SUBJECTS: Trip to Queensland; Adani; jobs for Queenslanders; renewables; rare earth; New Zealand volcanic eruption; reintroduction of the Religious Discrimination Bill.
NITA GREEN, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Hi everyone, and welcome to Barcaldine. I am so excited to welcome Anthony Albanese to outback Queensland today with some of our closest friends who have decided to join us as well. It is a historic place, Barcaldine, when it comes to the Australian Labor Party. Over 125 years ago, the Australian Labor Party was born right here under the Tree of Knowledge. And it is fantastic to have Anthony here today as a very symbolic start to what is going to be a fantastic tour of regional Queensland. Now, the focus of the tour through regional Queensland is going to be on jobs. And we know that Queenslanders are doing it tough for many reasons. 67 per cent of Queensland is now drought-declared. And so, jobs are even harder to come by. So, what I want to make sure we are doing here today in Barcaldine and all of the towns that Anthony will be visiting is talking to people about what they need from their Government right now. What they need is leadership. And that is not what they are getting. So, I am very grateful that Anthony is here to talk to regional Queenslanders about what they want and to listen to what they need. And I want to hand over to Anthony now to talk a little bit more about this fantastic tour. Thank you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much Nita. And it is great to be here with yourself, with Murray Watt, and with Jason Clare. Jason is looking after local government, looking after housing, looking after regional economic development. And what we have behind us here is a bit of history. I was very proud that when we were last in Government we were able to fund this fantastic tourist attraction. This tourist attraction on the Matilda Way bring jobs and economic activity here to Barcaldine. That is so important. But it is something else as well. This is a pilgrimage. The Labor Party was formed way back in 1891. Meeting here under a tree, the Tree of Knowledge, as it is known. And when it was poisoned, that was a big blow to this town. I remember working with the mayor, the local state member at the time who was a proud member of the National Party, but he supported this project very strongly. It’s symbolic of all that we have achieved as a Labor Party. Pensions. Worker’s compensation. Infrastructure like the Snowy Mountain Scheme. The Trans-Continental Railway. Universal Healthcare through Medicare. The support that we’ve had opening up education. Superannuation. The NDIS. Paid parental leave. All the great reforms that have transformed this country have been done by the Australian Labor Party. And it began way back in 1891. This symbol here is very important to the history of our great movement. I am incredibly humble that I get to be elected Leader of a Party that has so much history; standing up for working people, for progressive social change, and making a difference to the economic, social and environmental life of this country.
During this tour; we wanted to begin at Barcaldine, but we will be in Emerald later today. Tomorrow we will be going to Rockhampton and then to Gladstone. And the next day we will be in Bundaberg, in Hervey Bay, in Maryborough. And the next day we will be in Peregian and other places on the Sunshine Coast as well as Gympie. We think that it is important that I get out and talk to people and importantly, listen to people. Scott Morrison speaks about the ‘quiet Australians’. Let me tell you, the people who formed the Australian Labor Party here, those shearers fighting for basic human dignity, were not quiet. The people who change Australia for the better are not quiet. And Australians are not quiet. I am sure when we have a beer in the pub later today, people will come up and express their views. That’s the Australian way. That is a good thing. I want people to participate in our democracy. Scott Morrison wants people to be silent Australians who just listen to him. And the problem is that he doesn’t have much to say because they have an agenda which is about bringing back old legislation. Last Thursday, pushing through anti-union legislation through the Parliament without a single word of debate. That is not democratic. That is not the way our Parliament should function. And it shows us that the attack on the right to working people continues to this day. Those attacks on working people that led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party. The Labor Party is just as relevant today as it was when it was formed. And I think that it is fantastic that so many people from the council, the deputy mayor and other people from the Labor Party and from the community, have come to welcome us here at the start of this tour. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Is it important to come back to Barcaldine as you said, the birthplace of the Labor Party to re-engage with the voters that you lost in the last election?
ALBANESE: Look, absolutely and it’s a reminder. This is my third visit to Barcaldine. I came here and announced the funding for the project, that was my second visit. When I was here. It is important to recognise that whilst some people in the southern states think that somehow Queensland isn’t capable of supporting Labor, the truth is that we’ve been in Government for 20 of the last 25 years in this great state of Queensland. Queensland is Australia’s most regional state. You’ve got to get out and about and meet people, talk with people, listen to them, respect them. And that’s what I’m hoping to do during this visit. I’ve already been, of course, to Mackay, to Townsville, and to Cairns on the listening tour. This will be, I think, my fifth or sixth visit to Rocky just this year. So, I know regional Queensland. And I’m comfortable in this great state. It is a rugby league state, of course. But it’s also a state whereby people will just have straight conversations with you. What you see is what you get. And that’s the sort of interaction I’m looking forward to over the next few days along with my colleagues. There will be people from the frontbench and Queensland Senators joining us at various times over the coming days.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, Adani and the environmental approvals; if it gets by and goes ahead, would you welcome the jobs and investment that project will bring?
