Subjects: 2018 Australasia Bus Conference; tourism; population policy; urban congestion; infrastructure; public transport; energy; Great Barrier Reef; NBN.
ELIDA FAITH: Good morning, thank you for being here. My name is Elida Faith and I am the Labor candidate for Leichhardt. I’m here today with Anthony Albanese and we are actually attending the Australasian Bus Industry Conference. This year’s theme is ‘Moving People’. We are really excited to go in and hear a little bit more about the industry, and talk about the future for transport in Australia and more importantly, regional Australia. And I’m going to hand over now to Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks very much Elida. It’s great to be back in Cairns. And it’s great to be at the Bus Industry Confederation Conference once again. The bus industry is vital for Australia. It’s vital in moving people around our cities and our towns. It’s also vital in employing people.
There are some 43,000 people who earn their living directly as a result of the bus industry here in Australia. But the spin-off is much greater. The spin off from an industry that takes people to work, shopping, recreational activities, and importantly, here in Cairns, takes people to tourism destinations. Every hotel in Cairns and Port Douglas will have pick-ups every morning, taking people to the Port, taking people to other activities like whitewater rafting, like skydiving, and creating jobs here in Cairns, here in the tourism sector. And that’s why it’s a critical industry.
It’s important to recognise as well, that this conference is about bus manufacturing. We’re one of the regions significant bus manufacturers and that employs many thousands of Australians as well, particularly in our regions. It is timely today to have this conference as well, on a day in which the Government has announced a policy about population and about people being moved to the regions who are new migrants. I think it’s unfortunate that Scott Morrison’s Government have not taken the opportunity to take up Bill Shorten’s offer. Bill Shorten wrote to Scott Morrison last Friday, and suggested a bipartisan approach to the big challenges around population. What we know is that Australia ticked over to 25 million people in July, and we know that is some two decades earlier than what was anticipated in Peter Costello’s first intergenerational report.
Urban congestion, population distribution are issues which are challenges for our national economy. We know that urban congestion will cost, for example, according to Infrastructure Australia some $53 billion by 2031 if it is not addressed. We also know that in terms of population distribution, the concentration of new migrants moving to Sydney and Melbourne has placed a lot of pressure on liveability in those cities, and also in South-East Queensland. But good policy should require a response that goes over many terms and goes beyond one political party being in office. That’s why Bill Shorten’s suggestion to Scott Morrison should have been taken up. To look at settlement policy; to look at urban congestion; to look at infrastructure issues; to look at issues including Labor market issues and whether we’re doing enough to ensure that when jobs are available whether in regional Australia or in our capital cities they’re filled first by Australians where that is possible. And that training for future job opportunities is ensuring that young Australians can access the jobs of the future.
I find it somewhat ironic that a Government when it came into office, cut funding for the Brisbane Cross River Rail Project which it still refuses to fund; for Melbourne Metro, which it still refuses to fund; and hasn’t funded any public transport projects in Sydney of any significance. We’re still waiting for a funding announcement about Western Sydney Rail through Badgerys Creek – has discovered the issue of urban congestion. What we know is that the key to dealing with urban congestion is public transport. Whether it be rail, or whether it be buses, one of the issues that we’re discussing at this conference here today.
And it’s also interesting that Scott Morrison back in 2010 called the policies speaking about people being moved to regional areas rather than capital cities: “false hope”, to quote him on the 23rd of July. On the 25th of July he said: “The Government can talk till the cows come home about getting people into the regions”. He went on to say: “It is just simply not telling the truth”. And on the 13th of May 2011, he spoke about “unrealistic promises”.
What we do need is realistic promises. The Government can start by committing a promise and real funding for the Cross River Rail Project; by funding the Western Sydney Rail Line through Badgerys Creek and the Western Metro. They can begin by funding the Melbourne Metro Project. These are all projects that are necessary to deal with urban congestion. Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: Is forcing less than half of permanent migrants to regional areas, is that enough?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s a matter of whether it can be done or not. Scott Morrison himself has said that it is difficult to achieve. In his own words he has called that suggestion an unrealistic promise. So what we will do; is examine anything constructively put forward by the Government. But we say to Scott Morrison and the Government; establish a bipartisan committee of experts, which are agreed on by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Six people we have suggested, but we’re flexible about that, with a chairperson, an eminent person, who can have a debate free of politics. One of the things that Bill spoke about in his letter to Scott Morrison, was the need to keep simplistic solutions out of this and to actually have a comprehensive approach. And that is certainly what Labor is committed to. The offer remains open to Scott Morrison to show some maturity as the Prime Minister. And I think that would be welcomed by the Australian public.
REPORTER: What about foreign students and non-permanent migrants? Would they be considered to be part of that as well?
