These days, the conversation around inequality needs to be richer and deeper - Transcript















SUBJECTS: Turnbull Government’s lack of investment in Northern Tasmania; inequality; backpacker tax; education

ROSS HART, MEMBER FOR BASS: Welcome everybody. It's a great pleasure to have here in Northern Tasmania Dr Andrew Leigh, who's the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, talking to people in the community about the importance of investment in jobs and infrastructure in the north of the state. I've taken Andrew up here to Ravenswood to show him the fabulous child and family centre, and to stress the importance of embedding these wraparound services into communities. If we're serious about creating jobs in a community like Northern Tasmania we really need to invest in people as well as infrastructure. Unfortunately, the Turnbull Government doesn't get the fact that you need to invest over a long period of time in order to see meaningful results in a community like Northern Tasmania.

Welcome Andrew.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks very much, Ross. Since Ross's election I've been asking him when I'd have the opportunity to come and spend some time in Launceston. Seeing the facility here in Ravenswood and speaking with Ross about the challenges in the community really does remind you that in the age of Trump, Brexit and Le Pen, the conversation around inequality needs to be richer and deeper.

Labor firmly believes that we need to do more to create more jobs. The unemployment rate in Launceston is now nine per cent. Many families are experiencing the frustration of teenagers leaving school not able to find a job. Labor wants investments that will ensure we have well-paying jobs now and into the future. We want to ensure we have a better healthcare system, that we have a better education system which provides opportunities in school, vocational training and universities.

In Ross Hart, the community of Bass has a fantastic local member. Somebody who understands deeply the challenges of inequality and who's committed in his heart to doing as much as he can to create a more cohesive community. Australia does benefit from our engagement with the world and Tasmanians know that – through exports of salmon and milk, and through the overseas students who come to study at the University of Tasmania.

But we need to make sure that globalisation works for everyone. That globalisation includes the wraparound social supports that ensure that the benefits of growth that flow from globalisation are fairly shared across the community. Labor doesn't believe that sharing is as fair as it could be. We believe that inequality is a signal challenge of our age that needs to be tackled and they're the issues that we need to be focused on today.

We're happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: The Turnbull Government is investing millions of dollars into the University of Tasmania's relocation in Northern Tasmania. Isn't that a signal that they are investing in people and infrastructure?

LEIGH: The Turnbull Government were dragged kicking and screaming to support - at the last minute - a Labor investment. We're of course pleased that that is going ahead. We believe it creates jobs in the construction phase and opportunities once the campus is opened. But we also believe that it's vital that there's a State Government that is doing as much as it can to improve school retention, and we don't believe we've seen that out of the Liberal State Government - which has allowed education to slide where it ought to be a state priority.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned President-Elect Trump and in the past Tasmania has been referred to as a rust-belt state – I think by Access Economics. Do you see some parallels between Tasmania and some of the states that went to Trump in the election?

LEIGH: It's an interesting question. You do certainly see around Australia communities that feel as though the benefits of growth have passed them by. We talk a lot about these 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth, but that's a measure of growth – the aggregate pie. If you look at actual living standards – real national disposable income per capita – it's down a couple of percent since the Abbott-Turnbull Government came to power. For communities in Tasmania it is vital that we think about where the jobs of the future come from. How we make sure we've got those services supply chains to ensure that Tasmanians can benefit from globalisation and how we ensure that we've got the social supports for people who are transiting between jobs.

The Abbott Budget in 2014 sought to rip away social supports from many Australians but it would have hit Tasmania as hard as any other part of Australia. So it’s vital that we have a Labor agenda. Openness to the world, but a strong set of social supports to ensure that the benefits of globalisation are fairly shared.

JOURNALIST: What sort of industries do you want to see more of?

HART: Clearly irrigation is an opportunity for the north of the state. For example I have been talking to proponents of electrification about extending electrification of three-phase off into the far north-east to assist with further dairy conversions in the north-east. We still have a timber industry that is suffering from the fact that their markets have disappeared. Further advanced transformation of timber within the state will be vital for the future of the north of the state.  We also need to think about tourism, and also our food industry. Clearly if we invest in higher value products and solve the problems of transport and freight our exports will be in a better place to exploit the benefits of globalisation.

But we need to celebrate investments in the far north-west. The investment of Van Diemen’s Company, Woolnorth is now exporting milk to China – a higher value product rather than trying to compete at the lower end of the market. So that’s where we need to go with better jobs and the sort of industries that involve transformation within the state so that we have a manufacturing future for the north of the state.

JOURNALIST: There’s a stand-off over the backpacker tax and it is getting close to the time when Tasmanian farmers will want to pull their apples of the tree. How are you going to resolve, or help resolve, this stand-off?

LEIGH: In my view the government should just do the right thing. The backpacker tax has been an unmitigated disaster since it was first announced in last year’s budget. It’s caused deep discontent amongst farmers and among backpackers we know it’s already causing a drop-off in working holiday-makers coming to Australia. Labor has put forward a very sensible proposal; that the tax rate shouldn’t be the 32 per cent that the government first proposed, it shouldn’t be the 19 per cent that they dropped down to which on their modelling has exactly the same impact as the 32 per cent tax. It should be 10.5 per cent which is the same rate as in New Zealand. We believe that’s good policy and we’re urging the Turnbull government to do the right thing and work with us to settle on this solution and ensure backpackers have a way forward.

JOURNALIST: You just mentioned before that the state government needed to invest more on education; how do you measure the investment? Because if it’s financial they are putting a record amount of funds into education over the next few years, is that enough? What would you like to see?

LEIGH: It’s also about the focus. It’s about ensuring that we have great teachers being attracted into our schools and being retained there. It’s about making sure schools are a safe places in which all students have the opportunity to learn without being subject to bullying. It’s these sort of sensible reforms that can make the difference in the long term to whether a child decided to drop out or decides to stay in and complete year 12. Because a child who is thinking about finishing school now – a child who was born in 2000 – will be in the workforce until 2060 or 2070. And that workforce of 2060 or 2070 is going to be extraordinarily different from today’s labour market. Much more technology, much more demand for skills. So we need to have a great education system because we need to keep those kids in school and ensure they don’t just have literacy and numeracy but also a love of learning that will make them lifelong learners through their careers.



                                  ADAM GORE (HART)     0405 950 578

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.