KRISTINA KENEALLY, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BENNELONG: It is terrific to be here, we are at Epping pre-poll today here in Bennelong, Im thrilled to be joined by my good friend, the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, have his support here today. We are here today, as we have been doing throughout this campaign, we are talking about how we can make Bennelong better, how we can improve things here in Bennelong. Thats what Im fighting for every single day in this campaign and Im here today to make a pledge. To make a pledge to the people of Bennelong, to make a pledge that I will stand up and support better services for them, when it comes to schools, to reverse the cuts to education that the Liberals have put in place, $11 million dollars here in Bennelong this year alone. I am pledging that we will not, if we form Government and I will certainly never support cuts to our education system.
When it comes to overdevelopment, part of the reason our schools are so crowded is that the Liberal Government here in New South Wales has approved 13,000 dwellings in their priority precincts, the urban activation precincts here in Bennelong. Well Im going to pledge to fight and stand up against that overdevelopment. When it comes to Medicare, it is important that we lift the Medicare rebate freeze immediately. We need to see a Medicare system that supports people to see a doctor when they need to. Theres 6,700 people in Bennelong who skip going to a GP because they cant afford it and that simply is not good enough. So I am pledging to move a motion if Im elected to lift the Medicare rebate freeze.
When it comes to the NBN we need an NBN that works, right now we are getting a second rate NBN in Bennelong thats coming from a third rate Government. Frankly, we need an NBN that works and I will be fighting for that.
These are important issues to the people of Bennelong and I am happy to write my name in ink on a pledge to the people of Bennelong. These are the things I will stand up for. Now this is an election but I'm offering a moment of bipartisanship, an invitation to John Alexander to join me in signing this pledge; to stand up for local schools, to stand up for our local hospitals, to stand up for our local people who need to see a doctor, to stand up and fight for a better NBN and to stand up against the Liberal Party's overdevelopment in this community.
This is an opportunity for both of us to put down in writing what we're going to do for the people of Bennelong if we're elected this Saturday. I'm happy to sign that pledge. I invite John Alexander to do the same. I'm going to do mine right now. Who's got the pen? People, we've come without the pen. There it is.
JOURNALIST: You need a pen?
KENEALLY: Yeah, we do.
JOURNALIST: I don't know if I should be helping.
KENEALLY: Thats alright, she's got the pen back there. It didn't make it up here. There you go. Fantastic.All right, that's signed. It's sealed. Now we have to see if John Alexander will do the same. I reckon we can get him a pen too.
I'm here with Chris Bowen, he is of course the Shadow Treasurer and he is going say a few words. I think there's some concerning news that will interest the people of Bennelong when it comes to university cuts and the Liberals aren't coming clean before the by-election, are they Chris?
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER That's right Kristina. It is great to join Kristina on the home stretch of this by-election campaign. She's fought an outstanding campaign, against the odds, and it has been our pleasure to campaign with her as we will do up to and including on Saturday, standing with her on Saturday asking for the support of the people of Bennelong. What a fighter she's been in this election campaign and what a fighter she would be if she is the Member for Bennelong after Saturday.
Now of course the by-election is on Saturday and the Government's mid-year economic update will be on Monday. How convenient. How convenient that the Government has timed their midyear economic update to come after the Bennelong by-election by a couple of days and we know now why. Because this Government is going to include, in the midyear update, university cuts. The Liberals have tried to cut university funding since 2014. Labor and other parties have worked together in the Senate and the Parliament to block those cuts.
Mr Turnbull, Mr Birmingham and Mr Morrison think they've come up with a very clever, very tricky way of imposing those cuts without the approval of Parliament and we know they will be included in the Government's midyear update. It's very simple, Mr Turnbull should come clean with the people of Bennelong today and Mr Alexander. How much will the universities be cut on Monday? And how much will Macquarie University be cut on Monday? Macquarie which is such an important part of the Bennelong community, such an employer as Kristina well knows, such an educator of young people of this area for many years. Now John Alexander and Scott Morrison were boasting earlier in the campaign said they are going to provide a bus stop and they are going to provide I think $400,000 for an app to count cars to Macquarie University. That's nice. How much will you cut, Mr Turnbull to Macquarie University on Monday? How much will you cut Mr Alexander? If John Alexander can't look the people of Bennelong in the eye today and tell them how much they will cut Macquarie University, cuts that he must, by definition support as a member of the Government, the people are entitled to say "Sorry Mr Alexander, we thank you for your service, we won't be voting for you on Saturday because you no longer stand up for us. Kristina Keneally stands up for us. That is what the people of Bennelong are entitled to say. Thank you Mr Alexander for your service but it is time for a fresh approach. It is time for a strong voice, a voice dedicated to the people of Bennelong and ensuring they don't suffer the cuts which Mr Abbott, Mr Hockey, Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison have been now for four years trying to inflict on the people of Australia and on Monday they will do it again. They don't have the guts, they dont have the courage to come to the people of Bennelong and announce it before Monday. That tells you they have got a lot to hide. Kristina and I will be happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Kristina Keneally, the latest polling shows that you are behind around 53-47 per cent [inaudible]. Are you concerned [inaudible]?
