TUESDAY, 17 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Manufacturing in Australia; Rewiring the Nation; importance of the Hunter region; Port of Newcastle; job security; Robodebt debacle; Joel Fitzgibbon’s resignation from frontbench; coal; climate change; net zero by 2050; people over 35 missing out.
MERYL SWANSON, MEMBER FOR PATERSON: Good afternoon, everyone. Just want to say thank you all for being here at Tomago Aluminium today. We are here on the land of the fabulous Worimi people. And I just want to say thank you to Matt Howell and his team. This is the place where we make 25 per cent of Australia’s primary aluminium. So, when you pull the roll out at Christmas to cover the leftover turkey in foil, or you go to cook a shoulder of lamb this weekend and cover it over with foil, it has come from Tomago Aluminium. It employs 1,000 people directly and many more indirectly across this region. It uses 10 per cent of the state’s electricity. And we need it to be competitive. And if it wasn’t for the guys behind me, that keep these potlines running 24/7, they never stop, they cannot stop, we wouldn’t have it. And the other critical part of this puzzle is energy. If we don’t have competitive energy, we cannot continue to manufacture in outstanding regions like the Hunter. Now, today, as the local Federal member, it is my absolute honour and privilege to welcome Anthony Albanese, who is the first Opposition Leader to ever step foot on this plant. He is here. He has been in the potlines. He has been in the casting house.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I’ve been in the potlines?
SWANSON: Well, you know. There’s a line there. I am not going to put him in the potline. But it is great to have Anthony here today because what it says is that Labor is for the worker. If you’re a worker in Australia, we are for you. If you are operating a well-competitive business, we are here to talk to you. We want to see results and we want to see Australia do well. Anthony Albanese, thank you for being here at Tomago Aluminium, mate. Good on you.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Meryl. Thanks for hosting us here. And also, earlier on today at the Kurri Kurri Preschool where Meryl went some time ago, just a short time ago. And thank you to Matt for hosting us here. And to Dan Walton for coming along, the National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, and to all the workers who were so receptive of our visit here today. I'm the first Opposition Leader to visit this site, apparently, Matt tells us, but it's not my first site. I was at Gladstone last December. But one of the things that you need to do, as Opposition Leader or indeed as any parliamentarian, is get out and about and talk to people on the ground about what their experience is. And today we've had really good discussions. We've discussed the need for clean and affordable and reliable energy for this plant. We know that it was shut down temporarily, some of the potlines, just yesterday with the heat. And we know that can create a problem if you don't have that reliable and affordable energy on a constant basis. We have discussed a range of other issues as well. Why it is that the aluminium from here gets put on trains and taken to Port Botany rather than out of the Port of Newcastle. I was Australia's Infrastructure Minister who produced the National Port Strategy. Let me tell you, it was not that sort of madness. Quite clearly, the state government the ACCC, and others need to fix the issue with the Port of Newcastle being able to function properly. Because it makes no sense for the congested Port Botany to have product that is taken past Newcastle Port to get to Sydney. We also talked about the need for value adding. One of the things about the pandemic is that it's a bit of a wakeup call for Australia that we need to get manufacturing right. Now, this is a world-class facility. We have people here, workers who are paid as permanent workers with secure jobs. What we need to do is to make sure that that's replicated around the country, and that we don't do things like put the raw product overseas to Japan, to make foil, for example, and then import it back. It makes more sense for us to value-add here. And we need a very clear strategy to make sure that we take every advantage of our resources sector to then value-add to maximise the jobs, to maximise the economic contribution to Australia.
Before I take questions, I do want to make comments about one other issue, which is the Robodebt debacle. Yesterday in the courts, the Government settled just before it was about to go to hearing. They settled for $1.2 billion for the class action that was taken by people who were the victims of this illegal scheme. We know that this scheme was illegal. And we know that the Government was advised that it was illegal and kept it going. And we know also that the Government's rhetoric, saying that this is something that was long-term, isn't the case. This scheme was begun under Scott Morrison, as Treasurer. He was very proud of the announcement. And the problem is, they took human beings out of Human Services. There was no oversight at all, just these debts being given to people with, frankly, some catastrophic human consequences as a direct result. So, whilst it's a good decision that this has been settled, and people will receive some compensation for what they've been through, at the same time, the Government isn't conceding any liability. Well, if they're not liable, why did they just hand over $1.2 billion of taxpayers’ money. This is a disgrace. Labor will continue to pursue our call for a Royal Commission into this scandal. Because under this Government, even a $1.2 billion mistake that has had tragic consequences for vulnerable people doesn't result in anyone putting their hand up and being forced to resign or any penalty whatsoever. Be it Stuart Robert, Alan Tudge, Scott Morrison. Once again, no one's responsible for this debacle. And it's about time that the Government fessed up as to how this occurred and that it did more than just pay money, taxpayers’ money, that is used like confetti. It is about time they apologise and accepted that they are responsible for this debacle. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: In light of Joel Fitzgibbon quitting the frontbench, there's been recent polls that show a lot of the voters are concerned about Labor's climate change policy and that it will have a negative impact on their lives so, what are you going to do to get the regional seats, retain them but also pick up those seats?
