Doorstop Interview - Melbourne

31 Oct 2022
Prime Minister
Child care; Federal Budget 2022; visit to Melbourne; flood recovery; energy; power prices; industrial relations; crowd crush in South Korea; Defence; Australia’s relationship with the United States; Victorian election; national security

JOSH BURNS, MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA: Welcome, everyone, to The Avenue Children's Centre in Balaclava. It's a pretty special place. And the history of this place is that, actually, it's a community run early education centre that, last year, the City of Port Phillip tried to shut down. And because of the parents and the President, Laura and Louise are here with us today, the campaign was successful in saving The Avenue. It's so important for families to have access to early education centres like this that are local, but affordable as well. And it's so important for the development of these amazing and slightly spooky young people here today on Halloween. There's someone who really understands that, and that's our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, the importance of quality education, quality early education, but affordable early education so families can get back to work, which is why it's so wonderful to have the Prime Minister here today.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, thanks very much, Josh. And it's great to be back here in Macnamara. And it's great to be here in the week after our Budget delivered on our commitment for cheaper child care. Cheaper child care was the first major commitment that I made as Leader of the Labor Party. And it was still the largest on-budget investment that we committed to last Tuesday night, delivering for working families, making a difference for productivity, for women's workforce participation, but also good for children. This is economic reform. Good early learning is not welfare. It is about improving the educational standards that are available here in Australia, about us becoming a smarter country. Because we know that human brain development, over 90 per cent of it, occurs in the first five years. It's also about helping businesses through boosting productivity and making a difference for them. But it also assists in real cost of living relief for working families, because child care, we know, has risen substantially in costs over recent years. What our commitment does is take that pressure off. And we identified in the Budget the challenge of inflation and making sure that we provided cost of living relief without putting further pressure on inflation. And that's why our measures were cheaper child care, cheaper medicines, more affordable housing, getting wages going again and, of course, the increase to six months of Paid Parental Leave. These are all good policies to make a difference without putting pressure on inflation, which is why last week's Budget was responsible but exactly right for what Australia needs right now. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: This centre was supposed to be closing down last year and the Labor Government saved it from closing down?

BURNS: This was a collaboration between the State Government and the City of Port Phillip, after the City of Port Philip wanted to close this and two other local centres locally down. This was through a deal between the City of Port Phillip and the State Government, and it was led by the community. It's so important for our local community to have access us to local, affordable early education centres and it was wonderful to be a part of it, to support it. It was led by the community and it's been a great result.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just in regards to energy…

PRIME MINISTER: Can I just also say, this is my second event that I've been to today. I visited the National Resilience Centre at Mickelham first thing this morning, and I met some of the 125 Victorians who are using that facility because their homes have been affected by this dreadful flooding event. I met with the residents there, including families, one family with three young ones who are using that facility. I met people from Melbourne as well as from Ballarat. From all around Victoria, including Rochester, people are using that facility. And the staff there are doing a fantastic job. In one spot, they have Services Australia staff, they have healthcare, good food, so whilst they've gone through such a tough time, they're resilient and they were upbeat about being looked after. What's extraordinary about Australians is that at the most difficult of times, they show the greatness of the Australian character. And the people I spoke to all just kept saying, ‘Oh well, we know there's lots of people worse off than me.’ These people are doing it tough, but they're resilient. They're looking forward to either having their homes fixed up and being able to move back, or in some cases that's not going to be the case, they're looking for new housing options. But I pay tribute to all those people who are working so hard to look after Victorians and indeed throughout Australia at this difficult time. We know there is some further wet weather ahead later this week. And I just say to people, stay safe. Follow the advice which is given by emergency services, by the SES, by the experts. Don't take risks. Make sure you look after yourself. I had a discussion with the Premier this morning and again over the weekend about further support that will be offered. We're working through those issues. There will be more announcements on that in coming days.

JOURNALIST: Did any of those people at Mickelham voice to you the extra assistance that they're looking for from the Federal Government?

PRIME MINISTER: I had no request for additional support. They're looking for certainty. So, for example, the family from Melbourne that their home has gone underwater, they're looking for the insurance company to act very quickly. The last time they visited their home, they took their young children so that they could actually see what was going on. They showed them the white that they could see on the fence, that that was their fence so the kids could see and understand that there was water in their home and why they were at Mickelham. An incredibly thoughtful family, and I thank Shannon for sitting down with us and sharing that experience. They just want life to get back to normal as soon as possible. But they're resilient and they're looking positive, under the circumstances, about their future. And all of them, of course, are very conscious about the most important thing which is that they are safe.

