WEDNESDAY, 18 DECEMBER 2019
SUBJECTS: Tasmania visit; bushfire crisis; coal mines in Australia; NAB; gender pay gap; Morrison Government’s lack of national energy policy.
JULIE COLLINS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGEING AND SENIORS: It is great to be here in my electorate. We are on the edge, in fact, of mine and Brian Mitchell’s. And to have Anthony Albanese here, our Federal Leader, down here in Hobart, and Senator Carol Brown, of course, is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and for projects in regional Tasmania. As people would know, we had made an announcement on this site, almost four years ago about the need to upgrade to Hobart Airport Roundabout. What we have seen from the State and Federal Liberals is complete inaction. We still don’t have a finalised budget, a finalised plan, or a finalised start date. It has been almost four years. How long does it take this Government to actually get the job done? I will hand over to Anthony to talk more about this project.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much. This project is symbolic of the massive gap which is there between the Morrison Government’s rhetoric on infrastructure and their action. We have absolutely nothing happening here after more than four years. They haven’t dug a hole in the ground. We know there’s a cost blow-out of $20 million additional funding will be required. And still nothing happens. In the so-called bring-forward of infrastructure, Tasmania got left out. Essentially, a pitiful amount of money brought forward at a time where we know the economy is sluggish. We know that the MYEFO forecast just this week showed growth lower than what was anticipated in May. Unemployment, higher. Wages, lower. What we have from this Government is complacency. The state governments will be impacted by the lowered GST receipts as a result of the downgrade in retail spending and economic activity. But what we have is a complacent Government. A Government that is still on its victory lap. This was promised not before the last election, this was promised by the Coalition before the election before the last election. This is just absurd that a simple project like fixing this roundabout, this chokepoint, cannot be fixed in the interest of efficiency, but also in the interest of road safety. But it is symptomatic of their approach. When I head into Hobart after this press conference, I will once again look at Macquarie Point and just wonder how it is that $50 million that was contributed in 2012 from the Federal Government, for seed-funding to get that Urban Redevelopment and Renewal project going, has not led to any activity whatsoever after all of that time. So, I think that the Coalition need to be held to account. And we will continue to do it by pointing out that gap between what they say they will do, and what actually happens. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What else are you doing in Hobart today?
ALBANESE: Today I’ll be having various meetings with business. Later this evening, I’ll be attending a Christmas event attended by Labor Party members, I have got other media appointments both today and tomorrow morning. This is my third visit to Tasmania as Leader of the Labor Party. I intend to be a very regular visitor here. And I always enjoy my time here in this great state. And I look forward to engaging with people this afternoon.
JOURNALIST: The latest figures from the International Energy Agency point to surging demand for Australian coal exports. To what extent are you comfortable, or is the Labor Party comfortable, with Australia exporting more coal in the coming years.
ALBANESE: I’ve made my position very clear last week. The issue of coal will depend upon demand. And Australia exporting coal doesn’t create demand. That demand comes from international partners for that resource, like other resources as well. So, I’m pleased in terms of jobs being created. You would expect the International Energy Agency to be pro-energy.
JOURNALIST: Just to finish up on that, if there is such a demand, what is your position on new coal mines?
ALBANESE: I have said that continually for the last week, the Government doesn’t build coal mines. They go through the environmental approval processes and those processes take place. Once approved, the mines can go ahead.
JOURNALIST: You are the alternative Leader of this country, you must have a position on whether new coal mines are a good idea or not?
ALBANESE: That is a matter for the market. Labor or the Coalition don’t build new coal mines. What I have said is, that in Australia, quite clearly, there’s not a market for a new coal-fired power station here and if there was, business would have invested in it.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister has been heavily criticised on social media for going on holiday while New South Wales faces what is said to be unprecedented bush fires. What is your view on that?
ALBANESE: I have many criticisms of Scott Morrison, one of them isn’t when he chooses to go on leave with his family. People are entitled to have leave and that’s a matter for him when he takes it. My criticism of him is about his complacency and his failure in areas like this. His failure to develop a national economic plan to deal with the sluggish economy. His failure to have a national drought strategy and his failure to have a national energy policy. What this Government is doing is essentially engaged in a victory tour since May, rather than doing, on the economic front, environmental front or on the social policy front, where we’ve had an inadequate response to the Interim Report on Aged Care. On my last visit here, I was with Julie and Brian and we launched a petition about acting now on those interim recommendations. So far, the response of the Government has been inadequate.
JOURNALIST: Populated regions including Sydney, Canberra and certain local towns of the East Coast of Australia have been shrouded with smoke four weeks. How concerned are you about the health risks this would have if it lingers for longer?
ALBANESE: It is already having a risk, it is having an Impact on people’s health. People are visiting their doctors increasingly. Kids are having their Christmas pageants and concerts cancelled if they are outdoors. Parents are keeping their kids inside. In Canberra last night, a Christmas Carol was cancelled. And in Sydney, similar things are happening. This is a crisis that has occurred. On Friday I will be visiting the Blue Mountains with Susan Templeman. Today, Murray Watt, our Shadow Minister, is in the Blue Mountains. This is a crisis. And the Government is very complacent. I wrote to the Prime Minister and asked for a COAG meeting to be convened. He wrote back and essentially; the Prime Minister’s attitude has been “Nothing to see here”. If there is nothing to see here, it’s because they can’t see through the smoke coming from those fires. The fact is that this Government needs to respond far more. There’s the issue of volunteer firefighters who have been in the field for months. The Prime Minister’s response is they want to be here. These people have given up their wages, they still have to pay their mortgage, their rent, buy food for their families and pay for petrol to get to the fires as well. These are brave and courageous Australians and they deserve more support than they are getting at the moment, and that is the feedback that I have had. With regard to the bushfire chiefs, former chiefs, it is also the case that the Prime Minister’s refused to meet with them. And surely agreeing to participate in a summit with experts who have literally hundreds of years of experience is worthwhile listening to.
