October 15, 2020

JEFF PHILLIPS, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF VARLEY GROUP: Welcome, everyone. And a very special welcome to Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Opposition. We're always very grateful whenever anyone wants to come and have a look at what Varley does. We are a 134-year-old, privately-owned Australian company. We are very proud of that fact. We put a lot of pride in our workmanship. And that comes from the people that we employ here. We also put a lot of focus on retaining our people and how long they work for us as well. And if you come up to head office, we've got a board of everyone who's done 30 years’ service with us on display, the first thing you see when you walk in. This is part of what makes Australia great is companies like this, that really do become part of the culture of what occurs here. We have great skill. We have great capability. And hopefully we showed some of that on demonstration for you today. There's a lot we can do. And we are very competitive. Even internationally, very competitive. And we just welcomed the opportunity to show that and continue to grow, give people good jobs here, and give them career opportunities that they're really going to love and enjoy for the rest of their life. So, thank you for coming. And thank you for seeing what we do.
SHARON CLAYDON, MEMBER FOR NEWCASTLE: Thank you, Jeff and Varley for having us all this morning. It's a real honour to be back here on your site, and to be joined by all of my Labor colleagues today. Big shout-out to all the workers. Sorry for interrupting your daily routine. Hopefully you enjoy a bit of a break. We won't be here for too much longer. But I guess I was pretty shocked back in August when I heard the New South Wales Premier say that we were no good at making trains in this nation anymore, in New South Wales, or this nation. And my immediate response was like, 'Whoa, not in Newcastle, Premier'. We do trains very well and have an incredibly long history of doing so. I am so delighted that I am joined by Labor colleagues and Anthony Albanese in particular who really get the fact that we are a nation that makes things. That's what we should continue to be. And to be backing in jobs in rail manufacturing is a critical part of Labor's response to the economic recovery period that we need to enter into now. So, it's a great honour, really, to have been part of the Budget Reply which really put the manufacturing of rail back at the centre of Australian business. So, your jobs are incredibly valued and are an important part of our manufacturing sector in Australia. We want to see that continue to grow and prosper. That's what Anthony Albanese is here in town to do. Because we want to back in Australian manufacturing. And we want to back it in because it's great for regional economies like Newcastle too. Anthony is, of course, no stranger to Newcastle and the Hunter region. A very regular visitor and has worn many caps over the years as minister and now as the Leader of the Federal Labor Opposition. Very pleased to introduce and welcome again, Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Sharon. And to my colleagues Pat Conroy and Meryl Swanson. Pat and Meryl and Sharon make a fantastic team along with Joel here in the Hunter. And can I also thank you, Jeff and Mario for having us here. And thank all the workers here at Varley - proud workers making things for not just for the Hunter, making things for our country, making a substantial difference to our national economy. Skilled workers, good jobs. And that's what my Budget Reply was about last Thursday. There were two key components to it. The first was women's workforce participation. The fact that women were left out of the Budget on Tuesday night, women left behind. And the fact is, if we're going to advance, we need to look at productivity improvements and participation. And improving childcare will make a major difference to that. Removing the disincentive that is there for women to be able to work a fourth or a fifth day. Common-sense policy that's good economic policy, good for kids, good for families.
The second big part of the component was A Future Made in Australia. And that's what we want. And this great company has been building a future for our country since the 19th century. They employ almost 1,000 people here in Australia. And two of the areas that we concentrated on; defence industries, where there's a much greater capacity for us to create more jobs here, create more involvement here. We have a pipeline of over $270 billion of investment in defence over the coming decade. We should be maximising the benefit for Australia here, through companies like this. The second and the obvious low-hanging fruit is in rail manufacturing. We should have a National Rail Manufacturing Strategy. The trains that we can see here, the carriages, were made in China. They're being fixed up here in Newcastle. Wouldn't it be better if we got it right the first time and made them here, rather than retrofit them when they come here? And what we know is that in spite of what the New South Wales Premier has said, 'We can't make trains in Australia', we can. We've been doing it since the 19th century. And we can do it better than importing them. Because one of the things that we have in common is that whether it's for freight or for passenger use, every time we import a rail carriage, they are either too tall for the tunnels, or they are too long for the stations, or they are the wrong gauge, or they have to be retrofitted here. Do it once, do it right and do it here creating Australian jobs, creating efficiencies and skills. One of the things that Jeff was talking about when he ran through Varley's success story, with its diversification, with its presence right around our country as well as overseas, including in Indonesia and the presence in the United States, is that this company prides itself on its skilled workforce, on its capacity to produce quality product. And that's what we need in terms of Australian manufacturing. We can make things here. We can value-add here. We can have high value manufacturing that positions us to not just look after our domestic economy, but to export to the world. We're located in the fastest growing region of the world in human history. There is enormous potential that we have if we get it right. Companies like this are getting it right. But they could do a lot better if they had governments, federal and state, that backed it in. Now, the Inland Rail project is one that I commissioned a study on and provided $900 million of funding for whilst I was the Minister. It is continuing to be rolled out. But there's no Australian content provisions. We need to make sure that those carriages on the Australian Government-owned Australian Rail Track Corporation will own the tracks so that project has Australian content. That's just common sense. That's getting bang for your buck. And that's what we need to do. Australian jobs, Australian made products will benefit our Australian economy. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Look, this Government have had, of course, 22 energy policies over the years. We in general support Australian investment. That's our starting point. But we think that the Government needs to get it right. I wrote to the Prime Minister in June, offering to sit down and knead-in that policy framework that will drive investment in energy in this country. That's what everyone's calling out for, the Australian Industry Group, Australian manufacturers, the Australian Energy Council, they are all calling out for a policy framework that this Government doesn't have. And I might ask Pat if he wants to add some things.
