ABC ILLAWARRA DRIVE WITH LINDSAY MCDOUGALL
WEDNESDAY, 9 SEPTEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Anthony Albanese’s vision statement on the regions; transition to renewables; hydrogen; JobKeeper and JobSeeker; university funding; Labor.
LINDSAY MCDOUGALL, HOST: Catherine King is the Shadow Minister for Regional Development and joins me now. Good afternoon, Ms King.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Hi, good to talk to you.
MCDOUGALL: So, Mr Albanese has labelled the current economic pain Australia is experiencing as the Morrison Recession, but surely it’s the Coronavirus Recession?
KING: Well, I think you have to look at what was happening to the economy well before coronavirus, before bushfires, we had some really big problems. You know, you had a government that had already increased debt and deficit, had no plan for growing the economy and it was making grand claims that it was going to get the budget back in black, announcing it already had done it, when it actually hadn’t. There were lots of problems with our economy beforehand and of course coronavirus has exacerbated those, but I don’t think the Morison Government can get away with saying that they’ve made no contribution to the economic woes the country is facing.
MCDOUGALL: Federal Labor fell in line, as I said, when the Coalition recently passed its legislation to reduce the JobKeeper payment at the end of September. What’s Labor’s policy on either keeping people financially afloat or getting people back to work?
KING: Well, the first thing is that through that process, it was a vote on whether we extend the JobKeeper payment through to March. In fact, the rate of JobKeerer payment is entirely in the hands of the Treasurer. He makes that decision. There was nothing in the legislation about the actual rate, that’s in the hands entirely of the Treasurer. We’ve been pretty critical, frankly, of pulling economic support out from particularly regional communities, particularly those like mine in Ballarat, we’re in Victoria, we’re still well behind the rest of you in terms of getting out of the health across let alone the economic crisis. We’ve been pretty critical of the government pulling that economic support out too early and particularly from those sectors like tourism and retail that is really struggling. Unfortunately, the government isn’t listening to us in relation to that, but they’ve said they’re not going to do something before when we’ve been talking about it and then they’ve changed their mind. So, you know, hopefully they might change their mind about this as well.
MCDOUGALL: Earlier Labor was arguing the JobKeeper payment was wasteful because it wasn’t targeted at certain pay brackets, do you still sort of maintain that suggestion?
KING: Well, it wouldn’t have been the way, let’s go back. This is a government that wasn’t going to introduce a wage subsidy at all. Parliament sat, we were all told we were going to go home until August, we weren’t coming back, and it wasn’t until we saw those Centrelink queues, we saw unions and industry all say we need help here, and Labor really saying you’ve got to do something. This probably wouldn’t have been the wage subsidy that we introduced, but they introduced it as a flat rate and I think we did see some circumstances where people were, you know, had not received this sort of money before when they were working, receive a very big boost. Others saw a drop and had to rely on sick leave and holiday leave and other things. So, it was a pretty perverse sort of system. But eventually they did put it in place and we’re not going to stand in the way of things that people desperately need. But we will criticise and we did at the time, the sort of model the government had and the fact that they’re pulling this out pretty quickly from under people when they desperately still need support.
MCDOUGALL: Yeah in the regional areas, the regions certainly need that support. And this vision statement is very aspirational. Very inspiring. Are these ideas backed up by policy and spending commitments?
KING: They will be and that’s obviously part of our job over the course of the next 12 months and, you know, what Anthony’s been doing with these vision statements is really laying down the markers of where do we think the most important thing that a federal Labor government needs to concentrate on. I’ve been in the regional development policy space for a long time, Anthony has as well, and we feel really passionately that there’s huge potential that we’ve got in regional Australia to actually grow jobs and increase productivity. When we look at after World War Two, literally, the Chifley Government said there’s this untapped potential in our regional communities that we could actually use to get us out of the post war economic collapse. Really, I think we’re in that same position now that there’s such potential in our regions, to actually help grow our economy again, but it needs attention and you’ve got to actually have a purposeful policy to try and make that happen, it’s not just going to happen on its own.
MCDOUGALL: Well, in regards to renewable energy, for instance, Mr Albanese said he would prefer to see a move away from gas or coal and see regional areas take up cleaner energy technologies now, you know, regions, like the Illawarra, for example, a large mining workforce but also great potential in the new hydrogen industry that has been spoken a lot about this week. How do you find that balance?
KING: Yeah exactly. What you’re sort of seeing is, we’re going to continue to see those really important jobs that you have gone through Illawarra and through Hunter, but they are transitioning already. We’ve seen that happen with the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, but you’ve got to actually plan that transition and help people and help communities transition to renewable jobs if that’s what there are, or other jobs as well as that transition’s occurring. It’s occurring without government intervention or doing anything, let’s grab hold of it and shape what we think it’s going to look like, and hydrogen is a great way. You’ve had your New South Wales, I think Chief Scientist saying 17,000 jobs, $26 billion into the economy, why would we not try to pursue that? It’s crazy not to. We should be doing it, and your area in particular could have a great opportunity to grow jobs that way.
