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03 February 2022



SUBJECTS: Morrison Government’s failure on aged care booster shots; rate of pay for aged care workers; Morrison out of touch on cost of living; growing cost of living pressures on Australian families; electric vehicles; leaked text messages from Morrison Government cabinet member.

STEVE PRICE, HOST: It is Thursday morning, I note a figure, I just glanced up from and looked at the sky screen here, 80,000 people in aged care across Australia still have not got their booster shot. How can that happen? I mean, seriously. I mean, I've been boosted. I've got a booster shot. Most of the people I know who've been eligible have got a booster shot. Why are there 80,000 people in aged care who haven't been? Bill Shorten is the Shadow Minister for the NDIS and Government Services. Good to talk to you again.

BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MRIBYRNONG: Yeah, good morning, Steve. Happy New Year.

PRICE: How does that happen? 80,000?

SHORTEN: I don't know because we know where the people are. I mean, a lot of people can go and find the booster shot, but if you're in aged care, we know where the residents are. So, the idea that you can't go out and do outreach to these facilities, there's no satisfactory explanation. I mean, the great irony is if you owed the Australian Tax Office money, they could find you. But if you need to get a booster from them and you're frail and aged and in aged care, the Government can't find you. I don't believe it. I just think it's incompetent.

PRICE: You've been in government. You know that aged care, you've got this complicated system whereby Canberra funds it. The states run some of it. Private operators run some of it, like churches and private companies. So, can you, can we really lay the blame at the feet of the Federal Government? Or should we be putting the heat on the aged care operators and the State Government operators and say, get some mobile teams of people with boosters and get around to these places?

SHORTEN: Well, the Federal Government has responsibility for this part of the rollout where I think you'll find that most of the state-run facilities, there aren't a problem. The state-run facilities are a small number of the total amount. But I mean, as for the aged care operators, the for-profits and the not-for-profits, they're regulated by the Safeguards Commission. It's a federal body. So, this is not just trying to find everyone. This is facilities which are regulated by federal authorities, so they know where they are. I do not understand why they haven't done this.

PRICE: And we would know where they are because we were quick to get in there with vaccination one and vaccination two, weren't we?

SHORTEN: Yeah. So, the question that I think most people are waking up to this morning when they hear this is, why can't they just do this job? This is just a matter of basic competence. It's, you get up you, you get the white board out or you get the spreadsheet out and you say, right, oh, there's X number of aged care facilities in this part or these postcodes. There's Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Let's roll it out and go and boost them.

PRICE: Aged care comes under the Health Minister now, so maybe someone needs to ask Greg Hunt the question.

SHORTEN: Sure. The reality is this shouldn't be a surprise to people. Like, I get sometimes in life. There are things which you can't predict the very start of this virus when it was first reported in China. You know, you think, Oh, does it just happen there? Is it just something which won't come here? But we've now been in this situation for well over two years, so I don't think there is a really satisfactory explanation why you can't go out and boost people. I mean, another group who are being neglected, and it's come out, is actually people with disabilities living in group homes. I mean, there's plenty of people with disability, and the Government can't tell us how many have been vaccinated and boosted. But for people living in disability group homes there’s about 27,000. Yet we've found out that 47 per cent of these houses, these facilities, haven't been boosted. So, something's just really dysfunctional.

PRICE: On the issue of salary for aged care workers, the Prime Minister had his speech in Canberra at the press club on Tuesday. He made the point that he was going to give two $400 grants or cash bonuses to aged care workers. The second one just coincidentally comes in the month of May, when the election's due to be held. The cynic in me would say that that's probably deliberate.


PRICE: Why wouldn't the Government go to fair work and argue that these people who are, you know, being paid $22 an hour deserve more money?

SHORTEN: Well, that is the longer, more sustainable solution. I mean, I didn't come down in the last rain shower. $400 is still $400. But what are the bigger problems in aged care? Turning up to work every day for $22 an hour before tax, when you can get paid more at Bunnings means that you're going to have an aged care workforce crisis, which we have. What happens, the way wages get set is that you can negotiate a pay rise or if that doesn't work directly, then you can go to the Fair Work Commission, the independent umpire and the union for aged care workers puts the case, and the employers put a case and you try and negotiate a lift in the base rate of pay. The point about lifting the base rate of pay is that's sustainable for a person's livelihood. You can't rely on an election every three years to get a $400 sugar hit. That's not a strategy to improve pay. I mean, in aged care, it's not just pay that's the issue. There's rosters, there's staffing levels, there's making sure that people are adequately trained, but wages are part of it. And quite often you hear some people say, Oh, money doesn't make a difference. Well, people who say that generally aren't looking after frail, older people on $22 an hour. So, I think Mr Morrison would be well advised for the Government to make a submission, saying this is for cost-of-living changes. This is what we think the value of the work is. And then the independent umpire sets an hourly rate.

PRICE: We are taking the mood this morning of the audience on the cost of living and a lot of people telling us that the price of basics like fruit, vegetables and fresh meat, petrol obviously, and the cost of rent are all going up. If you were to win the election, what would Labor's solution be to trying to get people wage increases so that this inflationary effect on basic living means that they've got less in their pocket?

