FRIDAY, 22 APRIL 2016
SUBJECTS: Labor’s plans for the Bruce Highway; Budget; Sophie Mirabella; 60 Minutes; Badgerys Creek; QNI; penalty rates; funding for Wangaratta Hospital; Defence contracts; Townsville Stadium
FRANK GILBERT, LABOR’S CANDIDATE FOR DAWSON: The Bruce Highway is a really an important issue for us. It connects Cathy and I, two great communities the Dawson and Herbert communities, and a lot of economic development depends on the Bruce Highway. So, it's with great pleasure that I welcome you, Bill, to Dawson on the edge of Herbert.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. It's fantastic to be here in North Queensland. Although, today is a hard day for North Queensland and for Townsville with the likely prospect of QNI being put into liquidation. So, my first thoughts are with the families and the workers of people I believe have been let down by senior management of that company.
On a happier note, I can announce today that the Bruce Highway and further work on the Bruce Highway is Labor's top infrastructure project and priority for North Queensland. In fact, it's in the top ten infrastructure projects that a Labor Government I lead, if elected, would implement across Australia. We've seen unfortunately in the last thousand days or so complete inaction on the Bruce Highway. Labor's credentials to be trusted on infrastructure in North Queensland is that in our last period of Government we invested billions of dollars, practically, to help upgrade the Bruce Highway. The Bruce Highway, if you're looking at the overpass behind me and right up and down the length of the Bruce Highway, is the fundamental arterial for the economic growth, the economic prosperity, the opportunities of families and small businesses of people of North Queensland to be able to live in a wonderful part of Australia and have a really good quality of living.
Infrastructure mightn’t be the only issue in the election but it's a fundamental issue in this election. And in fact, Labor has got a great track record of understanding that there's more to Queensland than Brisbane and South East Queensland, and whilst I wouldn't often quote him, I'm going to quote from Ewen Jones, the current Liberal member, who said: “I'll give Labor a pat on the back and say that they've spent more in their four to five years on the Bruce Highway than we did before”, Ewen Jones. The only thing now is he needs to update the quote, he'd give Labor a pat on the back because we're going to do more for the Bruce Highway in the next three years than the Liberals have in this three years.
So, Labor is committed to the jobs future of North Queensland. I don't believe that it's automatic that Townsville has to be the unemployment or the jobless capital of Australia. Labor by our commitment to Townsville Stadium, by our commitment to the Bruce Highway, will make sure that valuable dollars are being spent to build the economic livelihoods of North Queenslanders.
We're happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Is it disappointing to see that Townsville is the number one city for job unemployment?
SHORTEN: I'm disappointed that Townsville, under the Liberal Government in Canberra, has become a jobless centre, a jobless capital of Australia because I know that's not the truth of this district. I know that's not the future which should be the future for Townsville and for Mackay. Labor has plans to make sure that we have a skilled workforce in the future. That's why Labor wants to fully fund and properly fund all the schools in Townsville and Mackay and the surrounding region so that kids get the best quality education, therefore they've got the best chance of competing for the jobs of the future. Labor's committed to investing in renewable energy so that this part of the world can gain the benefits of the renewable energy revolution that's going on throughout the Asia-Pacific. We're committed to supporting tourism, we're committed to supporting agriculture and we also want to put our money where our mouth is by supporting the Townsville Stadium, which would generate 700 jobs, and of course upgrading the Bruce Highway, which is important for business and safety and the prosperity of this region. Labor has a plan for jobs for Townsville and Mackay. The Liberals, well they've just got a plan for when they call the election.
JOURNALIST: In the Federal Government's White Paper in developing Northern Australia on the big priorities laid out is to have more dams built in the North, that will obviously lead on to more agricultural pursuits. What's your stance on dams and dam infrastructure, such as Hell's Gate Dam and raising the wall on the Burdekin Dam?
