THURSDAY, 7 APRIL 2016
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s ‘Your Child. Our Future’ plan; Malcolm Turnbull’s abandonment of Australia’s public schools; Labor’s commitment to the Cross River Rail; Royal Commission into banking system; Arrium; Petrie People’s Forum; Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal
TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to Kangaroo Point Cliffs, you can see beautiful Brisbane behind us and it's an absolute pleasure to have here in Queensland today Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition. I just want to welcome Bill to Griffith, the best electorate in the country, but particularly I wanted to say to Bill: thank you so much for all the work that you are doing to deliver real commitments that are going to mean better infrastructure and better education. And thank you so much for standing up for public education, something that's very important to a lot of people in my electorate. It's wonderful when we go out and talk to people to hear of how much enthusiasm there is for Labor's policy to deliver better schools and better education for kids in Australia. So, I've been really looking forward to hearing what Bill's got to say today. Thanks everyone.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Terri, and it's great to be with Terri Butler in her electorate of Griffith and she's been quite instrumental in some of the announcements which we will be making today. I'm here again in Brisbane and in Queensland because I think it's really important to get out and talk and listen to people. But I'm talking to Brisbane people, I'm talking to Queenslanders about our education policies. Because education matters. Properly funding our schools matters. Properly funding government schools most definitely matters.
The difference couldn't be starker between myself and Labor on one hand and Mr Turnbull and the LNP on the other hand. I believe there is an important role for the Commonwealth to improve the funding of schools in this country. I believe that every child and every school deserves every opportunity. Yet, Mr Turnbull and his LNP they're looking for ways to get out of funding government schools right across Australia. Labor will not stand by and watch our school education system and the opportunities for our children slip backwards compared to what's happening in the rest of the world. Yet, Mr Turnbull and his LNP if given another chance after the next election, they're looking for ways to stand by and watch our school education system be trashed.
There's another important issue which Terri and other members of our Queensland Labor Party have been talking to me about as a number one priority. I'm pleased to announce today that Labor's number one infrastructure project for Brisbane is Cross River Rail. We believe that Queenslanders and people that live in Brisbane deserve the best quality public transport system that we can help deliver them. It's important for improved productivity and decreased congestion in Brisbane that we have a world class public transport system. It's a real shame that when Mr Abbott and the LNP were elected in 2013, they cut the $700 million that Labor had allocated to Cross River Rail. Labor understands how everyday people need better public transport, we understand the need to reduce congestion. Only Labor can be trusted to properly fund Cross River Rail, which will make a marvellous difference in terms of productivity, jobs, and congestion. That's our vision for Brisbane. Happy to take any questions on that and other matters.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, how much are you pledging to the Cross River Rail project?
SHORTEN: Labor announced at the Queensland Media Club in October of last year, that the way in which we are going to break the deadlock in terms of funding for important public infrastructure, roads and rail, is that we would create what we called a concrete bank. A $10 billion loan facility which would see the Government balance sheet being used to incentivise private investment. We would also be prepared to make grant funding. We will sit down and talk with the Queensland Government, who has made clear their commitment, Premier Palaszczuk has made it clear, her commitment to Cross River Rail.
JOURNALIST: What would be the funding break down then? What would be your ideal split between the Federal Government, whether it come from the concrete bank or not, and the State Government?
SHORTEN: My ideal split will be that we will try and get the private sector to contribute funds and do so in a way which guarantees good returns for their investors and superannuates. It's a matter which we will work through. But one thing is for sure; when Labor was last in, we allocated grant funding and it was the Liberals when they got in who cancelled it. For them to cancel it once is a real shame. For us to trust them that they will not break the promise again, that will be the triumph of hope over experience.
JOURNALIST: In relation to education, the Government is putting deregulation back on the table for universities. Do you believe reform of the system is needed?
SHORTEN: It is not reform to treat higher education as a cost. We've seen today reported by the Parliamentary Budget Office, an independent organisation, that because of the Government's deregulation plans, because of their massive cuts to universities, we are seeing Australia's university students and their families being cast into titanic debt. Why is it that this Government always makes life harder for young people? Their only vision for higher education is to transfer problems from the Government balance sheet on to individuals' debt in the future, where young people have to make a choice between higher education and being able to afford their own home. What we also see, courtesy of this right-wing economic theory, this rampant deregulation which Mr Turnbull loves, is that we are seeing that the Government and the taxpayer therefore, are going to have to foot the bill for greater loans as people struggle to pay their cost of going to university. By contrast, just as we are with school education, just as we are with TAFE, we have got fully funded plans for higher education because we want to make multinationals pay their fair share. We want to make sure that we crackdown on some of the excessively generous superannuation tax concessions for the ultra-wealthy and use that money to help guarantee much higher levels of funding so working class kids and middle class kids from Brisbane and regional Queensland get the opportunity to go to university without a $100,000 degree debt hanging over their heads.
