Prime Minister – Transcript – Press Conference – Tonsley, SA

Liberal Party of Australia

DR RACHEL SWIFT: Well, thank you so much, everyone, for joining us here today at Tonsley, where we visited Sage and learned about their incredible work in defence industries. It’s so important that we’ve got these opportunities right here in Boothby for young people to have jobs. This morning, the Prime Minister and I met with Youth Opportunities, which is a program that looks at early intervention to help people from underprivileged backgrounds to get their lives on track. And we were talking to young people who are at university, studying cyber, studying computer science and just talking about how important jobs like the ones we are looking at here in defence industries and modern manufacturing are. So it’s my absolute pleasure to introduce the Prime Minister Scott Morrison today. Thank you. Sorry.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Well, thank you very much, Rachel. It’s great to be here with Dr Rachel Swift, our candidate for Boothby. Come here to Tonsley. This is not my first visit here. I’ve visited other businesses here. This is the old Mitsubishi plant and what used to have large lines of old traditional manufacturing in vehicles industry now is producing some of the most high tech products in advanced manufacturing anywhere in the country and anywhere around the world. And our capacity to do that is vitally important to Australia’s economic future. Overnight, we would have seen the report from the International Monetary Fund, one of the world’s leading financial economic institutions. And while they were downgrading global growth and actually downgrading the growth expectations for many advanced economies all around the world, they upgraded growth for Australia. A vote of confidence in the economic plan for Australia that has ensured that we’ve come through this pandemic stronger from all the major advanced economies in the world. United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and so on. And so the IMF has looked at Australia’s prospects, and they said they’re going to do even better, based on the plans that they’ve got in place. And I think that just reminds us all again what this election is all about. Australia has come through this pandemic strongly, and I welcome the fact that in New South Wales and Victoria, now they’re getting back to normal. Hallelujah. We’ve been waiting a long time for these sorts of things, and the rest of the states, I’m sure, will continue down that path as we see that normal being achieved again as we come through this pandemic. But I really commend Australians for the way we’ve come through this pandemic and the economic strength that we’ve been able to maintain together because a strong economy means a stronger future. And so we welcome the endorsement of that from the IMF overnight in taking this forward with our economy. Now it is a choice between a government that has delivered a strong economy and can continue to do that with our strong economic plan and a Labor opposition that Australians don’t know who we know cannot manage money. Who we know when they were last in government, unemployment was higher, interest rates were higher and inflation was higher. And so it’s important that we continue to focus on what’s going to keep our economy strong. And today here in South Australia, I’m pleased to announce our second Trailblazer University program, because how you grow advanced manufacturing, is you get the collaboration right between the entrepreneurs and the corporate sector, small and large businesses alike, together with the scientists at the CSIRO and the formal scientific institutions and our universities. And that’s why we are extending $50 million as part of our Trailblazer program. This case to the concept, to sovereign capability in our defence industries to be led by the University of Adelaide. And John Curtin University that I announced yesterday and the University of Adelaide will partner with the University of New South Wales and 52 industry partners, including 35 small businesses, industry partners that are well known, established companies like BAE, small and medium sized enterprises such as Supashock, Greenroom Robotics and Silentium Defence. So another great partnership between our best researchers and scientists with our universities, with our corporate sector, to see prices just like this go from strength to strength in our defence industry and their defence capability. Now, in addition to that, we’re also announcing the extension of our Defence Industry Internship Program that will be up to a further investment of $14.4 million to extend that program to 2025-26, and that will provide further placements per year nationwide and building on our existing $10.3 million investment from 2020. Now that means we will also be setting targets to ensure greater female participation in these internships in the defence industry with a 40 per cent female participation target. But I want us to do better than that. So while I think it’s really important that we’re putting these internships so people can get those opportunities working in these advanced defence industry, advanced manufacturing businesses. This is what’s happening in South Australia. There’s a great opportunity here in South Australia. We need to keep the momentum going in South Australia for their economy. We can’t have it turn back. I remember what it was like four or five years ago here in South Australia. People were leaving. The economy was slowing down, but it’s turned around and South Australia now has a really great opportunity and we want to back them in. Federal Government has played an enormous role here in South Australia in ensuring the economic turnaround we’ve seen in the state, and we want to see that continue and we’ll work closely with Premier Malinauskas, just liked we worked closely with the previous government.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said on, you said on Saturday that you remain committed to omnibus reforms, even the ones that didn’t pass the Parliament, including those reforms for some two year pause on the BOOT and more modest changes to the BOOT for the long term, you know, taking into account a lot of monetary benefits and things of that nature. Now Michaelia Cash is saying that there’ll be no, no pause to the BOOT. Is that a backflip from Saturday, and is the policy, are the longer term, more modest policy changes to the BOOT still your policy?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what the legislation here, which as you know, was practical, common sense changes. It was an Awards simplification. It was the Greenfields arrangements that I mentioned yesterday. when we were in Western Australia. It’s about simplification and ensuring that there’s greater flexibility to ensure that these companies can work with what is an often complex industrial relations system which costs jobs, costs higher wages and costs the Australian economy. And our policies was set out as I was asked about this on the weekend. And there are no major changes to the BOOT at all. And -.

