says she's got a credibility problem. People can't believe her. Andrew Wilkie couldn't believe her. She signed up to a deal – wouldn't be Prime Minister without that deal.

BILL SHORTEN: Let's distinguish each of those points you're making. Dick Adams has been a long–serving member of Parliament. He gives his views. I do not believe that everything that's reported is exactly what Dick thinks. In terms of Mr
Wilkie, that's a different set of issues about problem gambling. The Government does have a strategy on problem gambling – he was naturally disappointed that his particular plan couldn't get up. But if we want to talk about issues of the Government –

PAUL BONGIORNO: Is it beyond repair for Julia Gillard? Is there any way back? Is a challenge inevitable?

BILL SHORTEN: No, it's not beyond repair. There we go. Straight answer. And a classic example was the issue of problem gambling. What we had was an issue where we could only get 74 out of 150 votes in the Parliament. If you've got
74, your legislation won't pass. Also, there were a lot of technological problems with the particular path upon which we'd initially embarked.

PAUL BONGIORNO: So you're saying Wilkie wasn't flexible enough?

BILL SHORTEN: No, he had his views and that's fair enough. This is the nature of what's going on in Australia. The people are getting frustrated that all we want to do is in Canberra is just deal with the gossip and the back–stabbing.
Problem gambling is a classic issue where the Prime Minister cut through and did the right thing.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, let’s go to one of the issues that are really dear to your heart. According to the weekend media, Julia Gillard’s game plan is to convince voters she leads a competent Labor Government as you were saying and a national disability scheme is the key. Tony Abbott wants to get a big slice of the action – here he is.

TONY ABBOTT OPPOSITION LEADER (TUESDAY): The Coalition strongly supports the Productivity Commission’s recommendation for a Disability Insurance Scheme. This important and necessary reform can’t fully be implemented until the budget returns to surplus.

PAUL BONGIORNO: It’s got a $6 billion price tag – what Tony Abbott said there is dead right. It can’t be fully implemented, can it, under the current present economic circumstances?

BILL SHORTEN: No, what Tony Abbott did was disappoint a lot of people with disabilities and carers. I've been very involved with this, along with senior Minister Macklin and the Prime Minister. What's being proposed is that by 2018, we have a national insurance scheme which will provide 400,000–plus profoundly and severely disabled people and their carers, much greater support. What Tony Abbott was doing was saying that this is an aspiration and when we pass whatever tests that the Liberal Party would put into place, if they got into Government, then they would have a look at this. They're making disability a political issue by going on the go–slow on this issue. I think it shows the classic example – he would hand back the Mining Tax to Gina Rinehart and other people.

PAUL BONGIORNO: The disability scheme will come in no matter what the state of the budget?

BILL SHORTEN: I believe two things – one, we will get the budget back into black. And two – we'll implement an NDIS. But it's the classic example of the difference between Tony Abbott and us.

PAUL BONGIORNO: We'll come back to him.

BILL SHORTEN: He'll give money back to the richest mining companies in Australia, but he won't guarantee for the poorest carers and people with disabilities in Australia.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Time for a break. When we return with the panel – is the Government using Fair Work Australia to save Craig Thomson's job in Parliament? And the Best–Kept Secret of the Week Award goes to reluctant heart surgeon Tony Abbott.

JOURNALIST: As a politician, what do you think is your greatest strength, and what do you think is your greatest weakness?

TONY ABBOTT: Look  – my first boss in politics was John Hewson. John Hewson had a phrase. He said, "Don't practice open–heart surgery on yourself in public." I'm going to take the Hewson advice on that and decline.



PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press with Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten. Welcome to the panel Malcolm Farr from and Misha Schubert from the 'Sunday Age'. Good morning. Well, the Opposition has ramped up its attack on the length of time Fair Work Australia is taking to investigate the Health Services Union. Tony Abbott says the three-year probe is protecting Craig Thomson, who he describes as “a tainted number propping up the Government.” The union whistle-blower suspects political interference.

KATHY JACKSON, HEALTH SERVICES UNION (TUESDAY): There needs to be a competent, ongoing inquiry into the goings-on at Fair Work Australia. Why is it taking so long? Why are we still waiting for answers? Why are we in this position? We need this to end.

MALCOLM FARR: Minister, Fair Work Australia is your most important instrument to protect the rights and conditions of Australian workers. But its credibility is at risk at the moment by what's been perceived as an extended inquiry into a relatively small issue. Don't you have an obligation to protect the credibility of this body by intervening?

BILL SHORTEN: I think the best way to protect Fair Work Australia is to protect its independence. It's a statutory body, it's doing its investigations and the argument which says that the Government needs to intervene would undermine its independence. It's an independent body.

MISHA SCHUBERT: Craig Thomson is a crucial number for Labor in the Parliament. Do you have full confidence in him?

BILL SHORTEN: In terms of what's going to happen with the inquiry, or my personal dealings with him as a member of Parliament?


