FRIDAY, 10 AUGUST 2018
SUBJECT/S: Labor's plan to upgrade Emerald Hospital’s emergency department; Labor's plan for drought relief; NEG; Emma Husar.
ZAC BEERS, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR FLYNN: It's great to be here today in Emerald with Bill Shorten and Joel Fitzgibbon, along with Senator Chris Ketter, having a look at the Emerald Hospital here today. We've had a good discussion about some of the issues in relation to services here, and that's why we are proud to stand here today and make our commitment for a $4.8 million upgrade to the Emerald Emergency Department. Unlike the Turnbull Government, we're focusing on investing in services, investing in health. We know that these services are critical to communities like Emerald and regions like the Central Highlands, to make sure that they have got a future in front of them. That's why rather than give money to the big banks, we're focused on investing in health because we know that these services are critical to the Emerald community. I'll hand to Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks, Zac. And that was Zac Beers, Labor's candidate for electorate of Flynn, he’s running again and doing a great job advocating for the real issues in this electorate.
I am pleased to be here with Joel Fitzgibbon and Senator Chris Ketter. This is day two of us visiting drought-affected parts of Western Queensland, but along with the drought, a number one issue for Labor is always quality health care in communities for every day Aussies.
That is why I'm pleased to announce that Labor will be able to provide, upon election, $4.8 million which will upgrade the overworked Emergency Department at Emerald Hospital. We got a chance to have a brief glimpse at the great work that the doctors and nurses and other staff provide here at Emerald. But gee, isn't it important that you've got quality health care in one’s own community, rather than having to travel for hours and hours to get the sort of health care which people in the big cities take for granted.
The Emerald Hospital does a great job, but what it needs is, it needs a government in Canberra backing up the hard work of the staff at this hospital and the legitimate expectations of the community to receive timely and quality care for urgent conditions. When you have a look at the Emergency Department, you realise that it's a bit tired and it can be bursting at the seams. What our extra funding is going to be able to do is provide new space, more privacy, extra equipment, capital works. This is how we make sure that people living in Emerald get the same sort of care that people expect in other parts of Australia.
Health might not be the only issue in Australia, but there's no issue any more important. And I want to make sure that an Australian Government can keep a promise to the Australian people, that it's your Medicare card not your credit card that determines the level of health, no matter where you live in Australia.
Now, wrapping up our drought tour, we've seen how difficult people are doing it. We will carry the message from Western Queensland, and indeed, when we visit New South Wales - from New South Wales drought-affected areas, that the rest of Australia understands where our food comes from. We couldn't have the quality of life that we enjoy in the cities without the hard work of the farmers, the contractors in the small towns who service our food and fiber community to agricultural industries.
And now I'm pleased to say that our shadow spokesperson for agricultural matters, Joel Fitzgibbon is going to make a further announcement which shows that Labor is in touch with what people really need.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Thanks Bill and it is great to join Zac Beers and Senator Chris Ketter. We have been touring Central West Queensland and the Central Highlands today and we came here knowing how bad the drought is, and how much it is impacting upon farming families and rural communities, and that has only been reinforced for us over the last couple of days.
Government has a real role to play in helping farmers better defend against drought, and work their way through drought to remain sustainably profitable in times of dry spells. But we also need to give them immediate help. Cash on the kitchen table to get them through what is a very, very tough time. Now, we've been telling the Turnbull Government for four years now that the Farm Household Allowance system is broken. It's not helping farmers, it's too complex, the hurdles are too high. Now, today we're announcing that we will establish 100 additional Centrelink officers, community response officers, specifically trained in drought response. Officers who are trained to understand the specific needs of drought-affected families and who know how to fix their problems, to take them through the rules, the complexities and the difficulties of the paperwork.
We would also establish new mobile offices, taking the assistance to the farming families. We all know that farmers are busier than ever before dealing with drought. They don't always have easy access to a Centrelink office or indeed, telephonic services. So we need to get people out on the ground where farmers are hurting most. That's what we're announcing we will do if we have the opportunity to form a Shorten Labor Government.
