19 September 2017


SUBJECTS: Labor’s support for Townsville stadium; Turnbull’s $122 million postal survey; energy; Townsville town hall; sugar tax; refugees; NRL finals

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It's a really good day for me to be here with Cathy, seeing the birth of the Townsville stadium, the new Cowboys stadium. This is going to generate 750 jobs in construction and it's really going to be the missing link, I believe, to improve the hospitality and tourism package which is Townsville. The application of the higher education, bringing more students here, more things to do, it'll be a real shot in the arm for local property prices in the city and it will be a real shot in the arm for local businesses and tourism and hospitality operators.

In particular, I'm really pleased to be here at the foundation of the Cowboys stadium because to be fair along with Townsville Council, which Les Walker's representing today, it was Federal Labor who way back in November of 2015 said hey if we were elected we believe that money should be going to the Townsville Stadium and we had plenty of knockers then, plenty of detractors, including the current Government in Canberra who said that's a waste of money but for this particular $100 million we are pleased to see that in the dying days of the federal election Mr Turnbull copied us. This is just what Townsville needs.

Now I don't pretend that this is all Townsville needs in the way of jobs. In my visit here yesterday and today, my fourteenth visit since I called for the Cowboys stadium to be funded, we heard last night from people saying, what about apprenticeships and jobs for young people? What are we going to do to improve water security? We've got to do something about ensuring that we can keep downward pressure on energy bills and of course we want to see more jobs for Townsville.

So today, I am here pushing the case for Townsville, listening to what locals want and we want to make sure they're good jobs, I met this morning with fifty council workers at the Dalrymple Road depot, quite a few of those blokes who have been working for Council here for a very long time, skilled operators, say we want to make sure that the jobs are properly paid and they're not casualised and there's not too many 457 visa workers doing the jobs that Australians and locals could do.

But all in all, this football stadium shows to me what's good about Townsville, shows Townsville is going ahead and if I am given the chance at the next election of being Prime Minister I guarantee people in this region I'm going to back local jobs, I'm going to back tourism, I'm going to back helping the stadium, make sure it develops into a world-class national standard facility that it is, and we're also going to make sure that we look after workers and that they get the proper pay and conditions they're entitled to. I was going to ask Les to ask a few questions about the stadium then happy to take other questions.

WALKER: Thank you Bill Shorten. Look, this is a game changer for Townsville, the stadium, and I want to thank Bill Shorten for coming here today and looking at the game changer here in the Townsville economy. We have done it tough since QNI has closed but we as a Council make no apologies we're here to make sure that we are fighting for every job for this city and more investment and more so to improve confidence and by having Bill here to make sure Townsville is clearly on the agenda when it comes to jobs, investment and confidence. We as a city will fight for every dollar of investment and every job and having Bill here to reinforce that is very important and we encourage others to come here and see our journey as a city and our vision and to reinforce what we need to do as a region and that is more jobs, more investment and improved confidence in our cities.

So thank you Mr Shorten for visiting today and thank you to Cathy O'Toole for organising this tour.

Tourism is important as well, we've been talking about that and our vision on the waterfront here with our lagoon to improve job opportunities for our young people that are struggling as well. We have one of the highest unemployment rates when it comes to our youth and we have to play our role in making sure there's employment opportunities as well as education here in the city. So we want to make ourselves an education capital for Northern Australia and we will not backwalk on that and it's great to have Bill here to reinforce our vision when it comes to tourism and education so I thank you, Bill, for embracing our vision.

JOURNALIST: Les quickly on football would you like to see the community get behind the charter flight this weekend?

WALKER: Absolutely the Cowboys are going to take it all away. There's another one, the Cowboys, North Queensland Cowboys they really have put Townville on the map as well and they've made us very proud and the 100 seat charter flight that's leaving to support our, well the best players in the NRL, I call on the community to buy a ticket, get on that plane and back our boys all the way. The city is right behind them and it is exciting. Townsville is on the agenda again in our sporting prowess and the Cowboys really has done this region proud I think.

SHORTEN: Thanks, Les. Are there any questions on other matters?

JOURNALIST: I have a question. What do you make of the split in the Labor Party over the same-sex marriage debate? Senator Eric Abetz is slapping down Scott Morrison for saying he's happy for the Government to spell out how they'll protect religious freedoms after the postal vote? What're your thoughts on that?

SHORTEN: I think I understand the question but you said a split in the Labor Party I think the split is in the Liberal Party-

JOURNALIST: Sorry! I'm reading off my phone.

SHORTEN: Oh no, that's okay. I get that, just wanted to check if you heard something I hadn't.

JOURNALIST: No. [Laughter].

SHORTEN: Well, the Labor Party is very committed to getting this postal survey done. I'll be voting Yes. Now I noticed that Liberal Party split into two over this concern. Some Liberals are saying that if you vote Yes in the survey that it'll be the end of religious freedom in Australia, other Liberals including the Prime Minister as saying you can vote Yes and it won't be the end of religious freedom.

I agree with Malcolm Turnbull, this is not going to be the end of religious freedom in the country. We didn't want to have a $122 million postal survey, we think it's an amazing waste of taxpayer money, to be honest, and everyone's sort of thought about what they've thought about already and the parliamentarians should just do their day job. We've got to have the survey, so that's life unfortunately and so in that case, I'll be voting Yes. Please don't listen to all of the other arguments about questions which are not on the survey, this survey is not 'do you support religious freedom.' Because I support religious freedom, the whole of the Labor Party believes in ensuring that people's right to freedom of religion.

This is a survey which says do you support same-sex marriage, yes or no? I think we should just get on with it and done with it. But all the other issues which the No case are raising, well when you read the survey, none of them are the questions. So, don't be distracted by all the background noise. We should just get on with it and I think we will.

