Jan 31, 2020

TRANSCRIPT – PRESS CONFERENCE – FRIDAY, 31 JANUARY 2020

SUBJECTS: Government’s energy announcement; sports rorts; coronavirus.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY:  Good morning. Today’s announcement by the Commonwealth on energy is no substitute for a national climate policy or a national energy policy. This Government has neither. They have no plan to deal with actually driving down our emissions. They have no plan to deal with driving down energy prices.

The fact is that there is another report today that has confirmed that renewable energy and investment has fallen by half under this Government. The other thing is that when gas replaces coal, that’s good for the transition towards clean energy because it results in lower emissions. But, when we’re seeing renewable energy investment falling, and if gas replaces renewable energy as new forms of production, then that is bad for our emissions.

The fact is, also, that Scott Morrison has confirmed today that taxpayer funding is still on the table for a new coal fired power station. He can’t be taken seriously when that is the Government’s national policy. There’s no doubt that the Government had to come up with something though. But it’s also the case that Angus Taylor wasn’t at the announcement today because he’s an embarrassment for the Government. And as Parliament comes back next week after weeks and months of ongoing scandal regarding Angus Taylor and the Clover Moore so called travel expenses affair, with the dodgy document. How long does it take for the Government to recognise that Angus Taylor, who of course has been misleading Parliament since the day he was elected since his first speech, misled Parliament last year. His position’s untenable which is why the Prime Minister is embarrassed to have him standing up at announcements. But of course earlier on in the week, we had a drought announcement without Bridget McKenzie. And it’s no surprise that she is also such an embarrassment to the Government that her ongoing presence as a Minister is untenable.  We were told that the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff was conducting a review into Bridget McKenzie, and we were told that that review would be finished by the end of this week. Well, it’s now Friday, that review wasn’t necessary of course, because we’ve already had an independent review. It was conducted by the National Audit Office and it condemned Bridget McKenzie’s actions as a Minister.  It drew into question the legitimacy of her intervening in that process and it pointed out the politicisation that had occurred in the grants process.

We since have had exposed by the ABC the colour coded chart of how grants were done on the basis of who held the seat and their marginality. And we had yesterday at the National Press Club, or the day before, Scott Morrison refused once again to answer questions on this affair. He of course has come up with new ways of avoiding questions: now it’s not the bubble, now it’s not just commentary or gossip. Now it’s ‘thank you for the editorial you’ve given’ he says to journalists before not answering the questions.

He went on to speak about the importance of women’s change rooms in sport and indeed that is an important issue as there’s greater participation in sports like football, cricket and AFL amongst women in the population. But the fact is, as has been reported today, there are twelve, no less than twelve applications that received high rankings from Sport Australia for women’s change rooms that did not get funding. And at the same time a project got funding for rugby sports changing rooms for women for a rugby club that doesn’t have a women’s team. This is a farce. It’s about time that Bridget McKenzie resign her position and if she won’t do that the Prime Minister should sack her. The only thing that could possibly be holding that back is the direct involvement of the Prime Minister’s office in this tawdry rort that has seen legitimate sporting clubs miss out in favour of this political process.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST:  Some of the aspects of this report was the bias in the issue of grants, do you think that projects in any non-Coalition seats had a chance?

ALBANESE: Well quite clearly, some of the projects that missed out, missed out illegitimately. It’s interesting that the way that the Ministers all give their responses to this, whether it’s the Prime Minister or anyone else is to speak about eligibility. Now I like to play tennis. I’m eligible to play as someone registered with Tennis Australia in the Davis Cup next time it comes round, chances are I won’t be picked, because it’s merit that counts. And it’s such a farce for the Government. And here we have a club across the harbour here, Mosman Rowers gets half a million dollars. Does anyone think that that’s not related to the fact that Tony Abbott’s seat was under threat from an independent candidate. I mean they could have raised half a million dollars by putting the hat around on a Sunday afternoon. But they didn’t do it and a whole lot of clubs in regional areas and our outer suburbs, and right around the country missed out on grants that were ranked higher. That is why Sport Australia has responsibility here. They went through the process, they had ranking, it was objective. This Government thinks that it’s use of taxpayer funds are just for its own largess, for its own political purposes, and a definition of corruption is taking public funds for personal or political gain, and that is what we’ve seen here.

JOURNALIST: The Government looks like it could be launching another round of sports grants, is that something you’d support?

ALBANESE: Well it depends whether it goes through the Liberal Party Secretariat or whether they have colour coded options. I’m not against funding of sports infrastructure. When I was a Minister, the regional local community infrastructure programme, during the economic stimulus, funded projects right around the country. Every single local Government area benefited from that programme, every single one.  And it was done through the formula of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, it was done with a proper process.  The problem here is not the existence of a grants programme, the problem here is pretending that there was this process, having individuals and volunteers spend hundreds of hours of their own time making submissions for grants and missing out because of the politicisation of the process.

