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21 February 2022

SUBJECTS: Morrison attack lines on Labor; dinner discussions with Anthony Albanese; impact of independent candidates in the 2022 election; transition to new work; harsh cuts and re-application for plans for people with disability; navigating the bloated NDIS appeals process; Labor’s policy on gas power; preferencing at the 2022 election, Liberal’s dirty attacks over China. 
RAF EPSTEIN, HOST: Bill Shorten joins you in the studio. He's Shadow Minister for the NDIS, he’s also Shadow Minister for Government Services. He is, of course, the long-standing ALP member for the seat of Maribyrnong here in Melbourne. Bill Shorten. Great to have you here.
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Lovely to be back in the studio.
EPSTEIN: Just drag that microphone up for me. That's it. Labor's about technology plus taxes. Going to be more expensive. That's a good line. Isn't it? Works?
SHORTEN: It’s standard Scott Morrison marketing, isn't it, it's just a grab of no substance. I think what the Government should be doing here, and I'm appalled they haven't, is be asking what happens to the people who work in these power stations? Like surely, wouldn't that be the first thought of a responsible leader is to say righto, if this technology, if Mr Cannon-Brookes and the Canadian hedge funds take over, what's going to happen to the jobs? Isn't the first job of -
EPSTEIN: Wouldn’t they say they're sticking up for the workers by saying they should be open as long as possible? That's the number one way to stick up for their jobs.
SHORTEN: Yeah, but what's he going to do about it? I knew Loy Yang B when I was a very, very, very junior union organiser and practically in my first couple of weeks, I ended up down there when they were finishing the construction of it in ’94, or this part of the plant at least. I just - my first thought was, well, what happens to the jobs of the people who work there and the contractors? And they have been forgotten, I think, in the flurry of debate today.
EPSTEIN: I'll get to calls on 1300 222 774. Did you, oh, that's what I was going to ask you. Can I ask you some gossip? 
EPSTEIN: Did you have dinner with Anthony Albanese last week at a restaurant in Canberra? I'm sure I read that in the paper. Is that right?
SHORTEN: Yeah, it was very nice. 
EPSTEIN: Just the two of you?
SHORTEN: Just the two of us, it was Valentine's Day. 
EPSTEIN: Does that happen often the two of you out for dinner?
SHORTEN: Oh, Valentine's Day happens once a year [both laugh]
EPSTEIN: No, no, does it happen often that you and he go out for dinner?
SHORTEN: Not that often, but it was very nice and he's in good form. He's lost a lot of weight. He's ready to run for Prime Minister of Australia, I thought.
EPSTEIN: Did you hatch any secret plans?
SHORTEN: Well, there wouldn't be a secret if I told you. 
EPSTEIN: Yeah, what did you talk about?
SHORTEN: What would you believe, we spoke a lot about politics, spoke a bit about family, but we share a mutual interest in the improvement of this country. And I just was saying to him that, be ready. I think the Liberals play dirty and we've watched this week in Parliament, where the Liberals have really basically just tried to attack Anthony Albanese and Labor, and they haven't offered any of their own vision for the future. They're just saying that making up stories about Labor. And so, I just told them to gird his loins and plough on.
EPSTEIN: Did he ask you for advice on how to deal with Scott Morrison? I mean I ask that in a guarded way, because I mean, you've dealt with him, but then it didn't work. So, did he ask you for your advice?
SHORTEN: Wellwe talk about things, but it was, it was a social catch up. It was very nice.
EPSTEIN: Let's have a chat to Domenica, who's in Ripponlea, and we will get to NDIS questions as well. But Domenica, what do you want to ask?
CALLER: Oh, hello, everyone.
EPSTEIN: Well, just one moment Dominica, he’s just going to put his headphones on and go for it.
SHORTEN: Ok, I just want to say, first of all, hello to everybody, but to say that the Labor Party seems to be the more proactive than the Liberals in this campaign. However, I don't think it's doing enough. It's the independents who are really voicing these issues and their concerns. And I think that comes the elections. I think that ScoMo, Clive Palmer and possibly the Labor Party too, will be accounting to the independents.
EPSTEIN: So can I just check Dominica by independence? Do you mean Clive Palmer and his candidates? Or do you mean people like those challenging people like Tim Wilson and Josh Frydenberg, Monique Ryan and Zoe Daniel? Those sorts of people? Which independents do you mean?
