Prime Minister – Transcript – Press Conference – Perth, WA

Liberal Party of Australia

VINCE CONNELLY: Good morning everybody. It is absolutely awesome to have our Prime Minister back here in my electorate. And we’re here at Orbital UAV, an incredibly important and a successful participant in defence industry. And I’ll invite our Prime Minister to say a few words.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Vince. It’s great to be here with you and colleagues, particularly Melissa Price, the Minister for Defence Industry. It’s great to also have Andrew Hastie here, the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence. And of course it’s great to be here with Dean Smith. Dean Smith’s a fantastic Senator for Western Australia, part of this wonderful team of Western Australian MPs and Senators that I worked so closely with to ensure that WA got its fair share of GST. They are terrific team. They stood up for Western Australia. I was happy to join them as Treasurer and ensure that we carried that case. You didn’t have to convince Western Australians about this, but we did need to convince the rest of the country and that’s the fight I took on many years ago as Treasurer and was able to complete as Prime Minister. And every year now WA funding on GST, more than $2 Billion extra, is coming into those coffers every single year because of the great work done by my WA team here right across the state. And Vince has been such a tremendous part of that team and he’s doing a great job here and I look forward to him putting in a great effort here in Cowan. You’ll make a fantastic member for Cowan.

Now, today we’re making some important announcements about continuing to ensure that we can have a sovereign defence capability here in this country. And one of the key components of that, as Melissa will go into in more detail, is ensuring that we are getting the people we need to drive our sovereign capability in defence industry, advanced manufacturing into the future. And you’ve seen many of those who are involved with that program here today. We’ve got our Defence Industries Pathways Program Now this is a program that we’ve been trialling some $10 million in a pilot to see how we can get people from various industries coming in, being part of the defence industry, understand what’s involved in this sector and that will ensure that with a school leavers or others come as, as work ready trainees into our defence industry sector. And today we’re announcing $108.5 million investment over the next four years to take this program out of the pilot phase and start expanding it right across the country. The program fully funds training wages that’s of around $45,000, and expenses such as personal protection equipment and training numbers will be boosted to up to 500 a year. That’s 500 people coming in to our defence industry to give companies like where we are here today, the people they need to meet the demands of their contracts, of their clients, and that includes the Australian Government. But it’s also an important export industry. That will mean an additional 1,500 trainees by 2025-26. Challenges we have in our defence industry is to ensure we keep getting the great people that we need to grow this industry and to be the best in the world. Graduates will develop the skills and knowledge to start an important and rewarding career, as you heard when we were speaking to those graduates and those who are already part of the program here on a pilot basis as well. And it’ll be all over the country – 14 regions, Newcastle and the Hunter, Sydney and surrounds, Cairns, Townsville, Brisbane, Darwin, Perth of course, Adelaide, Bendigo, Benalla, Mulwala, Melbourne, Geelong, East Sale, Hobart, Launceston. Ensuring that we’re putting people into these jobs so they can find that exciting career that they’re training for and that will enable them to go forward and play a major role in our defence industry here in this country. So it’s a very exciting program. We’re also extending our successful Defence Industry Internship Program, placing third and fourth year engineering students in small and medium-sized defence industry businesses. And we’re continuing to involve that innovation ecosystem here, particularly in Western Australia. Last time I was here I talked about the partnership as part of the Trailblazer Programs with the defence industry trailblazers, when we were out there with Curtin University looking at the robotics, when you joined me for that earlier in the campaign. So this is how you create a sovereign defence industry with the best people, training our people, bringing those people into our industries and ensure that they can really power up the great opportunities we have in defence industry manufacturing, which is such a key part of our advanced manufacturing strategy. And of course making things Australia is a key component of our national economic plan. I’ll ask Melissa to say a few words and happy to take some questions.

