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Transcript of joint press conference: Parliament House: 18 October 2013: NSW bushfires, ALP Shadow Ministry.



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THE HON BILL SHORTEN MP Leader of the Opposition Member for Maribyrnong

TRANSCRIPT

E&OE TRANSCRIPT JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA FRIDAY, 18 OCTOBER 2013

BILL SHORTEN: Good afternoon everyone. I just feel it’s appropriate to make some comments about the devastating early bushfires that we’re seeing that are racking New South Wales.

It’s incredibly sad to know that a 63 year old man has lost his life while defending his property and fighting the fires. Our thoughts are with him and his family. I’d also like to acknowledge the selfless work of the fire services and also the terrible job that New South Wales police have to do now, visiting and ascertaining which houses are destroyed and indeed whether there was anyone left in those houses.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak to Premier O’Farrell this morning. I’ve indicated that matters such as these emergencies are above politics. I’ve also had the opportunity to speak to Shadow Minister Doug Cameron. He lives very close to the areas affected and he’s on the ground also providing us with some updates about what’s happening.

There will be many thousands of people in the evacuation centres of New South Wales who will be wondering if their houses are secure and in particular thinking about the devastating bushfires that we saw four years ago.

The pain for hundreds of families losing their houses must be unimaginable. It’s not just a matter of insurance. I appreciate that if you’ve lost the school reports and the family photos, these things can never be compensated for. So Federal Labor, our thoughts are with New South Wales as they are experiencing these very difficult circumstances.

Today - turning to the purpose for Tanya and I addressing you - we are pleased to announce the new Opposition Executive team and their portfolio responsibilities. I believe that the team we’ll be announcing is both energetic and diverse. Almost half of the Shadow Executive will be women. There will be more working parents than ever before in the Shadow Executive or indeed the Executive, of Australian politics.

In fact in our leadership group all of us have a child that is six or under, as we perform our tasks at work.

There’s generational change. There’s more Gen X in the Shadow line-up than has existed before in Australian politics but this is balanced, I’m pleased to say, with both experience in government and in opposition.

As I highlighted in my campaign for leader of the Labor Party, Labor should be strong advocates for science, research, and innovation, and higher education. Also, we'll see, in the allocation of responsibilities, that small the businesses, family businesses, the backbone of many communities of Australia with the forefront of our approach and Opposition. This is why I shall be taking on specific responsibilities for science and small business in addition to my other duties.

I'd like to take you briefly through the allocation of portfolios:

Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader, will be our spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and International Development, also Centenary of Anzac.

Leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, will take on Trade and Investment.

Our Deputy leader in the Senate, Stephen Conroy, will take the important responsibility of Defence.

Anthony Albanese, will take on the areas of Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism.

Chris Bowen will be our Shadow Treasurer.

Tony Burke will be our Shadow Finance Spokesperson.

Mark Butler will take on the important area of Environment, Climate Change and Water.

Kim Carr will assist me and be working on Higher Education, Research, Innovation, and Industry.

Jason Clare will take on the portfolio responsibilities of communications.

Mark Dreyfus will be Shadow Attorney-General and Spokesperson on the Arts, for Labor.

Kate Ellis will be our Spokesperson for Education and early Childhood.

Joel Fitzgibbon, Agriculture.

Gary Gray, resources, northern Australia and special Minister for State Responsibilities.

Catherine King, our Shadow Spokesperson on the very important area of Health.

Jenny Macklin, Families, Payments, and Disability Reform.

Richard Marles, Immigration and Border Protection.

Shane Neumann, Indigenous Affairs and Shadow Minister for Ageing.

Brendan O'Connor, Employment and Workplace Relations.

The full list will be available. There’s a number of appointments I'd like to highlight among the others.

Catherine King promoted to Shadow Spokesperson for Health.

Andrew Leigh shall be our Shadow Assistant Treasurer.

Julie Collins from Tasmania will lead the Tasmanian team in the Shadow Executive, and she will be Shadow for Regional Development and Employment Services.

Michelle Rowland will be our Shadow Spokesperson assisting on Communications and also Multiculturalism and Citizenship.

I’ve mentioned Shane Neumann.

Jim Charmers, new Member of Parliament, will be the Parliamentary Secretary to myself and also for Trade and Investment.

This is an energetic team and it’s a diverse team, and it's a young team, blended with experience. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: You've made Stephen Conroy the Shadow Minister for Defence. What qualities does he have that you chose to give him Defence?

And what does it say about some portfolios like families, and transport, and climate change that you kept the previous minister and others such as health and education where you put completely new blood into those?

