ABC Capricornia Radio

January 29, 2021





SUBJECTS: Shadow Minister for Queensland Resources portfolio; Labor’s support for resources jobs; climate change; risk to resources jobs from Government mismanagement of China relationship; Liberals-Nationals split on energy and manufacturing plan; unspent $4bn disaster prevention fund.

PAUL CULLIVER, HOST: So as of yesterday Senator for Queensland Murray Watt - of course with the Labor Party - now has, well a bunch of portfolios under his belt that he is currently serving in.

As of now, he's the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia. He's the Shadow Minister for Disaster and Emergency Management. He's also the Shadow Minister for Queensland Resources. Murray Watt, Senator for Queensland, good morning to you.


CULLIVER: Just explain this portfolio - Shadow Minister for Queensland Resources, as opposed to Shadow Minister for Resources. What's the job you've been given?

WATT: Yes, well, I'm really excited about this new role that Albo's given me to take on as of yesterday. I'll be working very closely with our Shadow Minister for Resources and Trade, Madeleine King, who's a Western Australian-based MP. Obviously, resources is a huge industry in Western Australia as well. But I think the fact that Albo has appointed me to this role demonstrates that he understands how important the resources industry is in Queensland as well. So having someone who lives in Queensland, is based in Queensland, spends a lot of time in Central Queensland working with mining communities, I think is going to be a good thing for the Opposition to make sure that we've got a Queenslander advocating for the industry and also for the people who work in it.

CULLIVER: Obviously, the big headlines around this reshuffle is that Mark Butler has been moved out of the climate change portfolio, Chris Bowen put into it. We obviously do have new resource shadow ministers now as well after Joel Fitzgibbon, we know late last year left that role. How are you realigning the ALP's approach to climate change and trying to convince voters that you are actually going to, sort of, provide jobs in the industry here in Central Queensland?

WATT: Yeah, well, I think that's probably been the biggest shift under Albo's leadership in terms of our approach to climate change. And that is to make clear to people, whether they be in Central Queensland or anywhere else, that we don't have to choose between jobs or addressing climate change. In fact, if we take action on climate change that can actually produce jobs even in places like Central Queensland.

I've said before that our traditional industries like coal and gas and agriculture have a really strong future under a Labor Government as well. They'll continue to export to the world, but places like Central Queensland are sitting on a goldmine of solar resources, wind resources and other renewable resources. And if we can harness them properly, that's obviously going to be good for power prices, but it also really means that we can rebuild our manufacturing industry in Central Queensland on the back of cheaper energy. So I think for us, it's not a matter of picking or choosing. It's not about, you know the Greens say that you can only have the new industries, you can't have the old one. The Nationals say you can only have the old industries, you can't have the new ones. Labor's position is that we're for more jobs in more industries. We want to see both go forward.

CULLIVER: Should Labor be setting a mid-term emissions target like, say, by 2030?

WATT: Well, that's something that we'll make a decision about well and truly before the election and make clear to the Central Queensland public. What we have committed to at this point is that we would ensure that Australia reaches net-zero emissions by 2050. And I might say, that's not a unique position. Most countries around the world have committed to something similar. In fact, some of our biggest resource companies like BHP, Rio Tinto, Santos, they're all on track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Really, the only people who haven't joined the party yet is the Morrison Government. They're the outliers in this. And they need to get with the program because, of course, that would be good for the environment, but again, it would be terrific for jobs in Central Queensland. I mean, one of the consequences of the Government not committing to net-zero emissions by 2050 is that we're seeing other states and other countries grab the jobs that are being produced as a result of this move to cleaner energy. And I don't want to see Central Queenslanders miss out on that.

CULLIVER: Obviously first day on the job now of Queensland Resources, this new shadow portfolio, what's the first thing on your to-do list?

WATT: I'm actually on my way to Bundaberg today. It was a prearranged trip to talk about disaster management there. But as of yesterday, I was in touch with a number of the senior resource industry people around the state, as well as with the mining unions.

One of the good things, I suppose, is because I have spent a lot of time working with this industry and going into mines and meeting with mining workers, I'm not starting from scratch and it's really a matter of continuing some of the work that I've been doing.

