SUBJECTS: Trip to Queensland; Angus Taylor misleads again; Queensland jobs; bushfire COAG; support for volunteer firefighters; coal; Adani; live cattle exports; climate change; fracking; rare earths.
MURRAY WATT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA: Well, thanks everyone for coming today. It is a great pleasure to be back here in Rockhampton again. And I am really pleased to be joined by our Federal Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese. First time he has been here as Leader but of course he is a regular visitor to Rockhampton and Central Queensland over many, many years in Federal Parliament. I am also joined by our Labor state member, Barry O’Rourke, Senator Anthony Chisholm, and Jason Clare, our Shadow Minister for Housing and Local Government. This is the second day of Anthony and Federal Labor’s tour through Central Queensland. We know that this is an area where Labor needs to do a lot better. We didn’t have a good result here at the Federal Election and we are determined to turn that around. You have already seen that since the election I accompanied Richard Marles, our Deputy Leader, through central Queensland. I have been here a number of times, as have other Shadow Ministers. And we are very serious about getting out there into regional Queensland and listening to people about what they expect from Labor over this term and the next election. Already, it has become very clear that the number one issue in central Queensland remains to be jobs. And that is why we have been keen to talk to people about jobs in resources, jobs in agriculture, jobs in the service industries, jobs in health and education. It comes up everywhere that we have travelled so far and that certainly reflects what I’ve always heard here in central Queensland. Before handing over to Anthony, I might just also say one thing as Labor’s Shadow Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management. I was only up here a few weeks ago to inspect the bushfires that went through just outside Yeppoon with Mayor Bill Ludwig and meeting up with volunteers and community organisations who played such an important role in dealing with the bushfires here in central Queensland. I think all of us have been really shocked and dismayed from the footage that we see of what is going on in Sydney right now and really, right across the country. The reality is that we are going to be seeing more bushfires like this into the future. And what we need is some national leadership on this issue. The bushfires that we are facing in this country are a national issue and they need national leadership. They are not just bushfires that are happening just here in central Queensland, or just in Sydney. These things are happening pretty much right across the country and that is why it needs a national response. Anthony will elaborate on this more but that is one of the reasons why today we have backed the call from ex-fire chiefs to hold a national summit to work out what we need to do as a nation to better prepare for the bushfires and other natural disasters which we are going to be seeing more of into the future. We met with these ex-fire chiefs in Canberra last week. These are the guys who have got decades of experience in fighting bushfires, in preparing for them, in recovering for them. And the Prime Minister won’t even meet with them. We know he is a busy guy, but surely, he can find five minutes in his diary to meet with people who have decades of experience in fighting bushfires. We found time to meet with them last week and they had lots of good advice for us. It is about time that the Prime Minister started listening to the experts, the people who know what we need to do, and that is why we are backing a national summit together with fire chiefs, political leaders, our defence forces, community organisations, together as a community to make sure that the whole country is better prepared for bushfires and other natural disasters in the future. On that, I will hand over to Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Murray. It is great to be joined here by yourself, but as well, Jason Clare, and Anthony Chisholm, as well as Barry O’Rourke, the local state MP here for Rocky. I want to make some opening comments about three issues. One is the visit here. But some comments about the bushfire emergency and also about Angus Taylor’s performance whilst representing Australia overseas at the Climate Change Summit. Here in central Queensland, this is day two of a tour that began in Barcaldine, went through Alpha overnight, and then we will be going right down the coast all the way to the Sunshine Coast. What we have done is to speak to people at meetings. But also, we have spoken to people where they gather. A good place to do it is to walk into a pub, and that is exactly what we did in Emerald last night and chatted to people after the meeting as well. What we are getting back is the feedback that Queenslanders are concerned about jobs. They are also concerned about job security and the casualisation of the workforce in the mining centre is a major issue. We see casuals paid 40 per cent more than people who are in permanent employment. And we see that as a rouse. And the Commonwealth Government are doing nothing about it. They are having nothing to say to workers who are essentially being ripped off through a process of labour hire companies paying them 40 per cent less than people that they work next to, doing exactly the same job. And that is not on. It should be the same pay for the same job. But, the LNP have nothing to say about that, and One Nation have had nothing to say about that. This is a critical issue which not only hurts the individual workers, it also hurts the regional economy, because it is literally taking millions of dollars out of fund that would be used, spent in the local shops, spent in the local bars, spent on recreational activity, spent purchasing and boosting regional economies. And this is something that feeds into the low wage issue the Reserve Bank have identified. They have said that low wage growth is the new norm. Well, this is hurting our national economy, but it is also hurting individuals who are struggling to pay the bills, pay the mortgage, look after their families. So, this is a major issue.
