KEN O’DOWD MP, MEMBER FOR FLYNN: Well, good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to Gladstone, in the heart of industrial land here and Scott Harrington, the owner of this premises, welcomes the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to Gladstone. This is the second trip to Gladstone Scott’s done in the last month or so and very welcome Scott. It’s good to be here. Isn't it great to be here and see how industry really works. We’re sitting on the Gladstone Harbour which is a great asset and everything's going well in Gladstone. People are being employed, we’ve got 150 people that work on this site here, young apprentices also. So it's great that Scott has the ambition and the drive to make this happen. He's been here since 2007. So, yeah, it’s really good.
SCOTT HARRINGTON, MANAGING DIRECTOR, XTREME ENGINEERING: Thanks Kenny. Thanks for, thanks for [inaudible]. It’s great Prime Minister to meet you finally. And you know, some of the benefits of what we've been able to do is this beautiful big crane here, first of its kind in Australia, 120 tonnes [inaudible]. We used the instant asset write-off to help us with a project that we secured, a Commonwealth Government project that we secured, fully fabricated locally in Gladstone, steel produced from Australian steel mills. And we've been able to use our local apprentices on this job and sustain. And the kids love it and they're really enjoying it. Scott’s got to meet a couple of young fellas today, so that's good. Thank you. Welcome to Gladstone, mate.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Well, thank you, Scott, and congratulations on everything you’re achieving here at Xtreme Engineering. I’ll say $1.8 million. That's a significant investment for any business to be making in their future, and the fact that businesses are investing in their future is key to Australia's economic recovery plan. The Budget was all about securing Australia's economic recovery and that recovery comes from investing in the skills and the training. And we've met some of the apprentices, those in their second and third year, even those who are coming out of the school system right now. There’s around eight apprentices that are employed here as part of these projects. And it's great to see the investment in skills and training leading to the workforce being available, for firms like Xtreme Engineering to be able to take on these jobs. We're making things in Australia, we're making things in Gladstone, we're making things in Queensland. And continuing to support making things in Australia comes by ensuring that we're backing in our steel producers, which we've certainly done that. Backing in our aluminium producers, and we're doing that. Backing in the training that is required for the skills that are needed to make things here in this country, and we're doing that. And to see this project, this contract, which comes from the Bureau of Meteorology, from an investment that our Government made a couple of years ago in the Budget to improve our weather systems here, particularly in northern Queensland, in north Queensland, where what you’re seeing here will predominantly go. That is also helping our producers in so many other sectors of the economy because that information in the north of Australia is so critical to them. So this is all about the incentives for investment, the instant asset write-off, the instant expensing initiative, which means companies can fully write-off these types of investments so they can compete for the work and do it on a competitive basis that sees the jobs stay here, whether it's in Gladstone, Queensland or anywhere else in the country. And so it's just great to see that virtuous cycle of a Government actually stepping up to address a major environmental challenge, to see that actually delivered upon by an Australian company with Australian apprentices using Australian steel to make things that are the best in the world. That's what our economic recovery plan is all about. And that's how we secure our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and recession. And it's great to see the evidence of that working out here on the ground. Happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, why is Queensland your first stop post-Budget?
PRIME MINISTER: Oh, it's great to be back. I mean, it's hard to keep me out of Queensland. I love coming up here. It was a bit chilly down south, as you know, Mark. So it was very nice to get up in the warm skies again. Again I don't know if I'll get in Gladstone in the pool like last time I was up. But it's great to be here because here demonstrates, I think, where the Budget actually achieves the purpose of this recovery. What we're doing in the Budget, and we could be in any part of the country today to demonstrate, I think, where these instant expensing initiatives actually are supporting businesses to get work and get jobs. Here's a very practical example of it. And I think to be here with Ken in Gladstone and with Scott, even more significantly, and to see the apprenticeships working and see the manufacturing taking place, the fabrication, and where this is happening all within Australia. I think it highlights just how our plan is already working and needs to keep working, because the recovery cannot be taken for granted. The recovery can be lost. The hard won gains of Australians, particularly over these last 18 months, can be lost unless we keep doing what's working. And this is working.
