MEDIA – Mix 104.9 FM – Transcript – Bladin Point can house more returning Aussies and seasonal workers
DARWIN – 4 May 2021
SUBJECTS: Bladin Point to house returning Australians and seasonal overseas workers; Defence Department investigation into the lease of the Port of Darwin .
KATIE WOOLF, HOST: Joining us live in the studio right now is Labor’s member for Solomon, our representative in Canberra, Luke Gosling. Good morning to you.
LUKE GOSLING, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Good morning, Katie.
WOOLF: Mate, you sprinted in here. You’ve been out at Bladin Point, haven’t you?
GOSLING: Yeah, I had a good look around Bladin Point this morning. It’s a massive facility. Some of your listeners will remember it’s played various roles in its life. But what I’m really hoping is that it can play a continuing role as part of the national quarantine plan in a similar way to the way Howard Springs is, but with a lot more federal support to make sure that whether it be stranded Australians or uni students or workers coming in on the seasonal worker program, that we can quarantine people safely in dedicated facilities like Bladin Point as opposed to what we’ve seen with hotel quarantine.
WOOLF: Well, this has been a real issue. I’ve noticed in the federal media or in the national media over recent weeks, where we are seeing a lot of our state’s leaders, or one in particular, Mark McGowan has been pushing out of WA for there to be more regional centres that do actually have Aussie expats coming home. So those repatriated Aussies coming back, but also for us in the Territory, we’ve been talking about that worker shortage and whether we could actually bring some people over to Australia, and that could be the facility where it could happen. I guess my only concern is do we have the staff to be able to manage something like this?
GOSLING: It’s a really good point, Katie. And obviously you can’t do it if you haven’t got the staff to run it. Now, with the US Marines, they’ve got their own health people and they’re very obviously disciplined and no one’s going to be jumping the fence or carrying on. So we already successfully doing two things. Howard Springs is being run a world-class facility, but we’ve also got these other facilities out of Bladin Point. The good thing about Bladin Point is it can be really broken up into different sections. So, staff that can come from locals that are currently unemployed looking for work, but also people coming up from down south to enjoy the beautiful dry season. They could actually be accommodated out at the facility in a separate part of the facility and work in the other parts of the facilities. And we can have up to 1,500 people there safely being welcomed back to Australia, whether it be for work, study, or just coming home.
WOOLF: Luke, where are we at with these discussions? I know that I did speak to the Prime Minister last week and he had flagged that we may see more people, or they’re certainly looking at filling some of those positions or working out how we can fill some of those workforce shortages. It seems like it could still be a bit of a way away at this point?
GOSLING: I did listen to his interview with you, Katie, and I wish you had a bit more time with him, but there were so many things to cover. And yeah, he’s pretty good at throwing together a bit of a word salad type of answer to try and basically say, “oh, no, look, we’d rather not spend any money on national quarantine and reserve our right to to blame the states when there’s –”
WOOLF: They’re sending half a billion, I think, here in the territory.
GOSLING: That’s what they said. And we look forward to an opportunity to test that through the Senate Estimates process. But I think why he was making that point is because he knows there is a no-brainer solution right here in Darwin. In addition to Howard Springs. And down south, they’re talking about asking the Federal Government for like $800 million to build a dedicated facility there won’t look much different to Bladin Point.
WOOLF: So you reckon it’s there, look, we may as will actually be utilising it?
GOSLING: I mean, it’s been booked out in the next little while because you’ve got this big Inpex maintenance process going on at the moment. So there’s workers going in and staying there. But you’ve also got the US Marines, and what they think is that August onwards – so we’ve got a couple of months to get this ready – from August onwards, you’re going to have a facility there that could safely contain a lot of people and that’ll provide lots of work for local businesses as well as work for unemployed Territorians. And yeah, we welcome people to come up from down south, stay safely here and enjoy the Territory.
