27 Mar 2021
Claremont Meadows, NSW
Prime Minister

Melissa McIntosh MP: Welcome everyone to our SES headquarters here in Claremont Meadows, it looks after the Penrith area. We've had a tough week and our SES have been on the front line, and I'm so proud that I'm the Federal Member for Lindsay representing this area. From the sandbags going out into the community, to river rescues, to now helping people out in Londonderry with their clean up. Our SES has been there all the way. I would like to thank them as a local member and now I'd like to invite the Prime Minister of Australia to say a few words. Thank you.

Prime Minister: Thanks, Melissa. And thank you to you for the great work you've been doing here over the past week. I know you were unable to come to Parliament last week and for good cause, because you were here standing with your community. And that's the first duty of every member of Parliament and others have been doing the same in these communities out here in western Sydney and right across the state. I want to thank all the SES workers here, I've had the privilege with Jenny to meet this morning and say thank you. It has been an absolute torrential week out here in western Sydney, not just here, but further along the river where I had the opportunity earlier this week to get that aerial view and speak to some of those on the ground up there at the Richmond RAAF base, where the water was lapping at the gates. And this has been quite a period of traumatic weather events and what we've seen, though, as you've just seen from those we've met here, whether it's Mike or whoever, taking us through the drills, this is what our agencies train for so that in moments of great crisis, they can act. And as I was saying all through the weekend, the Premier's been saying the same thing, we have the most professional, well-trained volunteers and professional people working in these organisations, and their skills have just shone through over the course of this past week. Their leadership, their management, their organisation just getting the job done here when people needed it the most. And it might be blue skies here today in Western Sydney, but the job is still going on the ground as we move into the clean-up phase. Assessors are out there even as we speak, and people are starting to work again with how businesses, particularly the producers in this region, need to be able to get back up on their feet.

Yesterday, I announced with the Premier that we'll be introducing those $75,000 category D assistance grants, joint funded 50/50 with the State Government shouldering this burden together. Up to $50,000 in grants, that I stressed, these are grants, for small businesses directly impacted by these flood events. After speaking to one of the owners of a small business up near Port Macquarie yesterday, what also became clear to me was that there are businesses looking to rebuild quickly. And I know, they've told me, they are going to be looking for support from their banks and for finance to do that to get back up on their feet. And so I spoke to the Treasurer yesterday and we're able to get it done overnight that we'll be extending those new loan products that we have already announced. These are these five billion dollar loans for businesses, up to 250 million dollars in turnover, which has two years, nothing to pay, 10-year loan terms. They will be extended into the flood-affected areas as well. Now, that's been done through the banks. We cover, underwrite, 80 per cent of those loans. And this is about backing the businesses and producers that are backing themselves to get back on their feet. Yes, the grants will be there. But in addition to that, the other things they'll be needing to attract capital for, working with the banks, working with the Government, working with our flood assistance and recovery teams, whether it's Shane Stone's agency who did such a magnificent job on supporting communities through the drought and the floods up in North Queensland, they're coming on deck now to support these communities, whether it's here in the Hawkesbury, or all the way up through the Mid North Coast where I was yesterday. For a lot of these producers and a lot of these businesses it's about sitting around the same table and working out their individual plan to get their business back on its feet. And that's how we did it in North Queensland, station by station, business by business. And that's how the recovery is going to occur here.

So we're in the clean-up phase now, sharing that with the insured or uninsured, that clean-up process being run by the State Government, responsibility shared by the Federal Government. Those grants to support small businesses and producers, many of which in this district here and beyond, affected by the Hawkesbury flooding. And then on top of that, providing that further financial assistance through the banks. Now, it's much, we learnt this in previous floods, it's much better for them to be working through the banks, they've already got facilities with. These loans can be used for any number of purposes, they can be unsecured or otherwise. And that's just another tool in the kit that we want to make sure that is there for our recovery operators coming in and working with the communities to get these things done. But right here now, we learned that the insurance assessors are starting to get in. That's really important. This time last week, Melissa was sending me texts and photos, updating me constantly on what was happening. The sandbags were being filled and the community was coming together. And the community here in Western Sydney, as always has come together. I know Melissa is incredibly proud of what they've done. I know Marise Payne, the Foreign Minister, Minister for Women, but also a local resident out here, and Stuart her husband, her partner I should say, both on the ground here working and supporting communities. So I want to thank them very, very much for all their work. But there'll be more support and more assistance. But now we plan the recovery and we back the plans of people on the ground about how they're going to rebuild.

Journalist: Prime Minister, we're still in the middle of a pandemic. Are you concerned about what we're seeing in Brisbane and the tendency for other Premiers to close borders?

