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Transcript of interview with Fran Kelly: Radio National Breakfast: 13 November 2013: climate change; unexplained raising of the debt-cap; Coalition's confused boat policy

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Subjects: Climate change; Unexplained raising of the debt-cap; Coalition’s confused boat policy.

KELLY: Bill Shorten, good morning, welcome to Breakfast.

SHORTEN: Good morning Fran.

KELLY: What’s your response to the position of the new government? We’ve been there talking to the Environment Minister about the 5 per cent emissions reduction target, not going beyond that, until other countries make binding commitments. Do you think their position has changed?

SHORTEN: Yes, I believe that this is a government who doesn’t really want to do anything fundamentally about climate change. We, at the last election said that we would scrap the carbon price, but on the basis that we would move to an effective solution on climate change. We’re not seeing any signs from the Government that they are sharing the communities concern about climate change and about extreme whether events. So I am concerned that this government is putting off for the future generations action that we should take now.

KELLY: Of course, some of Australia’s business groups are concerned that you’re putting off the future action that we want to see right now, and that is of course the repeal of the carbon tax. It will be the first order of business today at 9am, and you want that vote on that repeal of the carbon tax deferred until March next year. Why wait? Why wait in particular when the Parliament Senate changes in July, Tony Abbott will almost certainly get that repeal?

SHORTEN: I think there’s a few assumptions in what you said Fran, just going to this discussion about what business want. A lot of business, especially business which are plugged in overseas when the rest of the world is moving to act on climate change, it’s almost like we have to relitigate the case that climate change is real and that our efforts, man-made activities do contribute to it. I don’t think business wants Australia to stick its head in the sand.

KELLY: The Australian Industry Group overnight, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Business Council of Australia and the Minerals Council saying the removal of the tax until a new Senate sits will do nothing for the environment, while, quote ‘adding substantially to the burdens facing businesses and households’.

SHORTEN: I don’t agree with the analysis of the trade union leaders of the business community. What I believe is that climate change is real and I don’t think that we can put off to future generations acting on climate change. Don’t we in this place, in this nation, in this parliament have an obligation to stand up for our kids and our grandkids and the sort of world we pass on to them? I had the opportunity to meet with a board of directors of a large energy company, international directors, people who have got business interests all around the world. They know that other countries are moving towards changing their energy mix and the way that they tackle climate change and I think that they see Australia’s refusal for instance to attend the Warsaw talks as a retrograde step. Australia can’t bury its head in the sand and pretend that there’s not real issues to deal with.

KELLY: Can I ask you about another issue that’s definitely going to be on the table, if not today then tomorrow, and that’s the move by the Government to lift the debt ceiling by $200 billion from $300 billion where it currently stands, to $500 [billion]. You want to block that increase, you want to limit it to $100 billion, this morning, Tony Abbott said, that’s not on.

ABBOTT: This Government, uh, this Opposition, having critised us as being relentlessly negative is now bunging on a Tea Party style situation, a Washington Tea-Party style situation here in Canberra.

KELLY: A Washington Tea Party situation, you being the Tea Party?

SHORTEN: Goodness me, Tony Abbott trying to accuse Labor of being more right-wing than Tony Abbott, I don’t think a crocodile would swallow that. What I’d like to do Fran is give you another Tony Abbott quote on debt ceilings. When

Labor wanted to increase the debt ceiling by $50 billion, not by $200 billion, but by $50 billion, which was positively modest in retrospect when you look at the Liberals ambitions.

Tony Abbott said this, “The Government should be forced to specifically justify this not to just sweep it under the carpet”, he went on to say, “The Government has to justify this. Our money, our future, is too important to be mortgaged like this without the Government giving us the strongest possible arguments for it, because every dollar that they borrow has got to be repaid.” Tony Abbott to Alan Jones.

