SUBJECTS: Federal Election; Listening Tour; State of Origin, Adani; regional Queensland infrastructure.
BELINDA HASSAN: Good morning and I’m Belinda Hassan, the former Labor Candidate for the seat of Dawson and really happy today to welcome back to Mackay, Senator Murray Watt who we saw many, many times throughout my campaign particularly and our newly elected senator, Nita Green and Leader of the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese so it’s my pleasure to welcome them all back to Mackay today. All of them have spent a lot of time here and I know Anthony particularly over the past few years and as I mentioned Murray during my campaign was a huge, huge support to us. So obviously while the result here both in Dawson and throughout regional Queensland wasn’t what the Labor Party was hoping for, we’re here now to see what went wrong and see what we can change going forward and in particular bring our message back to the people of regional Queensland that the Labor Party is supportive of workers and people in regional Queensland. So I’d really like to welcome Albo back and hand over to him.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much Belinda and it’s great to be here with Murray Watt who yesterday attended his first Shadow Ministry meeting as the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia. I’ve given Murray particular responsibility for looking after the North, be it Queensland, Northern Territory or north Western Australia and I’m also very pleased to be joined by Nita Green and congratulate her on her election as a Senator for Queensland who will take office on July 1. And last night I joined with Belinda and her campaign in having a discussion about how we can do better and ensure that we’re successful in 2022.
Quite clearly we achieved the votes of one in every three Australian and one in every four Queenslander. That’s not good enough. We need to do better. We need to listen to the concerns of regional Queensland in particular. We need to be concerned front and centre with jobs. That’s something that I did as an Infrastructure Minister in the Rudd and Gillard Governments and behind us we see a practical example of that with the Mackay Ring Road. Stage 1 funded with a total of $400 million of which was from the former Federal Labor Government and included in that of course was planning money. This is a complex project. There needed to be acquisition along the corridor, planning work done to make sure the project was got right. But what we see here is a practical example of Labor’s vision, a project in which we’ve seen apprentices both young and old in terms of retraining of skilled workers to provide employment to make a difference in terms of taking heavy vehicles off the main streets of Mackay. This project began going back to when James Bidgood was the Labor Member for Dawson all those years ago. And I am very pleased to see the progress that is happening on this project.
When I was the Minister for Infrastructure I increased funding for the Bruce Highway from $1.3 billion under the 12 years of the Howard Government to $6.7 billion so a more than four times increase in half the time and projects like this in the Townsville Ring Road, The Yeppoon floodplain work down at Rocky, right along the Bruce Highway, Cooroy to Curra, the southern approaches to Cairns. We delivered for Queensland delivering jobs in construction but importantly as well, making sure that these roads operated more efficiently. The Peak Downs Highway again another project that was funded by the former Federal Labor Government what we’ve seen since then is complacency from the Coalition in the election just passed, a series of commitments but off in the never never rather than actually in the forward estimates. It is Federal Labor that will always deliver in terms of nation building infrastructure for regional communities and that is one of the messages that I want to give to Queenslanders is that we understand how important investment in our regions is and as a former Regional Development Minister and the former Minister for Infrastructure I can go anywhere in this great state and look at big projects like this or small projects like fixing up the Charleville Town Hall. Smaller projects on roads like fixing up the on Ironsley River Bridge that previously towns like Karumba and Normanton were cut off every time there was a flood and a major natural disaster and had to be rebuilt again. We fix that with investment. We will listen to Queenslanders. Quite clearly a big message was sent to us on May the 18th that we need to do better.
I’m here today to say that I’m listening, I’m listening to Queenslanders wherever they live whether it’s in Brisbane in the south east or whether it be in regional centres. In coming months so I’ll continue to travel around. I’ve said that we need to hasten slowly. We had the first shadow ministry meeting yesterday in Brisbane, it was a very successful discussion. I’m pleased that Murray Watt as the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia and Jim Chalmers as his Shadow Treasurer will fill two absolutely critical roles in the Shadow Cabinet representing this great starting point saying and I might ask Murray to just say a few words and then happy to take questions.
MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA: Thanks very much for that Albo. It’s great to join Albo, Belinda and Nita here today. I’m very honoured to have been appointed as the new Shadow Minister for Northern Australia for Albo’s new Labor team. As Albo mentioned, it is a very important role, especially as we begin the job of reconnecting with regional Queenslanders as well as those in the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia. As a Senator for Queensland, I’ve obviously spent a lot of time here in North Queensland. In fact my father grew up around Mackay so it’s a place I’m very familiar with. And since being appointed this role a few days ago I’ve been on the phone to my parliamentary colleagues from the Northern Territory and WA to start getting a better understanding of the issues they want to see addressed and I’ll be getting up into those regions in the very near future as well. What I can say is that my number one priority as the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia is going to be job creation for all of those in Northern Australia.
I know very well from the travels that I’ve already undertaken into regional Queensland that jobs is the number one, two and three issues for regional Queenslanders and they want to hear more from Labor about what we’re going to do to protect Northern Australia’s economic security in the future. So again thank you Albo for the appointment. And great to be with you today.
ALBANESE: Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Just on the issue of jobs, do you support the Carmichael Adani mine?
ALBANESE: Let’s be clear about the role, what the role of the Commonwealth Government is. The Commonwealth Government’s role is to provide environmental approval for private sector projects. The Carmichael mine has been through not once through the EPBC Act, but twice. Once that approval is granted, it now has some State Government approvals just to finalise. If it is approved, then it is then up to the company like any private sector company to determine whether it will invest in a project going forward. And the company has decided to finance the project internally and so that is a decision for them. One of the things I note that the miners’ union have written to the company about today is making sure that any jobs that are provided, they want figures and it’s understandable on permanent jobs, particularly jobs for locals because one of the things that we’re seeing in the resources sector that Labor raised during the election campaign is the issue of casualisation of the workforce. We want permanent jobs that are well-paid. We don’t want to see on projects, whether they’re in the mining and resources sector, whether they’re in construction, whether in hospitality, we don’t want to see working conditions undermined through the casualisation and insecurity that results from that casualisation for the workforce. And I stand with Tony Maher – good friend of mine, the head of the miners’ union – in ensuring that any jobs that are created are good jobs and that they’re quality jobs and that there is preference given to locals.
Can I say this also about the coal industry here in Queensland – there’s a lot of talk from people about the role that the coal industry plays who haven’t actually looked at what the coal industry is here in Queensland. Seventy per cent of the coal industry here is metallurgical. What that means is if you going into an operating theatre in Melbourne Hospital or Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney or Brisbane Hospital or a hospital anywhere in Australia, everything from the scalpel to the X-ray machine relies upon that resource. Seventy per cent, and that needs to be understood. We need to actually have sensible debate. We need to not – we need to stop pitting people who live in cities against people in regions. That needs to stop. We do need to act on climate change. We do need certainty when it comes to energy and investment and the business community are saying that they want that certainty when it comes to the energy sector.
And that’s why the Government – which has just won an election and is actually in a position to do something unlike Labor, who what we’re in the phase of is listening and developing our policy for 2022 – has some real questions to answer and I include in that the Member for Dawson. Here’s a couple. One is if they say there’s going to be new coal fired power plants, who’s going to fund it and where are they going to be? Because from time to time, there’s this debate raised but nothing happens because of the economics of that issue. The second is, recently we’ve seen nuclear power plants raised by the Member for Flynn and others in the Queensland LNP. Nuclear power plants of course need to be near water. They need to be on the coast or on rivers. Where are they going to be? Is one proposed for here in Mackay or Gladstone or Townsville or Bundaberg? Where exactly are they going to be? Who’s going to fund it? What’s the timeline? These are questions for the Government to answer and the critical issue here is they have just won a third term. They do not have a third term agenda. We need to hold them to account. We intend doing that, but the media also have a role in holding them to account and holding them to account for their policies that they are in a position to forward not in three years’ time, but frankly in three days’ time, in three weeks’ time when the Parliament resumes.
JOURNALIST: Turning to the AFP’s raid on a journalist’s home, what do you make of the timing of that given it was a while after she published but so soon after the election?
