WEDNESDAY, 28 SEPTEMBER 2016
SUBJECT/S: Australian manufacturing jobs; Williamtown contamination; Stuart Robert; Backpacker Tax; Malcolm Turnbull’s secret schools hit list; Sharks; National Disability Insurance Scheme.
MERYL SWANSON, MEMBER FOR PATTERSON: Welcome to Midal Cables here in Patterson. It really is fantastic to welcome Opposition Leader Bill Shorten here today. He's here, he's been looking at a fantastic example of value adding. We have an aluminium smelter just across the way that brings molten aluminium here to Midal Cables and we value add. This is the future of manufacturing, which Labor wants to embrace. We want to see more Australian manufacturing, and we want to see more importantly, value adding, and the end game is jobs. Ladies and gentleman I'm so proud to introduce Bill Shorten, here he is.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Meryl and it's great to be here at Midal Cables.
My message to Malcolm Turnbull is starting talking about the jobs of everyday Australians. Midal Cables generates tens of thousands of tonnes of important metal manufacturing for our key infrastructure in Australia. It employs nearly 100 workers. But this company, like many other manufacturing companies, are doing it tough. Unfair overseas competition, a downturn in the mining boom, and a lack of replacement of infrastructure expenditure. Anti-dumping laws which are not good enough to protect Australian jobs.
Australian blue collar workers, Australian engineers, Australian metal manufacturers, Australian employers are not playing on a level playing field with the rest of the world, and we need a government in Canberra who talks about jobs, jobs and jobs. I congratulate the work that Midal Cable is doing, and I promise all Australian manufacturers that a Labor Government will prioritise Australian content, tougher anti-dumping laws, and greater infrastructure expenditure so that we've got a bright future for high quality, world-class Australian manufacturing. Happy to take any questions on this or other matters.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you spoke to the AWU this morning. Do you agree with them that China's market economy status should be overturned?
SHORTEN: The union has done a report, they've got ten recommendations, we'll study them carefully. I did say in my speech to the conference that I don't believe that we can simply turn back the clock. However, there are some very good recommendations about tougher penalties, better research into the origin of product coming to Australia. I'm all for free trade and for making sure that Australia competes with the rest of the world, but it's got to be on a level playing field. And no one in Australia currently believes that Australian manufacturing is playing on a level playing field with the rest of the world. We see in steel, we see in aluminium, other countries and companies from other countries dumping material in Australia which is undermining our jobs in Australia.
The people of Australia want a government in Canberra who will fight for Australian jobs. That's why we will study very closely the report with the caveat that we're not going to turn back the clock on matters, I believe, such as the question you asked. But there are very sensible propositions in this report which we want to study carefully and which reinforce Labor's principal position. Our plan for manufacturing includes prioritising Australian content and Australian taxpayer-funded projects. It involves supporting thousands more places for apprentices. It involves clamping down on dodgy 457 visa workers. It involves toughening the penalties and standing up for Australia.
I believe that Australian manufacturing and Australian employers and Australian workers are the best in the world when they are competing on a level playing field. But at the moment, we are not getting a level playing field. And it's long overdue for Mr Turnbull to stop talking about wasting $200 million on a non-binding government taxpayer-funded opinion poll on marriage equality, and use some of that money to back up Australian apprenticeships, to back up tougher anti-dumping laws, to back up more expenditure in infrastructure, to back up Australian jobs. The choice is that simple.
JOURNALIST: Here in the Hunter we're regularly seeing jobs go from manufacturing. How quickly can change happen to put Australia on a level playing field? Is that possible within 12 months, is it years away? Because we are seeing jobs go so regularly.
SHORTEN: The quickest way to back Australian jobs and Australian manufacturing is to change the government. But there is not another election scheduled for the next two or three years. But in the meantime, my advice to Mr Turnbull is pretty straightforward – more money for apprentices, both young apprentices and mature age apprentices. Better funding of our schools. Make sure that we've actually got anti-dumping laws which work. Make sure that we've got a proper pipeline of infrastructure expenditure which includes priority for Australian made.
