SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND THE PACIFIC
MEMBER FOR SOLOMON
SUBJECTS: Funding for the Pacific; Port of Darwin; China-Solomons security pact.
LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR DARWIN: Welcome everyone. My name is Luke Gosling. I'm the Federal MP for Darwin and Palmerston. Thanks for coming down yesterday too to the Dawn Service at this hallowed place. It was great that Richard Marles could be with us for that event. And it was an excellent reminder for the nation of the importance of Darwin in our national defence. From WWII, when John Curtin was Prime Minister, led our Country forward through difficult times, until the current day, where we've launched operations from here into Timor-Leste and around the region. So, Territorians understand the absolute vital place, the vital role, that relationships in the Indo-Pacific have. We're here today to talk about the relations with the Pacific. And we know, because we have Pacific labour workers working here in our farms in our agricultural industry, we realise how important it is, but how much better we can do. I know, as a veteran, the importance, particularly of defence cooperation programs. I've served in defence cooperation programs in our region. So, that's why these announcements today are so important, because it those people to people links, not only in defence, but in diplomacy. I've worked in international development in our region, I understand the importance of working with nations in our region to help with our mutual interests, whether it be security, or economic. Our mutual defence interests I have even worked for a President in our Indo-Pacific region. So I know how badly the Morrison Government has dropped the ball when it comes to respecting countries in our region. I'm the MP where the Port of Darwin is so I know how badly the Morrison Government has done when it comes to our sovereignty as a nation. Whether it's defence, diplomacy or development, the Morrison Government's dropped the ball at every stage. So, it's fantastic to be here with my colleagues Penny Wong in Foreign Affairs, Brendan O'Connor in Defence, and Pat Conroy in the Pacific, which is what we're talking about today, and international development. So thanks very much for coming down and I'll hand over the Penny. Cheers.
PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thank you, Luke. And Luke is not only a fabulous local member, he's also a man who has served our country and a man who understands deeply the importance of both defence cooperation and diplomacy. He also, don't tell Chris Bowen this, but I think he speaks the best Bahasa in the caucus. I also am very pleased to be here with my friend and colleague, Brendan O'Connor, who will speak shortly about some defence issues and also Pat Conroy, who has done a power of work in the Pacific and has done a great job in doing the detailed policy work, much of which we are announcing today.
Australians understand this is a time of risk. They understand it's a time of uncertainty and they want a Government that does the work to keep them safe. They want a leader that they can trust to do the job. But they got Mr. Morrison, the bloke who just keeps dropping the ball, the bloke who just keeps dropping the ball, the bloke who went missing while China negotiated and signed a security deal on our doorstep. And the bloke who didn't order enough vaccines or RATs and then told us that we're at the front of the queue. A bloke who doesn't hold a hose, and a bloke who never takes responsibility. What I would say to you and to Australians today is, if elected, Labor will do the work. We understand the region is being reshaped. We know the first priority of Government is to secure the nation. And this means we have to secure our region. We have to build a stronger Pacific family. And this is why an Albanese Labor Government will restore Australia's place as the partner of choice in the Pacific. We will deploy and integrate all the elements of national power: defense, strategic, diplomatic, and economic and this is important. We will leverage Australia's strengths. We will leverage Australia's strengths . We understand we are in a time of competition. So you have to look to your competitive advantage. The power of Australia's voice, the power of our proximity, the power of our people to people relationships and the power of economic relationships. This is how you work to secure the region. And this is what this package does.
Today I can announce that an Albanese Labor Government will boost official development assistance to the Pacific countries and Timor Leste by $525 million over the next four years. This will help address the decade worth of development gains that have been lost due to the pandemic and due to Coalition cuts. This funding of $525 million to the Pacific and Timor-Leste over the next four years will be used to expand existing projects and to develop new projects. And there is an event later today which we can show you some of what this money can be used for, for the betterment of the region and to ensure stronger relationships between Australia and countries of the region. We will work with our Pacific family to support specific projects that deliver real change in areas of health, economic growth, education, climate change adaptation and resilience.
I also announce that, unlike the Coalition, we will restore Australia's leadership on climate change. We will establish a Pacific Climate Infrastructure Financing Partnership to support climate and clean energy projects in the Pacific. And this is, of course, in addition to our bid to host a future Conference of the Parties in conjunction with our Pacific partners. I know Mr. Morrison doesn't like to listen and he certainly doesn't like to act when he has heard something. Pacific Island leaders have made absolutely clear that their number one national security and economic challenge is climate change and what is Australia under this Government given them? They've given them the climate wars, they've given them Mr. Dutton making a joke about water lapping at their doorsteps and Mr. Morrison thumbing his nose at them.
