MONDAY, 30 MAY 2016
SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef and tourism industry; WestConnex; Labor’s plan for Budget repair; Election 2016
SHARON HOWES, CANDIDATE FOR LEICHHARDT: Welcome everyone. It's a sunny day. I'd like to introduce you to Bill Shorten, who's a regular visitor to our area and most greatly appreciated, especially today's announcement. Over to you Bill.
BILL SHORTEN: Thanks Sharon. Good morning everybody, it's great to be here in Cairns to talk about protecting Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Our Great Barrier Reef is a national treasure and we hold it on the interest indeed not just for Australians but for everyone in the world. Our reef is also the backbone of the Far North Queensland economy. There are two million visitors who come here each year. It supports 70,000 jobs. It generates $5.7 billion to our economy. So this reef is important, environmentally and also important economically and the reef is in peril. Since 1985, we have lost 50 per cent of the hard coral cover of the reef. We see our reef under pressure from climate change, from acidification, from the crown-of-thorns starfish. We see it under pressure from poor water quality. This reef needs our protection and it needs it now. That's why I'm pleased to announce that if Labor is elected on July 2, we will protect our Great Barrier Reef. We will invest in direct environmental management. We will invest in science and research. We will invest in proper reef management. All of these measures over the next five years, we will put aside a fund of $500 million, because this reef is worth saving. And if we do not act, it is in serious danger of being irreparably damaged. If we do not act, our children will rightly ask us why didn't we. This is not a problem that I'm inclined to pass on to future generations. By contrast, the Liberals are not leading, they have their head in the sand. Now Labor can afford to protect the reef, in part because we're not going ahead with a $50 billion tax give away to large businesses. Our priorities are the reef, first, second and third. It will support jobs, it will support a remarkable piece of nature, and I think now I would like to ask Mark Butler to talk further about the specifics of our proposal.
MARK BUTLER: Thank you, Bill, thank you Sharon for welcoming us to the great city of Cairns, the centre of reef tourism. Today's announcement is the largest ever financial commitment to the long-term health of Australia's most important environmental icon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Along with Labor's climate change action plan, which Bill and I announced five or six weeks ago, this Great Barrier Reef action plan will preserve this environmental icon for future generations and it will also help to safeguard the almost 70,000 jobs that directly depend on the long-term health of the reef. We've spent a good deal of time talking to a range of stakeholders about this. We have also considered very carefully the work of the Water Science Taskforce that was commissioned by the Queensland Government to look into the long-term health of the reef. That Taskforce, which issued its final report last week, confirmed that the most significant threat to the health of the Great Barrier Reef is climate change. We've responded to that call, that clarion call from reef scientists and tourism industry figures around the reef area by a very comprehensive climate change action plan that will reduce emissions, consistent with advice from the Climate Change Authority, to keep global warming below 2 degrees and today we've responded to the second significant threat, identified by the Water Science Taskforce, and that is the threat to water quality posed by particularly agricultural run-off from the Great Barrier Reef catchment areas. This $500 million commitment will do a range of things, it will inject significant funds back into research and science that has been stripped by the Abbott and Turnbull Governments, particularly in CSIRO marine science, looking at reef health and also climate impact on the reefs. It will, as Bill said, put up to $300 million into direct environmental programs which will improve water quality and go a long way to achieving the agreed targets put out there by the water science taskforce last week to reduce nitrogen run-off by 80% by 2025 and reduce sediment run-off, largely from grazing operations by 2025 by 50% as well. Finally we have also responded to long-term calls by stakeholders, calls reiterated by the water science taskforce last week, to overhaul the management of the reef. Stakeholder after stakeholder, the Queensland Auditor-General and most recently the Water Science Taskforce have called for much greater coordination of the different bodies that have an impact and the different programs that are seeking to restore the health of the Great Barrier Reef. That is the third pillar of Labor's Great Barrier Reef action plan.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Mark. Are there any questions?
REPORTER: In relation to WestConnex, Anthony Albanese said last night that under a Federal Labor Government there would not be Federal funding for WestConnex. Do you agree with that position and what is your view of that motorway?
SHORTEN: Let me put some markers in the ground about Labor's position in regard to WestConnex. We do support WestConnex. We are determined to act on the congestion which confronts motorists and workers coming from the western suburbs to Sydney every day. But we have said, Anthony and I, the WestConnex project isn't satisfactory in that it doesn't go to the ports and the city. We've also said that communities that will be affected by it should be diligently consulted. The truth of the matter is that the funding of this project has already been paid. The truth of the matter the Government has paid the money and they are trying to work out where the project goes.
REPORTER: Would you like to see the funding removed?
SHORTEN: The funding's already gone and Labor won't repudiate any contracts, full stop.