PAT CONROY, SHADOW MINISTER ASSISTING FOR CLIMATE CHANGE & MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Thanks, Albo. And it's absolutely right that the announcement in the Budget papers, we'll work through the details and come to a considered position. Obviously, any investment that improves the efficiency and lowers emissions of our power stations is a good thing. But it doesn't replace, as Albo said, the fact that we've got a massive vacuum in energy policy. Twenty-two energy policies in six years. We've got power prices going through the roof. We've got manufacturers leaving this country because of the energy crisis. And this Government can't get its act together. And only locally yesterday, we saw the announcement of the potential for a factory making lithium batteries that could employ up to 1,000 people, if this Government had policies that would support it. They're the opportunities that we need to be embracing while supporting our current power generation. But this Government is just mired in ideological obsessions, it is mired in civil wars, it's mired in 22 energy policies, instead of adopting policies like the one Albo announced about the $20 billion Rewiring the Nation corporation that will lower power prices, allow new investment to enter the grid and provide that reliability we need. So, we'll look at to the proposal around Vales Point in detail, but it doesn't substitute for a concrete national energy policy.
ALBANESE: Thank you. Good thing about this Government and energy policies, if you wait a few months, you'll get another one to have a look at.
JOURNALIST: Albo, what about the Hunter missing out on airport funding?
ALBANESE: Well, the airport funding should have been in the Budget. It's as simple as that. This is a good project that is ready to go. I don't quite understand how you can produce a Budget that leads to a trillion-dollar debt, a trillion dollars, that will rise to $1.7 trillion of debt over the next decade, $100 billion of new spending, and have almost nothing to show for it. It's quite extraordinary that there weren't major new infrastructure projects in this Budget. When we had the Global Financial Crisis, come to Newcastle, you can see, we were on it today, the Hunter Expressway. $1.7 billion project $1.5 billion provided by the Commonwealth Government. Talked about for years. We took the position to ensure that we did it. The upgrade to rail freight here, the freight lines to make the coal freight system far more efficient, we did that as part of the economic stimulus through the Australian Rail Track Corporation. We did major things. The National Broadband Network  - fibre to every home and business that would have made our regional cities not just able to compete with our CBDs, but even better, because it would lower overheads. This Government sees the Budget, I just think, as a lost opportunity, a lost opportunity to seize any initiatives that would mean larger economic growth into the future. That's what our childcare plan is about. This Government had nothing.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, there are signs that coal in our country is in trouble, with plummeting prices. Is there anything that Labor can do to come to the rescue that industry?
ALBANESE: Well, one of the things that I'm concerned about is the issue of our exports to China. And the fact that there's reports about holdups. One of the concerns that I have with the relationship with China is that 48 per cent, or there abouts, of our exports currently go to a single destination. So, there's been a lack of diversification on this Government's watch. A real concern as at the same time as that relationship is being broken down. I find it extraordinary that our Trade Minister can't talk to his counterpart in China. When I was the Infrastructure Minister, I talked to my counterpart in Beijing and in Canberra. We had face-to-face meetings and developed relationships. That's important for the national interest. That doesn't mean giving up on Australian values at all. We should continue to pursue our values. We are a democracy. We value human rights. We have different positions. But you can have that economic relationship be healthy because it's an important one for us. And at the moment, that's not happening.
JOURNALIST: Labor had a bit of a problem with coal at the last election. What is going to be done differently next time around?
ALBANESE: Well, we will continue to export coal. It's important for the Hunter.
JOURNALIST: Isn't that a bit of a contradiction to export coal?
ALBANESE: No, it's not at all.
JOURNALIST: Isn't it the same if it is burnt overseas or burnt in Australia?
ALBANESE: No, what we will do is participate in international climate change forums, as we have before. But you don't argue that Japan is responsible for the emissions of Toyota and Mitsubishi cars if the cars are driven on Australian roads. We participate in an international global framework. That's the only way that you can possibly get outcomes, is looking at nation states being responsible for their own emissions, and over a period of time, getting solutions to that. That's what Australia will do. That's consistent, absolutely, with the policy that we had in Government, which was about lowering our emissions here in Australia through measures like the renewable energy target, at the same time being good global citizens. The problem we have with this Government is not only does it not have an energy policy that's leading to higher energy prices as well as higher emissions, we also have a Government that goes to international conferences and sits with the Saudis and a couple of the others, the couple of other outliers against action, rather than supporting global action, which, of course is needed. This is a global problem. It requires a global solution.
