WEDNESDAY, 20 SEPTEMBER 2017
SUBJECTS: Energy Crisis; Clean Energy Target; Liberal chaos and division; US refugee settlement deal; Barnaby Joyce’s constitutional eligibility; High Court decision.
JULIAN HILL, MEMBER FOR BRUCE: G‘day everyone, thanks so much for coming out and welcome Bill Shorten to the Bruce electorate. We're here at Ace Metal Treatment Services, a fantastic local manufacturer. Manufacturing actually, the census has confirmed is still the biggest single employment sector in my electorate, in the city of Monash where we are and in the city of Greater Dandenong and it's critical to so much of our economic activity across the south-east.
Now, I am enjoying a week now out of Canberra and Parliament but it's important that we are out talking to real businesses about power prices and gas prices in particular. Last week we heard repeatedly the Prime Minister and Josh Freydenberg, telling Australians and Australian businesses that gas prices and power prices have gone down. Well that's not what we're hearing when this business and too many others are suffering from the doubling or more of power and gas prices right now. So I challenge them to come down and see what's really happening, they're completely out of touch and have lost the plot.
Delighted to welcome Bill, a frequent visitor to businesses in our area, to say a few words. Thanks.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks, Julian and good morning everybody. It's great to be at Ace Metal Treatment in Clayton. This is a company who supply metal manufactured parts to a range of industry, they employ 25 workers, it's a business who is hanging in there. This is a business who in the last 12 months has faced sky-rocketing prices and of course that undermines their profitability and ultimately the job security of the workforce. Prices have risen here, over about a 12 month period from half a million dollars for gas to $1.2 million. Companies cannot afford that increase in gas.
That's why today I am calling upon Mr Turnbull to do two things to help deal with job security and increased prices for industry. The first thing he needs to do, is he needs to use the controls he has at his disposal to control the exporter gas in this country. It is a crazy situation that Australian companies can't buy Australian gas at the same price their overseas competitors are paying for the gas. This undermines profitability and ultimately puts at risk, jobs. The Government has the ability to control the supply of gas in Australia, it has the ability through the law, to regulate to ensure that domestic supplies of gas is satisfied first before export contracts are fulfilled. The second thing we're calling - and we're saying to Mr Turnbull, it's now time to act. Control the supply of export gas.
The second thing we are calling on Mr Turnbull to do today is to get the energy market operator, the regulator for the energy industry to make further enquiries into the real price increases that the gas industry is charging domestic users. And they shouldn't just make further enquiries as to the prices that the large gas companies are charging. They need to make public and transparent the basis of prices companies who are charging domestic users. It is very important that big gas companies are not gouging long-term contracts with domestic suppliers and charging unfair prices and ultimately undermining profitability and business and putting jobs at risk.
I call upon Mr Turnbull to take these two sensible steps. Make sure there is a sufficient supply of gas for domestic need and make sure of course, big gas companies aren't providing and ripping off long-term contracts making it more expensive for domestic manufacturers to survive in Australia.
We're happy to take any questions people might have.
JOURNALIST: Do you call on Mr Andrews to open up Victoria's gas supply and end the moratorium?
SHORTEN: Oh I've said previously I think part of the solution for energy prices is to increase the supply of gas in Australia. So it's not just about Victoria, it's about the Northern Territory, seeing if it's possible for them to extract more natural gas out of the Beetaloo Basin. It's about the New South Wales Premier, Premier Berejiklian, making sure that she doesn't have unreasonable moratoriums on the supply and exploration of conventional gas, and clearly that goes for Victoria as well, as I have said previously.
JOURNALIST: So in terms of power supply and prices we've also got the Clean Energy Target as well, do you think there's room for coal in that?
SHORTEN: Is there room for coal did you say? Coal is going to be part of our energy mix going forward, let me be very clear on that. But what Australia needs is we need an end to the war on renewable energy which Mr Abbott and the Liberal Party are pursuing. We need to ensure there is more gas supply because when there is more supply of gas, that puts downward pressure on prices. But we also need to get investment guidelines in place. We need a Clean Energy Target. Mr Turnbull hand-picked the Chief Scientist and then he hand-picked the Chief Scientist to do a report about the future of energy and climate change policy in this country. The Chief Scientist, who hasn't got a political barrow to push has proposed a Clean Energy Target. When you strip away the fancy language, what a Clean Energy Target provides is certainty around the rules, so that business can invest in new power generation. Once we have got business investing in new power generation, the energy crisis will start to recede.
The problem is that Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott are so busy fighting each other that we see prices are skyrocketing and jobs are at risk. It is a hopeless situation. Mr Turnbull can't fix the energy crisis in Australia until he fixes the crisis and division in the Liberal Party. The problem right now is that Mr Turnbull is so consumed by his argument with Mr Abbott, that we're not getting good government, and when you don't have good government, we don't have clear energy policy which is leading to an energy crisis. So what they need to do, I believe, and it is reasonable for Labor to offer its alternative ideas, is to get the regulator to make more transparent the gas prices which are being charged to Australian industry and long-term contracts, and they need to do something about controlling the supply of gas that is going overseas and make sure Australian companies get first access to Australian gas.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Tony Abbott will make good on his promise to cross the floor if the Clean Energy Target is introduced?