ALBANESE: Well the Government has questions to answer here about what they knew. Can I say this, we live in a democracy. Democracies rely upon freedom of the press. Annika Smethurst is a serious professional journalist who has my respect. It is quite frankly I think outrageous that seven officers spent seven and a half hours in her home, going through everything throughout her home, in the kitchen, in all of the rooms. I find it quite extraordinary that just weeks after an election for a story that quite frankly is in the public interest that that story was published, people do have a right to know if the Government has proposals to interfere with their privacy in a way that I believe is something that Australians should have a say over or at least knowledge of. So I think that the Government needs to be very clear about what they knew, in particular – I haven’t seen any statements yet from Peter Dutton about what he knew about this. I do, I would find it extraordinary if no one in the Government knew anything about this. We know of course with Michaelia Cash and the raid that occurred on a union office that that was a very political process involving Michaelia Cash’s office alerting journalists to that. The Government just needs to fess up about this. But I regard freedom of the press as being an essential component of our democracy.
JOURNALIST: Your visit has been a called a regional listening tour. What are you hearing from locals in Mackay? What do you think are the issues that they want to see addressed?
ALBANESE: Look, I’ve done everything from speak to a couple of Mackay locals, real estate agents, on the way, on the way up here and then at the airport and then in Mackay town city then at the pub for politics in the pub, listening – always a good chance to listen to people. Look, what they say is that we didn’t get our message across enough. I think for many people here in Mackay who work in the resources sector for example, they’re on incomes which are six figure incomes. They don’t regard themselves as wealthy. They work hard to put food on the table for their family for a better life for themselves and their kids. And I think some of them felt that during the election campaign we were somehow classifying them as wealthy and some of our messaging with specific policies I think we got wrong. So we need to engage with them. I think we need also to treat people with respect. There is no doubt that the Bob Brown convoy into Clermont was one that did not show people respect. I understand the motives of people who are concerned about climate change, I’m concerned about climate change, but we need to engage in a debate that’s respectful. One that understands that people who are working for the interests of their family and their community should be respected, not yelled at, and just as the people who’ve occupied my office regularly in Marrickville once a week, stopping people getting advice on immigration or social security or health or other issues, people that come to a local member’s office shouldn’t be blocked from attending that office. Staff shouldn’t be abused for trying to do their job in an electorate office that just helps people with issues like Centrelink and Social Security. Vulnerable people many of whom in my electorate who require assistance are people from non-English speaking backgrounds trying to navigate the great bureaucracy – they can’t talk to people in the Centrelink office because if you go in now often you’re told to go and go online. Many people can’t do that, so they need assistance of their local member. The people in Clermont I think were treated disrespectfully and it’s no wonder they reacted as they did.
JOURNALIST: Just going back to the mine, you didn’t really answer the question. Do you support the Carmichael…
ALBANESE: Well, it’s not – I’m not building the Carmichael mine. It’s not a government mine. It’s not a government mine. It is a project which is a private sector project and the decision on whether that goes ahead or not has two components. One is the environmental approvals. Yes or no, the federal approvals are done. The state approvals have to then occur, have to be finalized. And the second thing is the financing of the project and the economics of the project, and that’s a decision for the company to make. If the company makes that decision and it goes ahead, I always, I always appreciate job creation anywhere. But that’s a decision for the company to make. We don’t have, we’re not a communist country that has state owned projects and just like I oppose as I have George Christensen’s idea from time to time that we would have a state owned coal fired power plant built, I think that that isn’t appropriate either. There’s a role for the public sector. There’s a role for the private sector. The role for the public sector is to ensure appropriate environmental protections are in place. The role for the private sector is then after that process takes place to determine the investment decisions.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the indigenous State of Origin players boycotting tonight’s national anthem, and do you support a change of words?
ALBANESE: I support the national anthem and I support that unequivocally and I always sing it proudly. But I’m not going to lecture people from first nation’s people about their views. I think that politics should stay out of those issues, frankly. And I don’t think it would be productive. But it is appropriate that we sing the national anthem before a major event and I certainly wherever I am always sing the national anthem.
JOURNALIST: And what’s your plan to win back support in regional Queensland?
ALBANESE: I’m here. The first step is to listen. The first step is to engage. We’re three years ahead – three years away from an election campaign. Many of the issues that were issues in terms of the last election campaign won’t be issues at the next one. Some of the issues you raised before will be determined by governments and by private sector companies well before the next election. What we need to understand as well is that we need to be in less of a hurry. We need to get away from the 24 hour media cycle. We’re three years out from the next election, this is the time to listen, engage respectfully, and to develop policies, hold the Government to account but also develop policies for 2022. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) anything you want to clarify around your support for coal jobs (inaudible).
