Release type: Transcript


Press conference, Gladstone Convention Centre


The Hon Chris Bowen MP
Minister for Climate Change and Energy
The Hon Tony Burke MP
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Minister for the Arts

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much for joining us. And it's fantastic to be here in Gladstone at our first Regional Cabinet meeting right here in Central Queensland. And it has been terrific to bring the entire team here to Gladstone. I want to be a Prime Minister who represents the entire country, our cities, our regions, our rural communities. And I want to make sure as well that we listen to Australians wherever they live, whoever they voted for. We will be a Government that represents the entire nation. And I want to bring the country together and concentrate on what unites us rather than look for division, which is what characterised the former government. This morning, of course, we went to Rio Tinto, the Yarwun Alumina Refinery. That's a great example of the opportunity that is there from acting on climate change, moving towards, powering with renewables with some insurance to make sure that there's also that stability in the grid that they're working with the Queensland Government on. What you are seeing there is a massive investment of billions of dollars to come to make sure that Australia continues to be a country that makes things and that we make things right here in Central Queensland. It's no accident that our plan for Powering Australia, which will create 604,000 new jobs by 2030, will have five out of every six of those jobs created in regional Australia. And what Rio Tinto see is the enormous opportunity to not just continue to do what they're doing, but to expand into the future. This is an enormous opportunity. And right here in regional Queensland is the centre of that opportunity.

I also want to make some comments before I ask Chris and Tony to add on a matter which was at the heart of the election campaign. And at the heart of the election campaign, I was asked whether I would welcome a decision by the Fair Work Commission to increase the minimum wage by just $1. And today, they have done just that. And when I was asked, would I welcome a decision, I said absolutely. And I absolutely welcome today's decision of a 5.2 per cent increase granted by the Fair Work Commission to all those who are on the minimum wage. That lifts the minimum wage up by just a dollar and five cents an hour, or $40 a week. It makes a difference to people who are struggling with the cost of living. And it justifies our position that we took in making a different submission to the Fair Work Commission that said we did not want people who are on the minimum wage to go backwards. And the Fair Work Commission, having assessed the impact on the economy, having made an assessment based upon all the submissions, has chosen 5.2 per cent, which is why we didn't put a precise figure on it. We just said we didn't want people to go backwards. And I welcome that. The truth is that many of those people who are on the minimum wage are the heroes who saw us through the pandemic. These workers deserve more than our thanks. They deserve a pay rise. And today they've got it.

CHRIS BOWEN, MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Thank you very much Prime Minister. I wanted to give a brief update on the operation of the National Energy Market today. I'm very pleased that we have been able to avoid so far any significant load shedding events or, of course, any blackouts. I am also pleased that AEMO advises me that that will likely continue to be the case, that we will be able to avoid any load shedding events or any blackouts. Of course, that is subject to any unexpected outages in the system. As I've said repeatedly this week, the system is under pressure. We have administered pricing in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria and that is leading to market outcomes which are requiring AEMO to intervene very heavily into the market. And yesterday, AEMO directed more than 5,000 megawatts into the market. Using their powers they directed generators to bid into the market and to generate 5,000, more than 5,000 megawatts across the National Energy Market. And as I said, AEMO advises that the situation continues to remain, that load shedding and blackouts are unlikely but continues under very active management. I've made clear to AEMO that the Government supports any action they choose to take to effectively manage the situation in the best interests of Australian consumers, whether they be big industrial consumers or residential consumers. AEMO as the market operator has this Government's full support. They continue to actively consider their options and they will make further announcements relating to options that they may need to, may need to undertake to ensure the continued efficient operation of the National Energy Market, to ensure reliable supply to all Australia's energy suppliers. This has been under very active management by the Government in close consultation with our state and territory colleagues, in close cooperation with the Australian Energy Regulator. As you know, yesterday I said the energy regulator had written to every generator reminding them of their obligations and our regulators continue to very actively manage the situation with the Government's full support.

