Transcript of joint press conference, Canberra
TUE 06 MARCH 2012
Subject(s): COAG; Business Advisory Forum; Deregulation; Desecration of Australian war graves; NSW, Vic & Qld Floods; Australians detained on drugs charges overseas; Coal industry; Flood assistance; Nuclear power; ADFA Skype incident; Bob Carr; Indonesia
PM: Thank you very much, everybody. I'm joined today by Senator Penny Wong and by Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury, but I’m also joined by Tony Shepherd, the President of the Business Council of Australia, and by Peter Anderson, who is the CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The Australian economy is strong, but we know that some businesses are under intense pressure as a result of the high Australian dollar. One of the ways that we can address these challenges of change is by lifting productivity in our economy. As a government, we've been focused on lifting productivity. That's why we're focused on skills reform, making sure that working Australians have the skills they need and Australian businesses have the people they need. It's also why we're focused on rolling out the National Broadband Network and other productivity-enhancing infrastructure. It's why we're focused on delivering tax reform that can assist businesses, make investments and be ready for the challenges of change.
We've also focused on driving up productivity by creating a seamless national economy so that our nation can have one set of rules and regulations for Australian businesses. Now, regulation is important and good regulation matters. It matters so that business knows what the rules are. It matters so we can get the kind of social and environmental outcomes we want in our nation. But poor regulation, too much red tape, holds business back. As a government, we've been focused on working through COAG in creating a seamless national economy, and in that regard we've delivered 16 of 27 regulation reforms. In delivering those 16 reforms, we have delivered changes that make a real difference for Australian business.
The Productivity Commission recently looked at the 17 reform priorities that we are working on, and has estimated that those reforms alone could lower business costs by about $4 billion a year, and through improvements to productivity, increase GDP by over $6 billion in the longer term. Now we want to go to a further stage, and that is have business leaders working directly with the Council of Australian Governments on further regulation reform. That's why I'm pleased to be here with my parliamentary colleagues, but also with the BCA and ACCI to today announce that in the day before the next COAG meeting, we will have a COAG deregulation meeting involving Australian businesses.
We will bring together around 25 business representatives. We want them to be at the drawing board as we contemplate the next round of reform. We want leaders of the nation, as they meet at COAG, to hear directly from Australian businesses about what would make them more productive and what regulation challenges they face. To take an example, a practical example of the sort of changes we're working on now, and how they can make a difference, we're working on occupational licensing. It's never been more important than it is now in this time of economic change for labour to be able to go to where the work is and have their skills recognised. And yet, as a nation, we've been in a circumstance where an electrician couldn't go from Queanbeyan to Woden and ply his or her trade, let alone have someone from Tasmania fly in and fly out of a mining project in South Australia or someone in New South Wales fly into Queensland's Bowen Basin. We've clearly got to do better than that, and that's what this regulatory reform agenda is about. I will turn now to my colleague Senator Wong for some comments and then we'll hear from Tony and Peter.
MINISTER WONG: Thanks very much, Prime Minister, and thank you to Peter and to Tony for joining us for this announcement. When we talk about deregulation, what we're really talking about is another strand in the Government's productivity agenda and we understand that to achieve reforms in this process takes a lot of hard work. It's easy for politicians to talk about deregulation, much harder to deliver it. Now, if you're serious about ensuring you do approach this sensibly, you have to have a national focus, and that's why the COAG has been where this government has driven these improvements. As the Prime Minister said, the deregulation reforms, the 16 which have already been completed. But we also understand what we need is partnership. We need partnership with the states and we need partnership with the business community.
