Springfield Doorstop 10/09/21

10 September 2021

SUBJECTS: Labor’s commitment to the Springfield to Ipswich rail line; Morrison Government’s failures on vaccines and quarantine bleeding $85 billion from the national economy; Josh Frydenberg can lift a pen to write a press release but he won’t lift a finger to recover $13 billion in JobKeeper paid to companies that didn’t need it; Fowler preselection and federal election.










SUBJECTS: Labor’s commitment to the Springfield to Ipswich rail line; Morrison Government’s failures on vaccines and quarantine bleeding $85 billion from the national economy; Josh Frydenberg can lift a pen to write a press release but he won’t lift a finger to recover $13 billion in JobKeeper paid to companies that didn’t need it; Fowler preselection and federal election.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks everybody for coming out today to make a really important announcement with my colleague and friend Shayne Neumann, the Member for Blair, about Federal Labor's commitment to the Springfield to Ipswich rail line. Investing $2 million in a business case to get the planning done, get the business case sorted, so that we can give the people from this part of Southeast Queensland the rail services that they need and deserve when it comes to the national economy.

Growth corridors like this one are the hope of this side.  If we want the national economy to recover strongly from COVID-19, then we need to be investing in communities like this one that Shayne and Milton Dick represent in the national parliament. This train line, if and when it is built, would mean something like nine extra stations. It would carry a lot of passengers but it will also carry the aspirations of an absolutely crucial part of the national economy.

In federal Labor we know that communities like this one are growing incredibly fast, and what we need is for the infrastructure and the services to keep up as well. So this commitment from Federal Labor today is all about creating jobs and creating opportunities and making sure that as the national economy recovers from COVID that communities like Springfield and Ipswich are a much bigger part of the story. Shayne will talk in a little bit more detail about this announcement today, then I'm keen to cover off some national issues and then we'll take your questions.

SHAYNE NEUMANN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR VETERANS' AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL, MEMBER FOR BLAIR: Thanks, Jim. It's great to be here with my mate Jim Chalmers and I'd love for Milton Dick, the Member for Oxley, to be here as well because Milton and I do everything in this corridor together. He's unfortunately in home quarantine having been serving in parliament just recently. So on behalf of Milton and I, we want to thank Jim. We want to thank Anthony Albanese, who understands this corridor very well. When Anthony was the Infrastructure Minister in the last Labor Government, the Ipswich Motorway from Dinmore was designed, built and completed. Also Catherine King, I want to thank her as the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure as well.

This area of Springfield has seen Labor governments invest money significantly. From the Mater cancer clinic, to the Orion pool to Robelle Domain parklands, Labor governments have made a difference. We've seen that with the State Labor Government and the Centenary Highway. With Ipswich doubling its population in the next 20 years, we need more public transport options. And the Ipswich City Council has put $500,000 towards a business case, an options case, in relation to it. The State Government's put a million dollars towards it. And I lobbied the then Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister Michael McCormack in relation to this, but unfortunately the Minister, now the backbencher, and also the Morrison-Joyce Government, has refused to put a million dollars towards it.

So this money goes towards the options case, and an extra million dollars for the next stage. It's absolutely critical that we create jobs and infrastructure in this region, the fastest growing region in Southeast Queensland. One in seven people in the country live in Southeast Queensland. I want to thank Catherine King. There's the Lions Sports Centre over here, we see with the Brisbane Lions. When we were last in government we made a commitment of $15 million, taken away, but eventually the current government saw the benefit of it. But they've refused to invest money in the Ipswich Motorway, they were opposed to it election after election and they've refused to put money into this business case. So I thank Anthony Albanese, Catherine King, as well as Jim Chalmers. On behalf of Milton Dick and myself, we thank them for their commitment.

If we win this election we will invest in this business case, support the Ipswich City Council, match the money and more from the State Palaszczuk Labor Government, and invest in this corridor. This is really important for our region. Jobs, economic activity, and infrastructure are critical in the Western Corridor. Jim.

