SUBJECTS: Drought; RBA interest rate cuts; Scott Morrison’s involvement in Donald Trump’s domestic politics.
TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Well, good morning everyone. Thanks for joining us here. I’m here with Anthony Albanese at Stanthorpe at the Storm King dam which, as you can see behind us, is pretty empty. It is down to 22 per cent capacity according to one of the local councillors who’s visiting here today. We’re here because so much of this country is suffering drought, and what’s really important in this situation is to call on the Government to take some real action in relation to water and drought. We’ve seen a Government that’s had a political strategy, but not a real plan, when it comes to dealing with water. This third-term Government has never, since it was elected, built a dam in this country and they need to get their act together on water infrastructure. This Government has had a drought taskforce. It’s had a Drought Coordinator. It’s had a drought summit. It’s had a drought envoy. But what it doesn’t have is a comprehensive national plan to deal with drought. The Government needs to come clean about what it’s going to do with drought. They need to release the Drought Coordinator’s report and they also need to encourage the National Audit Office to properly audit every piece of drought funding for the past six years because over the weekend, we saw a pretty scandalous situation where some wrong data was used to provide drought funding to a council that didn’t even need it or want it. It’s just quite disturbing how poorly the Government have managed water and water policy in this country. They need to take some action and they need to do it now because communities are hurting. We’ve been hearing from locals that they’re doing it really tough. Businesses are doing it tough. Farmers are doing it tough here in Stanthorpe and across the country. So, action is needed not just political strategy. Thanks Albo.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much Terri. Last night and this morning we’ve been hearing Stanthorpe really on the frontline of the drought that’s having such a devastating impact on communities. And we’ve been welcomed here because they want people to act. And the Federal Government, at the moment, is big on rhetoric but its action has been too little and too late, and it’s been misdirected. This is typical of a government that’s all about politics. Scott Morrison arrived off a plane from the United States and came to Queensland, made an announcement which was based upon false data. The million dollars allocated to Moyne Shire is a scandal given the vast need that is out there, need in communities like right here. We’ve been talking to Vic, one of the councillors, here this morning about the devastating impact that the drought is having. What we need is actually a drought strategy and the Government simply doesn’t have one. It has just political short-term manoeuvrings. We know not just a million dollars was allocated to a council that had an abundance of water. What we know also is that the Government’s figures are essentially quite farcical. For Scott Morrison to use a $7 billion figure is an insult given the size of the actual increase in drought funding was $100 million in the announcement. What they do is they speak about the Building Australia Fund $3.9 billion, then they say it’ll add interest in the future, sometimes decades down the track, and that’ll add up to $5 billion when the real funding being allocated is just $100 per year. It is an insult to communities that are suffering. What we need is a full audit of drought funding over the last six years. What we need is a drought strategy. We also need the Government to release the Drought Coordinator’s report. The Drought Coordinator did produce a report. It’s out there, making suggestions of what the Government should do. And the Government is keeping that report secret, just like the ‘drought envoy’ so-called, at great cost to taxpayers, was created so that Barnaby Joyce could be refocused away from attacking Michael McCormack on to giving him a title. It’s quite farcical and the idea that the reports consisted of a few text messages around from Barnaby Joyce is again a real insult. So, we need a drought strategy. Communities need assistance because they are suffering. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: So, $100 million, is that not enough?
ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly, it’s not enough. And $100 million that hasn’t even been allocated properly. There’s a need for increased assistance. There’s a need to actually have a drought strategy so that there’s a plan going forward on how to deal with these challenges.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, a fire just came through Stanthorpe and destroyed several homes. Is there room to declare drought as a natural disaster? Many of the people around here are saying that it should be.
ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly this community is suffering from natural disaster on top of the drought. For them to suffer from that devastating fire has had a real impact on the community. We have spoken to businesses, here last night and this morning, that are really doing it tough. We’re coming up to the October long weekend and, frankly, normally the motels would be full around here. They’re not. Because of the combination of impact of the drought as well as the fires that occurred here.
JOURNALIST: You say that more dams need to be built. Why do you think that’s not the case? Why is that not happening?
ALBANESE: Well, this is a Government that tries to govern through 20 second grabs on the news. They don’t actually follow things through. There’s no strategy. There’s no proper planning. They use big figures that don’t actually add up to action. They talked about dams more than a thousand times in the Parliament, this Government has spoken about dams. They haven’t dug a hole yet anywhere in the entire country to build a dam.
JOURNALIST: We have seen farmers gathered together to privately partly fund dams in Southern Queensland. Should it be up to farmers to do that when politicians just can’t seem to get their act together and fund dams themselves?
ALBANESE: Well, the Government does need to get its act together. They need to narrow the gap that there between the Government’s rhetoric and its actions on so many issues. This is a Government that has a political tactic for everything and a long-term strategy for nothing. This is a Government that isn’t acting in the national interest. It just acts on a day by day basis in its own political interest.
JOURNALIST: As I understand though, state governments are responsible funding dam infrastructure. So, is it disingenuous to say that the Federal Government should chip in money for that? Isn’t that just more of the political ‘buck-passing’ that people in these regions are sick of?
