SUBJECTS: Sport tourism in WA; Bledisloe Cup; Reserve Bank Governor’s comments; Andrew Hastie; COAG; Newstart; CFMEU; IPCC Report; protestors.
MADELEINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE: Good morning everyone. Welcome here to Perth. We are on the shores of the Derbarl Yerrigan, right by the Matagarup Bridge, that leads us into the wonderful Perth Stadium here in Western Australia. I’d like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the Derbarl Yerrigan but also the surrounding land on which we stand today, which is known as Martagarup and hence the name of the Bridge. We’re here today with our leader Anthony Albanese and some of the rest of my WA FPLP Labor team. It’s great always to have Anthony. He is a regular visitor, as we know, to Western Australia. We’re obviously very keen to be supporting the Wallabies tomorrow night, in what is a sold-out match and an excellent and extraordinary bit of sports tourism for Western Australia that will bring a lot of money, a lot of productivity into our Western Australian economy and also no doubt a victory for the Wallabies. With that, I’ll hand over to our leader Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much Madeleine. It’s great to be here with the team, with Matt and Josh and Louise as well as Madeleine. I am back here in WA for what is my seventh visit. I’ve committed to ten visits a year and we’re up seven and it’s only August, and I’ll be back in two weeks’ time for the WA Labor Conference which is being held over the weekend after next. Look, it is good to be here to talk about jobs and the economy in particular. Sport tourism can have a major impact on job creation and economic activity. And it was something that I was very pleased to work with the WA State McGowan Government on tourism issues as Shadow Tourism Minister prior to the last election. This event on Saturday night is just the latest but with more to come. Of course, we know that the State of Origin game two was successfully held here to another sell-out crowd. And later this year, there’ll be international netball, international tennis tournament, and indeed a range of activities right here in Perth with this magnificent facility behind us in this great global city, the gateway to the West.
The fact is that we need as well; I spoke to Paul Papalia just last night about opening up tourism here. The WA Government is very keen to get more than one airline from China and is also looking at direct flights from India and other places in our region. In a couple of weeks’ time, I hope to be flying direct from here up to Jakarta on a visit to Indonesia. We know that with Saturday night’s event, the Bledisloe Cup, it will bring people not just from the East Coast but from the New Zealand nation flying across to watch this great sporting event between these great rivals of Australia and New Zealand. Historically of course, New Zealand has been extremely successful in these games. We hope that the great stadium behind us does for the Wallabies what they did for the Blues in game two of State of Origin, but we’ll see how that goes.
I also want to make some comments about the state of the economy, and in particular about the needs of Western Australia. Today we’ve seen the Reserve Bank Governor in his comments before the Parliamentary Economics Committee, downgrade growth by a quarter of a per cent to below trend. We also saw the Reserve Bank Governor in those opening comments speak about the likelihood of ongoing under-employment in the foreseeable future, and the impact that would have on not meeting what were the Reserve Bank’s expectations in terms of wages growth. So, what we see from the Reserve Bank Governor is a statement, essentially, which means that the Australian economy at the moment is performing in terms of growth on under-trend levels. We have low consumer demand. Just last week we had the weakest retail trade figures since the 1990s. We see interest rates at just one per cent, lower than they’ve ever been in our history. We see underemployment. We see mortgage stress at record levels. The Government have doubled the debt since they have been in office and they don’t have a plan for growth.
They now are talking about skills today, having cut billions of dollars from the Skills Vocational Education Training budget over their time in office. And they are delusional with regard to how the economy’s going. They said when the HILDA figures came out last week about living standards; they said that Australians were better off than they were in 2013. But all of the economic indicators are negative for this Government. And what we have is complacency from the Government. The Reserve Bank have said that monetary policy can’t do all the heavy lifting and given interest rates are at one per cent and have been reduced twice since the May 18 election, we know that that is the case. And yet what we had from the chair of this committee, Tim Wilson, was to actually criticise the Reserve Bank for not stimulating the economy.
Now, we argued during the Parliamentary debate on taxation reform that the second stage of the tax cut should be brought forward in order to stimulate the economy. We’ve also argued that infrastructure investment that’s been promised, that are way off into the never-never, should be brought forward as well. And yet this Government, complacent as it is on its watch, aren’t really doing anything to boost the economy and to boost jobs. And that’s having an impact here in the West, but right throughout the nation. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Andrew Hastie’s comments about China. The West Australian Premier says he’s going to take those comments up directly with the Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying that it doesn’t help the Western Australian economy. What’s your view on what was said?
ALBANESE: Well Mark McGowan’s right. It’s hard to see how these immature ill-advised and inflammatory comments assist the national interest at all. And they’re consistent with a Government that’s just full of slogans and rhetoric and doesn’t actually have a plan. To compare China with Nazi Germany is completely inappropriate and I’m not surprised that the Premier of WA, which the economy here particularly relates to what’s going on in China. I mean China’s growth has been very much built on the iron ore that’s dug out of the ground here and exported to China. It’s particularly important, that relationship. This is a trading state in what is a trading nation. And the idea that we just make these slurs from the chair of a very serious committee, in terms of national intelligence, is quite extraordinary.
