WEDNESDAY, 18 APRIL 2018
SUBJECT/S: Townsville’s water supply; Labor’s plans for regional Queensland; infrastructure funding; NAIF; Aged care; Budget; Banking Royal Commission.
CATHY O'TOOLE, MEMBER FOR HERBERT: It's really great to have the Leader of the Opposition here today, Bill Shorten in Townsville for the 17th time and with him our Shadow Minister for Northern Australia, Jason Clare. Bill has paid particular attention to regional Queensland and particularly Townsville. He understands the challenges that we have here in living in a regional city, and in Queensland that is really challenging. We are the largest city in Northern Australia and he understands as does Jason, that that brings with it challenges. One of our greatest challenges here locally, is making sure that we secure a long term water supply. So I'll hand over to Bill to talk to you a little bit more about that.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody, it's great to be here in Townsville. As they say about Townsville, beautiful one day, perfect the next. And this is my 17th visit since Cathy O'Toole was preselected as Labor's candidate for Herbert and I reckon she's doing a great job standing up for the region. I'm accompanied by my spokesperson for Northern Australia, Jason Clare, and after I finish speaking he's going to make some remarks about the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund. But I want to address you today about the important topic of ensuring that Townsville has access to its own independent water supply.
Townsville has got a lot going for it, it's a diverse economy. If Labor is elected at the next election we'll widen the channel to make sure that Townsville keeps enjoying the economic benefits of a major port. But what we do need to do after 50 years, is deal with the problem of reliable water supply. I've been very fortunate to be briefed by Brad Webb who is the independent, who is running the independent report about the future of Townsville water, and Cathy O'Toole has been ferociously lobbying me, to make this a number one issue for Labor's offerings at the next election, when it comes to the future of Townsville.
The water issue has been a political football for too long in Townsville's history. It's great that in recent weeks the dams have got some water in them, but I know that Townsville cannot rely on the vagaries of when it rains to guarantee water in the future. So I am very interested in the water security proposal that Brad Webb and others, and Cathy O'Toole are proposing, which would see a new pipeline built between Clare and the Haughton Channel, and whether we should build a solar power plant at Clare.
I understand that if we can actually solve the issue of water from the Burdekin to Townsville, what this will do is it'll provide a 50 year solution and it will set Townsville up for a very bright future. Now I hope that this isn't a partisan issue. I have already allocated $100 million if elected, to deal with water security solutions for Townsville but what I'm hoping - and my fingers are crossed, is that Prime Minister Turnbull doesn't ignore Townsville. The Liberals have held the Federal seat of Herbert for most of the last two and a half decades, but nothing adequate has been done about water security. I'll be examining the Coalition LNP Budget on Budget night to see whether or not it provides long lasting water security for Townsville. If it does, I'll be the first person to say well done to the government and to Cathy O'Toole and to Brad Webb and the others. But certainly you can take it from me that we are in the field looking at providing a competitive proposition around water security, and I'm very interested in the Clare to Haughton Channel pipeline and solar power plant.
What I'd like to do now is hand over to Jason Clare to talk about the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, which for the last 1071 days hasn't managed to spend money in Northern Australia in Queensland.
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RESOURCES AND NORTHERN AUSTRALIA: Well thanks very much Bill, it's great to be back in Townsville with Bill. We were only here a couple of weeks ago announcing our plan to put $75 million into the expansion of the port - widening the Port of Townsville. It's great to be here with the fantastic Cathy O'Toole who is the local member here.
I just want to make some remarks about what the government said they would do with the Northern Australia Infrastructure facility. These changes that have been announced today are long overdue. The government announced the NAIF three years ago, and over the last three years they haven't invested one cent from that $5 billion fund in North Queensland. That fund hasn't created one job in Townsville, in Cairns, in Mackay, in Gladstone, in Rockhampton, all the way up and down the coast across central and North Queensland. It hasn't created one job in those three years because they haven't allocated any money out of it. This has got to be the most constipated organisation the Turnbull Government has ever created; we've got to get it moving. We've had three wasted years. Three years of missed opportunity, three years where we could have been building infrastructure here in Townsville and right across Northern Australia and creating jobs but we haven't done that because this organisation has been choked.
We want the NAIF to succeed, we want to start seeing it invest in infrastructure and creating local jobs and hopefully the changes that have been announced by the government today will start to see action. There's been too much talk, we want that money allocated to big projects - big and small projects in Northern Australia, creating jobs where they're needed.
SHORTEN: Thanks Jason, thanks Cathy. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Bill, even if the government matches Labor's $100 million commitment to water security, there's still a lot more that would be needed to get the next phase up and running. Where would you expect that money to come from?