SHORTEN: We're up for an intelligent debate about building and improving dams in this district. For us it all comes down to the evidence, the economic benefits and the environmental impact. Labor is not against building dams, nor do we just believe words are cheap. What I often see in the LNP MPs going round is they try and say that it's just all about dams and nothing else. Labor will do the right thing in terms of well-funded and well proposed arguments, well researched and scientific based argument in favour of dams. But what we won't do is just engage in a game of clichés. I expect on Budget night that the Liberal Party and the Nationals are going to play catch up with Labor. Labor's got a great track record of building infrastructure in North Queensland. We're outlining our plans, we outlined our plans last October on priority projects, including the Bruce Highway. I suspect on Budget night the LNP Government, led by Mr Turnbull, is going to play some catch up but the real issue is what they have done in the last thousand days. The Bruce Highway has been neglected. You know, the Northern Australia fund which the Government is now running around saying is crucial, they've had a thousand days to put these laws into Parliament and they were rushing them through only earlier this week. This Government is only doing anything because they've got the pressure of an election breathing down their necks and as soon as they are through the election, if re-elected, they'll go back to being a do-nothing Government for North Queensland.
JOURNALIST: Just on Budget night do you think it will be unwise for the Coalition to scrap the temporary defect levy in the upcoming Budget and would you bring it back if you win office?
SHORTEN: Well, the Liberals were the ones who increased income tax for the highest income earners in Australia. They did that when they said they wouldn't increase taxes. We'll have to see what they do on Budget night but if I have to make a choice between cutting school funding in Townsville, cutting hospital funding in Mackay, cutting roads funding on the Bruce Highway or going after pensioners or giving a tax cut to large multinationals or the top one per cent of income earners in this country. Well, I'm going to pick the people over the top end. I'm going to pick the kids in school. I'm going to pick the student studying TAFE. I'm going to pick blue collar workers, out of work because of QNI, out of work because of the downturn in mining, make sure we give them the prospect of jobs rather than giving a tax cut to large multinationals and other friends of Mr Turnbull.
JOURNALIST: Why are you so sure that halving the capital gains tax discount won't harm the investments in the economy?
SHORTEN: Because there'll still be a discount. The point about it is we believe that if people invest in capital they should get some concessional treatment on their earnings over the period of holding their investment. But I just don't think it should get the Rolls-Royce capital treatment compared to nurses and teaches and working journalists who go to work every day. Why is it that people in the media, teachers, journalists, construction workers, the people that work at QNI, why should they pay higher rates of taxation then someone who buys a building and sells it a couple of years later for a few million dollars in profit? What we need in this country is the dynamic production of income. What we need in this country is incentive for the people who get up and go to work every day. Under a Labor Government I lead, they'll still be rewarded if you invest in property, they'll still be rewarded if you have capital investments which generate a profit for you over time. But under the Labor Government I lead, they'll be reward for the everyday Australians who just go to work, who put on the overalls, put on the uniforms when they go and work in the aged care facilities, for people who work in the media who don’t have access to buying multi-million dollar buildings and getting capital gains tax.
JOURNALIST: Sophie Mirabella's said that after she lost at the last election $10 million in funding for the Wangaratta Hospital was withdrawn. Obviously this sort of - the way that politics works in Australia, but can you be confident that your government would deliver for Townsville regardless of who gets in next term?
SHORTEN: Absolutely, you go to a couple of real issues here. First of all let me say if Townsville chooses someone other than a Labor candidate, as much as I'd be disappointed our promises for Townsville stand, and that's what Cathy O'Toole wants, that's what Frank Gilbert wants. Now I'm optimistic our plans for Townsville and Mackay are sufficiently good, the people are sick of the top end of town getting everything and the workers and everyday people getting nothing out of this government. But having said that, if I'm Prime Minister I'll put all people first; I will govern for all Australians. I do not believe that what Sophie Mirabella and the Liberals have done in the last term is ethical, I believe it smacks of almost political corruption to say that merely because you didn't vote for me we will punish you.