We need the business community to work with us to deliver not only the reforms which we already have yet to deliver through the seamless national economy reforms, but the next wave of reforms. And we know there is a benefit. The benefit is not only to the businesses that are the members of those people represented here today, but to the broader economy, to all Australians, as the Prime Minister has said. The Productivity Commission has said just 17 of the 27 seamless national economy reforms would yield a lessening of business cost of around 4 billion a year, even more in terms of the benefit, the increase to GDP, and that is not the entirety of our agenda, there is more to do. So we're very pleased that we're able to make the - the Prime Minister is able to make this announcement today. I certainly look forward to working with these gentlemen and their members on continuing the deregulation agenda and also with David Bradbury whom I'm very pleased has been appointed as minister assisting on this important area. Thank you.
PM: We will just turn now to Tony.
SHEPHERD: Thanks very much Prime Minister, and Minister. It's great to be here with you today. Today's announcement of the COAG business advisory forum is a great opportunity to reset the agenda, to get the federation working better. A successful federation will lift the living standards of all Australians. Business is very keen to work directly with Australia's first ministers about the Federal/State issues that are holding back our productivity and competitiveness. Businesses, big and small, deal daily with the dead hand of red tape and inefficiency in our federal system. The different rules and regulations in our nine federal, state and territory jurisdictions are a major drag on our economy and a huge cost to business and consumers. So we welcome the chance to help our governments drive better progress in the deregulation agenda. We also are really pleased the premiers will be supporting this initiative.
As the Prime Minister says, at a time when our economy is undergoing huge change and facing many pressures from a tough global environment, we must pull out all stops to reduce the unnecessary costs of doing business. COAG is an important forum for the reforming that will lift our productivity, but it needs to focus on delivering real benefits on the ground. Our view is there needs to be less things on COAG's agenda and a greater focus on the things that really matter. For example, we must complete trade licensing recognition - again as the Prime Minister has so eloquently outlined - which will make it easier for workers to move where the jobs are. The unfinished competition reforms on energy markets and transport infrastructure regulation are also vital productivity boosters.
But we must be conscious that in harmonising rules and regulations for the sake of it is just not the answer if all we get is worse regulation in every jurisdiction. The focus has to be on reducing costs, in making it easier to do business, and removing the barriers to the free flow of goods and services, jobs and investment around the country. Thank you very much.
PM: Thanks, Tony. Peter.
ANDERSON: Thank you very much, Prime Minister and Ministers and Tony Shepherd. Today's announcement is very welcomed. Excessive regulation or poor quality regulation and red tape is a drag on doing business for both businesses large and small, and so all of us who are leaders in the business community have a responsibility to work with our governments around Australia in our federation to try and minimise those negative outcomes created by excessive or poor quality regulation. The COAG agenda is an important part of the regulatory reform agenda.
It is a difficult agenda because it not just involves assessing regulatory issues, but also dealing with the perspectives of different levels of government in Australia. I'm very pleased that a COAG business forum can be established not just to try and improve our regulatory outcomes in Australia, but also to qualitatively improve the dialogue between the private sector and our public sector, our governments, on these important issues. If this forum operates as proposed, it holds the potential of adding significantly to the social infrastructure in Australia in the form of dialogue between our private and public sectors on matters of national economic regulation, and that is a good thing.
The Chamber of Commerce movement across the country, I have no doubt, will support this initiative, because those chambers not only are dealing with these regulatory issues at a state level, but they are involved in dialogue with their state governments. And so the announcement that’s been made here today means that we’re not only going to be talking at a national level with business representatives with the national government, but through the COAG process we’re going to be using our mechanisms inside the business community to build bridges, improve dialogue and hopefully create better outcomes.
I thank the Australian Government, and the Prime Minister, for adopting this initiative and announcing it and pursuing it with this vigour. I also thank the Business Council for helping develop this initiative, and for my Chamber colleagues, particularly Stephen Cartwright from the New South Wales Business Chamber for developing the concept of a business forum associated with COAG. I encourage all state governments and state agencies to look very positively at this initiative because it does hold the prospect of building better outcomes, giving fresh life to the COAG agenda and creating a much stronger and competitive economy.
