ANTHONY ALBANESE & SHARON BIRD – TRANSCRIPT – DOORSTOP INTERVIEW – WOLLONGONG – TUESDAY, 13 OCTOBER 2020
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
SHARON BIRD MP
MEMBER FOR CUNNINGHAM
TUESDAY, 13 OCTOBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Federal Budget; Budget reply; Labor’s Working Family Child Care Boost; childcare; manufacturing; economic reforms; A Future Made In Australia; AEMO; net zero emission by 2050; steelmaking; need for a National Integrity Commission; women missing out in the Federal Budget.
SHARON BIRD, MEMBER FOR CUNNINGHAM: Thank you for coming along today. I want to start by acknowledging the original inhabitants of the land on which we meet. And I pay my respects to the elders of this land, past and present. And to acknowledge that while there is very different activity on this land today, we really value the ongoing relationship with our first Australians here. I want to also thank John and the BlueScope team for hosting us today in such an interesting tour, outlining what the current state of their business is and the industry. It was particularly useful. It is not the first time we have been through, and we really appreciate the relationship, particularly that Stephen and I are able to have with BlueScope on an ongoing basis. So, our thanks to you and the team as well. And particularly those wonderful young apprentices that you introduced us to. I’m basically here to introduce, Albo. But it seems a bit of a redundant task in this area, because he is absolutely well known to the Illawarra and, indeed, the South Coast. Anthony has been a great supporter of this region and the sorts of policies and investments that we’ve needed for the long-term. And so, I don’t really need to introduce him to you because he is a regular visitor, and a great friend of a region. So, Anthony, I will hand over to you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much. Well, thanks, Sharon. It’s terrific to be back in the Illawarra with yourself, with Stephen and Fiona, here in what is heartland of manufacturing in Australia. Here, which is a driver of our economy. And I do want to thank John and the BlueScope team for the tour this morning. What we were able to see was Australian ingenuity, Australian innovation, Australian production, creating Australian jobs. What we should do in this country is make things. We should make things and continue to improve as the factory has here. Continue to evolve, continue to invest and continue to be competitive. And BlueScope is doing okay at the moment, as Australians have more time at home to look at their roof and realise that maybe there could be some improvements made, or to other areas in which the products that are made here, which are the best in the world, are able to increase production.
Can I say that in last week’s Budget reply, one of the things I spoke about was manufacturing. I also spoke about government procurement. And I spoke about apprenticeships. And all of them are relevant right here. We need to make sure that we’re resilient as an economy. We’ve had the shock of the pandemic. But all the experts, including the World Health Organization, say that this might not be the big one. We could expect further shocks potentially in our lifetime. So, we need to be more self-reliant. And one of the things we need to do is manufacture more here. That will require steel. The sort of quality products that are made right here in the Illawarra. It also is the case that we need to use government procurement to support Australian industry. Now, it shouldn’t be at an ad hoc basis. It should be across the board. And we spoke about defence. We spoke about rail, a National Rail Manufacturing Plan. We spoke about making sure that when taxpayers’ dollars are used, we maximise the benefit for the Australian economy and for Australian jobs. That will be good for BlueScope right here in the future. We also spoke about the need for training and apprenticeships. And here is a great example of a local business that has relationships with TAFE, relationships with the University of Wollongong. There’ll be 20 apprentices starting here next year, as consistently there have been each and every year for a long period of time. There’ll be more cadetships operating than that. And of the apprentices here, one third will be women. It’s a good thing that this company is prepared to invest in Australian people. And that provides jobs for the local community, but also provides for addressing what are skill shortages in some of the key areas, such as the professions that we met here today. We have shortages of engineers. We have shortages of bricklayers. We have shortages in so many professions. And one of the things that we will do is create Jobs and Skills Australia to look at what the jobs of the future will be and to look at how we ensure that Australians are ready to take up those opportunities. If we get it right, we can be incredibly prosperous. We live in the region of the world that is the fastest growing in human history. But it won’t happen by itself. It needs government working with the private sector to make sure that we take advantage of those opportunities. And in last Tuesday’s Budget, what we saw was, essentially, $100 billion of new money, but no real plans. Nothing to show for it at the end of a trillion dollars of debt, which will grow to $1.7 trillion of debt by the end of the decade. We need to do better than that. And that’s why plans such as our defence industry, the National Rail Manufacturing Plan, the other initiatives that we put in place, wanting to make sure that we have a legacy coming out of this crisis, that we don’t just seek to try to move back to what was there before, that we try to envisage how we can have a better and stronger future, a more resilient economy, one that employs more people, one that looks after more people, and one that embraces a stronger economy into the future. And that’s why on Thursday I outlined a whole range of initiatives from childcare, but also the other centrepiece, a Future Made in Australia. And that’s what our visit to BlueScope is about here today. It is about ensuring a future made in Australia, it won’t happen by accident, and it will happen with great companies like BlueScope. And it will happen with the Government providing them with appropriate support. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). How are you going to mandate that Australian steel federally without any issues?
