Australian Coat of Arms

Member for Blaxland

Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment

Shadow Minister for Resources and Northern Australia 

Doorstop - Townsville - Monday, 5 November 2018

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP
TOWNSVILLE
MONDAY, 5 NOVEMBER 2018


SUBJECT: Labor’s $200m investment for Townsville’s water security, ScoMo Express  


CATHY O'TOOLE, MEMBER FOR HERBERT: It's a wonderful day for the Townsville community here today. You'll see behind me the pipes these great pipes that are going to make the pipeline and bring our water woes to a fantastic reality where we will see long term water security for Townsville. I am here today with the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia and Resources and Trade the Honourable Jason Clare, Mayor of Townsville Councillor Jenny Hill and Brad Webb the independent chair of the Townsville Water Task Force.

 

Labor has been behind this project now for five hundred and fifty two days. As a local person to this community I know just how important this project is to our local community not only for water but most importantly for jobs for our people. We have terribly high unemployment. This project will see jobs for locals. So we have the best outcome. We have water security and we have jobs for locals. I’m going to pass over to Jason Clare now to give more detail about Labor's commitment.

 

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RESOURCES AND NORTHERN AUSTRALIA:  Well thanks very much Cathy. It's great to be here with Cathy with Jenny and with Brad. You can see the pipes behind us, that’s Stage 1 of the project to fix water for Townsville and it's fantastic to be here today to tell you that if Bill Shorten and Labor win the next election then we'll fully fund Stage 2. Cathy you  made the point – what was it 552 days - so over a year and a half ago Labor made it clear that we backed this project. We said we’d put $100 million behind it. That was a down payment. That showed the people of Townsville that we were serious about supporting them and serious about fixing the water crisis that Townsville has been suffering from.

 

We've now got Brad's report. I want to thank you Brad for the work that you've done over a very long period of time with the task force team. We got the report last week and Brad's report says that we need a once and for all fix for Townsville’s water problems, and in short what that means is building Stage 1 and Stage 2 concurrently, and that's what we will do. 

 

It makes sense to do that because if we build Stage 1 and Stage 2 concurrently we'll save taxpayers’ money. We’ll potentially save about $50 million or so. We'll also build the project and fix Townsville’s water problems quicker and we'll also create more jobs now for a town that desperately needs them. 

 

And if we do it the way that Jenny has overseen Stage 1 we'll also make sure that we're creating more jobs for local businesses. One of the great things that Jenny’s done with Stage 1 is make sure that the contracts have gone to locals rather than for people outside the town. And that's a really important thing for a town that's got an unemployment rate that's almost double the national average. And so if we win the next election our commitment is rock solid. We will fund Stage 2 of this project. We want to see it done concurrently so that we get all of those benefits that I've just spoken about.

 

Can I thank Jenny for her leadership of Townsville can I thank Brad for the work you've done. I've had the privilege to meet with you on a number of occasions to understand your thinking and the work that you've done as you've put this plan together. On behalf of Bill Shorten I want to thank you as well. Bill and I both had the chance to work with you closely on this and can I also thank Cathy O’Toole.

 

There are a lot of federal politicians that are eager to claim credit for funding this project and a lot of would be federal politicians. There is only one federal politician that actually deserves the credit. On the day Cathy was elected, in fact before then, and ever since she's been fighting for federal funding to fix Townsville’s water problems and the fact that you've now got the Federal Government saying they'll put in money and the Federal Opposition making a commitment to fully fund Stage 2 is in no short order due to Cathy O’Toole. To be honest this wouldn't have happened without Cathy O’Toole so Cathy can I thank you for your leadership, for your tenacity for your hard work. Cathy O'Toole is evidence that a politician who works hard who fights for their local community can get results. Well done.

