Nov 2, 2020









SUBJECTS: Northern Territory tourism; economy; gas; climate change; US election; DFAT travel advice for the US; Aussies stranded overseas; NAIF; trade; Australia’s relationship with China; Port of Darwin; submarines; defence procurement.


MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY, SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: Thank you everyone for being here today. And a big thank you to Grahame and to all your staff, particularly Shannon for having us and hosting us here this morning. I would like to acknowledge that we are on Larrakia Country and it is beautiful to be here on Larrakia Country. We pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging. I certainly want to say a very big thank you to our Leader of the Labor Party, who has joined us this week on Larrakia Country to look at quite a number of places, talk to people about issues that impact us on a Federal level. And I would like to now introduce Anthony Albanese.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Malarndirri. And it is great to be here with yourself and Luke Gosling. And I particularly want to thank Professor Grahame Webb for showing us around this magnificent tourism facility here. Tourism has such enormous potential here in the Territory. You have extraordinary sunsets, you have a magnificent flora and fauna. And we have seen some of it here. The power of these big crocs as well getting to cuddle some very cute meerkats. I’m glad we didn’t mix the two activities. Tourism in terms of job creation should be an absolute priority for our future economic growth. During the pandemic we were concerned that tourism wasn’t given enough support during that difficult period. Because tourism creates jobs, and they are sustainable jobs and they keep going. It’s been tough for tourism operators because of the restrictions, both domestic and international, which are here. But I have every faith that Territory tourism has an incredibly bright future. And it depends on people like Grahame, who have been here and invested their own money, making a huge risk, creating jobs, and also creating just an amazing experience. The Territory is the ultimate Australian experience. It’s one of the things that we showcase to the world. And I’m very passionate about tourism. I was the Tourism Shadow Minister for six years and spent a lot of time here in the Territory. It’s important at the moment, too, that the Government look towards fast-tracking activities like Kakadu and others that they’ve said that they will upgrade here in the Territory. I don’t think there was enough for the Territory in the Budget, frankly. I think it was a missed opportunity. We’ve got $100 billion of additional expenditure with a trillion dollars of debt. And what we need arising out of that, in order to come out stronger, is actually a bit of reform. Support for where future jobs creation will be, support for where future economic growth will be. And tourism is one of the super growth sector. And here in the north, there’s a particularly great opportunity to grow jobs into the future. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Deloitte Access Economics report said today that tourism is one of the sectors likely to suffer in the north if we don’t reduce emissions, and yet your side of politics is saying that we should be going for a gas-led recovery.


ALBANESE: No, the Government is saying that. The Government is saying that. So, let’s not verbal the opposition. What Labor says is that we need to become a renewable energy superpower. That doesn’t mean that we say that we’re opposed to gas. Gas has a role. And gas has a role in firming up renewables as well as gas having a role in issues like fertilises and others. But we shouldn’t get sucked in by the Prime Minister’s policy backflip, whereby he was saying that Liddell was going to be the future, we should expand it and keep it going forever, whereby they’re funding new coal-fired power stations, a study in Collinsville that they know won’t go ahead. Labor’s position is very clear, which is that we won’t have a new coal-fired power station in Australia. So, why would you fund new coal-fired power, when that isn’t going to actually result in actual investment and a new power plant? What we have said, though, is that we shouldn’t get sucked in by the move that the Prime Minister made, a deaf little sidestep, walking away from what he had said for year after year after year, and then saying, ‘Oh, well, it’s all about gas’. The truth is that gas will play a role and should play a role in terms of firming up renewables and in other areas. But we need to become a renewable energy superpower. And the Australian Energy Market Operator’s statement of where they see things going in the future sees all the future investment, the major part of it, as being very much about renewables. This isn’t a debate like most debates that is black and white. This requires a sophisticated response. And that’s why when you look at AGL and what they’re proposing, even for the Hunter, they’re proposing renewables with batteries firmed up by a gas turbine. That’s what they’re proposing there. And people shouldn’t, including some of the people who are concerned about these issues, shouldn’t be sucked in by the Government’s rhetoric.


