TUESDAY, 18 APRIL 2017
SUBJECTS: Gas crisis; North Korea; Turnbull’s $50 billion tax handout to big business; 457 visas; negative gearing; insurance exit fees
JOANNE RYAN, MEMBER FOR LALOR: G'day guys. I'm really pleased to welcome Bill to the Outer West today on one of his many visits to this part of the world that he knows so well.
We are here today talking to Qenos about jobs, and about gas, about volume and about price.
I'll hand over to Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you and good afternoon everybody. There is a gas crisis in Australia and 40,000 Aussie jobs are at risk. There is a gas crisis in this country because the gas producers in this country have promised more gas to Australians, and more to overseas than they can actually fulfil.
So let me be really clear about what Labor thinks: gas in Australia belongs to Australians. The gas in Australia belongs to Australians and Australian business, and their needs should come first.
It is literally crazy that in Japan and Korea you can buy as much Australian gas as you want, and pay less for it than we're paying for in Australia.
Malcolm Turnbull cannot afford to leave this problem until the next election. We need to have less talk and more action.
The problem in Australia right now, is that we're producing enough gas, but we're selling too much of it overseas and we haven't left enough for Australian jobs and Australian business.
Australians and Australian business own the gas, and it should go to their needs first and then other countries' needs second.
We call upon the Turnbull Government to bring these companies together, but not leave it to them to fix. Malcolm Turnbull has got one job tomorrow, it is to bang heads and get all the businesses who are producing the gas to prioritise Australian jobs and Australian business, before they export gas we need here overseas.
Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: So you are proposing an arrangement to divert gas back to Australian industry. Can you elaborate a little bit more as to how that would work?
SHORTEN: This is the problem. There's a certain amount of gas required for the electricity industry, for consumers, and of course for industry, and then there's a certain amount of gas which is being contracted to overseas markets.
The problem is, it would appear that when you add our domestic demand plus the amount promised in export, that's more gas than we currently produce in Australia. Now, there's long-term solutions, obviously, to how we can get more gas, but there's a problem right here, right now.
Qenos, the company who I stand in front of today, they employ the best part of 1,000 people, direct and permanent contractors, and the multiplier effect beyond that of the jobs they generate both in Sydney and Melbourne is even much broader than just those thousand-plus direct jobs.
The issue here is that their own gas prices, realistically, have gone up 50 per cent. The reason why gas prices are going up in Australia, is because gas which should be diverted to Australian use is going overseas.
So the Prime Minister, he's had one talk fest with the gas companies and they must have laughed at him afterwards because nothing happened, now they're meeting again tomorrow. What he's got to say is, he's got to encourage the gas companies to source the gas they need for their export contracts on the international market, and do a series of international swaps.
The point about it is, the world price of gas is lower than the spot prices we're paying in Australia. What I believe is gas belongs to Australia and to Australians, and their needs should come first.
Malcolm Turnbull needs to roll up his sleeves and stand up for Australian industry, because this is a real crisis and it won't wait another 12 or 18 months or five years. The problem is here and it's now.
It is outrageous that it is possible in Japan or Korea to buy Australian gas cheaper than our own industry can buy it in Australia. The system has gone topsy-turvy and it's now time for the Government to start showing leadership, and to back Australian jobs, and demand Australian gas for Australian business.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what do you believe the US should do in relation to North Korea?
SHORTEN: It's a hard issue. First of all, no one can take a backwards step. North Korea is a rogue nation, they are a nation who operate outside the norms of what other modern countries do, and they have nuclear arms and they keep trying to expand the reach of their nuclear weaponry.
I think it is important that America shows a strong presence in the Pacific, but I also think there's a job here for China. North Korea is a neighbour to China. China has the capacity, through sensible dialogue, I think, to start encouraging the demilitarisation that we're seeing in North Korea.
So I think it's a job, not just for the Americans, but for China too. I certainly take it very seriously. I want to say to Australians who are concerned when they see all the reports about tensions in this part of the world, when it comes to international security and dealing with North Korea, Liberal and Labor are fundamentally on the same page, and that's the way it should be too.
JOURNALIST: So you're very worried about the escalating tension in this area?
SHORTEN: Yeah, you'd have to be a fool not to be worried about what's happening in North Korea. It's a very serious issue.
JOURNALIST: So if you support Aussie businesses like Qenos, why oppose giving them a company tax cut that would mean they could employ more workers?
SHORTEN: The problem for Qenos is not the company tax rate. The problem for Qenos is not having enough gas.
If Malcolm Turnbull says the answer to the gas crisis is to reduce the company tax rate at Qenos in ten years, he's dreaming.
What this company needs, it doesn't need a reduction in its corporate tax rate, it just needs reliable, sustainable supplies of gas at prices which are not blackmail.
The fact of the matter is that gas generated in Australia should be available to Australians and Australian businesses first. If we make enough gas in Australia that there is excess to sell on the export markets, that's a great thing, up for that all the way. But if I have to choose between gas being supplied to Australian jobs or jobs in Korea or Japan, I choose the gas to be supplied to Australian jobs every time.