 

JENNY HILL, MAYOR OF TOWNSVILLE: So ladies and gentlemen I have said to everyone who has asked me about our water security to wait until the final report was presented. We were able to do that last week to government but both levels of government state and federal have been a party to the development of the final report, not just Brad Webb as the independent chairman. That final report gave us a way forward to ensure water security for Townsville. It means that we need the money now. We need a commitment to the money now so that we can ensure firstly that we have a permanent solution to Townsville’s water demand. Secondly we can actually save over $50 million if we can do this project concurrently.  I want to thank the Opposition. I want to thank Jason and Cathy for their commitment to that funding. It is important to us. It gives us some certainty.

 

But you know this doesn't happen by itself and through Brad as the Independent Chair of the Taskforce working with state and local and federal agencies. They are the ones saying to us we need the water and now we can achieve long term security. The funding of the second stage is extremely important for us to achieve that. We've got a commitment from the Opposition. We had that commitment six months ago. Since the report’s been given they've increased their offering to us to fully fund the project. I want to thank them for doing that and I'm sure that the community will thank them also.

 

JOURNALIST: Just on that Jenny, you’re a member of the Labor Party. The project has been promised to be fully funded by the Federal Government, obviously the LNP. Are you endorsing the Labor Party here?

 

HILL: I’m endorsing anyone who wants to fully fund this project. So if a member of government, and I’ve made that offer, we put that in writing twice to the government in letters. We're happy, I'm happy to be here with them as well. But what I want is  a real commitment to funding this project fully. No more smokescreens no more this and that. I would prefer that we don't have to jump through any hoops to get this across the line.

 

JOURNALIST: Jenny what are your thoughts on the differences between the commitments from the federal government and the Opposition? Obviously the federal government is offering $200 million for Stage 2. The federal opposition is offering to fund the whole project. Do you see any differences there or are you glad that they’ve both just put money on the table?  

 

HILL: Look I'm happy we've got money on the table it gives us an indication that there could be a way forward to this and we can continue this project. Run it concurrently and actually make some real savings for everyone.

 

I mean it was very clear in the report and I just need to check – has that been made public yet?

 

BRAD WEBB: I’m not really sure…

 

HILL: It hasn’t see we want that report public so the community can see what is in there and understand why we believe this project should be funded. Now obviously the federal government and federal members have access, state has access and I know the state has said they're happy for the report to be made public. I would really really insist that the federal government agree so that we can put it out there for the community to see.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Clare said that the most important federal politician to get this across the line is Cathy O’Toole – do you agree with him?

 

HILL: I’m very happy to have someone commit to the money.  Now as was pointed out there was $100 million commitment given some time ago. So the Opposition put their money where their mouth is. The federal government has always said they needed to wait for the final taskforce report. Well it's here.

 

JOURNALIST: Mayor the federal government's putt the ball clearly in the councils court by saying you've got immediate access to that $5 million for a business case. How long do you think it will take to complete that and do you think you'll need the full $5 million?

 

HILL: I've had discussions with staff. I think we can do the business case and we could do it very quickly.  In terms of the cost I'm not going to commit how much it's going to cost I don't know but I'm sure with the help of Brad as the independent chair we should be able to get a business case across the line fairly quickly.

 

JOURNALIST: There's been a lot of studies on this - is a business case necessary?

 

HILL: I would argue that the Water Taskforce final report gives a clear indication what needs to be done and the reasons why.  Look if we've got to jump through another hoop to keep everyone happy there are ways we can do that but it would have been nice to have just put that report out there publicly and that way then the community could judge.

 

JOURNALIST: What kind of paperwork or reporting due diligence did you have to complete to submit to the State Government to get their funding?

 

HILL: I might ask Brad to do that but the reality is we had both levels of government, senior bureaucrats working on this. I'm amazed that that's what the senior bureaucrats telling government they should do.

 

JOURNALIST: Brad do you want to say a few words?

 

WEBB: Sure I can say a few words.

 

HILL: I’m sure your words will be a lot more colourful than mine.

