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Townsville City Council Chambers, 23 February 1998: transcript of doorstop [GST; Regional employment; Education; Telstra; Regional development]

EOE PROOF ONLY

JOURNALIST: ...GST, Mr Howard said today something about looking after low income earners and people on social security. Does that represent a backdown on the original GST... ?

BEAZLEY: No, that's precisely what they put into the previous GST plan. Everybody on a fixed income, or on social security knew at the end of the day that it would be whittled away. What happened in New Zealand was they put in a 10 per cent GST with compensation for pensioners and for others on fixed incomes. Within three years the GST had gone to 12 1/2 per cent and all that compensation was removed from the package. Nothing you do disguises the fact that a GST is a mechanism for hitting low and middle income earners.

JOURNALIST: So, they'll still be affected even if they are compensated?

BEAZLEY: Anybody bringing in a GST will in the first instance offer compensation and within three or four years it's all whittled away.

JOURNALIST: Local point if I ran Mr Beazley, what have you done in town today?

BEAZLEY: Well, I got an opportunity to go and talk to the management of Goninans which has just, I think, for not terribly good reasons, lost a contract down south. And the impact of that, of course, is the same as the generalised impact of jobs in this area. Unemployment has risen since we left office from around about 7 per cent up to about 12 per cent. Now, these figures bounce about but it's now at about 12 per cent. And so that job loss at Goninans you can sheet straight home to the Liberal members for this area, it's an incompetent performance on their part. For general job losses there's the Federal Government responsibility. So what I've been doing is talking jobs. Talking jobs with Goninans and talking public sector jobs - one quarter of which have gone from Townsville. Now, we have to restore the Federal Government philosophy that is favourable to regional development and favourable to the notion that you deliver resources and you deliver services on the ground. And that philosophy has disappeared and it's been very much to the detriment of decentralised states like Queensland.

JOURNALIST: As far as unemployment goes, what new initiatives can be brought to it?

BEAZLEY: Well, we will of course not tip our hand completely before the next election. But I've been supportive of the fix up that has been suggested as far as the fact of the storms are concerned. I've also been supportive of the notion of using Federation Funds for useful developments here and I believe that we need to restore regional development organisations. And the focus of regional development organisations encouraging jobs, building on strength. And the strengths around Townsville are very considerable, they're just not being exploited at the moment.

JOURNALIST: ...Education Department in North Queensland would need an extra $2 million just to cope with the student influx. Can you expand on that a little bit?

BEAZLEY: Well, I think there's a very substantial problem in the Federal impact on the area of education at the moment. And that's been borne by universities in Queensland, in particular, James Cook, obviously. James Cook is about to experience some truly massive cuts of places over the next few years and a denial of resources which is going to impact very considerably on the education provision here. James Cook is a centre of excellence in many areas. A centre of real export possibility when we get back to growth in the region immediately around us and a focal point of equalising opportunity between kids in the bush and kids in cities like Brisbane. And basically we have to work out how we build back into universities opportunity for people in regions. It's been taken away, steadily eroded at the moment.

JOURNALIST: Townsville now has the second highest unemployment in Queensland. How many more jobs are tipped to go with further restructuring?

BEAZLEY: Well, I see that the Prime Minister is talking about further privatisation for Telstra. Every time a portion of Telstra is privatised two things happen. Firstly, the Liberal Party election slush fund goes up as we get, instead of genuine environmental policies what we get instead is Liberal Party pork barrel hand- outs in Liberal Party seats. That's the first thing that happens and the second thing that happens is people get sacked. Those are the two things which happen. And I guess I could say a third thing which happens is a question mark is placed over Telstra's ability and willingness to put in place a full set of services in rural and regional Australia. So, I guess you can say with any further privatisation of Telstra what you've already experienced so far, which is substantial job losses will come with knobs on.

JOURNALIST: There's going to be no benefit from further privatisation?

BEAZLEY: There are no benefits from privatisation of Telstra. There's no benefits for competition. There are benefits for one thing only, and that is a Liberal Party capacity to rort a certain amount of public funds in favour of Liberal Party seats. You've had $2 million out of $1.2 billion - it's breathtaking - $1.2 billion of potential rorting by this Government as far as environmental programs are concerned. And you can bet your bottom dollar the more they privatise the more they'll do the same.

JOURNALIST: So, from the Opposition, what can the North see?

BEAZLEY: You'll see several things from us. Firstly, you're going to see a refocus on an outward looking Australia that exploits the export potential of this region. Secondly, you're going to see a focus again on active Government in industry and regional policy. And industry and regional policy are critical in regions. So, you'll see a focus on regional development organisations that we used to have in place, and will re- create. You will see a focus on the sort of industry assistance which encourages innovation. And that is terribly important in an area which has set up so many centres of excellence where there is a genuine innovative process going on. The tragedy at Goninans is that an export potential engine has effectively taken off the drawing board, if you like, and plunked down with more of the disadvantaged now in its export capacity. And we would want to reverse those sorts of trends and have that industry and regional policy working for the North as it used to.

JOURNALIST: As far as Goninans goes, the public tendering process, now they lost it to another Queensland company.

BEAZLEY: Yes, that is true. They did. There's no doubt about that. But what a pity that the people making the decision did not include the export potential of the engine and were prepared to settle for something a bit less in the process. Had they not done so, Goninans would have had their position, which they still have a shot on, I don't want to write that off, they would still be in an even better position for overseas sales in the region. And, secondly, you'd have had, I think, a more substantial number of jobs preserved here than are being created elsewhere. There are 60 people who can thank Peter Lindsay and Frank Tanti for their failure as they get laid off over the course of the next two or three months. And I think they probably will.