TRANSCRIPT: ABC Radio Far North Queensland, Tuesday 17 May



TUESDAY, 17 MAY 2016

SUBJECTS: Backpacker tax; youth unemployment; Labor's positive plans for infrastructure funding in Townsville; Liberal division and dysfunction; Labor's positive plans for education.

ADAM STEPHEN, PRESENTER: Both the major parties must see their regional seats as being key to their election chances. The Prime Minister is flying into Cairns this evening while Townsville is getting a visit from the Deputy Labor Leader and she's with us now. Tanya Plibersek, welcome to the Drive program.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hello Adam it's great to be with you.

STEPHEN: Yeah, land of humidity and high unemployment you're visiting at the moment, Townsville. It's a centre that's been struggling for job creation ever since the well documented falling over of the Queensland Nickel Refinery there. You're in town to talk jobs aren't you?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, absolutely. I know Townsville's got a big challenge with jobs, and particularly after Queensland Nickel but of course the downturn in the mining industry more generally has affected the Queensland economy and Townsville in particular. So we're interested in the infrastructure projects that will keep Townsville moving. You know, of course, that we've committed a $100 million towards the stadium and we've always been big supporters of the Bruce Highway. We've been big funders of the Bruce Highway and that's in our top 10 infrastructure projects for Labor around the nation. I think the fact that Bill Shorten spent the first few days of the campaign in North Queensland as well is a really strong indication of how seriously we take the region.

STEPHEN: Tanya Plibersek, the news of the day has revolved around the backpacker tax. I'd be interested to get your views on the fact the Federal Government has put the backpacker tax on ice for another six months pending a review. It is a measure that would have raised more than $0.5 billion over four years for the Federal budget. It's been hard to get a read on the Labor Party's exact stance on the backpacker tax. Can you give us a clear indication on where you stand on it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think we've said very clearly that we wouldn't have done it and we're absolutely mystified by what the Government's position is because they've got $500 million booked in the budget for this tax and they're saying that it's on, it's off. The Prime Minister says it's on, the Treasurer says it's on, the Deputy Prime Minister says it's off. Now they've got the Assistant Treasurer out saying it's going to be delayed for six months. Well, I just don't think it's good enough. The Federal budget was two weeks ago. If they were serious about not going ahead with this tax then surely they would have been serious about it two weeks ago, not right just now because we're heading into an election campaign. It is mystifying that the Government thinks that people will be fooled by the fact that they can put a big tax increase into the budget papers, maki ng the economy look better and then delay it for six months. After the election, who knows what will happen - will the Treasurer and the Prime Minister get their way? Will the Deputy Prime Minister get his way? Who knows?

STEPHEN: What about if Labor's voted into power? Will we see the backpacker tax axed?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we've said that we want to sit down with the industries that depend on these workers and make sure that they've got the staff they need - tourism, horticulture - we know that a lot of industries depend on backpackers. We know a lot of regional economies are suffering because it's reported that not so many backpackers are coming. The thing is, of course, that they earn the money in the regional towns where they're working but they also spend the money in the regional centres where they're working. So we want to have a very good, close look at this.

STEPHEN: I mentioned before high unemployment. When you come to North Queensland people will always talk to you about youth unemployment because it seems to be a bit of a centre for youth unemployment in Australia - a hot spot if you will - not only the Townsville area but also far North Queensland as well. This has been a stubborn problem that has persisted across several different federal governments. Do we have any reason to believe things might change under a new Labor Government?

PLIBERSEK: Look, as you said Townsville's got a big problem with youth unemployment - almost 1 in 5 young people are out of work and Cairns sadly is even worse. It's about 2 in 5, it's almost 40% - 36.3%. So it's very, very serious. Look there's a few things. First, there's obviously, as I said earlier, our commitment to infrastructure means jobs across these regions but the obvious way that we help young people get a decent job is make sure they get a decent education and I can't understand why Ewen Jones does not support the extra $48 million to go into schools across the electorate of Herbert over the next couple of years. The Gonski school education funding, the LNP promised they would deliver, they said not a dollar difference between Labor and Liberal before the last election. That means an extra $48 million in schools across Herbert over the next two years alone. Kathy O'T oole, our candidate is 100% committed to delivering that education, those extra dollars for education and the sitting LNP member, Ewen Jones, is running a mile from giving a decent education to kids in the area. But it is also what happens after school, we're very worried about vocational education, there's been more than a $1 billion cut from vocational education. In fact, this electorate, Herbert that I'm in at the moment has got, in the course of about a year and a half, 636 fewer apprentices. But they're actually cutting funding for vocational education, getting rid of apprentices, they're not committed to funding our schools - the contrast couldn't be sharper. You've really got to invest in education to make sure our kids are ready for the future and that goes all the way through school but it also means after school, making sure that we've that got young people who can take up apprenticeship opportunities. They're great job s that can support a family, and support themselves, but you need programs like the Group Training programs that, of course, the LNP Government in Canberra's got rid of. You need things like the Youth Connections program which was a fabulous program that saw more than a 100,000 young people put into jobs for education - 80% of them were still in work or study a year later. A very, very successful program, very modest in its cost and again something that Malcolm Turnbull's got rid of. So you have to invest in education but you have to support young people into those jobs, making sure that they've got pathways like apprenticeships into work.

STEPHEN: Tanya Plibersek, how long are you in Townsville for?

PLIBERSEK: I'm in Townsville this afternoon and tonight and then late tonight I'm heading home. I've been in Rocky this morning and Brisbane yesterday so it's been a Queensland week so far.

STEPHEN: No doubt we'll probably see you up in Cairns at some point as well, I'd imagine, over the next 47 days?

PLIBERSEK: Very much looking forward to it Adam.