KENEALLY: You know, I knew when I went in that this was going to be a tough fight. The history of this seat is that its been held by the Liberals for almost all of its existence. I knew that going in, I knew the numbers going in. You know what? Ive never shirked from a fight. We are the underdogs but we are fighting hard because this is a fight worth having. This is my local community, this is where I live. And frankly, I can see what these Liberal cuts are doing, theyre hurting families. What I am hearing on pre-poll is a lot of dissatisfaction with Malcolm Turnbull. Theres a lot of people who are really pleased to have their say. Im going to keep talking to people right up until the polls close. What we are asking the people of Bennelong to do is to send a loud and clear message: enough of these lousy cuts of Malcolm Turnbull, enough of this lousy Government.
So thats the fight were in. Its a fight that is worth having.
JOURNALIST: Some in the Liberal Party are saying that this will go down to preferences for the first time since 2007. It looks like the Australian Conservatives are polling at about 7 per cent. What would you say to people who are voting Australian Conservative? Why should they preference you?
KENEALLY: It doesnt surprise me that the Australian Conservatives are polling so well in contrast to the Liberal Party and thats because there is a lot dissatisfaction with Malcolm Turnbull, there is a lot of dissatisfaction on the conservative side. I can see that on the polling booths, theres a lot of former Liberal members who have now joined the Australian Conservatives and are handing out how to votes.
What I say to people and what I continue to say, no matter who they are, is the same thing, funnily enough, that the Australian Conservatives are saying, send a message to Canberra. I say to those who are voting Australian Conservatives is that if you want to send a very loud message, well the best way we do that, is that we change Bennelong, we change it. So I ask them to consider putting Labor as their second preference. I respect the fact that theyre participating in this democratic process so robustly and it does not surprise me that there are so many candidates in this by-election given the dissatisfaction with Malcolm Turnbull.
JOURNALIST: Ms Keneally, when Bill Shorten was Education Minister, he proposed $6.6 billion in cuts. Is it a bit rich that youre [inaudible]?
BOWEN: Well thats just not right with respect. When Bill Shorten was Education Minister, he was implementing the Gonski funding deal with the states. I recall because I was Treasurer at the time, so I recall it very well. So far from cutting education funding, the Gillard and Rudd Governments embarked on a program of significant increases in education funding, which the Liberals said they would match. Remember those signs at polling booths during the 2013 election? A unity ticket we were told. Your school would get exactly the same amount of funding whether you vote Labor or Liberal. That was a lie. That was a lie on behalf of the Liberals. Now we are committed to restoring education funding as we have previously announced. The Liberals are still imposing $17 billion worth of cuts over the next ten years. Were committed to restoring that. There is one party in this election which is committed to education funding and theres one candidate, and Im standing next to her.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, as Treasurer, in your 2013 Budget, you actually pledged to cut $2.3 billion in funding to universities under the Gonski reforms and now youre talking about the Government cutting funding.
BOWEN:Our commitment to university funding is crystal clear, and as I said in my opening remarks, we have stood, with other parties, and I give other parties credit, we've stood, the crossbench, the Greens, with the independents, and blocked university cuts imposed by this Government, consistently. We went to the last election with a very clear policy, we've been upfront with the Australian people about our plans.It's the Liberals who are seeking to hide their plans before Saturday. I mean that is just an indication of their lack of courage and their true intentions when it comes to university funding. We will debate university funding anywhere, anytime with the Liberals, because their record is appalling and our commitment is clear.
JOURNALIST:Mr Bowen, will you give Bennelong voters peace of mind by committing to reversing the small business tax cuts?