I've got one three-word slogan – made in Australia. And I'm not going to give up on pushing that proposition every day from now until the next election. But in the meantime Mr Turnbull needs to get behind Australian jobs, Australian infrastructure, prioritising Australian jobs, and better laws, and better enforcement of laws to ensure that Australian manufacturing workers are not receiving or are the victims of unfair competition against other countries who prioritise backing their manufacturing. I mean, this week unfortunately we've seen the last Ford engine roll off the assembly line in Geelong. Unlike Mr Turnbull who said nothing about this, I think that's a tragedy. When it comes to fighting for the jobs and profits of big banks, Malcolm Turnbull is your man. When it comes to fighting for the jobs of manufacturing workers, this government is missing in action.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten you'll been meeting with Williamtown residents a bit later on today affected by the contamination scandal. What will your message be to them?
SHORTEN: I think that the way that Williamtown residents have been treated is nothing short of scandalous. I think they have a fair case when it comes to remediation. And indeed, you look at the acreage of properties which people bought, it's not fit for the purpose which people in good faith believed they were purchasing it for. So I think this government has been absolutely shameful, unlike Meryl Swanson who has been outstanding as an advocate within our ranks, I think this government now needs to get on, set up the intergovernmental – the various levels of government taskforce, that a discussion which doesn't concede the responsibility for the mediation, and there has to be a discussion about buy back. It is inadequate – anything less than that is inadequate for the residents of Williamtown who have been treated poorly. The fact that they can't use their own bore water, the fact that they can't grow chickens on their acreage, you know, I think is – it just shows you that this government, the Turnbull Government, is out of touch. If this was a big bank complaining, if this was one of the big four complaining, or you know, fending off a royal commission, Malcolm Turnbull will be there in his suit of shining armour to defend the big banks. But when it's everyday people in Williamtown or manufacturing workers, Malcolm Turnbull, seriously out of touch.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] gave a speech in Charlestown today which he raised the idea of voluntary buy backs. If One Nation or the Greens put forward a Bill regarding that in the Senate, would Labor support it?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all I'm going to meet with the residents, and I trust Meryl Swanson's advice and we'll meet with the residents. But unlike those parties, only Labor and Liberal can form a government in this country, and I'm the only candidate for Prime Minister who is saying that we need to open up the question of remediation and buy backs.
JOURNALIST: We heard earlier this week that out of the scientific panel from the Stockholm Convention that these toxic chemicals are severely affecting health. Then we hear yesterday that the fishing ban has been lifted. I mean, are these conflicting things, residents have a reason to be confused?
SHORTEN: What I'm going to do, is I've given our general position, but Meryl has been such a keen campaigner on behalf of Williamtown residents, I might let her talk a bit about her views and her work because she is the person giving me my advice.
SWANSON: Can I speak to that directly, Carly, I am aware of the Stockholm Convention Panel on persistent chemicals in the environment. Just this week they've adopted the draft risk profile that says that these chemicals are persistent, they do warrant worldwide examination and action because they have adverse effects on human health and animal health, so we're aware of that. What I want to know is what is our government's position on that convention, and on that opinion of that committee that have just brought that ruling down this very week? We've heard absolutely nothing from them on this, and yet we have many countries around the world signed up to that convention. I want to know, what is this government saying? What is our position? They've been incredibly silent on it. And also, really, when you look at Williamtown, they have done very little. It is clearly not a pressing priority for them. They haven't really stepped forward with action. What they've done is say, well, if this happens, then we'll look at that, you know they really haven't put it – as we said we would do, we wanted to have a clear pathway for the people of Williamtown. We wanted a proper intergovernmental panel set up. We wanted to get blood-testing done. The Government have said they would to do that, it still hasn't happened. They are good on saying that they will do stuff, but here in Williamtown, we haven't seen a lot of the action.
In terms of the fisheries reopening, I think that we have to take the advice of people like Mary O'Kane, who is the chief New South Wales scientist. She has looked at the evidence and says it is okay for them to open. We have to trust these people. I am not a scientist and I trust what she has said, but I think the Federal Government must come up with a proper and better position in relation to what the United Nations has said, so that people like Mary O'Kane do have a better position from which to work. And at the end of the day, people in Williamtown, they just want to get on with their lives. They've been caught up in this washing machine of bureaucracy with really no clear pathway. And that's where we've said we want to show decency and leadership on this. Both are sorely missing from the Turnbull Government, and particularly from Defence Minister Marise Pyne, who truly has gone missing in action on this issue.
