Doorstop – Airlie Beach – Tuesday, 31 July 2018




SUBJECTS: Turnbull’s tax cut to the big banks, Labor’s $1 billion Northern Australia Tourism Infrastructure Fund, George Christensen, Federal Election.

BELINDA HASSAN: Thank you for coming all this way. Welcome to the beautiful Whitsundays, we’re here in Airlie Beach and invited you all along today. I have Jason Clare our Shadow Minister for Northern Queensland. Invited him along up here. So we’re having some meetings today with Tourism Whitsundays Group, local business owners back in Prosperpine, the Mayor of the Whitsunday Regional Council, having lunch with the Deputy Mayor and some business owners just to talk about the infrastructure needs up here in the Whitsundays. Obviously there’s a federal election looming and just wanted to invite Jason up here to see what we need up here, and have a talk to the people in the area so we’re hearing from the community what those needs are. So I’ll hand over to Jason.

JASON CLARE: Thank you very much. Well good morning everyone. It’s great to be here at Airlie Beach with Belinda Hassan, our fantastic candidate for Dawson.

On the weekend the people of Australia in Queensland, in Tasmania, in SA and in WA made it very clear that they hate Malcolm Turnbull’s idea of giving the big banks a $17 billion tax cut and the view is the same here in North Queensland. The people I’ve been talking to today told me the same thing. No one I’ve met today thinks it’s a good idea to give the big four banks a $17 billion dollar tax cut.

But despite all of that, despite everything the people of Australia have told Malcolm Turnbull on the weekend, you open up the Daily Telegraph today and you can see that Malcolm Turnbull is still determined to try to give the banks a big tax cut. All of this just proves how out of touch and how arrogant Malcolm Turnbull and the Federal Government really is, and proves that if they eventually back down and pretend that they’re not going to go ahead with these tax cuts, no one is going to be able to believe it.

The people of Australia aren’t stupid. They know from history when John Howard said he was ‘never ever’ going to introduce the GST – he got elected and then he did. They remember that Tony Abbott said there’d be ‘no cuts to health’ and there’d be ‘no cuts to education’ and then he got elected and he did just that. The same is true of Malcolm Turnbull. He wants to give the big banks a big tax cut and if he pretends that he’s not going to go ahead with it in the next few months the people of Australia won’t believe that. They know that if he wins the next election and he gets the numbers in the Senate then he’ll do the same thing again.

Now another thing that shows just how out of touch Malcolm Turnbull and this Liberal National Government is, is the failure of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, the NAIF. It’s a $5 billion fund. It was set up three years ago to build infrastructure and create jobs here in the north. And so far it’s been an abject failure. A $5 billion fund. So far they’ve only spent $3 million. $3 million out of a five billion dollar budget. In other words 0.068 per cent – or bugger all. None of this money has been invested here in Dawson and none of it has been used to do what it should be doing, which is creating jobs here in the north.

What we’ll do if Labor wins the next election, is we’ll build better hospitals for the regions, we’ll invest more in local schools and we’ll be able to do that because we’re not going to give the big banks $17 billion tax cut.

In addition to that we’re going to create a $1 billion tourism infrastructure fund help to create jobs here in the Whitsundays and right across the north, and that’s what I’m here at Airlie Beach today to talk about. To talk to tourism operators, talk to the local council and talk to the Chamber of Commerce about what are the sort of infrastructure projects are needed here that are going to create jobs when we build them, but also create jobs longer term because they’re going to attract more tourists to come here to Airlie Beach for a holiday, go to the islands and come back here and spend more time in the north. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: So would you be scrapping the NAIF then?

CLARE: No. What we’ve said is we’ll keep the NAIF. The NAIF’s a good idea it’s just got to actually pull it’s finger out and start spending money and investing in projects that’ll create jobs, and one of the things it should be investing in is tourism projects. So $1 billion of that $5 billion dollar fund we’ll dedicate to tourism infrastructure projects. There are a lot of people employed in tourism. A lot of people here at Airlie Beach. About three in 10 people here at Airlie Beach work in the tourism industry. And if we can build more infrastructure that encourages more people to come from down south up here for a holiday and spend more nights here, then that’s going to create more jobs here as well.

JOURNALIST: The remaining $4 billion would be spent on what sorts of things?

CLARE: Well all sorts of different infrastructure right across the country. The real problem at the moment is none of it has been spent. We’re only now starting to see a few projects being funded, but still nothing has been funded here in the seat of Dawson. You could be investing it in expanding our ports, expanding our airports. Let me give you a good example, the Queensland Labor State Government has just invested money in extending the runway here at the airport as well as expanding the airport itself. Part of that’s a grant, and part of it is the low interest loan – like the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. That’s going to help encourage bigger planes to come here and more tourists come to come here. It’s the sort of thing the Federal Government should be doing but they’ve just failed to do anything. They set this up three years ago and still the people of Mackay, the people of Bowen, the people of Airlie Beach are scratching their head wondering when this is when this fund is going to start to do something to create jobs for them.

