10 November 2023


Subjects: High Court ruling; Optus outage; RBA decision; IR legislation; Taylor Swift tickets

DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: It’s question time, the Minister for the NDIS and Government Services, Bill Shorten and in for Angus Taylor, this week we have Shadow Minister for Finance and the Public Service, Senator Jane Hume. Bill and Jane, thank you so much for your time. I want to start with this decision on asylum seekers from the High Court, ruling that people cannot be held in indefinite detention. Bill, when will the government start releasing asylum seekers?

MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES AND THE NDIS, BILL SHORTEN: Well, I think that the person in this case, that process has started already and obviously we're going to have to implement the decision of the court. I can't give you the exact timetable for the rest of them.

KNIGHT: And can you guarantee community safety here? Because that's the overarching concern. This is a man who completed a jail sentence for child sex offences.

SHORTEN: Yeah, well, that's why we ran a case which the High Court didn't agree with, but I think that it’s a live issue and I know that the Minister is absolutely switched on to that issue.

KNIGHT: So, do you think this was a mistake, the decision from the High Court?

SHORTEN: Well, we've noted the High Court ruling, we're considering the implications of the judgement carefully and we're going to keep working with authorities to ensure community safety is upheld. Now, the reality is that the former Coalition government failed to protect our national security in a number of ways that our government's been left to fix, including through bilateral agreements and relationships. One of those failures was neglecting to produce a constitutionally sound citizenship loss regime, despite two separate attempts. On your question about the safety, that is an utmost priority for us. Sorry, just to be really clear, in terms of the individual, it's a long standing practice that we can't comment on individual cases.

KNIGHT: Sure, no, I appreciate that. Jane, did your government let the country down?

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE AND THE PUBLIC SERVICE, JANE HUME: Well, I think we're very concerned about this judgement, obviously, the government now has to act immediately to make sure that Australians in the community are safe and explore all the available options to limit any risk that's posed by problematic individuals. We're very concerned that the decision is likely to lead to the release of not just one, but a number of individuals who have been refused visas on character grounds and who can't return to their country. Now, the precise legal impact both of this case and for the Migration Act that needs to be assessed once all the reasons are handed down. I think our concern is that Minister Giles has already come out today and made it very clear that he's going to act immediately on this, not just in this one case that the High Court was about, but about many cases, and that has some serious implications for community safety.

KNIGHT: Well, there's concerns within the community from that safety point of view, so we'll keep a close eye on that. I also want to talk, obviously, about Optus. The outage this week rightly has been met with anger and outrage, particularly the compensation that the telco has offered. Free data worth about $100, which is going to be useless to a lot of people if they don't exceed their data limit. Bill, is that enough to make up for all the businesses who lost trade or the government departments and hospitals impacted with no phones or internet?

SHORTEN: Yeah, I'd be amazed if it's enough. Optus customers are going to be the judge of whether the data offer fairly compensates them for the loss of services they experienced this week. I would strongly encourage small business customers who were uniquely impacted by the outage to speak with their account managers. The telecommunications industry Ombudsman can assist small businesses who are dissatisfied with the responses, I would encourage those customers to keep records, to document the impacts of the outage on them, but it was a nightmare for everyone from restaurants to mechanics to all of a sudden everyone's scrambling to say, you got to bring cash to pay. So, I suspect I won't speak for every Optus customer, but I suspect the free data offer is not really going to touch the sides of some of the frustration and impact that some people and businesses experienced.

KNIGHT: Yeah, you're dead right there. Will the regulator have enough resources to deal with the amount of customers who may well get in contact with them? Will you be giving them some more resources to cope with it? Because it could be a scenario…

SHORTEN: Yeah, good point. I'm sure that the Minister for Communications has probably been more available at some points in the last couple of days than even the leadership of Optus. But that's a good point, I'm sure the TIO, the Ombudsman will ask for more support if they need it.

KNIGHT: I reckon they will. Jane, what do you think? Has Optus handled this well? Because they certainly didn't learn any crisis management lessons from the handling of the internet hack that left millions of customers exposed, last year, that was bad enough and now this.

HUME: Or indeed from Qantas's experience about getting out there on the front foot and communicating with customers early and compensating appropriately. Look, one of the things that we did yesterday in the Senate, the Coalition successfully passed some amendments for a Senate inquiry into what the government did and didn't do as a result of these millions of Optus customers that struggled with the outage. So, we're going to focus on the actions that were taken by the government and also the government's regulator there, the Australian Communications and Media Authority on the day of the outage, to make sure that customers were able to access essential services during the shutdown. What the government did and didn't do that was overwhelmingly supported in the Senate by about 39 to 20.

