Doorstop Interview - Rockhampton, QLD

11 Jan 2023
Prime Minister, Deputy Premier of Queensland
Rockhampton Ring Road; 50th Anniversary of end of Australian involvement in the Vietnam War; Cardinal George Pell; Safeguard Mechanism; relationship with Japan; relationship with China; Indigenous Voice to Parliament; visit to Papua New Guinea;

BARRY O'ROURKE, MEMBER FOR ROCKHAMPTON: My name is Barry O'Rourke, I'm the State Member for Rockhampton. It is absolutely wonderful to have our Prime Minister Anthony Albanese here today, and also the acting Premier, Steven Miles. It's just such a big event for Rockhampton and Central Queensland, the works that have taken place here with the Rockhampton Ring Road. I'm so proud to be part of government that is delivering on major infrastructure projects like this that creates so many local jobs and looks after our community.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, thanks very much, Barry. And it's great to be here with yourself and with Brittany, the State Member for Keppel and with my friend the acting Premier Steven Miles, but also Senator Murray Watt who does such a good job representing Queensland in the National Parliament. Can I say that it is fantastic to be back here in Rockhampton, my second visit as the Prime Minister, but as I was being told, more than twenty visits to Rocky over the years and some of those visits were to announce infrastructure projects, to commence infrastructure projects and to build infrastructure projects as well. Projects like the Yeppen Flood Plain, which is different from Yeppoon, I might remind the Leader of the Opposition. And we did that project, we funded it and it was built and now it has opened and is making an enormous difference. We also commenced the planning work and funding for the Rocky Ring Road. But of course we lost government in 2013 and then nothing happened for the decade in which the Coalition were in office. But now that you have a Federal Labor government working with the Queensland Labor government, we are getting on with this project. And that is why $280 million will be brought forward to commence a project that will cost more than $1 billion. We are still doing the final costing because it wasn't done properly by the former government, but we want to make sure this project gets done and gets done as quickly as possible. And here on site already, we're seeing early works underway and we want that to continue throughout 2023 and to get this project up and running as soon as possible. This project will create hundreds of jobs. It will mean that more than 2,600 heavy vehicles each and every day are taken out of the CBD of Rockhampton. That will make an enormous difference in terms of road safety, efficiency and productivity benefits, job creation in the short term in construction but also a part of nation building infrastructure, productivity improvements that we'll see with this project. That is so vital. It will take these vehicles away from 19 sets of traffic lights and 56 intersections. So the scale of this project, with more than a dozen bridges needed to be built because of the nature of the land that we're dealing with here, means that this is a complex project. But we're ready to go. And those early works being undertaken are so important. Important for jobs, important for infrastructure and transport, important for the industries that are supported by this great regional city, including the beef industry. This combines with the $200 million that we're investing on the Bruce Highway between Rockhampton and Gladstone, and the $400 million that we're investing in cattle roads projects around Queensland. When I was appointed the Infrastructure Minister, the previous Howard government spent $1.3 billion over twelve long years on the Bruce Highway. We invested $7.6 billion in half the time in our six years in office. It is only Labor governments that actually build infrastructure rather than talk about it. And that is what will be happening here, not just this year, but in the years ahead to bring this project to reality.

STEVEN MILES, DEPUTY PREMIER OF QUEENSLAND: Central Queenslanders can be assured that the Palaszczuk Government and the Albanese Government stand together, committed to build the Rocky Ring Road. It is one of the most important infrastructure projects in our state, connecting people in Rockhampton with Gracemere, Mount Morgan and the Capricorn Coast, allowing them to get around, to work, to access commercial districts, education, tourism and, of course, the airport. It will make freight movements faster, safer and ,of course, the road will be more resilient. Nearly 15 kilometres, more than a billion dollars. The first phase will get underway in 2023. We've completed the land acquisitions required. A local contractor has secured the first contract that was awarded in December last year. There will be more contracts awarded through the first half of 2023. Utility providers are already doing the relocations that they need to do. And we've worked really closely with 100.7FM 4US, the Indigenous radio station that is currently located here, they'll move to the Dreamtime Cultural Centre. So you can really see work starting to get underway on this massive and important project. 

PRIME MINISTER: Happy to take questions. Before I do, I might just acknowledge Bob, who's here as well. Bob plays a critical role here at the radio station. But importantly, today, when we commemorate the 50 years since Australia withdrew officially from engagement in the Vietnam War, Bob is not just a significant Indigenous leader here in Rockhampton. He's someone who served our country. He served our country for many years, including spending some 13 months in Vietnam with the Australian Defence Force during that war. And I pay tribute to Bob today. But I pay tribute as well to all of our veterans. Today will be a difficult day for those families who lost loved ones during the Vietnam War, for those who were injured and incapacitated during the Vietnam War as well. And today, like every day, I on behalf of the Australian Government, and indeed the people of Australia, say thank you to those who serve us in uniform in the Australian Defence Force.

