WEDNESDAY, 4 OCTOBER 2017
SUBJECTS: Australian manufacturing; COAG; Turnbull’s Gas Crisis, Australian Wool.
JOANNE RYAN, MEMBER FOR LALOR: I'd just like to welcome Bill Shorten back to the electorate of Lalor. We're here today at the Victorian Wool Processors with David. I'd like to thank Mr Kim and David for their invitation today. We're here talking about gas prices and gas supply, and the impact that this uncertainty - because we don't have clear action from this Government. So we're here today still talking about gas prices and gas supply. I'd like to introduce Bill Shorten.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Jo, and I'd like to thank Victoria Wool Processors for talking about their remarkable business. Australia supplies a lot of the world's wool, but unfortunately we've seen a lot of rationalisation of scouring and carbonising wool processing operations, which means that quite often we're not getting the value-add from the sheep's back. But this is a company that's hanging in there, it’s surviving, it's doing well. But companies like Victoria Wool Processors and many manufacturing companies throughout Australia cannot continue to afford the rocketing gas and energy prices in this country.
We don't just have a gas supply crisis in Australia, we have a gas price crisis in Australia which is undermining job security. As I walked around this plant, I was able to talk to Brian. Brian's been here for over two decades; salt of the earth bloke - had a great weekend, he's a Richmond supporter, but he works the day and afternoon shifts here. He works very hard, just as every employee in the company and the investors. But every gain they make in better quality, in more productivity just gets ambushed when the gas contracts come in for renewal and the prices are going up and up and up.
So when Mr Turnbull declares that he's sorted out the gas crisis in this country, oh no he hasn't. Because a cosy deal between gas companies and Mr Turnbull doesn't equal lower gas prices. And why on earth won't the gas companies and Mr Turnbull reveal the nature and the details of this so-called deal? When a government and a gas company can't tell you the new price of gas then that means that Australian domestic consumers and industry should be very, very afraid. When a government won't tell you the truth you should be very afraid, and my fear is that this just means higher prices. Now the gas companies say that they'll charge a reasonable price but Australians have had experience in the last couple of years of what gas companies think is a reasonable price. When a gas company has a definition of a reasonable price, you can be sure that it's a long way apart from a consumer's definition of a reasonable price. Mr Turnbull and the gas companies have done a cosy deal and our concern is that it will still mean higher prices for industry, higher prices for consumers and greater insecurity for jobs.
I'd now like to invite David, the General Manager, the Director of Victoria Wool Processors just to give a direct view about the impact of energy prices.
DAVID REITH, GENERAL MANAGER VICTORIA WOOL PROCESSORS: The other interesting one is that gas now directly impacts the price for electricity, and not only have gas prices gone up but electricity prices are going up. It is feeding directly into electricity prices.
Up until about two years ago, we'd been able to successfully compete with China into a lot of the markets in the world. With this increase in gas pricing, it is putting that whole strategy in place, we had worked out some niche markets that we could supply, we have no ability, however, to increase our pricing to cover these costs because we are sitting there with the cost advantages that China has in terms of labour. These increases have to be borne by Australian manufacturers. It is a direct transfer of wealth from Australian manufacturers to these energy companies and I don't think it has been explained exactly why and how this has all been able to occur so quickly.
Back to Bill.
SHORTEN: Thanks, David. Are there any questions on this or other matters?
JOURNALIST: Do you support the Commonwealth's proposed biometric facial recognition system?
SHORTEN: Sorry the - I missed the question?
JOURNALIST: Do you support the Commonwealth Government's proposed facial biometric recognition system?
SHORTEN: We think that biometric technology can be a real addition in terms of keeping Australians safe. But of course, when it comes to the final detail, we'll wait to see what the final detail from the Government is. But I just want to reassure Australians that Labor takes a bipartisan approach to good ideas about keeping Australians safe. That's been the hallmark of my leadership over the last four years and we'll keep working with the Government when they've got sensible ideas to make Australians safer.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there needs to be a uniform approach to detention for terror suspects and greater powers to detain suspects for longer?
SHORTEN: Well COAG will be discussing the latest proposals from the Government and I wait to see the detail of that. But again, I just want to stress to Australians that some issues should be above politics and I think keeping Australians safe certainly is in that category. We will work constructively with the Government. Where they've got good ideas and the experts are recommending it, we will look very favourably because that's what we should do. Of course, we do want to see the detail to make sure that every detail delivers the promises that are indicated. We will wait to see what COAG comes up with today.
JOURNALIST: But why not have the same law in Victoria and New South Wales when we're dealing with -
SHORTEN: Yeah, your question was in two parts, sorry. When it comes to the detail, we want to see it but the principle of keeping Australians safe is one all parliamentarians have signed up to. In terms of uniform laws between States, that is a general preference, so long as it is a race to the top and the best standard, not a race to the bottom.
