Last updated on February 12, 2024
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was in the Brisbane electorate of Griffith again today, campaigning for the February 8 by-election to replace Kevin Rudd.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Terri Butler, ALP candidate for Griffith
The ALP has most to lose from a poor result in Griffith. No government has won a seat off the official opposition since 1920. Whilst victory for the ALP candidate, Terri Butler, will be portrayed as evidence of a struggling Abbott government and an unpopular Newman government, a defeat for the ALP would reduce it to 54 seats in the House and jolt it back to the reality of its poor electoral position following the 2013 federal election.
Shorten has developed a campaign theme that Abbott is beatable after one term. The ALP campaign in Griffith is focussed on a possible Medicare co-payment for GP visits by bulk-billed patients and on the likelihood of cuts to other services in the May budget.
The by-election is the first electoral contest of the year. It will be followed by state elections in South Australia and Tasmania on March 15. The High Court will hold hearings on the challenges to the Western Australian Senate result next week and this may result in a new election in April-May.
- Listen to Shorten and Butler in Griffith today (14m)
- Listen to Shorten and Butler on January 20 (7m)
Transcript of media conference with the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, and ALP candidate for Griffith, Terri Butler.
SHORTEN: Good afternoon, everyone. Great to be at Princess Alexandra Hospital with Labor candidate for Griffith Terri Butler. Great to talk to 60 or 70 health workers, the people who keep this system going; nurses, radiographers, orderlies, cleaners, catering staff. What we see here is real concern from the local people and the local health workforce that the Abbott Government has just got its own unannounced, hidden strategy to cut healthcare. In Queensland the damage done by the LNP and Campbell Newman, to the health system, the job losses, the bed closures, has left a whole lot of Queenslanders reeling with shock.
Now we see the Abbott Government, supported by their local candidate, flagging a new GP tax to go to the doctor. What this is about is this is proposed by people who want to take away the universal nature of our health system, they want to increase the cost of living for ordinary southsiders, Queenslanders and Australians to go to the doctor. The people working in the hospital tell me they think that if the GP tax comes in they’ll see a deluge of people passing the GPs, going straight to the hospitals. That worries them. They see people opting not to take their kids or their older relatives to the doctor because it costs too much in the future. It is now at this by-election that we draw a line in the sand about defending our healthcare system. It is also important that we have local representatives who will speak up on local issues in the national Parliament. And there’s nothing more local than making sure that a mum can take her sick child to the doctor when they need to, or making sure that an older relative gets that constant care that they require in their older years of life. I’d like to hand over to Terri Butler to say a few words about the campaign so far and this gathering today.
BUTLER: We’re here because people are concerned about costs, they’re concerned about the cost of living, they’re concerned about the impact that the GP tax will have on their cost of living and they’re concerned particularly about cuts to healthcare. Here at the Princess Alexandra Hospital on the southside we’ve seen 68 bed closures under Campbell Newman. When there were cuts to health services, to health funding here under Campbell Newman, Bill Glasson didn’t stand up for the people who live here. Bill Glasson defended those cuts. As recently as a couple of days ago he’s laughed it off as though it was only a few jobs that have gone here in Griffith. Well, that’s not the feedback that we’re getting on the ground and we’re talking to healthcare workers. People here deserve someone who will stand up for them, who will be a strong voice. Bill Glasson’s already shown he will not do that. He will be a rubber stamp for Tony Abbott and for Campbell Newman. But I will be a strong voice for this community and I will be a strong voice against the LNP cuts. Thanks very much.
SHORTEN: Happy to take questions, thank you.
JOURNALIST: Just on the issue of the asylum seekers, do you think navy personnel may have been involved in mistreatment of asylum seekers?
SHORTEN: I’m very concerned that our relationship with Indonesia seems to go from bad to worse under the Abbott Government. It’s important to have a strong relationship with Indonesia and indeed, when it comes to this latest issue, the reports are very concerning. But I also want to put on the record that our naval personnel, our servicemen and women, do an extremely tough job. Their extremely tough job is being made even tougher by the Abbott Government’s policies.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that navy personnel could have mistreated asylum seekers though?
SHORTEN: What I think is important is that we keep a strong relationship Indonesia, that we don’t damage the relationship with our nearest neighbour by foolish policies. The reports are very concerning, but I want to put on the record that our armed forces, in this case our naval personnel, do an extremely tough job and their tough job is being made even harder by the policies of the Abbott Government.