BILL SHORTEN: In terms of my personal dealings with him as a member of Parliament – fine. In terms of the inquiry, we'll have to see what
the inquiry finds. In the meantime, I do believe people deserve the presumption of innocence.

MALCOLM FARR: Will you guarantee that the Fair Work Australia report is made public?

BILL SHORTEN: I'm not in charge of that – it's a decision made by the regulator.

MALCOLM FARR: Are you sure you would have no ability to make public that report?

BILL SHORTEN: As I understand, that decision of whether or not it gets made public is influenced by a number of factors which are at the preserve of the regulator. For instance, if it turns out that the report has findings which then need to trigger an investigation by the DPP, releasing it publicly may prejudice any subsequent criminal investigation. So, I don't think it's quite as black-and-white as your question would suggest. We need to see the facts.

MISHA SCHUBERT: You’re regulator – you’ve also set up a review of the Fair Work laws Labor introduced after it came into power. Do you see the release for major changes to the legislation or just modest changes in line with some of the criticisms that have been made?

BILL SHORTEN: There are some people who think there should be major changes. There are others who don't. We've got three eminent independent experts to review it. We re-dressed the imbalance in the workplace and the loss of the ‘fair go’, which the former Liberal Tony Abbott WorkChoices policies had. We got the balance back somewhere in the middle of the road. Then what we’re doing is we're reviewing it to see how it's going. An example of how the Act is working well is what I think was the biggest industrial-relations story this week – it was the equal pay case, where 150,000 low-paid people in community and social services – working in homelessness, rape crisis centres – are going to get, admittedly over eight years – equal pay and the discrimination they used to get because they're a feminised occupation is finally being dealt with. That's proof it works.

PAUL BONGIORNO: This morning, Tony Abbott told Andrew Bolt there are problems with the Fair Work Act, and he's promising changes. Here he is.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER (TODAY): I certainly think that there is a flexibility problem, there's a militancy problem and above all else, there's a productivity problem with the Fair Work Act.

MISHA SCHUBERT: Is he right?

BILL SHORTEN: I've got to love these guys. The only problem in industrial relations is that they don't have a policy –it's in a witness protection program. Tony Abbott is good at using code words. He fronts up and says “We're Liberals, therefore productivity must be higher under us.” The facts of the matter contradict him completely. Under the Howard Government, productivity started to fall away in the 2000s. Let's pick the poster child of individual contracts – the mining industry. Admittedly, mining prices are up. But what's happened is productivity has fallen away sharply. What sustained our mining boom is the increase in demand in prices. Three simple numbers – 400% increase in prices for minerals, 100% increase in workforce, 25% increase in volume. What we're seeing is a slump in productivity in the poster child of individual contract relations. Just because the Libs say, “Trust us, we're Liberals, productivity will go up” isn't supported by facts. I love that other word the Coalition used – “flexibility.” They never actually unpacked what that means. Except we did see Ted Baillieu, the Premier in Victoria, complain, as did Jeff Kennett, that people in hospital and retail shouldn't be getting penalty rates on weekends. When conservatives use the term “flexibility,” they actually mean that if you're poor – those are two of the three lowest-paid industries in Australia – it's time to take a pay-cut. Why is it in Australia, Coalition DNA say that the only way the rich can get richer is for low-paid workers getting penalty rate cuts?

MALCOLM FARR: Of the 10 appointments made to Fair Work Australia since the Act came into operation, seven of them have been people from the trade unions or being industrial lawyers of some sort. The justice leaves
at the end of the month. Can you say that someone from the business sector will be promoted to take his spot, at least some other position on the board?

BILL SHORTEN: Malcolm, I'm not going to pre-empt the process. We've got all sorts of processes having a look at who fills that very important position. But let's set some numbers right. In the Howard Government,
of their 16 most recent appointments, 15 were employer advocates from that side, or did legal work for them. 15 out of 16. So when you look at it –I won't go into some of those appointments, they were legitimate, fair enough. When you look at it, you had 15 out of 16. When you put that on top of their three, the imbalance argument you're running isn't born out by the facts. It's more like eight plays 16.

MALCOLM FARR: This exasperates industry concerns that the swing-back for the balance is not in the middle – it's gone too much to the union side.

BILL SHORTEN: But at some point, we’ve got to move beyond the generalities – “swing-back,” “flexibility” – let’s decode that. What's now happening is that low-paid professional workers in community services with
tertiary qualifications are finally going to get some gender discrimination overcome. Industrial action – take out Qantas and the inability of State Governments to manage public-servant relationships in their states – industrial action is at a very low number historically.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You told Neil Mitchell during the week that you never, ever want to be the Leader of the Labor Party. Is that a John Howard never, ever?

BILL SHORTEN: First of all, it's good to be on this show. I just wish Tony Abbott would come on and do serious interviews. It’s good we got him out of hiding for the National Press Club.

MISHA SCHUBERT: Why would you never, ever want to be leader? People look atEurope as –

BILL SHORTEN: That question is about putting mere confusion to undermine Julia Gillard. I'm not signing up to undermine it. She's my boss.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you very much for being with us today, Bill Shorten.