Interview with Minister Bill Shorten on The Today Show


ALLISON LANGDON, HOST: A man has walked free from jail after 22 years in maximum security over the murder of two police officers in Victoria back in 98. Jason Roberts was 17 at the time of the killings, he's now a free man. He's always maintained his innocence saying, he was nowhere near the scene of the crime. Instead, he was busy planning his 18th birthday party. His defence team argued police misconduct including fabricated witness statements tainted the entire case against Roberts, and a jury agreed.

To discuss Minister for Government Services and the NDIS, Bill Shorten and 2GB’s Jim Wilson join me. Bill, just to start with you on this one because, I mean, my feelings yesterday were for the families who had to relive this all over again.

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Absolutely. I should declare, Ally, that I'm very close friends with Gary Silk - the deceased Police Sergeant's brother. In fact, I went to the funeral service at the Glen Waverley Police Academy after the murders of these two excellent and brilliant men. So I feel shocked on behalf of the family. I know the families followed the trial very carefully. I feel shocked for the Victoria Police Force because they felt very deeply.

These were shocking murders. These two policemen were just doing their duty and they were, effectively, ambushed. So, I don't want to comment on the actual trial and the findings - that's the court process, I respect that. But the fact that the jury was out for five days is harrowing. For the judge to exempt the jury from ever having to do jury duty again, this is obviously very intense.

I'll never forget the funeral service for Gary Silk. So I just feel for the family and the Police Force. It is an unexpected verdict and I just can't imagine what pain the family are in right now.

LANGDON: No. And I think beautifully said there too, Bill. I think we all remember, it wasn't just people in Victoria, I think people right around the country remember that time. It shocked a nation, the murder of these two brilliant police officers. Bill, I mean, this person, Jason Roberts, he's spent more than half his life locked up. This isn't the end of it though, is it? He is now expected to sue police and the state government?

SHORTEN: Well, there'll be a retrial, I read in the media proceedings in the last 20 hours. Listen, I make no comment about the actual case. Once upon a time in a previous life I was a lawyer. Evidence is given in courts which none of us outside can get to see. We didn't follow the ins and outs of the trial. But I do remember the funeral service I attended back in 1998 and I believe highly in the professionalism of the Victoria Police Force.

And again, I'd just say that the families of these two police officers, their lives were changed forever cataclysmically. I don't know what's happened yesterday. Anyway, that's the legal system - I'm not going to second-guess that. But there'll be more court cases for the families of the two deceased officers. It is just the pain has all been reopened for them.

LANGDON: Yeah. I think you are right with that retrial - all those wounds have been reopened. Our hearts go out to them this morning.

Another story I want to talk to you about too is Health authorities are managing a COVID-19 outbreak on board the Coral Princess cruise ship, which is, right now, sailing from Brisbane to Sydney. Jim, at least 100 cases on board. You've got one passenger furious saying that, the buffet was still self-serving when passengers were coughing and clearly sick.

JIM WILSON, 2GB: Well, yeah. I mean, it's just unacceptable. I think people have- they're very blasé, I reckon, about people just going, you know, what? We've got to learn to live with the virus, we know that - and life's got to go on. And I think, for the cruising industry which is worth billions of dollars to our economy, I for one said, okay, once people have got to a certain level of vaccination it's time to get back cruising.

What I would say here though is I hope we have learnt some very big lessons from the Ruby Princess a couple of years ago, and I think we have. It's due to dock in Sydney tomorrow and we've had 100 cases. The other thing I would just implore people who are travelling and intending to go anywhere around the world, including on ships, is get vaccinated. I'm getting my fourth shot later this morning on the advice of medical experts. I read that the figures in Queensland, for those who haven't even had their third booster shot, are at 63 per cent - well below the 70 per cent national level.

So please let's not get complacent, let's not get blasé about this. And again, I think we've learnt lessons, very harsh lessons from the Ruby Princess. And again, 100 cases is 100 cases, so they will need to adhere to strict COVID protocols because we certainly cannot have a repeat, especially in the middle of winter with what we're going through right now, with what happened a couple of years ago with the Ruby Princess.

LANGDON: Yeah. Look, I think the circumstances are very different too. Just that most people, they have to be vaccinated to get on the cruise ship. But I think the question, though, now is: you've 100 people infected on this cruise. How do you get them off the cruise and home to isolate safely without infecting others?

SHORTEN: Well, that's going to be a big question for the state Health authorities. I just really want to echo what Jim said: we have to learn to live with this COVID but that doesn't mean that we should be blasé or just think it's gone. I mean I'm the Minister for the NDIS, for people with disabilities. For a lot of people with disabilities they're terrified about getting COVID still. We've got new variants out there.

So I just, look, get your fourth booster shot, people. We've got free medicine which stops you getting sicker, so please take it. The booster shots. The other thing is that masks, we don't have to end up having a conversation about encouraging people to put their masks back on when they're travelling in areas of high public congregation - you just can't avoid it. I'm not saying masks would stop what was happening on this ship, but at least it is an effort for people who are sick not to contaminate other people, infect other people.

LANGDON: All right. Well, let's see what happens when it docks tomorrow in Sydney. Now, let's talk about this prestigious diplomatic job in New York that's proving very controversial for the New South Wales Government and for John Barilaro, who was the former Deputy Premier. The more details that come out during this inquiry, Jim - now to hear from the woman who was told she had the job and then it was taken away from her. She is saying- she was told that it was a present for someone. I mean, it just gets murkier and murkier.

WILSON: Well, it might be referred to ICAC, and so it should be. It's disgraceful what's gone on here. For Jenny West - who is a very well respected public servant - for her to be told: you've got the gig, signed off by Gladys Berejiklian. Her boss sends- Amy Brown, sends her a note saying- emojis, and Statue of Liberty emojis, saying: Enjoy New York. She starts looking for a house, starts looking for schooling for her kids, then the offers rescinded. And then she loses her original job, so she's out of – I mean, there's a lot of questions still to be answered, still a lot to play out. John Barilaro's obviously resigned from taking up the position. But this is not the end of the matter. Again, this is something ICAC needs to look at. We need transparency from senior public bureaucrats, but also from senior ministers.

LANGDON: Also, I look at- what happens when you have got a party that's been in government for a certain amount of time is you've got corruption inquiries both taking place in Victoria and Queensland. This will now be referred to the corruption watchdog. Bill, is this just something that happens when people are, perhaps, in power for too long?

SHORTEN: Well, I'm a Labor Party man and Labor's in Opposition in New South Wales. So I don't want to, sort of, take any opportunities to-

LANGDON: But they're not in Queensland or Victoria.

SHORTEN: No. But I'm conscious of not- people just want to have good process and transparency. That's why, at least at the federal level- at least at the state level, I should say, they have ICACs and anti-corruption commissions. One thing which, hopefully, will redeem the faith of the public - and I think that was implicit in your question, Ally - is, federally, we want to make sure that we have an anti-corruption commission established federally. The previous government promised it for four years, but didn't do it. So hopefully that will be at least a down payment to restore some of the battered trust in politics which voters have.

LANGDON: Yeah. All right. Bill, Jim, thanks for joining us this morning.

WILSON: Thanks, Ally. Good on you, Bill.

SHORTEN: Good on you. Cheers.