JOURNALIST: On the Rocky Ring Road here, obviously this is incredible and our state member has worked really, really hard to get this underway. Is this a sign for what we can expect to see with infrastructure across the state, greater collaboration and getting those work finally started?

PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely. I'm someone who wants to work with governments across the spectrum to get things done. And in the Palaszczuk Government, with the Deputy Premier here today, the Federal Government has a partner who wants to work cooperatively. And it stands in contrast with the arguments that the Morrison Government was determined to have without actually delivering. So we'll work constructively. We'll work with Anastasia, Steven, with Mark Bailey, with others in the government to make sure that Queensland gets the infrastructure that it deserves. We have more than $20 billion worth of projects in the pipeline for Queensland in infrastructure alone and there are many other works that we will continue to cooperate on.

JOURNALIST: What is your reaction to the death of Cardinal George Pell?

PRIME MINISTER: Well for many people, particularly of the Catholic faith, this will be a difficult day. And I expressed my condolences to all those who are mourning today. I discussed with Archbishop Fisher this morning, I expressed my condolences to Archbishop Fisher on behalf of the government. Archbishop Fisher informed me that there will be service held in the Vatican in coming days but then there will be a service at St Mary's Cathedral at some time in the future. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are providing assistance to ensure that Cardinal Pell is brought back to Australia and those arrangements are being put in place and further announcements will be made when they are finalised.

JOURNALIST: Will you be attending the funeral?

PRIME MINISTER: It hasn't been set yet for any of those dates. There will be an event in the coming days in the Vatican and that will be held, as appropriate. The announcements will be made. They haven't been finalised yet. Of course, this will come as a shock to many. This was a hip operation. The consequences of it, unfortunately, have been that Cardinal Pell has lost his life. And I express my condolences to all those who will be mourning today. 

JOURNALIST: On the safeguard mechanism, environmental groups have criticised the government for not putting limits on how much offsets businesses can buy. Does that give big emitters the ability to buy their way out of any change?

PRIME MINISTER: No. We've got the balance right. What it's about is reducing emissions. The safeguards mechanism that was established by the Abbott Government, we're making sure that it is an important part of our Powering the Nation Plan to reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030. And I'm very pleased that it has been welcomed by the Business Council of Australia, by the Australian Industry Group, by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It was important that it was announced just south of here in Gladstone at the Rio Tinto refinery. Companies are moving. Business is moving, businesses like Rio Tinto. I've been to their Gladstone facilities a number of times now. What they're looking at is how they continue their manufacturing processes while reducing emissions. That's the objective here: to maintain jobs, maintain the industry, but do it using clean energy. In order to do that, business needs certainty. What the announcement yesterday does is provide business with that certainty to invest, to be able to achieve good outcomes for our economy while we're delivering good outcomes for the environment.

JOURNALIST: Do the proposed safeguard mechanisms go far enough to rule out handouts to the fossil fuel industry?

PRIME MINISTER: What we're doing is making sure that we get the balance right. This is a program that we announced in December of 2021, that we took to the election last year and received a mandate for it. It has been widely supported by the business community because they want that certainty going forward. And the way that you achieve positive environmental outcomes is to bring the community with you, is to make sure that whilst reducing emissions and dealing with the challenge of climate change, you also enhance and create and seize the opportunities that are there with the shift to a clean energy economy by creating jobs at the same time. That is how you win the environmental debate. You won't win it by saying that we won't worry about jobs and industry and the economy. You'll win it by making sure that you deliver both. That's what my government's determined to do.

JOURNALIST: Yesterday, the Chinese ambassador raised World War Two and that Australia should be wary of a possible military attack from Japan in the future. Do you think that's a serious prospect?

PRIME MINISTER: We have a very positive relationship with Japan. I have visited Japan twice as Prime Minister and hosted Prime Minister Kishida at a very successful visit in Perth at the end of last year. I look forward to hosting Prime Minister Kishida here in some time in 2023 as part of the Quad leaders meeting. With China, we also want to see an improvement in relations. I believe that the ambassador's comments were positive and constructive about those issues. I met with President Xi last year. That was a positive meeting, it led to the Foreign Minister visiting Beijing on the 21st of December to commemorate the 50th anniversary of positive relations between Australia and the People's Republic of China. I look forward to continuing to build on that constructive dialogue, I want to cooperate with China where we can, we will disagree where we must, but will engage in our national interest.

JOURNALIST: The ambassador is urging Australia to drop World Trade Organisation challenges to progress the relationship. Will you consider that?

