WEDNESDAY, 21 SEPTEMBER 2016
SUBJECTS: Australian steel manufacturing jobs; Malcolm Turnbull $200 million plebiscite; Prime Minister’s reheat of Tony Abbott’s policies
PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning everybody, it's great to be here at OneSteel. Can I first thank Tom and all of his staff for hosting us here today. Welcome Bill again to South Australia and back to OneSteel.
One of the things we talked about a lot in the last election was the importance of local jobs. We spoke about the importance of Arrium, we spoke about the importance of the steel industry to local jobs here in South Australia, and we put forward a very clear policy which demonstrated Labor's support for good jobs, Labor's support for local jobs, decent jobs that enabled people to support their families and make a life for themselves here in South Australia.
Well, unfortunately, since the election, we've seen Malcolm Turnbull still hasn't stepped up to the plate to protect and look after South Australian jobs and South Australian families. We are not going to give up the fight, we are going to keep pressing to support the workers like those we saw today.
So I am very grateful to Bill for coming again to South Australia, for coming again to Adelaide and for stepping up again to demonstrate his support for local jobs here in South Australia. Over to you, Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Penny. Great to be here in Adelaide with Senator Penny Wong, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and a fierce champion of standing up for South Australian jobs. I am here today because I am asking Mr Turnbull, please don't spend $200 million on a wasteful plebiscite, spend $50 million saving thousands of jobs.
Arrium and OneSteel are a major company who have got themselves into financial difficulties, not through the fault of the workforce. The steel industry in Australia is highly strategic to keep cost pressure on building and infrastructure, and of course it's very important for our economic independence. There are 7,000 people who are directly employed by Arrium right across Australia but in particular, in Whyalla and South Australia. Labor is committed to a proposal which would see this company given a $50 million one-off grant funding to help update their technology. The steel business doesn't stand still for anyone and what it needs is a little bit of extra investment to help make it a more attractive proposition for the whole Australian business of Arrium to be sold as a going concern. The leaders of this company, the workforce, their union representatives have explained to me and my team that for a little bit of grant funding this business has a got a very bright future.
Our steelmakers are amongst the best in the world but what they need is a government who is willing to back them up. It isn't good enough, that whilst Mr Turnbull struts the world stage, whilst he talks about spending $200 million on a wasteful plebiscite on marriage equality, he can't guarantee $50 million to help save local jobs.
For Labor, the equation is clear. You can either spend $200 million on a wasteful marriage plebiscite or you can spend $50 million saving local jobs. I think the answer is clear to that. And I say to Mr Turnbull, let's back jobs, jobs, jobs; jobs in South Australia, jobs in steel, jobs right across Australia.
We are happy to take any questions that people might have.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on the plebiscite, there was an event to occur in Sydney yesterday. The Accor Hotel – but it had to be called off because of pro-same-sex marriage campaigners making it very difficult for the ‘no’ campaigners to meet. Why have you not condemned the behaviour of these people?
SHORTEN: First of all, you are the first person to put this matter to me. Let me just state, I don't know all of the facts of this matter but I am sick of intolerance wherever we find it. If people want to gather to talk about an idea, they shouldn't be stopped from gathering. I've got a 30 year track record of supporting freedom of association and the ability of people to come together.
But let's also call it for what it is. This marriage equality plebiscite is a shocking waste of money. It'll be north of $200 million just to hold an opinion poll which won't bind Government MPs. I do not believe that emotional torment for young people is a price worth paying just so Mr Turnbull can keep his puppet masters in the hard right of the Liberal Party happy. I think Mr Turnbull needs to realise that the last election in some ways was a verdict about courage and leadership. I recognise that nearly a third of Australian voters picked a party other than Liberal or Labor. I've got the message loud and clear. This country wants strong leadership. Mr Turnbull is not leading the Liberal Party, he is following the Liberal Party. Every Australian knows that if Mr Turnbull was really in charge of his party, he'd be having a vote in Parliament.
Labor's compromise for Mr Turnbull on marriage equality is perfectly simple: just let all the Members of Parliament have a free vote in Parliament when we next assemble. That'll save us $200 million, some money which could go towards saving the jobs at Arrium, and we could avoid a lot of these other acrimonious debates which of course was at the core of your question to me.
JOURNALIST: Does Labor support the Government’s announcement to maintain (inaudible)?
SHORTEN: This is just a hoax. Malcolm Turnbull has flown to New York to re-announce Tony Abbott's policies. We said in 2014 that we supported this proposition, we still support it. But is this really the best that Malcolm Turnbull can do on the world stage? Reheat the leftovers of Tony Abbott's policy two years later in New York? Let's call it for what it is: this is just a hoax. Malcolm Turnbull has flown to New York to re-announce Tony Abbott's policies and they haven't dealt with the elephant in the room and we all know what that is, don't we? The fact is that we have nearly 2,000 people trapped in almost indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru. When will the Turnbull Government actually negotiate a regional resettlement arrangement with another nation so that we're not keeping people in indefinite detention?
Labor supports beating the people smugglers. We will work with the Government but what we don't believe is that to defeat the people smugglers you have to keep nearly 2,000 people in indefinite detention. Mr Turnbull needs to do more than just re-announce Tony Abbott's policies. He needs to come up with a deal for another country.
