Feb 7, 2021







SUBJECTS: Cairns tourism operators needing support, extending JobKeeper beyond March, state COVID measures, international borders, COVID vaccination certificates, showing proof of vaccination, net zero emissions by 2050, agriculture.


NITA GREEN, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Hi everyone and thanks for being here today. My name is Nita and I’m the Labor Senator for Queensland and I live right here in Cairns. And I’m incredibly excited to have the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, with me today to meet directly with tourism operators who are at this stage facing a really big impact from COVID-19. It means a lot to have Anthony here in Cairns meeting with people directly. Because, quite frankly, it’s a heartbreaking situation right now. People are considering whether they will have a job when JobKeeper ends. There are businesses that we know letting staff go. And that’s a difficult decision for those businesses to make. But they’ve been put in that situation because the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and now the new Minister for Tourism haven’t come up with a plan for a problem that they knew was coming. We know that the Minister for Tourism is coming here tomorrow. I have one message for that Minister and that is, don’t come to Cairns empty-handed. And don’t come to Cairns with excuses. It’s great to have Anthony here today and to listen to people’s stories directly. Thank you.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much Nita. It’s been very good to be here today with Senator Green but also to be welcomed by the operators of Skyrail, to have the Cairns Post with us this morning. And to meet with Tourism Tropical North Queensland operators earlier this morning. The fact is that this community is doing it tough. It’s doing it tough not because it’s done anything wrong. It’s doing it tough because of international borders being closed. Australia’s tourism industry is a $45 billion export industry. It’s a major employer in this region. And this morning we heard of operators. So, some of the ships that operate out of Cairns, one of them, just one of them, had 530 people on a day last year in January. This year, that number was 27. They’ve been relying upon JobKeeper, just as Skyrail here has been reliant upon JobKeeper. And that’s why the Government can’t just withdraw all support at the end of March. We know that the benefit of wage subsidies is all about keeping the relationship between an employer and their work, as simple as that. Because the cost of re-establishing a business, re-establishing that relationship, is far higher in the long term than it is of keeping businesses going, keeping workers connected with their employer. So I say to the tourism industry here, we are on your side. I say to the workers here, we are on your side. And what we need is a Government in Canberra that’s also on their side, not one that plays politics and attacks the Queensland Premier because she happens to be a member of the Labor Party. The fact is that more support is needed here. Jobs are the key to the recovery being stronger after the pandemic. And, unless some action is taken here, we’ll see increasingly more jobs being lost, which will reduce economic activity in Far North Queensland and will make it very difficult for this community to rebuild. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, you say that action needs to be taken. What would you do differently?


ALBANESE: Well, I wouldn’t be withdrawing JobKeeper from the tourism industry in Far North Queensland in March, for a start. It needs, whether it’s an extension of the existing system or a separate system for tourism, I would be providing support. That’s what these businesses need. That’s what their employees need. And that’s what this community needs. And the short-sightedness of potentially losing the infrastructure that’s been built here. When you travel around Far North Queensland, whether it be the operators out to the reef, whether it be here, the Skyrail that takes people out to Barron Falls and to Kuranda, whether it be other operators in hotels, they all have invested tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure. Now, that will be lost. The other thing that will be lost is human connections. You have trained and skilled workforce. The fact that the operators out to the reef, many of whom are operating at all, some of whom have reduced to one or two or three days a week. If you lose those skilled operators, the crew, then it’s difficult to get those skills back. And that costs money, to get those skills back. So we’ll have a long term negative impact on the tourism sector here.


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, you mentioned the reef boats and how empty they are at the moment. Part of the reason why the reef boats are empty is because of COVID restrictions in place by the Queensland Labor Government. They’re going to the reef half empty because of the square metre rule, which hasn’t changed since mid last year. Is it time to review that square metre rule?


ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that the big issue that’s having an impact here is the closure of our international borders. Now, the Queensland Government has put in place measures in order to keep people safe. And, of course, they examine those and take the health advice. But it’s the closure of the international borders. This more so than just about any destination in Australia is dependent upon international tourists. And we met with the operators of Skyrail here. So much of their customer base is international. Now the operators here have done a remarkable job for not displacing any workers at this site. But that’s due to their commitment as a family business to their local community. But that’s not sustainable if the support is all withdrawn after March.


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, I’ve got some questions (inaudible). The Government has revealed more details about the plan for COVID-19 vaccination certificates to be accessed through the MyGov Medicare apps. Do you have confidence in those systems?


ALBANESE: We need to make sure here that the Government gets it right. We know that they didn’t get the tracing app right. So they need to, as the rollout of the vaccine occurs, make sure that they absolutely get it right because our economy as well as our health depends on it. We know that vaccines don’t resolve this issue, vaccinations do. So we need to put in place measures that encourage confidence in the system. And Labor stands ready to be cooperative, to be constructive and to engage with the Government on these issues.


JOURNALIST: And under what circumstances do you think Australians should have to show proof of their COVID-19 vaccination?


ALBANESE: Well, of course, there’s a range of jobs now for which you have to, for example, show that you have a flu vaccine. There are a range of areas. That needs to be worked through. But I would say to Australians, get vaccinated. Once the TGA approves the vaccine, I have every confidence that it works. We have a world class assessment system through the Therapeutic Goods Administration. They’ve approved the Pfizer vaccine. And I have always said that once the TGA grants its approval, we should be rolling out the vaccine as soon as possible.


JOURNALIST: And do you believe that aged care workers or visitors to those facilities should have to show a COVID vaccination certificate before they’re allowed in?


ALBANESE: Well now we know that many aged care workers and other sectors have to show various vaccinations for things like flu now. So we know that some common sense needs to apply here. And if people have a loved one in an aged care facility who’s a resident, they want to know with confidence that the workers who do such a fantastic job looking after them, looking after their loved one, is also going to ensure that their loved one is kept safe.


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, can we just have a chat about climate change? Should the agriculture sector be exempt from any potential target for net zero emissions by 2050?


ALBANESE: Well, I just want the Government to have a target of net zero by 2050. Scott Morrison is dragging his heels on this. All of our international competitors all have net zero by 2050. This is a common sense solution that Scott Morrison said, just a short while ago, would ruin the economy if we adopted this. Now, net zero doesn’t mean that there aren’t any emissions. It means just that, net zero. That after you look at what adds emissions and withdraws emissions from our natural environment, then it adds up to net zero. Now in agriculture, of course, yes, you have some impact in terms of an increase in emissions. But you also have many agricultural practices, such as carbon farming, that reduce emissions in the economy. And you have to take that into account as well.


JOURNALIST: Do you think the agriculture sector should be given any special concessions?


ALBANESE: Well, we would look at any proposals which are there. But I say this, the National Farmers’ Federation have already adopted net zero by 2050. Just like the Business Council of Australia, just like BHP and Santos and Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank. All these major companies, every state and territory government in the country, has adopted net zero by 2050. We know all of our major international trading partners, Japan, Korea, the European Union, as well as the United States under Joe Biden, have also adopted net zero by 2050. Scott Morrison, when it comes to action on climate change, is all smirk and mirrors. He’s not prepared to actually show leadership on this issue. And that’s why Australia is falling behind the world. And Scott Morrison needs to keep up. We can’t have a few people on the Liberal National Party backbench holding Australia back. Because Australia is losing economic opportunities. We could be a renewable energy superpower for the world. We already know that the world’s largest solar plant is being planned for the Northern Territory and what that will do is export energy to Singapore. It’s about jobs and economic benefit for Australia. And it’s a pity that those in the Coalition, joined by Scott Morrison, aren’t showing any leadership on this issue.