14 November 2023


SUBJECTS: Planned student protests in Melbourne; Middle East conflict; calls for debt collection to be scrapped after Robodebt Royal Commission report

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Let's go back to Canberra now. Joining us is the Government Services and the NDIS Minister, Bill Shorten. Bill, a few topics on Israel and Gaza this morning. I do want to start in Melbourne, where this protest is being planned next week, encouraging kids to leave school and protest for the Palestinian cause. Should this go ahead?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: I think community leaders need to dial down some of these protests at the moment. I really get that for the people involved, this is a crucial existential issue, but those hoons who went over to Caulfield to intimidate people in their own streets, that's just so stupid it's beyond words. As for kids not going to school, I think what this world needs is people with more knowledge, not less. I think they'll probably be better if during school hours, kids just go to school. That's what I'm sure most parents think too.

STEFANOVIC: So, I mean, so basically this shouldn't be allowed to happen, this protest?

SHORTEN: Well, I didn’t say it shouldn't be allowed, I wouldn't encourage it. I'm not sure what it changes, but, you know, just generally, I just think the community, we just need to - somehow express your view, but everyone is getting so in each other's faces. I think it's - and that in Caulfield, the fact that a religious service had to be cancelled and this is where people live anyway. Yeah.

STEFANOVIC: More broadly, when it comes to kids and this this topic is something that grown-ups and some of the brightest minds in the world can't figure out. And getting kids involved is just a gross misjudgement. Penny Wong though she's trying to stride a diplomatic tightrope by pleasing both sides here. But is there a moral equivalence when it appears it's just the Jewish community that's being subjected to violent and vile demonstrations, some of which you just referred to, plus boycotts and death threats as well?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, I don't think the government's trying to just please everyone, because that's impossible. What we're trying to do is operate by our principles. We absolutely recognize that what's triggered this latest round of violence was the shocking, murderous attack by Hamas on Israel and a lot of innocent Israelis, all of the Israelis. That's what's triggered this. But, of course, the United States, like-minded liberal democracies who are friends of other democracies like Israel, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't say anything and just give a blank check. I recognize it's really hard to put ourselves in the shoes of the protagonists in all of this, but I also think that our Foreign Minister, Prime Minister, and government, what we've been saying is consistent, a humanitarian pause. Obviously, we all want to see ultimately a resolution of the violence. But we recognize very clearly Hamas, you know, how do you negotiate with someone who says you don't have a right to exist?

STEFANOVIC: Yeah. I mean, there are these divisions, though, and you've got Anne Aly who yesterday who basically said both sides would have blamed for the conflict. So, I mean, that alone is different to what you just said. So, I mean, this just feeds into the narrative that you're not all singing from the same song sheet on this one.

SHORTEN: Far be it from me to ever disagree with you, Peter, but I think we can cherry pick a sentence out of someone's speech and say, well, you didn't say exactly that, so there's a difference. The reality is this is a very difficult time. And what Australians want is a principled government. And that's what you're getting. And I think if you look at the huge material that all of the members of the government are putting out, there is a high degree of unity about what we want to see here, a safe Israel and safe citizens of Palestine.

STEFANOVIC: Are you worried about seats like MacNamara held by Josh Burnes, falling?

SHORTEN: I'm worried about what I'm seeing on television. I'm worried about the people who live in Caulfield. I'm worried about the legitimate distress that people see of the sieges in Gaza. It's not about a particular electoral seat.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, let's get to Robodebt before we go. After accepting all recommendations, there are calls to suspend all debt collection now. Would you entertain or consider that?

SHORTEN: No, I mean if a debt collection is legitimate, it's legitimate. The problem with Robodebt is all of them, the debts were raised in an unlawful manner. The government didn't have the power to do what it was doing. That doesn't mean you don't have any debt collection at all.

STEFANOVIC: Civil cases. Are you expecting them to emerge now?

SHORTEN: Don't know. I'm sure the tires are being kicked and the likelihood and the amount of energy that people have for litigation. But the door’s there to be opened.

STEFANOVIC: But so former politicians aren't safe? Or current ones?

SHORTEN: Well, I wouldn't have - well, the ideal thing is don't engage in the tort of public malfeasance in public office. Don't make the mistakes these guys made.

STEFANOVIC: Bill Shorten, we're out of time. We'll leave it there, though. We'll talk to you soon.