28 February 2019




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Thank you very much for being here. Well here we are again at ASC. Here we are again with people from State and Federal Labor, the people from the labour movement, here to argue for more South Australian jobs, more Australian jobs in our submarine project.

This has had a long history and we all remember it. We all remember that Tony Abbott was intent on sending this project to Japan. We all remember the campaign that South Australians fought with the then Labor Government here with Federal Labor to make sure we built the subs here in Adelaide.

Before the last election Christopher Pyne told South Australians that there would be around 90 percent of Australian content in this project. Then it became 60 percent. Well last week at Senate Estimates what was uncovered is there is no minimum Australian content. No minimum number of Australian jobs, no minimum number of Australian firms, no minimum Australian content. A complete breach of the promise that was made by Mr Pyne before the election. And no amount of him making jokes on national television or trying to be eloquent and funny avoids the fact that he told us one thing before the election and he is not delivering on it.

So I am here today with Peter Malinauskas, the Leader of the Opposition here in South Australia, with John Adley from the CEPU and of course my friend Susan Close who is the local member, and we want to say again that Labor is committed to maximising Australian jobs. Labor is committed to continuing to fight for Australian jobs and Australian firms to get the benefit of this great project, a project that would have been offshore if the Liberals had got their way.

PETER MALINAUSKAS, SOUTH AUSTRALIAN LABOR LEADER: Thanks very much Penny. It’s great to be here with my labour movement colleagues this morning – Susan the local member, obviously Senator Wong who did an outstanding job last week of extracting information during the Senate Estimates process. Also John Adley and Peter Bauer from the trade union movement.

The strategic partnership agreement that the Commonwealth has signed with Naval Group really should contain within it minimum local content. This is probably the largest procurement exercise that the Commonwealth of Australia has ever entered into. The single largest build that has ever occurred in the history of our Federation, yet concerningly we have learned that there is zero local content requirement within the contract with the Naval Group.

It is actually rational that French industry is doing everything they can to fight for French jobs in this project. The question is why isn’t the Commonwealth of Australia, why isn’t the Premier of South Australia, doing everything to maximise the South Australian jobs in this project?

All of us held out an enormous degree of optimism about the extraordinary opportunity that is associated with this submarine build. We know it is an opportunity that we have to grasp. It is a once in a generation opportunity, but now we have learnt that the Premier of South Australia, with his Federal Liberal mates, have done nothing to ensure that that opportunity is realised and the opportunity of South Australian jobs is maximised.

It seems somewhat inconceivable that we would have the single largest procurement project that has ever occurred in the history of our Federation being built right here in South Australia, but no guaranteed minimum local content for the jobs to be delivered here in South Australia. That is an unacceptable position and it is on the back of a bit of a pattern now. We have seen Steven Marshall capitulate to the Commonwealth when it comes to fighting for our Murray and now we have learnt he has capitulated to the Commonwealth, Christopher Pyne, and the French when it comes to fighting for South Australian jobs. That is not a satisfactory outcome. We need a premier, we need a prime minister to fight for South Australian jobs when it comes to this opportunity.

JOHN ADLEY, CEPU: The South Australian union movement and its representatives and workers at ASC and in the naval ship building industry are concerned that the number of local jobs is maximised in this taxpayer-funded project. And not only jobs, the other important factor is skills. We need to see skill development in the naval ship building industry that will set South Australia up as a centre for shipbuilding excellence for the decades to come. This is a very important industry for South Australia and the taxpayers that are funding this industry deserve to have the benefits of jobs and skills created in this country and in South Australia.

JOURNALIST: We have seen quite a few jobs go from this site in recent years. Do you know if any of those workers are still in Adelaide waiting to hear if there is more work coming in these projects?

ADLEY: Absolutely. We have a register of all of the workers that have been made redundant from ASC shipbuilding. A lot of those people have found other work in other regions, particularly with renewable energy projects, but some haven’t, some have moved interstate and some are unemployed.

WONG: We actually, at Senate Estimates last week, also talked about the shipbuilding workforce and it’s very clear that the decision by the Coalition to send the supply ships offshore has had an impact, not just on jobs here, but also on the retention of skilled workers here in South Australia and in Australia more generally. And as I said to people it is great that we have some construction jobs but to tell a skilled worker who has worked on submarines or on shipbuilding that she or he is supposed to help build a shed is not exactly the sort of work that people are seeking.

JOURNALIST: Senator, if Naval Group is going to employ and construct, where else are they going to get the workforce? Surely they will draw on the local workforce as best they can.

WONG: We hope so. And we want that to happen but I think the disappointment is that the Liberals in government, whether state or federal, haven’t done the work to make sure that is maximised. They haven’t put, despite what they said, minimum numbers in or minimum local content. They haven’t made sure that we have retained enough of our skilled workforce actively engaged in shipbuilding because of the procurement decisions they have made.

So of course all of us here want jobs here in South Australia. All of us here want that capability. We want what that means for our economy and for our capability but unfortunately I think on this issue the Liberals have been dragged kicking and screaming eventually and continue to tell people things which simply aren’t true.

JOURNALIST: If Labor is successful at the next election is there anything you can do to change this or will this all be pretty much stitched up by then?

