2GB Question Time with Deborah Knight


SUBJECTS: Garma Festival; date for the Voice Referendum; Aged Care funding; HWL Ebsworth data breach; conspiracy theories

DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: And we've had plenty of fiery scenes in Federal Parliament this week. And to unpack it all, as always, I'm joined by the Minister for Government Services, Bill Shorten, and the Shadow Treasurer, Angus Taylor. Fellas, thank you so much for joining us. So, I want to kick it off with the Garma Festival because I can't believe that the Prime Minister is holding fire on naming a date for the Voice referendum. He's at the Garma Festival in northeast Arnhem Land, the official opening this afternoon where the referendum was announced last year. Why not use this opportunity to announce a date? Bill, the Yes vote, it's losing support. It's losing momentum. Wouldn't this give the perfect opportunity for a reset on the debate and to give some focus to the Yes campaign?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: If the Prime Minister is not ready to announce the date, then he's not ready to announce the date. But the Garma Festival is certainly worth attending anyway. It's one of the largest gatherings of Indigenous leaders and peoples in Australia, so I think the Prime Minister will have plenty to say there and we'll announce the date, the referendum has to be held within a set time period. So, I can see what you're saying about process, but I think the real issue is why we should vote yes, and I think that's what we should concentrate on.

KNIGHT: One of the big arguments for the yes vote is, if not now, when? Isn't that the same for announcing the date? If not now, when? Why not announce it now?

SHORTEN: Do you think him announcing it tomorrow is the biggest issue in the Voice referendum campaign? I don’t.

KNIGHT: I think it would provide some focus for the Yes campaign because you're losing support on a daily basis.

SHORTEN: Well, I think there's plenty of focus already. I think it's a shame that Mr. Dutton's not even going to Garma. I think it's a missed opportunity. I think Mr. Dutton has strong views. He's expressed them, that's his right. But I think it's sometimes useful to express them - when you're talking about people talk to them not just in the sort of distant basis of Canberra.

KNIGHT: Angus, the Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton, says that he wants practical solutions and that's why he says he's listening to Indigenous communities. Wouldn't attending the Garma Festival be an opportunity to listen to him?

ANGUS TAYLOR, SHADOW TREASURER: Oh Deb, unlike the Prime Minister, Mr. Dutton, Peter, has been visiting Indigenous communities across Australia over the last year. Laverton, Leonora, Arnhem Land twice, Alice Springs twice, Palm Island and Darwin. And this is where you find out what's really going on on the ground. in and amongst those communities. I don't think a festival is the time to see the real issues playing out on the ground and they are the issues that have to be the focus.

SHORTEN: Angus, I don't know if you've ever been to Garma. I've been to several times. One of the reasons why the voice is being proposed is because what happens with Aboriginal policy in Australia is Australian politicians are well meaning in many cases, keep telling Aboriginal people that they'll visit them when it suits them, the politicians. The Garma Festival is an organic event. Thousands of Indigenous people from right across the Top End attend. It is an event organised by Aboriginal people and if they've invited Mr. Dutton, which they have, why is it that Mr. Dutton chooses when he schedules to see Aboriginal people, rather than perhaps pay a bit of respect, and go to an event which Aboriginal people own, rather than attending on Mr Dutton’s -

TAYLOR: Why is that the Prime Minister, why is it the Prime Minister's more focused on going to a festival than seeing the real issues on the ground in places like Alice Springs? And they are, that's where the real - no, hang on, you've had your go, Bill. That's where the real issues are playing out. Those practical issues on the ground, in the communities outside of a festival time, in the normal course of a year, that's been the focus for Peter Dutton, and he's made, I've gone through all of those visits, many visits, including two visits to Arnhem Land, I should say.

SHORTEN: Okay, and I've understood your point, but you keep stressing the word festival as if it's some sort of rock concert, perhaps because you haven't been there. You don't understand. It's actually a gathering. There's a lot of discussion, there's a lot of meetings.

KNIGHT: And it's the perfect opportunity because the spotlight of the nation will be shining on Indigenous affairs. If this is such an important gathering. I just think it's such a wasted opportunity for the Prime Minister not to try to bring some focus to the Yes campaign, which is failing. All the opinion polls show just as much, the focus is needed, and it's not actually being provided at this stage. And Bill, you've got to admit, there is confusion with the message here because we've got the Prime Minister, we know he's committed to the Uluru statement from the heart, which is voice treaty and truth. But now he's trying desperately to separate the whole debate. He was asked this week on Radio National; do you support a treaty? And he wouldn't give a straight answer.