CALLER: The independents, not the Clive Palmer party.
EPSTEIN: Okay, so they're really making the running and not the opposition. She's got a point, doesn't she? Bill Shorten.
SHORTEN: I welcome people running for Parliament, but no, I don't think that's right, Dominica. I think you'll find I think you said you're from Balaclava. You should be pleased to know that Josh Burns, your local federal member, was instrumental in making sure that Mr Morrison's unfair religious discrimination laws were defeated. So, I think you're very fortunate of having Labor MPs like him, and I welcome working with the crossbench.
EPSTEIN: But the juice in the conversation comes from the independents doesn’t it? Zali Steggall and Helen Haines, coming up with lots of good ideas.
SHORTEN: No, the juice in any vote comes from the 69 votes that Labor contribute. We're the only party who can form the alternative government of Australia other than the Liberals. And the other thing is we put all our policies up there for people to see. With us, what you see is what you get. So, I'm not going to I'm not going to go out of my way to bag any independents because I work very well for some of them, including Zali and Helen Haines. And I know they work well with me. But at the end of the day, what this country needs is stable government. We need safely managed change, a better future for all. And Labor is the party who can deliver that.
EPSTEIN: The independents will back Labor if there's a hung parliament, won’t they?
SHORTEN: Oh, I have no idea. We'll have to wait and see. 
EPSTEIN: Surely.
SHORTEN: No, no. First of all, Labor's aiming to try and win the election, but I wouldn't put words in the mouth of the independents, because then the Liberals would say, See, that hints at some conspiracy. The Liberals, you know, the modern Liberal Party, you know, they're so busy saying, what's under the bed, the independents, Labor, you name it. I don't want to fuel any conspiracy theories that the Government would then leap upon.
EPSTEIN: Bill Shorten is with you in the studio. It's ABC Radio Melbourne, just after 5:15. Bill Shorten is here. Bill is in Surry Hills. Different Bill. What's your query?
CALLER: Yeah. To Mr Shorten, I guess Mr Shorten, it's not clear to me why Labor have been so slow to get onto the business that life is in transition, that everybody changes their careers. And you're onto it now. That's really good. But there's that dimension, I don't have a party conviction, but looking at what happens to those people, it happens to many people.
EPSTEIN: So which transition Bill, are you talking about” 
SHORTEN: Do you mean changes to – Bill, it's other Bill here. Bill, from Moonee Ponds. I understand you're talking about when people sometimes have to change jobs and careers and – is that the point you’re making?
CALLER: Well the classics are, you know, the guys who walk in front of cars with red flags and all that sort of stuff. I mean, there's this humorous stuff. But what surprises me most, I suppose, is that the Coalition or at least the Liberal Party are so far behind business. Now I just shake my head, and I think where is the party of business?
SHORTEN: It's not the job of government to run every business in the country, and that's not what we want to do. But the job of government is to try and see where the future is going and help people navigate it.
EPSTEIN: Unemployment's really low. They've got unemployment really low.
SHORTEN: I'd say that's got less to do with Liberal economic superiority and more the fact that our borders have been closed and there's been fewer visa workers. I would - I'm happy that unemployment's low. No, I think that change is inevitable. It's part of life. But quite often I find with the Liberals that to use this analogy of change, everyone in a particular industry might be at railway station A and people say, Oh, you've got to change, and we've got to get to railway station B. But quite often I find the Liberals will get in the front of the train and drive off to railway station B and halfway through they'll look back and they realise that a lot of people have been left behind at Station A, because the Liberals never told them where they could fit in. 
EPSTEIN: But all government’s do that, no?
SHORTEN: No, not all governments do that. That's why I think you fund TAFE properly. TAFE is just an engine room for adult re-education in terms of jobs and skills. But under the under the current Liberals, they've cut TAFE funding. I think we make it hard for a lot of adults to retrain, and I think that if we better funded TAFE, for example, that would allow people to look at different careers and options without feeling fear.
EPSTEIN: Bill Shorten, we'll get to more of your questions, including some about the NDIS after we get some graphic details with Dan Velling.
EPSTEIN: Bill Shorten is, of course, the ALP Member for the seat of Maribyrnong, also for some time Shadow Minister for the NDIS. Cheryl’s in Kew East with an NDIS question What is it, Cheryl?