SHORTEN: Well what I hope is that water security for Townsville doesn't become a LNP versus Labor issue. So I'll be studying the Budget very carefully. The next move is Mr Turnbull's. I'm up here saying if you want to invest in this project we will support him, and we've got our fingers crossed that Canberra and the LNP will recognise the importance of doing something from Clare to the Haughton Channel, if they don't, then we'll consider our position. But I've already created space in a future Labor budget for at least $100 million for water security projects, and I'm very grateful to the work this community is doing to take control of its future. I mean at the end of the day, how do you attract a new business to Townsville if you say that most of the time you've got reliable water, but there may be these times when you don't have reliable water. That's - we all know that Townsville for whatever reason lives almost in a rain shadow, and what we need to do is secure water for Townsville. Let's see the largest city in Northern Australia go on from strength to strength.
Any other questions on water or are there any other issues?
JOURNALIST: I think that the attitude here in Townsville is that we are going to get this pipeline courtesy of the Federal Government, and perhaps that issue is more or less being laid to rest for now, is that not the case?
SHORTEN: No, the Turnbull Government unfortunately doesn't seem to know where Townsville is. I mean I don't know how many times the Prime Minister has been here since the 2016 election, I suspect he's spent more time in New York than he has in Townsville sadly. I think that it's important we move the pipeline issues beyond the day to day political football. So I really encourage Mr Turnbull to heed the message from Townsville. But I have to say, if Townsville residents think the pipeline is in the bag, it's not. The next move is the Government’s. We saw the accident prone Acting Prime Minister, Mr McCormack say that the Budget will be like Santa Claus. I don't know what planet the LNP live on, but when they talk about regarding themselves as Santa Claus, and the people of Australia as children awaiting presents, they couldn't be more out of touch. This is taxpayer money. I need to remind Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison and the Acting Prime Minister, it's not your money gentlemen, it's the people's money. People in Townsville and businesses in Townsville pay taxes to Canberra, and there is the reasonable expectation that some of that tax they pay comes back in the form of investment in infrastructure to future proof Townsville.
JOURNALIST: Water security in Townsville is going to cost more than the $100 million though. The State has already put in $225 million, where is the rest of the money supposed to come from?
SHORTEN: Well, we're able to back our promises in because we're not going spend $65 billion on a corporate tax cut, corporate tax giveaway, which has very little benefit in the regions. The difference between me and the government is I can pay for my promises. The other difference between me and the government is, I think it is more important to provide water security to Townsville, independent water supply for Townsville, than it is the give the four large banks a corporate tax giveaway of billions of dollars.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on the Banking Royal Commission, what's been your response to the revelations that AMP's been charging customers for services that haven't been rendered?
SHORTEN: Well the Royal Commission is only months old, but it is already clear that the Prime Minister owes Australians an apology. The Royal Commission is discovering criminal activity. But if the Prime Minister had his way, there would be no Royal Commission, and none of this activity would have been discovered or exposed. The other certainty out of the Royal Commission is that things have to change desperately and they need to change now. So what we will see - one thing I'm sure of out of the Royal Commission is that Australia's - I'll just wait for this helicopter to pass.
What the Royal Commission will establish is that change is needed. It is needed desperately and it is needed urgently, and furthermore we cannot continue with Australia's major financial institutions behaving in the manner that has been exposed already in the Royal Commission.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten just in regards to your pensioner share tax refund policy. The government says it could slash up to $4 billion from retirement savings, what would you say to that?
SHORTEN: That's just rubbish.
JOURNALIST: Opposition Leader, the Shadow Minister mentioned that the 50 per cent cap being lifted from NAIF is a step in the right direction. What more could be done to support infrastructure here in the North?
SHORTEN: Why don't I get Jason to answer that question.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, Mr Shorten I've just got one more -
SHORTEN: I will come back to you. I'm not going anywhere.
CLARE: When we were here a couple of weeks ago you asked me, what are some good projects that could be funded, and I mentioned the (inaudible) project. It’s a great example of the sort of project the government through the NAIF, should be funding. You've got a solar hydro project that could be funded right now and for the life of me, I don't know what's kept them from funding that project. Hopefully these sorts of changes are going to do that. There's a Parliamentary Inquiry into NAIF as well. I'm hoping it comes up with some good changes to make the NAIF more effective. There's got to be – look, Bill you said 1,071 days, it's 1,072 today. How can it be that you announce something three years ago and Queensland's got bugger all out of it. But that's what's happened. No jobs, no infrastructure, nothing funded. It's not good enough. The people of Queensland I think have been dudded. They voted for this government assuming they were going to put this money into infrastructure, and nothing's happened.
