Standing up for Canberra

Transcript: Interview with Tim Shaw

SUBJECTS: PFAS Contamination, APVMA Relocation, Public Service Jobs, National Skills Summit, Apprenticeships and Training, Marriage Equality, NBN

TIM SHAW: A very good morning Canberra, it's always a pleasure to have your company. Thanks for choosing 2CC Breakfast. Now, you know this place is dial in democracy, it always is. You can have your say, whether you agree with me or whether you don't agree with me - and I love it when people don't agree with me - because we can debate the topic. And debating policy is an important thing. We've got 226 elected representatives that do that every sitting week. They'll be back here in Canberra. Someone once said to me, "Look, Canberra's not the problem, it's the 222 that fly in every time for the sitting week that cause the problem." But you know you've got Zed Seselja, Gai Brodtmann, Katy Gallagher and Andrew Leigh - they're the four locals, and one of them is in the studio now. Gai Brodtmann, the Member for Canberra. Good morning.


SHAW: Now how was Darwin yesterday?

BRODTMANN: I was up in Darwin for two days and I was up there for two reasons. First, to visit RAAF Base Darwin as well as Robertson Barracks to talk with them about the PFAS contamination issue. Both those sites have been identified as having elements of PFAS.

SHAW: What is PFAS?

BRODTMANN: It's a per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substance that was used in liquid fire-fighting foam. It was phased out in the early 2000s, but there are still elements being found on bases throughout the country, as well as at airports. 

SHAW: My colleague, Alan Jones, has been talking about this. He's written directly to Defence Minister Marise Payne about this matter. Is Defence listening, Gai Brodtmann?

BRODTMANN: Finally, they are. And finally the Government is actually consulting with the community. They were absolutely shocking when this first broke about 18 months ago, two years ago in Williamtown, as well as Oakey. There were no visits by the Ministers, there was complete - in my view - indifference. The communities were very stressed and very anxious.

In Williamtown, you had the NSW EPA closing down the fishing industry, and that had a significant impact on the lives of about 40 fishers and their families. It's been reopened, but it had a significant knock-on effect, not just for the local fishing industry, but also the community living around Williamtown.

It's been an ongoing issue. Labor initiated a Senate Inquiry into it a couple of years ago, and it's an issue that I have been following very, very closely. I developed Labor's policy response to this, which the Government basically duplicated.

SHAW: I'm concerned about those men and women that have served at those bases in the past, and they've not had any direct assessment of whether there have been any health issues for them. But, are we saying today, Thursday 16 March, that the men and women working there at those bases you visited yesterday, are safe?

BRODTMANN: We are still getting a greater understanding of this issue. There is no universal agreement on what constitutes a high-risk level. The US has got a different interpretation to Europe, to Australia. There is no universal agreement on it.

Labor has been calling for a national approach to this issue, to get rid of the EPAs taking their own individual response. That was one of the major planks in the policy that we released last year. It is important that we have a national approach to this, and that we gain a clear understanding about what is actually happening on these bases as soon as possible.

Preliminary tests have identified a number of sites throughout Australia that have traces of, or elements of PFAS on them, and now Defence is going in and doing really, really detailed, comprehensive testing. Not just at one, or two, or three, or four sites, but at hundreds of sites. Ground water, surface water, soil, really comprehensive testing, and they've prioritised that too.

The base visits were to get an understanding of where RAAF Base Darwin and Robertson Barracks fitted into that process. Yesterday I met with Luke Gosling, the Member for Solomon, who is a really great bloke - 

SHAW: Great bloke. Ex ADF.

BRODTMANN: And a great addition - yes, ex ADF – with a great understanding of Defence issues across a broad range of areas. He organised for me to meet with the local chamber, to talk to them about how the NT businesses – small, micro, medium, large – can access Defence contracts. You would have heard yesterday the tragic news about the loss of those Inpex jobs, 800 going. I was there in the morning when it broke.

SHAW: No, not good enough. I'll tell you what's not good enough. Sir Robert Menzies would be turning in his grave over the service decentralisation - the public service decentralisation. You've written specifically a submission to the Senate Committee about this. I don't support the policy, I think pesticides should be here in Canberra, and I think it was a dumb policy of the Deputy Prime Minister. I think it's pork-barrelling. You and I know all sides of politics are pork-barrelled. I have no whiteboards in this studio. But what I want to do - what can we do to stop this? Because it's disrupting Canberran families, it's taking mums away from dads, we've got kids enrolled in Canberra schools, and we haven't even got a building for them to work in. They're going to a fast food restaurant to access bloody WiFi, Gai Brodtmann. This is 2017, why is this happening?

