WEDNESDAY, 12 APRIL 2017
SUBJECTS: Federal funding for disaster-affected Queensland; Adani; housing affordability; Deloitte research
JIM CHALMERS, MEMBER FOR RANKIN: Thanks very much everybody for coming out and joining us here today. I wanted to thank the Mayor, Luke Smith, for spending time with us this morning, but also more broadly for his leadership of our city, as we go through what has been a pretty terrible couple of weeks for a lot of our residents, and so much of our community which has been affected by these floods.
We're here today with Bill Shorten, the Labor Leader, who has spent more time in Logan City than any national leader that I can recall, to understand our challenges. Particularly when we're going through a period like we're going through right now, when it comes to this substantial flooding and this substantial damage that you can see in the aftermath of that extreme weather event a couple of weeks ago.
We're here to properly understand, me as the local member from next door, Luke as the Mayor, Bill as the Labor Leader, we're here to properly understand what we need to do to get Logan City back on its feet as fast as possible. That means ensuring that people get the help that they need and deserve in a timely matter, and we'll have more to say about that. But first, we'll go to Luke Smith, the Mayor, and then to Bill Shorten.
LUKE SMITH, LOGAN CITY MAYOR: Thanks Jim. On behalf of the City of Logan, we are very grateful that the Opposition Leader has chosen to come to Logan today. It ensures that we get the necessary care that we need from the Federal Government. The City of Logan still has 200 homes that were flood inundated, and we are still helping and working with those families. We have 44 businesses that have been wiped out because of this flood, and it has literally wiped out our entire market garden sector as well, which actually supplies 65 per cent of vegetables to the Rocklea Markets which go throughout the state. So this one patch of Queensland has been tremendously affected and it is affecting the rest of Queensland with the supply of food. But to have the national attention that we've had today is just fantastic.
I want to firstly thank Bill Shorten and Jim Chalmers for their time, of actually going around talking to residents, talking to small business and reassuring them that they will do all they can to ensure that the Federal Government does actually stump up the dollars necessary to help get businesses back to business as quick as they possibly can.
We understand that – I was informed this morning by the Deputy Premier, that the Federal Government has decided to say no, directly to Section C of the NDRR funding. This means that the $25,000 grant that could go to small businesses to help them get back to business as usual, will not be coming straight away. It is highly disappointing to hear this.
It is my understanding that the previous state government wrote a letter to Julia Gillard, when she was the Prime Minister, she then released those funds straight away.
So we're calling on the Federal Government to get that back into the hands of small business as quick as we can. We need these businesses up and running, it affects our local economy. So our message to the Prime Minister is to pull your hand out of your pocket and get the money back to our residents, because we need this city up and running as quick as we can.
I'll now hand over and introduce to you the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody. First of all I'd like to acknowledge the work of Logan City Council in what they've done with the community to ameliorate the effects of these dreadful floods, and of course I acknowledge the work of our shadow Labor frontbencher as well, Jim Chalmers, and the work that he's done to help promote the interests of his community.
There are 200 houses-plus that had water over the floorboards, 40-plus businesses were inundated,19 of which are farms. This area of Logan is the vegetable food bowl for Brisbane and for the Rocklea Markets. We see the full extent of nature's fury, and the damage that has been done to this bridge, which is a vital connection for this community.
Logan has been through a natural disaster. So therefore, it is a disgrace that the Federal Government, Mr Turnbull's government, is delaying providing small but necessary financial relief for business that are hard hit.
Australians might not be aware, but when we go through these natural disasters in parts of Australia, there is a system of modest grants – about $25,000, which are available for this exact sort of natural disaster.
A $25,000 grant going to a farm or primary producer or a small business, it isn't going to compensate them for all their costs, but it is that necessary cash flow. It is why Australians pay their taxes. And yet, Mr Turnbull was here a week ago, having all the photo opportunities, doing all the things which he likes to do, but a week on he seems to have forgotten Queensland. It's great that he's swanning around in India, hanging out with billionaires, but the point about it is, attention is necessary right now, right here.
In New South Wales, where six local government areas have been affected, the Government has ticked the box, and they are getting this necessary grant funding for farms and small businesses. But in Queensland, perversely because more areas have been affected – something like 29 councils – the Turnbull Government is dragging its feet.
