Minister Shorten interview on 2GB Question Time with Deborah Knight

SUBJECTS: Date set for the Voice to Parliament referendum; Qantas and Qatar airlines; cost of living; Father’s Day plans

DEBORAH KNIGHT, 2GB: And we've had a big week in federal politics. The much-expected news that the voice referendum will be on Saturday, the 14th of October. We've also had Qantas and the Government under fire, accused of running a protection racket for the flying kangaroo and big business is now sounding off about the new workplace laws that will make things more expensive right in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. So, lots to discuss with the Minister for the NDIS, Bill Shorten and Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor. Fellas, thanks as always for joining us.

ANGUS TAYLOR, SHADOW TREASURER: Good to be with you, Deb.

KNIGHT: We'll talk about Father's Day too, to round it all out because I like looking ahead to Sunday and speaking to you both on what's planned at your places. But we'll kick it off with the Voice. We know, Bill now we're all going to the polls in just over six weeks, support has fallen for the yes case in every opinion poll and continues to fall. Do you think, Bill, that Australians really understand what the voice is?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: I think people will now start engaging in the conversation. The reality is polls are important, but I think polls close to an event are more important than polls far away. There's a very strong grassroots campaign and the proposition of putting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders into the nation - modern Australia's national birth certificate, I think makes sense. And the principle of talking to people before you pass laws that affect them is a strategy which is long overdue in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy.

KNIGHT: Do you think it's fair enough though, that people are saying, look, we don't really understand? Like, constitutional recognition for first Australians, I think people are absolutely on board with. But the Voice, it's the detail is sort of lacking on what it might be and the fact that it's an advisory body, but the government won't necessarily have to take up the advice offered. So, people think, well, what's the point of it in the first place? The choice and the deliberate choice to not have a lot of detail, I think is undermining this campaign, isn't it?

SHORTEN: Well, you're sort of damned if you do and damned if you don't, aren't you? It's up to the parliament to put the detail in. The Constitution will be a direction. I mean, we've got plenty of other clauses which were put into the Constitution and then the Parliament legislated them. That's in fact how it started. We had a Constitution before we had a parliament. But I - you know, I accept that people aren't across the detail. That's fair enough. And we've just got to talk to them about it. That's why with the period of the referendum, announcing the date, I think there'll be a lot more engagement by everyday Australians and the pros and cons, and that's where the discussion should be.

KNIGHT: Now, Angus, if the no vote does win, what then? Because Peter Dutton says he does support Indigenous recognition in the Constitution, would the Opposition move to legislate the Voice?

TAYLOR: Well, we absolutely support recognition in the Constitution, but that's not what this is about. Of course, Deb, and we'll continue to support that, and we continue to walk -

KNIGHT: - But it is about recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution.

TAYLOR: Well, it goes well beyond that. This is the point. We can go with recognition without having to have the Voice. And we've long had that position, right back to Tony Abbott in 2013, John Howard had that position. So that's not new. What's new here is a very significant change to our Constitution, I'd argue the biggest in our history, a new chapter in the Constitution, a new part of government. We don't understand a lot about it. Who will be eligible to serve on the proposed body? What are the prerequisites for nomination? How will its members be elected? Or will they be chosen or appointed? And the list goes on. Those questions aren't clear. And that's why, you know, I'm close to this and I don't understand a lot of the issues. They haven't been resolved or described to us.

KNIGHT: Do you think though, it's a good thing, do you think sorry, do you think that it's a good thing for Indigenous Australians to accept responsibility for the money and decisions affecting them? Isn't that what the Voice will provide? Because you care more if you've got skin in the game?

TAYLOR: Well, I really believe firmly in local, in the local responsibility and local accountability and that's where you really get differences. But to put something in the Constitution to create this Canberra Voice, it's very unclear to me how that's actually going to improve the lot of local Indigenous Australians on the ground.

KNIGHT: Well, six weeks and counting and we know that the campaigns from both sides are out in force. So, we'll look towards that decision on the 14th. Now Qantas is under the pump, but so too is a Federal Government for blocking the extra flights for Qatar. Bill, is the Government running a protection racket for Qantas?

SHORTEN: No, that's just - that's just rubbish.

KNIGHT: Well, the Assistant Treasurer did say that protecting the national carrier's profits was in the national interest. And isn't that by definition what a protection racket is?

SHORTEN: No, it's not wrong to want to prioritise Australian interests. This is not the first time that an overseas airline or an overseas country has tried to increase their access to particular slots at particular airports.

KNIGHT: And that's a decision that will reduce the cost of airfares and enable all Australians to be paying less for international flights. Isn't that something that the Government should be encouraging, cheaper prices across the board?

SHORTEN: I mean, hats off to Qatar and their commercial interests and their domestic advisors here in Australia making it sound like Qatar, if we don't have Qatar tomorrow with more landing slots, somehow aviation in this country is not as good. Did you know - and I don't know if listeners are aware, that increased competition in our sector occurs. We've been bringing in more Cathay Pacific flights, more Singapore Airlines flights, more China Southern flights. There's already a range of unused capacity open to Qatar. So, listen, I get that we want more competition, and everyone wants cheaper flights, me included, and of course, the consumers. But I don't accept that one particular negotiation between an airline and a government and between two countries, upon that hangs the future of aviation competition in Australia.

KNIGHT: Should pollies be banned from having membership to the Qantas Chairman's Lounge Angus? Because the average Aussie doesn't get those sorts of perks, politicians making decisions about Qantas do, and it's currying favour, isn't it? It's a conflict of interest, shouldn't be allowed.

