Australian Prime Minister Radio interview – ABC Newcastle

Prime Minister

: The PM has come to the Hunter to deliver a speech last night at what is called the Hunter Nexus Dinner, organised by the University and the organisation Hunter Business. Well, in his speech, Mr. Albanese has talked a lot about the future, about change, about new energy sources, new jobs and a new fast rail network – yep, rears its head again – and he reckons this region has a lot to teach the rest of the country when it comes to making these things happen. Well, before he delivered the speech, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese gave an interview to me. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, welcome back to the Hunter.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: It’s always good to be in the great city of Newcastle and the great Hunter Region.

BEVAN: Well, you’re here to speak to many of the region’s leaders at the Hunter Nexus Dinner. And you’re saying at the dinner, in your speech, and this is a quote from you: “everything about Newcastle and the Hunter speaks for what we can achieve when we act with urgency and purpose, optimism and determination”. What do you mean by that?

PRIME MINISTER: What I mean by that is I can remember when the steelworks were closing and people predicted dire consequences for the region. And what we’ve seen is that Newcastle has adapted, it has diversified its economy to continue to be a great manufacturing sector, a great centre for resources and our exports, but also for renewables. Its tertiary sector has grown, the services sector, and it’s really transformed itself. It’s growing consistently into the future, and I think that it shows what you can do. You can’t stop change. What you can do is intervene and shape change in the interests of people. And Newcastle has shown its resilience, its pride in the region, and has been extraordinarily successful. And I am looking forward to regions like the Hunter being at the centre of our agenda for a future made in Australia, where clean, cheap energy powers advanced manufacturing, powers jobs, and powers new industries.

BEVAN: Well, certainly in your speech you talk about the future, about renewable energy and another big T word – transition. And you said in your speech, every nation needs to decarbonise and electrify, and no nation is better placed than Australia to achieve this transition here at home, empowered in the world. But, Prime Minister, no region is more centrally placed than the Hunter to be left behind by transition. What do you say? And what more money can you put on the table for the string of Hunter communities, for the thousands of families, small businesses, who are, in one way or another, coal reliant and for whom this word transition is a frightening word?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you look at the prospects for Tomago Aluminium, for example. Now that is the largest user of power in NSW, and what they’re looking at doing is transitioning. That’s what they’re doing. Making sure that we have those jobs not just continue, but can grow, because increasingly the world will look for the carbon footprint for products that are made. And they’re looking at how they can use renewables to continue to ensure those jobs have a medium and long term future. There is such opportunity for growth in the region, and that’s why it’s so important that renewables continue to drive, that we’re looking for announcements as well, at Liddell Power Station – there are various opportunities, I believe, for industry to be located there, which will make an enormously positive difference into the future.

BEVAN: For rippling out to the communities as they hear you cite these case studies, I’m sure so many households listening to you now are going – “yeah, but what about us – how are we not going to be left behind here in this community that has built its traditions, its industries, its very community around coal”?

PRIME MINISTER: Coal will continue, of course, to be extracted, but over a period of time, what we’re seeing is change occur. I went to up in the great city of Muswellbrook, for example, they have an Innovation Centre there that is just extraordinary, looking at how we can use science to create jobs in that region. And quite an exciting prospect, supported there by the local council. We had Local, State and Federal Members there at the opening of that Centre that received Federal funding, but also local funding, with good, secure jobs into the future. I worked very closely with the former Perrottet Government, as well as the Minns Government as well, about prospects going forward as well, and traditional industries as well, that had been removed. We need to make rail, for example, rail carriages, right there in the Hunter again. There’d been too much approach, which was, “we’ll just become a country that digs up resources, exports them and doesn’t value add”. What creates jobs is, of course, resources, but value adding is where the large number of jobs come in as well, and the prospects which are there, I’m very, very positive about.

BEVAN: Prime Minister, in regard to renewable energy – you say we can be a renewable energy superpower, but here in the Hunter, how do we be global? How do we contribute to that superpower status that you foresee, when there’s significant opposition locally, from fishers, from environmentalists, from residents, to an offshore wind zone right here off the Hunter Coast?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there’s also considerable support and that’s why we’re consulting in order to get it right. Because the Hunter Offshore Wind Zone will create 3000 jobs in the construction phase and 1500 ongoing jobs. Engineers, electrical technicians, cable installers, riggers, seafarers, dock workers, crane operators – all of these jobs will be created, and what it will do is create enough power for over 4 million homes, but able to support energy security and jobs in existing large heavy industry as well. We need to make sure, as the Energy Minister has made very clear, Chris Bowen, that what we’re talking about here is ensuring that is way offshore. Now, there’s…

BEVAN: 20 kilometres off the Port Stephen’s coast, Prime Minister, that doesn’t feel very far offshore to those who live in that area.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that’s 20 kilometres, but we are, of course, as well, consulting about those processes. And Chris Bowen has put in place a very rigorous system of consultation. We need to know that, we want the community to embrace these proposals, and that means giving genuine consultation. And some of the discussion that has taken place is, quite frankly, not right. The idea that whales are going to be washed up on the beaches is, quite frankly, something that hasn’t occurred overseas and won’t occur here. We need to get it right and we will get the detail right. The Local Members are making sure that that occurs. But there is enormous prospects for renewables, both offshore and, of course, onshore as well. We’ve seen substantial solar development in the region, and what that can do is to power the production effectively throughout Australia, at various venues, but Tomago is obviously an important one, one I visited on more than one occasion, importantly, to produce green products, which is what the world will be demanding, which is what can make us a renewable energy superpower, where jobs are secured into the future.

