Minister Shorten Interview on Sky News Afternoon Agenda with Andrew Clennell


SUBJECTS: Resignation of Kathryn Campbell; potential referrals to the National Anti-Corruption Commission; Gary John’s comments; NDIS reforms; Commonwealth Games; Margerison refusal to attend parliamentary inquiry

ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Let's turn our attention to the ongoing fallout from the Robodebt Royal Commission. Late yesterday, we learned senior bureaucrat Kathryn Campbell had resigned from her position with the Department of Defence. Ms. Campbell had served as Secretary of the Department of Human Services between 2011-17, during Robodebt’s inception at 2014. The Royal Commission report into Robodebt said this about Ms. Campbell's conduct, quote, when exposed to information that brought to light the illegality, she did nothing of substance. When presented with opportunities to obtain advice on the lawfulness of that practice, she failed to act. The Defence Department confirmed yesterday that her resignation was accepted on Friday. Let's bring in Bill Shorten, the Minister for Government Services, who joins me live from Brisbane. Bill Shorten, thanks for joining me. I know there's a limit to what you can say, but I'm going to ask you about the first high profile scalp of this Robodebt Royal Commission, Kathryn Campbell. What did you make of her departure?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Well, you're right. I can't comment on individual matters, but I spoke to families yesterday when the news broke that she had resigned. I think there was some sense of accountability amongst families. I won't put words in their mouth, but that was the very clear presentation I got from talking to them. Of course, when we talk about scalps, there was actually 434,000 scalps. They were the people, our fellow Australians, who were unlawfully served with debt notices by a government of lawbreakers. So, you know, it's still got a way to go. There's been plenty of referrals by the forensic Royal Commission, and we've all got to make sure, there's a lesson for everyone here, to make sure that future governments don't break the law. It’s as straightforward as that.

CLENNELL: Might we see other senior public servants forced out?

SHORTEN: I don't know, to be honest. I don't know. We'll have to wait and see what happens with other people. There are processes underway. The Public Service Commission has made clear that they're going to afford due process to people against whom there have been adverse referrals if their existing public servants, their referrals, I understand, to other regulatory and law enforcement bodies. I just want to reassure Robodebt victims, their families, the advocates, and everyday Australians who are concerned that there'll be no accountability. There is accountability. This Royal Commission has, I think, shone a light which but for the Royal Commission, we would never have known quite the extent of this horrible chapter of lawbreaking by a Commonwealth Government.

CLENNELL: Does the behaviour around the Robodebt scandal meet the definition of corrupt conduct that the National Anti-Corruption Commission can examine, do you think?

SHORTEN: Well, it’ll be up to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, what they investigate. We don't seek to politicize that. I have a working definition of corruption that it's an abuse of power. This was an abuse of power. But that's I think, that's my lay observation. I'll leave it to the experts as to what they do.

CLENNELL: Do you expect –

SHORTEN: As to the Royal Commission, is that we – sorry, you go ahead.

CLENNELL: Well, do you expect this to be the last of the matter for Kathryn Campbell and Scott Morrison, to pull out two individuals?

SHORTEN: I genuinely don't know. I noticed Mr. Morrison's return from his European sojourn, and he's in fierce denial of all of the findings. That's his right. But I have to say that, you know, I don't know if he's read the whole Commission report. He probably has, but a lot of damning evidence there about the administration of the previous government. And this is not just a standard day at the office in politics. The whole scheme was political and unlawful. A group of Australians who rely upon the social services safety net were singled out for unlawful conduct. They were made to feel like they were the criminal, when in fact the law breaking was being done by the people pretending to be upholding the law. So, no, I don't I don't think it finishes here at all.

CLENNELL: You had this scandal break just before the Fadden byelection, yet the LNP got a swing to it despite the Member being Stuart Robert, despite some forceful comments from you on the Prime Minister around Robodebt. What do you attribute that to?

