Prime Minister – Transcript – Press Conference – Perth, WA 21 May

Liberal Party of Australia

LINDA AITKEN, LIBERAL CANDIDATE FOR PEARCE: Hi, I’m Linda Aiken, Liberal Candidate for Peace. And I’m really excited today to have Prime Minister Scott Morrison here. And he is here to talk about the superannuation policy for housing.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Linda. It’s great to be here with you today. And look, I want to congratulate you on the terrific campaign you’ve been running. This is one of the growing areas of Australia, just north of Perth. So many young families like we’ve met today, young couples who are wanting to buy homes, they are buying homes and more and more of them want to buy homes. And this has been one of the key issues that we’ve been focussing on as a Government and I’ll say a bit more about that in a moment. But these communities need more facilities. They need infrastructure, support of transport and roads, community infrastructure, such as the Aquatics Centre that we announced last time I was up here, playing courts for kids, all of that is what young families and young communities need, and they’re happening right here in front of us. And we’re always very, very, very pleased to support that. Here in Western Australia, in particular, the GST deal that we’ve been able to deliver both I as Treasurer, but also as Prime Minister, putting that in the legislation. We took that argument up. It was in the national interest to ensure that Western Australia got its fair share of GST, which it wasn’t getting. And that means that the State Government, with around $2.5 billion extra every year, can invest in those important services that are much needed here in this community, in the roads, in the schools, in the hospitals, in the transport services, keeping people safe with law and order. That’s what that GST commitment and delivery has been all about, ensuring that here in Western Australia, a growing state, that they have the resources tonight will support that population. We want to see more people move to Western Australia and there’s great opportunities. Here in Western Australia, the unemployment rate is the lowest in the country at 2.9 per cent, a full percentage point below the 48 year low of 3.9 per cent, which we learned of yesterday. And so we need more people moving West. There’s plenty of room, there’s plenty of opportunity. There’s great new communities that are being built here, strongly supported by the Federal Government and great local plans to ensure that you can realise your great aspirations, which really, at the end of the day, is what this election is all about and how those aspirations are able to be realised. And it all comes down to one thing and that is a strong economy. And that’s why this election is all about who is best able to manage our economy, who is best able to manage the nation’s finances. A strong economy means a better future. It means a stronger future for you and your family. And by voting Liberal and National this weekend, tomorrow, you’re able to lock that certainty in – of a strong economy that helps you plan for your future with confidence. The alternative is a Labor Party that we know doesn’t know how to manage money and that was confirmed to us again yesterday. No wonder he didn’t want to answer questions on the costings of his policies and why he’s avoided scrutiny on his costings, that is Mr Albanese over the course of this campaign. What we learnt yesterday without and there still isn’t any independent assessment of this. What we learnt yesterday is there’ll be around eight and a half billion dollars in higher deficits under Labor, some $60 billion in more debt, and that only put further pressure on rising costs of living caused by forces outside of Australia and rising interest rates. And it always means that when Labor can’t manage money, they always come after yours with higher taxes. Now we’re turning the corner and we’re getting the pandemic behind us, thankfully, and we can’t take the risk of turning back now. We need to ensure that we keep moving ahead with that strong economy that sets you and your family up for the future. And that’s what this election is all about. But we have great opportunities ahead of us. Our economic plan, with unemployment at 48 year lows at 3.9 per cent, is setting our country up for success. But we can’t take it for granted. We need to ensure that we keep putting that plan in place and one of the most important things we want Australians to be able to do, which is why we’re here today, is we want them to be able to buy their own home. Our plan ensures that people in Australia, young people in particular starting out can get access to their own superannuation, their own money, so they can invest it in their own home to give them that start in life that they’re looking for, not have to put it off years and years in more and more savings, renting and renting and potentially seeing that dream slip away from them. We want them to be able to get that opportunity now by having access to their own money. Now only a vote for the Liberals and Nationals tomorrow will enable you or your kids to have the opportunity to access their superannuation to buy their own home. Labor will never let you do it and so vote Liberal tomorrow, vote National tomorrow, and that way you can get into your first home a lot sooner. And so can your kids.

