WEDNESDAY, 8 AUGUST 2018
SUBJECT/S: COAG, NEG; Emma Husar; Great Barrier Reef Foundation; National Integrity Commission; Hospitals before banks.
PROFESSOR IAN JACOBS, PRESIDENT AND VICE-CHANCELLOR OF UNSW: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to UNSW. I want to start with an important acknowledgement that we stand on the land of the Bedegal people and I pay my respects to them as the traditional custodians of this land and my respects to elders past and present. I'm delighted to welcome the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Bill Shorten and Senator Jenny McAllister to UNSW today.
The context of this meeting of course, this visit, is that Australia's energy needs have been extraordinarily prominent in our nation and in public debate. This centre, UNSW's Solar Industrial Research Facility which we've just toured, plays a pivotal role in an increasingly urgent quest for cheap, sustainable energy. It is unique in that it brings together our very best researchers at UNSW with industry partners to push forward on this extraordinarily important area of research and its application.
Now, it is true to say that UNSW has been at the forefront of this sort of work in solar energy for at least 40 years. And the story of that work goes from basic science, through translation, to its application which Mr Shorten has seen in action here today, and in that context I took the opportunity to emphasise that there is a need in Australia to keep investing in this sort of great research. In solar, in renewable energy and in so many other areas. It is the cornerstone of a prosperous and successful society. And I'll just conclude by saying that I'll be giving a Press Club, National Press Club, speech next week on behalf of the Group of Eight universities, and during that speech I will present data which shows just how much return research investment in our nation brings for the country in terms of economic benefit but equally importantly, in environmental and in social impact.
So it is my pleasure to host this visit. Delighted to have you here and I am now going to hand over to someone who is a wonderful advocate on environmental issues, Senator Jenny McAllister. Thank you.
JENNY MCALLISTER, LABOR SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES: Look, I just wanted to make a few remarks. It's of course a great pleasure to be able to be here with Bill and to welcome Bill back to New South Wales for the umpteenth time, you're here a lot. But it's particularly nice to be here at UNSW. I had a fairly deep professional involvement in climate and sustainability policy prior to coming into the Parliament, and it meant that I've had on occasion - over at least 15 years, to observe the work that's been done here at the university. It's a facility that impresses on at least two fronts, firstly, through the strength of its research, particularly to photovoltaic cells and of course, it can genuinely be said that the researchers here have led the world in this technology. But secondly, this is an institution that is deeply committed to partnering with industry and has done so very successfully. And the facilities here and the partnerships that underwrite the facilities here are just such a fantastic example of what can be done when we put Australian businesses, international businesses together with world-class research.
So it's a great pleasure to be here with Bill and to see the kind of contribution being made here to one of the great challenges of our time; cheap, sustainable energy. Thank you, Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks, Jenny and good morning. It’s fantastic to be at the University of New South Wales. I congratulate the researchers here who are creating a southern hemisphere version of Silicon Valley, a solar harbour which is going to bring cheap energy to Australia and beyond.
When you think about it, some of the remarkable things we are seeing researched here, it means that solar rooftop is about a third of the normal electricity grid price that people are paying now. That is what solar can do. I was interested to learn that the University of New South Wales is actually going to meet all of its electricity needs from 2020, on a commercial basis, from renewable energy. The University of New South Wales is not just a suburban house or a small business. It is one of the major users of electricity in this part of Sydney. If the University of New South Wales can see commercial value in going to renewable energy, then what we need is a government in Canberra who is going to back the future, back the science and back lower energy prices. That's why in the upcoming Council of Australian Governments meeting on Friday, I'm asking the Federal Government, please don't play politics with energy prices. Please go there and try to reach agreement with the states. I want the Federal Government to be fair dinkum. I want them to go with an open mind and to genuinely listen to what the states have to say. The problem with the Government's current proposal on energy prices, their current proposal has got such low aspirations for renewable energy, it's actually going to force the price of energy up. What I mean by that is that the current design of the government model, at best will see very, very low improvements in energy prices but much more concerning, because it has a low approach, a low target on renewable energy, it's going to strangle future investment in renewable energy and that will lead to higher prices because renewable energy is where we're going to see cheap energy in the future. New renewable energy is going to lead - for new energy to be cheaper. I am firmly of the view that renewable energy and improving the amount of renewable energy in our system, is the sweet spot for downward pressure on electricity prices.