JOURNALIST: There are changes.

PRIME MINISTER: …even on the Greenfields program. I mean, this is something Bill Shorten supported. And Anthony Albanese can’t. So I’m not surprised that there’s another scare campaign from Labor. Labor running a scare campaign now, but yesterday he was telling pensioners that we were coming to apply the Cashless Debit Card an out and out lie, just like the lies we had for Mediscare, scare, back in 2016, saying we’re going to sell off Medicare. Now that didn’t happen. We took Medicare from 82.2 per cent bulk billing to 88.8 per cent. The Budget’s now $31.4 billion.

JOURNALIST: You say no major changes to the BOOT, but (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: So what this has demonstrated is Labor lies in campaigns. They try and scare people. Now let me tell you why they want to do that. If after three years, you still haven’t come up with an economic plan and they’ve had plenty of time to do that, and they can’t. So what do they do? They run scare campaigns against the Government. That’s what happens with Labor in election campaigns. Our policies are very clearly set out, Labor’s opposed to it. Another important part of that program was actually protecting casualisation. Protecting workers involved in casual jobs. It was also their very serious penalties dealing with wage theft. The Labor Party stopped that. In fact, they said it was just collateral damage. The Labor Party were more interested in having some political win against the Government, rather than protecting the jobs of Australians, be they casuals or protecting Australians from wage theft. They were happy to sell them out for a cheap political win in the Parliament. Lanai.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, did you make a mistake sending Zed Seselja to the Solomon Islands? And if you’re re-elected on May 21, will the Solomon Islands be one of your first visits as PM, as it was when you became the PM in 2018? And what do you think about the deal that’s been signed?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is a very serious issue, and it comes as what has occurred in the Solomon Islands. And it comes as no surprise to to our government. As you, as you rightly said Lanai. After the last election, the first place I went was to Solomon Islands to sit down with Prime Minister Sogavare. Over the course of these last three years, I’ve spent an enormous amount of time working with all the Pacific leaders, stepping up in our Pacific Step Up, because the real risk I think, is being exposed. Now, it doesn’t, it’s not news to me, the risk of China seeking to interfere within our region, I have known about and have been taking strong action about it. I mean, I was the one who stood up and called out China on the pandemic. I was the one who called out their interference. I was the one who did all of this, and I was the one criticised for it, including by the Labor Party. So I’m pleased the Labor Party are catching up on this issue. But what this demonstrates is the very real risk that we have been aware of. That is why, I’ve spent countless hours in meetings with Pacific Island leaders, particularly more recently, when this particular arrangement came to light. Working with the Prime Minister of New Zealand in particular. New Zealand and Australia, works very carefully with these issues. And one of the things we strongly agree on is how we handle this issue, within our Pacific family. You know, we’re siblings, there are no children and adults in that relationship. We treat. We treat. We treat Pacific family as siblings and his family. And our view is very much that you don’t go around stomping around telling leaders in Pacific Islands what they should and shouldn’t do. You work with them respectfully and carefully. Now Senator Seselja. I haven’t finished the answer yet. This is a very serious issue. And I’d ask you to show some patience as I step through the important issues around this issue. Now, Senator Seselja, I’m pleased he was able to go and the campaign was already underway. Prior to Senator Seselja’s visit, I also sent very senior members of our national security officials team, to go and meet not just in the Solomon Islands, but to brief other countries in the Pacific. I’ve been in regular contact with Prime Minister Bainimarama, who is the leader of the Pacific Island Forum, and there is strong concern across the Pacific, and with allies and partners, particularly the United States, about where this is heading. But it only underscores and highlights the reason for the actions we have been taking for many years. And let me run you through some of those actions. Our development program in the Solomon Islands, some $161.2 million in 2021-22. It covers areas of health, economic recovery, education, agriculture. We have the largest development partner in the Solomon Islands, partnering around two thirds of all assistance. We’ve provided $1.85 billion in development assistance for the Pacific, and that’s our budget for next year. That is up from $1.12 billion when Labor were last in office. We’ve invested in the undersea cable project to ensure the security of their communications networks in the region. We’ve got $30 million going through the Pacific Finance Facility that we’ve put in place that is developing the Tina River Transmission project, essential for the economies of the Solomon Islands. And so all the way through, we work respectfully with these countries, and they know that Australia is a great friend. Australia remains their first port of call because we have AFP officers on the ground right now. The first place they called was Australia. And so we will continue to work respectfully with the Solomon Islands. I look forward to making a visit there at the first opportunity. As you rightly said, it was the first place I went to and with COVID, it’s very difficult to travel in the region. But we’ve ensured that we’ve continued to do that and I’ve seen Pacific leaders very, very regularly.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said there’s no major changes to the BOOT. What changes to the BOOT are you considering making and does it include the proposal in the Omnibus IR Bill that would have allowed businesses hard hit by the pandemic to reach agreements that aren’t subject to (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the pandemic has now passed.

