DEB KNIGHT: With us as they are every Friday for Question time, the Minister for the NDIS and Government Services Bill Shorten and in for Angus Taylor, this week we have Shadow Minister for Finance and the Public Service Senator Jane Hume. Bill and Jane, thank you so much for your time. I want to start with this decision on asylum seekers from the High Court ruling that people can not be held in indefinite detention. Bill, when will the government start releasing asylum seekers?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, I think that the person has a case that process has started already and obviously we're gonna have to implement the decision of the court. I can't give you the exact timetable for the rest of them.
DEB KNIGHT: Can you guarantee community safety here because that's the overarching concern. This is a man who completed a jail sentence for child sex offenses.
BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, well, that's why we ran a case which the High Court didn't agree with, but I think that's a live issue and I know that the Minister is absolutely switched on to that issue.
DEB KNIGHT: So do you think this was a mistake? A decision for the high court?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, we've noted the High Court ruling, we're considering the implications of the judgment carefully, and we're going to keep working with authorities to ensure community safety is upheld. Now, the reality is that the former Coalition Government failed to protect our national security in a number of ways that our government has been left to fix including through bilateral agreements and relationships. One of those failures and it's been neglecting to produce a constitutionally sound citizenship loss regime despite two separate attempts. But on your question about safety that is of utmost priority for us. Just to be really clear, in terms of the individual, it's a long standing practice that we can't comment on individual cases.
DEB KNIGHT: So I appreciate that. Jane, did your government let the country down?
JANE HUME: Well, I think we're very concerned about this judgment. Obviously, the government now has to act immediately to make sure that Australians and the community are safe and explore all the available options to limit any risks that's posed by problematic individuals. We're very concerned that the decision is likely to lead to the release of not just one but a number of individuals who have been refused a visa on character grounds and who can't return to their country. Now, the precise legal impact of both this case and the migration act needs to be assessed once all the reasons are handed down. I think our concern is that Minister Giles has already come out today and made it very clear that he's going to act immediately on this not just in this one case that the High Court was about, but about many cases, and that has some serious implications for community safety.
DEB KNIGHT: Well, there's concerns within the community from that safety point of view. So we'll keep a close eye on that. I also want to talk obviously about Optus, the outage this week rightly has been met with anger and outrage. It's particularly the compensation that the telco has offered free data with about $100 which is going to be useless to a lot of people if they don't exceed their data limit. Bill, is not enough to make up for all the businesses who lost trade or the government departments and hospitals impacted with no phones or internet?
BILL SHORTEN: I'd be amazed if it's enough. Optus customers are going to be the judge of whether the data offer fairly compensates them for the loss of services they experienced this week. I would strongly encourage small business customers who were uniquely impacted by the outage to speak with their account managers. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman can assist small businesses who are dissatisfied with the responses. I would encourage those customers to keep records to document the impacts of the outage on the but it was a nightmare for you know everyone from restaurants to mechanics to all of a sudden everyone is scrambling to say we need we need you got to bring cash to pay. So I don't think, I suspect, I won't speak for every Optus customer, but I suspect the pre data offer is not really going to touch the sides of some of the frustration and impact that some people and businesses experienced.
DEB KNIGHT: You’re dead right there. Will the regulator have enough resources to deal with the amount of customers who may well get in contact with them? Will you be giving them some more resources to cope with it because it could be a tsunami?
BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, good point. I'm sure that the Minister for Communications but we've been more available at some points in the last couple of days and even the leadership of Optus but that's a good point. I'm sure the ombudsman will ask for more support if they need it.
DEB KNIGHT: I reckon they will. Jane, what do you think? Has Optus handled this well? Because they certainly didn't learn any crisis management lessons from that handling of the internet hack that there's millions of customers exposed last year, that was bad enough, now this?
JANE HUME: Or indeed from Qantas’ experience about getting out there on the front foot and communicating with customers early and compensating appropriately. But one of the things that we did yesterday in the Senate, the Coalition successfully passed amendments for a Senate inquiry into what the government did and didn't do as a result of these millions of Optus customers that struggled with the outage. So we're going to focus on the actions that were taken by the government and also the government's regulated there the Australian Communications and Media Authority on the day of the outage to make sure that customers were able to access essential services during the shutdown, what the government did and didn't do that was overwhelmingly supported in the Senate by about 39 to 20.