Australians are sick and tired of seeing their energy bills go up. The last year alone, for an average family it’s about $650 increase in energy prices. So today, I call upon Mr Turnbull and the Coalition Government, the time for playing politics on energy prices is over. Go to the meeting with the states, listen to them, don't just lecture them, have a negotiation. Let's get the best possible policy framework which encourages more renewable energy in the future, so that what we've seen here today can be spread and be available right through Australian manufacturers, Australian businesses and Australian households.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: So what you're saying, Mr Shorten, is that as it stands, you don't support the current National Energy Guarantee?
SHORTEN: No, what I'm saying is that we need to have a proper negotiation on Friday between the states and the Federal Government. There are concerns being expressed, not just by me but by experts, that the current policy settings of the Federal Government will strangle renewable energy and therefore deny Australians access to cheaper energy.
JOURNALIST: What if they allow, what if they put in an add-on onto the NEG that will allow you, if you were elected, to increase the Renewable Energy Target?
SHORTEN: Well let’s see how the negotiations go on Friday. I think Australians are sick and tired of politicians holding meetings on electricity prices and every time they go to the mailbox, the only information they get is that electricity prices are going up and up and up. I mean really, every time Mr Turnbull has said that he has solved the problem energy prices, the next month you just get an energy bill from your local power company and your power bills are going up.
JOURNALIST: What is the mechanism that Labor will take to the next election to reduce emissions by 45 per cent?
SHORTEN: We haven't given up on hoping that the states and Federal Government can resolve the system. We don't think that the proposal of the Government is all bad. But we think the problem is that Mr Turnbull has a bias against renewable energy because his own backbench won't let him go ahead with more renewable energy in the system.
I think what we need to see is a fair dinkum negotiation on Friday. You know, what's wrong with the old fashioned approach which gets all the points of view in the same room and you come to a meeting of minds?
What I don't want to hear is that Mr Turnbull says one thing to the States on Friday and another thing to his Party room next Tuesday. The States are coming up with reasonable questions. I think what we need to do is see the legislation.
The big meeting for Mr Turnbull should be this Friday but I'm afraid it will actually be next Tuesday. I'm worried that Mr Turnbull doesn't control his own party, cannot convince people there that lower energy prices through more renewable energy is the way to go, and as a result, Australians will be left seeing higher energy prices in the future.
JOURNALIST: Just on Centrelink, do you support the Government's implementation of an additional 1,500 staff to call centres? Is that enough?
SHORTEN: First of all, Labor has been saying for a long time now that the Government cuts to Centrelink have actually seen millions of Australians who receive legitimate government payments treated as second-class citizens.
We've also been saying that the process to have a better Centrelink system isn't to privatise the system and outsource it to casuals and contractors. I am concerned that the Government is proposing to bring in 1,500 contractors, that they're outsourcing Centrelink, this is not a long-term fix.
Again, to be a bit old fashioned, rather than privatising parts of the system, why not employ people full-time in Centrelink to provide service? Why should pensioners, war widows, veterans, be made to feel second-class citizens, having to wait on the phone for hours and hours, merely because the Government is just engaged in massive cost-cutting.
And by the way, if they want to help improve Centrelink, perhaps they could provide energy payments for millions of pensioners who aren't getting them now.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just while we're on the NEG topic. If those demands of the Victorian Government, Victoria wants [inaudible], has made about the National Energy Guarantee, if they are adhered to, would Labor be happy with the NEG in that case?
SHORTEN: If there's a meeting of minds between the state Government and the Federal Government which prioritises the growth of renewable energy, that's a positive step forward. I mean, every time we try to agree with the Government, they change their position. We were up for an emissions trading system, that's a market-based system, to help tackle climate change. The government used to believe in it, we agree with it, and then they changed their mind.
Then they got the Chief Scientist to come up with a Clean Energy Target. We said alright, we can try to agree with that. But the problem is as soon as we get to agree with them, Mr Turnbull gets reined-in by his backbench and right wing of his party.
Now he's on another effort, this National Energy Guarantee. I can tell you what ordinary Australians think. They're sick and tired of politicians saying that they've solved energy prices, when in fact they haven't.
So what I'm saying, is on Friday, to Mr Turnbull, be fair dinkum. Don't go there and give them another lecture from upon high, you know a Turnbull lecture about how you're the genius and everyone else isn't fit to shine your boots.