SHORTEN: There’s a range of questions. In terms of Defence, Defence policy in Australia is a very important matter; therefore it is appropriate that one of the most senior portfolios goes to one of our members of our leadership team.

Senator Conroy has a great skill set in the Senate. It's where the Government Spokesperson for the Defence is and I think that will be one of the very important and interesting match-ups as we try and make sure that defence remains the very important area which it is for all Australians.

In terms of other allocations, we’ve got some very experienced former Ministers and we see that in some of the areas that we've worked on. I would make the point that with Anthony Albanese, I have added to his responsibilities the area of tourism. It's

important as a jobs generator. It’s important to regional Australia. It's also a portfolio which no longer has a name in the current Coalition Government.

In terms of Environment, Mark Butler started to do some very good work before the election. It's important to have some continuity in one of the early important debates about where this country is going and our future. We’ve made it very clear though that we have included Climate Change because we believe it's real, and of course Water policy remains foremost in Labor's thinking about the environment.

In terms of Education, there was a vacancy there. In terms of Health, there was a vacancy there, too.

So I think we have a good blend of experience. We also have new energy and a new line-up. It's interesting, for those of you who are demographic statisticians, 29 of our 30 Shadow Ministers are under the age of 60, so 97%. Indeed, 17 are under the age of 50, or 57 per cent. So it is an energetic Opposition, which is a very important aspect of an Opposition.

JOURNALIST: When Tony Abbott announced the climate change bill this week he predicted you would crumble, that you put populism before principle. Mark Butler is very firmly on the record as saying that won't be the case. You leaving him in climate, is that a statement of intent as much as anything else, that you’re not going to crumble?

SHORTEN: Mr Abbott confuses himself with myself. It is important that we have a principle that the future of this country can’t be mortgaged or delayed. That's why we believe putting a price on carbon pollution is important.

Mark Butler recognises that climate change is real. He believes that we should tackle carbon pollution. So he will be an eminent spokesperson for making sure that Australia is preparing ourselves for our future so we don’t pass on more problems to our children that we inherited ourselves.

JOURNALIST: Does that leave no wriggle room at all? You would vote no against the legislation?

SHORTEN: We haven't seen the legislation. Our principles are very clear and we went to the election on them. We do believe in putting a price on carbon pollution. We do believe that climate change is real. We do believe that deferring problems to future generations doesn't assist anyone.

JOURNALIST: Why did you choose foreign affairs?

PLIBERSEK: It's an area I have had a long interest in. I have a broad range of interests and I was keen to pursue the foreign affairs area. I'm particularly interested in the international development part of the foreign affairs portfolio and the Centenary of ANZAC again, is something I have had a particular interest in.

I went to Gallipoli as a teenager and have always had an interest in history. So having a portfolio that allows me to explore those interests, and also to talk a little bit

not just about our relationships, one-on-one with other countries, but Australia's place in the world, the type of country we want to be, the type of influence we want to have internationally. I think those portfolios go well together.

JOURNALIST: Just on the Centenary of ANZAC for a tick. Mr Shorten, who are you going to knock off in South Australia to ensure that Don Farrell can actually attend the centenary?

BILL SHORTEN: Senator Farrell is distinguished. He will be our Shadow Spokesperson for Veterans Affairs. He will assist the Deputy Leader in terms of centenary of ANZAC but the rest of the question is not a matter for consideration - full stop.

JOURNALIST: He’s only in the Senate until July next year. The centenary is the year after. Why have you put him in this role and why is it appropriate that he be on the frontbench at all, given he is not going to stay in the Senate?

BILL SHORTEN: First of all he is an experienced Minister and he is a distinguished representative and he will do a very good job. As you correctly observe, his term doesn’t expire until 1 July next year.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Can I add a little something to that? The job of the Shadow Minister for the centenary of ANZAC is not to attend the ceremony. It is to make sure that it is well organised, that as many Australians as possible can attend, that it runs smoothly, that it is broadcast well, that as many Australians as possible can participate in person or by watching it. I think he will play a very important role in the planning delivery of the service.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you said that you won’t vote for the repeal of the carbon tax unless there is something viable in its place that has to be a market based mechanism. Does it have to be exactly the market based mechanism that was proposed before? Are you flexible and open to other kinds of ways of putting a market based mechanism in place?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, in terms of climate change, as I said, we think it’s real. We are determined to put a price on it. We went to a policy that we went with to the last election that would see us move to a market based mechanism on 1 July 2014. Mr Abbott is making all sorts of promises about what his draft legislation that has only just been released, about what it will do.

He said it’s going to decrease, he’s given a guarantee that energy prices will go down. We fail to see how he can guarantee how energy prices will go down and stay down. We think that’s a promise which isn’t sustained by the whole examination of energy prices and the factors that go on them.