SHORTEN: God, I love you guys. You're so funny. Whatever the question is, the answer is blame the government, anyway...

HUME: The government's actually in a position of responsibility, Bill. [inaudible] you’ve got to get on with it.

SHORTEN: You only ever bark at the government.

KNIGHT: Will the government need to look, Bill, at the contracts that you have with the telco, the Home Affairs Department, the tax office? They were all really caught up to with no internet and no phones. Could those contracts be in our procurement processes?

SHORTEN: Procurement processes, contracts are done by the public service. What we're doing is, the Minister has said straight away that we want to understand what happened, how it could happen, how we make sure it doesn't happen again. We've also got the independent regulator who's doing a preliminary assessment of whether Optus comply with the rules around emergency calls. I'm not going to pre-empt that outcome. Listen, there are big lessons here to be learned and it was a major setback for a lot of Australians. So, the Government's not going to stop till we understand what went wrong, why, and how it can be prevented again.

KNIGHT: All right. The other big issue that we've had this week, felt like a long week, in fact, I can't believe it was on Tuesday, but the Reserve Bank upping interest rates by a quarter of a percent to curb inflation. Jane, the interest rate increase, it's devastating to Australians with a mortgage who are already struggling to make ends meet.

HUME: Oh, so many millions of Australians are really struggling right now. We heard that just in your previous news report about people who are going to be spending less money at Christmas. A family with a mortgage of around $750,000 now has to find an additional $24,000 a year to pay off their mortgage. Now, that's not the sort of money you find down the back of a couch. And our concern is that inflation is now galloping along and staying higher for longer, which means that interest rates have to stay higher for longer. There was some data today that came out that said that now we're expecting real wages to go backwards again this quarter so, Australians are much worse off now than they were just 18 months ago. I think that Labor has taken their eye off the ball here. What is the government doing Bill, to tackle inflation? Specifically to tackle inflation, because if you don't tackle inflation, the cost of living crisis will keep on going.

KNIGHT: You’re doing my work for me, Jane. Bill?

SHORTEN: Yeah, I'm happy to answer that question. First of all, it's really tough for mortgagees. So, I agree with Jane on it's really, really incredibly tough. But what we're doing is we're providing electricity bill relief, cheaper childcare, increased rent assistance, more Medicare bulk billing, we're providing cheaper medicine, we're boosting income support payments, we're providing fee free TAFE, we're building more affordable homes, we've expanded paid parental leave, we're creating jobs, and we've helped move wages along.

HUME: None of that is actually getting inflation down. You're compensating people for a cost of living, but you’re not getting inflation down.

SHORTEN: Okay, what was that midnight oil song? Short Memories? You like you like to pretend this inflation challenge came out of nowhere. The highest quarter for inflation was the March quarter under the previous guys, which was you. You conveniently forget that interest rates started rising before the election, you conveniently forget…

HUME: One interest rate rise during the caretaker period we've had 12…

SHORTEN: You conveniently forget that you racked up a trillion dollars worth of debt. You don't ever talk about the petrol spike, do you? Are you blaming us for the Middle East? Are you blaming us for Russia?

KNIGHT: Jane, Bill, hang on a sec.

SHORTEN: You’ll probably blame us for Elvis Priestly dying.

KNIGHT: Matt Canavan today called for a cut to the fuel excise, which is something our listeners are often asking about. Is that even on the cards, Bill, as a possibility because it's a tool to cut fuel prices and they've been pushing inflation up?

SHORTEN: Is that Coalition policy, Jane, or is Matt just freelancing? Is that a bet each way?

KNIGHT: But is that something that the Government will consider Bill? I’ll ask you that first Bill, is that something you will consider?

SHORTEN: At this stage i'm not aware of any plans to do that. Over to you, Jane is Matt freelancing?

KNIGHT: Is that Coalition policy, Jane?

HUME: You know, we cut fuel excise when fuel prices were the sole cause of that high inflation, that's not the case anymore. Now inflation is…

SHORTEN: So, Matt’s freelancing?

HUME: Now inflation is baked in, and the reason why it's baked in is because you guys haven't done anything about it. You keep spending more and more, pushing inflation higher and higher. Quite frankly, if you're going to cut infrastructure, which is what Jim Chalmers has said he wants to do, he's saying cut roads, well, quite frankly [inaudible]

SHORTEN: You asked me one question, I gave you ten points on what we’re doing. I'm just asking you one question, is Matt Canavan, freelancing, or is that coalition policy to cut the fuel excise?

