SUBJECTS: Jobs and the future of work; importance of lithium in the resources sector; Urban Congestion Fund; wage stagnation; US Special Forces killing IS leader; closing of the Uluru climb; climate change and energy; GST; the future of work.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: It’s great to be here with Madeleine King and with Matt Keogh, my parliamentary colleagues, who have a particular focus, of course, on Western Australia. And it is good to be here on my ninth visit to WA this year. I’ve committed to ten visits a year, so there will be at least one more visit between now and the completion of 2019. But this visit is particularly important. I arrived yesterday and I’ll be here until Wednesday. And I’ll be talking to people about jobs and the future of work. And I can’t think of anywhere better to kick off than right here at Mineral Resources, because what we see here is an example of a company that is investing, not just in terms of capital equipment and capital investment, but is investing in people. They currently have 13 apprentices. In January, they’ll be taking on 14 apprentices. These are good quality jobs giving careers for young people from this local community south of Perth, which is creating jobs and a future for them and for their families. We need to make sure that we maximise the opportunities for job creation that we have through the resources sector. And we can do that by value adding.
Right here with this company, what we see is with lithium in particular, a value add, making sure that we maximise the benefit, not just to the WA economy, but of course to the national economy. And when we look at jobs and the future of work, we know that productivity is the key. What we see here is that these young men and women, apprentices, people who are making equipment which will boost productivity, productivity in our minds, and productivity also in terms of value adding. Lithium has been identified by the WA Government as having a real opportunity for diversification of the WA economy to maximise its economic potential into the future. We currently have 150,000 less apprentices and trainees than existed prior to the election of the Coalition Government. We need to make sure that we invest in those people. We need to make sure that we have planned a proper workforce planning so that we match up the jobs that will be available now and into the future with the human resources and people giving them those skills. When I started coming to WA 20 years ago, no one was talking about lithium. And now this company, through various mines, through the what is, I’m told, the largest logistics centre west of Melbourne is quite extraordinary, the investment that has happened here.
So, tomorrow I’ll be giving a speech to CEDA about jobs and the future of work. It will have an emphasis on how we maximise the resources that are available by value adding. It will talk about productivity. It will talk about what we need to do in terms of the bringing forward of investment to make sure that we continue to grow the economy into the future. And of course, by growing jobs and growing good quality jobs, what we do also is improve what the Reserve Bank has identified as a real problem with our economy, which is wage stagnation. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What can you do about wage stagnation and what do you mean by bringing forward investment? Do you mean infrastructure?
ALBANESE: Well, infrastructure is one thing that we’ve said. We know, for example, that with regard to the Urban Congestion Fund that we found out through Senate estimates yesterday that all 16 projects that have been identified here in WA happen to be in Coalition-held seats. Now, I think that for the people of Brand and Burt and other seats that happened to be held by Labor representatives, they’re entitled to investment as well. Because if you have an approach that says urban congestion is determined by the political colour of their local representative, then you won’t actually deal with urban congestion across Perth. There’s a range of projects that clearly could be brought forward. We’ve said that repeatedly, but we’ll have more to say tomorrow about potential other ways in which we could have a measured stimulus.
Because quite clearly, the economy has had its growth downgraded by the IMF and by the Reserve Bank. We have wages that are stagnating. We have consumer demand, which is low. We have productivity that’s going backwards. All of the key economic indicators show that there’s a need for the Government to wake up out of its complacency, stop its victory tour post-May, and actually come up with practical steps to go forward in order to ensure that we have that employment growth. And one of the things that has been identified, as well, is that if we can reduce unemployment, clearly that has an impact on wages. Because there’s currently almost two million people who are underemployed, that is they want to work more hours than they currently do. So, by creating more employment that will, through supply and demand, lead to an increase in wages.
JOURNALIST: Can you be more specific about what you mean by more areas of measured stimulus?
ALBANESE: Well, I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow. So, I’m giving you a sniff to encourage you to come along tomorrow to the speech. But I will have more to say. It’ll be consistent with what we’ve said in terms of a measured stimulus that I believe is warranted. And most economists are saying it, and the Reserve Bank is saying it and the IMF is saying it. They’re all saying that monetary policy can only do so much. The cash rate is at 0.75. 0.75. The first time that it’s below 1 per cent. So clearly there is a need for the Government to use other tools at its disposal to stimulate the economy. And the Government should be doing that.
JOURNALIST: Just another matter. What’s your response to U.S. Special Forces killing the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria?
ALBANESE: Well, I welcome this. The ISIS and its affiliates are engaged in evil. They want to destroy our way of life. They engage in terrorist activity against their fellow Muslims as well as around the world. And the fact that the Australian Defence Force have played an important role in fighting against this evil group who don’t have the same values that we have who are dangerous, who want to export terrorism, not just engage in terrorism where they based. So, it’s a good thing that this has reached its conclusion. And I pay tribute to all of us in our Defence Force in particular, but other defence forces, our allies, who are fighting for our democratic values.
JOURNALIST: Why didn’t you attend the official closing ceremony of the Uluru climb? Is it fair for Senator Dodson to be criticising the Prime Minister for not so when you weren’t there yourself?
ALBANESE: Well, we had, of course, Senator Dodson, Linda Burney, we had Malarndirri McCarthy and Warren Snowdon. So, I think the Labor contingent was there and was very strong at that event. And that was appropriate that those Members be there to represent Labor. And it is, I think, a very important day. I certainly did make statements that the end of the climb on Uluru, I likened it to, I went to school at St. Mary’s Cathedral, and the idea that people would just climb all over Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney would be offensive to Catholics. Clearly, the local people have said that it is offensive, what had occurred. It’s a very spiritual place. Anyone who visits Uluru has a look at it and gets it immediately. And it is a good thing and a great day for First Nations people.
