Interview with Minister Bill Shorten on Sky News


LAURA JAYES: Let's go live to Victoria now. Bill Shorten joins us. Mr Shorten, thanks so much for your time. You're, of course, the Minister for Government Services and we're going to talk to you about pandemic leave payments. But first of all, I can't move past this report too quickly. The Integrity Agency has been pretty excoriating of the Andrews Government. It's a pretty damning report. It talks about rampant nepotism, widespread misuse of public resources, ongoing corruption risk and the culture that encouraged factional patronage. What do you think of all those allegations in this report?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, as you'd appreciate, Laura, the report's just been released. I haven't seen it. I've been waiting here for our live cross. There's a general point, though, that political parties and their servants must always serve the public interest first and too often we see the diminution of public trust when they think that the politicians are serving themselves and not the people. But beyond that, I'll wait to hear what Daniel Andrews says and we'll digest the report.

LAURA JAYES: Do you really need this report, though, to tell you that this has been a culture within the Labor Party in Victoria?

BILL SHORTEN: No. In fact, when I was leader I wanted to open up the party and get more people into it. Where you have unaccountable power you see a decay in trust and a decay in the people's faith. Unaccountable power, wherever it is exercised, must be addressed and the problem when you have unaccountable power and this has, I think, been some of the culture of the goings on in the Labor Party, that that's bred very poor behaviour but, again, you have the advantage of me and your correspondent Simon. I just haven't seen this report and I think I will wait to see what Premier Daniel Andrews has to say as the leader of Labor in Victoria.

LAURA JAYES: That's fair enough as well. And Simon has not quite got through the entire report either.


LAURA JAYES: But you say when you were leader you did try to make some changes there. Tell me about the resistance that you came up against?

BILL SHORTEN: One of the things, I mean it's a matter of history now, but in 2015 one of the things I was most proud of was supporting the push for 50/50 men/women representation in the Parliament. There was some resistance from people on that but we got there and now I think the poor old Liberals and Nats are looking pretty enviously at some of the hard decisions that were made lead by a lot of the women in the Labor Party from the 1990s. But these changes get resisted. I think when we have real members of the party having a real say over their preselections, that's the best outcome and that's what I'll always stand up for.

LAURA JAYES: What about Daniel Andrews? It's a damning report, again I know you haven't seen it, but should he be staying as Premier?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, sorry, I'm not going to start saying that Daniel Andrews shouldn't be Premier based on a report I haven't read. So nice bow. I think you've taken it a fairly long way. Listen, I think Daniel's been good for Victoria but on this matter, he will no doubt want to read the report and make his comments. We did suspend the activities of the Victorian branch for the last three years. I think, and now that we've got this report, it's probably time for the real members of the Labor Party, and there are many thousands
who work very hard, to have a real say in what happens. When you have unaccountable power then you lead to abuses of power but, again, I guess I'm generalising. I haven't seen the report and I think it's wisest to read it before I start talking about specifics, don't you?

LAURA JAYES: I do. Okay, we'll check in with you soon on that. Let's talk pandemic leave payments. Who actually gets this payment? Do you have to be sick with COVID or can you be a close contact?

BILL SHORTEN: If you've been required to isolate, so that means you could either be sick or you've been a close contact and you've been required to isolate for seven days. What this is about is we're at the peak of a pandemic. We'd hoped that this third wave wouldn't be as severe as it's appeared to be. The previous Government stopped it. Prime Minister Albanese, based on medical advice, said listen, we're going to have to put it back in place as a temporary basis as the COVID surges yet sadly again. So the scheme is opened up again at 8:00am. I'm pleased to say that hardworking public servants at Services Australia have been available since midnight to start dealing with the claims. So far so good.
It's available for people who are 17 and older, who are Australian citizens, Australian residents or have a valid permit visa which lets them work in Australia. You do have to be required to isolate for seven days. If as a result of the seven-day isolation you're going to lose more than a day's work then you may be eligible for this claim, this payment. If, in the result of the seven days, you lose less than 20 hours' pay, then you can get a $450 payment. If you lose more than 20 hours' pay then you may be eligible for the $750
payment. The other thing I should just say, is that if you've got sick leave, well, that's what sick leave's for so you have to use that first. But you're not required, if you're being stood down or you have to isolate for seven days, you're not required to use other leave like recreation or holiday leave. You're eligible for the payment.