BEVAN: You’re on ABC Newcastle and ABC Upper Hunter, and you’re hearing from the Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, who is in the Hunter at the moment. Prime Minister, in your speech, you’ve mentioned the issue of high speed rail. Now, you’d realise, as I say, that there would be so many people in Newcastle and the region laughing ruefully, because they’ve heard that term so many times before and it’s added up to absolutely nothing.

PRIME MINISTER: They have, and I remember when we promised, when I was last in Government – the Redcliffe Rail Line up in Queensland, was first promised in 1895, and there was justifiably some cynicism about it going ahead. But the truth is that every single inhabited continent on the planet, except for Australia, our great island continent, is investing in high speed rail, because high speed rail is safer, it’s more sustainable, it can make an incredible difference in terms of efficiency. And what we have in Australia is this vast continent where our population is concentrated down the East Coast and in particular in the corridor between Newcastle, Sydney and then down through to Melbourne, through Canberra. And that’s why we’ve committed $500 million, not an insignificant amount is there in the Budget, for planning and corridor protection of the Sydney to Newcastle section. We will have the Office of the High Speed Rail Authority up and running, based there in the Hunter, because it is absurd that the current rail journey time – it’s a beautiful journey, I must say that – but it’s as slow as it was in the 1940s and roads are increasingly congested. And we know that it is an incredibly efficient way for people to travel, which is why there’s been this explosion in the 21st century has become the century of rail, and Australia should not miss out on it.

BEVAN: Prime Minister, what is left to study, though? As Philip Laird from the Uni of Wollongong wrote in The Conversation nearly four decades after it was first proposed: “Australia must surely hold the world record for high speed rail studies with no construction”. Here is another $78.8 million allocated for developing a business case for the Sydney to Newcastle stretch – what on earth is left to study?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ve allocated $500 million for corridor protection, you need to buy the land, you need to make sure that it can be done. Now, I had High Speed Rail Authority legislation before the Parliament, and we put planning work in prior to 2013 with people like Tim Fischer, the former leader of the National Party. The Abbott Government got elected and trashed it all. And so we’re back at the start again. What it needs is to ensure that the planning gets done, the corridor is protected and then construction began. But you need to protect the corridor. The problem has been that with delays in between studies, of course, people then go and build infrastructure, build houses, corridors, change, which is why there’s a need for upgrading that. But it is an exciting proposal. The Hunter Expressway, before I became the Infrastructure Minister, had been spoken about for decades, took a Labor Government to promise it, fund it, build it and open it, which is what we did.

BEVAN: Prime Minister, let’s leave behind affairs of state for a moment and talk about affairs of the heart. Congratulations to you and to Jodie Haydon. Of all the decisions you have made as the leader of the country, of all the experiences that you have confronted and embraced as Prime Minister, how nerve racking was it to propose to Jodie?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, it was a big moment in my life. It was a private, but then of course, a public declaration of our love for each other, and the decision that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together as a couple. And it’s something that I obviously had thought about for a period of time. I didn’t, when I first met Jodie, I wasn’t looking for a relationship. It happened that we met by chance, really, at a dinner in Melbourne, even though she was a Coastie, of course, from the Central Coast, but she was visiting Melbourne as well, at a function I happened to be at. And the famous thing around Souths, anyway, is that there’s a random Souths guy at everything, and so I got bagged by the MC at this dinner for being a Souths supporter, and I began by yelling out, “even here in Melbourne, I’m sure there’s always a random Souths guy somewhere”. And Jodie yelled out “up the Rabbitohs”. And the rest is history, four years later, we’re engaged. And it was a wonderful moment. I put a lot of thought into how to do it, and when to do it, and what better day than Valentine’s Day?

BEVAN: And I don’t know if the thought has involved looking ahead to wedding venues, but since you’re in the Hunter, as you mentioned, Jodie is a Central Coast person, so she’s probably got ideas along the coast, but you’re in the Hunter – we’ve got some terrific wedding venues here, you know the vineyards, the coastal venues. What about a Hunter wedding?

PRIME MINISTER: You do. Well, we haven’t had a chance to talk in any detail, of course. I was in Parliament all the next day. We will at some stage have the opportunity to talk through those details, but Jodie herself is a graduate of the University of Newcastle and so the connections with the Hunter are very much there. And I’m sure that I’ve already had Dan Repacholi on offering to organise various events, so I won’t be short of suggestions, but we’ll take our time. It will be a special occasion and we’ll work that out in between, of course, what is always a very busy schedule.

BEVAN: Indeed. While you are in the Hunter as well, as you’re no doubt aware, there is a major pre-selection battle on at the local government level, to see how what seems like Labor in-fighting has led to all these challenges and division. As the Prime Minister, how do you respond to this grassroots division in a key area, in an area that Labor sees as heartland?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, it’s a long time since I focused on any local government pre-selections, I’ve got to say, so I’m not aware of any of that. What I am aware is that the Hunter is a region full of true believers and full of magnificent people, and if people are putting themselves forward to represent Labor on the council, then that’s a good thing.

BEVAN: You won’t be involving yourself in it to try and settle the water?

PRIME MINISTER: No, that is all news to me. But we’re a democratic party, we have our processes, including pre-selections, but I am just so proud of the extraordinary team that we have there in the Hunter. As members of my team, they do an incredible job, and they’re a very strong voice for the region. And I’ve been coming to the Hunter for a very long period of time, since my days in young Labor. Indeed, given I’m talking on the ABC, the Triple J is one of my proudest moments in young Labor was moving the resolution for there to be a national youth network, for the old Double J, to become a national network, that began with a resolution from Newcastle Young Labor. So, Newcastle has always punched above its weight in our party and the Newcastle members punch above their weight in the caucus room.

BEVAN: Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister of Australia, thank you so much for your time. Congratulations again to yourself and Jodie, and welcome once more to the Hunter. Enjoy your time here.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, and to everyone – have a great weekend.

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