SUBJECT/S: Closing the gap; citizenship; Barnaby Joyce; foreign interference laws; Adani; jobs in Queensland.   

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. We've just had the privilege of listening to First Australian leaders talk and brief the politicians about closing the gap. There's no doubt that the great hopes and ambitions of 10 years ago have not been fulfilled. The overwhelming message that we heard today is that unless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are involved in the decision making which affects their lives, we are not going to close the gap.

The overwhelming message today is that 10 years on from the Closing the Gap statement, the statics, the numbers, the human outcomes are getting worse, not better. And what is now required is an absolute commitment, from all sides of politics, to make sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are included in the decision making. And I strongly encourage the Prime Minister to reconsider his disdainful attitude to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, because today reminds me of the importance -  if we're going to have better health outcomes, if we're going to have better housing outcomes, if we're going to have better job outcomes, if we're going to have better outcomes right across the board we need to include Aboriginal people in the decision making.

Happy to take questions on closing the gap, and then we perhaps might move to other matters of the day.

JOURNALIST: Just on closing the gap, the Government appears to have overcome its objection to a justice target as well as a child protection target. They're both in Prime Minister's Department's consultation paper today. Do you have thoughts on that shift?

SHORTEN: Labor's been calling for a justice target for a number of years. I don't think that most Australians realise that if you're a young Aboriginal man of 18, you're more likely to go to gaol than to university. This is shocking. I don't think this is the country we expect to see in the mirror, but it's the country we are. And it's the reality that First Australians experience.

So I'm pleased if we have a justice target. I'm pleased if we're doing more on child protection. But the fact of the matter is that everything we do is going to come up short, more often than not, unless we have Aboriginal people, Torres Strait Islander people, First Australians, in the decision making itself.

The idea that you can paternalistically, from the Prime Minister's office, make decisions on behalf of the lives of hundreds of thousands our fellow Australians, without them being involved in the decision making, it’s just flawed thinking guaranteed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

JOURNALIST: With the closing the gap strategy, do you think it's too ambitious?

SHORTEN: No. I tell you what, it's achievable, it's how we do it. The idea that if we're not making targets we should simply give up and lower the targets. Dare I say it, that's un-Australian.

Could you ever imagine a sporting team saying that if we can't play four quarters of a game of sport we'll just play three quarters? Can you imagine business people in Australia saying if we can't just make a profit we'll just change the goal posts? We owe more to our First Australians than surrendering aspirations. I'm happy to let some of my colleagues - you want to come in Pat?

SENATOR PATRICK DODSON: Mr Little said today that he was 60, and he spoke about his family. Well, I'm 70 and I've been hearing these stories from a long way back. The patience that the Indigenous people have represented just befuddles me. I'm absolutely frustrated with the lack of change, the lack of achievement, the lack of listening, to what Indigenous people have been saying. They want a piece of the action. They want to be part of this deal. 

Michael Long walked here many years ago and asked to be part of the solution. How long does it take for that to translate into policy, into practice, into delivering the kind of outcomes that we all want to see - which is equality of life for Indigenous peoples.

We can't sit complacently around and listen to platitudes. We saw the Prime Minister walk out 15 minutes before the whole show was over. He may have had something important to do but he should have stayed there and listened. His staff surely knew what the time allocations were. It's indicative of the deafness, of the absolute derision and the contempt which this government is meting out to the Aboriginal people. So we've got to get real about it.

The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is telling people who are concerned about the housing, the remote housing schemes, that they're not going to get any money after June. If you don't have housing, and if you don't fix up the housing needs of Indigenous peoples, it's one of the major contributors towards a better life for Indigenous peoples. 

There's so much anomaly, and so much sophistry going on in this government, that really we've got to get beyond it. And that's what the message was: Talk plainly - the young woman at the end - sit down and have a yarn with us. Talk to us clearly, plainly, and we can help you find the solutions if you work with us. 

If that doesn't transpire into change by this government, then we seriously have a problem, not only nationally but internationally as a reputation for a fair go.

JOURNALIST: Senator Dodson, the Government is now talking about a new series of nationwide consultations on this Closing the Gap refresh –

DODSON: Well how many more do we need? How many more do we need?

JOURNALIST: Precisely. How receptive are communities going to be –

DODSON: They're not going to be receptive at all. There's the major leaders here today. A review that's been done through the Social Justice Commissioner, and the First Nations Council people and others, and they've told the message. What do we have to go and review again? The Government has had plenty of time to have this prepared for this particular occasion - this anniversary of the Closing the Gap.