ALBANESE: I welcome jobs for Queenslanders.
JOURNALIST: But, would you welcome the jobs in that particular industry?
ALBANESE: I welcome jobs for Queenslanders in whatever project they are. It’s as simple as that. The fact is that Adani has received its environmental approvals. They had difficulties with financing. What we need to do as a Commonwealth Government is that we get to determine environmental approvals along with state government approvals. Once that’s done, it’s up to the private sector to determine whether they will make that investment. And the company is saying that they will sell finance. It is a much smaller project than what they originally envisaged. But the truth is as well that unemployment in outback Queensland and regional Queensland is higher than it is in terms of the national figures. The other issue is apprenticeship. There is 150,000 less apprentices and trainees currently being trained, being given that opportunity than when this current Government came to office. These are the sort of challenges that we need to deal with because the Morison Government is just complacent. And the fact is that we need to provide opportunity through the economy. My first vision statement was about jobs and the future of work. The second was about the economy. That’s not an accident. We need a strong economy not as an end in itself but so that we can lift living standards.
JOURNALIST: The Barcaldine mayor approved earlier this year that they could house a thousand miners if some other projects in the Galilee Basin go ahead. The Galilee Basin, not just Adani, the Galilee Basin in general. If mines are able to go through environment approvals and get financing, would you welcome more mines?
ALBANESE: Well, they need to have environmental approvals. I’m not pre-empting that. I’m not getting ahead of that process. And it would be inappropriate to get ahead of that process. We have an environmental approval process, then it’s up to whether financing can go ahead. That all depends upon things that aren’t in control of, frankly, me or any other politician. They’re in control of what international markets are doing, what demand is. And one of the things that I’ve said this week is that our export of coal does not create demand for coal. The demand is created by other nation states. And of course, that process goes through and has a number of factors to it. One of it is the emission standards and targets that are set to international agreements. And there is, of course, a meeting in Madrid just this week. And we’ll wait and see what comes out of that process.
JOURNALIST: Has the approval of Adani opened up the doors for coal mining in western Queensland?
ALBANESE: Well, each proposal has to be viewed on its merits and has to go through those independent processes. That’s the thing about the EPBC Act, it is that decisions can only be made on the basis of science, on the basis of advice. They’re not political decisions and nor should they be.
JOURNALIST: Without mining, so obviously, this is one of the epicentres of the drought and Central West Queensland population has declined by 12.5 per cent over the past few years. If it is not mining, what are the new industries of the future?
ALBANESE: Look, there is huge opportunities that we need to look at. One of the reasons why we rolled out broadband and we didn’t start in the inner cities, we actually started it in regional communities, was that we need to overcome the tyranny of distance. The possibility of location of advanced manufacturing, high-value manufacturing, in regional Queensland is substantial. When we visit Gladstone, we will be talking about hydrogen there that has an enormous opportunity for growth. But also, rare earths as well. The new minerals like lithium and others that weren’t talked about in great quantity 20 years ago. And now they are the high-value materials, because we have everything in this country that goes into a battery for renewable energy, for storage, and then what makes it viable in terms of across the period of time of the cycle that goes through the day. Now, we produce everything that goes into that here, but we don’t produce any solar panels here. We’re not making solar batteries here. We need to, I think, do much better in terms of identifying what the opportunities are of the future as we will move to a clean energy future. What are the opportunities that are there, particularly in regional Queensland? I’ve visited a number of sites, Kidston, which is of course solar-powered but hydro with storage. The Kennedy, big Kennedy, little Kennedy, in northwest Queensland. The problem there is all those panels were imported. Why aren’t we doing much better at actually advanced manufacturing and value adding here in Australia? So, I want to meet with businesses as well, many of them have contacted me knowing I’m coming to the region. And they want to chat about the opportunities that are there to grow employment. Obviously, here where we are, this is a tourism attraction, the grey nomads but others as well, who come through here, stay and they spend money in the town and that creates jobs in this town.
JOURNALIST: Jumping to New Zealand now in the wake of the last few days, obviously the volcano that has erupted there, what kind of assistance are we offering the New Zealand Government?
