Minister Shorten Interview on Sky News AM Agenda


SUBJECTS: Synergy 360 emails, industrial relations bill, International Day of people with disability. 

LAURA JAYES, HOST: Well, there’s been a review – a review will be launched into contracts awarded to companies linked to consulting film Synergy 360. It follows allegations that Synergy 360 gained secret advice from senior Liberal frontbencher Stuart Robert.

Joining me live now is Government Services and NDIS Minister Bill Shorten. Bill Shorten, thanks very much for your time. What do you hope the outcome of this is, not just in the allegations against Stuart Robert but more broadly in how the interaction between politicians and lobbyists goes in the future?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: It’s a can of worms, I think, Laura. I must stress at the outset that Mr Robert strenuously denies any wrongdoing and at this point I’m not in a position to say otherwise.

What I do want to do here is because of leaked emails coming from an organisation called Synergy 360 – that’s a consulting firm, lobbying firm, professional services firm – emails there reveal that lobbyists who are personal friends of Mr Robert were certainly promoting their access to government as a particular advantage to win contracts. These emails have triggered an investigation by the motion of the senior public servants in the Department of Human Services, now Services Australia, and the National Disability Insurance Agency just to review the proprietary of all the contracts that were issued to some of the clients of lobbying firms Synergy 360.

JAYES: Okay. So why is a review here justified? Some might say, “I mean, Stuart Robert has denied it. That should absolutely be tested.” Is this some form of political retribution, though?

SHORTEN: No, I sincerely hope that some of the things the emails say are not right. I really hope there isn’t anything untoward. These are big – there was a particular project, the ECE project. It was the entitlement calculating engine which was brought in – this project was brought in to upgrade the software system of Centrelink. The contracts issued were to the value of $274 million. Leaked emails being reported in the media seem to imply particular political access. We need to get to the bottom of that.

This is giant amounts of taxpayer money, and I think it is important just to reassure Australians that nothing untoward has happened. You can’t go past allegations of a problem and just pretend, “Oh, well, nothing to see here, keep moving along.” Let’s just sort it out, get to the bottom of it, get the facts right and then Australians can be comforted that major contracts in this country are not being inappropriately allocated.

JAYES: Okay. The industrial relations bill has just passed the parliament. This was a central election promise. This is core to what Labor has promised – and that is lifting wages. You have the energy situation to sort out as well. You’ve made some comments this morning about people earning $150,000 a year struggling. How do you explain that? Are you drawing a line there between rich and poor?

SHORTEN: No, no. I’m talking about that people on lower incomes – and, of course, most people earn less than $100,000 a year – are doing it hard. One of the reasons is that we’ve inherited an energy policy mess which is forcing up the price of energy. But also we’ve got the war in Ukraine which has been a disaster for our prices, energy prices. So people are doing it hard on that front. The Reserve Bank has been lifting the cash rate, so people with mortgages are doing it hard. But also underpinning this, there has been practically no wages movement in the last decade under the previous government.

So Labor’s keeping its election promises. There’s nothing radical or revolutionary or world-ending to try and create a wages system which allows people to obtain modest, reasonable wage rises. And so I’m really excited by what’s happened today. I think that we’ve definitely got a better industrial relations system courtesy of the hard work of the Labor government in negotiations with the crossbench and the House of Reps and the Senate.

As you know, energy policy, our predecessors had 20 different energy policies. It’s a disaster. Now we’re advancing with our climate policies, which also invest in rewiring the nation and invest in incentivising investment in renewable energy. So, listen, there’s a lot to get done, but as the year ends Labor has kept its promises, and what we’re doing is putting the building blocks for a more productive, fairer Australia.

JAYES: You are keeping your promises, particularly when it comes to stage 3 tax cuts. We know there was certainly a bit of testing go on, a balloon was floated, if you like. Jim Chalmer has said, “Look, stage 3 tax cuts are staying.” He doesn’t particularly like them. You seem to be this morning a little bit more sympathetic, a little bit more supportive of maintaining those stage 3 tax cuts. Is that a right assessment?

