SUBJECTS: Failures of the current Government on South Australia’s infrastructure; submarine maintenance jobs in South Australia; Government’s urgent changes to Robodebt; Josh Frydenberg’s speech and making older Australians work longer; gender pay gap; rare earths mining; pension age; future of work.
PETER MALINAUSKAS, SOUTH AUSTRALIAN LABOR LEADER: Well, good afternoon everybody. It’s fantastic to be here with the Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party federally, Anthony Albanese and also Catherine King. We’re very grateful to have Albo here in South Australia. Albo’s track record for delivering for South Australia is very, very long and well known to so many South Australians. There are literally thousands of South Australians who have been in work over the years, primarily because of Albo’s advocacy, particularly around infrastructure and transport. So many projects, too many to mention, are as a consequence of Anthony’s strong advocacy for jobs in the infrastructure planning space. And I have no doubt that an Anthony Albanese Federal Labor Government will continue to deliver for the South Australia of the future in conjunction with Catherine’s King’s advocacy in the infrastructure area. Unfortunately, we do know that prior to the 2016 Federal Election, the Liberals committed to an upgrade of Marion Road. There was two million dollars allocated towards a substantial upgrade study. And since then, we have seen nothing but talk from the Liberals when it comes to the planning study of Marion Road. Before this year’s Federal Election they were at it again, talking about their two million dollar study to look at upgrading Marion Road. Then in July this year, we had the state government saying that this plan is imminently going to be released. Now, we’re approaching the end of the year and we have seen nothing. And it speaks volumes about the Liberals’ approach to infrastructure. A lot of talk and very little action. We see a lot of projects coming to the end of their works, whether it be Darlington or the Northern Connector. And there is nothing following up from that. There are literally hundreds of jobs, which we know are at stake in infrastructure here in South Australia, all at a time when our unemployment rate is the second worst in the nation. We need a State and Federal Government actually delivering action, not talk when it comes to infrastructure. It’s great to have Albo and Catherine here. And of course, I’m happy to answer any questions at the end as well.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE: Thanks very much, Peter. And it’s fantastic to be here in the great state of South Australia with Peter, with Jane, and of course, with the Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese. When Anthony was last Minister for Infrastructure, we tripled the infrastructure funding for South Australia. And we’re here at Marion Road, an example of exactly the way in which the Morrison Government is actually treating infrastructure. In 2016, they came with much fanfare to make an announcement that they’re going to fix this road. Two million for a planning study that has not seen the light of day. We see lots of headlines, lots of announcements, but very short on delivery. This third term Government is a Government that has got no economic plan for this country. In a state where unemployment is 6.1 per cent, we need stimulus in this economy now, projects like Marion Road. And the announcement that the Prime Minister made yesterday that he was bringing forward some much needed funding for the state is, in fact, funding that will not be flowing immediately into this economy. We won’t see the vast majority of that funding, not only for another two years, but potentially for another four to five years. This is what this Government does, doesn’t have a plan for the economy, does not have a national plan for infrastructure, and is letting South Australians down. I’ll handover to Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much Catherine, it’s great to be here with Peter and Jane back here in Adelaide once again. But it’s unfortunate that we’re at this site because this site does depict everything that’s wrong with the Morrison Government’s attitude towards infrastructure. They’re in their third term. It’s one term more than we got. What I can point towards as when I was the Infrastructure Minister, is the South Road Superway, is Torrens to Torrens on South Road, Torrens Rail Junction, it’s no longer the secret rail extension of a new public transport line, it is projects right throughout South Australia. And what we have from this Government is just talk. In their last budget, they had $95 million of new money allocated for South Australia, representing just a few per cent of the national infrastructure budget. And in Premier Marshall, we have a Premier who will just roll over and have his tummy tickled by the Federal Government who doesn’t stand up for South Australia. What we see here with this project is an indictment of the Federal Government. The fact that in 2016, this planning study was promised. And not only are we not seeing any infrastructure investment in this project, they haven’t even released a study for them now since two elections ago. That was in their first term, they promised that. We’re now in their third term. This is a Government, when it comes to infrastructure, as well as expressed contempt for South Australia, we, of course, know that when the issue of the battery was released here in South Australia by the Weatherill Government, Scott Morrison likened it to the ‘Big Banana’ and ridiculed it and laughed about it. And yet today, what we have is an expansion by 50 per cent of that project. The Federal Government needs to take its responsibility seriously in infrastructure, whether it be rail, whether it be road, whether it be energy or, of course, the importance of water infrastructure here in South Australia as well. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Wouldn’t you say that to upgrade the North-South Corridor is the ultimate priority for any Government?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. Well, we said that and you can do two things at once. The fact is that we were upgrading the North-South Corridor at the same time as we were extending the rail line to the south, the same time as we were fixing rail freight here in Adelaide. The fact is that this Government, we argued, myself and Peter, went before the election about fixing up the North-South Corridor, Torrens to Torrens coming to an end, the logical thing to do is just to move on to the next extension, they haven’t done that. They’re not bringing forward the sort of significant infrastructure investment that’s required here in South Australia. And that means less jobs. It means poorer productivity. And it means that they’re not responding to the slowing that’s occurring in the economy because they’re complacent about Australia’s economic performance.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned jobs just then. What’s Federal Labor’s position on the future submarine maintenance jobs staying here in South Australia or moving to WA?
