Minister Shorten interview on ABC Radio National Breakfast


SUBJECTS: Senator Payman, NDIS Bill

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Is Labor about to lose one of its Senators after crossing the floor to vote on a Greens motion on Palestinian statehood and then doubling down, stating she'd do it all again, Senator Fatima Payman now says she's been exiled from the party and is considering her future. It is a big headache for the government that had hoped to focus on its tax cuts, its energy relief and also focus its parliamentary week on outstanding bills, including a bill on the NDIS, which has been delayed and sent back to a Senate committee over some human rights concerns. Bill Shorten is a frontbench minister, the NDIS Minister and my guest. Minister, welcome.


KARVELAS: Now, Minister, we'll go to Senator Payman of course, in a moment. But just on your NDIS reform bill, it's gone back to a committee. It's a Labor led committee though, that says there are human rights concerns. Should you have taken more time to consult with the disability community and address some of these human rights concerns?

SHORTEN: Yeah. Before any legislation moves along, we've set up a human rights committee just to check things out. The Human Rights Committee doesn't say that this Bill disagrees with human rights. I spoke to the chair. I think it's conceived from a misunderstanding of the legislation. What the legislation is going to do is say what you can and can't spend money on when you get an NDIS package. We've actually, for the first time ever, incorporated the whole UN Charter of rights of people with disability into the Scheme. But what this will do is allow, clarify that you can't spend your money, on crystal therapy or dolphin therapy or Wet & Wild tickets. I’m completely confident that there is no human right that you have to go to Wet & Wild or have cuddles therapy. So, we've explained that to the committee since we've spoken to the chair. He understands what we're saying. So, this is a, it's a camouflage by the Coalition. Specifically, we've been consulting on how to improve the NDA since the first day I was made the minister. Over two years ago, we had a review which went for a year. We had 10,000 contributions. I've done no less than 18 public meetings all around Australia. The Senate, when they get a bill in the Parliament, they appropriately set up a committee to kick the tires. The Coalition's had 12 weeks, 12 weeks to look at it, which would make it the longest inquiry that this particular committee has had in the last two years. The problem now is that Green political party who are just not interested in change, they think that nothing has to change. They're going to vote no. Even if I invented walking on water, they would say I couldn't walk far enough. What, what confounds me is the Liberals. The Actuary has said that the measures in this Scheme will save the NDIS participants $1 billion in the next eight weeks, if we could vote on the legislation this week. A billion dollars. That's a lot of money in a cost of living crisis.

KARVELAS: Bill Shorten, I'm interrupting, and we're going to call you back. Your phone line is, uh, pretty, uh, choppy. I think that's the word to use. Uh, on the high seas, it's chopping in and out. And I think that's very, um, frustrating for people. And thank you to those of you who've let me know. And, um, being patient, we'll call Bill Shorten back. He's, of course, the NDIS Minister, senior Labor frontbencher and has been trying to get his Bill through the Parliament. Look, Bill Shorten, the committee has offered two more hearings on the 17th and the 18th of June, which were apparently refused by the government. Why did you refuse the extra hearings though?

SHORTEN: We've had three days of public hearings. We've had 205 witness submissions and 50 witnesses. To be honest, in the last day of the three days we had, the committee had to run around and find people to give evidence. Now, what the committee is saying is they want two more days in July. The actuary of the Scheme has said that if we don't put in place some of the sensible reforms, $1 billion of taxpayer money is going to get wasted over the next eight weeks. This could pay for 60,000 kids on the Scheme. It's the equivalent of the average tax paid by 54,000 Australians annually. The libs know that they're probably going to vote for it. Jane Hume as intimated as much Friday morning on the television on the Today show. This is a fact that you've got a couple of Liberal Senators who are unhappy with how their efforts on the NDIS went in the last term, and this is just an eight week drag out to have two days of hearing. The effective cost of each public day of hearing the liberals want is half $1 billion. This nation does not have the money to waste. The NDIS does not have money to waste. The Liberals are saying they need more time to consult. Well, I don't know where they've been in the last two years. I don't know what they were doing in the last three months of the legislation. They say they need more time to hear amendments. Well, they the Liberals have offered us literally zero amendments in 12 weeks.

