THE HON. BILL SHORTEN MP
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS & ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDERS
MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG
THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
FRIDAY, 16 FEBRUARY 2018
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are now at war with each other. Quite frankly, the way these two men are behaving, neither of them are fit for the high office they currently hold.
Yesterday, Mr Turnbull declared war on Mr Joyce. Today, Mr Joyce has declared war on Mr Turnbull.
Australians have every reason to be angry and frustrated when the two most senior Australian leaders are not focused on anything other than their own jobs. What Australians want is they want their politicians to serve them. Tanya and I entered politics to serve the people, to make sure that Australians can get good and well paid jobs, to make sure that our kids get a great education, to make sure that Australians, when they're ill, can get quality affordable health care.
This government is in crisis. It is a full-blown political crisis.
The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are at war with each other.
This crisis cannot be allowed to continue.
Mr Turnbull must sack his Deputy Prime Minister from the Cabinet. The time is well past the hour for Mr Turnbull to show he has the courage to sack his Deputy Prime Minister.
If Malcolm Turnbull doesn't have the courage to sack Barnaby Joyce, then Malcolm Turnbull doesn't have the courage to be Prime Minister of Australia.
I might just ask my colleague and Deputy to say a few further words.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thanks, Bill. I mean, a number of you journalists who are here today know what Labor has been up to here in Melbourne.
I launched the $280 million research institute that would look at best practice in our schools, making sure that every child gets a great education. Making sure that every day is a learning day. That's the difference.
You've got a Government at each other's throat, divided and dysfunctional, and you've got Labor focused on making life better for ordinary Australians. Thanks Bill.
SHORTEN: Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, will you ban Labor MPs and staff from having sexual relations?
SHORTEN: James, we saw Mr Turnbull shoot from the hip yesterday afternoon. What happened yesterday afternoon is Mr Turnbull declared war on Mr Joyce. His particular proposal is a complete smokescreen. After all, Mr Turnbull has now confirmed this morning that he was aware of Mr Joyce's conduct for months, yet he's only chosen to act on it yesterday.
We will consider whatever he has to put forward but his own Government Members haven't even seen it. A collection of handwritten notes does not make a strong policy.
Mr Turnbull currently has a Prime Ministerial Code of Conduct, which he won't enforce.
What we have today is the two most senior Australian politicians at war with each other. The two most senior Australian politicians, the Leader of the Liberal Party, the Leader of the National Party have forgotten who they're there to serve: it's the Australian people.
Mr Turnbull must sack Mr Joyce immediately.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten have you previously become aware of any Labor MPs sleeping with, or having sexual relations with any members of the Labor staff, and if in fact that has occurred and you were aware of it, did you ask for it to stop?
SHORTEN: Listen, what you're raising there - the short answer is no but the longer issue here is this: you've got a Deputy Prime Minister, and it's never been his private life which we have been commenting about, it's the use of his office, it's the use of public privilege for private gain. It's the awarding of better paid jobs. It's giving mates Government contracts through the departments that are administered by the Minister. Mr Turnbull knows what the problem is.
And by the way, you have to take with a very big grain of salt Mr Turnbull's outrage yesterday. He has known for months. What has Malcolm Turnbull done in the previous months? As late as Wednesday and Tuesday he said that Mr Joyce had his confidence, that he would be Acting Prime Minister.
Mr Turnbull is only acting to save his own skin. No more excuses, Malcolm. You're at war with your Deputy Prime Minister, the Government looks like a complete joke, Australians hate politics and politicians because it's just a soap opera. For the sake of our democratic system, for the sake of the Australian people it's time to sack Barnaby Joyce.
And if the Prime Minister doesn't have the courage to sack his Deputy Prime Minister then he doesn't have the courage to be Prime Minister of Australia.
JOURNALIST: Is it getting to the point where you'd consider a motion of no confidence in the Government?
SHORTEN: Well the fact that the Prime Minister yesterday declared war on Mr Joyce and today Mr Joyce has declared war on Mr Turnbull, this is an absolute, full blown political crisis. When the two most senior leaders of the Government don't like each other and hate each other and are now coming out publicly and criticising each other, the people of Australia's interests are not being served.
The first thing that has to happen, even before Parliament resumes in a week and a half's time, is Mr Turnbull must sack Mr Joyce.
Mr Joyce has said that Mr Turnbull is inept.
If the number two in the Government thinks that the number one in the Government is inept, well we've got a problem and yesterday, clearly Mr Turnbull showed he did not have much of an opinion of Mr Joyce either.
JOURNALIST: Now, Mr Shorten, you've identified a deep split at the top of the Government there with people not liking each other and declaring war on each other, isn't that a bit like the previous Labor Government that you were a part of?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all let's go to the facts in front of us right now: the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are at war and no one is looking after the interests of the Australian people, that has to stop.
Mr Turnbull must show some overdue courage and sack his Deputy Prime Minister, because the two people in the two highest positions are both manifestly unfit for the jobs they hold.
By contrast, I've led a united Labor team for five years, and I promise Australians that if I am Prime Minister, Tanya Plibersek is Deputy Prime Minister, we will lead a united Government which doesn't forget why we are there.
We are here, in our jobs, to look after the people, not ourselves. People are over the soap opera, Mr Turnbull has lost control of his Government, Mr Joyce has lost control of what he's doing, this has to stop and it stops now.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, given the split at the top of the Coalition, you know, this actually raises questions about whether the arrangement can continue. Should we indeed, potentially go to an early election?
