WEDNESDAY, 5 APRIL 2017
SUBJECTS: jobs and penalty rates; housing affordability; Bob Day; ice roundtables
CATHY O'TOOLE, MEMBER FOR HERBERT: It gives me great pleasure to be here this morning at the Port of Townsville with the leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten.
Once again, Labor is showing beyond an doubt that we are committed to the development of Townsville, future growth and economic opportunities.
That is why Bill Shorten has come to town today, to talk about jobs for our local community. That is one of the things that people talk to me every single day about, and I would just like to welcome Bill now to talk to you about his plans for Townsville.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Cathy, and it's great to be here in the Bill Bus as part of our listening tour throughout northern Queensland. What we see behind me is a town getting on with the job of making sure there are jobs and that locals get jobs.
Today I'll be talking, courtesy of Cathy, to local medical professionals and the police about the challenge of hard drugs in our community. We'll be talking to leaders and businesses in the community about plans for jobs going forward in Townsville and the surrounding region. And of course, we're out here just visiting, talking to workers about the importance of making sure that locals get first crack at available work. What I mean by that is we need more apprenticeships. We need to make sure that companies aren't importing temporary labour under various visas, instead of giving locals jobs. And we're standing strong for penalty rates.
Even though civil construction workers are not affected in the first wave of cuts to penalty rates, there's a whole lot of workers in Australia who cannot believe that Malcolm Turnbull will do nothing to protect the penalty rates and stop people getting arbitrary cuts to their take-home pay.
And of course, I've been to Townsville seven times last year, I've been up here again this year. One of the big issues which I know people in Townsville and surrounding areas are weighing up is how do we improve water security. This issue has simply taken too long for the current LNP Government to deal with. As they enter their fourth and fifth year of being in power there hasn't been any real work done to secure water certainty for Townsville.
If we can get the water security right, it improves certainty, it improves jobs, it improves investment. Certainly we're looking forward to hearing some of the leading ideas – raising the height of Burdekin Dam, whether or not we should duplicate the existing pipeline, and whether or not we should build a pipeline from the Burdekin to the Ross River Dam. These are the matters which I'm turning my mind to.
I'm here talking about jobs, certainty and a better lifestyle for people in North Queensland. Mr Turnbull's just fighting for the right to be able to give $50 billion of corporate tax handouts to big multinationals and banks who don't need further government assistance, unlike Australian, battling working families. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, there's been a lot of talk had this morning about the Reserve Bank Governor's speech. Just talking about supply and demand, without going to your details about negative gearing, what are your plans for supply?
SHORTEN: Let's be very clear here, this is classic Turnbull Government. They've got a hundred reasons why they can't act on a problem, but the people want action. You can't talk about housing affordability without talking about demand. Just looking at supply is only looking at one end of the problem. The fact of the matter is that what the Federal Government can do – and the Reserve Bank Governor has said there needs to be action – is look at our current tax policies which are rewarding investors over first home buyers.
Why is it that Mr Turnbull will fight so hard to give taxation concessions to investors and speculators, but have no plans to help first home buyers get the opportunity to buy their first home?
Under Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison, the great Australian dream is turning into the great Australian nightmare. I do not know why Mr Turnbull finds so many different excuses not to repair and reform negative gearing. That will make a significant difference to housing affordability. Other than the Government and the few remaining friends they have got, everyone else recognises that the tax policies of the Federal Government are pushing the dream of being able to afford your own home more out of reach of everyday Australians.
JOURNALIST: Are you happy with the 30 per cent threshold on investor-only loans, should they be lower?
SHORTEN: The reality is that if we want to do something about investors pricing first home buyers out of the market, you've got to go to one of the root causes, which is negative gearing policy, which sees that, all of the taxes that Australians pay every day when they go to work, that what this government is doing is using those taxes to give tax concessions to reward investors and speculators.
Why is it in Australia, that Mr Turnbull thinks it's right, that someone buying their 10th house can bid at an auction against the young couple buying their first home, and Mr Turnbull wants to give the investor and the speculator a tax concession to have an unlevel playing field which disadvantages first home buyers. This government is severely out of touch about the problem, they're severely out of touch about the solution.
We just see this feeding into the Budget chaos. Last week Malcolm Turnbull says in Parliament that he's not going to touch capital gains tax concessions. This week he's left the door open. Last year he said it was a thoroughly bad idea to allow superannuation to be used for a deposit for a house. This week they seem to be leaving the door open again. This is a government who's got a hundred excuses not to do anything and the people want more from them.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, will you intervene in the Adani Carmichael coal deal?
