SUBJECTS: WA economy; infrastructure; Newstart allowance; productive industries; press freedom; private health insurance.
PATRICK GORMAN, MEMBER FOR PERTH: I’m Patrick Gorman and I’m the Federal Member for Perth. It is fantastic to have Anthony Albanese here on his second week visit as Leader of the Opposition here in Perth. Six visits to WA this year alone. We’re joined by Madeleine King, Labor’s Shadow Minister for Trade and Louise Pratt, Labor’s Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing, two key parts of Labor’s economic team. What we all know here in WA is that the economy is struggling. When the WA economy is struggling, the national economy is struggling. But we know that when the WA economy does well, the national economy does well. That’s why Labor has been calling for really practical initiatives to make sure we increase investment in infrastructure.
I know where I live, just off Beaufort Street, that businesses are doing it tough. Some of our community’s favourite haunts, like Clarence’s, have shut down in recent months. The economy is not where it should be and not where we need to be as Western Australians or as Australians more generally. Having said that, I’m not going to talk down the great Perth CBD. Some of the comments that we saw from Liza Harvey the Liberal Opposition Leader were really disappointing. This is a great CBD. You see families out here having a fantastic time. Liza Harvey should be better than talking down the Perth CBD. She shouldn’t talk down my community and she should apologise to the people of Perth. Labor on the other hand is putting forward practical initiatives to keep the economy going. To talk more about Labor’s practical suggestions on how we can keep the economy going and growing here in the West and across the country, I’ll hand over to the Leader Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much Patrick and it’s great to be back here in Perth in what is my sixth visit just this year. It’s great to be here as well with Madeleine and Louise, important parts of the Labor team here from WA. This morning we’ve all just been at a meeting with the W.A. Chamber of Commerce and Industry and it was a really constructive meeting about what’s required to continue to grow the Western Australian economy. It’s also the case that while I’ve been here, I met this afternoon with Unions WA and we’ll be having discussions with further small businesses here in the Perth CBD. The WA economy is absolutely critical for our national economy. And what we know is that nationally, all of the economic indicators are pretty sluggish at best at the moment. We’ve seen interest rates decline to 1 percent, one third of what they were during the Global Financial Crisis. We see consumer demand being extremely low with consequences particularly in areas like retail. We see in terms of a debt, a doubling of the national debt on this Government’s watch. We see productivity actually going backwards for consecutive quarters. And we see in general, economic growth being below trend. So, we need to not be complacent about the national economy and that’s why Labor supported stage one of the tax cuts. But we also argued to bring forward stage two. To provide further stimulus in the economy and so that every Australian worker would have got a tax cut under Labor’s plan.
But we’ve also, importantly, put forward the idea of bringing forward infrastructure investment. It was very disappointing that this morning, it’s reported that Alan Tudge has actually called for State Governments to do more on infrastructure rather than what he has responsibility for. We know in WA here, the McGowan Government is putting record funds into infrastructure through programs like MetroNet and other road projects that they’ve put forward. Labor put forward, during the recent federal campaign, an additional $460 million worth of good infrastructure projects over the forward estimates.
Now the Government could bring forward some of the projects that it said it would support. It could also support good projects like the extra bridge over the Causeway that myself and Patrick Gorman and our candidate for Swan, Hannah Beazley, were advocating for – a separated cycle way and pedestrian way across the Causeway. There are a range of projects that could be brought forward, and the Government needs to examine them and do more when it comes to infrastructure investment. We also will be continuing to talk with small business and the business community here, as well as with unions and with the community in general.
This is my sixth visit. I have said that I intend to visit WA at least 10 times a year as the Labor Leader, because I understand how critical this state is for the nation’s growth and for the national economy. And I also understand that the issues which are here, are often different from the issues on the East Coast and that’s why it requires that ongoing relationship and building those relationships, which is one of the things that I’ve been doing with my colleagues this morning. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten came here a lot and didn’t win any extra seats in the Federal Election. What have you got to do differently in WA.?