JOURNALIST: So that’s no longer policy?

PRIME MINISTER: I mean, with the pandemic passed there were emergency measures that obviously no longer have an application. We’re not in an economic emergency environment. And so the measures that I’ve already articulated to you and that are set out well in the legislation, I think are very clear. But the scare campaign Labor is seeking to run on this is not unlike the one they’re running on pensions. If you don’t have an economic plan, you go and raise false scare campaigns against your opponent. So every time you hear Labor make these preposterous claims, it’s an admission by them that they have no economic plan.

JOURNALIST: Why was Marise Payne not sent to the Solomon Islands? The minute the Government knew that this Bill was coming to a head? And is it a failure of the Pacific Step Up program?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I think, no. Absolutely not.

JOURNALIST: Why not?

PRIME MINISTER: This is highlighting the very real issue that we have been working on for many, many years. This is no surprise to us. It may be a surprise to the Labor Party, but it’s not a surprise to us. I mean, the Labor Party has been very passive when it comes to the risk presented by China in our region. They’ve been very critical of the Government. They’ve been very critical of me personally, and the strong stand that I take in relation to China’s influence, not just in Australia, but across the Pacific. I mean I was the one who went to the G7 and tabled those items of the coercion that Australia was facing. Australia is being coerced by China because of the strong stand that our government has taken. So this is not a new issue. It is not a new issue for my government, for our government. It’s a very serious issue. And that’s why, particularly during the course of the pandemic, I’ll tell you what happened with Fiji, for example. We featured, we were the country that ensured they could vaccinate their entire population. And when China sought to send their vaccines to China, to Fiji, the Fijian Government was able to say, “no, thank you. The Australians have got us covered.” Now I’ve been working closely with all of those political leaders because as a family, you deal with the security threats that arise from this secret agreement with China. And I know that is of great concern to other members of the Pacific family. I mean, I know what Kevin Rudd said. He thought Foreign Ministers should be sent up there to stomp around and tell Pacific Islanders what to do. That was the failed approach of the past. What I’ve done as Prime Minister is taken a very different approach, personally engaging with these leaders constantly, and ensuring that we talk through the challenges that they have, particularly during the pandemic. We were the country that stepped up most for our Pacific family and reminded other large countries in the world about the needs in the Pacific area, and that is respected in the Pacific.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) the mental health of young people and driving down suicide rates.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes.

JOURNALIST: You’re standing by a candidate who has potentially caused more harm than good to gender diverse and trans young people. Aren’t you concerned that’s doing more harm than good? And on a second note, it’s been revealed that the candidate for Cooper is known to have attended far right rallies, was an active member of a Facebook group with Clive Palmer fans and once described ex-Queensland Senator and terrorist sympathiser, Fraser Anning, as a god. There are mounting calls for a stronger vetting process for the Liberal Party. Why are you standing by them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, to the first point that you’ve raised, and I’ve addresses this many times in these press conferences, the remarks that Katherine has made in the past that have been insensitive, that she’s withdrawn those remarks, and I think she has learnt that in taking forward the primary issue that she is seeking to raise, as a woman. Raising three daughters of her own, is about women and girls in sport. That’s what she’s seeking to bring attention to.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when Katherine Deves says (inaudible) are sex offenders…

PRIME MINISTER: Hang on, I haven’t finished the answer. I haven’t finished my answer. You can wait ’til I’ve finished my answer. And so –

JOURNALIST: …what does that have to do with women in sport, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Women in sport is the issue that Katherine has been highlighting, and she’s made many, many remarks in the past and on a number of occasions, certainly not the majority, she has stepped over the line, and she’s acknowledged that. Because to go forward as a Member of Parliament, that is something you need to learn. That these issues are important, but you need to be able to deal with them, with respect for others, to be compassionate in terms of the feelings of others. But what I won’t allow, what I won’t allow, is for those who are seeking to cancel Katherine, simply because she has a different view on the issue of women and girls in sport –

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: …I’m not going to indulge that because, you know in this country, I think Australians.