But certainly I think one of the things that I've really picked up already is that there is a lot of concern in the resources industry about the future of our trade relationship with China. Unfortunately, because the Government has mishandled our relationship with China, we're now seeing lots of ships with Central Queensland coal sitting off the coast of China unable to unload. And I'm very concerned - and the resources industry is very concerned - that that is potentially going to cost jobs in Central Queensland. So we've got to get that relationship fixed. But also we've actually got to see the Government develop stronger trade ties with other countries, because over the last few years they've just put too many eggs in the China basket. And that's, of course, left us exposed right now.

CULLIVER: Well yeah, what is the solution? Is it repairing the relationship with China or is it going somewhere else to sell our coal?

WATT: Well, I think it's probably a bit of both. And I think that, of course, China has been the major customer of our coal in recent years as its economy has grown, and I think it would make things difficult for coal companies and coal workers in Queensland if that relationship isn't repaired. But we do need to see the Government put its shoulder to the wheel to get trade relationships growing with other countries, whether it be India or other countries in Asia who are potential customers as well.

As I say, I think, unfortunately, the Government's approach over recent years was to really try to concentrate all of its efforts on China, and that made sense while the party was going, but of course, it meant that if they take action against us we're very exposed. So I think we've got to do both. And it really matters to Central Queensland to get these relationships fixed and so that our exports continue and that jobs continue to grow.

CULLIVER: Senator with the LNP Matt Canavan was my guest earlier in the week, he was launching the Nationals' backbench policy on manufacturing. A big part of that that we talked about was that he wants to build a new coal-fired power station, also explore for a new oil basin. Do you support that?

WATT: Well, all you've got to do is look at how Matt Canavan's Liberal colleagues, including senior ministers, received that manufacturing plan. They scoffed at it and threw it out the door without even barely looking at it. I just think that Matt Canavan hasn't understood that the world is changing and that there's just no one around who is prepared to spend the money to build a coal-fired power station. It made sense for us to do that 10, 20, 30 years ago when it was the cheapest, most reliable source of power. But in this day and age, look around all those roofs in Rockhampton and Central Queensland with solar panels. Look at all the companies that are increasingly moving to renewables and gas. Coal is just no longer the cheapest form of power in Australia. We've even had this week Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer, has made it very clear that their Government is not going to subsidise a new coal-fired power station. So it's a bit unfortunate that Matt Canavan and his Nationals colleagues keep going around Central Queensland, lying to people, pretending that they're going to build coal-fired power stations when they know very well that they're never going to happen.

CULLIVER: Senator for Queensland Murray Watt is my guest. One of your portfolios, of course, as you mentioned, is Disaster and Emergency Management. We've already seen several cyclones this season. We've still got several months to run of this La Nina and the wet season. Central Queensland could well still be impacted. What are you seeing on the ground in terms of preparation - are we ready?

WATT: I've been very concerned for a number of months about the cyclone and flood season that we could be facing this year. By about mid-last year, the Bureau of Meteorology was warning us that because of La Nina, we faced more cyclones and floods than normal. And so far in Queensland, we've been able to avoid the worst of it. I was up in Ingham a couple of weeks ago, meeting with people who'd gone through the floods there - there's been a little bit of flooding.  But we're nowhere near out of disaster season yet. I was in Rocky the last time it flooded, and I know very well the damage that can be experienced right across Central Queensland when we see those floods.

And I think one of the concerns is that, while we've seen a terrific job and people like our SES and councils and a whole range of people prepare, we're not really seeing that from the Federal Government as well. And the best example of that is that nearly two years ago, they announced a $4 billion disaster fund which was available to spend on disaster recovery, but also on things like flood levees and cyclone shelters to prevent the damage. And we're now nearly two years on and they have not spent a single cent from this fund.

It's something you see often from Scott Morrison and his Government. They like to get out there and make an announcement, but they never actually follow through. And the problem in this case is that if they don't follow through, it actually puts lives at risk, properties at risk. And, of course, it costs so much more to repair the damage. So we do need to see the Federal Government step up and join the efforts of other people to make sure that we are better prepared for natural disasters right now and in the future.

CULLIVER: All right, Senator, do you think there'll be an election this year?

WATT: Look, all the indications are that that's what Scott Morrison wants to do. The election isn't due until next year and, you know, if he does decide to go to an early election, then he will just be doing that for political reasons. He says to people that he's got a big job ahead and got to get the economy working again. I suppose we'll have to take him at his word and it should be next year. If he wants to go any earlier, we'll be ready for that and ready to come out swinging.

CULLIVER: All right, Senator, thanks for your time today.

WATT: Good on you Paul, thanks mate.