THURSDAY, 5 APRIL 2018
SUBJECT/S: Flood relief; Commonwealth Games; Australian Head of State; Turnbull’s cost of living crisis; Liberals’ leadership crisis; energy policy uncertainty; Mick Fanning.
JUSTINE ELLIOT, MEMBER FOR RICHMOND: Hi, I'm Justine Elliot and I'm the Federal Member for Richmond. I'm really pleased that Bill Shorten's back here in Murwillumbah. He's been here today talking to locals and hearing about the devastating impact of the flood that we had in this region a year ago. Of course Bill was here a year ago and talked with our community and listened to them about the difficult time that we've had. And of course it's been a year since that devastating flood, it is a time of reflection and I'm really pleased that Bill's been back here to listen first hand to our community.
The fact is the Federal and State Liberal and National Governments have failed our community here on the north coast. They have failed to provide financial support or community support to our region. In contrast to all of that, Bill understands us, he's one of us, he understands regional Australia, and I'm so pleased he's been here today in Murwillumbah to listen and talk with our community about the very difficult time we've had over the past year.
Thanks so much Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody, and it's great to be back in Murwillumbah just over a year since the dreadful floods. I had the privilege last night to attend the Commonwealth Games opening but I thought if I was up on the Gold Coast it was probably the best use of my time to revisit Murwillumbah. Of course Tweed Shire, Lismore, Murwillumbah and indeed other smaller towns were very hard hit by the dreadful floods.
Talking to Council, talking to small business, talking to householders, there's three things I've learned. One, the Tweed Shire and the Murwillumbah communities are resilient. Two, this community has been very hard hit and recovery has been longer and more difficult and more expensive than I think a lot of people anticipated. And three, I'm afraid to say that the State and Federal Governments have been absolutely hopeless.
The fact that there is no clarity about the repurchasing of houses. The fact that a lot of the loans and money available the cash flow for small business, has been tied up in red tape. The fact that there hasn't been the sort of support that was promised by the State and Federal Government when the Premier and Prime Minister came through here on their picture opportunity disaster tour and haven't been back, reflects very poorly on the priorities of these governments.
But to return to where I started, Justine's been keeping me informed, and this community is resilient, and I can promise them that if Labor gets elected we won't forget Murwillumbah. That's why I'm here today. Happy to take any questions people might have.
JOURNALIST: Hopeless is a pretty strong word, do you have specific examples of what should have been done better?
SHORTEN: Trust me, hopeless is a polite word compared to what I have heard, talking to residents. For those of you in the local media who live in this local community, you will know that there are people in South Murwillumbah who've lost their jobs, who've had their houses damaged. The terrible thing about floods is once that shocking mud gets above the floor boards, recovery is just a very painful process. So I've had small businesses say that they've given up trying to make applications for support which they're entitled to because simply the red tape and the paper work isn't viewed as being worth the effort. Talking to residents, talking to Council, they are not happy with the level of response they've had. So when I say hopeless, that's me being polite. I'm not sure that the locals would use those use those words as politely.
JOURNALIST: I'm told that flood insurance which was a huge problem and meant that a lot of people weren't covered when the flood hit them, I'm told it's actually more expensive now, perhaps not unsurprisingly, in the wake of the flood than it was prior. Is there anything you could think of that you might be able to do to address that situation?
SHORTEN: Flood insurance has been a vexed issue in Australia for many decades. When Labor was last in government we were able to get a common definition of what constitutes a flood across insurance policies, but that was a major battle with the insurance industry. I thought the insurance industry had lifted their game since the terrible floods of 2011, but I have heard disturbing reports about inconsistencies in the way claims are treated, so we will follow that up.
JOURNALIST: It's been one year since the flood inundated the area. What was the emotions like back then and is the community stronger - stronger than ever now?
SHORTEN: You never want communities to be tested in a way that Tweed Shire, Murwillumbah, the smaller towns and Lismore have been tested. But I have to say the one impression I get, the positive overwhelming impression is that people pull together. The stories which make me feel most pleased to be an Aussie are the stories I hear of strangers and volunteers coming in and helping their neighbours, people they've never met perhaps, down the road or in the businesses, clean up.
So there is something really good about Australian's in adversity, that's fantastic. But I am greatly disappointed if State and Federal Government have vacated the scene. That doesn't mean that individual public servants haven't been trying to do their job. But what it means to be Australian is we take strength in our own adversity and kindness in another’s. But there is an expectation that if you pay your taxes that at times like that, government comes and helps out. No one here wants a free hand out but what I do think people expect is that when you've got jobs being lost, when you have regions and suburbs which are being inundated, you expect a more comprehensive solution than a fly-in, fly-out photo opportunity.
