Minister Shorten interview on 2GB with Deborah Knight


SUBJECTS: Wellbeing Report; Robodebt Royal Commission findings; public sector jobs for former politicians; Commonwealth Games cancellation; go-to excuses

DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: And joining us as they do, the Minister for Government Services and the NDIS, Bill Shorten, along with Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor. Bill, Angus, great to have you back with us this week. I want to start with this Government report out today, the new way of measuring our wellbeing, which has been released by the Treasurer. Bill, can you ever really measure someone's wellbeing, which is pretty subjective and some of this data, including on mental health from before the pandemic, it's a bit out of date, isn't it?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Well, first of all, I think as a nation we can objectively measure how we're going in a range of indicators. I mean, we're not carving any new ground here. Countries as diverse as Scotland, New Zealand and Germany do comparable things. In terms of the data, what we've done is assembled the most recent available data. Some of it's older than other material, but I do think it's important as a nation, we can't change anything or make it better, if we don't measure it to begin with. And I think this is a valuable addition to the national discussion about where we're headed as a people. 

KNIGHT: And what do you think, Angus? We do need all the data we can get, can't we, if we want to make sure we get a true sense of how Australians and the economy are going?

ANGUS TAYLOR, SHADOW TREASURER: Sure, Deb, but this is out of date and it's out of touch. And this is a deeply embarrassing report. It's insulting to Australians struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. The data in the report is before Labor's year of inflation, the 11 interest rate hikes we've had since the change of Government. It ignores all of that and of course Australians know that that's bearing down on their wellbeing more than anything else right now. Typical Australian families are already $25,000 worse off than they were a year ago. The Treasurer doesn't need better data to understand Australians wellbeing, he need a reality check.

KNIGHT: Another big issue of course, Robodebt. We've had the senior public servant Kathryn Campbell singled out for criticism by the Robodebt Royal Commission, now suspended from her high paying job with the Department of Defence. She was stood down ten days ago, but it's only just come to light. Bill, I thought your Government was all about delivering transparency and accountability.

SHORTEN: Well, the only reason that we know how Robodebt was such a bad, malfunctioning decision was because of this Government. I and the Prime Minister proposed the Royal Commission before the last election, and we were shut down by former Prime Minister Morrison's talking points, which proved to be not worth the paper they were written on.

KNIGHT: So why not be more upfront about her being standing down, or stood down? 

SHORTEN: Well, it’s out now. Really, when you think that the Government ran an illegal, the previous Government, ran an illegal scheme for four and a half years and then it took a class action and legal action and another three years and a change of Government. So up to seven and a half years, the fact that we've only found out seven days publicly that a public servant has been suspended, you know, I think we've got the runs on the board, actually.

KNIGHT: And Angus, should Kathryn Campbell really be the sacrificial lamb here? You've got politicians like Scott Morrison, who is in charge of this whole debacle still in parliament.

TAYLOR: Well, I'm not going to comment on individual cases, and I note that the Prime Minister said exactly the same thing yesterday, Deb, I don't think it's appropriate to do this. But, you know, obviously people have got to be held to account where it's appropriate, and that's as it should be.

KNIGHT: And that's politicians and public servants alike.

TAYLOR: Well, whoever Deb. But I mean, I note that the report has laid that all out. We're working through those findings carefully, obviously. But ultimately, this is a matter this particular issue is a matter for the Government.

KNIGHT: All right. Well, we'll see what comes from the Federal ICAC, too, because talk of many recommendations to come in that regard.

SHORTEN: I just note Angus said this is a matter for the Government. Well, it's lucky there was a change of Government, otherwise we'd never have this Royal Commission. 

TAYLOR: Oh, come on Bill. 

SHORTEN: Yeah, we will follow it where it goes, Angus.

KNIGHT: All right. Now, “jobs for the boys” is a term we hear bandied around a lot in politics. We've got the New South Wales Opposition Leader Mark Speakman calling the appointment of the former Labor Premier Morris Iemma as the boss of Venues New South Wales jobs for the boys by the current Labor Government. But Bill, should Morris Iemma or anyone frankly be ruled out for a job simply because they come from the same side of politics as the Government of the day? 


KNIGHT: So, do you think Morris Iemma has the runs on the board? 

Speaker2: Well, it's up to New South Wales Government, but I think Morris Iemma has got a pretty distinguished career so he can make a contribution. So, I'm fine with that. But also, you've just got to make sure that processes are transparent, that people are qualified, that it's not, you know, do I think that former politicians of either side can make a contribution in public life on an ongoing basis? Yes, I do. You’ve just got to make sure the criteria are transparent, that the people are qualified. There's a right way and a wrong way to do things, isn't there?

KNIGHT: And Angus, is Morris Iemma qualified for this job regardless of his political background?

TAYLOR: Look, I don't know a whole lot about the job, but I do know Morris Iemma. I found him to be a very, very good person to engage with and I do think there's an appropriate role for former politicians. I note, by the way, that Mark Dreyfus and others in Labor have often questioned appointments of former politicians, but I think it is quite appropriate if they qualified for the job, there's no problem with that. It comes down to a qualification for the job I actually agree with Bill on this. 

KNIGHT: So, do you think Mark Speakman has got it wrong in this regard?

TAYLOR: Well, I think at the end of the day, you look at the criteria for the job and the merit of the person and I certainly don't have a problem with Morris Iemma.

