12 April 2021



SUBJECTS: Vaccine roll-out; investment in regional infrastructure by super funds; Labor’s National Reconstruction Fund.

NITA GREEN, LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Thank you for coming today. It's so good to be here with Stephen Jones, Labor’s Shadow Assistant Treasurer, and to be here at the Cairns International Airport. We're here in between the Cairns domestic airport and the Cairns international airport and it's fair to say that this airport is an asset to the people living here in Cairns. And Stephen’s here today to talk to you about how important this airport is to the region of Far North Queensland and what we need to do to make sure that investment continues in fantastic airports like this. But I just wanted to make a few comments about the vaccine rollout. We've seen over the weekend that the bungles from Scott Morrison on the vaccine rollout continue. He is now saying that he's not able to give Australians information about when they will receive their first dose of vaccine. Scott Morrison said that we would have 4 million people vaccinated by the end of March and we definitely didn't hit that target. He also said that we would be fully vaccinated by the end of October. Now, the Federal Government has walked away from that target. What that means for people living here in Cairns, but also for the tourists that walk through the doors at the Cairns airport here is that the confidence in the tourism sector will not return until we are able to get this vaccine rollout back on track. We know that until the vaccine rollout is back on track, that lockdowns will continue. We know that the confidence people need to be able to travel interstate will not be returned until the vaccine rollout is back on track. It is a major concern that Scott Morrison and the Federal Government have dropped the ball on the vaccine rollout. They have bungled this. From the very beginning, Labor has been there trying to get the government to do the right thing, to get lots of vaccine trials going, to make sure we sign lots of deals. But they have failed at every step. So now we’re here in Cairns when we should be looking toward a bright future for the tourism sector here, and instead there is lack of confidence, lack of certainty and it’s putting jobs at risk right here on the ground. Thank you and I’ll hand over to Stephen Jones now to talk to you about how important this airport is.
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks Nita, great to be with you here in Cairns. Before I say a few words about superannuation and about the airport, it’s quite obvious that the government has stuffed up the roll-out of the vaccine. This has direct economic consequences. People aren’t going to book a flight to come to Cairns if they're afraid that the flights going to get cancelled or if they’re going to get stuck somewhere. People from overseas aren’t going to come to Cairns or anywhere else in Australia until we get the vaccine rollout sorted. So, the health strategy is the economic strategy and we have to get it right. I’m in Cairns today to talk to locals about the importance of our $3 trillion superannuation system. It's a system which is making Australians more wealthy in retirement, but is keeping our economy strong and creating jobs. Creating jobs in great regional airports like this one in Cairns which is part-owned by Australian superannuation funds. It means that this airport could keep its workers on during the pandemic because the owners weren't watching on a daily basis the share price go up and down, they were focused on the long term. They were focused on the long-term future of Cairns, the airport, and the jobs and families of people who work here. The government wants to make some significant changes to the way superannuation is managed. We want super to work in the interests of the economy and in the interest of Australian families. The government plans and going to turn our superannuation funds backwards. Instead of being able to invest in great regional facilities, great regional infrastructure, like Cairns Airport, it’s going to be much, much harder, in fact it will be a disincentive to invest in regional Australia. Less investment means less jobs, means less growth and a future for Cairns that is not nearly as good as it should be.
It’s not just Labor making these criticisms. Last week the LNP Senator based in North Queensland, Senator Susan McDonald, made some very critical comments about her own government's plans to change the way superannuation funds are invested. We want our super funds to invest well, to invest in Australia. We don’t want the crazy situation where there are more incentives for Australian workers’ money to be invested in infrastructure in other countries than here in Australia, creating jobs and growth and opportunity here in Australia. But that's exactly what the Australian Government, what Scott Morrison's plan for superannuation will do. So let’s put this proposed change aside, let's work cooperatively so we can improve super, improve retirement incomes, and get all of those benefits for regional Australia, expand the Cairns airport  and have more infrastructure in regional Australia to grow the economy, which is what everybody wants to happen. Thanks very much happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What can we do to, we’ve just got figures here the gender super gap in Leichhardt that show in the age group of 45 to 49, there's a 40 percent difference between male and female. What should be done to make it more balanced?