MINISTER PRICE: Thanks, PM. The Morrison Government has a $270 billion commitment to our defence capability. As part of that investment we’re very focussed on developing our people and I just want to acknowledge the six graduates, not quite graduates, but they’re trainees that are already involved in the Defence Industries Pathways Program and also acknowledge all of those West Australian defence industries’ companies who’ve been on this journey with us for the last 12 months. Without the partnership with our West Australian Defence Industries companies, we wouldn’t be able to to be able to say whether this, this trial, this concept was possible. So thrilled today that we’re now announcing an extension of the trial for another four years, $108.5 million. There’ll be some 1,500 new graduates that will be able to go through this course. Clearly the course here in Western Australia has been focussed on the maritime domain and so this course will very easily be able to be rolled out in places like Adelaide, places like Cairns, but also will be able to adapt this course to aeronautics for example. And so we will see that this course will run out across the Hunter region, but also in the land domain in places like Bendigo. This is a great opportunity for young people and not so young people who have an interest in defence industry, they are a key part of our defence sovereign capability. And once again, thanks to the six trainees who are here today. It’s about their future and all of them are now going to have a lifelong history, journey, career in shipbuilding here in Western Australia. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Melissa.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes.

JOURNALIST: You’ve warned Australians against the Independents, but your own predecessor seems to be telling Australians to do the opposite when it comes to polling day. What does it say about the Government under your leadership?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, message remains exactly the same. And my warning to Australians is exactly the same that I’ve said all along. We are facing some of the most serious economic and international security challenges that Australians have faced since the Second World War and the Great Depression. And what we’re announcing here today shows the fusion of economic security and national security and making sure you’re working those two issues together to keep Australians safe and to keep our economy strong. Now what the Government needs to continue to do, and that’s why voting for the Liberals and Nationals achieves this. Over the last three years in particular, we have had the strength of a majority Government. If each and every day we had to go and negotiate for the Government’s existence with a cavalcade of Independents, or being pushed to and fro by others, then Australia would not have had the strength to go through this pandemic in the way that we have. And that’s why my warning is very clear to those seats where people are thinking about Independents, I would say this, if they won’t tell you how they would vote, how could you vote for them? Not just on who they’d support in Government, but we can’t have a Government that’s a weathervane. I mean, could you imagine? We already have seen the weakness in the leadership of the Labor Party. Could you imagine each and every day having to go to that chorus of Independents, the Greens and everyone else? I mean, they’re weak enough as it is. Could you imagine the chaos of that type of a Parliament when Australia needs to be strong? And that’s why our Government is saying very clearly to Australians, the strength that we’ve demonstrated, the strength of our plan, particularly our economic plan to take Australia forward, is what Australia needs. And that’s the choice that’s before you. And only by voting for the Liberals and Nationals at this election can you get the strength and the certainty of what you know is needed.

JOURNALIST: Given Malcolm Turnbull’s now advocating for teal Independents, should he be kicked out of the Liberal Party? And would you resign as Liberal Leader if you lose the election?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m focussed on the choice that Australians have to make in what is just a couple of weeks time. And over the course of this campaign I think Australians are getting a keen sense of what that choice is about. When we started the election I said it was a choice between a Government and Liberals and Nationals have demonstrated that we have an economic plan for the future, one that has taken us through these very difficult times and a Labor Opposition that people don’t know. And as this campaign has gone on, we’ve seen just how much we don’t know about the Labor Party and I think Australians are really starting to ask the question is Anthony Albanese really up to this? Now when it comes to what other former Prime Ministers have said, I’ve always treated former Prime Ministers of both political persuasions with the utmost of dignity and respect and I’ll continue to do that. But I don’t share his view. What my view is, as I’ve just explained to you, and that is the chaos of a Parliament driven by the daily musings of Independents who haven’t had the experience to deal with the serious security and economic challenges our country faces. That is going to hurt people’s incomes. It’s going to hurt people’s jobs. It’s going to damage Australian security. And as a result, as a result, I urge the return of the Liberal National Government, because that’s the strength that Australia needs in these times of great uncertainty. I can’t hear. You’re all talking over each other.

