Bill's Transcripts



SUBJECTS: Labor’s Northern Australia Tourism Infrastructure Fund advisory panel, ALP, immigration

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody, it's great to be here in Cairns and Australia's tropical north talking about Labor's fantastic kick-start to invest in tourism in Northern Australia.

Today I'm pleased to announce that if Labor is elected at the next election, we will not only invest $1 billion tourism infrastructure into Northern Australia, but we will make sure that local voices are consulted and that local expertise is deployed.

So I'm pleased to announce that on top of our commitment six months ago to have a Northern Australia Tourism Infrastructure Fund of $1 billion, that today, having listened and consulted with our locals, with our Shadow Ministers Jason Clare and Anthony Albanese, we will create an expert stakeholders panel, an expert local panel to make sure that the Infrastructure Fund gets spent where the demand is.The best people to help grow Northern Australia are the stakeholders in Northern Australia. We'll be encouraging local representation on an expert advisory board, to assist the fund allocate the scarce resources, and we'll be asking for people, local businesses and communities, right across from Cairns and Townsville, Rockhampton and Mackay, to Darwin and Broome, and North Western Australia.

Tourism is a big part of Australia's future. We want a lot of people in the south of Australia to come north, and enjoy Australia's own amazing tourist experience. And of course, being on the doorstep of Asia with the massive expansion in the Asian middle class, we want to encourage more people internationally to come to Australia. But you can only do that if you've got good local infrastructure: better roads, better regional airports, better facilities for ships, all of this and more and encouraging of course a greater understanding of our Indigenous culture. There's so much to see in marvellous Northern Australia, we've just got to make sure the locals have the last word in the allocation of scarce tourism infrastructure so we can get it right.

Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Will this money be diverted away from existing fund?

SHORTEN: Well we've proposed that using a $1 billion from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund and putting $1 billion of that specifically into tourism. There's been plenty of problems with the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, they're well known, you only have to talk to business leaders to understand that.

It appears that the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund is nothing but a mining play. Big mining companies, be they local or international don't need more taxpayer money.

And what we need to do is involve our councils. We need to make sure that some of the proposals are not so big - over the threshold of $100 million - that necessary local tourism infrastructure gets neglected.

JOURNALIST: Can anyone request to be a part of this panel?

SHORTEN: In the next few months we'll establish the panels and we'll be talking to people, but I want to hear from small business, I want to hear from Indigenous Australia, I want to hear from the people training the workforce, and we want to make sure we hear from right across Northern Australia. So yes, it's very open.

JOURNALIST: It's a large area, how are you going to make sure that each area is listened to from a tourism perspective (inaudible)

SHORTEN: I think it is important that Cairns and tropical North Queensland as you said, I think it's important that Townsville is, I think it's important that Rockhampton and the surrounding communities are. I think it's important that Mackay gets it's say. But it's also important the Northern Territory does and of course North Western Australia has got many marvellous and beautiful places to visit, that's why I mentioned Broome and of course other parts of the Kimberley and the Pilbara.

JOURNALIST: What would you say to people who think it might be counterintuitive to kind of divert money from infrastructure and put it into tourism?

SHORTEN: I think that tourism needs infrastructure. I think it's counterintuitive just to focus on mining and not look at the diversity of Australia's north. There's a lot more to Northern Australia than mining, and mining is important - let me make that clear. Tourism is where a lot of the sweet spot for economic growth is.

You look at the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is probably Australia’s number one natural asset. It's been looking after Australia, now it's time that we look after the Reef and one way we can do that is making sure that we invest in tourism infrastructure. 64,000 people make their living from the Reef, many of them are tourism jobs. Right across Northern Australia well over 200,000 people work in tourism. The middle class of Asia, it's growing in financial success and they've got more disposable money to spend than ever before. I don't want to miss out on having some of that resource and some of that experience come to Australia rather than going to Europe or North America. Australia has got a great story to tell and I also want to encourage Australians from down south, to come north for the holidays, you don't always have to fly over Australia to go somewhere else, there's a lot of great things to do up here in the north. 