JOURNALIST: What other countries do you think might be appropriate or not appropriate for resettlement?
SHORTEN: First of all, Mr Turnbull needs to perhaps spell out 'has he had any discussions with the United States about the Costa Rica solution? I notice that one of his ministers has already galloped out this morning and said that's not on. But of course, I don't know what to make of this because frequently one Government Minister in Mr Turnbull's Cabinet doesn't know what the other one is doing. But Mr Turnbull needs to spell out is he having negotiations with Canada? Is he having discussions with New Zealand? Is he having discussions with the United States? Is he talking to leaders in our region? Has he sent his minister to talk to the United Nations’ High Commissioner for refugees. This Government stands indicted because on one hand it talks about stopping the people smugglers and we support that, but on the other hand, all he can do is fly to New York, re-announce poor old Tony Abbott's policies and pretend that somehow he's solved the problem and meanwhile there's 1,800 people stuck in indefinite detention.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you pledged $100 million to Arrium previously. What's changed that you only want $50 million now?
SHORTEN: There's $50 million we said should be used as a loan facility and I understand the Government is doing that too. The debate is about the remaining $50 million - that's how we get to $100 million. The Government’s happy to provide support to attract new bidders but it's remarkably vague about the detail. Now, we have sat down with the leaders of this company. Unlike Mr Turnbull, I have spent a lot of time visiting OneSteel, Arrium and the various steel operations. The message is coming to me loud and clear: 'Bill this is a business we can save' is a going concern. I don't want to see this business salami sliced between mining, between Whyalla and the downstream products. We need an integrated steel producer in Australia; Arrium and OneSteel have a great history of building the infrastructure this country needs. Right now, in the factory beside me, we've got a skilled Australian workforce, highly productive, delivering value for money steel to major infrastructure projects in South Australia.
I don't want to lose these jobs, I don't want to lose the ability of Australians and Australian governments to have some say over the prices of the steel which taxpayers pay for. The problem is, if you just follow the Liberal Government's hands off, leave to it the market approach, don't worry about the jobs, everyone can become a barista approach of Mr Turnbull or dotcom start-up. The problem is that if Australia does make steel here anymore, we lose pricing control. The day we close the last steel manufacturing facility in Australia, the day we will start to see our prices that we buy from imported steelmakers edge up and up and up. The fact is that we do good work in Australian manufacturing and I want to see a country which keeps making steel. Any serious economy in the world has a steel manufacturing industry, that is where we stand.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you think that the workforce here at Arrium (inaudible)
SHORTEN: This is a very efficient company. It may surprise you to learn that in a site of this size, with the massive tonnes of steel they're supplying, there's only 62 fulltime employees. This is a very efficient workforce. They don't understand, though, why Mr Turnbull will spend $200 million of their taxpayer money on a non-binding opinion poll on marriage equality and they just say to me 'why won't Mr Turnbull just get off the fence, commit $50 million in grant funding' so this company can improve the technology, it can improve the productivity, it can lower the input costs, it can have cheaper costing energy because of the changes this company makes. The steel workforce of OneSteel and Arrium are very efficient operators and they compare favourably in work practices to the best in the world.
JOURNALIST: Just on another issue what’s your view on the plan to cut welfare for parents whose children don’t go to school?
SHORTEN: We're always interested in investing in the welfare of our Australians. Parents now have an obligation to send their children to school. Whilst we will look at the Government's proposals carefully and constructively, I have got to remind the Government it's already compulsory to send kids to school. And I do think that if we want to invest in getting people off welfare we shouldn't be increasing the price of medicine, we shouldn't be making bulk-billing less affordable or less common, we should be properly funding our hospitals, we should have needs-based funding in our schools, we should be helping parents be able to access better child care.
So we're up for a discussion about how you break the cycle of poverty, but some of the ways in which you break the cycle of poverty don't involve going after the poorest in our community and cutting their funding already.
Perhaps I will take one last question.
SHORTEN: I say let's not blame a whole group of people for the criminal actions of a few people. We're an immigrant country, other than our First Australians we all came from somewhere else. We have got to make sure that people who come to our country respect our laws, respect our values, that we encourage them to integrate in language and all of that. But what I don't want to do is see this country scapegoating minorities for the challenges of the bigger issues.
I believe that most Australians, all Australians, want to make sure their kids get a good quality education, that they can afford to go and see the doctor when they need to, not when they can afford to, that they have fulltime jobs such as the ones we're fighting for so hard to defend here. The future of this country is by working together.
Daesh and the very worst of terrorists want to run an argument which says that you can't have Muslims actually support Western liberal democracy, that there's a different between Western liberal democracy and our system and being a Muslim. That is what the crazy fundamentalists of Islamic extremism say. We would be playing into the hands of the crazies, of the fundamentalists, of those who hate the Australian way of life, by somehow saying that that religion, Islam, is in compatible with Western liberal democracy. There are millions of Muslims right across the world who live in western societies, who contribute to our quality and standard of living, and you give in to the crazies and the fundamentalists if all you do is accept their arguments and repeat them ourselves.