ALBANESE: Well, I'm very confident that we will do well in the regions. And Joel Fitzgibbon himself has said that he intended to serve 18 months on the frontbench, and that he told me and others many, many months ago, we've been discussing a date for his departure. So, there was nothing new about Joel's decision, which he made some time ago, which wasn't a decision about policy, it was a decision that he made himself.
JOURNALIST: Does that mean he is standing down and not contesting the next election, that arrangement?
ALBANESE: No, well, that's a matter for him.
JOURNALIST: But you know what you were told at the start.
ALBANESE: No. That is a matter for him of whether he has said that he will contest the next election. I welcome Joel staying in Parliament for as long as he wants to. He's part of the class of '96. We're down to two. Me and him. So, it's a quality pairing, but it's not big in number. So, that's a matter for Joel to make those decisions.
JOURNALIST: On Robodebt, should Stuart Robert be sacked? And is that enough?
ALBANESE: Stuart Robert has been sacked before. He should never have been brought back. That's the problem. This bloke is a rolling mistake. Mistake after mistake. Everything he touches turns to rubbish. And the fact is that Stuart Robert, during this scandal, has pretended that it's got nothing to do with him. But he's been defending this scheme that we know is illegal. And the Government has now handed over $1.2 billion of taxpayers' money as a direct result. This is a bloke who said there was a cyber-attack on the Government's computer system that we know wasn't true either. This is a guy who you have to check everything that he says for whether it's real or not. But under this Government, you can produce documents that aren't real about council mayors, you can seemingly get away with anything at all. Let me just say this, if John Howard was the Prime Minister today, Stuart Robert would not have a job.
JOURNALIST: Back on the climate change policy, there's big concerns from Joel Fitzgibbon, but also other MPs as well. Are you going to heed those warnings to do more? How can you prove to Hunter workers that their jobs are going to be safe?
ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that the jobs here are safe. This is a company that's doing well. And we need to make sure that government policy ensures that these jobs are secure into the future. We've had really constructive discussions today. The replacement of Liddell needs to be a mix of solar renewables with batteries, but also gas is necessary for that. That's something I've made very clear. I made very clear consistently throughout. You won't find different statements from me about the issue of climate change, no matter where I am in the country. Climate change is real. Climate change is real. It will have an impact on our economy. We need to act, and we need to be a part of global action. We need to, as well, though, make sure that businesses like this one, that are energy intensive, have access to affordable energy and reliable energy. We need to do that. And that's why gas will play an important role here. And I've made that consistent. That's why in terms of when we produced our policy, when we were in Government, it had specific provision for energy intensive industries. That was something that I did as the former Climate Change and Environment Shadow Minister a long time ago, when we produce the 2006 Blueprint. What I want to see isn't just manufacturing jobs kept. I want to see manufacturing jobs grow. And the way that you do that is by having sensible policies recognising, unlike Scott Morrison, who, remember, for year after year, went into the Parliament and said that Liddell would stay open under his Government. He said it was going to happen. That's not being fair dinkum to working people. That does nothing to protect jobs. What that does is delay strategies and policies to ensure jobs are maintained. And that's why that policy was so inappropriate. He was saying that up until the last election. And indeed, he's put forward a plan in the Budget, and with legislation in the Parliament or regulation, they are funding a proponent of a coal-fired power station in North Queensland that won't go ahead. So, it's $4 million of taxpayers' money to the proponents of a new coal-fired power station who have no record of running any major project. That won't happen just out of ideology. What we need to do is to make sure that we have practical plans. Zero net emissions by 2050 is a policy that is supported by now the incoming US administration, by Japan, by Korea, by Europe, by New Zealand, by all of our major trading partners with the exception of China that have zero net by 2060 is what they're aiming at, which is also a very ambitious plan. The Prime Minister is traveling to Japan. Japan has announced in the last month, along with Korea, zero net emissions by 2050. The Prime Minister should be asking the new leader of Japan, it's a good thing that he's going, but he should be asking about the implications for Australia of that policy. But the Business Council of Australia, the National Farmers Federation, Australian Industry Group, that are the representative of manufacturers, Rio Tinto, Santos, BHP, all support net zero emissions by 2050. This is not a radical policy. This is a policy that has supportive industry, whether it be manufacturing, whether the large businesses in the BCA, whether it be the banking sector, Qantas, whether it be agricultural businesses, as well as every state and territory government in the country has this policy. Everyone except for Scott Morrison.
