MONDAY, 18 SEPTEMBER 2017
SUBJECTS: Labor’s commitment to tourism in North Queensland; ABCC; schools; North Korea; energy policy
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well hello everyone, it's great to be back up in Cairns with our duty senator, Senator Clare Moore and it's been great to see the performing arts centre taking shape. I've got to say the Council and the Government need to be congratulated and the FKG group, this is 120 jobs but the jobs won't just stop when this excellent structure gets completed.
This is showing that Cairns wants to grab the tourism boom that Asia offers and it's been quite a red letter day for Cairns, aquarium opening, the performing arts centre moving along and lots and lots of jobs. And Labor is happy to do its bit too. I congratulate the Mayor, Bob Manning of Cairns Regional Council, he and his Council have been working very hard in giving ideas, in a non-political way, to whoever wants to listen, whoever wants to get the opportunities of tourism in Cairns and Far North Queensland.
So today, following a good look at a policy which was put to us by the locals I am pleased to say that a Shorten Labor Government, if elected, would put $5 million into the Wangetti Trail, which would be a 76 kilometre, hiking, and biking trail from here further north and the surrounding mountains. This will generate not only 74 jobs but it will generate literally, millions and millions of extra dollars as tourists come looking to enjoy the pristine environment of this area. So this is part of what, we see is the future for Cairns - I mean, there's lots of good industries in Cairns and the far north, no question. But let me be clear our commitment of $5 million for the Wangetti Trail is the beginning not the end. Labor wants to put serious money into tourism if elected. Australia needs tourism and an export industry and the jobs it creates, we need to create more of these industries so Labor is going to double down on tourism, we see tourism as a great export and jobs industry and Australia needs export and job industries. And when you look at some of the potential which is already being grasped by local business leaders, local Council, local politicians, Canberra needs to get behind Cairns.
I mean in the next period of time we're going to see Hainan and China Southern Airlines bringing in five connections a week. Planeloads of tourists who are looking for the tourist experience and what a great story Cairns has in conclusion. You know, you've got the aquarium, it's got the performing arts, it's got the environment, the hinterland and of course it's got the reef. I just want to make sure that Cairns and indeed Australia is ready to grab and create and reinvest in an export industry and a job industry like tourism.
I'm happy to invite the local leader Bob Manning to talk a bit further about his ideas for tourism and his vision.
BOB MANNING, MAYOR: Thank you very much Bill and what a pleasure it is to have you in town today and to be talking to us but talking with tourism front of mind. Cairns is a city – or tropical North Queensland, it's a region that prides itself on the tourism industry. We do punch well above our weight; I know that's an old cliché but it's the truth. On a per capital basis, we run ahead of the pack.
I also thank Bill for the announcement on the Wangetti Trail, that is a masterpiece which will connect Palm Cove with Port Douglas up through the ranges and that will become a world renowned track. So, we very much appreciate that support but more so, we appreciate the statements made about the importance of tourism to Australia. About the fact that it's an export industry, the fact that it's a job generator. I mean tourism is the job generator like no other. I might also point out that we talk these days about renewable energy, well, let's talk about a renewable industry, tourism is a renewable industry. It doesn't burn anything, you don't have to dig anything up, it's just people come, they see, they leave their footprints, they have wonderful memories and they go back home and they come back again.
It is you know, the great industry I think for the future, for Australia. Thank you.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Bob. Are there any questions for Bob or I?
JOURNLAIST: For the Mayor, are there any other big projects that you want a federal contribution for?
MANNING: Yes there are and you'll be the first to know when we're ready to say so. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Little titbits? Nothing?
SHORTEN: To be fair to Bob he and the local tourism leadership here have been making it clear that they'd like to see improved airport access, I think that is important both to the Northern Beaches and also, more generally to the Bruce. It is really important if Cairns is bringing in all of these tourists who are spending valuable dollars creating jobs, it is important that not only have they got something to do in the region, but they can get from A to B. So I get that the airport is in many ways the doorway to Cairns and the Far North, so we need to seriously consider what the Council has to say about making sure that access is important. Airports which have poor access don’t do as well as airports that have got good road access.
Any other questions?
JOURNALIST: You’ve said that Canberra doesn’t take Cairns seriously. Is that what you were alleging before?
