SUBJECT/S: Labor’s win in Herbert; Labor’s position plans for northern Queensland; Backpacker tax; Banking Royal Commission; One Nation; Backpacker tax; Greyhound Racing; Constitutional Recognition; Labor’s positive plans for North Queensland.
CATHY O’TOOLE, MEMBER FOR HERBERT: This is huge occasion for me, particularity today to have the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten here with me. Today, the AEC will declare the seat of Herbert to Labor after 20 long years and we have worked incredibly hard to bring this seat back to Labor.
Labor believes in training and education. Labor believes in TAFE and that's why Bill Shorten's here, and I’d just like to hand the microphone over to Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It's great to be here at TAFE Queensland North and especially with Australia's newest Federal MP, Cathy O'Toole, the Labor Member for Herbert. She's worked very hard and the whole team of volunteers and for the first time since 1993 Labor has won the seat of Herbert. And that's in large part due to Cathy's efforts.
During the last long federal campaign, the very first full day of the campaign I came to Townsville. I believe that North Queensland has a bright future and Labor's committed to the future of Townsville and indeed all of coastal northern and far northern Queensland, and at the centre of that issue, of the future of north Queensland, is the issue of jobs.
Now, Cathy's first job as the MP for Herbert will be to promote and fight for jobs in north Queensland. That's why we're at this great TAFE facility. Not one of the dodgy private providers but an institution whose name is the gold standard in the training of young and mature aged workers. Not just apprenticeships but helping people re-enter the workforce, Cert 2, Cert 3, Cert 4 in terms of providing new starts. It’s this institution that’s going to provide a lifeline to some of the QNI workers, Queensland Nickel workers, so bitterly let down by the management and Mr Palmer. It is this institute which will help people adjust from the mining boom and find other jobs. It's this institute which will open the doors of a lifetime of skills for young people right across North Queensland and beyond.
Cathy O'Toole will work every day to make sure that Queenslanders and North Queenslanders get their fair share of jobs, education and training and apprenticeships. And whilst it's Cathy O'Toole's first day on her job as the MP for Herbert, Mr Turnbull remains on probation as the Prime Minister of the Liberal Party from his backbench. Because Cathy O'Toole's been successful in Herbert, because the voters have decided to try someone new in the seat of Herbert, Mr Turnbull now has a margin of one seat. He has 76 seats out of 150 for his party. And what happens is one of them has to become the Speaker, so he gets reduced to 75 seats. That gives him a margin of one vote. The problem is that the Liberal Party backbench picked Mr Turnbull to knock off Mr Abbott before the last election because they thought he would win them more votes, not because they like him. Now, before the election, the LNP, the Liberals had a 90 seats in the Parliament, now they are reduced it a margin of one vote. That means Mr Turnbull is on probation from his backbench. What it also means, is that stability in Australia depends on Mr Turnbull keeping the goodwill of individuals such as the erratic member for Dawson, Mr Christensen and others.
What Labor offers today, along with Cathy O'Toole on her first day on the job in Herbert, is we will be constructive in the new Parliament. That's what Australians want to hear. Mr Turnbull said on election night and days afterwards that he heard the message. Well, Labor will keep the message that we'll fight for apprenticeships, we'll fight for good Australian jobs. We'll make sure that we fight for our education system and of course we will oppose, with every inch of our fibre, the terrible cuts to Medicare which Mr Turnbull's making.
Happy to take questions on Herbert and indeed any other issues important in North Queensland and beyond.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, are you concerned the LNP seems to be preparing for a possible challenge in the Court of Disputed Returns over the result of Herbert. Are you worried by that potential?
SHORTEN: It's up to the Liberal Party what they do. We all know that if they'd won this seat by one vote, they wouldn't be worried about any legal challenge on behalf of people. This is motivated by the fact that Cathy O'Toole ran a great campaign and our message has resonated with people in the seat of Herbert. It's up to the Liberals what they do. That's entirely their prerogative.
What we're doing is we're hitting the ground running. I'm up here as Leader of the Opposition backing in my newest MP, talking about jobs. What people in Townsville want, indeed what people across Australia want, is we've have had the longest election in living memory, I don't think people would grateful to Mr Turnbull giving them another election or fighting for another election so quickly. What they want to see is Liberal, Labor to get on with promoting Australian jobs and standing up for the interests of young people and mature aged workers seeking to retrain.
I'm here today because I'm listening to people. I'm here today offering cooperation to Mr Turnbull. I'm here today saying to Mr Turnbull, let's go and restore public TAFE. Let's go and do something about the dodgy private providers, let's give our young people the chance for a quality training, a quality apprenticeship through TAFE. And that's what Cathy O'Toole's doing already, standing up and promoting North Queensland jobs and the future for young people and mature age workers in Townsville and beyond.
