SUBJECTS: Great Barrier Reef, Climate Change, Tourism in Far North Queensland, Roads infrastructure in Far North Queensland, Penalty rates.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Thanks very much for coming out. We have three Shadow Ministers from the Labor Opposition here to talk particularly about the Great Barrier Reef over the next couple of days with a range of stakeholders here in Far North Queensland.
Barack Obama visited Queensland in 2014 and he made a very clear point about our generation’s responsibility to preserve one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World for our children, for our grandchildren and even future generations beyond that, obviously not only for its own sake, in spite of the fact that it is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, but also because of the enormous economic activity that it underpins, nowhere more so than here in Cairns – 69,000 tourism-related jobs, more than $6 billion of economic activity associated with the tourism industry and Great Barrier Reef.
But since President Obama was in Queensland we’ve seen particularly two major beaching events on the Great Barrier Reef which have caused very significant damage. We only saw the Marine Park Authority’s final report on the 2016 coral bleaching event released last week which showed that around 30 percent of all of the shallow coral was killed as a result of those bleaching events. So we are here today and tomorrow really to reinforce Labor’s commitment to a multi-pronged strategy around preserving the Great Barrier Reef, not just for this generation, but for future generations and the economic activity that it underpins.
The first thing we would say is you can’t be serious about preserving the Great Barrier Reef without having a serious climate change policy. The Marine Park Authority report from last week reinforced all of the advice from scientists that the overwhelming threat to the integrity of the Reef is climate change and we need a government in Canberra that takes its climate change responsibilities seriously, not one that Malcolm Turnbull sees hanging on to Tony Abbott’s weak carbon pollution reduction targets. But we also need to take hold of the massive increase in land clearing that we have seen here in Far North Queensland since Campbell Newman’s government dismantled all of the land clearing protections that Peter Beattie and Anna Bligh put in place. The Queensland Auditor General has reported that land clearing in Great Barrier Reef catchment areas has tripled as a result of the Newman law changes and a significant part of the 2050 Great Barrier Reef Sustainability Plan was to get those land clearing laws in Queensland back under control. Now the Liberal Opposition here in Queensland has stopped the Palaszczuk Government being able to do that. Malcolm Turnbull has not lifted a finger to put in place that very clear commitment made to made to UNESCO, to the World Heritage Committee, in the 2050 Sustainability Plan. That was a key part of the package of commitments designed to prevent the Great Barrier Reef from being placed on the in-danger list. As well as that there are a range of other policy commitments that Labor has been talking about now for the past several years. We were the first to talk about the ban on offshore dumping of capital dredge which we are glad to see Malcolm Turnbull followed and the Palaszczuk Government has also followed as well. We are also focused on the land-based initiatives to preserve these areas, tapping into indigenous cultural knowledge and such like. So we are very pleased to be here. We are committed to continuing to engage with the tourism industry, with scientists and a range of other stakeholders including traditional owners about how best to put in place that broad suite of policies that will preserve this incredible natural wonder.
TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: The Great Barrier Reef is being attacked effectively from every side: from above through climate change and ocean acidification; from the east with respect to the Coral Sea and from the west with respect to the failure to have proper land clearing laws. If you look at each of those in turn in every sense there is action that could be taken by the Australian Government. Serious action on climate change also has the impact on dealing with ocean acidification. When you deal with what’s happening on land, that goes to both having proper laws to deal with land clearing where the Liberal National Party can’t make one statement in Canberra and then behave completely differently in the Queensland Parliament.
And also on land it means guaranteeing we’ve got proper caring for country though the Indigenous Rangers Program. In the Budget reply speech Bill Shorten made one of our earliest policy commitments for this term, which is to back in what we put to the people at the last election, which is to double the number of indigenous rangers, where you get that combination of traditional knowledge with the latest environmental science to make sure that you are properly looking after the land.
And then to look at the Coral Sea to make sure that finally the marine parks which the Australian Government still boasts about when they attend international conferences are in fact implemented. Since Tony Abbott became Prime Minister they have been suspended and to this day the boundaries exist but none of the protections do to look after the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s not like it was when the protection was first put in place, when the threat was drilling on the Reef. Now to protect the Great Barrier Reef you’ve got to protect everything around it -the actions on land, the actions in the Coral Sea and the actions happening above through climate change.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT, CITIES AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TOURISM: Thanks very much, I am here as the Tourism Shadow Minister and also Infrastructure Shadow Minister to talk about the economic benefits that this reef and the pristine natural environment has for jobs and economic growth here in Cairns and in the region.