JOURNALIST: There have been divisions in your own party on this issue between Mark Butler and Joel Fitzgibbon in particular. Is that settled now?


ALBANESE: Look, the fact is that everyone in my party agrees with zero net emissions by 2050. Everyone agrees in my party that overwhelmingly the new investment will be in renewables, because that’s what the markets are saying. And everyone in my party supports having an energy policy. The ridiculous thing here is that the Coalition have had 22 policies, 22 in eight years. We’ve got one. Net zero by 2050. Becoming a renewable energy superpower. In the Budget Reply, I put out our policy for Rewiring the Nation that would lead to a national energy grid that actually functions for the 21st century. We have very clear policies going forward. And they’re supported by all of my party.


JOURNALIST: Is it concerning that the Department of Foreign Affairs is urging Australians not to travel to the US, citing the presidential election as a reason for that?


ALBANESE: Well, certainly, some of the events in the US are of concern. I’m concerned that anyone who’s a part of a democratic process would question that process before the ballots are held. And I think it stands in stark contrast to the way that we conduct elections here in Australia. Here in the Territory, we had an outcome. Michael Gunner was re-elected as Chief Minister. I was very pleased by that result. Annastacia Palaszczuk had an outstanding result in Queensland for the Labor Party. But to her credit, the LNP leader didn’t question that outcome on Saturday night. I thought that both the leaders gave very good, respectful speeches about respecting democratic outcomes. Now, everyone in the US process should also do that. This is an important election for the United States and its future direction, in which Americans are going to have to weigh up the alternative visions which are there which also has important global implications, not the least of which is for international action on climate change, of which Australia has a big interest. One at a time.


JOURNALIST: What lessons, as Federal Labor Leader, are you taking from Annastacia Palaszczuk’s victory first of all? And Joel Fitzgibbon is saying that the victory was in large part because of the support for Queensland coal and manufacturing sectors. Do you agree with that?


ALBANESE: I agree with my own statements. And my own statements are that Annastacia Palaszczuk deserves a great deal of credit on her election victory. And there were two primary issues, and number one was the issue of borders and keeping Queenslanders safe. There’s no question that that’s the case and there’s no question that Scott Morrison’s intervention by traveling to Queensland, giving up on the National Cabinet, cancelling a National Cabinet meeting because he was too busy campaigning for the LNP and doing fundraisers for the LNP backfired. Labor’s vote went up in Townsville and Cairns in terms of our polling and other places where the Prime Minister visited. The lesson for Labor is that when you look at those regional towns that have very different views and different industries that they support, right down the coast, Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Bundaberg Maryborough, all of those have very different industries. What they did though, was prioritise that Annastacia Palaszczuk had a vision for jobs for Queenslanders, including rail manufacturing, something that we’ve mirrored, at the election campaign. And also respect for the job that workers do, regardless of what industries they work in. Whether they be coal miners, whether they be people in manufacturing, whether they be people working in the renewable energy sector, whether they be tourism workers, we need to respect all workers and the job that they do. Annastacia Palaszczuk also got significant boost from older Australians. And what that shows is that it is possible for Labor to appeal to that demographic. Older Australians in Queensland turned to Labor, many of whom voted Labor for the first time, because they recognise that Labor was standing up for the interests. Labor will always be better for Australia’s pensioners. Always. And Scott Morrison, of course, had the freeze on pensions. He was embarrassed into having a small increase and one-off payments for pensioners. But pensioners turned to Labor, older Australians turned to Labor in the election in Queensland. And I congratulate Annastacia on the outcome.


JOURNALIST: What else should the Government be doing to make sure stranded Australians can get home and particularly at an affordable price?