JOURNALIST: There’s about a third of voters already who have indicated they’re looking to support Independents or they’re still undecided. Given that there’s so many people who are yet to decide their vote or are looking to find an alternative to the major parties, many of them turning away from the Liberal Party who are traditional Liberal voters. What does that say about the direction that you’re taking the Liberal Party? And what would you try and do to win those voters who are looking to go to an Independent back?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I thank you for the question. I think what we’re seeing has been very disruptive times for our country. The last two years, we’ve gone through things that none of us thought we would ever go through in our lifetime. And I think that has really disrupted things. We’ve found out how strong we are as a people, but at the same time it’s making us think about a lot of issues. And that’s good. That’s what election campaigns are all about. That’s what elections are all about. And I’m not surprised that after a time of so much disruption and so much difficulty and hardship, that Australians are thinking carefully about the choice that they’re going to make at this election. And there’s still two weeks to go, just over, and they are seeking to make up their mind on these issues and that’s why I encourage them. The choice you make at this election will have a very significant impact for you and your family. The place you work, the opportunities you have, the savings for your retirement, all of these things will be impacted by the choice that you make at this election. And so that’s why I make it very plain. The times are uncertain, the times are challenging. And there’s a clear choice between a Government that you know, with a clear plan to take Australia forward and the strength to back it up and a weak Labor Opposition that doesn’t have a plan and you don’t know.

JOURNALIST: Why are you personally opposed to a Royal Commission or a Review into the handling of the pandemic?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’ve said all along that we’re still in the pandemic, and the pandemic, the pandemic hasn’t completed. In fact, as you’ll see, you’ve seen the reports, I’m sure, some new variants coming out of South Africa and I’ve been following those issues closely with the Chief Medical Officer, as you’d expect me to. At this point, there’s nothing there that they’re suggesting relates to any increased in severity in those variants. But the pandemic is continuing. One of the first things I did though.

JOURNALIST: It’ll be with us forever.

PRIME MINISTER: One of the one of the first things I did as Prime Minister was ensure, because the Parliament at first wasn’t able to meet. So I suggested, yes, we should have an ongoing Inquiry in real time done by the Parliament and that has continued for the last several years. Our experts have been available to that Inquiry each and every time.

JOURNALIST: So the question is will you support a Royal Commission?

PRIME MINISTER: My focus is on continuing to manage Australia’s response -.

JOURNALIST: Would you support a Royal Commission?

PRIME MINISTER: … to the pandemic and there’ll be a time to address those issues –

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you again, would you support a Royal Commission?

PRIME MINISTER: …Once the pandemic has concluded.

JOURNALIST: Would you support a Royal Commission?

PRIME MINISTER: Prime Minister, just on the Northern Territory. There’s ongoing riots happening in Wadeye. Would you pledge more support? And do you think your Government has done enough to address systemic issues among Indigenous Australians?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s one of the most challenging and difficult areas of public policy is supporting Indigenous Australians, whether they be in our major capital cities or particularly in remote communities. And Ken Wyatt, the first ever Indigenous Australian to be the Minister for Indigenous Australians, the first Indigenous Australian to ever sit in a Cabinet, in my Cabinet, I think has been very well placed to inform the Government’s response. You know, when I became Prime Minister, one of the things I wanted to change was how we were dealing with closing the gap. Because the problem with Closing the Gap was it was, it was only dealing with things at a Federal level. And what I was able to deal with Pat Turner, who heads the Coalition of Peak Groups of Indigenous Service Providers, is we struck a new deal. A deal that ensured that everybody has a role to play, including the Federal Government, including state governments and others, commit to the same outcomes and commit to the same plans with the funding to support that is we’ve demonstrated now in several Budgets since I brought down that first agreement. And that includes everything from the causal factors that go to Indigenous disadvantage with health and education and maternal health and child health and foetal alcohol syndrome and all of these types of things. We’ve been increasing our investment and ensuring that those investments have been drawn up by the experiences on the ground. Now we will take the same approach there in Wadeye, working with the local authorities to ensure that they get what they need from the Commonwealth areas of responsibility. And that means it’s, it’s a tough issue and we will be guided by what is needed on the ground and listen carefully to the requests for assistance that are made.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, it’s been eight months since the French submarines contract was scrapped. What’s holding you back from finalising compensation agreements so voters can know exactly how much this saga cost them?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s a process that’s being followed in the normal course of events, and it hasn’t concluded yet. I mean, it’s a commercial process that’s underway.

