Minister Shorten interview on Today Show with David Campbell

DAVID CAMPBELL, HOST: Great to have your company this morning. Leaders in the construction industry have lashed out at the federal government's new migration strategy. They claim stricter language and skill requirements will exacerbate Australia's tradie shortage. Joining us now to discuss this, Minister for the Government Services and the NDIS, Bill Shorten and Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie with me in the studio. Good morning to both of you. Bill, do you first though, Australia is in desperate need of new housing, we all know that. We talk about it all the time. Won't these changes do the opposite of that?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: No, they won't. Yesterday, Minister Clare O'Neil announced a new migration strategy. At the moment in Australia, after Covid, we've had a gigantic explosion in the number of people coming here and we want to get migration levels back to normal. We also, whilst wanting to make sure there are skills and people available to do work, we want to make sure that locals are getting first crack at the jobs, and we want to restore integrity of the migration system. So, I think this is - we've got the balance right.

CAMPBELL: Bridget, the construction industry might disagree with Bill there, but I mean, the business industry, we had Innes Willox on to say they're all happy with this. But what do you take on what you take on the tradies?

BRIDGET MCKENZIE, NATIONALS SENATOR: Well, absolutely. We're in the middle of a housing crisis right now. You can't find a tradie for love nor money. We've seen the blow out in costs as a result of that, in our infrastructure build, in our congested suburbs and cities. You can't - rents going through the roof, you can't afford a house. And the building industry has said there's a shortage of 230,000 tradies. By making it harder for them to come in from overseas, we're not going to have everyone jumping on an apprenticeship and completing in the next year, so you're just exacerbating the housing crisis and Labor could have done something to fix it. Instead, they're protecting the CFMMEU once again, and it's Australians who are going to pay the price.

CAMPBELL: Bill, what do say to that?

SHORTEN: Ah, well, I'd say that Bridget should tell us what number of people she wants to come to Australia. We want to get it back to normal. At the moment, there's a lot of people coming here. And if you want to talk about rents going up and crowded infrastructure, we've got so many people coming here we can't keep pace with housing and rent for our own people.

MCKENZIE: Bill, you're the government. 600,000 -

SHORTEN: Yeah, no. And luckily we are, because you just opened the doors and you let -.

MCKENZIE: 600,000 people, this year alone.

SHORTEN: So what is it, Bridget? You think there's 600,000 people is too many, yet you're complaining that we're not bringing enough people in. You can't be fish nor fowl here. Which is it? Are you going to criticise us for too many people or not enough people?

MCKENZIE: Bring in the people we need. You let overseas migration with students go through the roof to protect universities.

SHORTEN: And you know what? We’re going to fix up the students.

MCKENZIE: And what Australians need is cheaper rents and houses they can afford.. So let the tradies in instead of making it harder.

SHORTEN: Yeah, what we need is your magic pudding.

CAMPBELL: All right, let's move on.

MCKENZIE: Personal attacks Bill, very cheap, very cheap.

SHORTEN: I just called you out.

MCKENZIE: Very cheap.

CAMPBELL: Let's move on. Almost -

SHORTEN: You're criticizing us for too many people or too few people. Wow.

CAMPBELL: Let's move on. Bill, Almost $10 billion in federal spending will either be cut or pumped into other priorities to ease inflation. These spending changes set to be announced by the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, when he hands down his mid-year budget update tomorrow. Bill, is this going to help the cost-of-living crisis in this country?

SHORTEN: Yeah, absolutely. What we want to do is get government debt paid down. We want to take our pressure down off the government finances. So, we've done a pretty good job. Jim Chalmers and Katie Gallagher we think, and we'll get more of the details tomorrow when Jim speaks. But about $50 billion since we got in in wasteful government spending has been reduced. So that's good news.

CAMPBELL: Bridget what do you think about that. Does this have your support?

MCKENZIE: Well, thanks to our resources industry, you know, the government's had windfall gains in collecting taxes. So great news that they're putting that, a bit of that off the bottom line. The reality is they have increased spending over the last 18 months because they've put off making the tough decisions in the last two budgets. So, I look forward to seeing the $10 billion. Is it actually going to be cut or is it are just going to be reprofiled, which is continuing the spending and embedding that home grown inflation that the Reserve Bank's been talking about?

CAMPBELL: How much faith do you have in Jim Chalmers?

MCKENZIE: Well, I think Jim's good at the talk. Last summer he wrote a really great essay on what he thought, you know, the economy, reshaped capitalism. Fantastic. I hope he does take some action this summer, make some tough decisions instead of, you know, putting pen to paper.

CAMPBELL: So get it off the paper and into action.

MCKENZIE: Correct. Jim!

CAMPBELL: Bill, what do you think? Do you do like the essay as much as Bridget  did?

MCKENZIE: You should be the treasurer Bill.

SHORTEN: Oh well, no, thank you very much, Bridget. Um, I think that what we've done is pretty amazing. I think what Jim and the whole government is doing at the moment, we are reducing the amount of government debt. We are reducing the wasteful programs. And that does help the economy.

MCKENZIE: You've increased spending, Bill, that the stats don't lie.

SHORTEN: Oh, Bridget…

MCKENZIE: The budget papers don't lie, the budget papers don’t lie.

SHORTEN: You’re just jealous that we're doing what you guys couldn't.

MCKENZIE: Bill. Come on. The budget papers don't lie. You've increased spending. So, I hope you make the tough decisions instead of just paying off Premiers,

SHORTEN: I hope you have a nicer Christmas. Let’s all take some happy sort of….

CAMPBELL: Just quickly, Bill, I actually want to get this a comment from you on. It's a pretty concerning story in today's Herald Sun. And this is the NDIS workers taking the wrong child from a Melbourne special school without any authority. Bill, the workers were known to the school, so the question has to be asked. And we know we're drilling down on one case study here, but we just need to ask that how was this able to happen?

SHORTEN: Well, I think that it starts with how does a school release a child in any circumstances to someone, and how do they release the wrong child? Sunshine Special Development School's got a great history of looking after kids with special needs. I'm sure they're more shocked than anyone, but at any school in Australia, we send our kids there, we don't expect the school to release them to people, and especially we don't expect them to release the wrong kid. I'm not so sure this was an NDIS matter as the school has made a real error. Fortunately, nothing drastic happened in this case, but it's a wakeup call.

CAMPBELL: All right, just quickly, we want to thank you both for being here this morning. But thank you both for being so fiery this morning.

MCKENZIE: Extra coffee.

CAMPBELL: I want you to make sure you know you two have a good Christmas and, you know, make it up before then because it's just - you're sparring so much, you two.

SHORTEN: Oh, Bridget’s alright.

MCKENZIE: We miss each other.

SHORTEN: Oh, there's no question Bridget is one of the better Coalition performers.

MCKENZIE: Thanks, Bill. [heart sign]

CAMPBELL: Oh she's making the Taylor Swift hearts to you, Bill. It's just love all around you. All right. Thank you both so much. Great to see you, Bill, Bridget, thanks so much.