ALBANESE: They should get them home. I’ve been talking about this for months, including the facility here in the Territory that I spoke to someone last night who’d come up from Melbourne and had quarantined there. They enjoyed the experience. They even said the food was terrific. That brings economic activity here to the territory. It is quite absurd that at a time where there has never been, never in history, more vacant seats on planes, and there have never been more vacant hotel rooms, that we have 32,000 Australians who’ve been stranded overseas. The Prime Minister was completely complacent about this issue. And Australians are desperate to get home. We have also, I’ve said, the Government has something called a Royal Australian Air Force, including a VIP fleet that has multiple planes. We could be using that, particularly for regional flights, in terms of Southeast Asia and in our region, to get people home. It’s beyond my comprehension why Scott Morrison, who’s happy to take credit whenever the states and territories deliver a good outcome, and I noticed now he seems to have softened some of the rhetorical position about state borders, but he still hasn’t been critical, not a word, about Gladys Berejiklian keeping the New South Wales border closed to Victoria. He’s been parochial, said one thing in National Cabinet, but another thing in being critical of Labor states, particularly Victoria and Queensland, which is one of the reasons why they suffered on Saturday.


JOURNALIST: Just to local issues, you have been critical of the NAIF before. Is there a plan that you have to use that money for the Northern Territory in a better way? And if so, what is it?


ALBANESE: Well, you could you could use it, that would be a start. They got $5 billion in the ‘No Actual Infrastructure Facility’, as I call it. That’s been there for five years now. More than five years. They’ve spent three per cent of that funding in five years. The fact is that this has been a Government that has spent more money, more than three per cent, on meetings, flying people to Sydney and Melbourne to have meetings of the NAIF board than they have actually in investing. Now, we were prepared to actually invest real money in projects like the Ship Lift here in Darwin. This Government, of course, the NAIF is only for loans. The truth is that interest rates have never been lower for people to borrow and there’s never been more capital available for people to borrow for projects that stack up. So, the whole of the NAIF was this big figure, said it all about the Government, this big figure of $5 billion announcement, when we find out three per cent of that has actually been spent after five years. This Government’s all about the announcement, never about the delivery.


JOURNALIST: There are now concerns over lobster exports to China as well as beef and barley and other exports. What do you think Australia has done wrong?


ALBANESE: Australia has never had, in my time in politics, or probably since 1972, we’ve never had a worse relationship with what is the major destination for our exports. Pretty close to half, 48-49 per cent of our exports go to China. And we have a Trade Minister who can’t pick up the phone to their counterpart. It’s simply not good enough. The Government needs to work on fixing the relationship. Instead, we have a Government which senior members like Senator Abetz have people who were born in Australia, who happened to be of Chinese descent, having to swear allegiance to Australia and questioning how Australian they are when they appear before a Senate Estimates committee. That gets noticed in China. And it has an impact on our economy.


JOURNALIST: On these lobster problems in China, they aren’t picking up the phone. We are trying to contact China and they won’t answer.


ALBANESE: Well, are we trying to pick up the phone?


JOURNALIST: Yes, we are.


ALBANESE: Well, Simon Birmingham doesn’t say that. The truth is, when was the last time that the Prime Minister tried to have contact with President Xi? When was the last time that you had senior involvement? And they know, we gave the Government the opportunity last week to question the activities of Senator Abetz and others who clearly have done damage to the relationship. And no one senior in the Government, no one, has distanced themselves from that activity. That has a consequence. And the consequence is that the relationship isn’t good. And when you have overtures have been made indeed with a couple of the speeches, including by the former Ambassador to Australia. And what we hear is crickets. We don’t hear any response. Now, Australia must always stand up for Australian interest in terms of human rights and those issues. And no one’s questioning that. That is a bipartisan position. But we should also be able to have relationships. And at the moment those relationships have broken down. And the truth is that Australia has an interest in fixing it, because it has an impact on jobs and our economy.


JOURNALIST: Do you believe that what’s happening with Australian exporters are currently being targeted more by Chinese officials is within WTO rules?