JOURNALIST: [UNCLEAR] So how are you going to ensure that Labor will in fact spend the billion dollars you’ve allocated?

CLARE: One of the things the Government has done, is they’ve commissioned a review into the NAIF. It found that there were big problems with the way it’s operating and they’ve made some changes to it, and I support those changes. Hopefully those changes will start to see the NAIF do what it’s supposed to because at the moment they’ve spent more on salaries and flights across the country than they’ve spent on infrastructure to create jobs, from here in Queensland right across to WA.

There has also been a Senate Inquiry Report that came out a couple of weeks ago and it’s got some good recommendations as well that we’re looking at that can help to make the NAIF work better. I encourage the Federal Government to take that report seriously and look at those recommendations and whether they can implement them as well.

JOURNALIST: What will you be doing – what’s actually different about the way Labor’s going to tackle this issue? Because it sounds like you know both – they’ve already got a fund that’s supposed to be doing this type of thing, you’ve proposed another one, how will voters be…

CLARE: The real problem as far as I can see when it comes to tourism is that of all the projects the NAIF has funded, none of them are about tourism and so many people in Queensland get their jobs, earn their living, pay the bills from having a job in the tourism sector. So what I’m saying is we’ve got to make sure that at least one in five dollars from this fund is spent on tourism infrastructure to encourage more tourists and create more tourism jobs. At the moment the NAIF hasn’t spent one dollar on one tourist infrastructure project. We’re going to make sure they do. We’re going to make sure that at least one in five dollars is invested in tourism infrastructure.

JOURNALIST: Will Labor be spending any money on the reef, which is essentially what brings tourism to the region?

CLARE: Well we made a commitment at the last election that we’d invest half a billion dollars in protecting the reef. We want to see more investment in the reef because you’re right, it encourages tourists to come to town.  We’re worried about what the Government has done in allocating half billion dollars to an organisation that only has six people, that didn’t ask for the money in the Budget. So there’s a Senate Inquiry at the moment trying to get to the bottom of what’s happened there. We found out yesterday that apparently this money was given to this organisation after the Prime Minister organised a meeting. So it all looks a little strange, but we’ve got to get to the bottom of that and that’s what that Senate Inquiry is all about.

JOURNALIST: I know you haven’t met with the tourism operators yet. But what kinds of things are you expecting perhaps, that they might want money for?

CLARE: Well you’re right I’m going to talk to the tourism operators after we finish this press conference. I’m going to talk to the Mayor as well, the Deputy Mayor, the Chamber of Commerce, but it’s things like – and this is not just for Airlie Beach – but I gave you the example of the expansion of the airport that’s a good example, expanding ports are often good examples as well.  What we’re talking about here is not funding to help a private company expand their tourism business, it’s often funding that goes to councils or goes to state governments to build public infrastructure that tourists will want to come to town to use, to see, to experience. It just encourages them to spend an extra night here, and that creates more jobs.

JOURNALIST: You won’t be posing next to any models in a bikini while you’re up here to try and get more pictures?

CLARE: No, who’s been doing that?

JOURNALIST: Jason Cositgan.

CLARE: I thought that might have been George Christiansen, but maybe he’s the one posing in the lycra. The problem with all of those sorts of things, and George Christensen in particular, is he’s about as useless as an ashtray on a motorbike. He talks big here in town but he hasn’t delivered anything for this community. He was talking the other day about the need to expand and widen the Townsville Port. Well we’ve already committed to fund that. But his own Government won’t do that. He was talking recently about a campaign to get to the second stage of the Mackay Ring Road underway. Well we’ve said if we win the next election we’ll do that. This is the problem with George Christensen, because he talks big here, but no one in his own Government is listening to him. If Labor wins the next election with Belinda representing the people of this fantastic community in Federal Parliament, the Ring Road extension will be built. The Townsville Port will see the channel widened. Because from the conversations that people like myself and Bill Shorten, and Anthony Albanese and others are having in this community with people like Belinda and with the business operators here, we’re getting the advice about what’s needed and will make sure that we deliver it.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you in winning the seat, whenever the election is.

CLARE: We’re hopeful but you can’t take anything for granted. One of the lessons or one of the messages out of the by-election on the weekend is that the people of Australia don’t like what Malcolm Turnbull is serving up. They don’t want to give the big banks a $17 billion tax cut. They want their taxpayer dollars invested in hospitals and invested in their schools. They don’t want to give that money away to the big banks. But between now and whenever the election is called we’ve got to work very hard to earn the support and the respect of the Australian people, here at Airlie Beach and right across the country.

JOURNALIST: We’ve got a few questions for you, if that’s alright. Obviously you’re a local, what sort of things do you reckon needs more investment, in terms of the infrastructure.