On the bushfires, it’s very clear that when the Prime Minister said, I read overnight, that he had said that the issue which I wrote to him about, is one of the issues we identified should be dealt with at a special COAG meeting to coordinate a national response to the bushfire emergency. The Prime Minister said it wasn’t necessary. One of the issues that we raised there was the volunteer firefighters and their leave. I’ve met with volunteer firefighters who haven’t had weeks off work, they’ve had months off work. On the North Coast of New South Wales, places like Rappville near Casino that burned in March, there has been fires ever since. Now, if people are giving up their time, out of their commitment to their fellow Australians, that’s a great thing. They deserve our support. Now, some businesses are very good at granting paid leave. But the truth is that a whole lot of people are giving up their wages in order to continue to fight fires, to save lives, to make a difference to our community. These firefighters deserve support and for Scott Morrison to say they’re doing it because they want to be fighting fires. I haven’t met a volunteer firefighter who actually wants to fight fires. What they want to do is for fires to not happen. They’re prepared to help when they do happen and to pitch in and to make incredible sacrifice and risk to themselves to do so. The least we can expect from the Commonwealth Government is a better response than that. And that could be one of the issues that is dealt with at a summit, that could be held bringing in experts, whether that’s COAG, or another summit doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that we have a national response to this bushfire emergency, and that the Commonwealth Government provides some leadership on that issue. When it comes to leadership, the Commonwealth Government on climate change is going nowhere. Overnight in the rankings of how well different nation states are doing, at the Madrid Conference, Australia rank last. And you’re Angus Taylor, thinking he was in Parliament speaking about the Naomi Wolf mislead, or the mislead about grasslands, or the mislead about the Clover Moore letter, said that Australia was doing really well. That we were doing better than anywhere else in the world. At the same time as he’s arguing, we need to use an accounting trick, counting old numbers in order to count for our future target that we need to meet to reduce emissions. Angus Taylor is an embarrassment in the National Parliament. And it’s embarrassing that he’s representing us at the Madrid Conference. The fact is that if he said we were doing better than anyone else, he must have looked at the table upside down, because we’re at the very bottom out of more than 60 nations. And it’s very clear that Angus Taylor and this Government have no credibility when it comes to tackling the issue of climate change. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Albo, you just mentioned national leadership on the fire situation, but you’re the national leader of the Labor Party. Why are you up here campaigning in coal country when there’s bushfires in New South Wales?
ALBANESE: I’m campaigning around the country. I’ve visited the North Coast of New South Wales. I’ve been to Casino, Lismore, I’ve been to Ballina, to Nimbin. I went around, I’ve spoken to people directly who were impacted. I met with the ex fire chiefs in Canberra just a week ago. I’m engaged on these issues. The fires, of course, have had an impact right here in Queensland, houses were lost just west of Yeppoon. And so this is an issue that’s impacting the entire nation. And it’s one of the things that has been raised with me by people who I’ve met over the last couple of days.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, yesterday you supported Queensland jobs from all projects. A couple of people have picked up that you didn’t actually say coal projects. Just so there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind.
ALBANESE: I’m not playing semantics. I support all jobs.
JOURNALIST: Including coal jobs?
ALBANESE: I support all jobs, that’s pretty clear. And what we have here is a government that wants to play little games, because they’re not getting on with doing anything. What I say to whoever it is who’s promoting that sort of idea, is that coal miners are being ripped off through the casualisation of the workforce that’s going on. What are they doing about ensuring that they’re properly paid? At the moment if you’re working for a labour hire company, chances are you’ll get 40 per cent less than a permanent worker. You don’t have annual leave. You don’t have sick leave. You don’t have any job security. So I say that the LNP likes to talk about jobs, but what they don’t talk about is security of jobs. What they don’t talk about is wages and conditions, because they represent the interests of big mining companies, not mining workers. And I’ve met with mining workers. I think that the work that they do should be respected and I do that.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, you were due to visit a coal mine this morning, there was a logistical issue. What was that logistical issue that meant you couldn’t visit a coal mine?