TAYLOR: Well, I think I think if it's going to, if we're going to have it, it should be declared, there's no question about that, so people can see if there's a conflict of interest. But let me be clear on this issue in response to what Bill said. Look, the point here is we've got a Treasurer running around saying and the Prime Minister saying, the cost of living is a top priority. But when it comes to actually doing things, they go in the opposite direction. We've had the ACCC chairwoman, the two previous chairs come out and say this is going to raise prices. This is resulting in higher airfares than would otherwise be the case. And yet Labor is protecting or knocking out a competitor. I mean, this is outrageous. And in fact, the Treasurer today or in the last 24 hours has had to do a 180 degree turn because the decisions have been all wrong. Now, you know, competition is the way you get lower prices, and right now Australians deserve lower prices right across the board.

KNIGHT: And that is absolutely the case. And that takes us through to the IR laws decision, which -

SHORTEN: You’d almost you'd almost think though, that the star I mean airline tickets overseas to the Middle East, you know, that's relevant, that's useful. But I think cost of living also goes to how often battlers go to the chemist. And we've proposed that people should be able to get prescriptions for up to 60 days. More people are going to go to the chemist in the next week, Angus than fly overseas to Europe. And yet, when it came to us reducing the cost of medicines to consumers, you guys are all, you know, pearl clutching about, you know, Qatar and going to Rome or London. But when it comes to seeing the chemist down the road, you want them to go more often than they have to.

KNIGHT: All right. Well, those laws have been brought in and the dispensing goes away. I want to talk about the workplace laws, though, because that's at the heart of cost of living, too. Those laws being introduced into parliament next week to protect gig economy workers. But it's also going to see the prices for these services going up. So why again, Bill, would the government see prices rise in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis?

SHORTEN: People still want to be able to pay for the peanut butter and the toast and the Vegemite and the milk. They still need to be able to pay. The idea that the only way the Australian economy advances is by having an underclass of underpaid gig workers, that's not an economic future which includes everyone. How is it that the idea that a gig worker working, you know, uncertain hours with dubious safety conditions is somehow less, that their wages and conditions are less important than you or me or Angus?

KNIGHT: Well, Angus, it's a fair question. Gig economy workers do see, not just from a safety point of view, but from a pay point of view, they're being affected. We've seen Uber riders killed on the roads in Sydney. They need more protections, don't they?

TAYLOR: Well, sure, but safety shouldn't cost, it's usually about culture and you can improve safety. And I've seen this in many workplaces without adding to cost if people change their behaviours to sensible ones. But we haven't seen the legislation on this. But let me tell you, Deb, this government keeps talking about the cost-of-living crisis. They keep claiming that it's a top priority and yet they keep doing things that drive the cost of things up. I mean, even Bill's comment a moment ago on the airlines, look, the truth is, if you put more capacity into the airline market, then all airline fares go down. That's what happens. But this is not a government that is serious about putting downward pressure on the cost of living. And this is just another example of exactly that.

KNIGHT: Alright. Well -  

SHORTEN: Just finally, just on the wages point though, as opposed to Angus’ Qatar stuff. If people don't have money, then there's nothing circulating the economy. The reality is the gig worker isn't using their extra conditions to buy their third investment property. All the money which goes to gig workers, circulates in the economy. No good having -

KNIGHT: But you’ve got business leaders as well, though, Bill, saying that that's going to lead to uncertainty and that they will not be employing people as a result of these workplace laws.

SHORTEN: I love business leaders, but I've never heard in my 30 years of standing up for working people, business leaders welcome a wage rise. It's never a good time to give a low paid worker a wage rise, is it?

KNIGHT: All right. Let's end on something nice. Father's Day on Sunday. Tell me, what's the best way that you're going to be spending Father's Day with your family? Angus, are you going to force the kids on a bike ride for a few laps, or are you doing something a bit more relaxing?

TAYLOR: Look, a day on the farm with the family is the best way to spend a Sunday if I get a chance, in particular Father's Day and it probably includes a ride on a bike or a horse, to be honest Deb, I do love that. But I won't force my family out to do that. I'll get on with it myself.

KNIGHT: Yeah, no more broken bones either. What about you, Bill?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, being a poli means that on Sunday night we've got to go to Canberra, so I'm already a bit in the doghouse. I've actually been thinking of something radical. I found out that Mother's Day was invented before Father's Day in modern history, and Father's Day sort of started in America in about 1910. Well, I wonder if we wouldn't be smarter, some of us blokes, reinventing Father's Day as a second Mother's Day, because for a lot of us, especially in our sort of occupations, it's our partners, our wives who are doing more than half the heavy lifting. And indeed, I think of putting that to a pub test, but I realise that not all women drink at the pub, so maybe we should put call a new test, not just the pub test, but the hair salon test, should we just have a second Mother's Day?

KNIGHT: So, you want to give it up and just give it to two Mothers Days?

SHORTEN: Nah, before I get bagged by some right-wing bloggers, no, no, it's all good. I like it. But, you know, I'm a realist. The reality is that the best thing I could do on Father's Day is make Chloe breakfast in bed and then take the kids and let her have a day.

KNIGHT: You'll win brownie points at least, and maybe get a double lot of socks and jocks this year. But all the best to you both for Father's Day on Sunday. We'll see you next week.

SHORTEN: See ya.

TAYLOR: Thanks.

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