SUBJECTS: Labor’s roads funding announcement in Lismore, Coal Seam Gas.
PATRICK DEEGAN, CANDIDATE FOR PAGE: Fantastic to be here today with Lismore Mayor, Isaac Smith and Shadow Minister for Regional Australia, Joel Fitzgibbon with a fantastic announcement for the Lismore Council area and roads to address the backlog of roads in the Lismore Council area. Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Thanks Patrick and thanks to the Mayor for being with us. There’s not a council in New South Wales that has enough money to repair all of its local roads and our local communities expect good roads and of course they deserve good roads. Councils can’t do it on their own, particularly in the last few years when they’ve faced a freeze from the Morrison Government to their Federal Assistance Grants. So I’m here to announce today that if a Shorten Labor Government is elected, we’ll provide some $18.5 million to Lismore Council to help them bring forward many of those infrastructure projects, their road projects that are so badly in need of investment. I understand Council’s got about $37 million worth of road projects which are in urgent need of attention. They would usually take Council at least ten years to complete. This money I’m announcing today will allow them to do all of those works in about four years. So this is about safety, it’s about the efficiency of the local economy, it’s about amenity and of course it’s about making sure Lismore has the roads it needs to attract people to the town and of course to spend their money so, I congratulate the Council for the work it’s doing. I thank Patrick for his strong advocacy on this issue and I look forward to a Shorten Labor Government working with the Mayor and the Council to make Lismore an even better place it already is. Anyone got any questions?
JOURNALIST: How will you ensure that the money is actually spent on roads?
FITZGIBBON: Well this is a compact with the Council. This money will go directly to the Council from a Shorten Labor Government and will allow the Council to spend the money on its existing roads program. We can see the roads program, we can see how big it is, how much investment is needed, we can see the Council could never hope to deliver on that expenditure in that period of time so we will just give the money directly to the Council to allow it to bring all those existing projects forward.
JOURNALIST: And when will the money come through?
FITZGIBBON: Well the money will come through in the first year of a Shorten Labor Government, so it will be in our first budget and available for the Council sometime soon after that. This is new money, it comes on top of the existing Roads to Recovery money, new money, additional money, delivering for Lismore and giving the community the roads it deserves.
JOURNALIST: A Shorten Labor Government is making a couple of announcements over here in the next two days, can you tell me a little bit more about them?
FITZGIBBON: Well yesterday I made a really important announcement on forestry and the forest products industry. We can grow lots more jobs in the Northern Rivers in the forestry sector. Forestry products, wood products are increasingly in demand, in fact we have sophisticated new engineered products, high value products, but we can’t meet that demand because we don’t have enough trees in the ground. We need to plant more trees and we need to provide an incentive for investors to do so, and allowing them to participate in the carbon market reduces their investment hurdles, allows them to invest and it therefore allows them to create jobs here in the Northern Rivers.
JOURNALIST: And discussing with farmers, about farm gate at Norco as well today?
FITZGIBBON: We’re going to Norco this morning to talk about the plight of our dairy farmers. Make no mistake about it, our dairy farmers are facing an existential threat. They’re caught in a cost price squeeze made worse by drought and if we don’t have government intervention, we will stand at risk of losing our dairy industry and importing our dairy products including the fresh milk we drink which of course won’t be fresh milk if it’s imported. So this is a matter of urgency. We need to do a few things, we need a mandatory code of conduct, a meaningful one and we need it now not next year. We need - we’re prepared to consider the appointment of a Dairy Commissioner to represent the dairy sector, but importantly we need structural reform. We need a minimum farm gate price, a living wage for farmers, a farm gate price which guarantees them income above their cost of production. Too many dairy farmers now are being paid at or below their cost of production, that is not sustainable.
JOURNALIST: Is it not too late for those farmers? Obviously a lot of them are suffering now, I know you said this needs to happen now, but a lot of farmers have lost their businesses.
FITZGIBBON: Sadly, it is too late for many dairy farmers, in Deniliquin they just lost their last dairy farm in northern Victoria. They’re leaving in large number. In New South Wales they are also leaving thankfully, not in such large number but the thing is, the situation will get worse before it gets better without government intervention. We need to provide dairy farmers with the support they need, we need to deliver a living wage, we need a minimum farm gate price and that’s the commitment a Shorten Labor Government has made.
