PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
MONDAY, 2 MARCH 2020
SUBJECTS: Road Rorts; Sports Rorts; Regional Rorts; Government’s Failure on Climate Change; Government’s Response to Coronavirus and Bushfires; Government’s Failure to have an Economic Plan; Foreign Intelligence.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Good morning. Well today in Senate Estimates our Senators will be pursuing the Road Rorts, the Sports Rorts and the Regional Rorts.
Just to recap, we saw last week with Road Rorts the Morison Government allocated 83 percent of the Urban Congestion Fund to Liberal Party seats and seats targeted at the last election, you have to ask why.
When it comes to Sports Rorts, the female facilities and swimming pools fund, we saw it was administered out of the Department of Regional Development, supposedly, because it was to go to regional projects. And of course last week, we saw $10 million allocated to a swimming pool under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You have to again ask why.
When it comes to Regional Rorts, under the Regional Jobs and Investment Program, we’ve seen the Government allocate $5 million to an ineligible business that also is a Liberal National Party donor and with the strong links to the Liberal National Party. Again, the Deputy Prime Minister has refused to release any documents around how those decisions were made. And again, we want to ask what has he got to hide.
Just on a slightly other matter. We did see on the weekend, the Deputy Leader of the National Party, not in the Federal Parliament, but in the Victorian Parliament, make some very sensible comments about climate change. Those of us who live in regional and rural Australia know that we are bearing the costs of climate change today. We’re at the front end of where those effects occurred. When you’ve got the deputy leader of the National Party in Victoria, now starting to make some very sensible comments about climate change, it is becoming increasingly clear that the National Party, the Deputy Prime Minister and Scott Morrison are the outliers here when it comes to climate change. And only Labor is leading the debate on what this country needs to do to actually tackle our changing climate.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Was it wrong for Anthony Albanese to criticise Scott Morrison for not briefing Labor after last Thursday’s National Security Committee meeting?
KING: Well, let’s be clear about what happened there. The Prime Minister in a bit of political trouble during the week and frankly during the day, did not provide a courtesy briefing to the opposition about his decision to increase the level of preparedness that Australia is in relation to Coronavirus. They offered a briefing the previous evening to Chris Bowen and to Anthony Albanese’s staff. None of that was mentioned at the briefing that there was going to be a heightened level of preparedness. And then we literally saw within the Parliament, the Prime Minister dumping a document onto the table that had in fact been released 18 days ago and standing up, but not providing a briefing about that. I think it is right for Anthony to criticize that.
We’ve been very careful during this Coronavirus, we take this incredibly seriously. We know that Australia potentially does face circumstances where we will have a health system and people under incredible pressure. We take this very seriously. We’ve been very bipartisan about this. I think the Prime Minister was either being discourteous on Thursday, or I don’t know what he was up to. But frankly, I think there was some issues there.
JOURNALIST: But Labor didn’t send any senior Ministers to the briefing.
KING: The briefing on Thursday, Chris Bowen was there.
JOURNALIST: And on Coronavirus, should the Government be extending its travel ban to include countries like South Korea and Italy?
KING: Well, I’ll leave it for the health experts. I think what they should be doing is making sure that they take the advice of the Chief Medical Officers and the medical officers and health officers right the way across the country on this. As well as watching very carefully what’s happening with the spread of this disease. I think we all know that, given where we are in relation to this, I think we’ve done very well to keep the Coronavirus contained to this date.
I think it is absolutely clear that we will see more cases, that we will see more pressure on our health services. I think we will work very happily with the Government on whatever steps need to be taken to ensure that we contain the spread of this as best we can in this country. If the advice is that the travel bans need to be extended to other countries, then we certainly would support that. But let’s wait until that advice comes through.
JOURNALIST: As you said, in terms of trying to be a bipartisan, as you’ve already pointed to in terms of what Scott Morrison was saying what Anthony Albanese was saying, we’ve also got a lot of back and forth. Could this really be purely bipartisan with the Coronavirus? You know, no fighting about what should be done and if this is just a cover up in terms of how bad the economy was before as Labor has been sort of attacking.
KING: I think there are two separate issues here. One is obviously Australia’s preparedness to deal with what potentially is a pandemic and how we actually make sure we keep the health of our Australian citizens safe. And that’s an important issue and that, of course, is a bipartisan issue. What we won’t let the Government get away with is trying to pretend that somehow the bushfires and Coronavirus are the sole cause of why the economy is in trouble. We know that the economy was in trouble well before the bushfires and well before Coronavirus hit. Wages stagnation, we had productivity down, all of the economic indicators were already in trouble.
I think it is incumbent on us – given just how hard this Government ran on their economic credentials, being back in black – those back in black mugs all over the place. I think they’re as rare as hen’s teeth now, you can’t seem to find them anywhere.
I think that is incumbent on the Australian Labor Party to actually call that out and say this is a Government that has not had an economic plan. And because it hasn’t had an economic plan, the economy was in trouble. Well before bushfires and Coronavirus, and now those two things will add even further pressure.
JOURNALIST: Shouldn’t the focus be on the crisis?
KING: We can walk and chew gum at the same time. I think everybody can do that.
JOURNALIST: For the economy, economists now are factoring in a recession. Coming up in the (inaudible). How do you think this will affect Australians?
KING: This is the problem. You saw when Labor was in office we faced the Global Financial Crisis, we had to take very difficult decisions around the budget to keep people employed. And that is the issue here. How do we make sure we keep people employed, keep the economy productive, and make sure that we’re able to grow it as best we possibly can in those straitened circumstances? We know that there are sectors under pressure, tourism was already suffering because of the bushfires. But of course, we also know that Coronavirus is having an impact.
The underlying problem is that we already had all of those issues in the economy. So the government is suggesting that it’s going to need to bring some stimulus forward, we’ll have a look at that. But I don’t think this Government had a plan, hasn’t had a plan to deal with the economy and the changing circumstances of the economy in the first place.
These two other issues are creating pressure. That of course will mean people losing their jobs. And that’s the thing that obviously everybody wants to avoid. I’m from regional Victoria, they often lose their jobs in regional areas first. We often are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to our economy. First we see a downturn in construction, we see a downturn in housing, we are already seeing those factors well before bushfires and Coronavirus.
JOURNALIST: Would you support a tax, the introduction of these tax measures coming forward?
KING: Well, the Government hasn’t told us and that’s the problem. There’s no economic plan. No economic plan. We very sensibly said to them earlier this year we do think that some of the tax stimulus needs to be brought forward to put money in people’s pockets now, so that you can actually get that out into the economy, into the retail sector, encouraging people into tourism. We’ve said that previously, the Government so far has had absolutely no plan when it comes to the economy. We’ll be willing to work with them on anything that’s a sensible plan. But of course, remembering that this is the Government that said there would be a surplus and the surplus was the most important thing at the last election.
JOURNALIST: There’s reports today about foreign spies potentially being sent back to Australia. Should the government be doing more to rule that out?
KING: Look I might leave the comments on that to Penny Wong, our foreign affairs spokesperson, I’m not across the details of those issues. Thank you.