Prime Minister – Transcript – Press Conference – Zuccoli, NT

Liberal Party of Australia

DAMIEN RYAN, COUNTRY LIBERAL PARTY CANDIDATE FOR LINGIARI: Good morning, everybody. My name is Damien Ryan and I’m the Candidate for the Country Liberal Party for the Seat of Lingiari, where we are this morning. One of the fastest growing areas here in Zuccoli. I’m here today with my colleague Tina MacFarlane, who is our Candidate for the Seat of Solomon and of course a very special guest, the Prime Minister of Australia. Thanks to the local company that’s had us in here today for this wonderful display home and shown us right through and what they can do here in Zuccoli. Today, it’s open for the Prime Minister to talk about the wonderful opportunity for young people across this area, across Australia, to get into their own housing. Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Damien and Tina. It’s great to be here and it’s great to be at another thriving, growing community that’s really just coming out of the ground, literally, as we see the new estates opening up, providing new opportunities for Australia, young Australians in particular right up here in the Top End, people working in our defence forces, in other parts of what is a very vibrant and dynamic economy up here in the Top End. And I want to thank Damian and Tina for the way that they have been up, particularly over the course of this campaign, pointing out really clearly how we can ensure we can have strong economic management to support the growing communities of the Northern Territory. Whether up here or down in Alice or many other parts of the Territory, and how that strong economic management is going to counterbalance the economic recklessness and frankly looseness that is the alternative at this election. That’s not a way to build a strong Territory. We’ve got too much instability up here in the Territory, what we need is the stability of Liberal National, the CLP, who can bring that to the fore. Today, earlier today, the Treasurer and the Finance Minister outlined our policies for responsible economic management. This is something the Coalition has been demonstrating throughout our course in Government and that responsible economic management, which sees us having paid for all of the commitments we’ve made in this election, and to ensure that we would actually have a lower deficit as a result of the sensible savings, the sensible management of our economy, and ensuring that the Government lives within its means, particularly our departments, so we can actually pay for the things that we’ve said. We’ve submitted our policies for independent costing throughout the course of this election campaign. Labor still has yet to submit one policy for costing. How can you trust an Opposition that says they want to take the reins of the Australian economy when they haven’t been prepared to share with you just what their policies cost and submit them to independent costing as we have done, and we put them up on the website after their independent costing, day after day after day. Full transparency. Now, responsible economic management is something that our Government has been doing, but it’s also something that Australians have been doing, particularly over the course of this pandemic. They’ve been ensuring that they’ve been saving where they can. They’ve taken the support that has been necessary through JobKeeper and the COVID Support Payments, and all of these, to help them get through to ensure that they can put themselves in the strongest possible position. And we want to help young people to do is ensure that they can get the pay off from having side, that they can get the opportunity that they’ve worked for. And the most important thing any family can do, the most important asset they’ll ever own is their own home. Now, we know that provides stability for a family. It provides stability for a community. It’s the most important investments that can be made, helping families take that first step. It’s always the hardest step. It always has been. And it’s even harder today. And what our policy is designed to do, our Super Home Buyer policy, is to ensure that young people can use their own money. They don’t want the Government to own their house. They want to own their house. They want to have the freedom to live in their home and and do it up as they wish and ensure that they can keep all the benefits of doing just that, so they can build their family life for their future. I was disappointed yesterday when I heard Penny Wong talk about this policy as saying people would take a gamble on their, on their house. A gamble? The most important investment you make in your entire life as a family is owning your own home. If Labor thinks that’s a gamble, then they have lost touch completely with the aspirations and goals of Australian families who their first objective is to ensure that they can own a home. And the advantage of this policy is it not only helps Australians get into their own home, but it also preserves their retirement savings for the future. And that’s the big difference with this policy. There’s been plenty of policies earlier which have just said you take your super out and you never put it back. That’s not what we’re saying. What we’re saying is you get access to your own money to help you get that start. And talking here with the developers and the and the Estate Estate Managers here, that extra $1,000, $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 that they can access, can make all the difference to what you can build here. It also makes all the difference in actually making sure that first mortgage is that little bit lower to make life that little bit easier. And when you combine that with getting more homes on the market, we’re seeing more releases here and we need to see that more around the country. But the downsizing initiative, which actually puts more stock on the market, particularly in established areas of the country, where people are also looking to buy. And that takes that pressure off. The number one thing driving house prices in this country has always been lack of supply, and getting more supply of housing into the market is the best way to ensure you can keep downward pressure on housing prices.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, your government says that it can achieve a $1 billion improvement to the Budget [inaudible] through public service fees efficiency dividends. Can you confirm which departments or agencies will be targeted by cuts? And also will the ABC continue to have, continue to have its funding cut?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the ABC is not having its funding cut. I don’t know why you’re suggesting it is. The ABC’s funding actually increases. That was set out in the Budget. To suggest that the ABC funding has been cut is just completely false and the ABC continues to not be subject to that dividend which was set out by the Treasurer and the Finance Minister this morning. The efficiency dividend is less than what the Labor Party had when they were last in Government and the efficiency dividend applies to departmental expenditure. It doesn’t apply to programs. So what we’re saying is that we’ll be in a position to realise some $2.7 billion in savings off a departmental expenditure budget of $327.3 billion. Now, if our senior public servants, you know, and they’re paid well, if they can’t find $2.7 billion out of a budget of $327.3 Well, I’ve got a lot more confidence in them that they can achieve that. This is a sensible, practical measure, which is, I think, responsibly been applied to ensure that you responsibly manager expenditure. It doesn’t impact on programs or services at all, never has, and we’ve ensured, particularly the key agencies that in areas of national security and smaller agencies for whom those sorts of things can have a bigger impact, and there’s a long list of them. I won’t go through the list here [inaudible] the press conference, but that information was released in detail today because that’s the difference with us. We’re very transparent and we had a Budget before we went into this election, and we’ve been very transparent about our costings all the way through. Why? Because we know how to manage money and we’re confident about that. And that’s why we’ve maintained our AAA credit rating over these most difficult years. There’s been no Government in this country’s history that has had to face the economic pressures and maintain the AAA credit rating as we have.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you credited the public service with helping Australia get through the pandemic, the once in a century pandemic. The savings you’re seeking to make here are $1 billion over four years. In the context of a deficit, that’s nearly $80 billion. Isn’t this a mean-spirited way of rewarding them for their hard work?

