MONDAY, 28 JANUARY 2019
SUBJECTS: Labor’s $200 million investment to restore urban rivers and waterways; fish kills; Warringah; Venezuela; Superannuation.
TIM WATTS, MEMBER FOR GELLIBRAND: Good morning. My name's Tim Watts, I am the Federal Member for Gellibrand. I'm delighted to be here this morning on the banks of the Maribyrnong River, the jewel of Melbourne's west to welcome Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition and Tony Burke the Shadow Minister for Environment and Water for this really exciting announcement.
We love our waterways in Melbourne's west, from the Maribyrnong River you see here behind us, to the creeks that flow through our creeks and reserves, to the internationally renowned wetlands of Hobsons Bay and Wyndham City.
This is where Melbourne's west lives and plays. We live and play in our waterways. Walking, running, cycling, fishing just enjoying what nature has to offer. But unfortunately, all too often this beautiful natural gift to our environment has come into conflict with the industrial and urban heritage of Melbourne's west.
For far too long our city urban creeks have been used as drains for our industrial sites and more recently their close proximity to our major industrial areas, has resulted in major industrial accidents causing enormous environmental damage to our waterways. As we saw recently with the West Footscray factory fire and the incredible damage that that did to Stoney Creek. That's why I'm really thrilled that a future Labor Shorten government will give our urban waterways the priority that they deserve. I'm particularly thrilled that this policy will put our community groups at the heart and centre of the preservation and rehabilitation of our urban waterways.
I've seen firsthand how these community groups, they are the reason that we have these fantastic community assets, these urban waterways for us all to enjoy and I'm really excited to see what an announcement like today's is going to do for their efforts in the future.
So on that note I'll hand over to Bill Shorten the Leader of the Opposition to talk us through this announcement. Thanks for being here Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. Fantastic to be here as the Member for Maribyrnong welcoming you to the Maribyrnong, here with Tony Burke our Shadow spokesperson, he will speak after me about our city rivers rescue package, $200 million to rescue our urban rivers and give them the sort of respect which they deserve.
Also we are here with Tim Watts the local Member for Gellibrand and Katie Hall our state Member for Footscray, who got the biggest swing in the last state election to Labor.
Today I'm pleased to announce that a Labor government if elected will invest $200 million to rescue our city rivers. We should always remember that our rivers have traditionally been the shopping centres for birds and for fish. They were never meant to be dumping grounds for shopping trolleys and plastic bags.
So Labor is going to invest in our rivers, we are going to work with community groups to improve the sustainability of our rivers. The rivers of our cities are some of the neglected arteries of city life right across Australia. We think that a modest investment of taxpayer money will reap great dividends to ensuring that our kids and our grandkids will be able to enjoy the rivers as the way they were always intended to be.
But our rivers are stressed not just of course, at Menindee and the big Murray Basin, Murrumbidgee Basin river system, but even our city rivers have been neglected under this Government. So Labor is going to unfurl a program of grants across the next five years which will see our rivers receive the sort of investment which volunteer groups and municipalities have been crying out for.
What I might now do is to talk further about our city river rescue package of $200 million to revitalise the great rivers of our cities, I might invite Tony Burke to talk more about the detail of this exciting announcement.
TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Thanks Bill. Today will change what it's like to live in our cities. For so many people the rivers are their favourite backyard, but that backyard has been treated like a stormwater drain for far too long.
Today's announcement provides the opportunity for the community groups that have already been doing so much of the work cleaning up the plastics, getting the shopping trolleys out, to be able to increase the outcomes that they deliver but also for us to work with state government, with local government to be able to clean up the waterways in a more direct way.
Some of that will be wetlands, some of that will be naturalisation of river banks, some of it will be will be bird boxes. A whole lot of it is in making sure that a river has the full ecology of a river.
And one of the things that we've found is like the wetlands that have been put back further up the Maribyrnong from where we are now, it's a classic case of build it and they will come and you end up with that bird life, that fish life right through to the butterflies actually becoming part of the local community again and people who live in urban areas have a right to this.