ALBANESE: What I’ve got to do is make sure that I engage with people across the board. That’s why I’ve met with unions. That’s why I’ve met with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I’ve met with important businesses that are based here like Wesfarmers and like FMG. I’ll be later in the year, organising to visit a mining community and stay overnight with Matt Keogh, the Shadow Minister for WA. Resources and Joel Fitzgibbon will be organising that. I have been a long term visitor to this state. I’ve been here a lot. We have built a lot of projects like Gateway W.A., Perth City Link, the other community infrastructure projects, some of which are still underway like the Swan Valley bypass, as I call it. Of course, the new Government changed the name of that. Giving it a new name doesn’t make it a new project. Projects down at Mandurah; up the North West Coastal Highway; Port Headland, the Esperance rail and road access, Kalgoorlie all of these projects. I have a record of delivering here in WA, a record that I can point to wherever I go around this great city and around this great state.
So, what that means is that I think I’m in a good position to build on that record and I intend to do that over the next three years. It is three years to the next election, so I intend to hasten slowly. And one thing I’ve been reminded of, by the recent result, is that you need to kick with the wind in the last quarter, because it is the last quarter that counts and I intend to be kicking with the wind in the lead up to the 2022 election.
JOURNALIST: Given the Newstart allowance and given what is in it, do you think it’s too little and is this something you really want to get behind?
ALBANESE: It’s too low. The fact is that … and the bells are ringing for an increase in Newstart. (clock tower bells ringing.) If that’s not a grab I don’t know what is. Look the fact is that, the first priority if someone is unemployed is to get them a job. But there’s no reason why at the same time, they should be forced to be living in conditions which make it difficult to survive. And it is too low. The Government needs to respond to the argument, not just of the welfare sector, but the response of businesses as well. And indeed, in the first Question Time of the new Parliament, I asked the Prime Minister, would an increase in Newstart boost consumer demand, economic growth and therefore employment? The Prime Minister chose not to answer, but I think the answer to that is pretty clear.
JOURNALIST: The Greens put out a motion during the Senate to increase the rate …
ALBANESE: The Greens move motions in the Senate, that doesn’t change anything.
JOURNALIST: So, you won’t say …
ALBANESE: Well it doesn’t change anything. I haven’t seen any motion. But frankly, the Greens motions in the Senate are usually aimed at them putting out a media release bagging the Labor Party. That’s what they’re aimed at. Well I’ve already said I want to see the rate increase. That’s a fact. But it’s up to the Government to change that. And I have put my position very clear. The Government needs to examine it and we’ll continue to argue the case. That’s why we asked a question during the first Question Time. The Greens have forgotten that the Coalition’s in Government and are obsessed by attacking Labor. That’s up to them. But the fact is, that were we successful on the 18th of May, we would have had an inquiry into the rate of Newstart. That was not an inquiry so that we could lower it. That was an inquiry obviously so that we could look at what an appropriate level is.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of Bob Brown’s claim that wind farm in Tasmania is the next …
ALBANESE: I thought Bob Brown was in favour of renewable energy.
JOURNALIST: There’s evidence that the tax cuts are starting to have an effect. There is a bit of a stimulus happening, the property market has bottomed and is starting to show signs of recovery. But two out of five CEOs are saying that they there’s no wage increases for workers. What is your response to that?
ALBANESE: Well what we need is to deal with wage stagnation as one of the issues, one of the economic indicators that has been identified by the Reserve Bank and by every economist in the country – understands that it’s a problem. It’s a problem because wage stagnation leads to low consumer demand, leads to the retail sector for example, in this state, saying that large number are looking at putting workers off in the coming quarter. So, that pressure that is on needs to be dealt with. The Government has no policy at the moment to deal with wage stagnation. They have no policy to deal with productivity. They have no policy to deal with low consumer demand. They have no policy to deal with skills, which is a big issue that was just raised by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry with us in the meeting this morning. This Government needs an overall plan for economic growth and jobs, not just here in WA but across the nation.