In terms of having a price on carbon pollution, we made it clear before the last election that we want to move to an internationally traded price and that’s what we’ll work towards.

So we will consult with the Shadow Executive. They are meeting next Monday at midday. We will consult with the Caucus and we will form a policy which doesn’t mortgage our children’s future to some sort of conservative throw back.

JOURNALIST: Just to be clear, it might not be the same as the ETS that you legislated before. You might be flexible about that?

BILL SHORTEN: Our principal is that we want to move to an internationally traded price. We’ll be sticking to that principal.

JOURNALIST: You made some remarks about overseas aid. The Coalition is saving $4.5 billion there. There’s also talk about cuts in AusAID. Do you think that Labor’s position will remain a $4.5 billion higher spending on aid or will the Opposition have to consider that in the light of the Coalition budget?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Look, todays not a day for detailed policy questions, obviously we are very concerned, about the aid cuts that have been announced, by the Government. Obviously there are people living overseas in dire poverty that have benefited substantially from Australia’s aid and international development assistance, but more detailed questions and explanations will have to wait.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten why did you demote Warren Snowden but keep him as a Parliamentary Secretary particularly given the public criticism we’ve heard from him this week?

BILL SHORTEN: Caucus picked our shadow ministry, it’s a process I support, I have the ability to appoint the Parliamentary Secretaries. I believe Warren Snowdon brings much experience over a long period of service. That’s why I’ve given him responsibilities for external territories; I’ve given him responsibilities working with Gary Gray on Northern Australia and of course knows a good deal about policy on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders.

JOURNALIST: It sounds like it was his faction’s decisions not to put him up for the shadow ministry, and so therefore you’ve made him a Parliamentary Secretary instead.

BILL SHORTEN: I completely support the decision of Caucus in terms of the shadow ministry. I believe what we have managed to do here is get a good blend of experience and energy and get people with skills who can play a role that is to make sure that in opposition we can hold the Abbott Government to an account and formulate polices that help the future of this country.

JOURNALIST: When was the last time you had a conversation with Bob Carr and what are his intentions?

BILL SHORTEN: I spoke to Bob Carr last week; I can’t add anything more than what he has said on the record.

JOURNALIST: Given your interest in the science, do you think todays the day when it is useful to draw a link between the bushfire devastation that were seeing and the reality of global warming?

BILL SHORTEN: No, I don’t. Today, having worked on bushfire reconstruction, today is about the fact that someone has died, police have got this terrible job of looking at what houses have been destroyed, hopefully, prayers and fingers crossed no one has been trapped. Today is the day thousands of people work out what it all means, are their okay, and are their families okay, today for me recognising what the emergency services, both federal and state, are doing and counsel people and thinking about the families.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Adam Bandts tweet was in poor taste?

BILL SHORTEN: If I’m not got going to politicise the issue I’m not going to politicise the issue full stop.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Nicola Roxon that removing Kevin Rudd was an act of bastardy and does that make you a bastard or make Kevin Rudd a bastard?

BILL SHORTEN: Former members of parliament are entitled to speak their mind. What I would say is that the Labor Party needs to focus on the future; we have come through a leadership process. I think we have a great and energetic team, reflects values and diversity, reflects energy, reflects experience. I’ve said publically I’m not interested in the disparaging and I discourage other members of the party form publically disparaging each other, I don’t think it adds anything to the total political debate.

JOURNALIST: what about the point Mr Shorten that without personalising it, that you two won’t get a fair go while Kevin Rudd is in the Parliament?

BILL SHORTEN: I believe in a fair go and I believe part of that’s due to implement ideas, the way we work constructively, the way we work on our opposition on holding the Government to account for their issues. Our future is up to the conduct of the broader parliamentary party and the broader Labor party and I believe this shadow executive is a break from the past.

More women than ever before, younger than ever before. I think this is a lot of interest, be a lot of dynamism.

JOURNALIST: Back on the ETS and climate change, just a double barrel question, do you fear the prospect as remote as it may be, of a double DD, a double dissolution, on climate change and should that not eventuate can you envisage Labor going to the next election with a price on carbon as policy even if it’s been abolished in the interim?

BILL SHORTEN: Okay, I’ll answer that question best as I can. First of all in terms of a double dissolution these are matters ahead of us, I don’t speculate on hypotheticals. We’ve yet to see the extended debate on what it all means and the detail of the government’s legislation. I will work with our team and I will take the

advice of our team. But what we all know in Labor is that you can’t say to the future generations of Australians that somehow we’ll delay dealing with environmental challenges because somehow that will make the problems easier to solve in the future. So that’s a lot of detail and we’ll wait and see but that’s our basic principle position that we will be sticking too.

