SUBJECT/S: Manufacturing jobs; Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to schools; Welfare reform; Victorian Senate vacancy; Multiculturalism; Middle East; Marriage equality; Asylum seekers.

JASON CLARE, MEMBER FOR BLAXLAND: Thanks very much everyone for coming along and especially Bill, thanks for coming back to Blaxland, back to Western Sydney, you’re always here in Western Sydney and it’s great to have you back. 

Here in my electorate of Blaxland the big issue has always been and always will be jobs. It probably won’t surprise you, Bill, that the unemployment rate here in Blaxland is almost always double the national average, and a lot of people who live in my electorate work in the manufacturing industry, and we’ve lost a lot of manufacturing jobs over the years. One place in my electorate that employs a lot of people in the manufacturing industry is OneSteel, where we are today. And they make the reinforced steel in our roads as well as in our homes and in our businesses. When you’re driving down the road today, you’re probably driving over OneSteel reinforced steel. Probably in the building that you’re working in, might even be in your home. And it’s important that it’s made here in Australia, made here in Western Sydney and in my electorate, Blaxland. And we want to keep it that way, and I know Bill that’s what you want to see happen, and that’s why I am so glad to have you back here in Blaxland. Thanks very much.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much, Jason. All of this week I have been travelling around Australia talking about jobs. The number one priority for working class and middle class Australians is jobs. It’s my number one priority. Saving and keeping good quality jobs in Australia, protecting local manufacturing jobs, to give us the best chance to have good jobs in the future.

I am very concerned at the Turnbull Government’s stubborn refusal to commit a modest amount of funding to improve the productivity and the innovation at OneSteel. The neglect of this government, their refusal to commit a small amount of grant funding of $50 million, will mean that the Turnbull Government will let steel manufacturing jobs go offshore, just like the Liberals when the car industry jobs go offshore. 

And not only do we have this neglect about existing jobs, but Australian families are discovering today that the Turnbull Government has decided to rob the future of young people by the Government officially walking away from the Gonski school funding reforms. Our kids need the best skills and the best start in life, so they can compete for the jobs of the future. But today, Mr Turnbull and his anti-education party, who are not interested in properly funding schools, are turning their back on properly funding our schools and therefore the future of millions of Australian schoolchildren.

Labor is fundamentally committed to standing up for these steel jobs, we’re fundamentally committed to standing up for the kids in terms of the best education possible. Yet Mr Turnbull only seems willing to look after the big banks. What sort of priorities is this seriously out of touch Prime Minister got, that he will give $50 billion in tax cuts to multinationals and big banks, but he can’t find $50 million to protect 7,000 steel jobs? How out of touch is Malcolm Turnbull, that he doesn’t understand that regardless of whether or not you live in a harbour side mansion or Western Sydney, giving the kids the best start in life is the number one priority of any self-respecting government?

Jason and I are happy to take questions on the future of the steel industry, and of course the important issue of school funding, and the Turnbull Government’s repudiation of properly funding our schools.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you’re standing in an electorate with a very high welfare dependency rate, the Government has their plan out now, what is Labor’s plan?

SHORTEN: Well first of all, the best way the Government can assist people and the welfare system is to make sure that jobs here are secure. If this government would just find $50 million to guarantee to support OneSteel, there would be 7,000 people who’ve got a much more secure future, and all of their families. So if the Turnbull Government wants to start talking about welfare, it starts in their own policies. 

In terms of their generalised thought bubbles about the future of welfare payments, I always get very suspicious when I hear conservative politicians talking about changing the payments to the most disadvantaged in our community. If this government is serious about welfare, they shouldn’t be cutting Medicare, they should be properly funding our schools, they shouldn’t be cutting childcare funding, and they should be standing up for Australian jobs. That’s a package which helps the welfare of all Australians.

JOURNALIST: So what would you do to get people off welfare though?

SHORTEN: Well, to begin with, I would make sure people don’t go onto welfare, that’s why they need to get behind the steel industry. And the best way to give people the change in life is a quality education. The best opportunity to make sure that people are not in prolonged welfare is to have a properly funded universal health care system. We will have a look at the reports and whatever they are saying, but I can promise you this – when Liberals start talking about welfare reform, it means poor people get it in the neck, it means average Australians pay more and get less.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten can you confirm Mehmet Tillem is replacing Stephen Conroy in the Senate?

SHORTEN: No, that’s not right. The Labor Party has a process to go through in the Senate, and I’m sure there will be a whole range of very good candidates emerge. That process has not been concluded at all.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible question]

SHORTEN: I think it’s really important that Australia doesn’t start demonising minorities. You know, what those crazy fundamentalists in northern Iraq and northern Syria say, is that Islam is incompatible with western democratic liberal values. And now in Australia, we have got people who are doing Daesh’s dirty work by repeating the same allegations, except from the far right. I think it is a great disservice to people of all faiths to start saying that people of some faith should be demonised.

This government has got to stand up. I know that they are in government and they want to try to appease Pauline Hanson and some of the views that have emerged from that end of the political spectrum, but a government is not worth its salt if it’s not willing to stand up for minorities within our country. We have got minorities of all backgrounds, of all faiths, of all ethnicities. A government has the responsibility to stand up for the marginalised and for the less powerful in our community, just as it does to pander to some views on the far right. It’s time for Malcolm Turnbull to tell Australians which side he is on. Is he on the side of the people who split and divide our country, or is he on the side of the rest of us, who know that we’re a great country and we do best when we bring people into it and involve everyone?

JOURNALIST: Has the ALP been briefed yet on the military strike [inaudible]?