PRIME MINISTER: This is responsible budgetary management. We’ve made commitments in this election and we ensure that we pay for them. I mean, that’s how you manage your Budget. You live within your means. At this election, we’ve been responsible in the commitments that we’ve made. And it’s important that we make very clear how we pay for them. Now, as I said, it’s a Budget of $327.3 billion, which is where, where, where we’re seeking to shave $2.7 off on departmental expenditure. So how they use accommodation, how they manage their administrative expenditure. I mean, that is something that I think is entirely sensible, and frankly, taxpayers would be demanding, that these types of sensible efficiencies are achieved. And that is part of the process of managing [inaudible].

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Coalition is speaking about the Budget bottom line today. Do you agree, that’s likely pretty cold comfort for Australians who are worried about their own family budgets, their household budgets, and also and their wages? And aren’t we expecting to see real wages go backwards tomorrow?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ll we’ll wait to see what the figures say tomorrow, just like we’ll wait to see what the unemployment unemployment figures say on Thursday. But that is why we responsibly managed the economy, so we can cut the petrol tax in half and provide that immediate relief. Our Budget that’s turned over around by more than $100 billion in the last 12 months. That is the single biggest turnaround in a Budget in 70 years, and that has enabled us to provide that immediate cost of living relief, right now. The extra $250 for pensioners, the extra tax relief that happens on the 1st of July, and of course the halving of the petrol tax, the extension of the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card to another, to another 50,000 Australians, to ensure that we’re freezing the deeming rates so people on fixed incomes can have surety about their pensions and what they will receive during what are times when cost of living pressures are being applied, and ensuring that we’re dropping the cost of the non-concessional pharmaceuticals under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schemes by $10 a script. Now, particularly for independent retirees that’s very important, because they have more scripts than those who were younger. So we’re delivering, we’re delivering all of this cost of living relief because we know how to manage a budget. And that’s what today –

JOURNALIST: But those measures are –

PRIME MINISTER: … as you say, that’s –

JOURNALIST: With respect, those measures are temporary.

