MONDAY, 3 SEPTEMBER 2018
SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan to protect manufacturing jobs with new gas measures; energy prices; gay conversion therapy; Dutton au pair intervention; Liberal Party chaos
JO BRISKEY, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BONNER: My name is Jo Briskey, I am Labor's candidate for Bonner which is where we're here today, and I am absolutely thrilled to have Bill Shorten and Jason Clare here with me today at Incitec, which is such a critical facility right here in the electorate of Bonner, making such a significant announcement that will have a huge impact for not only these workers, but workers right across Queensland and the country - and it's all about focusing on what matters; and that is jobs, cost of living. This is what we get to do when we have such a united team that's focused on people, not themselves.
So I welcome Bill and Jason.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon, everybody. Great to be here at Incitec Pivot in Brisbane. Congratulations to management, the workforce - it's great to have the AWU here too, representing the workforce.
We're here today because the time for talk on high energy prices is over. Labor today is announcing a policy which will see the price of gas being more affordable for Australia's businesses and Australian manufacturing, and we'll be able to do this, and also see that we can help encourage greater certainty and investment in the gas industry going forward. More affordable prices is what our policy today is aimed to achieve - saving Australian jobs and keeping Australian manufacturing in Australia.
You have to be a government who is asleep at the wheel to have really got to the set of circumstances we've found over the last five years. Australia is rapidly becoming the biggest exporter of gas in the world. We've got a lot of gas in Australia, the problem is we're still paying very high prices in Australia. It is a stark condemnation of the policy vacuum in Canberra that even though we have so much gas in Australia, Australian businesses are paying so much for the gas that we have.
What we want to do, and I am going to get my shadow spokesperson, Jason Clare, to talk about the specifics of our policy in a moment - what we want to do is pretty straight forward: we want to make sure Australian gas is developed for Australian interest first and then we export the rest and still make a lot of money in export. But our plan is very straightforward: we want to make sure that gas, Australian gas, is available at reasonable prices for Australian companies and Australian jobs first, and then we export the rest.
Mr Turnbull, to be fair, talked a lot about gas - and at least he did that. The problem is that the Liberal Party in Australia, because they're so distracted with their internals, have become a bit of a talkfest and no action on gas prices.
Right now, up and down the eastern seaboard of Australia, there is a lot of companies doing it hard with their energy prices and there is a cloud over a lot of jobs in Australia. Labor's policy to have a permanent export control trigger, a national interest test and greater strength for the ACCC, will make sure that Australian gas is available at reasonable prices for Australian interests first.
I would now like to invite Jason Clare to speak a bit further about this very good policy.
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RESOURCES AND NORTHERN AUSTRALIA: Thanks very much, Bill.
Incitec is like a lot companies around Australia that rely on affordable gas. And if they can't get it then it threatens the jobs of thousands and thousands of workers right across the country. We've seen gas prices come down a bit over the last 12 months but they are still too high. And if they remain at current prices then it's a threat to the jobs of workers across the country.
Even the Government admits, even the Government admits that gas prices are still too high. The Minister has made the point that gas prices at $10, $11, $12 a gigajoule threatens the jobs of Australians right across the country. So we have got to act.
What we are announcing today is that we're going expand and strengthen the gas trigger that the Government put into place last year. When the Government put that gas trigger into place, we backed it, we supported the Government. We actually urged them to pull the trigger but they failed to do that. What we're announcing today is that we'll expand and strengthen that gas trigger. The gas trigger that the Government put into place last year is temporary and it expires in 2023. What we are saying today is, let's make that power that the Commonwealth has, permanent - a permanent gas trigger.
And in addition to that, we'll expand its scope so that export controls can be put into place, not just if there's a lack of gas available to companies like Incitec but if gas is being offered to them at a price that they can't afford, if gas is being offered at uncompetitive prices. So we'll give the ACCC the power to set a benchmark price and if companies are being offered prices that are well above that, we can put into place export controls to make sure that Australian companies get access to the affordable gas they need to do the jobs that they do and create jobs for ordinary working Australians.
It's just one of the things we're committed to doing to try to put downward pressure on gas prices. Other things include the national interest test, that say that if you're going to build a new gas plant, we reserve the right to potentially reserve some of that gas for Aussie businesses and Aussie households, as well as supporting the development of gas in the Beetaloo Basin that could potentially develop Northern Australia and provide more gas here for the eastern seaboard.
I encourage the Government to back this today, and work together with us. I saw a tweet from the Minister suggesting that he's going to support this, I hope he does. I wish the Government had done this months ago. But instead of focusing on a policy like this that can create jobs, they have just been focused on themselves. All they have been doing is backstabbing each other. We saw the treachery and all the scheming over the last couple of weeks. There is more blood on the floor of the Liberal Party than you see in a Game of Thrones episode. When you see that footage of the Prime Minister with his hand around the Prime Minister's back, you have got to wonder whether he had the Prime Minister's back or whether he was backstabbing him. The Australian people hate this stuff. They have had a gutful of the backstabbing in Canberra. All they care about is making sure we put into place policies that are going to lower gas prices and create more jobs for ordinary Aussies. So I urge the Government to back this plan today.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Jason. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Would you support, or back the PM on supporting a Royal Commission into the power industry?