ALBANESE: Well, I think that one of the differences that we have with China, and we should be clear about that, is that we think that the international trade rules, and the system is very important that all nations abide to them. But what we’ve had is with barley, with coal, with a range of our exports to China, wine, and now seafood, is holdups. And certainly, that is regrettable. and we should be setting about trying to resolve these issues. It’s absolutely critical that we get an outcome. It’s important for jobs.


JOURNALIST: You have been calling for the Darwin Port to be undone. Isn’t that the same anti-China rhetoric that you’re accusing the Government of?


ALBANESE: No, not at all. What I’ve said is that this Government have established a system, including legislation that they’ve introduced to the Parliament, questioning foreign investment by any nation and whether it is in Australia’s national interest that we examine arrangements, including university-to-university arrangements, including local government arrangements with local government in other countries, including China. And I have a very firm view, and had it at the time, that there’s a national interest in terms of our critical infrastructure, including the Port of Darwin. That isn’t a position which I’ve changed. It is a position I held it the time that the LNP Government here sold the Port. And I think that there’s a real case that it should have been kept in public ownership. And this is the Government’s initiative, not mine. It is the Government that are setting up this process of examination. Well, if they’re examining those issues, then they’ve got to examine all of them. And that includes major infrastructure.


JOURNALIST: Michael Gunner is in favour of the Port staying in foreign hands.


ALBANESE: Michael, I had a discussion with him very early on. I certainly agree with his position.


JOURNALIST: Just so you know, Michael Gunner said this morning that he thinks everyone should just move on from this Port agreement issue and you guys are at odds, essentially.


ALBANESE: No, he hasn’t said that. And I bet he didn’t say that. Michael Gunner has a position which is that if there is going to be a sum of money available for NT infrastructure investment, then it shouldn’t be displaced by saying, ‘Oh, well, we’re putting money into the Port, therefore that is your pot of money for the Northern Territory’. That’s his position. And that is absolutely understandable from the Chief Minister. He doesn’t want to see Northern Territory suffer for that. But this is an issue where I certainly agree with him on that. If there is anything to happen on the Port, that should be the responsibility of the National Government and should be over and on top of any contribution of the Northern Territory that is made. And it should be a decision that’s made in the national interest, including issues of national security. But this is the Government that have established this process. Be very clear. We didn’t ask for this to happen. This is the Government that’s been obsessed with having a go at Daniel Andrews, with having a go at Annastacia Palaszczuk, a Government that’s only vision is division. Division in attacking state Labor governments.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). What does it say about the political climate in the US? Do you think there is a real terrorism threat for Australians?


ALBANESE: Look, I think that on those issues, I’ll always take DFAT advice. And I think it’s important that politicians don’t second guess them. I hope that the people will be going to the final polling day, tomorrow, US time. Wednesday, we’ll be looking out for what the outcome is in the United States. It is a critical election for the people of the US for the way that it moves forward. But it’s also a critical election for Australia. And I look forward to watching on Wednesday. Thanks very much.


JOURNALIST: I got a question from Andrew Greene as well. Do you mind?


ALBANESE: One more.


JOURNALIST: There is a report that suggests that Defence may have to terminate a multimillion-dollar contract to do with submarine emergency rescue capabilities. Are you worried that taxpayers are going to end up footing the bill for this?


ALBANESE: I’m incredibly concerned that this Government is botching its defence purchasing arrangements. Across the board. We asked questions last week about helicopters in which the person getting out, military personnel getting out of that helicopter, can’t use the rope to get out and use a weapon at the same time. We’ve had issues whereby the delivery of the subs, the last sub has been pushed back to 2054. It’s 2020. In 34 years’ time, given the way that technology moves, does anyone think that the technology in this microphone or the cameras that are doing this press conference, let alone a submarine, are going to stay the same? Think about what the world was like 34 years ago in 1986. The world was a very, very different place. People didn’t have mobiles. The technology that was used was very different. The idea that we have subs that are on order now but will be delivered in 2054 is quite frankly absurd. And this Government when it comes to defence procurement, it has botched everything that it’s touched since it came into Government. Thanks.