JOURNALIST: Is it being delayed, so voters don’t know the true cost before the election?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course not. What makes you suggest that?

JOURNALIST: I’m asking you.

PRIME MINISTER: Well no, of course not.

JOURNALIST: All right. How much do you expect it will cost?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we don’t know at this point.

JOURNALIST: You must have some idea how much money [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: Well I’m not going to pre-empt any such commercial negotiation. That would be, that would be foolish. That would be reckless. And I don’t engage in recklessness on national security policy or commercial policy on behalf of the Government. Sorry, Clare.

JOURNALIST: The prominent opposition [inaudible] in the Solomons has claimed that following the PM Sogavare’s comment that Australia’s threatened to invade, that’s paved the way for Chinese boots on the ground in the Solomons. Do you still believe that your comments about a red line were appropriate or has the language put Australia’s national security more at risk?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don’t believe it has. I mean, we’ve made very clear, as we always have, about what Australia’s national security interests are, and we’ve also always been very clear about the very high levels of support that we’ve always provided to the people of Solomon Islands and the Solomon Islands Government. Australian Federal Police are there right now and they will be there until the end of 2023. We’ve given those commitments and will continue to provide additional support as they require it. They have a secret arrangement with the Chinese Government, but I’ll tell you this, when it comes to dealing with the coercion that we see from the Chinese Government, whether are here in our region, in the south west Pacific or anywhere else across the Indo-Pacific, there is no Government, there is no Prime Minister that has been more forward leaning in standing up to that coercion in face of the world. Well, this is what a strong government does to protect Australia’s national interests and I will never step back from protecting Australia’s national interests.

JOURNALIST: Speaking of the Pathways Program [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe both you and the Coalition will have the support of young voters this election?

PRIME MINISTER: For young voters in particular, I know there are many things that play on their minds at this election. Of course issues of climate change are I know are of great interest, there’re interested, my kids are not of voting age yet, but they talk about these issues as well. And that’s why as a Government, we’ve had a very practical approach to addressing that issue. I mean, we’ve already seen Australia achieve around a 20 per cent reduction in emissions. Not many people know that. It’s not something that is often repeated by those who talk about these issues that Australia’s emissions reduction performance is greater than the United States, many times over what’s been achieved in New Zealand and Canada, better than Japan, and that we are investing $22 billion to take us to meeting our net zero by 2050 commitments, which is something that as Prime Minister, bringing together the Liberals and the Nationals for the first time to be able to make that commitment to go to Glasgow and to be able to put that on the table as a clear Government policy and a plan of $22 billion to achieve it. Because our way of reaching net zero by 2050 is first of all, to do it through technology, not taxes. Secondly, to ensure that we are giving people choices and good choices, not mandates. It’s about ensuring that we’re investing in getting the costs of technology down. Now, this is incredibly important, because if you can’t get the tech costs of technology that drives lower emissions tech usage in Australia or around the world, well you won’t see emissions fall in Indonesia, you won’t see it in India, you won’t see it in Vietnam or China or many of these other countries. So developed countries can access this technology. But developing countries whose emissions are rising won’t be able to. And that’s a great opportunity for Australia. Fourthly, you need to ensure that you’ve got affordable, reliable energy that’s important for companies like this – you need to ensure that you can – there’s five points to the Plan and I’m keen to go through all five. So on the fourth point, it’s about ensuring that we keep that reliable, affordable energy. That’s why we’ve lent to the gas-fired power station, which Anthony Albanese was against, and then he was for, and then he was against, then he’s for. And then fifthly, it’s ensuring the accountability and transparency. Australia has one of the most transparent and open systems of reporting our emissions reductions of almost any country in the world. So that’s our plan. But the, you’ve asked me about young people. 220,000 apprentices in trade training today. That is the highest level we have seen since 1963. We’re giving young people the opportunity for a great job. I mean, youth unemployment is down to 8.3 percent. Young Australians are coming out of training, out of school, out of university and going into jobs. That wasn’t the case when I left University. It wasn’t the case when my generation left training. They walked into joblessness and they walked into the question about if they would have a job, not what sort of job and for young people today, for young people today, because of the strong economic management we’ve provided, they can look forward to their future with confidence because we’re getting the youth unemployment rate down.

