SUBJECT/S: UTas Launceston Campus; Mathias Cormann making up costings; Penalty Rates; Medicare.

SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER AND MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS, TONY BURKE: It’s great to be back in Launceston and here with the candidate for Bass, Ross Hart. We’ve just had a meeting with Launceston Council, with the Mayor Albert Van Zetten, to talk about the future of the area.

Obviously we’re deeply, deeply concerned about unemployment and about jobs. Deeply concerned about the fact that youth unemployment here is at 17 per cent - concerned that we were told from the current Government that Eric Abetz had a Tasmanian employment program that would deliver two thousand jobs and in its first year it delivered a hundred and fourteen.

So what today’s been about is about consulting and about working through to make sure we’re building the jobs of the future. We’ve had long discussion about future plans for the University of Tasmania. We’ve also had extensive discussion about making sure that we can work through the increased demand that will be here in the city itself. And also, on making sure that we work through what’s required for the Tamar River. A river is not meant to be used as a drain and the arguments continue to mount about the need to do something about the sewerage system here, here in Tasmania, and in particular in the north here in Launceston.

So they are the issues we’ve been working through today and as I say, it’s very much a situation of consultation. Ross is a candidate who consults as opposed to a local MP who berates. That is a different sort of approach, but something that’s certainly in the best interests of Launceston.

I’d also just like to touch briefly on an article on the front page of The Australian today where Mathias Cormann, the Finance Minister, has decided the best thing that he can do with the Budget is not talk about the Budget at all and make up false costings from Labor.

The classic was that he has invented a costing where Bill Shorten, in the Budget Reply, proposed it would be good to have bipartisan support for a further reduction in the tax rate for small business. Mathias Cormann has just taken that, without bipartisan support, whacked it on Labor’s costings – not put it on the Government’s side of the ledger – and then claimed ‘Oh look, there’s a blow-out in the Budget.’

What we need is a Government that will focus on the job they’ve been elected to do before they get to the politics. This mob will spend all their time trying to come up with a political game against Labor. If only they spent that sort of energy looking after the finances of the nation, we would not have found the situation that after all their talk of a Budget emergency, between their first Budget and their second, they simply doubled the deficit and debt continues to rise every day.

I might give Ross the chance to say a few words.

LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BASS, ROSS HART: Yes, thank you. We had a very constructive discussion with the Mayor of Launceston and the City Manager, talking about the exciting UTas proposal to move the UTas campus into the CBD.

When we talk about the future of Tasmania, we need to talk about jobs, education and health. Clearly education, having well-educated people in the higher-paid jobs of the future, is absolutely vital to this region. The UTas proposal involves a significant commitment from Federal Government, State Government and local commitment from City Council. It involves the potential revitalisation of the CBD. I’m concerned about the fact that UTas is viable, that it has a strong commitment to its continued presence in the north of the State, and we have people who exit university with the best possible education so they can take up the high-paid jobs in our community.

REPORTER: So Mr Burke, Mr Hart seems to want you to hand over something like two hundred million for this to happen. Have you made that commitment?

BURKE: Today’s not about making commitments. Our style is not to just land and begin consultation with the announcement. What today is about is working through issues and then we go through how to deal with them in an orderly way and we’ll be making any announcements closer to the election.

REPORTER: So you like the idea of moving the University of Tasmania into, closer to the city centre?

BURKE: The concept of the expansion of places and the concept of having pathways for people who otherwise might not have thought that they’d end up with a university degree itself: they’re all very valuable proposals and proposals that really spell a whole lot of opportunities for Launceston.

Importantly, as well, it’s a proposal that deals with what Labor’s been talking about for a long time now, which is making sure that we’re training people for the jobs of the future. Now we want to make sure, obviously, that we don’t lose research capacity. We want to make sure we don’t lose the degree-conferring part of the institution here in Launceston. But the expansion and the pathways programme that is part of it has deep merit. Exactly how we would promise to interact with that is something we’ll make announcements about further down the track.

REPORTER: Mr Burke, you touched on the Government’s estimates of Labor’s funding promises. It says that Labor has announced ten billion dollars’ new spending since the May Budget and that amounts to a fifty-seven million dollar black hole. How are you going to pay for your new funding promises?

BURKE: Well as I say, you refer to the ten billion dollar figure. $3.5 billion of that, for example, is the small business tax cut I referred to, which we had put forward as something that would only be workable if there were bipartisan support. So if Mathias Cormann is saying that is now happening, it can only be that he’s offering bipartisan support for it, in which case there is no difference between the Government’s numbers and ours on that measure.

But what he’s done is put the whole three and half billion dollars on the Labor side of the ledger. Now, Labor promises will be made by the Labor Party, not by Mathias Cormann, the Liberal Finance Minister. So what he’s done is thought, well as a Liberal Minister he should spend his day inventing Labor promises that have not been made.

We are the first Opposition in living memory to have put forward more improvements to the Budget bottom line than spending measures as we’ve gone along. Over the next ten years we’ve put forward more than $20 billion worth of improvements simply by dealing with superannuation tax concessions at the high end, and dealing with multinational tax avoidance. Both measures, combined, improve the Budget bottom line over the medium term by more than $20 billion, both measures rejected out of hand by the Government.

REPORTER: Joshua Frydenberg has suggested changing Sunday penalty rates could increase productivity and create jobs. Would that really help boost economic growth?

BURKE: Let’s think through the logic of what’s happened here.

At its core, what do we have? We have a Minister in the Australian Government arguing that the people who wait on tables on a weekend are being paid too much. Saying, ‘if you cut their pay then somehow that will magically improve productivity.’ 