SHORTEN: Well, the reality is that this referendum is about a Voice to Parliament, and I accept that there's been confusion, but some of that, I think, has been deliberate from some of the critics. The proposal in the referendum is pretty straightforward. Do we put our First Nations people on the nation's birth certificate, the Constitution, and do we say that it's a good idea to set up an advisory committee so that parliament consults people before they make decisions about them? Now, some of the critics say this is giving Aboriginal people extra rights over all other Australians. The truth of the matter is all statistics show that since the Europeans got here, Aboriginal people have been behind all other groups.

KNIGHT: And you've got no argument from me on that.

SHORTEN: No, I appreciate that.

KNIGHT: But it was also very, it was very, very straightforward from the Prime Minister on the night that he won the election, when he stood up and singled out the Uluru Statement from the Heart as the single most important thing that he wanted to deliver, which is voice, treaty, and truth. So why not be upfront and say, well, yes, truth and treaty would be the next step from the Voice?

SHORTEN: Well, you've got to do one thing at a time.

KNIGHT: Yes, but the Prime minister is trying to walk away from doing those other two steps.

SHORTEN: I don't accept what you're saying there, I just don’t agree.

KNIGHT: Well, why didn't he say yes? I support a treaty when he was asked point blank.

SHORTEN: Oh, well, he has said in the past he supports the Uluru Declaration. So, I don't think that sort of gotcha stuff actually helps at all. The proposition here is do we think it's a good idea to put our First Nations people, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, in the Constitution? And do we think it's a good idea to set up an advisory committee called a Voice. Like, I really, I think the scaremongering, I think the scaremongering around this is ridiculous. But going to your original question you asked me, there'll be a referendum this year, and it will be held on a Saturday, and it'll have to be held in the last quarter of the year. But I just think it's an opportunity which is missed. When I was Opposition Leader and Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister, he'd turn up to Garma, I'd turn up to Garma. I just think -

TAYLOR: Well, I'll tell you what the opportunity is -

SHORTEN: - let’s not pretend it’s just a festival.

KNIGHT: We’ll, let Angus have his say. We'll let Angus have his say. Yes, Angus?

TAYLOR: I mean the opportunity that'll be missed this weekend is Anthony Albanese won't answer the most basic questions on all of this, as he didn't in the Parliament this week. I mean, I asked the question this week about how the $5.8 million allocated in the budget to treaty making is being spent. No answer. No answer from the Treasurer or anyone else. So, these are really important questions. Australians deserve answers to the most basic questions in all of this, and we're not getting them.

KNIGHT: All right. Well, we'll see what we hear from Garma, but I stand by I think it's a wasted opportunity for the Prime Minister. Setting a date would provide a reset for the whole Yes campaign.

SHORTEN: Do you think it's a wasted opportunity for Mr. Dutton not to attend or are only. We only worried about the Prime Minister?

KNIGHT: Well, the Prime Minister is hanging his political legacy on this referendum, passing. So, it's not Peter Dutton who's putting it, it's Anthony Albanese. So, I think if he wants this to pass, he's got to be throwing absolutely everything at this campaign.

SHORTEN: Deb, do you think it's a missed opportunity, you've said about the Prime Minister, do you think Mr. Dutton's got a missed opportunity to go and talk to people who might not agree with him?

KNIGHT: Well, I think he should go, yes, but I also think it's a wasted opportunity for the Prime Minister not to try to regroup the campaign, provide some focus and announce a date. If not now, when is the whole push for the referendum saying with the date? If not now when? Look, I want to cover some other issues. Aged care included. I spoke with the Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones yesterday about the review into aged care funding. He wants more discussion on using superannuation to support the aged care sector because about a third of super balances are expected to be passed on as inheritances by the middle of the century. Is this something that the Government seriously considered considering here, Bill?

SHORTEN: Oh, Steven’s the Minister for that area of portfolio. But I think that what's happening in terms of aged care funding, the main process is that there's an independent taskforce. It's due to report around December. The aged care system that we've inherited is absolutely in a shambles and ageing Australians have been left in abhorrent conditions. The Aged Care Minister, Anika Wells has asked a group of independent experts to help resolve this. And sure, there is a challenge around funding, but I think I'll leave it to the independent task force to tell us their recommendations.