JOURNALIST: With the knowledge it is a bushfire crisis, should the people of Australia expect the Prime Minister of Australia might not go on holiday during this?
ALBANESE: I’m not going to be critical of Mr Morrison personally in terms of his circumstances of taking leave with his family. I’m not going to do that. That would be cheap politics and I’m not into that. I’m into the issues. And the issues that count are a national response. Doesn’t matter whether it’s Mr Morrison or Michael McCormack, we’re not seeing a proper response from this Government. And on issues like the volunteer firies, they’re saying when I’ve met with them, they’re saying that they’re exhausted. This has gone on for a considerable period of time and unfortunately it looks as though this will continue well into 2020. And the Government needs to put together a clearer strategy to deal with these issues.
JOURNALIST: In Victoria, AGL are looking to refire a coal-fired power station, do you think all coal-fired power stations should be opened for national energy security?
ALBANESE: Well, what we need is a national energy plan and a policy. And we don’t have one. Markets will determine whether what the economics are of projects. And the economics of projects are showing greatly that renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels, that change has occurred over a period of time and one would expect that to continue. We need a national energy policy. At the moment, we don’t have one, and we are suffering because of that. Because of that investment being down, massively down this year compared to a year ago. And business want the certainty to be able to put that investment there.
JOURNALIST: What is your response to the latest banking scandal with NAB facing a fine of up to $10 billion?
ALBANESE: This is just a rolling series of scandals from the banks. Remember the Morrison Government and Scott Morrison voted against the Banking Royal Commission on 26 separate occasions. It’s another area where the Government has been complacent. Why is it that the Government haven’t yet legislated all the recommendations of the Banking Royal Commission? They said they would, it hasn’t happened because they’ve been too busy.
JOURNALIST: Have you seen the report out today that Australia is lagging behind on gender equality? What are your thoughts on it?
ALBANESE: It’s a very broad question. I can’t respond to a question that broad, I’m sorry. If there are some specifics. Is it about employment, wages?
JOURNALIST: In terms of employment and wages?
ALBANESE: I haven’t seen the report, but quite clearly, previous reports have shown that there continues to be a gender pay gap. Those issues need, very much-need, to be addressed, but maybe Julie has seen it.
COLLINS: I haven’t seen the report, no. As Shadow Minister for Women, we are very concerned again that the Government isn’t doing enough when it comes to the gender pay gap. There’s no doubt that Government intervention works when it comes to the gender pay gap. Indeed, everybody says that the gap has remained consistent for nearly two decades and the only difference has been during the mining boom and the drop-off of the mining boom. The only thing that seems to have made any difference with some of the reporting on the gender pay gap that Labor introduced last time we were in Government, and this Government isn’t doing anywhere near enough to deal with the fact women in Australia are still getting paid substantially less than men for the same type of work.
JOURNALIST: The Federal Government is blaming the states for blackouts. Does the Prime Minister need to take responsibility for the reliability of the grid?
ALBANESE: The Prime Minister is responsibility for not having an energy policy and for having a clown like Angus Taylor in charge of it, who specialises in making misleading statements, he’s done it since his first speech in the Parliament. He is too distracted trying to make cheap political points against a mayor in Sydney to do his day job. His day job should be having a national energy policy. They don’t have one. They don’t have a renewable energy target into the future. They’re not going to meet their Paris targets. And they went along to Madrid and argued for an accountancy fiddle rather than actually trying to achieve the outcomes to which Tony Abbott, as the Liberal Prime Minister, signed up to. It is just embarrassing. And they need to accept some responsibility that they are actually in charge of the country. And what we need is a national energy policy. We had one. They got rid of it when they came to office and it’s been replaced by 16 thought bubbles, the latest of which, number 17, was nuclear power plants. I don’t know where they’re going to go. Maybe Hobart, maybe Launceston, they need to say where the good sites for nuclear power will be. But in the meantime, we have prices continuing to rise and our emissions rising. The fact is action on climate change, which has to include a national energy policy, will be good for jobs, good in terms of driving down emissions and drive down energy prices. At the moment there is a supply issue because investment isn’t happening and that’s a direct responsibility of the Federal Government.
JOURNALIST: How can you criticise, though, the Federal Government for not having a policy on energy when you won’t say whether you say you support new coal mines, you won’t say whether you support the reactivating of old coal mines? You don’t seem to have a policy either?
ALBANESE: It’s not up to me. Indeed, the EPBC Act provides that any new proposals have to actually be made independent of political decision making and need to be made after environmental assessments are made based upon the science and recommendations. It’s entirely inappropriate. I’ve said very clearly, I do not believe there will be new coal-fired power plants built in Australia. If that was going to occur, it could have occurred, it can occur at any time. There is no law against it. The market is speaking, and the market is saying renewables are cheapest form of new energy.
JOURNALIST: Would they ever consider increasing the number of professional firefighters?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s the sort of thing that should be a part of a national strategy. How do we work with the full-time firefighters as well as volunteers? How do we make sure that we maximise the benefit which is there? There will always be a role for the volunteers, but over a period of time, people who in the past have gone for a few weeks now are going for months, and it’s simply not sustainable for them to do that. Thanks a lot.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.