Doorstop interview, Sydney

27 Jun 2022
Prime Minister
Prime Minister’s visit to Europe; NATO Summit; Ukraine; staffing allocation; Roe vs Wade.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what's your main aim at the Summit? And how much stake do we have in this in terms of how it relates to security threats back home?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is absolutely critical, which is why NATO have invited Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea to the NATO Summit. We live in an uncertain world. And the Russian invasion of Ukraine has upset the norms that we regarded, that the rule of law would be maintained, that sovereign nations' borders would be respected and that we wouldn't see the sort of brutal invasion that we've seen from Russia in Ukraine. The people of Ukraine are doing the democratic world an enormous service. But it's important that democratic nations stand with Ukraine. And that's the context of this NATO Summit. It's also the case that Russia and China, their arrangements of closeness that has occurred in recent times, means that it's also very important for our region. And so, I look forward to attending the NATO Summit and contributing. I also look forward to the bilaterals with Prime Minister Johnson, President Biden, with other leaders of NATO countries over the coming days.

JOURNALIST: Is there any update on whether you'll go to Ukraine?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're taking security advice. And we'll make announcements at the appropriate time. We want to make sure that it is safe to do so and that we're not placing Australian service personnel at risk by undertaking such a journey. It certainly is appreciated the fact that President Zelenskyy has made this invitation to Australia. And we regard it as a good thing if it's able to be undertaken.

JOURNALIST: Crossbenchers are angry over the cutting of staff numbers, some are even threatening to withhold their votes. Did this backfire?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we need to understand here is that the circumstances are very new. What's happened since 2017 is that the one staff member got increased to three and then got increased in 2019 to four. Now, Labor wasn't a part of those arrangements and aren't aware of what their transaction details were. And indeed, I think most members of Parliament were surprised, and certainly myself, to know that you could have two members of Parliament with electorates next door to each other, one of whom had double the staff with eight as a Member of Parliament with a Government or Opposition backbencher with just four members of Parliament. So, that's one issue is one of fairness and equity. We have one vote, one value in this country. And it shouldn't be the case that if you live in an electorate that's not served by a major party, you simply don't have the same level of support in an electorate office. And the statements that have been made, saying that electorate officers shouldn't do parliamentary work, ignores the fact that for every Member of Parliament, their electorate offices do parliamentary work, particularly for backbenchers. That's how Josh Burns' staff will do, that how other members of Parliament will act. Indeed, I as Leader of the Opposition had my electorate staff, one of them travelling to Parliament every time Parliament sat in order to undertake those duties. And it's also the case that assistant ministers have two staff. The idea that a crossbench backbencher without ministerial responsibilities such as Andrew Leigh with responsibility for competition policy and charities should have half the number of additional staff as a crossbench member, I don't think is sustainable. But crossbench members, we've been conscious that they do need extra support. And that's why we've upped the increase so that they will receive an extra staff member in addition to their entitlement, and that staff member will be able to travel right around the country with their Member of Parliament and will be paid an additional salary as well. But it is the case that public servants have been cut in Centrelink and right around the country. The only place there's been an increase has been in crossbench staff. So, the Federal Government as well, I as Prime Minister have cut $1.5 million from the Government Members' Budget that was allocated by the former Government to its staff members for additional salaries. So, sacrifices have been made across the board. I do say that the public comments from some of the crossbench members have not been echoed by the ones that I've spoken to one-on-one who want to be constructive, as I do with crossbench members. And we've had discussions in a courteous way, based upon their needs. I will continue to do so.

JOURNALIST: Any thoughts on the US abortion ruling?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Roe versus Wade was something that was in place for many decades. And the concern that is there from women, I think, globally, is that this is a setback for women's health, and for the issue of women's safety as well. And this is a decision which goes to the heart of a woman's right to control her own body. And these are issues which aren't the subject of partisan political debate in Australia. And that's a good thing. It's good here that we don't deal with it in the same way that has seen the division in the United States. Thank you very much.