Viridian Doorstop, Dandenong South

Subjects: Domestic National Interest Test; Bank Royal Commission; Election debates

THE HON CHRIS BOWEN MP
SHADOW TREASURER
MEMBER FOR McMAHON
 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP
MELBOURNE
WEDNESDAY, 18 MAY 2016

SUBJECT/S: Domestic National Interest Test; Bank Royal Commission; Election debates

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: It’s great to be here in Dandenong South with Mark Dreyfus, the Member for Isaacs, and the alternative Attorney General. Today we are visiting Viridian, a fantastic factory, the last floating glass factory in Australia, but a big user of gas. Just as many factories and manufacturing facilities across Australia rely, or are completely dependent upon a gas supply. Australia has been going through a transition in recent years exporting more and more LNG. Nothing wrong with exporting LNG. I'm a big supporter of the liquefied natural gas industry, but we have to ensure that Australia's manufacturing sector can survive and prosper. Over the last few days Bill Shorten and the Labor team have been talking about our plan for the economy, and manufacturing is very important for Australia's economic future, at least under our plans. Mr Morrison and Mr Turnbull don't actually have a plan. They've got a big corporate tax cut, unfunded and reluctantly costed. Apart from that, all they talk about is scare campaigns. But we've been outlining, every single day, important and concrete plans for the future. And today, we're providing more details about our national interest test for future natural gas export facilities. Natural gas belongs to all Australians. We want to ensure it's extracted in the national interest. We want to ensure that manufacturing facilities, like this, get a fair go. We want to ensure that we don't face the situation in the future, as has been predicted, that more and more manufacturing facilities face closure, not only because of the price of gas, but because they just can't get any gas.

Here's the situation – where Manufacturing Australia, the Aluminium Council, Australian Industry Group and Australian Workers Union have all called for this issue to be dealt with. Many groups have called for a national interest test to be applied. Some have called for things to go further, but a national interest test strikes the right balance. We agreed this at Labor's national conference this year and today I'm announcing further details. The Treasurer of the day – and in a Shorten Labor Government, that would be me – would appoint a domestic gas review board which would with advise the Treasurer of the implication of a new export facility, or a significant expansion of an existing export facility for the national interest.

The board would act in a similar way to the Foreign Investment Review board in giving advice to the Treasurer. It would consist of experts in the resources sector, and in manufacturing and industry. It would see government, the resources sector, and the manufacturing sector working together to ensure the best possible outcomes from the new facilities or new expansions. Not a confrontational process, but one in cooperation. It works in the United States. It works in Canada. Both have a national interest test in place already, and both have seen expansions in their liquefied natural gas industries under the national interest test. This is a good announcement, but I'm not going to pretend it's a magic bullet that solves all the problems for manufacturing in Australia. We don't play those sorts of games. I'm not going to pretend this is the be-all and end-all of what needs to happen for manufacturing, or indeed for gas, but it's a good step forward, a nd will only happen under a Labor Government.

Two other issues quickly before I hand over to Mark. Firstly, we have had reports today that the pre-election economic forecast will be released on Friday. We'll respond, of course, at that point. This the final set of numbers of the Turnbull Government. Final set of numbers to judge them against their own rhetoric. They promised to fix the debt, they promised to fix the deficit. We know from the Budget that they've tripled the deficit and we'll have verification of this government's performance on Friday, and of course, it will be verification that they will spin their way out of, that they'll have all sorts of lame excuses and attempts to avoid the issue and provide on alibi of their appalling economic management.

Also today we see more evidence emerging in the papers about trading in our banks and manipulation, alleged manipulation, of bank rates. Now the ASIC inquiry, as I said yesterday, and the day before in Adelaide, will be allowed to take its course. But this is yet more evidence of a culture which needs a Royal Commission. A culture which could be examined with the full powers of a Royal Commission and it deserves nothing more or nothing less.

Final issue; last night, Australia's Immigration Minister insulted every refugee who has come to Australia. Now I speak as the Shadow Treasurer, but I also speak as the member for one of the most multicultural areas in Australia. I speak as the representative of people who've come to Australia for a better life, for freedom, and have taken that opportunity and given back to Australia. Mark knows it as Member for Isaacs, here in Dandenong, another great multicultural centre of Australia. I say to Peter Dutton, go to Cabramatta high school or go to the high schools in Mark's electorate, where you see refugees and children of refugees topping the state in maths and sciences. Go to the small businesses that have been started by refugees. Go to the Governor of South Australia or Frank Lowy, who are both refugees, and tell them that they haven't made a contribution to Australia. To say that all refugees are innumerate and illiterate is an insult – not to us, not to the Labor Party, but to Australia’s multicultural community. It is who Australia is. Australia is a multicultural nation. To have the Immigration Minister, no less, engaged in this sort of commentary, says it all about the Turnbull Government, and Malcolm Turnbull should bring this bloke in to line. He should bring this bloke in to line, unless and of course, this was an authorised comment for political reasons. I'm going to hand over to Mark, and then we'll take some questions.