JOURNALIST: Do you think an investigation should be launched until [inaudible] ?
SHORTEN: The armed forces and the appropriate authorities will have their processes, but I want to make clear what I think is the real issue here. We should have a strong relationship with our neighbour Indonesia. We are damaging that relationship, and I don’t think anyone can seriously dispute that. We’re putting the Abbott Government boats policy at the centre of our relationship with Indonesia. In terms of the reports today, they are concerning, they are concerning. But what I’d also say is that our military personnel, and to their families in Australia who are worried about them as they’re representing our national interests on water or overseas, I say to you too: Labor respects the extremely tough job that our naval and military personnel have to do. But we think their tough job is made extremely hard by the Abbott Government’s policies, which I think need to be addressed especially in terms of transparency.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Abbott Government’s putting our naval personnel in danger with their asylum seeker policies?
SHORTEN: I think when it comes to the priorities that need to be dealt with, a strong relationship with your neighbours is always a sensible idea. Trying to get on with your neighbours and not go out of your way to cause an argument with your neighbours is just common sense, doesn’t matter where you are. But what is also important here is that whilst the reports are very concerning, and they are very concerning, that we also stand up and recognise that our military personnel have an extremely tough job and their tough job is being made even harder by the Abbott Government’s policies.
JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied with the terms of reference of the investigation into why our naval ships went into Indonesian waters?
SHORTEN: Well again, I think that the Abbott Government should stop making secrecy to the Australian public the defining basis of our relationship with Indonesia. What I think’s important is a strong and sensible relationship with our neighbours. What I also think is important is that we’ve seen our personnel, there’s been all sorts of reports about what they have or haven’t done. I think they have an extremely tough job and I think that the Abbott Government needs to stop making policies which make their hard job even harder.
JOURNALIST: Human Rights Watch has criticised both major parties of accusing them of scaremongering during the last election campaign. Were you trying to appear tougher than the Coalition Opposition?
SHORTEN: No, I don’t accept the proposition about Labor. I think the challenge is that we have a Government in place who promised to be open and transparent. They said in Brisbane, in the electorate of Griffith on the 9th of August, they said, Tony Abbott said if it’s a good week or if it’s a bad week, or if it’s an in-between week, we’ll be up-front with the Australian people. Well what happened to that broken promise, Tony Abbott? Not a lot of up-front, a lot of hiding, a lot of lack of detail. It is ridiculous that we can find out more about what’s happening with Australian policy through the Indonesian press than we can through our own Government and, you know, the rubbish has to stop. And in the meantime our service personnel, who do a tough job, are being caught up in these policies which I don’t think is fair.
JOURNALIST: Do you accept this criticism, though, by the Human Rights Commission?
SHORTEN: I believe that Labor’s policy which saw regional resettlement at the centre of it was beginning to show success. It is a difficult issue. What I don’t accept is that the Abbott Government’s approach on boats – remember, they were going to buy boats, now they’re giving boats away, now they’re hiding boats and now they’re hiding the Minister. This is rubbish, it’s silly. It’s time for the Government to keep its promises, stop breaking its promises and start being a Government, not an Opposition in Government.
JOURNALIST: The current Chief Executive of Mission Australia, Toby Hall, says our welfare system is broken. Do you concede that within the DSP and NewStart schemes that there are changes that could be made to streamline them to make them more efficient, or do you believe they are 100% perfect as is?
SHORTEN: I believe that the Abbott Government’s agenda when it comes to pensioners, carers, people with disabilities, unemployed people is a mean and tricky agenda. Does anyone remember the Abbott Government saying before the election that they were going to take the axe to people on the DSP or carers? I don’t think so. Yet again, Tony Abbott, one thing before an election, breaking his promise and another thing after the election. There are thousands of blind people on the DSP, there are tens of thousands of amputees, there are tens of thousands of people in wheelchairs. Why on earth does the Abbott Government think when they get into power the only way for Australia to have a bright future is to go after the most vulnerable in our society? So my answer to your question, the Abbott Government has the wrong priorities. Hands off the vulnerable, hands off the poor, hands off the people who don’t have a voice and if you want to start saving some money in the budget, climb down from your hill, climb down from your box and admit that the paid parental leave scheme is ridiculously over-expensive and that is a colossal waste of taxpayer money.