REPORTER: Just on the reef, there's been some disappointment that there wasn't a cap put on farm pollution running into the reef, was that something you considered and if so why was it ruled out?
SHORTEN: I will get Mark to supplement this answer. If terms of the reef, there is one party which is fair dinkum about protecting the Great Barrier Reef, it's the Labor Party. As Mark has said, this will be the single largest and indeed, most overdue injection of funds to save the Great Barrier Reef. It is, the Great Barrier Reef is in great peril. We see the effects of climate change and we have a Government in Canberra who, despite Mr Turnbull's protestations is not acting on climate change. We see a Government who managed to censor the UNESCO report on the Great Barrier Reef. This is a Government who doesn't want to hear the problem, they want to stop anyone else talking about the issue. Labor is for the Great Barrier Reef and we are for Far North Queensland. This is not just about the reef. Our policy for the regions are like many of our other policies. We are about protecting 70,000 jobs. We want to see the two million visitors rate increase, not decrease. We want to see Far North Queensland and the Australian economy continues to enjoy a $5.7 billion investment which is what we see because woof the Great Barrier Reef. And most importantly, I want to be able to in future years look at future generations of Australians and say when it was our time to act. We did, we protected the Great Barrier Reef. I might get Mark to talk further about the specifics of what you are asking.
BUTLER: The question you are referring to is one of the recommendations from the Water Science Taskforce. Now their report was only released on Wednesday of last week. It was a very comprehensive report. It hasn't yet got the costings, which is also work being done by the Water Science Taskforce, to work out quite how much it will cost to achieve the targets on nitrogen pollution reduction by 2025 that I talked about of 80 per cent and also sediment reduction of 50 per cent by 2025. Now we are very open, very keen to discuss with stakeholders and the Queensland Government all of the recommendations contained in that important report from last week. The report, the scientists who wrote it make it very clear the only way we will achieve those sorts of reductions is with a range of initiatives. Funding of the type we are announcing today, a range of incentives and market-based mechanisms that may include a cap and trade scheme, operating either at an entire reef level or catchment-by-catchment, because there are about 35 catchments in the reef area. So we are very open to this. But the report was only handed down a few days ago. It hasn't yet got costings associated with it. If elected on July 2, we will be very keen to sit down with the Queensland Government obviously but with other stakeholders as well to consider all of those recommendations very seriously.
REPORTER: You say you’re re-prioritising the money, does that mean you are scrapping the Reef 2050 plan?
BUTLER: Not at all. This money includes the rather unsubstantial amount committed by the Turnbull Government in the most recent Budget, of $171 million over six years. We will build on that and over five years, we will commit $500 million. We are committed to the Reef 2050 plan, as the scientists who wrote the Water Science Taskforce are committed to the Reef 2050 plan. That plan includes those nitrogen and sediment reduction targets that I talked about. What we are really talking about now is how we get to those targets, how we achieve the sort of reduction or improvement in water quality that this, one of the seven natural wonders of the world requires for its long-term health.
REPORTER: Topping up that money, Mr Shorten, the $120 million that the Libs have announced, have you had this policy costed and how are you paying for it?
SHORTEN: We have had it costed and we will spend $500 million over the next five years. We will include the amount that Mark just spoke about. But let's be straight here. No doubt the Government will come out and attack us and say we shouldn't be doing this. I just say to the critics, what about the 70,000 jobs, what about the $5.7 billion, what about the two million visitors a year and what about the environment and what about the future? This is a very sensible investment and again we can do this. Because, as we found out in last night's debate, the only plan that Mr Turnbull has for Australia is to give away $50 billion in corporate tax giveaways to large companies, much of which will go overseas. We are backing the reef. Mr Turnbull is backing the big end of town.
REPORTER: Can I ask you about the tax cuts Mr Turnbull is promising, there is an analysis this morning in Fairfax which suggests there may have to be increased taxes in other areas, including income taxes to offset the lost revenue from those business tax cuts. Now that's also, I'm sure you want to have a crack at that, but that is also money you are spending. What's your commitment if you do get into Government and realise that this isn't fully funded, will you reduce your spending or increase taxes to offset it?