JOURNALIST: PM, yesterday the Leader of the Opposition was in central Queensland saying enough hasn't been allocated in the Budget for housing and social housing. How do you respond?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, he can’t add up. I mean, his plan costs four times as much to deliver two thirds less housing. Our plan, the HomeBuilder plan, $2.7 billion being invested, around 100,000 homes. And then you add to that the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation's work, which we put in, that's supporting affordable housing. Now, there's already 2,700 homes that have been built out of that direct action, and another 4,400 through the National Housing Infrastructure Fund, which are initiatives of our Government. So, you know, we're getting on with that job and that's occurred just in the last three years. I mean, his policy just doesn't add up. I understand that it's well motivated. It is important to get Australians into homes. We have the highest rate of first home ownership, people getting into that market, now than we've seen in years and years and years and years. The First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, the First Home Super Saver accounts, the HomeBuilder programme, the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation. We've been taking action on these issues for many, many years. And we're getting people into their first homes at a rate that we haven't seen in a long time.
JOURNALIST: PM, can I ask you just on the border issue.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah.
JOURNALIST: Some of your backbench are, you know, disquiet over the lack of clarity, I guess, or certainty. We’ve had expats, a lot of skilled migrants, in [inaudible] newspapers, you know, thinking of leaving or staying and so forth. How certain can you be or what, or at least generically, how certain, what is the plan on borders?
PRIME MINISTER: It's always about the next step, and the next step is to see us enable Australians who have been vaccinated in this country - this is what we’ve been working on now for many months. I first started tasking the medical expert panel on this some months ago - the next step is being able to, for Australians who have been vaccinated, to be able to firstly travel around Australia, particularly if there are states that are putting in place restrictions, things like that, from time to time. We’ve already seen that in the United States where those who have been vaccinated aren't subject to those restrictions. Great to see that happening here in Australia. The second part would be to enable them to travel to safe countries. I think in countries where the virus is raging, that would be, I think, a difficulty because it would also hinder our task of getting people out of those red zones. But for people to be able to do that on an abridged or a different form of quarantine on their return, this is something we've been working on now for some months. And I still think there are many months ahead of us before we're able to achieve that. But that, you know, we're always working on the next step. The next step is how we can safely have international students come back. I welcome the fact that universities are stumping up to work with state governments to put those facilities in place to support their customers coming back, their students coming back. And as the Treasurer said this morning, we'll look at that very favourably, very favourably.
JOURNALIST: One of the laboratories that has been testing Australian citizens in India has been returning false positive readings. You must be concerned about that. What’s being done about that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's a very difficult environment to operate in, where India is right now, and we'll work closely with Qantas who are, they're obviously conducting our testing regime as part of their processes, and they’ll get every support from us. But it is a very difficult environment to operate in at the moment. I'm pleased that we've been able to get 80 people home already. I hope we, and intend for us, to get even more home in the other repatriation commercially facilitated flights in the weeks ahead, more going into Howard Springs, where we're expanding capacity - half a billion in the Budget to expand the capacity of our national quarantine facility with the Northern Territory Government from 850 up to 2,000, that's happening right now. We're looking at proposals that are coming forward from Victorian Government. It's a very comprehensive proposal and we're working through that with them now. That only, I mean, that's only just come in just prior to the Budget. So we'll work with them on those issues. But making sure we have a rigorous testing regime is very important. And I've seen the suggestions from others that, who seem to think we can put people who've tested COVID positive on planes and bring them to Australia. I mean, that's, that just doesn't make any sense, and I, we all want to support people as much as we can, but by importing COVID into the country I don't think that's a very sensible or sound thing to do. This sort of testing is, is required from all places where people are coming from into Australia, whether it’s the UK or elsewhere. And of course, it's, it’s important in India, and we've seen those high testing rates, and that's frankly why we took the action we did because the risk was very, very high.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] recovery, what are the major threats to the recovery [inaudible]?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the major threat, I think, to the recovery is that we need to ensure we keep the momentum of our domestic economy moving. We need to ensure that we're supporting Australians to be in jobs, that those jobs are being supported by the strength of our domestic economy. We’ve obviously got to make sure that our connections with overseas, when it comes to our facilitated freight transport and things like that, are done, but largely our economy right now and for the foreseeable future, over the next 12 months, certainly is going to depend very much on the economic strength of Australians, their households, their businesses, the work that they've got, whether it's infrastructure works like are being done here, which is keeping our economy moving, that that continues to go forward. And that's why people having lower taxes, that's why the infrastructure programme, that's why the incentives to ensure that businesses like Xtreme here are investing in big kit like this to ensure that they can deliver on the contracts that are out there. There's a real opportunity, actually, Scott and I were just talking about this a little while ago, because of COVID that means there are many Australian companies now getting a go that they found quite hard to get before. And this is a good example of that, the very contract we're talking about. And so, and they're able to show their wares, and I think that will lead to even better business for them in the future because people know what the capability of companies like Xtreme Engineering are. Not just to do this job, but to do many other jobs and to do it well, for Australian apprentices, Australian steel and Australian jobs. So I think the big challenge, Chris, is to ensure that we keep our domestic economy strong. And that means we need Australians to be in a strong, as strong a financial position as we can put them in. And there will come a time down the track when, you know, things will move to another form of normal in this COVID world. But until then, we've got to keep leaning in as a Government to ensure we can keep the momentum of that economy.