PM: Thanks very much. What we’ll do is we will take questions on this announcement and initiative and then we'll let Tony and Peter to retire from the fray and take some other questions.
Louise and then Laura.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, one of the main obstacles to the trade licensing harmonisation has been the WA government, who arguably needs the tradesmen the most for the mining boom. Is this a way of putting pressure on the WA Government to come to the party?
PM: If this works properly, I think it’s going to put some pressure on all of us and that's a good thing. It’s a welcome pressure, we deliberately want to be in that situation where, as a national government with our state and territory colleagues, we're in a room with the business community and we're all very focused on what we can do to lift productivity and particularly lift the burden of red tape off Australian businesses. So, if in that room there are some things said about the need to deliver on the trade licensing agenda, then that will be a welcome contribution, but I expect that there will be challenging things said in that room for all of us and that's a good thing.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister and possibly Mr Shepherd as well, we’ve been talking about trade licensing, using that as an example, what would this forum deliver that we haven't got at the moment? Do you see the business community giving examples of issues that have to be resolved on trade licensing, for example, or is it just a forum where they can speak to all governments at the same time? What are they actually going to be bringing to the table using trade licensing as an example?
PM: I’ll go to Tony in a second, but the way I'm thinking about this is we've been solidly engaged in the seamless national economy agenda, but we have taken, if you like, a top-down approach. We've looked at the things that have been in the nation's too-hard basket for many a long year - occupational health and safety is one of those, trade licensing has been another, some of the consumer reforms that we've made are a third example.
We've taken the things that government has known about, they've been in the too-hard basket, and we've been driving to get them done. Now through this process we can take a business-up approach so that through the business people who directly come, through the representative organisations like the BCA and ACCI, we can actually hear the stories from the small businesses and the large businesses around the nation who may well say to us, "That's good. OH & S, trade licensing, consumer reforms, all fantastic, but from where I sit, running my business, my top three things are this, this and this, and have you thought and about them yet?"
So it’s going to enable us to collect all of that up, think about it in the room and then work out how to action it, and it's very significant that leaders, me as Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers will sit at that table one day and then literally go and sit at the COAG decision-making table the next. I’ll turn to Tony for a comment too.
SHEPHERD: Well thank you Prime Minister again and congratulations to the Prime Minister and the Minister for taking the lead on this because this is what we needed. But Laura, in answer to your question, what it will do is it will bring all the parties to the table and it will enable business to give case examples to Premiers of what we are seeking and the advantages to the economy and to each of the states for making these reforms. So if we take trade licensing, for example, we should be facilitating the transfer of an electrician from, say, New South Wales or Queensland to Western Australia and vice versa, and what are the costs and delays that occur as a result of this lack of harmonisation.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shepherd, if I could just ask you a question. The Business Council hasn't exactly been the best friend of this Government for some time. Does this initiative herald a new sense of engagement between business and the Government?
SHEPHERD: Well, I wouldn’t agree that we haven’t been the best friend of government for a long time. We've enjoyed a very robust, good working relationship.
This is an example of the sort of relationship that both parties would like. We see this as a great step forward and we will continue to - we trust to have a good working relationship with this Government and particularly the ministers that we engage with in business.
PM: OK, we’ll got to Phil Coorey and then we’ll come back across to Latika.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shepherd, or possibly Mr Anderson, what are the BCA’s other concerns over (inaudible) levels of business taxation as well as red tape. Do you have a view on the Coalition policy to increase business taxation to fund a paid parental leave scheme? Do you think it’s a good idea?
SHEPHERD: We’re not here today to discuss the Opposition's policies. Again our advice to Government and to Opposition is always fearless, it’s always unambiguous.
And we say to both the Government and the Opposition, the focus in Australia today has got to be on improving our productivity and our competitiveness, because in that way we generate the wealth that the whole nation can benefit from.
So we say that should be the first port of call in assessing government policies.
PM: Do you want to say anything on that, Peter.
