TUESDAY, 10 OCTOBER 2017
SUBJECTS: Energy policy, gas exports, Turnbull Government’s Constitutional crisis
TERRI BUTLER, MEMBER FOR GRIFFITH: Welcome, everyone. Thanks for coming out today to talk with us, to have a look at this really important manufacturing plant. I'm very impressed with it. This is a very important plant, it's got about 500 direct employees, and another 2000 jobs indirectly rely on this plant. So it's been a really great opportunity today to see first-hand what you're doing. It's been really wonderful to host the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten, who is so well known for his commitment to Australian manufacturing, and Australian jobs. Bill thanks so much for coming.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Terri. First of all, I just want to thank management and the workforce of Incitec Pivot for showing us around this remarkable Gibson Island facility. This proves that manufacturing in Australia can not only do well, but it can be a world leader. The workforce has worked hard and they've improved the bottom line of the business time and time again. Management works closely with its workforce to get the best out of this business, and this is a business which supplies Queensland farmers and Queensland industry. But the problem is, that Incitec Pivot, with hundreds of direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs, deserve a Government in Canberra whose as focused on the bottom line - increasing job security, looking after the farmers - as the business is. But that's not happening at the moment.
We are calling upon Turnbull and the Government to stop fighting amongst themselves and do something meaningful about the gas supply crisis and the gas price crisis. This is a business who is facing massive increases in prices from 2019 to 2021, and if the prices are too high, this business will have to shut. It's long past the hour for Malcolm Turnbull to start taking action and just stop talking.
But overnight I think Australians were appalled to see Tony Abbott just lose the plot on energy prices and climate change. Today we see Turnbull is paralysed by fear of infighting in the Liberal Party and he can't do anything meaningful, meanwhile Australia has an energy price crisis and an energy supply crisis. I think most Australians share the views of the people I've met here today: why can't Australian have a Government with some common sense and a Prime Minister with some courage? We're happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Is Labor prepared to again change its climate policy and back whatever alternative the Government comes up with to the Clean Energy Target?
SHORTEN: I think that over the last ten years the sorry predicament that Australia's got itself in to means that both sides of politics need to lift their game. A lot of Australians simply don't understand why on one hand we're an energy superpower, exporting our energy right around the world, but on the other hand prices are going up and up and up for businesses and households. Labor has said that we were prepared to compromise. When the Chief Scientist, at the request of Turnbull, brought down a report about the way forward to keep downward pressure on energy prices and take real action on carbon pollution, the Chief Scientist came up with what he called a Clean Energy Target. Labor had its heart on another sort of approach, but we said we were willing to compromise. But amazingly yesterday, the Energy Minister finally conceded that renewable energy is getting cheaper and cheaper all the time, but they've decided that they're still going to be against renewable energy. It doesn't make sense. The real problem with energy prices in Australia is that Tony Abbott is still calling the shots, Turnbull's just simply too weak to take him on, and in the meantime, prices are going up for industry and households, and job security is being risked including at great facilities like this Gibson Island facility.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that perhaps if exports were being restricted that could be a sovereign risk?
SHORTEN: I'll tell you what a sovereign risk is, it's when we're laying off Australian workers because we can't get Australian gas at reasonable prices to Australian businesses. That is a risk. How on earth can we have a Government in Canberra refusing to act on an energy crisis - they've been in for over four years - and yet at the same time we've got business under threat yet we're exporting our gas overseas rather than prioritising supplying Australian businesses first. The answer is more gas supply, and making sure that if we've got the legal mechanisms, we prioritise supplying Australian businesses, rather than exporting it overseas.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) to enable Barnaby Joyce to campaign for a by-election if the High Court finds he's ineligible?
SHORTEN: This High Court saga just drags on. Constitutional eligibility of the Deputy Prime Minister remains with a cloud over it. I now think it's in the hands of the Hight Court. We said to the Government that we wouldn't seek to use our numbers if they wanted to stand Deputy Prime Minister Joyce aside so we could make sure that none of his decisions were illegitimate or could subsequently be challenged. It's now in the lap of the High Court. Labor, like Australia, awaits to see its verdict. But in the meantime, this constitutional circus has meant that the Government has taken its eye off the big issues including lower energy prices for business, for jobs and for households.