CHALMERS: As you can see, there are no fiercer advocates or more persistent advocates for local communities than Shayne Neumann and Milton Dick. They are an incredibly effective duo. And the reason that we are making this announcement today is because Shayne, and Milton, and Catherine and Anthony and I, understand just how crucial this corridor is to the future of this community, but also to the future of the local economy and the national economy as well.

The contrast couldn't be clearer between us and the LNP under Scott Morrison. We want to work together with the Council, with the State Government, to get important infrastructure projects built in the interests of jobs and opportunities. We want more jobs, and more opportunities, for more people in this part of Southeast Queensland. This Government, after eight long years, is just interested in picking fights with the states. Picking fights to try and distract from their own failures on vaccinations and quarantine, as well as economic support.

I just want to touch on two national issues briefly before we go to your questions.

The first one is that the Business Council of Australia has said that the lockdowns and the failures on quarantine have cost the national economy something like $85 billion in lost economic activity. This is the price that Australians are being asked to pay for Scott Morrison's failures on vaccines, and quarantine, and economic support. This is the money that is being bled from the national economy because Scott Morrison didn't do his job on vaccines and quarantine. He doesn't understand that this is a race - to get people vaccinated, to make sure that we can open up our economies safely and confidently when it's responsible to do so. So the price tag on Scott Morrison's incompetence is a hefty one, something like $85 billion according to the Business Council of Australia. Australians deserve better than that. When the economy is weakened by Scott Morrison's incompetence there are fewer opportunities for people right around Australia.

The last issue is JobKeeper. Josh Frydenberg, once again, has written a little opinion piece in the paper today to try and defend what has been the most egregious waste of taxpayer money since Federation. He can write all the press releases he likes but he is still the author of the most wasteful program in the history of the Commonwealth. This is the Treasurer who told struggling small businesses and workers that there was no blank cheque to support them through tough times, at the same time as he was passing out blank cheques to businesses that didn't need support. $13 billion wasted by Josh Frydenberg on businesses whose profits went up, at the same time as he was telling struggling small businesses that he couldn't afford to support them through the lockdowns which are a consequence of his Government's failures.

This is a Government which will pursue social security recipients to the grave if they feel they've been overpaid, but this Treasurer will not lift a finger when it comes to recovering that $13 billion that he wasted. He'll pick up a pen and write a press release but what we need is a Treasurer prepared to lift a finger to design these programs the right way, not to waste $13 billion dollars, to put more pressure on those businesses who didn't need help to recover those funds.

JobKeeper wage subsidies are a really important program. We supported the proper implementation of wage subsidies. Unfortunately, this Treasurer has taken a very good idea and badly mangled it with his incompetence. He is the poster child for all that's wrong with this government - long on marketing and spin and press releases, short on delivery and substance. Imagine how many rail lines you could build with the $13 billion that Josh Frydenberg wasted on JobKeeper for businesses that didn't need support at the same time as other businesses went without, at the same time as they are pursuing people to the grave with robodebt and other scandals. Happy to take your questions.

JOURNALIST: Speaking of JobKeeper there, the ATO says that disclosing the recipients will harm public confidence?

CHALMERS: I'll tell you what harms public confidence, spraying around $13 billion on businesses that didn't need it at the same time as struggling small businesses and workers go without support. Everyone would prefer that the Treasurer got this program right. It's a good idea being badly implemented. We would prefer that these steps were necessary. These steps are made necessary by the Treasurer's incompetence, the fact that he is the author of the most wasteful program in the history of the Commonwealth. Now the idea that we have $13 billion wasted in this program and there wouldn't be any kind of transparency, I think doesn't stack up. So what we're calling for is a responsible measure to increase transparency so we know where businesses have received JobKeeper when their profits went up rather than down. We've seen the important role that public pressure has played already, with some companies deciding to pay back JobKeeper they didn't need. We want to see more of that, transparency is part of that story.

JOURNALIST: But didn't JobKeeper basically keep the Tropical North Queensland tourism industry alive?

