SOLAR FARM, CANBERRA
TUESDAY, 28 JUNE 2016
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s positive plans for renewable energy; Apprenticeships; Brexit; Costings; Superannuation; Tony Windsor; Industrial relations; Marriage Equality.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone and welcome. It's a beautiful sunny morning, albeit a little cool. It's a great opportunity to talk about Labor's plans for climate change prioritising renewable energy. Renewable energy is not just a fringe industry anymore. It is a key strategy in delivering jobs in Australia and delivering investment into Australian industry. It's most important we take real action on climate change. Millions of Australians want to have a Government in Canberra who is going to take real action on climate change, that is why we are prioritising our goal of 50 per cent of our energy mix by 2030 will be derived from renewable energy sources such as these remarkable solar farms that we see behind us. It's a very exciting proposition to realise that renewable energy is really coming of age. The efficiency in terms of the conversion of sunlight into energy, the technology and its efficiency in making that conversion of energy is remarkable and it's exponentially improving every day. And there are literally thousands and thousands of jobs at stake.
The rest of the world in the last two years has added two million extra jobs in renewable energy. Unfortunately in Australia we've lost nearly 3,000 jobs at the same time as the rest of the world is going ahead. It is forecast that there will be $2.5 trillion worth of investment in our Asia-Pacific region alone, up till 2030. But this investment isn't waiting for Australia to catch up. It's looking for long-term stable homes where the investments can be made to generate the profits, generate the jobs. It is most important that we have a Government in Canberra committed to prioritising renewable energy. We have a plan for renewable energy, we have a plan for jobs, we have a plan for tackling climate change and not passing the problem to future generations. But by contrast, Mr Turnbull doesn't have a plan to deal with climate change or renewable energy. He's simply adopted Tony Abbott's plans for climate change and we all know what Tony Abbott thought about climate change. The fact of the matter is that under Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott's policies, we're just paying a lot of taxpayer money to pay big polluters to keep polluting. In fact it shows how far Malcolm Turnbull - the new Malcolm Turnbull - has departed from the old Malcolm Turnbull, that in his launch on Sunday there was no mention of renewable energy at all, no mention at all across 4,000 words. But indeed, as we've seen today, by other reports on the issue of apprenticeships, it wasn't surprising that Mr Turnbull neglected to mention apprenticeships too, so I'd briefly like to talk about apprenticeships having talked about renewable energy.
It's most disturbing to see the revelations that the Australian apprenticeship system is collapsing. It is in crisis. In the electorate of Eden-Monaro, there are 727 less apprentices than there were before the Liberals were elected. In the western suburbs of Melbourne where I live, there's 5,000 less apprentices than there were before the Liberals were elected. And if you look at Western Sydney, the collapse has been 10,000 net less apprentices than there were before the Liberals were elected. We need our apprenticeship system. Not every young person is going to go to university or wants to go to university, we need tradespeople in this country. That's why we need a government who is not incompetently mismanaging the collapse of the apprenticeship system. It's no accident, as I say, that Mr Turnbull didn't mention apprenticeships apart from not talking about renewable energy earlier. In fact, if you look at what Mr Tu rnbull did in his out-of-touch presentation, he spent more time talking about me than he did about NBN, apprenticeships, renewable energy or climate change. Labor's got positive plans, we've got positive plans for renewable energy and jobs in particular in the regions and we've also got positive plans to rescue our apprenticeship system which is in crisis under the Liberal Government. Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: South Australia's going down this track more than any other state but they also have the most variable and expensive power prices on the Eastern grid and countries who have further advanced have more advancements in renewable energy have also faced this problem. So how would you guarantee that other states in Australia wouldn't follow on from South Australia's lead?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, what a Labor Government would do is put certainty back into renewable energy investment. It's very hard for renewable energy investors to make long-term decisions when they've got a government in Canberra which is hell-bent on undermining stability. It's been a really dreadful three years for the renewable energy industry. When you think about that number, two million extra jobs added in renewable energy around the world, yet we've gone back by 3,000 jobs. That's what happens when you've got a government who is not focused on dealing with renewable energy and climate change and in terms of the improvements in the technology that put downward pressure on the price of renewable energy, it is remarkable what is being achieved in Australia right now. Back in 2000, there were less than 100 solar panels on roofs across Australia, now there is 1.5 million households who have solar panels on their roofs across Australia. And no-one who ever goes to solar as part of their domestic power supply goes back from that, and the really good news is we have got the best researchers in the world, we're the sunniest continent in the world and what we're also seeing is massive exponential improvements in the conversion rate of the sun into energy and when you look at that with the lithium batteries which you can now store the solar energy harvested during the day so that those peak periods at night when the kids are on the computers, when the white goods are being used, what we see is a really bright future for renewable energy.