ANDERSON: Phil, I'm on the record when this was announced by Mr Abbott as saying that this was a mistake. We still continue to hold that view.
The issue of regulation reform, though, that we're here today talking about, is an issue that the business community has had a lot of frustration with governments of all political colours with, at all tiers of government for many years.
That frustration is very real. However, we also have a responsibility to help, work with governments to do something about it, and that is the genesis of this idea, about a business forum accompanying COAG. Rather than just sit back as a business community and express our concerns and frustrations about lack of progress or the lack of ambition within an agenda, we need to take some responsibility ourselves to recognise that appropriate partnering with governments of all colours at all tiers is absolutely crucial to getting an outcome that we want.
So that's why we're here today and that's the focus of today's message.
PM: OK, Latika.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just directing this question to you, do you think that this is a sign that your relationship with business is healing?
PM: We’ve had a productive relationship with the business community across the days of being in government. Now that doesn't mean we've agreed about all things, of course we haven't. We've got different obligations and different perspectives, but right across all of the days of government since 2007. We worked strongly with Australian business during the days of the global financial crisis, to keep people in work, to get businesses through, to save businesses, to make sure that our banking system was continuing to provide the kind of services that business needed.
In my former portfolios of Education and Workplace Relations, we didn't always see eye to eye, but we worked solidly on reform agendas. I've received very solid backing from the business community about the need to improve the quality of Australian schools, to focus on skills, to drive increases in places and quality in Australian universities.
I couldn't have had a better friend for that reform agenda than Australian businesses, because they knew how important it was to the nation's future and continues to be.
In workplace relations we had to have some difficult discussions, no doubt about it.
In occupational health and safety, some very productive discussions that have got us to the stage where that is moving through to get a harmonised system.
Right across on things like the NBN and infrastructure, on trade agreements, we've worked very strongly with Australian business.
So we've always wanted to have a good relationship. I believe this is a demonstration of what you can achieve with a productive relationship.
We’ll go to Kieran at the back and then come through. Kieran.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I’m interested to hear how the gentlemen and their organisations will pick the businesses that will have a direct say in this forum. Also I might have missed it, but is this a permanent forum that’s been set up attached to COAG.
PM: OK, well on the picking I’ll outline that and then I’ll actually go to Senator Wong, given she’s has been so pivotal to this initiative to talk about the role and how we see it rolling out.
We are consulting, I personally am consulting with Premiers and Chief Ministers about attendees. This is a COAG forum, so it's got to work for COAG.
So it’s not the Commonwealth saying ‘We will have the following people.’ It's us seeking suggestions from states and territories, too.
We're looking for around 25 people. We’d obviously want a representative group across industry sectors, and we’d want to involve the voice of organisations, BCA, ACCI, and of course the voice of small business through COSBOA, but I will go to Penny about the genesis of the idea and its future
MINISTER WONG: Obviously, fundamentally the genesis of the idea was from the business community. I think Peter outlined very well the logic behind it. I think I would like to see this continue, but obviously this will ultimately be a matter for the COAG, the extent to which this gets integrated into further work. We do have a set of work at this stage which is required to be done. We’ve got the ending and the completion of the rest of the seamless national economy reforms, but then we also have COAG’s next wave of reforms. My way of thinking is the primary work for this forum is to input into the next wave of national reforms, that’s really what we’ve got to get the input into.
PM: We’ll got to Phil and then to Paul. Phil.
JOURNALIST: Senator Wong, is there a deadline at which you want say the trade licensing, for example, to be settled by? So is it by June 2013? Is there a deadline by which that it would be seamless and there would be no more restrictions?
And are you able to promise that these changes will actually lead to a reduction in red tape? I know it's always said, but can you guarantee there will be less red tape?
MINISTER WONG: The whole premise of this is to try and lessen the regulatory on businesses operating in a national economy. So that’s the whole premise of the seamless national economy reforms. What was your first question again?
JOURNALIST: The deadline.
