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17 February 2022

SUBJECTS: Disability community comes to Canberra; pay rates for frontline COVID workers; Morrison’s comments on China and Labor; impact of Clive Palmer’s big spend and other big money donations in elections. 
STEVE PRICE, HOST: Thursday morning, great to have you with us, Bill Shorten is the Shadow NDIS Minister, he joins us on the line. Good to talk to you again.
PRICE: The disability groups, including unions, workers, people with a disability, went to Canberra yesterday. Did they get to meet with the Morrison Government and what is your feedback Bill so far, as to what they managed to extract from the Government in terms of more compensation for the situation they find themselves in?
SHORTEN: Well, there was a big delegation, as you say, not just of disability carers, but also some of their employers, which was good and disability advocates. They got to meet with one of the Morrison Government Ministers. They were hoping to get a little bit of face time with Mr Morrison himself, because COVID’s been such an important part of our lives. They didn't get that. No, they didn't make a lot of progress, to be honest. The issue that disability carers have been reporting to me is that they for the last two or three months have really struggled to get rapid antigen tests, that they've burnt out, that they can't get in many cases, personal protective equipment. And they've even had to struggle over the last few months to get the booster shot. So, these men and women look after our most vulnerable and they just can't get the basics. So, there was quite a level of, to be honest, despair.
PRICE: You've joined forces with the ACTU President Michelle O'Neill. I mean, you believe that these workers ought to be paid more. We've talked over and over, over the last two years about frontline health care workers like nurses and how little they're paid. They want a two and a half per cent increase in New South Wales. We need to have a national discussion, don't we, about if we're going to retain these good people in difficult jobs that they love doing, we need to have a discussion about what's a reasonable hourly rate for them.
SHORTEN: Yeah, we do. And the rates of pay are ultimately set by the independent umpire, the Fair Work Commission. But the Federal Government needs to turn up to the table and look at the evidence and put the case because sooner or later - we can't keep asking the carers in the frontline health workers, the aged care workers, the disability care workers to keep contributing, almost underpinning the system from their own sacrifices and not have a proper debate about some decent remuneration because people will just burn out. People don't go into these jobs to make a million bucks, but they shouldn't be subsidising the system through their own sacrifices.
PRICE: Have you got any examples of the shortage of rapid antigen tests and PPE? Because I think Senator Ruston, Anne Ruston who’s the Minister said that whether it's Mr Shorten or his leader, Anthony Albanese, all we hear from Labor is criticism and political point scoring rather than ideas and policies. So, what are the examples of the shortage of this equipment?
SHORTEN: Well, Senator Ruston could have met with the 20 workers that I met with. These people were telling me that across the summer they had to turn up and not have the tests. I mean, I've got 20 different real-life stories of people in the caring system looking after vulnerable disabled people who said that they couldn't get the basics. If Senator Ruston or indeed, if the Government just think we're making it up, then go and talk to the disability carers. All I'm doing is reflecting what they're telling me. If they all came to me and said, we're really happy that we've got everyone got vaccinated on time, that everyone could get rapid antigen tests, that everyone could get PPE, that's fine by me. I'm not interested in creating bad news for the sake of it, but where there is bad news, just shutting it down and ignoring it and putting your hands over your ears, that's not leadership.
PRICE: Question Time yesterday got pretty willing on the issue of China. Obviously, the government is going to target the Labor opposition as being soft on China. You had the PM labelling Labor Deputy Leader Richard Marles The Manchurian Candidate, which I guess suggests that Richard Marles - and this is under parliamentary privilege, obviously - is in the pocket of the Chinese. Do you think average Australians believe that Labor is going to be any different in its attitude toward China than what the Government is?
