SUNDAY, 16 NOVEMBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: G20; Climate change; Tony Abbott’s whinge to global leaders; Economic growth; Industrial relations; Abbott Government’s unfair Budget.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone. It’s great to be here in Brisbane on the second day of the G20. Brisbane's put on a superb turnout. It makes you proud to be Australian when you see so many world leaders coming here engaging and in many cases some for some of these world leaders it is the first time they've ever been to Australia, so it’s a great opportunity.
That is why perhaps on what has been otherwise a blue sky weekend, there is, I think, real disappointment, both domestically and internationally at the bizarre parochial little Australia contribution of our Prime Minister in the opening remarks yesterday.
World leaders are here to talk about Ebola, security, inclusive growth, global free-trade, climate change, and instead we have Tony Abbott bringing his shopping list of domestic whinges, explaining to the rest of the world that the Australian people and Australian Parliament won't vote to put new taxes on sick people, don't want to see unemployed people paid nothing for six months, don't want to see the opportunity for kids from modest backgrounds go to university and not have to double and triple what they pay to go to university.
I say to Tony Abbott, you're the Prime Minister of Australia. We just need you to act like the Prime Minister of Australia on important matters likes climate change. We've seen him furiously and desperately behind the scenes ask and shush and hush everyone from talking about climate change but unsurprisingly, the rest of the world, leaders of the rest of the world are determined to acts on climate change and no matter how often Tony Abbott tries to pretend that we don't have to talk about climate change the rest of the world set a direction and it's now time for Australia to join the rest of the world to face our future honestly and to start taking the necessary steps to ensure that our children and our grandchildren don't suffer worse damage as a result of us neglecting climate change. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Does it put pressure on Labor now to spell out what its position will be given that the rest of the world is taking positions to Paris next year that Labor’s got to have a settled proposition soon?
SHORTEN: Labor has a settled position. We announced it in July. The only pressure in Australia at the moment is upon Tony Abbott and of course the consequences of waiting are disastrous for our environment. Australians understood and you could tell by their very strong and positive response, when Barack Obama has to remind Tony Abbott about the beauty of the Barrier Reef, about the importance of tackling climate change; well I think that Barack Obama, in the nicest possible way, has redefined Tony Abbott's shirtfront and done it to remind us about what the future is.
So the pressure is all on Tony Abbott and I think there's a lot of world leaders, and they're all very polite, they're not here to have a dig at anyone. All the quiet conversations I've had recognise and they say that Tony Abbott needs to do more on climate change. He's misread this internationally.
JOURNALIST: So an Emissions Trading Scheme is locked in to your policy for the 2016 election?
SHORTEN: It will be the basis of our policy, yes.
JOURNALIST: This morning there are trilateral talks, defence talks between Japan, Australia and the US. Can we be both a friend to the US and to China and Japan, and should we play favourites? What’s Labor’s position on that sort of strategic front?
SHORTEN: Labor does not believe that Australia should be anyone's deputy sheriff. America is our oldest military alliance, it's very strong, and we have shared values. Japan is a marvellous success story of the second half of the 20th century and of course we need to improve on the good relationship we have and the Free Trade Agreement does that. But I do not see our foreign relations as being an either or, that we have to be best friends with one or the other. That is why Labor believes in principle that we need to encourage China to engage in multi-lateral institutions. That is why the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in principle is a good idea. Of course we've got to look at the detail of these matters. Of course we do.
But I believe that Australia doesn't need to say that we can only be allies with one and not the other. I, like millions of Australians, are pleased that the President of China will be addressing the Parliament. I'm really pleased he's going to Tasmania to talk about how there can be greater relationships between Tasmania and China. I believe that China, the peaceful rise of China in the world is something which we need to work with. Australia, whilst we're very grateful for our British heritage as Tony Abbott says, our future in large part involves in deepening the sustainability and quality engagement we have with Asia. Labor firmly believes that we need to look North as one of our key foreign policy planks in the future.
JOURNALIST: You’ve said that you’ve been having some talks on the sidelines, what have leaders said to you?
SHORTEN: Well obviously we’ve been keen to pursue matters to understand the attitudes of the Europeans towards the Russian Federation, Putin and Ukraine. To get a better understanding of that dreadful conflict which unfortunately many Australians were unaware of but we’ve been dragged right into it through the terrible shooting down of the MH17.
I’ve been talking to world leaders about the role of climate change and renewable energy. Again, Tony Abbott is on the wrong side of history. What Australians expect of their politicians, they don’t expect Tony and I to agree on everything, but they do expect us to be debating the future. Vandalising the Renewable Energy Target in Australia goes at odds with what many other jurisdictions around the world are doing.
Of course, I’ve been talking about the best way for the world to respond to the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa. What’s really clear to me when you’re talking to the rest of the world is that what West Africa needs is not just money, it needs skilled doctors and nurses; leave that too late and then the consequences will be far more drastic.
It is also great though, talking to world leaders about their view of Australia, the need to build up trade. People view Australia as a lucky country, they marvel in our economic success in recent years. They are impressed that we got through the Global Financial Crisis in the way that we did. I think the attitude of world leaders bar perhaps Putin is that they really like coming to Australia, they’re impressed by the friendliness of our people.