JOURNALIST: How appropriate is it to ask the AFP to investigate questionable travel expenses and is that something you would like to see more of?

BILL SHORTEN: Well in regard to the most recent outbreak of concerns about expenses I think it’s up to the Prime Minister Tony Abbott to say does he have confidence in the people who have been referred too. What I also believe is that the department of finance needs to satisfy it that the rules have been adhered to. Yesterday they were today were told they not, I make this invitation to the Government of Australia that there is community anxiety to make sure things are being done the right way, I believe our members of parliament are a very conscientious. What I would say though is that if there is community anxiety I think that Mr Abbott needs to, as the Prime Minister of Australia, needs to explain if he is satisfied with his members and if there are things he wants to do to improve community confidence in the system we will work cooperatively and constructively with him.

JOURNALIST: Is it up to the AFP to investigate or should it really be a tightening of the rules?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, it’s up to Mr Abbott to tell us what he is going to do as the Government of Australia. There is community anxiety about entitlements and I believe most of my colleagues are very conscientious by and large in absolutely most cases. If the Department of Finance feels matters need to be investigated they should. There is community anxiety out there, I live in the real world so therefore I think it’s up to Mr Abbott to express confidence in his members and I think that it’s up to him if he wants to make any changes or improvements in matters he deems it necessary Labor will be constructive, not negative.

JOURNALIST: just following up from a previous question, given what you’ve said on carbon pricing already, can you give or not give a commitment today that even if the real goes through you will campaign at the 2016 on reinstating the carbon price? Can you give that commitment today?

BILL SHORTEN: Joe, I got a little bit of a sense of humour. When I look at the way the coalition campaign they were not giving us policies until the last week, why you would ask us to have a policy 1,100 days before the next election, I appreciate the vote of confidence in our policy making powers, but I’m not going to reveal every election policy for the next election now but what I do make very clear is Labor believes climate change is real. We believe carbon pollution contributes to climate change. We certainly believe there should be a price on carbon pollution so we are very clear, we don’t change our views, we’re not a weather vane on climate change so we are very clear on what we thin. In terms of if specific policies we’ll work on them in the lead up to the next election.

JOURNALIST: Former workplace minister have you had a chance to think about Tony Abbott’s workplace relations register legislation he is talking about bringing in during the first week? And secondly your thoughts on the appointment of Nigel Hadgkiss to the federal building inspectorate?

BOLL SHORTEN: Well, as Tanya Plibersek said today is not a day for detailed policy discussion, I will note Labor believes in cooperative workplace relations, we believe in productive, high performing work places, we do believe in getting the balance right, we don’t believe in witch hunts, we don’t believe in scapegoating industrial relations, we think Australia works best when people are able to go to work and have a job, have a profitable company and enterprise to work for where people are productive and people are well renumerated for their skills. So our view on workplace relations, without getting into the specifics of your matter, is what we’re interested in is the jobs of the future, the workplaces of the future. We’re not interested in re-litigating the Howard years of work choices or attacking unions, attacking any particular sector. What we believe in fundamentally for the jobs of the future, work places of the future cooperation always trumps conflict and that’s why guides us.

JOURNALIST: The registered orgs has been put up by Mr Abbott as private members legislation, do you have a personal view on that legislation, Paul Howes for example thinks the former Government should have supported it.

BILL SHORTEN: If you look at our voting record in the past we have always stood up for reasonable wage rises, we have stood up for profitable companies, we stand up for better skills and training, let’s not get stuck in the century of arguing that everything about workplace relations is fixed, by changing legislation on workplace relations the successful enterprises of the future are not about fighting all the smokestack issues that are beloved by those in the press and conservative ranks. What we care about is start-up businesses are not drowning in red tape.

What were interested in are families who put their balance sheets on the line, recognise that industrial disputations are at an all-time low. We think that what employers and employees in the future want, subcontractors want, is they want certainty. They don’t want a whole lot of changes, they want to know they will get a fair go all round and that’s Labor’s approach, and always will be.

JOURNALIST: Just on climate change, Labor took a policy that would abolish the carbon tax and implement an ETS to the last election. Is there a circumstance which Labor could not oppose the repeal of the current legislation while Tony Abbott has direct action as an alternative policy?

BILL SHORTEN: We think direct action is a clanger, it’s a clunker, its $1,300 tax on every household and we don’t believe it will achieve the outcomes it’s wanted. The Government must be the only people in history who say they want to decrease, tell you they are decreasing the costs on households by putting more costs on households. It doesn’t add up.