JOURNALIST: How is criticism (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER: I think Australians are getting pretty fed up with having to walk on eggshells every day because they may or may not say something one day that’s going to upset someone. Now you shouldn’t seek to upset anyone else.

JOURNALIST: This is not about upsetting people, this is –

PRIME MINISTER: …You shouldn’t seek to upset people.

JOURNALIST: This is a pattern of comments.

PRIME MINISTER: You should deal with things in a very sensitive way. But in this country, I think it’s time to allow to allow people where they’ve made mistakes in the past about how they have said things in the past where they’re prepared to put those behind them and focus sensitively on the issues they’re seeking to promote. Then that’s how they do it. Others might want to cancel her. Others might want to cancel other Australians for standing up for things that they believe in, but I’m not going to have a partnership with them. Andrew.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, two questions. The first is on the very day that Zed, Zed Seselja, was travelling to the Solomon Islands, Marise Payne was hosting a private fundraiser at PwC Barangaroo. Is that really the best use of the Foreign Minister at that time, as opposed to going to Solomons? And my second question relates to boat turnbacks. How many has your government done and how many have Labor done?

PRIME MINISTER: We’ve done 27 turn backs from memory. And Labor did none. Labor did none. And I remember this very vividly because I was the Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection at the time. Labor did everything they could possibly do to avoid rescaling, restoring temporary protection visas ultimately, ultimately for many years, to restore offshore processing, which they finally relented on too late and sent actual kits and put them on Manus Island. And thirdly, they just refused to do turnbacks. Now, the policy I put together prior to the 2013 election, with my team, with General Molan and many others, with the great support of Tony Abbott, enabled us to be ready when we were elected to go and deal with that problem. We’d worked on a plan. We’d done the hard work in opposition to come forward with a plan that was going to deal with one of the most significant national security issues that were being dealt with at that time. And we implemented it and it worked. And so the real test of whether you support something or not is when it really mattered. And the Labor Party and Anthony Albanese opposed all of those measures for so long, and they demonised those. They demonised those who sought to put them in place.

JOURNALIST: And Marise Payne, sorry?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, look I’ve already answered the question.

JOURNALIST: She was at a fundraiser.

PRIME MINISTER: No. The right response was to ensure that the Minister for the Pacific, we were very aware of where that agreement was up to, as were all other Pacific leaders. It was very important that we communicated very clearly to the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, what the Australian Government’s position was, and to do that at that level made very clear that Australia was not looking to go and stamp around, that we were going to deal with it constructively and respectfully. That is –

JOURNALIST: So Marise Payne stamps around, but Zed Seselja doesn’t? I mean, how does that even work?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Foreign Minister is a different level to the Minister for the Pacific. One is in Cabinet, one is not. You calibrate your diplomacy to deal with sensitive issues.

JOURNALIST: Why was this not important enough for a Cabinet Minister to go?

PRIME MINISTER: Because as I said before, in the Pacific, one of the things you’ve got to be very, very cognisant of is there’s a long history of friendly countries like Australia, and even New Zealand, and others coming around and treating Pacific islands like they should be doing what the big countries should tell them to do. That is what –

JOURNALIST: (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: No, hang on. You’ve asked me the question about why this is important. Now I’ve had a lot of experience in this area and I’ve dealt with Pacific countries for a long time, including before I went into Parliament. One of the things you don’t do in the Pacific is you don’t throw your weight around.

JOURNALIST: Would there have been a different outcome though?

