TRANSCRIPT, DOORSTOP, CANBERRA

August 28, 2014


THURSDAY, 28 AUGUST 2014

SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget, national security; Qantas; Renewable Energy Target; Tony Abbott’s university debt sentence; trade union royal commission; Indonesia.  

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone and welcome to Tilley's cafe in Lyneham where my colleague Jenny Macklin, Shadow Minister for pensions, and Andrew Leigh have been meeting with concerned pensioners, articulating the fears and anxieties of millions of Australians. It is the one year anniversary since Tony Abbott told his brazen, blatant lies to Australia. It was a year ago that Tony Abbott, in the pursuit of votes, promised to Australians there would be no cut to pensions. And yesterday, Joe Hockey, Treasurer, let the cat out of the bag and finally confirmed what all Australian pensioners already know – there are $23 billion worth of cuts to pension booked by this Government. He confirmed that in the future there will be less money paid out to pensioners than would have been the case if the Liberal Party were not in power.

Pensioners do not understand why they have become the political football of a government who have been breaking their promises and telling lies before the election. This is an unfair Budget which Labor will fight and fight and fight. We will fight for Australia's pensioners. Pensioners have the right to be able to have a little bit extra so they can give five bucks to their grandkids when the kids visit. They are people who deserve, after a lifetime of paying taxes and contributing to the community, not to be attacked by this government with their unfair Budget. I might ask my colleague, Jenny Macklin, to talk further about the one year anniversary and Tony Abbott's lies to just Australia's pensioners.

JENNY MACKLIN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND PAYMENTS: Thanks very much Bill. We have just met with a number of different sorts of pensioners, and I think it's very important that everyone understands that the people we have met today represent the people who are going to be hit by Tony Abbott's changes to indexation to the pension that will see a cut to pensions over the next 10 years.

Today we have met with a lady who is war widow. She understands that Tony Abbott is going to cut her pension. A lady who is on the Disability Support Pension, who is very anxious about what this cut to her Disability Support Pension will mean for her. And people who are on the Age Pension, and there are millions on the Age Pension, who are now facing a cut to their pension.

One year ago, Tony Abbott lied to the Australian people. Tony Abbott said there would be ‘no change to pensions, no cut to pensions’. Now we know that was a blatant lie. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have already pushed cuts to pension indexation through the House of Representatives. Yesterday, in the House of Representatives, Joe Hockey admitted that the cuts to the pension are worth $23 billion over the next 10 years. The Australian Council of Social Service says that is worth about $80 a week for a pensioner in the next 10 years. $80 a week off a person’s pension because of Tony Abbott’s lie. That is why we are here today. We will fight these changes, we will do everything we can to protect Australia’s pensioners.

SHORTEN: Before we go to questions, I think it is important that we also make a comment about the unfolding situation in Northern Iraq. Labor supports humanitarian relief for victims of a looming genocide in Northern Iraq. We commend the work already done by our remarkably skilled and professional members of the Australian Defence forces, in this case in particular, the RAAF. Labor recognises and is supportive of the Government in terms of signalling that the Islamic State, and its various iterations, is the organisation of terror in north Syria and Northern Iraq. It is a barbarist organisation which needs to be tackled head on by discouraging Australians from going to be foreign fighters there, by making sure that we are able to provide the humanitarian relief which desperate people desperately require.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you think that the Government is more advanced in its preparations and discussions about further military roles in the Middle East than it has stated publically, or than it has said to the Opposition privately?

SHORTEN: Well first of all, let’s talk about our military. They’re professional and no doubt they are constantly watching what is happening and making sure that whatever is asked of them, they can do. In terms of formal preparations and decisions, no I do not believe the Government has made any formal decisions and that is certainly what has been indicated to us.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Senator Sue Lines that the talk about terror, the focus of the past few weeks, has been a distraction from the Budget?

SHORTEN: Well again I refer you to my remarks over the past few weeks and as late as 30 seconds ago. IS is a dreadful development on the international stage. This is a fundamentalist, extremist organisation whose violence and acts of genocide need to be called for what they are. We will support the Government on matters of national security because this is above politics. When it comes to making Australians safe, that is a first-order issue of any Government, Liberal or Labor.

JOURNALIST: It’s a first-order issue, but why then is Senator Lines accusing the Government of a cover up?

SHORTEN:  Well again, I’m not going to get into politics here. I and Labor recognise that national security is a matter which goes above the day to day politics. That’s been our position, it remains our position.

JOURNALIST: So should she have avoided getting political about it?

SHORTEN: Individuals make comments. I’ve spoken to Senator Lines. Our position, Labor’s position, is that we will work in the best interests of this nation and our stability and security. We will continue to do so.

JOURNALIST: Did you reprimand Senator Lines in that discussion?

SHORTEN: I’m not going to go into every individual conversation.

JOURNALIST: What was the nature of it?

