Doorstop – Darwin- Wednesday, 11 October 2017





SUBJECT/S: Labor’s $1 billion Northern Australia Tourism Infrastructure Fund, Penalty Rates, Power crisis

LUKE GOSLING: Thanks for coming down ladies and gentlemen. We’re here at the beautiful Darwin Waterfront and it’s fantastic to have a very frequent visitor to the Top End, Jason Clare the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia, Resources up here visiting us once again. Consulting with members of our community, the business community and the broader community about what we need to get this developing the North that everyone talks about to become a bit of a reality. So it’s great to have him up here, and without further ado, thanks for coming up Jason and I’ll hand over to you.

JASON CLARE: It’s great to be back here in Darwin with my mate, Luke on another ripper Northern Territory day. Not one of those days where I think a lot of Territorians would want it to be a couple of degrees warmer. It’s a fantastic day here in Darwin. I’m here to talk to tourism operators, small businesses and the local Council about our plan to set up a $1 billion Northern Australia Tourism Infrastructure Fund.

Australia’s got some of the best tourism destinations in the world. 

But work done by the World Economic Forum says that our tourism infrastructure isn’t always up to scratch. Ranked against some of the best countries in the world, we rank 14th for infrastructure and in terms of port and land based infrastructure we rank 53rd in the world. 

We already have lots of tourists come here to Darwin and right across the NT. It injects about $2.6 billion into the local economy every year and employs thousands and thousands of Territorians. But we want even more people to get a job in the tourism sector and good infrastructure is a part of that. That’s why we’ve said that if we’re elected at the next election, Bill Shorten and his Labor team will allocate $1 billion from the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, dedicated fairly and squarely at tourism infrastructure. We’re here today to talk to the people who know the sector back to front, what we should be investing that money in.

Can I also say something about the decision today by the Federal Court on penalty rates. This is bad news for everybody that earns penalty rates and works on a Sunday. There’s 4,000 people here in Darwin, 8,000 people right across the Territory that earn penalty rates on a Sunday, and the decision by Fair Work Australia means that they’re going to get a pay cut. It started on the 1st of July and they’ll get no relief from this decision.

As somebody who worked in the restaurant industry for five years to get my way through university and earned penalty rates the whole time I was there, I understand how important it is. It puts food on the table, it helps to pay the rent, helps to pay the mortgage. For a lot of people in Darwin today and right across Australia this bad news is going to make life even tougher for them. 

It’s made even worse by the fact Malcolm Turnbull could have stopped this. We put legislation into the Parliament to stop this penalty rates cut from happening and he refused to support that legislation. He did that at the same time as he introduced a budget that gives a tax cut to millionaires. Anyone who earns a million bucks this year is going to get a tax cut. So millionaires get a tax cut off Malcom Turnbull but people on penalty rates, often earning low incomes, they get a pay cut as a result of inaction by this Government. We shouldn’t be surprised.

Back when work choices was being debated under the Howard Government, Malcolm Turnbull got up and said that workers should be treated like bread, they should be both as cheap as possible. Well now you see the impact of the choices Malcolm Turnbull has made. People on low incomes are getting their penalty rates cut while millionaires get a tax cut.

Just finally, can I make a point about the power crisis gripping the country. Part of the reason we’ve got a power crisis is that Malcolm Turnbull’s got none, he’s got no power. That was illustrated very clearly yesterday when Tony Abbott made a speech from London. A long time ago this country used to be run from London, now it looks like it is again. 

Because Malcolm Turnbull appointed Finkel to be the Chief Scientist – he issued him the instruction to prepare a report which recommended a Clean Energy Target. When it came out he backed it. He said it was a good idea. He said that it would work. His Minister for Energy said it would cut power prices. And then yesterday when Tony Abbott came out and made this weird speech about sacrificing goats, Malcolm Turnbull, Josh Frydenberg and the rest of them started running away from this at a hundred miles an hour. This is bad news for Australia. 

We’ve been fighting about energy policy for a decade. The Australian people want us to come together and work this out, but you can’t negotiate in a vacuum, you can’t negotiate with an empty chair. It’s bad news for everybody already struggling to pay their power bills, because all of the analysis says that if we do nothing power bills will be more expensive than implementing a Clean Energy Target. Malcolm Turnbull knows all of this but he’s decided to do nothing because he’s terrified of Tony Abbott doing to him what he did eight years ago, and that is taking his job. So instead of worrying about Australia’s jobs he’s worrying about his own.