KARVELAS: Well, so far, but clearly, I mean, they clearly are looking at options. Will you negotiate with them to get it through?

SHORTEN: I will take a packet of Tim Tams, uh, coffee and tea over to any Liberal office to go through the issues. The fact of the matter is that this is just a game. Now, sometimes it's okay to have parliamentary games, but this committee has reviewed the bill for 12 weeks. There is nothing new that's going to emerge. They haven't offered us a single amendment. I'll be really direct. It is a shocking bloody waste of time and taxpayer money and a billion dollars. The Liberals say that we're not getting on with reforms yet. They know that we need to strengthen the provisions in this bill. I expect their amendments will be as stuff, as sort of esoteric and culture wars, as simply banning sex workers. We can ban sex workers without them delaying the bill for eight weeks. Like it's a joke. It's a shocking joke the Liberal Party cannot claim in a cost of living crisis to give a tinker's toss about the real people or people on the Scheme, they know they're going to be scratching for submissions just to justify this absolute farce.

KARVELAS: Okay, I want to move to the other huge issue which is dominating your political party. And now the parliament, Senator Fatima Payman is threatening potentially to leave the party. And there are reports that the Prime Minister asked her to resign. Is it acceptable that the Prime Minister would ask her to resign?

SHORTEN: I don't think that's correct. So I'm not going to entertain something I don't believe to be correct.

KARVELAS: Well, do you know it's not correct? Have you spoken to the Prime Minister?

SHORTEN: Well, I haven't spoken to him. But just because someone passes a rumour around ,what's, before I deny something what's your source?

KARVELAS: Okay, so today there's a story in The Age that suggests that the Prime Minister in their meeting asked her to resign. She says she feels intimidated and that she's in exile. That's the evidence so far.

SHORTEN: Well, that's the report in the story. No, I don't believe that. Uh, I listen.

KARVELAS: Just to be clear, you don't believe that the Prime Minister asked her to resign?

SHORTEN: No, I wasn't there, and I don't believe it. I actually think the Prime Minister, Senator Wong, and the leadership are handling a complicated issue pretty well. It's Senator Payman. I don't know her that well. I've had a couple of dealings with her on NDIS and Services Australia matters. She's smart, she's young, she's savvy. She comes from a diverse community who feels the grief and the horror of the deaths in Gaza and very strongly, but what I also understand is that when you become a Labor candidate, you actually sign a contract, and the contract is that you'll be bound by the decisions of the caucus. Now, she can't do that at the moment. She really conflicts with her other views. And I, we can get that. I do not for one second think that the Labor Party has been anything other than reaching out to her. Now I think.

KARVELAS: So you don't think she's been intimidated or exiled?

SHORTEN: I can't speak for how she's feeling. That's up to her. But I can speak towards what I see as the objective conduct of empathetic, committed colleagues. The reality is, in as far as I can see it, and I concede I'm at a distance, is that people are giving her space. The fact of the matter is, if you can't agree to the team and the coach's instructions, then you know she's on the bench for the time being. No one does.

KARVELAS: Does the team need to change the rules to allow for younger, more diverse members of Parliament to, they're clearly saying that their interests are for some of this freedom. Does the team need to change the rules?

SHORTEN: Just one thing about young. I think we have diversity in the Labour Party, not just defined by what decade you were born in. I think the Labor Party is full of diverse people and we have been for a very long time. The issue about binding caucus rules on every issue is a conversation, but it's a conversation which you don't do in the heat of the kitchen. It's a conversation for the Labor Party to work through, not just by one person.

KARVELAS: And do you think it needs to now work through that?

SHORTEN: I don't know, I think you've got two different issues. They're related, but you've got one, which is right now, first of all, you started the interview saying that this Senator is feeling, feeling bad about being suspended. If you really can't agree with the rules, she hasn't been expelled from the Labor Party. The caucus has got a range of options. Just ignore it. I don't think that's realistic, considering every one of us conscientiously signed a document saying we would hear the rules, but I think, I see why people feel so strongly. They can feel so strongly about the hostages not being returned or the deaths in Gaza. People could feel also very strongly about the near million deaths in Sudan. I can get that. There's a very incredibly strong issues and if you come from particular communities, there are even more intense, although that doesn't need to be the prerequisite. My proposition is that I think the party is trying to deal with this challenge and respect the individual by saying, hey, if you're not happy with the rules as you've signed up to, you know, take some time out. And I think what the party is trying to do is give Fatima some space and time. No one's expelling her. The Liberal Party, they, you know, they're just a bunch of opportunistic blowflies. They got up yesterday, you know, that Paul Fletcher and said you should expel her. Well, you know, Paul, you had a Prime Minister who had several multiple portfolios. You've had dodgy Ministers. You didn't seem to get outraged by them.