BOWEN:Well of course what we've said is that we have opposed the Government's big business corporate tax cuts which are a $65 billion hit on the Budget. For those that have already been legislated we will take the appropriate course of action and see the Budget update, and see the state of the Budget and we will have more to say about the policy we will take to the next election. But the Liberals can't even tell you what they're going to do on Monday! I mean we're not talking about what they'll take to the next election, the next Federal election, whenever that is. We're talking about what they will do 48 hours after the people of Bennelong vote. So we'll take no lectures from them when they aren't prepared to be upfront.They have a plan, it's all no doubt, been printed. It's been to the printer, I know how mid-year economic updates work. It's already been to the printer, it's already been printed. Mr Morrison and the Finance Minister can come out today, and the mid-year economic update is at the timing that is chosen by the Treasurer and the Finance Minister. There's no legislation which says that it must be done on Monday. It can be done today, it can be done tomorrow. They choose not to.
JOURNALIST:You were a vocal supporter of Sam Dastyari and you defended him repeatedly over the last couple of weeks. The polling also showed that 28 per cent of people in this seat are less likely to vote for Kristina Keneally because of Sam Dastyari. Do you now regret standing by him?
BOWEN:I've pointed out that Sam Dastyari was a loyal Australian, and he is a loyal Australian, as he has said and has been repeated. He's paid a very significant price for his mistakes. Very significant, his political career is over. I ask you to show me another senior politician who has paid a price for their mistakes with their career ending. It's quite common to resign from the frontbench or resign your position. That's what Stuart Robert did, for example. He stayed on the backbench. We didn't call for him to leave the Parliament. He resigned his position in the ministry and went to the backbench. We thought that was appropriate. Now Sam Dastyari has paid a very significant, much higher price than that. We've got Michaelia Cash, who is sitting in the Cabinet today, who trashed the Westminster tradition, and misled the Parliament. She's sitting in the Cabinet, drawing a Cabinet minister's salary, and more importantly, making the decisions of a Cabinet minister. She sat there, five times misled the Parliament of Australia, and Malcolm Turnbull says "That's ok, she can stay."
Well Sam Dastyari hasn't done that.Bill Shorten hasn't done that.Sam Dastyari has paid a very significant price. Now the people of Bennelong will vote on all sorts of issues, they'll vote on their assessment of the commitment of the candidates to important services, they'll vote on matters that are important to them, and we'll know the result on Saturday and Kristina's right, she came into this campaign as the underdog, she finishes this campaign the underdog. She has fought with enormous energy and I look forward to seeing that energy exhibited in our caucus with the support of the people of Bennelong if they choose to give Kristina that support from Monday onwards.
JOURNALIST: Ms Keneally doesn't that leave you in a, if you are elected on Saturday, does it not leave you in a difficult position considering your constituency is best part of 20 per cent Chinese?If they've got interests in mainland China, interests with the Communist Party, does it not make it difficult for you when you're trying to represent that constituency?
KENEALLY:The first thing that I'd like to say is that one of the best things about living in Bennelong is that it is so multicultural, so diverse.I mean this is the area where I work, it's the area where I shop, it's where I go to the gym, I mean for goodness sakes, it's fantastic to see the diversity of this community.It's vibrant.People come here, they share their intellect, they share their enterprise, they share their families, they share their culture.And that just makes it a great place.Can I though also observe that one of the things that has alarmed the local Chinese community in Bennelong is the Prime Minister's rhetoric. And we are seeing that reflected, I am hearing it reflected back when I talk to the people, when I'm talking to them on the phone or on their doorsteps or indeed at pre-poll. They're coming to me and sharing their concerns.Community leaders have been calling me and texting me, telling me how concerned they are about what Malcolm Turnbull is saying.The China-phobia that he is spreading, the suggestions that he is putting out there, that people of Chinese background who live in Australia are somehow suspicious. I mean this is not conducive to a harmonious Australia. And frankly the fact that Malcolm Turnbull has decided to score political points in the Bennelong by-election, to put at risk the good harmony that exists here in Bennelong, to put at risk our economic trading relationships with China, to put at risk the important flow of students who come to our universities, I mean at a time when Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are keeping secret their plans to cut university funding, Malcolm Turnbull is also jeopardising an important service, an important export product that we have, that is Chinese students coming to Australia, to take up our university system. I mean it is extraordinary to me that to score political points in a by-election, the Prime Minister who feels the fear in his heart that his Governments existence is at stake, has decided to embark on a China-phobia campaign that is really frustrating the local Chinese community and is putting at risk our important economic relationship with China.
JOURNALIST: Of those community leaders, are any of them Huang Xiangmo?
KENEALLY: I cannot even recall having met that individual.