SHORTEN: I don't concede that our promises aren't fully funded. In the course of this election as I outlined in last night's debate, we will outline our 4-year and ten-year forecasts. What guides Labor is making sure we do Budget repair but that it is fair. This election, as I've said, is all about choices. Today we choose the reef, we don't choose a corporate tax give away to large companies. We have made it clear, we will make sure our saves or improvements to the bottom line outweigh our spending commitments. We are very committed to rigid budget discipline. We have an economic growth strategy which is quite different to Mr Turnbull's. As we know, in the last three or four months he has had three different plans. He had the 15 per cent GST plan which we sufficiently discouraged him from the time being although heaven help us if the LNP gain control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, then 15 per cent GST will be back with a rush. His second plan at Penrith was to have a state income tax plan which in other words would allow every state government to levy income taxes on top of the Commonwealth income taxes already levied on Australians. Then thirdly at the Budget, he has arrived at his latest plan. This is the case for Malcolm Turnbull, the case for Malcolm Turnbull to justify everything he's done in the last ten months is to give away $50 billion in a tax spend, the biggest spend in this election, to give it away to large companies with no appreciable economic benefit for jobs, no appreciable improvement in the growth of our economy. So I make it clear, just as we will outline our policies, and they will be fully funded, just as we have used that discipline all the way we go, Labor will not give away $7.4 billion to large banks who don't need it, it will go to the profit, we won't see it back in jobs and we won't hand up to what the Australia Institute has estimated to be $11 billion of foregone tax revenue to head back to the United States and foreign shareholders.
REPORTER: The former Queensland Treasurer has told the Oz this morning that apparently Labor is anti-business and you view business as the enemy. Do you view business as the enemy?
SHORTEN: Shock horror, a company director says that he would like to see a tax cut for his company. I don't blame the gentleman's self-interest but let's be clear, Labor will work with business but we won't work for business. A government I lead will operate in the national interest and the interests of all Australians. We won't be dictated to by business who simply want to see them getting a handout from the taxes and from the Budget of Australia, a spend on them, if it's going to jeopardise Medicare, bulk billing, the ability of people not to have to pay up front fees when they need a mammogram or an X-ray. If it is going to jeopardise the ability of children in Far North Queensland, for example, to get the same quality of resources in their schools the children get in the big cities of Australia.
REPORTER: A lot of the commentary about the debate has been about how you and Mr Turnbull stuck carefully to the talking points. Would you be happy to debate Mr Turnbull again in the course of the campaign? Would you be willing to throw away the talking points and genuinely engage in a cut and thrust debate with the Prime Minister?
SHORTEN: I don't accept your characterisation about sticking to talking points, both of us went into the room with no notes. Let's be really straight here, this election isn't about Mr Turnbull or myself, it's about the Australian people. I would welcome the opportunity to have more debates with Mr Turnbull. With respect to the media, I want to hear questions from the Australian people. I want to hear their questions and I'm prepared to answer them forthrightly. For the record, I've done over 30 town hall meetings with hundreds of people at each meeting. I've got a fair idea what the Australian people are thinking. That's why I'm sure Labor is on the right track with our approach to real growth and creating jobs, through prioritising nation-building infrastructure, to making sure our education system is delivering the skilled workforce of the future, from childcare, to schools, to TAFE, to universities. I know we are on the right path when we say that making sure that Australians can have a great healthcare system, where it's their Medicare card, not their credit card that determines their level of health. I know we are going in the right direction in terms of jobs, in terms of promoting Australian made, apprentices, making sure we have public transport in our big cities which generate jobs and eases congestion. Mr Turnbull by contrast in the debate, I thought revealed the poverty of the Liberal plan for Australia's future. His plan over the next ten years is to spend $50 billion from the Budget bottom line to large companies who will gain most of this benefit and what will they do with that money? They will either take it in profits, they will remit it to foreign shareholders. With dividend imputation it's going to make no difference to Australians receiving income from companies, because they will have to then pay the extra income they get from the company returns in their income tax with higher marginal rates. I look forward to more debates and I look forward to exposing the poverty and lack of plan that Mr Turnbull has contrasted with our plan to put working class and middle class families first.
REPORTER: Anthony Albanese hasn't ruled out his leadership aspirations. What will happen if Labor loses the election, what do you think will happen to the leadership?
SHORTEN: I'm planning to win this election. Anthony is a great Shadow Minister of mine and he will make a great Minister. Labor is not contemplating defeat. We start this election as the underdog but we have great policies in a whole range of seats, not the least of which is regional Queensland and Far North Queensland. With Sharon and Mark, we are determined to protect the Great Barrier Reef. I tell you what, our protection of the Great Barrier Reef is an economic plan for the regions, it's a jobs plan, it's an environmental plan and it reflects our commitment to fight climate change, one of the great challenges in terms of Australians going forward in the cost of living in the next 10 and 20 years.
REPORTER: I take you back to Lauren's question, can you explain how today's announcement will be funded over the next ten years and on the $2.6 billion cost of the Government's tax cuts over the next four years, how much of that have you allocated?
SHORTEN: I will get Mark to take you through the first part of the question. I will get Mark to talk to you first and I will still be here.
