It was a delight to welcome Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on a visit to Albury today. Following is a transcript of a media conference held at Overall Forge, one of the Border’s great local manufacturing stories.
THE HON. SUSSAN LEY MP:
Good morning everyone, and it is terrific to see some of the workforce out here at Overall Forge in Lavington.
Welcome to you Prime Minister. Thank you for coming to Albury. I think this is your third visit since I’ve been the local member. I’m delighted that you’re here talking about our Inland Rail project, manufacturing in this terrific inland location and how we can deliver not just for the region but for the country.
Glen Nagle, the chief here at Overall Forge has been showing us around and giving us a bit of a brief on the manufacturing environment.
We are very proud in Albury to have this business here. We are very proud of what you do. You could easily be doing it somewhere else in Australia, indeed in the world, but you are right here in the region and that matters a great deal.
Thank you again, Prime Minister, over to you to make some remarks.
Thank you Sussan and thank you Glen for the great work you and all your team do here in Albury at Overall Forge.
It is a reminder yet again that Australians can do anything. Here you have advanced manufacturing. 40 per cent of what is produced here is exported. You are competing in the most competitive markets in the world.
As Sussan said, you could be operating anywhere in Australia, indeed anywhere in the world, and it is a commitment, it is a sign of your commitment to Australian engineering, Australian skills, Australian enterprise that you are here and I want to thank you for that.
We are backing you. We are backing you in every way. As you know, we are providing, delivering business tax cuts which will provide real incentives for investment.
We know if you get more investment, you get more jobs. We want to see more investment in Australian manufacturing industry.
I was over in Tumut yesterday at Visy. They are making investments there. We are looking forward to more investment in regional manufacturing right across the nation because that delivers more jobs.
Equally, as we have just been discussing with Glen, the real pressure this business is under is from higher energy costs, in particular gas prices. They’ve gone up massively over the last few years.
Now, we are addressing that and I can say, I’m pleased to say that wholesale gas prices are coming down.
What we saw was a comprehensive failure of policy where some years ago, federal Labor government and Queensland Labor government allowed gas to be exported from Queensland, paid no attention to the needs of the domestic industry or, indeed, families and households and so we actually saw a shortage of gas for the domestic market in the east coast of Australia which is incredible when you think about it, that Australia is about to become the largest exporter of LNG.
What we have had to do is take strong steps to put limits on exports. We have announced that earlier in the year. Already you have seen the market responding and the spot price has come down significantly from where it was at the beginning of the year.
We are determined to ensure that there will always be enough gas for the domestic market, whether it is industrial customers like Overall Forge or whether it is mums and dads at home wanting gas for cooking and heating and so forth.
This is a vitally important part of our policy.
And, of course, the price of gas feeds into the price of electricity. That again is the reason why we have seen very recently a big rise in electricity costs.
So what we are doing on gas will take the pressure off electricity prices but also we have stepped in to protect families, households, businesses by ensuring that the retailers, making sure they communicate with their customers and tell them when they’ve been on a plan that’s coming to an end, what it’s going to mean for them if they don’t go on to another plan and they just get on to the standard offer, often resulting in households paying hundreds of dollars, in some cases over a thousand dollars more a year than they need too.
You have already seen, as a result of our intervention with the chief executives of the big electricity retailers, people are getting notifications and being told your plan has expired, you could be paying less, look at these alternatives.
We’ve got a government website to provide price comparisons. We are doing everything we can to ensure that Australians are not paying one cent more for their energy, whether it is electricity or gas, than they need to. That’s our commitment.
Right across the board, we are backing opportunity, we are backing enterprise, we are backing investment because that means more jobs and more well-paid jobs.
That’s our commitment in regional Australia and right across the nation.
Glen and all the team here at Overall Forge, thank you. I’ve been very impressed with what you are doing. It is very dramatic business all of that hot steel and I really congratulate you on your great efforts here in Albury. And Sussan, thank you for inviting me down to be with you today.