MINISTER WONG: The deadline – COAG has already brought forward the completion of the first wave of the seamless national economy reforms to the end of this year. So our expectation is that is what would happen. Having said that, I think we all know in here that we need to get a lot of focus on this across jurisdictions. And as the Prime Minister said, one of the benefits of this forum is it is elevated to first ministers where you get the leadership nationally and you get the leadership at state levels from first ministers and senior people in the business community. And that’s how you get the reforms done.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve got relatively new state governments in the two big states and it looks like you might have another in the third. Not to necessarily comment on that, but the message seems to be that the new state governments aren't all that happy with COAG, they would prefer to see competition between the states, rather than cooperation.
Is this move going to be counterproductive or cut across what you're trying to achieve here (inaudible)?
PM: Look I’ll make a comment and then turn to Tony and Peter.
There is always going to be a role for healthy competition between the states, whether that's on the sporting field or whether that's them pitching their wares to the business community and saying ‘We're the best place to do business.’
That will always happen. It's not a bad thing. It's not a bad thing for Australian states and territories to be in a race, to be more productive, more competitive and a better place to do business and to grow jobs.
But there are some things that can only be done if you take a collaborative approach nationally. Of the things we’re talking about today: the seamless national economy reforms - just picture yourself as running a business that trades around the country, how much extra red tape and paperwork it would cause you if the safety laws are incredibly different in one state from the others.
So, you've got same business, same work processes, working people who are looking to you for their health and safety and to make sure they go home that evening, but the way you've got to acquit your obligations is different in different states.
Look at the occupational licensing. You've got a workforce and you're going to have a big expansion in one state and one of the things you want to do is perhaps offer an opportunity to people who work in another part of your business that isn't going so well, to move interstate and to take the benefit of the prosperity that's going to come from the expansion and you run into all these occupational licensing issues.
Those restraints hold us back as a nation, and so if we can get this vision of a seamless national economy, it can still be one in which states compete to be the best place on other areas, but there is this foundation stone of good regulation and seamless regulation for the business community.
I’ll go to Tony and then Peter.
SHEPHERD: Look, it would be a tragedy if this failed because of regulation competition between the states.
There is plenty of areas in which the states can compete. I would start with state taxation. But we have been federated now for 112 years. It is time we started to operate as a national economy, and our competition is not internal, our competition is external, so the harmonisation of these laws is imperative for our productivity and our future prosperity.
ANDERSON: Paul, the business community doesn't want states to compete over increasing regulation. There is a role for competitive federalism in a nation like ours, and even nation like ours, and even on some economic issues they may not lend themselves to harmonisation or centralisation.
But there are a substantial body of matters that do lend themselves very directly to that, and part of the benefit of this forum is not just to be able to help governments complete the outstanding business, but also to identify where some of the unfinished business might come from, and steer clear of areas where there may be insurmountable or good reasons why not to embark on the path of breaking down competitive federalism.
JOURNALIST: You have obviously - have dealings with state governments and the premiers. Do they share your vision?
ANDERSON: I think every government wants competitiveness and efficiency from their economy, whether it is a domestic economy, regional economy or national economy. And so every state government we deal with has that objective and there is a direct link between delivering on the COAG regulatory reform agenda for both large and small businesses, and delivering an efficient, competitive and productive economy and that's the focus.
PM: OK, we’ll go to Michelle first and then come across. Michelle.
JOURNALIST: Could I ask the two business leaders whether they agree with Wayne Swan that a small group or a small number among the super rich are threatening economic reform and Australia's fair society?
SHEPHERD: OK, Michelle. Good question. I didn't think we’d get through this press conference without it.
Look, I think all Australians want their leaders, political, business, or community leaders to work together, to work cooperatively, and they don't want a divided society, and I think that is - it's one of the defining features of Australia and one that I don't think is under threat.
The Treasurer's statement reflects on the US, but we are not America, we're definitely not America.