It is not the Australian way to say to a section of the population that if you don't agree with us or if you don't do what we say, that we will punish you and withdraw vital healthcare. That's the sort of stuff you see in a banana republic not a functioning democracy. Mr Turnbull has to show some real leadership here; he now has to explain to Australians today why the funding at the Wangaratta Hospital got cut, what is it to do with voting for the Liberal or the Labor Party, and if Mr Turnbull won't show leadership, next week, whenever the Budget comes down in the few days coming, we will pursue this matter in the Senate. It is not the Australian way to act like a banana republic to reward your mates, and punish the people who choose to disagree with you. That's not on at all, I think this is quite a staggering revelation today and it's unacceptable, it's not the way I will govern.
I say to all Australians, I'd like you to vote Labor, if you don't vote Labor my promises are still the same promises. I'm just as interested in the childcare, the schools, the hospitals wherever they are in Australia, and I'm certainly not interested in playing political favourites like Mr Turnbull and his team.
JOURNALIST: So Mr Shorten, would you promise then to reinstate that money even if an independent were to get in?
SHORTEN: In which seat?
JOURNALIST: In Wangaratta, the $10 million?
SHORTEN: Listen our policies on hospitals will deliver better than just one particular capital announcement, absolutely. The point I make here is that what drives me in health care isn't if you vote Liberal or Labor, it isn't how much money you have, it's your Medicare card. Your Medicare card in many ways is as much a domestic passport as your international passport from Australia is when you travel overseas. See when I look at Medicare I don't see a political football to be used by the Liberals to punish those who dare disagree with Mr Turnbull or the Liberal Party. When I look at Medicare I see a promise, I see a promise that every Australian wherever they live, however they vote, whatever their particular needs are, will get the same access to universal health care.
JOURNALIST: Do you stand by your comments made yesterday that you'll accept whatever ruling the Fair Work Commission hands down on penalty rates and does this not put you at odds with the unions?
SHORTEN: Thanks for raising that. I have fought for penalty rates and a better deal for Australian workers pretty much ever since I left school. I believe fundamentally that people should receive penalty rates for working irregular hours, for working weekends. As Leader of the Opposition, I'm the first Opposition Leader in the history of the Federation to submit a series of arguments in favour of the retention of our penalty rates structure in Australia. Now I also believe in compulsory arbitration. I believe that compulsory arbitration's the greatest protection for penalty rates and the minimum conditions of workers in the award system. I was flabbergasted last week when Mr Turnbull scrapped an independent tribunal for daring to introduce minimum rates for owner drivers so we can have safe roads and safe workplaces for our truck drivers.
The Labor Party, be it in opposition or in government, will always fight hard for penalty rates.
Mr Turnbull didn't put in any submissions to the independent tribunal setting these rates, and say ‘oh please keep the penalty rates’, only Labor did.
The Labor Party absolutely stands alongside a strong safety net of working conditions, and I don't for one minute believe that the independent tribunal is going to scrap our system of penalty rates in this country. The arguments are simply too strong in favour of looking after people.
JOURNALIST: What are you hoping comes out of the QNI meeting today and do you welcome the Federal Government action that was taken last week?
SHORTEN: Let me just sound a bipartisan note here about QNI. I promise people who've been ripped off by the QNI debacle that a Labor Government will pursue with the same if not more vigour, the senior management of this company to seek redress. It was a Labor Government who put in place the safety net which would see entitlements paid, some of the entitlements of longstanding workers paid by the Commonwealth, and then the Commonwealth would stand in the shoes of the worker who was owed the money and chase Mr Palmer and the management for the money. But on this issue, for me, whilst I think Mr Turnbull could have moved more quickly than he has, for me the real culprit in this game is not the Liberal Party, it's the senior management of QNI. I'm really distressed at what's happened there, I've been out to the facility, I've met the people who are losing their jobs, they didn't ask for this, they worked very hard. So I promise people affected by this company that after the next election if Labor's privileged to form a government, we will pursue the management of QNI with all the vigour and capacity of the Commonwealth of Australia.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you've reaffirmed your commitment to the Townsville Stadium. Your $100 million plus the State Government's $100 million is still a fair way short of what this project is expected to cost. In New South Wales they've just stumped up $1.6 billion down there to upgrade stadiums in that state. Do you think that the Queensland State Government needs to do more?