You don't need to be a Rhodes scholar to look at the damage. This part of Queensland, and indeed, many parts of Queensland, have been through a natural disaster. You don't need to be a Rhodes scholar, you don't need to delay in red tape and bureaucracy. These farmers, these small businesses, they need the grant. It has been paid in the past, they have been through a natural disaster. The job of the Federal Government is not to hinder recovery, but to help recovery. We call upon them to implement these grants straight away.
JOURNALIST: Is that all businesses that are not getting the money, or just the Logan region?
SHORTEN: Well in Queensland the decision hasn't been made to authorise the grant funding. So Mr Turnbull has forgotten Queensland. He was happy to be here for the photo opportunities, and that's part of his job, but the other part of his job is to help small businesses and farmers get back on their feet.
Let us be clear, the grant is not going to replace everything that they have lost. We are at the Logan Tree Farm, Aisla was running that, fantastic business. They've suffered big losses, but they can't understand why they're being forced to wait for a small, modest grant which helps the cash flow, keeps the people on the books, helps the employees. This is silly stuff and Mr Turnbull needs to rectify it straight away.
JOURNALIST: Do you think he should have delayed his trip to India?
SHORTEN: Well, I don't mind where he is in the world but he should still be looking after the home base. The fact of the matter is that this is bureaucracy run crazy. Let's put it as plainly as this: these people, Queenslanders, have been through enough already, they don't need to be further punished by Malcolm Turnbull's incompetence.
JOURNALIST: Just to another matter in Queensland, do you support the Adani coal mine?
SHORTEN: I support the Adani coal mine so long as it stacks up. I hope it stacks up, by the way. Let me be clear, I want to see more jobs in Australia, I want to see more jobs in regional Queensland. But it has got to stack up commercially, it's got to stack up environmentally.
But I can't for the life of me see any good reason why Australian taxpayers should be paying, underwriting a $1 billion loan to giant Indian billionaire mining company. I cannot for the life of me see what the case is for the Australian taxpayer to underwrite a $1 billion loan to an Indian billionaire.
You know, Malcolm Turnbull, he has never seen a billionaire he doesn't want to help, I get that. But the point about it is, and I've got some quotes, this is a dysfunctional Government who don't seem to know quite what they're doing. Mr Turnbull before the election on the 3rd of June in 2016, he actually said "There's no public funding in Adani's coal mine. Let me be very clear about that.” That's Mr Turnbull, "there is no public funding in Adani's coal mine". Frydenberg, his resources spokesperson, said on the ABC on the 18th of October last year, "This is a commercial operation. It needs to stand on its own two feet." And when talking about borrowing money from the Infrastructure fund, he actually, Frydenberg went on to specifically say, "This wouldn't be a priority project for us". But of course, just to complete the trifecta of government ministers who said that they weren't interested in lending money, Hunt, who was the minister before the election, his spokesperson said, and I quote, "The Government has already ruled out funding for Adani.” Now, just what's going on here?
JOURNALIST: But on the loan alone, the loan has to be paid back so is that public funding or is it a loan?
SHORTEN: Well it is a concessional loan of which the risk is underwritten by the Australian taxpayer. If it is a good deal then why does the taxpayer have to be the person who is underwriting a $1 billion loan? Why is it that this fellow Turnbull is so keen to lend $1 billion to an Indian billionaire mining company yet he can't do so many other things?
But again, this is the priorities of this government. They want to give corporate tax cuts to the big end of town. On the 1st of July, Australians who earn over $1 million dollars are going to get a $16,000 tax reduction. And now they want to underwrite, using taxpayers’ money, a $1 billion loan.
I mean, I want Adani to succeed but it has got to stand on its own merits. The Australian taxpayer should not be an ATM for Indian coal mining companies.
JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to the Queensland Premier today on her Government's stance on the loan?
SHORTEN: I certainly speak on a regular basis to Annastacia Palaszczuk. She is very committed to making sure that there are jobs in Queensland for Queenslanders, but I have made clear my view that I don't think that the Commonwealth taxpayer should be underwriting a $1 billion loan to an Indian billion dollar company. That's not the role of the Australian taxpayer. The deal is either a good deal or it is not. And if it is not a good deal then Australian taxpayers shouldn't be footing the bill.
JOURNALIST: Do you support that coal as a world energy supply needs to continue and does Australia have an obligation to supply our coal which is better quality?