ALBANESE: Well what we have said – from the Federal Government, I haven’t heard any argument from the Federal Government about removing existing jobs. The fact is that they have been complacent once again. They are creating uncertainty with their rhetoric on this position. And there has to be a very good argument before you shift jobs from one place to another. And Peter, I think would perhaps like to add something there as well.
MALINAUSKAS: Thanks, Anthony. We haven’t seen any thought-through argument on behalf of the Commonwealth Government as to why you would take these jobs away from South Australia. The performance of Osbourne Shipyard when it comes to the full cycle docking has improved out of sight. It is now better than world class. There is no set of skills that we need or require as a nation that isn’t here in South Australia, delivering this work already at a top shelf level. Why you would actually pose the risk of moving this work away from South Australia, I think, is beyond most experts. It’s in South Australia’s interest; it is in the national interest, for this work to continue to stay here at Osborne in South Australia. When the navy shipbuilding plan was announced, when we found out that the future frigates and submarines work was going to be built at Osborne, not once did anyone from the Liberal Party canvas the possibility that we would lose the full-cycle docking work from South Australia. And what’s critical is to have a Premier out there making that argument. We know the Western Australian Premier is out there arguing the case. Why isn’t Steven Marshall doing the same thing? Why is Steven Marshall simply sitting back, crossing his fingers and hoping that Scott Morrison delivers something to South Australia? What we need is an evidence-based argument out there demonstrating to South Australians that we’ve got a Premier doing everything that he possibly can to make sure this work stays where it belongs, right here in South Australia.
JOURNALIST: What happens if Steven Marshall has already been told that, ‘the jobs are safe in South Australia, but just don’t spill the beans yet’?
MALINAUSKAS: Well, then we’ve got a situation where the Commonwealth is withholding information from the people of this country and creating extraordinary uncertainty. If the Commonwealth Government has made a decision, they should announce it, not leave people hanging over Christmas wondering about what the futures of their lives is going to look like.
ALBANESE: I will just say on that. We have a situation whereby Peter’s just stood up for South Australia. I know Mark McGowan stands up for the interests of Western Australia. What the national Government’s job is to do is to ensure that there is certainty. And the Commonwealth Government needs to do that. Because this uncertainty provides for insecurity of an existing workforce.
JOURNALIST: We have heard that the Government is making some urgent changes to its Robodebt scheme through Centrelink. What is your response to that?
ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that this Government’s Robodebt scheme has been an absolute disaster. There are more than 200,000 Australians who have received debt notices for which there is no case to answer. Certainly every single person who has been to my Electorate Office about Robodebt has had their debt reduced either to zero or reduced substantially. Not in a single case have I made representations to Centrelink where those representations have not resulted in a reduction in debt, either to zero or in part way towards zero. The fact is that this has been a disaster. And the Government has taken humans out of Human Services. And what that has resulted in is a whole lot of trauma for people at a difficult time in their lives. I had one victim of this scare campaign who was a cancer victim. A young man, who had used up all of his leave, then had to go on to Centrelink payments because he couldn’t go back to work while he was receiving treatment. And what happened then was that, of course, the debt that he received, because it had been annualised, rather than looking at the specific case, was completely invalid. This is an example of bad Government policy that’s occurred because it’s determined to remove people from the workforce and to have computers doing jobs that human beings should be analysing before they send people these debt notices. And the question mark is; we know there are about 200,000 people who have had their debt notices rescinded in part or in full. How many people paid the debt, which wasn’t actually owing, because they received these notices from this heartless Government?
JOURNALIST: Just on another topic, are older Australians an economic time-bomb, as the Treasurer claims? And what would you do to ensure people stay working longer?