SHORTEN: I'm not about to give advice to the Queensland State Government. These days though I'm surprised that the LNP haven't at least matched Labor's offer of $100 million. I say to the people of Townsville, you get a one in every three year opportunity to put pressure on your Members of Parliament and both political parties. Now I don't think the stadium solves all the problems that Townsville and Mackay need I get that. I get that making this place grow economically depends upon infrastructure spending, it depends upon support for small business, a great NBN, a really good school and TAFE network turning out people with skills, protection of our marvellous environment. But Labor is prepared, in a scarce Budget, to find enough money to help support the construction of the Townsville Stadium. I won't give any advice at this stage to the Queensland Government but what I do say to my federal opponents is if Labor can find this money, why can't you? If Labor can put the money to help a fair go for the North in terms of Townsville and the whole region then I think the LNP from Canberra need to do the same as us.
JOURNALIST: Upgrades are planned for the Townsville (inaudible) spaces as part of the White Paper. Will Labor look at using local contractors for upgrades?
SHORTEN: I'm very committed to maximising local content in our Defence contracts. I understand that when you do garrison support, or when you do major construction work at the barracks such as Lavarack but across Australia, the governments may do national agreements with national companies. But there's nothing to stop a government who's really committed to local jobs to require that the head contractor has a proportion and maximises local content. You don't need to bring truckies in from Perth to do work in Townsville. You don't necessarily need to bring mechanics from Melbourne to do work in Townsville, and I'd say the same thing if I was in Perth or the same thing if I was down at the Hastings Cerberus base outside of Melbourne. You know, I do think it's important that when you've got scarce taxpayer dollars you try and get maximum value. Now the price has to be reasonable of course, but I don't think there's anything unreasonable about the quality of work you get here in Townsville or the price. So Labor can be trusted to put forward and put the people of Townsville and Mackay first and the region. We want to see a maximising of local subcontract and small business contribution.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister says Budget repair will be seen when the Budget is handed down on May 3rd. Will your reply speech focus on repair even though you've announced major spending?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, we're already seeing the Budget leak out by people in the Liberal Party who don't like Mr Turnbull. Let's be really clear, and I go to the bigger part of your question in a moment, but Mr Turnbull's got a major problem in his own ranks, they're not united. After the next election, whether or not the Liberal Party win or lose that election, I can guarantee you one thing about the LNP, they'll still be fighting each other. If Mr Turnbull loses the election, then Mr Abbott and everyone will engage in payback. If Mr Turnbull wins the election, then he'll engage in payback against the people who didn't support him. And in the meantime, I don't believe the Budget's receiving the attention that it deserves. Everyone knows that they brought forward the date of the Budget so they could call the election. The Budget's a second-order issue for the LNP. Saving their jobs is a first order issue.
When it comes to Budget repair that is fair, the Labor Party's almost had to take on the role of being the alternative Government. We've outlined $105 billion in improvements to the Budget bottom line. We recognise that if you're going to put people first, if you’re going to properly fund our schools and make sure that our hospital system delivers the promise to all the taxpayers who contribute to it, if you're going to have a strong Medicare, that you also have to have a Budget where you're making hard decisions. We've outlined wasteful Government programs we would just stop spending. We've said that when it comes to providing tax concessions to multinationals or to people who are negatively gearing their tenth property, or who are getting superannuation tax concessions paid by everybody, even though people already have millions of dollars, these lucky few, in their superannuation, that we'll make hard decisions. What I can promise Australians is that when we do our Budget preparations, we will put people first. The job of the National Government isn't to shove all their problems, of their Budget, on to the household budget. So we've got a well-costed plan and we'll have more to say of both of Budget repair, I mean it is remarkable really, this Government says that the Budget is the most important thing on its mind, so why is Scott Morrison engaged in some sort of vote chasing activity in the seat of Indi, with the very controversial Liberal candidate Mirabella, who's just revealed that they're going to punish the people of Indi, they punished them for not voting Liberal at the last election. Scott Morrison needs to stop chasing political votes, and he needs to go back to doing his day job of Budget repair that is fair.