JOURNALIST: Well they seem to think that they've got a viable case looking at -.they've got reports of anomalies with the voting and that some people may not have been able to vote. Don't you think that those issues warrant investigating?
SHORTEN: Well again, the Liberal Party's got its rights and we're not going to say they don't have any rights. But they've been in charge of the Electoral Commission. I mean, let's call it as it is here. If the Liberals had won by a couple of votes, they wouldn't be carrying on. This is all about the fact they didn't win the seat. If they won by a couple of votes, does anyone think they'd be at the Court of Disputed Returns, not at all, we know that.
No, what we promise people in Townsville is that we're just getting on with the job. Cathy O'Toole will stand up for the Townsville Stadium. Last year, Labor came out and backed in the stadium, working with the State Government of Queensland, I think it was the day before the polls opened that Mr Turnbull was dragged kicking and screaming to support funding for the Townsville Stadium. We're about jobs, we're here today because we back in TAFE. We're going to back and support and keep the Liberals honest about their promise on the Townsville Stadium. We want to see Townsville get the sort of attention it deserves. In the mining boom, North Queensland supported Canberra a great deal with the extra revenue and taxes. Now, things are tougher in North Queensland, it's time for Canberra to back North Queensland. That's what we're going to do.
JOURNALIST: You said this morning you want to see things like when Defence spending comes to areas like Townsville you want to make sure that local contractors get a fair bite of that. How exactly are you planning on doing that?
SHORTEN: Well I think it's not beyond the capacity of the Federal Government, that when they allocate contracts, you know, it could be the gardening contract, it could be garrison support, for example it could be road making, it could be mechanical support. But when they allocate a national contract they ask the national contractors to make sure that they have a plan which they can be held account to, to employ and give small businesses and local contractors and locals the chance to get the work. For instance with the Townsville Stadium, we want to make sure when that gets built, that what happens is that we see that local contractors, local apprentices get their fair share of the work. It's very possible, it's very, very easy to go that when you issue the contracts to put these guidelines in.
JOURNALIST: So would you be prepared to vote against Bills that don't have those provisions and what's your sort of threshold?
SHORTEN: Well, we've seen this work, there's nothing new on what we're proposing. We've seen various State Governments put in local component requirements. Now, I make no apology, when the taxpayer money is being spent, I believe in buy Australian, I believe in buying local. Let's not forget that for two years before it became fashionable, it was the Labor Party who stood up for the submarine build to be done in Australia, not overseas. Now initially, the Liberals said that was impossible and by the end of it they sort of surrendered and said: well we better to save our political skins, we better be into this buy Australian and buy local.
It's what Labor does, we prioritise local jobs, local apprenticeships. We think it's more than possible for the Government when they allocate large construction projects to have a proportion of the work allocated, a proportion of the employees to be apprentices for example. You just need a Government who cares about the people. We care about the people.
JOURNALIST: The backpacker tax is a big issues for farmers in Herbert and beyond.
SHORTEN: Big issue.
JOURNALIST: Has Labor changed their thinking on that at all and come up with definitive answer on whether they'll support scrapping it or not? Particularly given it was introduced to try and make up for severe labour shortages in the farm sector.
SHORTEN: We've got grave concerns about the way the backpacker tax was introduced. Everyone knows that the National Party and Barnaby Joyce - this is his tax - he's definitely tried to walk both sides of the street on this tax. They introduced it and then what they did is they didn't consult properly, they didn't talk to tourism or agriculture, not just in Herbert but right across Northern Australia. And then what happened is the National Party, never shy to contradict themselves, they then campaigned against the tax they pushed. Then what they said as they realised that backpackers are not coming to Australia and they're bypassing Australia, according to tourism authorities and others and going to New Zealand and Canada. Then what they've done is they said just during the election: we'll review it all, we'll review it all, we'll put back when we start collecting the tax and we'll review it. But it's been five weeks since the election, the terms of reference for their review haven't been released.
Now, you asked about Labor's position. First of all, we are calling out the Liberals, the LNP and Nationals. It's their tax. They didn't consult, they've caused untold harm. We're seeing a report of almost a de facto strike of backpackers coming to Australia. Now they're dragging their heels on terms of the review and they've already, in their Budget, banked the tax. So in other words, whilst they say on one hand out in the electorates 'oh, we don't like the tax', on the other hand they've banked the tax.
