By Anthony Albanese MP, Terri Butler MP and Senator Nita Green

07 January 2022

SUBJECTS: Great Barrier Reef; COVID cases increasing; Omicron variant; healthcare; Labor’s call for free rapid antigen testing; Queensland economy; Labor’s policy agenda; Federal election; Novak Djokovic.

ELIDA FAITH, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR LEICHHARDT: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Thanks for coming out this morning. As I like to say, it's another beautiful day in paradise in Far North Queensland. My name is Elida Faith. I'm the Labor candidate for Leichardt. And it's a pleasure to be joined here today by Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, Shadow Minister for the Environment, Terri Butler, a Cairns born and bred gal. And of course, we also have our Cairns Queensland Senator, Nita Green. We're here at the Marina in Cairns. Behind us is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the beautiful Great Barrier Reef. And every government should make it a top priority to restore and protect this beautiful, natural wonder of the world. We're very lucky. And we should be the custodians of the Great Barrier Reef, and, of course, our oldest rainforest that we have also here in the wet tropics. So, Anthony is here to make a fantastic announcement and commitment. And I'm now going to hand over to Anthony. Thank you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Elida. And it is indeed fantastic to be here in Cairns for the first full day of my Better Future for Queensland visit. This is a visit which will back in the three themes that we have to create a better future. Supporting increasing living standards for Australians, making sure that we have secure work, and as well, a future made in Australia. And today's announcement is about a future made in Australia, about us making sure that we protect this magnificent natural asset. A magnificent natural asset that's important in its own right for the environment. I want my son and my grandkids to be able to enjoy this - the grandkids haven't been invented yet. But we want to make sure that it is available for this and future generations. This is an amazing natural asset that we need to protect. But it's also an important economic asset for Australia. It's one that supports some 64,000 direct jobs as a result of the reef being here. It's one that generates a massive amount of economic activity here, some $6.4 billion in income. This is one of the reasons why people travel from all over the world to see the Great Barrier Reef. And we need to protect it.
Now in December, just last month, we announced our Powering the Nation plan. A plan that will protect our environment by cutting emissions by 43 per cent by 2030, whilst creating 604,000 jobs, whilst protecting existing industries, but growing new industries as well. One that will generate $52 billion of private sector investment whilst reducing power bills for households by $275 by 2025. It's a plan that's been welcomed by the Business Council of Australia, Australian Industry Group, the National Farmers' Federation, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and other unions around Australia. It's a good plan. It's a plan that understands that dealing with climate change is an opportunity.
And today, we put forward some practical plans to assist with the Great Barrier Reef protection. Firstly, some $85 million for shovel-ready coral to coast programs. Programs that are ready to be rolled out, creating jobs here in Far North Queensland right now. Some $63 million to extend the Reef 2050 program. And we need to make sure that the reef is kept off the endangered list of the World Heritage listing. We need to make sure we do that by ensuring that this plan goes forward. At the moment, funding runs out at the end of the next financial year. That's not good enough. They need that certainty going forward and Labor will provide it. And in addition to that, we have $15 million dollars for marine reef research. Once again, importantly, looking at what the science tells us and then acting on that science. Making sure that we protect this pristine natural asset. This first announcement that I'm making as part of this visit, which will go for more than a week here along the coast by road, is an important one. And I wanted to start here. Because this is one of Australia and the world's great natural assets. We need to protect it.
And I'd ask Terri to make some comments about the announcement today as well and congratulate her on the fantastic job that she has done as the Shadow Environment Minister. There are no ifs or buts from Labor. And I congratulate Elida as well, on the fantastic campaign she's running for the seat of Leichhardt, having ran the last time around, it has certainly meant that the profile is up. She's passionate about jobs, but also passionate about this local environment here in her local community. And we're joined, of course, by Senator Nita Green, who does a great job in the Senate. I want Nita to be joined by Elida in the lower house. It's time that this area got a local member with the energy and commitment to actually deliver. The Coalition and the LNP are too busy fighting each other to focus on the nation. And I'd ask Terri to make some comments.
TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Thanks, Anthony. And thanks everyone. What a terrific day to be here in beautiful Far North Queensland. It's lovely for me to be here in my hometown, the place where I was born and where I grew up. And you know, it's really wonderful to see how beautifully this coastline is doing and how much work is being done here to protect and preserve the Great Barrier Reef. It is just fantastic to welcome Anthony Albanese back to Queensland. He's always in Queensland, it feels like he's here every five minutes. But how spectacular to have him on this beautiful Cairns day, out on the inlet checking out what's been going on here in Cairns. And I'm so pleased to have Anthony in Queensland. I know that he's such a strong, vocal person who supports a better future for Queensland. And I'm so pleased that he's here, once again, to support that.
And of course, we've got these wonderful two women who are here representing this region. We've got Senator Nita Green, who's in the Senate, who's doing such a terrific job. And Nita is always on the phone to me, talking about the importance of the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and making sure that we take a strong environmental policy to the election and, should we be successful, into government. And we have the terrific Elida Faith, someone who repeatedly has spoken to me about the conservation needs and the tourism needs of this wonderful area. And I am so hopeful that Elida will be in the lower house with me, and of course, sitting right behind Anthony Albanese after the next Federal election. So, thank you, Elida, for all of your advocacy for this really important announcement today.
It's important that we acknowledge the connection, the deep connection, between conservation of the reef and tourism of the reef. And that's why this announcement is so important. Because it's an announcement that supports shovel-ready conservation projects that can go hand in hand with tourism and with jobs right here in Cairns and Far North Queensland and throughout the reef. The package that we've been announcing today is important because it's backed in. And we've been joined by the organisations that are backing it in. Groups like Terrain NRM, who do so much incredible work for land restoration right here in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, which is in the reef catchments. And of course, we've got the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, who are here with us today to show us the work that they do and to talk to us about how their tourism work on the Great Barrier Reef in the marine park can go hand in hand with conservation, environmentalism, both practical environmental work to make sure that the reef is conserved, and at the same time building that moral case for making sure that there's a continued focus on reef restoration, environmental protection, and making sure that future generations do have access to the same thing that we got to see as kids. Beautiful coral reefs, beautiful world heritage rain forests. So, I want to thank all those organisations. And there's so many more who've worked so hard on the proposal to make sure that there'll be funding for shovel-ready land restoration, fins in the water, boots on the ground, coral restoration, the various projects that they've suggested that we are so interested in seeing get done should we win the next election. So, thank you so much, everyone, for coming out today. Again, let me thank, of course, our terrific Leader. I can't wait to see him as Prime Minister. I know how much he's going to do for Queensland. We in Queensland deserve a better future. And Anthony Albanese is the person to lead us into that. Thanks, everyone.
ALBANESE: Thanks, Terri. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: It was something of a disaster last election, the Labor Party in Queensland. How do you rate your chances this year?
ALBANESE: I'm very positive about our prospects in Queensland. I've spent a lot of time here. This is my third visit in the last month to Queensland. And I'll continue to be here this year, but continue to be here after the election as well. Scott Morrison makes a visit during an election campaign. He was here for a short period of time at the end of last year, but before that, of course, he came during the Queensland state election campaign. He came here to tell Queensland to open up its borders, he came to criticise Annastacia Palaszczuk for keeping Queenslanders safe. Queenslanders will remember that. Queenslanders understand that you needed to get the health outcomes right in order to protect the health of Queenslanders but also to protect the jobs and the economy. Queensland's economy has done better than those economies that have had the long lockdowns like my home state of New South Wales and Victoria have done. And they've done that because of the leadership of Annastacia Palaszczuk and the fact that she ignored Scott Morrison's campaign during that state election campaign. We have a positive message for Queenslanders. It's one of regional jobs. It's one of making sure there is secure work. Queenslanders understand that they're being undermined by not having same job, same pay. It's one, as well, that Queenslanders understand the message of a future made in Australia, whether its support for the reef, whether it's building trains and manufacturing here, whether it's taking advantage of lower energy prices to embracing renewable energy to drive down the costs of high-value manufacturing. During this visit, I'll be talking with many of those sectors. I'll also be talking with farmers tomorrow. We'll be talking to the agricultural sector around Tully just south of here about the pressures that they're under. Just down the road here from where we are, there is, of course, an important shipyard. We want, and we announced this week, a shipping policy for Australia. How is it that this Government is presiding over the Australian flag disappearing from Australian coastal shipping? We want a viable shipping industry here, including a strategic fleet. And we want to make sure that whether it's ships, or trains, or buses, they are built here in Australia. So, I'm very positive. They know, as well, that during this pandemic, the Government ignored, largely, the tourism sector. The tourism sector are crying out for more support. But they simply didn't get enough support from this Government.