I mean, our distribution of wealth is - we've maintained the ratio. We've got great economic mobility. And the business community supports this.
And if I went through all of the BCA members, our members support the social safety net, they support universal health care and universal education, they support the fair go, they support good wages and good conditions for their workforce.
We are united in wanting a more prosperous and wealthy Australia. So we don’t see that there is this issue in Australia and we don’t see the economy as working in sectors. It’s a unified, integrated economy and what’s good for the nation and what’s good for business is good for everybody.
ANDERSON: Michelle, I was first asked about this last Friday, so my response is going to be exactly the same.
I didn’t think it was a helpful intervention and I made the point that some of the concerns that were expressed by major players in the mining industry were also concerns which has similar expressions of frustration from smaller and medium business interests, perhaps for different reasons.
However, the Treasurer has also made it clear that the Government is extremely open to, and he is very open to, a dialogue, and a difficult and robust dialogue even, with the business community, including through its business associations. And that is the experience we have had in dealing with Treasurer Swan, he has been extremely willing to hear our representations, even on issues which have created differences of opinion and continuing differences of opinion.
But we have also worked with Treasurer Swan to deliver some extremely strong outcomes, including during the global financial crisis. So there will always be ups and downs in a relationship between the business community and economic ministers in a government, that is the way it should be. But what we’re seeing today is just how the business community can take its responsibilities and governments can take their responsibilities and we can make sure that whatever differences of view we have about process or policy, we still all have our eyes on the bigger picture and the need to work together to that end.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what’s going to be your – what are you going to say to Colin Barnett given that some of your colleagues believe that his reflexive response to any talk of reform harmonisation is that it’s another federal takeover and that he’s often hostile?
And secondly, can I ask if, given that you’re having CEOs on this business forum, are you going to be inviting Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest to be (inaudible).
PM: Well I’ve just indicated the process for working out who will be the representatives from the business community, so we’ll be consulting with states and territories. So I don’t think it’s appropriate today to be going to individuals names.
On what I would say to Premier Barnett, I’d say exactly the same thing to Premier Barnett that I would say to any of the other premiers of chief ministers, which is: it’s in the nation’s whole interest to be lifting productivity.
Productivity is good for each of us, it’s good for all of us. Put at its most simple, productivity equals more jobs and more prosperity.
So for working Australians, they want to see the more jobs, as a nation we want to see the greater prosperity, so why wouldn’t you involve yourself in a process which is about productivity and about lifting red tape and things that hold businesses back.
And then on the geography of the nation, we’ve got to rethink some of the geography and how we think that plays out in the world of work.
When I can go to Barrow Island, go to Gorgan and meet someone who lives two streets from me in Altona and that’s where he works, flies in and out from Altona in Melbourne to Barrow Island, that’s his job.
When that can happen to me – just one man, one experience, good conversation about the Western Bulldogs - that requires you to think again about the geography of the country.
Western Australia’s economy, of course, runs to rhythms around the resources boom, of course it does and that’s why it’s so go ahead at the moment. But Western Australia’s economy is also interlinked with the rest of the nation – they need people with skills, they fly them in and fly them out, they invite them to move there.
They need good intersections with the rest of the economy, whether it’s on environmental assessments so that the way in which they’re dealing with projects is not out of step or more onerous for businesses than other parts of the country.
They need good quality skills, not only generated in WA, but generated in parts of the nation and able to be recognised in WA. That’s what this agenda’s about, so I’d put it like that to Premier Barnett but I’d also put it like that to Chief Minister Henderson in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory’s economy is more integrated with the national economy than it was 10 or 20 years ago as well and so the story goes on.
Right, now – just final questions on this?
OK, yes – the Financial Review, you can pick them.
JOURNALIST: Just to pick the technical question, ACCI’s here, the Business Council’s here, the Australian Industry Group isn’t here. Are you anticipating that they’ll be involved in this process?