CHALMERS: JobKeeper had the capacity to be a really important tool in the Government's armoury when it came to combating the recession of last year and the ongoing economic weakness which flows from Scott Morrison's lockdowns. What we've said all along is we want wage subsidies to flow where they are needed most, to the workers and small businesses that need help. And where that's happened we have welcomed that. But at the same time as Josh Frydenberg was telling businesses who need help that he couldn't afford to support them, he was spraying around $13 billion on businesses that didn't need help. That's the issue here. It's not the idea of wage subsidies, which we support. It's not the JobKeeper program, which in some instances has done good. It's the Treasurer's inability to implement this program effectively in a way that doesn't mangle it and waste $13 billion.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

NEUMANN: If we get elected, it's $2 million from us, $1 million from the State Government, $500,000 from the Ipswich City Council. The first stage requires $2.5 million, so we've provided an extra million dollars to get towards the second stage of the business case arrangement. And the Council will be welcoming that I'm sure.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

NEUMANN: They'll be assessing that particular option. This is a priority initiative on Infrastructure Australia's 2021 priority list. So this is a project which is going to go ahead in due course. We will support this particular project because that's why we're putting money towards it. It's absolutely critical for this whole region. This first stage is that options stage, the second stage is another business case, then the final business case, and the Council has taken initiative in this area.

JOURNALIST: Do you feel like the State Government has shown enough support for this project?

NEUMANN: Oh, yeah.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

NEUMANN: The State Government here has a fantastic record in Springfield, from the Centenary Highway through to the million dollars that the Ipswich City Council asked of the State Government. And the State Government's delivered the million dollars that Ipswich City Council has asked for.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

NEUMANN: They put the million dollars, they made a commitment in the campaign, and they've done it.

JOURNALIST: Mark Bailey has said that no work will start on projects like this until the Cross River Rail is complete. Do you think it's fair to make Ipswich residents wait so long if it is such a critical piece of infrastructure?

NEUMANN: It is a critical piece of infrastructure and I'll have some discussions with Mark Bailey in relation to those issues. We'll support the efforts of the State Government in making sure that they get this project going ahead. The Cross River Rail is critical for Southeast Queensland, no one can deny that. It's absolutely vital for Southeast Queensland and residents out here will benefit. But of course, this particular project needs to be undertaken as well.

JOURNALIST: So what financial year would the $2 million come in Jim, would it go in 2022-23 or?

CHALMERS: We'd get it going as soon as possible. Obviously, it depends a little bit on the timing of the election and the timing of the first Budget afterwards if we were successful, but our intention is to get this business case being developed ASAP. I think it's crucial. Even if you were to accept that timeframe that we were just asked about a moment ago, we need to get the work happening. We need to get the planning, we need to get the options, we need to understand where the stations would go, all of those sorts of things. And that's what we're on about. Shayne and Milton have been on our case in Federal Labor to make sure that we can get this planning going straight away. They understand the growth that's been happening here. They understand the opportunities here. They understand how it fits into all the work that's going on elsewhere in the network. So it's important that we get our skates on and get it happening as soon as possible.

JOURNALIST: So Cross River Rail finishes about 2025, depending on who you believe, so this would seem to be a good time for a business case to have it ready by 2025-26. Is that your thinking?

NEUMANN: We want to be ready to go, can I just say. And to get it ready to go you need the options paper, then you need the second stage of the business case, and the final stage. And that's what you need to do. And that's why Labor's committed.

JOURNALIST: Jim, a question from my colleagues in Canberra. What do you make of Kristina Keneally's shift to the lower house?

CHALMERS: Well, I think I've got enough on my plate without worrying about New South Wales preselections, but I think it's self-evident that Kristina Keneally is a terrific contributor to our team at the national level. Preselections are a matter for the New South Wales branch, of course. The people involved in this - Kristina Keneally and Chris Hayes and Deb O'Neill - they are great people, great contributors, great friends of ours, Shayne. And we want to see it resolved because we want the focus to be on Scott Morrison and his failures. Kristina Keneally has been a terrific contributor for some time now. It's important that she has an ongoing role. How that happens is a matter for the New South Wales branch.