For a long time Labor's had a history with rivers whether it was Franklin, whether it's been the Murray-Darling Basin, but today we say nature shouldn't be too far away from people who live in our cities as well and urban rivers get put back into the centre of environmental policy as well.
SHORTEN: Thanks Tony. Are there any questions on our urban rivers announcement?
JOURNALIST: Would you like to see, I guess people you know, happily swimming here in the Maribyrnong at some point, is that part of it or is it more about the nature side of it, what are you trying to achieve?
SHORTEN: Well it's probably not a well known fact but the Maribyrnong is one of my favourite running tracks. There's lots of cyclists, I was running along the banks here this morning. But when you run along the river and you see so many people using our rivers and it's not just this river, it's rivers right through our urban centres around Australia - you realise that we've been neglecting the welfare of our rivers.
You know, from the shopping trollies to the rubbish to the plastic bags, to treating them as open drains. I would like to see our rivers cleaned up.
Then down the track how people use it, well that's up to them, but our first step is more wetlands, more revegetation, taking a stand against the erosion which is occurring on our rivers, making sure we clean them up. The rivers of Australia are not the stormwater drains of Australia. Nature shouldn't be too far from someone’s backyard and when you look at our crowded cities, the more we can put bike paths along some of our rivers, the more that people can get recreation from along our rivers and the more that we can clean them up, I just think that's fantastic for the whole of our city life right across Australia no matter where you live.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned Menindee there's been another big fish kill there. What needs to be done in response to that?
SHORTEN: I'll get Tony to supplement this but I think it's fair to say that we are facing the makings of an ecological disaster in Australia's greatest river system, the Murray Darling.
Again, more fish kills - this is not standard, this is not normal.
Now Labor wrote to the Government early this month and said "come on let's work together here. Let's get our skates on. The Australian people have noticed this, this is not acceptable.” They sort of tried to brush us off and not do what they were meant to do. So I commissioned the Australian Academy of Science to provide an expert report, which they will provide to the Opposition before Parliament resumes. We will provide the entire report along with the experts to the Parliament for their consideration.
This is a disaster and the disaster keeps unfolding and part of the problem here is that, can you get the Government to focus on the fish kills? No they're too busy fighting each other.
Tony might have a bit more to say because he went up to Menindee recently.
BURKE: Yes, thanks. The last river I was at, before today at the Maribyrnong, the last river I was at was the Darling where you can just see the ecological disaster that's occurring there. The first reports that have come out about the fish kill today say, and these reports may change, that this one has been caused for different reasons to the last one. So we're going to need to get the scientific information on this.
One of the things that nature has a pretty strong view with, is if you keep negotiating too hard against nature eventually nature comes back to the negotiating table and is the toughest negotiator of all. I think that's what we're watching right now in the Murray-Darling.
We need the scientists to tell us exactly what's happened, exactly what the reasons are, exactly what can be done to prevent it, and then we need in good faith to be able to turn that into policy.
I will say for all the disaster we're seeing at the moment, thank heavens we had a Murray-Darling Basin Plan because everything we are seeing would be worse without it. That said, what we're seeing is unacceptable and we need to get to the bottom of the causes. The scientists need to lead that, not political debate.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on another matter if I may, will Labor be preferencing Zali Steggal in Warringah and will you effectively run dead in the seat like you did in Wentworth?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, I think it's significant that Zali Steggall has decided to nominate in Warringah. She's a very strong and capable person, clearly Labor doesn't agree with every point of view she holds, but I congratulate her for standing up and I think that'll be a pretty exciting contest to watch. But Tony Abbott is a formidable and tough campaigner - I wouldn't write him off either.
But what I think is important here is that every day, day after day, we see fresh chaos and continuing disunity in the Government. If it's not members of the government walking out the door, it's other Liberal supporters running against the Government as independents. This is a government that's lurching from crisis to crisis, and in the meantime the big issues are just not getting addressed.
So on climate change, which is I think the primary reason why Ms Steggall is running, we agree that Tony Abbott's been a blocking action on climate change - but it's not just him it's the whole Government.