ALBANESE: This is all an issue. One of the things that is causing pressure, of course, is visitors who aren’t permanent migrants. And one of the things that we’ve raised there is the issue of labour market testing. And making sure that jobs, when they’re available, be made available firstly to Australians who want to work; That we make sure that we examine issues of how we train people for jobs of the future. It’s absurd that at a time when we’ve had cutbacks by Coalition governments in the TAFE sector, we have an inadequate amount of tradespeople who can do the jobs of today, let alone the jobs of the future. That’s why we need to look at education and training. We need to look at STEM. We need to look at where are those jobs going to be. How do we make sure that Australians can fill them, so that we don’t have to resort to temporary migration? Temporary migration will always play a role, but it needs to be a role just filling gaps rather than as an easy solution.
REPORTER: Is Labor concerned about wages and conditions for those migrants if they are forced out into regional areas?
ALBANESE: Labor certainly is concerned about wages of everyone in this country. The fact that wages have been declining; the fact that penalty rates are being cut, with the agreement of the Morrison Government following the old ATM, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government. So we are concerned about labour market conditions. We’re concerned about the decline in real wages. And you know what; it’s not just Labor. The Reserve Bank of Australia is concerned. Any economist around the country is concerned as well. They will tell you that is something that is holding back economic growth in this country.
REPORTER: What would Labor to do improve public transport in Cairns?
ALBANESE: Well, in terms of public transport in Cairns, perhaps Elida might want to add to that. One of the things that we’re here for is to say that public transport plays an absolutely critical role. It plays a critical role for local residents in getting around Cairns. But it also plays a critical role in terms of visitors to this great city and to this great region, and therefore underpins the economic growth in jobs here in Far North Queensland.
REPORTER: Should there be any visa conditions on those migrants?
ALBANESE: We will have a look at any proposals from the Government which are constructive. But what we say is; let’s not have a piecemeal solution. Let’s have a comprehensive plan from the mainstream political parties. The Prime Minister and the alternative Prime Minister in Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten, selecting a group of eminent people to look at these issues and come up with long-term solutions that can put it above partisan politics.
REPORTER: What’s your response to the Environment Minister’s comments that it’s a long bow to draw to phase out coal to 2050 to protect the reef?
ALBANESE: Well what’s very disappointing about the Environment Minister’s statement, is that we now have an Environment Minister who says that an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report – by the world’s pre-eminent scientists – should be just dismissed. What I would want to see is an Environment Minister who actually sticks up for the environment. And we know that the environment is about not just itself. Yes, it’s about making sure that we protect our natural assets like the Great Barrier Reef for this and for future generations to come. But it’s also about our economy. This region relies upon the Great Barrier Reef for jobs. So a dismissal, as the Government did on the very day that the report was handed down, is most unfortunate. One of the things that we see in previous visits to this region; to visit the Kidston and Kennedy renewable energy structures that are being put in place. Be it solar with storage, be it wind power, right around Australia we have new renewable energy projects that are up and running. We know that no one in Australia is coming forward and saying: ‘I have the money and I want to invest in a new coal fired power plant’ – in spite of the rhetoric of the dinosaurs that seem to be dominant in Scott Morrison’s Government, and that helped to topple Malcolm Turnbull, an elected Prime Minister, from office.
So what we need is a considered response, one that puts science at the centre of the equation; one that also recognises the job creation that will occur as we transition to a clean economy. We also need a just transition plan for people who are affected; workers who are affected by changes to the economy. Labor has always been very consistent in that. But the jobs that can be created through the changing energy mix, which will occur in terms of the increased use of gas as a transition as well to renewables. One of the things that Labor is committed to is having an energy policy. The current Government don’t have one. And it is quite extraordinary because what industry is all saying – whether it be coal fired power, gas, renewables – they all have a common theme, which is they want a policy and policy certainty, and they haven’t got it from this Government and now the Government has walked away from any prospect of having it.
REPORTER: Is it reasonable to say we don’t know what technology will be available in 2050 as far as clean coal goes?
ALBANESE: What we do know is that human ingenuity constantly exceeds our expectations. So if you look back to what technology was available when I was first elected to Parliament two decades ago, people weren’t communicating through emails, let alone social media, of course, didn’t exist. The world has been transformed. The only certainty is that change will continue to occur. What we need to do as governments and as a community is make sure that technology benefits the community rather than be controlled by it.
ALBANESE: Look, Queensland is Australia’s most regional State. And one of the things that we want to do is to support growth of our regional cities. I tell you what; you know what the single most important infrastructure project for regional Australia was in my view? It’s the National Broadband Network. What that was about is changing the economic equation so that a business located in Cairns, Townsville, Mt Isa, Charleville could have the same access to domestic and international markets as a business located in George Street, Brisbane. And that is critical if we’re going to encourage regional growth. What you’ve got to have is regional jobs and the National Broadband Network, which, where it operates, has made businesses all of a sudden instead of being at a competitive disadvantage because of the tyranny of distance, have a competitive advantage, because the overheads of locating businesses in terms of real estate costs, in regional areas, is less than it is in the centre of the CBDs of our capital cities.
Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.