SUBJECTS: Visit to Queensland; coal jobs; rare earths; climate change; Holden Commodore.
STEVE AUSTIN: Well, he’s visited the Tree of Knowledge in Barcaldine. He’s toured some of regional Queensland and he’s now I think, in Rockhampton. Federal Labor Leader Anthony Albanese is my guest. Anthony Albanese, good afternoon to you. I’m trying again, sorry about that. I’ve got you now.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: G’day Steve. I’m actually in Gladstone now, I was in Rockhampton hours ago. This is a bit of a whirlwind tour. We did begin in Barcaldine, I was in Brisbane yesterday morning, then to Barcaldine, and then to Alpha, to Emerald then, where we stayed last night.
AUSTIN: You’re driving, or you’re flying, Anthony?
ALBANESE: We’re driving in a car.
ALBANESE: We’re getting to check out the highways. I’ve driven certainly down all of the Bruce before, quite a few times. But we’re now in Gladstone, I have a function on here, I have a meeting with the mayor shortly and then I have a function tonight with the community.
AUSTIN: I’m glad you’ve driven because only by driving through Queensland do you actually get a handle on how damn big the place is.
ALBANESE: You do that. I’ll tell you something else you get, because I’ve been on the roads I’ve been on today before, is just the impact of the drought, just how dry it is. You really can see it out there and it’s obviously having a huge impact. But this is of course, the most regional state in Australia, and it’s great to engage with people where they live. People I find aren’t quiet Australians. Australians are quite happy to have a chat. And in Emerald last night after we had a forum, I then just went into one of the local pubs and just talk to people in the front bar and the back bar.
AUSTIN: What did people in the front bar, those blue collar working people say to you about why they abandoned Labor at the last federal election?
ALBANESE: Well, many of them just weren’t sure, didn’t have the confidence in us that requires them to change. A vote for Scott Morrison was seen as a vote for the status quo and I think-
AUSTIN: You mean your job, basically a job.
ALBANESE: No, no in terms of political stability as well, they’s seen Prime Ministers chop and change and ironically, having just come into the job, but with a vote to not another Prime Minister. But also they’re worried about the economy. They were worried that some of the messages that were sent weren’t about job security. They’re worried about, not just their jobs, but they’re worried about what’s happening as well. There were a bunch of miners there last night, they were talking to me about the casualisation of the workforce, that they’re working next door to people, literally working with, doing the same task as people from labour hire companies who are being paid 40 per cent less, who don’t have annual leave, who don’t have sick leave, who don’t have any job security. And they’re worried that the transition in terms of the nature of work with that casualisation, they’re very worried about indeed.
AUSTIN: Did you visit a coal mine?
ALBANESE: No, I didn’t. People came and chatted to us. They were lineworkers there, there were teachers, people from across the professions and retired people. There was one wonderful bloke called Reg, who had seen it all. And he had a view about nuclear power, one that I don’t agree with, but he put his view and that’s a great thing. And he’s given me a long letter, he is an electrician who has lived in Emerald all his life. He’s 82 years old and he still works five days a week, because he wants to. So you meet some real characters when you get out and about and go into communities, so that’s a good thing.
AUSTIN: How do you then plan to support regional jobs while the push is on to transition away from from coal jobs? You may not be aware that Jackie Trad, the Deputy Premier here in Queensland, got into a bit of trouble in State Parliament a couple of months back when she suggested that coal miners should start retraining and thinking about training away from coal mining. And it does look like that coal in some areas is on the decline around the world. Are you prepared to say that coal miners need to start thinking about training up or getting their children to train up for an entirely different sort of industry?
ALBANESE: Well, the truth is that many of the coal miners that were talking to me were worried, not just about casualisation, but some of the the mechanisation that’s occurring as well.
ALBANESE: One of the mines here in Central Queensland, the BHP mine is looking at automation. And therefore, that means job losses.
