Feb 8, 2021










SUBJECTS: Visit to Cairns; Cairns’ tourism industry; Pandemic Recovery Jobs and Industry Taskforce ; COVID-19 affecting tourism sector; vaccine rollout; JobKeeper; need for industry-specific support; borders; net zero emissions by 2050; lack of leadership from Scott Morrison; so-called National Cabinet; Labor’s policy agenda; Federal election; Labor on the side of Queensland.


NITA GREEN, LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Well, thank you everyone. And it is a pleasure to be here at Tropical Reef Shipyards with Anthony Albanese, the Labor Leader, and Milton Dick, the Member for Oxley. It is good to be back here, somewhere that I have visited on many occasions, because in Cairns, we are so proud of our marine manufacturing industry. Cairns is the gateway to the Pacific. And it is why we are very proud to champion this industry when we get a chance. I’m going to say a little bit more about jobs, but first, I do know that the Minister for Tourism is here today to consult or talk to members of the tourism industry. And can I be clear on this – the time for the Morrison Government to act on tourism was yesterday. The time for the Minister to consult with tourism businesses was weeks ago. The fact that he is turning up today to Cairns empty-handed is an insult to the tourism industry here and shows that the Minister for Tourism doesn’t understand the extreme risks that Cairns is under to lose jobs, and to lose jobs right now. Today, we are here to talk about jobs. And I am so proud to show off this fantastic industry to Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, and Milton Dick, who is joining me as part of the Jobs Recovery Taskforce to really highlight the places where jobs need to be created and where there are opportunities to invest in new industries. I just wanted to make sure that people understand that Cairns has a lot of jobs to offer. But what we need to do is get the settings right. The Government has had seven years to invest in industries, to make sure that when we have another pilot strike, another GFC, another COVID-19, that we have other jobs and other industries to rely on. They haven’t done the hard work. And that is why jobs are at risk right now in Cairns. But we do have opportunities. And it is fantastic to be able to show those off to my Caucus members and to Anthony Albanese today. Thanks so much.


MILTON DICK, MEMBER FOR OXLEY: Thanks very much, Nita. I am Milton Dick, the Federal Member for Oxley and a member of the Post-Recovery Jobs Industry Taskforce. Well, it’s great to be here in Cairns to officially launch the taskforce with Albo and Nita. Albo is spending the week here in Queensland. And for those of us who have lived and grown up in Queensland, we refer to him as ‘Mr Queensland’. He’s helped build parts of Queensland. And I’m really thrilled that he’s spending the week on the ground listening to Queenslanders. The taskforce will be focusing on one thing, and that’s getting Australians back to work. Albo’s made it clear to us that he wants us to hit the ground, to listen to businesses, just like we are here today in Cairns, but also talk to workers about the future of getting people back to work. So, I’m really pleased that the taskforce will be traveling the country, working with business and industry to make sure that they see a Government and a future Labor Government that will be on their side. Over to you, Albo.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Nita, and Milton. And it’s great to have two of the three executive officers of the Regional Jobs Taskforce are Queenslanders. And that’s by no accident because Queensland is our most regional of states. And it’s one where we need to invest in jobs. And during this week, and indeed every week from now up until the next election and afterwards, I have one message for Queenslanders. I’m on your side. I’m on your side when it comes to job creation. I’m on your side when it comes to ensuring that Australia is resilient, that we can stand on our own. We need to learn the lessons of the pandemic which is that in so many areas we found ourselves vulnerable. We didn’t even have enough personal protective equipment. And what we need to do is ensure that we invest in ourselves, that we have self-confidence as a nation.


Today, I’m very pleased to have been shown around here, Tropical Reef Shipyards, by Robert and his team. Robert is someone who began as an apprentice fitter and turner. He now has some ownership of this magnificent shipyards. It shows the success that can happen when we have confidence, when we invest in Australians’ capacity to do good, to create things, to build things, to manufacture things, to look after things through maintenance at these shipyards. So, this is a great success story. And what we need to do is to build on that. We need to protect jobs that are there, but also look for new job creation. And we can protect jobs by doing things like supporting JobKeeper continuing after March. The idea that the tourism sector, which contributes so much to Australia’s national economy, can just be left stranded here in Far North Queensland is just not on. We know that the economy here is dependent upon international visitors. And we know that there’s a quality tourism product here which Australians can enjoy, but the whole world can enjoy. This is a strategic national asset that has been built up over many decades by private sector investment and public sector support for the tourism sector. So, whether it be those tourism operators who take people out to the reef, take people out to the Daintree, take people whitewater rafting, engage in the many tasks that can be done here in Queensland, they’re all doing it tough at the moment. We were at Skyrail yesterday, they are doing it incredibly tough. I pay tribute to the management there that haven’t laid people off. But that’s been possible because of JobKeeper. Very clearly, it needs more support. And we need to say that it’s worthy of support as well. Because if you lose that physical infrastructure and lose the labour skills, it costs far more to rebuild from scratch than it does to keep these businesses going. So, Labor is on the side of those businesses. The Coalition Government are essentially saying, ‘You’re on your own’ after March. And that’s not good enough.