SHORTEN: No, my comments should be put in the context of people are doing it tough at the moment with mortgages, energy prices, wages. And, really, my remarks were not at all addressed to tax cuts – at all. The reality is that people not getting a wage rise is one of the contributions to people falling behind.

I heard the opposition’s overblown rhetoric this morning in parliament at 8am saying that we’re going to head back to the 1970s. The only people living the 1970s are the opposition. You know, running a union scare campaign is just laughable across child care, the cleaning industries, you know, health care, disability care. That’s just rubbish. The reality is that in Australia in the last 10 years people who work for a living, people who don’t earn very much money have been falling behind, and now we’ve got some industrial relations laws which will help feminised industries, industries where women are the predominant employees, to be able to access arbitration. You know, and the government is just looking after people. The opposition is just trying to reheat a – they think they’re back in 1972 and they’re having a big argument there. And they’re just wrong. They really need to upgrade their economic knowledge and their awareness of how order people are going, which is really tough.

JAYES: Well, before we let you go, it’s been a very busy week in parliament. I believe you’ve got some very special guests to introduce to us ahead of International Day of Disability.

SHORTEN: I certainly do.

JAYES: Hello.

SHORTEN: On my left I’ve got – on my left and my right I’ve got the Brother Boys, and they are famous, world-famous TikTokers, Laura. They have 100 million views and nearly one million followers on TikTok. They’ve been giving me some tips on how to do better on TikTok, because these guys, they’ve got the magic formula.

JAYES: All right. All right, Brother Boys. Tell us – what are your biggest TikTok tips? I don’t have a TikTok account. Should I get one?

KYRAN O’DONNELL, BROTHER BOYS: Definitely, I reckon you need one. Especially if you’ve got moves like what Bill has – Bill Cooper that is, not Bill Shorten.

SHORTEN: Yeah, not me.

O’DONNELL: But definitely Bill Cooper’s got the moves. And if you’ve got anything like that, you’ll go big on TikTok. So that’s my advice.

JAYES: I’ll go big on TikTok? I think you’ve certainly got the monopoly on it. There’s no way I could compete with the both of you. How’s Bill’s social media game? How do you rate him? What tips have you given him?

O’DONNELL: He’s pretty good. He could do with a bit more work, but he’ll get there. He’s got it. You know. But with Bill, Bill doing a tutorial on some dance moves I reckon could that could go a long way.

SHORTEN: It’s intimidating, Laura. These guys are just –

JAYES: Well, I hope you’re charging him. If you’re giving him advice, if you’re giving him advice on this, I assume you’re a contractor and you are charging him accordingly?

O’DONNELL: We are giving him some discounted rates, definitely, yes.

JAYES: Wow, okay. There’s some nice dancing there boys. I appreciate that. Perhaps no twerking for me. I think I might leave that to the both of you. Thanks so much for your time.

SHORTEN: You’ve got your moves. Laura.

JAYES: Bill Shorten, thanks so much. You’re full of surprises. I love that you introduce us to new guests. It sounds like you want your own show, Bill.

BILL COOPER, BROTHER BOYS: Yeah. Exactly, yeah.

SHORTEN: He’s real good. Bill is – Bill Cooper’s just fantastic. They’ve come from Mildura. Do you know, they’re finalists in the Australian TikTok awards? It’s unbelievable. I pity the other finalists because these guys have got – they’re the real deal. They’ve come from flooded Mildura, Wentworth area, and they’re heading to Sydney next week.

O’DONNELL: Cannot wait.

JAYES: Right, okay. Headed here to where I am in Sydney. Finalists – I reckon you’ve got this one in the bag, boys. Good luck. I hope you win. We’ll see you soon. Bill, thanks for the introduction.