SHORTEN: Not yet, we’ve requested a briefing. I do want to make clear, though, that I have complete confidence in the skills of our Australian defence forces currently serving in the skies over Iraq and northern Syria, and also throughout the Middle East, generally. They are very professional. They have very strict protocols. We will wait to see what the inquiry reveals and a briefing from the Government. But again, I just say to the families of people serving overseas, we respect what your husbands and wives, your brothers and sisters, and your mums and dads are doing, and we’ve got your back.

JOURNALIST: On same-sex marriage plebiscite, if the Coalition agreed to withdraw funding for both sides of the argument and made the plebiscite binding, would Labor consider backing it in the Parliament.  

SHORTEN: I’ve got a compromise for the Government – just have a free vote in Parliament. That will save $200 million, it will save all the rancour and debate. You know, we’ve just now seen breaking in the last few hours, reports of quite hateful material being distributed, scaring people, linking a vote on marriage equality to all sorts of other issues. I don’t know why Mr Turnbull wants to see this nation have a divisive debate at a time when we all need to be working together. Why is it that Mr Turnbull will spend $200 million on a marriage plebiscite which won’t bind any member of his parliamentary team, and yet he can’t find $50 million to help make this marvellous Australian steel industry even more world-best and globally competitive? He has got the wrong priorities.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible question] 

SHORTEN: No, I think Mark and I and the whole Labor team have grave reservations about the shocking waste of money that this plebiscite is, the unnecessary division it causes in our community. We’ve got a very good compromise for Mr Turnbull. Let’s just have a free vote in Parliament. See, this is what Labor is saying on marriage equality. A lot of us support it, but all we want is for the Parliament and the parliamentarians to exercise their conscience in 2016. We are not demanding that the Liberal Party agree with us about marriage equality. We just want the Liberal MPs to be able to follow their conscience, not the hard right of the Liberal Party.

In terms of the plebiscite, we are talking to groups. Obviously my shadow ministers will talk to the Government and hear their latest arguments. We have been talking to all points of view, and we will be talking to all points of view in this debate. We will have a final position in time for the first week, or the first Caucus meeting. But really, does this nation really need to spend $200 million on an opinion poll which won’t bind the Government?

JOURNALIST: If you do have reservations, why then has Mr Dreyfus put forward these proposals?

SHORTEN: Mr Dreyfus will be meeting with the Attorney-General. He wants to hear the arguments and issues. He is doing so on behalf of the Labor Party. But let’s be clear, we haven’t heard so far any good argument to support this plebiscite and I’m still waiting for the first one. Really, Malcolm Turnbull’s argument is this – he doesn’t believe it himself, but Tony Abbott and the Conservatives stitched him up in the partyroom and although he has got ‘Prime Minister’ on the front of his door, everyone knows he is not the man in charge when it comes to this issue. But why should all taxpayers waste $200 million on something that Malcolm Turnbull, in his heart of hearts, doesn’t believe? It’s just not leadership, is it?

JOURNALIST: [inaudible question] 

SHORTEN: Assurances in terms of protection?


SHORTEN: I think that we’ve got to make sure that whistle-blowers are protected. The Government is the people in charge, but I think the Government has got to be very upfront. There are a lot of Australians who are disturbed that on one hand, we are successfully stopping the people smugglers and that’s good and Labor supports that, but on the other hand, it seems that the Government is leaving up to 2,000 people in indefinite detention. And I don’t understand why Mr Turnbull goes to a world conference on refugees and he manages to come back with a deal which will see some worthy people from Costa Rica come here, but he has neglected to do anything about the 2,000 people in his care on Manus and Nauru. I do think this Government has too much secrecy in it, and whistle-blowers should be protected. I might take one more question.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible question] 

SHORTEN: Well, again, the Government is basically stealing money from our schools. They talk about the Gonski reforms and they say that they are not perfectly implemented, so their solution? Get rid of the whole lot. This is a government who is going to see greater inequities in the funding of education. Under needs-based funding, the principle is that children, regardless of how rich their parents are, what postcode they live in, what sort of school they go to, government or non-government, get funded according to need. The states need help with the funding. The Commonwealth receives the lion’s share of taxation revenue in this country. And now what’s happening is we have got Mr Turnbull and Senator Birmingham turning their backs on needs-based funding. They are really, I think, taking a sledge hammer to the system. It really is all about jobs, isn’t it? It’s about –

JOURNALIST: [inaudible question] 

SHORTEN: Well, it is a bad idea and we are going to stand up for our principles. But let’s be really straight here. I’m here today because I’m standing up for steel jobs. I’m here today defending properly funding our schools because I want the next generation of Australians to have the skills to compete for the jobs for the future. And all we hear from Mr Turnbull from his team? They will give a tax cut to the banks and they will reduce funding in schools. It’s not a very good plan for jobs in Australia and we will keep fighting for our principles. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible question] 

SHORTEN: Sorry, I did say last question, but maybe one more.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible question] 

SHORTEN: I might let Jason talk a bit about Western Sydney and come in and make one point at the end.

CLARE: Well, I tell you what, the cuts that Mike Baird has made to TAFE haven’t helped. And as I said in my introductory comments, manufacturing is a big part of what the people in my community do for work and we need more support, more investment in our TAFEs, more support to train up more apprentices. We had a great apprenticeship policy in the election campaign, something not supported by the Government either, and Gonski is a very big part of this as well. The jobs of the future are going to require people to finish school and then go on and get an apprenticeship, then go onto TAFE, or then go onto university. Not enough people are going on and finishing school here in our local area at the moment, and the Gonski money is all about helping to make sure all of our kids finish school and go on and get a degree, or go on and finish TAFE as well. Under Malcolm Turnbull, Gonski is gone-ski, and that’s bad for our local area, bad for Western Sydney, it’s bad for the whole country. Thank you.