SHORTEN: Well, if Stuart Robert had been the candidate… we'll never know, will we? I think that the best thing the LNP had going for them in the Fadden byelection is that the candidate wasn't Stuart Robert. Maybe he’d been artificially depressing the vote.

CLENNELL: Has the Government decided not to release the sealed section of the report? Has there have been a final decision on that?

SHORTEN: Oh, the recommendation from the Royal Commissioner was clear at the time that the Prime Minister and I released the rest of the Royal Commission. The sealed section remains sealed whilst there are investigations and processes underway. I guess that matter can be reviewed at the conclusion of those processes. We accept the Royal Commissioner's call.

CLENNELL: Okay. So that's likely to be years before it's ever released.

SHORTEN: Oh, I don't know. I don't know how you come to that conclusion, Andrew.

CLENNELL: I just know how long investigations take. Anyway, let me ask you about a couple of other issues. Gary Johns -

SHORTEN: I'll defer to the experts.

CLENNELL: Okay. Gary Johns has made some controversial comments concerning Aboriginal people. Are you joining calls for the No campaign to dump him?

SHORTEN: Ah, listen, I'd say this as politely as I can. I stopped listening to Gary Johns a long time ago. It's just good for your mental health.

CLENNELL: Have you got any progress to report on your NDIS reforms?

SHORTEN: Yes, we do. Over the last few weeks in Sydney, the offices of the Fraud Fusion Taskforce, which we created last year upon coming to government, have been cracking down on criminals who are exploiting people with disabilities. I can report that we've reduced the number of legacy cases of NDIS participants at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I can report that we've decreased the average waiting time of NDIS recipients who are medically fit for discharge but unable to go somewhere. So, we've reduced the waiting time from what was about 160 days to about 29 days on average. And I can report that we've overhauled the Agency and we're investing in capability. I've got the report, the final report, coming down in October. We're working closely with the states and territories, people with disability, their advocates. Yeah, we are making progress, but it will take a while. You can't - this is a this is a big operation. You can't turn it around overnight.

CLENNELL: And as a Victorian, what's your reaction to the cancellation of the Commonwealth Games by your Premier?

SHORTEN: I suspect we probably dodged a financial bullet. It looks like the cost the cost of the Games was exploding. And, you know, I see Dan Andrews copping a bit of stick here. But, you know, I just say to people who might be frustrated, you might not have liked his decision, but I tell you what, imagine if he had waited another year before making the decision. There's never a good time to reverse course or make a hard decision. So, the sooner that's arrived at, the better. If we couldn't afford it, we couldn't afford it.

CLENNELL: Yeah, but shouldn't he have known that at the outset?

SHORTEN: I don't know what information people had. What I do know is that Mr. Andrews has moved some three years ahead of the event to say, hey, the costs have changed. I mean, we have seen inflation and rising building costs in this country in the last 12 and 18 months. So, you know, I think people are trying to say, is this a gotcha moment for Dan? I think a politician who recognises that when the facts change, he needs to change his position. I still think that's a credible proposition. In the best interests of the state.

CLENNELL: All right. Finally, there's a suggestion that he might be called to a Senate inquiry. Should he appear if he is?

SHORTEN: Oh, that sounds very much like political grandstanding by the Opposition. I'm just having a hunch. I haven't heard those calls. I tell you who was meant to turn up at a parliamentary inquiry. Stuart Robert/s and the Queensland LNP fundraiser, Mr. John Margerison. But his lawyer advised the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Audit that Mr. Margerison who we'd been discussing in Parliament for his dealings with a controversial lobbying firm, has now decided that he's going to move overseas. He's severed all ties with Australia. That's quite breathtaking. Rather than turn up at a parliamentary inquiry, he's gone overseas, done a runner. Goodbye. Adios.

CLENNELL: I don't think Dan Andrews will be doing that. Bill Shorten, thanks very much for your time.

SHORTEN: That’s right, he won't. He won't. Good on you.