JOURNALIST: In the last couple of weeks, we’ve had a couple of Labor leaders come to the area, is this seat an important one for you guys?
FITZGIBBON: Every seat is important and for me in particular, every regional seat is important. I’m the Shadow Minister for Regional Australia, my focus is on regional seats like Page. We’re obviously very disappointed in the performance of Kevin Hogan. He says he sits as an independent but he still attends National Party room meetings, he still flies the National Party flag. He should back us on our commitment to remove the disincentives to investment in the forestry industry and he should back us on the minimum farm gate price. If Kevin Hogan, who voted against the minimum farm gate price last time he was given an opportunity in the Parliament, if he - he’s got an opportunity to change his mind between now and May 18. And if he doesn’t change his mind, if he doesn’t back his local dairy farmers then I’m sure he’ll be answering to them on May 18.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the state swing to Labor will sort of translate into the federal seat as well?
FITZGIBBON: Well Janelle Saffin is just a star isn’t she? And we’re so delighted to have her back in one of our parliamentary teams, she did fantastic work in Canberra and she will do fantastic work again in the New South Wales Parliament, but we’ve also got a star in Patrick Deegan. I’ve seen that again throughout the course of yesterday, he understands his community, he understands its needs and like today he is delivering for the local community. So we’re really confident about Patrick’s prospects and we’ll keep coming here all the way to election day to do everything we can to deliver for the local community and to bring Patrick to Canberra with us.
JOURNALIST: Do you want to comment on roads?
ISAAC SMITH, LISMORE MAYOR: Lismore City Council is really excited for this announcement today, we can bring up our works program and put a lot more money into roads, it’s something we got commitments on during the state campaign and to see the federal government coming to the party means that all three levels of government are working together. So as a good example of what this money will be spent on we have in our hospital precinct Diadem Street, which is well overdue for an upgrade and because of the expansion of the hospital is really in need of works so I’d love to see some new works through Diadem Street. But another great example is Tregeagle Road in our regional area so with the increase in traffic between here and the coast, a lot of people are travelling into Lismore and around the region and Tregeagle Road is one that needs a lot of work so these programs can be moved up, these roads can be worked on straight away and this money goes straight into the bitumen as soon as the election is finished.
JOURNALIST: The council has a bit of a history of diverting money from the roads budget when it’s got a bit of a shortfall elsewhere. How will you ensure that this money is actually spent on roads and the existing roads budget, you know, you don’t steal from Peter to pay Paul?
SMITH: Yeah look, roads are our number one priority in our Community Strategic Plan, roads are the number one priority of our community. It is our biggest expenditure and this money will go directly into delivering bitumen on the ground, that’s what we need to do. As a Council, I can guarantee you that every dollar we get from the federal and state governments will go straight into that roads and the Council is going to match those funds because we’ve been looking at our budgets and working on ways to improve that spend and as a regional city, you know every road leads to Lismore, we know we’ve got to focus on this and deliver that infrastructure for our community.
JOURNALIST: Will you commit to increasing the roads budget you know, above and beyond what this money coming through from the federal government is?
SMITH: Yeah look, Lismore is actually going to increase our roads budget in the next couple of years. We’ve done that for a few years now but unfortunately we’ve not been able to deliver the amount of work that people need. We have twice as many roads as our regional neighbours and unfortunately we can’t charge twice the rates so we need to find better, smarter ways of working with all levels of government to deliver road infrastructure.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks everyone.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask Patrick Deegan a couple of questions? So there’s a protest on at 10 o’clock about the planned investment in pipelines to facilitate gas extraction in Northern Territory and up north. How do you respond to people’s concerns about Labor’s priorities here?
DEEGAN: Yes, of course this is a concern for many people in the Northern Rivers region and when our community was under threat a few years ago, from coal seam gas in the local area, as a private citizen I stood with the community against coal seam gas locally and I will continue to stand with the local community in objecting to coal, coal seam gas, coal seam gas mining within the local region and in other areas.
JOURNALIST: But, I mean if it’s no good for us, why is it okay for them?
