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E&OE TRANSCRIPT RADIO INTERVIEW 4RO FRIDAY, 10 MAY 2019

May 10, 2019

LAURIE ATLAS: Brendan O’Connor is here. Shadow Minister for Employment and workplace relations, Member for Gorton. Good afternoon to you, how are you?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Good afternoon Laurie, good thanks.
 
ATLAS: Second time in a couple of weeks.
 
O’CONNOR: Yes.
 
ATLAS: Have you been delegated Central Queensland, have you?
 
O’CONNOR: I love Central Queensland. When we’ve got good announcements to make around jobs happy to be here to talk to you.
 
ATLAS: Actually this is a good announcement, because this is about the railway workshops just down the road from us here in Quay Street, and I’ve been wondering what people might want to do with this. So what’s the idea?
 
O’CONNOR: Well, they are sitting idle, as you say. And two years ago I met some of the apprentices that lost their apprenticeships and people lost their work as they slowly wound down the site. We want to acquire the land off Aurizon. I’m advised they are interested in this idea. We’d like to make sure we create a manufacturing hub in Rockhampton. We think we can enliven manufacturing, for a variety of reasons. We’ve got mining, we’ve got defence capability. We’ve got the Gladstone hydrogen hub. We’re looking at these sectors of our economy that really need manufacturing and maintenance and advanced manufacturing. And we think we can use this site, working with the state government, working with local government and working with the private sector to bring back permanent and secure skilled jobs. We think manufacturing has a place in Australia’s future and has a place Central Queensland’s future.
 
ATLAS: You’d want to hope so, wouldn’t you?
 
O’CONNOR: But all the evidence shows we can.
 
ATLAS: I remember that time when the tariffs were pulled back and everything just flew out of the country like you would not believe. But I’d love to think that we make stuff.
 
O’CONNOR: Look around the word at comparable companies. Germany is no better than us, no better than our workforce. They’ve got a great manufacturing sector. We’ve still got some very remarkable advanced manufacturing companies. We’ve got a high-skilled workforce but we are missing out on opportunities. This idea that we’ve got to get this site back is we get to leverage the defence capability that’s very much located in this region, as I say the hydrogen, the mining sector, which needs manufacturing. We can just join the dots. And this site is iconic to Rockhampton. I understand that so we have to be mindful of the heritage. But we can build new infrastructure and bring some good jobs into Rockhampton. It’s a good idea and everyone should embrace it and I believe the private sector will.
 
ATLAS: How much cooperation do you need from Aurizon to get this up and running?
 
O’CONNOR: Well they own the land but it’s sitting idle. If elected we will be firstly engaging with them to make sure we acquire the land.
 
ATLAS: So they want to do something with it?
 
O’CONNOR: I am not advised of any intentions by Aurizon other than they would be very open to what we have to say. But I think Aurizon also have an obligation here Laurie. They’ve made some decisions and they believe they made them in the interests of the corporation, but there’s a bad feeling about some of the consequences of those decisions. They’ve got an opportunity to be part of a very positive outcome on an unused site and I think they’ll want to take this opportunity. It’s in their interest for reputational reasons, it’s the right thing to do and it will advance manufacturing.
 
Rockhampton has been a hub of manufacturing historically through rail and mining and cattle, because of cattle-rail. It’s been that hub from the 19th century onwards and we’ve seen this decline and this recent closure. We can bring it back and I’ve seen revival in other parts of the country, why can’t revive this?
 
ATLAS: I remember it was a very difficult decision and Brittany Lauga, the local Member for Keppel was very upset because she said there was no indication that Aurizon were going to make this shut down, not a lot of warning.
 
O’CONNOR: No that’s right, I think people were absolutely shocked. When I met with the workers and apprentices two years ago they were dismayed. To talk to a young apprentice who had a year to go in his apprenticeship and lose his apprenticeship because of the closure was tragic. And of course there were some workers who were permanent and needed work. I spoke to a couple of workers earlier today who had been there for decades and they said why can’t their kids and grandkids get a chance of jobs like that in the future. I think, when you create hubs like this, you can create good jobs and secure jobs but they’ll have to be skilled to compete and that goes back to what I was saying about advanced manufacturing.
 
ATLAS: Michelle Landry mentioned to Aaron Stevens our breakfast guy this morning, that the more she goes to places like Mackay which is of course the top end of the Capricornia electorate and Russell Roberston has kind of alluded to the same thing with me - I mean you get this stupid thing of cutting Queensland in half because northern Australia doesn’t get as much from south east Queensland, but they both kind of alluded to the fact that the talk normally goes away but this time it’s not going away.
 
O’CONNOR: In what regard?
 