JOURNALIST: What's Labor's stance on the proposed battery plant for Townsville? Have you had any discussions with the proponents?

SHORTEN: Listen, I think it is a good idea. I take it very seriously. To be honest, I am pretty enthusiastic about it.

Townsville has got a good story and I see the battery plant as part of the future of Townsville. You've got Korea Zinc building a solar farm, you've got different investments in renewable ernergy. You've got Labor's plan to revitalise hydroelectricity in the Burdekin Dam. And, I think part of that is the ability to store energy. So, I think a battery plant is smart.

I know one thing; if they built this battery operation somewhere else, I think people in Townsville would feel like they've missed an opportunity. So I am backing Annastacia Palaszczuk, I am backing the council and I know Cathy O'Toole is red-hot to make sure that if we can get the jobs in Townsville, the jobs of the future, I think that is exactly the right course of action for all of us.

JOURNALIST: Speaking of energy, Mr Shorten, AGL's hosting a media tour of the Liddell Power Station. Under what conditions would Labor support an extensions to that power plant’s life?

SHORTEN: Well, if it is commercially feasible but I am not sure how much taxpayers should be footing the bill to extend a 50 year old plant into its 60th year. I mean, if that's the only plan Mr Turnbull has got then heaven help us.

I think what we need to do is have a look at gas. We need to make sure that we are getting enough gas for Australian business and Australian householders before we export it overseas, that's my first idea. My second idea is I think we need to find new supplies of gas out of the ground because if you've got more supply of energy, commonsense tells you that it will make sure that then the prices have downward pressure. So I think gas is important.

I also think that we need to have some clear rules around investment. The Chief Scientist of Australia, the smartest guy in the room, was asked by the Prime Minister to do the home work to see how we can encourage new investment in energy for the future. And he has come up with proposal called a Clean Energy Target. Labor is prepared to support that but the Government just as they tend to do on a range of issues, can't seem to agree with each other. In the meantime, if business don't know the rules, then they won't invest. How can you score a goal in a game of football if you don't know where the goalposts are? And that's what we want to do with energy: put the goalposts - everyone knows what they have to do - then we can all get on with putting downward pressure on energy prices, one of the top issues in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Is that's Labor's policy for the expected power shortages this summer?

SHORTEN: Well the regulator's said that we need to store more energy and create a strategic reserve. If that is necessary then we should do it.

I just want to say to Australians who are increasingly cheesed off with the political debate and the finger pointing, there are lots of reasons why we got to the mess we are in; privatisation, profit-gauging by large companies and inaction by the current Government because they have been in for four years, they should stop blaming Labor.

But when you leave all the blame game aside, which I think we are long overdue to do, I want to work with Malcolm Turnbull to help make sure that we don't have shortages this summer. This talk about this power station in the Hunter Valley in 2022, that is five years away. I am worried about this summer. In the meantime, electricity prices go up and reliability goes down. I think we need to look at the sorts of solutions we've been talking about right now.

JOURNALIST: The idea of a sugar tax to combat obesity has come back up. Would you support that?

SHORTEN: I am a parent and I just want to say, on behalf of all the parents of Australia, some days you feel like pulling out your hair when you see how sugar is rammed down the throats of our kids. People have got a right to advertise but I look at how people seem to think it is a democratic right in this country to feed your kids with sugar. I do think it is leading to obesity problems.

By the same token, I think Australians pay enough tax at the moment. I don't believe that another tax is going to be what Australians need or want at this stage. I do think however we need to encourage our kids to exercise, we need to make sure they aren't getting the wrong sort of advertising, especially at times kids are watching TV and on the internet. It is not a simple problem but I know the parents are pulling their hair out. But I don't think a new tax is going to be the answer, not at all.

JOURNALIST: It is my understanding that a few members of our community approached you last night at that forum and spoke to you about Townsville's problem with youth crime and in particular, a certain retraining program that State Labor has recently decided to cut funding for. They have reached out to you and asked for help in some form. How did you respond to them?

SHORTEN: First of all, we had the public meeting - I am not one of those politicians who hides from the public, they actually pay our wages. So we call thousands of people and we get hundreds of people to turn up. It was a great meeting, I want to thank everyone who turned up and it was great of Cathy to organise it.

One of the issues which was raised was this issue of this funding for this group. I promised last night to raise it with the State Labor team and Cathy and I are going to take it up. We have got to do something about youth unemployment. We've got to make sure that kids get a second chance. These kids are too young in life to just be written off. Gaol is not the answer so we have got to help kids get back on track. So I am interested in any proposal which gets kids back on track. So we are going to take it up with the State Government.

JOURNALIST: Just on foreign affairs; there is reports that refugees on Manus are being offered (inaudible). What are your thoughts on that?

SHORTEN: I don't know anything about that. I certainly don't want to see the people smugglers back in business. We have got to make sure that people directly or indirectly in Australia's care are treated humanely.

If people want to return to their own countries, that is a good thing but the issue which you are raising, I don't have any specific knowledge about.

JOURNALIST: Should Australia consider taking more refugees?

SHORTEN: Well we certainly don't want them to come by boat. This is one important message which I say to the public but also indirectly to the people smugglers who watch the Australian media: Liberal or Labor, we are on the same page when it comes to stopping people smugglers. We are not going to let you put people on boats and risk drowning them at sea.

In terms of our orderly refugee program, we are always going to take some refugees to this country and that's as it should be.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

SHORTEN: I'll back the Cowboys over the Roosters but I have to declare, I am a Storm supporter, I am from Melbourne.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

SHORTEN: That would be a great outcome. It's sort of two Queensland teams anyway, isn't it?

Thanks everybody.