CALLER: Oh, hi Raf, hi Bill. Yeah, look, I guess my question goes to the assumptions that seem to underpin the NDIS in the administration, particularly of the review process. I've got an adult son with a severe disability who lives in a group home and was well funded prior to NDIS. Now it seems to me that the NDIS now is very much about goals and outcomes, and the assumption expressed by Linda Reynolds that the NDIS is not a welfare scheme for life. Now we're not - my son's not going to make massive gains, and so goals and outcomes is somewhat irrelevant. We just want maintenance of whatever quality of life he can have.
EPSTEIN: Has that changed, Cheryl, the services that he's going to receive changed under the NDIS?
CALLER: Well, it's just the palaver and the bureaucracy and the hoops that we have to jump through when before things just happened.
EPSTEIN: So, hard to qualify for the things you are already getting, is that what you're, is that what you mean?
SHORTEN: It’s more red tape.
CALLER: Well, no, it's more about it's more about the red tape and this assumption that you're going to get better and you've got to skip the predicted short and medium term goals and measure the outcome.
EPSTEIN: Okay. Let's see what Bill Shorten can add to that. Bill Shorten?
SHORTEN: Thanks very much. I helped, I was involved with setting up the NDIS with a whole lot of parents and a whole lot of activists and people with disabilities, and then we lost the 2013 election. But when we set up the NDIS, it was for life. So, I don't agree with the current Liberals somehow saying that you're going to get better or that somehow, you'll get off the scheme. What's happened is that the scheme is good, in my opinion, but people, for a lot of people, they're drowning in red tape. When we set up the scheme, it was to relieve older parents as they get older, who was going to look after and care for their adult children when the parents no longer could. I wanted to relieve you of that midnight anxiety of care. The problem is the NDIS, I think has lost, it's lost its compass a bit.
EPSTEIN: They blame you for setting up something that was too hard to scale up, don't they?
SHORTEN: Of course, they’re Liberals, they blame us for everything. If it doesn't - 
EPSTEIN: There might be some validity in the criticism though, maybe you didn't set something up that they could scale up.
SHORTEN: Well, to be fair, if after eight, eight and a half years, you keep blaming what happened eight and a half years ago, then why have they been taking the wages and the salaries for what their job is? Like, If all the Liberals can do whenever something goes wrong is blame Labor for eight and a half or nine years ago, then what will they do in another three years if they get re-elected? Blame us in 12 years? The government is a responsibility free vacuum.
EPSTEIN: But it's like the defence argument, isn't it? I mean, it's fair to say, you know, they're into their 9th, 10th year. At the same time, turning the ship of government around takes time. It doesn't matter if it's NDIS or defence. If we do things one way, you know, it takes a lot of time to switch it around, doesn’t it?
SHORTEN: Whilst I want to return to what the caller said, at a certain point the Government, the current Liberals, have got to stop hiding behind the fact that Labor was in power ten years ago. Like, when will they grow up and take responsibility for their own mistakes?
EPSTEIN: So on Cheryl's red tape issue, what can she do?
SHORTEN: I think Cheryl's right, we found out in Senate estimates, that's about an hour once every six months when we get to interrogate the Agency in Parliament, their legal bill fighting participants on the scheme who are unhappy has doubled. About a year ago for 12 months, the government was spending $22 million of taxpayer money fighting NDIS participants seeking a better deal. Now they've spent 28.6 million dollars in six months. So, I actually think this government deserves to be kicked out if for no other reason, and there are others, because they're slack managers of the NDIS, they're cutting people's packages. They think too many people have autism are getting on the scheme. They think the group home stuff is too expensive. They aren't doing well with psychosocial conditions, and too many families of people on the scheme are now - basically it's a second full time job just doing all the paperwork.
EPSTEIN: Can I ask an appeals question because I think Louise has one of those calling from Harcourt. Good luck, Cheryl. 
SHORTEN: Good luck, Cheryl. Hang in there.
EPSTEIN: Louise from Harcourt, what's your query to ease
CALLER: My query is about what the Labor Party would do in terms of the external appeals process? I'm an elderly parent going through, in the situation that Mr Shorten mentioned before, we have not yet managed to access the NDIS, so we're appealing simply to get on it. The appeals process has just been horrific so far and I mean, I've got some education and some support behind me. I have found it a full-time job and this government have employed no less than three lawyers to get me and my wish for my child to be on the NDIS, they have employed three lawyers to get me to go away. Now that money that they're presumably spending on these lawyers to go through at least five events and then possibly court - 
EPSTEIN: How long you been trying for all it? How many years or what?