JOURNALIST: Talking about all things north, do you plan on keeping NAIF going?

SHORTEN: Well we've been disappointed by the performance. We think there is a role to have infrastructure investment incentivised in the north but I think that if you were to judge the current NAIF; it's been more talked about than actually implemented. 

I think if you talked to business leaders right around Northern Australia, I think there's a general degree of disappointment. It's been all red tape, all bureaucracy and not a lot has emerged.

JOURNALIST: You talked about the $1 billion diversions to tourism infrastructure last year, has anyone approached you about particular projects that they want to get off the ground?

SHORTEN: We won't embarrass all the confidential or commercial discussions that we've heard about but there is an appetite to access low-cost finance to invest. You just have to go and talk to business leaders here and in Port Douglas, or you talk to business leaders and tourism operators in Townsville, you go and do the same in Darwin and Broome and other places in north Western Australia. There are people with good ideas and not a lot of them require a lot of money. 

And of course, the regional councils up here have got a very good set of ideas for local tourism, they just need a bit of leadership from Canberra and that's what we're offering. 

But today's announcement is very straightforward: we're saying that we have a $1 billion tourism infrastructure fund and we're going to invite the locals to be part of the process, not just making applications but helping advise and filter the grants and applications to make sure that we get it right. If you want to know how to do something go and talk to the locals, that's what I know.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten can I just get you on something else?


JOURNALIST: The Government is suggesting that New Zealand's offer to resettle some asylum seekers from Manus Island has led to an increase in people smuggling boats. You support Jacinda Ardern's offer, is there a risk that this is effectively undermining Australia's border control efforts?

SHORTEN: Well, if the Government really believed this rather than overreaching why are they concluding the American deal? I mean if the argument is that people may want to go to New Zealand, I'm sure that people might want to go to America. The fact of the matter is, that I do support the resettlement deal in the United States, for example. We've got to get those people off Manus and Nauru. 

Now what the Government tries to do is that because we have and support constructive efforts to resettle people that somehow that means you're against stopping the people smugglers - that's not right. 

If you follow Mr Dutton's logic to its conclusion, the only way that you could deter people from people smuggling is keeping them indefinitely for the rest of their lives in settlements on Manus and Nauru. I don't even think he believes that. 

Labor is very clear: we do support stopping the people smugglers, we don't support bringing people who come by boat and people smugglers to Australia, but that doesn't mean we've got to keep them indefinitely in these facilities in PNG and Nauru. 

JOURNALIST: Labor's National President, Mark Butler has lashed out at factional warlords in the party, warning the ALP will wither if local members aren't given a say. Do you agree with that assessment, that no other labour or social democratic party gives members fewer rights?

SHORTEN: I haven't seen the entire contents of Mark's speech but what I would say is this: the Labor Party before I became Leader had about 42,000 members. It's now got about 56-57,000 members, so we've had a 30 percent increase in membership. 

But Mark is right we've got to keep pushing to involve people. I made it clear when I became party leader in 2014, in a speech which Mark generously referred to, that we need to be a party which has more members and involves more people in decision making. 

I have to say I am grateful for the degree of unity that the Labor party has shown. I think that the Liberals when they peer over the neighbouring fence, and the Nationals, are a little jealous of the Labor Party's unity compared to their own division. I'll have a look at all of the proposals before our National Conference.

JOURNALIST: Weren't they some pretty damning comments by Shadow Minister Mark Butler? He says that backroom buffoonery and factional warlords are destroying the ALP and left members with fewer rights than, he believes, any other party. What confidence can voters have in the ALP if its own party members are showing that it's full of Labor buffoons?

SHORTEN: Well both Mark and I were elected by ballots of the rank and file so the Labor Party has engaged in reforms. Mark's right, no party can ever rest on its laurels.

I have no doubt though that when you look at the alternative - I mean the Greens are notorious for their lack of democracy; trying to understand the Green party is like understanding, sort of - you know, Russia, and understanding what is going on there. And as for the Liberal Party, they are going through all sorts of agonies in New South Wales for their very basic reforms. 

