Bill Shorten won't provide evidence he's not British, warns of 'birther' politics and 'fake news'

Bill Shorten/ Getty Images.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has likened demands by the Liberal Party that he prove his citizenship to the birther campaign waged against former US president Barack Obama by Donald Trump and other conspiracy theorists.

Appearing on the ABC’s Q&A program Monday night, Mr Shorten said he would not be producing the documentary evidence he renounced his dual British citizenship in 2006, a year before being elected.

“When it comes to these debates and allegations and the media that any allegation becomes truth until you can disprove it, I’m not buying into it,” he said.

“Just because a Liberal makes an accusation doesn’t mean the rest of us have to start searching through the filing cabinets. We haven’t demanded any conservative or anyone else produce their documents.

They’ve referred themselves to the High Court. They know they’ve got a problem. We have an honour system.

“In America we’ve seen what happens when you have fake news. They keep making allegations after allegations. Barack Obama had to produce his birth certificate and then they said it was a fake. Some people are never going to be satisfied.”

Mr Shorten said the same applied to Malaysian-born Labor Senator Penny Wong who renounced her citizenship but is still subject the accusations she is a dual citizen.

“All of a sudden on the internet you start giving into accusations and every nut job is as credible as everyone else.”

Just over a week ago, the government said it was anyone making accusations about a breach of section 44 of the Constitution should produce the evidence and that the onus of proof should ot be on the accused.

But, with three off its own ministers now referred to the High Court, the government has backflipped. Attorney-General George Brandis and Cities Minister Angus Taylor have demanded in the past 24 hours Mr Shorten prove his bona fides.

Mr Shorten also played down concerns about legalised same-sex marriage eroding religious freedoms after a musician said he did not want to be forced legally to play at a same-sex wedding.

“The debate about bakers not baking cakes or others withdrawing services is highly exaggerated,” he said.

“I’m not saying it can never happen but I’ll start from the real world. If someone didn’t want to bake a cake at your wedding you probably wouldn’t ask them to. If someone doesn’t want to sing at your wedding you’re probably not going to ask them to.

“This survey is about one question. It’s not about religious freedom.”

Taken to task over Labor’s opposition to the government’s company tax cuts, Mr Shorten hinted Labor may relax its opposition to giving a tax cut to businesses with a turnover higher than $2 million.

He said Labor was in consultation with the small business lobby but stressed nothing had been decided and “I don’t want to get your hopes up”.

This contrasts with the speculation Labor may undo the tax cuts thus far passed by the Senate which is a 2.5 percentage point cut to those with turnovers capped at $50 million.

On the NBN, he promised “more fibre, less copper” but said it would be impossible to tear up the copper the Coalition government has used to connect homes to nodes in the street rather than use optical fibre.

“We can’t just simply rip it all out,” he said.

The Opposition leader struggled to explain his ongoing campaign against the government’s Medicare cuts when asked why the bulk-billing rate under the Turnbull government was higher than when Labor was in power.

“You can’t pick one number without understanding ‘Does that refer to hospitals, GP clinics offering Medicare, bulk billing?’ ” he said.

“The real issue is there’s billions of dollars that this Government says it hasn’t touched which are not going to patient so they have.”

This article was originally published by the Australian Financial Review. Read the original here, or follow the AFR on Facebook.

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