Subjects: Whyalla steelworks; rail projects; Labor Policy; Budget; Turnbull-Morrison dysfunction
LISA WILKINSON: It’s good morning right now to Minister for Industry and Innovation Christopher Pyne and Shadow Transport and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese. Good morning to you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning Lisa.
WILKINSON: Christopher, I’m going to start with you. You’re Innovation Minister. What is the government actually doing to save these jobs?
PYNE: Well, we’re doing two very specific things, well three I suppose if you add Malcolm Turnbull ringing the banks personally and talking to them about the need to be good corporate citizens, and to be fair to them I think they want to be good corporate citizens. He spent the weekend, Monday, Tuesday doing that.
But we also, about a month ago brought forward the purchase of 72,000 tonnes of stell for the Tarcoola-Adelaide rail line. That’s worth about $80 million to Arrium.
That’s a very important contract for them to win and that was supposed to be done in the 2020s. We brought it forward to this year and as the Minister I’m using the Anti-Dumping Commission powers that I have to make decisions that stop unfair competition from overseas steel makers.
So we are using the levers at our disposal without committing to any kind of bailout, because we’re also talking to the state government in South Australia who’ve said they will put cash on the table.
So between the banks, Grant Thornton the administrators who’ve said that it’s business as usual and announced no job losses which is really good news, between the federal and state governments we are trying to work through what’s obviously a very serious issue.
WILKINSON: Anthony, have you got a better plan?
ALBANESE: Well, I think they could be bringing forward more works. One of the things that we did as part of the economic stimulus plan for jobs when it was needed was to bring forward upgrades of the rail track that the Commonwealth Government essentially owns through the Australian Rail Track Corporation.
It’s a good thing the government has brought forward some of those works, but there’s more that could be brough forward that has a benefit for Australia as well. We cut six hours off the Brisbane to Melbourne freight line time and nine hours off the east to west coast.
Now, this work could be brought forward and we should also ensure I think that when government is investing in infrastructure upgrades they use Australian steel. That’s not too much to ask. It makes sure that the jobs are kept here in Australia. It also ensures quality in terms of the steel that we produce, that of course is the best in the world.
PYNE: I agree with that Lisa, and if Anthony’s got suggestions about other projects that we could bring forward in rail, I’d be very keen to talk to him about it because it’s beyond politics. Secondly, I couldn’t agree more.
State and territory governments using federal taxpayers’ dollars for construction and any federal government projects should use Australian steel especially, where its possible.
I mean sometimes, it’s not always exactly possible, we don’t always necessarily make every kind of steel, but where we do, we should be allowed to compete, and of course because of the government’s commitment to the twelve subs, the nine frigates, the patrol vessels and so on, there will be a whole body of work coming through the pipeline, so I’m optimistic, and the people of Whyalla should not be panicking and no one should try and panic anybody and it’s an Australia-wide problem. There are 1000 employees in Queensland, 1000 in Victoria, 1500 here in NSW, 500 in WA. It’s not just a Whyalla problem. It’s an Australia problem.
WILKINSON: So how many jobs do you think you can save of the 7000?
PYNE: Well, Grant Thornton, the administrators have said that they haven’t announced one job loss.
WILKINSON: Not yet.
PYNE: No. Because the best way for the banks to get their money back, it’s $2.4 billion of debt, and there’s a whole different argument about whether management should have got them into that debt, but the best way to get the money back is to trade out of the problem.
WILKINSON: Trading out of the problem, but the company has stuffed up.
PYNE: Well look, there’s no doubt about that.
ALBANESE: I think that’s a bipartisan position, Lisa, that the company management clearly have completely stuffed this up.
WILKINSON: But are they capable of trading their way out of this?
PYNE: Well, whether the previous management was is now a moot point because Grant Thornton have moved in, I think 70 people fanned out across the country yesterday to keep the business going and I’m meeting with them today in South Australia and I’ll be able to get a better update from them when I’ve spoken to them.
ALBANESE: We’ve got to remember Lisa, it’s not about the management, it’s about the workers and their families.