LAURA JAYES: So, Mr Shorten, just to clarify, it has to be a government requirement for you to isolate? You can't be directed by your employer to isolate and then be eligible for these payments if you're a close contact, for example, because I know in New South Wales the rules are that you only need to isolate now if you have COVID?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, the point is if you are required to isolate, then you should reach out and talk to Services Australia about the circumstances. Listen, I can't anticipate every particular nuance in a million Australian workplaces. But, what I would say to people is if you are a worker, you don't have sick leave, you're required to isolate according to State officials and whatever's going on in your workplace for seven days and you're going to lose pay, don't die wondering. Reach out to Services Australia. If you're not online, if you're not a digital sort of aficionado, you can ring 180 22 66, alternatively, the quickest and speediest way is to go online to MyGov, or go online to Services Australia, tap in paid pandemic leave and people there will assist you.

LAURA JAYES: Okay, let me ask you one final question before we go. Do you think your Government's going to increase - extend the cut in the fuel excise?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, well, it's due to finish in I think it's in September. That will be a matter for the budget but at this stage, the Government has no plans to. It was a temporary measure. In October, Treasurer Jim Chalmers will be enacting Labor's budget promises. There's some cost-of-living measures that we outlined before the election. We will honour our promises. But we're not going to be able to just indefinitely spend money on fuel excise but it is a tough issue. Families are doing it hard. I wish when it comes to the things like energy prices, that the previous government had not been asleep for ten years, or obstructionist. Our child care measures, I think, are going to help families battling with those costs. So I think - and of course, we've seen our support for a modest increase in the wages system. So Labor's got some measures to help with cost of living but the fuel excise is horrendously expensive for all of the taxpayers in the budget and there's no plans that I'm aware of to continue the excise.

LAURA JAYES: Mr Shorten, at the risk of going over old territory, I'm starting to get some more details from this IBAC report. Daniel Andrews told IBAC that he knew of widespread Labor branch stacking. Did you know?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, I can't comment on what Mr Andrews' evidence was but no, I wasn't aware of any illegality, no.

LAURA JAYES: But did you know about branch stacking?

BILL SHORTEN: Oh, listen, I don't know what definitions they're using. Preselections are always fiercely contested matters but the revelations, the sort of snippets or photos of evidence that we saw in IBAC, no, I wasn't aware of that conduct. Absolutely not. And by the way, Laura, since you're asking me about a report which I don't have the advantage of reading. IBAC never called me so I'm not a subject to these matters at all. Full stop.

LAURA JAYES: Okay, fair enough. Does it matter what the definition of branch stacking is in this report, you either knew about it or you didn't, right?

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, no, I don't know about - I have no idea what Mr Andrews is referring to.


BILL SHORTEN: And he gave his evidence and, again, I don't really think it's valid to ask me about, you know, a report quoting evidence given in confidence, which, of course, I and many others aren't privy to. Listen, let's be very clear. People shouldn't be rorting the system. It doesn't matter if you're a football club, it doesn't matter if you're a political party, it doesn't matter if you're a public service or a big business, people need to restore trust in our public institutions. That's what I dedicate myself to and I'm sure that will
be uppermost in Mr Andrews' mind when he gives his response today.

LAURA JAYES: Mr Shorten, I appreciate your time. It wasn't intended as an ambush. The report just dropped at a happily convenient time.

BILL SHORTEN: That's okay. No problems at all, Laura.

LAURA JAYES: Thanks so much for your time live from Melbourne there.

BILL SHORTEN: Thank you, Laura.