ALBANESE: My itinerary has been worked out. You can’t be in two places at once. I’ve just driven from Emerald to Rockhampton, and this is where we’ve got to. So we are visiting an aluminium smelter, I think tomorrow at Boyne Island. We’ll continue to get out and about. We spoke to some mine workers last night in Emerald.
JOURNALIST: Will you commit to go to a coal mine next year in Central Queensland?
ALBANESE: I’ll commit to my itinerary when it’s worked out. I have no problem visiting any sites, any work sites. The important thing is to talk to workers.
JOURNALIST: Speaking of jobs, you’re here in the beef capital. Do you support the live cattle trade and the 10,000 jobs it creates?
ALBANESE: Well, again, the LNP putting questions out there to people, so that journalists ask them. Why don’t they do their day job.
ALBANESE: Hang on, why don’t they do their day job? And I’ll tell you what is an issue for cattle producers, and I do support cattle producers and I support the Office of Animal Welfare that we wanted to establish, that they got rid of, that was about security, about security for the industry. That’s what we need to do to make sure that we have secure jobs, secure industry going forward. But I tell you what, concerns they raised with me, they raised with me when I’ve met with people from the agricultural sector, the drought. That’s what they’re raising and we have a National Government that still doesn’t have a national drought strategy. This drought has been going on for a long period of time. What we have in Canberra is a government that don’t sit back and say this is what we want to do for the country. They are in power. Someone should tell them to stop acting like an opposition in exile sitting on the government benches. Because what they do is sit back and talk about what Labor should be doing or try to play these little word games with the Labor Party. It quite frankly, is demeaning. And one of the things that it’s doing, it means that at the moment, we have Scott Morrison, the ad man without a plan. There’s no plan for the economy. There’s no plan to deal with wages. There’s no plan to deal with energy or climate change. There’s no national drought strategy. There’s no plan to deal with the aged care crisis. This Government, just six months into this term is still on a victory lap, thinking that they don’t have to come up with policies and plans moving forward. And it’s simply not good enough.
JOURNALIST: Do you support the live cattle trade?
ALBANESE: I’m not-
JOURNALIST: -You just said you supported cattle producers. But you-
ALBANESE: Cattle producers.
JOURNALIST: Can you confirm you support the live cattle trade?
ALBANESE: Yes. Well, that’s nonsense, frankly.
JOURNALIST: The live cattle trade.
ALBANESE: Yes, we have, Labor has. We have made our position very clear, along with the Office of Animal Welfare. We need to make sure that the trade engages in a way that looks after people. I’ve visited, I’ve been to, you want to talk about sites, I’ve been to with the Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association. I’ve been to farms and spoken directly to those people over a long period of time. What we have here though, is the Coalition continuing to play these sort of word games and journalists playing along with that, and that’s fine. But what we really need is a government that actually responds, actually responds. Now a live trade that is done in a way that looks after the welfare of animals is a big plus for Australia. And we need to recognize that, there’s a lot of jobs and a lot of income for Australia. The fact is that it undermined the live cattle trade by the abuse that was exposed by the media. And that is what undermined the system. That’s why Labor put in place measures such as the Office of Animal Welfare.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, your own electorate in inner west Sydney is boycotting Adani. Why are you up here supporting it?
ALBANESE: The Labor councillors didn’t vote for that proposal, and they’re not boycotting Adani. What they’re doing is boycotting Telstra and boycotting a whole lot of other companies. As far as I know Adani doesn’t have any activity in Newtown.
JOURNALIST: Do you support Adani?
ALBANESE: I have gone through this a range of days. I went through it all yesterday, I’ll go through again. Adani has been approved. The fact is that the jobs will be created, I call upon Adani to actually create the jobs. It’s been approved. They need to proceed with creating the jobs that will come from that project.