I can also announce that an Albanese Labor Government will reform the Pacific Australia labour mobility scheme, and expand the labour scheme. Now, this is an example of us using the power of proximity to secure our region. And I will turn to Pat shortly to address that. We will also establish a new permanent visa arrangement for eligible Pacific Islanders and their families to strengthen and grow our people to people links. Labor will draw on the strengths of who we are. We are a respectful, generous and reliable nation. We are a country that many Pacific Islanders call home. And that will always step up in times of need. We are a partner that will invest in the long term stability and prosperity of our region. And we are a partner that will actually listen to and strengthen the Pacific family. So thank you for being here today. I'm going to invite Brendan first to step through the defence-related aspects of our plan. And then Pat to talk a little more about both the broadcasting initiative, which is about Australia's voice in the region, and some of the migration aspects.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Thanks very much Penny and it's great to be in Darwin for this very important announcement when it comes to engaging with our Pacific Island friends. Today, we're announcing an investment with establishing a new defence training college. This will provide opportunities for us to train Pacific Island country personnel. There already exists some level of training for commissioned officers but this will be providing requisite training for Defence personnel below the commissioner officer level. And I think it will provide great opportunities for us to deepen our ties with our friends in the Pacific. This is the sort of thing that we need to be doing to engage and frankly, to reengage, effectively. Because, as Penny has made very clear, in recent years, this Government has been derelict when it comes to its relationship with our Pacific Island countries. So we need to invest more in terms of defense cooperation and that will also go to municipal policing as well. It's that type of approach that not only increases defence capability within the region, it increases and deepens our relationship with our friends. And we need to be doing that.
Further to that we'll be looking at increasing aerial surveillance and establishing greater maritime investment so that we can protect the interests within the region. As we know, the Pacific Island countries rely heavily upon fishing, as does Australia. They have very large, exclusive economic zones and too often they lose their revenue because of the significant illegal fishing in the area. So that's certainly just one transacted national crime that's committed in our region and if we increase air surveillance, and we increase technological opportunities, like using drones, if we provide support, intelligence, surveillance information to those agencies of those countries, we can protect our region economically as well, as well as combating transnational crime. It's these initiatives this type of investment that if elected, and Albanese Labor Government will embark upon. It's important that we strengthen our ties that we strengthen our defence capability in the region. As you know, Anthony announced a Defence Force Posture Review that would be willing to embark upon if elected, that's about where we place our assets. But this is about engaging. This is about ensuring that our relationships in our region are as strong as possible. So this investment will go, I think, a long way to reestablishing the ties between us and our Pacific Island friends. And I think it's really critical and for that reason, it's critical that we see the election of an Albanese Labor Government. Thanks.
PAT CONROY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND THE PACIFIC: Thanks, Penny. And thanks, Brendan. And I'm really excited to be here in Darwin to be part of this announcement of a comprehensive Pacific strategy. A comprehensive strategy that addresses the real holes that this current Government has in approaching the Pacific. Holes that are becoming more and more apparent every single day. So, parts of the package that I'd like to talk about are reforms to the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme, a really important scheme that started under Labor that provides great economic dividends to Pacific Island workers and their countries and fill skills shortages in this country. We are making a number of improvements to the schemes today in response to conversations listening to farmers, to broader business community listening to the workers themselves and worker welfare organisations. And those reforms go to the various streams of the palm. The first reforms such as the Seasonal Worker Program, where we will make it easier for employers to bring people to this country on the Seasonal Worker Program by reducing the cost of the scheme to employees, the upfront costs, by the Australian Government paying all but $300 of the airfares which we will then recoup from the workers through the taxation system. We'll also extend the length of an SWP stay from nine months to eleven months, responding to feedback from farmers. Secondly, on the Pacific labour scheme, which is the longer term scheme, we will be allowing Pacific workers to bring their family into the country. These visa's operate for up to four years and one of the reasons why they haven't been picked up as much as we would have liked is because workers can't bring their families in so we'll be allowing Pacific workers to bring their families in, lining up with other visas of this type.