This government needs to start focusing on the people and not on itself.
JOURNALIST: Do you expect Steggall to attract funding from areas outside of the electorate?
SHORTEN: I don't know how she's constituting her funding but the Liberal Party is still in government, they're the party of vested interests. Big business come out every day and bash Labor in order to get votes for the government. I don't think the Liberal Party is about to run out of money any time soon.
But again this is a government - every day it's a new story of disunity or continuing chaos. If it's not government members giving up and walking out the door, it's longtime Liberals deciding to run against the Government as independents. So I think the Government is consumed by themselves and they can't focus on the people.
Today we are here announcing an urban rivers policy. What's the chance this government's going to ever announce an urban rivers policy? They're too busy fighting amongst themselves. Today in Menindee, reports of big fish kills again following on what we've seen elsewhere - what's the chance this going to do anything on climate change?
Later this week parents are sending their kids back to school. Today and tomorrow parents will be battling the back to school costs: cost of living pressures, energy bills, health insurance. What is the chance that this government is going to do anything about that when you're so focused on themselves?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the unions (inaudible) has refused to sign up to insurance for superannuation code of practice, should First Super take APRA's advice and merge with a larger fund and sign up to that code of practice and why should this fund be allowed to defy APRA's urgings?
SHORTEN: Well I'm not a trustee of the super fund, the trustees are accountable to their members. I did notice The Australian newspaper said that First Super's performance had been top quarter for quite a period of time. If a fund, it doesn't matter whose the trustees, is delivering for its members, that's what matters. But I'm not going to second guess APRA here and I'm not going to second guess the superannuation trustees.
JOURNALIST: Just on international policy, Venezuela, the Australian Government has announced this morning, it has recognised the Opposition there, do you support that move?
SHORTEN: Yes we do. We support what the Government's done, just as, I should say it's not just our government but it's France, it's Germany, it's the United States, the United Kingdom, we hope the Venezuelan people reach stability soon.
Just going back to the answer on superannuation, of course Friday is when the banking royal commission comes out. I just reiterate my Shadow Treasurer's call, Mr Morrison release the banking royal commission findings straight away. Don't play any political games. I know that you voted against the banking royal commission 26 times - he voted against Labor's banking royal commission, the Government and the current Prime Minister voted 26 times against the banking royal commission. Don't try and game it at the end of the day with a royal commission report you didn't want and you oppose bitterly. Release it straightaway on Friday - no time for games. Too many thousands of people have been victims of bad banking practice. I'm demanding that the Government release the report on Friday. You didn't want the royal commission. Don't pretend now that you're going to save your reputation by hatching it for a few days or weeks.
JOURNALIST: Another international politics question if that's okay. Given China's actions of detaining an Australian citizen for no reason, is there a case for Australia to make a choice between the major powers in favour of the United States and should we start being tougher on China?
SHORTEN: Well first of all I'm not going to do megaphone diplomacy. An Australian citizen has been detained in China - I and My Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong immediately said that the Chinese Government was too slow in informing the Australian Government that an Australian citizen had been detained. We want to get to the bottom of why this person has been detained and we want all consular assistance to be provided. We support the work that the Government's doing there. Whether or not Australia should then rip up all our relations with China, that would be a very premature call.
International relations need to be marked by cautious and considered steps. We've always got to fight for Australian interests and Australians but I'm not going to extrapolate this one action which is surprising and concerning and therefore say that we have to join in what everything President Trump says.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, there are reports Julia Banks, former Liberal, is considering to challenge Greg Hunt. What does that say to you?
SHORTEN: Julia Banks is a very strong woman. You know, she has never voted for the Labor Party but she stood up against the bullying and the removal of Malcolm Turnbull.
A lot of Australians are asking why is Malcolm Turnbull not there? They've never got a proper answer. It appears that the Member for Flinders, the current Minister of Health, Greg Hunt was in it up to his neck to get rid of Mr Turnbull. So clearly, if Ms Banks runs, I'm sure the first question she'll say to Greg Hunt on the campaign trail in Flinders is 'why is Malcolm Turnbull no longer Prime Minister?'
