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Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Radio interview with Steve Austin – ABC Radio Brisbane

21 September 2017

Prime Minister

Subjects:

Infrastructure funding for Queensland; Jobs growth; energy and coal fired power stations; LAND 400 Defence contract; Inland Rail

E&OE

STEVE AUSTIN: Malcolm Turnbull will be at Nudgee today visiting the Gateway Upgrade North, this is the development that is occurring there. It’s a bit of a grassroots tour but he spent, what three days or spending three days here in Queensland at the moment. I think it is his eleventh visit to Queensland this year. I spoke to him a short while ago and asked him why he’s spending so much time here at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER: Well it is very important to be here in Queensland. This is the fastest jobs growth of anywhere in the country over the last year. I am inspecting some of the big infrastructure projects we’re funding. Today I’ll be at the Northern Gateway Upgrade. As you know, we’re putting over $900 million into that project. I’ll be there with Luke Howarth and that’s a huge project, as you know. It’s a $914 million from the Federal Government, 80 per cent of the cost.

Then tomorrow I’ll be up in the Sunshine Coast inspecting works on the Bruce Highway too.

STEVE AUSTIN: Will you be calling Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to congratulate her on being the jobs powerhouse of Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I’m sure she’ll be filled with satisfaction about that. But I think a great deal of the credit, you know, if it’s going to go to anyone should be going to hardworking and enterprising Queenslanders who are getting in there, taking risks, investing and employing people. Politicians probably take too much credit for jobs growth. Although, we are very pleased nationally, you know, we’ve had 325,000 jobs growth in the last year. 80 per cent of them full-time, which is terrific and of course-

STEVE AUSTIN: How many?

PRIME MINISTER: In Queensland it is 95,400 more Queenslanders in jobs than just 12 months ago. And the unemployment rate-

STEVE AUSTIN: Let me interrupt, let me interrupt there – the Premier yesterday said that Australian Bureau Statistics data revealed that since her government came to power that 115,000 new jobs had been created in Queensland. She says that 100 jobs per day or 3,720 jobs each month since she took office.

PRIME MINISTER: If that figure is right - and I’m not challenging it - most of them have been created in the last year. So you can see this is a consequence of the support we’re giving to business and to investment. After all, you know, Queensland is a state with many, many small and medium businesses, mostly family businesses and they’re all getting tax cuts as a result of our small and medium company and business tax cuts. That gives them a better return on investment, hence they invest more, hence they employ more.

So jobs and growth Steve, it may have been a slogan during the election, it’s now an outcome and Queensland is benefitting from it.

STEVE AUSTIN: My guest is Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. At the address for the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia yesterday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said that we are Australia’s energy powerhouse. That Queensland has the youngest and most efficient fleet of coal-fired power generators. Why are you saying that you will support the funding of a new coal-fired power generator if the LNP win office? Why do we need it when we already have an over-supply?

PRIME MINISTER: If you talk to people in North Queensland Steve, which I often do when I am up there and of course when I’m not as well because they’ve got very strong representatives in the Federal Parliament, North Queenslanders believe that they need more energy, more baseload power in North Queensland.

There’s been a fair bit of work done on it, on the economics of it over the years. But you know, this is obviously only going to happen if you get an LNP state government. Tim Nicholls has indicated that he and Deb Frecklington and their team will support a new state-of-the-art coal-fired power station in North Queensland, which would be a big driver of investment and jobs in North Queensland. If they were to do that of course, we’ve got the funding from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund would be available to infrastructure of that kind.

STEVE AUSTIN: And you would use that to build a new coal-fired power station here in Queensland?

PRIME MINISTER: We wouldn’t be building it, its -

STEVE AUSTIN: To fund it, I’m sorry.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, yeah, well sure, we support infrastructure. Absolutely we support infrastructure in North Queensland.

You know you should get some callers from Townsville and points north and you’ll find there is very strong support for more baseload energy in North Queensland.