DEEGAN: So the announcement yesterday, and Joel will be able to speak in more detail about this specific announcement was in relation to pipelines, so it wasn’t in relation to any specific mines or any processes but Joel has more detail in relation to that specific announcement.
JOURNALIST: But these will facilitate gas projects in other areas. Why is it okay, you know why is it no good for us but it’s good for other areas?
DEEGAN: So the announcement isn’t in relation to coal seam gas.
JOURNALIST: But it will facilitate these projects?
DEEGAN: It will facilitate gas mines, and Labor has not lowered its environmental bottom line in relation to any of those mines and the processes going forward and many of those decisions are made at state government levels. So I’ve worked closely with Labor colleagues at a state level, to ensure protections for coal seam gas locally. In relation to issues in other states, that’s where I have to rely on my federal colleagues to do a lot of that negotiation and advocacy to protect the environment. And what is clear, the party that is focused on climate change and addressing environmental concerns is the Labor Party. We’ve had our announcement yesterday in relation to forestry locally and how they will impact on carbon, we’ve announced one of ten renewable energy hubs across the country will be based right here on the Northern Rivers. That will bring down power prices locally, it will address climate change and it will mean the money that people are paying on their power bills will stay right here in the local community. Labor is committed to a guaranteed 45 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 and we’re confident we will not only reach that, once business across Australia has certainty, so they have a government that believes in climate change and has clear policies. We have had 10 different policies over the last six years when it comes to climate change. Once business has that certainty they can invest in renewable energy then we will see carbon emissions continue to go down and more and more people will be able to invest in renewable energy projects.
JOURNALIST: Just to be clear, you’re not okay with it happening here but you are okay with it elsewhere?
DEEGAN: No that’s not what I’m saying at all. I don’t believe that CSG is safe anywhere in the country.
JOURNALIST: Right but you support your party’s policy?
FITZGIBBON: This is where I think I am entitled to make a response. We want to be country which continues to make things and therefore we need a manufacturing industry. To have a manufacturing industry we need gas both as energy source and as a feedstock. Now there are some communities who seek the opportunity to develop their industry including communities in North Queensland and the Northern Territory. There are some communities like on the Northern Rivers where people have made it clear they don’t want to develop that industry. So we will continue to respect the views of local communities and where they don’t want gas projects we hear them and Patrick has been a great advocate. Within the Northern Territory where the government there supports the industry and the local community including Indigenous communities support the industry well as a Labor Government in Canberra we will facilitate the infrastructure they need to deliver those gas supplies to markets. So it’s what communities want - where they want the development we will support them and where they don’t want the development we will support them too.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned though that those communities that don’t want the projects anywhere will not vote for Labor because of these other projects?
FITZGIBBON: Well these are decisions for local state Governments and the Northern Territory Government did an extensive review of the gas industry in their Territory and they lifted the moratorium as a result they have decided that it’s in the economic and social interests of the Territory to develop those gas reserves. In the Northern Rivers people have made it quite clear they don’t want a gas industry and as Patrick has said. We will continue to respect that view of the local community.
JOURNALIST: But are you worried this will sway votes away from Labor because of this other decision?
FITZGIBBON: I believe Australians everywhere want us to have a balanced approach to the environment. Our environmental policy as Patrick has suggested and indeed our energy policy is infinitely better than those of our political opponents and I think therefore we will continue to respect that and support that. But where local Territorians want to develop gas reserves to create employment and economic activity in their areas then we will support that as well. We are very proud we are prepared to use some of the savings we are taking from tax reform to support infrastructure projects in the regions which create jobs in the regions. Labor is about jobs and job security. We are about the environment and we are about renewables. I think they are all policies people in our communities will continue to support.
JOURNALIST: So you are committing a Labor Government to opposing any gas developments in regions where local communities oppose them?
FITZGIBBON: Well Patrick has made it quite clear these are matters for State Governments but I hear advocacy from Patrick and people like Janelle Saffin and people like Justine Elliot on a daily basis on this issue. I have no doubt they reflect the very strong views of their local communities and therefore I have no doubt a Shorten Labor Government will continue to listen to them and in turn like them support and respect the views of their local communities.