PRIME MINISTER: So what you do is you treat others respectfully. And you ensure –

JOURNALIST: (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: No, no. Look, I am very conscious of how, how visits are perceived within the Pacific. This was the right calibrated way to address this issue with the Prime Minister. I’ve had discussions with the Prime Minister firstly about these issues. I’ve spoken to Manasseh on many occasions, many, many occasions, as I talk with Pacific leaders all the time and particularly about this issue. So the judgement was made not to engage in a more, at a Foreign Minister level engagement to ensure that Australia’s views were communicated very clearly and very respectfully. And that has been done, and this is an ongoing issue. This is an ongoing issue. That secret agreement, the Solomon Islands Prime Minister was very determined to resolve, but there is a lot of influence going on in the Pacific, and there is a lot of pressure being placed on other Pacific countries around our region. And what they need to understand is that I’m going to work with them. I’m not going to act like former administrations that treated the Pacific like some extension of Australia. The Pacific Islands are very sensitive to that, and I’ve always had an approach with the Pacific Islands, which understands those sensitivities because there is a lot at stake.

JOURNALIST: You’ve made the point that this hasn’t come as a surprise. How were you informed that the deal was finalised? Have you spoken to Manasseh Sogavare in the last 24 hours? And given that, you say this has been an ongoing issue, doesn’t that just show Australia has become complacent and that China has done a better job on the diplomatic front?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don’t think you can draw that conclusion. I think again, what this highlights is that over the last five years in particular, the level of interference and the level of of engagement, and particularly with all sorts of promises of all sorts of investments, that can be very, that could be very persuasive. And so that is the challenge that we’re now dealing with. And we’ve been dealing with it for many years. It is not a new issue and these threats still remain. I speak to other Pacific leaders about it all the time. And what we reassure them about, and you can’t always, you can’t always be fully persuasive on these issues. What I assure them about, is that Australia will be there for you as we always are, not because we want anything from you, but because we see the Pacific as our family and we want to stand by our family and ensure that they can have the sovereignty that they have and that they believe in very strongly, and we want to support them in that. And so the Solomon Islands Government, through a duly elected Prime Minister and a Cabinet, have made a decision that they are allowed to make. Of course they are. They’re a sovereign country and we have to respect their sovereignty. And so now with this arrangement, we need to ensure we work with them to see that Australia’s obvious interests aren’t compromised, because we believe that in our interests that their strength and their sovereignty is not compromised by these types of arrangements. And that’s why I sent the national security officials to go and provide a briefing to the Prime Minister, as I did to a number of other leaders in the region. Now, I can’t go into the reasons as to why I am aware of whether agreements have been reached or not. That is not appropriate in terms of how the Australian Government operates.

PRIME MINISTER: Ok. There’s no need to yell. So why don’t we all just take the temperature down and ask your questions?

JOURNALIST: No-one’s arguing against the merits of the various projects under the Step Up and infrastructure facility, but the record says this: two countries have switched their allegiance from Taiwan to China in the time that we’ve had the Step Up. We now have this security agreement, which could pave the way for Chinese defence space in the Solomon Islands. What’s the evidence that the Step Up has worked in any way? Where is the soft power win? Has it been, hasn’t it been nothing but failure?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, I’d say this. The Prime Minister of Solomon Islands has made it very clear that they are not accepting of any base in the Solomon Islands. They are not. So that is a false claim that there’s no basis to make that assertion. It’s not there. That would be the first point that I would make. What I would also point to is the work we have done in the Pacific Islands Forum, on so many areas of their economic development. Papua New Guinea is a very good example. You think there’s not the same pressure going on in Papua New Guinea, that there is in the Solomon Islands? Of course there is. You think the same pressure isn’t being placed on Fiji, or Samoa, or any of these countries, or Tonga? That’s happening in all of those countries. And so we keep reinforcing to all of our Pacific family that Australia will always be there for you in your interests. And that is what we believe will ultimately prevail. Now there are lots of pressures and we’re not dismissing those. I mean, when Anthony Albanese was asked about this, he thought this issue was about, he said, it was about only three things, climate change, climate change and climate change. That’s a nonsense. China has the biggest emissions and growing emissions in the world. So they haven’t, they might have just woken up to the issue. They’ve been highly critical of our government and me and the strong stand that I’ve taken against China. But what these issues highlight is the risk, the uncertainty and the fact that you need to be constant in your relations with all these Pacific countries. The Pacific Step Up is not a one or two-year program. It is an ongoing arrangement to demonstrate to the Pacific that we are going to engage with you over the long-term and not treat Pacific islands as some sort of colony, which was the impression that they used to have. Now we’ve been turning that around, and you make the point about Taiwan and Beijing. The Australian Government recognises Beijing over Taiwan. What hypocrisy would there be from Australia to lecture a Pacific Island nation to make a decision that the Australian Government has not? I mean, that would be, that would be the height of hypocrisy and the height of arrogance. And there’s one thing that does not characterise the way I deal with Pacific Islanders is I treat them with respect and I respect their sovereignty and I respect their electoral mandates.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can you guarantee 100 per cent that the fleets under the AUKUS agreement will be built in Australia? Will they be built here in Adelaide?

