Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Geelong






SUBJECT/S: Closing of Point Henry Alcoa Plant; Tony Abbott’s Unfair Budget; MH17; National Security; Forrest Review of Indigenous Training and Employment


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: This is a sad day for a distinguished and great operation, over 50 years old. Today, hundreds of hard-working Alcoa employees who've been making aluminium, been paying taxes, building a great community in Geelong and surrounding areas, have their last day of work. It is a dark day indeed for Geelong. There are plenty of highly-skilled workers who are going on to the job market, and certainly I and the Labor Party wish them well. I put on record my congratulations to the Alcoa company for the way that they've handled this difficult close-down. I put on record my gratitude to hundreds of men and women who have been part of Australia's export and manufacturing success for half a century. There's lot of people here who are in their fifties, they have still got valuable years of work ahead of them, and the job market is tight. So I promise them that Labor will be demanding of the Abbott Government a plan to create and maintain jobs, and not see people put on the scrap heap, because they're too good for that. I might ask my colleague Richard Marles, local member for this area, to add his views about today's sad news for Alcoa.

RICHARD MARLES, MEMBER FOR CORIO: Well thank you, Bill. Having been given the news back in February, the day has finally arrived and it is a very sad day for this city and for this company. I'd like to add my thanks to Alcoa for the way in which they've handled the last few months and the way in which they've handled this shut-down. I'd like to express my solidarity, really, with all those who have completed their last day of work here at Alcoa in the last couple of days. It is an incredibly distressing time for them. We see announcements of this kind, of course, all over Australia, and we have seen far too many of them in the last few months. For me, this one's a bit different, as I know it is actually for Bill, because we have friends at this plant. We know them, we know their families, we know actually exactly what this decision means for them and the uncertainty that they face, and it just brings home to you how significant a moment like this is for everyone who faces the loss of their employment around Australia.

It is enormously distressing to this community that here we are, six months after the original decision, and we are yet to have a single cent dedicated by the Abbott Government to transitioning Geelong through this incredibly difficult economic moment. Not a cent. This is a government which has cut Geelong loose, and on a day like today, we feel this as acutely as we ever have. So I add my voice to Bill's in saying that we need to see this Government step up and stand with the people of Geelong during what is a deeply difficult moment. My thoughts are very much with all of those who have lost their jobs today and with their families. Thank you.

SHORTEN: Before I take questions, I would just like to address some comments made by Treasurer Joe Hockey this morning. Joe Hockey has told people who are worried by his Budget and sceptical of its unfairness, broken promises and lies, Joe Hockey's given this patronising advice to ordinary Australians and just arrogantly told them to take a chill pill. Treasurer, if you are a pensioner worried about having your pension cut, if you are a mum worrying about how you'll be able to afford to take your kids to the doctor and pay the GP tax, if you're working-class parents – perhaps you work at Alcoa and you've just lost your job and you're worrying about how on earth you’re going to pay for your kids to go to university – the one thing you don't need is an arrogant, out of touch Treasurer telling people just to take a chill pill. Treasurer, you should take your Budget and start again. It is a rotten, unfair Budget. Telling Australians to take a chill pill is a patronising, arrogant, out of touch remark and it's no wonder Australians have given the Abbott-Hockey Budget the big thumbs down.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Bill, what do you think needs to happen to ensure we don't see more heavy industry go the way of Point Henry?

SHORTEN: Well first of all, the Point Henry Alcoa works were productive. Excellent industrial relations, no lost time, was one of the most productive, hard-working plants in the Alcoa operations across the world. The problem is the world price for aluminium has fallen and we've got a high Australian Dollar. Nonetheless, this plant continued on but today a whole lot of good people no longer have a job and that's where my first thoughts are.

In terms of manufacturing, what we need is a Government who doesn't think that manufacturing is some province in China. We need to see a Government who will get behind advanced manufacturing, who will stand up for our manufacturing industries, making sure our apprentices aren't pushed into debt but instead they get the training they need. We need to have lot more support for research and innovation. I mean, only today we find out that the CSIRO has had to lay off another 50 scientists, including the education program for kids.

This a nation whose only view of Australia is that we are a mining quarry. They haven't been sighted anywhere near a manufacturing facility in Geelong ever since the bad news started rolling in. So that’s what we need, we need to be pro-technical training and apprentices. We need to be pro-innovation science and research. And we need to be a Government he who doesn't just turn up for photo opportunities turns up when the news is good. We need real leadership in Geelong from the Abbott Government which we're just not getting.

JOURNALIST: Do you think manufacturing workers, I guess particularly in Victoria, still have cause for concern given the current climate?

SHORTEN: While ever there is a Liberal government in Canberra, manufacturing has got a tough future. But what we can say is that Labor will have policies which will be about having sustainable research and development investment, it will be about making sure we’ve got a skilled workforce, and we have got the best possible infrastructure so we can get our products to market. That is the Labor way. We don't view people who have blue collar jobs as the enemy. We think that blue collar jobs and manufacturing jobs are part of our future, not part of the past.

JOURNALIST: Was the $40 million given to Alcoa by the previous Labor Government money well spent then?