We're not going to get this sorted until June on their agenda. That's the end of the fiscal year. So what's going to be in the Budget commitments to any of this? Because we don't know what we're going to be committing to?

That's how hopeless this government is and how badly the Aboriginal and Indigenous Affairs portfolio is being managed. And the sooner they do something about that the better.

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Just to add to that though, Stephen. Bipartisanship was always what close the gap was all about. The one day of the parliamentary year where our country and all representatives in the parliament could focus on First Nations issues in this country. 

In all of these dialogues that have taken place, no one from the Labor Party, no one from the Greens or minor parties has been involved, and it is an absolute disgrace that you have Indigenous members in this parliament who were not included, who were not invited, who have not been briefed on anything to do with close the gap.

JOURNALIST: How frustrating was it to see the walk out from the Prime Minister?

DODSON: This is the leader of our country. This is a major event, this is an international event. This will go overseas, and if anyone focused on the leader of this nation walking out on a major report by reputable Aboriginal leaders, they'd have to think, well, we really do feel for the Indigenous people of this country. And I hope we get criticised by those international nations that believe Australia is out there trying to do something about human rights and defending democracy. Because it's not happening here for the Aboriginal people.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] heart wrenching tale in parliament but the Government still says she's got a case to answer, how does that sit with you?

SHORTEN: I think Susan Lamb was very brave yesterday. Families are pretty complicated, we all know that. Susan Lamb has been under sustained criticism, she's taken all reasonable steps, but because she is an upfront, courageous woman, she's explained her backstory. I don't think anyone who's fair dinkum couldn't have been moved by what she said. I think she was very strong. She has taken all reasonable steps.

On the broader question of eligibility and citizenship, we have offered Mr Turnbull on a number of occasions but most recently over the weekend, that we need to draw a line under the page. I think Australians are rightly angry that we're still arguing about citizenship – it's as if the summer break never happened and we're stuck in this endless loop. So what we've suggested to Malcolm is that, we have some concerns about a couple of his people, he says he has concerns about a couple of our people. Let's cut out the nonsense. In any other walk of life people would say, if you have two neighbours having a blue, you'd sort it out. But no, he just wants to have one rule for Labor and another rule for themselves. We're up for sorting it out -

JOURNALIST: Isn't this the reason we needed an audit - an auditor to decide who needed to be referred?

SHORTEN: Well certainly that's why I supported having the audit. But at the end of the day, let's just - if we have a couple of concerns about them - and we do - and they've got some concerns about a couple of our people - and they do - I'm completely confident, other than being blind-sighted by the Feeney matter which I was unaware of, I am confident about the position of what the lawyers have said to us. But if it involves, if it necessitates just ruling a line under citizenship, let's do a job lot. But the idea that Mr Turnbull can act as Labor's personal High Court and send people off but he is immune to the same rules as us, well that's a different issue.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten has Susan Lamb, or the ALP or anybody else on her behalf ever attempted to approach Queensland Births, Deaths, and Marriages to obtain that marriage certificate, without her mother's consent? 

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, Ms Lamb went through her issues, she explained exactly what she's done, I am completely satisfied by her explanation. I'm not going to start Monday morning-coaching the game on Saturday. What we have said to the Government is: let's rule a line under this issue.

The Australian people want the Parliament to do something about their cost of living, their health insurance, the electricity bills, the taxes, the low wages. I think people are going to be very annoyed if 2018 just becomes a sequel to 2017 – the same story back over again. 

JOURNALIST: The reason I ask that is because Queensland Births, Deaths, and Marriages have told the media in a statement that they can consider such requests on a case by case basis. But again, has anyone ever approached Queensland Births, Deaths, and Marriages to get that certificate?

SHORTEN: I am completely confident that Ms Lamb took all reasonable steps. In terms of separate matters and separate enquiries and separate fact circumstances, I'll leave that to other people to make up their hypotheticals. 

Let's go to the heart of the matter here: there are attacks on Ms Lamb, they said, oh well she could have contacted her mum. And you know that was the standard that the Government was setting - it was an unfair attack. What goes on in families is really the matter for families.

JOURNALIST: To be fair - 

SHORTEN: Sorry if I could just finish - John, why don't I just just finish the question, you've had a couple, I will come back to you. 

