Doorstop interview, Canberra University


SUBJECT/S: Abbott’s Debt Sentence; Iraq; Tony Abbott’s broken promise on superannuation; Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Jobs

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s great to be at the University of Canberra with my colleagues Shadow Minister Carr, we also have assistant Shadow Minister for Education Amanda Rishworth and of course Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh is also the local member here.

We’ve been privileged today to see the best and brightest of Australia’s research future conducting remarkable work. These modest, hard-working, highly educated researchers are helping answer questions which are veritably solving the universe for us. The research we see here will help us understand the human condition and understand how we can live longer, healthier lives.

But all of this is at risk. What we see is that because of the Prime Minister’s lies before the last election where he promised no cuts to education, now we see the funding for remarkable researchers and remarkable institutions at threat. You cannot take 20 per cent of the funding of universities away and expect Australia to have a bright future in the way that we otherwise would. Labor will fight and fight and fight against $100,000 degrees. Why should those brilliant women researchers we have seen have to have a debt sentence from an unfair, out of touch government when they are willing to help research a brighter future for Australia. But this is not the only problem we see in this unfair Budget. What we have seen in the last 24 hours, in the last 36 hours is a dirty deal done dirt cheap which will harm the future retirement income of nearly 9 million Australians.

Today as we speak, millions of Australians are going to work, working hard, making Australia a richer and better country, putting food on the table for their families and building great communities. But the Abbott Government has said to nearly 9 million Australians, ‘we will make you retire with less money in your individual superannuation accounts’. It is a disgraceful deal, where the Abbott Government will prioritise the interests of one billionaire and his vote over the interests of nearly 9 million Australians. The Abbott Government has made a clear decision yesterday that they are a government for billionaires, not battlers. We know that most Australians do not have enough money saved for their retirement. The Abbott Government lied about education cuts and they lied about the future of superannuation. They put in black and white Tony Abbott’s solemn promise, he said on 14 occasions there would be no adverse changes to superannuation. Last time I checked the dictionary definition of adverse, it means you don’t make people worse off. What he has now done is, by freezing superannuation for at least 6 years, he is literally taking tens of thousands of dollars out of the retirement savings accounts of ordinary Australians. It’s going to mean that we are going to have to pay more in taxes to pay for increased age pension receipts and he is damaging the national pool of savings. It doesn’t matter if its universities of higher education or the retirement income of millions of Australians, Tony Abbott is clearly on the side of the billionaires, not the battlers; he is clearly not on the side of a better future for this country.

I might ask my colleague Senator Carr to talk more specifically about the higher education vandalism that these neo-luddites in the Abbott government are wreaking across the future of Australian higher education and training.

SENATOR KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION: It’s great to be at the University of Canberra with a Vice Chancellor that has shown enormous courage in defending this university community. This is a university that faces cuts of $60 million. This one university, and if the Government’s proposals are put in place, that would see university fees increased by over 30 per cent for a minimum - and if you include in that the proposals to be able to fund research like we’ve seen today and proposals to fund the so called scholarship program then the fees will be minimum 50 per cent. That means for ordinary Australians batting to get a decent education, they may be put it in a position that it is beyond the reach of ordinary Australians.

This is a moral issue. This is not just an economic question, it’s a moral question about whether or not the Commonwealth has the capacity to turn its back on Australians and mean that they can’t get the education they are entitled to. So when people talk about equity, they have to look to the university system as one of the great avenues that’s been able to provide opportunities for Australia. This government’s proposals will inevitably - inevitably - hurt low and middle income families. There is simply no way that any proposal can get around that proposition and the Government really has to face the fact that Australians didn’t vote for these changes, Australians of course have been lied to, and it’s middle and lower income families that will pay the price for the Government’s deceit.

SHORTEN: Thanks Kim. Are there any questions?

REPORTER: Mr Shorten, can I take you first overseas and are you concerned that any other Western civilians might have to pay the price for Western involvement in Iraq?