JOURNALIST: Just on other projects in the Galilee Basin, potential projects, obviously you stated that then whether they go ahead or not, it’s not a matter for you, or government, it’s a matter of whether finance.
JOURNALIST: Finance, or get approval. So if something like the Alpha Coal project or just any other any other-
ALBANESE: I’m not preempting anything.
JOURNALIST: I’m not asking you to preempt anything, but if they happen to get through all the regulatory hurdles that they need to, would you welcome the jobs and investment that would be created in the Galilee?
ALBANESE: I’m not preempting processes.
JOURNALIST: I’m not asking you to preempt-
ALBANESE: -Yes, you are. And you asked the same question yesterday and you’ll get the same answer. What we need to do is to make sure that environmental approvals are stringent, that they are complied with. The system is then that it’s up to whether the finance of projects go ahead. But what I’m not going to do is to pretend that I am responsible for these projects. These are private sector projects. It’s not up to government to run these projects. The only people speaking about government funding for projects are LNP members up the coast, who argue that there should be a new coal fired power station, which is government subsidised. I’ve said I don’t think that will happen, that they talk with forked tongue. They are holding out prospects because the market is speaking and the market is saying that it won’t be the case that in future coal fired power stations are built in Australia, because renewables can do it cheaper.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, on the volunteer firefighter support, do you have an idea about how it might look, the leave support that these firefighters get? Would it be something like the army reservists, the way that the government reimburses employers, or did you have another strategy?
JOURNALIST: Well look, from Opposition, frankly, you can’t design the process. But the sort of ideas whereby you provide some form of government assistance in recognition that people are losing their income. You’d need to balance that with a full analysis of where leave is allowed by existing employers and make sure that existing employers weren’t disadvantaged or didn’t encourage the withdrawal of existing leave arrangements that gave an advantage to volunteer firefighters. But these are the issues that need looking at. What we know is there’s a problem there. And people shouldn’t have to choose between going and helping their community and having the circumstances of missing out on their basic income. They still need to pay the rent. They still need to buy food. They still need to look after their family and their kids.
JOURNALIST: Was Keppel MP Brittany Lauga invited to this media opportunity?
ALBANESE: We invited the local State Member, but they’re not participating. It’s a Federal press conference.
JOURNALIST: But they are Labor and they have a State election next year. Wouldn’t it be beneficial for Labor to invite them?
ALBANESE: I know Brittany very well. This is a Federal press conference and on tonight’s news, your channel will run one grab or two grabs from me on Federal issues. And that’s what the press conferences (inaudible). I meet with locals all the time.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the unprecedented smoke haze situation in Sydney?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s catastrophic. The fact is that these bushfires are having an impact on the environment. They’re having an impact with fatalities. They’re having an impact on people’s health. We need a response to this national emergency.
JOURNALIST: I was going to say, do you think that given the drought and bushfire crisis that people are more concerned about climate change?
ALBANESE: Well, we know that the scientists told us that extreme weather event bushfires would be more intense, would begin earlier. And we know that that is the case. So in terms of bushfire events, we can expect, because the scientists have told us, and guess what the scientists had been right. Unfortunately, they say that the cyclone season will also be more intense. We’re not even two weeks into summer and what we’ve seen is a bushfire season that started a long time ago, and has caused incredible damage. What we see is the combination with the drought, with the drying out, is that areas of tropical rainforest that have not burned before are burning. And that is having an enormous impact. And there’s no doubt that whilst you can’t say that any single event is linked to climate change, because there were bushfires in Australia forever. What you can say, is that the intensity and the frequency of events is more often and that is linked to climate change.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe there’s a link between coal and climate change?
ALBANESE: Of course there’s a link to coal and climate change. The fact is that the burning of fossil fuels does contribute to climate change, but that’s why we need plans to move to cleaner energy. That’s what we need to do. That’s what Angus Taylor and the Government say they are doing. The problem is they’re not getting the outcomes.
JOURNALIST: Just on the last election here in Central Queensland, there was a massive swing against Labor not just here, but around Central Queensland. What are you planning on doing to try and turn people around on all the issues?
