Prime Minister – Transcript – Press Conference – Caversham, WA

Liberal Party of Australia

THE HON KEN WYATT MP, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Prime Minister, I welcome you to Sandalford Winery. It’s one of the oldest wineries in the Swan Valley. And what’s beautiful about the Swan Valley, it’s one of the few places in the world where there is a winery and a tourism precinct right on the doorstep of a capital city. Today, we tasted two of the greatest wines we’ve ever seen in their fermentation stage. And our focus on tourism and involving growth and economic opportunity for tourism has been an outstanding feature of our government and is a significant focus of work. So welcome to God’s country.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Ken. It’s wonderful to be here with you, and it’s wonderful to be here at Sandalford and to just have a look through and take in all the history. As you know, I came from a tourism background before I came into politics. It’s something I’ve always been really passionate about. And the reason I’m passionate about it is because there are so many small and medium sized businesses that earn their living from Australia’s tourism industry. And it’s an industry that is right across the country in small towns and rural communities to our big cities. And Australia has been such a tremendous success when it comes to tourism, both domestically as well as of course internationally. But the last few years have been incredibly tough for our tourism industry, whether it’s right up there in tropical far north Queensland or here in indeed the Swan Valley or further down in Margaret River or up around Ningaloo and up in Broome, places like that, right across the country. Our tourism operators and our tourism industry have done it incredibly tough, but you know what, small and medium sized businesses in particular in Australia, and I know our tourism operators well, they are passionate about what they do and they want to keep doing it. And so we’ve worked with them, worked with them and for them in many ways over the course of this pandemic to ensure that they could keep their world class experiences, their world class staff, their world class products together through this pandemic, because they knew on the other side that those businesses were going to roar back to life. Now, of course, across the pandemic, they were supported, particularly here, and I have no doubt in the Swan Valley by the local Perth community. But that’s not what this business was only based on. And nor is its future. The business of this wonderful winery and so many other world class international tourism places for people to go to is built on much more than that. And that’s what the investment has gone into. And that’s why I’m excited that since we opened the borders in late 2021 last year, more than 330,000 tourists have already arrived in Australia. More than 80,000 skilled workers have come back into the country since we were able to open up those borders again and 24,000 working holidaymakers, which is terrific because they don’t just come here and spend money, they come here and support businesses indeed like this one and so many others in providing the staff. And just to show how much the tourism comeback is on, in just one week to the 1st of May alone, 29,000 tourists turned up, 6300 skilled workers, 4500 students and 930 backpackers.

Now, that means that the tourism industry is getting back on its feet all around the country after coming through an incredibly difficult time and of course, we’ve supported them with JobKeeper and we supported our travel agents as well to ensure that they could see their way through the pandemic. We’ve supported them in every way we can, with everything from ensuring that zoos kept their animals fed through to keeping planes in the sky, supporting domestic tourism to keep tourists moving around, to keep cashflow going in these tourism businesses. But now it’s about securing what’s ahead. And that’s why in this year’s budget, we put $60 million, $60 million to go out there and bring those international tourists back to Australia. We already committed funds to be getting backpackers back into Australia when we opened those borders up to backpackers late last year. And in addition to that though, it’s about ensuring that the experiences that people from all over around the world come to are going to be first rate.

And one of the great things about Australian tourism that has developed, particularly in the last 20 years or so, has been the growth of food and wine tourism and the events that sit around that. But for that to work you’ve got to have the infrastructure and facilities that can support it. You just can’t have a field with some vines in it. It’s not that simple. You’ve got to have the visitor facilities, you’ve got to have the playground facilities, you’ve got to have the many other things, the viewing areas and all of this, which is really essential. And that’s why today we’re announcing $20 million to support a tourism grants programme, to support wine, spirits and craft breweries, to provide first class visitor experiences for those who are coming to Australia and those who are domestic tourists. It’s $15 million for tourism grants for the breweries and there’s $5 million in that $20 million which is focussed on tourism events. Now they have great events here at Sandalford each year and those events are reasons why people come to Australia. So our tourism policy which we’re launching today, and the Tourism Minister was doing the same thing over in Apollo Bay today. Our tourism policy is about securing that recovery for our tourism industry and the many small and medium sized businesses these grants are focussed on for businesses of up to $50 million in turnover. Now, later today Ken will be making further announcements about Indigenous tourism. That’s the other great thing about the tourism industry. It provides great jobs and enables Indigenous Australians to run their own businesses in tourism, whether they be in the cities or in the remote areas of our country.