JOURNALIST: On the energy plan, the need to lower our emissions is a (inaudible) quite some time, and the Government just now announced a deal. By the time those projects are done and ready to be in place, is it too little too late?

ALBANESE: Well this isn’t really a plan, and that’s the problem here.  We have a national Government, I’m not sure what it is about Scott Morrison, but there’s a bit of a pattern here. When they need an announcement, they announce a deal with New South Wales. Remember the compensation, the economic compensation for volunteer firefighters was  a one off deal for New South Wales and then they remembered that there were other States, and said well they can apply as well. This isn’t a national energy plan, it’s not a national plan to deal with climate change. All of the detail of course is still rather vague on some of this plan. It’s unclear whether some of the funding, for example, will be the funding that was all a part of Tony Abbott’s direct action plan, that remains to be seen, and we’ll try to flush out that level of detail. But this is wholly inadequate to deal with the challenge that we face.

JOURNALIST:  What would Labor do?

ALBANESE:  Well what Labor would do, you can look towards what Labor has done in the past, which is, I was the Shadow Minister who established the commitment for 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020.  That is primarily the single most important thing that we have done in this country to drive down emissions and to support renewable energy. Of course that target was met early and therefore what we’ve seen since the RET essentially peaked is that renewable energy investment has collapsed because there’s no certainty. So what you need is certainty. You need a plan that drives change through the economy that increases supply and that therefore in doing so decreases costs on energy prices at the same time as it’s decreasing emissions, at the same time as it’s creating jobs. That’s what was happening up until 2013. The Government dismantled Labor’s plan, they tried to dismantle every bit of it.  They tried to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, they tried to abolish ARENA. They tried to abolish all of the architecture that was around that. In some cases, they weren’t successful thanks to the Senate blocking that. But what you need is a comprehensive plan. We will go to the next election with that.

JOURNALIST:  Would you concede though that this new deal is a step in the right direction, that it could bring down power prices and it could lower emissions?

ALBANESE:  Look it’s a step in the right direction in terms of the increased use of gas and the issue re the interconnectors is a step in the right direction but what we need is not a step, what we need is a framework.  We actually need a plan and we don’t have that.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of community concerns that to be able to get all this gas the Santos project might be approved and some farmers are raising concerns that could affect their ground water and perhaps lead to contamination?

ALBANESE: Well that’s yet to go through the final approvals in Narrabri, that’s pretty close to that point though.  It’s important though that those environmental processes proceed. But once that occurs, if it is approved, and my understanding is the State Government supports that occurring. The issue of gas as well, it important, isn’t so much to assist individual households, it’s really to assist manufacturing is what is necessary in this State and that’s every important in terms of employment.

JOURNALIST:  Just on coronavirus, the Queensland Premier came out pretty strongly this morning about Government not doing enough for the country, what are your thoughts?

ALBANESE: Well I saw the Queensland Premier’s statement this morning and I have had a discussion with her this morning and I reiterate her concerns. They’re legitimate. We, myself and Chris Bowen, our Health spokesperson, have been very mindful to not try and politicise what the World Health Organisation has now called a global emergency. But we need a national response to this issue and the Queensland Premier has said that whilst it’s good to talk about quarantining and looking after Australian citizens who are currently in Wuhan and around that province, coming back to Australia. What the national Government is not doing is providing for Queensland, and I’m not sure about other States, but certainly for Queensland, the information for those people from those provinces who have come here in recent weeks.  Now we all know that when you fill in your entry card you have details of where you’re staying, you have a contact number available. That is for a reason. That is information that is only available to the national Government and I’d say to them that they need to make this information available to Queensland and other State Governments so that it’s one thing to quarantine people who are in China now coming to Australia back but surely and perhaps an even more significant issue is those people who are here now who may well have had contact with this virus, who may well be carrying, and ensure that proper safety measures are put in place. I think providing that information to the State Governments is not too much to ask and Premier Palaszczuk has been quite right and quite responsible in pointing this out.

JOURNALIST:  Labor has been raising concerns about the cost of the flight back from China, isn’t it just standard policy?

ALBANESE: Well is it standard policy, but we want to also make sure that no one is prevented from doing that on the basis of they can’t afford to do so.  Common sense has got to apply here and no one in this country, we have a basic principal that no one misses out on healthcare, it’s a foundation of Medicare. No one misses out because of their income and that principal should apply here. So yes, if people can afford to pay, there is standard procedures that have been place for some time whereby there’s a recouping of those funds, but at the same time no one should miss out or be excluded because they’re not in a position to pay those funds.

Thanks very much.

ENDS