ABC Southern Qld Drive 9-10-20

October 09, 2020


SUBJECT/S: Labor’s Budget Reply speech, Anthony Albanese’s plan for regional South East Queensland; Scott Morrison’s trillion dollar debt; childcare; cheap, renewable energy to benefit manufacturing boom; train manufacturing in Queensland; apprenticeships; social housing; paying for commitments

SHERIDAN STEWART, HOST: Of course, a belated federal budget released this week. Last night, we heard the Opposition's budget in reply speech. Now, in just a moment, you're going to hear from Nationals deputy leader and Maranoa MP David Littleproud about what the Budget offers the people of southeast Queensland basically, us. But first up, Queensland Labor Senator Murray Watt to talk about the vision expressed by Mr Albanese last night. Senator, what specific things does Labor's budget in reply offer the people of regional southeast Queensland?

MURRAY WATT, QUEENSLAND LABOR SENATOR: Yeah, look, I think what we saw last night from Albo and the whole Labor team was a very different vision for Australia's future than what we've seen from the Government this week. In the Government's budget what we've learnt is that we'll be racking up a trillion dollars in debt. But apart from the short term hit to the economy from that, it's hard to see what we'll get out of it, either as a country or as a region. But I think it's very different with what Albo was putting forward last night.
Obviously, the biggest announcement he made was for child care, and women right across regional southeast Queensland will benefit from that. One of the things we already know is that the thing that holds a lot of women from getting back into the workforce is the cost of child care. A lot of the time it ends up costing them more in child care fees than what they're actually going to get paid. So there's a real financial disincentive for women across regional southeast Queensland getting back in the workforce once they've had children. We know that women have suffered from this recession more than men. When you look at the kind of industries that have lost jobs, they tend to be female-dominated. So one of the biggest priorities we've got as a country is being able to help women get back into the workforce, and child care costs and reducing those child care costs will certainly help with that.
I think the other big thing for regional southeast Queensland is a really strong commitment to rebuilding Australia's manufacturing industry. I was with Albo last year when we toured the Downer factory - the train manufacturing factory in Maryborough - and we saw the proud history of hundreds of workers there, in building trains both for Queensland and across the country. We know that between the Queensland Government, the Federal Government and other state governments, there's going to be a lot of trains needed for new rail projects over the next decade or so. And Labor wants to see them built here.
It's a bit of a contrast again, with the approach we've seen from the LNP. When Campbell Newman was last in government in Queensland he ordered new trains in from India, which turned out to not actually fit the train tracks in Queensland. And it's the workers in Maryborough, who were actually repairing those trains. So we want to see Aussie jobs, Aussie manufacturing and a really strong commitment from our Federal Government to rebuild that manufacturing industry.

STEWART: He talked about directly hiring apprentices to government infrastructure projects. How would that work when most of those infrastructure projects are actually managed by the state government?

WATT: Well, we would make it a condition of funding to the state governments that one in 10 workers on federally funded infrastructure projects are apprentices. Unfortunately, what we've seen under this Government is there's actually 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees in Australia now than there were when this Government started seven years ago. A real crash in apprenticeships. And we're now paying the price for that with skill shortages in a range of industries. So what we've said is that if the states want to see federal government funding from a federal Labor government, they will have to have one in 10 workers be apprentices. If we can do that, that would obviously be good for the construction industry and construction skills, but we'll also look at how we can expand that kind of principle across other industries where there's a lot of federal funding involved, things like child care and aged care as well.

STEWART: Mr Albanese also talked about investing in energy infrastructure, so improving poles and wires. How does that benefit people living in, say, Kingaroy or Stanthorpe?

