SENATOR PENNY WONG
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA
MARK BUTLER MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING
MEMBER FOR HINDMARSH
PETER MALINAUSKAS MP
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN LABOR LEADER
SUBJECTS: South Australian defence industry; AUKUS submarine deal; Coalition chaos on climate change, Darren Chester; state borders, at home COVID tests; anti-corruption commission legislation.
PETER MALINAUSKAS, SOUTH AUSTRALIAN LABOR LEADER: Thanks very much for joining us here at Parliament House. I'm obviously incredibly grateful to be here this morning with Senator Penny Wong, who of course, is also in the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs but also the federal Shadow Minister for Health, Mark Butler. Well, this morning we had a very insightful industry roundtable with a number of leaders within the defence industry here in South Australia. People who are very cognisant of the fact that the decision made by the Commonwealth Government to cancel the Naval contract and transfer to a new AUKUS arrangement does represent an opportunity for our state and for our nation in the long term. But it was also very important to hear from industry, that there are genuine concerns about the lack of certainty going forward for their workforce and for their requirement and skills, as we transition to Plan C of the submarine build. Everybody around the table is naturally incredibly excited and grateful for the fact that we now have the FCD program staying in South Australia, where it's always been and always should be. But the question now becomes, what is the future submarine plan for our nation when it comes to sovereign capability? The one message that came through from industry leaders this morning, loud and clear, is that sovereign capability still should be paramount in the Commonwealth's decisions around the future submarine contract. That's not just important for jobs in South Australia, it's actually strategically important for our nation into the future. Sovereign capability means that our industry has the ability to support the Australian Defence Force’s needs into the long term, so that in the tragic event, they do have to wage war, there is an industry that can deliver the services and the requirements that the ADF need. We can't have a situation where the transfer to Plan C of the submarine build, by the Commonwealth Government, is at the expense of our sovereign capability here in the country, but also in South Australia. Premier Steven Marshall's job throughout this exercise has to be to ensure that South Australia's industry interests are represented around the federal table, to ensure that South Australian jobs aren't left behind in the long term. I think everybody in South Australia is absolutely of the view that the future submarine program represents an unprecedented opportunity that we've had in our state for industry and jobs since Playford. We have to make sure that opportunity is capitalised upon, which is why South Australia needs a Premier that is willing to fight for South Australian jobs, fight for our sovereign capability to ensure this opportunity for future industry is not lost on South Australia, not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of the nation. I now invite Penny Wong to say a few words. And I think Mark is going to say a few words, as well.
PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thanks very much, Peter, and thank you for organising with us the roundtable today - showing the leadership that unfortunately is lacking from Premier Marshall. Well, Mr Morrison almost never sees a problem that isn't someone else's to solve. It's always someone else's responsibility. Well, he has to take responsibility for the next steps on the submarines. He has to get beyond the obsession with the announcement, the obsession with press conferences, and now he has to get on with making sure that the next step on this, the largest procurement in Australia's history, is got right. And what was clear today, in this meeting, is the feedback from industry gives us some indication about what those next steps need to deal with. We need to deal with the immediate problem. We've already seen Lockheed Martin issuing termination notices, as is reported today. We were told today about imminent job losses and the potential for firms exiting the industry. So, we need the Government to take responsibility for providing some certainty about the way forward because uncertainty is so damaging for business and for capability. What we also heard today is what Peter spoke about, which is the need for sovereign industry capability. This is ensuring that we get the dividend from this project, not only for our defence capability, which is critical, and why Labor is supporting this approach, but also for our industry capability. Because this is the way in which we ensure we get the advanced skills, the technology transfer and the expansion of our advanced industrial capacity that will enable South Australian jobs and prosperity, not just in the next few years, but in the decades to come. That is what Mr Morrison needs to get right and he needs to ensure he does a lot better on this Plan C, the third plan of the submarines, than the Liberal Party has done on Plan A and Plan B. Remember the failed Japanese experiment, and now the failed French set of decisions. So, we're onto the third plan. And it's time that Mr Morrison took responsibility to get that right.
JOURNALIST: I'll start with you, Senator, if you don't mind, while you're there. Do you think that you talked about, obviously, the importance of sovereign capability, does that need to extend to a mandated percentage of local industry content, à la the Naval deal?
WONG: Well, can I say, a useful reminder, when it comes to the past contract, I made the comment today, the best indicator of future behaviour is people's past behaviour. And you might remember, no local content in the Japanese plan. And then we had to fight tooth and nail to get some real commitments in the French plan. I think what the Government needs to do is to use this next 18 months, the consultation process, to very early on be clear, with industry and the US and the United Kingdom, what are the aspects of this project we want done in Australia, and we want to do with Australian firms, or that we want access to their technology on. It's very important. And I think that discussion came through very clearly today, that we need to be very focused on what is the capability we want to make sure we have here, including, not just for the acquisition, but for the sustainment of the subs.
JOURNALIST: Was there any concern there in the room that after that 18-month period? If we spool forward 18 months, that the decision might be made that it's too hard to do here in South Australia?