SHORTEN: Fossil fuels is going to be part of our energy mix going forward – coal, oil, gas – and so are renewables. I am not going to get caught up in Turnbull's silly debate about renewable energy versus fossil fuel. They're all part of our energy mix going forward. I hope that the project stacks up. I hope that the jobs will materialise but I am just not convinced that the Australian taxpayer should be footing the bill for this project, or indeed, a concessional loan of $1 billion. If it is a good deal, why does it need taxpayer money to help underwrite it?
JOURNALIST: Opposition Leader, just on negative gearing, do you have a level, can you tell us how much you believe it would reduce house prices if your plan did go ahead?
SHORTEN: Well I do think we have a housing affordability problem in this country. I think that the great Australian dream of being able to afford your first home is becoming the great Australian nightmare. I think, increasingly, the way which most young people except to be able to afford a house with the high prices in the big cities is through a payment from their parents. I think we need to do more to help improve affordability. I think that if we take some of the demand out of it which comes from tax concessions going to property investors and speculators, I think it will keep prices within a reasonable range –
JOURNALIST: But you would have crunched the numbers, can you give us a figure on what it would reduce house growth by or –
SHORTEN: It's one of the factors. The reality is that when we talk about housing affordability, you've got to look at supply, so we've got to be building more houses and we need to look at the factors which influence demand. Now what also influences housing affordability is the availability of employment for example. But I have no doubt that one of the factors which contributes to inflated auction prices on a Saturday in the suburbs of Australia is the fact that some Australians are getting a tax concession to buy their 10th house, and that's making the dream of Australian home ownership, their first home, out of the reach of everyday Australians.
JOURNALIST: But have you crunched the numbers? Because you've been very strong on this that negative gearing isn't fair. Can you –
SHORTEN: I think what it would add is about $30 billion plus to the budget which helps reduce the debt and deficit. Something which this Government has completely dropped the ball on. And as I say, it's one of the factors which I think will help, if we reduce negative gearing in the future, will help reduce some of the over-inflated prices that we're seeing. But it is only one of the factors and that's why we want to work on supply issues as well.
JOURNALIST: Just on the comments from Deloitte today, what can be done to protect our economy from recession if China goes backwards, as modelled by Deloitte?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, I think China is going to be strong for a fair period of time to come. The way which we diversify our economy is you invest in skills and training and you build good infrastructure. You invest in infrastructure, which makes our businesses and our communities more productive, and you invest in skills. That's why Labor has got a strong policy to back in apprenticeships, to help rescue TAFE, to make sure that university remains affordability.
The challenge for Australia is that we can't control what happens in global economic or political circumstances. What we can control is how we future proof our economy. That's why it's important that we have first-class NBN. It's why it's important that we have first-class infrastructure. It's why it is important that we help communities get back on their feet when they have natural disasters. Of course, it's why we also invest in Australians.
I think that the other point is that it’s why we have a good safety net. When you are cutting penalty rates, you are making it harder for everyday Australians to be able to afford to make ends meet. When you cut back Medicare, you make national health, the safety net of national health care less affordable. That actually doesn't stop people being sick, it just means that people get sicker before they get the treatment they deserve.
What makes the Australian economy resilient is the fair go all round, and that’s what we do by Labor’s policies of investing in people and investing in infrastructure.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten just a separate question on cashless welfare cards, from the ABC, do you believe it’s been a success?
SHORTEN: I'll reserve judgement until we see the final report. But yet again Minister Tudge isn't doing his job or properly consulting people. We've got a set of circumstances where Minister Tudge is fighting for his political career because of the way he's mishandled the Centrelink debacle. So we're not seeing the sort of consultation about how this cashless welfare card is going –
JOURNALIST: So you could say you support it –
SHORTEN: Well we'll wait and see what happens with the report. What I can say though is Jenny Macklin, the Labor spokesperson, she's in Kununurra in north Western Australia, where they've rolled out the cashless welfare card. She's out consulting, so yet again it’s Labor doing the Government’s job for them. I'm sure Jenny will pass on her findings to Alan Tudge, because he's too busy trying to save his own skin to worry about all these other important issues.
JOURNALIST: Just getting back to the flood, the local LNP Member here has said that you're politicising the natural disaster, is that true and should the council resume some of these flooded properties?
SHORTEN: If you can't tell the truth, telling the truth is not politicising an issue. This government, federally, should have just ticked off the Category C grants. When Campbell Newman was Premier, you had and LNP Premier write to a Labor Prime Minister, the job got done very quickly. You've had Annastacia Palaszczuk writing to the current Turnbull Government and nothing is happening. That's a real problem. So if the LNP don't like what we're saying, maybe they should get off their butt, get on the phone and tell Barnaby Joyce, or whoever is running the Turnbull Government at the moment, to do their day job and start looking after Queenslanders. That's what we'd do if we were in charge.