What we would say to the Coalition is there is a perfectly good plan on the table, the one we presented at the last election. We moved to a floating price by 1 July

2014,it’s a good plan, it starts to deal with our carbon pollution emissions but also what is does not do is pass on a legacy issue to future generations of Australians by putting your head in the sand and no dealing with the problem.

JOURNALIST: Are there any circumstances which you could vote any other way than no?

BILL SHORTEN: You have given me a whole series of hypotheticals on things we haven’t seen, let me tell you about Labor and climate change, we think it’s real, we do believe there should be a price on carbon pollution, we don’t think Australia’s future should be and futures of Australians is ever well served by delaying dealing with issues. No one believes delaying dealing with issues make problems easier or makes them go away.

JOURNALIST: Inaudible.

BILL SHORTEN: It’s come out today, anyway, in the last couple of days.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, will you be having a specific policy review or policy development committee and you have talked about wanting to be a positive opposition, are there particular policy areas you will be focusing on in say the first six month, a year?

BILL SHORTEN: Our shadow executive will be meeting on Monday, we will talk about some of the matters you go into there in your question. In terms of being positive, I think from the way we talk about work place relations, the way we talk about cooperatively working with the Abbott Government believes any changes are necessary and working with them on entitlements we will be constructive. But what I also say to you is in terms of what we can do going forward that is a matter for my team and I to work on, both the parliamentary team and people who are Labor supporters more generally but I have flagged that small businesses is an important area for Labor and so is the area of science, research and innovation and higher education.

JOURNALIST: Anthony Albanese has less than leading into the election, is that appropriate for a guy who came very close to being leader of the party? Should he have more?

BILL SHORTEN: I believe Anthony is very satisfied with the proposition and his responsibilities and indeed I’ve added to his areas in discussion with him, in the area of tourism. It’s an important Australian industry, it’s important domestically, it’s important for us internationally. I think having someone of his calibre working on that, in addition to infrastructure which is one of the key drivers of productivity and liveability in the cities of Australia and more generally in the regions and also the important areas of transport. Only Labor has a policy to helping public transport in the cities of Australia, easing congestion so these are very future focused areas and his skills will sorely be needed to address, redress the gap in Coalition policy in all those important areas.

JOURNALIST: I just wanted to clarify, Mr Shorten this expenses issue, I know you say it’s up to Tony Abbott to tighten the system and you will look at whatever proposal he puts forward, but it was one of your members Rob Mitchell who made the reference to the Australian Federal Police, is that now the standard you’re setting, were you aware he was going to do that, did you sanction it, were you aware of it and if you refer those cases are you going to refer Don Randall, refer Tony Abbott?

BILL SHORTEN: Well first of all I believe the correct approach is to see what the Prime Minister is going to say. There is community anxiety about these matters and I also believe the vast bulk of MP’s are honest and conscious so before I start setting up ,lynch mobs, and of course the Coalition when they were in opposition didn’t see a situation they didn’t want to have a hanging party for, we want to be constructive so I’m interested to see what the Prime Minister Tony Abbott has to say about this, if he thinks there is any foundation for community anxiety, I also extend the invitation to work constructively with him, that is the approach we will be taking.

JOURNALIST: a Labor member has refereed this to the federal police, you can say what you like about being constructive, you have already done that, you have set a standard, are you going to live by that standard?

BILL SHORTEN: I believe the approach I’ve outlined is the correct way to go.

JOURNALIST: As a matter of political principal as a leader do you believe MPs should be allowed to pay back money when they have been found to make false claims?

BILL SHORTEN: I read carefully to comments of former coalition politician Nick Minchin today in one of the media outlets, he made it clear that paying back was an option but that didn’t necessarily mean it was the end of the matter.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten we have parliament schedules out now, what sort of time do you want to set in that week?

BILL SHORTEN: We are seeking to be constructive; we are interested in issues that improve the future of this nation, and the lives of Australians.

By the same token, we seek to make sure the Government doesn’t make mistakes and we will hold them to account where they do. We will over time, not obviously in the first week, annunciate our views for the future direction of this nation and put our ideas out there for the public to debate and consider.

JOURNALIST: Just on red tape and cutting costs for business, the Coalition is putting place is a one stop shop for environmental approvals, looks like Queensland will be the first state to sign up, what’s Labor position on that given it was an issue you drove until the end of 2012 and then walked away from?

BILL SHORTEN: I’m not going to get into all the issues of small business today; I’ve just announced that we intend to have a range of our parliamentary team including myself working on them and well obviously consider whatever the Collation does.

The message from us is we think small business is an important constituency and we intend to reach out to it.

Thank you.