PRIME MINISTER: Tax relief is not temporary. In the next term, you will not pay more than 30 cent in the dollar if you earn anywhere between $45,000 and $200,000 a year. That is one of the biggest changes to our personal income tax system that our country has ever seen. That’s bringing it down for 32.5 cents to 30 cents for many and 37 cents down to 30 cents for many others. That is real, lasting change, which enables Australians to keep more of what they earn. And the other thing, we’re not just letting them take more of what they earn. We’re allowing them to have more control of what they’ve saved to ensure that they can access their own savings, in their own superannuation that will help them be able to achieve what they’re looking to achieve, which is to buy their own home and to ensure that they can have lower mortgage repayments because they can access more of their super. Now that program also ensures that when you investing in your own home through your super, you don’t pay tax on the capital gains. You don’t pay tax on the earnings. You do pay tax when it’s in your superannuation account. So when the, when the earnings from the capital and the principal amount goes back into superannuation, it goes back tax free. This is why it’s a smart and good investment. I don’t think it’s a gamble to buy your own home. I think it’s the smartest thing that you and your family can do. I don’t agree with the Labor Party that it’s a gamble. I believe it’s the best and smartest thing you can do and the only way you will be able to get access to your own superannuation – to be able to buy your first home is by voting CLP here, LNP in Queensland, by voting Liberal and National ‘cos the Labor Party, they hate this. They want big union funds to control your money. I want you to control your money.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned earlier that there’s too much instability here in the Territory. What do you mean by that? And secondly, with this efficiency dividend, can you guarantee that the amount that the Government spends or departments spend on consultancies and contractors won’t increase in the next Coalition Government?

PRIME MINISTER: Well see, what, the way an efficiency dividend works is when you’ve got some $327 billion of expenditure with public service, Chief Executives, Secretaries, are responsible for managing. They are the best people to make the decisions about how they achieve those savings. That’s their job. That’s what they’re tasked to do. And that’s what you do as a Government. You task your public servants to get jobs done. And I always respect – greatly the work of the public service, but I also expect results and they understand that. Respect and expect, that’s always been my charter with the public service that I’ve always led. And that means, they will make those sensible decisions about the best way to achieve that. I mean, we’re talking about $2.7 billion, plus the other changes that we’ve made in terms of ensuring that departments themselves are making the appropriate contributions when it comes to the super the the retirement incomes of of their own super schemes, which are quite different to the rest of the country, including the politicians, I add. And so they will make those decisions and they’re tasked to make those decisions, and I believe they’ll make good decisions to achieve that. And it’s an eminently sensible. And the second part of the question, sorry?

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] I asked, you mentioned there was too much instability here in the Territory. What do you mean by that?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, well, we’ve had further changes here. I mean, I’ve worked very closely with Mr Gunner. We’ve got more changes here. We’ve got serious issues with law and order across the Territory. I mean, Tina and Damien can tell you all about that. I mean, we want the Territory to be safe. We want it to be safe.

JOURNALIST: What about China? Is that a concern for you?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course it is. Chinese Government, the Chinese Government is a concern.

JOURNALIST: Just to follow up on the concerns of China, on the Solomon Islands, there’s been this dichotomy between what your Government has been saying, that the Solomon Islands is an independent country and they can go where they want, but Australia is there first security partner. If we’re their first security partner, why have they turned to China? And just quickly on ICAC, you mentioned that you don’t want a Kangaroo Court and that public hearings would be essentially that. Our justice system is built on open and openness and transparency. Our court processes are open. Journalists are able to attend. Why is there a difference between ICAC not being able to do that, where close submissions are still allowed and the court process?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s not a court. First point, it’s not a court. And where matters were to proceed under our model that involve criminal behaviour, they would go to court and that’s where that process would be followed. That’s how we’ve designed it. That’s consistent with how the justice system works. I mean, it is a very significant piece of legislation that we have, fully-funded, there ready to go. We’re the only ones with such a detailed plan, and I think it completely respects the principle which you referred to. And no, I don’t see it as a dichotomy at all. I mean, we have the Federal Police in the Solomon Islands right now and we’ve had defence forces there also back in December. We are their first call on security. That has always been the case. That has not changed. And to suggest otherwise, I think would be wrong.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how big do you want to see US rotational forces in Darwin to get? And do the Americans need access to a port that isn’t Chinese owned? And will your latest Budget commitment go towards building one?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it does. That was in the Budget, that in terms of the development of significant port facilities here in the Territory, it’s all part of the Middle Arm precinct. It’s a very significant program and Damien or Tina might wish to comment on that. This is one of the biggest transformational investments in the Northern Territory that we’ve ever seen. This is going to revolutionise the Northern Territory with the infrastructure that is going to be built here, opening up the wealth of the Northern Territory. And it’s going to see, I think, the Northern Territory go through a golden period and that is, that is our vision for the Northern Territory.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: That’s why, that’s why the Northern Territory was the centrepiece of $21 billion worth of investment across regional Australia. We know what can be achieved up here in the Northern Territory and we’re very excited that no Federal Government has ever committed more to a more ambitious program to developing the Northern Territory than ever, ever before.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned, you mentioned law and order in the Northern Territory and this is not a Northern Territory city, but there’s been three gangland assassinations in Sydney in a fortnight, in public spaces. Police said yesterday, the consistent theme is the drug war. Why is neither side of politics in this Federal Election saying anything about drug importation and the security of our borders and drugs?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’d be happy to. I mean, we released our policy on all of those issues just a week, a week –

