Minister Shorten interview on 2GB with Deb Knight

SUBJECTS: Housing Australia Future Fund; cost of living pressures; Victorian Government announcement on energy for new builds; email errors and pocket dials
DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: And with us as they are every Friday, the Minister for Government Services, Bill Shorten, and the Shadow Treasurer, Angus Taylor. I'll talk about the cost-of-living crunch with you both in just a moment, but I want to start with a housing bill. First to you, Bill, and the saying does go if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. But what's the point of reintroducing the Housing Australia Future Fund when you know it's going to fail? It's a high stakes game, isn't it, that is threatening this double dissolution election.

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Oh, I think if you look at the whole history of the Commonwealth and Federation, periodically the Senate, on one occasion, a majority will coalesce to oppose the Government bill. But then if you keep pressing, more often than not you end up getting an outcome. And that's what we want an outcome for people in terms of improving the amount of investment in social housing in this country.

KNIGHT: But you're never going to take the country to a double dissolution. You're bluffing here. You'll never do that.

SHORTEN: It’s not even about - no, no that's - to be honest, that's the political lens. For me, the lens to apply here is, what's in the best interests of the people? And the best interests of the people is to get this Housing Australia Future Fund bill through the Parliament. So just because people say no in the first instance in the Senate doesn't mean you just give up. It's too important.

KNIGHT: Well, Angus, the reason this housing bill failed the first time was because the Coalition teamed up with the Greens in the Senate. Is the threat of a double dissolution election enough for you to change tact here?

ANGUS TAYLOR, SHADOW TREASURER: No. We'll do what's right. And this is a political stunt. Deb, it's typical Labor choosing to play politics. Let's look at the substance of the bill here, though. It's borrowing $10 billion to punt it on the share market and hope for the best. Labor can't even say how many houses the fund will build. So, the truth of the matter is this is a bad bit of policy. If they were really serious about it, they'd fund it properly from the budget. That's not what they're doing. It's like a Ponzi scheme and that's why we're opposed to it. And we'll remain -

KNIGHT: But Angus, Angus, we're in the middle of a housing crisis, and this crisis hasn't come out of nowhere. You're in government for nearly ten years. Nothing was done. Something's got to give here. Why not give the government some sort of compromise and try and get this problem of the housing crisis, the rental crisis in this country, sorted?

TAYLOR: Well, let's be clear. This rental crisis didn't happen on our watch. We saw a dramatic increase in housing in New South Wales where we're talking now, in our time in government. When I was Industries Minister, we saw a sharp increase. But let's go to the substance of the matter here. This is a bad bit of policy. If you're going to borrow $10 billion and punt it on the share market in the hope that it's going to make you some money for your policy, I mean, where's the where's the end of this? It is a crazy punting scheme. 

SHORTEN: Ohhh, okay…

TAYLOR: Well, that's what it is. That's how this thing is structured. 

SHORTEN: Yeah, I heard you say it that twice. I'll get a chance to reply to it.

TAYLOR: Even the Greens are saying this is nuts.

SHORTEN: Glad you're taking your economic advice from them, Angus. 

TAYLOR: I don't. 

SHORTEN: Let me just explain. I'll be very specific. We want to create a $10 billion fund. Yes, we will invest it on the stock market, and hello, Angus, the fact that you think investing on the stock market is a bad idea when exactly most people's superannuation is and no doubt, you know, I think describing investing in the stock market as some sort of betting scam is quite ludicrous -  

TAYLOR: To fund government programs. 

SHORTEN: No, hang on, I'll listen to you, buddy. You said we don't know how many houses we build. Returns on the fund will deliver the government's commitment of 30,000 new social and affordable homes in the fund's first five years, including 4000 homes to women and children impacted by family and domestic violence.

TAYLOR: What's the assumption about the share market that gives you that outcome? See, this is the problem. The whole thing is about borrowing money and punting it on the share market. That's just - look, it's fine if investors want to go - 

KNIGHT: But at the end of the day, at the end of the day Bill, at the end of the day, this bill failed. This bill failed to get up the first time. So, what's changed here? Why are you going to bring it forward again if both the Greens and the Coalition are saying we're not going to pass it?

SHORTEN: Well, hopefully there'll be some sensible heads will prevail on this.

KNIGHT: Well, they've said no.

SHORTEN: Okay. Well, I did point to you in 120 years of Commonwealth history that it is not unknown for a bill to succeed on the second occasion when it didn't succeed the first time.

KNIGHT: Alright, so you're hopeful it'll still get up?

SHORTEN: Well, at some point people have got to realise that this is a bit bigger than just scoring points off the Government. This is about mechanisms to increase the amount of funding available to build social and affordable housing. 

KNIGHT: All right. Now, the cost-of-living crunch of which the housing crisis is fuelling is, I think, something that many of you in Canberra do not have a full grasp of how hard it's hitting. You don't need reports or data to tell you what everyday Australians are copping, but every day we've got stark new figures. The new report today from the NAB, 10% of Australians can't pay their power bills and the cost of everything is surging. And I've got listeners who are contacting me saying they are hurting, and it is hitting them hard. I wonder, Bill, do you have to sleep with a hot water bottle because you can't afford to turn the heating on? Do you have to turn the power off because you're worried about paying the bill? And do you even know how much your last power bill was?

SHORTEN: Well, I certainly know the last item because I do pay the bills in my house. But yeah, I get the people are hurting. I'm very conscious of it, because first of all, when you said you in Canberra, I live in Melbourne and I get out every day, talk to people. So yeah, I think it is tough. What I also know is that you can't turn around these issues, you know, overnight. We have got, and this is something practical. I just want to remind your listeners of, we did announce in the May budget $500 support for about 5 million Australians. So, it depends - people can claim a rebate, I just want to explain, if you've got a Concession, Seniors, Veterans card through Services Australia, you can go to your myGov app or website. In most cases, your electricity provider will automatically apply the bill relief to your electricity account. I know that in New South Wales, South Australia, Tassie, you can get $500 per eligible household. In Victoria you can get $250 per eligible household plus a one off $250 payment through the Victoria's 2023 Power Savings.