That being said, when we meet with Chinese representatives, Labor has always stood up for issues like human rights. There are concerns about issues like intellectual property and a range of issues relating to China. But they should be put forward in a respectful way rather than the inflammatory way in which Andrew Hastie has made these comments.
JOURNALIST: Having said that if the worst were to happen and the Chinese were to put troops in Hong Kong, for example, as some people are suggesting they might, that’s going to be a very difficult situation for Australia isn’t it?
ALBANESE: Well, let’s deal with the issues as they are rather than on the basis of hypotheticals. Labor is a party that stands up for human rights and democracy. Australian foreign policy, on a bipartisan basis, regards democracy as being an essential component of a quality of life to which we aspire. And we want other nations to move to more democratic systems who don’t enjoy the democracy that we have. I’m attending one of the events that’s being hosted here in Perth, including with the support of the WA Government, is the Australian American Leadership Dialogue. It began yesterday, it has brought guests, our friends from the United States here and we’re engaged over the next couple of days in dialogue and helping to build and cement what is an absolutely critical relationship that we have, because we share democratic values and we share an outlook on society. Notwithstanding there are of course differences in democracy within the US, and within Australia, and between ourselves occasionally, we talk as friends and one of the issues that we’ll be talking about, obviously, is what’s going on in the Indo-Pacific region.
JOURNALIST: A lot of the rhetoric coming out from the Trump Administration the moment isn’t that far removed from what Mr Hastie said the other day is it?
ALBANESE: Well what I’m concerned about is what is going on in Australia. And certainly the idea that Australia can afford to just offend a nation in a way that is provocative, which is a major trading partner, needs to be considered. That doesn’t mean that we can’t point out differences which are there. And certainly it’s appropriate that be done so, including the strong statement that Labor has made, and the Government have made, about the rights of people in Hong Kong and the importance of their human rights being protected. And we remain concerned about events that have occurred in Hong Kong. But that doesn’t justify the use of the sort of language which Mr Hastie has used. And you know there’s an old saying, when you throwing Nazi Germany in a casual way, you’ve lost the debate. And it does nothing to advance common sense and deep working relationships with China to throw in that sort of language.
JOURNALIST: Just on that topic, we’re seeing increased pressure from the US. I’m just curious where you stand on this issue and where the Labor Party stands?
ALBANESE: My understanding is that requests will be made through the UK. We’ll have discussions with the Government about that. But there is nothing unusual about Australia playing a role in terms of peaceful management of issues in order to secure that peace. Australia, in my time as Transport Minister, played a role in assisting the International Maritime Organisation dealing with piracy, which is a major issue in that part of the world, and Australia continues to play that role. We were a major trainer of the people dealing with those issues in Nairobi and we’ll continue to play a role. We’ll examine it on its merits and we’ll make an announcement at an appropriate time. At the moment, the Government hasn’t made a decision and we don’t seek to politicise those issues. We need to defend the national interest. And the national interest for Australia is in having open trading passages.
JOURNALIST: One of the things that looks set to come out of COAG is state and federal leaders looking at a ban on exporting plastics and recyclables. What would you like to see done in Australia to invigorate the domestic recycling industry?
ALBANESE: Well, what we need to do is work in terms of government, the private sector and indeed civil society. This is a scourge. We have islands of plastic floating around our oceans and our seas and our waterways, that is having a massive environmental impact. I was in Garma just on the weekend, and the amount of plastics that are washing up on our northern shores, indeed from staws and other plastics coming from Indonesia and coming from the north. That’s washing up on what are pristine beaches there in Arnhem Land. That is happening all around the world and Australia needs to be a part of it. We need to be a part of it domestically and we need to be a part of a global response to this. And I would encourage the Federal Government and all state and territory governments to do whatever they can to deal with this issue.
JOURNALIST: Just on the economy, the Reserve Bank Governor in his discussions this morning was also talking about the potential for bringing forward a Newstart increase and also cutting the caps on the public sector, which is the biggest [inaudible] employment at the moment in Australia. What do you think of those ideas?
ALBANESE: Well, I haven’t seen the comments because I’ve been in a meeting with the Dialogue. I saw his opening comments, which were published. But certainly Newstart, you now have, if the Reserve Bank Governor has joined the Business Council of Australia, ACOSS, the Australian Industry Group, the ACTU, the Labor Party, welfare groups, and indeed, just about everyone I’ve met, says that we need to do something about Newstart. Forty dollars a day is just too low. And it’s too low because it forces people to live in poverty, which reduces the opportunity for those people to get out of poverty by getting a job. It’s a really counterproductive measure, to try to essentially put people in a situation whereby they aren’t able to travel to get a job, to wear the clothes and to be in a position of successfully applying for employment. And the other issue that I’m sure the Reserve Bank Governor would be cognisant of, because it goes to a question I asked in the very first Question Time of this Parliament, which is I asked the Prime Minister would an increase in Newstart help stimulate economic activity and therefore consumer demand and therefore jobs. And there’s no doubt that it would, if you’re on Newstart and you get an increase, you’re not going to be saving it, you’re not going to be putting it away for a rainy day, because guess what – it’s pouring. It’s pouring on you at that point in time. So what you do is you spend it and that helps to stimulate the economy as well.