SHORTEN: I’m still not going to go into it, even if the question is asked differently, I’m still not going to go into the individual nature of the conversation. But let me make again very clear, I regard and Labor regards IS, the Islamic State, as a dreadful, barbarous organisation. We regard them as a threat. We take the briefings from our security agencies very seriously. There will not be a debate in this nation in terms of political point scoring from either Liberal or Labor about the importance of tackling this threat.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what’s your reaction to the big loss posted by Qantas?

SHORTEN: It is a big loss, but what I’d also recognise is that it appears from the first reports being made by Qantas, that hopefully the worst is behind them, for Qantas. In fact what we see is a line being ruled under further job losses, although I regret the job losses that have already occurred –

JOURNALIST: Is there a future –

SHORTEN: There is a future for Qantas. Let’s be really clear, I’ll keep flying Qantas, Australians will keep flying Qantas. What we’ve seen is difficult decisions, and decisions made which have seen good people lose their jobs, and that’s a source of great frustration to Labor. But what we also recognise is that hopefully there’s been a line drawn under further job losses. We see that the changes which Labor led in the Parliament will provide Qantas with the opportunity to reinvest in its international arm. So I believe that there is some silver lining in a difficult day for Qantas, and some positive prospects for blue sky in the future.

JOURNALIST: Is it time to reconsider changes to the Qantas Sale Act?

SHORTEN: We’ve already done that, and Qantas recognises that our changes, compromise – which is what the Australian Parliament should do – ensure that we still have an Australian-owned, majority-owned national carrier, but with greater flexibility to provide a profile for equity and capital that will be raised from overseas.

JOURNALIST: There is some expectation that the Government may release its review of the Renewable Energy Target today. Is Labor open to any alterations to that at all?

SHORTEN: This is a Government of climate sceptics, people who don’t believe in renewable energy. I think the vandalism that’s been done to the renewable energy industry in Australia by this government is nothing short of disgraceful. Imagine a government putting in jeopardy thousands of jobs, billions of dollars of investment. This is the most irresponsible economic conduct I’ve seen about an industry since the Federal Government gave up on shipbuilding, since they gave up on blue-collar jobs in the car industry. But the renewable energy industry needs certainty and this government are nothing more than a pack of climate sceptics, vandalising the renewable energy industry.

JOURNALIST: The Education Minister has re-introduced higher education reform, have you been in discussions with the Government and can you tell us where they’re at in terms of any compromise?

SHORTEN: I say to Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Christopher Pyne – bring it on with your higher education changes. We’re going to fight you, and we’re going to win. We do not believe in doubling and tripling the cost of going to university. We do not believe that the future for Australia is by dumbing us down and making it harder for working class and middle class kids to get a higher education. The future of this country resides upon the shoulders of the next generation of Australians. The idea that this government will take 20 cents in every dollar from university funding and somehow think this is a good idea is a disgrace.

We will stand up students, we will stand up for mature age students, who have to retrain and reskill in an ever changing world, and these higher education changes will discourage that. We will stand up for people who don’t live in the capital cities and need access to regional universities, which will be hardest hit by these changes. We’re going to stand up for women who shouldn’t have to have debt sentences for decades because this government is so out of touch with the future of Australia.

JOURNALIST: Does former Prime Minister Julia Gillard have anything to worry about after being called up to give evidence at the Trade Union Royal Commission?

SHORTEN: This Royal Commission, as I’ve said in the past on numerous occasions, is one where I’m not going to provide running commentary. People will run their agendas, they will settle their scores in Tony Abbott’s Royal Commission against trade unions, and there’s nothing further that I intend to say.

JOURNALIST: Just back on security-related issues, the Foreign Minister is in Indonesia today to sign off on intelligence and cooperation agreements, yet Tanya Plibersek seems to suggest she wasn’t briefed on its contents. Do you regard it as binding future governments as well, and if so, should she have been taken into the loop on this?

SHORTEN: My colleague Tanya Plibersek is a remarkable foreign affairs spokesperson and I think the Government’s always well-advised to consult. When it comes to the Indonesian security agreement, please remember that before the Abbott Government came into power, this was a strong relationship. There’s been a hiatus of some considerable time, let’s call it for what it is. I’m pleased if there is progress, that is excellent, I am pleased. But this government hasn’t set any land-speed records in terms of rebuilding our relationship with Indonesia. I’m pleased it if it’s getting back on track but you do have to ask the question, why did it take so long?

JOURNALIST: Did they inherit it from the actions of a former government?

SHORTEN: No.

JOURNALIST: The spying?

SHORTEN: Are you saying a Labor government in Australia, or the United States?

JOURNALIST: I think the leak suggested that it had a degree of Australian involvement.

SHORTEN: Well if you’re satisfied that it takes so long to work relations through with Indonesia, fair enough. I make the point again that I am pleased if relations are back on track but I’m not going to hand the Government a medal for the time it’s taken. I don’t think it’s warranted. Thanks everyone, see you in Question Time.

ENDS