JOURNALIST: Will the RET be extended as part of Labor's plan to achieve 50 per cent renewables by 2030 and if not, how will you achieve that goal?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, RET is set for a certain period into the future and we will renegotiate that but we will do it on a basis of reaching out to the Opposition, because hopefully we'll be the Government, and hopefully if we win this election, what it will mean is that the climate sceptics will be told to head back into their caves in the Liberal Party and maybe even we can see a more progressive brand of pro science, pro climate change Liberal finally emerge out of the wilderness of the Liberal Party. So, I'm optimistic that we can create longer term stability in the RET. When you look at how else we can improve renewable energy as a mix, we do it by creating investment certainty. It's a funny thing really, but the Government loves to talk about markets but when it comes to a market for climate change they don't trust the market. When it comes to establishing and encouraging private sector invest ment, they run the opposite way. I've got no doubt that as you look at those and I refer to the answer I gave just earlier, when you look at the improvements in technology, when you look at the natural advantages our fantastic continent has. When you look at how clever our scientists and researchers are, when you look at the legitimate expectations of working class and middle class families to take some control of their energy prices, I've got no doubt that the future, in a large part, is renewable energy.
JOURNALIST: Overnight, Britain’s credit rating was downgraded. If you're elected on Saturday, Labor is promising higher deficits over the next four years and perhaps higher debt. So, can you guarantee that Australia's credit rating won't be downgraded under a Labor Government?
SHORTEN: I'm very confident that our plans are the best plans for sustainable improvement in Australia. We all know that the Liberal Party has got fake cuts or zombie measures, which they're relying upon to improve or artificially inflate their budget position. The way we have long-term sustainable growth is we have inclusive growth. The real challenges in the Australian economy are flat lining wages growth, a fragile economy based on flat wages growth. What we need to stimulate the growth in our economy is making sure that we've got the best skills possible, making sure that our work force of the future gets the best training. What we need to help generate that long-term confident growth is making sure that we're investing in public infrastructure, rail and road. A first-class NBN. This is how we generate it, invest in people, invest in industry, invest in innovation. By backing in renewable e nergy such as we are doing, by our tourism infrastructure fund, what we are doing is generating diversity in our industries, an educated work force, a skilled work force and strong infrastructure which this country needs. I mean specifically to go to some of the points you're saying, this is the worst time, the worst time possible to take $50 billion out of the Budget. Australians, as I travel around this marvellous country, they are decidedly anti a $50 billion tax cut for large companies. We've seen new reports today which show that the principle benefit of Mr Turnbull's only economic plan for the future, is to, in fact, see this Budget hole and the money being sent overseas. Now is not the time for the savage cuts of the Turnbull Government and the austerity that goes with it. Now is not the time to make Australians pay for the $50 billion tax cut by getting worse health outcomes and worse schooling outcomes.
JOURNALIST: Won't deficits and debt be higher under Labor though and isn't that a risk given what we've just seen in Britain, the uncertainty and instability?
SHORTEN: Well as we've done, whereby revealing our costings and of course, independently verified by our costings panel of eminent Australians, what we've shown is each year we will improve the budget bottom line. What we've also done is, we'll get to balance in the same year that they will and what we're doing is we're making structural changes to the Budget. We can't keep handing out billions and billions of dollars in unsustainable negative gearing tax subsidies to property investors trying to buy their 10th house. We cannot afford to give $50 billion away to the largest companies in Australia and multinationals and make our healthcare system and our school system pay the price. So, we've got long-term sustainable growth. We're pulling the right levers, the OECD just released a very important report in recent days and it said the investment in public infrastructure and the inve stment in education, that is what drives growth. What the OECD said, is that if you don't have inclusive growth, if you create a larger pool of have-nots and a very small pool of the people who are doing really well, you create a divided society. For me, the lesson of Brexit, the lesson of Brexit is when you've got a weak leader who can't take their party and if you've got the preconditions where you see a whole lot of people disengaged and disillusioned with politics because they don't feel the Government is working for them, that's how you create the economic uncertainty. The fact of the matter is we've got the sensible policies which will make Australians feel engaged, which will make Australians who are less well-off feel they're not shouldering all the burden and the very rich and large companies getting all the benefit in Turnbull's economic plan.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Mr Shorten -
SHORTEN: Sorry Dan, you were next.