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thanks very much, Chris. Last night on the ABC's 7:30 Report, there was an extraordinary account given of the involvement of Stuart Robert, the Member for Fadden, who's standing for re-election again as member for Fadden, in events surrounding the election of the Gold Coast City council, including the giving of funds, secretly, from a fund maintained by Mr Robert – the Fadden Forum, I think it's known as – to supposedly independent candidates. These donations of course did not come to light until after the election. We now have the situation that a former Minister in the Turnbull Government, who was required to resign because of his abuse of office, misconduct in office, abuse of his Ministerial position, he's now under investigation by the Australian Federal Police for a serious criminal offence, and it appears from the 7:30 Report last night, also, likely to be the subject of a Crim e and Corruption Commission inquiry in Queensland. Mr Turnbull is in Queensland today, and Mr Turnbull needs to answer the question: does he stand behind his Minister? It's not a question he can duck. It will tell us what I think Australians are increasingly coming to learn about the Turnbull Government - if he does stand by this former Minister, it tells us what we need to know about the very low standards that Mr Turnbull is now setting for the conduct of members, and indeed former Ministers, in his Government.

BOWEN: Thanks, Mark. Questions?

JOURNALIST: On your gas policy, are you talking about quotas for the domestic gas market?

BOWEN: No, what I'm talking about is a proponent of a new facility or expansion of an existing facility making the case to the Treasurer of the day about why it is in the national interest, and part of that national interest consideration is how much gas would be available for Australian manufacturing, which is my focus today – of course – Australian households as well, but particularly manufacturing, because these fantastic workers here know that they rely, and their company relies, on a clear and consistent gas supply. You've got manufacturers right across Australia who are saying they just can't get gas. The Australian Industry Group has done a good job in building the case for this sort of reform, as has the Australian Workers Union and others. This is an example of Labor's cooperative approach, bringing together people in the sector, and working on practical solutions for the future.

JOURNALIST: How does this sit with the ACCC recommendation that there should be no reservations?

BOWEN: This is not a reservation, to be clear, this is a national interests test. They are dealing with similar issues. The Treasurer of the day would be talking to proponents and saying where is something here for the manufacturing sector, tell us how you are going to cater for this, and through what I’m sure would be a cooperative process, the national interest be best served.

JOURNALIST: What would be the criteria for rejecting an LNG project that is, supposedly, in the national interest?

BOWEN: If it’s in the national interest it would be approved, that’s the point. Similar to the foreign interest national interest test, the Treasurer would be the ultimate arbiter. A Treasurer would take into account a vibrant and growing resources sector, a vibrant and growing manufacturing sector, impact on households, and of course, existing environmental approvals would be unaffected.

JOURNALIST: What is the criteria for rejecting a proposal?

BOWEN: If the Treasurer was not satisfied it was in the national interest, just like foreign investment. It’s not a tick the box exercise, it’s a process where the Treasurer uses their judgement whether the national interest is being served.

JOURNALIST: Is there a danger that this could reduce investment in the domestic gas market?

BOWEN: I don’t believe so. These sorts of tests apply in the United States, where the gas industry has been growing very strongly. Of course, not everybody will approve of this, some people will say this goes too far, some people in the sector would prefer no regulation. I accept that, I know that, I’ve had those discussions, but we set the policy settings for the nation in the national interest, not in any vested interest. I’ve got to tell you, having a good and vibrant manufacturing sector is in the national interest.

JOURNALIST: You mention the AWU, is this Labor simply doing the AWU’s work?

BOWEN: The AWU has run a campaign for dealing with gas, as has the Australian Industry Group, Manufacturing Australia, the Aluminium Council – they’re not affiliated to the Labor party.

JOURNALIST: If Scott Morrison challenges you to a debate on Friday week, will you accept the challenge?

BOWEN: Let’s be clear – I challenged Scott Morrison to three debates during the election campaign. I wrote to him in March, said it looks like the election is coming up, looks like a two-month election, that we should be debating at least three times: once at the National Press Club, once on the ABC, once on Sky, and other possibilities. He wrote to me, finally, yesterday – after me writing to him yesterday morning asking where his reply was to my original letter, and again suggesting three to four debates. He wrote back yesterday saying that he wants to debate me at the National Press Club. I’ll be at the National Press Club to debate him, and I expect to see him at Q&A a couple of weeks after that to debate him again. If the government wants to have a debate about the economy, we are up for it. If the government wants to put its lack of an economic plan as the centrepiece of the election campaign, I’ll debate him a nytime, anywhere. But if he thinks he’s going to skate to the election campaign with just one debate, he’s dreaming.

JOURNALIST: But debate one [inaudible]

BOWEN: I’ll be there. Absolutely. Look forward to it. If he’s happy to defend the governments record, he’ll also be at the ABC studios for a Q&A debate. There were almost a million viewers last time I debated Joe Hockey, before the last election, on Q&A. If Scott Morrison has got nothing to hide, he’ll participate in that willingly and happily.