ALBANESE: Well, I spoke with Scott Morrison this morning. I had two discussions with him. I spoke to him last night as well. We are offering assistance in terms of forensic scientists are on their way or they might be there by now. We are providing whatever assistance New Zealand feels will make a practical difference. The people who are recovering in hospitals have had to be spread around because of the need for specialist care in terms of the burn unit. There’s still a great deal of concern. Earlier today, I’m not sure what’s happened in the last couple of hours, about people who are missing. This is an incredible tragedy that is occurring, and Australia is offering whatever assistance and that’s entirely appropriate that we do that.
JOURNALIST: Just back on jobs, is the problem with selling industries of the future is that miners are on good money, over a hundred grand, they are concerned that jobs in renewables and in the environment pay far, far less.
ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that high-value jobs pay pretty well. We’re not talking about jobs that don’t pay, we’re talking about innovation, jobs in technology, jobs in terms of mining different minerals, like lithium. You are seeing a major expansion. You’ll see a major expansion in copper mining and production in Australia over coming years because of electric vehicles. There is a transition in the world going on. We need to be cognisant of what that represents in terms of opportunities. The fact is that economies change over a period of time. In our lifetime, you’re recording this on a device that would have been 20 times bigger than that, just over a decade ago. You’ll be able to send that off. The sort of technology which is there, you can plug it into a computer and it’ll tell you without you having to transcribe it. The fact is, that the other side of politics likes to say that change won’t happened in the world. What I say is that governments have a role in shaping change in the interests of people. Because change does happen in our lifetime. In the time that I’ve been elected to Parliament, we didn’t get emails, let alone the internet has happened during that period of time. And that is having an impact on the world. And that is why we need to be constantly providing leadership of how we make sure that we train people for the jobs of the future, that we look after people in terms of their security that we analyse as well. One of the issues with regard to the mining industry that is of great concern, that I’m sure it’s been raised with me before and it will be raised with me again I am certain, when I’ve been in Queensland is the increase use of casual labour taking the place of permanent work. Is casual labour employed on less money than people who are in permanent work as well? Fly-in fly-out workers so that communities don’t have that base of a population with families and kids going to school and contributing to the economy. These are all issues as well. And I want to talk to people this week and ask them about what issues they have. Because in the past, whether it’s been in Rockhampton, or Gladstone, or Emerald, or other places, security of work and security of income is of great concern. This Government’s presiding over wage growth that the Reserve Bank Governor said would remain low and was the new norm. That is placing real pressure on people. Thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: The Government has released the second draft of its religious discrimination bills. Labor described the first draft of that as friendless. Do you think the second version is going to have a few more friends?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ll wait and see. I haven’t seen it. So, I was aware, I was told this morning that it was going to be released. But I haven’t seen it. I think that’s a bad start. I think a good start would have been to consult with the Opposition prior to its public release. That didn’t happen the first time. And that didn’t end up very well, because that document was friendless. I didn’t meet anyone who, from different perspectives, said to me, ‘this is great legislation, it should be passed untouched’. Not one person in all the consultations that I’ve had about the draft legislation. So, we’ll have a look at it and we will have a look at it on its merits. And the community should have the time to examine it properly, and to put forward its views.
JOURNALIST: Just on that point. Does Labor have to do better particularly in Queensland, Kevin Rudd identified religions as a problem for the Party and identified people of faith. Does Labor need to do better, relate to people better, in this state?
ALBANESE: We need to do better with Queenslanders than we’ve done in the last election. Right across the board. People of faith and people with no faith. People of whatever faith. We just need to connect more with Queenslanders. That is why we’re here in force. Talking, listening. But I’ll say this. A whole lot of people, I think, voted for Scott Morrison thinking they were getting someone else, thinking they were getting the bloke next door who was going to get things done. What we have is an economy that is struggling in terms of wages. We have consumer demand down, and retail trade down, interest rates below 1 per cent. We have no policy in the social area, issues like Aged Care and Disability Royal Commission showing there is a crisis in the aged care sector. And we have no energy policy. We have no vision of actually tackling climate change. So, what we have from a Government, I think, is a Government that is just engaged in a victory lap. And they won the election, and they deserve credit and acknowledgement of that. But they didn’t get 100 per cent of the vote. They got 52. That means 48 per cent of people wanted someone else. Two in every hundred have to change their mind to change the outcome of the next election. And I’ll be talking to more than one hundred Queenslanders every few hours while I’m here, and I’m hoping to change the mind of more than two out of every one of those one hundred. Thanks very much.