ALBANESE: One of the things you can do, I’ve chaired the National Transport Council for six years. I have chaired the National Regional Ministers Council. I have chaired the Local Government Ministerial Council. And in all of those, what the Commonwealth has is money. What the Commonwealth provides, therefore, is the capacity to actually argue for change, and to argue as a condition. So, for example, as a condition of Australian Commonwealth Government funding, we should be ensuring that Australian products are used to maximise. We should ensure that one in 10 of the workforce are apprentices or trainees or cadets. We should make sure that we don’t just hand over money, and then forget about it. The problem with the Budget is $100 billion of new money, and the Government doesn’t even really have a vision of trying to pretend they’ll say anything about it. But then again, they’re led by a bloke who came to the Illawarra to make an announcement about Newcastle, about Liddell, on his last visit here. So, they don’t get, I don’t believe, manufacturing and the importance of it, and the importance of consistency. And I know from the time that I was a minister, putting in place some of those provisions like apprenticeships, governments will come to the party. And if you’ve got two state governments competing for funding, and they’ll be pretty quick to say, ‘Pick me for funding’, so that they get the funds flowing, but so that also as a condition, they’ll come on board for these sorts of projects. It is terrible that we have state Liberal governments that say ‘we can’t build trains here’, for example. It’s just absurd. Every time we get a train, it’s either too tall for the tunnels, or too long for the stations, or it’s the wrong gauge, or it is a ferry along Parramatta River that no one can go on the top because we might lose them as passengers as they go under bridges. The fact is, if we make things here with Australian products, we’ll get much better outcomes as well.
JOURNALIST: Can you give any detail, specifically for Wollongong, on how you can (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: We can see already here that you have a bonus because the Victorian Government are into making trains in Victoria. And they’re making, also in terms of their projects, they want to use Australian steel. So, with the massive infrastructure build that they’re doing, including level rail crossings, what we’re seeing is the products here are being used in Victoria. That’s an example of how it can work. And we should make sure that it is Australian-based products that are used in procurement. We’re going to see a significant infrastructure build if I’m elected Prime Minister. It’s something that is a great interest of mine. We’ve got the smart infrastructure facility up the road that was funded when I was the minister and established at the University of Wollongong. It also looks at how you maximise Australian benefit from infrastructure projects. So, I think working together here in the Illawarra is particularly well-positioned to benefit from such an approach.
