SUBJECTS: Listening tour; Regional trade taskforce; Darwin hospital; Paladin
LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Good morning everyone and welcome to beautiful Darwin at The Esplanade. We’re here on Darwin Harbour on a beautiful dry season day. So can I just start by saying to everyone in Australia come up and visit Darwin during the dry season, it’s beautiful. We’ve had a great weekend with the V8s and there’s so much more to look forward to in the dry season ahead. Very, very happy this morning to have our Federal Labor leadership team, the Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, with us, also the Deputy Leader, Richard Marles. The new Shadow Minister for Northern Australia, Murray Watt who has been here twice already to Darwin since the election. And of course our Territory Senator, Malarndirri McCarthy. So, fantastic to be here and before I hand to Albo. I just wanted to say thanks to Albo and to Richard for their support of me as the Leader of a new Regional Trade Taskforce, particularly for Northern Australia, but for Australia. We need to make much more of the massive opportunities in our region, the Indo-Pacific region. It is the fastest growing area at any time in human history in terms of economic growth. We need to be getting more of that for Australia. That’s going to make jobs for the future for our kids well into the future if we have more focus on that so I’m really, really pleased to be taking up that position and I’ll be delivering as part of a Federal Labor Team for our nation. So thanks very much Albo and I’ll pass over to you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, FEDERAL LABOR LEADER: Thanks very much, it’s great to be back here in the Territory once again. I’m particularly pleased that Richard Marles and Murray Watt have come with me on this visit here with Luke Gosling, the local Member for Solomon and Malarndirri McCarthy, our fantastic Senator for the NT. I congratulate Luke on his appointment to chair this Regional Trade Taskforce. This is a critical role for Australia and critical for jobs. We know that Australians are very good at extracting resources and exporting them and we get value from that. But we can much better through our trade. We can do much better than exporting natural resources, importing them back once value has been added through manufacturing. We need to look at what advantages we have in this country to value add so that we really reach our potential.
We are indeed very close to – just across the water there – the fastest growing region of the world in human history. The fact is though, Australians would I think be somewhat surprised that Indonesia is not our major trading partner, it’s not even in the top ten, it’s number thirteen. Malaysia also, isn’t in the top ten of our trading partners. We can do so much more in our region. Particularly as we see the growth in terms of the middle class that is happening literally day by day in their millions to our north.
And so the Indo-Pacific region is so important and Luke will play a critical role and I’ll say this too; that we don’t want to wait till we’re in Government, the sort of ideas that we’re putting forward we want this Government to progress because last week when the Reserve Bank reduced interest rates, what they said though was we need economic stimulus. And indeed right here in the Territory there are a range of projects that can fulfil that. The Kakadu National Park which had a bipartisan support on both sides of politics, but we need to bring that forward, bring forward that investment to make sure that the Jabaru township continues to not just survive, but indeed to prosper to create those jobs. The $173 million strategic roads package, we made that announcement out at the mango farm not far from here.
The fact is that boosting those roads will boost productivity and boost jobs not just in the short term but in the long run as well. And right here in Darwin – the ship lift facility. This is an absolute no brainer. Here we are in Australia’s northern capital and we’re in circumstances whereby ships be they defence ships, commercial vessels or indeed the growth that is occurring in terms of super yachts can’t get the servicing that they need. What this could be, the ship lift facility, is the basis for a massive growth in terms of jobs in terms of the tourism sector and right across the economy here. So I say to the Government you don’t have to look beyond the Territory if you’re looking for places that need economic stimulus and ones where projects are ready to go. Ready to go right now in terms of bringing that money forward.
Could I make some other comments as well on some other issues which are here firstly in terms of health. The revelation that Darwin Hospital is at breaking point means also that the Government needs to reconsider its cuts that it’s made to the health system. Labor would have contributed substantial additional funding had we been successful in terms of the health system here in the Territory. And I’d ask for the Government to have a close look at that and do what they can to provide that those extra resources because the circumstances whereby hospitals are at breaking point should not occur in an advanced, relatively wealthy economy such as Australia’s.