Prime Minister: Well, we have that one case, and I think we're in a very different environment to what we were in last year. And so I would recommend a balanced approach here, understanding that the risk calculation has now changed, the vaccination program is well underway. We will pass that first half a million mark today in terms of vaccinations around the country. And so this is really gearing up. Yesterday, I was there to see the send out another 800,000, sorry 500,000 doses just yesterday. There was the pack of those and those 800,000 in total going out over the week. So that's getting out there. It was a great thrill to know that the last shipment, the last delivery that was unable to be made because of the floods up in Taree, that was made yesterday, that got through yesterday. And so whether it's floods or anything else, the vaccination program continues to roll out. I particularly want to thank our logistics partners who are getting those vaccinations out. But up there in Queensland and in other parts of the country, I think we need to be measured in our response. I think we need to be proportionate in our response. The economic recovery we're seeing in Australia now, is leading the world and we want to keep that happening and we don't want to prevent that from happening by any possible disproportional or overreaction response. The Queensland Government's got this. They've got a strong tracing system. They've got a very strong public health system there in Queensland. I have a lot of faith in that. I've seen it in action before. And I think we've got to back our people to keep this under control. And I have no doubt the Queensland Government will do that. I spoke to the Chief Medical officer yesterday about this, he shares my confidence.

Journalist: Prime Minister, you've just said that the first duty of an MP is to stand with their constituents. You forced one of your MPs to apologise to two women for his behaviour. Within hours he's basically blown up that apology and said he didn't even know what he was apologising for. Has he failed in his first duty to his community? And will you accept this behaviour in your party room?

Prime Minister: No, I won't. And I spoke to him again this morning, and I'm arranging for Mr Laming, for Andrew Laming, to now go and get appropriate assistance through an appropriate course to build his understanding and awareness about his actions. And I think this is one of the important things that we need to do. The way you fix this is we've got to educate, inform and increase awareness to change behaviour. I want to see behaviour change. And that's, you know, we've all got a job to do with that, and he certainly has a job to do on this. And we've discussed this very directly this morning. And he's agreed to participate in that and submit himself to that, as he should. And I would hope that would see a very significant change in his behaviour.

Journalist: Isn't the best way to change behaviour, though, Prime Minister, to show that there's going to be significant consequences in your government for this kind of behaviour?

Prime Minister: I think we've already been demonstrating that. But in this case, I mean, he is a Member of Parliament. I have no direct control over that. But what I think in this case is important is that we correct this behaviour. I want to see behaviour change. And I think this is just another indication of how much we have to do to change that behaviour. I don't think this behaviour is limited to any one individual, but certainly in this case, it has certainly been done and I want to see that change and he knows that.

Journalist: Do you think he's fit to be a Member of Parliament?

Prime Minister: That is a judgement that electors make every term and they’ve been making it in his case now for many, many years. What I want to see him do is change his behaviour. Let's not forget the goal here. We need to change behaviour and we can change behaviour by increasing the awareness, the knowledge and the understanding of how our own actions impact on others. I said this the other day. There are conscious, malevolent acts that are undertaken that discriminate against women and make women feel unsafe. There are also many unconscious acts borne out of a lack of understanding and appreciation and awareness. We have to address both of these things. I don't want to see gender become a dividing thing in this nation. I don't want this to be a women versus men, men versus women issue. This is a time when we have to come together to address this issue, to build that understanding. We just saw the other day a young boy in Victoria having to apologise for things he didn't understand and apologise effectively for every other male in the country. The school has apologised for that. They said they acted in good faith. I accept that, totally accept that. That's why I just caution, we've got to be careful about how we manage this. We've got to focus on building, understanding, awareness, sensitivity, but we have to do it together. We cannot allow this issue to divide Australians. So let's try it, all of us, to bring it together and just focus on the things we need to change.

Journalist: Is Laming fit to run as a Liberal? And would you consider dumping him if he doesn't change his behaviour?

Prime Minister: I'm not a member of the LNP Queensland division. Our state divisions make decisions about preselection. Every single Member of Parliament, me included, has to renominate for the endorsement of our party. And that's a process which is underway currently with the LNP and I'm sure selectors will be thinking about all of these things.

Journalist: Concerning to see China redoubling its efforts on tariffs on Australian wines for the next five years. What's the way forward there?

Prime Minister: Well, continue to be patient and working the issues that are in front of us, whether it's all of these, what I'd call non-tariff restrictions, which we completely reject that has been placed on Australian product and by their own admission, publically, as some form of retaliation for Australians standing up for our values, that's not okay. I mean, I stand with Prime Minister Johnson. UK has come under criticism and sanction as a result of standing up for Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Australia also has stood up in that way. We released a statement just this week conjointly with a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. And we don't do that lightly. And it's important that liberal democracies stand up for these values and for these truths. And we will say, Boris, well done, mate. We stand with you and thank you for standing with Australia as well. Thanks everyone.