PM: Yes we are and we’ll also be involving COSBOA for the small business voice.
Was it on this or another issue?
PM: Okay well we might let Tony and Peter go.
Thank you, thanks a lot.
OK, just before we go to other issues of the day I just want to say a couple of things about floods and then we’ll take your questions.
Everybody knows that for many people across the nation this is a very challenging and stressful time. We’ve got flood waters across New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.
There are evacuation orders in place for many communities and of course people have seen that and seen some of the distress that causes through the media today.
For the people of Wagga particularly, this is a very anxious time.
I spoke to Premier O’Farrell yesterday. I reiterated to him a comment I’ve made to him on more than one occasion in the past, which is if he needs assistance in managing any of this or managing the evacuation particularly, that we are standing by ready to assist.
Members of the Australian Defence Force have been deployed to Victoria and to Wagga to prepare for the water and to support the recovery from the flooding and we stand ready to provide further support.
But as Prime Minister I wanted to say to the people most directly affected today: we are focused on them and their needs. As a Government we do respond in these situations, we respond at the request of our state colleagues, they are the ones who are managing the situation on the spot, but the Australian Defence Force always plays a remarkable role in assisting communities through and that has already started in relation to the current set of problems.
Right, we’ll take your question then go to Matthew.
JOURNALIST: Sure. Prime Minister, what is the Government doing to help the Perth man being held in Malaysia who may face the death penalty over drugs charges?
PM: Look, we now have two Australians involved in incidents where drug charges are in contemplation or have been laid, one in Indonesia and one in KL.
In relation to both we are providing consular services and that’s the best support that we can as a nation at this stage. It’s not in the interests of either of these men for me to be speculating about what will happen with their legal proceedings in either nation, the best thing that we can do is provide them with consular services and we are.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, some elements of the environmental movement are foreshadowing a plan to try and fight the development of the coal industry. Do you worry about that and what it means to the jobs of many Australians?
And secondly, in an allied question, what is your response to the suggestion that Wayne Swan’s attacks on a couple of high wealth individuals are divisive and unhelpful?
PM: Well if I can take them in reverse order, firstly on The Monthly article – have you read it?
JOURNALIST: I have.
PM: Good. That’s good. Well I’d commend it to anybody in the group who hasn’t read it, to make sure that they read the whole thing and when you do read the whole thing obviously Wayne Swan is talking about how the overwhelming, vast majority – indeed he uses the term ’99 per cent’ of the business community work motivated by community interests and the national interest and we’ve just seen that on display today. And you’ve just seen on display today the partnership that there is between the Australian Government and the business community.
On the article overall, I think it is important for us as a nation to recognise that public policy has to be at the forefront of interventions in national debates. Interventions in national debates shouldn’t be about how loud a voice is, it should be about the quality of the contribution.
JOURNALIST: Just on the coal industry, sorry?
PM: Oh on the coal industry, I’m sorry Matthew. Look, I’ve seen the reports today of this report, I haven’t had an opportunity to read the report myself so I’m not in a position to deal with the details but I can certainly deal with the principles.
And first and foremost, the coal industry has got a great future in this country, we’ve made that clear all along that the coal industry’s got a great future and you’re seeing that future being built now as we see expansion in our coal exports particularly.
So the industry’s got a great future. We’ve got to have appropriate environmental regulation and processes – of course we do, but they should always be based on the facts and nothing other than the facts.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the floods are obviously having a big effect on communities.
Do you expect that they will also have an effect on the economy and whether that will affect the budget and at this stage do you see any potential that you may have to extend the flood levy that has already been imposed?
And if I can I ask secondly, do you know how many Australian graves have been damaged in Libya in the attack and do you have any response to that attack? Have you spoken Libyan authorities?
PM: Once again, if I can take them in reverse order. I was disgusted by the attack on Australian war graves. The acting Minister for Foreign Affairs certainly conveyed it in strident terms, the view of the Australian Government, so that it got through to Libya and since you’ve seen the interim Government there issue an apology and that should have been issued, that was appropriate and it’s been done.