SHORTEN: No, I don't. And nor should they. I know when I was Leader, it was frankly me who stopped the Liberal Government from agreeing to an extradition treaty with China. It was Labor and myself who hammered in extra conditions on the Chinese free trade agreement, when the Government just basically wanted to give away everything and it was Labor under myself who banned foreign donations, even when the law allowed it. The Liberals kept taking donations from Chinese interests for the next two years, so their track record doesn't match their rhetoric. Fundamentally, though, here's a proposition which I'd like voters to consider. Who do you trust with the national security of the country, when this Government can't even roll out the vaccinations, the boosters and the rapid antigen tests? I mean, if these guys can't get rapid antigen tests to chemists, would you really want to trust them with the security of the country? They're not competent.
PRICE: It will be an election issue. I mean, the Government will continue to bring up what happened under the previous Labor Government with border protection and people smugglers. Is that a weak point that you have that you're going to struggle to argue?
SHORTEN: No. Well, again, I shut down the issue of the borders where we agreed with boat turn backs. So, you know, the Government's actually pretty irresponsible saying that they know we've got the same policies there and they're just signalling to the people smugglers to try it on in the event that Labor is successful. So, I think this Government is desperate. I think they don't want you examining their record about COVID and their failure to have an Anti-Corruption Commission and instead a bit like a magician say don't look at what I'm doing, just look over somewhere else. And it's just a pretty low rent politics. And I think it's just a sign of a government who's got nothing positive to say about the country that all they can do is be negative about their opposition.
PRICE: Here’s ASIO boss Mike Burgess about his view, where he believes the China situation should be bipartisan. Have a listen.
MIKE BURGESS, ASIO: Foreign interference is against all members of Parliament, so it doesn't go after one particular party or the other, so it's kind of equal opportunity in that regards. I'll leave the politics to the politicians, but I'm very clear with everyone that I need to be that that's not helpful for us.
PRICE: You agree with him?
SHORTEN: Yeah, I do. I've met with Mike Burgess and the heads of security agencies on any number of occasions. They know that Labor can be trusted. They're saying that we should all be on our guard against foreign interference. They're not saying that one side of politics has a monopoly on goodness. And so, I genuinely think that listen, let's talk straight here. Mr Morrison knows that three years ago, no one knew who he was, so he was given the benefit of the doubt narrowly by the electorate. But now we've had three years of Mr Morrison, and the COVID response by the Federal Government wasn't, in my opinion, up to par. They haven't got an Anti-Corruption Commission and they've got, you know, they talk a lot, but they don't seem to get a lot done.
PRICE: Do you take some heart out of that swing in the seat of Willoughby, former Gladys Berejiklian seats now looking at 20 per cent an independent might take it from the Liberals, a Labor candidate wasn't stood in that election, but a 20 per cent swing, even though normally there are by election swings against incumbents. That's a hell of a turnaround, isn't it?
SHORTEN: Yes. Listen, obviously there’s state issues at play and state and federal are not identical. But, you know, events like that in Willoughby are extinction level events for parties counting on safe seats. And I also, though, acknowledge that people are looking at third parties. So, whilst it's clearly the Liberals who are on the nose there, I and I'm sure the rest of Labor are not complacent. We have to make the case for people to vote for us, not just leave the Liberals. So, you know, there's no arrogance, no hubris in my reaction to it. You wouldn't want to be a Liberal with that result, but I don't think Labor should be complacent at all. We need to go out and make the case every day.
PRICE: Just finally, when you were leader in that last election, Clive Palmer spent over $80 million attacking Labor in advertising on television, radio and newspapers. He says he'll spend $100 million now. He's got his boat parked in Sydney Harbour, three grand a day mooring. Do you worry that Palmer again will dent the Labor vote and push people to independents?
SHORTEN: Yes, I think that's a risk. I take Palmer very seriously. He is distorting Australian politics. I think there's an argument against - there's an argument in favour, I should say, of getting big money out of politics, because what it does is it means that one man can drown out the voices of everyone else and distort things. So, I take Palmer seriously. I think he's unhealthy for Australian politics. He tries to dumb everything down to a slogan, and you can't do that really, life's more complicated. But having said that, I take him very seriously.
PRICE: Good catch up. Have a good day in Parliament. Thanks a lot.
SHORTEN: Good morning, Steve. Cheers, bye
PRICE: Bill Shorten there, Shadow NDIS Minister.