JOURNALIST: Chris Hayes, though, says he doesn't see enough diversity in the Labor Caucus room. What about someone like Tu Le? Will they be a better fit for the seat of Fowler?

CHALMERS: Look, I'm not going to go into sort of refereeing the different points that have been made. Chris Hayes is a very close friend of mine and he's been one of the great local Members, certainly one of the great Chief Whips. If it were up to me Chris Hayes wouldn't be retiring, he'd go around many more times. He is a close friend of mine, he's entitled to his view, and to express his view as he has been. Pre-selections like this, particularly in seats like that one, are always hotly contested. It's not for us to be participants in that process, it's a matter for the New South Wales branch. Our focus is on building train lines in Shayne's part of the world and Milton's part of the world so we can give people the economic opportunities they need and deserve.

JOURNALIST: It is your party though, you don't think there needs to be more diversity?

CHALMERS: I think we've got a good record on diversity over time, we can always do better.  In general, I think that should be our goal. When it comes to specific preselections, I really don't have much more than that to add.

JOURNALIST: Just back on the JobKeeper issue as well. Would there be a way that Labor could perhaps reveal the recipients and keeping privacy of the recipients?

CHALMERS: What we're talking about here is some transparency just about the recipients of the taxpayer money. We're not talking about the ins and outs of people's tax details, we're not talking about information which has traditionally been regarded as private. What we want to do here, is to say JobKeeper money went into the community. It went into a lot of businesses. In many cases that was appropriate, in some cases it was not. We need to get to the bottom of it. If Josh Frydenberg had his way we would all just move on and pretend that he hadn't wasted $13 billion in taxpayer money - which comes at the cost of infrastructure, or education, or aged care, or budget repair in a Budget that's got a trillion dollars of debt in it. And so the point that we're making is, this has been an extraordinary failure. It does require some extra transparency. We think this is the best way of going about it. We're conscious of all the concerns that have been raised but the biggest concern we have is that $13 billion has been wasted here at the same time as social security recipients have been pursued to the grave. At the same time as many worthy businesses have gone without. We need to get to the bottom of it. Josh Frydenberg would like us to move on and forget about it but I think the Australian people deserve answers.

JOURNALIST: What is your transparency plan?

CHALMERS: Well, there's a bill before the parliament which is about disclosing businesses with turnover of more than $10 million - so medium businesses and larger businesses - to disclose the JobKeeper that they received. There is some disclosure in the system, but in our view not enough. And so that's what we've been pushing for in the parliament. It's a tribute to our team, particularly Andrew Leigh, but others in our team as well, that we are standing up for Australian taxpayers who deserve better than to have their money sprayed around in this fashion at the same time as so many people are going without support.

JOURNALIST: What the status of that bill, Jim? When does it come back for a second reading?

CHALMERS: To be determined. There's been a lot of parliamentary argy bargy as you'd imagine. The Liberals and Hanson, I believe, teamed up for an inferior bit of window dressing, really. And we think that more should be done and could be done. Clearly, we listened to the concerns raised but I think the most important thing is we get to the bottom of this. Try as he might, Josh Frydenberg will always be the author of this $13 billion debacle. We need answers about it and we can't just let him skate through without that happening.

JOURNALIST: Apologies for reading but I just had another question come through. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found people in poor areas were four times more likely to die from COVID-19 last year. Do you think this reflects broader problems with the health system beyond the response?

CHALMERS: I think it goes to the very core of the challenges in our society. And as we recover from COVID and as we deal with COVID we can't have two Australias, where some parts of Australia are faring really well and have access to the best services and other parts of Australia don't. One of the big risks here is that we emerge from COVID and we go back to all of the inequality and all of the division and all the immobility that existed in Australia before. I think we should do better than that. I know Shayne thinks that and Anthony Albanese thinks that. We need to provide the best services we can no matter where people grow up. We can't be a country where your life circumstances are dictated by your place of birth. I'm a kid from Logan. Shayne's from out here at Ipswich. We know that, not just in our minds but in our hearts, that's one of the most important things that we need to care about. So when we see stats like the one that you've just referred to it's very confronting.