So it’s always been a great employer, it’s always been a great way of generating income and that’s why I’m pleased today to be announcing yet another policy over the course of this campaign and throughout this campaign, as you know, because you’ve been travelling with me, we’ve been announcing policies every day, announcing projects because this election is a choice. It’s a choice between obviously who can run that economy, who can manage finances. And we read today and we learnt today that the Labor Party could be seeing deficits of up to $10 billion more, $10 billion more. And when quizzed today, they won’t reveal what their deficits will really be. But what we do know about Labor is they can’t manage money and they always spend more. And when they start spending they never know when to stop. And that puts further pressure on interest rates it puts further pressure on the essential services that Australians rely on. They have announced more than 50 reviews. They’ve announced more reviews in this election than they’ve actually announced policies. Mr. Albanese hasn’t even announced a policy since last Sunday. I mean, Tony Abbott used to say the Labor Party always hits the ground reviewing. You can’t run for Prime Minister saying that you’re going to make it up when you get there. And I think Australians are already starting to wonder whether Mr. Albanese is really up to this and whether this job is too big for him. And what we’ve seen over the last week with not a policy announced since last Sunday, I suppose I can understand why. Every time they announce a policy it unravels pretty quick and he has to explain it. So in this election, we’re setting out clear future plans, whether it’s for the tourism industry, whether it’s how yesterday, when we’re talking about how we’re getting more Australians into our defence industries, 1,500 places to get people working in our defence industries. The work we’ve been doing on critical minerals, raw earths here in Western Australia and the list goes on. We’re setting out policies for the future. We’re setting out our strong economic credentials for being able to support those policies. And we’ve got a strong economic plan which less than two weeks to go to the election we still do not have an economic plan from Mr. Albanese.

JOURNALIST: You say a vote for independents is a vote for chaos. You hold a majority government this term, but you still failed to deliver on two key 2019 election promises, which is federal ICAC and a religious discrimination bill. Isn’t that the real chaos here?

PRIME MINISTER: Not at all. I mean, we, over the course of this last three years as a majority government, it enabled us to deliver the biggest economic intervention to save the Australian economy, to deliver some of the biggest agreements and arrangements to support Australia’s defence and security. Budget after budget measures passed, in season and out. I remember what a minority government looked like and we’ve heard today from Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor. Some of you may remember that when that minority government was being formed, Rob Oakeshott said it would be beautiful in its ugliness. It was just ugly. It was just ugly. And what I’m saying is that votes for independents at a time when Australia is facing such economic challenges, such international security challenges, you do not want to have a government that has to bargain for its existence every single day based on the latest whim of independents who have no clear policy platform. I mean, I think Josh Frydenberg said that very well against Monique Ryan in the debate he had down in Kooyong. They don’t have any agenda and the agenda items that they do have would destroy the Australian economy. And so they can’t be trusted, they cannot be trusted to hold from one position to the next. We’re dealing with very serious issues as a country and to have that at risk every single day for a government to have to bargain with independents is not the strength that Australia needs.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister. I don’t want this to be a gotcha question, but it’s based on the polls. So if you want to have and think and come back later. It’s not meant to be a gotcha. But the polling in The Australian today seems to have come from the Coalition indicates the number of undecided voters, soft voters has increased. You are now days away from pre-polling starting. Why do voters not like you?

PRIME MINISTER: As I’ve said throughout this campaign, this election is a choice and the choice is about who is best able to manage our Australian economy and who has a strong economic plan to deal with the challenges that Australians face. This is not a reality television show. This is not a popularity contest. You can go and vote on The Voice or whatever other programme and you can pick whoever you like and it has no consequences for you individually.

Who you vote for on the 21st of May will have very serious consequences for you, your family, the business you work in, the industry you work in, particularly if it’s one of those traditional industries with Labor and the Greens and potentially independents deciding whether your job has a future in this country. My point is, is that that is the basis of your choice. Now, over the last few years, Australia has been through one of the most extraordinary periods of time, and I think that has had a very big impact on how people are thinking about these issues. And so I’m not surprised that even at this point with two weeks to go, that there are many Australians who are really seeking to make up their mind about the choice and the very important choice that they have to make in two weeks time. So I say it is a clear choice between a government that you actually do know. I’ve been very open with Australians. People may not have agreed with everything that I’ve done or everything our government has done. We’ve had to deal with the most difficult times we’ve seen since the Second World War and the Great Depression. Not really a guidebook for those, but where we have not got things right we’ve moved very quickly to fix them. And so we’re a government that you know. But we’re two weeks out from an election and Mr. Albanese came out of isolation and he seems to have done less when it comes to policy since he’s been out of isolation than when he was in isolation. I mean, not one policy announced since last Sunday and the policies he has announced, he can’t even explain. And what that says is you don’t know this guy and you don’t know if this guy is up to the job and if this election is a job application, well, I’m not sure you would have actually let him see out the time of the job application (indistinct).