ALBANESE: Well, what I would do is respect older Australians and understand, as well, that we shouldn’t be demanding that people work till they drop. That’s this Government’s policy. And this Government has, with regard to senior Australians, regarded them with contempt. We had to force them to have the Aged Care Royal Commission. They still haven’t responded in any serious way at all to the Interim Report that said that older Australians were being abused and that there was mistreatment across the scale that was quite horrific in some of the examples. This Government’s sitting back now and blaming older Australians for its own economic incompetence. Older Australians are not responsible for the fact that we have wage stagnation, for the fact that we have low economic growth, for the fact we have retail trade figures that are the worst since the 1990s, for the fact that unemployment has gone up, and for the fact that interest rates have been reduced to under 1 per cent. It’s about time that Josh Frydenberg took responsibility, as the Treasurer of this country, for the economic mismanagement that is occurring on his watch. I’ll have more to say about this in my economic vision statement on Friday in Brisbane. But this Government needs an economic plan. At the moment, they simply don’t have one.
JOURNALIST: How would you reduce the gender pay gap?
ALBANESE: Well, for a start, what I’d stop doing is attacking the rights of unions to exist with their Ensuring Integrity Bill. Because the fact is that the average worker who’s a member of a union today is a woman in their mid-40s. This Government continues to be obsessed by attacking the workforce and then wondering why wages aren’t keeping up with the costs of living. And in particular, that is having an impact, of course, on women in the workforce. Josh Frydenberg stood up in Parliament, in Parliament, and said that the gender pay gap was gone, didn’t exist anymore. The fact is, we know that it is 20 per cent. That’s 20 per cent too much.
JOURNALIST: On rare earths mining, do you think there is scope in the Australian industries (inaudible) involved for the risks associated with that?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m glad that the Government reads my speeches. Because in Perth just two weeks ago, I gave the first vision statement on jobs and the future of work. That was about renewables. And here in South Australia, of course, we’re seeing the power of renewables, including the use of batteries in the announcement that the Government has made. But I also spoke about rare earths. One of the things that we should be doing in this country is to use the mineral resources such as lithium that we have to produce advanced manufacturing. We can do it in this country. We can produce jobs. Good policy on clean energy and a transition will produce a triple bottom line. It will produce increases in jobs, a lowering of emissions and at the same time a lowering of energy prices. This Government doesn’t have an energy policy. It doesn’t have industry policy. It isn’t providing the sort of support that these future job creation projects need. And this Government, it’s just a part of its complacency. So, I’d suggest to the Government a starting point could be to have a look at the first vision statement that we did in Perth, have a look at the policies that we’ve advanced in a coherent way and actually stop being frightened of the present and terrified of the future, and embrace the opportunities of the future. And a large part of that will be in these rare earths, which will be to the national economy and to growth, what iron ore and coal have been to the 20th century. They will be to the 21st century.
JOURNALIST: Aren’t there risks associated (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Not at all, in terms of, if you look at the sort of activities which are occurring, I was at a place, just in the last few days, in Perth. And there at the Clean Energy Renewable Hub, what is occurring there is over a thousand solar panels on a roof, storage through lithium batteries powering an example of a house, and putting most of, three quarters, of the energy back into the grid to power that centre that is there in Jandakot because of the power that is there, that could be created through new technology. I’ve got to say that the Government of Jay Weatherill was ahead of the game on a lot of these issues. It wasn’t frightened of the present and terrified of the future like this Government. It actually embraced opportunities. And that’s what we need the Federal Government to do .
JOURNALIST: Do you think that younger generations, in particular teenagers who might not even be in the workforce yet are going to unfairly pay for benefits that baby boomers have (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Well, we need to make sure – that’s why you need proper planning in terms of economic policy. That’s why you need an approach which is sustainable as well. That’s why we need that approach not just to economic policy, but to environmental policy as well. We need to plan for the future by taking action today. We can’t be complacent. And if we continue to just sit back and say everything will be all ok even though everykey economic indicator, whether it’s wages, productivity, growth, inflation, unemployment, consumer demand, every single one of those economic indicators is going in the wrong direction. And what do we have from Josh Frydenberg? Today, we have him about to give a speech saying it’s the older Australians’ fault and they should work for longer and work harder. That’s not a plan. That’s an excuse. And what we need from the Treasurer is actually an economic plan to grow the economy, to grow jobs, and to make sure that we develop, as well, the jobs and skills of the future, which is why we’ve announced our support for Jobs and Skills Australia.
JOURNALIST: So, what is (inaudible) ideal about a pension age of 67?
ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that if you are a blue-collar worker, working with your manual labour by the age of 67, the idea that, ‘you should just keep going, you should just keep going’, it’s something that Josh Frydenberg and I won’t have to deal with. The fact is that Josh Frydenberg is out of touch on these issues, just like he’s out of touch on the need for proper economic management. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.