STEVE AUSTIN: The Premier said yesterday that she wants to see a rewrite of the National Energy Market rules, the National Electricity Market Rules, I’m sorry, because she says they are: “outdated and unfair”. Do you agree?

PRIME MINISTER: There is a lot of change being made as a result of the Finkel Review recommendations and there will be more to come. The rules do need upgrading. I have to say that the Queensland State Government-owned generators – CS Energy and Stanwell – have been found by the regulators to be gaming the system and pushing up electricity prices at the expense of Queenslanders and indeed the rest of the electricity market. The Queensland Government was hauled over the coals for that, you may recall, a few months ago and they gave a direction to the companies to top those practices. That’s one of the reasons you’ve seen that sort of ‘gaming of the system’ to enrich the coffers of the state government, ease off a bit. But look, we are engaged in very extensive reform of the electricity market and I can assure you, our focus in on delivering, ensuring that we all deliver affordable reliable and affordable energy for all Australians. That’s our commitment.

STEVE AUSTIN: The Premier also said that it’s unfair that the decision of the other states of Australia to privatize their electricity assets is hurting Queensland power prices, even as the Federal Government seeks to intervene in those privatised assets. Do you agree?

PRIME MINISTER: No. That is actually quite the contrary. That’s parallel universe stuff. I mean the generators that have been gaming the system the most and have been gouging their customers the most, have been the ones belonging to the Queensland State Government. Whatever you’ve views may be on privatisation, there is not one scrap of evidence to suggest that the Queensland State Government utilities have been run in a more public-spirited way than the privatised ones. They should have been, but they haven’t been and that’s a fact.

STEVE AUSTIN: She goes on, or she went on in her speech yesterday to say: “It is unfair that Queenslanders are paying more for electricity because other states are failing to develop their gas basins.”

PRIME MINISTER: Well look, I think there is some merit in that criticism. We have a gas crisis on the east coast of Australia and that’s why I’ve had to intervene. Annastacia Palaszczuk protested about this you may recall. I’ve had to intervene to impose export restrictions on gas to ensure there is enough gas for businesses, including businesses in Queensland and families and households.

Now what happened was - and this was a mistake of previous federal Labor governments and previous state Labor governments - they allowed gas to be exported from Queensland and hence from the east coast, because there had never been exports before from the east coast, without putting in place the protections to ensure there was enough gas for the domestic market.

What happened was, they didn’t do that. They were warned, they were told they should do that in fact, by the regulators. They didn’t and as a consequence we’ve got to the point where gas was in such tight supply, big companies here like Incitec in Brisbane and the smaller companies like the one I was visiting yesterday, Nutradry, any company which uses a lot of gas for thermal heat or as feedstock, let along families, were really being out at risk by gas prices going through the roof, because of this artificial scarcity.

So we’ve had to take very strong measures to protect that. But she is right and I hope she gets on the phone to Daniel Andrews in particular in Victoria, because what the other Labor states have done – this is in particular Victoria which is the prime culprit here – they have got a ban on gas exploration and development in that state, whether it is unconventional gas or conventional gas. Of course Victoria is a big consumer of gas. It is one of the reasons that Rod Sims pointed this out yesterday as well, one of the reasons, things that contributes to this gas shortage.

STEVE AUSTIN: I’ll be speaking with Rod Sims, head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission very soon on ABC Radio Brisbane. My guest is Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s Prime Minister.

Malcolm Turnbull let me ask you about a defence contract that is of significant interest to Queensland, something the Premier herself said she wants. Something which the LNP federal Member for Fairfax Ted O’Brien raised the issue some time back, over the LAND 400 Defence contract. He says it should come to Queensland. What are you able to do to assist in that process?

PRIME MINISTER: As you can imagine, this is a tender, so it has to be determined on its merits -

STEVE AUSTIN: So you can’t do anything.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what I can do is ensure there is a tender process that is impartial and objective and secures the best outcomes both for Defence and for the Australian taxpayer.