In the last Budget we saw $35 million cut from the Tourism Australia budget. What we know is that that budget is critical for providing support for Australian jobs here by advertising this pristine natural environment and all that Far North Queensland has to offer to the world. We also know this is a very bad decision because for every dollar that is invested, $16 gets returned. The tourism sector is the largest employer here in Far North Queensland. It has the potential to produce much more, but only if we look after the environment, only if we provide the support for the sector that it needs. And at the moment it is not getting that.
We argued at the last election campaign that the tourism sector should be eligible to participate in $1 billion of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund to provide support for local private sector businesses to invest in growth and invest in jobs. This Government of course we know has ignored that and indeed the only expenditure up to now of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund has been for board members to have meetings. There hasn’t actually been anything roll out.
And what we also know is that infrastructure has been neglected here in Far North Queensland. At this very spot I announced as part of the 2013 Budget the Cape York Roads Package of $215 million. That has been re-announced by the current government a number of times since then without putting in single new dollar into that project.
What’s important today is that the Parliamentary Budget office has released some figures about projections on the Budget for the next decade and that shows that 0.4 percent is currently spent on roads and rail as part of the infrastructure budget as a proportion of our GDP. That will decline over the next decade by half to 0.2. It’s extraordinary that a Government would cut by half the amount of expenditure that is going into railways and roads around Australia when that is so important, whether it be regional roads in areas such as this to support the local population and to support the tourism sector, or whether it be in our cities to deal with urban congestion. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: There’s currently a parliamentary inquiry going on here in Cairns about the Great Barrier Reef particularly opening up access to it and getting people further out and not just visiting the reef, what do you think needs to come out of that?
ALBANESE: Well what we need is support for the tourism sector and it’s good that parliamentary inquiries meet with local tourism operators. We have a tourism roundtable this afternoon. It the second one that I have held here in Cairns. They are taking place right around the country. What the Parliament in Canberra needs to do is listen to the needs of the tourism sector here in Cairns. One of the things that has come to us when we’ve been talking about the sector lining up meetings with the operators is that if the reef is not protected then people won’t be visiting this region. And that is why dealing with climate change, dealing with protection of the reef is so important. If we don’t deal with the main game, then all the rest is just playing games. And that’s why we need to deal with climate change and the protection of this pristine natural environment.
JOURNALIST: At the last election reef experts were all saying that not just your party but the other major party neither policies went far enough to protect the reef. Is there going to be a change of heart in any of these policies?
BUTLER: As I said, all of the scientists have been focused on the 2015 sustainability plan and what’s been happening particularly over the last couple of years to the reef, said that the overriding priority must be to get a proper climate change policy in place. You simply can not be serious about protecting the reef without putting in place a serious climate change policy and this is the overwhelming problem we have in Canberra we have targets that are consistent with three or four degrees of global warming. If that were to take place the great barrier reef would simply cease to exist. So that is the first overriding priority. But in addition to that, we do know form advice form local scientists in far north Queensland and many others swell that you need to deal with other impacts of the reef, particularly run-off south of cairns. There has been very good work done by the Palaszczuk Government to look at what sort of reduction targets we need in nitrogen in sediment run-off and in pesticide run-off. At the last election we put in place a program of half a billion dollars in additional grants to support CSIRO which have been subject very substantial cuts by the Turnbull Government, and also to support better grants to farmers to find ways in which to start those reductions. So we between now and the next election particularly under Tony’s stewardship, will be making sure we have the right climate change policy but also the right suite of policies that look at those local impacts.
BURKE: You can’t be serious about the Great Barrier Reef and just focus on do we have one or two announcables. The policies need to be science based and the policies need to deal directly with dealing with climate change, which Mark has just referred to, and also making sure the reef is resilient. Now you only get the resilience in the Great Barrier Reef if you act on land clearing. You only get the resilience in the Great Barrier Reef if you’re making sure you’ve got areas both within the reef and adjacent to it protected. That’s what you need to be able to do. That’s what Labor took to the last election and its what we’ll take to the next.
JOURNALIST: The reef authority at this state of hearings yesterday copped a bit of criticism saying there is too much red tape stopping people getting out on the reef others are saying there’s too many authorities with their finger in the pie. Does GBRMPA (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) need to change?
BURKE: Ultimately with all of this, people will often refer to red tape or green tape when they are frustrated by environmental protections. Well the environmental protections need to be there. There’s no point saying ‘we’re having trouble getting people out there because some agencies are spending too much time protecting the reef’. Protecting the reef has to be the starting point of every conversation on this issue. It has to be the starting point. And there’s no point complaining about red or green tape if it only exists for the purpose of protecting the Great Barrier Reed.