So this is a step in the right direction. I want to see these recommendations implemented, but there's a lot more than could be done and that Parliamentary Inquiry hopefully, will provide even more recommendations about what needs to change so that this constipated organisation gets moving.
JOURNALIST: Opposition Leader, you mentioned I believe it was yesterday, that you support the State Government's decision to put $5.4 billion to the Crossriver Rail. Is that not money that would be partially better spent in North Queensland?
SHORTEN: Believe me, I understand - and my record shows that, Queensland doesn't stop in South East Queensland or Brisbane. But Federal Labor's got plans for regional Queensland and real jobs for regional Queensland. We want to widen the channel here in Townsville, $75 million. We want to support water security for Townsville, $100 million. We want to do the second stage of the Mackay Ring Road. We want to complete the second stage of the Gladstone Port Access Road. We want to build Rookwood Weir. Labor's got plans for regional Queensland and we'll unveil more of them, and our policies are based on consulting locals, consulting business and communities, consulting the Queensland State Government. So rest assured, although Mr Turnbull treats regional Queensland as fly-over country when he heads off overseas, I'm on the ground here on a regular basis, listening to the real needs of real people in regional Queensland.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, this morning the Federal Government announced that a special taskforce was going to be formed for the aged care sector. In your opinion - obviously it affects everywhere, including here in Townsville, is that going to be enough to fix the problem?
SHORTEN: What I'm about to say I don't often say about situations in Australia, but aged care in Australia is in a state of national crisis. Now that's extreme language, but this situation in aged care calls for extreme language. The fact that the government has belatedly realised that standards in aged care are all over the place - it's important to have better standards, and so I support that. But let’s go further, there's no point having strong standards if you don't pay the aged care workforce well, if you've cut a billion dollars from aged care, and if you've got 105,000 people right around Australia on waiting lists to get aged care packages. You judge a nation by the way it treats its older people. The older people of Australia have paid their taxes, they've raised a generation of adults, now it's their turn to get support from the government in Canberra. If you talk to people in aged care facilities, they're worried about the cost of the bonds, their families are worried about the cost of the bonds. If you talk to people in aged care facilities and their families, they're worried about whether or not there's sufficient nurses in these facilities and access to GPs. If you talk to the families of the 420,000 Australians who are diagnosed with dementia, many of them are older Australians, we know that we have a crisis in this country and this government has been asleep at the wheel for the last five years.
Now the Government like to pretend they're Santa Claus, they like to pretend that they're giving Australians money out of the generosity of their own heart. If we are to be the wealthy, generous and smart nation I know us to be, Mr Turnbull will immediately deal with the aged care waiting lists, he will reverse cuts to aged care, and he will make sure there's a plan to pay the staff working in aged care a lot better than they are currently being paid.
JOURNALIST: Is it a step in the right direction?
SHORTEN: The aged care standards?
SHORTEN: There's no question that this an overdue step. But I'm saying today there is a national crisis in aged care, it is a national disgrace, and if you don't believe me, talk to one of the hundreds of thousands of family members of an older Australian diagnosed with dementia. The system is broken. We have a system now where you have be in crisis to get the care you need. How is it that Mr Turnbull can find money to give millionaires and billionaires a tax cut , but he can't find money to give people diagnosed with dementia some support so they can stay at home. It is too little too late, and Mr Turnbull has got a trifecta of tests to show he is fair dinkum; reverse the cuts in aged care, do something about paying the work force better in aged care, and do something about the unacceptably high waiting lists where older Australians are waiting for modest support so they can get by in their later years.
JOURNALIST: So what do you think when you see this vision of the abuse in aged care facilities, the shocking vision?
SHORTEN: I think we have a national disgrace. It is a national crisis, and the problem is for older Australians in aged care, they're out of sight therefore they're out of the Turnbull Government's mind. I spend every week doing public meetings. Wherever I go, I ask my fellow Australians, how many of you have a family member diagnosed with dementia or know a family where an older family member has been diagnosed with dementia. Routinely, 70 per cent of the hands will go up in the room, hundreds of people saying they know it. Australians know that we need to do more for older Australians, but it's not politically sexy for the Turnbull Government to do anything about older Australians. This crisis didn't occur yesterday with the government solving it today, it has been a demographic ticking time bomb for the Government. They've done nothing and instead they've cut a billion dollars, waiting lists are blowing out and they've got no plan to properly train and pay our hardworking, professional staff in aged care.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten just on the Port, the government have flagged the expansion as being a potential NAIF candidate, Labor has obviously committed the funding. Why do you think it's better to give the money straight to the Port rather than give them a loan?