SHORTEN: It’s a really hard issue. I think anyone who promises just a quick solution is having a lend of you. In terms of wages, wages growth is not going well. One of the reasons for that is that you've got an underbelly of casualised, irregularly employed people, so it's hard to negotiate a pay rise if you don't have set hours or if you're not sure you'll have your job tomorrow. So, one way to improve the wages system is to improve the job security of people working in labour hire and casualised employment. You know, people who working casualised for years and years, they can never sit down and ask the bank for a loan. They can't even probably get a car loan. They've got to go to the money lenders in the High Street just to be able to pay when the washing machine breaks down or the tires need to be replaced on the car. So, I think one part of improving the wages outcomes is to minimise the reliance on casualised irregular labour.

PRICE: I'm sure you've been, in your past, ambushed with gotcha questions.

SHORTEN: Sure, many.

PRICE: Especially when you were Leader. Should Scott Morrison have known how much a loaf of bread and a litre of petrol and what a rapid antigen test cost?

SHORTEN: Probably. I mean, one thing, when I used to prepare for the leadership debates, you'd always ask these basic questions. So, if you want to be generous to them, you can say he was underprepared. And when you're the Prime Minister or the Leader being underprepared, it's not an excuse, is it? Listen, he's too busy to push a trolley down Woolies every Saturday or Sunday. I mean, I lost the last election, so I'm not as busy as him so I do know, I do push the trolley every week and I find it's a good way of keeping myself in touch with what's happening. But I think he should have probably been prepared. These are questions which while I was Leader, I was always prepared to answer. Because otherwise you run the risk of saying you're out of touch now. You don't have to know the price of every item, or you know, if pork, organic pork mince is on special at Woolies, I get that or -

PRICE: What does sourdough cost compared to white bread.

SHORTEN: Yeah, that's right. Well, about twice as much in my experience. But you know, the point about it is you don't expect him to know every granular detail. But I think the reality is that another way we can tackle cost of living, frankly, is electric vehicles. Because if we can lower the price of electric vehicles, one thing I've found since - I get my government car for work, I got it to be an electric car - is it's costing a lot less than petrol. Now I acknowledge you've got to be able to buy the car to get that. But once we have cheaper electric cars, the petrol bill, which I used to charge the taxpayers, dropped by literally 3-4000 bucks a year.

PRICE: But the only way people can afford Bill to buy an electric car, is they're subsidised by government.

SHORTEN: Oh, I think what we could do is create a bigger market in Australia. You know, I think initially there's truth in what you say, but the reality is at the moment, electric cars are just the preserve of the really well off. And that's a shame. So, I think our proposals to decrease some of the charges –

PRICE: What have you got? What are you driving?

SHORTEN: A Tesla, it's a little Model 3 Tesla. It's about the same as a new Mazda, a Mazda 9. So, you know, they're not cheap. I acknowledge that. But what I am saying is that I've seen the future and it does - electric cars are cheaper to run. So, once we can get more cars into the market, so the cars are in the price of a lot of people's salary ranges, one of the things I found is that by moving to that, petrol costs evaporate, and petrol is a big sting.

PRICE: I wonder what your reaction would have been if when you were Leader, one of your senior colleagues who sat in Shadow Cabinet with you described you as a fraud and a psycho, how you might have reacted?

SHORTEN: Well, hopefully they didn't, but you'd be very disappointed. You'd be very disappointed. I mean, it's a distraction. Do people say mean things about other people in the privacy of their own text messages to third parties? I'm sure they do.

PRICE: You'd never do that, though, would you?

SHORTEN: I don't know if anyone's text messages could survive, you know, being read out. But having said that, we need a united Government at the moment and to me, leave aside the particular insult, whether or not it's right or wrong. If you've got senior leaders of the nation complaining about each other in such derogatory terms, you know, I wonder what other countries make of that. Do you think the Chinese media will have picked up on that? Do you think business looking to make an investment in Australia? So, what's going on? It's not the sign of a Government who's focused on the people. It's a sign of a Government whose egos and complaints about each other are more important than helping with the issues you've been raising - aged care, cost of living, getting booster shots out to people with disabilities.

PRICE: This is the big question. The final one. Natarsha and I have been having a debate this morning. When you go to Bunnings. What attracts you more to the sausage sandwich? The smell of the onion or the sausage?

SHORTEN: Oh, I go the sausage.

PRICE: Oh, what? You're on Natarsha's side, but it’s the onion that makes you want to -

SHORTEN: Well, I didn't - sorry, Steve. I didn't know that was your position, but I'm still going to stick by Natarsha's side there.

NATARSHA BELLING, HOST: Thank you, Mr Shorten. I'm always right.

SHORTEN: Call me, Bill. Well, you know, I'm sure you are. But you know, it's a good reward at the end of Bunnings and you've been out to the -

PRICE: I shouldn't bring that up because that might trigger something in you. Because didn't you get caught eating the middle out of a sausage sandwich?

SHORTEN: Oh mate, yeah well first of all, you go the pro team. But secondly, more importantly, that bread roll you would have needed - a great white shark wouldn't have bitten the end of that. It wasn't bread, you know, it wasn't soft bread. It wasn't Brumby's soft bread there, it needed a jackhammer if you wanted to, you know, eat it in a traditional fashion.

PRICE: One of the lasting images of that campaign, thanks for your time talk soon.

SHORTEN: See you guys, bye,

PRICE: Bill Shorten.