THURSDAY, 16 MARCH 2017
SUBJECT/S: Australian jobs; ABS employment figures; Liberal energy policy chaos; Sally McManus; Tasmania’s role in energy security
BRIAN MITCHELL, MEMBER FOR LYONS: Thanks for coming out to Norske Skog today in beautiful Boyer. I am here with Bill Shorten and Brendan O'Connor and we have just had a fantastic tour of this site. The 76th year of operation of this site that produces news print for the Australian market. A great Australian success story and a great success story for manufacturing in Tasmania.
We have just seen today jobs figures come out, unemployment in Tasmania has gone up from 5.6 to 5.8 per cent. We've now got 14,700 Tasmanians out of work but Brendan and Bill will have something to say on that right now. I will introduce you to Bill Shorten.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Brian and good afternoon everybody. It is great to be here at Noske Skog in Boyer. I just want to congratulate the management and work force at this 76-year-old paper mill. This is a company and a work force who are not waiting for the world but they are making changes.
We have just been to see their upgraded paper machine which is winning back domestic work from import competition, in a combination of a company with a plan, and a work force who are highly committed to their jobs, quality and community, and so it has been a really inspirational visit.
I should also just say briefly, we've now got the jobs figures out today. They are disappointing figures, unemployment is up. But for me, the most disturbing news about the jobs landscape in Australia is that we now have the highest ever number of people who are underemployed. It is over 1.1 million of our fellow Australians who have recorded to the ABS that they would like more work than they are getting. When you combine that with the number of people who can't find a job at all, we are at 1.8 million-plus of our fellow Australians who either can find no work or insufficient work. This is a problem and we need to have a plan for jobs.
But let me make it clear, a plan for jobs is not a plan to cut penalty rates. We have got wages growth at the lowest that it has been in 20 years, company profits at the highest in 40 years. The answer in Australia is not to cut middle and working class workers' wages backwards. Cutting wages, a race to the bottom, is not the way of the future. Instead it is the sort of value proposition we are seeing here at this paper mill. Clean and green, sustainable, Australian-made, high quality, productive work forces backed up by investment in the best machinery possible.
I might also briefly, before I hand over to Brendan, just talk a little bit about the idea that Mr Turnbull's had about battery storage and hydro schemes in the Snowy River Scheme. What we really need to know is, is this just more talk from Malcolm Turnbull or are we going to see something actually happen? What we need to know is that this proposition, which on its surface is an interesting idea and worthy of exploring I might add, like so many of Mr Turnbull's ideas, it asks more questions than it answers.
Is it really just going to be $2 billion or will the cost to Australians be much higher? Have we got all the technical solutions worked out? And how long will this measure take? Is it five years, six years or ten years? I mean is this just a feasibility plan for an unfunded scheme which will take the best part of a decade to come to fruition? It doesn't it mean that we should bury the idea, Labor wants to look at it. But Mr Turnbull last week warned the Australian people that we had a national gas crisis right now, not in half a decade or 10 years’ time.
Does this measure actually mean that there will be more gas available to Australian households and Australian manufacturing? Does this mean that the horrendous increase in the price of gas, is the price of gas going to go down? I mean, this is a great company but their Albury plant for instance, heavily relies upon gas.
We see a doubling of the gas bill for manufacturers in Australia, we see a 30 per cent increase in April alone at this plant in the price of gas. What Mr Turnbull needs to tell us is what has happened to the gas emergency last week? What will this measure today do to solve the gas crisis which is threatening jobs and higher prices?
In the last month we have seen from this Government, talk of coal plants, renewable energy, hydroelectricity, gas, and indeed some Liberals are talking about nuclear power. The summary of all these thought bubbles is chaos and chaos delivers higher prices for households and higher gas prices for Australian industry which is the direct opposite of jobs.
I would like Brendan to talk briefly about the employment figures and then I'm happy to come and talk.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Just quickly, thanks Bill. Just wanted to add to some of the comments made by Bill in relation to unemployment and also comments made by Brian in relation to the unemployment in Tasmania.
Just to be very clear here, we've seen unemployment numbers increase. We've seen a loss of over 6,000 jobs just in the last month. We've seen, as Bill said, the highest underemployment number in our history. The youth unemployment rate rose by 1 per cent. Employment growth in this country is less than half the average employment growth over the last 20 years.
So the question we have for the Government is, where are the jobs and where is the growth?
We're seeing wage growth at its lowest in 20 years; employment growth at its lowest for many many years; underemployment rising; youth unemployment rising and no answers by this Government who needs to do a lot better and start outlining a plan instead of being divided and being dysfunctional and being distracted on issues that don't matter to ordinary Australians, they need to do better.
SHORTEN: Now we've got to get on a plane but I'm happy to take a few questions.
JOURNALIST: Does Labor have any information to suggest that the Snowy expansion scheme could shore up energy supply?
SHORTEN: I think the real test here, and we've heard a lot of ideas from the Liberals over the last four years, I mean they have in power for four years; is this just more talk from Malcolm Turnbull or will this idea actually stack up? Like so many of Mr Turnbull's ideas, it asks more questions than it answers. How much will it actually cost? How far greater than $2 billion is it? Will it take five or seven or ten years? These are issues which have to be answered.
Now on the surface, we're not ruling this idea out, Australians want better from their politicians. So we will look at this idea and see what we can do to help investigate it further.
But Malcolm Turnbull said last week that there was an emergency in gas right now. When Malcolm Turnbull last week said there's a national emergency, how does this scheme help the national emergency which is right here, right now?
