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June 28, 2021

ELIDA FAITH, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR LEICHHARDT: Hi my name is Elida Faith, Labor candidate for Leichhardt and it's a pleasure to be here today with our Queensland Senator Nita Green, and our Shadow Minister for Defence, Brendan O’Connor. Now, it's no secret that Cairns has a strong marine sector. We have three local shipyards that support local jobs and have put Cairns on the map for its manufacturing capabilities. Our three shipyards, like the one we're at here today, our Tropical Reef Shipyard, have given, and provide our community with countless opportunities for growth.

Now, backing local manufacturing is so important, and a big part of that is supporting industries like these. Backing local manufacturing means growth, it means good local job opportunities, it means more opportunities for our skilled Aussie workers and Labor will never shy away from fighting for local jobs. And again, a part of that is supporting local industries like Tropical Reef Shipyards. And for more information I’m going to pass over now to our Queensland Senator Nita Green. Thank you.

NITA GREEN, LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Thanks Elida and thanks everyone for being here today. This is somewhere that I have visited often and it really is great to be back here at Tropical Reef Shipyard. One of the things that I did when I was elected was talk about the need to diversify the Cairns economy, and COVID has shown us that that is something that urgently needs attention, because we can't rely on tourism alone. To make sure that we've got jobs for the future, we need to make sure that we've got a diversified economy. That's why we've got Brendan O'Connor here today to talk about the defence strategy, but also more broadly to talk about how important manufacturing is to the Australian Labor Party. We've made significant announcements in this area so far, but one of the ones I wanted to concentrate on today before Brendan talks to you a little bit more, was on our commitment to make sure that we've got 10% of apprentices here on federally funded projects. Businesses like Tropical Reef Shipyards are already doing that hard work, making sure that there's 10% of apprentices here on the shipyard. Some of the other businesses around here are doing it on their own, but we need to make sure that that's a mandated position, because we know that we've got the opportunity to create years and years, 30 years of work here, if we get the marine precinct right. But what we don't want to have happen is run out of the important skills that we need and miss out on the opportunities that could be created.

We have seen skills and apprenticeships and traineeships reduced under this government. We've seen the Liberal National Government cut skills and apprenticeships. We've seen them come out with ridiculous programs like the PaTH program, or even JobMaker during the COVID crisis that created almost no jobs in Queensland. So, only a Labor Government will deliver this commitment to have 10% of apprentices on federally funded projects. It's a key commitment to the people here in Cairns, because we know that we've got some fantastic businesses here, but it is really about the future and about 30 years time, whether we've got good local secure jobs that have been delivered by good, local kids.
Thanks very much.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Thanks very much Nita and thanks Elida. It's fantastic firstly can I say to be here in Far North Queensland, to be in Cairns to look at this precinct, to see how it's grown over time.The last time I took a good look at this was when I was the Minister for Home Affairs and I've seen it grow in breadth, and in terms of skills, and today we had the good fortune of speaking with Australian owned companies, including of course, the company that’s on this site, they talk about what needs to be done to maintain, not only the employment that exists today, but as Nita said to make sure we grow this industry.

This is a precinct which is as good as any around Australia, there are three regional maintenance centres designated by the federal government, one of which of course is Cairns, at this particular spot. And so if you look at the Defence White Paper update that came out last year that talks about needing to build defence capability, if you listen to defence analysts and foreign policy experts about the increased concerns in the region, the challenges to peace and stability in the region, it is critical that we have sufficient defence capability in the most appropriate places and one of which of course is Northern Queensland. And for that reason, we need to make sure that this precinct grows and is given the sufficient investment in order for it to maintain defence assets. Now it's had a long history of doing that, whether it be border protection or defence, but there are, I believe, more opportunities provided there is sufficient investment made, investment in skills and infrastructure which is important. Nita talked already about the need to diversify the economy here.