JOURNALIST: PM, thank you. Thanks, PM. Millions of people have already voted. Polls are tightening. There’s a huge vote for third parties, independents. What do you say to Australians about the possibility that when we go to bed tomorrow night, we may not know who will be Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Elections in Australia are always close. It’s very rare that you get big, big changes. That happens occasionally. But in my experience elections are always very close. And Australians weigh up their decision very, very carefully. Now how they vote, we’ll see tomorrow night and potentially in the days that follow as more and more votes are counted. But what Australians will be wanting to know is what certainty and security can they have going forward for them and their families? There are so many challenges we’ve got to face and threats to Australia and those challenges mean that we need a strong economy to be able to invest in the changes to aged care that we’re already making, supporting the National Disability Insurance Scheme, ensuring that we can afford to continue to put life saving and life changing drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to support Medicare – $31.4 billion – we’ve doubled the investment in Medicare under our Government. And we’ve been able to lift bulk billing rates from 82.2 per cent to 88.8 per cent. That’s what you do with a strong economy. We are investments in defence, is keeping Australia secure in a very challenging world. Now you can’t do any of that if you can’t manage finances and if you can’t manage finances, what happens is what happens last time under Labor. They lost control. They couldn’t list medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. They lost control of the borders and there was chaos everywhere and they had to cut funding to defence. So that’s why this election is so important. Millions of Australians will be making up their minds today and tomorrow even as they stand in that booth. And there’s just one question. Who do you think is going to be better able to manage the finances of this country? The Liberals and Nationals who have been able to take Australia through the biggest economic crisis the nation has faced since the Great Depression, ensured there’d be unemployment to 3.9 per cent, or a Labor Party led by Mr Albanese, who a few weeks ago couldn’t even tell you what the unemployment rate was. Yesterday, he didn’t even know whether the borders were open or closed and he announced that he is going to have higher deficits, higher debt, putting more pressure on the cost of living and on interest rates. And he’ll come after you with higher taxes and you’ll be worse off.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, New South Wales Health today confirmed that they are looking into a probable case of the monkeypox –

PRIME MINISTER: True.

JOURNALIST: … virus, yeah, in Sydney from a traveller, somebody who came from Europe. Is that something that concerns you and is your Government going to take any action on it at this stage?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course it concerns us and our health authorities are monitoring that situation very closely. In the first instance, that’s been done by the state public health agencies. There are treatments available. The advice I have is that it is a far less contagious condition then obviously COVID and things of that nature. And so why we should be taking this seriously at the same time I would say no one should be alarmed at this point. We’ve got the best health authorities in the world. That’s been demonstrated through COVID and those same authorities, those same health professionals who were there seeing us through, advising us, through coming through COVID are the same ones that are managing serious issues like this. We’ve also been dealing with Japanese Encephalitis as well, and the same people, the same processes, working closely together at federal and state level.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about the the national mood? Why are you so convinced that people are ready to move on from what’s happened at the past few years? And rather, when they walk into the polling booths tomorrow, they’re just not going to want to give you a kick in the shins for everything that they’ve gone through?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the decision that Australians are making is not about rewarding anyone or necessarily punishing anyone.

JOURNALIST: Do you accept that [inaudible] upset?

PRIME MINISTER: What it’s about, what it’s about is what is going to be best for them going forward and what is best going to enable their aspirations. And what is best going to enable their aspirations is having a strong economy and a Government that knows how to manage money. Because when you have a Government, as Labor has been in the past who doesn’t know how to manage money, it puts upward pressure on interest rates, it puts upward pressure on inflation, it drives unemployment up as it did last time. I mean, when Labor is in last time, they had to deal with the Global Financial Crisis and that was a serious economic challenge. And unemployment from when they came in went from 4.4 to 5.7. We’ve been in Government and we’ve taken it from 5.7 down to 3.9, and we’ve faced an economic crisis 30 times worse than what Labor faced during the Global Financial Crisis and got employment outcomes that were 50 per cent better. But to go to the other part of your question, Australians have been doing it tough and yes, they are fatigued and tired of the difficult challenges that have had over recent years and I understand that frustration. But what’s important is that we channel our decisions and our focus on what comes next and putting the frustrations of the last few years caused by COVID. We’ve all worked hard together to see this through and to come through in a strong way. And now we can secure those opportunities ahead. And that’s why it’s so important to base the decision tomorrow on who you believe is best going to manage the nation’s finances.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve made a lot, made much of your team being a united one, but overnight there’s been a damaging Cabinet leak which suggests Marise Payne, the Foreign Minister’s proposal for more funding for the Pacific was rejected by you and your senior Ministers. Was it a mistake to reject this, given what we’ve seen in the Solomons and China? And why are members of your Government leaking against you?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I reject the latter accusation – 100 per cent it was, has not. And there’s been my my National Security Committee has been extremely tight –

JOURNALIST: Well, people [inaudible] aware of this.