JOURNALIST: Is Malcolm Turnbull's leadership under threat from moderates as well as conservatives?
SHORTEN: Listen I think I'm like most Australians, I'm sick of the soap opera of the Turnbull Government. I just wish they would get on with their day job, not spend all of their time fighting each other. I think the Liberal party knows that they are stuck with a leader who can't lead, they know it. The problem is that this government is so consumed with fighting themselves that they are too busy to look after the interests of working and middle class Australians.
JOURNALIST: If Turnbull is deposed, who do you think you might face, the next leader, provided Albo doesn't depose you in the meantime?
SHORTEN: I don't care who the Liberals put up, what matters to me is a government which focuses on the issues of working and middle class Australians. What I hope is that a government would focus on cost of living. If private health insurance premiums are skyrocketing, young Australians can't afford to buy houses in the big cities, you've got wages flat-lining, and you've got the Turnbull Government increasing the tax burden on people who - income tax burden on people who will earn less than $87,000 a year. And as for the energy crisis, this government has been in for five years and is no closer to putting downward pressure on energy prices than the first day they were elected.
What matters is not who runs the Liberal Party, what matters is the discussions about the family budget around the kitchen table at night time. This is a government who's got no plan for schools, no plan for looking after our aged pensioners and the waiting lists there for support, they've got no plan on climate change. This is a government who for five years, has been more focused on worrying about themselves than the people of Australia.
JOURNALIST: You're catching up with Price Charles after this, heading up north. Tell me about what you guys may be speaking about?
SHORTEN: First of all I will say hello, I'll be polite. And listen, I might just say before I go to Prince Charles, he opened the Commonwealth Games last night on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen - I thought the opening last night was excellent.
I see there is some debate about waiting times for buses, that's undesirable. I've seen a few people critical of the performance - I thought it was excellent, the performance, and I think that the Gold Coast, Queensland, indeed Australia put itself on show to over a billion people and I think they did a great job. And when you watched all of the volunteers in particular putting so much in to making it the friendly games, I think, there wouldn't have been an Australian who was there who wasn't a little bit more proud to be an Australian after last night.
In terms of Prince Charles, I'll explain to him that I believe that we should have an Australian Head of State. I'll say that I think that Australia can remain in the Commonwealth, so he'd always be welcome to open the Commonwealth Games. But I think after 200 years of European settlement Australia is ready to have their own Head of State. And he strikes me as the sort of person who won't seem to be too put out by that proposition.
JOURNALIST: You talked about climate change, if the life of the Liddell power station isn't extended, what do you propose might fill the gap as far as supplying energy?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, the chaos and division in the Liberal party is driving higher prices on energy. Energy policy and climate change and energy prices have become a political football for different factions of the Liberal party, and as a result, we're doing nothing on climate change and household electricity and gas bills for Australians and small businesses are going up.
Our solution is to go to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. We believe that renewable energy is becoming a much more cost effective solution, and I think it's long past the hour where we just decided to embrace the future, take real action on climate change and renewable energy is certainly becoming a cheaper technology every day. But you don't have to take my word for it, just look around Australian communities and households. Over 1.3 million Australian households already have solar panels on their rooftop, they're not taking the solar panels off. So what we need is a government who's committed to backing the best technology, the best science and the lowest prices. Right now, energy policy and cost of living matters in the Government, there's a political faction fight between Mr Turnbull and his many enemies in his government.
JOURNALIST: Should you put aside money in the upcoming budget for jobs with the prospect of a looming trade war to sort of combat the prospect of a looming trade war?
SHORTEN: Well the trade war seems to be beginning doesn't it, between the United States and China.
Labor supports what the Government’s been saying - that we don't want see, if Mr Trump puts up higher taxes on imported Chinese materials, China retaliates, that's not going to solve the problems of economic growth. But my concern is that whilst these two massive Leviathan economies are having tug-o-war over trade, I want to make sure that Australia does not become a dumping ground for the trade cheats of the world.
What we need to do is not put extra taxes on products coming in from overseas, but we need to make sure that when product comes in from overseas it's not being sold more cheaply in Australia than it's available in the home country.
I don't want people seeing Australia's open markets as a soft touch. We've invited the Government, when they can take time out from their busy civil war, to look at how you look after Australia.