Clearly, tourism is always going to be a very important part of Cairns and this region. As the pandemic has underlined, not just here but around Australia, we can't always rely on some sectors of the economy, and indeed no community, no city, no region should rely on or overly rely on one sector of the economy and that's why diversifying the economy, increasing the defence spend, and defence industry spend in this region will provide many good jobs for locals. Good jobs, well paid jobs, high skilled jobs. That's what the people of Cairns and Far North Queensland are looking for, and it can be done consistently, and this is most important, consistent with in the case of defence industry, the Defence White Paper update, which came out last year. So we are calling upon the federal government to be ensuring that they accelerate the investment and make sure that this strategic defence precinct is given proper investment in order to see our capability grow and see as a result of that, the economy grow, and more jobs for locals.
Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Federal government would say that they're already doing this in Cairns in particular. If Labor got in, what would be the main point of difference, how many extra jobs could we see under a Labor government?

O'CONNOR: I think it's fair to say there's been an announcement and the first stage of that announcement is underway. However, what I would say is we need to see an acceleration of that investment. What an incoming Labor government would do if elected, would be making sure that this area would be seen as a priority. Now, often the rhetoric of the government does not match the reality. Can I say to you, when it comes to defence and defence industry, we want to work together, we often of course want to work with the government in a bipartisan manner, that's what we should be doing, but our job also is to hold the government to account. If they make commitments they must deliver on them.

Right now, we have very large defence asset contracts that have been blown out by billions and they're way too late. Their timelines have been blown out, and in case of the future submarine program by up to a decade. Now our job is to say to the Government you need to get your house in order, elevating rhetoric will not actually deliver any jobs here or anywhere around the country. So, what Labor will be doing obviously and it's consistent with what Nita said is, we will be focusing on manufacturing and of course a significant part of that is defence industry. We will make sure that the highest proportion possible of local jobs will be part of any defence contracts. We will make sure there are enforceable provisions in defence asset contracts, which do not exist currently in many of the contracts which has gotten us into trouble.

It's no point talking about local jobs if you can't deliver. We for example at the last election, and Nita touched on this, said that if there was any taxpayer money at the Commonwealth level in any contract, we believe at the very minimum, there should be 10% of the workforce be apprentices. Now that happens already here, the good employers here already say that they want to commit to 10% apprentices, but we would say that should be a procurement rule so all employers are compelled, if they want to engage with the Commonwealth with contracts to ensure that they have at least 10% apprentices as part of their workforce. It's those types of enforceable provisions using what is effectively billions of dollars of taxpayers money makes the big difference to regions like this one. So what we say to the Government is, you can't talk about local content if it's not going to be delivered, you can't talk about apprentices if you don't compel them to be employed and to be listed through an apprenticeship process, and we would say if the Government, and indeed we would welcome the Government if they actually chose to do that but currently, in many instances, their rhetoric and their actions are at odds with each other.

JOURNALIST: Just a question on the NSC that I understand is meeting this morning to discuss the latest outbreak. Realistically, what could something like the National Security Council actually do?

O'CONNOR: Well, the National Security Committee of Cabinet is of course a very important part of the Cabinet process. It has on it, the most important defence and national security agencies and of course it's chaired by the Prime Minister and has about six national security portfolios or Ministers on it and I think it's fair to say this is something that should happen. The fact is that COVID or a global pandemic, is actually a national security risk, and we need to see it through that prism. We certainly need to sit through the prism of a public health challenge, but I think it's also fair to say, we need to be ensuring that we look at any potential national security risks in relation to any virus, like COVID. So I think it's a very good thing that the Government's convening a National Security Committee of Cabinet.

I think it's also important that the Prime Minister convenes the national cabinet as he calls it, and make sure we start getting a better response to the major challenges that confront us as a nation, and they are of course, in the case of Scott Morrison's priorities, they should be two things. One, he should be building purpose built quarantine facilities, as soon as possible. In fact it should have already happened. And two of course, he needs to ensure the acceleration of the vaccination process so that Australians are protected from this pandemic. To date, we are woefully inadequate in terms of the numbers of Australians that have been vaccinated. We are way behind most of the world. We're not at the front of the queue, and it's about time the Prime Minister delivered on what he said he would do when he said he'd protect Australians. Now to date, we are not even at 4% of vaccinations. That is way too low. With the outbreak now that's in New South Wales spreading to other parts of Australia, vaccinations and purpose built quarantines are essential and that is where the government federally, is letting Australians down.

Any other questions? All good? Thank you.