JOURNALIST: Do you support Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal's minimum pay order for owner-drivers?
SHORTEN: The precise rate that gets set is a matter for industry and the tribunal. What I do support is safe rates. What I do support is making sure that our hard working transport industry, our drivers are not driving through the night taking in unsafe conditions, working excessive hours for desperately low rates of remuneration. I believe it's possible for the industry, drivers and indeed, the tribunal, to work through the current issues. But one thing I won't do is compromises road safety. We depend upon our transport industry for our quality of life. Driving those long kilometres through the night to make sure there is food in the shelves of supermarkets, to make sure that the deliveries get from point A to point B. We ask a lot of our transport industry. I know however, that because we have unsafe rates of pay, we see some drivers forced to take excessive risks which harm their own safety and indeed, of all road users. I would certainly ask the Federal Government, rather than simply conduct their usual war against paying people properly, let's prioritise the safety of road users first, including hard working truck drivers.
JOURNALIST: Nick Xenophon was one of those people who supported the establishment of the tribunal under the Gillard Government but now even he says he thinks it's gone too far with this latest decision. What do you make of his comments?
SHORTEN: There's a difference between disagreeing with a particular decision of the tribunal and getting rid of the whole tribunal. Why is it that the Liberals, whenever they're in power, as soon as they get a decision they don't like, want to take a sledgehammer to the whole system? If there is a problem with a particular decision, there are mechanisms for legal appeals, debate and discussion. But I implore Mr Turnbull and the Liberal Government, please do not sacrifice road safety because you have some ideological hang up of paying people properly. It's just too important to get wrong.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) Labor government offer Arrium Steel a bail out?
SHORTEN: I think the Arrium steel disaster, and I think that's the word to use, because of 3,000 jobs at stake and including the viability of a large part of heavy manufacturing. I think the board of this company and the banks need to resolve their disagreements. Clearly there is quite a dysfunctional relationship at that level. By the same token, there are 3,000 jobs at stake. I've spent time in Whyalla, I've represented those steel workers in negotiations. They're very productive and they're very hard working. Now administrators are called in but there seems to be quite a degree of dysfunction between the bank's relationship with the board. And In the meantime, we've got a Government for the last 900 days who's done nothing on the steel industry. A Labor Government I lead would make sure we had genuine local procurement. Governments at all levels, Council, State and Federal Government spend a lot of money on infrastructure. What's wrong with requiring Australian content in the steel? Only recently the Government seems to have discovered the problem which the steel industry, the unions and plenty in business have been complaining about, that Australia's anti-dumping laws are being abused. What we're seeing is steel coming from certain countries through third party nations and then to Australia, and it provides unfair competition against Aussie jobs and Aussie steel making. I think it's long overdue for Mr Turnbull to also make sure that we improve the standards by which we assess the grades of steel which are used in our construction. And I, for one, haven't swallowed a right-wing economic textbook and simply pretended there is no role for Government to help with co-operative investment. I believe that there are solutions available to keep the whole business going. I counsel industry, I counsel the administrator currently in, do not conduct a fire sale, sell off the only part of the business which might be immediately profitable and then run away from the business altogether.
We need a steel industry in Australia. I understand, I've represented steel workers for the best part of 20 years. I understand that a nation that doesn't make its own steel loses a lot of its economic fire power. So I think there are things a Government can do and I've listed four separate measures. The real shame is that it takes this crisis for the Government to even work out that we have a steel industry.
JOURNALIST: Will a Labor Government hold a Royal Commission into the banking sector?