JOURNALIST: Just in addition to Jane's question, what do you make of Saul Eslake's comments that Australia's AAA credit rating would be at greater risk under Labor than it would under the Coalition?
SHORTEN: I don't think that's right, that's the fact of the matter. The only party who has had the AAA credit rating critiqued is the Government. The credit rating agencies came out and said this Government, by the fact of its economic policies is endangering or undermining the stability and uncertainty. It is risking the AAA credit rating. That's the fact of the matter.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, are wind farms incorporated in your renewable energy plan?
SHORTEN: Yes, we support wind farms unlike - remember one saving we're going to make is we're going to get rid of the wind farm commissioner, remember the former Treasurer said something about wind farms and found them aesthetically displeasing as you drive between Sydney and Canberra. That's not a climate policy, is it?
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the allegations that Tony Windsor physically abused some of his peers while at school?
SHORTEN: I think it sounds like - I mean, I don't know the facts of matter - but it sounds like the National Party is threatened by Tony Windsor.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, is the Labor Party still committed to scrapping the reach rule to ensure media coverage for rural areas like the Eden-Monaro?
SHORTEN: We think that the reach rule may well have outlived its usefulness. The fact of the matter is that there's a technology challenge there, and regulation is not keeping up with technology. What I'm most committed to though, in regional Australia, is local content. What I'm most committed to, in our media, is diversity. So on one hand, our regulations have to keep pace with the various platforms that people can now get their media on, but we've also got to make sure we preserve local news identity, we've also got to make sure that we maintain diversity in the media. It's one of the reasons why - and our commitment to diversity is - that Labor is the only party offering to help restore some of the dreadful funding cuts to the ABC. We are the only champions of the ABC in this election. We're champions of SBS and we are champions of a diverse media, that's why we're certainly o pen on the reach rule issue.
JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten, just on superannuation, last month you said Scott Morrison's changes were clearly retrospective. Do you still believe that and if so, why can't you rule out right now supporting them?
SHORTEN: Well, I think your question is spot on about the mess that the Turnbull Government's made of superannuation. They have made, with their unconsulted, unadvised, ambush on superannuation, they've made a real hash of superannuation. I still have concerns that some of the measures, of all of the measures introduced are retrospective in nature. So I do have grave concerns about that. I also have concerns about the changes that this Government is rushing through simply can't be implemented. The poor old Australian Tax Office is being overwhelmed by concerned superannuants just trying to work out what on earth Morrison and Turnbull are about. That's why Labor has taken the very sensible position that if we get elected on July 2, we will immediately review the parts of the changes which are accused of being retrospective and we'll also examine as to whether or not some of these measures can be i mplemented. Australians deserve that sort of steady approach on superannuation. I certainly wish that Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison hadn't made these radical changes, but what I can promise Australians is that if we are elected on July 2 that we will examine these matters and these matters only. We're not looking to make any other changes to the superannuation system.
JOURNALIST: Would you be open though to adopting the cap - that the question is over the retrospectivity of the lifetime cap. Would you be open to adopting that post-tax contributions if it were not backdated to 2007, if it was introduced from 2017, say?
SHORTEN: Our measures, and of course Labor has been leading a lot of this economic debate in the last year hasn't it? We're the ones that said that superannuation tax concessions were unsustainable. That the golden years of handing out all the taxpayer money under Howard and Costello had to come to an end. Those changes, those generous changes had to stop, they were excessive. Of course what's always guided us is prospectivity. If people make changes, the changes need to be prospective in nature. Now Mr Turnbull has asserted, and he did in the National Press Club debate, that there's no retrospective changes in what he says. But of course, a lot of experts would appear to disagree with him. So, what we will do is in a calm and methodical fashion, upon being elected to government, examine the changes and get to the heart of the matter and the fact of the matter is with superannuation, i t's only Labor who has ever increased superannuation, it's only Labor who has ever really championed making sure that low-paid people get a fair proportion of superannuation and of course with superannuation it's very important that the changes that are made are consulted and they're done without a sense of ambush or surprise, which unfortunately that's what this current Government has done.
