Minister Shorten interview on the Today Show with Sarah Abo


SUBJECTS: Qantas/Qatar, IR, Neil’s retirement

SARAH ABO, HOST: Joining us to discuss today's headlines is Minister for Government Services and the NDIS, Bill Shorten and 3AW presenter Neil Mitchell. Gents, thank you so much for your time this morning. Bill, the PM is refusing to say whether he has secret meetings with Alan Joyce about blocking competitive flights from Qatar. What do you reckon is going on here? Is he telling us the truth?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Oh no, Sarah, listen, I don't blame you for not watching Question Time yesterday.

ABO: I did watch it yesterday actually.

SHORTEN: Oh, there you go. Well, the PM said that he specifically had not had meetings with Qantas about Qatar. Yes. So he specifically said he had not.

ABO: Yes. But did he meet with Alan Joyce in general

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, the question that he was asked in parliament yesterday is did he have a meeting with Qantas about Qatar? And he said he did not. If he's met with Alan Joyce in the course of business, so what? He meets with a lot of people. He even comes on your show periodically. But the point I don't think there's anything suspicious about that - the point about it is he hasn't had meetings with Qantas about Qatar.

ABO: Is he going to reveal who the secret meeting was with?

SHORTEN: Oh, at this point, he said that when he has meetings to do about confidential matters, he doesn't reveal all his discussions. Let's go to the heart of the matter with Qatar. Did you know, Sarah, that Qatar has been offered the opportunity to have more flights into Adelaide, Avalon, Cairns, Canberra and the Gold Coast? They've declined. Did you also know that Qatar has no limit on the that they can use larger planes for some of the other ports which they come in to? The reality is that with global aviation, just because the airline wants to come to another country doesn't mean you get a tick straight away. We have the most open our airport arrangements of anyone in the world. Singapore Airlines like would like to go more into the United States - they don't automatically get a deal. So…

ABO: Now, of course, now you're not just going to tick it off, but when Australians are paying more for air travel more than they should, I mean, it's it stinks, obviously. Neil, what do you reckon?

NEIL MITCHELL, 3AW: I think Bill's got the talking points organised today. That's obviously well prepared. The bottom line is, Bill, why do we do it? Why did he do it? Who did he meet? Why did he do it? And the other point is that it's simple. Qantas has got a special deal here. Qatar is banned for reasons we will cut back for reasons we don't know. And airfares are higher because of it. That's simple. Everybody says that. The whole industry says that. There's no question. And we've got this there's a deal with I don't know whether it's because you're all in the chairman's lounge. You remember the chairman's lounge?

SHORTEN: Oh, rubbish. Yes, I am. It's excellent.

MITCHELL: Are you a member? You are. You are?

SHORTEN: Oh, yeah. If you bothered to check, I declared it. I love it. It's fine.

MITCHELL: we're all in there doing little deals to look after holders. And that's really what's happened. Just come clean. Tell us, Albo, tell us why. Nobody can tell me why. The Treasurer. I asked the Treasurer. He didn't know. The Minister can't explain it. Albo won't tell us. Do you know why, Bill? Why it happened?

SHORTEN: Neil, you - you know, you had the big news about your retirement - but mate, don't be - don't become a cooker. Don't become a cooker. About all the conspiracies. I'm not part of negotiating anything – I’m not the Minister for Aviation.

MITCHELL: You know, I know you've just given a whole justification about it, tell us -

ABO: A classic Canberra secret Bill, which we're going to see a lot of on Thursday night..

SHORTEN: I’m just giving you the justification that I've been told.

ABO: All right. All right. All right. Let's move on. More than 60,000 workers will be getting a pay rise as the government moves to close the loopholes - Hey, Bill, catch up. All right. It's good news for Uber drivers. These pay rises, but not so much for businesses.

SHORTEN: Yeah. Is there a question in that or are you just complaining about paying an extra $0.20 for your pizza?

ABO: I don't mind paying an extra $0.20 for our pizza, but what about – but how small?