CALLER: 18 months. 18 months. And for me, the money they're spending on the lawyers, call me simplistic would actually be all that we need to see our child through.
SHORTEN: Cheryl - Louise, sorry Cheryl was the previous caller, Louise from Harcourt. Louise, I think it's outrageous that you've got to go through this whole traumatic process. It's exhausting as well. Every day I speak to families who are caught in the external appeals nightmare. That's why I specifically raised it even before your question. What we would do is, first of all, I would get all of the list of cases, and if we got elected, I would want to do a night court. It would meet on weekends. I want every matter resolved. People shouldn't be waiting. 
EPSTEIN: But still a legal process. 
SHORTEN: Well no, that's for the matters already in there. But before that, what I'd also do is I would put a bit of reverse onus on the agency and the decision makers. If you make an application, they the decision maker, the government body, needs to have a drop-dead date whereby if they don't make the decision, it's deemed accepted. But even before that - 
EPSTEIN: Doesn’t that mean that everyone gets in who wants to get in?
SHORTEN: Well, no, it means that you've just got to prioritise making decisions. And another thing which I'm sure that Louise has seen is that this agency doesn't give written decisions. 
EPSTEIN: Don’t they?
SHORTEN: Also, what's happened is the agency, the people working in it are really good people, a lot of them. But the problem is there's not enough full-time people. There's a lot of labour hire staff. A lot of people aren't familiar with the more complex aspects of disability. There is no particular problem other than, in my opinion, poor administration and a lack of accountability.
EPSTEIN: Just a few other issues. Sure. You were against a peaking plant in the Hunter Valley, the Kurri Kurri plant. Labor's now for it. Why on earth is a party that says they're committed to climate change interested in funding a $600 million gas fired power plant, doesn't even have a gas pipeline, it’s only going to work two days a year. Why on Earth be for that, other than for winning the seat?
SHORTEN: I think you'll find in the announcement we made, it wasn't actually the same proposal, and there will be a lot greater focus on renewable energy in the plan, which we announced. We're always going to need some baseload transition energy. The problem is that, you know, this government - basically Scott Morrison wants to fight the 2022 - 
EPSTEIN: Can I bring you back to the proposal? Because you’re for a gas plant or for burning hydrogen. 
SHORTEN: Labor when we come in is not going to ban all gas. You do need gas as a transition baseload to more renewables.
EPSTEIN: $600 million for two days a year.
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, we've made clear that we want to have more renewable energy for that $600 million than what the government is proposing. So, it's not actually the same proposal. But the point I was going to in addition to answering that specifically and saying it's not quite the same, is that Mr Morrison ran an effective scare campaign in 2019, and he told people that you don't need to change, and you can have it all. And the reality is that the truth caught up with Mr Morrison. He's, I think, his political skill is he's quite often been one campfire ahead of the posse. But now in 2022, he can't do what he did in 2019 and said he's a daggy dad, hail fellow well met, you know, everything will be fine. The truth of the matter is we've now got three years of his record and he might have more money to advertise, and you might have his ally, Clive Palmer, bagging Labor. But at the end of the day, Australians now have seen the guy in charge for three years and from the adequate response on climate, the inadequate response on bushfires. You know, the reality is that you still can't get, it's been difficult to get rapid antigen tests and - 
EPSTEIN: Well, that's an interesting pivot from a gas fired power plant.
SHORTEN: It all goes to his competence and his credibility.
EPSTEIN: David's in St Kilda with a different query. I'm not sure what it is, David got for it.
CALLER: Yeah, thanks very much for your time and Bill. I think you're doing an excellent job and I think you have the potential to be our future Prime Minister. You know, you stood up to Kevin. My concern Bill is Labor, especially in Victoria, distributing preferences to the Greens and some of their policies are quite radical. They've been at pro-Palestine Hamas rallies and some of the Greens advocate abolition of funding to Catholic schools and Jewish schools. Can you give a guarantee that Labor won't distribute preferences to the Greens?
SHORTEN: No. What I can say to you, though, is we don't intend to come behind the Greens. Our preference is only get distributed in the event - 
EPSTEIN: It’s a statement of values, I guess for someone like David, a statement of values, isn't it?