Is the company asking anything specific of the government to help them along?
Well, not yet, but Glen may think of something.
GLEN NAGLE – OVERALL FORGE:
No, not yet.
Glen could say a few words. But you are pleased about what we are doing?
Yes, very pleased about the outcome with gas. 12 months ago, 6 months ago it was very grim for us. We had massive price hikes in our gas contracts and put a lot of pressure on our business. So, hopefully with these outcomes things will start coming down and take a lot of pressure off us.
When you say “lots of pressures”, what does that mean? Reduced shifts?
You were saying a lot more – just explain how much more you are having to pay for gas now than you were a few years ago?
Since April, our gas bill has gone up nearly $116,000 a month.
Think about that.
That is nearly $1.4 million a year and we are competing against an overseas market so we have lost business for it and we are running a lot less than we were 12 months ago.
Glen, some people have said that the action I’m taking to limit exports is heavy-handed. Well, the reason we are taking that strong action is we’re putting the jobs here at Overall Forge and at many other manufacturing businesses and industrial businesses around Australia first. We’re putting Australian families and Australian jobs first.
We’re going to make sure that there is enough gas here in this market so that you’re not paying more than you should for gas on a wholesale or industrial basis here on the east coast.
And is the reduction in exports already started? Or when will it?
It will begin from next year. The limitations will begin from next year but there is a process going through that’s being undertaken at the moment by the government, but, of course, because the market can see it coming, people are building it into their price and their expectations.
Look, this is a great example of how the Labor Party bungles energy policy. I have often said their approach is a combination of ideology and politics, it is actually ideology and idiocy.
What were they thinking? What were they thinking allowing all of that gas to be exported without for one moment heeding the warnings about the need for gas in the domestic market?
They basically abandoned Australian jobs and Australian families and that is why I am having to take very strong steps.
You see it again with the Daniel Andrews in Victoria. He has announced massive new renewable targets in Victoria.
Lots of wind, lots of solar – that’s terrific. Not a word about storage.
How is he going to back those up? What happens with the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining?
The only government that is taking big steps, big bold steps to look after storage is my government with Snowy Hydro 2.0.
As you know, that will be the biggest pumped hydro storage in the Southern Hemisphere and they are at work at it now.
Prime Minister, we’ve got businesses in north-east Victoria and here on the Border who have been talking about the cost of energy for around a year and they’ve already had to lay off jobs. So this is too late for people have lost their jobs and their saying this issue has fallen on deaf ears on both sides of government and that you’ve been sitting on this for too long.
Well, we are taking the strong action now that is needed. I’ve taken this action on gas prices and we are doing a lot of things on the energy front. We are also legislating to remove the right of the network companies to game the system and keep on jacking up the rate they can charge for their poles and wires – that’s abolishing Limited Merits Reviews.
I have talked about how we have brought in the heads of the big retailers to make sure customers know what the right deal is for them, what the best deal is for them. And as I said, we are taking very strong action on gas.
Now, they are all things that have an impact right in the here and now but longer term we’re planning for the backup, for the storage that you need to back up renewables.
You know, before I spoke about the importance of storage in February of this year at the Press Club, I could not find any evidence that any previous federal government or state government making that a top priority.
So we have Snowy Hydro 2.0 underway and a number of other storage schemes.
We are working with the Tasmanians on Hydro Tasmania. Tasmania could also become a big renewable energy battery for Australia because it has a big hydro scheme as well.
We are working in the here and now making sure people aren’t paying any more than they need to for electricity and energy today and we have got long-term plans as well.
So, it’s a comprehensive approach that is based on engineering and economics. You would agree with the engineering and economics?
Yes – certainly.
And your CFO would particularly agree with the economics.
So that is our approach.
But have you waited too long to do this? Are you worried that we have missed opportunities with overseas-
We are getting on with the job now. We absolutely are. We have been focused on this for some time and we are taking action now, and action that our opponents neglected. Dealing with problems, frankly, that the Labor Party created.