JOURNALIST: Coal was a big issue last election. Where do you stand particularly on Adani?
ALBANESE: Well, it's up and running. And we, in terms of our policy that we've put forward, we've put forward a practical plan, our Powering the Nation policy. It's all there saying everything that we would do and everything that we wouldn't do. So, existing power stations will continue to exist for the lifespan that's been established. With regard to exports of resources, they're dependent upon international markets, but they won't be affected by our policy. What will be affected by our policy is the creation of 604,000 new jobs, many of which will be in regional Queensland. That's the message that we have. The other message that we have to workers in industries like the coal sector and other resources sector, they know that they've seen their permanent jobs replaced by casual jobs. They've seen an undermining of wages and conditions. You can have people working side by side, some of which are paid some ten or twenty or more thousand dollars less than their counterparts, and which don't have the same conditions like leave pay that permanent workers get. This Government has nothing to say about that. This Government goes to court to support the casualisation of the workforce. Labor will stand up for workers' rights. Labor will stand up for increasing real wages. This Government has presided over the weakest wage growth that hasn't kept up with the cost of inflation in Australian history. That is what they've presided over. And their last budget said that real wages would decline over the next four years. So, you have real wages in decline, you have a trillion dollars of debt, you have no legacy. And what you have is a Government committed to pork barrelling but without a plan. And we're seeing the failure to have a plan playing out with the consequences for the current crisis which is increasingly there.
JOURNALIST: Federal Labor has called for rapid antigen tests to be made free and accessible for all Has Labor calculated how much this would cost Australians?
ALBANESE: What we know is that the cost of inaction is being felt. The cost of inaction from this Government is that supermarket shelves are being left empty, is that businesses are closing, is that workers are unable to go to work, is an impact on tens of thousands of new cases each and every day, which is having an impact on people's health, is rising numbers in our hospitals, rising numbers in our ICU units, people concerned about people in the aged care sector who haven't got access to their boosters. People in the health sector, who've been working day in, day out now for two years of this crisis deserve better than the sort of pressure that they are under because of shortages in the workforce. That is the price that Australians are paying for Scott Morrison's lack of action. First, we saw a failure to secure enough vaccines, then we saw a failure to have purpose-built quarantine. Now, we're seeing a failure to secure enough booster shots so that people are getting their appointments deferred. Now, we're seeing a move away from testing after two years of people being told, 'If you have any symptoms, go and get a test'. People have been told, 'Don't do that now', because of capacity constraints in the system. And what they're also being told is, 'You're on your own, go and get a rapid antigen test', but they can't find them. They can't find them. And if they do find them, they can't afford them because of price-gouging that's going on. And a Federal Government that's been complacent. Let's be clear. The TGA approved rapid antigen tests in September. And they were available for use from November 1 in Australia. But what we saw before then was that manufacturers, including here in Queensland, approached the Federal Government and were told, 'We're not interested'. So, they're exporting their rapid antigen tests overseas rather than using them here at a time when there's a shortage. How is it that a Federal Government presided over by Scott Morrison when it comes to the failure to secure enough vaccines has also failed to secure enough rapid antigen tests. And now, we have this complex system whereby if you are a concession card holder, you'll be able to get a rapid antigen test from your local pharmacist, but if you're a worker in essential work and you want to make sure, before you go to work in a nursing home, or work in