REPORTER: Mr Shorten, can I get your thoughts on reports today that Stuart Robert gave a speech in Parliament defending a Queensland developer that was substantially written by a lobbyist for that company?
SHORTEN: I think these reports show the conduct absolutely stinks. Mr Turnbull needs to show some leadership. He needs to front the Australian people and say whether or not he thinks it is acceptable that a member of Parliament of the Liberal Party gives a speech written by a paid lobbyist, and if he thinks that is an acceptable conduct for Liberal and National MPs. What is it with the Liberals and dodgy money donations? I really think Malcolm Turnbull needs to front up and explain his approval, does he agree or doesn't he agree? And if he doesn't agree, what's he going to do about Mr Roberts.
REPORTER: Given that the lobbyist donated to the Queensland Liberal Party in the past, does it constitute 'cash-for-comment' as the phrase is being used?
SHORTEN: Well Mr Turnbull was pretty quick to give advice to the Labor Party when he thought there was any issues for cash-for-comment, but he has gone suspiciously silent when it comes to judging cash-for-comments within his own ranks. The leadership questions for Malcolm Turnbull – does he think it is right for Stuart Robert to be paid a lot of money in donations and then recite the lines that the lobbyists write out for them? If he thinks it's acceptable, he is wrong. But if he thinks it is not acceptable, he needs to explain what action he will take. But one option he doesn't have is to go missing.
REPORTER: What action should he take?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, it's up to the Liberal Party to discipline their own MPs, but I think Australians will say, what is it about dodgy political fundraising and this cash-for-comment impression, and what is it that Mr Turnbull is going to do? He is the Prime Minister. The buck stops with Malcolm Turnbull.
REPORTER: How is it any different though from Sam Dastyari for example?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, Sam Dastyari stepped down off the frontbench. Sam Dastyari stepped down off the frontbench and that was the appropriate course of action. Mr Turnbull was quick to give advice on the Labor Party. I just wonder if he will apply the same standards to his own people that he is quick to apply to everyone else.
REPORTER: On the Backpacker Tax, the Government says they're already released the documents and the information that you were after. Does this mean that you'll support the revised changes?
SHORTEN: Gee, it is a familiar pattern with the Turnbull Liberal Government, isn't it? They come up with a bad idea, they execute it in a poor manner, they then stubbornly resist changing their mind for a very long period of time, and then they have a bit of a collision and then they just drop the idea and come up with, you know, Plan B. And then they expect everyone to salute them and clap them and compliment them for reversing what was a poor idea. We will study the issue carefully. We want to see what sort of modelling they have done to show the impact on backpacker numbers. We want to know what evidence they've got for the new standard they've made, or was this just a Band-Aid to keep the far right of their party happy?
In the meantime, let me express my concern that the Turnbull Government is treating regional tourism as a cash cow for government measures. The Turnbull Government has got to have a serious attitude towards regional tourism and small business right up and down the Queensland coast and other parts of Australia, who have been hard hit, hard hit by even the promise of the Backpacker Tax. The Turnbull Government manages to create a mess one day and they never seem to come up with a new proposition which fixes it the next day. We will study the detail of this measure, but you've got to ask yourself – is the only idea the Turnbull Government has got for small business and tourism in Queensland and elsewhere to put a new tax on travellers?
REPORTER: Increasing the Departure Tax, would that stop Labor from supporting [inaudible]?
SHORTEN: The tourism industry is up in arms. The tourism industry, which has been struggling in recent years, has just realised that the Turnbull Government is treating it like an ATM to raise taxes for the Turnbull Government. They've got the no plan for tourism.
REPORTER: In regards to school funding, do you agree that wealthy private schools receive too much government funding?
