WEDNESDAY, 19 APRIL 2017
SUBJECT/S: Gas prices; Labor’s plans for manufacturing jobs; Lucy Gichuhi ; Malcolm Turnbull’s 457 visa con-job; BHP Billiton.
ANNE CHARLTON, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR ROBERTSON: Hello everyone, I’m Anne Charlton and I am here today with Bill Shorten back on the sunny Central Coast visiting the seat of Robertson. We are here today at CSR Hebel talking about gas volume and price. Welcome Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Anne. It's great to be here at CSR Hebel on the Central Coast. Of course it’s lovely to be accompanied by Labor's candidate Anne Charlton and Senator Deb O'Neill as well.
There is a crisis for manufacturing jobs in this country caused by a lack of gas supply to business. What we are seeing is because gas companies - gas producing companies have signed so many export contracts, we are seeing the price of gas produced in Australia for domestic manufactures being forced up and up and up. CSR faces a 25 per cent jump in its energy bill alone, 12 months on 12 months. And the simple truth is this, the gas in Australia belongs to Australians and to Australian companies and they should get first chance to purchase the gas. We are now in an absurd situation where Japanese companies can buy Australian gas more cheaply in Japan than Australian companies pay for Australian gas in Australia.
This is a very successful business, it employs at least 118 people directly, it employs many more indirectly. This is a business which is expanding, in the future it will be the largest aerated concrete manufacturer in the world in terms of [inaudible]. But we don't want to see the future jobs growth of blue collar jobs, manufacturing jobs, Australian jobs jeopardised because we've got a Federal Government led by Mr Turnbull which is too weak to stand up to the gas companies.
I believe that Australian gas should be first available for Australian business and Australian workers and then where we have a surplus of this Australian gas then by all means, sell it overseas. Mr Turnbull after a failed meeting last month is having another meeting today with gas manufacturers. He needs to be very clear, he needs to bang heads and say it’s not good enough that Australian companies and workers are being treated as second class to export contracts by large gas companies.
Today is a test for Mr Turnbull. If he doesn't come up with a deal where the gas producers in Australia commit to supplying the Australian market first, if he doesn't come up with a deal which sees gas producers swap their domestic and export contracts in a way which secures contracts for Australian providers, Australian manufactures, Australian jobs, he will have failed. Mr Turnbull cannot wash his hands, there is a gas crisis which will not wait until the next election. If he actually stands up to the gas companies and requires them to prioritise Australian jobs and Australian manufacturing, we will cooperate with him fully. This is too important to be left to politics, but Mr Turnbull just has to stand up to large gas companies because there is a real problem where Australian gas is not going to Australians and Australian businesses first.
Happy to take any questions on this or other matters.
JOURNALIST: Increasing gas prices I believe are affecting this business. What impact, here on the ground, is it having?
SHORTEN: Well CSR is to be congratulated for committing to further expansion of this Central Coast Hebel operation. But no business can withstand 25 per cent price increases on gas year on year. And for other companies they're facing either larger increases in gas contracts. We are in a crazy situation where whilst we produce enough gas to meet Australian demand in electricity and manufacturing and for domestic consumers, but our problem is we are selling more of the gas that we need in Australia to export overseas. So we're not producing enough currently to meet all of our export commitments and all of our domestic demands. And when it comes to standing up for Australian jobs and Australian manufacturing, the answer is very clear; you've got to back Australia first, you've got to back Australian jobs, you've got to back Australian manufacturing. Mr Turnbull needs to be unrelenting, tough and strong to make sure these gas producers are not selling gas which belongs to Australia and Australians overseas in preference to standing up for Australian jobs.
JOURNALIST: This business has plans to extend and they're quite extensive plans it can't be affecting them too badly if they've got those expansion plans in mind.
SHORTEN: Let’s be clear, the use of gas in manufacturing is fundamental. Gas generates the energy which allows us to turn raw commodities in to value added products. Gas is fundamental to the production of these bricks and the panels which we see made here. Gas is fundamental to the treatment of a lot of products upon which Australian manufacturing depends. No industry can withstand 25 per cent increases, so it doesn't matter what all the best plans in the world are, if your gas bill becomes too prohibitive, you're out of business and there is 40,000 manufacturing jobs, estimated by the Australian Industry Group, to be at risk. This is not a problem which can be kicked down the road. This is not a problem where some nice words and a cosmetic photo op in terms of meeting with the gas companies cuts the mustard. We need real action, we need it now.
When you have a situation where the Japanese industry can buy Australian gas cheaper in Japan than Australian industry can buy Australian gas in Australia, it’s gone beyond a joke and I'm here to stand up for jobs and Mr Turnbull should do the same thing and I'll be the first to say well done if he does.
JOURNALIST: On other issues Mr Shorten, the High Court has just rejected Labor's challenge to Lucy Gichuhi election. Why attempt it in the first place?
SHORTEN: It is important that people who sit in the Senate are eligible to sit in the Senate. It wasn't Labor who invented the Bob Day crisis. It's not Labor who has caused some of the recent problems we've seen in the Senate. We want to make sure that people are actually legitimately entitled to sit in the Senate. There is the legal process and that's what we've gone through.
JOURNALIST: Labor had three months to prepare, why wasn't the legal team properly prepared seeing that it’s been thrown out?
SHORTEN: Well why did Bob Day cause the whole muck up to begin with? Why did Malcolm Turnbull allow this to happen in the first place? Why was it that the Turnbull Government allowed Bob Day to be receiving rents or paying rents or whatever turned out to be the case there. If you want to look at what has gone wrong in the Senate, the blame clearly sits with the Coalition Government, who was happy to take the tainted vote of Senator Bob Day.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe the Constitutional ban on dual citizens serving is outdated?