PRIME MINISTER: … and I have no doubt that the members of my National Security Committee are very, very tight. Now, I’m not going to confirm one way or another the matters in that report. I don’t discuss things and my Ministers don’t discuss things that are addressed and worked through at National Security Committee. What I can tell you –

JOURNALIST: But someone has discussed this [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: What I can tell you as a Government – well, the National Security Committee is not just attended by Ministers. It’s also attended by Officials.

JOURNALIST: Will you be investigating the source of this leak?

PRIME MINISTER: I look, I’m not confirming, I’m not even confirming that there’s a leaker. I’m not even confirming that there’s a leak. So you shouldn’t jump to conclusions about these things. I know what the reports are, but I don’t discuss national security matters. And the reason I don’t do that and play the game of saying yes or no to these questions is because I don’t confirm or deny any issues that are raised around national security. That’s what a prudent Prime Minister does in managing the sensitive issues of national security. Now, what we’ve done as a Government is this year alone, $2.7 billion invested in our Pacific family. We are by far and away the single largest overseas development assistance partner of the Pacific family. We are their partner of choice, including in the Solomon Islands, which was just confirmed by their Ministers recently. And that will continue to be the case. Australian Federal Police continue to be there to support law and order and stability in Solomon Islands and that will continue for quite a period of time at their request. We will continue to support our Pacific family because we know the pressures they are under, those who are seeking to coerce and influence in the Pacific. They don’t play by the same rules. We know that. And that’s why we’re always so attentive, working with our partners, ensuring that their needs are met. And I know that that is greatly appreciated and supported. I just had a message today from Prime Minister Bainimarama about that very point. I’m here with Oz.

JOURNALIST: Me?

JOURNALIST: The Aus.

JOURNALIST: With me. I just got a promotion, but that’s okay.

PRIME MINISTER: I’m sorry, I thought you were with The Aus, but anyway.

JOURNALIST: Just on the National Security Committee. Obviously, someone is talking about this, but if you don’t want to discuss that, just separately, would you consider examining the doubling of the Pacific aid funding just to counteract that Chinese influence?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you’re making an assumption about what’s driving decisions in the Pacific, which I don’t think holds.

JOURNALIST: What do you mean? What do you mean by that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you’re suggesting that if you just double funding in the Pacific, then somehow the Chinese Government doesn’t have any influence or can or won’t be successful in seeking to coerce or exert its influence in the in the Southwest Pacific –

JOURNALIST: So more aid wouldn’t of helped?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s your assumption. And that assumption doesn’t hold. We invest in the Pacific because they’re our family and they trust us and we always will. And we don’t seek things in return. What we do is show our good faith, our loyalty and our support and our care for our Pacific family. It’s the relationship and that is a relationship we work on constantly, and that is what we’ll continue to do. We work on the cultural engagement, the people to people engagement, the education of people within the Pacific. They come to Australia and they’re educated in Australia. We support them with their budget. I mean, the Government of Papua New Guinea in particular, and James Marape, the Prime Minister, is a good friend. They have been under considerable pressure and when James and his Ministers came to see me some years ago, they said we need budget assistance to ensure we can maintain our health services and we supported the Government of Papua New Guinea and I know that’s appreciated. And the reason why, particularly with Papua New Guinea and so many of our Pacific families, they’ve always been there for us too. None of us will or should ever forget the sacrifice and service, particularly of the people of Papua New Guinea rendered to our soldiers during the Second World War. I’ll never forget it. I’ve walked that track and many others, and their heroism and their gift to us over those years will live forever.

JOURNALIST: If you’re re-elected, PM, will you ask for an investigation at DFAT as to the source of the leak? One of your own (inaudible) said to me this morning they believe it’s come from DFAT.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I’m not going to speculate on these issues as I’ve already told you. I’m not even confirming that these are matters that have even been discussed.

JOURNALIST: You’re not curious as to where it may have come from on the eve of the day before the election?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I’m saying to you, I’m not even confirming that these matters have even been discussed.

JOURNALIST: But you just hinted [inaudible] that it may have come from the Department.

PRIME MINISTER: I mean, you could have a completely false report.

JOURNALIST: You yourself just hinted that it may have come out of the Department.

PRIME MINISTER: No, no, you can’t put words in my mouth.

JOURNALIST: You said there was officials in the room.

JOURNALIST: And you said NSC was tight and there were Officials in the room.

PRIME MINISTER: I’m talking [inaudible] this room. The suspicion amongst you, not amongst me.

JOURNALIST: But this is a suspicion amongst your own [inaudible] –

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, anyway. I think I’ve already addressed that. I’ve already addressed that. James.