JOURNALIST: You’ve avoided this question several times now. Will you stand down –

JOURNALIST: So just… Thank you, Henry. I think we’re on the same page, I think all of Australia really deserves to know will you resign as Leader in the case of a hung parliament? You say it’s a cavalcade of chaos. So will you resign?

PRIME MINISTER: This is a choice for the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: That’s not a yes or no answer, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you get to ask the questions, you don’t get to say what the answer is. My answer to that is that answer lies in the lap of the Australian people. See, I’m the first Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: That sounds like you would resign.

PRIME MINISTER: Again, I’ll answer the question. I’m very happy to answer the question.

JOURNALIST: You are not though.

PRIME MINISTER: And I’ll take you through what it is. I’m the first Prime Minister that has been able to stand for election at the last election and then stand for an election again. So I’m going to the Australian people at this election and that’s the first time that has happened in about 15 years and that has provided great stability and certainty, I believe. And that was one of the things I said I would bring back to politics –

JOURNALIST: Will you give a yes or no answer.

PRIME MINISTER: … when I became Prime Minister that I would provide that certainty and stability of leadership, which I have delivered from last election through to this election. And I’m putting myself forward for to be able to continue to provide that strong leadership.

JOURNALIST: And if you don’t get a majority Government, what will you do?

PRIME MINISTER: So the decision, the decision for the Australian people is up to them. And I put, I put my trust in their good conscience and their good faith.

JOURNALIST: That’s not a yes or no answer.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that is my answer.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, has the Liberal Party lost its way under your leadership?

PRIME MINISTER: The Liberal Party has ensured that through the most difficult challenge that we have faced since the Second World War and the Great Depression, that our policies, JobKeeper, cash flow boosts, understanding the importance of small business, investing in manufacturing, investing in training, ensuring that we could guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on which comes from running a strong economy, getting taxes down. I mean tax rates for small business have gone from 30 to 25 per cent. We’re ensuring now that if you’re earning $90,000 a year that you’re paying 50 bucks a week less on tax than you would have if Labor Party’s taxes still are in place. So that’s what the Liberal Party’s always been about getting taxes down, ensuring that we delivering on a strong economy, guaranteeing the essential services that Australians rely on. That’s what the Liberal Party have always stood for and that is the strong economy they can vote for. Now if they want to consider an alternative that leads to chaos in the Parliament, then that will only lead to their interests, their families, their jobs, their economy about being under threat.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you a final question on UAVs? Perhaps Minister Price might be able to answer. On the Unmanned Aerial Drones or Vehicles, why did the Government scrap the $1.3 billion SkyGuardian Project just a couple of months ago, which would have acquired 10 to 12 of these UAVs, which we were told would do a great job in protecting our northern borders?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah no, it’s a fair question.

JOURNALIST: Why did we scrap them?

PRIME MINISTER: And because when you’re making decisions about future capabilities, you’ve got to weigh up the respective capabilities of what you’re seeking to invest in. And what we were able to do in the most recent Budget was commit $10 billion to the Redspice Initiative, which sees us massively upgrade our cyber capabilities. And so there is always difficult choices to be made in defence, and we make those choices based on the best possible advice out of our defence forces, out of that Department of Defence, and we consider those things carefully. But you know, Government’s hard. You’ve got to make difficult choices all the time about capability. There are programs you choose not to go ahead with, because you want to go ahead with other programs. I’ve got to say, one of the most difficult decisions I had to make over the course of this last term was to discontinue the Attack Class Program for the French submarines. I understood that doing that would carry some pretty serious ramifications. And when it came to the relationship, yes, both on cost and both on the diplomatic issues with a good friend and partner in France. But you know, when you’re Prime Minister, you don’t get an easy day in the office. Every single day is hard. You’ve got to make tough decisions every day. If Anthony Albanese thinks the campaign is hard, I’ve got news for him. Government’s a lot harder. Cheers.

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