a supermarket, as my son does, or work in various areas where you have contact with the public, you're on your own. You're on your own as far as this Government is concerned. And let's be clear about costs. Rapid antigen tests are being purchased on mass by President Biden in the United States, by the Prime Minister Johnson in the United Kingdom. And they're available. The cost of that is under $10, is a few dollars, in single figures. The cost of a PCR test is around about $80, in some cases, more, depending upon where they're being done. And they're being paid for through the Medicare system. What we say is- the simplest way to keep the message there, and to protect people's health, and by protecting people's health, to protect jobs and the economy, is to make them free and make them available to all. And the Australian Medical Association agrees with us. Pharmacists agree with this. I will tell you what. The community agrees with us as well. Scott Morrison has failed the test of leadership time and time again. And when confronted with his failure, he simply blames someone else. He talks about, last time he was in Queensland, he talked about, 'Shake and bake'. Well, with Scott Morrison, it is, 'Set and forget'. Set and forget, never taking responsibility, never thinking ahead. And that's what happens when you have a Prime Minister who has a 24-hour time frame, who just thinks about the latest announcement, not the follow-up and actually delivering on it. That's why seven years ago, they promised they and put in the budget the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. And seven years later, less than 10 per cent of that $5 billion has been expended. This is a Government that's all talk, all promise, all announcement and no delivery. And the real consequences of that is Australia is now suffering from a circumstance whereby people are concerned that they can't access food from their local supermarket.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Morrison Government has specifically targeted Novak Djokovic to take the focus off the RAT shortage?
ALBANESE: Well, there again, you have another bizarre circumstance whereby the Prime Minister just a couple of days ago was saying somehow that the Federal Government wasn't responsible for the granting of visas to Australia. It's quite extraordinary. I'll give him the big tip. Tennis Australia doesn't grant Australian visas. They're granted by our national Government. And what needs to be explained by Scott Morrison is who granted that visa and why was it granted if the information that every other person is required to give wasn't received? This is the same Government that was prepared to tell its citizens that they'd be jailed if they came from India last year, but granted a visa to Mr Djokovic. I think, quite clearly, Mr Djokovic, given his statements of anti-vaxxer rhetoric, given the campaign that he ran very explicitly, for all to see, it was clear what his position was, how is it that a visa was ever granted in the first place?
JOURNALIST: Going back to COVID, can I ask you a question about aged care? We have, reportedly, a couple of aged care facilities locked down. They've been waiting for their booster shots since November. What is your comment on that?
ALBANESE: Well, it is outrageous that aged care facilities here in Cairns have had their appointments for booster shots deferred indefinitely. This Prime Minister said originally that aged care facilities were supposed to be in the queue for priority for their first shots. And we know that that didn't occur. And we know as a result, there have been catastrophic consequences. And it's the people in the facility, it's the workers, it's the families of those people who have loved ones in aged care who deserve better than this. How is it that the Government didn't plan to get the booster rollout right following their failure on the rollout of the vaccine? Now, Australians have shown they're prepared to step up. When the vaccine is available, they've gone, they've got the vaccine in their arms at very high proportions of above 90 per cent in most places. But they've been let down by the Government. And to let down people in aged care is just extraordinary from a Government that, once again, has shown itself to be complacent.
JOURNALIST: And my last question, what do you say to suggestions that the Great Barrier Reef should be put on the UN endangered list?