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] people being killed in the streets of Sydney.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, I wouldn’t say that. I would say that battling crime and law and order issues is a challenge in every country in the world. The idea that there’s zero crime, I think, is unrealistic. I mean, what we’ve done as a Government, is we have massively increased our investment in the Federal Police in particular, to ensure that they’re working more closely with state authorities where to be in New South Wales or Western Australia or anywhere else in the country to ensure that they have the tools. I mean, we only have to go back to the major operation that we were involved in, in disrupting gangland activity that we did with the FBI. That was one of the most significant multi-jurisdictional operations that our country has ever engaged in. And in fact, the FBI came here. I stood with one of the Senior FBI Directors, with me, and praised Australia for the work that our AFP had done and our local law enforcement authorities. The battle against organised crime, it never stops. It never stops. And that’s why we have continued to invest in the capabilities we have to track down organised crime, to disrupt organised crime, to use the surveillance and technology that’s there to actually increase our capabilities and not just on organised crime but on paedophiles and those who would seek to abuse our children online and grooming. And we have been doing that in season and out as a Government and made that a very big priority. Now, that is what our government has been doing. That’s what we’ve been doing each and every day, increasing our capacity to deal with law and order issues. But importantly, and Damien may want to speak to this, because we were just down in Alice Springs recently. A very serious problem with law and order there. We sat down with the Mayor. We worked out the way to deal with that, which was a mixture of early intervention programs through to greater patrols, and ensuring that we could deliver that on the ground there in Alice Springs. So we’re coming to the table to try and solve these problems. Law and order here in the Territory, it’s a big problem and we’ve been putting resources to it and support to ensure that can be addressed [inaudible].

JOURNALIST: We’ve just got four days to go. The polling is not working in your favour, every which way we look at it. Are the polls keeping you up at night, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: No.

JOURNALIST: Why are you concerned about a $1 an hour pay rise for low paid workers, but not arming first home buyers with $5 billion of their super to buy $100 billion of housing? Why won’t you release modelling on the price bump of this super policy?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are supportive of wage rises. We think wage rises are good things and we want to see those wage rises occur and for that to occur on a sustainable basis. And the best way for that to happen is to get out of employment down, ensure our economy grows and the businesses are succeeding, which enables them to provide sustainable wage rises for workers across this country. And the best way for those minimum wages, which I stress, have gone up 7 per cent minimum wage in Australia since we first came to Government. In 7 out of the 8 wage decisions on minimum wages. Under our Government, they have gone higher than inflation. Under Labor, 3 out of the 6 went down. So they talk a big game on this. But frankly when they were in Government, they didn’t deliver one. They didn’t deliver one at all. And so we’re for wage increases. But we, it’s important that as the Fair Work Commission considers this, that they look at all the moving parts, and all the moving factors, because you don’t want people to take one step forward and then take two or three steps back, because decisions lead to an even greater increase in the cost of living or an even greater rise in interest rates. And it all gets clawed back. See, that’s why this is so important. You’ve got to know what you’re talking about and you’ve got to understand how the economy works. And if you don’t, as Mr Albanese, as we know has been very loose on these issues –

JOURNALIST: Is there modelling on the [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: .. that impacts on your cost of living, it impacts on your interest rates, it impacts on your wages –

JOURNALIST: [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: … it impacts on your ability to make your way and even buy your own home. If the Government doesn’t know how to manage money, then that is going to impact on you. And that’s why this election is so important and why responsible economic management is so important. Now, the Treasurer addressed the other issues that you’ve raised this morning, so I’ll refer you to those.