Now there are a few other things that need to happen. There is a full investigation underway and we need to see that investigation come to conclusion, because wrongdoers here should be identified and should face appropriate punishments.
And we do need co-operation so that our War Graves Commission can return these very sacred places for Australians to how they should look rather than how they look now after this disgusting vandalism.
So that has been dealt with through the Minister for Foreign Affairs – acting Minister.
On the flood levy, we’ve got no intention and will not be extending the flood levy. On the economic cost of the current floods, the truth is it’s too early to tell. It’s impossible to quantify economic damage until flood waters subside, but we will make appropriate arrangements to support communities when we’re in a better position to assess what the dimensions of the rebuilding task is.
Depending on what happens with flood waters and impacts on communities, it can trigger an immediate response through disaster relief payments. That trigger is actually in the hands of state governments who come to us and request that kind of assistance. If we receive a request of course we’ll respond to it.
When we’re in a position to provide more advice about economic damage of course we will, but it’s way too early for that, we’re in the direct response to the flood waters - you need the recovery to start, you need the waters to go down and then in relation to roads and rail you need to see what lies underneath those flood waters and the amount of damage done.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, we were talking earlier about things that impact business, energy and electricity is something that impact on business.
Your latest cabinet minister Bob Carr is pro-nuclear. Why does the Government remain opposed to nuclear power, particularly with new technologies coming through such as thorium reactors and so on.
PM: Look, this is been a longstanding position of the Labor Party and Labor Government and it won’t be changing. When we look at nuclear energy we are in a happy position in this country where we’ve got multiple sources of energy and unlike other nations around the world we don’t need to turn to the nuclear option in order to have plentiful energy supplies.
Our future as a country, and we’ll be driven there by our clean energy future package, is in making the best of our natural assets, as well as continuing to use traditional sources of energy.
We are country with abundant sunshine, we are country with a very, very, very long coast line which gives you access to tidal power, we’ve got the right geography in our to be able to access hot rocks and all the rest of it. That kind of energy that can be brought on stream and I’ve seen some of that energy at work already, not in outback Australia but in Australia’s major cities.
So we’re in a position where we’ve got alternatives and it’s our vision as a government that through our clean energy future package we realise the full potential of those alternatives.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) research?
PM: Well I’ve answered your question on where we’re going next and where we’re going next is using our natural assets to their fullest capacity.
We’ll take the last two and then we’ll go – Michelle and then Kieran.
JOURNALIST: Ms Gillard your Defence Minister has had for some time the report dealing with the conduct of the head of ADFA in the Skype affair. Do you think, in terms of natural justice, that should be released as soon as possible and do you have any idea when it will be released?
PM: Look, Minister Smith is dealing with that matter so any questions are more appropriately put to him.
JOURNALIST: There are some tensions in the relationship with Jakarta on the anti-logging bill – we’ve seen reports of that today, but more broadly as well. Do you think that the appointment of Bob Carr gives a chance to reboot the relationship with Indonesia or at least give it more of a focus?
PM: Look, I don’t accept the premise of – the multiple premises of your question – I just don’t.
We have a strong relationship with Indonesia. Yes there are, from time to time, frictions in that relationship, but nothing that a strong and robust relationship can’t handle and to the extent that we’ve seen in those frictions then we’ve worked our way through on them.
Personally I am very deeply committed to this relationship and as Prime Minister have worked with the President of Indonesia on a wide variety of fronts to strengthen the relationship between our two countries.
On the illegal logging issue that you raised, this is an election commitment; it has been the subject of consultation with Indonesia. It’s been subject of consultation at the level of officials but it’s also been the subject of consultation at ministerial level.
The relevant Minister, Minister Ludwig was, for example, in Indonesia, I think it was March 2011, working through issues associated with this bill.
Thanks very much.