TRANSCRIPT - PRESS CONFERENCE - PARLIAMENT HOUSE
October 01, 2014
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government's unfair and disastrous Budget; Senate Inquiry into Newman Government; Burqa; Climate Change; National Security Legislation.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, everyone, there's been a lot of discussion about the Budget overnight. Let me reiterate, Australians cannot afford this Budget. Pensioners cannot afford to have their pensions cut. Families cannot afford this GP Tax. Young and mature aged Australians cannot afford to pay $100,000 university degrees.
Yet today, Finance Minister Cormann and Treasurer Hockey have again rushed out to reiterate their 100 per cent commitment to these dreadful unfair cuts that I have just listed. Worse still, Joe Hockey has told everyone that he is working on an alternative set of budget cuts, he is on the record as having said he wants to go harder. If you thought this Budget was shocker, you ain't seen nothing yet. This Budget is in chaos, it is in disarray.
It's because this Budget's fundamentally unfair and it's bad policy. Hurting people is not the answer. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey should get off the backs of ordinary Australians and come up with other plans to sort out the Budget rather than punishing ordinary Australians. I might ask Chris Bowen to add some words at this point.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thank you very much Bill. This morning we see Budget reboot number 18. A Treasurer who is simply not up to the job of delivering a Budget to the Australian people.
But worse still, as Bill outlined, a Treasurer and a Finance Minister still committed to deep and harsh cuts which will affect every Australian. A Treasurer and Finance Minister who simply haven't got the message from the Parliament, and the people. The Treasurer and a Finance Minister who have conceded that they can only get some measures through the Parliament today, but are still committed to the deep and harsh measures that they are philosophically wanting to impose on the Australian people. Let's be clear - as Joe Hockey and Matias Cormann have admitted this morning, whether it's in this Parliament or if they're still in Government in the next Parliament, they won't walk away from this agenda. They want to reduce the incomes of Australian families. They want to attack the chances of Australians to go to university through deregulation and increased fees and they want to ensure that every Australian who needs to go to the doctor has to pay for the privilege of going to the doctor under Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey's Australia.
So Labor's values are clear - our commitment is clear. We will continue to fight. We're glad that the Government has accepted the reality, accepted Labor's reasonable position for these particular measures in the Parliament today. Just as the Government still remains committed to these harsh attacks on Australian families, the Labor Party remains committed to opposing them and opposing them all the way.
SHORTEN: We might just ask Jenny Macklin to give an update in term of the Government's Budget legislation in the Senate.
JENNY MACKLIN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND PAYMENTS: Thanks very much, Bill. So the legislation that contains these harsh Budget cuts is due to be voted on in the Senate today. This is the legislation that cuts indexation for all the pensions. This is the legislation that sees $7.5 billion taken out of the pockets of families. And this is the legislation that would see young Australians be left with nothing to live on for six months if the Government had its way. Labor has made it clear since the Budget that we are totally opposed to these measures. We have made it clear every single day since the Budget.
Finally, the message seems to have got through to Joe Hockey and Matias Cormann today that Labor will not change our views on these matters. They need to understand, that if they put legislation to the Senate today that contains these measures, we will vote them down. We will vote these measures down. We will not support cuts to the pensions, these massive cuts to families or the cuts to young unemployed people. But, as both Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen have just indicated, the worst new for pensioners, the worst news for families and the worst news for young unemployed people has come from Joe Hockey and Matias Cormann today who have said they will continue to pursue these harsh cuts through the Parliament right up until the next election. Labor will just as ferociously oppose them.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you accept there have been new expenses incurred by the Budget associated with the security and counter-terrorism measures that you have supported? So obviously there going to need to be saves in MYEFO that you will have to embrace?
SHORTEN: I sincerely the hope the Government is not trying to use our bipartisan position on national security to justify their mismanagement of the Budget. That would be a dreadful mistake by the Government. Everyone knows that Joe Hockey's first Budget, the ‘best day of his life’, was a shocker for Australians and terribly unfair. And yet they don't seem to have got the message about their poor policies. You don't fix health costs by taxing sick Australians into a future fund. You don't encourage people to be more productive with better skills and double and triple the cost of going university. You don't help pensioners with their cost of living by lowering the indexation rates. I might ask Chris to further talk about the details in terms of your question.
BOWEN: Bill of course is 100 per cent right. If the MYEFO, I expect, would reflect Government decisions and initiatives based on national security and defence deployments. That would be the standard practice and the MYEFO would be the opportunity for the Government to update the people and the Parliament as to the impact of those decisions. But they should not be used as an excuse for further and deeper cuts.
