TUESDAY, 15 JANUARY 2019
SUBJECTS: Labor’s $5 million investment to upgrade Palmerston pool; cost of living pressures; Labor’s plans for the Northern Territory; Neil Prakash; fish kill crisis; pill testing.
LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Good morning everyone, it's fantastic to be down here at the Palmerston pool, thanks very much for joining us. It's obviously fantastic to have the leader of the Federal Opposition, Bill Shorten with us here today. As you all know, we were out in Kakadu yesterday with some great announcements with the people out there and in support of the town of Jabiru. And it's wonderful to be here today also with the Senator for the Northern Territory Malarndirri McCarthy and also Northern Territory Government local Members from here in Palmerston, Eva Lawler and Tony Sievers. But also because this is a three-way, fantastic project here at the pool, we've got the Acting Mayor Mick Spick who has joined us. I just want to publicly acknowledge the work of the Mayor, Athina Pascoe-Bell who can't be with us here today, but has been a driving force for this fantastic project for the City of Palmerston.
This project is right up there with - it's in the top two projects for the City of Palmerston. They've been reaching out for Federal support for this project, so I was very happy to go and continue to advocate for Palmerston to Bill, and that's where we find ourselves here today. The City of Palmerston is growing. This pool has been a fantastic part of this community. Just talking to this morning to people who grew up learning to swim here, now have got their kids here. But it's been 30 years, so the pool needs an upgrade and we need to have more things here for kids to do, right from little bubs all the way through to the teenagers here in Palmerston. So that's what this project is about, but it's more than that, it's bringing in more opportunities and facilities for the seniors. So it's going to be great for the whole community here in Palmerston. Thank you to the City of Palmerston for their leadership on this project and thanks also to the NT Government for partnering in this project.
So I'm going to now throw to Bill, it's fantastic to have him up here. Three days in the top end, thanks very much for coming Bill, thanks for supporting this project.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Luke. Good morning everybody. My vision for the Northern Territory is to encourage more people to come and live in this marvellous place, and of course to build more infrastructure. People and infrastructure is the key to the future of the Territory. And Palmerston is amongst one of the fastest-growing communities in the Top End. This is a fantastic facility, but it is a bit tired. Talking to young mums with their first kids, they remember when they were kids learning to swim here. It's time to reinvest in community infrastructure in Palmerston, and indeed the Territory.
You know, hats off to Luke Gosling in particular who has advocated, along with the council and the Territory Government, for an upgrade to the Palmerston pool. Every Australian child no matter where they live, deserves the opportunity to learn to swim. Families deserve support where ever they live to help reduce cost of living. A day at the pool is one of the most fun and most cost-effective ways that families can look after the kids during school holidays. But it's more than this. This pool is a part of what makes Palmerston and the Top End more liveable. We all know the challenge to the future of the Northern Territory is to attract more people to live here. So I think this is a very sensible and modest investment, long overdue - to improve the cost of living, to improve the opportunities for kids to learn to swim, to improve the sense of community, and to improve the future of the Northern Territory.
I congratulate Luke Gosling and Northern Territory Labor for having such a practical common-sense proposal, and I look forward in the years to come of all of the kids who are going to learn to swim, for all of the kids who have the opportunities which when you grow to an adult and you don't learn to swim, and you don't have confidence around the water, that really means you don't get quite the same chances. So it ticks every box, for the future of the kids, for future of the Territory, for local infrastructure, for liveability, for helping families - this is really a great common sense project.
I might just ask the Acting Mayor to just say a few comments from the council's perspective and then we can take questions.
MICK SPICK, ACTING MAYOR, CITY OF PALMERSTON: Cheers Bill. First, I would like to thank the council staff who have worked on getting this project off the ground and working towards making it happen. I would like to thank the Territory Government for committing, but also Federal Labor for making that effort to commit the $5 million to this project, that will improve the lives of Palmerston residents. This pool is situated right in the middle of Palmerston and it is easily accessible to everybody in the area. So, it really does provide a lot to community building, healthy lifestyle and activities for everyone in the area, and it is great social infrastructure. It is humbling that we are getting this attention, that people are backing us to provide this support that we need to re-fit the pool and that, to make it be able to be used for the next generation for Palmerston to get in and use it. So yes, thanks.
SHORTEN: Are there any questions for me or my colleagues?
JOURNALIST: Yes. Do you have confidence in NT Labor's ability to manage the economy up here given the state of the budget unveiled by the Treasurer late last year?