And, indeed, if you look at what Andrews is doing in Victoria, just across the border here, he is creating more problems for everyone in the electricity market.
You mentioned Andrews – I know that the federal government has put in money to the north-east line.
Yes that’s right.
But where’s the rolling stock? What is your message to Daniel Andrews?
Well you know, we’re playing our part. We’re making a very substantial investment in the north-east line, that’ll be a smoother and faster and more comfortable ride. We know there have been big problems with the rail bed there and we are making a substantial investment into that, but obviously the Victorian Government has got to play its part and make sure the rolling stock is up to scratch.
Mr Turnbull, you’ve got Federal Members of Parliament in the High Court today with questions over their citizenship? [Inaudible]
Well look, I haven’t heard the latest on the High Court, but I am sure they’ll hear the matter promptly.
There will be, I think, seven matters before the Court dealing with these citizenship-by-descent cases and I am sure the court will clarify how Section 44 operates.
But I have to say again that we are very, very confident that our members who have been caught up in this will be held by the Court to be eligible to sit in the Parliament and therefore eligible to be ministers.
Do you think Bill Shorten should front up his papers? Why do you think he hasn’t shown them yet?
Well, transparency is not Bill’s long suit, let’s be frank.
I mean, it’s up to him whether he wants to be transparent and disclose the basis on which he says he renounced his citizenship. I think he is creating a big issue by failing to do so.
But you know what, I tell you what is equally indicative of his character, is in the last sitting of Parliament, we succeeded in changing the law to prevent businesses from paying secret, making secret corrupt payments to unions. So in other words, when business pays money to unions, it’s got to be transparent, it’s got to be public and it’s got to be for a legitimate purpose.
You would think that that had always been the law. Truthfully, if you said to most people: ‘Do you think that has always been the law?’, they would say: ‘Of course it is, it makes sense’. Well it wasn’t.
As the Heyden Royal Commission revealed, hundreds of thousands of dollars of payments were made to the AWU while Shorten was Secretary, for no apparent reason and at the same time, they were negotiating agreements with business and trading away workers’ rights.
So what we’ve done is introduced a law that speaks for transparency and integrity. Shorten opposed it. And you’ve got to ask him – if he’s prepared to cover that up – I guess he’d cover up anything.
Today is the last day to check your enrolment-
It is. Now this is very important, it is very important.
As I was saying on Border FM this morning – this is the last day to get your enrolment up to date and enrolled if you’re not enrolled, to vote in the postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
I want to encourage everyone, if they are not enrolled and can be enrolled, to do so.
If you think your enrolment details, your address might be out of date, it’s very easy to get online and bring it up to date. I think when I last checked well over 500,000 people had done so, so that’s great. I encourage everyone to do that.
Lucy and I will be voting ‘yes’ in the postal vote.
Mr Turnbull, the High Court faces two, the same-sex marriage bill faces two High Court challenges – do you think it will still go ahead?
Yes, our advice is that the postal vote is fully constitutional, although it has been challenged by the Labor Party.
The Labor Party don’t want Australians to have their say on this issue. We do.
We made a commitment at the election to give everyone their say.
Labor blocked a compulsory attendance vote, a plebiscite, in the Senate so we’re offering this postal vote and Labor is trying to block it in the High Court.
I don’t know why they’re so opposed to Australians having their say, most Australians do want to have their say.
Labor’s big issue is that it is $122 million to have this postal plebiscite.
Yeah well democracy costs money. It costs money to have Parliament too and have elections.
Wouldn’t it be easier to put it to the Parliament?
Well, we made a commitment at the election to give everyone their say and we’re honouring that commitment.
Now with great respect, the journalistic community are often very critical of governments for not delivering on their commitments. No-one’s suggested we have broken any promises since the election.
