WEDNESDAY, 30 AUGUST 2017
SUBECT/S: Energy; Jobs in Gladstone and regional Queensland, Marriage equality postal survey, university cuts
CHRIS KETTER, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: G'day. This is Chris Ketter, I am a Labor Senator for Queensland. So it's great to welcome Bill Shorten here again to Gladstone. Today we've been looking at the Northern Oil Advance Bio-fuels Pilot Plant here at Yarwun in Gladstone. An amazing place and it's bringing together a lot of advanced technology and amazing skills. Now, that segues into what I want to talk about which is of course, we find ourselves in the middle of National Skills Week this week. And we need to talk about what this government is doing in terms of skills at the moment. And the story is not good. Across Australia, we have 148,000 fewer apprentices that have commenced since the Coalition Government commenced, and of course, that is 36 per cent reduction. In the seat of Flynn where we are now, the situation is even worse. It's a 45 per cent reduction in the number of apprentices since the election of the Coalition Government. That's 1,771 fewer apprentices across this wonderful electorate. So, what is this government doing about this problem? Well in fact, what they announced in the 2017 Budget was that they were going to cut funding to TAFE. Over $630 million cut. And also introducing a bizarrely funded plan to skill Australians, entirely funded out of the visa fees for foreign workers. Independent analysis has shown that this program is not going to deliver the number of apprentices that it proposes.
In contrast to that, of course we have the Labor Opposition which has a fully funded apprenticeship plan. And one of the promises that we've made is that we will reserve the $637 million cuts to TAFE funding and apprenticeships, as well as putting $100 million into a Building TAFE for the Future fund, which goes into, most importantly, into regional and outer-Melbourne TAFE campuses so that those campuses can be revitalised.
So we have a solid plan. In this electorate unfortunately, the people of Flynn have been let down by their local representative, Ken O'Dowd, who continues to support this ill-considered Skilling Australians fund. He is presiding over a reduction in the number of apprentices in this area, and there is an unprecedented number of people applying for the limited apprenticeships that are available here.
So Gladstone, and Central Queensland more broadly, needs a Labor Government that is going to deliver in terms of jobs and skills for Central Queensland. So with those words, I'll hand it over to Bill Shorten.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Chris. First of all, I just want to thank Southern Oil, and the parent company, and Northern Oil, the company doing remarkable work here. This is an exciting project, and hopefully it's a project which all Australians will come to learn about. This is a joint venture with engineers backing themselves in and new ideas for Australia. It's about bio-fuels. What this company is doing is taking waste products and recycling them and creating new fuels from recycling waste products. It is a very clever idea. It is creating value from items which there was no previous value deemed to be had. And this is cutting edge technology, cutting edge technology. 28 people are now working here. There's been tens of millions of dollars invested. And the eyes of a lot people in the energy market, in the oil and diesel business, they're all focused on Gladstone, and on Yarwun and on this refinery. I think it has got a lot of potential.
But where you have got this sort of leadership, this sort of innovation, this sort of job-creating project which is all about recycling waste products, it's about time we had the same leadership from Canberra. It's about time we saw some of that same courage that we are seeing by investors and business people, by the workforce here, by engineers, with big ideas and big dreams, we need to see a little bit of that spirit in Canberra.
Instead though, we've just got more talk and more hot air from the Turnbull Government. Today, they've called in the energy companies again, no doubt to wag the finger, no doubt to just try and say what are we doing about energy prices. But the real problem is that Mr Turnbull looks at rising energy prices as another political problem. He doesn't understand that this is a human problem. He doesn't understand how painful it is for ordinary Australians and businesses to have rising, out of control energy prices. Today, he needs to demonstrate he has real solutions, not more window dressing. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: On that one, are energy retailers doing enough to lower prices?
SHORTEN: I think it is a collective effort required. I've got no doubt that energy retailers need to do more but the Government in Canberra needs to do more. The number one fact, the number one cause of why energy prices are rising is a lack of policy certainty at the national level, that's what all the experts are saying. Now, the Government commissioned the Chief Scientist to try and steer a way through the internal civil war of the Liberal Party and come up with a science, evidenced-based solution so we can get investment back into energy. At the moment, there is insufficient investment in energy because there is a lack of policy certainty. So, as coal-fired power stations come to the end of their working life, or even go beyond their technical working life, we are not seeing new investment because there is policy vacuum. You've got great businesses like this trying to do the best they can.
What we need is a Clean Energy Target. We've extended the hand of compromise to the Government. If it's a fair dinkum Clean Energy Target and I stress fair dinkum, then we are up to working with them to see how it can be done. And I have certainly offered the services of my Energy Minister, Mark Butler, to work with the current Minister, Frydenberg, to see how we can make energy policy not be a political football.