JOURNALIST: You’ve committed the Party to a zero-carbon emissions target by 2050. How do you achieve that in steelmaking when the company itself is (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s net zero across the board, of course. It’s net zero, it’s not zero for each production unit. So, what you have is with steelmaking, at the moment, the truth is that the new technologies which are being envisaged, like hydrogen and others, aren’t ready to be rolled out at this point in time. But with innovation, we are seeing things like lower energy production, lower energy costs, coming through with the use of renewables with batteries. At the moment, of course, that doesn’t apply for steel. Emissions are a product at the moment, which is why you need a transition over a period of time. But the fact is, when you look at what’s happening in the globe, as well, with Europe, with what Joe Biden is saying about the United States, unless we actually move in that direction over a period of time, then we will be penalised. I’m very confident that Australian industry can do that. One of the problems that we’ve seen on the East Coast here is incredibly high gas prices. Why is it? Why is it that under this Government, you can get gas cheaper, Australian gas, cheaper overseas, than you can buy it here for Australian manufacturing? We actually need a coherent energy policy. And one of the things that we announced last Thursday as well is the transmission grid upgrade, truly having a national grid. It’s extraordinary that we have a system that was built for the last century that hasn’t been upgraded. Now, this isn’t to give credit where credit isn’t due. This isn’t something that Labor has come up with. This is the Australian Energy Market Operator, their Integrated Systems Plan. We are saying that’s ready to go. That will make a massive difference to lowering energy prices in this country. It’s the single most significant thing that you could do to lower energy prices in this country is to fix the national grid.
JOURNALIST: The company said last year that the policy environment is not adequately supporting a transition.
ALBANESE: That’s true.
JOURNALIST: Where’s your ideas to support a transition? Where’s your energy policy? You have the grid and a gas plan but what do you have in what steelmaking can do to reach a green steel future?
ALBANESE: What it can do is to look towards new technology and to have a policy framework. I wrote to the Prime Minister three months ago and he has it, four months ago actually now. He hasn’t bothered to respond. I offered to sit down. The Government has looked at a clean energy target. They looked at a whole range of our bases, including the NEG, the National Energy Guarantee. And they don’t have an energy plan. They’ve had 22 half-baked policies announced. They don’t have a coherent plan. What we do need is a coherent plan that drives change through the economy at least cost and that looks after the manufacturing sector. When we were last in Government, we looked after businesses like this one, because we understood how important that the manufacturing sector was.
JOURNALIST: What are you doing by 2030 to get to 2050 to help companies like BlueScope?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ll be providing support for business. We’ll be working through these policy issues with them. But we have a clear target for net zero emissions by 2050. That’s the same target that’s been adopted by the Australian Industry Group, the peak of manufacturing sectors. That’s been adopted by the Business Council of Australia. It has been adopted by individual businesses and by every state and territory government, Labor and Liberal. It’s where we need to go if we’re going to be competitive with the world. It’s a matter of then working out how you go a coherent path through. At the moment, you don’t have a policy framework. We want to have one. We’ve offered to sit down with the Government and work those issues through. But in the meantime, because the Government hasn’t been prepared to do that, that’s why we announced last Thursday, the grid proposals of AEMO, making sure that actually happens. Because part of the barrier to that happening is that each state has a monopoly provider on transmission. And in some states, they are owned by state governments. In other states, they’re owned by foreign operators. And that structure has led to an increase in prices beyond, for energy, beyond what is necessary.
JOURNALIST: There are reports that China is stopping coal imports into the country. Is this concerning to you? And what can the Australian Government be doing to repair the obviously fractured political relationship?
ALBANESE: Look, it is a huge concern. The Government needs to actually have a relationship with the nation, which is the destination for, on latest figures, around about 48 per cent of our exports are directed towards China. Now, it’s one thing to talk about diversification. And, of course, that would be a good thing if we weren’t so reliant upon one country. But you have a Trade Minister who hasn’t spoken to his counterpart in China. You have senior Government ministers, none of whom have any relationship with people in China. When I was the Minister for Infrastructure, I met with my equivalent in China, both in China, in Beijing, and in Canberra. We had relationships. That was important. And the Government needs to consider ways in which, always we should put Australia’s national interests first, have respectful discussions, including the different opinions that we have. We are a democracy, they’re not. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have an economic relationship with China. It’s too important for us to ignore that. And this Government doesn’t seem to have made any effort to have a positive, constructive relationship to our mutual benefit. And that is of real concern.