JOURNALIST: As workers have been moving into more productive industries, as suggested on the front page of the Australian today, does that help?
ALBANESE: Well obviously what we need is for workers to be engaged in in new industries and in productive industries. We’ve seen that here in WA. Even the resources sector itself is changing and diversifying the growth of new industries high value industries like lithium. But, what we need to do is to look at, for example, how we can value-add. And that was one of the discussions I’ve been having here in WA. We produce, here in Australia, everything that goes into a battery. But what we do at the moment, by and large, is to export the raw materials and then buy them back at great cost. There’s got to be an examination of how we not only produce goods for Australia, domestic consumption, but how we’ve become an exporter, not just of the natural resources, but an exporter having value added here in order to boost the economic benefit to Australia, but also to boost employment and to boost that direct benefit. And that’s just one example. And there are examples of success. We’re producing here in Australia, for example, car charging battery stations and exporting them to Europe. We can do much better. We need to identify where the growth industries are. Make sure that people have the skills in order to gain secure employment in those industries and in order to maximise the national economic benefit here. At the moment what I see is a Government that’s complacent about the economy, that doesn’t have a plan for economic growth into the future. And that plan has to be connected up with skills and employment and have people as its focus.
JOURNALIST: Was it appropriate for Adani to demand the names of Federal agency scientists reviewing its groundwater plans so they could check whether they were anti-coal?
JOURNALIST: Just on press freedom. Should the Government definitively rule out the prosecution of journalists?
ALBANESE: The Government said that there was no possibility of this happening just about a week ago. And what we’ve found out since then is that authorities have sought to access the information with regard to flight details that journalists were undertaking. And then we had the report about fingerprints and identification being required of journalists. Look this is a real issue. Press freedom is an essential component of our democracy. And the Government should be defending press freedom. At the moment when they do their half-hearted, and they back away from it 24 or 48 hours later. The Government needs to clearly explain what it knew, what its engagement was, with the raids that took place on Annika Smethurst, on the raid that took place on the ABC, and indeed on the raid that was planned on News Limited headquarters on Holt Street. These are fundamental issues in our democracy. Freedom of the press is an essential component. I’ll defend it even if the Government won’t. And it comes down to ultimately just one of respect.
JOURNALIST: The Russian Ambassador has said he’d welcome the Prime Minister visiting Russia. We haven’t had an Australian Prime Minister go there for 31 years, since Bob Hawke met with Mikhail Gorbachev. Should Scott Morrison go visit Russia? And if you were Prime Minister, would you visit Russia?
ALBANESE: Well I’m not getting ahead of myself and I won’t be answering any questions relating to the post-next election issue, as I said I hope to be kicking with the wind in the last quarter, and then to be successful.
JOURNALIST: Should Scott Morrison visit Russia?
ALBANESE: That’s a matter for Scott Morrison.
JOURNALIST: What do you think about Liza Harvey’s comments about the Perth CBD being full of dead zombies?
ALBANESE: When I come to Perth as the Opposition Leader, can I say this; I’ll be talking up Perth and W.A. It’s a pity that the WA Opposition Leader seems to think it’s appropriate to talk Perth in WA down.
JOURNALIST: Victoria is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on removing combustible cladding from its buildings, should other states and territories follow suit? And should the Federal Government chip in?
ALBANESE: The Federal Government has a role to play in national building standards, and it should indeed provide national leadership to make sure that there’s a coordinated response to this issue. The building and construction industry is critical for the national economy. But it’s also critical that people who live in those communities, who are moving into new buildings. Mascot is very close to me where there’s been a big issue close to where I live and I know people who’ve been impacted by that. And it shouldn’t occur. So, one, we should fix what needs to be fixed now, but two, we should have standards in place and measures that ensure that it never happens again.
JOURNALIST: What do you think about Anne Ruston’s comments on radio in Melbourne yesterday that the pension is generous?