We made a number of commitments at the election, we’re honouring them. With this one, we’re doing our very best to deliver on it having been frustrated in the Senate.
In light of the citizenship issue, have you had to seek recent assurances from crossbenchers like Cathy McGowan, the Member for Indi about ongoing support if things don’t go your way?
Cathy and I have a very good relationship, we talk a lot.
She’s indicated publicly that she continues to support the Government on confidence and supply.
She’s said that she believes that Barnaby is entitled to sit in the House and vote in the House, pending the High Court decision.
She has suggested her view is that he should step down as a minister. I obviously respect her opinion, but my judgement is that he should stay as a minister because if you’re entitled to sit in the Parliament and vote in the Parliament, then you’re entitled to be a Minister.
We are in frequent touch and often talking about the great work the government is doing in the electorate of Indi, just across the border here as I am with Sussan talking about what we are doing on this side of the border and particularly in telecommunications.
Prime Minister, on rivers and water, the MDBA has admitted that flood mitigation isn’t its number one priority and there are communities from all [inaudible] that are concerned that they might get flooded again this year – what can be done and should this be made a priority to protect these people in these communities?
Sussan knows a lot about this as well. Sussan you may not have heard the question, just asking about flood mitigation. Well, the MDBA has got to manage a whole lot of socioeconomic factors and water-management factors as they develop, as they run the river.
Obviously mitigating floods is one of them as they transport the water down the river.
As you know, it is a long and pretty flat system. The drop in elevation from the dam here at Albury at the Hume Dam all the way down to the river mouth is I think about 175 meters, so over 2,500 kilometers of river length – it’s flat system.
THE HON. SUSSAN LEY MP:
You’re aware, that we are, Cathy McGowan and I are working with the Basin senior officials, at a very technical level, just to change the operating rules a little bit in Hume Dam and we’re very confident we will be able to achieve less risk of flooding even though we can never prevent floods.
Well that’s about air space and I know speaking to the MDBA that they were saying they can be flexible on that but they can’t guarantee that these communities who have lost tens of millions of dollars when they were flooded, that it won’t happen again.
THE HON. SUSSAN LEY MP:
Well, we’re working on it and we’ve talked about it.
When can we see Sussan back in cabinet?
Sussan Ley is an outstanding Parliamentarian. She has done great work as a minister and she has got a long and very distinguished career ahead of her in the future. I look forward to working with Sussan for many, many years to come.
Have you got anything to say on the passing of Fiona Richardson?
Thank you. That is a very, very tragic. It is a tragedy for such a young woman with such a great career in politics and obviously many years ahead of her to be taken away so suddenly and so cruelly from her family.
Our condolences go out to her family. Our heartfelt condolences go out to her family on this very, very tragic and untimely death.
I suppose, how important is it to have the Inland Rail in regional areas?
Well, Sussan, do you want to talk about Inland Rail?
THE HON. SUSSAN LEY MP:
Well, the Inland Rail that’s coming to Albury is primarily freight. So we are absolutely delighted that not only will we have a Melbourne-Brisbane freight line but we will have the necessary linkages from the food-bowls of the Riverina and north-east Victoria linking with that rail line. So it’s very exciting and with that we must go and have a look at the Ettamogah Rail Hub.
I’ll just make one point though just following on from what Sussan has said – the Inland Rail has been talked about for over 100 years – you’re asking me about getting on to issues sooner or later – Inland Rail has been talked about for 100 years, even longer than the Western Sydney Airport I might add, but they’re both examples of infrastructure that my government is getting on to build.
Snowy Hydro 2.0, the plans for that were drawn up in the 1980s. Talked about, a lot of people talked about it, my government is getting on and building it.
So we’re building, we’re doing, we’re getting on with the job. Whether it is Inland Rail, Snowy Hydro 2.0 or whether it is the Western Sydney Airport, they’re all examples of infrastructure that has been recognised as being needed to be done for a very long time and we’re getting on and building it.
Thanks very much.