 

WEBB:  Look thank you all. Thank you very much. This is one of the greatest days in Townsville’s history. We've got the federal Opposition guaranteeing fully funding the whole pipeline which as I see in the paper they said it's a 20 year fix - it's a 50 to 60 year fix. This has been a long long time coming.

 

We've also got the federal government - $200 million on the table. Townsville citizens cannot lose this time and it's so good to see the way Jenny has taken the lead in running the projects rather than a tier one contract. I can't speak highly enough about that because every small contractor that I know in some shape or way or form is getting work out of this.  They've broken the packages up so that our local people our local businesses can build this pipeline which is not only going to drive jobs - as we do Stage 2 it'll be it'll give us three to four years of work across the board and it will continue because other projects will grow after the end of this pipeline.

 

So it's so important to small business, community the city’s grow,  the city’s pride. This is a wonderful day for the citizens of Townsville and I can't thank all levels of government for their support and the Palaszczuk government for stepping up straight away and putting the $225 million on the table. That was a big gutsy stand and we need to start saying thanks to some of these politicians that are really working hard. As for Cathy she's been in my office. I think she spent more time in the office than I have harassing me but Cathy it’s finally here and hopefully you're happy with the report and the support behind it has been wonderful along with a lot of other people.

 

The task force is not just Brad Webb. We've got three levels of government working together which is to be quite frank is normally almost impossible. So we've done that. They’ve at least put politics aside and built this line for the people of Townsville. So I think there should be. Thank you to everyone and each level of government and the Opposition Leader for putting up and standing up and supporting Townsville because water is far more important than politics and I think you have all shown that today.

 

So I can't thank you enough on behalf of the people of Townsville. Thank you very much.

 

JOURNALIST: Brad a  technical question.

 

Obviously the $50 million savings will be achieved by not having to do some work on the channel if we’re going to keep going to the Burdekin Clare. Does this mean technically that as you build the pipe, the new pipe,  that it won't actually ever enter the channel it will push back the date that we actually turn on the taps?

 

WEBB:  Well I think that's a good question Clare at the end of the day if we're going to complete the whole line in one go obviously we need a little bit more time to complete it. But the citizens have got the guarantee that we're not going from a 15 year fix we're going to a 50 to 60 year fix and I'm sure the public are happy with that and I think some careful management which the council has shown, responsibility in managing the water we do have in the dam will get us through. I think the short term pain for the long term game is well and truly worth it.

 

JOURNALIST: And obviously you have chaired this committee you’ve submitted your final report. It’s been received and there's been a funding announcement since. Where do you see your role going forward? Is this sort of the end of the road for you?

 

WEBB: Oh look I can't wait for everyone to sack me. The last thing I need is another job but look I had to step up and do this.  Jenny harassed me to do the job. A lot of people have harassed me to be the independent chair but look to me this is all about the city and I think it was a responsibility I had as a as a long term, well I'm born and bred in Townsville, instead of complaining about it step up and do it.  So I've sort of done the role for the people of the city not for any other reason.

 

JOURNALIST: What would a federally funded business case do that the final report failed to do and why do we need it?

 

WEBB: Good question. I think it's more a paperwork thing. I'm not really sure why we got to do it but we have been told that Jenny can run the business case. So with that in her hands I'm confident we can get that done very quickly and satisfy all levels of government.

 

JOURNALIST: What's the window of time for which we could have everything locked in and build it concurrently? What’s the deadline?

 

WEBB: Oh look we'd like to have the business case in approved and done by December. Sorry Jenny there's a fair bit of work for your staff there that they probably won't…

 

HILL: I've told them I want it by the last council meeting in November.

 

WEBB: So is it achievable? Looks it’s tough but we don't care if that's what it takes that's what it takes. We need to do whatever we need to do to make this happen. It is happening it's not it's not pie in the sky stuff. The federal government is going to give us the money. If there's a backup plan Shorten is going to give us the money. We can't lose for once in our life.