MCDOUGALL: We’ve also got a big steel industry here and Bluescope Steel recently announced a 91% drop in profit. Mark Vassella, the CEO said he wasn’t worried and felt confident in the pipeline of construction in the next 12 to 18 months. Now, the easiest way to ensure the future of the steel industry is to mandate a procurement policy. Would Labor support that?
KING: We think that you’ve got to use the capacity of government purchasing power and the capacity of governments to not only purchase its own goods and services as a government entity, but also the money that it’s putting in. You know, we’ve seen that happen again, here in Victoria procurement policy has actually driven local jobs. I want to see, particularly in terms of construction, some of those second tier and third tier construction companies, really being able to bid on big, big construction jobs and benefit from those. I want to say locals benefit from jobs, and I think that we do need to actually treat really seriously that when governments are putting money into infrastructure, how is that benefiting local jobs, how is it getting more apprentices or trainees in local communities? And we don’t do enough of that now at all. Absolutely, I agree with that.
MCDOUGALL: Speaking to Catherine King, the Shadow Minister for Regional Development. Another big part of regional areas are universities, what’s the Labor’s plan for university sector funding? Will you bring back the demand driven funding system?
KING: Well we’ve seen after a push from Labor, certainly some regional universities have managed to keep the demand driven system in some places, not in all, and that’s been really critical for those regional universities. But frankly, what we’ve been seeing happened to universities has just been devastating. The amount of job losses and these aren’t just lecturers and front-end staff, it’s grounds people, people who are looking after admin, cleaners, you name it through universities. I think the government’s decimated our university sector and Tanya Plibersek will have a fair bit to say about how we grow jobs in the university sector. But that’s really again, what this speech from Anthony was about. It’s about in every sector of our economies in the regions, we should be looking to see how we can grow jobs, improve job security, and improve productivity that grows wealth. And you’ve got to focus on those things really purposefully if you’re actually going to drive us out of COVID, but not only get us out of COVID but also build really resilient regional communities.
MCDOUGALL: What about the casual workforce, especially like at the University of Wollongong, one of the highest proportions of casual academics working in the country and they were the first to fall off the balance sheet with the national border closures? How does Labor propose to give more security to casual academics while also allowing the university sector the flexibility to employ its workforce as it sees fit, especially in these difficult economic times for universities.
KING: Yeah, well, I don’t think it’s, you know, it’s not just the university sector in terms of the casual workforce. I think that you know, what we’ve got to have is unions and industry sitting down to tackle this problem, and it’s not, it shouldn’t have taken coronavirus to tell us that insecure work is a major problem in this community. It means that if you’re in insecure work, your chances of being able to get a mortgage are lessened, your chances of being able to, you know, really get ahead in life are really very difficult. But equally, employers need to be able to have some flexibilities, gear up and gear down when they’ve got the needs to do so. And that’s really where you’ve got to have industry and unions working together, rather than what we’ve seen the Morrison Government do and pit them against each other and stoke old battles. We’ve done it in the past, and they’re the sorts of things that Labor again wants to focus on. The sort of level of casualisation and insecure work, I think really has gotten quite out of hand for many people and I think it’s just, you know, the health crisis has exacerbated that we’ve seen that, particularly in aged care.
MCDOUGALL: And how about the Labor Party itself. A few weeks ago, your colleague Joel Fitzgibbon signalled a potential split in the Labor Party saying it’s become increasingly more difficult for Labor to represent so many different people, progressive versus blue collar. Do you agree with Mr. Fitzgibbon and is this vision statement today for regional Australia an attempt to build unity among your voter base?
KING: Joel and I have been in the regional space for a long period of time, and I think what’s really important to understand from what Joel was saying is that this is really complex. It is complex, and I think what he was saying reflects the complexity of the regions themselves. The region he represents in the Hunter is very different to the region I represent in Ballarat. We have very different perspectives, but we are both regions. Equally, it can be very different from inner city Melbourne or inner city Perth for that matter, and I think he was reflecting the complexity of that and how you sort of bind those together. And I think that what you’ve got in Anthony is someone who has absolutely championed the regions, but also understood how our cities and our suburbs work as well, and that’s investment in infrastructure when he was last infrastructure minister, when you’ve got the investment in regional development, they’re the sorts of things that we’re really focused on and focused on the practical solutions of how do you actually grow jobs and grow jobs fairly and Joel is as well.
MCDOUGALL: All right, Catherine King, the Shadow Minister for Regional Development, thank you so much for speaking to us this evening.
KING: It’s really lovely to talk to you Lindsay. ENDS