Doorstop – Townsville – Thursday, 23 February 2017




SUBJECT/S: CEDA Speech, Townsville Jobs, Apprenticeships, NAIF

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RESOURCES AND NORTHERN AUSTRALIA: Well there’s a big divide between life and opportunities in regional Australia compared to our big cities. In Townsville, unemployment is now higher than it has been since the Great Depression and people’s average incomes are going down and not up. It’s a different story in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, where unemployment is going down and average wages are going up.

That explains why people are angry, why they are frustrated, why they are turning to parties like One Nation looking for solutions, when they don’t have them.

It’s the job of the major parties, the Labor Party in Opposition, as we prepare for the next Federal election to make sure that we’ve got the policies to turn this around and create jobs in Townsville. That’s what Cathy is doing, that’s what she does every day. As we prepare for the next Federal election, it’ll involve us, Bill Shorten, me and Cathy sitting down with businesses and community leaders to put those policies in place.

REPORTER: Any ideas?

CLARE: Well I think the key is education and it starts at school. If our kids have got the skills they need to get a job, then we are going to create more jobs and more high-paid jobs here in Townsville and right across Central and Northern Queensland. The problem we’ve got at the moment is that the number of apprentices is going down and not up. We’ve lost about 900 apprentices here in the Townsville region in the last four years and yet even though unemployment is high, we’ve still got more than 500 people in the region on 457 visas. That’s not creating local jobs, it’s just creating jobs for people from overseas. We’ve got to train people here to do those jobs. 

REPORTER: Isn’t it par for the course that regional areas will be worse off than the cities?

CLARE: The point that I’m making today is that that divide is getting bigger and bigger. If you go back 75 years ago, then only about one third of people lived in Brisbane, now 1 in 2 Queenslanders live in Brisbane.

Lots and lots of jobs, most of the jobs being created at the moment, are being created in the big smoke in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. That’s what we confront and that requires work by people on the ground here like Cathy but it also requires the Federal Government to show some leadership and provide some resources. That’s what the Federal Government under Malcolm Turnbull are not doing.

They’ve created a national infrastructure fund called NAIF, it’s worth five billion dollars but they haven’t spent a cent yet in two years. They are still encouraging people to come and work here from overseas with 457 visas and not cracking down on that. They are cutting money to TAFE, money for skills and apprenticeships and the result is that over the last four years we’ve seen a drop in apprentices Australia-wide, over 100,000, and lot of them are here in Central and Northern Queensland.

REPORTER: What about the different sectors, it is a matter of transitioning our economy away from manufacturing and resources? Or make it more diverse?

CLARE: Diversification is critical. Townsville has got the advantage that you’ve got Defence here and unlike other parts of Central and Northern Queensland, it is a more diverse economy. But organisations like JCU in Townsville are going to be critical in making the economy even more diverse, attracting more high skill, high wage jobs here to Townsville. Yesterday we were at the new Science Centre that’s about to be opened at JCU, where we saw young students in lab coats doing science experiments. They are the people that are going to come out of the university and hopefully create new jobs here in Townsville. 

One of the points JCU made to us is that the proportion of students leaving high school in Townsville and going on to university or to TAFE, is lower here than it is in places like Brisbane. We’ve got to lift that rate, if we are going to help to tackle the entrenched unemployment we are finding here.

REPORTER: As the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia, Townsville is probably the most densely populated places on top of the Tropic of Capricorn. How important is it that Townsville comes out of the doldrums it is feeling now.

CLARE: It’s very critical. This is the biggest city in Australia north of Brisbane. We’ve got to make it a success, we’ve got to attract more people to come and live here in Townsville. In order to do that you need to make sure that you’ve got competitive energy prices and that you’ve got water available, one of the big challenges Townsville has got because you’re on Level 3 water restrictions. Now when you can’t get the water you need or you can’t get the energy you need for the right price, that’s a disincentive for business to come here and set up. So there are all of these challenges whether it’s physical infrastructure, like roads and rail and dams or whether it is people and skills. They are things that we need to make sure we’ve got here to help Townsville grow and tackle the big unemployment problem.

REPORTER: And where does the Labor Party sort of see the future of Northern Australia? What is its agenda for the region?

CLARE: Well this is one of these areas where there’s a lot of support across the political aisle. Both sides of politics support the expansion of the north and have done for decades. Now criticism of the Government is that they are not acting quickly enough and the best example of that is the North Australia Infrastructure Facility. Five billion dollars that can help to grow the north. It was announced two years ago and two years on they haven’t spent a cent.

REPORTER: Cathy, is there anything that you want to add in?

CATHY O’TOOLE, MEMBER FOR HERBERT: Just to say it’s really fantastic that Jason is here. What visits from the Shadow Minister of Northern Australia say to our community is that Labor is interested in growing our opportunities as the largest city in Northern Australia. Jason has been listening with business leaders from across a range of sectors, water and power are certainly the two key issues that people have talked about. But also what we have heard loud and clear is the fact that we need to ensure our kids have the best opportunities in schools and that our kids are transitioning into universities and we also need to support the trades in getting our apprenticeship numbers up. 

REPORTER: What’s the feedback from your constituents? How do they want the Government to help them get a job or full-time work?

O’TOOLE: I think what I am hearing from people is that we’ve heard a lot of talk about jobs and growth and innovation and all of this rhetoric and what people are saying to me is well we’ve talked about now we are going to transition from what to what. I think that’s the point that we need to be really clear about. When you talk about transition you need a really clear plan about where you’ve been to where you’re going and in Jason coming to talk to business leaders here, that’s the very opportunity that we’ve been able to create here in Townsville. To sit down and say where has Townsville been and where do the business leaders think we need to go. We’ve had some really positive conversations with the Mayor, with business leaders, out at the university and obviously I spend a lot of time talking with constituents across a whole range of sectors and schools in particular. The schools are really interested in where we are going. They want to ensure that we are educating our kids for our future.