 

JOURNALIST: The federal government has stumped up $5 million to be immediately accessible for this business case. When you compare it to other big studies up this way, the Hell’s Gate feasibility study only cost $2.2 million. Why on earth would you commit that much money to this kind of a study?

 

CLARE: Well that's a good question. $5 million is a lot of cash. Jenny I'm sure you could think of a lot better things to spend five million dollars on than a business case. Scott Morrison could spend that money on reversing the cuts he's made to schools and hospitals in Townsville.  They've ripped $14 million out of local Townsville schools. That money could go in there. They've ripped over $8 million out of Townsville Hospital. That money could go in there. They've ripped over $30 million out of James Cook University and Central Queensland University has had about $30 million ripped out of it as well. So that $5 million dollars could go to that rather than having to do this report.

 

You know I've been privileged enough to read Brad's report. The hard work has being done.  It's been done with the help of the federal government, of the state government, of the Council. We should just get on and build it.

 

JOURNALIST: Do you think Labor's commitment to the pipeline is still relevant given that this isn't an election commitment from the government it’s immediate funding that they're saying will be there before you guys even get a chance to have a crack at government.

 

CLARE: Well the government hasn't committed to build Stage 2 concurrently yet either. You know a key part of what Brad and the taskforce have recommended is that we need to build Stage 1 and Stage 2 concurrently. So you don't just half build it and then come back on the never never and build Stage 2. And it's important that we get a commitment out of the federal government to do what Labor is saying we will do it and that is build it concurrently or as Brad says in the report fix it once and for all. And we haven't heard that from the federal government.

 

JOURNALIST: They haven't committed to build it concurrently but they have thrown in enough money so that even if they can't deliver that $55 million saving Townsville will still get its water. What do you make of that?

 

CLARE: Well we can save taxpayers money, fix Townsville’s water problems sooner and create more local jobs for local people if we do what Brad's report tells us to do which is build it concurrently. I urge the federal government to listen to Brad, to listen to the local experts. Listen to Jenny, listen to Cathy – that’s what we’re doing. That's why we're committing to fully fund Stage 2 and just one other point.

 

We’ve had to drag this government kicking and screaming on almost everything they do in Townsville. We had to drag them kicking and screaming before the last election to fund the stadium. Over the last few months we've had to drag them kicking and screaming to finally put some money into widening the channel at the port and we've had to do the same thing here. We promised $100 million for this project a year and a half ago. Bill and I were here in April saying put some money in the budget. Malcolm Turnbull never did.

 

We're just going to have to keep pushing and keep pushing until we finally get this federal government to do what the taskforce recommends and that is do it once fix it up for good so that the people of Townsville have got water security not for 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, but as Brad says for 50 years.

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Scott Morrison is headed up this way due to arrive on Wednesday on his blue bus. I forgot what it’s called…

 

JOURNALIST: ScoMo Express…

 

JOURNALIST: ScoMo express. There we go. What do you think he should be up here talking about?

 

O’TOOLE: I think he should be up here listening to the people of this community. And if he’d listened when I sent him two letters asking him to match Labor's commitment for long term water security over the past two budgets we would have had this committed quite some time ago. So he's had the opportunity. We have also energy issues here. The fact that this government has completely destroyed a national energy framework is doing nothing for small business and residents in terms of what we are paying for energy in this community.

 

So he needs to come and listen to the people who are trying to make ends meet. I know one organisation one business they determined when they will turn their air conditioner on and when they will turn it off because they cannot afford to run it all day.

 

JOURNALIST: Labor’s committed $200 million to the raising of the Burdekin Falls dam that report is due to be handed to government at the end of this year. Do you worry that you'll be stuck in a similar situation where you've committed the money without really knowing what the recommendation or the final cost of the project is going to be?