JOURNALIST: And will you repeal the MyHealth records legislation and policy if you come to power?
SHORTEN: I really wish that Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health, spent as much time on the MyHealth records and getting it right as he did in rolling Malcolm Turnbull. There's a lot of concern.
We like the idea and support the idea of digitisation of health records to make it easier for treating health professionals to be able provide better quality care. The principle is sound but the lack of safeguards around the privacy has been most concerning. Over 1.1 million Australians I understand have already opted out of the MyHealth records scheme because of concerns about privacy.
I think the Government, rather than rush the scheme, should get it right and it should extend the period for people to opt out to see if it can't address the concerns of Australians. The Government shouldn't attack the people opting out of MyHealth record system - they should just protect the privacy of people in it.
JOURNALIST: Have you opted-out?
JOURNALIST: On the subject of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, is Labor committed to holding a referendum within their first term of government or is it possible that it would happen later? And if you are committed to doing it in your first term, how are you going to garner support for it?
SHORTEN: My answer hasn't changed since a colleague in your newspaper asked me that twice last week.
We do accept there should be a voice to parliament I think the idea that our first Australians should be on the nation's birth certificate, the Constitution, makes sense. If we were writing the constitution today- as opposed to back in the 1890s - there's no way we would have neglected to mention our First Australians. We will work it through, we will talk to people, we will consult.
I believe Australians do think that our first Australians should be included in our constitution.
JOURNALIST: Just back on the royal commission - you might have covered this before so apologies - but will you commit to implementing all the recommendations of the royal commission once it's released?
SHORTEN: In principle, we've said that we would. What we need to do is see the actual report.
Now this Banking Royal Commission, Labor's pleased that from Opposition, we managed to force this recalcitrant government into having a Banking Royal Commission. I remember when the former Prime Minister Turnbull told off the banks at the 199th anniversary of Westpac - he was their guest. It was the next day, Labor said 'well look, the Government think that there's problems. Labor's got a solution - a Banking Royal Commission.
Sadly, it would appear that Mr Morrison, the current Prime Minister - not only did he vote 26 times not to have a Banking Royal Commission, 26 times he voted against Labor's Banking Royal Commission. But it turns out that from leaks from within the Cabinet, he was the chief architect of the defend the banks at all cost. So we think the Government should just release the report on Friday - full stop.
JOURNALIST: On Zali Steggall again - given she wants more action on climate change but she is also financially conservative, how would that fit with Labor in terms of any potential preference decision?
SHORTEN: This is an independent, she's just announced that she's running yesterday. We'll examine her policies.
One thing's for sure, Labor's committed to supporting action on climate change. Only Labor can form a government, the independents can't. We're committed to real action on climate change. We're committed to 50 per cent renewable energy as part of our energy mix by 2030. We want to roll out more solar batteries into households so that households can be part of the climate change revolution and they can get lower prices.
As people return to send their kids back to school this week and next week right across Australia, cost of living is the number one issue. Everything's been going up in Australia except their wages. Energy bills are out of control and one of the reasons why energy bills are out of control is because we haven't had investment in new generation, new sources of energy. And the reason why we haven't had investment in new sources of energy? Because this government's stubbornly lives in the past and doesn't want to do anything about climate change.
So I think that independents - even people who voted Liberal their whole lives - are saying no more, we can't just be a nation who turns its back on the future, who rejects the science in favour of just political slogans, we want to make action on climate change real.
JOURNALIST: On citizenship tests, how many times should people be able to fail it before they're barred from sitting it again?
SHORTEN: Well listen, I saw that some have people failed and most people passed. You're allowed to re-sit your citizenship tests - you're allowed to re-sit your driver's license. I'm not going to say that if you fail a citizenship test once on a question you didn't know, that you're barred from becoming a citizen of Australia.
I do wonder if some of our government MPs, if they're asked a question 'who circumnavigated Australia' I'm not even sure our Prime Minister would pass that question, but you can get things muddled. I think we should be giving people a second chance on a citizenship test.
Great, lovely. Welcome to Maribyrnong.