KNIGHT: All right. Now Comm Games, plenty of drama this week with Victoria of course, walking away from hosting the 2026 event. The Gold Coast Mayor though, Tom Tate has come out saying he's more than happy to host it, if Canberra tips in some coin. Bill, will the Commonwealth come in to save the Commonwealth Games?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, I can understand the disappointment of the athletes who train for the Comm Games. One of the things which is good about the Commonwealth Games is that the Paralympic events and the Olympic events are sort of held at the same time and not two different events, two different sessions. So, I feel for those people. But no, I don't automatically think the Commonwealth should come in and bail out the Commonwealth Games if a State Government makes the bid. They didn't engage with the Australian Government during the bid process. And I think also generally there's I guess this is a salutary lesson for anyone bidding for big international sporting events to make sure that the costs don't outweigh the benefits. And I think this is, you know, talking to Victorians as I do moving around the place, um, the one level I can understand some disappointment, another level a lot of ordinary Victorians are saying, well, if the event was too expensive to be held, you might as well get the bad news of not going ahead with it earlier than later.

KNIGHT: But hang on. Dan Andrews had been warned repeatedly that if he went ahead with the model, which he'd been told was always going to cost more of having these games held not in Melbourne but in regional centres, of course it was going to cost more, and people are questioning the budget blowout. How could he have gone from 2 billion to over the 7 billion figure in an 18-month period? Did he really get the numbers that wrong or is he fudging them?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, one thing that people hate about politicians is when they're so stubborn that they won't change their mind when the facts change. But then it would appear that now that Mr. Andrews has changed his mind, he's been criticised for changing his mind.

KNIGHT: Yeah, but wasn't it all about getting votes from the regions?

SHORTEN: I don't think that's the reason why Victorian Labor won the last election. No, 

TAYLOR: Deb, he shouldn’t have given – 

SHORTEN: Yeah, go on, Angus. 

TAYLOR: I was just going to say he shouldn't have committed in the first place. But whatever you think about the Games, I'm a huge supporter of the Games. I love it. But the fact of the matter is he shouldn't have committed it in the first place. And what this highlights is that you can't trust a Government that can't manage money. It shows us the true colour of Labor Governments. They promised one thing before an election and do something completely different.

KNIGHT: Well, good luck trying to get a big event in Victoria. If they're going to pull the pin and pull the rug out three years prior to it running.

SHORTEN: Well done, Angus. Well done, Angus on following the speaking points on that issue. The issue is when - 

TAYLOR: They are the points I've been making since this happened. I was in Geelong the morning afterwards, so, you know, I've been saying this all along.

SHORTEN: To be fair, you couldn't have made them beforehand because he hadn't made that decision. Now my point is really this, and you know, I invite people just to sort of draw back a bit from the Punch and Judy show and say when you realise something's costing a lot more than you thought, when you realise it, you may say they should have worked it out earlier, but when you realise it, is he wrong to then say, I'm not going to go any further?

KNIGHT: But he didn't even talk to the Games organisers and try and come up with a solution. He just pulled the pin and gave him eight hours’ notice and it was done.

TAYLOR: Cost it properly in the first place. It's really simple.

KNIGHT: All right, I want to move on. I want to end on a good note.

SHORTEN: I don’t think it is simple. I mean, you've had plenty of cost overruns when you guys were in Government.

TAYLOR: But not like that.

KNIGHT: All right, now the Comm Games broken promise is one thing I want to end with this. I know, Angus, you're in WA launching the Pollie Pedal this year, and you haven't used your broken arm I see, as an excuse to stay off the bike. But I do want to know what dodgy excuse you might have used to cancel plans or weasel your way out of something since you've got the Pollie Pedal launch today. Angus, what about you?

TAYLOR: Look, I've made a lot of admissions on this show in recent months.

KNIGHT: You have, keep them coming.

TAYLOR: Including my dislike of Vegemite. But this one, I'm not going to make you happy because I tend not to like making excuses for things, which is why I was on the - don't tell my doctor, I hope he's not hearing - but I did jump on the bike today with a broken arm. But the best excuse or the excuse I use the most often, I suppose, is that I've got a media interview, Deb - which is often right.

KNIGHT: I think you've used that on me once or twice before, too, frankly. What about you, Bill?

SHORTEN: Well, I know I’ll get in trouble for what I'm about to say, but to use this phrase Australian gender stereotype of blokes, it is sometimes true that when you're finishing up, perhaps catching up with some friends for a beer, and there's half an hour between when you finish up and your next appointment with a family member, I tend to think that you're not late if you leave one minute before the time you meant to arrive somewhere, rather than the half hour you should have allowed. So, my excuse is always that I've underestimated the traffic. 

TAYLOR: You were having a beer? 

KNIGHT: Yeah. Well, yeah, the old - 

SHORTEN: It's true, isn't it, that there is, the Australian male will periodically say, well until I'm actually late at the event where I'm meant to be, I'm not late. And you just eliminate, you think you can time travel in a minute which isn’t always true.

KNIGHT: Yeah, the old “I'm on my way” when you haven't even got in the car. The old that old chestnut. All right fellas, 

SHORTEN: It’s sort of, your intent is to be on your way. You've imagined it?

KNIGHT: Yeah. Tell ‘em they're dreaming. Fellas, thanks for joining us.

SHORTEN: Thanks. All right. Cheerio.

KNIGHT: Bill Shorten and Angus Taylor for our regular Question Time here on afternoons with Deb Knight.