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Transcript of interview with Jon Faine: 774 ABC Melbourne: 29 August 2013: Foreign investment; Shipbuilding

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E & O E - PROOF ONLY _____________________________________________________________

Subjects: Foreign investment; Shipbuilding _____________________________________________________________

JON FAINE: Bill Shorten, good morning to you.

BILL SHORTEN: Good morning, Jon.

FAINE: What’s triggered this from the Prime Minister?

SHORTEN: Well I think he was answering a question at a debate. I think Kevin Rudd took a very front-foot approach in the debate. I mean, all of the issues in the debate, not just the foreign investment issue, I think we saw Tony Abbott trying to take a small target approach. They know they’re ahead in the polls. He desperately doesn’t want to put his foot in his mouth; that’s why he’s keeping his mouth shut.

Kevin Rudd, by contrast, knows that nothing ventured is nothing gained. He addresses the issues the community is raising, and foreign investment is one of them.

FAINE: Tony Abbott said that he would reduce the threshold for the Foreign Investment Review Board, which at the moment - he says it would go down to $15 million - it’s up over $200 million. So it’s really only mega deals that at the moment get supervised. Is your polling telling you that this is an issue where you can maybe make some inroads?

SHORTEN: No, I think the issue about foreign investment is always a hot button issue, especially when it comes to land, water rights and agribusinesses. The way the current foreign investment review structure works in Australia - deals beyond a certain deal have to go before the Foreign Investment Review Board

for approval. The debate is do you lower the threshold to study foreign deals. I think you need to address this discussion, which is an important discussion, with two principles. One is, there is community anxiety on whether Australians still own Australia. But you balance against that the fact that trade is a part of - we’re an island nation, and trading with the rest of the world and competing with the rest of the world is the key to our prosperity.

FAINE: Sure, but your attitude on this is different whether you’re a seller or a neighbour, isn’t it?

SHORTEN: Well, not necessarily.

FAINE: Well if you’re selling, and you want to get the best price that you can, you don’t care who’s offering, if someone from overseas is -

SHORTEN: But if you’re a neighbour and you’re in a regional town and you know you’re going to have an investor who’s going to invest in jobs and invest in renewed infrastructure, then chances are a rising tide lifts all boats. I’m in the western suburbs of Melbourne, and Qenos is a large industrial manufacturer. It used to be owned by, I think, Esso or BHP and [indistinct], anyway, a couple of those companies. It was going backwards because there was no reinvestment in capital. A Chinese company came along and bought it. And at one level, you go, oh well, Chinese company buying an Australian manufacturer, is that a change we don’t like.

The reality is that company has invested in both the Altona plant and the Botany plant and its saved jobs. So there’s always two sides to every coin. And what the Prime Minister articulated last night, though, is a respect for community concern. And the way you deal with community concern is you have all the facts on the table.

FAINE: Sure, and I remember talking to you about this topic when it was one of your portfolio responsibilities in your earlier Ministerial incarnation as - what was it - Minister for Finance, I think it was called?

SHORTEN: Assistant Treasurer, yeah.

FAINE: Assistant Treasurer, thank you. And you in fact told us there was no need for any changes, that you’d done an audit of foreign investment in Australian agricultural land, and there was hardly any activity worthy of note.

SHORTEN: No, what I said to you is that concerns that Australians don’t own Australia anymore are overblown.

FAINE: So, what - the Prime Minister’s concerns are overblown?

SHORTEN: No, what he said is there are concerns in the community. What I would say, also, though, and I’m sure I said it then, and if I didn’t say it then it was what I was thinking, is if you want to have a scientific, facts-based debate about the balance between Australians controlling Australia and attracting foreign investment, then you need to have as much transparency as possible. And since then, Labor has articulated the need for a register. So at least we know who owns what, where. And Labor’s the party that’s driven that in both residential property, and again our record’s good because we’re driving that in agricultural property, too.

FAINE: But neither Tony Abbott nor Kevin Rudd referred to that last night. And in fact, this was, I suspect, a straight play to the same marginal seat swinging voters that so many other, for instance, anti-refugee policies are. And it’s thinly disguised xenophobia, or even, at its worst, maybe racism, Mr Shorten.

SHORTEN: Oh Jon, it is not racist of Australians to want to know who owns their land. So I respect that debate. I think the best way you have informed public policy is that we avoid the slogans and we get on with the facts.

FAINE: Are we as concerned about Canadian investors in agricultural land as we would be about Chinese investors in agricultural land? Or does it all - is it all different if it’s Canadians, or French?

SHORTEN: No, it isn’t. I mean for me, what concerns me is are people, when they’re investing in Australia, when they bring with them capital investment, are they creating jobs. For me, what matters is the creation and maintenance of good paying jobs in this country. Obviously, I think it is important that as the Prime Minister articulated we’re interested in promoting Australian investment and Australian ownership. The world - a little known fact, Australians own as much of the rest of the world as the rest of the world owns of Australia. So we engage with, we live in a global world. But what we’ve also got to do is make sure that we do know who owns what, we do, I think, we are interested to make sure that Australians control Australian enterprises, Australian agribusinesses, Australian water rights.

So, I think it’s a legitimate concern, who owns what. I don’t think it’s xenophobic or racist. On the other hand, we - the best thing we can do to combat racism and xenophobia, which is what’s worrying you, is by having the clearest set of facts, so people can realise okay, there is a bit of give and take in foreign investment in Australia, but it’s not at the point where Australians no longer own their land.

FAINE: Alright, just finally, I know you have to catch a plane - briefly. What’s the announcement the Prime Minister’s making at Williamstown dockyards today?

SHORTEN: The Australian Labor Party supports the ship construction industry in this country. There’s sectors of the Australian economy where it just prudent to

have a strong Australian manufacturing base. We are an island. We should be a nation that builds ships here. So what the Prime Minister’s saying is that he would bring forward the building of two supply ships - these are big ships - so that we can avoid the peaks and troughs which often happen in Australian manufacturing. By peaks and troughs, what I mean is, you may get a big order for building ships or submarines or trains -

FAINE: You’ve got to have continuity. Understood.

SHORTEN: You keep the boilermakers, you keep the apprentices - I used to, in my old work, go down to the dockyards in Williamstown. We’ve been building ships here since before the Gold Rush. They were wooden ships then. Now they’re ships of steel. We need to keep those jobs. They’re good jobs. And one thing’s for sure -

FAINE: So why criticise Tony Abbott for putting some money into a chocolate factory in Tasmania, that’s one of the few employers in Tasmania, when you’re doing the same thing to keep jobs in Williamstown?

SHORTEN: Well, what I’m talking about is ships. Ships are pretty big enterprises. We need to make sure that we keep those core skills. Because the tradespeople, the trades’ assistants, the painters, people who work as shipbuilders, they have skills which, frankly, generate apprenticeships and small business.

If you want to vote for manufacturing in this country, you should vote Labor at this election, because we’re the ones who are supporting with policies which are sensible to make sure that we have a viable manufacturing industry. And an island nation to keep building ships. So if you think building ships is important, I’d vote Labor at this election, Jon.

FAINE: Thank you for your time this morning.


Communications Unit: T 03 8625 5111

Authorised by G. Wright, Australian Labor Party, 5/9 Sydney Avenue, Barton, ACT, 2600