PORT KEMBLA, NSW
THURSDAY, 20 APRIL 2017
SUBJECT/S: Gas prices; manufacturing jobs; citizenship; Turnbull’s 457 visa con-job; Liberal Party division; media reforms; worker exploitation; third river crossing
SHARON BIRD, LABOR MEMBER FOR CUNNINGHAM: Welcome everybody to Wollongong. Stephen Jones and I are absolutely thrilled to have Bill Shorten back here. Of course, Bill was here almost exactly a year ago talking about the issues with BlueScope, visiting the BlueScope site, back here again today. Now of course, Bill was also here in October, visiting Leussink, another important manufacturing business for our region.
So we are really thrilled that Bill takes such a genuine and deep interest in our region, and gives Stephen and I great access to him as our leader, for talking about the issues that really matter locally. So I just want to say, Bill, we really appreciate the fact that you are someone who really cares about this region. We don't see many of the other side. They might be passing through but they don't stop here very often. And this is a powerhouse region for the nation.
So thank you for that and we are really really pleased to host you back in the Illawarra again. And thank you to BlueScope as well for hosting us today and for giving us a really great insight into the issues for them and their workforce locally.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Sharon, it's great to be back at Port Kembla. It's great to be here with Stephen Jones and Sharon Bird, talking about Australian jobs.
I want to acknowledge what a good job BlueScope is doing and what the workforce at BlueScope are doing. There are 4,000 direct employees and contractors and they are keeping Australia in the steel-making business. But what the hard work of BlueScope and its workforce need out of Canberra is a government who will take real action to stand up for Australian jobs. And one of the big challenges for BlueScope and many of its customers, is the out-of-control price rises and the cost of energy, in particular gas. We are now in an absurd set of circumstances where Japanese industrial customers can buy Australian gas cheaper in Japan than Australian companies can buy it in Australia.
Yesterday, Malcolm Turnbull called one of his trademark talkfests, where the gas companies came, they listened and they left, and nothing has changed. Malcolm Turnbull needs to realise that gas prices in Australia are at crisis levels. BlueScope customers report price increases year-on-year of 100 per cent increase in their gas and energy costs. This is not sustainable. Australian manufacturing is at a tipping point, and what we need is a government in Canberra who will actually take strong action to make Australian gas companies prioritise supplying Australian companies over their export markets.
It's pretty straightforward to most Australians. The gas comes from Australia and it belongs to Australians. And Australian companies and Australian workers should get first chance to access the gas, and then if there is surplus to Australia's requirements left over, then we should be exporting it to other countries. But we should prioritise Australian companies first.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: It’s not like it’s happened overnight, Mr Shorten, the gas shortage, why hasn’t there been planning in the past?
SHORTEN: It's a good point. I think the gas companies gave undertakings to say that as they expanded their export business, there would be enough for Australia, and I think something has gone wrong here. Let's be straight about it. As we build new export terminals to ship our gas offshore, I think it was done on the clear understanding that Australian domestic gas needs would be met first. Now, there is a real question mark about whether that is happening.
For me, it is a no-brainer. The gas comes out of the ground in Australia and first priority should go to Australian businesses and workers before we start satisfying the industrial needs of other countries. What the Government needs to do is persuade the gas companies, the big gas companies, that they need to fulfil their Australian contracts and do something about Australian prices, because it is now absurd that it is cheaper for a company in Japan to buy Australian gas than it is for an Australian company in Australia.
JOURNALIST: Is this a threat to BlueScope? And if it is, how big a threat is it?
SHORTEN: Well, BlueScope can speak for themselves. They get a lot of their own - they have a lot of indigenous gas that they use. But energy costs are about 15 per cent, roughly, of BlueScope's total costs. So energy is an important element, an ingredient, in the steel-making process. They are seeing increases in gas cost. But further down, their customers are being hit really hard, and the sort of numbers of 100 per cent increase in the gas prices is information I have sourced from the company.
Now what manufacturing business can sustain massive, well-beyond CPI increases in the cost of gas? I was at CSR yesterday on the Central Coast, a brick-making company, they're seeing a 25 per cent increase year-on-year. I was at Qenos, a petrochemical manufacturer in Melbourne's western suburbs on Tuesday, they're seeing a 50 per cent increase in gas prices.
