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Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


May 10, 2019

JACQUIE MACKAY: There’s another election funding promise has been revealed this morning. Labor says it’s creating a regional manufacturing jobs precinct. Brendan O’Connor the Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations good morning.


MACKAY: How will this happen?
O’CONNOR: We need to make sure, firstly, we get elected. That’s important because we’ve seen manufacturing decline in central Queensland. And as you just noted the iconic railway workshops have closed down. I visited the workers and apprentices that lost their jobs in 2017 and we need to do better there. In fact this has been a manufacturing hub historically. So what we seek to do is to acquire the land off Aurizon. It’s current not being used. And help create a manufacturing hub. Make sure that we use that land in a way to employ people in decent, secure, blue collar jobs. And I think that can be done.
First we will access the land. Second, we will work with the state government. We can leverage a lot of things here. There’s a lot of assets you have here that have not been, I think, sufficiently deployed to get employment. For example, you’ve got the $1 billion Rocky ring road project, you’ve got working with the mining industry, you’ve got working with the defence industry, because of the shoalwater expansion here. And also because of the fact defence deploy here so often we could be doing much more in maintenance and manufacturing for defence and other sectors of our economy. That’s not happened for too many people here.
MACKAY: Is Aurizon open to selling this site?
O’CONNOR: I’m advised they are. Of course, they must understand, as a multinational company that they’ve really let a lot of people down and Labor understands that we need to do better. We’ll stand up to the multinationals. We’ll stand up to them and we’d expect them to engage reasonably and genuinely because too many people lost their jobs as a result of decisions made by that company. And I think they would want to be doing the right thing here. Of course we will provide them a reasonable purchase price for them to accept, but we’ll be working with the Queensland Government and local government in order to restore manufacturing in Rockhampton and indeed in Central Queensland.
MACKAY: Because it is more than a year ago now that we saw the State Government promise $10 million for a manufacturing hub and we’ve seen nothing happen yet, so another promise of $15 million to secure a site if Labor is elected, what if it is another year or more before we see anything?
O’CONNOR: Well in relation to the work that the State Government is developing with Central Queensland University, we believe that ties in very well with the acquisition of this land. What we should be doing more often is working with all tiers of government and the private sector to create the environment where we can have proper jobs - full time, permanent, blue collar jobs which of course are much in demand in this area.
So that work is going on with Central Queensland University as I understand it. But this is acquiring the land for the work really to be located and to work on a lot of things that are going on. For example, we’ve got the hydrogen project in Gladstone. That will mean a lot of manufacturing work. That could be worked out of Rockhampton, or part of that work. We’ve got an advanced manufacturing fund that we’ve announced - a $1 billion fund that will allow local manufacturers to access affordable loans to actually be involved in creating businesses in Rockhampton. So it’s a combination of ways, in order to secure jobs in Rockhampton and Central Queensland.
MACKAY: So, what incentives would you be offering to manufacturers to attract them to the region?
O’CONNOR: Firstly, there’s the fund we’ve established to allow them to get affordable loans that-
MACKAY: But, they can set up anywhere in Australia.
O’CONNOR: That’s right, but I think there is a synergy of assets here. You’ve got the mining sector that requires manufacturing, you’ve got the hydrogen project in Gladstone and you’ve got the defence capabilities in central Queensland. There’s a combination, you’ve got the $1 billion dollar Rocky ring road project, there’s so much going on.  We’ve just got to join the dots and ensure the works here.
We’ve also said that any Commonwealth projects will require or will allow local employers to get part of that work. We need to make sure that local manufacturers, local workers get part of Commonwealth contracts as well. So, I think the policies in total will encourage investment and indeed lead to blue collar jobs, which has of course really been sadly missing because over the last few years, that railway workshop has been closed, it’s an iconic place as I understand. It’s one of the most famous workshop locations in this area and Rocky has been known for mining and rail. We’ve got a railway workshop that should be used, it can be used again and Labor wants to make sure that we use it again.
MACKAY: Well, just going to that point, it is a very historical railway workshop and parts of it, really a lot of people would like to see kept for heritage purposes because it is so historic. What would you-
O’CONNOR: I think that’s a really good point. I think you can do two things here. You can make sure you have a purpose for it that provides jobs for people, but having regard to its history. What won’t happen if we don’t invest in this project is that land could be sold off and in fact that historic, iconic location could not be kept. And I think you can do both things here. You can create a manufacturing hub but you can have regard to its history and its importance to this region.
MACKAY: And would $15 million just pay for the purchase of the site?
O’CONNOR: No, no.
MACKAY: Or does that just go into creating some sort of building facility?
O’CONNOR: That’s right. So it will be a combination of the acquisition of the land and also infrastructure. And of course we want to work with the Queensland Government on what they’re doing but also work with the private sector. We want to of course, encourage manufacturing here but we’re creating the circumstances in which that can happen. We’ve had that workshop now neglected and disused for at least two years. There’s too few blue collar jobs in manufacturing in Rockhampton and Central Queensland. I think this is a very good investment in this region.
MACKAY: Thanks indeed for your time this morning. Brendan O’Connor, who is of course the Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations with his announcement of $15 million this morning to fire that old Horizon Railway workshop site.