AUSTIN: So they lose their jobs, even if there is a coal industry?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s what the company is trying to do essentially. And that is of real concern to them. Look, I think one of the things that we need to consider is the opportunity that comes, as well, with climate change action. We’ve seen, I went with Bob Katter to Kidston and to Big Kennedy and Little Kennedy in north west Queensland. You have massive numbers of jobs being created around the town of Hughenden. It’s made an enormous difference to that regional town. And there is an opportunity of course here in Gladstone, we had a policy about making Australia a hydrogen export superpower. There’s a book out by Ross Garnaut speaking about the opportunities which are there. Just today there’s an announcement about fast tracking a mine at Julia Creek, which will be mining vanadium. We have these rare earths, lithium is the sort of most well known, but there are others as well that will go into the products of the future, particularly battery storage, that is going to play such a critical role. And Australia has to do more than just export resources and then import it back once something’s been produced at much higher value. And I think there is huge opportunity. Why is it that Australians are putting solar panels on their roof, but they’re all made overseas? When every single thing that goes into that solar panel is produced right here in Australia. We have here of course-
AUSTIN: We’ve missed the boat on that haven’t we? We led the world in the 1970s with solid research and we threw it away.
ALBANESE: We did, we had indeed, Mr Shi went across to China, set up his factory there using technology that was created at the University of New South Wales, and he became very wealthy off the back of it. We miss those opportunities. We cannot afford to miss the opportunity that is there right now. I mean then there are, of course, electric vehicle charging stations being produced right there in South East Queensland that are being exported to Europe and being exported to the United States today. So there is good examples, but we need to not miss any opportunity that we have to have value adding to create jobs. And regional Queensland, because the overheads are less, is in a strong position to take advantage of any high value manufacturing that arises from the jobs of the future. We can’t stop change. What we can do is shape change so that it occurs in the interests of people.
AUSTIN: I’d be fascinated to know when you get more flesh on the bone of that idea, because it’s, often people sort of on the environmental movements, or the Greens say, we should be out of coal altogether, out of mining all together, shut them all down and we should have green jobs. Which is nice, but it’s not clear to me as to how you would transition in a reasonably quick period of time for regional areas. And you do think that there’s possibility for setting up decent industries in regional parts of Australia?
ALBANESE: Look absolutely and one of the times when I was in Brisbane recently I saw a prototype of an electric vehicle that had been put together. They’re in Brisbane. Of course, we know that a major component in electric vehicles will be copper, funnily enough. We will see a massive expansion of copper. Of course, much of that historically has come from Mount Isa, as well as from South Australia. There are huge opportunities and of course, most of Queensland’s coal exports are metallurgical coal, which is used for making steel. And how do you build a wind turbine without using steel? So there’s an opportunity there as well, as the world looks at how we do transition both in terms of domestically, but also, globally. I think that Australia isn’t doing ourselves any favours with Angus Taylor at the Climate Change Summit in Madrid at the moment, because our position is a bit embarrassing. But we need to have an energy policy for Australia. We haven’t had one since it was gottten rid of by the incoming Government and we need to look at, in that policy, what are the opportunities, how do we maximise jobs and economic activity while reducing emissions. And by the way, reducing power prices.
AUSTIN: Be fascinated to see whether Federal Labor comes up with a plan for blue collar workers in regional parts of Queensland to transition away from just coal mining into some of these newer industry type jobs. Be fascinated to hear what that is. While I’ve got you, how do you feel about the death of the Holden Commodore after four decades?
ALBANESE: I think it’s a tragedy. It’s been an important part of Australian culture, just like the Holden Kingswood was beforehand. Indeed, I remember as a little kid, whenever we saw a Charger, I think one of the great ads of all time was the Hey Charger. People driving around, it must have been the noisy little kids sticking their thumb up.
AUSTIN: My dad had one.
ALBANESE: You’re lucky.
AUSTIN: But it wasn’t a Commodore. We never had a Commodore, they’re a piece of junk.
ALBANESE: You never had a Commodore. It’s a bit like the Ford Falcon, it’s gone now.
AUSTIN: It’s because all the miners in Emerald are all buying SUVs and four wheel drives, Anthony Albanese. They’re not buying Commodores out where you are.
ALBANESE: It’s not just that they probably buying them in west end, if it’s anything like the inner west.
AUSTIN: Correct. All the people who vote Greens are all driving around and $100,000 four wheel drives.
ALBANESE: I was always somewhat stunned by the school drop off when my son was in primary school I live in the inner west of Sydney and the number of four wheel drives dropping off kids at primary school. I often just thought, I’m not sure when they actually use the four wheel drive. But anyway, that’s consumer choice and they certainly have been the biggest growth in the market for more than a decade has been SUVs.
AUSTIN: I’ll let you go Anthony Albanese. Happy Christmas.
ALBANESE: Yes, same to you. Thanks for having me on the program Steve.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.