Malcolm Turnbull has got to do something about the cost of gas in this country. And instead, he calls the companies together – and you know Malcolm Turnbull rates himself as a formidable advocate and persuasive man, yet for these gas companies, it is like being flogged by a wet lettuce leaf. They come, listen to Malcolm Turnbull and they've left, business as usual. In the meantime Australian jobs are in jeopardy.
JOURNALIST: The action plan that was undertaken in South Australia with their energy crisis, does New South Wales need to follow in a similar suit?
SHORTEN: Well, my focus is what the Federal Government can do. My focus is very –
JOURNALIST: You're here in New South Wales today, Mr Shorten. Do you think that they should follow suit?
SHORTEN: Well I suspect the New South Wales Government needs to do more, but my focus, of course, is what the Federal Government should be doing. You know, the reality is that gas exports are a federal matter. It's good that our companies are exporting gas overseas, but Australian needs should come first. It is an absurd situation that Australian gas is cheaper to buy in Japan than it is in Australia. And I am going to keep talking about this issue until we get an outcome because it's all about the jobs. It is not about Malcolm Turnbull's job. It is not about the CEO's job in a particular gas company. It is about Australian jobs.
You know, the BlueScope workforce have made a lot of changes. They're highly productive. They have gone without wage rises, and BlueScope has certainly turned the corner in terms of some of its results. The last thing Australian workers need is a gas crisis where you see the customers of BlueScope put under the pump by exorbitant and radically increasing prices in the cost of energy, which jeopardises the sustainability and profitability of Australian industry.
JOURNALIST: Turning to another topic, do you support the Government's changes to citizenship laws?
SHORTEN: Well, for me it's not about a citizenship issue. It's about Malcolm Turnbull desperate to save his own job from Tony Abbott. You know, I saw Malcolm Turnbull's remarks at a press conference earlier this morning. All he could do was talk about Labor. He said it's a test for Labor. He then went on to say it's a test for Labor and where we stand on domestic violence, where we stand on genital mutilation or child brides. Just how desperate is this man? Just how desperate is Malcolm Turnbull?
I'll tell Malcolm Turnbull where Labor stands. We stand for making sure there are not cuts to the legal centres who protect the victims of domestic violence. We stand for making sure that the victims of domestic violence are not cross-examined by their assailants in court. We've written to Malcolm Turnbull, time and time again, to do more for domestic violence, and he simply hasn't bothered responding.
Malcolm Turnbull's in no position to lecture anyone about domestic violence or anything else. Malcolm Turnbull likes to preach Australian values, maybe he should start practicing them, and it should start with domestic violence.
JOURNALIST: What's your view on it though, Mr Shorten, the citizenship changes?
JOURNALIST: And what are Australian values? What are your Australian values?
SHORTEN: I’ll tell you, two questions, I'll answer them in the order in which they were asked.
When it comes to the proposed citizenship laws, we haven't seen them. We'll have a look at them. I think it is reasonable to look for English language proficiency, and I think that it's reasonable to have some period of time, waiting time, before you become an Australian citizen.
But let's not pretend that even if there are some good features, this is about anything else than Malcolm Turnbull fighting against Tony Abbott. On Monday Tony Abbott says the Liberal Party has got to move to the right. By Wednesday Malcolm Turnbull's getting his compass out and working out which way right is. No, when it comes to the actual provisions in terms of the law, we'll look at them intelligently and sensibly, but let's call it as it is. Does anyone think that if Tony Abbott wasn't causing the division and the internal fighting with Malcolm Turnbull that we'd be talking about this today?
So we'll have a look at it. We'll be professional. In terms of Australian values, I'll give you some Australian values. It should be your Medicare card, not your credit card, which determines the level of healthcare you get in this country. Parents should be able to say that their kids can do an apprenticeship and reasonably expect to have an apprenticeship. I think it is an Australian value to make sure that we keep manufacturing and making things in this country, and therefore we need to do something about gas prices. I'll tell you another set of Australian values, the dream of Australian home ownership, that people should be able to afford their first home. I’ll tell you another value, it's the fair go all round – that' s why we don't support cutting penalty rates.