WONG: I might let Peter speak to this, but people in the room were very clear that we have the capability to work on this project. What they need is that capability to be matched by government leadership and the provision of some certainty.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you, what should Mr Morrison's first order of business be when he touches back down from the United States?
WONG: Well, apart from the submarines, obviously it's dealing with the mess that is the Coalition when it comes to climate. We see Gerard Rennick out there with some crazy extremist comments over the last few days, we see Darren Chester doing the right thing. We see division within the Coalition Cabinet Room and division within the National Party. And I'd simply say this, Mr Morrison, you've actually got to show some leadership here. You've actually got to show some leadership, instead of allowing Barnaby Joyce, George Christensen and Gerard Rennick to lead you when it comes to climate.
JOURNALIST: Can I get you, just to reflect a little bit more on Darren Chester's decision?
WONG: I've always found Darren to be a very decent man. Obviously, we're from different parties but in my engagement with him, he's a decent man. And I think it does say something when you've got someone inside the Nationals party room so deeply uncomfortable with Mr Joyce's behaviour, and Mr Christensen's behaviour. I would say that Darren Chester is showing much more leadership, than Scott Morrison.
JOURNALIST: You've compared, or Peter compared, the opportunity from AUKUS to a Playford like transformation of the state...
WONG: But only if we get it right.
JOURNALIST: Yes, yes, that's my question. So, you and state Labor hope to be in government within a few months. What precise measures would you take if in government to ensure that this is got right?
WONG: What I would do, if we were in government, is to do what the Liberals have not done in the last eight years, and that is to work with industry and our partners, to be very clear about what is the sovereign capability, the sovereign industry capability we want here in Australia. And I would, upfront, be making sure that that was a priority in the consultation and clear in the contractual arrangements, which were entered into. And I would say again, it's pretty simple - but the Liberals have never done it.
JOURNALIST: I was just going to ask the same question of the Opposition Leader.
MALINAUSKAS: Steven Marshall seems to think that a key part of his job is just to take what Scott Morrison gives him. And that hasn't delivered much for the South Australian community throughout the entirety of his Premiership. Steven Marshall was delivered South Australia's a dud when it comes to the river Murray, by just agreeing with Scott Morrison. He's delivered a dud deal to South Australia when it comes to GST, just because he wants to agree with Scott Morrison. We can't allow a dud deal to occur when it comes to future industry around the submarines in South Australia. What we need is a premier who is willing to stand up for South Australia's interests, which is actually consistent with the national interests when it comes to sovereign capability and fight the good fight for South Australian jobs. And I think people would be right to ask whether or not Steven Marshall is up to the task of taking it up to Scott Morrison, because we haven't seen much evidence of that, at all, over the last three and a half years.
JOURNALIST: So, what measures would you take if elected premier after March?
MALINAUSKAS: Well, first and foremost, I would be ensuring that South Australian defence industry has a seat at the table when it comes to decision making. We have to be on the front line advocating the course to Canberra that sovereign capability has to be a paramount consideration, when it comes to future industry and decisions around it. I mean sovereign capability was, in essence, a fundamental plank of the policy around the Naval deal, we have to ensure that is also the case with the new AUKUS arrangement.
JOURNALIST: Peter, just on the ICAC bill from last week. The former Labor Senator Chris Schacht has come out on radio this morning and said he's astonished that no MP voted against it. In his 50 years involved in the Labor movement, he can't recall a bill being rushed through so quickly. Has he got a point? Should have you scrutinised this bill further?
MALINAUSKAS: Well look, there was an extraordinary degree of scrutiny placed on the bill. The Honourable Kyam Maher, the Shadow Attorney General, was absolutely central to the delivering of 40 amendments to that piece of legislation before its passage. We will always work assiduously on legislation that is brought before the parliament and make a judgement about what is in the best policy interests of the state.
JOURNALIST: Is it right to have such a critical piece of legislation go through so quickly?
MALINAUSKAS: This was a piece of legislation that was months in the making. In fact, its original inception, around ICAC reforms started from the Committee, which has been doing its work now for the better part of 12 months. So, while its passage through the parliament, occurred relatively expeditiously, development and negotiation around the bill, I understand, was in train for some time.
JOURNALIST: Is this what Labor wanted? A stripping out of the ICAC?
MALINAUSKAS: There's certainly, I don't think, any dispute around the fact that the ICAC legislation, having been in place for the better part of almost a decade was due for reform. We had seen plenty of instances of tragedy occur regarding the ICAC's operations, and we need to ensure that justice prevails, natural justice prevails. And that's what necessitated a degree of reform to the act. Of course, that passage of the legislation was made available, because the Government took it on as a Government bill in the lower house of the Parliament, under the leadership of Steven Marshall and Vickie Chapman - I might note that Steven Marshall seems to have gone into hiding, as far as we can tell, over the last four or five days. I, of course, have taken a very different approach. I've been more than willing Rory, to answer your questions on more than one occasion and will always remain available to the media. Regardless of the measures that are passed through the parliament, I think it's absolutely fundamental to political leadership that you have to front up and answer genuinely held questions. I had questions about this on Saturday morning at street corner meetings. I had questions from you about this, Rory, on Friday and I very much welcome that is part of that democratic process and it's essential. What's surprising is that you've got one political leader in South Australia willing to front the media and answer questions of their constituents and you've got another political leader that appears to be in hiding.