SHORTEN: Yes I do. I have been pretty impressed by Michael Gunner and his team and the way that they are determined to make sure that they get their fair share of funding from the national government. They led a great business delegation called Facing North down the Canberra - great success, biggest ever business delegation to Canberra. So they are advocates. But I don't envy the situation which Chief Minister Gunner inherited. The Inpex boom was always going to come to an end, but it is sadly clear that the CLP Government then, sort of acted like the boom would never end, that there would never be a bill to pay for the party they were having. Unfortunately they have sold the TIO, they've sold the port so they have left Territorians with a debt and no plan for the future.
But I do believe that from my discussions with the Chief Minister they have a vision for infrastructure and a vision for bringing people here, and of course, a Federal Labor Government are the most reliable partners the Territory can have. I won't adopt the negative sneering attitude of my opposite number who says he's not going to bail out the Territory. Territorians are not looking for a bailout, but they are part of Australia. The Territory and its citizens have paid revenue to Canberra in the good years, so when it is tough Canberra should be there for people in the bad years and the tough years. And of course one thing we'll do to help the Territory economy is we are going to restore penalty rates if we get elected. Because one of the biggest problems that we have, not just in the Territory but right around Australia, is a lack of confidence by everyday citizens in the economy. More and more Australian families having to dip into household savings just to pay the running costs, and as we approach the start of the school year, pressures are on families. And what we want to do is get wages moving again in Australia. The most common-sentence you hear around Australia is that everything is going up except our wages. So I have got confidence in Labor at the Territory level and of course, our plans to make the economy provide a fair go for all working Australians.
JOURNALIST: Bill how do you make those comments about the CLP, the figures just show that’s clearly not true. (Inaudible) – it remained roughly the same when Labor took over and they delivered two surpluses in that time.
SHORTEN: We discussed this yesterday and my answer hasn't changed but I am happy to repeat it. First of all, you can't forget and have amnesia that during the CLP period, Inpex boomed, and where is all the benefit of that to show? It's gone. It was a sugar hit and this CLP administration basically squandered the boom - so that's one point. The other point I have got to make is that when the CLP came in, Territorians owned the TIO and they owned the port, but they don't now.
JOURNALIST: NT Treasurer Nicole Manison says that to get out of the budget problems, the Government has to cut the rate of expenditure growth. Are projects like this sensible ways to do that?
SHORTEN: I think this is good value for money. First of all, its partnered between the three levels of government. But sometimes in life, we've got to make sure that you don't just look at the price of everything and ignore the value of something. What's the price you put upon thousands of kids in Palmerston learning to swim? I think that is great value. What is the opportunity for young mums being able to get out of home, instead of being isolated and meet with their mother's group here and do some recreation and, you know the kids are in a safe environment. We need to attract more people to the Top End. You aren't going to do that with just a job alone - and that is important of course, but by liveability. A really cracking state-of-the-art swimming pool is more than just a swimming pool. It is a community hub. Now, it might be alright for the Liberals - some of whom are rich enough to have big lavish pools in their own homes, but I want every Aussie kid to have a chance to learn to swim, not just those who can afford their own swimming pool, in-built with all the mod-cons.
Sorry, I might share the questions and then come back to you.
JOURNALIST: The rural area has been calling out for a swimming pool for more than a decade. Why not put money to building a pool out there if it's about livability?
SHORTEN: You can't do everything in one go. Senator Malarndirri McCarthy has certainly been a keen advocate for the rural areas to get greater community access, and we will have more to say. But you know, when we announced the Palmerston pool, let's not just always look for the bad in things. This is a good announcement. No one seriously thinks this is a bad idea. I half wondered if the Prime Minister would hop on a jet and come and announce it at 9:00 this morning seeing as we were doing it at 10:00. Can I say to the current government, you are welcome to take this idea, it is a good one.
JOURNALIST: There is a free water park that is literally a minute up the road from here, there is another one that is 15 minutes up the road from here. People where Malarndirri comes from don’t have anything like that. How can you prioritise $5 million on a water park here when there is a park that is almost within reach and those who don’t have anything?
SHORTEN: I'm happy to let some of the locals answer that question. You know, Malarndirri's kids learn to swim here, Luke's been advocating, we've got state reps and we've got council reps here. But it seems to be pretty clear this facility is tired, and Palmerston's a growing community, and I understand and I have learnt that when you talk about Darwin, it's not just the city of Darwin, it's the city of Palmerston. This is my 16th visit to the Territory. I understand very clearly that when we talk about Darwin, we talk about the cities of Darwin and the cities of Palmerston, and Labor's going to be a champion for both communities and the rest of the territory. But why don't I hand over to the locals who have done a lot of the advocacy.
MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY, LABOR SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: Thanks. Matt, can I just answer that question in terms of the regions, and it's certainly something that I'm enormously passionate about that our regions - and not only just across the Northern Territory but right across Australia, that as a Labor Party, we are very focused on wanting to make sure that there is a fair go for our remote Australians. Certainly in terms of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy which Senator Scullion seems to spend like it's his own private monies, I would question the amount of money - $5 billion in that strategy alone - how much of that has come to the people of the Northern Territory in these remote regions? Just today, there's been an announcement around $600,000 that is going to entrepreneurs here in the Northern Territory. Well, I'd like to know who they are? Where are they? Are they people in our remote regions who have been desperately calling for this kind of support and funding? And I can tell you now that Labor will be looking very closely at all our announcements in terms of the regions across Australia.
JOURNALIST: If I could just ask you though Malarndirri, surely -
SHORTEN: Sorry, what I might do also is we did ask the council – sorry, I'd like to hear the council's -
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask one question?
SHORTEN: Yes you can but I also want to make sure that we answer your question properly, and I'd like hear the council explain why they think Palmerston's a priority.
JOURNALIST: But can I just ask Malarndirri -
MCCARTHY: I'll come back to you, Matt.
SPICK: With the pool right now, with the expenditure that we're looking at getting right, this pool as Bill said - it's tired. It needs a bit of an injection into it to get it up and running and that. You know, it's making do for right now but what we want to do is make it useful for the future coming up. Future proofing this facility for our Palmerston residents to come in here and actually utilise it effectively would be great. You know, having a facility that isn't one bit from breaking down and actually having it be able to maintain properly and that, is what the council is after. So the expenditure compared to borrow, I mean look, Palmerston is the second largest city in the territory. It is the fastest growing city in the Territory. You are going to get more value for money out of spending money in Palmerston then you will in that remote area. So, to make use of that money, then making use for facility that more people can use. This facility is going to be accessible for people in Coolalinga for Humpty Doo and right further out so you have to consider that as well.
MCCARTHY: Sorry, do want me to jump back in?
JOURNALIST: Malarndirri, you must get a little bit disheartened at times when you see more (inaudible) spend their money pork barrelling in Darwin and Palmerston. I mean look at (inaudible) at the moment. There are plenty of other remote communities that have got no -
MCCARTHY: There are absolutely so many remote communities across Australia, Matt. I tell you what is disheartening, when Tony Abbott is a special envoy comes up here and promises $12 million to Borroloola to deliver houses just before Christmas and nothing has taken place. That is absolutely disheartening. And there is no doubt about it Matt, that of course Labor wants to make sure that whether it's swimming pools or houses or roads infrastructure, that our communities right across Australia get a fair go.
SHORTEN: I will also just remind people that yesterday we announced $220 million for Jabiru in Kakadu, which is not in Darwin. So Labor stands by our record. We're committed to making sure every part of Australia gets a fair go and we're also committed to making sure that all Australians regardless of the wealth of their parents get a chance to learn to swim.
JOURNALIST: So will we see any more announcements from Federal Labor for the bush in the Territory before the election?
SHORTEN: We've got more to say about the bush and of course the Darwin/Palmerston region. I'm going to be a bit of a broken record here but this is my 16th visit to the Territory. Labor is very credibly represented at the national level by Senator McCarthy, by Luke Gosling and by Warren Snowdon. They are a formidable Northern Territory faction in the national capital. And what we will do, is keep announcing infrastructure and initiatives which help working people. I'll just remind you that there are two or three measures which we've already announced which are fantastic for Northern Territorians. One is, Labor is offering people who earn up to $120,000 a tax refund of up to $927. That's real money, every year. So if you're a married couple living in Palmerston, one of you earns $60,000, one of you earns $80,000, a Labor administration in Canberra means that you will get a tax refund over the next three years of nearly $6,000. Another measure that we're going to do is freeze the private health insurance rebate. Now, if you're still fortunate enough to be in private health insurance you'd know your premiums have gone up on average in the last decade, north of 55 per cent. That is making private health insurance literally unaffordable for working Australians. We're going to cap the fee increases at most at 2 per cent per year. That's real money for Australians and that's real money in tax refunds, and of course we're going to unfreeze the Medicare rebate, that's the patient rebate. So we've got a plan to put downward pressure on cost of living and to help provide a tax refund for 10 million working Aussies.
JOURNALIST: Have you got any plans for an announcement in Alice Springs?
SHORTEN: We'll have more to say about Alice Springs coming up.
JOURNALIST: Just on other issues, the AFP has decided not to charge anyone in relation to the leaking of the AFP raids, what's your reaction to that?
SHORTEN: That's a matter for the AFP. I'm respectful of what the police say. The journalists got a tip off, we'll never know who tipped them off - but it wasn't us.