SHORTEN: Well Mr Abbott is determined to make Mr Turnbull's life hell, it would appear and Mr Turnbull spends all his time trying to keep the divisions in the Liberal Party under control. But in the meantime, the rest of Australia has got to deal with an energy crisis. How on earth can we get downward pressure on energy prices, how on earth can we protect jobs and manufacturing like at this business and many other businesses around Australia, when all Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull want to do is fight each other? The longer they keep fighting each other, the higher our prices are going for energy and the greater risk there is to Australians' job security.
JOURNALIST: Matt Thistlethwaite has criticised the employer who took action against Madlin Sims over her "No" Facebook post, do you stand by - did the employer do wrong?
SHORTEN: Listen, I don't know all the facts of the matter of the case you are referring to and I won't comment on that individual case. But I want to make very clear, people should not be dismissed from their employment for having different views about marriage equality in this country. Peoples' job security shouldn't be threatened by that, but I do hasten to add I don't know all the facts of this particular case. No-one should risk losing their job because they are either voting yes or no.
JOURNALIST: Should Australians be afraid that Donald Trump is using such inflammatory language about North Korea?
SHORTEN: I think the real risk to security and stability is actually the North Korean missile testing. Now is the time for all countries to work together. Cool heads and diplomatic language obviously are an important ingredient. But the North Korean missile test should stop and an important thing I think is that we need to make sure that all of the countries are standing by and supporting South Korea and Japan. That's why I am pleased that my Foreign Affairs spokesperson Senator Penny Wong and myself will be visiting South Korea Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and Japan Tuesday and Wednesday, to on one hand, show our support and solidarity for these two countries, and secondly, to hear from the leaders on the ground about what is really happening.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible question)
SHORTEN: I heard the first part of your question. You said the Greens are calling for something but I missed the end.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, it's a bit loud. The Greens are calling for the Government to provide a special humanitarian intake of Rohingya’s from Myanmar - would you support that?
SHORTEN: I do think that what is happening in Myanmar, formally known as Burma, is a looming humanitarian crisis where we see the majority population accused of persecuting the minority population. I have written to Mr Turnbull to get more information and to say that I think Australia needs to step up its efforts there. In terms of the specific humanitarian response, that is something I would like to work through with the Government rather than just say it, you know off the cuff here.
JOURNALIST: Labor's criticised the Turnbull Government’s deal with the US to resettle refugees from Manus and Nauru, suggesting it wouldn't be realised. Does today's announcement that the group is being sent to the US, provide you wrong?
SHORTEN: No, I am pleased and we have always been supporters of resettling people from Manus and Nauru in the United States. Let's be very clear here, we have been strong supporters of that arrangement and it has been one of the issues where I have been in close agreement with Mr Turnbull and I am pleased that the first people are getting the opportunity to be resettled. I also want to make very clear, despite what some in the Government say, we don't want to see the people smugglers back in business. We say through the Australian media, to the people smugglers who watch such media reports, be very clear, it doesn't matter if it is Liberal or Labor, when it comes to stopping the people smugglers from getting back into business, we will stop you, full stop. And I am pleased that some of the people in these facilities have the opportunity to be resettled.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Labor has a serious chance of winning the seat of New England if there is a by-election there?
SHORTEN: We don't know what the High Court will decide. Currently there is not a vacancy. Labor said there is a cloud over the constitutional eligibility of the Deputy Prime Minister. That matter will be determined by the High Court. I for one am not going to pre-empt what the High Court decides but I can't imagine taxpayers in New England or anywhere else will be very happy that because of the lack of attention to detail paid by Mr Joyce, by the lack of detail that he paid towards his constitutional eligibility, that taxpayers could be slugged with a big bill to pay for a by-election which shouldn't have to happen. Let's see what the High Court says to begin with. Very last question.
JOURNALIST: Will Labor push for a motion of no confidence in the Government?
SHORTEN: If the High Court makes a decision about the MPs, is that the question? Let's see what the High Court says. We're not going to start jumping to any hypothetical situations. Again, I sincerely hope that because of a lack of attention to detail by members of the Government, the taxpayers aren't going to have to foot the bill for an expensive by-election.
And I've got to say to finish up this press conference, to return to where I started, the fact that the Government is so internally divided, so unsure about the eligibility of their Members, what we are seeing is the priorities of every day Australians not getting dealt with. Australians want action on energy prices. They want to make sure that gas supplies are going to Australian businesses first before going overseas. They want to make sure that the big gas companies are not gouging long term contracts with industrial operators such as this business and they want the Government to focus on the needs of the people. Today Labor is making some reasonable suggestions on how we can do something about downward pressure on prices, and we can do something to preserve job security for Australian manufacturing workers and blue-collar workers. And we say to the Government; stop fighting each other and start fighting for the Australian people. That's what Australians want from us. Thank you everybody, see you later.
JOURNALIST: So will you push for a motion of no confidence?
SHORTEN: Sorry, I did say that was the last question. We'll see what the High Court decides.
JOURNALIST: So you wouldn’t put a motion of no confidence?
SHORTEN: If you can tell me what the High Court is going to decide, I can then answer your next question. Thanks everybody.