WOOLF: I actually, I do think it’s a good idea. I think that we have got a situation at the moment where if we’ve got facilities where we’re able to keep people safe and we are able to have those repatriated Australians coming back, but particularly then, as well, people able to come over and fill those worker shortages, then it would be a good idea. But my biggest concern is the staffing of it. And I think that we’ve even seen that at Howard Springs. People are quite concerned about the AUSMAT team moving at of there and NT Health taking over. I guess that’s the only thing that I’m thinking through as we’re discussing, is how do we make sure that it’s staffed adequately so that it does stay as safe as possible?
GOSLING: There’s no doubt that we can’t do it without the Federal Government’s support, quarantine being a national federal responsibility. There is an opportunity there for them to grip it up and say, “yeah, we’re going to double the amount of capacity up in the Territory, you’re going to need a hand to do that”. But it’s got hospitals out there, so it need not be an impost, even if some returning Australians, as we’ve seen, do have some COVID, there’s ample ability there. And I walked through the hospital this morning. There’s ample ability there with the Federal Government’s support to get a health company to provide services there and to have returning Aussies –
WOOLF: So just totally keep them out there. You know, like, we won’t have that sort of double handling I guess like we may be seeing other capital cities, where people are having to be transported to the different hotels and things like that from the airport.
GOSLING: Exactly. And that’s where it gets out. And we don’t we don’t want it to get out. And we’ve got isolated, purpose-built facilities that can do this safely, that are already doing it safely. And I think it’ll be an economic boon for the Territory and, you know, really show Australia that we may depend on the Commonwealth – mind you, they can still over overrule our laws and we’re not happy with that. But we provide a very important strategic footprint in our nation.
Part of that responsibility for us is to make sure that whether it be in terms of our defence forces, our border protection, our national quarantine, which will go on for a couple of years, perhaps, as we try and get everyone vaccinated and do this safely, there’s a role for us to play. There’s no need to build a new facility elsewhere when we can double the capacity here and get stranded Aussies home.
WOOLF: I reckon it’s a very interesting discussion to have. I can see our text line is already heating up. So no doubt plenty of people will have differing opinions on this. Now Luke, before we wrap up, I do want to ask you, it has been reported that there is going to be an investigation. Obviously, the Department of Defence is going to be looking into the lease of the Port of Darwin. At this point in time, what have you been told and how deep is this investigation going to go?
GOSLING: Yeah, I hope it’s a serious and significant deep dive into the issue. It’s what I called for when we were all surprised back in 2015, and wrote about it at the time and said there hadn’t been enough due diligence, there hadn’t been a deep enough dive into the strategic implications of having a foreign entity controlling our port for a century. It was always a very unwise decision back then, and it continues to be less than what we’d like to see. And it’s not, as I’ve said with you before, Katie, it’s not controversial, I don’t think, to say that our northern strategic port should be controlled
by Australia. We decide who comes in and out of it. It does not mean that we’re not supportive of foreign investment. It’s just when it comes to critical infrastructure in our strategic northern port that we need to make sure that things are as they should be and that is in Australian control.
WOOLF: Luke, what impact do you think the reversing of that lease could have on Australia’s relationship with China?
GOSLING: Depending on Landbridge, the owner of Landbridge and what they want to do, it may be very straightforward. It may be an arrangement that is reached diplomatically, respectfully, and that’s what I call on the Federal Government to do.
WOOLF: Do you reckon it would be, though, given some of the rhetoric that we’ve seen come out of China recently?
GOSLING: Well, I think what we need is just wise, cool heads on both sides. The Defence Department should be the ones that look into this and give some feedback to the national Government. Let’s not forget that the Prime Minister was the treasurer at the time that the lease occurred. Now, the Foreign Investment Review Board obviously advises the treasurer on foreign investments, but the responsibility for foreign investments is the Treasurer’s. So the current PM was the treasurer at the time.
So I’m glad that he is directing Defence to look into this and we look forward to their their findings. This should have been done a long time ago. I really welcome it. And we will be making sure that there’s not politics played with this, that it’s a coll decision made in our national interest, and then we continue to deal respectfully with our neighbors in the region.
WOOLF: Labor’s Member for Solomon, Luke Gosling, good to catch up with you this morning. Thanks so much for your time.
GOSLING: Good on you, Katie.