SHORTEN: Well, no. It's also - I'm explaining that the Greens would be like other smaller parties. They can't be a party of government. So, when you talk about important policies about respecting parents’ choice to send their kids to Catholic schools or Jewish schools of faith, making sure that we have a two state solution and that Israel has the right to secure and safe borders, those decisions won’t be - 
EPSTEIN: But you scream blue murder, when the Coalition says, won't give a position on a far right party because they say, Oh well, they're not going to get the vote anyway. You can't say that on the one hand and then say, Oh, it doesn't matter if we preference the Greens because they're not going to,
SHORTEN: Oh, I don't compare the - 
EPSTEIN: I'm not comparing the Greens in a far right party. I'm just saying you can’t - 
SHORTEN: Well that’s effectively sort of what you did. And I'm just saying to you, I don't think there is the same moral equivalence.
EPSTEIN: Your preferences are a statement of values or they're not, right?
SHORTEN: Yeah, they are. But I'm also saying that our policies are a statement of our values in a compulsory preferential system – 
EPSTEIN: They’ve got to land somewhere.
SHORTEN: We have to land them somewhere. And I don't compare some of the racist parties of the far right, and I'm not going to say the Greens are as bad as them because I don't believe that. But on policies which David went to, always been a staunch defender that it's not unreasonable to expect schools should get funding according to need, and that if people choose to - 
EPSTEIN: Well you’re not changing the school funding barely at all, are you?
SHORTEN: Well I was Education Minister for 80 days, they called that the Golden Era of education in 2013 [both laugh] Well, maybe they don't. Maybe that's just my mum.
EPSTEIN: Just to pick up a footnote on your answer. You're not changing that arrangement of government funding to private schools at all. And there's tonnes of people who vote Labor who would like you to, though.
SHORTEN:. But I think you'll find that as Tanya Plibersek has been unveiling our education policies, that we have got a series of policies which will support government schools with long overdue capital investment. And when you fund according to need, the vast bulk of that will go to government schools
EPSTEIN: Don’s in Langwarrin, what's your query Don?
CALLER: Good afternoon, I'm just wondering why Labor didn't return serve about the Manchurian Candidate comments when Andrew Robb was proactive in selling off Darwin ports to the Chinese and then resign from Parliament to join Landbridge, who owned Darwin Ports and then resigned from then with the when the foreign interference laws came in? 
EPSTEIN: Do you want them to be a bit more combative with the government? Is that what you're saying Don, or what are you asking?
CALLER: Well, yeah, they should be reminded. I mean, they’re accusing people in Labor of being a Manchurian candidate, when we had Alexander Downer with his fishnet stockings, lobbying with Waiwai.
SHORTEN: Yeah, no, I get it, as opposed to his choice of footwear. Okay, you're right. I mean, it was the Liberals when I was Opposition Leader who were rushing through an extradition treaty with China, which we opposed. And that was only then when the Liberals stopped. The Liberals are hypocrites on China because when I was Leader, I banned foreign donations, which a lot of them came from China two years before the Liberals did. The Liberals only did it when the law changed. We led by best practice in that case. And you're quite right about some Liberals have gone into business, you know, commercialising their links and advantages that when they were in Government
EPSTEIN: Do you agree with Don that Labor hasn't fought back enough on the issue of China?
SHORTEN:. I think you'll find that we are fighting back. But David, you know, you made some good points and I hope the other listeners here heard and I'm happy to give you as much airtime as you want to make those points. Of course, the Port of Darwin being another example. And, you know, if the Government were fair dinkum about a lot of things, they love to wrap themselves up in the flag and say they love Australia more than Labor. That's just not right. And I think it was Samuel Johnson who said that patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel. In federal politics, we all love our country, but if the Libs loved our country, why has it taken them nine years to sort out a submarine order?
EPSTEIN: Who's going to win in May?
SHORTEN: I don't know, but I think Labor's competitive
EPSTEIN: Do you feel better? It might be a stupid question. Do you feel more confident than last time you were leader last time? Do you feel more confident or less confident?
SHORTEN: I feel different, I feel, this time round we've had three years of Scott Morrison and as much as he'd like to invent a wand and try and get us to forget the last three years, we can't. And I think that from the vaccine rollout to PPE to rapid antigen tests to a whole lot of - 
EPSTEIN: Go on, in your gut, is it different to last time or not?
SHORTEN: One difference is I don't know how Morrison can convince people somehow he is what is not when we've had three years of the real thing.
EPSTEIN: I tried. Thank you for your time.