HUME: Can I first of all say that….

KNIGHT: It’s a pretty simple question, Jane.

HUME: It's not Coalition policy. You can see where Matt was going, he's saying, are you going to cut infrastructure spending on roads? Because quite frankly, if you're going to do that, that's what fuel excise is there to cover.

KNIGHT. So, it's not something that the Coalition would support?

SHORTEN: It's not Coalition policy. So, you're full of sympathy but no substance.

Speaker C: Oh Bill, come on. You're out there talking about cutting infrastructure and yet at the same time you're talking about the suburban rail loop in Victoria.

SHORTEN: I don’t have my hand up [inaudible] telling him what to say.

KNIGHT: Okay, let's just... The IR laws, the other issue, they've been split. Bill, that wasn't Labor's plan, will you support the laws in a split form or will the party now have it to vote against its own legislation in the lower house?

SHORTEN: Well, we were elected on a promise to get wages moving, and so to do that, we need to close the loopholes that are undermining wages. Our Closing Loopholes Bill before Parliament has four main elements, cracking down on labour hire loopholes used to undercut pay, criminalising wage theft, probably defining casual work and making sure gig workers aren't getting ripped off. Now, those provisions were contained within government legislation before the House. I think it's strange that the Senate has cut this bill in half without waiting for its own...

KNIGHT: Well, it might be strange, but they've done it. Will you be voting against your own policy when it comes to the lower house?

SHORTEN: We want to make sure that we do the best we can for workers. So, at this stage, we press on and we'll see what's doable and what isn't, just because the…

KNIGHT: So no clarity, yes or no?

SHORTEN: We'll wait till the debate's been had, I remain the eternal optimist, I wonder what Matt Canavan says?

KNIGHT: Jane, your party in the Senate voted for this split. Can we really afford to see a delay on this? Because we've had, overnight, another food delivery driver killed in an accident in St Peter's in Sydney, another two deaths in August of gig economy workers. Can we have any further delays?

HUME: This bill was always going to be controversial, but now that it has been split, there is no credible reason for the government to argue against passing the bills immediately. They can do it next week, it was absolutely disgraceful to put those poison pills in this bill in the first place. The things like the issue of PTSD in our nation's first responders or silica diseases, discrimination for people suffering family or domestic violence, or using redundancy payments for the same purpose. All of that was in those bills, that was uncontroversial. We can pass that next week. But if the government does it, it's very clear that they are trying to simply play politics. They want to have those uncontroversial elements in this controversial legislation to try and ram this through, to try and force and wedge, particularly the crossbench into voting for things that they didn't want to vote for, that they want more time to consider. Because businesses are telling us that supporting these parts of the omnibus bill will actually make the cost of living crisis worse, it will put businesses in invidious position where they will have to lay off staff. You do not want that.

KNIGHT: All right, well, we'll see what happens.

SHORTEN: What happened to the old Liberal party? You guys are going full bore Trumpian Republican tactics like we see in the Congress.

HUME: [inaudible]

KNIGHT: All right, I want to end, let’s wrap this up on something…. Jane and Bill…. Let’s end it on this, come on.

KNIGHT: Now, Taylor Swift tickets, Sydneysiders have been desperate to snap up the last tickets to Taylor Swift. They sold out within an hour and 20 minutes of them going on sale at 10:00am this morning. So, I want to know from you, which muso or band have you done or would you do anything to get along to see? Would you line up for overnight? Would you have every device open? Bill?

SHORTEN: U2, I would really like to see them perform.

KNIGHT: Wouldn’t it be good to see them in Vegas too, in that sphere? That’d be cool.

SHORTEN: Yeah, that would be just awesome. So, yep, I think U2 is on the to do list and anytime Jimmy Barnes is performing, you'd pretty much want to queue up overnight, too.

KNIGHT: That is true. That is true. Jane, what about you?

HUME: I've done U2 a couple of times and, yeah, it's worth the wait, but I think for me, it's probably Coldplay. Sounds a bit Generation X, doesn't it? But Chris Martin…

KNIGHT: Love a bit of Chris Martin.

HUME: I've been to a Coldplay concert once before, It was fantastic. I'd go again, I'd line up for that one anytime.

SHORTEN: Yeah, good call. We Gen Xer's got to stick together.

KNIGHT: Rockers at heart. Good on you, Jane, good on you, Bill. Thanks both for joining us.