HASSAN: Well we were just saying it’s a very diverse electorate. So the issues that I hear about in Mackay are quite different to the issues I hear about in Airlie and the Whitsundays, are different to Proserpine, are different to Bowen, are different to Townsville, and different to Ayr, so each individual little community has its own issues and that is the point of trips like these, it’s the third time I’ve been here in the last two weeks. It’s coming here and talking to the business owners in the community and finding out what the issues are on the ground. So after my last conversation with the Mayor only a couple of weeks ago there’s some really good projects that he has got in the pipeline around infrastructure and tourism from here all the way up to Bowen, which is obviously part of the Whitsunday Regional Council area. The Marine Centre of Excellence has been proposed which not only offers a really good opportunity for Bowen as regards to keeping students and children – their education – but also the additional tourism jobs that, that could provide. So there is really good projects on the ground, there is the Proserpine Dam, how that can attract people to go in to Proserpine, as well as the Whitsundays. So there’s some really good projects there. But talking to business owners today and again meeting with other councillors and the Mayor again today is just going to give us a broader base for what Labor is going to commit that money to once we’re, hopefully once we get into government.

JOURNALIST: So you said you’ve been up here three times in the last two weeks, speaking to business owners, what have you learned, what are people’s concerns around here?

HASSAN: Well like we’ve said you know most people here, it is a tourism based area here in the Whitsundays. So I think business owners, making sure that people in the wider community know that – you know that they have recovered from the cyclone last year. That we’re back on track thanks to the funding from the State Government and that they’re open for business and attracting people back to the area. I mean it’s a beautiful part of the world, why wouldn’t you come here. I was here Saturday night for the Mayor’s charity ball. I got to speak to some business owners there. They’re quite confident but obviously they need the support of the Federal Government and unfortunately they haven’t been getting that to this point.

JOUNALIST: Why do you think you would be a better choice as the member for Dawson rather than George Christensen, do you think you could be more engaged with everyone in your electorate?

HASSAN: I think so, and I think that is the difference I’m not a career politician. I’m born and bred in the region I’ve lived and worked in this community my entire life. I’m very involved with community organisations. I’ve talked to the Whitsunday Neighbourhood Centre up here in Bowen, and met with Girudala, the Indigenous co-operative. I’m involved with lots of community organisations, I’m in all of service clubs, Rotary and Lions, and Zonta and all of those. So I’m actually working in the community and talking to people on the ground every day. I’m not sitting in an office. You know just hoping and hearing second hand information. I’m actually working in those. So just in the last week I’ve been invited to sit on a committee in Mackay, a steering committee around care at the end of life. So taking care of people in palliative care. You know we’re working here with I’ve talked with the neighbourhood centre about the lack of bulk billing services, so hearing the real issues in the community. So I think I can bring a different perspective. I’ve worked and lived and raised my own children in the community here.

CLARE: Another key point as well, Belinda won’t vote for a $17 billion tax cut to the big banks. When you’re voting for a local person to represent you in Canberra, you’re hoping that that person is your voice and they represent the things that you want your tax payer dollars spent on. And George Christensen for all his bluff and bravado goes to Canberra and votes for a tax cut for the big banks. I know Belinda won’t do that. She’ll be voting for more money for our schools and our hospitals, rather than giving that money away to the big banks.

JOURNALIST: Obviously this electorate is big cyclone territory. Would you be ready and on the ground to assist with the people that it may affect? I think that’s a big point for people in this electorate.

HASSAN: Definitely. We went through that, when the cyclone hit here last year. As I said I work for a lot of not for profit organization, in the Mackay region. My office became a collection point for donations for people up here. I filled up my workstation wagon with donations of water, women’s sanitary products, clothing, blankets, and brought that up here myself, delivered it to the guys that were distributing that. So I’m definitely the person that will be on the ground there helping, rather than flying over the top in a helicopter as the current Prime Minister did.

JOURNALIST: Did those Cyclones have a devastating impact on the local tourism? Would that money that has been allocated for tourism infrastructure could that be properly spent on ways of dealing with Cyclones and preparing people for them, to ensure they have less of an impact.

HASSAN: I’m sure that part of that money is going into mitigating the effect of that. Unfortunately some of the money that wasn’t delivered by the current Federal Government was to be going in to mitigate the risk of future cyclones. The money that hasn’t been delivered has had that effect on them. But you know being here on the ground and just encouraging people to come back here. I came up here a month after the cyclone last year and did the Hamilton Island Hilly half marathon and just encouraging people to come back. The efforts of those guys to put that event – still continue with that event just a month after the cyclone. The devastation over there was horrific. But just encouraging – we brought a huge group up from Mackay and just you know making sure that we all spent our money in that region and encourage people to come back. Everybody shares that on social media, gets attention and lets people know that yes it was devastating, the damage was horrifying, but we’re still open for business. You’ve got to be a real person on the ground doing that.

JOURNALIST: Do you think George Christensen has a bit of a challenge ahead of him with you running as candidate?

HASSAN: Yes, I’m up for the challenge. I’m in it to win it for sure.


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