The third announcement is a third stream of the palm, which is a agricultural visa. We will be placing the agricultural visa within the Pacific labour schemes and that's really important for a few reasons. Firstly, this Government's current agricultural visa is not working. Not a single worker has entered the country under this agricultural visa. It has failed Australian farmers, and it has failed the broader Australian community. This Government says that there are 55,000 Pacific workers that have gone through pre screening procedures already, they will be able to access work under our new agricultural visa under the Pacific labour schemes. So that's really important because this scheme, unlike the Government scheme, is not capped. The Government's scheme is capped at one thousand visa entries at any one time. Our scheme is completely uncapped. Therefore, if there's demand from Australian farmers for more workers, they can come in from the Pacific. And all these schemes are really important. Accompanying these reforms will be significant increase in worker welfare, increased compliance activities to make sure we crack down on the unfortunate abuse that we've seen under this Government, we will fully implement all the recommendations of the Migrant Worker Task Force, as one example of that increased compliance measures. So not only does this feel urgent workforce shortages for Australian farmers and other rural and regional industries, it's a great boon for the Pacific. The average Pacific worker working in this country remits $2000 every six months to their home country, and at the end of the tenure normally brings back $6000 on average. Picture this in a region where one third of Pacific Islanders live on less than $1.90 U.S a day. So this is a huge economic development, not just for Australia, but for the Pacific island nations.
We've also announced an Indo Pacific broadcasting strategy, that is all engineered to projecting Australian voices, values and identity into the Pacific, filling a void that has been left because this government has abandoned the Pacific, particularly the aspects of a Pacific voice. It will build partnerships with Pacific Island media organisations and help provide the vital training to the Pacific media that at the moment he's going on in countries that are not friendly to Australia. So this is all about filling the void that is being occupied right now by Chinese state owned television in the Pacific. This is all about filling the void that this Government created when it withdrew the ABC shortwave service that is now being reported to be filled by Chinese communist radio programs. So this is a comprehensive strategy to project Australian identity voices and values into the Pacific.
I'll finish by just talking about a couple of responses we've already seen by the Prime Minister. We heard a joke by the Prime Minister this morning about Q&A in the Solomon Islands. Well can I say, unlike Mr. Morrison, Labor wants Australian voices in the Pacific, not the voices of the Chinese Party. Labor wants Australian voices broadcast in the Pacific, not voices the Chinese Communist Party, which is clearly what Mr. Morrison wants. We also will have a Foreign Minister and a Pacific Minister committed to the region. Mr. Morrison chose to send the Foreign Minister Marise Payne to a Liberal Party fundraiser instead of sending her to the Solomon Islands. This demonstrates the lack of commitment to the region by Scott Morrison. And thirdly, let me remind people of what the leader of Fiji said about Prime Minister Morrison. He said that Morrison's insulting behaviour would push nations towards China. Let me repeat that: the leader of Fiji as recently as 2019, said that Scott Morrison's insulting behaviour would push nations towards China, and that Mr. Morrison would be insulting and condescending towards Pacific Island nations. So I'm really proud of the package we're announcing today. It is a comprehensive package to help improve Australia's relationship with the Pacific and help restore and repair what we've seen, which is the greatest strategic blunder in the Pacific since WWII, which has occurred under Mr. Morrison's watch.
WONG: Let's do one at a time. Okay, so we'll take questions on the announcement and then we'll go to questions of the day.
JOURNALIST: $525 million over four years in the Pacific, isn't that a drop in the ocean? And what will your full dollar figure be for foreign aid?
WONG: Well, I'm not announcing the totality of our ODA package today. I'm announcing the Pacific ODA package, which is, as I said, $525 million.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) a Labor Government might respond to a Chinese (inaudible) base on Solomon Islands?
WONG: Well, first, let's be clear. The prospect of a Chinese base less than 2000 kilometres from Australia's coastline is dramatically detrimental to Australia's security interests. (interrupted) Sorry, can I finish? Thank you. And that has occurred on Mr. Morrison's watch. And their response appears to be more chest beating. Can I say there's no point in beating your chest if you're beaten to the punch. We will make clear as Coordinator Campbell, Kurt Campbell, and others have our view about this. But I think the other thing we have to do is to do what we are seeking to outline with this package, which is to do more work to secure the region. Sarah?
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) There might be some criticism about if that's going to be enough, that short term sort of 130ish a year, is that going to really make a difference?
WONG: Well, look, if I'm the Foreign Minister and of course, I'd like to have more development assistance, but you have to be fiscally responsible. And as I've made, explained to Madura, this is the Pacific component of an ODA package.
JOURNALIST: Would Labor be prepared to work with the United States (inaudible) by China's naval base on Solomon Islands?