JOURNALIST: Do you feel some sympathy for those before the High Court?
SHORTEN: As a human being, I feel sympathy for people who might lose their job. But most parliamentarians did the homework, they checked-out, they made sure they complied with the Constitution. The Constitution wasn't written last week - it was written well over 100 years ago. It shouldn't come as an earth shattering surprise but we are where we are. At a human level, do I feel sympathy? Yes. At a national government level, what frustrates me isn't sympathy for another politician, it's what's being done to do something about energy prices. I actually have more sympathy for the Gibson Island workforce and the management here than I do for Barnaby Joyce.
JOURNALIST: So you don't think Labor politicians of the past wouldn't have fallen foul of this law? Every Labor politician that's been through government has 100 per cent complied with -
SHORTEN: We're not in here throwing rocks at the other team on this. Should they have done their homework? Probably. They haven't and we are where we are. The people I have got sympathy for are the taxpayers. The people I have got sympathy for are the workers in the control rooms at this production facility. The people I have got sympathy for are Australian farmers who deserve to be able to buy quality Australian product. The people I've got sympathy for are the workforce of this company, who in the last two years alone have made $30 million worth of savings, yet all of that gets just washed away when the gas price comes to the sort of prices which is confronting this company. I wish Mr Turnbull would spend as much time fighting high-energy prices as he does Tony Abbott or fighting to keep his own job or fighting to keep MPs in Parliament.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, are you anticipating that Queensland will be going to the polls very soon?
SHORTEN: When Anastasia Palaszczuk and Queensland go to the polls will be a matter for the Queensland Government and the Queensland people. One thing is for sure, when I travel around Australia, I know that Anastasia Palaszczuk is doing a good job. And the example I want to use to you is gas. The fact of the matter is that Anastasia Palaszczuk is developing new gas tenements, she's making sure that not just the big gas companies but smaller gas companies can get into the markets, supplying cheap quality gas to business. I think Anastasia Palaszczuk is doing a good job on the energy front compared to Malcolm Turnbull and Canberra.
JOURNALIST: She’s also approving a coal mine. How does that sit in line with your renewable energy goal - clean energy (inaudible)?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all that's a matter for the State Government - it is not a matter for us. Secondly, my view on Adani is very clear cut; it shouldn't get any taxpayer money, full stop. If it passes environmental and commercial hurdles, well that's up to them. But when it comes to federal taxpayer money, they won't be getting a cent.
Perhaps one more question.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that the majority of Australians want to see action on climate change but are perhaps reluctant to pay for it?
SHORTEN: Well, I think a majority of Australians want to see action on climate change. I think a majority of Australians want to see action on rising energy prices. And the beauty of Labor's policy is that if you vote Labor, you'll see action on energy prices and you'll see action on climate change. Good environmental policy is good energy policy and price policy.
Yesterday, we finally had Turnbull and the Liberals raise up the white flag and surrender their attack on renewables because for too long, Tony Abbott and his team have been pretending that renewable energy is far more expensive than other forms of energy. Yesterday, in a moment of unusual candour, the Minister for Energy and Environment Frydenberg, he said renewables are cheap and they're getting cheaper every day. But the problem we have now got is that even if you back in renewable energy, even when they know it is a lower price, even when they know it is getting cheaper, they still can't get over the right wing of their own party, so they're not going to do anything to encourage greater investment in renewable energy.
I think Australians are sick and tired of the last ten years of climate change wars because the only thing we've seen from the Liberals' successful opposition to meaningful climate change policies is the prices go up and up and up. Tony Abbott has flown half around the world to just lose the plot on climate change and energy prices. He has essentially had his way on energy prices for the last half a decade. Turnbull keeps caving into him. What has been the outcome of the last half a decade of Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull's relentless anti-climate change policies? Prices have gone up. We say to Australians: let's try a new way – let’s back in renewables, let’s back in the gas industry as a transition and let's put downward pressure on prices.