What I say to Mr Turnbull is, increase the penalties on the trade cheats who import cheap stuff into Australia. Make sure that the regulators who police our borders are under one roof rather than the disparate, sort of, higgledy-piggledy system we've got right now.
Mr Turnbull needs to focus on protecting Australian jobs, aluminium jobs, steels jobs, and other jobs which are threatened where the cheap material which can’t get in from some countries into America then funnels like a flood across Australia. And what we need to do is make sure that where we catch the trade cheats, they pay a very high price, because Australia is not a soft touch.
JOURNALIST: It's a beautiful part of the country -
SHORTEN: Sorry, I might just -
JOURNALIST: Do you support the upgrade of the Snowy Hydro?
SHORTEN: That's got a long way to go. I do support using pumped hydro as a way of storing renewable energy. Whether or not Snowy Hydro is the cheapest option compared to all the other options remains to be seen.
Sometimes I think that Mr Turnbull makes announcements just to get a short term sugar hit in the polls as opposed to taking a long-term view. I get very concerned that these days when you hear "energy policy" in the same sentence as "Mr Turnbull", it's just a proxy for the vicious civil war going on within the Liberal Party.
Let's go to what's really causing problems with energy prices in Australia. We've got a government who can't lead. The number one problem contributing the growing energy prices in Australia is the lack of policy certainty. Every time Mr Turnbull takes a position at breakfast time, it's moved by lunch time because the right wing knuckle draggers of his Party keep beating him up.
This is not the way to run a country.
JOURNALIST: So you don't think it's time to settle on a bi-partisan plan to deliver cheaper and more stable energy?
SHORTEN: We're absolutely up for a bi-partisan plan, but which part of the Liberal Party do we deal with? Every time we think we can do a deal with Mr Turnbull he comes back to us and says, well, that was today's position, this morning's position, but by lunch time the right wing of my Party have dragged me somewhere else.
You can't keep up with energy policy in the Liberal Party because they don't know what they're doing.
JOURNALIST: If you move away from coal, don't you risk a huge backlash from the union movement which is a massive part of the Labor Party?
SHORTEN: Well, to be precise, in my answer to your earlier question on climate change and emergency prices, I said we want to get to 50 per cent renewables by 2030. That clearly implies that the other 50 per cent will come from fossil fuels. The argument that some of the Government put, that we should have no change at all, is simply not sustainable. It's not good climate policy, it's not good energy policy, it's not good cost of living policy.
What keeps me up is worrying about how do we help small businesses and households deal with rising energy bills. Australians’ energy bills are going up and up and up. And in the meantime, the last five years of conservative government in this country, all we've seen is these arguments about a particular power station or a particular mind project.
I wish the Government would focus on the future. The technology is there. Do you know Australia's got the best renewable solar scientists in the world? We are the sunniest and windiest continent in the world. We have advantages in this country that other countries would kill for.
We should be an energy super power. Yet we're exporting our gas cheaper than the local businesses can buy it, we also have a problem where we're not backing in renewable energy sufficiently to encourage new investment. It's not an either or.
We can have renewable energy and we'll still have reliance on gas and coal for the foreseeable future.
JOURNALIST: It's a beautiful part of the country, the North Coast is, what are Labor's plans for the future of the North Coast?
SHORTEN: I might get Justine to add to some of that, but I'll give you some right now. We'll properly fund the schools in the North Coast. We'll back in tourism infrastructure in the North Coast. We want to make sure that Mr Turnbull's hospital cuts are not carried out in the North Coast. We want to make sure that people waiting for aged care packages in the North Coast can actually get them.
We are very committed to making sure that we have sustainable jobs, not just in our big cities, but in our regions, and that's why we want to see more infrastructure. Labor wants to also assist people living in the North Coast by keeping energy prices down, by seeing wages rise, by not increasing the income taxes of people earning less than $87,000 a year. And do you know how we can do all of that? By not giving $65 billion away to large multinationals, big banks and foreign companies.
Running the Government of Australia is all about making choices. It's about your vision for the future. Mr Turnbull has an economic plan for Australia - it's about looking after the banks, big business and multinationals. He hopes that if you do that, they will start spending more money and lift the wages and spread the money in the towns.
I take a different view. Provide a good education for the kids. Make sure that when you're sick you can afford to see the doctor. Make sure there's well paid blue-collar jobs for middle and working class Australians. That's our plan.
