SUBJECTS: Medibank data breach, former Government Services Minister, IR
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: The government is expecting to pass its controversial IR bill by the end of this week before parliament breaks for the summer. But the Prime Minister is trying to keep business on side telling industry leaders last night that one point of disagreement doesn’t define every interaction. Meanwhile, leaked documents this morning allege former cabinet minister Stuart Robert met with a consulting firm and its clients while a minister. The Nine Newspapers claim Stuart Robert, then NDIS and Government Services Minister, attended meetings with a company to discuss potentially lucrative government projects.
NDIS and Government Minister Bill Shorten joins me this morning. Welcome back to Breakfast.
BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Good morning, Patricia.
KARVELAS: Before we get to those issues, some breaking news this morning – it seems the entire tranche of Medibank data has now been released online by hackers. What can you tell us about that? That seems very alarming, that development.
SHORTEN: It is shocking. And the people who have hacked Medibank are absolute criminal lowlife. What I can say from my point of view of my responsibilities is that if people think that any government ID has been in any way breached or they’re aware of it, contact us. When it comes to things like your Medicare card, we will replace it. When it comes to trying to penetrate using this information, some of your government information, we have multi-factor authentication in myGov, so, listen, it’s shocking and there’s no particular comfort you can give people. But when it’s to do with the government services area we’ve got – we will red flag anyone we see whose information has been hacked so if one tries to use that ID, so from our end, we’re just going to have to muscle up and put whatever resources we need to protect people’s information from the government side.
KARVELAS: It is disturbing, though, as obviously there were small leaks and now there’s this, all of the data out. How do you suspect people are feeling this morning if they’re Medibank customers?
SHORTEN: They’ll be feeling violated. It’s their privacy. They will – I reckon people will be feeling sick, they’ll be feeling frustrated, they’ll be feeling very angry.
KARVELAS: I want to move to another story. It’s in the Nine papers today. There’s no suggestion here that Stuart Robert was paid for these meetings that we referred to, and in a statement a spokesman told the ABC he completely rejects the assertions and says the departmental procurement referred to in the article commenced 10 months before Mr Robert became minister and the company had been identified as the preferred supplier by the department before the minister met with them. But as a minister, he was under a code of conduct. What’s your concern around this report today in the Nine papers?
SHORTEN: Well, as best I can determine from reading the story in this morning’s media, the issue in contention is was there any lobbying or was there any push by this consulting company – Synergy 360 – were they meeting with the minister whilst this contract negotiation or finalisation was underway? Some of the detail in the story is accurate, at least of the fact that Infosys, who was a client of Synergy 360, who’s a lobbying firm – professional services company they say, lobbying others say – a firm run by Mr Robert’s friends that they were acting in Infosys. Infosys did win the contract.
It is a matter of record – and I’ve spoken to my department and agency this morning – that subsequently Infosys couldn’t deliver on the contract. It was a $135 million contract for an entitlement calculator engine, so it’s an important piece of software in the social services/government services space. Infosys did win the contract, but then they couldn’t sustain it and there had to be remedial work brought in the following year in 2020. That bit I know is correct. As for all the other allegations, I don’t know. But I have asked my agency this morning – I think the detail is extremely concerning. I don’t think you can just –
KARVELAS: What have you asked your agency to do? What can they do?
SHORTEN: I want to find out how the contract was allocated. I want to get to the history of the process of the allocation of this contract. That’s big money. I want to know who knew what, were there any interventions from ministerial offices or not. The implication of the article is that there was. I don’t know ultimately if there was, but I do want to know all of the circumstances around the allocation of this very lucrative contract to one company.
KARVELAS: Last week the government ordered an investigation into contracts awarded to any companies or names in the reports. So what you’ve asked your department today, that’s additional to the work they were doing a week ago?
SHORTEN: Yeah, the level of detail on these emails referred to this morning is significant. So, yes, I did ask to investigate related matters last week, but there’s more detail now in these emails which are emerging which means I really do want to do a thorough investigation of the allocation of this Infosys contract. I want to know who was speaking to who, what line of sight everyone had about everyone else’s activities involved with this.
KARVELAS: The government has just passed it’s National Anti-Corruption Commission. Would that – would this body look at something like this?
SHORTEN: It could do. I want to get more information myself from the department before I go to that stage. But, yeah, absolutely. If there’s – last week there was quite a bit of smoke. Mr Robert's denied it. I do stress at all times Mr Robert has denied any wrong doing. This week now there’s more smoke. I’m not saying there’s fire yet, but the smoke hasn’t blown away. In fact, it’s just getting thicker over this matter.
KARVELAS: I want to move to another issue – the industrial relations bill is set to pass this week. We know business isn’t happy. How is the government trying to keep that relationship intact?