ATLAS: Just making a whole new parliament, you know, cutting it, cutting Queensland in half because south-east Queensland takes all the revenue and doesn’t give a lot back. Has that been mentioned to you at all?
 
O’CONNOR: Not in my travels. I have heard that there’s been often musings about day light savings only happening in the south, not the north and those type things historically.
 
ATLAS: It comes up every now and then.
 
O’CONNOR: It comes up and I think it always comes up in regions anyway and I think that’s a fair question. Are people getting sufficient resources collected by governments, is it coming back, now-
 
ATLAS: I think it’s about seventy per cent of Queensland’s royalties and revenue comes from central to the top.
 
O’CONNOR: But, look it is also true that Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, these cities accumulate enormous revenue from workers and a lot of that gets targeted into regions. That’s what it should do anyway. What we have to do is cross-subsidise because there are extra costs in living in a region, so you need to make sure you do invest sufficiently, whether that’s in health or whether it’s in education or whether it’s in infrastructure. Sometimes you have got to pay more to connect parts of Australia. That sometimes means you need to dedicate more in the regions. So, I’ve actually argued that you should be getting more per capita for regions. They’re vital for Australia’s future and they don’t have the density or population and therefore we need to see the big cities do more to look after the regions, that’ll be my contention. If people feel that it’s the other way around, that’s a problem, that’s a misconception or a concern we have to make sure we respond to.
 
ATLAS: I’ve always said, I don’t think the numbers stack up. Even if you wanted to do it, I don’t think it’s possible. I don’t think the number stack up in order for it to be done.
 
O’CONNOR: No, but we know it costs more for example to build certain infrastructure in the regions, but it’s vital for our mining sector, for our cattle, for agriculture. So, we have to do that not just for the locals but for the consumers in the cities, it’s in their interest too.
 
ATLAS: When was the last time you spoke to Bill Shorten?
 
O’CONNOR: Yesterday.
 
ATLAS: Did he mention at all, because the rumours were going around that he was apoplectic about what the State Government did last week with Adani. Really angry.
 
O’CONNOR: I haven’t spoken to him about the decision directly. But, that’s the State Government’s decision, of course, it’s for them to make. And what our decision is and we’ve made it clear from the outset is, that if it complies with the law it goes ahead, no review, but I think we had that discussion last time.
 
ATLAS: It came up the day after you were here, that they brought down that decision they’ve basically got to go up there and count all the black throated finches and get back to them. It’s really stupid but on top of that Steve Liddell from the Courier Mail was the guy who said jeez I tell you what, Bill’s angry about this.
 
O’CONNOR:  Yes as I say, I mean the State Government have their decisions to make. I haven’t spoken to Bill about that particular issue. But we’re a big supporter of jobs and if projects stack up we’d like them to proceed. I’m the Shadow Minister for Employment, my whole focus is jobs. Without which we can’t have a strong economy, we can’t make the decisions to look after health and education.
 
ATLAS: Your costings come out, I think actually they might be announcing, your costings, kind of now.
 
O’CONNOR: Soon.
 
ATLAS: Will they stack up?
 
O’CONNOR: Yes they will. We’ve done the work. We’ve put in the effort to make the reforms needed.
 
ATLAS: People love finding holes don’t they? Remember when Keating found a $7 billion hole in-
 
O’CONNOR: I do recall that. I do recall him doing that.
 
ATLAS: People love a good hole in the costings. So there’s no hole in the costings?
 
O’CONNOR: Laurie back then there was no PBO, there was no Parliamentary Budget Office.
 
ATLAS:  Yes that’s true. You did it yourselves didn’t you?
 
O’CONNOR: In those days you had to make decisions. These days it goes into an independent body to make the decision so it’s much harder when things stack up for people to attack it without evidence. And I go back to your first question, we have been making some tough decisions, not always popular with everyone and we know that, but we’ve been upfront. What people cannot say of us is we’re not presenting our ideas and our reforms before the election. We’re not going to do something after than what we’ve decided to do before if we’re so lucky to be elected. And we’re announcing our costings a week out, more than a week out from the election. That is nearly a week earlier than for example, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey did in 2013 so we’re trying to give people more time than what is normally customary to do that and I think we’ve done our work and that will be shown up in the announcement today by the Shadow Treasurer and the Shadow Finance Minister.
 
ATLAS:   Alright, one more week to go and then you can go home.
 
O’CONNOR: I’d like to go home for a while and if we’re lucky to win I will going to Canberra I suppose and get back to work . 
 
ATLAS: That’s true. And I won’t have to put the word “Shadow” in front of you, assuming you’ll be Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.
 
O’CONNOR: Well that’s a reasonable assumption Laurie.
 
ATLAS: Alright. Good seeing you again.
 
O’CONNOR:  Thanks very much Laurie.

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