JOURNALIST: So what’s your message to workers who may have got extra shifts here had they got a company tax cut?
SHORTEN: I think that's a total misreading of the hydrocarbons market in Australia. The problem in the gas industry is not whether or not they are going to get, in the manufacturing industry behind me which relies on gas, the problem is not whether or not they get some speculative corporate tax cut to a large company in 10 years time, what matters is their jobs in the next 12 months.
What these people don't need is more Turnbull hot air, what they need is real gas and they need it supplied domestically at competitive prices. The problem at the moment is that the gas companies in this country have overpromised the gas. They’ve promised Australians and they've promised overseas. And the problem for Australians is at the moment the exports are getting the priority and we don't have enough gas for our own industry.
No one has explained to me how it is the case that in Korea and Japan they pay less for Aussie gas than Australian industries pay. And no one can explain to me why Turnbull is dragging his feet and not getting on the phone and not sitting in a room with these gas companies and saying 'hey, this gas belongs to Australia, it belongs to Australians, they ought to get first crack at this gas'.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten on negative gearing, would you accept any compromise in terms of negative gearing? Say limiting the number of properties or a cap on investments?
SHORTEN: No, I think negative gearing has its race for existing properties. The real problem we are trying to solve here isn't some political compromise with Malcolm Turnbull - it's housing affordability. The fact of the matter is that when we've got people investing in housing to minimise their tax, what we see is the great Australian dream of a couple buying their first home rapidly becoming the great Australian nightmare.
It’s very straightforward, why every Saturday should a couple and their parents who are keen to bid for their first home, face the unfair competition of investors and speculators who are getting a tax concession and a leg up to compete with them unfairly when it comes to housing affordability in the cities and towns of Australia?
Malcolm Turnbull needs to start standing up for first home buyers rather than the property speculators and the investors alone, and he should just simply adopt our policy before the next election and we'd be happy for him to do it.
A couple more questions perhaps.
JOURNALIST: Last year $427 million was spent on public servants travelling around Australia and the world. Do you think this needs to be reviewed at all? That's a lot of money.
SHORTEN: It is a lot of money. Again, Malcolm Turnbull says he wants to be tough on reducing debt and deficit but he's turned the taps on in terms of expenditure when it suits him.
I've got no doubt though the problem with all of this is that it diminishes the general perception of politics. I think the Government really does need to get its budget expenditure under control. I mean they're happy to send out tens of thousands of robocalls and debt collectors out to chase people on Centrelink for tiny amounts of money. Yet you've got some senior public servants who their travel bills are going up and up and up. No wonder Australians are turned off politics.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Government is pursuing you over your track record when it comes to 457 visas and did you let things get out of hand, and do you congratulate Peter Dutton for reducing the number?
SHORTEN: I don't know if Peter Dutton wrote that question, but the point about it is five years ago there was a mining boom and of course what that meant is that that was sucking a lot of people in to that industry and there was skill shortages. But the fact of the matter is now, Australians want to know what the Government is going to do and what we're going to do.
We will make it harder for Australians not to get first crack. We want Australians to have the chance to get first go at these jobs, that’s why we want to rescue TAFE, we want to set a requirement that more apprentices be employed and we also want to crackdown on dodgy visas.
This Government is trying to distract everyone from their current record. They’ve been the Government for four years, we've got 1.13 million people who are underemployed, not getting enough hours of work. We've seen the scandals of 7-Eleven and other rip-offs of foreign visa workers and we've got a lot of Australians who say they would like to get work but instead it’s going to temporary foreign labour.
Only Labor can be trusted to actually fix up the rorts in the 457 visas and the other visas. And we will keep arguing for Australian jobs.
The issue here is clear: it doesn't matter if it’s manufacturing, we want a regular supply of gas or any other issue. We stand up for well-paid Australian jobs.
JOURNALIST: Do you think elderly residents are being taken advantage of with all the exit fees we are seeing leaving care homes?
SHORTEN: Well there we go again, the challenge of insurance companies ripping off elderly, vulnerable people. This is why you need to have a Royal Commission of financial services and the banking sector. Because consumers all too often get ripped off and I again, to me, this whole scandal shows two things. One is, what is the Government doing to fix it? And if they won't we will put in our own legislation to protect older vulnerable people. And two, yet again another example of the financial services industry not looking after consumers proving the case for a Royal Commission.
I might just make one final point about jobs.
It is 25 days out from the Budget and all this Government are able to do is fight amongst themselves. They're not going to get this Budget right because they're not putting the work in to it. You've got Tony Abbott out there again criticising the Government. Other members of the Government criticising Tony Abbott. You cannot run a proper government and fight for Australian jobs if you can't keep the division under control. Mr Turnbull needs to get his division under control, he needs to get his own house in order because Australians want real action on the gas crisis and all the other range of problems which are affecting everyday Australians.