JOURNALIST: On Chinese influence in the Pacific. You mentioned that China doesn’t play by the same rules. Now, your Government has made a point of calling out Chinese cyber attacks as a deterrent. If there is evidence of corruption in the Pacific or the Solomon Islands, which is why they may have gone to China. Will your Government make that information or intelligence public as a deterrence?

PRIME MINISTER: We will always do what’s in our national interest and what is in the interests of our partner countries. That’s what we do and we always work through those issues very carefully with our partner countries. We’re very respectful of our family in the Pacific. And as I’ve said to you on a number of occasions during the course of this campaign, one of the things I sought to change as Prime Minister was the nature of our relationship with these Pacific countries. Pacific leaders had said to me that they were unhappy with the way that they’d been treated in the past, and I’ve sought to turn that around and build close personal relationships with those leaders. And I continue to go down that path and respect them as sovereign nations, and I will always do that. Jen?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, putting aside your policies and your team, because you’ve already spoken in length about that. In 10 seconds, what is your final pitch to voters and why should they vote for Scott Morrison?

PRIME MINISTER: Because a strong economy means a stronger future. We can’t risk Labor with higher debt, higher deficits, which are only going to push up your cost of living and push up interest rates. We’ve come so far, now is not the time to turn back and risk Labor, but to secure our opportunities with a strong economy that only the Liberals and Nationals can deliver.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said yesterday that the that the Murugappan family isn’t owed protection, but your Government can use its discretionary powers –

PRIME MINISTER: That’s true.

JOURNALIST: … to allow them to stay, to return to Biloela.

PRIME MINISTER: True.

JOURNALIST: You said that you want to be more empathetic. Will you start by using those powers to allow them to return to Biloela?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there are two there are two tracks here. There is the track in the courts, which is what I was referring to yesterday. And those courts have not found that under the Refugee Convention that a protection obligation is owed under that Convention. They have not been afforded the status of refugees. So, they are not refugees. That is what the Courts have found. And you know what the Government policy is that if people have illegally entered Australia, then offering visas to people in that situation –

JOURNALIST: But will you use the discretionary powers, is the question.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, I’ll come to that. That’s the second track. If you grant visas to people who have illegally entered Australia, you may as well start writing the prospectus for people smugglers. Now, I know when I say that people go, oh, that couldn’t be true. That’s what Kevin Rudd thought in 2007 and then he got rid of Temporary Protection Visas as Anthony Albanese says he’s going to do, and then 50,000 people turned up on 800 boats. 1,200 people died, 17 detention centres –

JOURNALIST: But Prime Minister, I’m talking about the discretionary powers.

PRIME MINISTER: No, I’m sorry. This is very important.

JOURNALIST: That your Minister can use to allow them to stay.

PRIME MINISTER: This is very, very important because I have, I have lived these issues and I have seen the carnage and the tragedy that comes from poor decision making when it comes to having a consistent border policy. What it ends up in is tragedy. 1,200 people dead at sea.

JOURNALIST: This is just one family, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: I remember seeing those people crashed against the rocks on Christmas Island. I will never allow Australia to go back to those terrible policies –

JOURNALIST: You said that you’d be more empathetic. This is one family that you can change the lives of.

PRIME MINISTER: … that led to the deaths of 1,200 people. Now, the other track that is available that tells you why our policy has always been so consistent. Now, the other track that is available is under Ministerial intervention. And that Ministerial intervention is done by the Minister, not the Prime Minister. That’s not what the Act provides.

JOURNALIST: But will you talk to the Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: He makes that decision – no, that it’s his decision.

JOURNALIST: You wouldn’t talk to Alex Hawke?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it’s his decision and that would be inappropriate, in the same way it was his decision over Novak Djokovic.

JOURNALIST: What would your decision be?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’m not the Minister.

JOURNALIST: But if it was up to you?

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t speculate.

JOURNALIST: What about showing some empathy, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t speculate on these issues.

JOURNALIST: What about showing some empathy, Prime Minister?

JOURNALIST: You said that you want to be more empathetic.

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll tell you, you know what the most empathetic thing to do is – when it comes to border protection? Keep our borders secure. I have been lectured by people over my entire political career about this issue, and what I know is what I did in 2013 with Tony Abbott, put an end to the carnage. We got all the children out of detention centres.

JOURNALIST: Are you saying you don’t seek, you don’t give your Ministers advice?

PRIME MINISTER: We go, we stopped the boats and stop the carnage at sea. The people smugglers went out of business. Now, right now, up in Indonesia, those people smugglers are starting to get ready if a Labor Government is elected. And we know that. We know that. You’ve seen the reports of it, and that’s what’s at stake. This is an important election. If you change course on border protection, as Labor is saying they will do, you can see all of that terror come back. And my Government has always been resolute on these issues. And that means you need to make consistent decisions that never send the okay message to people smugglers. I won’t do that.

