SUBJECTS: Forestry industry in North West Tasmania; Forestry roundtable, Braddon by-election, Turnbull Government’s cuts to education, QANTAS pilot school bid.
JUSTINE KEAY, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BRADDON: Thanks for coming. I am Justine Keay the Labor Candidate for the Braddon by-election, joined today by the Senator for Tasmania, Senator Anne Urquhart and my good friend, Joel Fitzgibbon, who is our Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Forestry. And today we have been up to Forico and have had some conversations around how we can grow the industry and how we can support the industry as an alternate government; helping grow more jobs in the forestry sector here in Tasmania. It is important that we find a way to work with industry to value add to our product that we have here and to create those opportunities and we will be having more discussions with the forestry industry later today. It is very important for us to get on with the job when we are in government. What we have found, at the moment, is the Turnbull Government have been just lazy around forestry. They have completely ignored it. We don’t even have an advisory industry council for forestry anymore. They are just not really putting any emphasis or any focus on forestry which is harmful for jobs here, and job creation here in the North West Coast. A lot of opportunities that we can partner with industry with; and Labor is the only Party that can get on with the job and work with the industry to grow jobs here on the North West Coast.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Thanks Justine. We are missing you dearly in Canberra, not only you personally but of course, your energetic contribution to the team. And Anne, it is great to be back in Braddon with you; Anne is a significant contributor as well to the public debate in Canberra, we appreciate her ongoing work. Obviously we are looking forward to having Justine back in Canberra, and there are a number of issues in this by-election: health; education; tax cuts; and of course, skills training more particularly. But today we are talking about jobs. In regional Australia, including in regional Tasmania, jobs are always a very big issue, and we have had a very deep focus in recent months on the manufacturing sector in particular. That is why we have created our Future Manufacturing Fund to help investors leverage new ideas, new technologies, new innovation in the manufacturing sector. My particular focus at the moment, is on three sectors: the red meat sector, which is struggling in terms of processing capacity, we believe there is much work to be done there; the dairy industry of course, where we believe much more value adding can be achieved; and of course the forestry sector, which we are looking at today. I am holding a number of roundtables in each of those sectors and again, the concentration today is on the forestry sector and I look forward to engaging with key stakeholders there. Forestry is a very important industry for Tasmania. Sadly in five years we have seen no forestry policy from the Coalition Government in Canberra. After the 2013 election, we had an issues paper produced and then just in time for the 2016 election, the issues paper was turned into a discussion paper. Since the 2016 election, and of course we are now approaching the next Federal Election, we have had a promise of another plan. So in five years we have had nothing but talk of a new industry plan. Forestry and the forest products industry are exciting industries. There are big value adding opportunities there, whether it be new innovations like cross laminated timber, wood to plastic technology. Of course this morning at Forico we saw product being designed specifically for export markets. There is one business there which has been able to forge ahead despite the lack of government action in this area. We want the forestry sector and the manufacturing sector to have a very bright future. That will be our focus today, we want jobs here in this part of Tasmania.
JOURNALIST: The Liberal candidate, Brett Whiteley, said today while the Coalition has been in Canberra, wood production here has doubled, what do you think about it?
FITZGIBBON: Well I served with Brett Whiteley in the Parliament for almost three years and I never once heard him advocate on behalf of his sector. He is now playing catch up in recognition that in the five years his Party has been in power it has not done one thing to provide strategic guidance for the sector, not one thing to help it grow further, not one thing to help to address skill shortages, not one thing to ensure we are doing further value adding. I will allow Brett Whiteley his record to stand on its own. It is a very poor one.
JOURNALIST: Brett Whiteley also said that the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement was a disaster for the industry and that the Labor Party’s National Platform is based on that Agreement. Do you agree it is a disaster?
FITZGIBBON: No matter where I go in the forestry sector in Australia, industry leaders now appreciate the certainty they have in terms of security of supply. That has certainly grown out of the work of Labor Governments in the past. We will continue to ensure that the industry has security of supply and has profitability on a sustainable basis. That is what we will continue to stand for. Brett Whiteley wants to politicise the sector again, if you like, create the “forestry wars” all over again. That is the last thing the sector needs. I am sure that is what stakeholders and industry leaders will be telling us this afternoon.
JOURNALIST: Now will you walk away from this job-destroying forestry “peace deal”?
FITZGIBBON: We will continue to argue for, and fight for, security of supply and sustainable profitability in the industry. That is what stakeholders and investors want and that is what we will continue to provide. We will leave it to Brett Whiteley to try to politicise the sector again for his own political advantage. We will not do that.
JOURNALIST: I know you are meeting with industry this afternoon but do you already have an idea what people in the North West want in the industry going forward?