JOURNALIST: If I can ask a question about your industrial relations reform (indistinct) from a few weeks ago. Now Senator Cash categorically said that there would be no changes to the Better Off Overall Test, meanwhile, when you were talking in Adelaide, you said there would be no major changes. And when you were talking in the debate, you harked back to the now abandoned provisions on pandemic provisions. Can you categorically say there will be no changes whatsoever to the Better Off Overall Test?

PRIME MINISTER: We’re not changing that. And that’s the point we’ve made all along. I mean, the provisions that related to the pandemic, obviously related to the crisis of the pandemic. And that’s why those provisions are not ones that we go forward with.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in 2019, you had a very simple five point plan promoted on the Liberal Party website as your photo alongside as can yes said that Leadership Matters lunch you poked fun at Anthony Albanese for not being able to remember many points of his plans, the NDIS plan. Can you remember that five point plan? Can you tell us it now today?

PRIME MINISTER: No, because that’s the plan I took to the last election. The plan I take to this election is this though. Lower taxes and less regulation. That’s the first point of our economic plan. The second point of our economic plan is to invest in the skills and infrastructure that Australians need to grow our economy into the future. The third point of the plan I’ve been championing has been to ensure that we have reliable and affordable energy, while at the same time meeting our emissions reduction commitments – net zero by 2050. We’re already 20% down on our 2005 levels and we’re investing $22 billion to ensure we’re developing the new technologies to drive achievement of our commitments. The data and digital economy is transforming business. That’s the fourth point on our plan and that is all about ensuring businesses can get the data and technology tools and assets they need to drive their business into the future. We’ve invested over $2 billion in that plan in recent times in budgets and in this budget alone, 120% tax deduction to ensure that they can get on with the job of investing in the tools they need to run their business. And the fifth point is all about making things in Australia and making things in Australia particularly with advanced manufacturing and our Advanced Manufacturing Plan and modern manufacturing initiative is investing across a series of priority areas, whether it be in the minerals sector or it’s in the food and beverage sector, or indeed in sectors like the space sector, defence industry. All of these are critical to Australia’s future as an advanced manufacturing country and that is taking advantage of the disruption to global supply chains as a result of the pandemic and the other things we’re seeing around the world today. There is an opportunity for us to onshore more in Australia and whether it’s the Trailblazer University programme like here in Curtin that we were talking about yesterday or in South Australia on defence and other parts around the country. It’s about ensuring we’ve got research entrepreneurs who are driving our manufacturing industry. That’s the plan I’m taking to Australians and that’s the plan we’ve been pursuing.

JOURNALIST: So obviously in the Pacific it’s Australia’s backyard, but it’s also New Zealand’s. Would you like to see a bigger effort by New Zealand to counteract Chinese influence in the region, in the Solomon Islands and the Pacific. And do you think New Zealand is pulling its weight in terms of regional security when defence spending is one and a half percent of GDP?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Australia and New Zealand are very different countries and we have very different capabilities and I’ve worked very closely with Prime Minister Ardern on these issues, including on the issues that have been very front of mind lately. And we share the same concerns. And I must say, we share the same passion for the Pacific region. And we both have spent a lot of time in the region. And so I would say that we’ve been good partners on this. And when we engaged in our Pacific Step-up they were engaged in a very similar programme in New Zealand and we worked closely to ensure that they’re harmonised together and particularly where they’re putting new missions in. Now we have new missions in every single one of the Pacific Island Forum countries. So Australia has been in a position to do quite a lot when it comes to our defence and other activities. But I must say I think New Zealand has been a very positive partner in working with them, particularly in the diplomatic and overseas development assistance area.

JOURNALIST: Would you like them to increase their GDP to defence spending?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s a matter for the New Zealand Government. It’s not our job to say what the New Zealand Government should do with their defence spending, that’s a matter for Prime Minister Ardern. But what I do is I very much respect the working relationship I have with Prime Minister Ardern. We might be from completely different political sides of the fence. But I can tell you that, you know, Jenny and I and Jacinda and Clarke have always had a very good working relationship. I greatly respect her role and she has done likewise for me and we’re in pretty regular contact (indistinct) I’ve been pretty busy.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister. I want to take you back to an answer you gave on the National Disability Insurance Scheme two days ago, and you said that you’re committed to fully funding it. And then when I asked you specifically about the forward pathway of the $60 billion over the decade, you said you were committed to responsible spending.