JOURNALIST: On energy, when is the Government going to intervene in the energy market?

PRIME MINISTER: We're taking advice and we're continuing to discuss with the energy sector. Of course, we've already taken substantial advice and action. You'll recall that when we came to office, very soon after May 21, there were reports that the lights were going to go out. We intervened to make sure that the lights stayed on and that people were still able to get access to the energy that they need. Then there was talk that there wouldn't be enough gas in the system, there was a shortfall of 56 petajoules predicted by the beginning of next year. We intervened to make sure the three energy companies agreed to a Heads of Agreement that will provide for 157 petajoules, making sure that supply is available for manufacturers and households next year. Clearly, price is still a major issue that we need to deal with. We're working through those issues. In the long-term, we're dealing with what we've been left, four gigawatts left the system and only one gigawatt came in under the former Government. That's led to a shortfall. That, when combined with the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has led to a global spike in energy prices that is impacting the entire world, means that here's there's enormous pressure on the system. So, we're working through, very carefully, what the best options are. We know that households and businesses are under pressure and we want to alleviate that pressure. We also know that 20 per cent of the increase was baked in in March when the Federal Government made the extraordinary decision to intervene and change the law so that the announcement of the increase in the wholesale price would be deferred until the first working day after the 25th of May. Now, that was Angus Taylor intervening. He's not been transparent about that beforehand and he's not been transparent about that afterwards. He says he didn't know about it. Well, he signed the change in regulation in a way so it couldn't be changed because it was done just before the Government went into caretaker mode.

JOURNALIST: The energy regulator says any action to intervene in the gas market or impose a cap must happen by the end of November. Will you take action by then? Or are you leaving it until the new year?

PRIME MINISTER: We're working through all of these issues and we want to act responsibly and we want to act as soon as is practicable. We're taking that advice seriously at the moment.

JOURNALIST: The Government has flagged making a code of conduct in the gas industry mandatory. How soon might that happen?

PRIME MINISTER: We'll work through that, including with the ACCC. We're working with the agencies to make sure that some of the pressure which is on is alleviated. This is a global issue that's having an impact right around the world, but it's been made worse by the fact that we continue to be so dependent as a result of previous policy decisions. You can't fix transmission, for example, which is what the Australian Energy Market Operator have identified as a big failing, even though they had their Integrated Systems Plan identified for a period of time. You can't just do that in a matter of days. We've intervened, and just a week ago, we signed a significant agreement with both Tasmania and Victoria about transmission to increase the amount of supply by fixing transmission. That is the Rewiring the Nation plan. We had two big announcements in my first Budget Reply: cheaper child care, and the $20 billion Rewiring the Nation fund to fix energy transmission in this country. That compares with the zero announcements that Peter Dutton made last week in his first Budget Reply, it was all about the past - nothing about the future.

JOURNALIST: The crossbench wants more time to discuss the IR reforms. Are you willing to let debate continue into the new year if it means getting IR bill right?

PRIME MINISTER: We want to get wages moving again as soon as possible. That's our priority. We'll have constructive discussions with anyone who's willing to have them. We're continuing to engage with business. We're continuing to engage with unions and with the crossbench and across the Parliament. But there's already been substantial consultation. We'll continue to work that through. We've introduced the legislation. Prior to the legislation being introduced, we made it available to different parties to examine. We've made it clear we'll consider practical changes which are put forward. It's been referred to a committee. I'd encourage people to participate constructively in that process. But we need to get wages moving. It's a very clear commitment that we made. When I made the commitment during the election campaign that I would support the Fair Work Commission if they made a decision to increase the minimum wage by just $1 an hour to keep up with inflation, that was derided as irresponsible and loose by the then-Morrison Government. They wanted, and indeed, they said very explicitly, in a rare moment of honesty, they said they wanted low wages to be a key feature of their economic architecture. Well, we don't and particularly wages in feminised industries: child care, aged care, disability care. I understand the Fair Work Commission will hand down its outcome on aged care workers sometime in the coming weeks. We await that decision as well.