JOURNALIST: Just on the NAIF for a second, do you think Territorians are being short changed and not getting anything out of it?

CLARE: I think the whole country is being short changed. This is a $5 billion fund that was announced two years ago and bugger all has happened. Not a dollar has been spent on infrastructure that will create one job. The only money that’s been spent so far is on board directors fees and staff fees, and that’s it. The only news that’s come out of the NAIF so far is that there’s a potential conflict of interest by some of the board members that sit on it. No money has been spent in the Territory, in Western Australia or in Queensland on infrastructure that’s going to create jobs. 

There was a lot of fanfare about the NAIF two years ago. We think that the idea of investing taxpayers money in infrastructure that’s going to create jobs in the North is a ripper idea. The problem is bugger all has happened. The sooner the Government pulls their finger out and starts investing NAIF funds in infrastructure that will create a job here in the Territory the better.

JOURNALIST: But isn’t there something more that the Territory Government and Territory industry should be doing to actually locate those projects that would be available?

CLARE: They’re doing it. I know from the conversations I have had with the Chief Minister as well as the conversations I’ve had with Luke here, that the Territory is doing that. Territory businesses are sitting there with the NAIF and saying ‘here’s a good idea, here’s a good idea’. For a lot of different reasons, including the fact that some of the great ideas in the Territory don’t meet the $50 million threshold that the NAIF set, they haven’t been funded so far by the NAIF.

JOURNALIST: So what’s happening with this NAIF now?

CLARE: Good question. This is a locked box. You don’t find out what the NAIF is doing until they announce a project is being funded, and unfortunately two years on nothing’s been funded. Zero. Zilch. This is the biggest disappointment for Northern Australia in god knows when.

JOURNALIST: Is the Government just collecting, saving that money collecting interest on it? Is the money even there in the pot?

CLARE: The money is there and yes they’re collecting interest on it. I’m sure that the Government would like to spend it. It’s one thing to want to spend it, it’s another thing to actually pull your finger out and do it. 

Part of the problem here is Barnaby Joyce has got to sign off on this and he’s a little distracted at the moment at the High Court. We need Malcolm Turnbull to tell Barnaby Joyce to pull his finger out and start allocating funds from the NAIF to Northern Australia so we can create more jobs where they’re needed most.

JOURNALIST: Have you identified any potential tourism projects that would be able to access this money?

CLARE: I’ve been talking to tourism operators and local Councils and State Government’s right across the North. This is the way you do it. Talk to the people on the ground who know what the projects are that are going to help kick-start the local economy, attract more tourists to town or mean that a tourist is going to spend an extra night or an extra day in town.

Now in some cases it might be the expansion of a port. In other places it might be an extra development at the airport. In some cases like in Central Queensland they’re talking about electricity being connected and water being connected to Great Keppel Island. It might be a water park like the one we’re here at today. But it’s not the job of politicians to guess what they think are the things that are going to create jobs here in the local area. It’s the job of politicians to sit down with local business people and local leaders and ask them what they think will work and that’s what I’m doing here today.

JOURNALIST: I think that what most local businesses local leaders would tell you is that the biggest impediment to tourism is that it’s too expensive to get here. Flights that used to cost $100 or less now cost $300-400. Have you got a plan to address that issue?

CLARE: That’s bigger than the NAIF and I know that’s something that Anthony Albanese is looking at. But if you can make a flight cheaper to get here you’re going to attract more tourists. If you can get a direct flight you can attract more tourists. It strikes me that you’ve got so many tourists who make their way from across the other side of the world to Bali, right on the doorstep of Darwin, and then don’t make that leap across the pond to come and spend a couple of days in one of the best parts of Australia. That’s a missed opportunity too. Anything we can do to reduce the cost of that flight and encourage people, whether they’re people from Asia or Europe or America who might of spent a week in Bali to then spend a couple of days learning about life in the Top End, I think will reap dividends for the North as well.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a percentage in place for how much of that money should be spent in the Northern Territory and some sort of a timeframe?