PRIME MINISTER: Correct.

JOURNALIST: Wondering if we can get a clear answer though. Are you committed to the current actuarial pathway or would you like to see efficiencies and savings that say that overall spend come down over the decade?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the actuarial pathway changes all the time. I mean, that’s the nature of how the NDIS operates. They provide regular updates about where they’re seeing demand forming in the scheme and then you ensure that you put in place the resources to meet that. And the scheme is well over what the Productivity Commission and the original intentions of the scheme had always intended. Well over 500,000 people are on that scheme. But the plan we need to continue to drive forward for the NDIS is firstly we’ve got to make sure that we fully fund and we’ve always been committed to that. We need to continue to improve the participant experience. And one of the ways we’ve done that is by improving the support for advocacy within the programme. It’s a very difficult programme to negotiate for those who use it. And the reason for that is, is every single person’s special needs are different. This is one of the most complex social policies this country has ever embarked on. Every single child or adult, even as they approach senior ages, their needs are different and their needs change over time. And a big part of the scheme’s intention is to focus on early intervention and trying to avoid greater impacts of special needs as their life goes on. The third area that we focus on is ensuring we’re protecting people, we’re keeping them safe, that they’re not getting ripped off and indeed that the taxpayer’s not getting ripped off either. It’s a very large scheme with many, many participants.

As you know, I’ve been an immigration minister, I’ve been a social services minister, I’ve been a treasurer. I’ve worked in portfolio areas where not everybody often has the best of intentions and you need to protect the taxpayer, but you have to do it to protect the people who really rely on those schemes. And I think that’s incredibly important and that’s what our programme does. And I’m going through all the points. The fourth point of what I’m doing on the NDIS is ensuring that we have the safeguards in place that are building workforce for the NDIS. This is another critical area. The biggest single challenge that Australia faces economically today is workforce and whether it’s getting people to work here at a vineyard or getting people to work in an aged care facility or to provide care under the NDIS, these workforce challenges are significant and we’ve around a quarter of billion dollars which is invested specifically in building up the workforce. And the fifth area is those who have special needs, not all of them will be on the NDIS. And so you need a policy towards disabilities in this country which we have which goes beyond the NDIS. Now there was a couple of small announcements, but I think important announcements. When I was in Adelaide I talked about the increased investment we’re putting for hearing assistance dogs. It was a small investment, but I can tell you that upgrade in the number of dogs that are going to be trained and provided to people who have hearing difficulties or are deaf, that’s important. Now they might not be on the NDIS, but their needs are real. And so dealing with people’s special needs across Australia goes beyond the NDIS and that’s what our plan does.

JOURNALIST: A local question, how critical are Perth seats such as Swan, Pearce, Hasluck and we spent a lot of time in Cowan over the past two days. How critical are they to your re-election strategy?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course, they all are.

JOURNALIST: But how critical are Perth seats?

PRIME MINISTER: They’re very critical. All of these seats are, you’ve seen me going right across the country. They’re all important. I’ll tell you why Hasluck’s important, because they’re very people I’m proud to serve with and have been proud to serve with over my time in parliament, but none greater than Ken Wyatt. I mean, Ken Wyatt, people will be speaking of for generations to come and with good reason. It’s not just that Ken is the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives. It’s not just that he’s the first Indigenous person to ever become a Cabinet minister. But the quality of Ken’s care and passion and insight and wisdom is something I look to in my cabinet every single time we meet. I need Ken in my cabinet. I need Ken in my government because Ken adds big value. And then when you’re talking about Linda Aitken up there where we were earlier today in Pearce. I mean, Linda Aitken is someone who is a clinical nurse specialist. Linda Aitken has run, with her husband Vince, a small business for decades. She’s a grandmother and she’s a mother of four children and she was on council for eight years. These are people that I need in my team. Vince Connoly has been the member for Stirling.

JOURNALIST: What about Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong who you haven’t met?