SHORTEN: Well I think that we miss an opportunity here. I often find, as I travel around North Queensland, the best ideas are on the ground. The best ideas are found in the local chambers of commerce, the council, the local MPs, the local business leaders and other stakeholders.
Cairns is a tourism mecca. I don’t say that just as a Melburnian who’s had holidays up here as we escape our own winters. But for the rest of the world. Australia needs export and job industries. Tourism is an export and job industry. So I repeat myself: this announcement about the trail is the beginning, not the end. If we get elected at the next federal election, we’re going to spend some serious money encouraging and supporting tourism, because we think that’s one of the future drivers of Australia’s economic prosperity.
JOURNALIST: How would you see this fund for tourism set up? Do you see it as being comparable to NAIF, for instance? Or is it just an ad-hoc sort of grant?
SHORTEN: Good question. Our opposite numbers in the LNP have set up this Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, but nothing has actually been spent. I mean, if announcements were worth money we’d all be millionaires through this NAIF scheme, it’s just nothing has happened. It seems to be largely a mining play at the end of the day, and while mining has its place, the idea that local governments can’t bid for contracts out of NAIF is silly, because quite often, local government knows where the best plans are.
The idea that you’ve got to pass a $100 million threshold to trigger the facility, that just seems too high a high-jump bar. When you think about good tourism projects, the aquarium, maybe that was about $55 million, don’t hold me to that precise number, thereabouts. This is $53 million. Wangetti Trail will be $20 million. I guess the point that I’m driving at is that not everything needs to be a gold brick multi-billion-dollar exercise. So Labor has proposed creating a $1 billion Tourism Infrastructure Fund which would draw down $1 billion of the $5 billion which the Government’s currently sitting on and hatching like a long dormant egg.
JOURNALIST: And therefore would you abolish the NAIF fund and focus on this tourism one, or would you keep NAIF going, if elected?
SHORTEN: We haven’t got a final view. We did support the idea of a Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. This government really has squandered it. When they write the history of this government, and hopefully they do after the next election, I think they’ll view this as a missed opportunity. We regard Northern Australia as worth investing in. We haven’t finalised our views about how the rest of NAIF should work. But we would put $1 billion into tourism.
Tourism just makes sense. It’s one of the industries – some people think that tourism is stop-start, or famine and feast – I don’t think that’s a fair description. Whilst of course when you have global recessions or currency changes, the value of people’s money when they come here, their ability to travel here, varies. But the trend line, if you like, if you smooth out all the peaks and troughs, is all good. Tourism is a winner for Australia. And the better we do tourism, the better Australia will do.
JOURNALIST: $1 billion for NAIF and $1 billion for this tourism fund, that’s a lot of money for the North. Can you commit to both?
SHORTEN: The billion we are talking about is the same billion, that would be taken out of the NAIF fund for the tourism fund. But listen, you’ve got to spend a little to get a reward here, don’t you? Tourism is important. I bet you that when this facility is finished, by the quality workers here and by the skill of the operation here, no one will complain about the money once this place is built. Just as the aquarium is another upscaling, an upsizing and improving the tourism experience. And of course, I’m looking forward to getting further briefings on the Reef today. Cairns and tourism go together. This is the gateway to Far North Queensland. When you are sitting on this sort of jewel, it’s important that we develop it sustainably and intelligently to create jobs up here in the region.
JOURNALIST: Michael Healy, the state candidate for Cairns, his campaign office is opening tonight. [inaudible] attending that?
SHORTEN: I’ve got to do a town hall meeting in Townsville, but I’ve known Mick Healy for quite a while. I think he’ll be an outstanding member. Anyone who has met him knows his heart is tattooed just over it with Cairns. He’ll do a great job. And he’s quite a raconteur, so I’m sorry to be missing his event. He’s a very entertaining fellow, too.
JOURNALIST: I have some questions from Canberra. Do you have any sympathy for Nigel Hadgkiss at all, he’s resigned?
SHORTEN: He’s the regulator, he’s was the Government’s tough-cop-on-the-beat in construction, and it turns out he was breaking the rules. They've been out there, the Government, giving a lot of lectures.