JOURNALIST: The World Health Organisation meets on May 22.

PRIME MINISTER: Sorry, I missed that.

JOURNALIST: The World Health Organisation meets on May 22 and on the agenda is a potential pandemic treaty which would allow WHO to direct countries in how they control pandemics. Would you consider signing up to that and handing over any controls to the Organisation?

PRIME MINISTER: I have always been supportive right from the outset and was criticised heavily, I stress heavily, mocked in fact by the Labor Party, for saying the WHO should have those powers and those authorities to be able to go and deal with pandemic situations. Because we all know what happened at the start of this pandemic. Well, the problem is we don’t know what happened at the start of this pandemic, and I was the one calling to ensure that we had an independent process to understand what happened so it couldn’t be repeated. So I have been in the vanguard of those moves internationally to ensure that there is greater protection for world health, to ensure that those world health authorities can come and understand what’s going on and be able to assist countries to be able to prevent the spread and outbreak of major infectious diseases. Now we’ll look at the text of all of that, but we have been amongst the countries that have been positive about these sorts of changes, have to look closely at what the detail is in these things, as you always must. But the idea that countries can just say, no, you can’t come in and have a look at a pandemic that’s about to break out and actually affect the public health and the economy of the entire world, as we saw with this pandemic, then I think it’s only sensible that that’s an area of international cooperation that is very, very important, and I’ve been consistent on that. And remember, the Labor Party mocked me for saying that that was a good idea.

JOURNALIST: First of all, there was some internal polling from Labor that showed that the Party was on track to retain Lingiari. What are your thoughts on that? Second of all, Peter Dutton said that Australians should be prepared for war. The Northern Territory is obviously a very strategically important place. Should Territorians be prepared for war?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, well, Damian will be an outstanding Member for Lingiari. he’s led Alice Springs for many years as a local Mayor, dealing with what is a very diverse community with many challenges. And he continues to have that passion, not just there but right across the Lingiari Electorate. He has the experience and he has the plan and he has the, the engagement with the community, and understanding, which I think can really support Territorians right across the Seats, the Seat of Lingiari, and similarly here in Solomon with Tina. These are people who have run businesses. People have been involved in public policy and government and delivering things on the ground for Territorians and that’s what we need. We need Members who can do that. Members who can actually work with the Government at all levels to ensure that Territorians are getting a better go and that we can realise the great opportunities that are here. Now in relation to our national defence, I mean, it is the job of the Defence Minister to ensure that we’re prepared for all eventualities. And the reason you do that is to ensure that those eventualities don’t take place. The whole point about having a strong defence force and the reason why we turned around Labor’s cuts to defence, which took it down to the lowest level of spending since prior to the Second World War, and now we’re back at 2 per cent now, just above it, and that has enabled us to regain the respect of our partners and allies who know whether it’s here in the Territory, where we have the great work that is done with Marines or wherever else, we can do the things together that we need to do as partners and as Allies to ensure that the Indo-Pacific remains safe. This will always this will be a topic, I’m sure, that will be discussed again at the QUAD, as it always is, as well as the economic issues, the COVID issues and the many issues within South East Asia. But defence is something that our Government has turned around, and you know why we can do it? Because of responsible economic management. You cannot have a strong defence forces if you don’t have a Government that knows how to manage money. You’ve got to have a government that knows how to manage money to have a strong defence force. When Labor were last in power, they couldn’t manage money, they couldn’t manage the borders, they cut defence and they also couldn’t list medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. I can’t stress to Australians how important responsible economic management, understanding the economy, understanding how to manage money has such a big impact on you and your family. You’ve got to be able to do this if you want to support Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schemes, the defence forces, our security agencies, the Federal Police to combat law and order. All of that starts with this, responsible economic management. That’s our track record. And we’ve got a AAA credit rating through the worst pandemic we’ve seen in 100 years to prove it. Thanks very much, everyone. Thank you.

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