JOURNALIST: Should Australians fear Government agencies holding even more personal data?
SHORTEN: Do you have a specific example in mind?
JOURNALIST: Ah, no but obviously when we're talking about ramping up terror laws, we're talking about more surveillance, more data of you know, each individual being held in these security agencies. Is that ever a concern? That we're potentially going too far?
SHORTEN: Well, I take a pretty common-sense approach to security and people's rights. We do everything we can to keep people secure, that's as it should be. We listen to the experts, we look at experience around the world. I want to make sure that we are as safe for people as we can possibly be. At the same time, we have always got to be mindful of the principle that we don't want to sacrifice the Australian way of life in order to implement some of these changes but I believe fundamentally that we have got the balance right. Keeping people safe is fundamental. That's a process which is ongoing as the terrorists and those who would seek to harm Australia seek new ways to undermine our security. And of course, we have to find new ways to keep us safe. But again, I just want to reassure Australians that in the hurly-burly of politics and some of the other arguments, both sides of politics are working very constructively.
JOURNALIST: On the question of the plebiscite or the postal survey I should say, are you heartened by the number of postal surveys that have been received after just a few weeks?
SHORTEN: I am pleased at the good turnout, absolutely. I don't think we should have had to spend $122 million. I mean put simply, Turnbull could have saved the taxpayer $120 million simply by having the courage to get the job done in Parliament. If I was him, there's nothing to gloat about this survey - its $122 million, it's been an ordeal for a lot of Australians but the process is the process and I encourage people to participate in it, as they clearly are.
JOURNALIST: Did you underestimate people's desire to have a say?
SHORTEN: Not at all. I don't underestimate the Australian people in any fashion, but what I do believe is that $122 million could have been spent better. It could have funded thousands of teachers, thousands of nurses, more hospital beds. It could have done something on energy prices, for example. You know there is bread and butter issues in Australia and a lot of Australians have said to me; on one hand, they support marriage equality. On the other hand, they say Bill why can't you get on with it? So the survey is the decision of the Government, it's out there and I encourage people to participate. I have been front and centre in terms of encouraging people to participate and to vote Yes. I haven't gone missing. I haven't just had the survey and then left it to everyone else. I back myself and I back my values and my convictions. Having said that, I think most Australians when they stop and think about it, think that the Parliament should just do its job because at the end of the day, this survey is going to tell us what we already knew and at the end of the day, the Parliament's going to have a vote.
JOURNALIST: Quick question on a Victorian matter. The Victorian Police have raised concerns about 18 bales of wool that have been swapped between here and China. Do you think a scandal like this - and they're saying that it could be more widespread - does a scandal like this impact the Australian brand of wool and is it an argument that we should be processing more wool here than sending it to China for processing?
SHORTEN: That's a great question considering we are at Victoria Wool Processors. Some of these potential crimes of swapping wool bales between here and China and putting in lower-quality wool, wouldn't happen if we had a manufacturing industry in Australia. Now you've got three processors left in Australia, there used to be 20 and 30. This quality control, the odds of it improving always increase when we value-add to our wool in Australia and don't leave it to other parts of the world.
JOURNALIST: Do you worry it might impact the quality brand of Australian wool?
SHORTEN: No, I think Australian wool is world class, so no I don't. But what I do think is the case is that when this country does more value-add manufacturing here, this country benefits and we keep greater control over the brand and the quality of Australian product. The fact that we grow so much of the world's wool but we send it in raw form overseas, it gets processed overseas and then we buy it back at much greater cost, is remarkable. When you look at the cost of a jumper; you know someone might buy $100 woollen jumper which is produced overseas, yet the wool component of it is in, you know, in single digits here - what we are effectively doing is growing the wool and then paying the rest of the world, to buy back our wool at much higher prices.
That's why I believe and Labor believes in strong manufacturing in Australia and policies which back it in.
So to return to where I started; we undermine the manufacturing sector of Australia when we don't have good gas prices. And all we've had for the last 200 days is Mr Turnbull having cups of tea, cosy meetings with corporate CEOs. He is so out of touch - he would do better to leave the corporate boardrooms of the big gas companies, get out on the shop floor, talk to blokes like Brian, talk to the people who run this company and hear the real issues. When he says he's fixed the gas crisis, he is not paying the gas bill for Victorian Wool Processors or any other of thousands of Australian companies.
The fact of the matter is that all that Turnbull announced yesterday is that he and big gas companies are going to have a 'reasonable' price for gas. Well, if you ask the gas companies over the last couple of years have they been reasonable in their pricing, I'm sure they say they would. So be very, very afraid that when Turnbull and the gas companies say the price of gas will be reasonable, be very afraid - a cosy deal means higher prices.