Go there and have a listen for once, mate. Go and listen to the states and work with them, if they can come up with something workable. And the other thing that I say to Mr Turnbull is get over the bias in the Government against renewable energy. Perhaps some of those Coalition backbenchers who think that they know everything about cheaper energy, come and have a look at what's happening at the University of New South Wales and it might open your eyes to see that Australia can manufacture technology which will lead to cheaper energy for business and for families, and do something about the environment.
JOURNALIST: Do you maintain that you did not know about the allegations surrounding Emma Husar until Alice Workman contacted you [Inaudible]?
SHORTEN: Yes, absolutely.
JOURNALIST: Despite one of the staffers coming out and saying that she was in contact with your office for many months?
SHORTEN: Well, I don't believe that. I've made my own inquiries, none of my staff have confirmed that. And let's just talk about the investigation momentarily, because I think underpinning that question is the bigger question. I think the obvious and appropriate course of action, once there's been a complaints process initiated is to let that conclude. That's what I'm going to do and I am not going to provide a running commentary about this matter until the report is concluded.
JOURNALIST: But you said that this complaints process is the appropriate thing to do and I am sure people won't disagree with that but it has been plagued by these leaks, it is kind of getting very messy now. Do you think that it has been conducted fairly, professionally? Emma Husar herself says that it has been hopelessly compromised by leaks. Is this going well or are you worried by what's happened now?
SHORTEN: Well, the nub of your question is this, the complaints process has been undermined by a number of people talking about it. Well, I am not going to make that mistake, am I? I'll wait until the investigation has concluded.
JOURNALIST: As the leader of the Labor Party, what do you make of these allegations? Are they disturbing, are concerned about them? Do you -
SHORTEN: I'm not going to be judge and jury. There's a complaints process. When we have the information by going through the proper complaints process of New South Wales Labor, that's what I'm going to wait for. I did say - in all fairness, Jennifer, I did say that I wasn't going to comment on it and now you guys have cleverly got me to give four answers on it, I'm going to call it quits on that.
If there are not other questions, I just want to briefly talk about the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and the ongoing scandal that, in this country, a Prime Minister can just decide to give away $444 million. $444 million with no process.
Today, we've seen the CEO of the foundation say that this came as a complete surprise. What sort of respect is there for taxpayer money that the recipients of over $400 million were surprised to get it?
There are no public servants involved in the due diligence of the process, the Prime Minister just wakes up and wants to hand out hundreds of millions of dollars to private sector charities.
Now, I think that this is a very good example of why we need a National Integrity Commission. If we had a National Integrity Commission such as Labor supports, this matter would have been referred to it, very quickly, to get to the bottom of it.
Now, we don't have a National Integrity Commission until Labor gets elected, but in the meantime, I can only hope that the Prime Minister makes a proper and detailed explanation of this whole process. And it's certainly the case that when parliament resumes next week, Labor will endeavour to get a full and proper explanation of this process.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that the Great Barrier Reef Foundation should return the money?
SHORTEN: I think the money should be returned, we've already said that.
How does this nation get to a point where $444 million of taxpayer money just gets handed out, even the recipients weren't aware it was going to happen. The Prime Minister just makes a decision. Taxpayer money is not the Prime Minister's personal fiefdom to distribute based on how he's feeling on the day. This is taxpayer money. It deserves to be properly expended, properly accounted for, no matter how meritorious the cause. This is why we need the National Integrity Commission.
It is well beyond the hour for the Liberals to back a National Integrity Commission. Because when these problems occur, there is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the reasons why the voters hate politics is when they see the taxpayer money spent as some sort of personal war chest, some charity donation, without the proper records behind it.
Look at this research centre here, they have to justify every cent they get and they're doing great work and there's proper systems in place. But yet, the Prime Minister just gives hundreds of millions of dollars out, it's not his own money. So this is long overdue for a National Integrity Commission and we're not going to let this matter rest. And yes, the money should go back.
Thank you, everybody. I did say last question, but very last question.
JOURNALIST: What did businesses at the Labor business event tell you about corporate tax cuts? Do they want to [inaudible] them?
SHORTEN: Listen, I make a practice of talking to business. I make a practice of talking to the workers. I'm off to talk to a group of council workers in Western Sydney right now. We hear the same message and we give the same message: We will work with workers and their representatives and we will work with business.
But I made it very clear yesterday - I will work with business, but not for business. I believe that the proper priority for the nation is the healthcare and the hospitals, the schools, rather than giving unaffordable tax cuts to the top end of town and not very many people disagreed with me.
Thank you very much.