KNIGHT: All right, Angus, would the opposition support this? Because it is our money after all in super? Should we decide how to spend it, or do we need to come up with long term fixes to the aged care system? Because really with the ageing population and with the desire for quality aged care, the funding base just isn't sustainable.

TAYLOR: Well, it is clear that the aged care sector needs to be sustainable and huge increases in inflation, particularly in in the last 12 months, have made that much harder. I don't think a new tax or levy is the answer, and Labor promised not to raise taxes at the last election, but it's not clear what the Government wants to do here. It's not clear what Stephen Jones is actually proposing. The idea that superannuation shouldn't be heritable I think is wrong. I mean inheritance is a very reasonable part of our world. But what is he proposing to do? I don't know. It's another thought bubble from Stephen Jones. We get lots of them and this is another one yesterday.

KNIGHT: All right. Well, we're told we'll find out more by the end of the year. Bill, I just want to ask quickly on this as well, this concerning breach involving the NDIS, the hacking of the law firm HWL Ebsworth, which happened in April last year. But the participants in the NDIS now affected are only being told now about the data being leaked. Is that good enough, do you think?

SHORTEN: Let's get the sequence right, Deb This is not a breach of the NDIA. It's a breach of HWL Ebsworth.


SHORTEN: Yes. A private law firm. They've only just provided the NDIA with the data, and the NDIA is immediately reaching out to every participant. So, we're cleaning up the mess of HWL Ebsworth. And sure, they’re victims. We don't know how the hackings happened. But as soon as we've been aware, we are now reaching out individually to every person who's had their data exposed through the failure at HWL Ebsworth.

KNIGHT: And how serious is the breach? Because this is not just their bank details, but also their medical records,

SHORTEN: Their accounts, yeah, we take it seriously. Absolutely. But it's left to us to clean up the mess which has happened at HWL Ebsworth. And when we've been notified, my agency, when they were notified, has acted.

KNIGHT: All right. Now, I'm going to speak a bit later in the show with a bear expert from Taronga Zoo about the mystery of this sun bear at a zoo in China. Is it a bear or just a person in a bear costume? It's been quite compelling. But I wonder, is there a conspiracy theory that you secretly think could well be true? Because my EP Harnsle thinks that the theory that all pigeons are spies does hold some water. What about you? Do you put your tinfoil hat on from time to time and entertain conspiracy theories? Angus?

TAYLOR: What can I say Deb, I think there are some real questions about the wrinkly bear, but and I'll be fascinated to hear what your expert has to say about it.

KNIGHT: I know, it's very wrinkly, isn't it? And standing upright, waving to the crowd.

TAYLOR: That's right. But look, for me, my favourite conspiracy theories have always been about a part of my electorate, The mysteries of Lake George.

KNIGHT: Oh, yes.

TAYLOR: There's many of these about connections to lakes in Siberia.

KNIGHT: Tunnels to China.

TAYLOR: Tunnels to China. Exactly. Perhaps the creepiest one is drivers often reporting a young girl dressed in white stopping cars on the federal highway asking for a lift in the middle of the night.

KNIGHT: Oh. We need the X-Files theme music to be playing under that.

TAYLOR: We do.

KNIGHT: Wow. Yeah. Lake George. That is a good one. Very good. What about you, Bill?

SHORTEN: I have two. One is, when I was a union rep in the steel industry, a worker many years before had died, had been crushed. And the men who worked on the night shift would say periodically they could see his ghost.

KNIGHT: Oh, goodness…

SHORTEN: But I don't know. When I was on night shift, all that happened to me is I burned my fingers on the very thin plastic cup, with the International Roast from the international Roast machine.

KNIGHT: And did you say there was another one? Was there two?

SHORTEN: Oh, well there’s another there's another one. That Queensland LNP fundraiser, who was a director of a consulting firm, just disappeared overseas and the conspiracy theory says that he's been named in the Panama Papers.

KNIGHT: Oh, well, here we go. Throw some politics into the mix with the conspiracy theories that makes it spicier. Fellas, always good to talk. Thanks so much for joining us.

SHORTEN: Thank you.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

KNIGHT: Bill Shorten and Angus Taylor for our weekly dose of Question Time.