JOURNALIST: Is there any room for improvement in the DSP and NewStart?
SHORTEN: We believe that people with disabilities don’t get a fair go in the employment market. I believe that carers don’t get a fair go. I think if you want to help people engage in the benefits of jobs, have policies which support jobs, have policies which encourage the employment of people with disabilities. A lot of people on the DSP are older Australians. The truth of the matter is there’s too much prejudice, it’s unconscious prejudice, in our society against older jobseekers, especially if you’ve had compo claims. I think if we want to help people with disability and you want to decrease the number of people on the disability pension, help find them work, don’t punish them for their impairment.
JOURNALIST: They say that the Griffith by-election is going to be a report card on the Abbott Government and also Campbell Newman. Do you think that Tony Abbott and Campbell Newman will be appearing and campaigning much with the local candidate Bill Glasson?
SHORTEN: Campbell Newman, if he appears in the Griffith by-election it’ll just be an accident, caught in a traffic jam going somewhere else. I’ve got no doubt Tony Abbott might make a fleeting visit. It is remarkable that only four and a half months after the federal election Tony Abbott’s not even, as reported in the Courier Mail, not even on the how-to-vote card. They’re airbrushing. The Liberal Party and the LNP are trying to pretend, as they talk about a GP tax, as they talk about breaking promises, what they’re trying to do is pretend that this by-election has nothing to do with national politics. The issues are local in that people in this seat don’t want to see their hospitals overcrowded, they don’t want to see their people being sacked unnecessarily, they want to make sure that their cost of living doesn’t skyrocket because of a tax by the Abbott government on healthcare. So they’re the issues. And I’ve got no doubt that the fact that Tony Abbott’s not on the how-to-vote card, the fact that Campbell Newman will not be sighted or doing a lot of campaign events with the LNP candidate show you that they know – and their research tells them – that the harsh cuts in the health system, this Commission of Audit that the Federal Government’s proposing which will go after health conditions along with others, that’s why they’re trying to pretend this has got nothing to do with national politics.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on another issue, you’ve done a lot of work in the past on asbestos removal safe practices of asbestos. There’s been several cases of mismanagement of Telstra pits here in Queensland. Would you like to see Telstra establish a database of which pits do contain asbestos and which don’t? Because they don’t have any plans to, and should the government put in such measures?
SHORTEN: Asbestos is a silent killer. Asbestos will kill more Australians than died in World War I. It is a dreadful disease for which that there is no cure. I believe that in our community where asbestos exists, there should be the ability of the community to know where the asbestos is. It’s not an easy exercise, I get that, and the communication pits operated by Telstra have taken decades to accumulate, asbestos was only banned in the last couple of decades. But I do believe that Telstra does have a duty of care to make sure that communities are not needlessly scared about asbestos, and that where it is measured we do know that if those pits are ever interfered with in the future that it will be removed safely. I think it’s a duty of care to our community which companies who are aware of asbestos need to stand up and be measured on. So I do think more needs to be done.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask about inflation? Inflation figures have come out today and they’re extremely high. Joe Hockey was critical in Opposition saying Labor hadn’t done enough to curtail cost of living. Do you think he should bear, or the Abbott Government should bear, some culpability for these figures?
SHORTEN: It’s a new year and the Abbott Government’s got to stop trying to blame previous governments for everything that’s happening under the Abbott Government watch. Cost of living is a real issue and one thing’s for sure, if people are feeling cost of living pressure, which they are, the answer does not make – it is not to make it more expensive to go to the doctor. The answer is not to make it more expensive. Why on earth with inflation going up and pressure on unemployment under a Coalition Government would the Abbott government be considering raising the cost of going to the doctor? It defies belief that they could be so out of touch, and it’s certainly a broken promise in that before the election the Abbott Government never spoke about increasing the cost of living and going to the doctor.
SHORTEN: I’ll tell you what’s cocky, Mr Abbott – it’s daring Holden to take thousands of jobs away from Australia. I’ll tell you what’s cocky, Mr Abbott – it’s proposing to increase the cost of living and the cost of healthcare in this country. I’ll tell you what’s cocky, Mr Abbott – it’s lying to the Australian people about the cuts you have got in store.
Thanks everyone, have a lovely afternoon, try and keep cool.