Jul 10, 2015

Transcript of television interview – Today Show, Nine network

Subjects: Trade Union Royal Commission; Shenhua coal mine approval; Malcolm Turnbull on Q&A

KARL STEFANOVIC: ¬†Well, for more we’re joined now by Federal Minister for Small Business, Bruce Bilson. G’day Bruce, nice to see you.


STEFANOVIC: The Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese. Anthony, good morning to you too.


STEFANOVIC: Bill Shorten is under the pump, is it the end of the road for him?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Certainly not. He went before the Royal Commission. He asked to bring forward his appearance. He answered every question that they had. And the Royal Commission will now continue to do its job.

STEFANOVIC: Well they didn’t just ask him questions. Commissioner Haydon also questioned Mr Shorten’s credibility at length. Here is what he said.

[CLIP] COMMISSIONER HEYDON AC QC: A lot of your answers are non-responsive. What I’m concerned about more is your credibility as a witness.

STEFANOVIC: That’s not great PR.

ALBANESE: He is entitled absolutely to defend himself. He’s had weeks of speculation in the media prior to this appearance and he gave a vigorous testimony as you would expect.

STEFANOVIC: He didn’t answer the questions.

ALBANESE: He answered every question that they had. He did it in a way that was forceful and defended his record that he’s proud of, as a trade union official.

STEFANOVIC: It doesn’t pass the pub test, as you would know only too well. People look at this and go, hang on, even by association – there may not be anything knocking him out but it’s just the association here for Bill Shorten on the top of three or four weeks of bad PR and bad polls.

ALBANESE: People will look at the context here and what they’ll see is criticism from Abbott Government ministers saying basically Bill Shorten was a part of doing deals between employers and employers for their common interest. This from a mob who want to get rid of penalty rates, who want to get rid of the sort of conditions that the trade union movement have fought for. They’ll be scratching their heads saying, why is it that Bill Shorten is basically being accused of being too moderate?

STEFANOVIC: Bruce, he’s not the first or the last to take donations in this way. You can’t really knock him out for that.

BILLSON: I think what people are really interested in – imagine if you had a trusted mate going and buying a car for you, trying to get you a good deal, and then you find out your mate’s getting a sling from the guy that’s flogging the car. I mean, that just looks dodgy. There’s something NQR about that and that’s really what –

STEFANOVIC: The Coalition’s never done this before, never taken donations?

BILLSON: It’s not the issue of the donations and the declaration. That’s important and you’ve always got to uphold those requirements and that’s what we aim to do. But it’s the issue about whose side are you on, who are you playing us for, why are you doing a deal with an employer and then taking some cash.

STEFANOVIC: So you’re okay with the non-disclosures?

BILLSON: I know at times people will overlook things. Curiosity around the timing of that being updated, and that’s all being seen in the Commission –

STEFANOVIC: I actually think that’s worse for Bill Shorten, just in the public eye.

BILLSON: Yeah, I’m not sure about that, and I reckon when you’re not sure whose side you’re on –

ALBANESE: Bruce says that now.

BILLSON: Well, the really issue here is that what was happening for the workers. And it’s like that mate buying you the car. If he’s getting a sling off the car seller, how’s he looking after your interests? But let the Commission run its course. I thought the big news yesterday with the job numbers, weren’t they great? You know, the economic action strategy’s delivering for people –

ALBANESE: What, 6 per cent unemployment?

BILLSON: Well, jobs growth at four times –

ALBANESE: We’ve had higher unemployment now than we did during the global financial crisis. Higher unemployment now.

BILLSON: Job formulation four times the rate it was under Labor. Participation rate up. This is encouraging for the future of –

STEFANOVIC: Let me ask you a question. How did the Shenhua mine get approval?

BILLSON: Well, it went through a rather extensive process.

STEFANOVIC: How does prime agricultural land, how does mining on prime agricultural land get approval?

BILLSON: Yeah, I’m not sure that’s quite what’s happened…

STEFANOVIC: No, that is what’s happened.

BILLSON: Well, this is actually a project in the hills. We actually think –

STEFANOVIC: It’s still prime agricultural land.

BILLSON: Well, proper safeguards, we think you can have well run, well regulated, proper safeguard mining operations.

STEFANOVIC: Can you guarantee the water quality?

BILLSON: That was the recommendation that was –

STEFANOVIC: Can you guarantee it?

BILLSON: That’s the recommendations. It aims to make sure that agricultural –

STEFANOVIC: It aims to make sure. Why would you take a risk? Here’s the thing. This is prime agricultural land – irrespective of how you spin it. And I don’t know why you would take the risk, on contaminating water supply – we don’t know that yet but, first of all putting a mine in there, that’s for different approval processes. But contemplating actually potentially damaging water supply is a significant risk.

BILLSON: Well, all the safeguards are there to make sure that doesn’t happen. That’s the process it’s been through to evaluate what the risks are and what the safeguards are that are needed. The recommendation is, ‘here’s the approval, with all the safeguards to protect agricultural water quality interests, the water table and an opportunity to –

STEFANOVIC: Let me ask you one question on a much lighter note. Malcolm Turnbull, is he going to be allowed to go on Q&A?

BILLSON: Well, that’s his call.

STEFANOVIC: His call? I thought it was a captain’s call?

BILLSON: You know what I’d like Karl? I’d like Q&A one day to talk about small business. You know, all those people who have mortgaged their houses to create an opportunity.

STEFANOVIC: So what you’re saying is that Malcolm Turnbull makes the decision on whether to go on Q&A, not Tony Abbott?


STEFANOVIC: Well, is there an edict given to frontbenchers not to go on?

BILLSON: Well, I haven’t got one. Mind you, I’ve never been asked to come and talk about small business on the ABC either. I’ve been asked a few times to go on the show and my focus is, well is this about small business? Those people mortgaging their houses to create jobs and opportunity for our economy? That’s my focus. I don’t need to go on it just to talk about whatever. When we get to topics that are in my area of responsibility, sure, I’ll get amongst it.

STEFANOVIC: It looks like he’s disappointed.

ALBANESE: He is, he wants an invite. That was a good pitch.

BILLSON: Did you like it? Did you like it?

ALBANESE: That was a good pitch.

STEFANOVIC: Good on you guys. Thanks for that. Nice to see you, have a great weekend.

ALBANESE: Good to be with you.

BILLSON: Thanks for having us.