ALBANESE: I support jobs. I support jobs. Jobs are the priority. I’ve said also that the issues around Queensland’s coal industry is that 70 percent of it is metallurgical. So it’s very separate from the issue of demand and supply with regard to thermal coal – that’s a product of international markets. And in terms of those, those issues will be delivered by those international markets.
But I support the rights of people for secure jobs. For jobs that actually pay them a decent living. Jobs that provide security. That’s what people are looking for and it doesn’t matter whether you’re in Queensland or in western Sydney, or in Perth, or in Darwin -that’s what people are concerned about.
Now can I say, just make some comments about the incident overnight that occurred. My heart goes out and my sympathy to the families of those who’ve been murdered as a result of this atrocity that occurred in Darwin last night. This will have an impact on the entire Darwin and Northern Territory community. It’s a close knit community a bit like Mackay. People know each other. Everyone will be affected by this atrocity that occurred last night. I’ve spoken to Chief Minister Gunner last night and also had engagement with Luke Gosling, our Member for Solomon and Malarndirri McCarthy our Senator for the Northern Territory. My heart goes out to all those who are impacted and I offer my sympathy along with all Australians who today will be thinking of the terrible event that happened last night. And our sympathy goes to the families of the victims and indeed to the entire community. Thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) so into Labor Leadership, how do you plan to balance the seemingly competing opinions and understanding between regional and inner city voters?
ALBANESE: I think people have common interests in this country. And you can go to five or six people for a vox pop and get a rather, an article that suggests something different from the reality. We’re one country – we’re one country – we have a common interest. We have a common interest in a strong economy, a strong economy that works for people not the other way round – people working for a strong economy. There’s a common interest in terms of we need to grow our regional cities. Not just because it’s good for them, but also because there’s a common interest in taking pressure off those capital cities that are under real pressure from issues like urban congestion. I’m a great supporter of regional economic development. There’s a reason why I in the last term I’ve been Shadow Minister for both regional development and cities because there’s a common interest that we have.
So I will seek to in all of my engagement get rid of this nonsense that it’s cities versus regions, because it’s not. It’s not. Common interests in a strong economy. Common interest in an inclusive society. Common interests in protecting our environment and dealing with climate change. Common interests in having an energy policy that drives down prices, whether it’s in cities or in regions. I was talking on ABC Radio this morning about the high prices that farmers are paying for their energy. That’s a direct result of the third term policies of the A.T.M. Government – Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison. None of them have settled on an energy policy. Business is saying they want certainty in order to promote investment, to boost supply, which then decreases costs.
So there’s a common interest there between our cities and our regions. I intend to represent all Australians wherever they live and through people like Murray Watt being the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia, Senator and Nita Green who will come in and be based here in regional Queensland. Belinda Hassan and other people on the ground. The State Members I talked to last night – I talked to the local State MPs here as well.
I’ve known people like Tim for a very very long period of time. He’s an outstanding local person who’s connected on the ground. I’ll talk to people. Wherever I’ve gone – I’ll say something else that my experience as a Local Government Minister brings. We put during the election campaign, half a billion dollars on the table full Q Rep for Queensland roads package. That was developed by all of the Mayors essentially in inland Queensland. A 10 year plan to be rolled out over that period of dealing with roads in regional Queensland. That wasn’t matched by the Coalition Government. There’s not a single Labor seat that would be impacted by that. We did that because it’s the right thing to do. The Coalition has taken regional Queensland for granted. My concern is that the arrogance that they’re showing in breaking a promise of, saying that tax cuts would come into play on the 1 July for low and middle income earners, knowing that they had requested a return of the writs for January 28, and that that would not be delivered. That sort of arrogance, the arrogance which has seen them appoint two people in Prime Minister Morrison’s first press conference to overseas postings – two elected representatives who are just beginning their period after the election. The first thing they do is send Arthur Sinodinos and Mitch Fifield to the United States. That to me is arrogant. And I say this, that the Government should not take regional Queenslanders for granted.
We will be here, day after day, week after week, month after month, doing our best to represent the interests of regional Queensland and engaging with regional Queenslanders to make sure that we secure their support at the next election. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.