There’s also the issue of Peter Dutton’s revelation yesterday re Paladin. This is a company that received a $420 million contract to operate those services on Manus Island without an open tender process. At the time this company had an office in a shed on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. And yesterday, Peter Dutton made the extraordinary statement given that negotiations are supposed to be ongoing with that company and one would have thought preferably an open tender process with others as well that they were likely to have their contract extended. How’s that for negotiation on behalf of Australian taxpayers, on behalf of Peter Dutton? It just shows yet again Peter Dutton being complacent being full of rhetoric. How about I give this advice to Peter Dutton? Do your day job mate, forget about the rhetoric. Do your day job and look after the interests of Australian taxpayers. This comes on top of, of course, the absurd Christmas Island media conference at the enormous cost that happened just a few months ago.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Anthony, what do you think should happen to the Paladin contract? What specific, you know…
ALBANESE: Well I think that when Peter Dutton said, when this first became controversial there should be an open tender process – not a bad idea when you’re talking about taxpayers funds. If you’re doing a renovation on your house where $20,000 – you don’t bring up a bloke and say: “You’re likely to get the contract but can I talk to you about the details.” You actually go out there and you have an open process and you get a few quotes and you take the best deal for you. What we’re talking about here is taxpayers’ money. The first contract, $420 million, a substantial contract for a company based in a shed on Kangaroo Island, and now they’re just going to extend it without any process at all. The fact is that Peter Dutton stuffed this up the first time, he had a chance to make it a bit better, and what he’s doing is just digging further into the hole. The problem is the taxpayers are paying for that fiscal hole.
JOURNALIST: Why is Jim Chalmers…
JOURNALIST: Do you…
JOURNALIST: Do you have any specific criticism of Paladin’s performance though?
ALBANESE: Well I think that the PNG Government are concerned about it. We’ll be raising further questions in Senate Estimates about the value for money issue. I think that’s the concern here, is that when taxpayers money is being used we should expect the Government to be ensuring there’s value for money. How a company based in a shed in Kangaroo Island gets a $420 million contract is quite frankly beyond me and I think it’s beyond the – the Australian people as well are scratching their heads wondering how they can get a bit of that action. There’s small businesses struggling around Australia. Here you have an enormous contract being granted. And what’s more, what’s more the Government continuing to not settle people who’ve now been in offshore processing for a very long time, and yesterday Peter Dutton revealed that in spite of the fact the deal with the US, a deal that Labor supported to resettle 150 refugees in the United States – they’re not going to get anywhere near that figure according to Peter Dutton.
Peter Dutton is obsessed by playing politics. He should do his day job.
JOURNALIST: Why has Jim Chalmers written to Josh Frydenberg?
ALBANESE: Because we’d like some information. What the Government is saying here is that they expect the Parliament to go along and just give a rubber stamp to tax cuts that come in some of them, the third stage in 2024/2025. That’s not only after the next election, it’s after the election after the next election. Without telling us what the fiscal impact will be, what the impact will be particularly in terms of how much of that tax cut will go to higher income earners. You should be able to base policy decisions upon facts. We want to, we don’t have control of the Department of Treasury. We’re simply after some facts.
JOURNALIST: So will Labor look at accepting the third stage of the Government’s tax plan?
ALBANESE: Well we’re after some facts. So what we’re not going to do, is just give a statement, “Yes. We don’t worry about the detail. We don’t worry about how much it’ll costs. We don’t worry about who’ll benefit. We don’t worry about what the cuts will be from the Government – whether they’ll be necessary.” We know that common sense tells you if you’re getting less revenue you therefore need to have less expenditure. What are the cuts that the Government intends to put in the Budget if they’re going to maintain a surplus which is what they say they will do into the future. They of course haven’t got a surplus yet but they need to do that. The Government’s already broken its commitment that the tax cuts first stage will come in on July 1.
JOURNALIST: Just further on Paladin, should Manus detention centre remain open?
ALBANESE: Well they should resettle people in third countries who are currently on Manus. You had the US deal which the Government seems to have been very slow at fulfilling. You have offers from countries like New Zealand to participate and to assist in regional settlement that the Government has ignored. Peter Dutton’s too obsessed by playing politics. He needs to stop playing politics and actually do his job.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the Defence Department fighting the release of documents in relation to the submarine program?
ALBANESE: Well we’ll have a look at that. There may well be when it comes to the Defence and perhaps Richard I’ll get to answer this, when it comes to Defence issues of course there are national security issues that can sometimes come into play. At the same time we want to support maximum transparency, but maximum transparency which is consistent with ensuring that Australia’s national security interests are protected. I might ask Richard …
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY FEDERAL LABOR LEADER: That’s exactly it.
ALBANESE: There you go. He agrees.
JOURNALIST: Should Senator Patrick have access to those documents?
ALBANESE: Well I just answered the question, you know, in terms of there should be maximum transparency. I’m not about representing Senator Patrick or any other particular Senator. Australians are entitled to maximum transparency but within the constraint that’s there, if there are national security issues and we would seek advice on that of whether there are national security issues involved. Thank you very much.