TUESDAY, 17 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Groom by-election; Robodebt; The Morrison Government’s economic mismanagement; Regional communities in the recovery; Aged care; Women in politics; The Labor Party.
CHRIS MEIBUSCH, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR GROOM: Good morning everyone, and thank you so much for coming along. I'd really like to welcome the Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, here today. It's been a wonderful opportunity for the Toowoomba community to meet a leader of the economic discussion in this nation. Jim has met with leaders from a wide variety of community and business organisations here in Toowoomba, talking about a wide variety of issues confronting our community. Today we had discussions about the NDIS, regional jobs, universities, the major infrastructure that is needed in our community, in particular aged care, and the tertiary sector. We have had a great discussion, and certainly, we have great confidence coming from those discussions that the serious issues confronting our nation are being thought of at the highest level as well as the opportunities that will be available for regional centres like Toowoomba if in fact we have some innovative thinking for the recovery from the pandemic that the nation faces. On that basis, willing to take questions but will hand over to Jim. Thank you once again for coming here this morning.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much, Chris, for the invitation to be here in Toowoomba. I'm really pleased to be here and have the opportunity to speak with community leaders and organisations about what this community is going through, how we recover strongly from COVID-19, and how we provide opportunities for people in Toowoomba and in the surrounding areas. Chris Meibusch is a terrific Labor candidate for Groom in the by-election in 11 days' time. He's a genuine community champion. He's someone who is deeply enmeshed and deeply involved in the local community. We're just so pleased and so grateful to see him put up his hand to be part of Anthony Albanese's Labor team, representing this part of the world in Canberra, in the national parliament. I wanted to convey all of our thanks, Chris, for putting your hand up in this part of the world and in the federal seat of Groom in the by-election. For too long now, the LNP has taken places like Toowoomba for granted. For too long now, the LNP has just assumed that the people of Groom will continue to support them despite their mismanagement of the local economy, and despite the fact that they have taken Toowoomba and the surrounding areas for granted for too long. This by-election is not an opportunity to change the government. Whoever wins in 11 days' time will not change the federal government in Canberra but it is an opportunity to change the way the Morrison Government governs. We have had, repeatedly, big issues emerge, whether it be all of these substantial rorts that have been uncovered, whether it's been the premature cuts to JobKeeper which is pulling millions of dollars out of this community every fortnight, whether it's the mismanagement of the China relationship which is causing so much anxiety amongst growers, producers, and others in this really important regional economy, and when it comes to diabolical debacles like we've seen with Robodebt in the last couple of days.
As I understand it, Stuart Robert as one of the ministers responsible for the Robodebt debacle is in town today. He's in the gun here, as is Alan Tudge, as is Scott Morrison who was the original architect of Robodebt. What we saw yesterday was the biggest ever settlement of a class action involving the most ever people in Australia, which shines a light on the biggest ever social security scandal in the history of this country. If Scott Morrison's right hand man, Stuart Robert, is here today, it's an opportunity for him to come clean on his role and the Prime Minister's role in this debacle.
Scott Morrison and the LNP will tell the people of Groom, just like they tell the rest of the country, that somehow they're good at managing the economy. You're not good at managing the economy if you cut JobKeeper too quickly; you're not good at managing the economy if you mismanage the China relationship; you're not good at managing the economy if you have to front up with a $1.2 billion settlement for this massive Robodebt scandal for which a minister has still not put up their hand and taken responsibility. The LNP likes to pretend they're good at managing the economy. What we saw yesterday was 1.2 billion reasons why that is complete and utter rubbish. We need Scott Morrison to take responsibility and Stuart Robert, and Alan Tudge. We need there to be accountability.
The last thing I'll say is this before we take your questions. We understand in the Labor Party - Chris does, Albo does, I do, the entire Shadow Cabinet, the entire team understands this point - that if this country is to recover strongly from COVID-19, regional communities and regional economies like this one need to be a bigger part of that story. That's why I've been spending a lot of time in regional Queensland in particular, with community leaders like Chris because we need to understand and represent the needs of every community in this country. We need to ensure that the recovery when it comes is not patchy, doesn't leave communities behind, and ensure that we can continue to create opportunities in communities like Toowoomba and the surrounding areas.
JOURNALIST: Jim, so far we've seen in this election from the LNP no new money for Toowoomba, a lot of recycled announcements. Is Labor willing to put any money on the table for our region?
CHALMERS: I think you've hit the nail on the head when it comes to one of the defining problems with this Government. They make big announcements, particularly in regional areas and they fail to follow through. Take water as one example. My colleague, Terri Butler, was here a couple of days ago, spending time with Chris and talking about this. They had a water loans fund where they wrote 50 press releases, and didn't write a single loan over a period of time before they abandoned the program in the budget. I think that goes to a big problem we have with the LNP taking these communities for granted. In Labor, we don't want to see regional economies left out and left behind. Our leader has very proud record of investing in infrastructure in particular in Toowoomba and the surrounding areas. That's the kind of investment that you would see from a Federal Labor Government with Chris Meibusch with a seat at the table.
JOURNALIST: Is it surprising to see the LNP not make any large policy commitments, considering it is a considerably safe LNP seat and if they don't win it, would take them down to a one-seat majority in the House?