JOURNALIST: So would you resume these properties that have been flooded?
SHORTEN: That's a longer term question. I actually want to give a bit of a shout out to the city of Logan. We got a very good report for how the Logan council has operated in the challenge of the floods. The fact is Logan is one of the fastest growing areas in Queensland, it’s got 308,000 people living within its borders. The fact that you had a one in a 100-year flood and only 200 houses got flooded shows this council has actually been trying to do the right thing in terms of the planning to give developers to be able to permission for development. And I think because of this council’s strategic nature, these floods could have been a lot worse but weren't. Now some of the houses which get flooded have been built previously in flood plains before they had all the proper flood mapping.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just with regards to floods and tenants, what sort of protection are there for renters, should they been told when looking at a property that this is a potential flood threat?
SHORTEN: I think you raise a really important issue there and its one which we are going to take nationally, Jim Chalmers has been on to me as well as Mayor Smith. I think there should be an obligation for landlords to tell prospective tenants if the rental property is in a floodplain and if it’s prone to flooding. I think that sort of information shouldn't be left to the tenant to work out. I think what should happen is the landlord should be providing that sort of timely information so the tenant knows what they're getting in to. Not when they see the water coming above the floorboards.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on another matter, how concerned are you about the war talk between North Korea and America, and at your level federally, are you invited to talks when Australia is asked to put their position?
SHORTEN: Labor has got a clear view that North Korea in many ways is a rogue nation and they don't adhere properly to any of the nuclear test bans. What they've been doing in terms of their missile testing is well beyond the pale, it’s a real threat to global security. This is the sort of issue where there is no politics between us and the Government. We will work together and I do regard North Korea and the development of their missiles program as a real threat and I do think we need to take it most seriously.
JOURNALIST: It’s a frightening time though, these kinds of talks, surely?
SHORTEN: Well North Korea is a rogue state and they don't adhere to a lot of the norms which the rest of the world adheres to, so it is a most serious issue, and again, this is the sort of issue which Australians should be reassured there is not a cigarette paper of difference between Turnbull and myself on these matters. Our national security should be beyond those matters.
JOURNALIST: Mayor, can I just ask you about [inaudible] if that’s ok? Where do you stand on that and is it a possibility for people who are desperate?
SMITH: We're still on assessment stage, so we're still working through what damage this flood has actually caused. We're still hearing back from [inaudible] we are at this stage helping people just move on with life. Once we get to have a good understanding of what the impact of this flood actually has had on people, we'll then assess all of that and work that through.
JOURNALIST: And do you think the Prime Minister has sort of lulled the business community in to a false sense of security that they were going to get these funds?
SMITH: Well the business community that were effected in 2013 received the funds straight away. It helped keep jobs, it helped get business back to business as usual as quickly as possible. To hear there is a delay is frightening small business right across our city right now. They are genuinely concerned that this money won't come. Its deserved to come, they should receive it and we just need that ticked off as quickly as possible.
JOURNALIST: How long is the bridge going to be out for?
SMITH: This bridge?
SMITH: We estimate probably about eight months, that’s just, again, we’re still at that estimation period. We think it will be about $15 million to fix and we're working with Gold Coast city council on the water here to make sure we get it up and running as quick as we can.
JOURNALIST: Is there a total for the damage?
SMITH: No, but if you think this is $15 million and we've got four bridges right across the city like this, we have hard infrastructure that we still need to assess, it could be in the hundreds of millions. So pretty much what we're looking at, but at this stage we really have no idea.
JOURNALIST: Do you why we rebuilt it the way it was before? I know it was supposed to be the unfloodable bridge and now it’s –
SMITH: Well if you think it’s the 30 metre wall of water that went across this, last time that happened was 130 years ago. So, we will make sure that when the bridge is built again, that we will make sure it doesn't actually get affected any more. That’s why with the NDRR funding, the state government is asking for section D to be opened up and that’s for betterment. To ensure that we cannot just replace the bridge but make sure it doesn't actually get flooded in the future.
SHORTEN: I'll just make one last statement. I'll just say to Malcolm Turnbull, Queenslanders have been through enough without your Government using paper shuffling bureaucracy, its time Malcolm for you to fix up this problem. Make sure small business gets looked after.