The trouble is Mr Turnbull sees energy prices as just another political problem in his diary. He doesn't understand the pain that causes to ordinary Australians. We need to see real solutions, not just window dressing.
JOURNALIST: So will you do whatever the Government decides with relation to the Clean Energy Target later on this year?
SHORTEN: No, it has to be fair dinkum. It has to be evidenced-based. We are offering to sit down and negotiate. The problem is that for energy prices in this country, nothing is going to get better in the long term until we've got policy certainty, which unlocks the investment dollars, which then unlocks downward pressure on energy prices. The Government's got to not look at energy and climate policy and the prices which ordinary Australians pay as another political problem. It's a human problem, it's very painful for ordinary Australians. I don't think Mr Turnbull understands how painful rising energy prices are for ordinary Australians.
Now, we need real solutions, not more window dressing.
JOURNALIST: Ken O'Dowd says the Opposition doesn't actually have an energy plan. What are you going to do help Central Queenslanders?
SHORTEN: Oh well, I am not going to take a lecture from Ken O'Dowd on too much. In all seriousness, we need a Clean Energy Target. It doesn't matter where you live in this country, the number one cause for rising energy prices is a lack of policy certainty. That's what all the experts are saying. I mean at Curtis Island, we are at ground zero of one of the problems which is of course is the exporter gas. It is beyond belief that Japanese industrial companies can buy Australian gas in Japan cheaper than Australian industrial companies can buy gas in Australia. That's clearly one of the issues. But we need a Clean Energy Target. What Mr Turnbull needs to say today is he needs to come out with real solutions, not just more window dressing.
JOURNALIST: So would Labor be open to re-nationalising elements of the industry?
SHORTEN: Oh, I don't know if we have to re-nationalise, but I do want to make sure that Australian companies get first crack at Australian gas. I do want to make sure that we've got fair dinkum policies which capture some of the tidal wave of renewable energy investment that's going on throughout the world.
Good businesses like this can expand to become even bigger and better businesses, making a real impact, for instance, on diesel prices through bio-diesel. What we need is a government in Canberra not constantly chopping and changing programs, creating uncertainty. This project we're at today is a great jobs generator for Gladstone. We know that Gladstone needs to diversify its economy. You've got cement here, you've got power stations, you've got the refinery, the Rio refinery, you've got the port, and now you're going to have biofuels. This development here adds to the strength of Central Queensland's economy.
JOURNALIST: Queensland has one of the lowest electricity prices in Australia, isn't that evidence that government ownership can drive down prices?
SHORTEN: I think that's a fair point you're making. One of the culprits, which the Liberals never like to talk about in Canberra, or the LNP up here, one of the culprits, I believe, for out of control electricity prices was the privatisation of electricity generators in places like Victoria. What happened is that these electricity generators were sold at a very high one-off price and the private operators, ever since then, have been basically trying to screw down costs and bleed these assets to recoup some of the money they paid for it. But the problem is, that that's meant that ordinary Australians are paying more for their energy prices because they come second behind shareholders of these large energy generating companies. So I think the privatisation has been a net-negative in electrical generation, and I think that we're seeing some of the problems with privatisation come home to roost in 2017.
JOURNALIST: A same-sex marriage ad was launched this morning by the No Campaign, what are your thoughts on that?
SHORTEN: When I first saw the ad I wondered if it was a send-up, I thought it was, I just thought the ad was so primitive. I thought it was rubbish frankly. The idea that if you vote in this $122 million postal survey, that somehow your little boys who go to school are going to be made to wear dresses, is just ridiculous. It's offensive. We shouldn't be having this postal survey, we should just pass a law in Canberra. The number of people who have stopped me in the street, they don't even care that I'm the Labor Opposition Leader who's opposed the postal survey, a lot of Australians are white hot with anger that this money is being wasted on a postal survey when the Parliament's there to do its job anyway.
So a lot of Australians are genuinely teed right off with this whole process. And then what we've seen, as we predicted, is we're seeing LGBTI Australians, same-sex couples, gay Australians, all of a sudden having to justify their relationships. All of a sudden, when we thought a lot of this discriminatory nonsense was done and dusted, a thing of the past, now we're seeing license given to add somehow bagging same-sex couples.
You know, these ads, what does it mean to a same-sex couple and their children, when they've got to go to school and they know the other kids have seen the ads, and they're making fun of their parent's relationship. It's rubbish, it's unnecessary, but it's the result of a weak Prime Minister giving us a $122 million postal survey that no one wants, just because he can't sort out his own political party problems.
JOURNALIST: Did it pass the test of treating each other with respect across the community?
