Question that offended Bill Shorten

 

It took Bill Shorten less than 10 minutes to label the Prime Minister and his government "a pack of liars".

But the Labor Leader was quickly on the receiving end of an unexpected low blow from a member of the Q&A studio audience.

"Mr Shorten, you've been Opposition Leader through Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison, but you have consistently lagged behind these men in preferred PM polls," audience member John said.

"Can you give a frank and candid answer as to why you have proved to be so unpopular with the Australian public?"

The question clearly took Mr Shorten, and the rest of the audience, by surprise.

 

John, who wasn’t messing around, took the Opposition Leader by surprise. Picture: ABC Q&A
John, who wasn’t messing around, took the Opposition Leader by surprise. Picture: ABC Q&A

"Good evening to you too, John. Thanks," Mr Shorten said, to laughter from the audience.

The question is very forward but it's one that has plagued the Opposition Leader. He offered an answer but he never really addressed it.

"Let's face it, this country needs change," he said.

"They said when I was the Opposition Leader against Abbott that he was unbeatable. I remember the headlines.

"Tony Abbott was going to be there for three terms. I outlasted him. And Malcolm Turnbull … he's probably watching this from New York, isn't he?

"Australians are over the disunity. And whatever you think about the individual numbers, the best test to be PM in this country is to be an Opposition leader. And I wouldn't swap any of the last 2,032 days and the unkind headlines and all the rest that the Government has thrown at me."

'WHAT A PACK OF LIARS THEY ARE'

Mr Shorten claimed the Morrison Government has been playing voters for fools when it comes to their taxes.

He used the example of the income tax refund, which Labor plans to remove if elected.

Mr Shorten said Mr Morrison has positioned the policy as a "tax" when he knows that it's not a tax.

"In Australia at the moment, we give some people an income tax refund even though they haven't paid income tax," he said.

"This is a subsidy. It's a gift. When John Howard introduced it in 2001 it was costing the Budget half a billion dollars a year. Now it's costing nearly $6 billion a year.

"But where the Government is lying to people is they say if we stop giving you this that somehow that's a tax.

"We're not taxing that, we're just not giving you a gift. It's a very nice gift but at the end of the day this nation has to make a choice about what it can spend money on. When the Government says it's a retiree tax, what a pack of liars they are. It is not a new tax to take away a subsidy going to someone."

 

Bill Shorten repeatedly referenced Mr Morrison’s refusal to appear on the show. Picture: ABC Q&A
Bill Shorten repeatedly referenced Mr Morrison’s refusal to appear on the show. Picture: ABC Q&A

Mr Shorten followed the attack on the Prime Minister with a dig about his refusal to appear on the program.

Introducing the show, host Tony Jones told the audience he had invited Mr Morrison but the PM's office said he was unavailable.

"Where the bloody hell are you?" Jones asked.

When Mr Morrison wasn't taking shots at his opponent, he was answering questions about Australia's foreign policy challenges, including how to deal with US President Donald Trump.

A member of the audience asked Mr Shorten if he regrets calling the US President "barking mad".

"We all know that our relationship with the US is an incredibly important one. In 2016 you said Mr Trump was incredibly unsuitable to be leader of the free world.

"Is that still your view towards Mr Trump and how do you suppose you would further the relationship with Mr Trump (having said) that he was, "Barking mad."

Mr Shorten said it was "a very good question" but that he's had practice as Opposition Leader dealing with difficult politicians.

"Professionally and politely," he said.

"I'll always put Australia's interests first. The American alliance is important for our security and we have a lot of shared values.

"Whatever the American democratic system elects, we'll work with them. And that's how I've always been. When I was a union rep I could work professionally with the employers. In the Parliament I try and work as professionally as I can with the Liberals, even when they change leaders.

"And with Mr Trump and with Xi Jinping and Theresa May and Mr Macron and Mr Trudeau and all the other leaders, and my friend Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, I'll be professional.

"But what I'll also do is never compromise our national interests. My foreign policy will be independently minded and it will speak with an Australian accent."

'IT'S A NATIONAL DISASTER'

On the subject of indigenous youth suicide, Mr Shorten happily accepted the premise put to him by the Q&A host that it was a "national emergency".

After a question from the audience about the issue, Jones asked Mr Shorten to "start by claiming that this is a national emergency".

He said "no-one has done that".

"No-one has put this on that level and committed all Government resources necessary to do something about it," Jones said.

"I think that's fair language," Mr Shorten said.

"I think it's a national disaster. National emergency. I think to be fair to a lot of people before me, people have tried to work at it. I don't claim any special status in saying what I just said.

"If any Australian is doing badly, that affects us. Sometimes we judge ourselves by how many billionaires we have on the Forbes Rich List. I have a view we should judge ourselves by if we have great disadvantage - some of the Conservatives say it's virtue signalling and they're cynical about it.

"We should be really proud of the fact we share the continent with our First Australians who got 60,000 years plus of continuous connection to country.

Continue the conversation on Twitter: @ro_smith | rohan.smith1@news.com.au