BILL SHORTEN: God I love you guys you're so, you're so funny. Whatever the question is, the answer is always to blame the government. Anyway.
JANE HUME: The Government is actually in a position of responsibility Bill. You’ve got a job to do, you’ve gotta get on with it.
BILL SHORTEN: You only ever bark at the government.
DEB KNIGHT: Does the government need to look at the contracts that you have with the telco, the Home Affairs Department, the tax office, they were all really caught up to with no internet and no phones could those contracts be in doubt?
BILL SHORTEN: Our procurement process is that contracts are done by the public service. What we're doing is the Minister has said straight away that we want to understand what happened, how it could happen, how we make sure it doesn't happen again. We've also got the independent regulator, who's doing a preliminary assessment of whether Optus comply with the rules around emergency calls. I'm not going to preempt that outcome. There is a big big lesson here to be learned and it was a major major setback for a lot of Australians so the government's not going to stop to understand what went wrong, why and how it can be prevented again.
DEB KNIGHT: Alright. The other big issue that we've had this week, felt like a long week, in fact, I can't believe it was on Tuesday, with the Reserve Bank upping interest rates by a quarter of a percent to curb inflation, Jane the interest rate increase. It's devastating to Australians with a mortgage who are already struggling to make ends meet.
JANE HUME: So many millions of Australians are really struggling right now. We heard that just in your previous news report about people who are going to be spending less money at Christmas, you know, a family with a mortgage of around 750,000 now has to find an additional $24,000 a year to pay off their mortgage. Now, it's not the sort of money you find down the back of a couch and our concern is that inflation is now galloping along and staying higher for longer, which means that interest rates have to stay higher for longer. You know, there was some data today that came out that said that now we're expecting real wages to go backwards again this quarter. So Australians are much worse off now than they were just 18 months ago. I think that Labor has taken their eye off the ball here. What is the government doing Bill, to tackle inflation? Specifically to tackle inflation? Because if you don't tackle inflation, the cost of living crisis will keep on going.
DEB KNIGHT: Doing my work for me Jane. Bill?
BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, I'm happy to answer that question. First of all, it's really tough for mortgages. So you know, I agree with Jane on that. It's really, really incredibly tough. But what we're doing is we're providing electricity bill relief, cheaper childcare, increased rent assistance, more Medicare bulk billing, we're providing cheaper medicine, we're boosting income support payments, we're providing fee free TAFE and we're building more affordable homes. We've expanded paid parental leave, we're creating jobs and we've helped move wages along.
JANE HUME: None of that is actually getting inflation down. It’s not helping with the cost of living and it’s not getting inflation down.
BILL SHORTEN: Can I break it to you? What was that Midnight Oil song short memories? You'd like to pretend this inflation challenge came out of nowhere. The highest quarter for inflation was the March quarter under the previous guys, which was you. You conveniently forget that interest rates started rising before the election.
JANE HUME: One interest rate rise during the caretaker period, we've had 12 rises under this government.
BILL SHORTEN: You conveniently forget that you racked up a trillion dollars worth of debt. You don't ever talk, you don't ever think about the petrol spike to you. Are you blaming us for the Middle East? Are you blaming us for Russia?
DEB KNIGHT: Hang on a sec. Matt Canavan today called for a cut to the fuel excise which is something our listeners are often asking about. Is that even on the cards Bill as a possibility, because it's a tool to cut fuel prices, and they've been pushing inflation up?
BILL SHORTEN: Is that Coalition policy, Jane, or is Matt freelancing?
DEB KNIGHT: I'll ask you that first bill? Is that something that you would consider?
BILL SHORTEN: At this stage I'm not aware of any plans to do that. Over to you Jane is Matt freelancing?
DEB KNIGHT: Jane, is that Coalition policy?
JANE HUME: We cut the fuel excise when fuel prices were the sole cause of that high inflation anymore. Now inflation is baked in and the reason why it's baked in is because you guys haven't done anything about it. You keep spending more and more pushing inflation higher and higher, quite frankly, if you're going to cut infrastructure, which is what Jim Chalmers has said he wants to do. He's saying cut roads. Well, quite frankly roads are funded by that fuel excise.