And a key Australian value, in my opinion? Fighting for Australian jobs. Malcolm Turnbull is just fighting Tony Abbott. The Liberal Party are focused on their own jobs. I'm here today fighting for Australian jobs. Talking about the crisis which is gas prices in this country.
JOURNALIST: Just on that topic of Tony and Malcolm, obviously this morning a document was leaked saying that Malcolm Turnbull rescued Tony Abbott from his own seat last election. You know, how damaging is all this sniping and backstabbing in the Liberal Party?
SHORTEN: The Liberal Party need to wake up to themselves. This country cannot be run with two prime ministers. One of them has got to go, either Turnbull or Abbott. It's up to the Liberal Party to sort that out. This is just division. Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull – what we see is the Prime Minister's Office organising an internal hit of Tony Abbott. No prizes for guessing how this document got leaked out and who it came from.
The problem is the Liberal Party need to do the job they're paid to do and govern Australia, but they're too busy fighting each other for one job. We want them to get on with fighting for Australian jobs.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, while we've got you here, the media reforms, what are your views on it personally and do you support the two out of three rule or abolishing the reach rule?
SHORTEN: We think the case has been made for amending the reach rule, but in terms of two out of three, we haven't seen the case made to abolish that. What we stand for is we want to make sure there is strong regional media, we want to see diversity in the media. This government hasn't outlined a blueprint for media in the next 25 years. They've got a shopping list of issues and they're trying to just placate all the stakeholders. In the meantime they haven't got a vision for media in this country.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there is a problem with the Government’s skilled traineeship program, do you think it’s being used to underpay students who at risk? We've seen neither example of that in Wollongong today.
SHORTEN: I think the media and the unions have been pretty diligent in Wollongong and Illawarra region about standing up for the conditions and dealing with exploitation. It is clearly a problem. There is no doubt in my mind that the Government needs to be doing a lot more to enforce and apply the laws. You know they've got a lot to say about unions but they're very quiet when it comes to the exploitation of workers aren't they?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, I believe you're heading down to the Shoalhaven this afternoon. How critical is it to get that third river crossing down there? We saw the Coalition pledge $10 million for planning, are we going to see similar sort of money?
SHORTEN: Well I'm going to talk to the locals, I do think the river crossing is important, no question. What I'm doing in Shoalhaven is visiting – I'm listening to people. We're preparing our policies for the next election. We've got a great candidate in Fiona Phillips. And I'll tell you what, I'm going to do a public meeting, I don't know if Malcolm Turnbull ever does public meetings anymore. That's the way you go out and listen to people. Just as I've visited Wollongong and Port Kembla here, I'll be heading to a public meeting, and I'll be meeting with business down in Shoalhaven.
I know one thing, I'll be interested to see what people think about the Member for Gilmore's Ann Sudmalis, what she said, it was a gift to young people to see penalty rates cut. I don't expect a lot of young people turning up saying it’s a gift to have their pay cut.
JOURNALIST: It's been needed for so long, that third river crossing, I'm sure your colleagues have heard a lot about it. Are we going to see some sort of money? You can go there and listen, and I'm sure these guys will listen, for way too long.
SHORTEN: Unfortunately there is not an election on this Saturday. We will certainly show respect to the region, that’s why I'm there. You said it’s good that we go to listen. I actually think not enough politicians actually do the listening part, they're always talking at people.
So we'll be down there, our priorities are Australian jobs. That's why I'm here in Port Kembla talking about the gas problem. I also want to see better local procurement, we should be putting Australian steel into Australian taxpayer-funded projects. We want to make sure the anti-dumping laws are as strong as they possibly can be, that they don't take too long to enforce. And certainly we will be down in Shoalhaven. I'll be talking about the youth unemployment, the cuts to apprenticeships and training, the cuts to penalty rates which we think will harm working families. So we will certainly be listening to people’s ideas on jobs. We certainly will be talking to people about the river crossing.
Thanks everybody, see you later.