What is interesting is quite a lot of the problems we have to deal with here; unemployment, inclusive growth, how do we provide the equal treatment of women in our society, how do we deal with an ageing population. A lot of these questions are the same questions governments around the world are grappling with.
JOURNALIST: Later today the G20 summit will issue the Brisbane Action Plan. Do you think there is a need for the Parliament to perhaps enquire into it, to examine it in some way to ensure that it actually does benefit Australia?
SHORTEN: Well let’s see what the plan is. I think a lot of it is hot air, it potentially could be hot air in terms of climate change and matters which are important. What Labor will be looking at with the communiqué is one, is there genuine progress, and I’m optimistic in some areas there will be. I believe the G20 has been a good thing for Australia to host, and I do believe that Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd do deserve a bit of credit for helping bring it here.
So there will be some good things coming out of the communiqué; I’m more positive than negative. But what I’ll also look at, and what my colleagues will look at and I think more importantly what the Australian people will look at is what doesn’t it deal with? Is there a discussion here about how we have inclusive growth? Is there a discussion here about climate change? Is there a discussion about how we create good jobs in the future in order that Australians have a good path to the future and the world we live in.
So let’s have a look at it, I approach it with an open mind, I’m sure there’ll be some things that we’ll be happy with, but I’m also interested to see if it’s dealt with some of the real issues that Australia and the world are facing.
JOURNALIST: You’ve been cautious about what’s in the FTA and how that will play out. Do you have any more information about what’s likely to be signed off on?
SHORTEN: I’m cautious because I don’t know what’s in it and like you; I’d be too savvy just to sign a blank cheque. But let me go to some of our principles: we believe in trade liberalisation, Labor is an outwardly looking party, we believe that Australia should be modern and confident and not scared of the rest of the world. That’s why, for instance, we’ve said Tony Abbott can’t be a selective internationalist, that sometimes you know, Captain of Team Little Australia. That’s why we think that the Ebola response needs to be more energetic. That’s why climate change, we think it’s weird that this Government didn’t even want to talk about the elephant in the room.
So when it comes to the Free Trade Agreement, a bilateral market-access agreement, Labor and Penny Wong, my spokesperson on trade, has set out a series criteria. But if on balance, if it’s good for Australia, then we’ll go with it, but it will have to make sure that it covers some of the issues; do we have the same access as New Zealand got with diary? What does this mean for labour markets and people? What is the context of investment changes? Labor has supported increasing the threshold for private Chinese investment in Australia, so where we’re open minded, but let’s see the detail.
This is a government who in the last week have been selectively leaking the goodies, if that’s all there is to it, well that’s fine but let’s see what they’re proposing.
JOURNALIST: Bill, one of the things that’s suggested in terms of economic growth for the future to achieve this 2, 2.1 per cent growth target into the future is reform of industrial relations and it’s suggested that there needs to be freer labour markets which clearly has been a highly contentious thing, a political hot point between the two political parties here. What’s your gut feel, because this is going to be the recommendation that is likely to come out of the [inaudible]?
SHORTEN: I was surprised that Tony Abbott when he was listing his whinges about Australia and Australian politics, when he was whingeing and complaining about us not voting to increase taxes on the sick that he didn’t whinge about people being paid, the minimum wage being too high. This Government, if it has an industrial relations agenda, should spell it out. Labor stands on the side of productivity, but we stand on the side of profitable enterprises and the creation of wealth. But we can’t do it by a race to the bottom in wages. We’re not ever going to compete with low wage jurisdictions. The challenge for Australia, we are a relatively high-wage economy on average – our challenge is, productivity from a skilled workforce, through efficient infrastructure. It’s disastrous when people are sitting in traffic for hours every day in our cities, yet this is a government who doesn’t want to talk about cities policy. We need to have the equal treatment of women. Once we treat women equally in our workplaces, I actually think that will drive growth and jobs and productivity. There’s more than one way to improve productivity in Australian workplaces then by cutting wages and trying to compete in a race to the bottom.
JOURNALIST: That sounds as though you are at least open to negotiating change in our industrial relations system in Australia. Is that true?
SHORTEN: What I understand, and I have to say I’ve been representing workers and helping employers for over 20 years, I’ve always been open. Australian workers are always open to a better deal for their employers and themselves. But this is a government who doesn’t do anything by the front door; they’re always doing it by the backdoor. Does anyone really think that the 1.5 per cent pay offer they’ve made to the Australian Defence Forces was based by the Government weighing up the best interests of our Defence Forces? They have used Australia’s Defence Forces in the wages offer there as a stalking horse to force down wages across the public services.
Now whatever you think about the wages policy, they shouldn’t be using the Defence Forces. If they want to have a debate about GST and they don’t do it straight up with Australians; we all know that’s what they want to do. Instead, they cut $80 billion from hospitals and schools in the states, forcing the states to do their arguing. This is not a brave government; this is not a brave government. So when it comes to workplace relations, we can have discussions about how you improve productivity, but the future of Australian enterprises and productivity is in 90 per cent dependent about what happens at enterprise level not by changing laws in Canberra.
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