SHORTEN: My view on Adani is very straight forward. It's an important decision and once it's made, whichever way it's made, that's it. So it's a decision that needs to be got right. Labor's all in favour of jobs, we want to see sustainable jobs, but it has got to stack up environmentally and commercially. I don't think that taxpayers’ money should be used at the federal level to pump up a deal which might otherwise not be commercial and can't stand on its own two feet.
JOURNALIST: Just a follow-up question on that one. I believe the Prime Minister is going to be in India next week to meet with Mr Adani. Do you think that is necessary?
SHORTEN: Who Mr Turnbull meets with is up to him, but what I'm interested in is him visiting North Queensland. I think he should be out talking to the civil construction workers behind me, who work in the heat, work hard, and explain why Mr Turnbull won't defend penalty rates in the awards of Australia. I think Mr Turnbull needs to go and talk to people who are worried about water security in North Queensland and explain why the Liberals and the Nationals have done nothing for four years.
I think Mr Turnbull needs to focus on the Budget. On one hand he's rushing to give $50 billion away to large companies – and the banks for example, who are making record profits – yet by the same token, he's got no plan for housing affordability. The problem with this government is that they're out of touch. They're always looking for the gesture, for the stunt, for the gimmick, and they've always got a hundred reasons why they can't do something and blame someone else.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, should the Townsville Stadium project be exempt from an EBA to stop fly-in, fly-out miners taking local jobs?
SHORTEN: Well I think that the people working on the Townsville Stadium should be covered by proper industrial arrangements, paid fairly, make sure there is secure work, make sure that people are not being ripped off. But I think it is important to make sure that locals do get the opportunity. This is one of the reasons, if you look at our bus, we believe that in Townsville, when you've got a big contract, all things being equal, locals should get preference. That's why we are fight for apprenticeships. Cathy's been on to this in Canberra, saying we've got to make sure that when the Commonwealth spends money that there's a requirement to have a certain proportion of employees who are apprentices. It's why we're standing up against dodgy exploitation of 457 and 417 visas.
The fact of the matter is, too many Australian employers don't hire locals, they just instead bring people in on temporary work visas from overseas, and we're not training up future generations of construction workers and we're not looking after existing unemployed workers. So that's my preference. Employ local, we think that works, no more dodgy employment arrangements.
And talking of dodgy, it would be remiss of me not to talk about the unravelling of the dodgy dealings around former Senator Bob Day.
The High Court today has just effectively ruled that this Senator should never have been elected, he wasn't eligible. But the point is why has the taxpayer been put through all this expense when the Liberals and the Nationals knew before the last election that the financial arrangements which Senator Day was entering in to with the Liberal Government were dodgy. And we had to have an election, and the Government fought hard to keep Bob Day there because he was a satellite, a proxy of the Liberal Government. This is the Liberal Government causing more dodgy deals to unravel in Australia. No wonder people lose confidence in politics. This guy should never have been elected. The Liberals and the Nats knew there was a problem, and yet they still went ahead with it because, for them, power is much more important than principle.
JOURNALIST: Has the Labor Party received any advice about the recounting process in South Australia?
SHORTEN: Well the decision has just been made, of course we are looking at advice about what that all means. But you've got to ask yourself, if people now know that the financial arrangements entered in to between Senator Day and the Commonwealth are dodgy now, they were dodgy when they were first entered in to. And I think a whole raft of senior Turnbull allies in the current government need to explain what they knew and when they knew it. And when they knew there was a problem, why did they look the other way and let this dodgy deal enter into the unravelling which we've seen today? This government really will do anything to stay in power and not focus on the principle.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what potential do you see in Townsville in relation to jobs?
SHORTEN: I think that Townsville's got a whole lot of strengths. I think if we can get the water security right, I think that's important. I think that if you've got apprentices being trained properly, that's important. I think that when the Commonwealth spends scarce dollars, we should be prioritising local small business and of course local jobs. I think that there is opportunities in tourism. I think there is opportunities in agriculture. And this is also a government town, you've got a good quality university here. So I think that this is a diverse, thriving economy. All it needs is a government in Canberra who doesn't turn up once every three years and ask for people to vote for them. You need hard working members list Cathy. And I'm looking forward to talking to local businesses today about all these great opportunities for Townsville. Because Labor understands that Queensland doesn't just stop at the borders of South East Queensland. Places like Townsville and Cairns and Rocky and Mackay and Gladstone are all great places to raise a family, to run a business and of course to work if the jobs are there.