SHORTEN: There is no doubt that if you ask Alcoa they will say it was a Labor Government who ensured that Point Henry was able to go as long and as far as it did. When I look at the contribution of this plant, what I see is not smoke stacks, or I don't just see them as dollar figures on a page. I understand there has been 1500 people working directly and indirectly here, who have been paying their taxes, paying their mortgages, contributing to the value of the Geelong community generally. There is no doubt that Point Henry has generated many indirect jobs. So I would say that Labor's investment supporting aluminium in Australia and supporting Point Henry has seen a multiple return on investment for Australian taxpayers, and I see that there is a lot of good people today who are wondering what the future holds for them, and one thing is for sure – what has happened today is not the fault of the people who have worked here. They have been very good, very loyal, very dedicated and Labor is on their side in the future.

JOURNALIST: What specifically would you have done in response to Alcoa's situation?

SHORTEN: Well I’ve been coming to Alcoa for 20 years. Before I went into Parliament, I had the privilege of representing workers here. What I know is that you have good industrial relations, you have win-win attitudes between the workers and the management. What you also do is you make sure you have an advanced manufacturing sector, you invest in research and development. The difference that a Labor Government will make in the future to manufacturing is we're pro-science, we're pro-research, we’re pro-advance manufacturing and we're pro-apprentices. All of these measures are measures under attack by the Abbott Government. They want to double and triple the increase of university degrees for young Australians, that’s not good for manufacturing. They want to force apprentices into more debt, that is a terrible idea for manufacturing. They're cutting billions of dollars out of our science budget, well that is a disaster for Australia. That is the difference between Labor and Liberal. We know about the real world. We are not telling Aussies to take a chill pill and pretend things are not what they are. We just don't want to make life harder for ordinary Australians who are already doing there bit making this the best country in the world.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Clive Palmer's calls to bring the AFP back from the Ukraine?

SHORTEN: The situation in Ukraine and eastern Ukraine is most serious. Labor has supported the Government 100 per cent in terms of bringing people home, identifying the victims, bringing them home, and we also want to make sure that this is done in a way which ensures the security of our Federal Police. This is a volatile, violent part of the world. We completely support the Government and the national interest in terms of identifying the victims' remains, bringing them home so people can grieve, and also making sure that our police personnel are safe. Keeping our police personnel safe as they carry out this mission on behalf of all Australians is also of fundamental importance. I’m not going to make this a political issue.

JOURNALIST: What is Labor's view about the proposal for Australians who travel to Syria or Iraq to have to prove on their return that they're not involved in terrorism?

SHORTEN: Well not everyone who goes to the Middle East is a bad person. I think we have to be very careful in this complex situation about demonising Australians of Middle Eastern background. But of course, people who go to Iraq and Syria and engage in activities with these fundamentalist jihadist groups, behaving in a manner which is completely against the interests of Australia, we do support making sure that anyone who thinks by some misguided view of faith that are wreaking violence in any part of the world, in this particular case in Iraq and Syria, that is against the best interests of our country. We support the Government monitoring them. But I’m also just very careful, not everyone who goes to the Middle East should be demonised. So I think we need to be balanced in our approach, maintain our national security but also not try and blame everyone or tar everyone with the same brush.

JOURNALIST: Is there enough evidence to justify that basic reversal of the onus of proof?

SHORTEN: Well, I think our national security authorities are best placed to know the detail. There is no doubt that there is some evidence that some Australians are engaging in illegal behaviour, violent behaviour overseas. That is completely, completely, totally unacceptable. But we just need to make sure we're doing all of this national security, keeping a [inaudible] on civil rights.

JOURNALIST: What about Australians going to fight for the Israeli Army?

SHORTEN: I haven't heard any reports of that. Sorry I can’t add to that.

JOURNALIST: Andrew Forrest has called for a huge overhaul of the welfare in Australia, do you a support the plan?

SHORTEN: The Forrest report has just been released. I get the impression the Government has got cold feet about it. Labor puts on record its gratitude to Andrew Forrest and others on the team who have worked on this most important report. We should have a debate about these important issues. But one principle Labor does stand for, and I'm reminded of it clearly as I farewell from employment hundreds of Alcoa workers is, not everyone who receives a government pension of working age is in capable of managing their own finances. You’ve got people here who are going exactly into the category spoken about by the Forrest report, who have been paying taxes, raising families and paying mortgages. I want to be very careful and Labor will not stigmatise everyone who receives a government pay of working age and just put everyone in the same category. I think we need to make sure we don't apply the one size fits all rule, and again that goes for this whole Budget, this unfair Budget.

Joe Hockey should stop telling Australians to take a chill pill because they don't like his Budget. I understand why mums don't want their kids paying, a tax to take their sick kids to the doctor. I understand why pensioners are anxious about having to have a lower pension because of the Abbott Government. I understand why people don't want to see their school funding and their hospital funding cut. So I just say that it's alright for the Government to have big ideas, but I am interested in what works in the real world and I’m not interesting in telling ordinary Australians that they're not pulling the weight, they are.

Thank you very much everyone, thanks for coming to Alcoa today.