The Labor Party always needs to do better. We always need involve more people. I am very pleased that we have had a 30 per cent increase in membership since I became leader but I'm keen to do more. 

But what I want to do if we want to restore people's faith in democracy, we've got to make sure that we talk about the issues which everyday Australians are concerned about. And top of that has got to be cost of living. We've seen wages growth at the lowest in 50-plus years. So what ordinary working Australians and pensioners see is the cost of everything is going up, except their wages. 

That's why I don't support Mr Turnbull's proposition to give a $65 billion corporate tax cut - that's the issue which Australians stop me, Australians say to me in the street, “Bill why is Malcolm Turnbull copying America with $65 billion tax cuts for rich companies, big banks and multinationals, at the same time, ordinary wage earners and pensioners are battling cost of living?” 

It all comes down to priorities between different political parties. When it comes to tax reform, Mr Turnbull has picked his priority and I have picked mine. Mr Turnbull has picked tax cuts for large companies - $65 billion worth - and I have chosen to support wage earners and not increase the taxes of people under $87,000 a year with a Medicare Levy increase.

JOURNALIST: But looking at those comments that Mr Butler has made, they're pretty damning. Would you say they're embarrassing? Would you regret them? Like is there anything you can do about those specific comments?

SHORTEN: Well, what we will do is that the Party will discuss further ideas about increasing Party membership. But I suppose at the end of the day, what Australians want to see is their political parties reflecting their experience. 

The Labor Party has membership which is nearly 60,000. We benefit from having trade union affiliation which provides us and puts us in touch with the working experience of millions of Australians.  

I think that when you look at the internal division in the Liberal Party, we saw it again as recently as yesterday between Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott - the disquiet in the LNP and the National Party and indeed, some of the ructions in the Greens. 

The Labor Party is focused on the cost of living battles of everyday Australians.  We want to restore peoples’ confidence in the process. That's why I'm here today talking about boosting tourism in Northern Australia, which will be a driver of growth, and jobs, and sustainability and good jobs. And that's why when it comes to tax cuts, corporate tax cuts, I notice that the International Monetary Fund has done some analysis of Mr Trump's corporate tax cuts - what I say about that is that what Mr Trump does in America is up to him. I'm interested in Australia. I know for certain that when you give $65 billion away in corporate tax cuts to large companies and multinationals, when ordinary wage earners and pensioners are battling cost of living, that's neither smart nor fair. 

I have got my priorities on tax; that's looking after working class and middle class Australians. Mr Turnbull has made his priorities, his choices, he is looking after the top end of town.

JOURNALIST: But in terms of the Shadow Minister, there's no kind of commentary there?


JOURNALIST: Can I ask a question about the Great Barrier Reef?

SHORTEN: Yeah, please, that's great. 

JOURNALIST: So yesterday, the Turnbull Government announced they were putting $60 million into really revamping it. Do you guys - does Labor think that's enough and what do you guys have in store because obviously it's huge for tourism?

SHORTEN: I think that everyone agrees that we need to protect and save the Reef - and if we want to save the Reef, it's time to get serious. 

Mr Turnbull's superficial announcement yesterday shows he's not getting serious about the Reef. I said earlier in this press conference that the Great Barrier Reef is probably Australia's number one natural asset. The Great Barrier Reef in many ways has looked after Australia, it's now Australians' turn to step up and do a little bit of looking after the Reef. That's why we think that Mr Turnbull, rather than doing these superficial and small amounts, should have looked at greater protection for the Reef, greater resources for the clean-up. 

The other thing I'd like to say to Mr Turnbull is that if you're serious about the Reef, it's one thing to splash a couple of million here and a couple of million there, as nice as that is - you have got to have real policies on climate change. Everyone knows that climate change is threatening the viability of the Reef, we want to protect the Reef, we want people to keep coming here as we encourage them to do. You can't be serious about protecting the Reef whilst you're pursuing other policies which do nothing to stop the harmful effects of climate change on the Reef.

Thanks everybody, see you later. 


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