Television Interview: Sky News - 30th anniversary of Uluru handover; Constitutional Recognition

26 October 2015






SUBJECT/S: 30th anniversary of Uluru handover; Constitutional Recognition; Cuts to Indigenous services; Closing the gender gap in superannuation

JOURNALIST: Opposition Leader thank you for joining me here on Sky News Live. The 30th anniversary of the handback of Uluru. What does it mean to you?


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It's a real privilege to be here. When you come to Uluru you realise what a significant thing it was for native title and land rights to be finally recognised. For the whole of European settlement we'd viewed, Europeans that is, the red centre as alien and hostile and we never really understood what Australia's indigenous land owners saw, which is that this is land which could give sustaining life to people. Times changed and eventually a wrong was righted and Ayers Rock became Uluru.


JOURNALIST: 30 years on, the Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion says that not all the terms of that 99 year lease have been met, in particular education and employment opportunities and real engagement with the people that live a Mutitjulu, what would you say to that?


SHORTEN: I'd say that we do need to close the gap. I'd say that the Coalition government in Canberra which Mr Scullion's a member of have got the capacity to change some of the problems that we see today. We need to reverse many of the Liberal cuts of the last two years to Aboriginal services because whilst 30 years ago the handback was really important - to recognise land rights at the centre of Australian law - now we need to close the gap in education, in jobs, in the prison system and in the legal system, in the health system. We need to make sure now that we can give economic empowerment to Indigenous Australian's so that they can not only have some control of the land, they can control their future.


JOURNALIST: You're the alternative Prime Minister, we're heading into an election campaign how exactly would you reach all of those goals and targets?


SHORTEN: That's a longer conversation than this morning but the first thing is I think we need to create a new closing the gap target. We need to deal with what I think is a national disgrace, that is that a young Aboriginal man of 18 in Australia is more likely to end up in jail than university. We've got to do something about our law and order system which see incarceration of young Indigenous men as a likely path for any dealings with the legal system. So that's one thing we'd do. At the other end I think we need to have constitutional recognition of our first Australians in the Constitution. The Australian Constitution is our national birth certificate. I think after 200 years of European settlement and 115 years since the Constitution was formed it is long overdue to include Indigenous Australians in our constitution and it sends a big message to anyone who comes to Australia and to our children and our childrens’ children that at last Australia gets that we are one Australia and that our first Australians are a group of Australians we're really proud of.


JOURNALIST: How can Australians be confident that the Labor Party has a policy platform going into the next election when we've not seen very much detail as of yet and you have an Indigenous Affairs spokesman who seems to be very silent or at the very least isn't cutting through on many of these very big issues?      

SHORTEN: Well Shayne Neumann’s our Indigenous spokesperson. He and his team including Stephen Jones, including Warren Snowdon, the long serving Member for Lingiari and of course we’ve advice from Senator Nova Peris, are doing great work. We’ll have an excellent policy in terms of empowering Indigenous Australians at the next election. But in the meantime I have to just disagree with the proposition that we’ve been silent. It’s been Labor who’s been speaking up against the cuts. There’s been half a billion dollars’ worth of cuts to Indigenous services, which have seen a whole lot of really effective programs set backwards. And what we would do, the principles of what we would do, is close the gap, properly fund our schools including paying schools for resources where they’re educating Indigenous kids as part of their school population. We’ve got plans in terms of reducing eye illness – in terms of the diseases which affects sight in this country, which particularly afflict Indigenous Australians. We’ve also been talking about, as I said, about closing the gap in terms of our legal system. So I’m optimistic Labor, both in terms of Constitutional recognition and practical on the ground efforts to help educate, provide jobs, provide economic empowerment to Indigenous Australians, that we’ll have very good policies for the next election.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten just finally on one other issue, the Government has announced this idea of making it easier for Mum’s coming back into the workforce to contribute to their superannuation. What’s your position? Do you support this?


SHORTEN: Well Labor’s always supported closing the gender gap for women at work. Not only in superannuation, but in terms of inequality and pay. But I mean if the Liberal Government were serious – I mean, they’ve just discovered that women have a savings gap in superannuation, something I’ve spoken about quite a lot already – they wouldn’t have the cut the tax concessions for people who earn less than $37,000 a year. 3.5 million Australians earn less than $37,000 a year. Labor had a policy in place which said that you shouldn’t pay any tax on your superannuation contributions if you earn less than $37,000 a year. 2.2 million of these 3.5 million people are women – the Liberals took all that away. And the other point I’d say is that if the Government are serious about helping people save for their retirement they wouldn’t be giving tax concessions to the highest income earners in the country. Under the Liberal policy, if you have millions of dollars in superannuation already you pay no tax on the income from that superannuation, whereas if you’re a low income earner, the Government’s actually increased the taxes you pay. I think that when we talk about closing the gender gap for women in superannuation, that also raises an important point which I raised on Saturday in Adelaide when I gave a speech to the Labor Party. Our tax system is a leaky bucket. If you are really well off, you’ve got many ways of making your income that you earn tax privileged – that you pay no tax on it or very little tax. Whereas the rest of Australians, including the vast bulk of women who work, they’ve just got to pay all the tax that they’re required to pay and they have no way to make their income tax privileged


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks very much for joining me here on Sky News Live.


SHORTEN: Thanks. Cheers.