SHORTEN: I think Australians will be the judge of that. It doesn't pass my test, but it will be up to Australians to decide what they think about it. But the idea that someone's marriage is going to mean that something else happens in a school, that little boys have got to dress up – we're doing exactly what the makers of the ad want us to do, we're talking about it, so I probably don't want to dignify any further conversation on it. I just say to LGBTI Australians, we're on your side. This is just rubbish, this will pass. I'm sorry it's happening.
JOURNALIST: And you mentioned diversification, you're speaking at the jobs forum later this afternoon, what can Gladstone do to diversify and produce those jobs? This is obviously one aspect, but I imagine more could be done?
SHORTEN: NBN, energy, port access road. If Labor had gotten elected at the last election, that port access road would have been built. You've got a lot of strengths here. You've got a highly skilled workforce, you've done it tough no doubt, and we've seen a lot of families leave the area, but you are quite a diversified economy. Gladstone in my opinion, and I've been visiting Gladstone for two decades, has never been afraid to roll up its sleeves and bid for jobs. As I said, you've got the cement operations, you've got the Rio refinery, you've got the power station, and of course you've got this new business, and of course you've got the port, you've got tourism, you're also a service centre for a lot of the mining that happens further West.
What we need to do is make sure you've got good infrastructure, you've got reliable NBN, and of course downward pressure on energy, and as Senator Ketter said, let's do something about getting more apprenticeships back into the region so that local kids can pursue a career and a future through a quality apprenticeship.
JOURNALIST: Jumping back to a national issue, have you been briefed on the people smuggling boat which reached Australia early this month, the seven people onboard?
SHORTEN: No, the Government needs to come clean. They've got to view us as working with them, rather than treating the Australian people and the Parliament, keeping us in the dark. We don't know what's happened here. I think the Government needs to explain how this has happened, and how we can make sure it doesn't happen again.
JOURNALIST: Do you think those operators are again testing Australia's policy resolve?
SHORTEN: I don't know, again, the Government has got the facts, they're just not telling us.
JOURNALIST: Do you take any responsibility for the arrival given the softening language you have used in recent days about the treatment of refugees?
SHORTEN: This government's been in power for the last four years. They've given themselves more medals on border security than can be pinned on their chest. And now when something goes wrong, what do they do? They blame us. We're not the Government. Although the way this government obsesses about me and Labor, I almost think that when Parliament resumes, they should sit where we sit, and we should sit where they sit.
Because the Government's obsessed about me and Labor. My message to Australians is I'm focussed on you. I'm focused on your healthcare, I'm focused on your energy bills, I'm focused on your kids getting proper jobs, that's what I'm focused on. Whenever anything goes wrong, the Government just blames Labor. They need to get on with the business of looking after Australians and spend less time worrying about Labor.
JOURNALIST: Matt Canavan's raised this idea about an army battalion being relocated from Brisbane to Rockhampton, do you support that?
SHORTEN: I'm going to take the best advice from our defence experts and other people. I think the Shoalwater development's good a good development in terms of being used as training facilities. I think before we talk about moving our military assets, you do it as part of a general strategic plan rather than, perhaps, headline hunting in the local paper.
JOURNALIST: The Labor-Gillard Government proposed $6 billion in savings from the tertiary education sector in the 2013 budget, on that basis, would you support cuts proposed by Simon Birmingham today?
SHORTEN: No. Again, this is a government worrying about what we did four years ago. That's what they get the big pay for and the white limos, and the chaos and the incompetence which they're sewing across Australia. I'll tell you my plan for higher education – make it easier for working class kids to go to university. Make it easier for families who've never had a child who's gone to university, to get there. I think that when you increase the HECS fees, when you decrease the threshold at which the payments are due and have to be repaid, when you cut universities, you make it harder for this country to become a smarter nation.
Australia's young people get a bad rap in some parts of the media, but they're expected, in many cases forced out of the housing market, they've got to save for their superannuation which is decades to come before they retire, they've got to pay their GST, but a lot of Government services don't go to young people, they've got to pay their Medicare levy, yet on average they're healthier. Young Australians are doing a pretty good job, but this is a Government who's making it harder for them to go to university, they're not getting their penalty rates, they're not doing anything on climate change and leaving a bigger mess for future generations to solve. So no, we're not interested in Senator Birmingham trying to rationalise his cuts in 2017 by blaming Labor. We're not up for that. Last question.
JOURNALIST: Did you have a comment on the passing of former Whitlam Government Health Minister, Doug Everingham?
SHORTEN: Yes. Doug Everingham was in his 90s but he had a very distinguished career as a Labor politician, of course, very popular in Queensland. People forget that when he became the Health Minister he introduced support for Community Health Centres. When you travel the length and breadth of Australia, one of the important safety nets of our health system are Community Health Centres. This bloke created them forty plus years ago for every Australian who goes to a Community Health Centre and gets that care that they need or for their child or a family member, that was Doug Everingham. So may he rest in peace. Thank you everybody.