This remarkable company is now having to see a 30 per cent increase in its gas prices in April, and if you look at Albury, it's seeing a doubling of its gas prices in the next two years.
If we don't tackle the gas emergency right now, five and ten years will be too late. So sure, we'll have a look at these ideas, we'll see if it amounts to any more than talk, we want to know the detail. But so far today, Mr Turnbull in answering a gas crisis last week - a national emergency he called it, has announced a feasibility study for an unfunded plan which will take the best part of a decade to implement and we don't know the price.
In the meantime, Australian industry is losing its gas. The central question here is are we exporting gas overseas which we should be providing to Australian households and Australian industry - that’s the most important issue right now. At the moment though all we’re seeing from the government is chaos.
JOURNALIST: Is it helpful for Premier Jay Weatherill to publicly criticise Minister Frydenberg given that he will have to work with him in order to resolve the power crisis?
SHORTEN: I think it was the Federal Liberals who tried to turn a terrible storm in South Australia into a political issue. The Federal Government has been rubbishing the South Australian Government and energy measures for the last few months, so Jay Weatherill has defended himself against a government whose been very inconsistent in terms of its commitment to renewable energy.
I think Josh Frydenberg needs to go back to the basics, we need to do more to invest in renewables, we need to do more to make gas available to Australian manufacturing and Australian jobs. We need to do more to keep the price of gas down. We need to have more national policy certainty.
I mean, I feel for Jay Weatherill he's got a Federal Government who plays politics and is subject to chaos. We have a chaotic national energy market, this Governments been in charge for four years. They're now rushing out today to say they'll do a study, about spending over $2 billion in the Snowy, which may be a good idea or it may not. But in the meantime this government has presided over chaos for four years and now the chickens have come home to roost and they don't like Jay Weatherill, the media, or the public criticising the Federal Government.
JOURNALIST: You’ve distanced yourself from Sally McManus' comments on 730 last night, was she wrong?
SHORTEN: I don't agree with her. If you think a law is unjust or unfair, then you change the law. We're very lucky to live in a country like Australia which has a democratic process. If you don't like the law, change the government and then change the law. That is the way to do business, not to break the law.
JOURNALIST: Do you still have faith in her as the leader of the Australian union movement?
SHORTEN: I think that the Australian union movement and her will do a good job. But let’s be clear here, I don't agree on this. There are unfair laws in workplaces, I don't disagree with that summary. I don't support the cuts to penalty rates, but the way you best handle fixing up unfair laws is you change the law and the best way to change an unfair law is to change the Turnbull Government.
JOURNALIST: Just on a state level, is Bryan Green the right man to lead the Labor Party at the next state election.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) because 20 per cent has preferred Prime Minister compared to 52 per cent Will Hodgman.
SHORTEN: Let's talk about the numbers that matter and I never talk about polls, when they're good or bad. There is 6,000 extra unemployed in Australia, we've got an increase in unemployment. That number worries me. The fact that Norske Skog who have done a great job reinvesting in the business is facing a 30 per cent increase in its gas price here, that number worries me. What worries me is that Tasmanian retail and pharmacy and fast food workers are about to get a pay cut in the case of permanent workers of up to $77 on a Sunday. They're the issues which worry me, not the polls.
And I know that Bryan Green stands against cutting penalty rates, Will Hodgman doesn't. I know that Bryan Green wants to see a better plan for gas prices, Will Hodgman doesn't. And I know that when it comes to Australian jobs and Tasmanian jobs, Bryan Green believes in employing apprentices and buying Australian made, cracking down on foreign visa workers who are being exploited. My money is on Bryan Green to stand up for Tasmanian's cost of living and jobs issues.
I did say last question and perhaps I'll get it from someone who hasn't had one.
JOURNALIST: Do you see a role for Tasmania to play in addressing national energy security, and if so, what would it be?
SHORTEN: Absolutely I see a role for Tasmania, I think Tasmania has had plenty of economic knocks but the fundamentals of Tasmania are very sound. You’ve got a very skilled and professional workforce; you've got hydro; you've been willing to pioneer change, and when you look at some of the new industries that Tasmania is going in to and I picked for example, salmon, but not just that, you know, food. The Tasmanian brand is strong. What Tasmania can do is, I think, work with Federal Labor in terms of making sure that we campaign to have gas available to Australian gas users rather than being all exported overseas. I certainly think we need an Emissions Intensity Scheme, and I certainly think we need to be doing more to ensure that we have renewable energy, you've to a big role in both implementing renewable energy from wind right through to technology and manufactured solutions.
JOURNALIST: Would you see this expanding the hydro scheme or introducing the second Basslink cable?
SHORTEN: I think Tasmania is fortunate to have hydro but one thing I know, if we're talking about what Tasmania can contribute to Australia, we need less chaos from the Turnbull Government. What we've seen today is Malcolm Turnbull raise another idea and the question surely has to be in light of the last four years, is this just more talk Malcolm or are we going to see something done?
On the surface the idea seems one worth exploring, but like all of Malcolm Turnbull's ideas it seems to create more questions than it answers. Will it really only cost $2 billion? What are the experts saying? Is this just a feasibility study to look at an unfunded plan which would take between seven and ten years to happen? In the meantime Malcolm, I've got to say, are we exporting more gas overseas when we need to supply it to our own people? And what happened to the national gas emergency last week, what are you doing about that?
Thank you everybody.