Labor will participate in the review, and I'm very interested, for example, in the NFF proposal which some of the principles include reducing the rate of tax on backpackers from 32 per cent to a lower level of 19 per cent. Labor is going to be flexible, we want to work with the Government. Put simply, they've made a real mess of this. Labor's prepared in a bipartisan fashion to help fix it up and we want to hear the voices of the tourism industry and farmers first, because they have been forgotten in this whole backpacker tax debate by the Government.
JOURNALIST: You say that the ALP is proposing a Royal Commission into the banking sector isn't going to go away. Does that mean that you'll present a bill to the lower house to try and prise a couple of Liberals to gain majority support, and if not, do you think that's just pure rhetoric?
SHORTEN: No, not at all. Most Australians want a Royal Commission into the banking industry and financial services. It seems to me that when it comes to fighting for Medicare or schools or apprenticeships, Malcolm Turnbull's missing in action. When it comes to being in the trenches defending the banks, there's Mr Turnbull ready to fight to defend the banks from a Royal Commission. The truth of the matter is that we see financial scandal after financial scandal. Tens of thousands of people, businesses have been let down by the financial services and banking industry. Every time there's a scandal, the banks always rush out and say: well, ‘we've learnt our lesson’, until they have the next time, and then they say 'we've learnt the lesson' the next time. History keeps repeating. We need a change in the culture and ethics of the banking sector. In terms of proposing it, we will debating this in Parliament. I'm talking with my senior leadership about the best way to advance the debate of the Royal Commission into the banking sector. Mr Turnbull thinks by scraping across the line by one seat, he can protect the banks from the legitimate scrutiny which Australians are demanding of our banking sector. Well, we are going to fight for consumers and all those tens of thousands of people for whom the industry has let them down.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, One Nation had a strong showing in Herbert and those preferences helped to decide the final result here today. What does that say about the mood of the electorate?
SHORTEN: I think that's an important issue you raise. There are many Australians, I said this on election night, and Labor certainly got the message, who feel dissatisfied by politics as usual. In many ways, some people feel that the political system is not working for them so they're going to look for solutions which are perhaps more extreme and less predictable than has been the case in the past. I hear loud and clear what those people are saying.
But what we're going to demonstrate in Herbert is that with Cathy O'Toole, they've got a fighter. She's been a successful small business woman, she stands up for the less well off in our community. She knows not only where the good news in a community is, but where the unhappiness is and she's going to stand up and make sure that people get their fair share. I look at the vote across Australia, and what I understand is that when you have economic change which isn't working in the interests of everyone, where it's only the rich getting richer, the middle class getting left behind and the poor getting poorer, that is not a prescription for the future of our country. I look around the world and you see growing dissatisfaction with politics as usual.
I can promise people that the Labor Party I lead - sure, we didn't win the election - but what we are going to do is fight to keep our policies and our principles. Things like defending Medicare. Things like standing up for Australian apprentices. Things like cracking down on the rorts in the 457 visa sector. Things like a banking industry Royal Commission. Things like cleaning up the mess this Government's made of superannuation and all of the confusion and concern that that's created. I'm optimistic that as people see Labor in Opposition and how we're going and people of the calibre, of the quality of Cathy O'Toole, people will say: the Labor Party means what it says and it says what it means.
JOURNALIST: The greyhound racing has been banned in New South Wales. Do you think the industry should be banned, or whether the problems [inaudible]?
SHORTEN: It's a big issue. It's a state issue, greyhounds, but I notice a tendency in some parts of the Liberal Party to rush in. Labor periodically has been accused of doing that too, but there's a lot of good people in the greyhound racing industry. I know that State Labor's forming a view which says the industry does need to be improved, but you don't get rid of everyone's livelihood overnight with no warning. I think for instance, at the State level, Premier Baird needs to look at how he's compensating people. People have made economic investments. Not everyone in that industry is a villain. The other thing of course is the welfare of the animals. If you've thousands and thousands of dogs, what's going to happen to all of them now that the industry's just being closed down?
Anyway, it's is a State issue, but what I do say nationally is that the way Labor will make decisions is we will consult and listen first and then act. We've seen issues in the last few days where Mr Turnbull just rushes in, makes a decision.
Mr Turnbull's national Liberal Government seem to have two gears: make no decision or make the wrong decision.
We've seen that with the way Kevin Rudd's been treated. We see that with the way they wouldn't have an Aboriginal Commissioner and Labor and Aboriginal groups stood up and now we do have an Aboriginal Commissioner. We see that with the backpacker tax for instance, they rushed in, they banked the money and they ran around to all the farmers and tourism operators and said 'we don't know how this happened'. This Government is making more mistakes than it should. I think that the lesson here is that if Mr Turnbull wants to be successful in the 45th Parliament, he needs to work with the Opposition. We're up for cooperation. We state our views clearly. And of course when he's on a one-seat margin, he's held hostage to his right-wing puppet masters who are pulling the strings.