JOURNALIST: I've had one.

SHORTEN: You've had two questions. So in terms of what she's done, I'm satisfied. Alright, third question John.

JOURNALIST: Well to be fair, her mother said in an interview with The Australian that she could contact her and Ms Lamb also can apply for it without having to go through her mother. The point that is being made is perhaps there are other steps that she could have taken. That's the question that is being raised: could she have?

SHORTEN: Listen, you're now quoting what Susan's mother says or quoting what The Australian says about Susan's mother. I don't know but did you hear what she said yesterday? That sounded like a pretty tough upbringing. I don't want to trawl over the ins and outs of her family background. I think she's shown more candour about her family circumstances than most Australians would, but that's because of her level of commitment to her electorate. 

I say about citizenship - we've got some concerns about government members, the Government have some concerns about ours. For goodness sake, can't we all just act as a bunch of adults, have a joint referral to the High Court, and then we can get on and talk about the cost of living which is out of control in this country, the housing prices, the electricity prices, the health insurance. This government wants to talk about citizenship, I just wish they'd show as must interest in the hip pocket of working Australians.

JOURNALIST: The US Congress has voted to ban members from having relationships with employees. What would you think about that happening here?

SHORTEN: Who's done that, sorry?

JOURNALIST: US Congress has voted to ban members from having relationships with employees as part of an overhaul of sexual harassment policy. What would you think about that happening in Australia?

SHORTEN: I haven't given that any consideration to be honest, I don't know what I think about that.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any objection to politicians having sexual relationships with staff members? 

SHORTEN: I have no view about these matters. I think it's important that all organisations have proper equal opportunity policies, have proper harassment policies. I think really underlying those questions is a debate about Mr Joyce, and I just want to make very clear: Mr Joyce's private life, as far as I'm concerned, is his matter. 

As I said earlier about Ms Lamb, and I think everyone here deep down knows, families can be pretty complicated. I'm certainly not going to stand in judgement of other people’s private lives, full stop. And that's all I'm going to say on that matter and any of the other questions that are sort of really driving it at that.

JOURNALIST: Is Labor working with the Government on the amendments to the espionage laws and what do you make of the fact that they're now having another look at them?

SHORTEN: I think Labor has had a little bit of a win, with the media, I think courtesy of the media's campaign and Labor's support. I think the unintended consequences - I'll give the Government that acknowledgement - where journalists could be jailed for just doing their job. Freedom of the press is one of the values of Australia that we're fighting for. So therefore, I am pleased that the Government has taken a backwards step, we will of course, work with them. We always do, a lot of work - and Australians should be reassured on this, and all of the other sort of fevered debates we have - when it comes to national security, Labor and Liberal are in this together. 

Normally we work through all the issues very well with the Government. On this one, I think the media quite rightly raised a concern about the potential imprisonment of journalists. So I thought we just had to put up a little stop sign to the Government and say, hey, perhaps we need to go back an redo that. And we'll work with them on that.

Perhaps one more question and then I've got to go. 

JOURNALIST: Will Labor make its position clear on Adani before the March 17 by-election in Batman?

SHORTEN: Our position is very clear. We've said all along that if it doesn't stack up commercially or environmentally, it shouldn't go ahead. Where Labor is doing its work now is that we want to make sure that not all the jobs eggs are in one Adani basket. We want to make sure that there's a plan for jobs in Queensland which doesn't just rely on that particular coal mine. 

So I think that what Queenslanders legitimately want, especially in regional Queensland, is a sense that there's an interest in what happens to them, not just the big cities. I do believe that you can have blue-collar, industrial, engineering jobs in regional Queensland. But I think it's unwise of anyone just to rely upon one controversial coal mine with lots of question marks about missed deadlines and funding. I think what Queenslanders deserve is a Plan B and that's what Labor is working on. 

JOURNALIST: So you're happy for it to go ahead as long as it stacks up.

SHORTEN: That's a very big 'if', isn't it? And let's be clear, the banks don't seem to like it. It would appear they've had a number of deadlines. I just don't want people who are pinning their hopes on jobs here being let down. I mean we saw that with Clive Palmer and Queensland Nickle. I think it's important that both sides of politics work on blue collar jobs, engineering jobs, services jobs in regional Queensland rather than just hope that something might just pop out of the sky.


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