I want the kids here to be able to do an apprenticeship in the region. I want kids here who are bright to be able to go to university without having to worry about exorbitant costs. I want people to be able to grow old in the region, making sure they can get proper aged care support.
So Labor's got a plan. Don't doubt that. It's all about choices. I choose working and middle class people, Mr Turnbull chooses the top end.
I might get Justine to talk further about -
JOURNALIST: Just quickly, Sky News -
SHORTEN: If I could finish that question, but I promise you're next.
JUSTINE ELLIOT: Thanks Bill. The fact is, Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal National Party have abandoned the North Coast of New South Wales. What we need is a Shorten Labor Government.
As Bill said, it's all about priorities. Now, Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals and the Nationals, their main priority is that $65 billion tax cut for big business and multi-millionaires. But Labor - a Shorten Labor Government - our priority will be families, and pensioners, and students. Better health care, better schools, that's our priority, that's what we fight for every day.
What I want to see is that kids from areas like Murwillumbah can go to TAFE and go to university. I want to see pensioners, those living right throughout the North Coast, that they can actually get decent access to services, particularly health care services and pensions.
Those working families that are doing it tough. Those are the people that we represent. The everyday, ordinary people of the New South Wales North Coast - long abandoned by the National Party - and it's only a Shorten Labor Government that will deliver for our region.
SHORTEN: You were next?
JOURNALIST: Sky News has attained a new carve up - WA now gets 47c - is that fair?
SHORTEN: The carve up is done by the independent Commonwealth Grants Commission, but yet again Mr Turnbull seems incapable of recognising Western Australia's legitimate complaint that they've been missing out on support from the Federal Government.
I noticed that Queensland and New South Wales have gone backwards under the current carve up, Victoria and WA have gone forward. The challenge though for WA is this: they've been hard hit by the mining boom, when things were going well they were generating a lot of income for the nation. But the problem is, under the formula used for the carve up for the tax, for the GST, they've had a very low proportion. So for every dollar they send over to the East, they're getting a smaller proportion back.
Now Labor says, rather than pit New South Wales and Queensland against WA, there is a better way. And the way we can do that is we want to put more funding into infrastructure in the West. We've announced upgrades of hospitals, we've announced new highways and roads. We can do that because we're not going to give $65 billion away to the top end of town.
Mr Turnbull wants the various states and regions of Australia to engage in a hunger games while he is handing away a truckload of cash of the budget to the top end of town.
I've got a different plan for Australia. My plan for Australia is this: don't hand a truckload of cash to the top end of town, foreign multinationals who send it overseas to profits to foreign shareholders - spend the money in Australia.
These big multinationals, they drive their trucks on our roads, they use the skilled workforce that we educate in our schools, why on earth should we be having a hunger games between Western Australia and New South Wales and Queensland, when instead we could use the money that Mr Turnbull wants to waste in taxpayer handouts to large corporations and we could spend that money right here.
Last question, thank you.
JOURNALIST: Is it appropriate for Labor MPs to use parliamentary allowances to buy Labor magazines when the money goes straight back to Labor think tanks?
SHORTEN: I've acquainted myself with the details following the reports in this morning's media. I understand that the expenditure was approved by Mr Turnbull's Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority, but I have to say, I don't expect that subscription to continue.
JOURNALIST: Just a quick one on Sally Pearson. She's very likely to retire from the Commonwealth Games this afternoon, pull out of the Commonwealth Games - what's your reaction to that obviously very disappointing news?
SHORTEN: I think Sally Pearson's entitled to make the decisions that she wants to. She is one of the standout athletes of our track and field team of the modern era. She's a Gold Coast girl. I tell you, every person in the Carrara Stadium last night rose to their feet as one when she carried the Queen's baton that final stage. She's a champion, and I think that I speak for a lot of Australians - Sally, you're an Australian champion, you make us proud. We love you, we think that what you've done is great and congratulations on what you will do now and in the future.
JOURNALIST: Speaking of champions, and we're on the Tweed. I think Mick Fanning might be in the water at Bells right now in the final of his last ever contest as a full-time competitor. What do you know about Mick, and have you got anything to say about him?
SHORTEN: Oh mate, he is a surfing rock star. I think, leave aside all of his surfing achievements, that big fish he fought with off the South African beaches I think shocked everyone. Not only is he a skilled athlete, but if he can punch a shark, I tell you what, he's a guy you'd like next to you in the water. Although I am confident that Bells Beach, in my home state of Victoria, is a lot colder than surfing up here.