JOURNALIST: How do you rebuild trust among these workers, given some of the previous climate policies we've seen from Labor in the past decade or so?
ALBANESE: I've always been very comfortable walking in any workplace, or any pub, or any boardroom in the country and talking to people about my vision for Australia. My vision where jobs and the economy come first. You can't do good social policy without doing good economic policy. That's always been my priority. I grew up in a housing commission area in Sydney. I know what it's like to do it tough. I know that one of the things that people feel at the moment is about job security. And one of the good things I've learned off these workers, and I pay tribute to the union and other unions here, but also to the management, is one of the things we spoke about is the fact that they are permanent employees. This is a company that looks after them. The difference between that and what we've seen in the pandemic is that those people who work for labour hire companies, who worked in casual employment, who worked as contractors, were often the first people put off. And one of the things about this Government, and why I won't be lectured by this Government about looking after workers, is that this is a Government that spent $420,000 supporting the case against the Miners Union success that they had in Queensland about permanent workers with Mr Skene, who was found to be a permanent worker, even though he was classified as casual, because he was doing permanent work. And it was just a rort to rob him of decent wages and conditions. We support same pay for same work for workers who are working side by side. And one of the things we're seeing in the mining sector, including here in the Hunter, is people working side by side and people's wages and conditions being undermined. And that's a policy that this Government supports, like they support cutting out penalty rates, like they support not giving personal protective equipment for people working in aged care facilities that they're responsible for during the pandemic. This is a Government that last week voted for and refused to support Labor's amendments, saying that for the support that is there for under 35s to enter the workforce to be employed, that they have a policy under that legislation whereby if you are over 25, you can lose your job as a 37-year-old, be replaced by a couple of 25-year-olds, who are subsidised by the Government. And that 37-year-old won't have any JobKeeper, will have the JobSeeker reduced payment, because they won't provide for a permanent increase in unemployment benefits. And then will be trying to compete to get back into the workforce with under 35s who are being subsidised. I really worry that during this recession, workers over the age of 35 are being left behind by this Government. And that's consistent with their policies across the board. Last one.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned before about gas being important here. Matt will correct me if I'm wrong, but there is not enough gas in the system as it stands to support the smelter. The only way that could happen is if the Queensland to Hunter gas pipeline is built. Does that mean that you're backing that plan?
ALBANESE: Well, pipelines, of course, one of the things that we need to do is to fix up transmission. Whether that be in terms of gas or whether that be in other areas as well. That's why we had, part of my Budget Reply was Rewiring the Nation. Now, Rewiring the Nation is technology-neutral. What it does ensure that the grid is modernised. One of the problems we have is that our national energy grid doesn't function properly. It's built for last century when solar panels were things that kids had on their calculators that they took to school. What we need to do is to make sure we have a national energy grid that functions properly. You don't have to reinvent it either. The Australian Energy Market Operator has, with its Integrated System Plan, identified the projects that should go ahead. One way to ensure that goes ahead in the cheapest way possible is for the Commonwealth to show leadership on it, which will avoid gold-plating which will ensuring that we not just get an increase in the reliability of our energy sector, but we also do it in the cheapest possible way.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, there was an anonymous letter penned last night that was posted concerning your office. (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: It is fake.
ALBANESE: It is fake.
JOURNALIST: It is fake? What makes you say that?
ALBANESE: It’s fake.
JOURNALIST: What inquires did you make for you to say it is fake?
ALBANESE: It's fake.
JOURNALIST: How would you describe the culture in your office?
ALBANESE: It's a very good office. I have an outstanding office. Thanks very much.