SHORTEN: Well if you were waiting for NAIF to give you loan we would all be on the old age pension, wouldn't we. I mean really, as Jason corrected me it's been 1072 days since the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund was set up, but it's a most unusual fund, they cannot hand out a dollar to North Queensland in the last 1072 days. Everywhere I go in North Queensland I see business people, community leaders, Cathy O'Toole giving me great ideas about what needs to be done. So when it comes to the widening of the Townsville Port, let's just get on and do it. If I'm elected Prime Minister, I promise you, I'd be doing report after report after report and I won't be looking into things for the first term, the second term and the third term, we will just got to get on and do it. North Queensland knows what needs to be done and I'll be the person that's their enabler, we'll make sure it gets done.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, what's your response to the capture of two Islamic State terrorists linked to terror plots in Australia?
SHORTEN: When did that story break?
JOURNALIST: This morning.
SHORTEN: I haven't been briefed on it. I have to say though, on the general point, we can't take our security for granted in Australia. We're very lucky to have the professional security agencies we have, but Australia should never assume that merely because we are an island we are immune from some of the struggles elsewhere in the world.
JOURNALIST: Will you be seeking a briefing from the Government?
SHORTEN: We do, and I have to say on this matter, the security agencies and the government are normally very forthcoming. And I should just reassure Australians, whilst I think this government is out of touch and whilst I think they would need a GPS and a tour guide to find North Queensland, when it comes to our national security, we are working on this together, and that’s one issue which should be above politics.
JOURNALIST: I just have one question from Sky News in Canberra. Updated analysis today shows that under Labor's franked dividend policy, thousands of people will be thousands of dollars worse off each year. So those in small APRA regulated funds, can you categorically say that these are wealthy people?
SHORTEN: I answered that question earlier when another journalist asked me, but let's be clear here, our changes are fair. This nation cannot afford to keep handing out billions of dollars to people merely because they pay no income tax but happen to own a lot of shares. Now, it is perfectly legal at the moment but we've got to look at out priorities don't we. Earlier on you were asking me about aged care. If I have a set amount of government money, I'd rather spend it on reducing the aged care waiting list, I'd rather spend it on helping Townsville Hospital, I'd rather spend it on improving water security in Townsville than handing out literally tens of thousands of dollars as an income tax refund to people who pay no income tax. It's just not sustainable. But what we have done is provided a Pensioner Guarantee. So if you're currently in receipt of the age pension, full or part, we'll make sure that the modest credits you get remain. But beyond that, the nation has to make some hard decisions and I'm prepared to do that.
JOURNALIST: Quick question for Mr Clare on NAIF. One of the NAIF changes announced was for the provision of regional hubs to help businesses going through the latter stages of their applications. Do you think there is capacity for one of those hubs to be established here in Townsville given NAIF headquarters aren't actually here?
CLARE: Well it's a good idea and I think when they're talking about hubs, they're talking about places like Townsville, like Cairns, like Rockhampton, like Darwin, like Broome to make sure that a lot of the funds from the NAIF are invested in places like Townsville because Townsville is a hub. It's the biggest city north of Brisbane. And so, one of the recommendations here is use the NAIF money for places like Townsville. I can't disagree, the problem is that not one cent of the fund has been spent in North Queensland at all. It has been an abject failure and no wonder the people of North Queensland have had a gutful of this government. They were promised a $5 billion fund to create jobs and it hasn't created one.
JOURNALIST: Do you have faith in NAIF's promise to have three to five projects funded by July?
CLARE: Is that what they're promising that they'll do three to five projects? Well you know, all I'd say is I hope so, but I wouldn't hold your breath because we've had one project in Western Australia funded in three years, that's not good enough. As I said this has got to be the most constipated organisation the Turnbull Government has ever set up, it needs a dose of Metamucil and I hope that this finally gets it moving.
JOURNALIST: Cathy, can I ask you a question?
JOURNALIST: In regards to the pipeline. Council has announced that those that can attend the forum need to have an Indigenous employment strategy in place to make sure they are employing Indigenous people, what's your view on that?
O'TOOLE: I absolutely support that. That is something that is desperately needed. We have to get jobs for our young people across the board but particularly for our young Indigenous people. Palm Island is in my electorate, people on Palm Island deserve jobs and need jobs as well. So any strategy that we bring into this community must have an Indigenous employment strategy and I commend them for that.
JOURNALIST: How many jobs would you like to see for a project like that, a ball-park figure?
O'TOOLE: I'd need to see the number of jobs they've got. I would hope that if they are long-term projects that would include some apprenticeships or traineeships because that gives those young people a career into the future.
SHORTEN: Thanks everybody.