SHORTEN: Well, I think that what has to happen for the Australian people is that the Prime Minister needs to sack is Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Turnbull keeps saying they're in coalition, there is nothing he can do about Barnaby Joyce. Mr Turnbull appoints the members of his Cabinet. Mr Turnbull should get in the car, drive down to see the Governor-General and say Barnaby Joyce is sacked.
If he won't do that, if he is not strong enough to do that, he is not strong enough to be in charge of this great country.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that Mr Turnbull should cancel his overseas trip?
SHORTEN: Well I think Mr Turnbull should sack Mr Joyce straightaway. The very fact that you're raising that legitimate issue about whether or not the Prime Minister of Australia can confidently leave his country to conduct negotiations and discussions with Australia's biggest ally, shows you that this is a government who is eating itself alive.
They are consumed by their own problems. If I was Prime Minister, I would have sacked Barnaby Joyce long before now, then I could get on the plane and represent Australia overseas. If Mr Turnbull can't do that, well then he is not up to his day job.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify my first question Bill if you don't mind, will Labor ban or support a ban on MPs and staff having sexual relations?
SHORTEN: Listen, we will go and have a look at what Mr Turnbull is proposing but just to remind you of my first answer to your first question, everyone knows that if this was such a big issue for Malcolm Turnbull, why didn't he act months ago?
He is only doing it now because he's feeling the pressure on his own job. He's only talking about Mr Joyce's personal life because he hasn't done anything about his Ministerial Code of Conduct.
Malcolm Turnbull has been weak for months, he continues to be weak. Being Prime Minister of Australia means you have to make hard decisions. Being Prime Minister of Australia means that you have to serve the interests of the people, not your own immediate, political short-term gain.
I will give another question.
JOURNALIST: So if he doesn't sack Barnaby Joyce what's your next step?
SHORTEN: I think that the Government is in crisis. If Malcolm Turnbull does not sack Barnaby Joyce today, this Government is over. And whether or not they linger on and make decisions and keep driving their white cars and keep taking the ministerial wages, the Government dies the moment Mr Turnbull doesn't sack Mr Joyce, and if they can't work it out, they're not even as smart as I thought they were.
Thanks, everybody, we've done a number of questions.
REPORTER: Mr Shorten, in the corporate sector it is wildly consider it is not acceptable workplace relations practice for junior and senior staff to have a relationship while working together. Don't you think that Federal Parliament should hold itself to the same standards?
SHORTEN: I am going to invite Tanya to supplement this answer but if we're talking about how we make sure that we have appropriate and safe workplaces free from harassment, absolutely, you need to have the best possible policies. Labor has always supported strong policies to prevent sexual harassment, to make sure that people can go to work free of bullying and unwanted attention. This not a new development.
But Mr Turnbull yesterday has just banged some handwritten notes on the lectern and said this is his latest idea. We will have a look at them. But, can we just spell it out here? Why did Malcolm yesterday write a series of handwritten notes saying he has got this new solution? The fact of the matter is he has known for months about his Deputy Prime Minister's conduct, and until the pressure has got too high on Malcolm Turnbull, he was happy to do nothing. So we're not going to take lectures from Malcolm Turnbull trying to camouflage his inaction on the abuse of office, inappropriate jobs, all of those matters.
Just because Malcolm Turnbull has done nothing for months doesn't mean that we have to dance to his smokescreen today. The real issue, the real issue is that you have got a Prime Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister at war. I did say I would ask Tanya to say a few words.
PLIBERSEK: Thanks very much Bill and of course Bill is quite right. Every workplace in Australia should be free of sexual harassment. Everybody should feel safe in the workplace, but there is another element to this as well. We don't really want to be the sort of society that you see in the US where journalists are peering through the bedroom window of people, moralising about their personal conduct.
So, yes, we have to have safe workplaces free of sexual harassment, but intruding beyond that into relationships between people becomes very delicate very quickly. Of course, if there is a power imbalance in the relationship, you have to have proper policies that remove the potential for conflict, conflict of interest, awkwardness for other staff. There are a range of issues that you would consider in any workplace.
The problem for Malcolm Turnbull is he hasn't been interested in any of this until this became politically inconvenient. He knew in December last year, when he was standing on the podium with Barnaby Joyce celebrating an election win, saying: "Barnaby Joyce is my best friend. Barnaby Joyce is a great bloke. Barnaby Joyce is my mate and my colleague," - he knew all of this then. What was so different then to what happened yesterday?
What happened yesterday was not a genuine effort to stand up against sexual harassment in the workplace. What happened yesterday was an effort to divert attention from the fact that Malcolm Turnbull is powerless to impose the standard of ministerial conduct that he has already got written into his ministerial standards. His ministerial standards already say, there should be no conflict of interest, that ministers shouldn't be seeking personal advantage in a private capacity, Already saying that where you've got conflicts of interests, those should be declared and dealt with properly. Barnaby Joyce has done none of that, he has sought personal benefit, he has got rent-free accommodation, he had put taxpayers' dollars into his benefactor's pocket before any of this happened by holding functions in the guy's hotel. That's the issue here. He has created a job where no job needed to be done, on the evidence available, to deal with personal difficulties in his private life. All of this is funded by the taxpayer and is absolutely against the existing code of conduct that Malcolm Turnbull is powerless to enforce.
So when you talk to us about new elements of the code of conduct, let's get real here, he is not enforcing the code of conduct that he has got. So, by all means, let's talk about workplace culture, but let's get real and not buy the smokescreen that we saw last night.
REPORTER: Do you think he is playing the victim? His comments were all -
PLIBERSEK: Oh, I think we're probably done. Thanks very much, everyone.
SHORTEN: Thanks, everybody.