Can I just make one further comment before I take questions, which is that today is the funeral of Matthew Field, Kate Leadbetter and their unborn son. They were killed in a tragic incident on Australia Day. It broke all of Australia’s hearts. And today, Australia’s hearts go out to their family, friends and the local community.


Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).


ALBANESE: The big issue that’s had an impact here is the ongoing closure of international borders, that is Far North Queensland perhaps far more than other tourism sectors. There are other parts of the tourism industry that have done okay during the pandemic as Australians have chosen to holiday domestically. It is pretty hard to get a hotel on the Sunshine Coast, for example. But here, in Far North Queensland, which is so dependent upon international visitors, it needs support. We know that that’s the case. We know that the circumstances of the tour operators have continued to see a decline in their turnover. And we know when we look just down the road there at where the tourism boats are, which would normally all be out now, beautiful day here in Far North Queensland, there are too many that are tied up to the jetty rather than out taking visitors on the reef.


JOURNALIST: Just on JobKeeper, can you elaborate what sort of industry support you want to see for tourism?


ALBANESE: The simplest way is to extend JobKeeper for those sections of industry in those locations that are doing it tough. That would be the simplest and easiest way to provide support. The systems are in place so you can just continue it on the basis of revenue. And who we know is that a whole lot of businesses that received JobKeeper have done quite well. They have actually increased their profits. Some of them have used JobKeeper to pay bonuses to executives. And at the same time, other businesses have been doing it tough, have been determined to keep that relationship with their workers, have done the right thing and they’re going to be punished come the end of March.


JOURNALIST: When would you like to see the international borders reopened?


ALBANESE: That, of course, will be based on medical advice. And we’re right to be cautious about the medical advice. And so, Labor hasn’t questioned that. At the moment, quite clearly, we couldn’t have our international borders opened up to the whole world. And here in tropical North Queensland, we know that markets like Japan and the European market and the United States, that are very much the concentrations of where tourists visit this great part of Australia, we know that it wouldn’t be appropriate for those borders to be opened up today. But I do want to see the borders opened up as soon as possible. The vaccine is being rolled out in just about every country in the world. In Australia, it hasn’t been rolled out yet, but it is being rolled out. And we all hope that it is successful, and we see an end to this virus. But we do have to listen to the medical advice because we know that the spread of this very contagious disease has an impact. And when you have to shut down, the impact is more severe than if you provide a cautious approach.


JOURNALIST: South Africa will suspend its use of the AstraZeneca jab in its national vaccination program, but the Federal Government says it’s not concerned about the effectiveness of the jab. Do you think it should be?


ALBANESE: We’ll take the advice of the Therapeutic Goods Administration. We’ve been consistent on this. You don’t want politicians second-guessing science and medical expertise. Thank you.


JOURNALIST: The Tourism Minister is also here today. Do you think it’s too little too late?


ALBANESE: Well, the Tourism Minister hasn’t been sighted here before today. And I think it’s no accident I foreshadowed, a couple of weeks ago, my visit here to Far North Queensland and then he’s arrived. That’s a good thing he’s here. I hope he’s here with an announcement about support for the tourism sector. Because we know they’re doing it tough. And let me say this; if we were in Government, I’d be here with an announcement, with funding, with support for jobs, with support for businesses. Because that’s what they need. And I think that it’s a bit cute also for my counterpart, the Prime Minister, to be prepared to visit to campaign against the Palaszczuk Government and to do fundraisers. Last time he was here, he cancelled a National Cabinet meeting because he went up the coast doing fundraiserw, campaigning against the Palaszczuk Government. What he should be doing is working with state governments. And he should be prepared to come back as well, not as part of an election campaign, but come back to do his job of looking after Australian businesses and Australian workers who are dog it tough in this region.


JOURNALIST: The Nationals want agriculture carved out of any net zero emissions by 2050. Do you think that’s a reasonable request?


ALBANESE: It would be reasonable if we had a net zero target by 2050 from this Government. We don’t. And it’s somewhat absurd that the whole world has adopted that target and Scott Morrison hasn’t and then there’s a debate over what might happen within a target that hasn’t been adopted yet. It’s quite absurd, the fact that Scott Morrison goes to the National Press Club, makes no new announcements. He is all smirk and mirrors when it comes to action on climate change. Australians know that. And the National Party, of course, are too busy fighting with each other over what they think about these issues.


JOURNALIST: Richard Marles suggested the Commonwealth needed to show more leadership on borders. What do you think he means by that given borders are a matter for the states?


ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that we are a nation. And I have said repeatedly that what we need through the so-called ‘National Cabinet’ is for it to be a national Cabinet. Cabinets make decisions that are uniform and then they go out and then they support those decisions. This is not a Cabinet process. This is a meeting where state premiers and chief ministers tell each other what they’re doing and then it’s announced. We could have far more consistency in the way that those issues are dealt with, but the Prime Minister has chosen to stay away from things that he clearly has a national responsibility for, like quarantine, they’re in our national constitution. Like bringing Australians home from overseas, that is clearly a national responsibility. And we should have some leadership from the Government. But once you do that, of course, you can then be held to account for the results and for issues that might arise. Scott Morrison said a year ago during the bushfires that he didn’t hold a hose. And that characterises this Government not being prepared to take responsibility and show national leadership.


JOURNALIST: Do you hope Labor will regain some economic credibility by asking the Shadow Cabinet for a policy proposal to offset the spending costs?


ALBANESE: There’s nothing new about a proposal like that. And there’s nothing new either, we had similar processes before the last election, before the one before that, we had similar processes when we were in Government of when new proposals come forward to help to identify how that will be paid for. I make no apologies for the fact that Labor will be fiscally responsibility. We think it’s important. One of our criticisms of this Government is that they’ve got a trillion dollars into debt without having any legacy to show for it. It’s one of the reasons why, for example, we advocated support for public housing investment. If you invest in public housing, you have an asset, you have something to show for it. It’s one of the reasons why during the Global Financial Crisis we invested in roads and infrastructure here in Far North Queensland including the upgrade of the Bruce Highway, the Cape York Roads Package that was funded while I was the Infrastructure Minister. These are important legacies. And the problem for this Government is that they have a trillion dollars of debt, they have the highest deficit ever seen in Australia, they have, of course, prematurely said that the Government was back in black, but all that turned out to be was a mug. And they’re treating Australians like mugs by prematurely making those announcements that simply weren’t true. I’ll say this too; a Labor Government will always protect the most vulnerable. There’ll be nothing from us that doesn’t look after people. We don’t want people to be left behind which is why we have also advocated an increase in unemployment benefits because $40 a day isn’t enough to live on.


JOURNALIST: Why have you decided to dump the big tax spend agenda in favour of a small platform ahead of an election?


ALBANESE: I have said very clearly, in accordance with when I received the election review, that we would have an ambitious agenda, but it wouldn’t be one that had more than 280 costed policies. That’s around about six times more than any of the other political parties had at the last election. We will have measures and a narrative that’s clearly understood that we are on the side of jobs, we’re on the side of helping people not be either left behind or held back when it comes to opportunity, and that’s why we’re investing in major reforms like childcare reform. The announcement that I have in the Budget Reply last year, of universal childcare support, moving towards that, is as significant as Labor’s support for universal healthcare, which we delivered through Medicare, and universal superannuation. We delivered those legacies. And I want to lead a Government along with Nita and Milton and my team that will leave a lasting legacy. And you can’t invest anywhere more valuable than in our under-fives because we know that that will have a big impact. So, we’ll have an ambitious agenda. But we will have, as I have said consistently, in accordance with the review that I received and that we adopted unanimously through our National Executive processes, we will have a targeted campaign that will make it very clear what we will deliver for the Australian people. And at the centre of it is that message, that we are on your side.


JOURNALIST: What do you say to colleagues who believe now is the time to make bold decisions?


ALBANESE: We have made bold decisions. I think universal childcare support with lifting up support for 97 per cent of families is bold policy. But it’s also smart policy. Which is why it’s been backed in by every economist. It’s also policy that will produce a return. And the return is $2 for every dollar that’s invested in childcare comes back. Our industrial relations policy released this week, which I’ll be doing here in Queensland on Wednesday, will deliver major benefits without costing the Government. And people will see that on Wednesday. Tomorrow I’ll be in Maryborough looking at Australian rail manufacturing, another announcement that I did in the Budget Reply. If you build trains here and you coordinate it nationally, you save money for state governments. You also produce jobs and produce income for the national economy. And what you don’t have to do is what consistently has been done like with Campbell Newman’s trains that arrived here and are now being fixed up in Maryborough by Queensland workers because they’re not fit-for-purpose. Smart policy is good policy is sound fiscal policy. And that’s what I’ll be doing at the next election. I’m very confident that we will have a strong and clear message to Queenslanders and, indeed, to all Australians at the next election. And I’ll be visiting places like here and Hervey Bay, Bundaberg, Maryborough, Brisbane, South East Queensland, Far North Queensland, as I am on this visit and I’ll be back to other parts of Queensland on future visits. And giving that very clear message that we’re on your side. Not on the side of just looking after mates. Not on the side of spending a billion on political advertising with taxpayers’ money. Not on the side of Sports Rorts and the other waste that we have seen from this Government. Not on the side of giving JobKeeper to companies that have increased their profits while taking it away from the tourism sector here in Far North Queensland. It’s a strong message. I have a strong team. We’ll be doing it each and every day up until whenever the election is. Thanks very much.