JONES: Look at it’s a great shame that before the election Scott Morrison said he wouldn't cut superannuation. He is now sitting on a plan to do exactly that. He thinks 9.5% is enough for Australians while he takes in 15.4% in his superannuation. Scott Morrison will earn more superannuation in two years than the average Australian woman retires on. The average Australian woman today will retire with less than $120,000 in her retirement income savings. Scott Morrison pulls in more than that every two years in his superannuation. If it's good enough for Scott Morrison, why isn't it good enough the women of Leichhardt and the women of Australia, in fact all Australian workers? We want Scott Morrison to keep his promise not to cut superannuation, so the people have the money they need to have a decent retirement. All Australians deserve a dignified, decent retirement and therefore superannuation savings to fund that. And while the money is going into superannuation, it's investing in great regional infrastructure like the Cairns Airport, creating jobs creating wealth, creating great retirement savings along the way.
JOURNALIST: In terms of aviation, maybe Nita can speak to this as well, but obviously up here it's one of our most crucial industries and you're going to Hawker Pacific later. Why is it so important for those general aviation companies to have this investment? 
JONES: I'm sure Nita’s going to say something in a tick about the importance of this, but I want to make one point. Scott Morrison can't get the vaccine roll-out right. He hasn't got a plan for the recovery. Contrast that to Labor's $15 billion recovery fund. We've got a plan to super boost investment in regional Australia, to get more manufacturing going, to get more jobs and opportunities for our young people so that day they can stay in Cairns, build their lives and their futures here. Scott Morrison can't even get the vaccine rollout right.
GREEN: Thanks Freya. The aviation sector here in Cairns is so important. And it’s so important because not only is it the tourist dollars which come through the door here but we also sustain and maintain aviation, and we train pilots and we train people here who will go on to fix and repair and keep safe the planes that fly across the country. So it's a really crucial sector here in Cairns. But unfortunately, what's happened is even before COVID the Federal Government, and Scott Morrison, have not delivered on the skills requirements we need to help support those jobs here. So we have seen the Federal Government cut funding into TAFE, underspend the money they were meant to spend in TAFE, they haven’t put forward a skills profile, and what they wanted to do before the last election was just rely on migrant workers to fill those jobs. Well now COVID has shown us that we can't rely on people overseas to provide skilled work here. We want to know what the Federal Government's plan is to be able to make sure that our skilled workers here will have a long-term future, that our aviation sector will have local workers to be able to rely on, and to make sure that we've got a strong aviation system for a long time to come. The Federal Government and Warren Entsch have failed to answer that question. We’ll be looking for a lot of answers from them. In the meantime, Labor has a plan to build $15 billion dollars of manufacturing after the next election. We have a plan to make sure that more things are built right here. That's what it's all about. When you bring regional manufacturing back into regional towns, you grow towns and you grow communities. That's what's happened in Maryborough when the Queensland Government decided to bring rail manufacturing back to Maryborough. They have revived that town. They made sure that jobs stayed local and we want to do that in places like Cairns.
JOURNALIST: Nita can I just get your thoughts on the gender super gap, particularly in the Leichhardt region?
GREEN: The Federal Government has not done enough to make sure that the gender super gap is closed. And what they are planning on doing now in terms of turning around the promise that they made before the last election, to walk away from a legislative super cut will only make things worse. Last week the Federal Government, Scott Morrison, stood there and gave a lot of his ministers new titles. New titles that related to women's safety and women's economic development. But it's not going to make a single difference if they walk away from this legislated increase into super. It will have a dramatic impact on those women. The very same women that Scott Morrison says he is now listening to.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us more about this $15 billion plan to bring manufacturing back to Cairns? What’s going to be involved in that (inaudible)?
GREEN: So the National Reconstruction Fund was announced by Anthony Albanese a few weeks ago. It’s a fantastic opportunity to get regional manufacturing back into towns like Cairns. What we want to do is through equity and guarantees and through loans, is invest in manufacturing here in regional Queensland. The best way to do that is first of all, to ensure we build things here. We've got opportunities to build defence manufacturing, rail manufacturing, to maintain ships. But also every time that we build something, like a piece of infrastructure like the Smithfield Bypass, or even when we repair things like the Cairns Convention Centre, is to make sure that content in those projects is coming from local providers. That's a key link that's missing at the moment. The Federal Government isn't able to say when content is being produced if it's coming from local providers. That’s something the Queensland Government has been doing, there are procurement rules, and that’s part of our plan to rebuild manufacturing (inaudible). But it is also just about having the guts to say, it’s better to build things in Australia. That’s what Anthony Albanese has the guts to do, to say that we should build things here in regional Queensland. When you do that, you grow towns, when you do that, you grow jobs.