SHORTEN: Thanks Joel. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Just given the report from the New South Wales Labor Party into Emma Husar, should she be allowed to stay in the party? Should she resign from parliament?
SHORTEN: First of all, the Member for Lindsay has made the difficult decision to not re-contest and not seek to be the Labor candidate -
JOURNALIST: But before the next election?
SHORTEN: I'll just answer your question. It goes to the Member for Lindsay and her future. Emma Husar, the Member for Lindsay has made the difficult decision to basically give up any prospect of a future parliamentary career. She's put her family first, she's also put the party first. There have been some complaints, the ALP in New South Wales has followed their established protocols to investigate the matter. I understand that will be released in the very near future. In terms of what she's done and what she hasn't done, she will get a chance to read the report and people are going to learn the lessons. Everyone needs to be treated with respect out of this process and there is little more I can add.
JOURNALIST: Will that report be released publicly?
SHORTEN: That hasn't been the precedent in the past, and I have to say - by NSW Labor, but I also note that the Government doesn't seem to have released any report about Barnaby Joyce, have they?
FITZGIBBON: Nor the Coalition agreement, Bill.
SHORTEN: Let's be clear here. There's been complaints, there has been a process that's reaching some of its conclusion and the Member of Parliament has said that she's no longer going to seek a career in parliamentary life. But beyond that, I notice that the Government seems to obsess about Labor. I have got to say to the Prime Minister, do your day job mate. NSW Labor's done their investigation. But in the meantime, I've just been touring Western Queensland where there's drought. I think he needs to explain how he can find $444 million to give to some top end of town mates running a charity to look after the Barrier Reef, when they didn't even ask for the money. I've been out meeting farmers. They're not asking for money, but they don't want to be forgotten, and I think there is more we can do to help our farmers who are affected by drought, than Mr Turnbull just handing out hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to an organisation who didn't even ask for the money.
JOURNALIST: How can Labor keep its report secret when several complainants have been publicly named and their allegations aired?
SHORTEN: NSW Labor is the ultimate custodian of this report, not me. But when you have complaints about human resource matters and people give their evidence confidentially, I think that has to be respected.
JOURNALIST: Just on the drought, this area isn't currently drought declared. The Gregory MP is pushing to get that drought declared so they can receive the State and Federal funding he says they need and deserve. What do you think about that? You've seen the state of the place today.
SHORTEN: We don't want to interfere with set processes, but there's no doubt when you go and visit the dam and you see the low water levels, this region's struggling. But I also think beyond drought declaration, what we've got to start doing is invest in the infrastructure. We were very fortunate to meet Justin who is investing, and his principles who are investing significantly in macadamia farming, for instance. There are good initiatives out here, it is not all doom and gloom. What we need is a government who is willing to back in, not just with small things but long term propositions. I think the more we can do in irrigation and water infrastructure, the more we can help develop the work force – that’s a long term proposition. In terms of drought declaration, I'm happy for that to go through the necessary procedures. But anyone who comes and sees the dam, they can see the low levels, that is an issue, isn't it.
JOURNALIST: Also on the drought -
SHORTEN: Sorry, I'll go to you and then come back to you.
JOURNALIST: Also on the drought, so the Fairbarn Dam is down to 20 per cent now, which is giving irrigators an allocation of six per cent this year. Do you think there should be more dams built throughout the Fitzroy region, to help those?
SHORTEN: I think what we need to do is get more efficiency out of our irrigation channels. There's 100km plus of irrigation channels. What we need to do is make sure we're not losing water needlessly. I think that's probably the most sensible and sustainable option in the medium term. Let's find some money. I mean if Mr Turnbull can find $450 million to give to an organisation who didn't know they were going to get it - this organisation's actually called it like winning the lotto, except they didn't even buy a ticket. Maybe Mr Turnbull could free up some of that money to invest in irrigation proofing this region.