SHORTEN: Sorry, I couldn't hear the question over the noise.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe that a Constitutional ban on dual citizens serving is outdated?
SHORTEN: It's the law. I respect the law, full stop.
JOURNALIST: In a modern world where lots of people are dual citizens, you know, should it be retained?
SHORTEN: I think if you want to stand for the Australian Parliament, you should be an Australian citizen, first and foremost. I think that is a reasonable requirement. We allow people who are born anywhere in the world to run for the Australian Parliament, but if you are a dual citizen then you've got two sets of loyalties. I don't think it is asking too much that Australian politicians have one set of loyalties, and that is to the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the Government signalling that they wanted to (inaudible) the citizenship clause?
SHORTEN: Sorry, I couldn't hear the second part of the question.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the Government signalling they wanted together the citizenship clause?
SHORTEN: I couldn't hear the middle part of your sentence - what do I make of what?
JOURNALIST: Of the Government signalling that they wanted (inaudible) the citizenship clause?
SHORTEN: They want to deal with the citizenship clause?
SHORTEN: Well, if you're referring to the visas, the visa situation, the Government isn't doing any crackdown, it's doing a con-job and we are already seeing, 24-hours after Mr Turnbull's rushed policy, that it is already unravelling.
See, Mr Turnbull loves to make big and bold and brave pronouncements - he's going to this, he's going to do that. The reality is though that whilst he says he's reducing the number of categories of occupations which will be eligible for temporary work visas from overseas, most of those occupations have not been used for ten years.
I mean this is a guy who is going to be tough on antique dealers and deer farmers, but he's still going to allow mechanics and nurses to come in from overseas.
Despite all the noise of Mr Turnbull's cosmetic job, what real difference will Malcolm Turnbull's announcement make? Let's see in 12-months’ time how many people will still be here on temporary work visas. There are 750,000 people in Australia on temporary work visas. Let's see how Mr Turnbull's crackdown on one category of visa actually reduces the number of people from overseas with work rights in Australia. We'll be watching that.
The fact of the matter is, he's scrapped one visa and replaced it with two new visas. The fact of the matter is that when you look at the list of occupations that he's seeking to change, only one in ten visa holders will be affected. I mean, this is cosmetic, it's not real. The fact of the matter is that for bakers and builders, for cooks, for nurses, for mechanics, they can still come in from overseas.
These jobs should be going to Australians, full stop, and I am worried that Mr Turnbull's - and I'm sceptical that Mr Turnbull's crackdown is actually a con-job, and it'll make no real difference. And he should answer this question, how fewer number of people will be working here on temporary work visas from overseas in 12-months’ time than there are now. And when you look at what he has done to local training, 130,000 fewer apprentices in Australia, big cuts to TAFE - this fellow I don't take seriously when it comes to standing up for Australian jobs.
JOURNALIST: The new visas are going to require legislative changes, will you support the legislation?
SHORTEN: We'll have a look at the detail of it, but again, if the changes are meaningless, that's the real issue, isn't it? Mr Turnbull's given himself a bunch of flowers yesterday and said what a good fellow I am, and yet what he's actually doing is reducing the number of deer farmers and antique dealers who can work in Australia. Well there haven't been any coming in for years now. But he's doing nothing on builders and bakers, on cooks and hairdressers, you know, this a fellow who makes tough announcements, but the reality is in 12-months’ time, what is he actually going to do to actually stop employers rorting the system?
There should be an independent labour market test - that's what Labor will do. We think that the current system is being rorted - we've said so. We're now in a different economic set of circumstances than five years ago. There's fewer jobs, we've got more people underemployed. Ever since the Liberals have been in we've seen the number of apprenticeships fall from 420,000 to about 280,000. This is a bloke who has got no plans to train Australians, and his announcement of a so-called crackdown, well that's more like a con-job when you look at the fine print.
JOURNALIST: Given that you've campaigned so strongly against 457s, how can you justify not fully supporting the changes?
SHORTEN: We're supportive of reforming 457s - absolutely. But if you're asking me what do I think about renaming one category of visa into two different categories of visas, well that's just shifting deckchairs isn’t it, on the proverbial sinking ship.
The reality is that unless you have independent labour market testing, whilst we have a system where employers can pretend to have actually tested the labour market, and they can still bring in hairdressers, builders, nurses, mechanics, boilermakers, bakers, well this isn't fair dinkum is it? So we'll let Mr Turnbull answer this question - how many fewer people will there be in 12 months’ time working on temporary visas from overseas, where they've got work rights in Australia?
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that BHP Billiton is being targeted by an activist hedge fund?
SHORTEN: Yes, normally I don't comment about foreign investment matters and what goes on with board direction shenanigans of large companies, but BHP Billiton is not just another Australian company. I am gravely concerned that if this hedge fund from New York succeeds in its bid with BHP Billiton, several poor consequences will occur.
One, BHP's Head Office will end up moving to London, and we'll see the economic importance of Australia diminished in the favour of the Northern Hemisphere. BHP is one of our very largest companies in Australia.
Two, I'm concerned that for Australian shareholders, they'll be treated as second-class.
Three, I'm also concerned that when you look at the proposed break-up of BHP Billiton's assets, in a time when energy security is paramount around the world, simply taking BHP Billiton's petroleum business elsewhere, and separating it from what we do with BHP Billiton what that company does. I think this is an untoward move.
So I do think there is a job for the Federal Government to make sure that for foreign investment purposes, this deal is very closely scrutinised, because so far what I've seen doesn't make it in the Australian interests, this deal.