WONG: Well, I think I've responded to that broadly with this. We will always work with the United States to secure our region. I've said repeatedly, the US is the indispensable partner in our region, the indispensable nation when it comes to the security of the Indo-Pacific. But what we need to understand is we can't simply handball our mistakes to the US. The reality is, this is on Australia, the Australian Government, led by Mr. Morrison has left a vacuum and we have seen what has occurred as a consequence. So we will always work with our friend and ally, the United States. And I refer you to the comments that Mr. Campbell or Coordinator Campbell made, I'm losing my days now, when was it? Saturday? After the visit. Sorry.
JOURNALIST: Given the importance of climate change, (inaudible).
WONG: No, what we should be doing is what Labor is doing, which is sending out a clear policy, a clear framework, to reduce emissions and to a realistic pathway to get to net zero by 2050. But hang on, I haven't finished my answer, if I may, and get to net zero by 2050, what we should also be doing is being respectful. I don't think it's respectful to joke about water lapping at the door. wonder if we have ever got over that, to be honest, under this Government. I wonder if we've ever got over with that footage, and the arrogance. And this dismissiveness which was then continued to be reflected and underlined in subsequent behaviour.
WONG: Look, I answered in Alice Springs and Mr Bowen has been up this morning, I haven't seen the transcript in relation to that. We've already responded to that. And I've responded the answer is no coal project will face a carbon constraint that will make them internationally uncompetitive. We have always said we will ensure that whether it's coal mines or other facilities, they will remain internationally competitive.
JOURNALIST: On the Port of Darwin (inaudible).
WONG: He was right.
JOURNALIST: Given that that's how you're framing it, what will be your approach in Government in relation to that lease and the question of sovereignty?
WONG: We remain deeply concerned about the Port of Darwin and I'm concerned at the fact that when I asked questions about this in Estimates, it appeared that Defence had finished their review. But there were other parts of Government that were part of that review and it still was not made public. So it's been on review for, I've lost count. I might be able to remember, I think was his Defence Estimates Pack I was doing actually but we will look at that in Government, Anthony Albanese is on the record is expressing concern about this at the time of the lease.
JOURNALIST: Senator Wong on the diplomacy, what will be your first steps if you win Government as Foreign Minister to rebuild those relationships? And also the Prime Minister last week said that we should not be stomping around the Pacific telling people what to do (inaudible).
WONG: Honestly, some of the things he says, I don't know where to start. I think what Mr. Morrison is doing, with the second part, the second part of your quote, is again, refusing to take responsibility. Now, we recognise, as I said in my opening, this is a time where we live in a period of risk and uncertainty and of competition. So we have to leverage our strengths and one of those is our engagement. So if Mr. Morrison wants to dismiss engagement by leader or by Foreign Minister, well, he can explain why that was in the interest of the country.
JOURNALIST: On the Pacific Labour Scheme, the AWU (inaudible).
WONG: Yeah, that's legitimate and the Senate inquiry I think, went too many of the really worrying examples of that, but Pat can respond if you want him to on some of the enforcement issues.
CONROY: Thank you for that, Sarah. Absolutely, what we've seen is abuse of all the temporary migration schemes. One of the challenges is they've got different levels of protection in them. And we've heard feedback from employers that the Pacific labour ones generally have a bit better protection than the other schemes and therefore, the scrupulous employers have been undercutting using Pacific labour by using the other schemes. And that's why we've been so focused on lifting the standards of all the schemes. In terms of the announcement today, we have announced increased compliance activity that's really important. They include putting a firewall between the Department of Home Affairs and the Fair Work Ombudsman so that temporary migrant workers don't risk their visa by calling attention to abusers. Another example we've highlighted today is that we will work with state and territory Governments and Local Governments around one of the most notorious abuses, which is not so much being abused at work, but a worker then being packed in 14 or 15, to a four bedroom home and paying enormous rents that wipe away their salary. So, we're going to be working with all levels of Government on that. You're absolutely right, we need to increase the standards, because not only is it obviously, a huge impact on those workers and those families, that misery that this exploitation causes, it causes a bad name for Australia overseas. These abuses then get relayed back to the homes of these workers and then their fellow citizens don't come to this country. So, it's really important that we lift the standards of the schemes. They are good schemes. And most farmers, for example, do the right thing and they value the labour. We're going to partner with them to make sure that we have the best possible standard so that they work in the long term interests of the farmers, the workers and the Australian national interests.
