SUBJECTS: Visit to Queensland; regional jobs; climate change; bushfires; vegetation management; power prices; ACCC digital platforms inquiry.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Thanks everybody, I’m Catherine King and I’m the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development and I’m delighted to be joined here in Bundaberg by Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese, Senator Anthony Chisholm and also Meryl Swanson who is head of Labor’s Regional Jobs Taskforce. Can I start by thanking Bundaberg Distillery for the tour, and Duncan and Sarah and the team for a terrific tour. This is really, what this is all about, is at the heart of regional jobs. And this region has had some tough times, but it’s also had some good times. And we’ve seen some good investment, but we’ve also seen some patchy investment. What we’ve seen from the Federal Government recently with their announcement of a Regional Deal for this, is that they’ve left part of the region out. We want a fair deal for all of regional Australia. We want the opportunity for businesses like Bundaberg Distillery, like other businesses here in this community that I’ve met with today, to be able to grow employment. But you have to do it for all of the regions, and you have to do it for all of the regions across the country.
Here in Bundaberg, we have a regional deal that leaves out Maryborough. You can’t have an regional economic deal that leaves out part of the economic region of the area. The Commonwealth needs to get on with the job, it’s made election announcements to invest in this area. Keith Pitt, the local member here, is saying there’s some delay with those. There is absolutely no reason that all of that investment can’t start to flow now. It’s not contingent on the Queensland State Government signing up. It needs to flow now. But you can’t have a regional deal where you actually leave part of the region out. What I heard this morning from the Port of Bundaberg, is that you’ve got great opportunities in bulk freight here. You’ve got great opportunities with minerals here, with rare minerals in this region. But you need the entire region working together, working as one, and that’s what this community has done. What you don’t need is a Commonwealth Government and a Federal Member in Keith Pitt who actually wants to carve out parts of the region on electoral boundaries and not treat it as though it’s all one economy. I’m going to ask Anthony to speak next.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much Catherine, and it’s great to be here in Bundaberg with Catherine King, Anthony Chisholm the Senator for Queensland and the local representative that we have looking after this region, and Meryl Swanson who I appointed as Chair of Labor’s Regional Jobs Taskforce, which is looking at how we create jobs in regional Australia. And that’s precisely what my visit over the last three days has been about. Talking to Queenslanders, talking to business, about how we can grow jobs. And here at this site, at Bundaberg, we have manufacturing, we have tourism and we have a business that has been incredibly successful going back to late in the nineteenth century. And it has a promising future. And there’s no doubt at all that this business also puts Bundaberg on the map. People will pass by here, it’s a wonderful tourism experience that we’ve been able to enjoy today that will create tourism jobs as well.
I did want to comment on one matter before taking questions, and that is the Prime Minister’s dismissal of Australia being ranked 61 out of 61 nations when it comes to action on climate change at the Madrid Summit. The fact is that the Prime Minister needs to take ownership of what he is responsible for. He avoids scrutiny at any opportunity but the world is looking at us. And the world knows that for the last seven years, we have not had an energy policy. The world knows we don’t have a policy on renewable energy beyond 2020. They know that this Government tried to get rid of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, they tried to get rid of ARENA, they don’t have a credible position. And when they made the decision to send Angus Taylor to Madrid to represent our nation, they shouldn’t be surprised that he talked nonsense – like he has been in the Parliament ever since his first speech. But people know that you can’t say that black is white, you can’t say that emissions are going down when they’re going up, you can’t say we have a plan when we don’t. And with the bushfires being so intense during the recent months, the fact is that Australians are looking for leadership from this Prime Minister – leadership on climate change, leadership on practical measures to do with the bushfires, including leadership in how our volunteer firefighters get compensated and are able to continue to do the amazing work that they do. They deserve our respect and our thanks for the courage that they show in looking after people, looking after property and looking after all of our interests in the work that they’ve done. And to be just dismissed by the Prime Minister, who has said that they are there because they want to be there is, in my view, inappropriate and disrespectful of the work that they’re doing. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: On that matter, should carry over credits the banned?
ALBANESE: Of course they should, it’s a complete nonsense. What this Government wants to do is to say that the work that the former Federal Labor Government did in taking action on climate change should count for credits, even though they opposed all those measures at the time, and they undid them as soon as they came to office. It is embarrassing that Australia would argue that in order to get around our modest climate change targets. We can’t deal with climate change through accounting tricks, we actually need to reduce emissions. The world knows that. And that’s why it’s not surprising that they’ve rejected the idea that Australia should count the actions of the former Labor Government going forward.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, you spoke this morning about wanting to get out of the cul de sac of Left and Right politics on climate change. Does a 35 percent target sound like something a Federal Labor could get behind?
ALBANESE: We will make decisions much closer to the election when we see what the starting point is. You can’t make a starting point now, when we don’t know what the circumstances will be in the lead up to the election.
I’ll say something else as well. What we’re not prepared to do is to let the Government off the hook, and to say ‘don’t worry about it, we’ve got this because in 2022, we’ll take particular action’. This Government needs to act now. It doesn’t have a plan to deal with its existing Paris targets without fiddling the figures. And it’s been caught out in Australia, in the National Parliament, day after day, Ministers and the Prime Minister have stood up and say ‘Australia is going to reach our target’. Well, they’ve gone to Madrid and said ‘Well, actually we’re not’, which is why we need to do this fiddle in order to pretend that that target is going to be reached.