WILKINSON: Absolutely, and I think everyone agrees on that. Now, moving on. Anthony, we heard last night that Bill Shorten has started to lay out some of his economic plans to become PM and according to those most recent polls out this week there’s a growing chance that will be the case.
He said that he’s going to spend more on childcare, self-funded retirees, older workers trying to get into the workforce, health, education. He’s also said that he’s going to have some new taxes should he become Prime Minister. What are they going to be?
ALBANESE: We’ve outlined our policies including the quite controversial policy according to Christopher of doing something about housing affordability, for example in terms of changes that we would make to negative gearing and to capital gains in terms of those concessions.
That’s pretty brave for an opposition to do but it’s the right thing to do because government’s about priorities. Our priority for example, is education where Labor is out there. We’re saying we will commit $37 billion to make sure that every child gets the best opportunity in life, that that is a priority for us.
The Federal Government last week was floating zero dollars for public education. We think that says a lot about Malcolm Turnbull’s priorities compared with ours.
WILKINSON: But do we know what the new taxes are going to be?
ALBANESE: We’ve put out there exactly what we would do in terms of tax changes, in terms of capital gains tax and in terms of superannuation changes at the high end.
WILKINSON: So nothing over and above that?
ALBANESE: We’ve put out there our policies very clearly.
WILKINSON: But those taxes are going to raise $88 billion over the next 10 years. That’s $9 billion per year. That’s only a drop in the bucket on a deficit that’s blown out to $37 billion.
ALBANESE: If you look Lisa, at the spending committments that we’ve made, every single one of them has been fully costed. It’s unusual for an opposition to do.
PYNE: Lisa, they use the same dollar over and over again to pay for different things. Now, we’d all love to be able to do that, but actually, you’ve got to have the money, now unless Bill Shorten’s got a money tree that we don’t know about, he’s promising money to everybody who wants to hear that.
Every group. You went through five or six of them. That’s just half a dozen of the groups he’s promised money to. The next election’s going to be not only a choice between Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten, who you want to be the Prime Minister of Australia, it’s going to be who is credible on economics, who you trust to create jobs and growth.
Now, the last time Labor was in office, we went from a massive surplus to a massive deficit, enourmous amounts of debt, and they’ve learnt nothing. They just want to spend tax and spend more and more, and it’s time to call a halt to this spending spree.
ALBANESE: Last time, there was a global financial crisis, Christopher. There was a global financial crisis.
PYNE: But you certainly took us from a surplus into hundreds of billions of dollars of debt.
ALBANESE: We, unlike the rest of the world didn’t go into recession, we ensured that jobs were created. We ensured that. It is Labor’s way to protect jobs.
PYNE: Labor’s way is to tax and spend.
ALBANESE: It’s to protect jobs.
WILKINSON: We’ve run out of time.
PYNE: That’s a pity.
WILKINSON: I just have to ask, how is Scott Morrison going with that Budget? Has the PM finally left him alone to just get on with it?
PYNE: Well, he is. He’s doing a great job, Scott Morrison. And on May 3 we will see the Budget. It’s the next down payment on our policies. We’ve got the Defence Industry Policy Statement. The Defence White Paper. The National Innovation Science Agenda. Media reform. Competition law reform.
We’ll have the Budget. I mean, by the election the stark contrast between tax and spend Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull living within his means will be very obvious to the Australian public.
WILKINSON: Karl will kill me if I don’t ask you this; is the Prime Minister and Scott Morrison talking? Are they all happy families now?
PYNE: Best friends.
PYNE: They are besties.
PYNE: Better friends than me and Anthony and everyone knows that we’re also good friends.
ALBANESE: Malcolm Turnbull certainly left Scott Morrison alone. He’s alone in the corner. He doesn’t even know when the Budget’s going to be.
PYNE: Wonder how Bill and Anthony are getting along since everyone now knows about the plot to replace Bill earlier in the year with Anthony.
WILKINSON: We’ll have to leave it there.
PYNE: I’m sure they’ll paper over the difficulties.
WILKINSON: Christopher and Anthony, thanks very much, have a great weekend.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.