JOURNALIST: Why weren’t you there, though?
ALBANESE: Well, I can’t be in two places at once.
JOURNALIST: Neither can the Prime Minister.
ALBANESE: I’m here, Labor was represented in terms of – strongly in terms of the the invites that were issued to our respective spokespeople.
JOURNALIST: But do you not feel personally as the Leader of the Opposition of Labor; it’s such a momentous part of Australian history, did you not feel personally that you should be there?
ALBANESE: We had four Labor representatives there, including our spokespeople on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs and on reconciliation, as well as the local member, Warren Snowdon, and the local senator, Malarndirri McCarthy.
JOURNALIST: Just on the GST, what do you make of Dean Smith’s call to (inaudible).
ALBANESE: Well, this is a Government that never misses a chance to hurt working people, and to redistribute income away from those who can least afford to pay more. And this is a regressive proposal. It’s not surprising that the Government has its members floating this proposal. This is the way it tends to act. It’ll get a backbencher to float an idea, it will say: ‘oh, we’re not looking at that’.
And then down the track, there it will appear. We know that this is a Government that doesn’t have an agenda or a plan for the economy. All it has is a plan to hurt people who can’t afford to pay more. The GST, by definition is a regressive tax because it hits people at the same rate regardless of what their income is. And we do not support this proposal by the Government.
JOURNALIST: Do you support a Government move to underwrite works to upgrading electricity connected between New South Wales and Queensland?
ALBANESE: The Government will come up with a whole range of interim measures. What they haven’t come up with is a national energy plan. And they need a national energy policy, not piecemeal proposals. And they need a national energy policy that drives lower prices, reduces emissions; through the economy. Angus Taylor is a Minister for Emissions Reduction, is presiding over an emissions increase and presiding over price increases impacting consumers and impacting the manufacturing sector in particular, making it more unaffordable to manufacture goods here in Australia. And he’s distracted. He is scandal prone in the latest scandal. He needs to say exactly why it is that his office forwarded on fraudulent material to The Daily Telegraph to have it published in order to pay someone in order to attack a mayor. This is a national energy minister without a national energy policy or framework, who’s distributing documents that he has conceded are fraudulent and not correct to the Daily Telegraph in order to attack a mayor. It’s about time the Morrison Government got someone as Energy Minister who can do their day job. Quite clearly, Minister Taylor isn’t interested in doing that, and how he explains his misleading of Parliament last week is beyond my comprehension how he can match what he said in the Parliament as a minister, and the truth, and the facts. There’s very serious consequences for that, and he needs to reconcile what he told Parliament with what the facts are with regard to this document.
JOURNALIST: Are you afraid of blackouts across the country?
ALBANESE: What I’m concerned about is that the Government doesn’t have an energy plan and they now are in their seventh year. They’ve promised that things would get better. They said that prices would be reduced. Now, any consumer out there knows that prices haven’t been reduced. They haven’t dealt with having a policy framework, everyone in the energy sector says: ‘what we need to drive investment is policy certainty’. You have no policy and therefore you have no certainty.
JOURNALIST: Have you shifted your position on the renewable energy target Labor took to the election? Particularly in the light of revelations we are struggling to meet our Paris climate (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Well, we took a policy to the election that was based upon a policy that was determined in 2015. By definition, the next election won’t be until 2022. So it was a policy determined in 2015 for 2020, in 2022. By definition, you can’t have the same policy unless you have a TARDIS and go back in time to 2015. So, we’ll determine the details of our policy. Our framework is there, we believe climate change is real. We also believe that we need to take action and that that action should create jobs, not lose jobs, create jobs. Here we are in a factory that is related to lithium. Lithium is very much related to the renewable energy sector, is where a lot of it will be used. And that’s what’s driving the demand for lithium, that’s used in batteries and in a range of other manufactures based upon the renewable energy sector.
JOURNALIST: Could you outline to us, what is Labor’s renewable energy target?
ALBANESE: I’ve just answered your question. You know, we will have a renewable energy target. Well before the next election, well before, but we have to know what the base is and what we don’t want – to answer your question definitively would be to assume that nothing happens between now and 2022 – because the policy by definition has to have a starting point. The policy we took to the last election had a starting point based upon the Climate Change Authority findings of 2015. We need to know what the starting point is. And I don’t want to let this Government off the hook for having no policy on renewables or on climate change or on energy between now and 2022, because the consequences of that would be devastating for the national economy. They need to break out of their complacency and come up with a policy and a plan and a framework. We stand ready to be cooperative as we were with the NEG before the last election. But this government doesn’t have a plan. We will have a plan to take to the next election, which after next election will be, by definition, the first chance that we would have to implement a Labor plan.
JOURNALIST: Do you think you will have to have lower targets, though, than what you’ve had. Given the reaction in WA, in Queensland, towards those sort of policies. I mean; even Matt, to your left, has penned opinion pieces saying we need to move away from green-left ideologies within the Labor Party on this sort of front.
ALBANESE: Well, what we need is a Labor plan and we’ll continue to have a Labor plan and we’ll continue to be positive about that. And tomorrow, we’ll be outlining a Labor plan for jobs and the future of work, a part of that plan in terms of jobs, is in the renewable energy sector, that is part of what will drive jobs. That is part of what is driving jobs right here. Blue collar jobs being driven by the renewable energy revolution, which is an international phenomenon.
JOURNALIST: What’s your response to arriving in WA to the news that two young girls have been murdered?
ALBANESE: I’m sorry, I wasn’t I wasn’t aware of that, but quite clearly that’s a tragedy not just for them but obviously for their family and friends. And this will be a very difficult time that people are going through. Thank you.