Doorstop Interview - Townsville

14 Jan 2023
Townsville, Queensland
Prime Minister
Townsville renewable hydrogen hub; floods across Australia; visit to Townsville; energy; renewable energy; emissions reduction of 43 per cent by 2030; Australia's relationship with China; visit to PNG; Premier Dominic Perrottet; aid to Pacific neighbours;

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, thanks very much for joining us. And it's fantastic to be back here in Townsville for this important announcement. Firstly, given I am in Townsville, can I give a shout-out to the men and women of the Fifth Aviation Regiment, who are currently in Fitzroy Crossing, along with their five helicopters? I visited Fitzroy Crossing at the beginning of this week with the Premier, Mark McGowan. They're doing it really, really tough. And I think it is important to note the work that the Australian Defence Force personnel play, including those who are based here in Townsville, in helping Australians in their time of need. And these remote communities that are isolated, the only way you can get food and supplies in in an effective way at the moment is by chopper or by very light aircraft. And the assistance of the Australian Defence Force personnel is once again showing that, at the worst of times, we see the best of the Australian character. At the same time, I know that there are flood warnings here in North Queensland as well. And I do want to encourage people to follow the advice of the authorities. Don't risk it driving through floodwaters if they're present. And make sure that you stay safe. Because that's the most important thing.

Can I say that it is such a pleasure to be here at Ark Energy and to be briefed this morning about the important work that is taking place here? A creator, the major employer from the private sector here in Townsville, but set to be even bigger in the future with the exciting developments that will see thousands of jobs in North Queensland. Jobs which are well-paid. Jobs which are secure. Jobs with that will not just feed families but prosper into the future. That's why I'm excited about Australia’s future. A future that is based on cheaper, cleaner energy. Driving advanced manufacturing. Driving new innovation and new industries through our National Reconstruction Fund. And this is a practical example right here. And I want to very much thank all those who are engaged with it.

Today, I'm launching a $70 million investment in a hydrogen hub in Townsville. Double because it will require matching funding from the private sector. So, up to $140 million. And we know that a lot of work's being done already by the consortium here that puts it in a very strong position going forward. This is part of a half a billion dollar program that we're investing in hydrogen facilities nationwide. This is about the jobs of today as well as the jobs of the future. Right here in Townsville, as you drive into this facility, you see over a million solar panels. It is just an example of where the future is here right now. The question is – can Australia seize the opportunities that are there for growth in the future?

And it's terrific today that I'm joined by Scott and Aaron from the Palaszczuk Government and by my friend the Mayor here as well, showing that the three levels of government here in Queensland are not just working together, but we're working with the private sector as well, to make sure that we drive Queensland's future. When you look at our future economy and what it will look like, Queensland is in the best position of any state. Because it's the most regional of states. Because when you look at where the best solar resources are and the best wind resources, and the skilled workforce as well which is there, it has an enormous opportunity to grow into the future. And that's why I'm very excited.

Here at Ark, the Commonwealth has already provided funding to investigate swapping diesel with hydrogen fuel cells on their long-haul trucks. That process is going ahead right now. And that's just a part of the transformation. The former Government was stuck in the absurd position of saying that electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles couldn't tow your trailer and all this nonsense. The truth is that the future, in terms of where all the research is going in the economies of the world, whether it be the advanced economies in Korea and North-East Asia, or whether it be Europe or the United States, this is where it is all headed. And this is a part of the commitment that we've made here to a reduction in emissions of 43 per cent by 2030. The company here has a target of a reduction of almost double that by 2030, and moving towards zero by 2040. The private sector has been ahead of the Commonwealth Government for the last decade. What's happening now is that the Commonwealth is catching up. We're catching up and providing support through programs like this, as well as our support through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ARENA that were created the last time we were in government. And in spite of the Coalition's best attempts to abolish those funds, they, because of Labor's commitment, ensured that they continued into the future. And thank goodness we did. Because that is what is making a difference here today.

This announcement today is about jobs. It's about economic growth here in North Queensland. It's about reducing our emissions. This is positive for jobs. Positive for reducing emissions. And positive for the economy of North Queensland. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Just on this announcement of the hydrogen hub, what role does Townsville have to play compared to regions in Queensland like Gladstone?