SHORTEN: You’ve got a good heart, Sarah. The truth of the matter is that we don't want to have a two tier economy where we become like the United States and other places where some people live on tips. The gig platforms are here to stay. That's fine. We just want to make sure that people aren't getting exploited. It's as simple as that.

ABO: Yeah. Yeah. And that's exactly what we need to wipe out -

SHORTEN: Thank you. Well, it sounds like you're voting for the ledge.

ABO: If only our votes mattered –

MITCHELL: We don't want. We don't want an underclass. That's quite correct. We don't want an underclass. But you got to strike the balance here. What is it, 400 million a year extra? It's going to cost. That'll cost business somehow. You've got to strike a balance between a reasonable wage and not putting the prices up so much that you're going to lose jobs.

SHORTEN: You're right that we've always got to strike a reasonable balance. Now, back in the day, you were a very good industrial relations reporter. You know how the things work. But the point about it is if we want to talk about what's putting up prices, why don't we ever have a discussion about Woolworths and Coles and what they're doing to prices? They can dream up more price increases and pressure on households than some poor old gig worker working casually waiting for a text to say, yes, you can work today for wages, which is subpar.

MITCHELL: Culture wars.

SHORTEN: Okay. Well, looking after working people -

MITCHELL: Oh yeah, yeah, making money - it's evil. Yeah. Oh, no. Coles doesn't make money. It doesn't employ people. It doesn't make money. How are you gonna employ people?

SHORTEN: Is there a flag of Coles? Do you have a Coles and Woolies flag going before you go to work -

ABO: Part about Tuesdays when I get to sit down with you. Two incredible men sparring away on the Today show. And Neil, even though it's the end of an era, we haven't spoken to you since you broke the news that you'll be leaving radio at the end of the year. A massive congratulations from the whole Today Show family. I mean, Neil, you've been on air as long as I've been alive. I'm just going to point out, and as a pub, as a pub reporter, it always filled us with so much excitement, but also a little bit of nervousness when we had to do an interview with Neil Mitchell. But we always loved it. And you have just absolutely turned the industry on its head every single morning. So we're all so lucky and so much richer for hearing you on the radio every single day. How are you feeling? I mean, it's just been an incredible career.

MITCHELL: That's very kind. And I like you, I always got very nervous when I had to interview Bill. So it's just. Well, he banned me for three years. That's a highlight of my career. That Bill's my mate for three years, he wouldn't talk to me. Now he's my best mate. What happened, Bill?

SHORTEN: Well, maybe we all mature over time. Neil, I'm gonna miss you too

MITCHELL: - well done, you’ve grown up.

SHORTEN: yeah, eventually

ABO: Do you have a favourite Neil memory, Bill?

SHORTEN: Oh, I have many, but one is - it was last century actually, when I was a when I was a young union official and the Longford gas plant exploded, Neil, as you remember, down in Victoria and two men died, two were badly burned and there was a lot of argument and anger between the workforce and Esso at the time. And Neil had perhaps been attacking us for our industrial relations, the workforce. And I rang him and said, Would you just come down and meet some of the people down in East Gippsland or Gippsland, I should say Southern Gippsland? And do you know what he did? He said, All right, I will come down. And he drove all the way down there. They wouldn't let the construction workers talk to him on the site. So they came to the gate and I was very impressed that Neil, even though he had a sort of view about what was happening, was willing to challenge his own not even challenge his own views. But but see, the other point of view, he went down and spoke to ordinary construction workers. They were great fellows and I always rated you for that, Neil We could always talk about the issues if you're willing to see both sides of the point of view.

MITCHELL: That's very, that's very good. And journalism is struggling a bit at the moment and it's good to hear some compliments for a change. Journalism is struggling, so is political accountability. It's a pretty sad old world for both of us, I reckon.

ABO: Yeah, but you have made a difference now. And we know this isn't the end. It's just your radio show. We're obviously going to see you here on the Today Show as a regular. You'll keep coming back with Neil to spar with us, whether you like it or not. Really appreciate it again very soon. Congratulations again.