PRIME MINISTER: What we'll do is engage in our national interest. We will continue to do that. I've said with regard to our economic relationship that it is in Australia's interests to export the wonderful products that we have. Not the least, of course, is beef products here in Rocky. It is in Australia's interest. But I'll tell you what, it's in China's interest to receive those products as well because we have the best beef in the world. We have the best sheep products in the world. We have the best seafood in the world. And our wine, I reckon, is the best in the world as well. Again, a win-win is what we're looking for here. I want to see a positive development. The dialogue has been constructive. No one can argue that the the mood in the relationship has not been enhanced substantially since I've been Prime Minister. I've been busy making sure that that occurs. We'll continue to engage in a constructive way. But we do have differences with China, and we'll continue to stand up for our interests where we must.

JOURNALIST: On the Voice to Parliament referendum, questions have been raised about how misinformation will be combated in the lead up to the referendum, similar to what was seen during the same sex marriage plebiscite. Does the government have any plans to combat this misinformation?

PRIME MINISTER: We'll continue to put out the facts. There is a range of information available on the website. And it is disappointing that Jane Hume, who was sent out as the Coalition spokesperson, indicated that she hadn't read the report by Tom Calma and Marcia Langton that went to the Cabinet of the Morrison Government, not once but twice, forwarded by Ken Wyatt. This was a process that was established under the former government. There is a report that was co-chaired by Senator Patrick Dodson, and Julian Leeser, Julian Leeser is the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Now for all of the discussion about the Voice to Parliament, one thing is very, very clear: it isn't a third chamber. It doesn't have decision making-capacity, it is subservient to the Parliament, which is why the Parliament legislating for the details of the Voice is something that will occur. The fact that that's been questioned, even though people know that no one's arguing anything other than that, is I believe, unfortunate. But we'll continue to put out those facts. The fact is there are two essential elements here. One is to recognise Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people in our nation's birth certificate. That's the first thing. The second is that Indigenous people themselves, through the process, have said they want that done in a way that enshrines a Voice to Parliament in our Constitution, and a Voice to Parliament that would be simply that: a voice. Not a determining body, not a body that would fund programs, but a voice that would be consulted on issues that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which is how we will close the gap on education, on health, on justice issues, on all of these issues. Because we know that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are consulted then you get better outcomes. We've seen that with community health programs, with justice reinvestment programs, the Indigenous Rangers programs. That is how you move forward together. This is an opportunity to unite the nation. And I would just say that people should not put out disinformation. It will be combated where it can. But I would say that there's a need to be responsible, particularly public office holders, to be responsible and to not put up furphies in order to to confuse the situation go going forward.

JOURNALIST: You are visiting PNG tomorrow, second time lucky. What do you hope comes of the trip?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is a historic visit and I thank Prime Minister Marape for the invitation. Tomorrow I will be the first foreign leader to ever address the Parliament of Papua New Guinea. That is an extraordinary honour for Australia, and one that will be one of the great honours of my life. And tomorrow I'll be talking about our enhanced security arrangements. I'll be talking about how we can improve the economic relationship between Australia and PNG, how we can assist the economic development of Papua New Guinea, how we can also cooperate on areas like climate change. Part of the key to the entry point to engagement with our Pacific neighbours is taking climate change seriously. And I know that Prime Minister Marape is very concerned, like other leaders in the region, about those issues. I'll also be talking about our people to people relations. One of those is, I'm very keen to see a rugby league team participate in the NRL that would be based in Papua New Guinea and involve our Pacific Island friends. That's something that we've had discussions about, and I've discussed with the National Rugby League. There are no greater friends than Australia and Papua New Guinea, tomorrow's visit will cement that. And the following day I'll be in Wewak in order to make sure that we pay our respects to Michael Somare as well, and to engage with that region will be important.

JOURNALIST: Have you heard anything official about the end to China's ban on Australian coal?

PRIME MINISTER: I note that there has been speculation on this. What we're doing is dealing with these issues diplomatically. We'll continue to put our case that any impediments which are there towards trade should be removed in Australia's interest and in China's interest.

JOURNALIST: Are you willing to consider relaxing foreign investment laws?

PRIME MINISTER: We have our position. We will continue to put forward our position, which is that it is in both of our country's interests to remove the impediments which are there. And the fact that yesterday, again, the ambassador made positive soundings is a good sign. But we'll continue to engage diplomatically.

JOURNALIST: Just back to the Voice to Parliament: have conversations been had, or are there plans to have conversations, with social media platforms on how they can support a factual campaign?

PRIME MINISTER: I have not had those discussions. But social media platforms have a responsibility to make sure that misinformation isn't got out there. I noticed today, for example, on the way up here, they've removed various sites that were up containing fake images of myself superimposed on other people. That's the sort of thing that is going on on social media. Social media has a responsibility to do the right thing here.

JOURNALIST: Did you catch up with Premier Daniel Andrews on Saturday at a social gathering held by a wealthy businessman in Portsea? What did you guys discuss?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I have private meetings all the time. And I have private meetings which are private meetings.