JOURNALIST: What about the jobs Adani are offering?
SHORTEN: Well, we've got to see if Adani stacks up, it’s as simple as that. Let me be clear about Adani, if the deal stacks up environmentally and commercially, it goes ahead and that’s fine. But we're not going to do any special favours to any company because we think these deals have got to stack up under their own merit. And in the meantime we've got to make sure that all the necessary checks and balances are in place to ensure that if it does go ahead, it’s ticked all the boxes.
JOURNALIST: Will you say anything in support of Adani?
SHORTEN: If it goes ahead that’s a very good development and I hope they employ locally. It’s not the job of government to necessarily pick one mining company over another mining company. A lot of other mining companies don't have their hand out for government support. I think that it’s got to stack up and no special favours but nor should we be like the Greens and just complain about everything to do with mining. Mining is an important part of Australia and of course under Labor mining would go ahead just as renewable energy would.
JOURNALIST: What do you say about the State Government granting Adani a 60-year licence for unlimited access to groundwater?
SHORTEN: I think that's an issue which the State Government will have to explain how they stacked up the scientific evidence. For me it's about getting the decision right, it’s not about rushing the decision. Obviously we need to make sure that the experts are satisfied that this is not going to disadvantage the environment greatly or other industrial users of this water, including the farms. It’s a matter of getting the process right, getting the right evidence, the right science. Labor will always back the science because we want to see more jobs in North Queensland.
JOURNALIST: Just wanted to ask why is ice in Townsville near the top of your agenda today?
SHORTEN: I think some people battle with addiction, be it alcohol, be it cannabis and of course now you've got methamphetamines. Part of the particular challenge of ice, methamphetamines, is that the effect on the addict is quite horrendous – and we're seeing increased reporting of violence in terms of emergency wards, first responders, families who are at their wit’s end. The problem is to make sure that this community is well resourced, not just to deal with the emergency but the rehabilitation after the addicts have their incident. And we've got to make sure that families are properly supported, that first responders, police and the emergency departments are supported.
Ice is a part of a bigger problem – how do we help our fellow Australians battle the demons of addiction, be it alcohol or cannabis or ice or some of these synthetic drugs? I think that communities need help and we've got to make sure that the resources that where the experts say they should be. We've got to help families as well who often pay the cost of family members falling into dreadful addictions.
JOURNALIST: What’s the important of meeting with those groups this afternoon here in Townsville to discuss that issue?
SHORTEN: It’s the same reason I've got the bus. What matters in Australian politics is that we start listening more to people. People are frustrated at politics as usual. People in Townsville and Cairns, as they showed in the last election, are frustrated at the Government not listening to them. One of the good things about this bus is that it’s a talking point. It gets people out saying here's the politicians coming to the people. And part of my commitment to listening to people, and trying to do politics differently in 2017, is to get out and talk to communities about the issues that are important to them and talk to them about the solutions they've found.
Taking addicts and sending them hundreds of kilometres away for treatment is not realistic. We've got to take the pressure off our police and emergency departments and paramedics. I think that involves a total solution and that’s why I'm listening to the experts, I'm listening to the people on the front line, I'm listening to families. People are capable of solving their own problems, they just need a government who doesn't tell people what to do but rather listens to people about what should be done, what works.
JOURNALIST: What's your response to the Reserve Bank warning about mortgage rates?
SHORTEN: How many people will it take to wake Mr Turnbull up to stop being out of touch about the problem and the solution? You know, they have got 100 reasons why they can't do something. It's a classic Turnbull Government response. Blame someone else, ignore the evidence, don't worry about the problem, tell people to get rich parents, you know, the sort of lines which the Government come out with in their out of touch manner.
When the Reserve Bank Governor of Australia is saying that there is a challenge around investment and the distorting effects of taxation laws, then you've got to listen to these people, don't you? Labor has had a policy in the field now for the best part of a year and a half. Reform negative gearing, don't use the tax laws to put sugar on the table for investors and speculators to compete against people buying their first home.
The dream of your first home is a great Australian dream, it’s turning into the great Australian nightmare. The Turnbull Government needs to stop yelling at its detractors and actually get with the program, and start doing something to help change the unfair distortions currently in housing. And that’s what the Reserve Bank Governor is getting at.