MONDAY, 1 MAY 2017
SUBJECTS: SENATE INQUIRY INTO RAIL MANUFACTURING, BUDGET CUTS TO UNIVERSITIES, LIBERAL DISUNITY.
PRESENTER: Well we are talking trains now. At twenty to eight my guest who will be in Newcastle today for a Senate inquiry into the state of Australia’s rail industry with the spotlight shining in Newcastle. Joining me now is Victorian Labor Senator Kim Carr who is on the line and has been waiting very patiently.
Good morning Senator.
SENATOR KIM CARR: Good morning
PRESENTER: Sorry to keep you waiting so long
CARR: No problem at all
PRESENTER: May day. Its May day today. We had a number of functions happen in Newcastle today including the birth of the Australian Labor Party going back I think to 1891 with the shearers strike up in Queensland. What’s the relevance of May day in 2017?
CARR: It’s the international day of celebration for working people. It’s the day in which we remember the struggles of people have engaged in to protect their civil rights, their human rights, their capacities to ensure that they have a decent standard of living and share of the prosperity that countries like Australia undoubtedly have to offer.
PRESENTER: Well I am sure there are many factory workers in Newcastle who are probably listening to the program would be hoping that governments would be building trains locally. Unfortunately the New South Wales government doesn’t seem to like to build trains locally as distinct from the Victorian government. And it does seem to be one of the areas where there is a clear ideological divide between Labor and Liberal. Certainly Labor governments seem to think that jobs are important, that we build things here. But in this case it seems that the NSW Liberal government seems to think it’s better to build trains overseas Senator.
CARR: It’s an appalling situation where we have seen state governments like New South Wales awarding a $17 billion contract to China for railway carriages, an $8 billion contract for rail lines to Spain for using Spanish steel. We have seen the situation now develop where state governments, conservative state governments, have been buying rolling stock offshore when we have a very, very good domestic rail industry. An industry that needs to be encouraged, that needs to be developed, that needs to be able to ensure that it has long term contracts so it can improve its efficiency, build its competitiveness and develop its own export capacities.
Now the Australian rail industry and manufacturing side of it employs about 17,000 people direct and indirect and Australian governments have got a responsibility to back Australian companies, back Australian workers and build the national capacity so we can ensure that prosperity is genuinely shared.
What we have seen is the loss of some 40 percent of employment in Australian rail manufacturing over the last ten years. The Australian Senate I am sure would be very concerned about that and will want to do something about it.
PRESENTER: What’s the purpose of the inquiry that is having its hearing happening today in Newcastle, Senator?
CARR: Well we want to look at why it is that we are losing this capacity and what we can do about that.
We have seen that there have been changes in the Australian government purchasing policies in recent times because of action in the Senate. The Senate would now like to know what we can do in terms of rail construction, in both the rail lines and in terms of rolling stock, what we can do to build Australian jobs and economic opportunities for Australia in regards to that.
Given that over the next five years there is going to be something like $45 billion worth of rail projects coming on stream. We want to know how much of that will be built in Australia.
PRESENTER: At least once a year Anthony Albanese throws out the bait of a very fast train on the east coast in particular for Novocastrians between Sydney and Newcastle and we salivate at the prospect. Is it a pipedream or is it a possible reality - a very fast train on the east coast of Australia?
CARR: Of course it’s a reality. It’s a question though of whether the Australian governments are going to work together.
One of the things that drove the federation was the question of rail. Yet even 117 years after federation we are still not able to get governments in Australia to work together when it comes to the rail industry and its time to change.
We have a situation by where we have an enormous opportunity to build Australian prosperity if governments are able to work together. I think we have got an obligation as politicians to make sure governments back Australia.
PRESENTER: At the inquiry which is happening today in Newcastle who will be giving evidence? Is it industry, is it unions, is it workers, is it the whole kit and caboodle?
CARR: Yes, its workers, their unions. Individual workers, their unions and individual companies. And of course the opportunity is there for us to visit the rail site in Glendale. And because there is so much work coming onto the system you have got to expect that some of the companies are a bit reluctant to speak publically about the situation so we will talk to them privately about what is happening in the rail industry.
But the unions have put enormous energy into their submissions with high quality research and I am very impressed with the submission I have seen from the Centre for Future Work, from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Workers Union and from Lovell Springs – one of the major suppliers still operating here in Newcastle.
PRESENTER: My guest is Australian Labor Senator Kim Carr who will be in Newcastle today continuing a Senate inquiry hearing into the state of Australia’s rail industry. You are the Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. A lot of research happens at our Newcastle University – they are a major employer locally – Fairfax today reporting wide sweeping changes expected to be announced by Higher Education Minister Simon Birmingham funding for Australian universities set to be slashed by millions of dollars, student fees raised and the loan repayment threshold lowered. Obviously it’s going to have a huge impact on universities such as Newcastle Senator.
CARR: There is no doubt about that. What we know is that the government has told Senator Birmingham that he has to find the same amount of money that Mr Abbott took from universities in the 2014 Budget, so that’s about $5 billion that has to be found. Now in New South Wales that’s $1.5 billion, and in the University of Newcastle that’s over $200 million. That’s for research programs and for teaching programs.
For the University of Newcastle that’s a particularly savage hit because its rural and regional universities that are going to find this most difficult. This is a high quality university in Newcastle that has been instrumental in developing the economic opportunities of the Hunter since the closure of the steel works and is of profound significance to the region. Its built its research capacity and its done so on the basis of really paying enormous attention to equity issues. So a lot of the people who go to Newcastle come from poorer backgrounds – these are the people who are going to find it hardest to meet these new demands from the government which will shift the cost of education onto families and onto individual students. That’s what is going to make it so unfair, and unreasonable for this government to pursue these policies while they are giving away $50 billion worth of tax cuts to their richest mates through their budget measures.
PRESENTER: And finally Senator, you were quite publically a Kevin Rudd supporter and looking back you can appreciate the dangers of having former Prime Ministers who aspire to getting back into the job sitting on the backbench. Do think the Tony Abbott-Malcolm Turnbull situation is toxic beyond repair and possibly will destroy the Australian government?
CARR: We do know the dangers of what happens with party disunity and that’s what is happening within the Liberal Party. There’s no question that this government is falling apart. We do know that the civil war in the Liberal party is having profound impact on the operations of the government and it is affecting the capacity to do their job.
We learnt from our experiences, and this government has not learnt from that experience and continues the internecine warfare that keeps coming back into the public attention in so many ways. It’s only a matter of time before we have to face an election – I think next year – and I am looking forward to that opportunity where the Australian people can pass judgement on what has been a pretty ordinary performance by Mr Turnbull and a very ordinary performance by Mr. Abbott.