SHORTEN: Well, as the Prime Minister made clear to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry gala dinner last night, one issue doesn’t define a relationship.
KARVELAS: It’s a pretty big issue, though. And they think you’ve gone beyond your mandate.
SHORTEN: Well, it may or may not be. I mean, I accept that there are some people who are concerned by it, but I think that once the heat and the noise of parliament and the legislative debate and some of the overheated criticisms made by the conservatives in parliament sort of diminish in noise I think a lot of the scare campaign will evaporate and be seen for just that – a scare campaign.
What the changes for workplace relations mean for people in the street, for businesses, is that the ability for, in particular, low-paid industries, feminized industries, to be able to access bargaining is improved, access to the commission is improved. The problem in Australia isn’t that wages are running at 10 per cent, the problem is that wages aren’t moving at all. Now, I haven’t heard any serious economist say that these industrial relations laws are going to trigger, you know, massive wage rises. But I have had a lot of economists over the years – over the last decade in fact – say that people are going backwards.
See, inflation is a fact of life. A lot of it is caused by energy shocks from the war in Ukraine, they’re caused by constraint on the global supply chain, they’re caused by constraint with skill shortages. I think that what’s happening for a lot of Australians at the moment is that their incomes are falling behind the increase in mortgage rates, the energy bills. What this legislation does, I think, is it redresses the imbalance a bit. So I think we’ll find that for all the scary monsters that the Liberal propagandists have been trying to confect, it’s not going to materialise and, in fact, this is just redressing some of the damage of the last 10 years where working people in this country have seen their share of national income fall. I mean –
KARVELAS: There’s been a lot of talk, though, about wages here. But when can workers expect to see the gap between wages and the cost of living start to narrow?
SHORTEN: I think you’ve already begun to see it a bit. You’ve had pretty significant decisions in aged care. We’ve seen – where there’s literally hundreds of thousands of workers. In disability, my own sector, we’ve seen redress made on some of the low wages there. So I think you are beginning to see a bit of it. And I think these bargaining changes will slowly and sensibly provide the opportunity for some people to engage in wage rises which they haven’t been able to access. Why should it be that just the heavy industry, construction, blokey-dominated industries are the only people that can ever negotiate a set of improvements in their conditions?
KARVELAS: Is this going to increase union membership in this country?
SHORTEN: I don’t know. That will be up to trade unions. That isn’t the motivation of the bill.
KARVELAS: Do you hope it does?
SHORTEN: Listen, I think it’s a matter of record that I’m a life member of a union. But, no, I think what’s motivated – I like them, but what’s motivated this legislation has been to redress the imbalance in the Australian economy where basically the share of national income going to people as pay-as-you-go tax earners as fallen.
And I must say, there is an economic benefit to the whole economy. When people have a little bit more money to spend and when you’re on less than, you know, 100k, or 120, 150k a year, you spend nearly everything you get. So what this does is this provides economic activity.
Our conservative critics who sit opposite us, they say now is not a good time for a wage rise. But when there was other points in the last 10 years that was never a good time for a wage rise. Can we be really blunt here? When workers have money, they spend it. That actually helps the high street business. And I’ve never seen – I’ve never been struck in a traffic jam going to any workplace behind a white limo full of Liberal politicians trying to advocate for pay rises for workers. This is about fair, modest, reasonable improvements to working people’s lives, and that’s what this legislation does.
KARVELAS: All right. Just finally, Bill Shorten, you were the Labor leader that committed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. How concerned are you that this decision from the Nationals to advocate for a no vote and so far indecision – that’s pretty much all you could describe it as because we don’t have a final position from the Liberals – deals a very negative – I suppose it makes it very hard for this to pass at a referendum. Do you concede this is now very, very difficult to pass?
SHORTEN: No, not at all. I mean, when you go back to the basic principles, what’s this issue about? What this issue is about is that we have a constitution which is the birth certificate of the nation. A lot of Australians aren’t familiar with it, but it sets out powers, it sets out the intent of the nation in terms of how things should be governed. This amendment is incredibly minimalist in my opinion. It simply says that we should consult First Nations people about issues affecting them. This is not a radical concept. This is not a revolutionary concept; it’s an overdue concept.
KARVELAS: But either way, we know that with referendums you need bipartisan support for them to get up.
SHORTEN: Well, I’m disappointed that some of the Nationals have gone down the path they have. But we’ve got to move this debate beyond party politics. It’s a question for Australians. Do we think it’s about time that we include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in our founding document? I think it is.
KARVELAS: We’re out of time. Thanks for joining us, Minister.
SHORTEN: Thank you.