BILL SHORTEN: You asked me one question. I gave you 10 points on what we're doing. I'm just asking you one question: is Matt Canavan freelancing? Was that Coalition policy to cut the fuel excise?
DEB KNIGHT: It’s a pretty simple question Jane.
JANE HUME: It’s not Coalition policy. You can see where Matt was going, he’s saying, are you going to cut infrastructure spending on roads because quite frankly, if you're going to do that, that's what fuel excise is here to cover.
DEB KNIGHT: Something that the coalition (Interrupted)
BILL SHORTEN: Coalition policy, so you're fully sympathetic but no substance.
JANE HUME: Bill come on, you’re out there talking about cutting infrastructure and yeah, it's time you're talking about the suburban rail.
DEB KNIGHT: The IR laws. The other issue, they've been split Bill, that wasn't Labor's plan. Will you support the laws in a split form? Or will the party now have to vote against its own legislation in the lower house?
BILL SHORTEN: Well we were elected on a promise to get wages moving and so we need to do that we need to close the loopholes that are undermining wages. Our closing loopholes bill before Parliament has four main elements: cracking down on labor hire loopholes used to undercut pay, criminalising wage theft, properly defining casual work and making sure gig workers aren't getting ripped off. Now those provisions were contained within government legislation before the House. I think it's strange that the Senate has cut this bill.
DEB KNIGHT: Well it might be strange but they've done it will you be voting against your own policy when it comes to the law of house?
BILL SHORTEN: We want to make sure that we do the best we can for workers so at this stage we press on and we'll see what's doable and what isn't.
DEB KNIGHT: So, no clarity, yes or no?
BILL SHORTEN: No, we'll wait till the debates have been had, you know, I remain the eternal optimist. I wonder what Matt Canavan says?
DEB KNIGHT: Jane, your party in the Senate voted for this split. Can we really afford to see a delay on this because we've had overnight another food delivery driver killed in an accident in St. Peter's in Sydney and another two deaths in August of gig economy workers. Can we have any further delays?
JANE HUME: You know, this bill was always going to be controversial, but now that it has been split, there is no credible reason for the government to argue against passing the bills immediately. They can do it next week. It was absolutely disgraceful. To put those poison pills in this bill in the first place. Things like the issue of PTSD in you know, our nation's first responders or silicone diseases, you know, discrimination for people suffering family or domestic violence or using redundancy payments for the same purpose. All of that was in those bills. That was uncontroversial. We can pass that next week. But if the government does it it's very clear that they are trying to simply play politics. They wanted to have those, those uncontroversial elements in this controversial legislation to try and ram this through to try and force a wedge, particularly the crossbench into voting for things that they didn't want to vote for, that they want more time to consider because businesses are telling us that supporting these parts of the omnibus bill will actually make the cost of living crisis worse, it will put businesses in invidious position where they will have to lay off staff, we do not want that.
DEB KNIGHT: Alright, we will see what happens when it comes back to the house.
BILL SHORTEN: You guys are going full bore Trumpian Republican tactics like we see in the Congress.
DEB KNIGHT: Now, Taylor Swift tickets. Sydneysiders are being desperate now, but the last thing is to Taylor Swift they sold out within an hour 20 minutes of them going on sale at 10am this morning. So I want to know from you which muso or band have you done? Or would you do anything to get along to see would you line up for overnight? Would you have every device open? Bill?
BILL SHORTEN: U2, I would really like to see them perform.
DEB KNIGHT: Be good to see them in Vegas, too in that sphere. That'd be cool.
BILL SHORTEN: That would be just awesome. So you think U2 are on the to do list and anytime Jimmy Barnes is performing, pretty much want to queue up overnight too.
DEB KNIGHT: That is true. That is true. Jane, what about you?
JANE HUME: I've done U2 a couple of times and yeah, it's worth the wait, but I think for me, it's probably Coldplay, sounds a bit Generation X, doesn't it? But I've been to a Coldplay concert once before. It was fantastic. I'd go again. I'd line up for that one anytime.
BILL SHORTEN: Good. Cool. Stick together.
DEB KNIGHT: Rock is at heart. Good on you, Jane. Good on you, Bill. Thanks both for joining us. For another edition of Question Time.