TONY BURKE, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: The era of wages being kept deliberately low by the Liberal and National Parties effectively came to an end today. It came to an end for people on the minimum wage. It came to an end for cleaners, for shop assistants, for people in the care economy. A wage increase that the Liberal and National Party never would have advocated for had a Labor Government, an Albanese Labor Government, turn up, argued for and as of today, deliver. People will be seeing in their bank accounts what the change of Government means. People will be seeing in their bank accounts a wage increase that never would have happened back when we had a government committed and determined to keep wages deliberately low. For the first time in nearly a decade, we've had a Government argue for a real wage increase and now it'll be delivered.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what would you say to small business owners who might be forced to close because they can't afford the crippling inflation, funding these new pay rises on top of rising power bills and other plans?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what I'd say is that those small businesses all rely upon their workers, who are really struggling with the cost of living. They're struggling. This is a dollar an hour. Let's be clear about what this debate has been about. It's about whether people who are on the minimum wage should have a real wage cut. And I haven't had anyone who's not on the minimum wage argue that that should occur. I haven't heard it. These people are really struggling. And that's why we opposed a real wage cut for people on the minimum wage. These are workers who keep those small businesses going. And they are workers who deserve not to go backwards. Because, say, literally, if you are on the minimum wage, you are also spending every dollar that you have. Every dollar that you receive will go back into the economy, into circulation. Won't go into savings. Won't go into an overseas holiday. It will go into food on the table for the kids of people on minimum wages. That is what this is about.

JOURNALIST: You've had a, in the last election, a swing of 4.8 per cent in this seat towards Labor, is that evidence that your message in terms of reassuring those who work in the energy sector, is working by way of their confidence, in being able to get jobs in the future?

PRIME MINISTER: We had an outstanding candidate here was the first point I'd make. Matt Burnett, who's the local Mayor here, who's hosting a community reception here at lunchtime. And certainly, I've encouraged Matt to run as our candidate at the next election, because Matt Burnett is an outstanding local representative and he's someone who's committed to this community. But we're also committed to defending existing jobs, but also creating new jobs. That's why we came to Gladstone, we were talking about the Yarwun Alumina Refinery and how it can not only stay open, but can grow in terms of the jobs that are available. Rio Tinto at their three plants here in Gladstone employ around four-and-a-half-thousand people, but the indirect jobs are many more as well. They know that unless there's a change in the way that they operations occur, then they won't be able to grow into the future. That's why they're talking about investing not for a year or for five years, but for 20 years into the future, and it was a very productive discussion this morning, once again, I thank them for it. But there's also new jobs that can be created. We should be making batteries here in Gladstone. We should be value adding to our resources so we create more jobs here. That's the message that I have for Central Queensland. It's a message which I'll continue to pursue.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask Mr Bowen a question, if that's okay?


JOURNALIST: Minister, just then you signalled that the AEMO, correct me if I am wrong, AEMO is getting prepared to pull some other levers that are available to them. And what can you run us through what some of these levers look like?

MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Thanks, Madura. I'm going to leave AEMO to do its job, but I'm going to support AEMO in doing its job. We've been in very regular contact with AEMO, as you can imagine from last week, during the day, in the evening, on public holidays, etc., because the system has required very active intervention and AEMO has had to consider what options are available to it in an unprecedented situation. These price caps haven't been activated before. It's right that they're activated, but they haven't been activated before. The best interests of consumers will always come first and I'm simply saying that AEMO will have the Government's support in any action that they choose necessary to take within their powers, within the rules that they have. I make that statement very clearly. They've had our support. They've directed megawatts into the system, more than 5,000 yesterday, and they continue to have that support.

JOURNALIST: You mention the transition that's happening here, but I guess you've got those Powering Australia plans that you've spoken about, but that's focusing on the actual energy sources themselves in terms of workers in towns like Gladstone. How do you make sure that through this transition there is no boom and bust like what happened with the LNG boom here? And I think I asked you a similar question during the campaign.

PRIME MINISTER: Because what we're having, I mean we've just heard from Chris a discussion about AEMO. At the heart of our Powering Australia plan is our Rewiring the Nation plan, making the energy grid fit for the 21st century. It's based upon the Australian energy market operators Integrated Systems Plan about bringing transmission into the 21st century. That provides that certainty in the grid. That is what AEMO say will happen. And then once you have that, you can have a greater use of cleaner, cheaper energy. We know that the newest form, the cheapest form of new energy, is renewables. So if you have that, then you will have cheap, clean energy driving, advanced manufacturing in areas like this in Gladstone. So you'll have a continuation of our export of resources that should continue. But wherever possible, wherever possible, we should be value adding so that you create more jobs and create more value and more economic activity right here. A key theme of our election campaign was a Future Made in Australia, and we know that that future is particularly bright in regional Australia and a regional town like Gladstone, which has a deepwater port, which has skilled workforce, which has all the enormous opportunities that are there to grow. I think Gladstone has a very bright future indeed, including for its workforce.