JOURNALIST: PM, if all Australians are vaccinated by the end of the year, as the Budget suggests, why can't the world open up sooner?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, even in that circumstance, you're still talking about many Australians, millions of Australians, who wouldn't have been vaccinated because, for, a) they’re children, or b) they have chosen not to be. And you're also making assumptions about what the rest of the world looks like with COVID at the end of this year, the introduction of new variants and strains. We’ve secured those 15 million additional Moderna vaccines which are booster shots. And so, look, I think we've just got to do this each and every day. I was pleased that yesterday was actually a record for a Saturday - we had over 30,000 people get vaccinated yesterday. We tripped over the three million mark on Friday, as I said we would. And we're seeing the vaccination programme just go from strength to strength, and the rollout with states and territories again amping up next week. Tomorrow, if you're over 50, you can go to your GP who are providing these vaccines and you can get vaccinated from tomorrow with your GP. So I think we'll continue to see that build. But all the way through we’ll be guided by the medical advice, we’ll be guided by the economic advice, I would also stress. Straight from the start of this pandemic I've said that that we've got to save lives and we've got to save livelihoods. And we’ve balanced those, I think, extremely well over the course of the last 18 months or so, and we'll have to keep doing that. So the job now is just to keep getting the vaccination programme rolling out. We've made particularly good progress in aged care facilities, we're through about 85 per cent of those now and on track with completing that in the timetable, and that's our most vulnerable community. But we still need more people aged over 70 to go and get those vaccines. That's a very high priority for us, because if there were to be an outbreak in Australia, they are the Australians most at risk and that's where our focus is most at the moment.
JOURNALIST: PM, there’s word that our cricketers might be coming back from India in the next few days. Have they asked for any special dispensation and have they been given any?
PRIME MINISTER: They haven’t been given any, I can tell you that, and they'll come in additional to the cap in New South Wales. We’ve been working with the New South Wales Government on that. New South Wales Government is happy for them to come in over the cap. That's something we insisted upon and they were happy to agree with that. But they'll come back under their own steam, on their own ticket, and and they will, they won't be taking the spot in quarantine of any other Australian who is returning home under the New South Wales caps. As you know in New South Wales, they’ve done all the heavy lifting, frankly, on people coming back from around the world. They’re the ones who kept their caps very high. And so we appreciate the fact that the New South Wales Government and Gladys Berejiklian in particular has been so strong in supporting those higher caps, but in this case, ensuring that when the cricketers come back they don’t take the spot of anybody else.
JOURNALIST: What are you doing to ensure COVID testing systems are accurate and Australians aren't being unfairly blocked from coming home?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't think they are being unfairly blocked. I mean, as I said in my excerpt earlier, we’ll work with Qantas, who run that testing programme for people getting on planes. One of the, we were having issues earlier with the testing regime, and that was one of the reasons why we, we actually put the pause in place to ensure we could firm that up, and it has. And I think in these areas, you've got to be cautious. And, and I'm pleased we’ve got 80 people home. I'm looking forward to more coming home. I’m appreciative that In New South Wales, in Queensland and Victoria, they'll also be taking repatriated commercially facilitated flights. That's tremendous. But the testing’s got to be up to standard. In this case what we've got is that, we've got the, the other side of the coin, in a number of cases, where people who had tested negative, sorry tested positive, who may not have been positive, but when it comes to protecting Australians’ health and safety here, then we're going to be cautious. I know what side of the line we need to be cautious on. Okay, thanks very much everybody.