And to go beyond that point, I think that this Government, the LNP in Canberra, need to get their priorities right. As you travel around Western Queensland, what matters here is good quality health care, looking after the farmers in the small towns who are hit by drought. We don't need to be giving $17 billion to the big banks, we don't need to give hundreds of millions of dollars away, in what is basically a very suspicious transaction with a little known charity which is now going to have massive amounts of money. So yes, we're up for looking to do irrigation propositions, and Zac Beers has been very active. I have to congratulate the regional council here, they've got some good economic propositions to diversify the economy. We just want to be practical. We're not interested in the politics of it all.
Sorry, you were next.
JOURNALIST: How much are you budgeting per year for these 100 Centrelink workers? How much are you expecting their salary to be?
SHORTEN: This is part of a broader commitment of 1,200 positions. We've budgeted for this over the forward estimates. In terms of the specific budget numbers, we're happy to provide them to you. The reason why we can do this is we're not giving away tens of billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts. I think most Australians are staggered to realise that Malcolm Turnbull has a plan to give the Commonwealth Bank $12 billion in tax reductions, $12 billion for the Commonwealth Bank. I'd love to hear what some of the farmers who've been done over by the banks think about Mr Turnbull's plan to make banks richer.
So the reason why we can talk about providing drought relief officers, the reason why we can talk about a modest $4.8 million to upgrade the emergency ward at the Emerald Hospital, is because our priorities are the priorities of everyday Australians. I don't think pensioners and farmers seeking to get modest support should be made to feel like second class citizens, kept on the phone for hours and hour, I mean, they're already doing it tough. So we would rather find a few full time jobs, put some capital works into the local hospital, start looking at getting greater efficiency out here in irrigation channels, than giving tens of billion of dollars away to multinationals and to large banks.
JOURNALIST: Just a question out of Canberra. Do you believe the National Energy Guarantee is necessary to ensure the stability and reliability of the electricity system?
SHORTEN: Well we need an energy policy to ensure we have investment in our energy system. The single greatest driver of price increases in the energy system in Australia, has been a lack of policy certainty. Let's face it, the Coalition Government has been in for five years now, and ask any Australian if they think their power prices have gone up or down under the Coalition Government. Everyone will say it's gone up.
Now today Mr Turnbull, they've had a meeting with the states, I'm worried that this is more hot air than lower prices. It's the entree really to the main meal which is next week, where the Coalition MPs have got to work out are they for or against renewable energy. It's D-Day for renewable energy in this country. Renewable energy, if we have greater investment in renewable energy, it'll lead to lower prices. Next Tuesday is D-Day for the Prime Minister. Is he on the side of lower prices, or does he just want to pander to his LNP backbench who don't want to have more renewable energy in the system.
JOURNALIST: Just to be clear, do you support the guarantee?
SHORTEN: We support a guarantee that delivers more renewable energy and a guarantee that doesn’t deliver more renewable energy means higher prices. So really, the NEG is a means to an end. What I'm interested in isn't what Mr Turnbull calls his policy, it's about whether or not Aussie families, Aussie small businesses, Aussie farmers pay more or less for energy. The fact of the matter is, the science is in, the future is clear, if we have more renewable energy, power prices go down. If we have less renewable energy, power prices go up. So what Mr Turnbull calls whatever deal he has cooked up doesn't worry me, I just want to look at the facts, I want to look at the detail. The detail is that if it has more renewable energy, Labor likes it, if it has less renewable energy then Labor is not for it.
JOURNALIST: Just back to my earlier question, so this money that is being put aside for these workers, don't you think that the farmers would prefer for millions of dollars’ worth of pay rather than having access to Centrelink workers they can contact over the phone or online?