JOURNALIST: You say that workers don't deserve to go backwards, inflation will hit 7 per cent by the end of the year so they will end up going backwards anyway.

PRIME MINISTER: We have a circumstance whereby you've just had a decision. I know some in the media are pretty cynical, but with due respect, you've had a decision whereby the inflation rate was 5.1 per cent, the Fair Work Commission have come down with a decision of 5.2 per cent. That is something that the former government opposed, and indeed they said the sky would fall in if that occurred. They ran around and ran a scare campaign during the federal election opposing any increase which would keep up with the inflation rate, which means they were advocating a real wage cut for people on the minimum wage. We put forward a plan, we made clear with our submission to the Fair Work Commission, as we did during the election campaign, as we did every day of this year. I have spoken about the cost of living and how everything was going up except for people's wages. Our submission to the Fair Work Commission was consistent with the mandate that we received at the election, which was that people who were on that minimum wage in the current circumstance, whereby in the Budget in March you had a whole range of payments made by the Federal Government because they said that there were cost of living pressures on and Labor supported those measures because we understood the pressure which families were under the current circumstances with regard to cost of living.

JOURNALIST: You're sending a very loud message to regional Australia today by having a meeting here in Gladstone. We're hearing today about another exodus of people struggling with the chronic housing affordability problem in the cities to the country, to the regional areas. To what extent will the Budget in October foreshadowed this migration in terms of infrastructure and jobs support in regional Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we made a number of commitments to regional Australia and they'll be fulfilled. They'll be in the October Budget. We know that the cost of housing, for example, is a big pressure as well in the regions, in many regions it's gone up higher than it has for people in the cities. But we also know that infrastructure needs to keep up and we made a number of commitments, all of those. One of the reasons why we are bringing forward a Budget in October is to make it very clear that our commitments, like our commitment of making a submission to the Fair Work Commission, we stand by them, we will honour them, and they will all be in the October Budget at the same time, because we've inherited $1 trillion of debt. We're on the hunt for the waste and rorts that are in the budget because we need to make sure that those waste and rorted funds are ripped out of the budget, because we understand that the former government treated taxpayer funds as if they were the funds of the Liberal and National Party. Just a couple more.

JOURNALIST: What do you think about Shell's QGC Gas Plant going under maintenance? Should more big gas consumers go offline to put more gas into the domestic market?

MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Well, of course gas is part of the equation in relation to this situation we are facing. This is primarily led by coal-fired power station outages and unexpected closures. But of course, gas will play a role. It has played a role. The gas companies have responded to the calls from Madeleine King and myself when we've needed them and AEMO continues to very actively talk to the gas companies, as well as the Government does through Madeleine and I. In relation to consumers, again, large industrial consumers, there is a role to play, but that's always done very cooperatively. I'm not here, in relation directly to your question, I'm not here to ask other industrial users to respond in any particular way if and when they're needed to, if they're needed to. That's what load shedding events are, and we've managed to avoid them so far.

PRIME MINISTER: Just here and then last one from the local. Are there any other locals who've missed out?

JOURNALIST: Yes, from the Gladstone Observer, thanks for coming to Gladstone Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Always a pleasure to be here.

JOURNALIST: Places like Gladstone rely on massive investment from companies such as Rio Tinto, the Gladstone Ports Corporation for different community facilities and things like this. Yesterday, Ian Macfarlane from QRC said that any increase in royalties which has been flagged by the state government could place regional jobs and projects in jeopardy. And then he went on to say that it is resource regions such as Gladstone who lose out the most if the prices go up in terms of the royalties. Could you respond to his comments? And I understand that it is a state issue, but have you been speaking to the Queensland Government about their potential increase in the royalties?

PRIME MINISTER: I have a big job as the Prime Minister of a big country and I'll do my job. I think Premier Palaszczuk does a fantastic job here representing Queensland and she received a very big mandate, including here in Gladstone at the last state election.

JOURNALIST: How far away is a decision on permanency for the Nadesalingam, that's the Biloela Tamil asylum seeker family?

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks. Well, look, that will be a matter for the Minister to make. And that Minister has to make that decision on its merits. I've said before that I see no impediment to the family being settled permanently here in Australia, but that will be a decision for the Minister. Thanks very much.