BRODTMANN: We've got to continue the fight. They're still in the planning stage, and I understand they're going right up until 1 July.

We have to continue to fight this. We have to continue to maintain the rage on this, and we have to continue to call it out for what it is. It is blatant and shameless pork-barrelling.

The cost benefit analysis - the $272 thousand cost benefit analysis - that was commissioned by the Government showed that it is all cost and no benefit, particularly to Canberra. It's going to have a huge hit on the Canberra economy.

We're looking at $157 million a year being sucked out of the Canberra economy. A huge hit on jobs - 365 jobs - and not just in terms of the broader economy, think about those 200 or so APVMA workers. Their lives are completely disrupted, their children's education is disrupted, their partners jobs are disrupted - 

SHAW: Silly policy.

BRODTMANN: Well they’re voting with their feet, they're not moving. So we're going to have this huge loss of expertise in this really important area. Agriculture contributes a huge amount to our GDP each year. This is a move that has been opposed by the industry associations, CropLife, Animal Medicines - 

SHAW: Joel Fitzgibbon.

BRODTMANN: National Farmers Federation. It is a bad idea. It is bad policy. And it really does work against the legacy of Sir Robert Menzies, who tirelessly spent decades getting Canberra established as the nation’s capital so that Australia could be proud of it, so that it could be seen as a worthy capital. He invested significant time, energy and money in establishing the infrastructure, in establishing the governance arrangements, in establishing the civics that was required for an appropriate national capital.

SHAW: Look we've got the empty buildings that we've got here. We've got an opportunity to be able to argue good, positive policy. And when our debt levels are where they are at, it's like Barnaby's let loose like a bull in a China shop. Fiona Nash - I've got a lot of time for Fiona Nash, I know you do too - she's the Deputy Leader of the National Party, she's at the National Press Club in a couple of weeks and I'm going to bring this up with her. Canberrans, do you support Gai on this fight. 6255 1206. It's not us saying, "you can only have public servants." There are public servants all over Australia, the ATO have got a very well established office up there at Gosford, doing some great work up there, employing a lot of people there on the north coast of NSW. But it was well planned, it wasn't just a knee-jerk, silly election promise. And it was going into Armidale, Barnaby, come on son. And they're in a MacDonald's restaurant accessing the WiFi. 

BRODTMANN: He had this hair-brained idea to move them to Armidale, essentially to win the last election, and he hasn't even got a location for them to work. So they're working in McDonald's to access the free WiFi. And in terms of accommodation, no one has got any idea of when they're actually going to have their own accommodation, because they're looking at a greenfields development that's going to take years to build.

SHAW: Dumb, dumb, dumb. Bob McMullan, Former ACT Senator, wrote about this in the Times yesterday, and he's talking about the possibility - and I'd love your feedback on this - depending on the department, but maybe some relocations to Queanbeyan, to Goulburn, to Yass. Is that something that we would get bipartisan support on?

BRODTMANN: Sixty percent of Government agencies are outside Canberra, but they're service delivery agencies. And this is the thing, the APVMA is a regulatory authority. It needs to be where the core business is based, and that's here in Canberra. It's sixty percent service delivery outside Canberra, but it's vitally important that we have policy development agencies and regulatory authorities here in Canberra. 

SHAW: 6255 1206. Can I give you some feedback from Canberrans? They get that Labor is in Opposition, and they get that Labor is fighting as hard, based on strong Labor policy. Now, Bill Shorten announced at the National Press Club, 2 February, jobs, jobs, and jobs, people before politics. Now he's true to his word. Tomorrow in Canberra he's got a National Skills Summit, and he's got some big people coming along to that. We know that we've had a 50% reduction in apprenticeship numbers, and that's not good. And the Coalition has got to do some hard work on this. I'm pretty sure that we'll get from Jennifer Westacott, from Innes Willox, who of course is from Australia Industry Group, and Ged Kearney from the ACTU. It's like it's taking me back to the consensus times of Bob Hawke, when he got business, industry and unions in the room. Is this the kind of way Labor is trying to develop policy to take to the Parliament to say, "Prime Minister, this is what we need to do." Is this what you think Bill Shorten's message is? 

BRODTMANN: It is designed to get an understanding of the environment, and get feedback from the people that are involved - 

SHAW: The players.

BRODTMANN: The players. So that's why we do have industry there, we've got educators there, we've got unions there, and we've got workers there, to talk about what is required. The situation that we have at the moment, is the significant reduction in apprenticeship numbers, particularly over the last 12 months. The significant reduction in expenditure on TAFE infrastructure, seventy-five percent I think it's down. These are real challenges for a nation that needs to skill up and train for the future. That's why this discussion tomorrow at the summit will be really useful.