Now there are two companies bidding, one has named Queensland as it’s location and the other, Victoria. There has been very powerful advocacy from our Queensland MPs and you mentioned one, Ted O’Brien. The LNP team in Canberra has been a united force speaking up for Queensland, but it is a tender process and it’s not for me to make a call on political grounds. It’s being judged very objectively by Defence.

STEVE AUSTIN: That didn’t seem to be the issue when it came to awarding the submarine contract to South Australia to save Christopher Pyne’s position or seat.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s absolutely wrong. What you said there is completely wrong.

STEVE AUSTIN: When is it likely that we’ll know about the LAND 400 Defence contract, both the Queensland, in other words, both your Government members and the Premier wants it.

PRIME MINISTER: There should be a decision by early next year, is what we expect.

STEVE AUSTIN: Early next year. Alright, the issue of the Inland Rail. Today, Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester is going to formally announce what looks like has been declared, that is that the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail line will be built across the Condamine flood plain, here despite farmers warnings, so it can align with an area known as base case an industrial area to be built by the Wellcamp, the Wagner Family who are associated with the Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba.

PRIME MINISTER: I just want to stress, that is not the only reason. There are a number of reasons for that alignment being chosen. It’s been based on very rigorous technical analysis, consultation with the community and industry representatives. It uses existing rail corridors as much as possible and it is a more economically viable option than the alternative routes. So I can assure you it’s been – this is the section between Yallabang and Gowrie we’re talking about –

STEVE AUSTIN: Yes.

PRIME MINISTER: That’ll run through Pittsworth, Brookstead and the Wellcamp-Charlton industrial precinct which of course includes the new airport there.

Remember, when this route was considered back in 2010, the airport didn’t exist. So that’s a very, very important piece of infrastructure for Toowoomba and the Darling Downs. This project, the Inland Rail has been talked about since the 1890s. My Government is getting on and delivering it. We’ve committed an extra $8.4 billion in the Budget to it’s delivery, more than half of that will be spent in Queensland. It’s going to contribute billions to the Toowoomba and Darling Downs economy, as I’m sure you’d understand it would. It is a corridor of commerce between Melbourne and Brisbane going right through the inland of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

STEVE AUSTIN: You’re not concerned that local farmers are warning that that place regularly floods? It’s washed out the rail line there in 2010, it’s exposed to exactly the same natural forces that has been there, you know, it is in a flood plain.

PRIME MINISTER: Well Steve railways are built over flood plains, there are plenty of railways built over flood plains now.

STEVE AUSTIN: Okay.

PRIME MINISTER: But it’s important that the engineering is right and you’ve got to make sure that the railway embankment or the viaduct is one that does not cause, divert water flows and cause water to bank up. So a lot of design has to go into it.

STEVE AUSTIN: Okay, alright.

PRIME MINISTER: But we’ve got the best people at work on it.

STEVE AUSTIN: I have to let you go, very briefly, just one quick question, just on the Wagner family who built the Wellcamp Airport at Toowoomba. Why don’t you invite them to make a proposal to build Badgerys Creek in Sydney? They’ll do it cheaper, faster and just as well.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, you know again, that will be a tender process. But I would be very surprised if they are not going to put their hands up. They’re the only people that have built an airport in Australia recently and they did a very good job at it.

STEVE AUSTIN: Record time, met all the required regulations, under budget, under cost, at rapid speed.

PRIME MINISTER: They did a fantastic job and look, I’ve got great admiration for what they did at Wellcamp. I can see you do and your listeners do. It’s something all Queenslanders should be proud of, particularly people on the Downs. I hope, I look forward to them putting their hand up when we get to that point of awarding tenders for the construction of the Western Sydney Airport.

STEVE AUSTIN: Prime Minister, thanks for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot Steve.