KNIGHT: And that help, that help is desperately needed and desperately welcome as well. But the power bills have gone up even further since and we now have a record surplus, $20 billion that the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers has confirmed this week. But he's ruled out any more immediate cost of living relief. Australians are at breaking point. The power bills have gone up even higher even after that relief has been given.

SHORTEN: Well, that's why the longer-term solution to housing is to create more capacity in energy production in the system. And again, we can't fix up many years of policy neglect, but we are putting measures in place. I'm happy to take you through each of the measures that we're doing.

KNIGHT: Well, no, I know that there's help that's been provided and as I say, it is welcome. But we've been told that there's no more to come.

TAYLOR: But you can't just whistle up more - this is not like a 60 second meal you can put in the microwave, if you're going to have a reliable energy supplies it takes a while to do so while I hear what you're saying absolutely, there is some short-term relief. The other thing we have been doing is that from childcare to cheaper medicine to getting wages moving, there are some other measures which are coming through the system. Inflation appears to have peaked and is coming down. But yeah, it is really tough at the moment. I get that.

KNIGHT: And Angus, the Victorian Government is today announced it's banning gas connections in all new homes from the 1st of January next year. What are your thoughts on that? Is that a fair enough move? Because it's all to do with the power issue and the issue with the - I mean, we've got in Sydney as well local councils as well as you know, the Victorian Government now making this move on gas. Is that welcome?

TAYLOR: Deb, I don't know how many times I've said this, but the priority of Australian governments right now should be focused on this cost-of-living crisis, Number 1, Number 2, and Number 3, this is the most important thing. And announcing a ban on gas in homes, telling us how we've got to cook our meals, we've got Chris Bowen out there telling us what we're going to be able to cook. You know, this is just crazy stuff. Right now, it is clear that gas can not only help us to get our cost of living down if we get more gas into our system, but it can also bring down emissions and Labor is talking about banning it. I mean, it's just nuts.

KNIGHT: And that's your home state Bill, what are your thoughts on having the gas banned in Victoria?

SHORTEN: Yeah, as much as I don't want to be constantly correcting Angus, he just said something which wasn't right. He said Labor's banning gas in homes. That's not right. I've got gas in my home, not banning it. What the State Government are - the.

KNIGHT: Well, from the 1st of January next year, connections won't be allowed in new homes.

SHORTEN: Yeah, that's what I'm going to. The State Government, as it has said, that from the 1st of January 2024, planning permits for new homes and residential subdivisions will only connect to the electric networks because the Victorian Government has the view that that will ultimately deliver cheaper energy.

KNIGHT: And do you hold that view?

SHORTEN: It’s their decision.

TAYLOR: Why don't let the consumers - 

KNIGHT: It's their decision. Did you say, Bill?

SHORTEN: Oh yeah, it's the State Government's decision. It's not within my remit federally.

KNIGHT: Well, let's hope it delivers, because people are hurting and they're hurting hard and power bills are going up and they're going up and up and up. And in terms of the relief that is provided and they're on the table, it's, you know, still not providing the relief that people need to ensure that they can actually get by. Look, I also want to talk about this. I want to end on this. It's been revealed that the Seven Network's commercial director, Bruce McWilliam, exchanged more than 8600 emails with Ben Roberts-Smith lawyers during this high-profile defamation case, about 86 emails for every day of the trial. We've been talking about emails. I'm sure both of you have a very full inbox every single day. There's room for error, though, when it comes to sending and receiving emails. I wonder, have you ever had an email faux pas? Have you perhaps hit reply all? When you shouldn't have. Angus?

TAYLOR: Oh, I think I've had a few of these. Look, probably the worst one was a text, not an email where I thought I was texting my wife with an affectionate comment.


TAYLOR: And I went to, it went to a colleague. I realised - 

KNIGHT: A male or female colleague?

TAYLOR: I can't remember exactly who it was, but it was a sort of an I love you type text. 

KNIGHT: Oh. Did you get a love heart reply?

TAYLOR: No, I think it was just confusion at the other end, Deb.

KNIGHT: Whoopsie. What about you, Bill?

SHORTEN: I think that was to me, Angus, I think I said well, that's very nice. Actually yeah. I'm the same as Angus. It's been the texts which are more problematic. I, too, have sent a sort of a romantic text to my wife, and all my staff know that at least my marriage is healthy. Um, so that was embarrassing. But the other one is also - 

KNIGHT: Well, hang on, so you sent it, you thought to your wife, but who did you send it to? Your staff?

SHORTEN: My collective, my staff group chat. But fortunately, they all just think I'm a Gen-X loser. And that's it. But I have also, I don't know if either of you have ever had this phenomenon, I think it was with the smartphone. But sometimes I inadvertently pocket dial people.

KNIGHT: Oh, yes, the butt dial.

Speaker1: But when Albo rang me back, I had to say sorry, I had nothing more important than I just pocket dialled him. But anyway, I do worry that there for the next Prime Ministerial message he gets, he'll just think, is that a pocket dial or does he mean it?

KNIGHT: Look, you've got to be careful with technology that you do. Fellas, we appreciate you coming on board. Thanks so much for joining us.

SHORTEN: Cheers.

KNIGHT: We'll chat next week. Angus Taylor and Bill Shorten for our weekly Question Time, here on Afternoons.