JOURNALIST: Do your regret your comments to newspapers that not a single Australian coal mine will be impacted by safe work mechanisms? Do you regret your comments and the confusion it has caused?
CONROY: I don't regret one iota because it's true. And you just have to look at our policy. We've been very clear on our policy from day one when it was released in early December. Fact one: we are not expanding the number of facilities covered by the safeguards mechanism. That's around 250 facilities, including about 60 coal mines. That's fact one. Fact two: the policy very clearly stated that when the clean energy regulator looked at the trajectories for each of the facility, they would take into account two factors. One, the available technology, and emerging technology to allow that facility to reduce its emissions, and very importantly, the comparative constraint that their international competitors face. So that, as Penny said in her earlier answer, the coal mining industry will not suffer a disadvantage or a negative impact compared to their international competitors. And that's further confirmed by our independent and comprehensive economic modeling that made it very clear that found that not a single coal mine would close early because of our policy, and not a single coal mining job will be lost because of our policy. If I can finish the answer, this is really important. If you want to talk about divisions in climate policy. We've got a spectacular example happening right today between the Deputy Prime Minister backing in his candidate in Flynn saying that their net zero emissions committed by 2050 is optional, that there's wiggle room, that it's not binding. Whereas we've got the Members for North Sydney and Wentworth saying it's absolutely binding. I haven't seen a bigger split on climate change since Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister. So, people should really be focusing on that. And secondly, this fear campaign by the National Party on coal is an absolute disgrace. When we get Productivity Commission economists like Matt Canavan from the Gold Coast who smears coal dust on his face to go down a coal mine, that shows his disrespect for coal miners. If they are serious about supporting coal miners, they would support Labor's Same Job, Same Pay policy that actually attacks the scourge of casualisation of labour hire, that's undermining conditions right now. Instead of doing that, they do a duty deal with One Nation to pass legislation that cuts coal miner's wages and conditions. So that's a really important point.
JOURNALIST: There are no coal mines in the Northern Territory (inaudible).
WONG: I'll respond to that. I'll respond to that. Well, that is the same answer. It is the same answer, that the facilities are identified. It is the same mechanism that that Tony Abbott put in place or referenced, and implemented by the Coalition Government, supported if I may say, by the BCA and AIG, and the answer to your question is the same as the answer on coal and we're not going to make people internationally uncompetitive. We understand that and our policy reflects that -
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) If they say that they do not want any projects (inaudible).
WONG: I've had that put to me when I was Climate Minister, so it's quite a while ago, and we've made clear what our policy is. Our policy is consistent with the UN framework to reduce emissions in Australia. It is not to change our position in relation to those industries, those industries will still be subject to the usual environmental approvals and Labor Government will deal with them in the same way.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) That doesn't necessarily mean they won't be charged.
WONG: We've made that clear. Obviously, the Clean Energy Regulator will work with the facility as the BCA and others want them to, and there are a range of ways in which they can discharge their obligations and that might include technology, and it might include carbon credits. We've been clear about that and the modeling, if you're asking about the modeling, which I think you asked in Darwin, it's the same as the Government modeling, which I think is $24 a tonne.
WONG: It's my answer to Sarah. We will do the right thing, which is to put in place an economically sensible policy that delivers reduction by 2050 to net zero, that will ensure we create 600,000 jobs and will deliver cheaper energy and bring more renewables into the system. That is the same way and responsible way to deal with climate instead of the climate wars we've seen. Is there anything more on the package?
WONG: That is the position, I've always been upfront with a position even from 15 years ago. Anything more?
JOURNALIST: On the Port of Darwin, you say that Labor sees the sovereign risk. Why not just do the agreement after when you get into power?
WONG: That is the sovereign risk point, I think. There's a risk to sovereignty and to sovereign risk.
JOURNALIST: If you did tear it up, would you consider (inaudible)?
WONG: Well, these are these are these are the issues that would need to be worked through. I made the point that the Leader raise concerns about the sale, opposed the sale at the time or the leasing arrangements, and that the Government has sat on a review.
JOURNALIST: Will you increase Labor's commitments for 2030 in accordance with what Pacific nations are asking for?
WONG: Two points about that. No, we are not changing our policy. We've made our policy clear. We worked through it very carefully with the business community. And secondly, I would say this, we will be a genuine partner. There are obviously areas where people would like us to go further. Any Minister who's represented the nation knows that internationally. But what we will not do is treat them disrespectfully in the way this Government has, which has in part been a contribution to the situation we have in the Pacific.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.