Well, no, it won’t. What it will do is hurt people on very modest incomes to begin with. That’s what it will do.

There have been situations, in different workplaces, where employees, for about twenty years now, have been able to bargain and negotiate for changes in some of their penalty rates for an improvement in their base rate of pay. Now that’s been around, it’s been bipartisan: employees and employers have been able to negotiate that.

What Josh Frydenberg is calling for today is for there to be a cut in the penalty rate with no improvement in the pay. Where the concept of negotiation between employee and employer is thrown out the window and there’s a unilateral cut to the weekend rate.

Now Parliament doesn’t sit on a Sunday. The Public Service, overwhelmingly, don’t have most of their office jobs working on a Sunday. But Josh Frydenberg has the view that it is an ordinary day of work. I don’t want to see a situation where Australia gets to the point where a weekend means absolutely nothing. That’s exactly what Josh Frydenberg is arguing for today.

REPORTER: Labor says the Government’s Medicare review means cuts, but do you acknowledge there need to be savings to keep the system sustainable?

BURKE: The first priority needs to always be on making sure that we’re maintaining the health of Australians. That’s not just a decency and social justice measure, that is in fact a productivity issue. A healthy workplace, a healthy workforce is a more productive workforce, and that’s where you get real improvements in productivity.

Our concern with this review is the Government’s got form. Every time they’ve come back to try to find savings within the Health portfolio, they’ve done it at the expense of patients, in particular patients who can least afford to pay. So – 

(Clock tower chimes for about one minute)

REPORTER: It might be worth starting that answer again.

BURKE: That’s fine.

One of the best things you can do for productivity is to make sure you’ve got a healthy workforce. But this Government has form when it comes to savings in the Health portfolio. What they’ve done every other time is they’ve come back and they’ve tried to destroy Medicare.

I think we only have to look at the strength of the response from the AMA, the head of the doctors’ organisation itself, Dr Brian Owler, where he has called out this as an attack, and called it out as something that goes to the Government trying to again hurt the relationship between doctor and patient.

REPORTER: You say the Member for Bass berates rather than consults. Are you signalling a dirty fight for Bass?

BURKE: I think I’m signalling the exact opposite. What I’m signalling is we’ve got a consultative approach, we’ve got a candidate who meets with people and works through issues in a calm fashion. I think that can only be good for politics, can only be good for Bass, can only be good for Tasmania, and I certainly hope, in the future, it’s good for the Australian Parliament.

REPORTER: What did you mean by Mr Nikolic berating though? You said Mr Hart consulted rather than berated.

BURKE: That’s correct, that’s exactly what Mr Hart does.

REPORTER: What does Mr Nikolic do?

BURKE: I’ll leave that for the people who interact with him on a day-to-day basis to draw their own conclusions on that. 

REPORTER: The senior UN official has postponed a trip to Australian detention centres because of changes to the Border Force Act. Does that legislation need to change to allow staff to speak up in cases like this? 

BURKE: I’ve seen reports of this but I’ll leave it to Richard Marles and others to give the in-detail response on that.

REPORTER: Mr Hart, I just wanted to ask, we’ve spoke a fair bit about University of Tasmania’s plans in Launceston. What do you see as the other critical issues for Launceston and Bass?

HART: Well, I’m most concerned about the issue of water quality in the Tamar River. I think the raking program that has dealt with the silt contained there has been a positive thing. But water quality, if you’re spending significant public and private money on development of the water’s edge, you can’t then have on-the-water activities. That’s something that is, I think, a short-term problem.

Longer term, we need to have a strategic focus on revitalisation of the CBD. We had a long discussion with the Mayor and the General Manager about that.

We need to also look at what we do about tourism in the north of the State. Some talk about the fantastic MONA effect in the south of the State. Whether we can have the equivalent of a MONA, a range of activities north of the State, to extend engagement with interstate visitors and international visitors in the north of the State.

The future can be bright in the north of the State. We have organisations like Haywards at Western Junction that are involved with manufacturing of wind towers. Commitment to renewable energy, obviously, stands behind that. The current Federal Governments seems to be very concerned about wind towers as something we need to be afraid of. We in Tasmania think those are the jobs of the future, the high-paid, engineering jobs involved in the construction of wind towers.

We need to look at transport: the transport and shipping out of the north of the State.

We also need to look most importantly in increasing the education levels of our school leavers and ensuring that they are well educated to take the higher paid jobs of the future. 

If we look at, for example, things like penalty rates: cutting the incomes of the lowest paid people in this community will have an immediate effect on small business in this community. If you look at the consumption in cafés and restaurants, people that are being paid penalty rates are themselves consumers in this community. If we take money out of their pockets, we’re taking money out of the whole community. That’s really important from my perspective. 

So we need to be looking at the people who are disadvantaged in this community. The unemployed need to have long-term employment, well-paid employment. We need to be looking at the industries of the future. Irrigation has been a fantastic boon for northern Tasmania, but we need to be looking at the next ‘irrigation’, the next industries for the start-up.

REPORTER: Mr Burke, you are Labor’s Finance spokesperson. Jacqui Lambie has apparently presented Malcolm Turnbull with a wish list of what she’d like to see. One of those, I believe, is to make Tasmania a special economic zone similar to what’s proposed for parts of northern Australia. Is that something you’d ever consider?

BURKE: It’s not something that’s been put to me and I haven’t seen Jacqui Lambie’s proposals.

REPORTER: Do you plan to have discussions with her? Obviously the crossbench will be vital for any future government. 

BURKE: I haven’t seen the proposals and I’ll leave it at that.

Ok? Thank you very much.

Tony Burke