SHORTEN: It's not an either/or. We proposed yesterday that in fact household payments of $12,000 should be made immediately if farmers want it. We also want to see that we have a long term policy where agriculture is future proofed against climate change. But, there's a number of parts to this and I'll get Joel to supplement in a moment. But put simply, if you're someone trying to access a payment, you don't want to be treated as an idiot, as a second class citizen and almost discouraged from claiming what is rightfully yours, because there's not someone at the end of the phone, there's not someone who understands what you're doing. So they're all parts of the same puzzle. But let me be very clear, we want to see household payments to farmers not constrained as the Government does, $6,000 this year and $6,000 next year. If the farmers need it now I want them to have it now. And what I'd also say is that if Mr Turnbull thinks it's a good idea to give away $450 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, an organisation that has never handled anything like that amount of money, who never asked for this amount of money, I'd rather use some of that money to help household payments for farmers. And not just farmers, the small businesses in country towns and a lot of the contractors who are hard hit. So Labor has got a plan for the whole picture but I might hand over to Joel.
FITZGIBBON: When every family is facing a different situation then giving them easier and successful access to Farm Household Allowance and the supplementary payment is the critical thing for many. For others, the critical thing is getting feed and for many it is both. So it can't be either, it's got to be both, and Malcolm Turnbull said when he announced the $12,000 that it was for body and soul. And after a while trying to interpret that, we worked out what he was saying is that it's for food on the table of farmers, not to be used for feed for livestock. We think that's wrong, we think every situation is different. If a farming family wants to draw on the $12,000 immediately because they have those immediate needs, they should be able to do so. If they want to take $2,000 every month for six months they should be able to do that as well. It should be about their individual needs and what we're announcing today helps them. We can't change the legislation nor the rules around Farm Household Allowance in Opposition, but we can say that in government we will make it easier in a number of ways including ensuring that they have real help getting through the complexities of that paperwork.
SHORTEN: Perhaps one last question.
JOURNALIST: How do you compare these complaints against Emma Husar, how does that compare to the Barnaby Joyce claims that he sexually harassed Catherine Marriott?
SHORTEN: It's not about the circumstances, it's about Mr Turnbull demanding a standard of transparency he hasn’t set for himself. Let's face it, this is an inquiry by NSW Labor, these are difficult matters. We want to see everyone treated respectfully. I respect the process. There's no commitment at the start of the process to the complainants that everything would be just revealed. So I'm going to respect the process, I'm going to respect the participants and beyond that, let’s face it. Malcolm Turnbull goes into next week with a scandal over giving $450 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation with no paperwork. He goes into Parliament next week having to confront the knuckle draggers of the right wing of the LNP who have a bias against renewable energy. And even more importantly than those immediate debates, we've got drought through much of Australia, we've got power prices going up, in fact, we've got everything going up in Australia except wages, and we've got a health system which has not been properly funded. These are the things that matter, and I just want to commit to Australians that I know the Parliament resumes and I know people get turned off by a lot of the he said, she said you know, Punch and Judy show of politics. This drought tour has reminded me that real Australians are suffering and doing it hard, and we in Canberra need to get our head out of the clouds and focus on the needs of everyday Aussies, get their wages going, get their power prices down and make sure they can afford to see a doctor and do something about the drought. Last question.
JOURNALIST: Ms Husar has been on personal leave, would you recommend to her that she extend that personal leave for a couple of weeks so she doesn't have to get back into the glare of Parliament House? And will you be talking to the NSW Branch of your party to fast-track getting a new candidate out in the field in Lindsay?
SHORTEN: First of all, when it comes to Ms Husar or indeed other people, we do think they need to take time to take stock. And if there are people involved in the process that feel they need a bit of personal leave, they should take it. When Barnaby Joyce, and I'm not comparing each of the individual matters behind the reason for taking the leave, but when he sought to take some leave, Labor said enough politics there are real people here feeling the pressure, if they need to take leave they should. That's a general piece of advice I'd give beyond that. In terms of the pre-selection of a new candidate, I'm sure that NSW Labor will proceed to address that matter in the near future. Thank you, everybody.
JOURNALIST: Will there be a new candidate in the seat of Lindsay?
SHORTEN: We'll be running a candidate in every seat unlike the Liberals.