WATT: Yeah, look, I think one of the really exciting things that's happening across regional southeast Queensland is a real explosion in renewable energy projects. We're seeing them in places like Kingaroy and other places - Wide Bay - and everywhere around southeast Queensland. New wind farms and solar farms springing up, and there's a lot more in the pipeline as well. One of the problems, though, is that the way the electricity grid is built currently, both in Queensland and across the country, it doesn't really allow for those new renewable projects to be connected into the electricity grid. So if we can actually have the kind of transmission lines, the big towers and poles that move electricity from where it's generated to where it's actually supplied, that'll actually allow a lot of those renewable energy projects to go forward. It's sort of the missing link at the moment to get these renewable projects up and running. And if we can, of course, get those projects happening, that will massively drive down the cost of power across southeast Queensland and the country as a whole. There's nothing cheaper as a power source than sunlight and wind. It's free. And if we can get these power plants built with the transmission infrastructure, that means incredibly cheap electricity being available both to households and to businesses. And again, if we can drive down the cost of energy that will really help our local manufacturing industry become a lot more competitive with other countries. And that means more manufacturing jobs which is great for southeast Queensland.

STEWART: You're hearing from Labor Senator for Queensland, Murray Watt on ABC Radio Queensland this afternoon, speaking about what came up in Labor's budget in reply and how that affects us here in regional southeast Queensland. Senator, Mr Albanese also talked about investing in social housing, improving existing housing and building new housing. Where would you see that happening in regional southeast Queensland?

WATT: This is something that Albo's really passionate about, and I think in the end it comes down to the fact that he grew up in social housing. He's seen how important it is that governments get involved and provide housing for those who are not able to afford homes themselves. A lot of people don't realise this, but the fastest growing group of homeless people across regional southeast Queensland and the whole country is older women. Older women who have maybe had marriage break ups, haven't worked for a long time, aren't able to get back into the workforce easily and very quickly people can find themselves on a slippery slope into homelessness. So Labor is absolutely committed to investing in social housing.
It obviously would be good for people to have a roof over their head and do something about the affordability of housing across our regions. But importantly, it's a very quick way that we can get tradies some work as well. One of the things that’s a real concern across regional southeast Queensland and our whole state is that we potentially are facing a bit of a cliff in the construction industry as people aren't building homes and renovating homes as much as they used to. There's a real risk that a lot of tradies will find themselves out of work in the coming months. And this investment in social housing means that there'll be jobs for tradies as well as providing those kind of homes for the people who need it.

STEWART: Sunshine Coast in particular, is in the grips of a really acute rental drought right now. Is there anything in this policy that would help those people access housing?

WATT: Well, certainly, I mean, it makes sense that if there's more social housing available, then that makes more homes available for people. And you're right, regions like the Sunshine Coast, but others across southeast Queensland, there effectively is a shortage of affordable housing, both to buy and to rent. And unfortunately, this is where people can find themselves in trouble if they can't afford the rent, because if there aren't enough affordable homes, then that's the way they're going to end up being homeless. So if we can build more social housing with a genuine investment from the Federal Government as well as the states, that means more housing being available to people, and it means that others can afford to rent a bit more easily as well.

STEWART: Senator, one of the things about government budgets is they have to account for the costs of proposals and the spending or the spending cuts that they involve. However, Mr Albanese's speech last night doesn't contain any of those sorts of numbers. So how can we in Queensland sort of take the messaging seriously if it's not accounted for in the cost of Labor's vision or how it's going to be paid for?

WATT: Sure, well, we'll be very clear with people about how we're going to pay for all of our promises by the time of the next election. The next election isn't actually due for well over a year. And we will make sure that well before that people know exactly where the money is coming from. The other thing I'd say, though, is that, for instance, the commitment that we've made around child care is in the order of about $6 billion. That pales in comparison compared to the one trillion dollars of debt that Scott Morrison and his government have racked up. And no one seems to be quite as interested in how they're going to pay for things. So we will be very clear with people about how we'll pay for our commitments. But it's not only Labor who are making financial commitments, and it's important that the Government is clear with people as well about where this money will come from.

STEWART: That is Queensland Labor Senator Murray Watt