He has resigned now. What has to be answered now is what did Minister Cash know and what did the Prime Minister know? If you have your tough-cop-on-the-beat turning out to be subverting laws, and then the Prime Minister and the Minister for Industrial Relations knew about it 11 months ago and did nothing, what does that say for their respect for the rule of law in government?
JOURNALIST: So, therefore, do you have any sympathy for him?
SHORTEN: He has resigned. He has paid a big price for what he has done, I am not going to dance on his career now. That matter is over, I am interested in what the Government knew, when it knew it. And why does the Government always want to go after unions and people who are trying to get better conditions for workers? It just shows that this is a very political government. They are not interested in health and safety, the productivity and the fair work conditions. And I think that's been outed by their regulators conduct.
JOURNALIST: And do you believe the UN Security Council has exhausted all options available to bring North Korea to heel? And if so, does that mean that military action is the only option now?
SHORTEN: I sincerely hope not. What we need to do is recognise first of all, that the North Korean regime's actions with their nuclear missile testing are incredibly serious, incredible grave. It destabilises, not just the countries in the immediate region - China, South Korea and Japan - but it is destabilising for the region and indeed, for what happens throughout the globe.
I and the Liberals, on this matter, are in complete unity. Australians should know that Labor and the Government have exactly the same view. But diplomatic solutions are the ones which should be pursued at all costs. We need to encourage all nations to put whatever pressure they can on North Korea to stop their very provocative and destabilising conduct.
JOURNALIST: I have one on education as well. There is talk that students as young as grade one could be, you know, go through testing. Is that too young to test people?
SHORTEN: Well, like millions of Australians, I am a parent. Like all parents, we think that the most important thing is a quality education for our kids.
What concerns me is that under Mr Turnbull and his Government, $17 billion is being taken out of our school system over the next 10 years. So now I see the Government has a plan to test littlies. I don't know if it is a serious plan or not, actually. I mean, where is the money coming from? Where are the resources coming from? If this means taking away resources from other more important work for our littlies, I would have thought it isn't a serious idea. If the Government is fair dinkum on this, they'll explain where the money is coming from and what else are they taking money away from, from our kids education. And they should reverse their cuts to education if they are fair dinkum.
JOURNALIST: And one on power, sorry. What extra electricity generation capacity do you think is required to avoid blackouts this summer?
SHORTEN: Well, we will go on what the regulator says, AEMO. They have said that we need to have potentially 1000 megawatts of reserve or strategic storage.
What Mr Turnbull and the Government need to do is to stop blaming Labor. They have been in power - this is their fifth year. At some point, you can't keep blaming the previous occupants when you've been the occupants of the Government yourself for now into your fifth year.
They need to get on and sort out their politics in renewable energy. They need to make sure there is a greater supply of gas. If you increase the supply of gas, what that means is that you keep downward pressure on prices - therefore, it is possible, I think, to solve a lot of the other problems. It's all about gas supply, it's all about policy certainty and it's all about forgetting the politics.
I think Australians are sick and tired of the blame game. Mr Turnbull is the guy in charge, he sits in the big chair, he should stop trying to blame everyone else and get on and come up with some answers. We will work with him.
JOURNALIST: In terms of those answers, should government fund the answer?
SHORTEN: I think government has got a role to play in terms of policy investment certainty. Put it like this: we need business to invest in new sources of energy, new energy generation. They're not going to invest in new forms energy generation if there is no certainty about what the rules are for investment. So, if you want to sort out the traffic jam, what you've got to put the traffic lights in place and give the green light to new investment in energy.
Mr Turnbull, he's just got to stop worrying about Labor all the time and start worrying about the people, and I think that's what Australians expect from him.
JOURNALIST: The Federal Government is talking about providing the old Tully Millstream Hydroelectric scheme. Is that beyond the (inaudible)?
SHORTEN: We think that hydroelectoric schemes are apart of our energy future. We would have to have a close examination of what they're proposing. The only problem with the Government at the moment is it’s a new thought bubble every week. They're talking about Snowy 2.0 but that's not going to come on for many years. They're talking about extending the life of Liddell power station but whilst that's an important issue to deal within five years, it's all about now. I just say to Mr Turnbull now that parliament has risen, let's just skip the politics, let's identify where we can get some energy so that we don't have shortages this summer.