CLARE: No I don’t have a percentage. I’d only make the point that we want to make sure that the Territory gets its fair share. At the moment it’s getting zilch. Part of the problem is that the government didn’t do the hard work before they announced this to identify what sort of projects should be funded. We’re using the next twelve months before the next federal election to identify what are the projects that we should fund that will create jobs so if Bill Shorten is fortunate enough to be elected Prime Minister at the next election, we can hit the ground running.

JOURNALIST: And a timeframe for when that money would start flowing?

CLARE: Well we would want to roll it out quickly. We don’t want to wait two, three or four years. That’s what is happening at the moment. It’s just another reason why the people of Australia are so disappointed in this Prime Minister and this government.

JOURNALIST: Just on the penalty rates. Surely we need to accept the Umpire’s decision don’t we? Otherwise what’s the point of having an umpire?

CLARE: I think it’s fair to say there are exceptional circumstances here. It’s very, very rare that a decision from an industrial commission leaves workers worse off. That’s what happened with John Howard’s Work Choices over a decade ago. We had more than a million workers worse off.

As a result of this decision hundreds of thousands of Australians are going to be worse off. They’re going to take home less money every week than they did before the first of July. Now that’s not on. That’s not fair and Malcolm Turnbull is letting that happen by sitting back like Pontius Pilate and doing nothing. Well the government under John Howard ended up having to backflip and introduce laws to make sure people weren’t worse off. Turnbull should do that here. That’s the law that we have put in the Parliament and asked him to support but he refuses to do it.

The fact that he is prepared to give millionaires a tax cut and at the same time see people on low incomes get their penalty rates cut – I think a lot of people will remember that come the next election. Not just people who earn penalty rates today, but people who grew up earning penalty rates and know just how important it is to put food on the table and to pay the bills.

JOURNALIST: But the Fair Work Commission is the umpire between small businesses, like the ones you say you are trying to support with the Northern Australia Tourism Infrastructure Fund. They’re the ones who get penalised if you overrule the umpire’s decision in this case.

CLARE: As I say this is an exceptional decision. This would be, I think it’s fair to say, the first time in almost a century that the Industrial Relations Commission, now Fair Work Australia, has made a decision which has left workers worse off. Now that’s not on. That’s not the Australian way.

JOURNALIST: So what’s the point of having that independent body making that decision if we’re just going to overrule it and say you’ve got the decision wrong?

CLARE: Well as I say we’re not overruling each and every decision. But when exceptional things happen, something that hasn’t happened in decades and decades, that leave Aussies worse off, well it’s our job as politicians to stand up for those Australians and say we’re not going to let it happen.

Malcolm Turnbull has got a different view. As I said back in the Work Choices days he backed those laws that means people were worse off.  He said workers should be treated like bread – they both should be as cheap as possible. Well that’s not what the Labor Party thinks. We’re a party that stands up and supports working people and we’re not going to sit by while people get their pay cut.

JOURNALIST: There are reports out of Queensland today that protesters from the CFMEU have been making threats, telling people that they should crash their cars into trees on the way home. There are even reports in some instances that they’ve been saying that people’s children should be raped. Do you condemn those remarks that have come out of the CFMEU?

CLARE: Oh absolutely. Nobody should be making those sorts of threats or intimidation. Any person would condemn those. Absolutely.

JOURNALIST: Just on the energy issue. Does Federal Labor support unconventional gas fracking both in the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Victoria?

CLARE: Well we think there should be a responsible development of our gas reserves. The science that has been done shows that it can be done when regulations are carefully put into place. I’m very conscious that the Gunner Government here has put into place the work that has been done, the Pepper Review, and I don’t want to pre-empt that. It’s important that all of the analysis is done properly and independently, to satisfy the people of the Territory that indeed it can be done in a way which is safe and reaps benefits for the people of the Territory.

What I would say though is that it doesn’t help anyone to have Malcolm Turnbull go out there and say there’s gas in the Beetaloo Basin that can help to fix the problems in the South. This is not just about the South. It’s got to be about helping the North, helping the people of Darwin, helping the people of the Territory. Providing revenue that’s going to build more schools and hospitals and help fund our police here. Malcolm Turnbull lecturing the Gunner Government about fixing the problems of the South is not the way to get this done.


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