 

O’TOOLE: No I'm not because I am very confident with the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Jason Clare and the leadership team. They listen to what I bring forward. I have worked with members of our community to determine what they think, the experts in our community think we need. We are very open to looking at what the energy alternatives here. We know that the original plan for the Burdekin Falls Dam back in 85/87 was to raise the wall and to put hydro on that dam.

 

We stand by our commitment there and we are very open to other suggestions that may actually address our major energy crisis here.

 

JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison's starting his ScoMo Express tour a week after polling put the LNP six points ahead of Labor in Queensland. Barring a disaster on his behalf it's probably going to help his numbers in the most marginal seat in the state and the nation. Any anxiety about what his visit might do to (inaudible) by May?

 

O’TOOLE:  No I don't. And let me say he hasn't got an original thought in his head. Bill Shorten brought his bus tour through the 2016 campaign. It was a raging success. Clearly this government is following every single thing that Labor does. Labor in opposition is putting out more policy than this government’s even had the opportunity to dream about. They are behaving like an opposition. They are very critical of what we do but where's their policy? They can't even get an original idea to get themselves up the coast.

 

CLARE: I might just jump in there if I can add to that.

 

JOURNALIST: All yours.

 

CLARE: Look I think the real problem is no one's driving the bus. They’re down the back like the naughty kids that get on the bus after school fighting with each other instead of with their hand on the steering wheel.

 

Last week we had  the Prime Minister and the former Prime Minister fighting with each other about what they said or shouldn’t have said in Indonesia. This week you've got the former Prime Minister on Q&A, I think it's on Thursday night at eight o'clock. No doubt they'll be fighting again. And if the political leaders in this country are too busy fighting with each other then they're not focused on what they should be doing which is driving the nation ahead.

 

So my message to the government is stop fighting with each other stop stabbing each other in the back. I'm sure the people of Townsville who voted for Malcolm Turnbull at the last election will be scratching their head at the moment. They’ll be thinking - well I voted for Malcolm Turnbull then they’ve stabbed this bloke in the back. Now we've got Scott Morrison.

 

People won’t forget that easily. They’ll be pretty angry that this bloke is turning up here on Wednesday after the bloke they voted for was stabbed in the back and the other problem is you can't do his job properly when he's busy fighting the former prime minister who is still throwing bombs at him from Q&A.

 

JOURNALIST: Alright you’re the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia and Scott Morrison is going as far north as Townsville but he’s leaving out Cairns. Obviously it's an area that you have a close connection to in your portfolio. What do you think about that?  

 

CLARE: Well it's interesting. I think he should keep going. He should keep going and keep going further north. He doesn't visit Queensland enough he doesn't visit the north enough. Speaking on behalf of Labor, Bill Shorten has been to Townsville 17 times since Cathy was preselected. I think that gives you an idea of his commitment to this area.

 

Prime Minister's been here very very rarely and it's important if you want to understand Northern Australia and if you want to understand Central and North Queensland to visit places like Cairns. Go out to Mount Isa where I  was just a couple of weeks ago to understand the whole community because the issues vary from place to place.

 

JOURNALIST: Cathy just one quick one on another matter. Virgin Australia has said that they’ll give preferential treatment to veterans on boarding flights and so on – what do you make of that?

 

O’TOOLE:  I think our veterans do an outstanding job and Townsville being the largest garrison city in the country we really appreciate our veterans. That is why I have established a Townsville Defence Community Reference Group where I meet with all ESO’s, the serving members as well where we discuss these policy issues where I'm sure we will have some discussion about this. I think as a community here we really value the contribution that the defence forces make here both socially and economically. And I think any way that we can respectfully acknowledge the work of our veterans we should do that. I think this is an area for them to make comment on, not really me.

 

HILL: Just to keep everyone in the loop. We've written, I've written to the PM today seeking a meeting to discuss the funding and funding arrangements for the duplication of the Haughton Pipeline to Clare Weir.

 

So the doors are open. It's really now up to what the Prime Minister wishes to do and the current member for Dawson and the candidate for Herbert.

 

ENDS