PRESS CONFERENCE, ABC NEWS 24
MONDAY, 16 DECEMBER 2013
SUBJECT/S: Australian jobs, 100 days of government, debt and deficit, Afghanistan
BILL SHORTEN: Good morning everyone. It’s great to be here in the electorate of Brand with Gary Gray, Shadow Minister, also Senator Louise Pratt, visiting Alcoa. Alcoa employs 4000 people in Western Australia directly and another 800 contractors. It is a success story for high-quality jobs in the West, and it's great to be visiting the Kwinana strip. This is the 10th time that I've visited the electorate of Brand since being elected to Parliament six years ago, and the Kwinana strip is an Australian and a global success story. There's $20 billion of value-added work goes on in the Kwinana strip, and it proves that Australian ingenuity, Australian small business, Australian engineering and Australian workers can compete with the best in the world. That is why it's important as we approach Christmas 2013 that both sides of politics make Australian jobs a bipartisan issue. 2014 is the year of standing up for Australian jobs, and it starts here in Brand in Western Australia. We make sure that Alcoa has got the necessary support it needs to keep employing thousands of Australians in high-quality work. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What does that mean, Australian support?
SHORTEN: Well there's no doubt that Australia is competing with the rest of the world. We have seen in the last few weeks the so-called government of no surprises and no excuses be the government of nasty surprises and pathetic excuses. Who would ever have imagined that you would have a Federal Government give up on backing the Australian car industry and the Holden motor car? Once upon time Holden was as Australian as meat pies. Now you’ve got an Abbott Government who’s said that it's too hard for Australia to compete with the rest of world. No serious first world nation gives up on its automotive industry. That's what the Abbott Government's done. We are concerned that in 2014, the Abbott Government doesn't know what it wants to do with Qantas and it sounds like it wants to see Qantas purchased by foreign interests. Eighty percent of the world’s international airlines are owned by foreign governments. They're the only people who would be interested in buying Qantas. So what we've got is the surrender on Holden and the collapse of thousands of car jobs. We see Qantas with an uncertain future for 35,000 workers. And we’ve also got to make sure that in 2014, as Alcoa battles with low metal prices globally and a high dollar, that the Australian Government is doing what it can to ensure we keep jobs in Australia in the Kwinana strip.
JOURNALIST: Isn't the carbon tax a major concern for companies like Alcoa?
JOURNALIST: Wouldn't its abolition be a means of support?
SHORTEN: An examination of any of the public statements by Alcoa shows that carbon has not been an issue for them. We provided a support for our emissions intensive trade exposed sector tax of 95 per cent offsetting the carbon price. So carbon is not the issue which keeps Alcoa up at night. What keeps Alcoa up at night is access to energy, and the price of aluminium on the global market and the high Australian dollar. What we need the Abbott Government to do is to do its policy settings, so that we can do everything we can to keep jobs in Australia. The Abbott Government so far in the last 100 days hasn't seen a blue collar job that it hasn't given up on or is prepared to sell off overseas.
JOURNALIST: The 100 day mark for the Abbott government- and I know this is a bit of a free kick- what do you score him at?
SHORTEN: Well after 100 days I think most people would be disappointed, in particular by the fact that the Abbott Government is breaking so many promises. They came into the election and said that debt and deficit were the two big issues. They said vote for Tony Abbott because we'll lower the debt, we’ll lower the deficit. 100 days on, they've practically doubled and debt cap, so they've in fact abolished having a debt cap. So they want to get the nation's credit card and max it out. When it comes to deficit, all they’ve been doing is preparing Australians for a doubling of the deficit over the last 100 days. The Abbott Government has set a land speed record for opening the door on more government debt and increasing the deficit. This is a broken promise. The other two disappointments would have to be their confusion on education policy and their backflips around that. I think also, the demise of Holden on the Abbott Government's watch reflects poorly for standing up for Australian jobs.
JOURNALIST: Does it worry you that Mr. Abbott has twice in the last two days raised the spectre of a double-dissolution election on carbon tax?