ALBANESE: No not at all. State governments do have responsibility for planning, but it is the Federal Government that talks a big game on dams and isn’t doing anything about it. It’s the Federal Government that have had multiple reports, have had a drought coordinator, have had a drought envoy, have had various positions that they’ve promoted as leading to action and they haven’t even released the reports. In some cases, it’s very clear that Barnaby Joyce just didn’t produce a report, didn’t produce anything at all except bills to the taxpayer.
JOURNALIST: Just one more thing on the drought (inaudible).
ALBANESE: We have been speaking with locals and we have been invited to come here and I wanted to see firsthand. I’ll be meeting with the Mayor, I’ve met with one of the councillors this morning. We have been talking to local business. I want to see firsthand what is happening. I travelled to regional New South Wales earlier on. I wanted to travel to inland Queensland to see firsthand what’s going on here. And I note that there’s other people coming through. We won’t be charging to speak to us. We will just be talking to people on the basis of making ourselves available.
ALBANESE: What we’ve done already, Joel Fitzgibbon has been leading the charge from an agriculture perspective and Terri Butler from a water infrastructure perspective. And they have been pursuing the Government to act. We’ve called for a range of actions including a National Audit Office assessment of the last six years of funding. We have called for increased funding. We’ve called for the Government to develop a drought strategy. We’ll continue to pressure the Government because we want to represent all Australians no matter where they live, no matter what way they vote, no matter what they look like. We want to represent all Australians. These hard-working people in these communities are deserving of support. Certainly, the feedback that I’ve had last night, and this morning is that they very much appreciate us coming here and hearing firsthand from them the stories.
JOURNALIST: Just on the RBA interest rate cuts. (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: Well, this is a disgrace. The banks need to pass on the interest rate cut in full and the Government needs to do something about it. They can’t just sit back as spectators while this occurs. Interest rates are now below 1 per cent for the first time in our history. What does it take to shake this Government out of its complacency when it comes to the need to manage the national economy? This is third interest rate decrease since the election, since May. It’s only the beginning of October. This is quite remarkable. And for a Government that, when it was in Opposition, spoke about interest rates being at emergency levels when they were four and five and six times higher than they are now, says a lot about the state of the economy. We have interest rates below 1 per cent. That is just a signal of how low consumer demand is, the fact that economic growth is not keeping up with what’s required. The fact that people are doing it tough out there, not just in communities like this, but right around the suburbs, the towns and the regional communities around Australia. They’re doing it tough. Wages are stagnant. They’re not keeping up with the cost of living. And this Government is complacent about it. And the banks, frankly, have done themselves a disservice. I would have thought that the banks should have got the big message over the last few years when Labor forced a reluctant Government to have the Royal Commission. This will just reinforce how out of touch the banks are by not passing on the full amount. They should reconsider, the Government should pressure them, into making sure that this 0.25 per cent reduction is passed on in full.
JOURNALIST: Why is Donald Trump bringing in our Prime Minister to (inaudible).
ALBANESE: Well, the Prime Minister needs to explain exactly what went on here. He needs to release any transcript and information which is out there. But this is quite extraordinary. It was extraordinary that the Prime Minister attended what was a ‘de-facto campaign rally’ for Donald Trump in Ohio, just a week ago. And these revelations, I think, are of concern. The Prime Minister needs to make a full statement and not say ‘this is just gossip’, not give one of his usual prevarications that we see from this Government. He is ducking and weaving, this Prime Minister, he’s loose with the truth. We know that the issue of the invite of Mr. Houston to the US state dinner, he ducked and weaved and didn’t give a clear answer. We know that he denied remembering saying that Sam Dastyari was ‘Shanghai Sam’ in spite of the fact that he did that on at least 17 occasions. We know that when this Prime Minister is asked a question by the media, he dodges and refers to the ‘Canberra bubble’. He has various tactics. He needs to be held to account for this and needs to explain fully to the Australian people what went on here.
ALBANESE: Well, the Government needs to explain this. And the Prime Minister needs to explain fully. I certainly wasn’t a party to that phone call. So, the Prime Minister needs to just be straight with the Australian people about what’s going on here.
JOURNALIST: Should the Prime Minister have had (inaudible).
ALBANESE: Well, the Prime Minister needs to explain exactly what’s going on here. I can’t deal in hypotheticals because I’m not aware of all of the facts. Nor is anyone else except for Scott Morrison himself. That’s why Scott Morrison needs to explain exactly what has occurred.
JOURNALIST: If you were in the same position though, would you?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m not in the same position. And I wasn’t in the same position.
ALBANESE: Well, people will make their own judgments on that. Anyone who looks at that footage in Ohio will say it themselves that it ‘looked a lot like domestic politics to me’. And Scott Morrison using terms like ‘make jobs great again’ was designed to fit into domestic politics in the United States.
JOURNALIST: If the Australian Government does not release the transcript of the phone call, what do you think?
ALBANESE: Well, I think that the Australian people will make their own judgment if they’re not prepared to be transparent about this. Thank you.