FITZGIBBON: Yes, they want security of supply and the best way to ensure that, we have a shocking supply shortage in Australia, we are importing too much timber product, and the best way to do that is through market-based mechanisms like the carbon farming initiative. Something again that was initiated by Labor. But a policy that this current Government has taken and tampered with in a way which is restricting the capacity of the forestry industry to gain certificates under that scheme. So security of supply is important of course skills and workforce, we have heard today already and I am sure we will hear this afternoon is another issue. That’s why we are so heavily in the vocational education sector to make sure they have the workforce they need. Research and development is another. Over five years we have seen no real and meaningful investment in research and development. Countries like New Zealand are forging ahead of us on forestry products through innovation and it is time we got in the game as well and a Labor Government will put the forestry sector in that game.
JOURNALIST: And Ms Keay mentioned before that there is no industry council at the moment. Is that something Labor would put in place if they won Government?
FITZGIBBON: Well we have to have industry leadership and sadly Senator Anne Ruston, the junior Minister has been given the responsibility for forestry. I remind you that the first act of this Government after the 2013 election was to take forestry out of the portfolio title which was most regrettable. The Forest Industry Advisory Council is currently not meeting. It is without a renewed terms of reference. The best thing Anne Ruston could say during Senate Estimates was to concede that was a stuff up on the part of the Government and to suggest the terms of reference in any case will be the same as the former terms of reference. Well, if we are having the same terms of reference it would suggest there has been no progress in forestry policy in this country.
JOURNALIST: Will any forest be locked up?
FITZGIBBON: We will maintain our commitment to sustainable practices. The sector is constantly telling me it is that certification which is securing for it both investors and export markets.
JOURNALIST: And saying before about jobs as well, you’re focused on jobs and job creation in the forestry industry in Braddon so jobs won’t be a concern coming into the Braddon by-election?
FITZGIBBON: We want Australia to be a place which continues to make things and that’s what the Australian community wants as well. I’m sure the people of Braddon want the same. I name three sectors where we have a significant opportunity to continue to add value to our natural products here in Tasmania and we will continue to work towards making sure those sectors have every opportunity to do so and to create local jobs here.
JOURNALIST: So forestry job won’t be at risk?
FITZGIBBON: We want to grow forestry jobs here in Tasmania. There are significant opportunities if we can provide the sector with additional supply which we can do through a new carbon farming initiative. If we can provide the workforce, the skilled workforce it needs which we can do through vocational education and training and if we can help them go up that value curve, through greater investment in research and development. We want to do all those things. We want to continue to make things here, we want to create jobs here.
JOURNALIST: Going now to our public school cuts, the Australian Education Union have released some sort of polling in this area believing that public school funding will be an issue going into the election. Apparently $19 billion is going to be cut from public schools in Australia under the Coalition?
FITZGIBBON: Well the Turnbull Government is cutting school funding across the board. The Catholic system as you know is being hit very, very hard and the public system of course will struggle if this Government is re-elected at the next election. We will restore all the Gonski funding this Government has cut. It’s something in the order of $17 billion. How do we do that? Well we are not giving the big corporates an $80 tax cut and we have made some difficult decisions around dividend imputation franking credits, the capital gains tax. Big tax reforms which will provide additional revenue which will allow us to restore funding in health and education and of course do things in the manufacturing sector.
JOURNALIST: Should the people of Braddon be concerned about these public school cuts in the area?
FITZGIBBON: If people are serious about opportunity in Tasmania, they have to be serious about investing in our education system. There is no justification for these funding cuts. Malcolm Turnbull should reflect on what he has done and what he plans to do and join with Labor in restoring the Gonski funding in full.
JOURNALIST: There are few questions for Ms Keay about the Patagonia Takayna documentary. So, do you agree that the documentary was one sided and what do you think about that whole (inaudible)?
KEAY: I know the forestry industry wanted to be a part of that, which I think would have been important but I think Brett Whiteley needs to spend less time critiquing documentaries and actually be in touch with the local community and tell the community why he wants to cut money from our schools and our hospitals. Why he is not there going into bat for our young people and those mature people who want to re-skill by not putting more money into TAFE. They are the issues people in Braddon are concerned about, not some documentary that a private company is going on about. We are here to support jobs, education and health and not give money to the big banks and big businesses. I would urge Mr Whiteley to tell the people of Braddon why he support $17 billion going to the big banks. That’s the priorities and that the focus of this by-election, not worrying what other people are doing.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there is too much emotion in forestry debates sometimes and that there needs to be more of a middle ground?
KEAY: Well we have a forestry industry that in a sustainable industry that is growing, is getting certification, that has certification, that is entering into markets and creating jobs and opportunities here. Labor wants to partner with the industry once we are in government and actually build on those things.
JOURNALIST: Just on the QANTAS pilot school bid, do you support the bid and what support would Labor provide if they were successful?
KEAY: Well certainly this is an approach the State Government has been working on through the Coordinator-General. What we don’t want is parochialism between one airport and the other. We want to make sure we have a bid going forward that benefits the State as a whole and we will support whatever come out of that.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks everyone.