JOURNALIST: Ken Wyatt's has warned that constitutional recognition will fall off the national agenda if the debate expands to consider treaties. Is he taking a dumbed down view of politics on that issue?
SHORTEN: I've got a lot of respect for Ken Wyatt personally. I think he's a person of considerable personal integrity. But what I would say to people who say that Australia can only deal with one issue at the time is let's not underestimate our fellow Australians. Now, Constitutional recognition is an important issue. I might say something which would surprise you, but I respect the fact that Tony Abbott was quite interested in this topic. I don't feel it’s had the same level of attention since Tony Abbott has not led the Liberal Party.
We stand ready to listen to the advice of the Referendum Council, that's a council of eminent Australians, both Indigenous and non- Indigenous who are giving us a view about the best process forward. I will work with the Parliament, the whole of Labor will work with the Parliament. My principled position is that our Constitution for all intents and purposes is the nation's birth certificate. I think it is wrong of the nation's birth certificate to have no reference to our First Australians.
In terms of all the other issues though about closing the gap and getting a fair go for Aboriginal Australians, just because we're having Constitutional recognition, doesn't mean we shouldn't be talking about the treatment of young people in the youth justice system in the Northern Territory. Just because we have Constitutional recognition debates doesn't mean we shouldn't speak up loudly and clearly to do something about trachoma, which is a third world disease which exists in a first world country like Australia, it is a preventable illness, it is preventable. I think Australia can deal with a range of issues at the same time.
JOURNALIST: Just going back to Herbert, the Chamber of Commerce here thinks that getting on with the city deal with both sides of Government is a priority, do you think you could work with the Coalition and other levels of Government to move the city forward?
SHORTEN: Yes, I do. We're absolutely up for it, but we get that the Liberals won the election overall but they shouldn't punish Townsville by not keeping their promises. The good news With Cathy, they've got one very clear active conscience right on their shoulder who'll be saying 'you promised these things, time to do it'.
I might take one last question and then move on.
JOURNALIST: As one of the most marginal seats, possibly the most marginal seat in Australia now, is Townsville going to be mentioned a lot more in Parliament? Is it going to be a part of the national debate a lot more?
SHORTEN: I think it's fair to say that one of the reasons why there was a 6.2 per cent swing two-party-preferred to Labor, is that Townsville wasn't getting its fair share of the national debate. You'd often read the local commentary here, that people felt Townsville was being taken for granted. No one's taking Townsville for granted anymore. Cathy O'Toole won't take Townsville for granted. We're very committed to the stadium, we're very committed to making sure the city's package is honoured. We're also committed to pushing hard to make sure that the reef and the support for the environment and the infrastructure, including a new vessel, the study centre at the university, that those issues move ahead.
Townsville's got a bright future. Townsville's stood up in this election and said 'don't take us for granted. Just because we've been going one way for 20 years doesn't mean that we should be taken for granted'. In this election, the citizens of Townsville have said 'we will not be taken for granted'. Now we've got Cathy O'Toole, first day of work, we're here backing in apprenticeships. You all know, and parents know more importantly, that if their kids who don't want to go to University, instead they want to do a trade, if they get a quality TAFE start in life, a quality qualification then that sets them up. We know that Townsville's a great place to live. We're committed to jobs in Townsville and we're committed to fighting hard for Townsville in the national Parliament. For better or worse, not only will you be hearing more about Townsville in Canberra, you'll be seeing a lot more of me and our Labor team standing up for North Queensland in North Queensland.
JOURNALIST: Just on that Mr Shorten, sorry -
SHORTEN: I did say last question, but you know, you've asked me so nicely.
JOURNALIST: Just on that jobs issue, the State Government said here that it needs to diversify the economy in order to get the jobs. What are you going to do, how will you diversify the economy here to get those jobs that you're talking about?
SHORTEN: We didn't win the election but we've got a clear plan for Townsville. We think that health is an important part of the fabric of Townsville in terms of services. That's why we're fighting so hard for Medicare and bulk-billing. Education, we've got a champion of education in Cathy O'Toole, from TAFE, to schools, to university to the early years, very important. But it all starts with a pipeline of jobs. We want the Townsville stadium, the money that was committed federally to happen. We also see a bright future for Townsville in terms of the food industries, agriculture, we see a bright future for Townsville in terms of the environment and of course tourism. Townsville, along with Cairns, are the gateways to the north of Australia and North Queensland. We think that if you've got champions who stand up, that the prospects for Townsville, even with the downturn in the mining boom, even with the terrible treatment of the QNI workforce and subcontractors, we think there's a lot that can be done to diversify Townsville's economy.