SHORTEN: Well first of all I want to express Labor’s condolences and I suspect the great concern and sympathy of the Australian people to the family of this American citizen who was beheaded. It is medieval. I think Australians genuinely find it hard to even understand what would motivate such violence, to commit such an atrocity on an innocent soul. In terms of the reason why it has happened, it is not because of Western involvement as these Islamic fundamentalist terrorists would have you believe, it is because they follow a wicked ideology of extremism. The intervention of humanitarian support by conscientious nations is simply to arrest the spread of this sort of ignorance, hatred and violence and I deplore it with all my heart.

REPORTER: Have you had another update from the Government about what’s happening and Australia’s involvement? Have you met with anyone from the Government in the last few days?

SHORTEN: No we haven’t had a briefing in the last couple of days. Labor asked the Prime Minister to provide a statement to the Parliament and that was done and we acknowledge that and of course we expect to be briefed in coming days.

REPORTER: Yesterday the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop described Labor as strapped on to the Government on this issue but then she also spoke about the Left gripping its teeth. You’ve had a very bipartisan approach here, what do you make about the Foreign Minister’s comments?

SHORTEN: I’m a little disappointed about domestic politics intruding on this matter. The record is there for all to see. I and the Labor I lead are supportive of taking strong action to defend our national security. I think the Foreign Minister has done a very good job in many aspects and I think it would be well behoved of Liberal and Labor people and indeed other members of the parliament to focus on what’s important. Not trying to chip points domestically. Let’s all unite as Australians expect us to do in a mature way to make sure we are defending the security of our country first, politics second.

REPORTER: Mr Shorten, you yourself seem to have agreed with the Government on the issue of superannuation and benefits going back to workers pockets so are you being duplicitous now in your argument in this super debate?

SHORTEN: Do not fall for Liberal propaganda. It is Labor and only Labor who has ever argued in the national parliament of Australia, the house of the Australian people, that compulsory savings of superannuation should be introduced. In 1985 it was Labor and unions working together, with employers, who introduced the first 3 per cent. The Liberals opposed it. It was Labor in 1992 in the teeth of determined and vicious Liberal opposition to move superannuation to 9 per cent. It was John Howard who lied to the Australian people in pursuit of the election in 1996 who promised to take it to 15 per cent and once elected he broke his promise. It was Labor in 2012 who increased superannuation on a steady basis from 9 to 12 per cent and it’s Tony Abbott who stabbed Australians in the back with making sure they don’t have enough money to retire upon. It is the most short sighted decision I have seen this government do, and believe me they have made a lot of short sighted decisions. What they are effectively doing is by denying and freezing Australian superannuation: they’ve lied to people. They have lied through their teeth and they are lying now when they try and blame other people. They will force an increase in taxes because if we are not saving for superannuation, we are going to have to pay more taxes for an increased bill for the aged system. They are denying Australian companies the pool of capital which comes through superannuation. They are going after poor people in particular or people who earn less than $37,000 by putting up to a $500 tax on their superannuation. Liberal is the enemy of decent retirement income policy in this country and we will fight them on this matter.

REPORTER: But in the short term the Government argues that that money will go back into workers’ pockets to spend immediately and that’s correct isn’t’ it?

SHORTEN: No one trusts the Liberal Party. If Tony Abbott’s promising to run a wages campaign for Australian workers to lift their wages, even a crocodile wouldn’t swallow that. And the Australian people know. Let me say it again: Tony Abbott is hoping that he can waive some magic wand and commit Australia to a massive act of amnesia where he tries to deny what he said at the last election. He did not tell any Australian there would be a 6 year delay on increasing your superannuation. He said there would be no adverse changes to superannuation. He didn’t just say it once. He didn’t just say it in a thought bubble to some billionaire’s Liberal club meeting. He said on 14 occasions to the Australian people, 14 occasions, he said there would be no adverse changes to superannuation. Then this arrogant fellow says “well it’s not that adverse”. Yes it is, Tony Abbott. Why is it that people like Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and the rest of that gang on the frontbench who have got generous superannuation, fight so hard to deny that to other Australians.