BUTLER: Thank you Sarah, as Bill pointed out, this policy was put through the Parliamentary Budget Office and it is fully costed through the independent Parliamentary Budget Office and it is fully funded through savings that have already been announced by the Opposition, including savings from this portfolio. As I think you know, we have decided to dispense with the taxpayer-funded emissions reduction fund which pays big polluters to reduce their pollution using taxpayers' dollars. Through that saving, among others, it's one example in my portfolio, we have been able to fund a doubling of the indigenous rangers program and today we are announcing we have been able to add $302 million over the forward estimates to the announcement made in the last Budget by the Turnbull Government to restore the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, to health. Now this is a fully costed, fully funded package, fully funded announcement. As Chris Bowen and Tony Burke have made clear over the last few days, well before the election the reconciliation of all these savings and new announcements will be made very clear.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can you tell us how much of the $2.65 billion over the next 4 years Labor has allocated to other spending programs?
SHORTEN: Well as Mark has said and I said in answer to an earlier question, well before the conclusion of this election campaign, we will outline our four year and medium term forecasts, and our saves and our spends. To just remind people, because Mr Turnbull did give us an eight week election, the longest in the last fifty years, so perhaps people have forgotten, some of what we've done earlier on. Before the election was called, before the Budget, we outlined $100 billion of improvements to the bottom line. Since then, including my Budget Reply speech, we've added another $71 billion of improvements to the bottom line. I have to say, when you look at the Budget repair that is fair meter, we're doing very well on that.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on if there is a hung Parliament you've ruled out in the past that you'd do a deal with the Greens, what about the Independents, would you consider making, forming a minority Government with them?
SHORTEN: I’m confident that in the course of such a long election campaign, as people get to see Labor's positive policies, I trust the Australian people to make a clear choice. Now we've outlined our priorities very clearly, and in the debate last night you heard us make very clear our priorities from healthcare and education to Australian jobs to Australian advanced manufacturing, to our commitment to act on climate hange, for renewable energy, to our prioritising local content in Federal Government contracts. I feel very clear, I feel it is very clear that Mr Turnbull, going down his path of looking after large corporations and high net worth individuals, versus our approach of putting in the building blocks for sustainable growth, that Australians will decide which model they want. So I feel there will be a very clear result on election night, one way or the other.
JOURNALIST: But you won't rule it out?
SHORTEN: Well no, let me make it very clear. I'm in this election to win it, and questions which say "do I contemplate defeat" no I don't, I’m determined to do the very best I can for all Australians, and for the people of Cairns. We've got a great candidate here, and we're announcing a policy that will help secure and anchor the economy of Far North Queensland, and will also make sure we protect the environment. I'm going to take the last question this conference to the local.
JOURNALIST: Labor's going to direct some funding to CSIRO Marine, and their reef related science, but CSIRO doesn't have any marine presence in North Queensland, or Queensland for that matter. How's that going to work?
SHORTEN: Good question, I’ll get Mark to answer.
BUTLER: Well I think people have become aware in quite a shocked way, the very significant cuts, from 2014 including this year, to CSIRO. And particularly the devastation that those cuts have had on Australia’s pre-eminent scientific and research organisation that conduct research into land, water oceans and the atmosphere. Now this has enormous bearing on the health of the reef. So what we're saying today is that there will be a $50 million injection into the CSIRO, to restore some of that capacity in the CSIRO to do marine science research, particularly focused on the reef, including climate impacts. Now, we obviously, if elected on July 2 will have to sit down and work through with the CSIRO how that money is distributed through the country. But in addition to that, we've also said in our policy document that there is up to $50 million that will be available for institutions that are very prominent, this will be targeted competitive funding, for institutions that are prominent in reef research, they are well known to you I’m sure, the Institute of Marine Science, James Cook University, the Bureau of Meteorology, the University of Queensland, well known leaders, not just in marine and reef science in Australia, but global leaders in this area. So, we really have heard the message from scientists, including from the Water Science Taskforce last week, that there needs to be a substantial rebuilding of capacity in this area, after the last two or three years of vandalism at the hands of Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.
SHORTEN: Sorry, we've got a vessel waiting; we're going to go out and have a look at the reef. Perhaps just one more question.
REPORTER: Just following on from your announcement yesterday with funding for ABC and female sport. David Leyonhjelm has criticised your announcement, he says if women’s sport was more interesting it wouldn't need funding using other people's money. What do you say to that?
SHORTEN: Back to the cave, stone age man. I think women’s sport deserves to get coverage and I'll fight for that. Let's face it, Australian women’s sport doesn't get enough coverage. They've looked at the coverage in 2014, 7 per cent of televised sport covered the efforts of women athletes. I want our daughters and young women to grow up with sporting heroes and role models. Sport has a transformative effect in people's lives. I think it's only right that our champion women athletes get some of the coverage. So David Leyonhjelm's entitled to his quirky views. I am going to represent all of Australia including the 50 per cent who are women, who want to see women in sport on TV. Thanks everyone.