JOURNALIST: How much of an impact would regulating as prices have on power prices?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, to be respectful, depends what form of regulation. That’s an unanswerable question. It depends upon what the regulation is. That's why we're examining the most effective way. That’s the point.

JOURNALIST: The Budget has told Australians to brace for power price increases. Could that trajectory continue even longer? What period are they looking at?

PRIME MINISTER: The Budget papers are the Budget papers. They are there for everyone to see. And I compare that with the former Government that changed the law so people wouldn't know that this 20 per cent increase was occurring. That decision was delayed, literally, until the days after the Federal Election the 25th of May. It should have been announced while the election campaign was actually on, the Government intervened to change the law with the regulation signed by the then-Minister, Angus Taylor, who's now the Shadow Treasurer. It is an extraordinary act from a Government that was prepared to say anything and do anything. They hid report after report and, at the same time, they acted recklessly on polling day about other issues.

JOURNALIST: One Australian has died in South Korea. Does the Federal Government have anything to say about that?

PRIME MINISTER: My sincere condolences go to the family of the Australian who has died in this extraordinary tragedy where over 150 people have lost their lives. These were people who were out celebrating Halloween, out to have a good time and to come home safely. This tragedy has impacted people in South Korea, in particular, but it has also impacted, in the harshest way possible, one Australian family. There were other Australians who were hurt in this incident and we just wish all of those people a very speedy recovery.

JOURNALIST: Have you heard anything about their identity?

PRIME MINISTER: We have, but we'd like to talk to the families first, for obvious reasons, out of respect for them.

JOURNALIST: Can you confirm that the US is preparing to deploy six nuclear-capable bombers to Northern Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: We engage with our friends in the United States alliance from time to time. There are visits to Australia, including in Darwin, that has US Marines on a rotating basis stationed there.

JOURNALIST: The Victorian election campaign kicks off tomorrow. Why aren't you out with Premier Daniel Andrews? You're holding pressers at the same time.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I spoke to him this morning and we can't be in two different places at two different times. I'll be with the Premier and I will campaign, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, who has apparently been barred from coming to Victoria. I'll give you another big tip, I'll be back here on Wednesday and I look forward to campaigning. I was with the Premier last week. I've been with the Premier multiple times in recent weeks. I'll continue to be here. I look forward to continuing to work with the Premier. I think Daniel Andrews is doing a fantastic job for Victorians. I spoke to him this morning, I spoke to him about he the visit to Mickleham and also our ongoing discussions about providing support for those impacted by these floods.

JOURNALIST: Labor has slashed $1.4 billion in funding over four years from Victoria’s hospitals, but yet commits to funding Suburban Rail Loop. Do you think the Federal Government has abandoned Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER: The Federal Government is doing more for Victoria than the former Government ever did. The former Government, at one stage, was giving Victoria eight per cent of the national infrastructure budget. It was like a big vacuum sucking money out of Victoria and not put anything back. We're working constructively. I was with Daniel Andrews at the opening of the new cancer centre here in Victoria. We're continuing to provide substantial funds for Victoria. I've been at announcements in recent weeks with the Premier about not just infrastructure, but about flood recovery as well. We'll have more announcements in coming days. We want to work with governments across the entire country, regardless of their political colour. I was with Dominic Perrottet yesterday, he was visiting my seat of Grayndler and he was very welcome to do so. Last week I was with Premier Rockliff in Tasmania, announcing support for energy infrastructure there. I'll continue to work with governments across the board. But I think that Daniel Andrews has done an extraordinary job. Victorians had a major impact of COVID. Daniel Andrews has shown real leadership during that time. It took myself, as Leader of the Opposition, to stand up in the Parliament and move a motion congratulating Victorians on their efforts keeping each other and their communities safe. Josh Frydenberg chose to give a bit of a different speech that day which is maybe one of the reasons why he now isn't in the Federal Parliament.

JOURNALIST: The wives of Islamic State fighters have been repatriated. How much will it cost to monitor the women now that they’ve come to Australia and the more that are coming? And what additional costs will taxpayers incur for things such as counselling and things like that?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, these are Australian citizens who are entitled to be in Australia. And I note some of the commentary from the Opposition these issues. Well, the Opposition, when it was the Government, brought some children home from these areas as well, that's the fact of the matter. Our one and only priority is to keep Australians safe. We're following national security advice on all of those matters and will continue to do so.