ALBANESE: No, it shouldn't be. And we need to make sure that it's not. We need to make sure that we provide support for the reef. And that's what one of today's announcements is about. Making sure that this beautiful, natural asset is protected. That's what we're determined to do. Make sure that it's never ever put on that list. The way to do that is take the big action that we will take by joining the world in climate policy, once again, not being a pariah sitting in the naughty corner with Saudi Arabia and Brazil and a couple of other countries. That's what we've seen. Scott Morrison gave an empty speech to an empty room full of empty rhetoric when he went to Glasgow. Because he failed to do what the purpose of that conference was, which was to increase the 2030 target, because Barnaby Joyce told him he wasn't allowed to. And it's no point having a local MP here who says, 'I disagree with that, I want higher targets', if they don't deliver. Elida Faith has delivered, as part of a Labor team, a good policy. That's the difference. She won't have to come up here and give a different message in Cairns from what's given in Canberra. Because Australia will be a part of the global effort. Because Australia has more to lose than most countries. We have the Great Barrier Reef, we have Kakadu. We have our communities that, by and large, live around our coastlines. We have to ensure that we take action appropriately. The policy announcement today that's been developed by Terri with input from Elida and Nita and others has, I think, puts us in good stead. We deliberately have announced it after the climate policy. Because if you're not serious, if you're allowing Barnaby Joyce and the National Party to control your climate policy, then you're not fair dinkum about protecting the reef. It's as simple as that. And the truth is the LNP are held hostage to the climate sceptics and the people who don't want any action at all.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: This will benefit them directly, Terri might want to add to this, directly through the programs that we have, which are shovel-ready. They're about restoration, both in terms of on water, but also on land. And that protection just enhances the environment here. And that's why it's received such strong support from the tourism sector who we were with today and who we have developed this policy with.
BUTLER: Thanks, Anthony. This policy is about the shovel-ready projects that can assist with land conservation and reef conservation. We already see tourism operators working hand in hand with the science sector, with citizen science, with conservationists, with environmentalists, to make sure that they're serving both conservation and tourism outcomes through their businesses. This announcement today of $85 million towards shovel-ready projects will help those organisations, whether it's the tourism operators, whether it's the NRM Group, whether it's traditional owners’ groups, whether it's the environment groups that are doing that work that can create both jobs and environmental outcomes to have some certainty and to actually get those projects off the ground. And we're really pleased to see the work that's been done. So much work from everyone here, whether it's the council, group of councils, Advanced Cairns, Terrain NRM, the Environment Centre, so many different organisations, tourism operators, they've come together and put up a really good proposal to government. We think it's really important that there is that grassroots involvement in the decision making as well about how this money is used. Because at the end of the day, what people want to see is the funding being applied to direct outcomes on the Great Barrier Reef and in the wet tropics area. And that's what we intend to do if we form government.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)
ALBANESE: Well, I'm very concerned about the lack of preparation from the Federal Government on these issues. The Queensland Premier, one of the reasons why strong action was taken on borders here in Queensland, is because it was always understood that once borders opened up, there would been increasing cases. And she wanted to ensure that Queenslanders got themselves vaccinated. We have circumstances now where we do have a rise in numbers. A Federal Government that can't even roll out booster shots in aged care facilities here in Cairns, that they're directly responsible for. They're the funders. They're the regulators of aged care. We have a Federal Government that simply has been complacent when it comes to these issues. I'm confident that we'll get through this. Queenslanders are courageous people. They're tenacious. They get on with life. They get knocked down, they get up again. They will get through this. But it is being made tougher by the fact that we don't have leadership from the Federal Government. We have a Prime Minister who goes missing in action even when he turns up.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: Well, the Queensland Government has always made decisions based upon the health advice and based upon protecting the health of Queenslanders. Because they've understood the consequences of not getting that right. So, I'm sure that the Queensland Government will make that assessment and will make an appropriate decision. But we know throughout the country, once again, the Prime Minister and the Federal Government announced when booster shots for children, for school aged children, would commence. And it appears that there are supply issues causing concern there, not just in one state, right around the country. And I don't know what it takes for this Prime Minister to actually wake from the slumber and get ahead of issues. Because if you're failing to plan, you are planning to fail. And that's why this Prime Minister fails on so many occasions. Because he never looks beyond the next grab on a media conference, beyond the next headline. And some of the media back that in by giving him the positive headline, as if yesterday didn't matter. The Prime Minister himself, of course, is becoming infamous for saying, 'Don't worry about what I said yesterday'. Well, if you don't worry about what the Prime Minister says yesterday, in his own words, then you shouldn't have any regard for what he says today, because it'll change by tomorrow. And that's what we've seen this week on a range of issues with regard to boosters, with regard to rapid antigen tests, with regard to Novak Djokovic. We have seen changing stories day by day. Thanks very much.