ALBANESE: Well Anne Ruston just shows how out of touch she is, and how out of touch this Government is, when it comes to the real living standards that people are enduring. Pensioners do it tough. They deserve our respect. They get a pension as payback for what they have done in contributing to this nation. And I think that Anne Ruston’s comments are regrettable. Quite frankly she should apologise. And she should not make comments like that again. We need to respect our pensioners and the people who make this country the greatest country on the planet.
JOURNALIST: The Grattan Institute has said that the Private health insurance sector is in a death spiral. There is question on how much the Government should be contributing to subsidising it. What are your thoughts?
ALBANESE: Well we said before the election that they should be a Productivity Commission Inquiry to gather facts and to point the way forward. I think that is a reasonable suggestion for the Government to undertake.
JOURNALIST: Do you share the concerns of (inaudible).
ALBANESE: Sorry, to be frank I’m not on top of every local issue and I’ve taken a pretty broad load of questions. So I’m not going to comment on something that I’m not privy to.
JOURNALIST: Is there a reason that only one of your Shadow Cabinet members is from Western Australia when you are trying to show that you are in touch with Western Australia?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s one more than we had before. And it’s a matter of, we have now Madeline King in the Shadow Cabinet, we have Matt Keogh in the Shadow Ministry. We’ve got Louise and Pat Dodson and Josh as part of the frontbench team. We have Patrick Gorman as the finest member of the backbench team. He’s only been in Parliament for a couple of months, who will be undoubtedly a future frontbench member. We have an amazing team here in WA. Unfortunately, the truth is we don’t have enough people in the Labor caucus from WA. I intend to fix that at the next election.
JOURNALIST: Just back to Newstart. The majority of people receiving Newstart are between 55 and 64. How are they expected to find jobs?
ALBANESE: What we need to do is to retrain people. When people do lose their jobs in their 50s, they shouldn’t be written off. We need to make sure that they can continue to contribute, not just in terms of for their economic well-being and themselves and their families, but also because employment is one of the ways that we lead a satisfying life. And I know that people, when you’ve had significant layoffs, particularly of industries like the closure of the South Australian car industry that this current Government cheered on. Remember this; they dared them to leave when Joe Hockey was the Treasurer. They had real consequences for people. And I think one, we should not do that. We should be about protecting jobs here in Australia. But secondly, we need to make sure that we put in place measures so that the skills that people have can be, with retraining, got into employment in the economy.
You know we import a lot of labour into this country. Sometimes that’s appropriate and that plays a role in the economy. But we need to put the employment of Australians first. I make no apologies for that. And one of the things that we need to do is to value older workers. One of the things that we could do for example in TAFEs that I’ve been to and training, is that people who have been in employment for a long period of time can make an extraordinary contribution to passing on their skills. Not just direct skills but life skills as well to younger people. We need to value our older workers rather than discard them.
JOURNALIST: Could the Australian Government be doing more to help Yang Hengjun, an Australian citizen whose wife is trapped in China
ALBANESE: Look, the Australian Government looks after Australians who find themselves in difficulty overseas. Look sometimes the Australian Government will do things discreetly and get good outcomes. We had a recent issue of course with the student in North Korea. I don’t intend to politicise. I didn’t politicise that event. I don’t intend to politicise this issue either. I have every confidence that the Australian Government does what is necessary to defend the rights of Australian citizens.
JOURNALIST: Going back to the question on Liza Harvey, do you think the State Government should …
ALBANESE: I’m answering questions about Federal issues.
JOURNALIST: Can I go back to private health insurance. Can you understand why young people are opting out because it’s so expensive but those who do have it and go to private hospitals pay huge out-of-pocket costs? What can we do about that?
ALBANESE: Well look, Chris Bowen will be responding in further detail on this today but we have said that we supported the Productivity Commission doing an inquiry. I think that would be appropriate for the Government to examine this issue. Just to add to one answer I gave before about Adani requesting information about public servants. Can I make this point? I have every faith that the CSIRO and others in our scientific community make decisions based upon the absolute merits of the cases that are put forward. And I think that we should have faith in our public servants. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.