REPORTER: Would you move to reinstate higher compulsory contributions to superannuation at the next election?

SHORTEN: We’re not going to unveil our election policies now merely because Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott have no policies except a lie to Australians. But I would point to our track record. We have $1.6 trillion in superannuation. The only reason people have any superannuation in this country is because Labor has led the policy debate. I know it’s unpopular and unfashionable to talk about history. But before the 1990’s only 3 in 10 Australians, the well off, had superannuation retirement savings accounts. Now 9 and a half in every 10 Australians have superannuation accounts.

REPORTER: Mr Shorten it appears the Government has a working relationship with the senate crossbench. Has Labor been sidelined?

SHORTEN: The Liberal party has to work out – do they love Clive Palmer or do they hate him? Clive Palmer is a life member of the LNP and he has certainly had a strong interest in terms of what happens with the mining tax. The Liberal Party bagged Clive Palmer uphill and down dale but we’ve seen what I think is the pathetic spectacle of Liberal ministers going cap in hand to chow down at meals with Clive Palmer to beg him to support them. This is no way to run a nation.

REPORTER: Mr Shorten taking you back to superannuation if I can. That deal done with Clive Palmer yesterday, he says and the Government says, would put more money in pockets. Wouldn’t you say that moving to introduce a compulsory higher contribution to superannuation would take money out of worker’s pockets?

SHORTEN: Let’s be really clear here. Tony Abbott is not going to lecture Labor about providing wage rises for workers. If you care to get out the history books again, because it’s not people’s words that count, it’s their actions. You can count on barely one hand the number of times the Liberal Party of Australia has ever supported a national wage increase of the type that’s been granted by the independent umpire. The Liberals have got form on workers’ wages and it isn’t pretty. Why on earth should the Liberal Party of Australia get away and I say to the media do not let the Liberal Party get away with breaking a promise which is going to see millions of Australians, nearly 9 million Aussies with less in their retirement accounts. I’ll give you a couple of quick numbers. If you’re a 45 year old today on $120,000 in the next 10 years you are going to be tens of thousands of dollars poorer. If you’re a 25 year old on $55,000 Tony Abbott has taken just over $9000 from your retirement account in the future. And remember we are at the University of Canberra here. This government are putting hundreds of thousands of students into greater debt. Every past student in Australia who is still paying HECS has basically had the interest rate on their HECS doubled. Existing students are going to have to pay more for their degrees and future students are going to have to face the question can they afford to go to university. Education is one of the great markers in the line of people’s lives. Parliamentarians meddle and tangle with education and access to education at their peril. It is the great test of Australian politics. Are we creating a better education system or a worse education system? This pack of educational vandals has got the trifecta. If you’re already going to uni you’re going to have to pay thousands of dollars more. If currently at university you’re going to have to pay thousands of dollars more. And if you want to go to university in the future your degrees will be doubled and tripled and you have to face $100,000 degrees.

REPORTER: Mr Shorten on that issue can I just take you to Ricky Muir’s comments today he seems open to a compromise deal on the higher education changes would Labor be willing to consider a compromise if put on the table.

SHORTEN: How on earth can we mortgage Australia’s future and the future of literally millions of Australian students. We know and the experts say that what this government’s doing by tampering - by increasing the rate of interest that students have to pay on their HECS – this is a massive action. By increasing it from CPI to the government bond rate they are effectively doubling the interest rate that students have to pay. To put it another way, if you were on a fixed interest loan for your mortgage, what this government is doing is unilaterally changing the contract, moving it to a variable rate of interest much higher than your fixed rate. This is not a good idea. Mature age students will be discouraged. Students from poorer backgrounds will be discouraged. What I might do is ask my colleague Kim Carr to further answer in detail about low income earners going to university or people from low income families.

REPORTER : Just specifically on the idea of concessions though, why won’t Labor be open to considering that given Ricky Muir has requested that low income students do get more benefit why not look at that proposal?