WONG: Obviously there is a contract that’s been signed, as Peter said a strategic partnership agreement. We would have to work out what can be done within the context of a contract or an agreement between a sovereign government and Naval Group to see how we can improve it.

JOURNALIST: Is the problem that, this is open to anyone to answer, is the problem now that if the skills have gone elsewhere, i.e. renewable energy – which isn’t exactly the worst position to be in – is the problem that there just won’t be enough skilled workers? Even if the builders are saying we want a local workforce there just won’t be a workforce here that is up speed?

WONG: This was always the problem when it comes to the shipbuilding workforce. It’s always the problem the way in which the Government is handling this policy area and their failure to recognise that workers and companies need some certainty, need some long-term certainty, in order to retain people and ensure we have those high-level skills here in South Australia.

PETER BAUER, AMWU: We’ve always been concerned about the future of jobs in South Australia, particularly in the shipbuilding industry. We’ve been, for a long time, campaigning about the valley of death and trying to make sure that that doesn’t happen. Mr Pyne has said that the valley of death is over. It is not over. We have still got another 600 workers in ASC South who are at risk. We always knew that the devil was going to be in the detail. We have now seen the detail and he doesn’t deliver. He said at one stage there was going to be 90 percent local content. Then he said 60 percent local content. Now we find out there is zero local content.

We have got an opportunity to deliver a dynamic shipbuilding industry in South Australia. Mr Pyne needs to deliver on that. He has committed to it in the past and he hasn’t delivered and he needs to.

JOURNALIST: I have a question from our New Zealand reporter. It’s in reference to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s comments about Kiwi criminals. Can Labor offer a commitment, if elected, you would address these concerns?

WONG: Prime Minister Ardern has raised I think legitimately the way in which this government has dealt with this issue. In government and in opposition we have supported the character test under the migration laws. We continue to support those. But there is no doubt how this has been handled, in terms of discussions with the New Zealand Government, could’ve been handled much better.

WONG: Can I turn now to two other issues. First, we are very concerned, as the world is, about the rising tensions between India and Pakistan. I would just make a few comments about these issues. The first is I would urge restraint. Obviously this is a volatile situation, a difficult situation. We would urge continuing restraint by both parties.

Second, we join with the Government in urging Pakistan to do more around terrorist groups operating out of their territory. And the final thing is again we continue to condemn the tragic attack in Jammu and Kashmir on February 14 which was very distressing.

Can I turn now to the Trump Kim Summit. What the world wants is North Korea to denuclearise. We want complete denuclearisation. We want irreversible denuclearisation. We want verifiable denuclearisation.

We hope that this summit can demonstrate a credible pathway to that. We are cautious about that prospect given North Korea’s intransigence. But the world remains committed, and must remain committed, to the complete verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea.

JOURNALIST: Senator how do you perceive John Howard‘s support of George Pell?

WONG: Can I first say in relation to this particular set of offences, but also the Royal Commission more generally, can I pay tribute to those survivors who came forward and enabled both this prosecution, but also the Commission, and to express our collective grief at those who did not survive.

The second point I’d make is this: child abuse is an abuse of power. It is an abuse of power that must be condemned, not only in respect of the perpetrator through the criminal justice system, but it must be condemned by all of us in leadership. All of those who lead institutions, all of those in positions of political authority, or community leaders, we must make it clear that those actions can never be condoned, can never be covered up as so many were, as we discovered to our great shame in the Royal Commission, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

So that is the context in which all of this occurs, and what I would say is John Howard has made a grave error of judgement, a grave error of judgement, an untenable error of judgement in my personal view.

JOURNALIST: So, pending an appeal of course, Mr Howard has walked into this with his eyes wide open?

WONG: What I would say to you is that all of us who hold positions of leadership in the community, whether it is the media, whether it is political, whether it is various organisations, we have to make clear you cannot condone this behaviour. If we know anything about what happened in the Royal Commission we know that what it shows is that people in power did not do what we should have, people did not act in a way they should have. They covered things up, they condoned it, they turned a blind eye.

That makes people culpable and I think Mr Howard’s comments, really to anybody who is looking at these issues, people would look at that, and say it is incomprehensible that you would say, of somebody who has been convicted of these crimes, that that would not change your view about his character. It is incomprehensible.

JOURNALIST: Just one more question – Ita Buttrose as Chair of the ABC, is that a good decision or a strange decision?

WONG: What is strange is that the Government has not followed the process. What is clear if the reports are correct …

JOURNALIST: I think it has just been announced.

WONG: Oh has it? You’re ahead of me. If the reports are correct about the selection process, Ita Buttrose was not on the list provided by the selection panel. So I think the Government has got to explain to the Australian people how it is that this appointment has come about, given that she was not on the list that the selection panel nominated.

JOURNALIST: But is she a suitable candidate?

WONG: That is for the Government to explain. What I would say about this is that this Government has made clear its attack on the ABC. I know that you’re a competitor, but in today’s world having a public broadcaster is critical to our democracy. The Government’s continued cuts, but also political attacks, both by senior people and by backbenchers on the ABC has been to the detriment of Australian democracy. I hope Ms Buttrose will stand up to the Liberals on these issues.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.