PRIME MINISTER: Gladstone also is well-positioned. But here in Townsville, what you have is a whole lot of work has already taken place. This is, in my view, a very advanced program here that we have here in Townsville. You have private-sector companies who are already cooperating through a consortium, making sure they've worked with the local council here. They're working with the State Government. And now they're working with the Federal Government. And I see this as being a real prospect. But the reason why we're doing hydrogen hubs around Australia is that the growth and potential of this industry isn't a niche industry. This is something that will make an enormous difference to Australia's economy, not just in terms of domestic production and consumption using hydrogen to drive the advanced manufacturing facilities. Here, of course, this is a zinc refinery, one of the biggest in the world. And we have, as well, around Queensland we have aluminium refineries, we have other production facilities in manufacturing that are based upon high-intensive energy usage. You can either pretend that the world isn't changing, pretend that we're not going to have carbon barriers and tariffs placed by Europe, by the United States, and other advanced economies, and see those industries become non-competitive. Or, you can get on the front foot, you can change those industries, and their carbon footprint, so that they become not just industries that can survive, but industries that can thrive. Because of the natural advantages that we have, particularly here in Queensland. So, I am so excited by the emergence of this industry. I was the Environment spokesperson some time ago when I used to come to Townsville as the Infrastructure Minister. I made announcements and began a whole lot of work on the Port Road, on the Townsville Ring Road, on measures in which we increased productivity here in Townsville. What we're doing now, more than a decade later, is making announcements on the productivity-enhancing development of the future. And it is this announcement that we're making today as just one example of that.

JOURNALIST: Have you had confirmation if China has lifted bans on Australian coal? If it does happen, what does that mean for the economy here in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we want to see is that any impediments that are there for trade between our two nations - China is our major trading partner, and we've worked to change the relationship. I had a positive meeting with President Xi at the end of last year. And Senator Wong's visit as Foreign Minister to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Australia-PRC relations on December 21 was a positive development. What I've said very clearly is that I want to cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must, but engage in Australia's national interest. It is in Australia's interest to be able to export without any impediments to China. But it's also in China's interests to receive those exports from Australia. And we'll continue to act diplomatically, as we have since the change of government in May. And we believe that it is in both our countries' interests to continue to develop more positive relations.

JOURNALIST: What's your response to the New South Wales Premier's admission that he wore a Nazi uniform to his 21st birthday and do you think it is tenable for him to remain as Premier of New South Wales?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's a matter for him. And I've been in Papua New Guinea, but obviously I have observed his statements. That's a matter for him, and then for others who'll make judgements based upon the Premier's explanation.

JOURNALIST: On your trip to PNG, the country has focused on economic development. Are changes to Australia's aid program needed to help facilitate that?

PRIME MINISTER: Australia's aid program – and I saw it in areas like the medical facility that we invested substantial amounts of aid in at the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby – what I saw there, and met the face of our Australian aid program, was young women becoming doctors, making a difference to the healthcare in Papua New Guinea. And one of the lessons of the pandemic is that we might be an island continent, but no island continent is immune from global health issues. Which is why Australia has a national interest, as well as one of helping our friends and neighbours, in making sure that healthcare is brought up to the best possible position in places like Papua New Guinea, which is why we have an interest in building better education care as well. We'll always look for our aid making the best positive contribution that it can. But Australia has a national interest in having an international aid program that also lifts the living standards of people in our region. That is good humanitarian policy, but it's also good for Australia's national interest.

JOURNALIST: I've got a question about the Fiji NRL team idea. It was spoken about in Parliament. Were you able to get much detail or anything secured on it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they are very enthusiastic, let me say. Prime Minister Marape and I watched one of the State of Origin games from the Pacific Island Forum in Fiji, where Australia hosted our friends, Pacific Island leaders. They wore, you'll be pleased to know, most of them wore Queensland jumpers rather than New South Wales jumpers for that State of Origin game. But, as Prime Minister Marape, my friend, has said, Papua New Guinea stops for three nights every year. They are State of Origin I, II, and III. And there is no country in the world, I know people in Queensland and New South Wales are passionate about their rugby league, but let me tell you this, that the equivalent is the passion that is felt here in Australia for badminton compared with the passion that PNG people hold for rugby league. When you go around remote communities, I saw Broncos jumpers, Cowboys jumpers, I saw South Sydney jumpers, and I saw State of Origin gear. They are very passionate about their rugby league. Now, when we look at ways in which we can engage, if you look at the National Rugby League competition and you look at the important rise of countries now - the World Cup that was held, that Australia won, was a bit more real than it used to be. Samoa making the final. PNG has, of course, a population that is larger than the rest of the Pacific combined. And, of course, we have had great, and still have people like Justin Olam and others are heroes. Alex Johnson is the fullback for PNG, of course, and he will become the NRL's leading try-scorer of all time at some stage in the coming years, I'm very confident. But they are passionate about it. I have had discussions with the National Rugby League, and I know that Andrew Abdo and Peter V'landys and others have been positive in the discussions that I've had with them. When the Mackay Cutters were going to not be able to play in a game in Port Moresby, we provided some support and assistance there in terms of security guarantees that ensured that that issue that was there with the QRL was dealt with. That game was a sell-out in Port Moresby. They are very passionate. And I think it would be a very good thing as well. It'd be good for rugby league. There is enormous untapped talent there in PNG that could be a part of the rugby league nursery in our region. And I'm sure that Pasifika players would be attracted towards playing games in Port Moresby, but also around the region as well. Rugby league is something that is a passion in our part of the world. And I want to encourage engagement in it.