ALBANESE: Well, the first thing you do is come and talk to people. And talk to them straight about what the issues are. And talk to them about what their concerns are, and importantly listen to them. And that’s what I’ve been doing since the election. I’ve been to Queensland more than about 10 times. I’ve been to Mackay, I’ve been to Townsville, I’ve been to Cairns. I’ve been to Stanthorpe and Warwick talking to people about the drought. I’ll continue to get out and about and talk to people. And that’s what I’ll be doing after this media conference here in Rocky. We’ll be talking to people at a meeting tonight in Gladstone. And what we need to do is to engage. But some of the feedback that I’ve had is that since the election, is that nothing much has changed. They did vote for Scott Morrison, but what they’re getting is a Prime Minister on a victory lap, not a Prime Minister with a plan, and that is causing them a great deal of concern. They are worried about job security. They’re worried about the fact their wages aren’t increasing. They’re worried about climate change and bushfires. They’re worried about a whole range of issues. And this Government just has a plan of talking about Labor.
JOURNALIST: Do you think volunteer firefighters should be paid?
ALBANESE: Well, I’ve just said that it should be one of the matters, I’ve written to the Prime Minister, that that’s one of the matters that should be considered. Quite clearly volunteer firefighters who have been in the field for many months simply shouldn’t have to be in a position whereby they choose whether to continue to do that or to be paid.
JOURNALIST: Just on gas. Queensland has been [inaudible] gas out of the ground, including through fracking. Your Resources Spokesman has being critical of New South Wales and Victoria for not doing enough to find new gas fields and a blanket ban on fracking. What are your thoughts on on fracking? Would you encourage Victoria to lift its ban?
ALBANESE: Victoria is looking at that. I’ve discussed it with Daniel Andrews. Victoria is looking at these issues.
JOURNALIST: They’re thinking of putting it on their Constitution. They’re looking at raising a moratorium on conventional exploration.
ALBANESE: I’m not in State Parliament. I’m in Federal Parliament. This is a Federal issue. If we go around the states we’ll be here for a very long time.
JOURNALIST: I’ve just got a very quick one for you. Keith Pitt says, and I quote you’ll always be saddled with Bill Shorten’s problems in his part of the world, no matter what you do. Satisfying climate change in the big city electorates [inaudible] jobs in Queensland. What do you make of that?
ALBANESE: It’s not either or. You can create jobs, indeed climate change is an opportunities to create jobs, to create jobs through issues like the hydrogen industry that we’ll be talking about in Gladstone. To create jobs through renewable energy, to create jobs which are being created in Queensland with the manufacture of electric vehicle charging stations that are being exported to Europe. The sort of jobs that can be be created through the rare earths, which there’s an announcement today about a new mine in Northwest Queensland that’s been approved. That’s the sort of industry, lithium, these rare earths going to batteries. Australia has an abundance of them. What we should be about is also manufacturing, solar panels, manufacturing other things here, so that we actually grow jobs. So I don’t see that it’s either or and we know, there was a report about Queensland energy prices coming down because of renewables. The truth is that action on climate change can create jobs, lower emissions and lower prices. And that’s my objective. Keith Pitt has run around and has promoted, the only thing I’ve heard him say the entire time he’s been in Parliament, has been to promote nuclear energy. So Keith Pill might like to tell the people of Hervey Bay or Bundaberg exactly where it is that his nuclear power plant will go, exactly how much water it will use, exactly how much it will create in terms of emissions in construction. I mean, once again, Keith Pitt not standing up for his electorate, just talking about Labor. What are the positive initiatives that these LNP members have for their electorates. They just take them for granted.
JOURNALIST: Finally, the Climate Change Conference in Madrid has focused heavily on carry over credits. Does it remain Labor’s policy to reject carry over credits to meet the Paris Agreement?
ALBANESE: Yes, we need real action on climate change and accounting tricks won’t do it. And it’s not surprising that the world is pushing back on that, because they want Australia to fulfil our commitments, not to the irony of Angus Taylor relying upon credits because of the action that the former Labor Government did, at the time when they have wiped out any energy policy. They are now in their seventh year and they don’t have a policy. And I’ll refer you from the ABC to Q&A and Malcolm Turnbull’s comments on Monday night, where he again just confirmed that the Coalition are incapable of taking action on this because of their internals. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.