PRIME MINISTER: As much as possible –

JOURNALIST: How much?

PRIME MINISTER: …would they be built here in Australia. Now we haven’t down-selected even the vessel that would be made in the submarine. So no-one can respond to that question in the way you would like me to. What the AUKUS Agreement enables is for us to have access to build nuclear power submarines and to do it as much as possible as it can be done here in Australia and particularly here in South Australia.

JOURNALIST: But that language has softened a lot since the AUKUS agreement was announced.

PRIME MINISTER: And the reason we were able to achieve that agreement with the United States had a lot to do with the outstanding work done here in South Australia, with full cycle docking in the turnaround of the Collins class submarines performance, which meant we could get more of our submarines out on operations on the water. Now I know this, I negotiated the agreement. The United States was able to see what was capable here in Australia, and particularly here in South Australia. And I can tell you, is a very critical factor in being able to convince the United States that we could do this. Now the other point I’d make about AUKUS is this – AUKUS is not just about Australia having nuclear powered submarines, AUKUS is about Australia being able to produce them.

JOURNALIST: So how much then though? Your language has softened a lot since the announcement.

PRIME MINISTER: … because in the United States and in the UK, they are both making lots of nuclear powered submarines. They want another partner making nuclear powered submarines.

JOURNALIST: When you say –

JOURNALIST: Will it be more or less?

PRIME MINISTER: Now, obviously –

JOURNALIST: When you say as much as possible, do we have a goal?

PRIME MINISTER: Obviously, the reactors and things that are directly related to the nuclear development, elements of those programs, they obviously have to be done in other places. But our agreement, our discussions, are about maximising what can be done in Australia because that is in the shared national security interests of the three partners to AUKUS. So the point of AUKUS is not just to have this capability, but to be able to build and develop that capability right here in South Australia.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the debate tonight. How’s your preparation been going? Do you expect to win? And one on China. What is your red line for China’s presence in our region?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we will always stand up for Australia’s national interests, and we will always call out coercion and interference from China wherever it occurs. Now, I know that this met with Australia has been the target of China’s coercion. We’ve been the target of a nation that is seeking to exert its influence in our area, which is against Australia’s interests. But you know, I’m often asked this question, “why has Australia been so forward leaning when it comes to China?” Because if not us, then who? Who has the most to lose in our region, if Australia were not to stand up? Australians would. And that’s why I haven’t been shy about it. I haven’t been intimidated. Whether it was knocking back the the Kidman decision, the Kidman property sale when I was the Treasurer, or ensuring that the appropriate arrangements were put in place to protect Australia through our national defences, or calling out China, which is where the pandemic started, and and the many issues that have flown from that. We’ve always stood up to China because it’s in our interests. Now, we would like to have a very positive relationship, but we don’t, not going to have a submissive relationship with China. And I don’t think it’s in the interests of Pacific nations to have a submissive nature with China any more than it is to have a submissive nature with Australia. And we’re not seeking that. We have a partnership of equals with our Pacific neighbours. And when Prime Minister Ardern and I address these issues in the Pacific, we both understand that and share an approach to how we deal with issues in the Pacific. And we’ve discussed this issue, Jacinda and I, many times. And the approach that we’ve taken, as the larger economies in the Pacific theatre, is to respect and engage and not seek to throw the weight around of large countries. Now, well, we will have their first of the Leaders’ Debates tonight, and I’m very pleased that I’m here in South Australia this morning with Rachel Swift. I’m very pleased to engage with the young people this morning. My approach is not to lock myself away in rooms before having these things.

JOURNALIST: Are you going for the jugular?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I think tonight is a really good opportunity for people to evaluate the choice. I’ve said right from the outset of this campaign, this election is about a choice. Tonight, I’m going to be talking about our plans, I’m going to be talking about what we’ve been doing. I’m very optimistic about the future for Australia. And when we have the IMF come out last night and be optimistic about Australia’s economic prospects as well, it only underscores why having an economic plan and a successful economic plan is so important for Australia’s future. And so tonight, I look forward to that discussion, I hope it will be a civil discussion. I’m looking forward to engaging with the people who are in the audience and answering their questions in a positive way, that is setting out what Australia’s opportunities are for the future and how our economic plan is the one way that can help them achieve that. So Australians have got a clear choice in front of them. Thanks very much.

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