PRIME MINISTER: I did campaign with Josh in Kooyong, you must have missed that. The question was about Western Australia and we’re in Western Australia, Vince Connolly, an outstanding member for Stirling, the seat was redistributed and Vince wanted to keep serving. And we were with him in town this morning and the way he’s been engaging with all the many communities across the Cowan electorate I think demonstrates the passion that he can bring for the people of Cowan. And then of course we Kristy McSweeney running there in Swan where my good mate Steve Irons is retiring after almost 15 years in the Parliament and she’s bringing a fresh energy and experience to an electorate that I think very much accords with Kristy’s outlook of the world and what she can bring and she’s passionate and she’s dynamic. I need them in my team because having so many Western Australian members in my team, that’s how the GST got done for Western Australia. Their advocacy, their strength, ensured that under a Liberal-National Coalition government the GST got fixed for Western Australia. I mean, the voices that come out of Western Australia for the Labor Party, they don’t even agree with the voices of Mark McGowan. You’ve seen what the Federal Labor Party’s view is on sheep exports, something very important in Western Australia. Mark McGowan understands it, I understand it. Anthony Albanese and his Labor members disagree with Mark McGowan.

JOURNALIST: The RBA says real wages won’t catch up to inflation for another 18 months. Is that a reality you’re happy to accept?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s a reality of the global economy and the pressures the Australian economy faces and..

JOURNALIST: Cost of living is going to be higher on your watch if you’re re-elected. Yes or no?

PRIME MINISTER: Cost of living pressures are higher because of what we’re seeing in the global economy and that is true. That is what I have to deal with on my watch. You know, as Prime Minister, you don’t get to choose the international circumstances you face. Let’s go back three years ago, who of us knew that we were going to be impacted with a global pandemic? Who of us knew that we were going to be facing a war in Europe again in Ukraine. And so these forces are impacting on the Australian economy. So yes, it’s true those pressures to try and get wages up, to drive unemployment down, which we’ve done because that’s the way you get wages up. The Reserve Bank has also said that wages now, thankfully and we’ve been waiting for it for some time, are going to increase and we welcome that. But the very real challenges our economy faces. That is why this is an important choice. It was only four weeks ago, actually less than that, when the alternative prime minister of this country, Anthony Albanese, couldn’t even tell you what the unemployment rate was. That wasn’t a gotcha question. That’s something he should know out of the blocks. He should know that unemployment’s at 4% and he had no clue. So Australians can choose. Australians can choose between a prime minister who knows what he’s doing, who has got the economic plan and record that has taken Australia through one of the most difficult times we’ve ever faced and an economic plan to take us forward. Or a leader of the opposition in Anthony Albanese, who you know doesn’t know.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve previously said it was counterproductive for your Foreign Minister to meet with members of the Solomon Islands?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I didn’t say that at all.

JOURNALIST: Now that they have met, now that she has met her counterpart, what part of the security advice has changed?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I said that it was not our plan for her to visit the Solomon Islands. That’s what was being suggested to me. And that’s not what has occurred. There was the opportunity for a meeting to take place here, and that was a sensible opportunity to take up. And I’m pleased that it was. And that meeting proved to be a very positive meeting, one that reinforced again Australia’s role as the primary security partner and also reassured once again that the Solomon Islands are not considering and would not support the establishment of a naval presence (inaudible) the Chinese government in the Solomon Islands. So that’s what occurred.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister can I confirm that you want to revisit religious discrimination, if you’re elected to deal with it as a standalone issue. Can I get some clarity around what you’re planning to do with the Sex Discrimination Act, do you still intend to introduce amendments to that that would protect gay teachers and students? And what would your timeline be?

PRIME MINISTER: That would be a separate issue, and that would be a function of being able to deal with the other matter first.

JOURNALIST: Can I just clarify on that because I think it’s an important issue.

PRIME MINISTER: No I just did, and we would be dealing with RDA first.

JOURNALIST: Yes. But when would it happen? Would it be simultaneous? Would it be very quickly?

PRIME MINISTER: We will deal with RDA first.

JOURNALIST: What would be the timeframe Prime Minister, on that, can we understand why (indistinct)

PRIME MINISTER: Let’s see what happens at the election and let’s just see what the Australian people decide. I would like to see it happen.

JOURNALIST: But this was a very contentious issue. You had splits within the coalition. If you were going ahead with, you’re not worried that you’d be inflaming tensions within your own party. Many people in the paper today, Andrew Bragg, saying that this should be done simultaneously. Why don’t you want this done simultaneously?

PRIME MINISTER: Our commitment was to go forward with the RDA and we will go forward with the RDA in its own right and I look forward to that getting the support in the party. Thanks very much everyone.

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