JOURNALIST: Mark, your electorate includes Port Adelaide. There's been numerous predictions about Port Adelaide's renaissance throughout our professional lives. What do you think -
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: The footy club or...?
JOURNALIST: No, the area.
WONG: Thanks for bringing that up.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, what do you think the potential from the nuclear submarine agreement is for the area, particularly the Osborne Naval Shipyard, but the Port itself? To transform the Port what should be done? And what would you as an MP and as a Labor Government do to enable that?
BUTLER: Well, as Penny and Peter have both said, this is a Labor tradition that goes back to the 1980s. As we saw the waterfront industry reformed and lose hundreds and thousands of jobs, it was the vision of people like Mick Young and John Bannon to build a shipbuilding capability down there that would deliver high quality jobs and real complexity to the South Australian economy for decades to come. And in that sense, really, we're building on those traditions. You'll see us from today onwards, as we have over the last couple of weeks, since the announcement of the AUKUS deal, advocate for local jobs, local economic capability, because we know that is in the best interest of the country sovereign capability. As Penny has outlined since the announcement, but it's also in the best interest of the local economy. We need that complexity, particularly as the Federal Government, seven or eight years ago, effectively waved the automotive industry offshore, defence industry capability here is utterly central to ensuring that Australia's economy remains complex and able to deliver high level skills and high-level jobs to Australians.
JOURNALIST: Can I also ask you on that local issue, can you understand there's concerns within sectors of your electorate around the prospect of having a nuclear submarine being built in their backyard?
BUTLER: Well, of course, we will be advocating for the highest possible levels of safety arrangements to ensure that the local community feel safe down on the Lefevre Peninsula, but right through South Australia. We're very confident that those arrangements will be delivered.
JOURNALIST: Does Queensland need to open up its border by Christmas to other states if vaccination rates have hit 80 per cent double dose?
BUTLER: First thing I'd say is that all Australians want to see these constant debilitating lockdowns lifted as soon as they safely can be, and borders opened as soon as they safely can be. But there is nothing currently in the National Cabinet plan that has a particular moment for state borders to be lifted. So, this is a moment for Scott Morrison to unify the country not to divide it. It's a moment for him to lead the National Cabinet and not seek to divide it.
What you see around Australia is many, many state premiers feeling that the Prime Minister just has not had their back as they've had to make really hard decisions to keep their communities safe. You've seen relentless political attacks from the Morrison Government on the Queensland Government. You saw Scott Morrison back Clive Palmer in legal action against the Western Australian public health measures. You've seen reports that Gladys Berejiklian, the New South Wales Premier regards Scott Morrison as an “evil bully” for the way in which he's conducted federal-state relations. So, this is a very delicate moment for the nation. You've got very different lived experiences in the COVID-free states to the lockdown states. It requires National Cabinet to navigate those differences very carefully. And most of all, requires the Prime Minister to unify and lead rather than continuing to try to divide the country.
JOURNALIST: With respect, was that a yes or a no?
BUTLER: As I say, these are complex decisions. No state, whether it's South Australia or Queensland or WA, that is currently COVID free, is going to want to open their borders before they are confident, on the basis of public health advice, that they are able to keep their communities safe. All of the state premiers will be taking those decisions. And instead of the Prime Minister recognising that complexity, and his obligation to unify all of the states, bring them together at this complex time, yet again, he's seeking to divide them.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about the prospect of home COVID testing? That's obviously been flagged by the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Is that something you would support under the right circumstances? Or do you have reservations about those plans?
BUTLER: We see all around the world really, countries that are way ahead of us in terms of vaccination rates, a high uptake of these rapid antigen testing, being undertaken at home and at workplaces, in a way that really starts to see life return to something approaching normal. And we've said, over recent days, the sooner Australia is able to safely join those countries, the better. Now, I saw Greg Hunt say that he was hoping we'd have some arrangements like that in place, perhaps by Christmas. I urge him to try and accelerate these arrangements. I know the TGA is looking at them. We want to see the proper approvals processes maintained. But this is something I think that business and Australians want to see accelerate.
JOURNALIST: How do you reconcile Labor's push at a federal level for an anti-corruption commission at a federal level, with the vote that you saw in the state's Parliament last week to strip powers from the ICAC?
BUTLER: It is more than a thousand days since the Morrison Government committed to putting in place an Independent Commission Against Corruption at the national level and we have seen no action, no action whatsoever. The only way you will get a national anti-corruption commission is to elect a Labor Government. As to what happened here in South Australia, as Peter Malinaukas just said, there was a long process of consideration, as we understand it, about reform to this legislation, and several dozen amendments moved by the relevant Shadow Minister from Labor. Thank you.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.