JOURNALIST: But you couldn’t support them at the same time and not support the costs associated with them?
BOWEN: At no stage has Treasurer or the Prime Minister said we have to make these national security commitments, and national security commitments are being made of all governments of all persuasions including over the last six years for good and valid reasons. But they’re not then used as an opportunity or an alibi for further cuts in social services or elsewhere. That is the wrong way to go about it.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask on the welfare bills, Ms Macklin, has the Government communicated to you today or yesterday they are now prepared to split them and just pass the measures that you are prepared to pass, or is it still a stand-off as we sit here?
MACKLIN: We are still discussing how they are going to proceed. You would have seen the comments from both the Finance Minister and the Treasurer this morning, but we are still waiting to hear from the Government as to how they're going to make that commitment stick.
JOURNALIST: So what you said this your opening remarks, if they present them as an omnibus you will knock it off.
MACKLIN: Correct, we will vote it down –
JOURNALIST: You’re prepared to pass the split bill today if they’re prepared to –
MACKLIN: If they present the measures that we have indicated we will support, then of course we will stick to our word. But if they include cuts to the pension or any of the other measures I have highlighted that we oppose, we will vote it down.
BOWEN: Can I just add to that, our position has been very clear. Jenny and I and Bill have made our position very clear now for weeks, if not months, that there are some measures here that we would vote for if they split the bills we would vote for, and oppose the entire package if they refused to split the package. The Government has had plenty of time to work out how they are going to deal with this. They’re at sixes and sevens today, but they have had plenty of warning. We have been telling them publicly and privately what our position is and the fact they still haven't decided how they are going to split the bills or what they’re going to do goes to this mismanagement of this Budget.
MACKLIN: I think it really does –
MACKLIN: Yes I will Michelle, but I just want to say I think it really does demonstrate extraordinary incompetence. Extraordinary incompetence on the part of the Treasurer and the Finance Minister that they have not been able to even get the Senate procedure right. That is how incompetent they are. Labor has demonstrated since the Budget that we will not support any change to indexation of the pensions. We will not support saying to young unemployed people you're on your own for six months or longer. We will not support the massive cuts to family payments that would leave an average family on $65,000 around $6,000 a year worse off. What we have said we would support is a change to the arrangements for the income test for Family Tax Benefit part B from $150,000 down to $100,000 and a few smaller, other smaller measures.
All of that was set out in the amendments we moved in the House of Representatives at the end of June. There was a press release, it sets it all out. It is very clear to the Government what our position is. Our position has not changed. The Government needs to realise that if they want these sensible changes, we will support them but we will not support these harsh changes that will really dramatically change the nature of Australia's social security system.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe or accept that the Budget is in deficit, in structural deficit, and that it will require structural cuts over time?
SHORTEN: We believe that it is important to make sure the Budget has the right trajectory, but we cannot accept, as my colleagues have said, that the prescription of the Government, by making ordinary Australians, people in the lower half in terms of income in this country do the heavy lifting.
Yesterday, we saw the Government almost arrogantly concede that they are not chasing multinationals for tax loopholes, yet on the other hand we see them today rush out to say they are going to keep their tax on the sick, the GP Tax. They’re not going to change the indexation or they are going to continue with their cuts to indexation and they’re going to continue with their dreadful changes to higher education.
On one hand, we see the Government cutting a deal to freeze the superannuation of nearly nine million Australians. Yet if they were that concerned about getting the Budget right, they have still regardless decided to give 16,000 people, who earn more than $100,000 in interest in their superannuation to allow that to be tax-free. This is a Government that is not fair dinkum in dealing with the hard issues.
JOURNALIST: On another matter, will Labor Senators, in the inquiry into the Queensland Government, try to compel witnesses, ministers and public servants to give evidence to that inquiry?
SHORTEN: Senators are entitled to inquire into whatever matters that the Senate thinks is important. It is a house of review and the principle of senators conducting their investigations is a sound one. In terms of the way they conduct themselves, it will be done consistent with the procedures with previous inquiries.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe that the calls to ban the Burqa are a stunt and what do you think of the reports that the Prime Minister's chief of staff Peta Credlin is supporting of banning it in Parliament House?