JOURNALIST: What would be the message for the coal mining community? What would you say?
ALBANESE: Vote Labor. Vote Labor. Because this Government, across a range of issues, including the issue of labour hire and the undermining of working conditions, I released a report with the miners’ union up in Mackay last year, that spoke about what was happening with labour hire, that spoke about undermining of working conditions. This Commonwealth Government is going to court to back up companies after they lost a court case showing that someone who was working next door to a permanent employee, but being paid substantially less, as if they were just casual with less working conditions, it can mean a difference of tens of thousands of dollars. And the courts decided that was inappropriate and in fact, that was a permanent employee. This Government pretends that it cares about miners. At the same time, it's trying to undermine miners' working conditions which have been hard fought. And I'd say to people, that the Government, the Coalition that's presided over stagnant wages, that has undermined working conditions at each and every opportunity. One of the things that we will be about at the next election is about job security and income security. It's about a future made here in Australia. We will stand up for Australian jobs. We will back Australian workers. This Government backs Australian companies sometimes, or foreign companies, frankly, most of the time. It's not backing up Australian business and Australian workers where it's needed. Thanks.
JOURNALIST: What is your take on the Nationals putting up a candidate against Joel Fitzgibbon?
ALBANESE: The more the merrier, Joel will deal with all of them. The fact is, if the Libs and the Nats and One Nation and whoever else want to all fight each other over the same pot of votes, then that's a good thing. I'd encourage them to do so. I'd encourage the Nats to run in Grayndler, frankly. I think that wherever the Nats want to run, that's fine for them. We will be running on a strong Labor agenda. And Joel and the team here do stand up for this region. They stand up for this region. I'd say to the Nats, to Michael McCormack, the Leader, Inland Rail, mate, how about we have some Australian trains on Inland Rail? How about we have Australian jobs created by Inland Rail? The Nats are too busy fighting each other and fighting the Libs. The real announcement from the Nats isn't about fighting us, it's about fighting the Libs. And the Nats, we saw in Eden-Monaro, I mean, what a mess. John Barilaro was in and then he was out. Andrew Constance was in and then he was out. They were all fighting each other where the preferences were going, the Shooters were getting more votes than the Nats anyway. Frankly, if the Nats survive the chaos and the fights between Barnaby Joyce and Michael McCormack, if they get to the next election, they'll be doing well. But they don't worry us. Thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government should extend criteria for the HomeBuilder program?
ALBANESE: It would be nice if the HomeBuilder scheme was anything more than a marketing exercise. The fact is that if you look at how many people have actually benefited in terms of dollars going out the door, it's very small. I was in South Australia on Sunday, the latest figures showed that the HomeBuilder scheme had only one person who had actually received a grant for HomeBuilder in the whole of South Australia as of September. You know, this Government will always be there for the photo-op, never there for the follow-up. This is a Government that's big on announcement. They make the announcement and they think the job is done and they walk away. And they forget about delivery of the announcement. Try and keep up. JobKeeper, JobTrainer, JobBuilder, JobMaker, HomeBuilder, JobSeeker. They spend all their time in these focus groups, marketing out these terms, and no time designing programs that actually work. Here's a tip for the Government; public housing - invest in it now. You can fix maintenance in public housing. You can make a decision and have workers on the tools next week fixing dunnies, fixing things that are wrong with plumbing, with electricity, fixing holes in walls. Fixing up, creating jobs, increasing the asset that's publicly-owned, at the same time as giving people a higher quality of life. And we've already said things like HomeBuilder, they don't even apply for areas, we argued there should be an extension, for example, for people affected by bushfires. The Government hasn't ignored that. But then again, this is a Government that has a $4 billion emergency response fund that hasn't spent a dollar yet. There's a few needs in bushfire-affected areas. There's people still living in vans on land that hasn't been cleared. It's now October. The fires stopped more than six months ago. We're approaching the next season. They have not spent a dollar of the emergency response fund. This is a Government that is big on announcement, hopeless on delivery.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)?
ALBANESE: I think we should take the medical advice, but I'm not in favour of restrictions being there for one day longer than necessary. I'll tell you what should be a priority for this Government, though, isn't getting people in particular places in China or someone else to come to Australia, it's getting back the 29,000 Aussies who are stranded overseas. That should be the first priority. It is an absolute disgrace that this Government has done nothing about it and pretends someone else is responsible for our national borders and for our customs and for our quarantine. It's a nonsense. People have paid thousands of dollars, some tens of thousands of dollars, to book flights that have been cancelled. They are stuck overseas. We have people who have been overseas that haven't seen they newborn kids that can't get home. This is a disgrace and that should be the priority, not another photo-up for the Prime Minister to pretend that something's happening where nothing actually eventuates.
JOURNALIST: The WA Chief Health Officer has given broad advice to the Premier, Mark McGowan, to say further exemptions could be considered now, such as removing quarantine for the state, with no community spread. Based on that medical advice, should WA be opening up?
ALBANESE: We should always take medical advice. And Premier McGowan has been doing that. And he's been doing a fantastic job, in spite of the fact that Scott Morrison and Clive Palmer took him to court. Thanks.