JOURNALIST: Senator Gerard Rennick says the Coalition doesn’t support a National Integrity Commission. He doesn’t want bureaucrats to have a right to tap his phone. What’s your comment on this?
ALBANESE: Well, at least Gerard Rennick has belled the cat. Because the Government says they want to do something about it. Scott Morrison announced it in 2018, two years ago. But nothing’s happened. The draft legislation for a National Integrity Commission is about as visible as the Scott Morrison surplus Budget. The fact is that we do need a National Integrity Commission. We need to restore faith in our democratic processes. And it’s very important that the Australian public have faith in our democracy. You have had issues like Sport Rorts. You’ve had the issue of buying land at Badgerys Creek that now has flowed over into the state Liberal Government as well. And the only response from the Government has been to cut the funding of the Australian National Audit Office that has been doing its job. So, as payback, they’ve had their funding cut. We have seen no legislation. There’s no reason why. This is not related to the pandemic. They said they had the legislation ready way back when Malcolm Turnbull was the Prime Minister, the legislation was ready and was considered by members of the Cabinet in terms of that process. And yet, more than two years later, nothing to see here. Well, there is something to see here. Australians see it. And they want a National Integrity Commission.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) referred Morrison’s Budget as a boy’s budget, because it overlooked women. Do you have a view on that?
ALBANESE: Well, women were left behind by this Budget. It was an afterthought. And we put childcare as one of the centrepieces of our Budget. Childcare measure is an economic reform. It’s about women’s workforce participation. It’s about lifting productivity. But it could also have a positive impact on the third of the Ps, population. The only way you grow an economy is by population, participation, productivity. Our childcare initiative, removing the disincentive that’s there to work now, will make an enormous difference to working families. So, it’s good for kids. It’s good for working families. And it’s good for our economy. And this Government’s response was actually to say that women can drive on roads, like men. Well, that was absolutely their response. And the thing that should be said there is, as well, that they wouldn’t want to drive on new roads in the Illawarra because there wasn’t a single project from the Sutherland Shire right down to the Victorian border.
JOURNALIST: Consumer confidence figures have risen in light of the Budget. Do you think that’s a positive sign that it is a good Budget and it worked?
ALBANESE: No, we supported the bring forward of Stage Two of the tax cuts. And you expect that to have a positive reception. We argued for it. We argued for it last year. I want to see jobs come back. But the problem with this Government isn’t a short-term hit of a week. The problem with it is it doesn’t leave a legacy. What it leaves is a trillion-dollar debt that has to be paid back. And this Government has no plan for growth, which is why we put childcare in our Budget reply and why we put the Future Made in Australia package there as well, about encouraging an economic environment which promoted future economic growth.
JOURNALIST: How will you respond to industrial relations reports (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ll have to see them. So, we haven’t seen them yet. What we know is that this Government, when it talks about reform of industrial relations, what it’s really talking about a lot of the time is cuts to wages and conditions. This is a Government that wanted to cut people’s penalty rates and has succeeded in doing so for a moment for so many people, which has had a downward impact on consumer confidence. We know this Government has presided over the lowest wages growth in the post-war period, bar none. And that’s a real problem. That’s a handbrake on our economy. So, we’ll examine it. We know also, that we will examine it with the frame of, ‘Does this increase job security?’ What Australians want, Australian workers want, is increased job security and increased income security. What we know is that the casualisation of the workforce, the contracting out of essential services, the use of labour hire firms, all of these have impacted to reduce people’s job security. And the people who were first impacted during this pandemic, first off, first at Centrelink offices, were people in those sectors. And that’s something that has been encouraged by this Government. We want to see increased job security and increased income security.
Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.