JOURNALIST: That's an interesting point you made. Shayne's served five or six terms here. You've been in parliament quite a number of years. You're both local candidates. You both know your areas well. Isn't it that the problem in New South Wales is that Senator Keneally isn't from that local area. Going back to that. That's the crux of it. And she's Vietnamese and 15% of the population is Vietnamese.

CHALMERS: I'm going to respond to your question by saying, I agree that Shayne is a tremendous local champion.


JOURNALIST: But seriously, that is the issue isn't it?

CHALMERS: I think, inevitably, there will be a mix. And I think one of the things that does make Shayne so effective is his affinity with his community. I think it's the same with Milton, when it comes to his time in the Council. And I'm not going to get into the mix about the context playing out elsewhere.

JOURNALIST: Fair enough. Have you asked Catherine King about the viability of this project and where she sees it fitting under a infrastructure plan if Labor do win the next federal election?

CHALMERS: Catherine King's a big supporter of this project. And one of the reasons why we want to get it going as soon as possible and get the work done is to see what might be possible to make that dream a reality. Shayne and Catherine and I, we work incredibly closely together with Anthony Albanese. I'll let Shayne add to it but Catherine is a big supporter. She understands growth corridors and growth communities like this one. She's from one herself. She understands, as we do, that growth corridors like this one are the hope of the side when it comes to the future of the Australian economy. I'll see if Shayne wants to add to that.

NEUMANN: When Anthony was the Infrastructure Minister, and then later Catherine, Infrastructure Australia was effectively created and built. We've got a project here that's on the priority initiative list, in the latest list that came out. Catherine very much supports this. Anthony does as well. Labor thinks this is actually critical for a growth corridor. We want people here in this corridor to get every opportunity that people in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane get. So it's really critical that we get the public infrastructure right, that we get the health infrastructure right. That's why, as I said before, Labor invested in in a cancer clinic here in Springfield, which was the catalyst for the Mater Springfield Hospital. And as a result of the last Labor Government initiative, we got a hospital in this corridor. And now we've got a situation where people can get cancer treatment. 4% of people got cancer treatment in Ipswich before that happened, now we're getting cancer treatment here in Ipswich. That's what Labor Governments do. And that's why people like Anthony and Catherine are supportive of projects, to build jobs, create opportunities for people locally, and to make sure our health care and education is looked after as well.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the timeline for this project, as we are looking at 2025-26, and we have obviously more than 6,000 people each year moving to Ipswich, are you concerned in the meantime, commuters are going to face massive, I guess, trouble getting to work and roadblocks?

NEUMANN: We have a lot of infrastructure challenges here in the Ipswich region. We need the last stage of the Ipswich Motorway from Darra to Rocklea done, we need upgrades on the Cunningham Highway, there's the Mount Crosby Interchange, there's lots of projects we have. Bu this announcement today will make a difference. This will give the impetus for the Ipswich City Council to bring forward the project we're talking about, to make sure it can happen, which is so important for our region.

JOURNALIST: What is happening to that final stage of the Ipswich Motorway, which goes back to when I was this young lady's age? Why isn't that project finished?

NEUMANN: Tony, at the last the last election we made a commitment for half a billion dollars for that last stage, not matched of course by the current government. So I want to thank the Queensland Government. Eventually, they put stage one of the Darra to Rocklea section of the Ipswich Motorway done. But there's that last section of course, as you say, which we all know well, the notorious Oxley roundabout at Blunder Road as it goes towards what we call the Centenary Interchange. It needs to get done. We were committed to making sure the full upgrade would take place. But that's a matter for us in the future and we’ll all be twisting this bloke's arm to make sure we get it done, so will Milton.

CHALMERS: Thanks very much.