JOURNALIST: No changes of substance, though, since you said you’d be less of a bulldozer. And this week you said that being a bulldozer can help get things done and that you’re going to stay a bulldozer just in lower gear. How can Australians trust this last minute conversion when you’ve reneged on it in less than a week and there has been no changes of policy or substance?

PRIME MINISTER: Paul, I just don’t agree with your assertion.

JOURNALIST: What have you changed then?

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t agree with how you conceived the whole point I’ve been making.

JOURNALIST: What have you changed in substance? What policy?

PRIME MINISTER: You’ve sought to repackage it for your own purposes. And I, so I just don’t accept your argument. Over here.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] get things done. Can help get things done.

PRIME MINISTER: I’m sorry you’ve had to question.

JOURNALIST: No, no, you didn’t answer it. Have you changed a single policy?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I have. That’s the answer you’re getting. I’m over here.

JOURNALIST: Not a single change of policy or substance.

PRIME MINISTER: Sorry, you don’t have to talk over us. You’re sounding like a bit of a bulldozer.

JOURNALIST: Can I please bring you back to something you said a little bit earlier about the Election Day tomorrow, that this is an election that’s about what is what will be best for Australians going forward. There are more than 1 million Australians seeking relief from food banks every single month. One in three of them have never had to seek relief in this way before. Why, Prime Minister, should they vote to re-elect a Morrison Government instead of a Labor Government? And what do you have to say to those people about how their lives are going to get easier?

PRIME MINISTER: What I have to say to them is this, that a strong economy and managing money well means that we can continue to provide the emergency cash assistance, which was provided by the Department of Social Services, some $800 million in support that comes from the Department of Social Services across a whole range of different areas. That is afforded by having a Government that knows how to manage money. Now, I’m I’ve been upfront with Australians about the pressures our economy is facing. I’m not sitting here telling you that all of those pressures on the cost of living and interest rates go away on the 21st of May. That would be, that would be two things. One, it would be wrong and it would, secondly, it would misunderstand what is going on in the Australian economy. And so there are real pressures and you’re right to highlight them. And that’s why this election is so much about who can manage money, because those who are facing that hardship will not be helped by a Labor Government that can’t manage money. They will not be helped by a Labor Government that’s going to have higher deficits, higher debt, putting more pressure on interest rates and even more pressure on the cost of living and coming after and slowing the economy with higher taxes.

JOURNALIST: But cost of living [inaudible], Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: They will not be helped by a Government that does not have to handle money. They’ll be helped by a Government that’s able to support them, as we are doing right now with rising cost of living, by having the petrol tax, providing direct payments to pensioners, by extending further test tax relief to families and of helping homebuyers, as we’re standing right here today, by ensuring that they can use their own resources to be able to get off the rental queues and get onto owning their own home right here in suburbs just like this.

JOURNALIST: This has been a deeply personal campaign on both sides. Do you have any disappointment or regrets about the way things have gone?

PRIME MINISTER: What I’ve sought to set out right from the first day of the campaign to this is the choice that Australians have to make. And I said, this isn’t an election about me or Mr Albanese for that matter, it’s it’s about you and what your aspirations are. It’s about what you’re hoping to achieve. It’s about putting what’s happened with the pandemic well behind us as we emerge strongly and we secure the opportunities that are ahead of us, and those opportunities are there, but we cannot take them for granted. If you cannot manage money, as Mr Albanese has had no experience, he’s never done a Budget, he’s never been trusted by a Leader of the Labor Party with a financial portfolio. If they won’t let him near the till then, I don’t see why the Australian people would. By contrast, I have done eight Budgets, one on the Budget Committee, three as a Treasurer and four as a Prime Minister and the experience gained, particularly during these times, has enabled us to have that AAA credit rating to be able to reduce the unemployment rate to 3.9 per cent – 2.9 per cent here in Western Australia – to be able to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on getting medicines on. Getting medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, delivering tax cuts, ensuring that we’re able to support the services Australian need –

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve just made it personal again. Are you disappointed that’s the way it’s gone?

PRIME MINISTER: … and finally, it’s about ensuring that we can invest in the defence capacity and security services of our nation to keep Australians safe. So the election is always about a choice. Tomorrow’s election is about a choice. You can vote for a strong economy for a stronger future or a weaker one under Anthony Albanese. Thanks very much, everyone.

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