SHORTEN: It's a very important issue you've just asked. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that the Government has quickly ruled out having a Royal Commission. Yesterday I looked very carefully at what Mr Turnbull said at Westpac's birthday party. He said one thing which was important, he said 'there are very serious issues about banks' behaviour'. But the other thing he then did is nothing about it. I think Australians are sick of politicians who talk tough and do nothing. I think it's frankly quite contradictory. Mr Turnbull's there giving some sort of lecture to the banks, but then he wants to propose corporate tax cuts which the Australia Institute estimates would give a $9 billion windfall to the banks. No, I think It's time for Mr Turnbull to stop ruling out very quickly the option of the Royal Commission and instead start listening to what every day Australians are saying and they don't like the bad behaviour of banks. They're unimpressed with the whole wide use of tax havens which most Australians can't access. They want to see Mr Turnbull do more than say one thing and then do something different. They just want fair dinkum authenticity from the nation's leaders.
JOURNALIST: I'm sorry, do you want a Royal Commission into banks?
SHORTEN: I don't think you can rule it out quickly. I think Australians are saying bad behaviour is bad behaviour. You know, we have to acknowledge the selective hearing of this government. If there was a building worker tradie, well then the Government is over them like a rash examining their behaviour. But the top end of town, the banks, the Government is so quick out of the blocks to rule out a Royal Commission, it's breathtaking. They spent six months taking Australian uphill and down dale about their desire to have a 15 per cent GST. They've spent a lot of time talking about the excesses of negative gearing and then they refuse to act. But when it comes to banks, sure they've got a sermon to give them but then when it comes to taking action, all they're proposing is a corporate tax cut which would see billions of dollars be returned to the bottom line of banks profitability and nothing to say about their behaviour or to do. Two more questions thank you.
JOURNALIST: Just back to Cross River Rail, this concrete bank that you're talking about, can you explain it a little further and how much of that $10 million you would want to commit to this project?
SHORTEN: Thank you, it's important. We recognise that the Government is in the position to help through having an independent process to assess projects, to incentivise private sector investment. There is a lot of money in superannuation in Australia. It makes sense for our superannuation funds not just to invest in the stock market, but to have alternative asset classes which also provide alternative sources of income so you don't put all your eggs in the stock market basket. So we want to help incentivise the superannuation sector to have good deals. We're not going to tell superannuation funds they have to build infrastructure. But there is a problem where the market is failing to clear, specifically there's funds with money looking for deals and some of our superannuation money is in fact going to infrastructure investments overseas when there is perfectly good projects to be built and funded in Australia. But what we need to do is as government is to help make the superannuation investment market in infrastructure work better. The way we do that is by having an independent Infrastructure Australia, a Reserve Bank of monetary policy, an Infrastructure Australia looking at the best infrastructure policy, doing the benefit cost ratios to make sure that we're not just being given some local political fix which actually doesn't stack up economically. So we want to first of all make sure that Infrastructure Australia is well resourced, which is the exact opposite of what this current Government have done. We also want to create a $10 billion loan facility which will help be able to match some funding from the private sector. What's important is the deals are there to be done; we want to take it away from short-term politics, look at the long-term benefit cost analysis, and that's why Terri and the Labor team in Queensland have been really staunch, as have the Queensland Government led by Premier Palaszczuk saying Cross River Rail is the go. Now we were prepared to fund putting grant funding as well before the last election and the Liberals cancelled it. If you want Cross River Rail in Brisbane, if you want high quality public transport in Brisbane, the answer is Labor. One more question thank you.
JOURNALIST: What are you expecting out of the People's Forum in Petrie tonight? It's the most marginal in Australia.
SHORTEN: I'm looking forward to attending the People's Forum which is being covered by Sky and the Courier Mail and to answer people's questions. A lot of Australians feel that their individual involvement in politics isn't worth doing because they feel they can't change things. I'm not afraid of meeting people. I don't need to go to sanitized events where the Liberal Party tick off who can come and who can't. We're happy that Galaxy's picked a whole lot of people who are undecided voters; they can come and ask me any question. I don't expect that every answer I'll give them will be the exact answer that everyone wants to hear. But people are making assessments about what is the character of the leader or the person who wishes to lead a government. I'm prepared to demonstrate to people that I'll work hard, that I'll answer their questions honestly. I won't always get everything done exactly in the way in which everyone wants, but no-one will have any doubt that what I say is what I mean and that I'm in touch with the needs of everyday Australians. That is why Labor has the best policies for Aussie jobs, for a properly funded health care system where it's your Medicare card not your credit card that determines the level of health care. That's why we are the only party offering to properly fund our schools and our universities and TAFE sector, that will take real action on climate change through prioritising renewable energy. And by the way we believe in a fair taxation system so that first home owners can compete to buy their first home on a level playing field with property speculators going for their tenth property. Thanks everyone, see you tonight.