SUBJECT/S: Liberal chaos and division; the Liberal Party’s broken promises to South Australia; Whyalla

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Thank you very much for coming. The first thing I want to talk about is the submarines project. We know how important that project is for jobs here in Australia, for jobs here in South Australia, for Australia’s defence capability.

What we saw on Monday night was Christopher Pyne telling everybody that there would be a decision made before the election, he told everyone that he understood that South Australians would want to know what was happening with the submarines before the election. Well he has been hung out to dry with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, as well as the Defence Minister, refusing to back in his commitment that a decision would be made before the election.

Christopher Pyne gave a commitment a decision would be made on the submarines before the election, he said South Australians would know before they voted. Well his Prime Minister, his Foreign Minister and his Defence Minister have all walked away from that commitment. This is chaos and dysfunction at the heart of the Government and that chaos and dysfunction means South Australian jobs are at risk, it means South Australian jobs are at risk.

And remember this is the history, the history is that the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the Liberal Party, gave a commitment to South Australians that the submarines would be built here and we all know what happened over the last years. They walked away from that and now they’re scrabbling to make up. I think it’s very clear from what we’ve seen since the last election and in the last three days – you simply can’t trust the Liberals when it comes to South Australian jobs. You can’t trust them to keep their promises, they can’t hold a position from day to day, we’ve got job losses and a Turnbull Government has no plan.

I’m here today of course with Steve Georganas, who is the Labor candidate for Hindmarsh and a strong advocate for South Australian jobs, someone who has worked very hard over many years to continue to advocate for support for our industries in government. And of course my colleague Tony Burke, who is our Shadow Finance Minister, who I’ll hand over to now.

TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS AND SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER: Thanks very much Penny. I want to refer to couple of issues from both the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and from Christopher Pyne as Leader of the House. Malcolm Turnbull only moments ago showed he’s somebody who can’t govern, can’t make a decision and now can’t add up. The Gonski education reforms were fully funded, fully funded by measures such as abolishing the Baby Bonus, measures which Malcolm Turnbull did a deal with the National Party to reintroduce at a time the country can’t afford it. Those reforms were fully funded and budgeted in the Budget Papers with clear graphs that show the trajectory and showed in the first few years, where we are at the moment, the funding provided by the previous Government was more than the cost of the education reforms themselves, much more than the cost of those education reforms. 

So, he’s also then claimed a $50 billion figure. This is a figure that is an invention of the Liberal Party political machine. There is no set of Labor promises that add up to the numbers Malcolm Turnbull has just quoted moments ago. He is factually wrong. He has invented Labor promises we haven’t made, then added them all together and said ‘look you get a big number’. Why has he had to make up numbers? Really simply, he doesn’t want to acknowledge Labor has put down more than $100 billion worth of improvements to the budget bottom line over the medium term.

We’re the first opposition in living memory to find the improvements to the budget bottom line first and announce the spending measures later. He knows we’ve done that, he knows that the entire policy debate at the moment is being driven by Labor. That is why at the moment, Christopher Pyne has been in the humiliating situation of not being able to tell people how long the House of Representatives will work when we’re all flown there.

So think, in a couple of weeks’ time, 150 people get sent from all corners of Australia for the House of Representatives to meet and the Government doesn’t know how long they’re meant to be there. The Government doesn’t know whether Malcolm Turnbull can be bothered to turn up for Question Time every day. We can’t have a part time Prime Minister. If the Parliament’s going to sit and Members of Parliament are going to be called to Canberra, we should have a question time every day beginning the Monday. They don’t have a clue. They’re in chaos with the Parliament, they’re in chaos with their own policy process, they’re in chaos as we get closer to the Budget, which is looking more and more like a simple photocopy of Tony Abbott’s Budget of 2014.

WONG: Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Senator Wong, you mentioned the submarines project, would the Labor Opposition commit to a complete local build if it was in government?

WONG: We have made clear that we would rule out an offshore build or a hybrid build, so that’s a commitment to a local build. Have a look at the history here, when we were in Government the shipyards of Australia were fully deployed, we had people in work. What have we got now? We have job losses. It’s very simple, the Government has no plan for jobs, no plan to ensure  the many tradespeople out at the ASC that their jobs will continue. And they are an example of chaos and dysfunction, you’ve got Christopher Pyne being contradicted by the Defence Minister, Foreign Minister and his own leader.

JOURNALIST: And Labor’s confident that it could meet that commitment and satisfy everything under the Competitive Evaluation Process?

WONG: Well, the CEP is the Government’s process. We’ve laid out some time ago our proposal about how we’re going to approach this and I’d say this: unlike the Liberals I have confidence in the men and women at the Australian Submarine Corporation. Unlike the Liberals I don’t believe that you couldn’t trust them to build a canoe. I know these are skilled tradespeople, skilled workers, who are deeply committed to their industry and to ensuring Australia’s naval capability.

JOURNALIST: How concerned are you about the new developments today at Arrium?

WONG: It’s deeply concerning. We’ve got yet more job losses being on the horizon in South Australia and obviously the people of Whyalla are deeply worried about these developments and what I’d say to Mr Turnbull is you have to work with the company and with the State Government. These jobs are important to South Australia, these jobs are important to Whyalla. We’ve already had so many job losses because the Liberals have looked away, done the wrong thing, or as Joe Hockey did, goaded Holdens to leave on the floor of the House of Representatives. So what I’d say to Mr Turnbull, just for once work with South Australians to look after South Australian jobs.

JOURNALIST: What could he do here?

WONG: Bill has written to him on a couple of occasions suggesting a range of options. I’d just say this: this is the time for politicians to work together, governments to work together, to make sure those jobs continue. Obviously Tom Koutsantonis is deeply engaged and the Federal Government needs to give the State Government the support they need. The difficulty here, as we’ve seen when it comes to submarines and to Holdens, is it just appears that Christopher Pyne doesn’t have any influence.

JOURNALIST: You mention, I guess, Holden, do you think steelmaking has a long term future here in Australia?

WONG: It has to have. It’s a strategic industry for Australia. We don’t want to have no domestic steel industry and we’ve made clear that we should have a steel industry plan.

JOURNALIST: What about Michelle Landry’s comments this morning, the Government’s been wishwashy.

WONG: Wishywashy. I’d say something worse than that. I think this is a bad government that does bad things that hurt people. And we in South Australia know that all too well.  

Tony Burke