Minister Shorten Interview on Today with Christine Ahern

SUBJECTS: RBA Rate Rise, quotas for women in parliament and Christmas

CHRISTINE AHERN: Will the Reserve Bank be on the naughty or the nice list this year?  Many people think naughty. It's been put on notice by Parliament's Economics Committee saying raising rates may have been the wrong response to inflation. Minister For Government Services, Bill Shorten, and writer, Jane Caro, join me now. 

Bill, first to you.  Was it the wrong response?  Was the RBA too aggressive? 

BILL SHORTEN: Dr Daniel Merlino, MP's report, the House Economics Report, hasn't gone as far as to say the Reserve Bank was wrong.  But what his report does, which was supported by all parties, it says that when you're raising interest rates, that's a very blunt tool.  And he says that a lot of the inflation which we're seeing in the economy could be from a shortage of goods, a supply side shortage, rather than just people spending a lot of money.  So, he's just reminding everyone on behalf of the Australian punters doing it hard with their mortgages, that raising interest rates can be a pretty blunt tool.

AHERN: Well, Jane, the bank did lift interest rates in their last eight meetings. A lot of people are looking for people obviously to blame for the struggles that they're going through. Is it the RBA, or did they just have a job to do? 

JANE CARO: I think they just had a job to do; it's a difficult job. These are - people keep using this word, but unprecedented times. We haven't - no one alive has come out of a pandemic before, not that we're completely out of it yet, as many people are realising this Christmas, but nevertheless this is new to everyone on the planet. 

So we're going to be getting a lot of things wrong, and people in positions of authority have to make decisions based on the information they have at the time. Interest rates are hard, as Bill says, it's a blunt instrument, and for some people it's really, really difficult. But what we need to look at is stagnant wage growth. That has to change. We've got corporate profits falling now, but nevertheless, huge, but we've got this ridiculous high end of town with absurd salaries and ordinary people doing it tough on stagnant wages, now falling in value because of inflation.

That's the nexus we need to have a look at. How do we make wages more representative of the work people do?  And also increase their buying power. They’re our consumers after all.

AHERN: I think a lot of people will agree with you, Jane, because the wages are not going up, but everything else is.

So it's becoming increasingly hard for people to afford just basic goods out there. 

Moving on now, the Liberal Party in New South Wales is focussing on women, and the Premier intervening to ensure three women will be pre selected. Bill, surely this is the right decision, they've got an image problem, right? 

SHORTEN: Absolutely it's the right decision. The Liberal Party is a political partying early awaiting the arrival of 21st Century. Women make up half our population; it's true, isn't it?  Labor's already had these debates and arguments.  In the Federal Parliament over half our members of Parliament are women, and I think it's reflected in our policies from more support for childcare, 10 days' paid domestic violence leave. When you look at the Liberal Party in Canberra, for example, to be honest, their idea of diversity is different coloured ties. They really need to take some radical medicine quickly, don't they? 

AHERN: Well, Jane, this is not just a problem in New South Wales. I mean we recently saw in the Victorian election, of course, a landslide win to Labor. It wasn't all about women, but I have to say, talking to a lot of - I'm Victorian - talking to a lot of people on the ground, the Liberal Party are just not representative of a lot of us. This is a problem right across the party, isn't it? 

CARO: Absolutely.  And I'm not going to be grateful for three upper house seats; Sorry. That's the crumbs from the master stable. They don't care about the upper house nearly as much as they do about the actual House of Representatives in New South Wales, so they've just given us a sop, thinking that will keep the ladies quiet. Well, it hasn't worked yet, and it's not going to work this time either. The problem is the Liberal Party, even though their name is the Liberal Party, are a conservative party. The essence of a conservative party is they don't want things to change. 

Well, one of the biggest changes in society is what's happening with women, the kind of expectations they have of their lives and their right to participate. And until conservative parties all over the world get their hands around that, they're going to have electoral difficulties. 

I think holding back is part of the point of being a conservative party; this is why they're finding it so hard to get over it.  They need quotas, quotas fix it, the Labor party has shown that, nothing else does. I've been waiting   I'm 65, I've been a feminist all my life, I'm sick of waiting. Make the bastards do it. 

AHERN: Very strong point. Quotas, if they're controversial, Bill, do you agree with them? 

SHORTEN: Yeah, I do support them. In 2015 when I was leader of the party we changed our rules in the Labor Party to support 50/50, and when we have equal treatment of women in Australian society, then I think we'll be getting somewhere. We don't have that yet, but what I do think is that by having quotas we start getting towards the equal treatment of women in Australian society, and we're all the winners when that happens. 

AHERN: Yeah, I'm a big believer in quotas as well, but let's move on, because the big day is ahead of us. The countdown is on, and we have a countdown clock. So, we've got one day, 17 hours, eight minutes and 42 seconds until Santa finally arrives.

Bill, the big question, is everybody ready in your household? Are you ready? 

SHORTEN: I am so ready for Christmas. I think most Aussies are. It's my youngest daughter's birthday today, so our party starts today, and hey, we've got Santa, I think. 

SANTA: Merry Christmas guys. 

AHERN: Can I just ask Santa a question? I just want to ask Santa if   

SHORTEN: Santa, they want to ask you a question. Back in you come, they want a question. 

AHERN: Is Bill on the naughty or nice list, if you can ask him which you're on?  

SHORTEN: Am I on the naughty or the nice list. 

SANTA: Nice list, always on the nice list. Always. 

AHERN: I think Santa at that particular café might be a Labor voter. Jane, what about you, are you   

CARO: I'll definitely – on the naughty list, all my life. Am I ready for Christmas? I'm cooking up a storm over the next couple of days, a couple of last presents to buy. But this Christmas feels more Christmasy to me than it has for years. Part of that is because we're not sort of all going, "Oh, we've just been in lockdown for goodness knows how long, and are we all going to get sick?" Thank goodness this Christmas feels Christmasy.

AHERN: Exactly. No restrictions, everyone can come together. Bill, Santa, Jane, thank you so much for joining us, and Merry Christmas. 

CARO: Merry Christmas to you too.

AHERN: And to you, Bill.