SHORTEN: Well, it is fair to say that after five years of inaction by the Government, and that's a matter of record, what we've seen is energy prices go up and up and up. I mean, the problem, though, is that the Government's very distracted. The biggest single driver of energy prices in this country going up and up and up is a lack of policy certainty because we're not getting is the investment in new energy generation which would decrease the price of energy because people don't know what the rules are.
In terms of a Royal Commission, what I would say is that Mr Morrison in the past has been against Royal Commissions. Scott Morrison voted 26 times against a banking Royal Commission. What we have said, is that we need the energy companies to explain why there shouldn't be a Royal Commission, and so far they haven't. But I do think it's long past time to have an examination of whether or not privatisation of our electricity systems in Australia has been a good idea.
I am like a lot of Australians. I think that what we have seen with the Liberals privatising electricity time and time again is we've seen prices go up, not down. I think if we're going to have a discussion about a Royal Commission into energy prices, you have to include an analysis of whether or not privatisation of our electricity assets of the people has actually caused prices to go up. Of course this is a problem for Mr Morrison. He's on the record of saying privatisation helps decrease electricity prices, I don't think many Australians agree with him.
JOURNALIST: Just in respect of this announcement, would a Labor Government effectively be setting (inaudible)?
SHORTEN: I'll get Jason to unpack the specifics of our announcement but what we would be doing is relying upon the independent ACCC to examine all of the evidence to help look at what is a reasonable price.
One thing is very clear: we need lower energy prices in Australia and we need to protect Aussie jobs. At the moment, even though we're a very big producer of gas, a lot of that is going offshore and Australians at the same time are paying very high prices. But I'll get Jason to go to the specifics about a permanent trigger.
CLARE: Yes, thanks for your question. The answer to that is no. It's not about that at all. It's about trying to make sure we have a proper functioning competitive market where companies like Incetec can get good prices for gas.
So, what we'll do is we'll get the ACCC to set a benchmark price. They already do that, go back and look at their report from September, you can see the benchmark prices, they've set for gas, in the order of $6.50 a gigajoule, $10 a gigajoule, and at the moment today, companies are still paying more than that for gas.
And what we're saying, if a situation like that exists, then the market is not working as good as it should. And so, in conditions like that, we should be expanding the strength and the scope of the gas export control trigger to make sure that the market works better.
JOURNALIST:I'm not sure if you can answer this then, would it mean gas companies need to break contacts?
CLARE: No, it doesn't. This is focused on the gas sold on the spot market, as well as third-party gas. So, it is different to that.
JOURNALIST: The PM says he's open to deregistering the CFMEU, would you fight against this if it was to happen?
SHORTEN: I think that what triggered the comments from the current Prime Minister was an inappropriate tweet sent out by one of the CFMEU officials yesterday. Now, I don't condone that tweet. I understand it's been taken down and deleted, but are we really now running government by the Prime Minister wanting to vet the tweets of other people?
Is that really what this country has come to? In all seriousness, I would like to see Prime Minister Morrison more worried about energy prices than he is about tweets from union officials.
Really, we've got to do something about providing cheaper gas so that we can save Australian jobs. If Mr Morrison's only comment on industrial relations is to get upset about what someone says on social media, I wish he was as passionate about lifting penalty rates, I wish he was passionate about protecting Australian jobs as he is about worrying what's said on social media.
JOURNALIST: Mr Morrison compared that tweet to one, the picture on that tweet, to the picture of Khaled Sharrouf's children holding up a severed head in the Middle East. What do you think about that comparison?
SHORTEN:Listen, I think that's ridiculous. But having said that, I don't condone the tweet. It's not the first time I've disagreed with that union official's comments in public, but I think that, what we actually see, and let's call it as it is, Mr Morrison has leapt on the tweet like a drowning man will sort of grab at a fig leaf.
The guy's looking for issues to talk about other than his day job. No, the tweet shouldn't have been sent, I get that. And I understand it has been taken down - it was wrong.
But having said that, this guy has just replaced Malcolm Turnbull. Is this the most important thing he's got to talk about in Australia? Why doesn't he do more to save Australian manufacturing? Why doesn't he stand up to do more for penalties rates? Why did he vote 26 times against the banking Royal Commission?
There are big issues in this country and he's going to run himself ragged if he just wants to comment about every off-centre thing that is said on social media.
JOURNALIST:Are you happy for Federal Labor to continue accepting donations from the CFMEU?
SHORTEN:We're happy to have a relationship with the trade union movement of Australia. I think, though, that one thing which the Government needs to do, is it does need to inject greater transparency into donations.
