Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Joint doorstop with Ewen Jones MP

15 February 2016

Lavarack Barracks, Townsville

Prime Minister

E&OE

EWEN JONES:

Can I just say, briefly, it’s a pleasure to have the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Townsville – and at combat training centre where we see what is great about Australia’s Army. Adapt, innovate, overcome, challenge yourself which is what we want to do as a city and what we need to do as a nation.

So the challenges in front of Townsville are great and the Prime Minister is here in Townsville to see them first hand and to take those lessons back as we work towards our budget and towards the next election.

It’s an important time for Townsville and it’s a great time to have the Prime Minister here, especially at the 3rd Brigade where we do see innovation, adaptability and agility personified in what these young men and women actually do here.

So, thanks very much for coming, Prime Minister and I’ll hand you over for some questions.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you. Thanks very much, Ewen – and it is great to be here with you.

What an inspiration it is to see how the 21st century army is adapting to new challenges, new challenges on the battlefield, and using the newest technologies to ensure that our young men and women, when they go out to defend our nation, defend our values, protect our interests, are doing so in a way that gives them greatest effectiveness, the greatest ability to succeed and also gives them the maximum protection.

This is very important work here. You can see how – and I've been briefed by the Brigadier and Colonel Hill – how they are adapting to every new stage of technology, every piece of new information and experience coming in from Afghanistan or Iraq is being analysed and then incorporated into the training here.

I met only the other day with hundreds of young servicemen and women in Iraq who had been trained here. And of course, many of these young soldiers have been to Iraq and Afghanistan and many of them will be deployed there when their rotation comes around. So, this is a critically important part of ensuring Australia's Army is at the very cutting edge of military technology, both in terms of signals and of course, in terms of military technique and training.

It's also good to be in Townsville. This is one of the great cities of Australia's north. And we believe in Australia's north. Our northern Australia policy, our Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, is designed to put substantial money – billions of dollars – into infrastructure in northern Australia to ensure that it can realise its great potential.

This is the most exciting time to be an Australian. This is the most exciting time for Australia. We have greater opportunities than we have ever had before. And they are no greater than here in northern Australia. So close, as it is, to the huge expanding markets of Asia, which we have, of course, opened the doors wider with those big trade agreements that Trade Minister Andrew Robb has negotiated over the last few years.

So, it's very good to be here and I look forward to your questions.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, today's Fairfax poll appears to suggest some voters having second thoughts about your Government. What would you say to those voters who appear to be having second thoughts?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let me just say this: that the Government's providing the economic leadership that Australia needs and Australians deserve. It's a leadership – an economic leadership – that is based on confidence. And a recognition, that we are at a time of great opportunities and you can see Australians are hearing that message. Last year, there were over 300,000 new jobs created in Australia. That's the largest number of new jobs created in our country since 2006, which is back in the days of the Howard Government and of course well before the Global Financial Crisis.

And, of course, it's a time too when we have seen, in the last quarter of last year, the highest participation rate, the largest number of women, both in absolute terms and as a percentage, in the work force. So again, our policies are ensuring that right across-the-board, unemployment has come down, job growth is going up, female participation is going up. These are very strong figures and what needs to be recognised, too, is this resilience is being seen at a time when we are coming off the mining boom. Particularly the mining construction boom that's been felt in Queensland and Western Australia in particular, but it always had to happen once the mines are built and the big projects are built, then production goes on, but it doesn't employ as many people, obviously. And many folk forecast Australia would fall into something of an economic hole after that. But we've got a strong, diverse economy. We've got a confident, capable Government. Australians are optimistic. They recognise that this is a time of great opportunity and they're showing that with their investment decisions and their hiring decisions and that's why you're seeing the numbers we've had.

JOURNALIST:

But voters appear to be sending a message that they want to see more, specifically on economic leadership – do you accept that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I tell you, the budget is now less than three months away. And in the lead-up to the budget and at the budget, we will lay out our economic plan for the year ahead and of course for the election which will be later this year.

JOURNALIST:

Scott Morrison has criticised Labor's proposed changes to the negative gearing system. Where do you see the problems are with Labor's policy and where do you see there are excesses in the negative gearing system that the Government might be prepared to address, or is it too difficult?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are looking at a whole range of matters in the tax area. And we're looking at them very carefully. I know some people would like us to, you know, make instantaneous judgments and instantaneous decisions on complex economic matters. I think that's only a few people, frankly.

The truth is that governments have got to work through these issues very carefully, and having done so, then announce them at the proper time. So yes, we are looking at all of these tax issues and negative gearing is one of them.