Look, the Reserve Bank’s prognosis today was very negative for the Government. It’s about time the Government woke up out of its slumber, stopped running around and doing a victory lap after the May 18 election and actually got on with the business of governing. Particularly when it comes to the economy and jobs and at the moment they are very complacent. We have international concerns about trading issues between China and Australia that will have an impact here, including here in the West. And what’s their response? Their responses to say ‘everything’s fine with the economy, no need to worry about stimulus’, to bag the Reserve Bank for not providing enough stimulus when interest rates are at one per cent and the Reserve Bank has responsibility for monetary policy. What the Government has responsibility for is fiscal policy. What they have responsibility for is infrastructure investment, and they’re not doing anything. They’re not pulling any of the levers that they need to pull and the other lever they could pull of course is by increasing Newstart, which would be good social policy but also good economic policy.
JOURNALIST: A senior CFMEU figure is one of three people who were arrested this morning, accused of arranging preferential treatment in return for free building material. What do you make of that situation?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m not aware of the details, but if anyone has breached any laws, it’s entirely appropriate they face the full force of the law.
JOURNALIST: The intergovernmental, sorry…
JOURNALIST: I was going to say, what does that do for public confidence in the union movement?
ALBANESE: Well, I don’t think, just like when a corporate member does the wrong thing, it should not reduce the confidence in the entire business sector, if a unionist has done the wrong thing then they should face the law and those legal processes should be taking place. I’m not aware of the specifics, as I said I’ve been at a conference here in Perth. But I’m very clear about, you break the law, no matter who you are, you should face the consequences for that. I mean I was at a meeting yesterday before I flew to Perth, of Australian Services Union delegates in the social and community sector, people who work in assisting people who have been victims of domestic violence, people who work in the community services sector helping people through the NDIS. Overwhelmingly people who are union delegates and rank and file active members of unions are doing it because of their care for their fellow Australians and are doing a good job. And they shouldn’t be denigrated by the actions of individuals who aren’t acting in an appropriate way. I think one of the things that’s defined my leadership is I’ve been very clear, it was in Perth here when I took action within the first fortnight of my becoming leader of the Labor Party, to suspend John Setka and his membership of the Party. That suspension remains in place.
JOURNALIST: The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change has recommended that we change the ways we farm and reduce the amount of meat that we eat. Do you agree with that?
ALBANESE: Look, I think in terms of, obviously what we need when it comes to climate change is to look at the whole broad spectrum of how emissions are undertaken, but we also need to have a bit of common sense and common sense outcomes. If we respond appropriately with measures, when it comes to climate change, we will actually not just boost the economy by growing jobs, because one of the things about renewables, the sun here and the wind here is free, the main cost is labor, it creates jobs, it creates economic activity. And in terms of the response, moving towards, for example in the transport sector, moving towards low emissions forms of transport also improves the quality of the air in which we breathe. There’s a range of very positives that we have, we need to make sure that we maintain our lifestyles. We can do that while moving to a low emissions future, while dealing with the challenge of climate change. So I haven’t seen all of the responses, but I certainly don’t think that any government’s about to make veganism compulsory, if that’s where it’s headed.
JOURNALIST: Just back to Newstart, what is the daily living figure the Labor Party [inaudible]
ALBANESE: We’re not the Government, we’re not the Government.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any suggestions then?
ALBANESE: We’re not the Government and we don’t make policy on the run. What you do is you have proper assessments, and you do the analysis and that is a job for government. One of the things that I’ve also said will define my leadership is I’m not pretending we’re the Government and we’re not governing on a day-to-day basis. I hope to be in government in 2022. We won’t be there before then, although possibly December 2021. We’ll wait and see.
JOURNALIST: We’re about to see extinction rebellion protests here in Perth, just talking about climate change. We’ve already seen lots of arrests in Brisbane, do you think that this is just going to far this week?
ALBANESE: I think…
JOURNALIST: Ultimatums to the State Government as well.
ALBANESE: We’ve just spoken about a democracy. In a democracy, people have a right to protest, but they also have a responsibility. And that responsibility is to protest, in a way that doesn’t disrupt for the sake of disruption. And I make this point for two reasons. One, because it can create issues if there’s violent protests, people can get hurt, it’s not a good thing. Secondly, it’s totally counterproductive, totally counterproductive for the cause. So people need to put forward their views in a respectful way. We’re very fortunate to live in a democracy. And I regard, I’ve engaged in my share of protests over the years, but I think that it’s important that people conduct themselves in a responsible way and one that frankly brings credit to whatever issue, whether of the left or the right. Whatever issue people are protesting about, I think you’ll find they’ll be more effective if they actually apply a little bit of common sense and ensure that there’s not protest done in a way which alienates people from their cause. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.