JOURNALIST: Will it definitely be higher than the Government’s target, Labor’s target?
ALBANESE: Labor will take strong action on climate change. We’ll announce a comprehensive suite of policies before the next election, well before the next election.
JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison says that it’s legal to use the carry over credits because we’re not trading in them and has compared it to being ahead on mortgage payments. What do you make of that analogy?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s embarrassing for Australia to go to an international conference with no energy policy, with no climate change strategy to meet the targets that, bear in mind, were set by Tony Abbott. It’s embarrassing, and it brings us no credit. The Prime Minister has said that the report, which ranked us last, has ‘no credibility’. The thing that has no credibility is the Government’s policy, because they simply don’t have one. It is incredible that they do not have an energy policy. The fact is that when it comes to trading, this is the government that got rid of any concept of an Emissions Trading Scheme. They abolished it. They made that decision themselves. Scott Morrison argued that that was important. And that happened, it went through the Parliament. So they can’t then say, ‘oh, we don’t trade the credits’ – because they’re the ones that removed it.
JOURNALIST: On the fires, Scott Morrison has called for calm amid the bushfire disaster, saying in times like this the country must band together. Are you inflaming tensions by criticising their response to the fires?
ALBANESE: What I’ve done is call for national leadership. I’ve said that COAG should be formed. I wrote to the Prime Minister in a in a detailed way, I outlined a number of issues that needed to dealt with, in my view, and called for a coordinated response. I certainly haven’t tried to politicise this issue. The Prime Minister has politicised it by not showing any leadership, by underplaying how serious this issue is.
People are keeping their kids home from school around Sydney, Canberra, in other regions because of what is happening to the air quality in those cities. Sydney was double digit times over what normal air quality should be yesterday. This is a massive issue, and people are very frustrated that we’re not seeing that leadership.
I spoke to firefighters when I visited Casino and Lismore. I went back I raised the issue that volunteer firefighters were saying they were under pressure. You can’t continue to not be at work, and give up your pay and salary, whilst for a period of months. I met one person who had been there for many months since he had been to work, but a range of them had been in the field for a very long period of time. They are spending their own money on petrol to go and fight fires. They’re making their own commitments, but they’ve got to pay their rent. They’ve got to feed themselves and their families. There are costs associated with normal life that they’re giving up.
We should be listening to them. The Prime Minister, as well as the states and local government, should convene. It’s not my decision that has refused to meet Greg Mullins and the other fire chiefs and experts. I’ve been prepared to meet with them. And let me tell you there there’s a lot to learn from them. These are men and women have been fighting fires for decades. We can learn from them.
JOURNALIST: So do you support the inquiry then into vegetation management?
ALBANESE: Sorry, I’m not aware of that.
JOURNALIST: That’s okay it came out yesterday. It’s a Federal inquiry into vegetation management.
ALBANESE: Oh, look, look what I support, that’s one of the things that we wrote to the Prime Minister about was the management of our land. One of the issues that’s been raised is that we can learn a bit from First Nations people about the way that they manage land. That’s one of the things that that should be looked at: are we engaged in best practice? Do national parks have enough staff to look after these issues? But one of the things that’s happened that has been said to me on the ground by people is that because people worked in the national parks on the fire season, for example, started in places like Rappville and places around Casino and Lismore in March, they weren’t able to then do the normal processes that they would do because they were engaged in fighting fires. And then the fire season has gone on for so long. So we need to look at this, and make sure we have best practice in place, make sure that the appropriate resources are there from all levels of government.
JOURNALIST: Just on supporting manufacturing jobs, would you urge New South Wales and Queensland to do more to get gas out of the ground to support lower prices, energy prices, including for businesses?
ALBANESE: Well, Queensland is doing an enormous amount here.
JOURNALIST: But do they need to be, are they are they carrying too much load, does more need to be done by Victoria and New South Wales?
ALBANESE: Well, Queensland are doing an enormous amount. I think I said yesterday, I’m not about to do a running commentary on all of the state government policies, I’m concerned about the national government and the national government’s lack of action when it comes to climate change, when it comes to having a policy in place over energy.
JOURNALIST: The Government has announced its response to the ACCC inquiry on digital platforms. Does it go far enough?
ALBANESE: Well, once again, the Government has been way behind here. The problem with this Government is that it sits back, they had an election win in May and they’ve been on a victory lap ever since. They act like an Opposition in exile sitting on the Government benches, whether it’s Keith Pitt saying ‘we’ve got all these commitments and it’s someone else’s fault that we’re not actually delivering on any of them’, whether it is the issue of digital platforms, there’s a whole range of issues. And I gave a major speech on Saturday about that. I think that there’s a need for proper regulation of the players like Facebook and others in the way that social media is being regulated. You have a whole range of fake news out there. There’s issues with regard to pressures being placed on traditional media outlets, because all the revenue is going to some of the social media outlets without any of the overheads and costs. I want to see journalists like yourself continue to have jobs and to be employed. And that’s one of the things that I spoke about on Saturday. I think the Government when it comes to digital communications across the board, whether it’s trashing the National Broadband Network which was so important for regional Australia, or its attitude towards social media, it’s way behind. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.