SHORTEN: Well, you know, it's a new day with the Turnbull Government stumbling across and making a mess of issues. What the Turnbull Government is doing is reopening a damaging debate of government school versus non-government school. The Turnbull Government needs to release what list of schools it thinks deserve to have their funding cut. And we all know the real reason why we're having a debate about the Turnbull Government going after non-government schools, is they don't want to spend more money on education, they just want to reduce the expenditure. And what they're doing is they're now going after non-government schools.
I think what the Turnbull Government needs to do – and their Minister – no-one asked him, what, did he have a hit-list, he volunteered it. And now they can't explain what they're thinking or why they're thinking it. I think the Turnbull Government needs to at the very least, reassure non-government schools they are not about to get hit in the back of the head with a funding cut. I think the best way they can do that is, the Minister said some schools are over-funded with government money, could he please tell Australians and Australian parents which schools they are.
REPORTER: So you don't agree that private schools receive too much funding?
SHORTEN: I agree that we should be funding schools according to need, but what I don't believe is that you get a better educated child by cutting funding to schools.
REPORTER: What if they did release this hit-list, so called hit-list, of private schools and you know, it showed reasonably that private schools were receiving an unsubstantial amount of money? Would you then support cutting back funding for those schools?
SHORTEN: As a general rule, I don't believe in cutting funding to education, I believe in increasing it. The best thing a nation can do, other than prioritise Australian jobs, is to give the kids, the future generation, the best education in life. I'm a Labor guy, so of course, I believe in funding poorer schools rather than richer schools. But what I don't accept, is the only path to funding some schools is to automatically cutting funding to non-government schools. For 40 years in education, we've had arguments about government versus non-government. I believe the best answer is to increase the funding to poorer schools according to need, not according to whether or not they are Catholic or non-government or government. The vast bulk of poorer schools are government schools, but what we've got is a government who is more interested in fixing up their debt and deficit problems and using the non-government schools as a whipping-post to create a bad guy in this whole education debate. They should not reopen the government versus non-government debate. Instead, they should spell out who it is they want to take money off. And what they should do is perhaps look at reforming negative gearing, perhaps look at going after the capital gains tax discounts. Some of the sensible ideas which Labor has proposed rather than trying to cut funding to Medicare or schools.
REPORTER: Josh Frydenburg said this morning that he would be open to the idea of a shark-cull in New South Wales. Can I get your thoughts on that and do you think the Baird Government has done enough already?
SHORTEN: Well, listen, the Federal Government seems intent upon telling Mike Baird what to do. I don't have a strong view about the culling of sharks. What I do have a view on is that if the Government wants to look at what it's doing, they could revisit this idea of the marriage equality plebiscite.
What we have seen today is a new poll out which shows that Australians, the more they look at the marriage equality plebiscite, the less they like the idea. I've got to say to Malcolm Turnbull, in the light of this poll showing he is losing ground in terms of this crazy, shocking waste of $200 million – wake up Malcolm Turnbull, listen to the Australian people, stop listening to the far right of your party, do not waste $200 million on a marriage equality opinion poll which you can't even make your backbenchers agree to vote for once people have to vote in the plebiscite. Wake up, Malcolm Turnbull. Listen to the people.
One final question, thank you
REPORTER: On the NDIS, obviously it's been trialled for a couple of years. Now it is here in the Hunter. Do you think things are working? Has it been rushed? We are hearing some bad things from those clients in organisations that are rolling it out. Do you think it's been rushed?
SHORTEN: Well, I have to say this government doesn't seem to have much luck with anything, does it? We know that they haven't fully focused on the NDIS. It is important to hear the voice of consumers and the voice of the workforce in it, and Labor will be scrutinising what this government does with a fine-toothed comb. But really it sums up this government, doesn't it? From the NDIS, right through to their lack of action on jobs, right through to their Backpacker Tax foray. I mean, this Backpacker Tax is just a pernicious impost upon the tourism industry. And it seems to me that whatever this government does, from the marriage equality plebiscite, wasting $200 million, to creating an unnecessary debate, setting government school against non-government school, Malcolm Turnbull's government is out of touch. He would be well advised to take a few days out of his busy diary, his hectic schedule, come and visit the manufacturing centres of Australia, he should come to Midal Cables, talk to the workforce and the management. If you want plan for this government to look good into the future, focus on Australian jobs, Malcolm.