JOURNALIST: Others were saying Advance Cairns in particular were saying that the management structures were too complicated there were too many fingers in the pie GBRMPA should be strengthened GBRMPA should be the authority. Would you support something like that.
BURKE: What other authorities are they complaining about?
JOURNALIST: The State Government and other organisations that pop up and try and lay claim to have a some sort of management role in the reef.
BURKE: Certainly the state Government has a direct role with the marine park authority as well both Federal and State have direct roles with respect to the marine park authority. What we need to remember here though is that the State Government has a policy to act on land clearing. The Liberal National Party has prevented that from being implemented. The Australian Government has taken to the World Heritage Committee a plan that involves acting on land clearing and yet members of the Liberal National Party when they get into Parliament in Brisbane decide to vote against those changes. Ultimately you don’t deliver the long term health of the reef without acting on climate change and you don’t provide resilience for the reef without acting on land clearing.
JOURNALIST: North Korea today has had a successful launch apparently which could get both Cairns and Darwin within its sights. Should we be alarmed?
ALBANESE: Well what we should be is concerned and what Penny Wong our spokesperson has said very clearly is that the priority of the world needs to be but particularly of our region needs to be ensuring that there is nuclear disarmament on the peninsular and that North Korea moves away from the actions in which they have been very provocative. We want to see a peaceful resolution to North Korea’s intransigence. That’s what the United States secretary Tillerson has said, we concur with that. But it is of concern that North Korea has been a rogue state. But we need to make sure that we act responsibly, that we act in a sober manner and that we make appropriate representations as part of the alliances that we have to ensure there’s peaceful resolution of these issues.
ALBANESE: Well the test that has been made is of concern in terms of the sort of distances that North Korea seems to want to able to have access to its missiles. But what we need to do is to act soberly in a mature way make strong representations, continue to do that but not just ourselves but obviously with the United States and with other allies that we have within the region.
JOURNALIST: I don’t know if you’ve seen the paper today Warren Entsch has been taking a chopper out to a music festival, I don’t know if you want to make a comment on that
ALBANESE: That’s a matter for Mr Entsch but Mr Entsch I think is entitled to visit parts of his electorate. I’m sure that all of these matters are a matter for an independent tribunal that’s been established in order to avoid these sorts of issues being controversial. But ‘ a meeting in his electorate is what I’ve seen today.
JOURNALIST: On infrastructure, but it also does relate to tourism, there’s been a number of, talking here about the highways in and out of Cairns, there’s been a number of incidents on the roads just in the last few weeks that have seen quite long closures of range roads and highways, ten hours in one case. Every time this is brought up politicians and councils say its just too expensive to fix. Should we give up on there ever being better access to Cairns.
ALBANESE: No we certainly shouldn’t give up and that’s why when I was the minister I funded the southern access to Cairns. There are of course also issues right out to the north including the issue with regard to where highway one stops and the national configuration of our road network means that highway one stops at the port of cairns. I’ve got a briefing tomorrow with the State Department of Main Roads and with local members including Craig Crawford about these issues and I will be holding a press conference tomorrow about those road issues after I am fully briefed by the department of main roads. But can I say this that we put in substantial investment into the Bruce Highway. We put $6.7billion into the Bruce, into Highway One over six years. Our predecessors put $1.3billion in over twelve. So more than four times the amount in half the time. We also, on top of that, had the $215million Cape York roads package, a very important package as well. There hasn’t been anything from this Government and in it’s recent budget there was not a dollar for any new project in Queensland, let alone in here in Cairns and far north Queensland. Not one dollar. And it’s extraordinary that the LNP hold so many seats here in Queensland but are taken for granted by what is a Sydney centric Government
JOURNALIST: We’ve had one city leader today calling for penalty rates exclusion zones for around high tourism areas like Cairns CBD maybe Broome just so that in peak times around holidays we’ve always got something open. Do you have any response to that.
ALBANESE: Well penalty rates are important for the local economy. People who are paid penalty rates here in Cairns spend those wages here in Cairns creating jobs and economic activity. What the Reserve Bank has said and what we know is that you will have very much a flat lining or a reduction in real wages and that that is an issue for our economy. now is not the time to be cutting the real wages of people whether it’s here or Cairns or in other areas. Of course arrangements could be entered in to in terms of flexible arrangements, enterprise bargaining provides for that to occur. That occurs in many places in the tourism sector. When I have met in the past with the tourism sector here in Cairns I have encouraged them to work constructively with the unions with the workforce for the benefit of both the workers but also the employers.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.