CHALMERS: It just shows that they take communities like this for granted. As we've seen repeatedly with this culture of big announcements and no follow through, whether it's water or other kinds of infrastructure, we do have a big problem here. The Government just assumes that they will gallop to victory every time, no matter what they do for this community, not just in infrastructure, not just in water, but in aged care as Chris mentioned, and with the NDIS. There are a range of issues in this community which are going unaddressed because the Government does not feel the kind of political pressure that they need to feel if the Government's to take this community seriously. That's why this opportunity provided by this by-election is a chance for the local community to send a message to Scott Morrison. It won't change the Government, but it will change the way they govern. That's an opportunity that people in Toowoomba and in the surrounding areas shouldn't miss.
MEIBUSCH: Can I just add there; the message is clear from this federal government and it was summarised in the headline of the Toowoomba Chronicle the day after the last federal budget: "Toowoomba misses out". That's certainly my commitment, that going forward, we will not ever have to have a headline like that again. We will not be taken for granted. We should get our fair share.
JOURNALIST: Chris, if you can stay there for two seconds; I guess the ALP traditionally fails to cut through because of it being perceived to be a little more progressive, especially on environmental issues which sometimes don't relate to farmers. You yourself spearheaded environmental campaigns in Toowoomba. Is there a way to make what you're trying to achieve stick with traditional conservative voters?
MEIBUSCH: No. I have been in this community for many years. Many will remember my 2007 campaign here where we achieved a national high of about an 11 per cent swing against the conservative member at that stage. Where are these conservative leaders? They have taken us for granted. They've progressed their own careers, moved on, retired, or resigned early. I'm here and I'm advocating for our community. From my discussions around the community, our community is very concerned not only about those environmental issues but also about these major issues, for example, the NDIS and the aged system which you'll hear more from me about in this campaign.
JOURNALIST: Chris, also today, and we did speak to the LNP candidate about this too, about this perceived women problem that the LNP have. We saw with the Groom preselection a number of capable women simply not considered within that conversation. Do you think that that's an issue that needs addressing?
MEIBUSCH: Absolutely. I'll leave the housekeeping in the LNP to themselves. Certainly something that I've wanted to raise with the Shadow Treasurer today is in fact how the recession in both the capital cities and in regional areas is adversely affecting women in our community. In particular, the loss of jobs in retail and in hospitality has hit the women of our community, Groom women, significantly harder. I think that the federal government isn't tailoring any of their responses. Programs that they're proposing in terms of major infrastructure development are not going to help women in Groom get back into employment. I am chastened by the approach that Jim has indicated today to our economic forum, that we have the concerns of the community at heart, and I'm sure that there are steps that can be taken to ensure that the women of Groom are the focus of the recovery as we try and move out of this recession from this federal government.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask Chris, what are those steps you just mentioned that can be taken to help women recover from this?
MEIBUSCH: Certainly. We have a focus at the moment from the federal government on large infrastructure projects. Yet we have a failure from the federal government, for example, to respond to the requirements that have already been made clear from the Aged Care Royal Commission. There is a fundamental opportunity for the federal government to grasp the opportunity to increase the staffing ratios in aged care in our community. We have had various scandals here on the quality of care provided to the elderly in our community. That's a marvellous opportunity to invest in predominantly women that are working in aged care, to lift those ratios, so that we have more nurses, more assistant nurses, and more carers in our local facilities.
JOURNALIST: Jim, I would probably direct a similar question to yourself. We have seen that the LNP has been in a bit of hot water over their perceived treatment of women in Canberra, which extends across the board. [INAUDIBLE]
CHALMERS: I think it's been obvious for some time that one of the consequences for the Liberal National Party of not having taken the sorts of steps that Labor has historically to ensure that there is more representation of women has been costly from their point of view. I think it is incumbent on all of us to work out the best way to make sure that we can ensure that more women are involved in politics. There has been a discussion about that in recent times. The Labor Party has a history of taking quite decisive steps to make sure that there are more women involved. The LNP has not been as successful at that and they need to be.
JOURNALIST: We obviously haven't seen that translate at this election with the candidates that we've got. Is this something at the grassroots level we need to develop?
CHALMERS: Absolutely. We should be doing whatever we can to attract the most diverse possible involvement in politics. Labor has been on about that for some time now. On the other side, the consequences of not putting as high a priority on that has been obvious.
JOURNALIST: Are you aware of the concerns about Mr. Albanese's office culture?
CHALMERS: I'm broadly aware that there have been some issues raised, but I'm not aware of the specific details of those. I'm happy to leave comment to a later date or to other colleagues.
JOURNALIST: Do you have concerns about bullying in the Labor party?
CHALMERS: I'm aware that those issues have been raised, as I said, in the last day or two. I'm aware of one media report in particular, but not knowing the details of what's being raised here, I'm reluctant to comment on it specifically.
JOURNALIST: What reason would someone have to leak this information?
CHALMERS: I'm not going to go to that. I don’t know who is involved here and I’m not sure of all the details of it. I'm aware of a media report. I'm aware that there has been an issue raised. Obviously it will need to be dealt with in one way or another.
Thanks very much.