JOURNALIST: Ms Keneally, on that topic (inaudible) has been doing the rounds on social media urging Chinese Australians to take down the Liberal Party. What does that mean for your campaign?
KENEALLY: I havent seen that.
JOURNALIST: You would have seen reporting around it though and its being circulated by a Sydney man called (inaudible) have you ever had any contact with him or do you know him?
JOURNALIST: Kristina Keneally today is the final day of hearings for the Royal Commission (inaudible). There have been reports that while you were Premier (inaudible). Do you stand by (inaudible).
KENEALLY: Let me just make clear that that individual is employed by the Parliament not by the executive of the Government and she was in a dispute with the Parliament. I did respond to her and I did make that clear. Of course I have sympathy for her. I absolutely do. But let me also make clear when all of these crimes occurred I was on the back bench, and that Mr Orkopoulos is in gaol where he belongs.
JOURNALIST: On a separate issue, people campaigning for you have been accused of accosting children with election pamphlets as they walk into school. Is that appropriate behaviour?
KENEALLY: I havent seen those reports.
JOURNALIST: Theyve been on the front page of the Australian. Thereve also been reports on radio today on Ray Hadley that you were in a dementia ward and residential home handing out how to vote cards.
KENEALLY: Actually Ive visited a few aged care services. Ive met with the workers, signed a pledge to support them, and Ive met with residents in an aged care facility. Because you know what, I believe that all of our senior citizens have the right to participate in a democratic process. The places Ive visited were actually declared polling places. They are places that the Australian Electoral Commission was actually going to conduct the election, and yes I did go and speak to voters there.
JOURNALIST: Did you hand out how to vote cards to dementia patients?
KENEALLY: No I have not done that. In fact I met people who were voting that day at the election conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen are you going to reverse small and medium business tax cuts?
BOWEN: I think I just answered that question, just before, earlier in the press conference.
JOURNALIST: Will you raise personal taxes?
BOWEN: The person who is proposing to raise personal taxes is Mr Turnbull on every Australian who earns more than $21,000 a year by increasing the Medicare levy. Theres one party which is proposing a personal income tax rise. If true to his word he will go to the next election proposing personal income tax rises for every Australian earning between $21,000 and $87,000 a year. A personal income tax rise that the Labor Party opposes and will continue to oppose. So Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison might like to go around talking about personal income tax cuts, these are amorphous non-existent personal income tax cuts which they say might happen one day. They have legislation before the Parliament, opposed by us to increase personal income tax. They are the ones, to answer your question, who will go to the next election proposing income tax increases, not us.
JOURNALIST: So if you are Treasurer in the next Government you will pledge not to?
BOWEN: Well we have already outlined our plans for the deficit levy and the top marginal tax rate, and Mr Turnbull has outlined his plans to increase personal income tax for every Australian earning more than $21,000 which is not a high salary. I would expect both parties to go to the next election with those policies and the Australian people will decide upon them. Ours is not to increase personal income tax for Australian earning between $21,000 and $87,000. Mr Turnbull, Mr Morrison and Mr Alexanders policy is to increase personal income tax for Australians earning more than $21,000. Lay out the tax plan, theyve already been outlined by both parties, in fairness, well before the next Federal election, well before the by-election. People can decide on those plans. We will go to the next election proposing lower personal income tax than the Government for Australians earning between $21,000 and $87,000. I look forward to that debate.
JOURNALIST: Ms Keneally, coming up to the end of the campaign, its been very intense and tiring for a lot of voters. What do you say to them coming up to Saturday (inaudible)?
KENEALLY: Look, what I do observe in this by-election is that people are keen to have their say. Often in by-elections people are frustrated that a member has resigned and they have to go to the polls so soon after theyve just been to them. I understand that. But that hasnt really been the case in this by-election. I appreciate though, that it has been long, it has been a hard-fought and it has been extraordinary to see the lengths at which these Liberals will go to retain this seat. The lies, the smears, the attacks. Its almost over. I say to the people of Bennelong, Im willing to shoulder it because its a fight worth having. It doesnt really scare me whatsoever. And Im willing to take it on because Im willing to stand up and fight for people in Bennelong. So come Saturday we will all have a chance to have our say, and voters will be able to come and cast their verdict on the Turnbull Government. And as I said, this is going to be a tough ask for Labor, and I knew that going in. But Im going to continue to fight for it because its my local area and like everyone who lives here, we want to see a lot better for Bennelong.
JOURNALIST: Ms Keneally, is the Chinese Government trying to influence the Bennelong campaign?
KENEALLY: I see no evidence of that.