When they’re in Opposition, they resisted Labor, increasing the debt cap to a far more modest level than they’re trying to do now. Everyone in Australia knows that the Coalition want to increase the debt cap in one hit so that they don’t have to justify it in future years to the Parliament. They want a blank cheque to increase the nations credit card.

KELLY: Ok, you don’t want to give them a blank cheque, you want them to justify it, just as Tony Abbott in that quote you read there to Alan Jones was urging you to justify it. In the end you got your debt ceiling raised, what if Joe Hockey comes in justifies it to you, would you then allow it to be raised $200 billion rather than limiting it to $100 billion?

SHORTEN: I’m a middle of the road sort of person. I actually believe in working constructively in the nation’s interests. Tony Abbott never offered to compromise on the number we nominated and come to a half-way point. We will, we are and we will do that. We will offer a reasonable working compromise. What sort of Opposition would we be if we just said every time Mr Abbott said I want to practically double the nation’s debt and we just said sure, please go ahead. We’re reasonable, but we’re not patsies, we’ll stand up for Australian tax-payers to the Abbott Government when they just want to blow the nation’s credit card.

KELLY: The Government said they want to lift it by $200 billion because the advice from Treasury is that by 2016 the debt will be over $14 billion. Joe Hockey also says this is your debt blow-out, quote, “Labor’s own mismanagement, the current $300 billion cap was never going to be sufficient to carry the deficits it’s created” and he wants to lift it now because he reckons it’s the debt you left him?

SHORTEN: I love this Coalition. They say one thing before an election and then they totally do the opposite thing when they get into government. This Coalition

Government is not the government people voted for on September 7. They said repeatedly that increasing debt is not the way to solve a debt problem. They said before the election there was a debt crisis. So what do these guys do when there’s debt crisis? They want to double the debt crisis. These people, when the house is on fire want to set fire to the street.

KELLY: So just using Tony Abbott’s Tea-Party analogy again and Joe Hockey writing this morning that you’re holding a gun to Parliament’s head and the recent experience in the US shows that playing politics when the clock is ticking is irresponsible, did you consider the overseas experience before you decided to say no to a $500 billion limit?

SHORTEN: We considered the overseas experience in all of this for the compromise of $400 billion. We are a party of compromise and negotiation, the sort of Opposition I want to lead over the next 3 years, is to be a constructive Opposition. But that does not mean a rubber cheque. We will not be a branch of the Liberal Party. We are the Labor Party. We understand that the nation, that they need to increase the debt cap, but they’ve made no case in their Mid-Year Economic Outlook, they won’t explain to us why they think they need it to go to $500 billion before next year. So we are willing to compromise in the best interest of the nation. But what we won’t do is just because Joe Hockey, having got into government realises that what he said in Opposition wasn’t true, we are just not going to let them off the hook and just increase the nations credit card and just put extra debt on future generations of Australians.

KELLY: Bill Shorten, just finally on asylum seekers. There’s a little confusion about this suggestion that the Government is working on a people-swap arrangement with Indonesia. A senior Indonesian official has said a deal has been discussed and there has been something faxed through. Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison it’s not, but if it does come to fruition as an idea you’d be supporting it, wouldn’t you? This is very close to what you were proposing with


SHORTEN: We’ve all given the Government a period of grace, they’ve had a couple of months to find out where their ministerial offices are, to get briefed by their departments. But these guys were the masters on turning back the boats before the election, now we’ve got reports of boats sailing into Darwin Harbour. The Indonesian Government have said that they’ve been faxed some sort of offer. How is it that if we need to find out what’s going on in Australia with this Government we have to ask the Indonesian press? It is time for Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott to today present to the Parliament what on earth is going on with their boats policy? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? What do the Indonesians know? Have we annoyed them? Are we jeopardising what Labor put in place - the PNG solution? And what on earth is going on with Scott Morrison?

KELLY: Bill Shorten, thank you very much for joining us and you’ll be sitting on the other side of the Parliament for a change today.

SHORTEN: I will, thank you.