Interview with Minister Bill Shorten on The Today Show


CHARLES CROUCHER, HOST: Seven NRL players plan to boycott Manly's match against the Sydney Roosters on Thursday, refusing to wear a gay pride jersey in the fixture, objecting on what they say are religious and cultural grounds.

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten and Scott Emerson from 4BC join me now to discuss the news of the day. The players say they learnt about these jerseys on social media. Bill, it's turning into a disaster.

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Yeah, I think that's the understatement of the week. This politician should stay out of sport, so I'll adhere to that advice. I'll make an observation about the club, though, clearly this should've- it's a shame it's got to this. On one hand, you'll have a lot of young gay people who'll be saying: what, do we have to validate our existence again? On the other hand, these players feel strongly their view and the supporters miss out. So how did it get to this? How did the clubs sort of allow this train wreck to occur? And that's, I think, the great shame. But as I said, I'd better go back to my admonition. Politicians and sport shouldn't really mix.

CROUCHER: Politicians provide the funding that goes to the sport, though, Bill, there has to be some kind of influence here?

SHORTEN: Well, there does, but I'm not trying to run the Manly Sea Eagles, but if the players- look, this isn't a new problem or an issue. And as I say, I think the guernseys fine, but, you know, I just regret it's got to this. Couldn't they have sorted this all out beforehand? How does it get to the last minute and everyone's trying to work out what's going on? It's a shame.

CROUCHER: Yeah, that certainly feels like part of the problem. The Sea Eagles will be the first NRL club in history to wear a pride jersey. Scott, is this highlighting a bigger issue inside the NRL?

SCOTT EMERSON, 4BC: Look, this is an issue that I think everyone was aware of, not just in the NRL, but other football codes as well. Bill's right, it shouldn't have got to this, especially in the fact that the players weren't alerted to this happening. Look, I- don't let them play, if they don't want to play, make sure they don't play. Make sure Manly does wear this jersey, it's important this pride jersey, but they shouldn't have been blindsided, these players. And Manly's management should have been aware that this potentially was going to be an issue, because we are aware of these kind of issues with a number of players with very strong religious beliefs across football codes in Australia.

CROUCHER: Well, let's move on because there are empty quarantine facilities in both Victoria, where Bill's from, and Queensland where you are right now. They're in the spotlight. Look, Scott, where and how do we get these facilities utilised while still keeping their intended purposes?

EMERSON: Well, look, it's good that we've got this one at Pinkenba ready to go if something happens. We don't know what's going to happen in the future with COVID or some other pandemic, God forbid that we get. But the Brisbane Lord Mayor's come out with some good ideas, in terms of maybe using domestic violence- victims can use it as crisis accommodation. Other areas there.

You know, it's been described as a white elephant, especially, well, the one we've got two in Queensland, also one out at Toowoomba at Wellcamp also, which the State Government doesn't even own. It's just paying someone else for it, and paid for them to be built. The one at Pinkenba - look, we can use it for other activities as the Lord Mayor has suggested, I think that's a very good idea. But again, what we've learned over the last two years, we don't know what will happen. So it's good that we've got this facility available, but make use of it in the meantime until that next crisis does occur.

CROUCHER: And Bill, the Salvos say that they should be used as hubs, effectively, used for crisis accommodation or any form of people in desperate need. Would you support that?

SHORTEN: Well, I've spoken to the Melbourne Salvos, they're interested to see, if it's not needed for quarantine, we could always use more emergency housing. But I think Scott's first point's the one which nails it, we didn't have these facilities when we needed them, so at least we've got them now. We can't predict what's going to happen in the future. So their first purpose should be to be prioritised for quarantine.

But if there's another purpose that can be used in the meantime, which doesn't conflict with the original reason why they were built, I think we can get creative, can't we? We're smart enough in this country, and there's- goodness knows there's a need for emergency housing.

CROUCHER: Well, part of the problem would be who's in charge of them, given this is immigration, and quarantine is a federal issue. But it seems like in so many cases it's the state governments that fronting up the funds.

SHORTEN: Well, again, I don't think this is too hard for smart people to sort out. I reckon most viewers as they're preparing, you know, the kids for school day and going to work, just would say, well, listen, it's good we've got them for quarantine - tick. And if they can be used at another time of the year for a transition or emergency housing and if it can be made to work just sit down and sort it out, that's the job that we pay the politicians to do. That's what I think people think. And I agree.

CROUCHER: And speaking of paying the politicians, first day back at Canberra, how is it there? You're enjoying the cold weather once again and enjoying the other part of the building now?

SHORTEN: Yeah, it's very exciting. Today the Parliament starts, we'll have a Welcome to Country, we'll see all the MPs sworn in for the 47th Parliament. Prime Minister Albanese will be there for the Question Time and take the questions from Opposition Leader Dutton. Labor's got an exciting agenda this week. We want to see legislation tabled to start tackling climate change, to provide 10 days paid domestic violence leave, we're going to roll back this cashless welfare card. There's a range of issues which Labor went to the election on and now we're going to make good with our promises for the Australian people, and hopefully there'll be a better tone in Parliament too. And that's what Labor's certainly focusing on.

CROUCHER: Well, it is the 47th Parliament, I think probably the 44th where someone said we should change the tone. So let's hope this time is the time it comes through. Bill, Scott, appreciate your time.