JOURNALIST: Medicare bulk-billing rebates have dropped to their lowest rates in a decade. Is the system broken?

PRIME MINISTER: What we inherited, of course, was $1 trillion of debt from the former Government. We also inherited a Medicare system where the Coalition have always undermined some of the ways in which it's been delivered. They've been reluctantly dragged towards not committing as they have in the past, of course, to abolishing Medicare, like they abolished Medibank when it was established 50 years ago, and it took the Hawke Government to re-establish Medicare. We are putting $750 million into the primary healthcare system over just three years. We're working with the AMA and the Royal College to make sure that money is spent in the most effective way. Clearly, we need to look at the interaction between primary healthcare and our hospital system to make sure that people who shouldn't be in emergency departments can get the care that they need. That's why we've committed to, on top of that $750 million, we've committed to Urgent Care clinics as well. And we're working with state and territory governments to deliver that.

JOURNALIST: Both the Coalition and the Greens are raising concerns about your planned changes to the safeguard mechanism. How willing are you to substantially alter those plans in order to get legislation through the Senate?

PRIME MINISTER: Sounds to me like we've got the balance right. When you have some people saying it's too hard and some people saying it's too soft. We have got the balance right. We want to make sure that we have a reduction in emissions, that we work with industry and we work with businesses. That's what we're doing here today at this zinc refinery. We're working with the private sector. Because they know that they want to reduce their emissions. We want to assist them to reduce their emissions. And that's what safeguard mechanism is about.

JOURNALIST: Just on the Urgent Care clinics, some of those 50 proposed sites have been locked in. What's the reason for the hold-up and when can we see some movement on those sites?

PRIME MINISTER: We're getting it done. There's no hold-up. We've been in Government for just seven months. If you have a look at what we have done on the ground in just seven months across health reform, education, industrial relations, foreign affairs, we've re-established our international relations again with our region and the world. We were in a position where we were just in the naughty corner, unable to engage in the region. You can't engage in our region without being concerned about climate change and taking action. That's what we've done.

And on healthcare as well, we're getting on with the job. We've already, of course, we increased the timing for where the additional hospital funding came in to the end of the year. We're making a difference with pharmaceuticals where we promised to take action on cost of living. From January 1, the cost of medicines reduced from $42.50 a maximum charge to $30. The first decrease in 75 years that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme has been in place. It took a Labor Government to deliver the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. And it's taken a Labor Government to reduce the costs of it. These are all health issues that we're dealing with. You can't fix 10 years of a Government that just sort of wandered around, fought each other, knocked off prime ministers every term, and engaged in the sort of rabble that they became towards the end of the Government and fix all that overnight. What we are doing is working constructively. And at the National Cabinet meetings as well, you've had constructive engagement.

JOURNALIST: Would you consider limiting the number of carbon credits that can be used by companies, as suggested by conservation groups and the Greens?

PRIME MINISTER: We've got the balance right. And I'd say to those people in the Parliament that they should listen to what industry are saying, listen to what economists are saying as well. What you need to do is to provide a pathway for lowering emissions. That's what our program of Powering Australia is doing. That's what our Rewiring the Nation program is doing. That's what our hydrogen hubs are doing as well. Not disrupting the system so that it loses support because you have disruption and industry not being able to reduce their emissions over the shortest time possible. We want to work with industry to do that. We've got the balance right, which is why both the Coalition and the minor parties should support our program when it goes to the House of Representatives and the Senate. Thanks very much.