JOURNALIST: There's been another fish kill at Lake Hume in NSW and Victoria. How serious is this problem becoming?
SHORTEN: We've got an ecological disaster in Australia's rivers. When we're seeing unprecedented numbers of river fish dying. A million in the big one most recently in Menindee, but now of course what you've just said about Lake Hume. Australia's river fish are facing a giant threat. This is a Commonwealth issue, it's not enough just to buck-pass the issue. It's an ecological disaster. Anyone who lives along our rivers, anyone who is a recreational fisher person will know this is a disaster. Labor has offered a bipartisan solution to the current Government. We have said we want to set up an emergency science task-force. Let's find out what's happening. I'm not going to say there is a simple explanation, if there was, someone would have already articulated it. But there's clearly a disaster unfolding in Australia's rivers. We need to do better. Let's get the best scientists together in a room, Government and Opposition working together and let's do something to save our remaining fish.
JOURNALIST: The Agriculture Minister says the explanation is drought. Do you agree with him?
SHORTEN: Well, no doubt that is one cause. But again, I don't think that's all the explanation. Now, if he's got the scientists who can say that, let's get them in a room and find out. So I'm not going to 'poo poo' what the Government you know, might offer as an explanation, but Australians expect government and opposition to work together. We have an ecological disaster, an environmental disaster and I just don't like the Government just dismissing people's concerns. This is not business as usual. We've had drought before in our nation, but we're seeing fish dying on an unprecedented scale. Let's get to the bottom of this and work out what's going on.
JOURNALIST: What should Scott Morrison say to the Fijian PM on Thursday about the Neil Prakash issue and how it should be resolved? Has this been embarrassing for Australia?
SHORTEN: It's a good question, what would he say. He could just blame Peter Dutton, most people do. But I don't think that would help at the international level. I think the problem is - Prakash is a seriously bad person in my opinion, and I agree with the Government attempts to hold this fellow to account. But it's important that when we take on the bad guys, the wrong doers, that we do it the right way the first time. Providing legal loopholes which let these people off is the exact opposite of the problem we are trying to solve. So I'm up for working with the Government, you know I don't think they're wrong to try and tackle this fellow, but clearly they've rushed, they've gone I suspect for the headline as opposed to the detail. And when you're dealing with people who would threaten the Australian way of life, we owe it to the Australian people to get it right. Of course Fiji is important, they've said they won't take this fellow back. So I do think that behind the scenes, Mr Morrison should perhaps step in himself or get someone who knows what they're doing to sort this out, because the Home Affairs Minister has got this one wrong.
JOURNALIST: Has it been embarrassing for the Government?
SHORTEN: You can draw your own conclusions if it's embarrassing for the Government. The Prime Minister goes to Fiji to improve relations and then he discovers he's on a recuse mission to repair relations. I'm more worried about stopping this bloke then I am about the Government having egg on its face. And let's work together, but it does annoy me. The Government loves to you know, they brandish their security credentials yet they actually make a mistake? So, let's just get it right. This shouldn't be a political football and I sincerely hope that Mr Morrison can paper over the problems with Fiji caused by his Home Affairs Minister and his lust for a headline.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the states and territories should introduce pill testing at music festivals?
SHORTEN: It's a really complex issue. First of all, it's devastating that people have overdosed and died, that's terrible. My first thoughts to your question would go to the families. I'm a parent of teenagers, you know, they're going to want to go to festivals soon. I want to keep them safe. Now, there are competing views on this question. The police say that what they're taking is illegal so you don't want to make it easier for them to take that illegal substance, I understand that argument. I've spoken to emergency medical professionals who say that you don't want to get a false sense of security by relying on pill testing. On the other hand, if pill testing would have helped save the lives of these young people, you can't rush to rule it out. Now, it is a state issue but I'm happy to talk to our state leaders, talk to the experts, and try and work a path through it. On one hand, it's illegal what they're doing, on the other hand if it's happening and people are dying, do we not have an obligation to make them safer? So it's not an easy issue, I'm not going to point the bone at the Government and say they should be doing X, Y and Z because it's just not that simple. So as a parent, I have conflicting emotions. One thing I will say to young people, when someone is giving you this substance and pills, don't think you are going to have a great time, don't think it's going to make your fun experience of a festival better, it is absolutely not, it is wrong. And the reason why it is wrong is that a lot of these drugs are cooked up by criminals in backyards, they are unsafe automatically and they're further compromised in terms of what they'd provide. So the best thing is for people not to take them, but I live in the real world and I think that if we've got young people taking them, I can understand and sympathise with families who don't want other families to go through it. Thanks everybody, lovely to see you.