As far as Labor's announcement is concerned, I will make a couple of observations: one is that it raises relatively little money in the near term, over the next 4 years, and they acknowledge that. So it doesn't address the big deficit problem we have at the moment, which I might add, the Labor Party created.

So yet again, they're still addicted to spending and they're not prepared to do anything to address the deficit they've created.

The policy as described has been criticised, and I think fairly, as likely to really distort the housing investment market. So it is - it's not a well-designed policy, if I can put it that way. And it doesn't have the - doesn't provide any budgetary relief, at least any time soon.

JOURNALIST:

When it comes to infrastructure, will you be making a commitment to the Townsville Super Stadium any time soon?

PRIME MINISTER:

The proposal is with Infrastructure Australia at the moment. Again, with these big projects we have to look at them carefully and it's being examined right at the moment.

JOURNALIST:

What if Infrastructure Australia finds it's not a viable project, where to next?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we will go through the analysis of the proposal very carefully. Whatever decision is taken will be properly explained at the time. I know - you know, I know there is a - there's often almost a yearning to have snap decisions all the time. The most important thing is that governments approach these issues carefully, thoughtfully, on the basis of the evidence, and then come to a considered decision and that's what we're doing, and all will be revealed in due course.

JOURNALIST:

And Hell's Gate, you mentioned this in Parliament last week.

PRIME MINISTER:

I did.

JOURNALIST:

An interesting proposal that the Government will...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it's been around for a while. And it's certainly being considered as part of the Water Fund, yes, absolutely.

As you know, I have a passion for water. Barnaby Joyce and I share that passion. I was the Water Minister, remember, years ago. I love nothing more than pipelines and dams, but they've got to stack up. They've got to stack up.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, on infrastructure - you had a lot to say about public transport when you first came in. You're going to give a speech later in the week about it. Can you tell us why you demoted the Cities Ministry down to a Parliamentary Secretary?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the Cities Ministry has in reality been promoted. Let me explain. The Federal Government spends a lot of money on infrastructure in cities and touches on cities in many ways, through the infrastructure portfolio, through the environment portfolio, and of course, through other investments, housing, social services and so forth. So it is a whole of government issue - communications as well.

And yet, to date at least, the Federal Government has not had a holistic approach to cities. One that is designed to ensure that every angle, every aspect of the Federal Government is promoting greater amenity in cities, large and small and also greater liveability. You know, that's what we want to achieve. Are we supporting better outcomes for Australians?

And so what I've done is I'm moving the Cities Unit which has been in the Department of Environment - it's essentially a policy development unit - I'm moving that into the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

So because it has a whole of government impact, it really needs to be in the central agency, the most important agency in the government, which is, of course, the Prime Minister's own department. So it will be there in PM&C and I've appointed a really outstanding young or new Member of Parliament, Angus Taylor, who I think everyone recognised as one of the – has got one of the biggest brains in the room.

And I've appointed Angus who's a top-flight economist who's worked a lot in these areas, to assist me in particular on Cities and another whole of government agenda, which is the digital transformation of government. So that's the reason.

So it is actually quite contrary to what's been reported. It's recognising my recognition that Cities and Cities policy is a whole of government agenda and as we develop that policy, it should be developed within PM&C and I have Angus's very considerable talents to assist in that regard.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] ... a Brisbane hospital over a child who's seeking asylum here, doctors at the hospital refuse to discharge the baby for fear of her being returned to Nauru. The Immigration Minister has been tellingly silent on the matter. What's your view and do you concede it's not a great look to have doctors withholding babies.

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I say to you, we are – and as the Minister has said - as Peter Dutton has said, we are assessing all of these cases carefully on a case by case basis. No decision would be taken which would imperil the health or security of any individual.

We're managing this policy with great care. And with great compassion. And at the same time, doing everything we can to ensure that we do not do anything or say anything which will be used by the people smugglers to get more vulnerable people onto those boats.

Let's not forget, let us not forget, when we came into government in 2013, there were 2,000 kids in detention. Now, there's less than 100. And about 75, I believe, last time I checked and the number is reducing.

Peter Dutton is handling this very well. But it is a difficult job, because we have to do it in a way that gives no incentive to the people smugglers, who are ruthless, and they are ruthless and they use every medium, they use all of social media, Twitter and Facebook and everything else, to promote their business, and we give them one inch of encouragement and there will be more people on boats and we'll be back to what we had with the Labor Party, I regret to say, which will be thousands of unauthorised arrivals and hundreds of people drowned at sea.

So that's what we're seeking to do, keeping people safe, keeping our borders secure, acting with compassion.

On that note, I thank you all very much for your questions, and another beautiful day in Townsville.

Thank you.

[Ends]