JOURNALIST: It has emerged that the CFMEU asked you to scrap the ABCC and any other independent construction industry inspector in order to get the union's support during the 2013 Labor leadership ballot. Can you confirm if you oppose any industry specific regulator including the FWBC that you established and doesn't this suggest that you are in fact beholden to the CFMEU?
SHORTEN: Thanks for that question. First of all, I think the end of your question provided - or the end of your statement answered the question. I do support strong regulation in the construction sector and it's nice of you to acknowledge that I set up the Fair Work Building Commission or certainly maintained it. What I don't believe is you need a separate set of rules for some workplaces compared to other work places. What I don't believe is that you need to provide more onerous laws for construction workers than you do for people accused of trafficking ice. So when it comes to these matters I've always had a clear policy position for a number of years, well before 2013, that having a separate regulator is retrograde, it's just setting up a second industrial bureaucracy. But in terms of having a strong regulatory presence in construction, I've always backed that, I just felt you could d o it within the agents or the umbrella of one regulator rather than creating a second duplicate regulator.
JOURNALIST: Isn't it optimistic, is it very optimistic to bank the full 2.5 per cent efficiency dividend on the public service from the 2016 Budget considering getting rid of consultants would mean a costly process of breaking contracts?
SHORTEN: Well, I guess it's a matter of priorities, isn't it? We've backed the efficiency dividend from 2014 and that's still working its way through the system so we've done that. But on the 2016 efficiency dividend, I think it's costly when you sack 3,000 people and break their employment contracts. I don't believe that this country needs to sack another 3,000 people, especially when we've got unemployment at the levels that it's at. I do believe that consultants and contractors can be reformed. We're funding something like $7 billion a year in consultancy and contracting costs. I believe that a sensible government, which is prioritising employment of our people, can sensibly look at how we use consultants and contractors and reign in some of the excess there.
JOURNALIST: Just on marriage equality, Peta Credlin has said overnight that she thinks it will end up happening in a parliamentary vote rather than a plebiscite and that there's no ‘plan B’. Two questions, what is your position if it is a plebiscite question, if you're in Opposition, would you support the enabling legislation and secondly, if it wasn't would you vote for it?
SHORTEN: Dan, your first question presumes the outcome of this election and I want to make it very -
JOURNALIST: I did say if you were still in Opposition.
SHORTEN: Yes, I know that's what I said; you presumed the outcome of the election. I don't. Labor is in this election to win it and we can win it. And one of the reasons we can win it is because we've got the most straightforward policy on marriage equality. Why Mr Turnbull just can't be like old Malcolm Turnbull as opposed to new Malcolm Turnbull, I cannot understand. Why on earth are we having a $160 million taxpayer-funded opinion poll? Malcolm Turnbull can't even bind his cabinet Ministers to that. Now I thought Ms Credlin's contribution was very interesting because what it shows is the opening skirmishes of the inevitable and coming Liberal civil war no matter what happens on July 2. The fact of the matter is that Mr Abbott, for instance, we haven't heard from him on marriage equality in recent times. Will he be bound by the outcome of a plebiscite nationally or the outcome in h is seat or will he not be bound by it at all? Mr Turnbull knows that he's come up with the second best option. He knows if he had his way, if he was genuinely leading the Liberal Party, if he was actually the man in charge rather than simply the guy who is the front for the Liberal Party, then he would go for a vote in Parliament. I promise Australians that if and when we're elected, within the first 100 days we will legislate for marriage equality, it will be a conscious vote and it will happen. Why on earth can't the Liberal Party just let their politicians do their day job rather than a $160 million to make up for Mr Turnbull's deal to become the leader of the Liberal Party. Thanks, everybody. I just wanted to say thank you - I just wanted to say thank you, everybody, and I will see you at the Press Club again. I look forward to the remainder of your questions there.