I stress, Budget repair but it has to be fair.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, should ASIC investigate Channel Nine over their payments to the child recovery team in Lebanon?
SHORTEN: It's a pretty complex issue that, isn't it? I just want to make a couple of remarks about it, one is, I was quite upset to realise - to hear a line - that the mother was told that she had to spend a few hours with her two children because she mightn't see them again. For me the real tragedy in this, dare I say it, is not the media. The real tragedy in this is when you have a situation where you've got parents split up and one ex-spouse takes the children overseas. I don't know all the rights and wrongs of that relationship and I don't seek to comment on it, but my thoughts go out to the kids and to the mum in this situation. This is going to have reverberations for these two little children for a very long time. In terms of the media, I suspect Channel Nine probably does have some serious questions to answer, and Channel Nine have said that already, they're conducting their own investigations. But for me, sometimes the tragedy of this relationship and the kids, you know, is it really worth the attention that it gets? I mean really this is, the best way to sort that out is to take the pressure off the parents and work through the issues.
JOURNALIST: Looking at the issue of whether there have been any breaches or rules broken here, is an internal investigation by Nine enough, or should it actually be investigated by ASIC?
SHORTEN: I'll leave that to the, one thing I won't do as a politician is become the cop on the beat. I'll leave that to the cop on the beat to work those matters out.
JOURNALIST: The Federal Government claims that you're no-fly zone for Western Sydney Airport would be unworkable in wind and rain, will you consider changing Labor's policy on that one?
SHORTEN: This is just the Government unhappy that Labor's actually thinking about the community as well as the airport. Labor's committed to a second airport in Sydney and we know that makes some people unhappy, but we think that's for Sydney and the Sydney Basin that needs that second airport to develop jobs. We're committed to that. But what we're not just going to do is ignore the legitimate concerns of communities, existing communities, people concerned about noise and aircraft noise, so we've come up with a smart plan, a no-fly zone over existing communities. Now the best the Liberals can do, because they’d have be much smarter just embracing our solution because we're really engaged with the community and it's what the community wanted at the very least, but instead they're now inventing all these reasons why it won't work. Modern aircraft airports are capable of dealing with wind and rain. If that's the best the Liberals have got, maybe they should stop worrying about Western Sydney, because they've clearly got no plan for Western Sydney.
JOURNALIST: Just back on the QNI issue, Sister City Partnerships has indicated now the public community buy-back program, that they're actually not going ahead with it. What sort of message would you like to send to the people in Townsville and QNI workers who'll be hearing that for the first time today as well?
SHORTEN: Just to the people who've lost their jobs, to the extent that you can, go out with your head high. Nothing that's happened at that plant is due to the fault of the workforce. Frankly, when you look at the plant, you get the impression that if there hadn't been the sort of maintenance and restoration spent on that plant that should have been in the last few years. I worry that QNI, the plant has been treated as a cash cow, that it's been worked to its limit, hasn't been reinvested in. But one thing's for sure, the people at that plant have kept that plant probably going longer than it otherwise would. So the workforce at that plant and anyone who looks at prospective employees who've worked at QNI or subcontractors to it, know that that workforce was capable of keeping that plant going, and it's their human effort which has delivered the profits to that plant in the past, which has kept it going now, I think any employer in Townsville, or more widely, would be very lucky to get a QNI employee. They have low staff turnover, they've got very good attendance records, very good at productivity and change, when you think QNI, don't think badly of the workforce, perhaps leave some of your reservations for the senior management.
Thank you everybody.