MONDAY, 3 OCTOBER 2016
SUBJECT/S: South Australian storm; Banking royal commission.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I think all Australians would like me to thank the volunteers and the professionals here, all working together, the people in here coordinating, using their brain power to be able to help deal with the emergencies that have been brought up by this storm. But also the literally thousands of people who are outside getting wet, doing the swift river rescues, blocking off the roads, making sure that families and civilians are able to cope with this one-in-50-year storm.
All of Australia has drawn breath when you see the meteorological maps, when you see the news flashes, for a whole state to be literally inundated, I think has given all Australians pause. And just like bushfires, all Australians can appreciate the impact of flood. We live in a fantastic country, but the natural elements can never be taken for granted. I think all Australians can appreciate the cost of flood damage, cleaning out houses, making sure the assets, the fences, are okay.
So it's a great privilege to see what Australians do under pressure, which is pull together, focus on helping each other, and again, my message to the volunteers and indeed the full-time staff in South Australia is – you're doing a great job. You're modest about it. But I have to say, you all make us just a little bit more proud to be Australian this morning.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you think that given the enormous drain on resources for the South Australian Government, should the Federal Government look at doing more for flood mitigation in this region?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, I have to say that the Federal Government is represented here. We've got elements of the RAAF here. In terms of flood mitigation, I think it is a long-overdue debate in this country, how do we help mitigate floods? We spend a lot of money cleaning up. And of course, then there is a cost to farms and to businesses and to householders with increased costs of insurance and repair. I believe that spending more in flood mitigation beforehand, literally pays for itself after a storm event.
And I have to say that the fact that the South Australians in 2005 had done dam work further up the river from here, I think has probably helped minimise the impact of this adverse weather event, this storm. It could have been, I think, a lot more damaging but for mitigation works previously. So I'm a fan of mitigation because I think it actually saves damage, it can potentially save lives, and it certainly saves taxpayer cost and clean-up.
SHORTEN: I've got a couple of comments on that. Yes, I do think we need to have a discussion about how we improve and formulate a national energy market, absolutely. But I have to say I'm disappointed in Malcolm Turnbull seeking to politicise a one-in-50-year storm. A storm where cyclonic winds were experienced in parts of South Australia. A storm so powerful it could turn steel transmission towers into Meccano sets to be bent over. 80,000 lightning strikes.
I want to say very clearly, Labor is up for a discussion about a national energy market, but do it at the right time. I think it is rule 101 of natural disaster is that politicians should not play politics. Playing politics and trying to blame renewable energy for the storm and damage it caused, by Malcolm Turnbull, to me was exactly the lack of leadership, and Australians don't expect that from their leaders.
There are people, as we speak, doing rescues, fixing fences, mopping out their houses. They don't need to hear politicians trying to score a cheap political point. So, yes, up for a discussion on national energy market. But Malcolm Turnbull should stay out of the way of the political blame game, and instead, just focus on supporting the full-timers and the volunteers, the thousands of them, who are helping South Australia get through a one-in 50-year, very significant storm.
JOURNALIST: From where you sit, can you see the mix of energy, electricity generation in South Australia, where there has been some obsession to promote nuclear power. Do you think we have got the mix right?
SHORTEN: Renewable energy didn't cause the storm. Renewable energy didn't blow over 23 transmission towers. Renewable energy didn't cause 80,000 lightning strikes. Renewable energy didn't create cyclonic winds of 125 kilometres an hour The fact is that it didn't matter how power was generated, this was a failure of the transmission systems. You could have had coal-fired, you could of had any sort of power generation, this was a catastrophic failure in the transmission systems.
Labor is up for a discussion about how you regulate and sort out a national energy market, but we are not going to use this storm and the damage it has caused, to score some sort of Tony Abbott-like point about renewable energy. Wrong time, wrong issue, wrong direction, Mr Turnbull.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on another matter. What do you expect from this week's hearing from bank chiefs [inaudible]
SHORTEN: No. Listen, everyone knows that Malcolm Turnbull will move heaven and earth to protect the banks from a royal commission. The only reason that the CEOs of the big banks are attending Canberra to a committee meeting is because Malcolm Turnbull has an absolute obsession about stopping a royal commission. But that's not going to stop a royal commission. No soft touch, soft ball, white wash in a parliamentary committee is going to stop a royal commission. I've met the victims of the poor standards of the banks and financial services industry. They will not be denied justice and we will never, never, never give up pushing for a banking royal commission. I think the fact is, that you can take Malcolm Turnbull out of the investment bank, but you can't seem to take the investment banker out of Malcolm Turnbull. And that's not leadership.
JOURNALIST: So do you think the heat will be turned up sufficiently on them at an economics committee or is that just –
SHORTEN: We just want to get to the truth of the matter. The problem is there is a pathology in the banking sector. I believe it is the case that all too often when you see the scandals and failures, that you see bankers chasing big profits over providing quality service to customers. I don't think this committee is going to get to the bottom of why we have inordinately high interest rates on our credit cards. That is a scandal. I do not think we are going get to the bottom of why we have a remuneration system where you see the CEOs of the big banks, ANZ, CBA, NAB, Westpac, where you've got the top leadership of those companies, in part, receive bonuses because of profits. And the problem is, if profits is what you pay people on, what happens is you get a diminution in service, and one of the great scandals which will not be touched by this inquiry will be – why is it that when the official rate of money, the Reserve Bank lowers interest rates, the official rate of money to stimulate the economy, why is it that the banks think that they can use some of that reduction to feather their profits, feather their nest, to keep interest rates high on credit cards? Household debt and credit card debt is a ballooning problem in Australia. I don't think this committee going to get to the bottom of those sort of issues.
JOURNALIST: Just back on the South Australian energy market. Do you think it is acceptable [inaudible]
SHORTEN: No, I wouldn't wish that on any state at all. But if you're going to look at the factors which did it, there was a one-in-50-year storm. As I said, there was a set of circumstances, weather circumstances, extreme weather circumstances, which has put South Australia in a very difficult position.
Of course there should be investigations led by the State, to make sure that you can further weather-proof our power system. But if you are going to weather-proof our power system, you don't start by just having a ridiculous one-sided debate focusing in on renewable energy generation. Renewable energy did not cause this storm. I think the Government really just needs to straighten themselves out here. The Government needs to stop, the Federal Government needs to stop just sort of trying to blame simple causes and create simple bogeymen, rather than deal with the fundamental issues.
JOURNALIST: Could you ever see a situation where Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania, the other states, would totally black out from one weather event?
SHORTEN: Well again, what we need to do is have energy security. You need to create national energy market so you have as many fail-safes in the system. We are up for that discussion. I know that when there was a gas explosion at Longford in 1998, Victoria was cut off, a big part of Victoria lost gas supply. It is not unknown, in catastrophic events, to jeopardise energy security.
Our challenge is to learn the lessons of this and make sure that we do everything we can to inoculate our states and our towns from these events. But anyone who promises they can control catastrophic weather events in the future, well that's a big call, isn't it?
Perhaps one more question if there is one more question? Alright, thank you very much. Thanks for coming.