SHORTEN: I’m more concerned with what the Prime Minister of Australia thinks and what his senior Liberal colleagues think. I do think the time has now come for Tony Abbott to show some leadership on this debate. It is not good enough to talk tolerance and yet have your backbenchers out there pushing socially divisive arguments. It’s as blunt as this I think, Tony Abbott you're the Prime Minister of Australia; long after people have forgotten some of the extreme words of the bigots, they will remember the silence of our leaders. Australia deserves better than silence from our leaders. He should stamp on this issue today and should say that the Liberal Government he leads will conduct itself in a bipartisan matter along with Labor to promote social cohesion. I don't know why on earth he has got Liberal senators Dean Smith and Cory Bernardi out there trying to resuscitate 18C. I mean either he runs his Government or he doesn't, but now is not the time for silence. With the upsurge in reports, not just amongst members of the Muslim Australian community but across a range of migrant communities in terms of abuse, denigration and stigmatisation, now is the time for leadership, not silence. He needs to control his own party.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s a stunt Mr Shorten?
SHORTEN: I think what is being proposed is a dreadful proposition. It divides our society. We understand that the threats to social cohesion can come from a range of sources, it can come from unemployment, it can come from poverty but it also comes from stigmatisation and attacks on minorities. We understand that when we need the whole nation pulling together, challenging the domestic terrorism, that creating social division is exactly the wrong strategy. It is not enough for the Prime Minister to be silent. There have been too many outbreaks by people from the Liberal Party of Australia. What we now need is not silence from our Prime Minister. He needs to say unequivocally that he doesn't support the calls which have been coming from Bernardi and some of the other fringe dwellers of Australian politics.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten there’s been a number of researchers come out today and say that the hotter temperature last year were caused by man-made climate change. Obviously the Prime Minister didn't attend the UN summit last week on climate change. Are we falling behind on this issue and what do you propose to do about it?
SHORTEN: I believe Australia is falling behind. When many other nations in the world are moving towards taking more action on climate change, we’re the only nation in the world who’s slammed the gears of Government into reverse and are going backwards. We do believe that we need to have policies to deal with climate change. This Government is run by climate sceptics for climate sceptics. One of the first things they could do is just commit to the Renewable Energy Target so that way we don't have the risk to thousands of jobs, to tens of millions and indeed billions of dollars of investment and of course there’s 1.2 million Australians who have solar power on their roof tops who are very keen to maintain the cheaper energy prices they’re currently paying.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] on our targets post 2020?
SHORTEN: Well we’ve got to work through all of that. I think the challenge though is that this is a Government who I think has given up tackling climate change. They’ve got their direct action policy which is a laughing stock of any respected economists anywhere in Australia. This is just a fund which will see big polluters receiving money for being big polluters.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, will your Senators be supportive of inquiries similar to the one were seeing with the Queensland Government of other state governments, in particular the Coalition state government, I’m sorry in New South Wales?
SHORTEN: So far the only proposition which we’ve seen is the push for the inquiry which has been voted on. I am not aware of any other inquiries being raised.
JOURNALIST: Melissa Parke has been highly critical of the national security legislation this morning. She says that the biggest threat doesn't necessarily come from terrorism but it’s laws such as these. Do you agree with that?
SHORTEN: We are supporting the anti-terror laws as the Labor Party. We do support, Labor does support making sure that our intelligence agencies have got the powers to be able to carry out their tasks to keep Australians safe. We also believe in getting the balance right though with the rights of Australians. The proposed draft laws went through the relevant committee process and there were some 17 changes, some of them significant, which have addressed I think many of the concerns which have made people somewhat anxious up to this point.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, criticism that the media is being treated far too harshly in these, in this –
SHORTEN: I think that is a useful contribution that we’ve seen in terms of the issue you raise. It is a matter of getting the balance right. Labor is mindful of the role of a free media in this country. You’ll find that if you look at the deliberations of the intelligence committee, Labor was able to propose amendments which I think did address some of the legitimate concerns being raised from the media. Specifically, we recommended amendments to the bill which would ensure that journalists would only be covered if they recklessly released information. We also got an amendment agreed to that the Director of Public Prosecutions should take the public interest into account before undertaking any prosecution.
JOURNALIST: What’s the definition of recklessly though, I mean, isn't that subjective? Couldn't the Government say that release of information was reckless and essentially push ahead with charges?
SHORTEN: First of all, Labor was very mindful of the issue. We don't believe that the scenario which you're talking about which is the capricious act of a Government without evidence is likely but we're very mindful of the points you made and that’s why we’ve gone to the lengths we have in terms of the amendments we moved because we respect the point that you're making.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you support a Burqa ban at Parliament House?