SHAW: Look, Bill's a good negotiator. He's a former leader of the AWU. Yes, he did do some enterprise bargaining agreements with some big corporations. Those big corporations made a lot of profits last year, and a part of that was the negotiations on EBAs, of which Bill Shorten, Leader of the Labor Party was responsible for. Moving forward, we've got these tax cuts, and Bill Shorten has said, "I don't want to give a tax cut to a small business turning over more that $2 million. The Government is asking for $10 million. The Prime Minister told me on this program, 870,000 small businesses in Australia - you and I have both run small businesses - they employ 3.4 million people. Do you reckon there is some way around getting bipartisanship on tax cuts for small business, with an integrated apprenticeships program? Is that something Labor and the Coalition can work together on?

BRODTMANN: I think Labor have made it clear, in terms of what issues we are prepared to negotiate on, and what issues we're not prepared to negotiate on. We are not prepared to negotiate on those issues that we see as cutting into Australia's social fabric, as cutting into our DNA, and that are contrary to Labor values. We're up for a conversation on issues that are in the national interest that do not in any way work against our values, and do not in any way cut into our social fabric or DNA. 

SHAW: Fair enough. There was a statement overnight made by Sally McManus, she's the brand new ACTU boss, the Secretary. She told Leigh Sales that she believes that it is okay to condone the breaking of laws. Bill Shorten has come out this morning and said no, "Australians believe in changing bad laws, not breaking them." So he's moved away from those comments by Sally. 6255 1206. It's 8:18am. I want to talk to Gai Brodtmann after this break. I had a couple of messages. We've had 20 senior business leaders tell the Prime Minister, bring on the changes to the Marriage Act. We had the plebiscite scheduled, Labor voted no, and I've got a couple of listener feedbacks on that. 6255 1206, your chance to have your say with Gai Brodtmann, the Member for Canberra right after this, don't go away.


SHAW: Gai Brodtmann is my guest in the studio. You know she is the hardest working Member of Parliament, in my opinion, the Member for Canberra. Sparks fly as the Chief tells PM, marriage equality is good for business. So Gai Brodtmann, 20 of Australia's top Chief Executives from some of the nation’s biggest companies, have told Malcolm Turnbull to change the Marriage Act because it will be really good for business. Now, Labor blocked the plebiscite, your main reason was the $180 million, and you thought it would also divide the nation. 

BRODTMANN: They were two of the reasons. But the other was the fact that any change that's been made to the Marriage Act in the past has been done by the Parliament. Marriage equality can be a reality next week if it goes through the Parliament, depending on how people vote. But it can be a reality, in terms of a debate on it next week. The Government needs to show leadership on this, hopefully they'll get the message - this very strong message - from these 20 business leaders, that marriage equality is good for business, it is good for equality - 

SHAW: More cakes, more card invitations, more divorce applications.

BRODTMANN: It's not just that, it is the right thing to do. The time has come for this issue to be addressed.

SHAW: One of the messages from one of my listeners, Jeff at Jerrabomberra says, "If Bill Shorten is really interested in people before politics he would have allowed the plebiscite on gay marriage." So, is that something that Bill will put back up on the agenda, knowing that 20 top CEOs in Australia are saying it's time for that change?

BRODTMANN: We're going to continue to fight on this issue. We do believe in it. We believe in it strongly, and we do not believe the plebiscite is the way to go. As you've mentioned, the cost issue, but also the fact that it would be deeply divisive. Bill and I met with a number of families - LGBTQI families - last year to talk about their concerns about what a plebiscite would mean. They had their children there, and one mother was so frightened and fearful in terms of discussing it, that she put her hands over her child's ears so she couldn't hear what was being discussed. We are very concerned about it dividing the nation and having a significant issue on LGBTQI families. 

SHAW: The ACCC has got 4000 people volunteering to watch modem speeds and broadband speeds. I've got 20 seconds left. You're still right on the case. What do Canberrans need to do to report what is happening with their NBN and their speeds at your office? You've set something up.

BRODTMANN: I'm still maintaining this campaign to show the Government that we have appalling internet speeds in this city, so they just need to download a test - the details are on my website - and email it to me. Send me your speeds Canberra.

SHAW: Fantastic, send me your speeds Canberra. We've got Gai's website. And your Facebook, we've got to make sure that your Facebook isn't hacked. We heard a little report - - A pleasure to see you, have a wonderful day.

BRODTMANN: Thanks Tim.