SHORTEN: Mr. Abbott’ is a political magician. The trick with magicians is to make you look at the trick they’re doing and not look at the real thing which they’re pulling off away from what people are watching. The real issue here is they promised to be a government of no surprises and no excuses. Now we're seeing nasty surprises and pathetic excuses. If Labor had said before the election that the Abbott Government was going to slash trade training centres, that under the Abbott government the Holden car company would pull up stumps, that they would seek to remove any debt limits for government debt, people would have accused us of exaggerating. 100 days on, this is a government who break promises with monotonous regularity and they're not fighting for Australian jobs.
JOURNALIST: The mid-year update tomorrow is expected to show the deficit has blown out by another $20 billion. Does Labor have to take some responsibility for that?
SHORTEN: Here’s my prediction. The Abbott Government will spend all of tomorrow blaming Labor for everything, but the truth is that since the Abbott Government's got elected they've broken their promise on education, they have lost the Holden car company for want of making insufficient effort to try and keep them here. They don't seem to know what they want to do with Qantas, Australia’s international flagship icon airline. And they’re not fighting for Australian jobs. The Abbott Government- they’re the government now, they’ve got to stop blaming everyone else. The buck stops with them and they've got to start getting on and fighting for Aussies jobs, rather than simply saying it's all Labor's fault and life's too hard.
JOURNALIST: What about in terms of the surplus? What do you make of Mr. Abbott's comments that it doesn't look likely that it will return by 2016/17 ?
SHORTEN: Well the Abbott Government said when they were in opposition earlier this year they’d get us to surplus in one year. During the election they said it would happen in the term of the first government. This Abbott Government is doing a good job at lowering expectations. The economic challenges that Australia's faced were never going to be solved by Tony Abbott getting elected, and now the issue is that he's blaming everyone else. This is a Government who said there would be no excuses, but now it's everyone else's fault, and that there would be no surprises- and we're seeing them cut trade training centre’s, we’re seeing Holden jobs going offshore and we’re seeing a deficit which is predicted to be the biggest in Australia's Commonwealth history.
JOURNALIST: The majority of Australian troops are now officially out of Afghanistan - your comments on that?
SHORTEN: Well, on a more positive bipartisan note, I echo the Prime Minister's comments. I had the privilege to visit with the Prime Minister Australia’s combat forces in Oruzgan Province Tarin Kowt about a month and a half ago, two months ago. Australia's military forces have done an outstanding job. There are Australians serving in the Middle East and Afghanistan. A grateful nation should thank our service people. There's been in excess of 20,000 Australian service people who've represented Australia's interests bringing peace to Afghanistan. Tragically some 40 will never come home, and also 250 plus have received significant injuries. Our thoughts should be with them this Christmas. Our thoughts should also be with all those families of Australian service people who have an empty chair at the table at Christmas lunch because they've got a loved one representing Australia with the most professional capacity possible, and any Australian who's witnessed the efforts of Australia's military forces in Afghanistan, can only feel complete pride in the professionalism of Australia's military forces and we are grateful as a nation.
JOURNALIST: Are you worried about the spectre of PTSD?
SHORTEN: There’s no doubt that we need to make sure, as I know the defence department is doing, that we provide the greatest possible support for our returning veterans. It is true to say that whilst Afghanistan has been Australia's longest military war, that our veterans who are returning home, for many of them that war will never end, and that we will have veterans who for decades will be working through the issues of their service in Afghanistan and I think that all of us should support the efforts of helping our veterans both return within the military, and those who leave the military, helping absorb them into community life because this nation owes them a debt of gratitude for a war which for some Australian veterans will not end upon their return to Australia.
JOURNALIST: What are your thoughts on the Government reversing its position on roads funding that it had originally said it would pay for?
SHORTEN: The Abbott government is rewrapping Labor’s announcements and pretending to be Abbott government Christmas presents. What they’ve done is just rip the Made by Labor label off them and pretended it’s come from the Coalition government. Road’s funding is fundamental to Australia. What the Abbott government should do is stop acting like an opposition and start acting like a government. Stop blaming Labor. Work with Labor, and in 2014 collectively Labor and Liberal should work together to out Australian jobs first. They need to- the best Christmas present that the Abbott government could give Australians is sort out what we’re doing about Qantas, start standing up for Australian jobs, stop tinkering with our education system and generally get on with governing and stop trying to blame everyone else for the job that they are now expected to do by all Australians. Thanks everyone.
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