I'm not happy we don't have election donation reform in this country. Mr Morrison has got to stop taking money from overseas donations and he's got to stop hiding the donors. He should decrease the threshold to $1,000 and anyone who gives more than $1,000 to any political party should put their name to it and the Liberal Party should put their name to it too and say who is giving them the money.
JOURNALIST:Are you concerned about the CFMEU at all? Because there's been a lot of court cases involving heavy penalties, there's this weekend's post by John Setka, Mr Morrison's labelled you born by the unions, sorry, bred by the unions, paid by the unions, and led by the unions? Is the CFMEU a problem -
SHORTEN:Did you read out that bit of Liberal propaganda exactly right? No. I'm not going to buy into Scott Morrison's anti-worker diatribes. Everyone should adhere to the law, but why is it that Scott Morrison gets himself so worked up about unions and and doesn't get himself worked up about the Commonwealth Bank?
Why didn't the Liberal Party send out questions today, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia has ripped off tens of thousands of people, paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, why doesn't Mr Morrison complain about them?
But when it's a union, fighting for workers' conditions, that's what gets Mr Morrison hot and sweaty. I just wish he would focus on the day job. Let’s look after saving Australian jobs with cheaper gas, that's what we're talking about today. Let's help Australian business by providing them lower energy costs.
Mr Morrison is just a drowning man looking for an excuse to talk about something other than his day job.
JOURNALIST:Should Victoria allow conventional gas exploration?
SHORTEN: I do think that states need to reconsider their moratorium on conventional gas exploration. Having said that, I notice it is a New South Wales Liberal government who don't want some of the gas exploration in New South Wales.
I do compliment and commend the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. He's taken a thorough investigation, evidence-based investigation, about exploiting some of the gas reserves they have in the Beetaloo Basin. He has put over 130 conditions which have to be delivered before there can be any extraction of gas but I think we need to reconsider opposition to conventional gas extraction in Victoria.
JOURNALIST: What is your reaction to news of another child sexual assault in Tennant Creek overnight?
SHORTEN:Sorry? I didn't hear that.
JOURNALIST:A man has been charged with another child sex assault in Tennant Creek overnight. What is your reaction to that?
SHORTEN:I don't know all the facts, but it sounds dreadful and of course, we got to do everything we can to protect kids.
JOURNALIST: What's your view on gay conversion therapy?
SHORTEN:Listen, can we just say it as it really is? I don't think that being gay is a sin. I think that this is harmful therapy. I do not believe it's evidence-based. People are allowed to have their religious views but we've got to be very careful about rolling those religious views over into the wellbeing of the community at large. I mean, I don't think the way we help this community grow together is by stigmatising gay people and members of the LGBTIQ community.
I think it's harmful and it's not evidence-based and I think we need to make sure that health professionals are out there making sure that people's health's not being damaged.
JOURNALIST: Have you ever approached Peter Dutton or previous a immigration minister asking for special consideration on a migration case on behalf of yourself or a constituent?
SHORTEN: I don't know. I'd have to go back and look at my files. But let's go to what that question really is at. What Mr Dutton is trying to do is condone the fact that someone powerful sent him an email just as a plane door was closing and he rescued an au pair. I think Ministerial discretion is part of the system, we all know that, but I don't know if ministerial discretion was ever designed to rescue au pairs on tourism visas in Australia.
The real issue that Australians are raising with me is it's not what you know it's who you know under this Liberal government. That's not the way to run an immigration policy.
JOURNALIST: He said that that's been done by previous governments though, are you aware if that's the case or not the case?
SHORTEN: Listen, I understand that Peter Dutton is under pressure internally because, let's face it, his wrecking-ball approach to the Government has caused a great deal of instability in Australian politics.
He's under pressure because people are saying what's the go with au pairs? Why on earth is the whole system available if you know someone who can ring someone and just sort it out in a very quick matter of moments? Beyond that, I think Mr Dutton's just looking to try to blame everyone else for his own problems.
JOURNALIST: You're spending some time in Queensland, the Liberal leadership crisis was caused by concerns over the Liberal's chances in Queensland. Is it fair to say Queensland's the key battleground in the upcoming election?
SHORTEN: Listen, what I think's important actually, is not to focus on the problems in the Liberals, Australians can work out their instability anyway. And I don't look at seats as being Liberal seats or Labor seats, I just look at them being Australians, people in Australia. Queensland's important to me, so is every part of Australia, that's why to conclude this press conference, I just, again, finish where we started: our policy to have export controls, to have a national interest test, to encourage the extraction of more gas, is going to deliver cheaper energy to Australian business and is going to secure Australian jobs.
We want people to vote for Labor because we've got a positive agenda. After five years of energy prices going up and up and up, all we're saying is that is Labor wants to see Australian gas available for Australian interests first. And we think that we have enough gas in the ground to make sure that we can not only look after Aussie jobs but also have a very good export industry.