CARR: Mr Pyne’s package is rotten to the core. There is simply no way you can provide the protections for low and middle income earners under this package. It can’t be done. This is a package which would rip away the equality of opportunity that this country has come to understand to be a core principle of social equity. It simply can’t be done that you can protect low and middle income families from these vicious assaults and in particular it’s rural and regional universities that will bear the brunt of these Government changes. These are the universities that enrol a disproportionate number of low and middle income earners up to 30 per cent particularly older students go to these universities people with very modest incomes to support them. Its women trying to get a second chance in life. These are the people that are disadvantaged. We are talking here about hundreds of thousands of people. No quick fix is going to sort out this package. No spoon full of sugar is going to help this medicine go down.

REPORTER: The concerns you’ve raised though Senator Carr do go right to the heart of what Ricky Muir is willing to compromise on so it sounds like if there’s a proposal on the table that protected -

CARR: Look, I’ve heard this talk before. This is a government that constantly refers to these compromises. This is despite the fact that there have been written propositions put back to the Government which highlight the fact that the crossbenchers are not supporting these measures. Now we’ll wait and see what the Minister comes forward with but I don’t for a minute believe what the Minister is saying about what people are prepared to compromise on. There are fundamental realities here. No matter what others do Labor is saying no to these propositions because they are morally bankrupt, they are rotten to the core.

REPORTER: Senator Carr and also Mr Shorten, David Gonski put his name behind a schools funding package which the Labor party has supported. He is also the chancellor of the University of NSW. Yesterday he said that deregulation is a win-win, he supported the Government’s package for universities and he said university degrees over $37,000 won’t happen. Do you support his comments on university funding?

SHORTERN: Well first of all the hypocrisy of this government quoting David Gonski when it suits them when they have effectively sold out thousands of schools, hundreds of thousands of teachers, millions of kids and their parents is a complete joke. But when we come to this university package, this does not even pass go because they want to take 20 per cent of funding from universities. You look at these buildings. You look at the microscopes we saw. You look at the researchers. You tell me which 20 per cent should go. These universities cannot afford a 20 per cent cut without significantly increasing their fees.

REPORTER: So do you disagree with Mr Gonski then in his statements yesterday?

SHORTEN: I disagree with the statements which mean that somehow this package is anything other than a rotten farrago of election broken promises. You cannot put lipstick on this pig. It is not a policy which works. And we will not stand by and watch our universities be trashed. How in good conscience can we? We will make the next election a higher education election. And every student who has to pay more HECS, who’s currently at university, that with Labor, when you vote for Labor, you’re going to get people who are committed to a greater higher education system. You can’t rush this. Do you really think the future of our universities should be sorted out in some late night deals with Clive Palmer? I don’t trust that.

REPORTER: Just on Coles we’ve just had word of 400 job losses. Did the former government set up the economic conditions that are now leading to job losses like this?

SHORTEN: This government said – they promised a million new jobs. A million new jobs. The only jobs this government’s creating are jobs overseas. They haven’t stood by the aluminium industry; they haven’t stood by the ship building industry. We’ve seen major job losses all around this country. Surely at some point if Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott want to collect their wages for their day job they have got to accept responsibility for the damage they’re doing to the confidence in Australia.

REPORTER: And Opposition Leader, there was some discussion this morning about Tanya Plibersek’s comments. In them she called Africa a country instead of a continent. Do you know the difference and does this suggest that the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister is not across her brief?

SHORTEN: I think with respect that’s a silly point. Tanya Plibersek is an outstanding Shadow Foreign Minister and believe me, if we want to have a look at gaffes, we were thinking of entering the Liberal Party in the Guinness Book of Records. Remember that George Brandis interview on metadata? Arguably the most embarrassing piece of television since the John Hewson not knowing the price of GST on a cake. The Liberal Party are the people who are actually taking this country back. If we want to talk about mistakes, don’t lie to Australians about cutting health care don’t lie to Australians about cutting education, don’t lie to Australians about changing pensions, don’t lie to Australians about introducing new taxes, don’t trash higher education, and don’t favour less than 10 mining companies and 1 billionaire’s vote over nearly 9 million Australians having a decent retirement income.


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