KARVELAS: Okay, okay, okay. I get why you're trying to turn it to the Liberals, because, you know you would. But let me help you get back on the question I've asked.

SHORTEN: I was saying, by contrast, Labor isn't doing the knee jerk things. The Greens just say don't worry about the Labor Party rules. Well, they would say that. And the Liberals are saying there's only one option.

KARVELAS: So just to check again, do you think there's a case to relook at the rules?

SHORTEN: Down the track but not right now. We've got we've got you know what? We've got a cost of living crisis. We are now going to deliver real tax cuts. There's real pay rises. Real energy relief and Superannuation is going up, cheaper Medicare. There's all that.

KARVELAS: There's all that. And I know that why the government wants to talk about that. I get that, and I think a lot of people want to talk about it.

SHORTEN: Do you know why I want to talk about that? Because it's real. Yeah.

KARVELAS: Well, I understand it matters, but this is a real thing that's also unfolding. A Muslim community group, let me just put this to you, is shaping up to run a campaign against Labor in key seats where there are particularly larger populations of Arab and Muslim voters. Are you worried about this?

SHORTEN: Well, people have said they'll run against the Labor Party in the past. You'd rather people vote for you. And I think there's plenty of issues for Australians of Muslim heritage which don't go to the conflict in Palestine, where Labor's doing great things. I do have a view based on 17 years and having been leader of the Labor Party and a student of the history of this country. Religious based parties, I think, are not a great idea.

KARVELAS: What makes you think it's a religious based party. I mean Arab Muslim community, Muslim, Arab, Muslim, Muslim. Well, yeah, it won't be a Muslim only party, is my understanding. But we'll find out.

SHORTEN: All right. Well, then I'm not really talking about what you're talking about, but I am saying that we are a country which respects all faiths. But I do think that parties based on religion. And if that's not what you're talking about, fine. But in the event that there was a party on any religion, Christian fundamentalist or Shintoist or whatever, if there was a religious based parties, I don't reckon that's a great development because what this country needs is more us working together. Now sometimes people can't agree. I'm a realist. You know, there's just some issues, and the Middle East is probably one of them, where people just sometimes can't get into the middle ground. We support a two-state solution, but I think it behoves Australians to make sure that arguments overseas don't become fault lines in this country. People do not want -

KARVELAS: But they have now, right?

SHORTEN: But they have for some people. But can I tell you, most people probably think like me. Most people think it's dreadful. Most people would like to see the Israeli tanks out. Most people would like to see the hostages returned. Most people would like to see them getting on. But I tell you what, nearly every Australian does not want a replication of arguments overseas repeated here. I've done thousands or hundreds of citizenship ceremonies-

KARVELAS: And is that what Fatima Payman is doing? Is she at risk of being a one issue politician?

SHORTEN: No, that's up to her. No, I'm not I'm not criticising her. I'm not even I'm not criticising the view she has. She's entitled to it. What we have is, the only reason why Labor has been electorally successful is because we've learned to stick together through thick and thin. This I mean, its, people think everything's just in history and nothing's new. But sometimes history has a way of repeating. The party split over conscription and split in the 1930s, split in the 1950s. And we are not at that zone. But the reason why we are not because we have rules about unity. Now, Fatima Payman can make a very good contribution to Labor in the future. She's smart, she's strong. No one's going to push her around. She's proven she's tough. But at the end of the day, okay, if she's not happy with the rules that we have, I think the Prime Minister and Senator Wong have come up with a pretty, you know, least worst solution where, hey, if you're not happy at the moment, just bench yourself. And when you're ready, back on.

KARVELAS: Okay, we're out of time. But Bill Shorten always love talking to you. Thanks for coming on.

SHORTEN: Likewise, bye.

KARVELAS: Bill Shorten is the NDIS minister.