Doorstop - Mount Isa

12 Aug 2023
Prime Minister
Mining; Cheng Lei; Matildas; Voice to Parliament

Sam Strohmayr, Glencore: Good morning, my name is Sam Strohmayr, I'm the head of Glencore, zinc and copper operations here in Australia. Glencore is one of Australia's largest producers of metals and minerals and our Mount Isa operations is one of Australia's most iconic zinc and copper operations. And over our almost 100 years of history, we've been mining and processing copper, silver, lead and zinc, metals that are part of everyday Australian life and certainly a part of our exciting future. To make a ton of copper or a ton of zinc takes a lot of effort. And none of that is possible without our hardworking, dedicated, and clever people. In Mount Isa, we have about 4,000 people who are very proud of all the work and effort they put in to make the metals for Queensland, for Australia and for the world. So, Prime Minister, we're very thankful for your visit today and your support. We're delighted that you've been able to take time out of your very busy schedule to come and visit here, visit us here at Mount Isa today. So thank you very much. And I'd like to head over to Bob, Bob Katter. Everybody knows Bob Katter, the iconic Federal Member for Kennedy, and a huge supporter of Mount Isa and our region.

Bob Katter MP, Member for Kennedy: I just want to put on public record my appreciation of the Prime Minister. In another role, he was responsible for the back road called the Hann Highway, major proponent, which cuts 2,000 kilometres off fruit and vegetables from North Queensland going to Victoria fruit and vegetable going from Victoria coming to North Queensland. And without Anthony's intervention, it would never have happened. And CopperString, I’ve got to be careful of what I say here, but quite frankly, the key role in the end belonged. Now we cannot survive here without CopperString, the four great vanadium mines that are about to open, can't open unless they get CopperString, commercially priced electricity. And they will also need and I've told the Prime Minister, the Hughenden Dam, to supply water to those mines they’re all along the Flinders River. So that will have to go ahead if those mines and we want to become the leading vanadium producing country on earth, probably are now but we're going to double that figure. So, we thank him very much for what he's already achieved. And we need his help on the Ugandan Dam scheme, which will also build Ugandan into a town of 20,000 people on the Emerald Griffith, that's what happened there. So thank you very much Prime Minister for what you’ve already done, two absolutely extraordinary achievements. But we need you again on this third one.
Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister: Well, thanks very much, Bob, and thanks for the invitation to come here to celebrate Mount Isa's 100 years. And nowhere better to celebrate, of course, then on last night at the rodeo which was a fantastic event with some 10,000 people coming, not just locals but from all over Queensland and indeed from all over Australia. The largest rodeo held in the Southern Hemisphere and it was fantastic to be there last night. It is always great to visit Kennedy. I have visited Hughenden a couple of times. I visited Kurri down the road here on at least five occasions. I have been to Mount Isa on half a dozen occasions with Bob Katter, always talking with this iconic Local Member here. He is so passionate about representing the North West of Queensland and making a difference, and he is someone who is really connected with his local community and I thank him for the invitation. I also thank Sam and Glencore for showing us around here this morning. This is a vital operation, this zinc and copper mine are producing mine are producing other products as well, is making an enormous difference, employing 4,000 people directly here, making sure that the sort of products that we need into the future. In this North West Queensland corridor, between here, indeed across to the Northern Territory border, and across to Townsville, has an abundance of zinc, of copper, of vanadium, of the sort of products that will drive our economy in this century. And that's why Mount Isa has such a strong future. And it’s been terrific to talk to the workers and management here in Mount Isa. This is an iconic institution here. But what we see here behind all of infrastructure is mining, is jobs and economic activity. What you don't see here, directly, but which is indirectly being built here is hospitals, is schools, is support for people throughout Australia because of its contribution to our national economy as well as to the Queensland economy. And that is why is has been such a pleasure and privilege to be here. The mining industry is vital for our country. As we move to a clean energy future, the composition of the mining industry will change but it’s importance won’t. What will see is products like copper increase in value because of what is happening in the car industry. What is an electric vehicle? An electric vehicle is something that is basically copper together with other minerals that we have, nickel and cobalt. When it comes to lithium for batteries, all of the things that Australia has. I'm determined to have a future made in Australia and that's something that is a real focus of my Government. Just this week we announced the National Reconstruction Fund Board. That is a $15 billion commitment to making things here. Looking at the products that we dig out of the ground here and thinking about how can we value-add, how can we make sure that Australia maximises the opportunity which is here? And mines such as this one are a great example of the ingenuity of Australian research and science and engineering and capacity. I have great faith and I'm incredibly optimistic about Australia's future. And one of the things we need to do, though, is to make sure that that growth occurs in the regions, so that we take pressure off our capital cities. I've spoken with Bob today about Mount Isa and some of its needs and what it requires going forward and I look forward to working with him, as well as with the private sector. The Mayor, we were with last night, as well as the Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk. And it has been fantastic that I have been joined during these two days by Senator Anthony Chisholm, who does such a fantastic job representing Queensland, particularly in Queensland's regions. And I want to thank Anthony who is responsible, particularly in Queensland, for looking at social infrastructure and education, but also regional development here in Queensland, and working as part of my Government to make a difference. Happy to take questions.

Journalist: Prime Minister, how you do you ensure the future of a town like Mount Isa when the cost of living is so high out here?

Prime Minister: What we need to do is to look at ways in which we reduce cost of living, and we are certainly doing that. Last night at the rodeo, I had two people come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for pursuing cheaper medicines. That will make a difference to me and my family.’ And the fact that the Coalition and One Nation's attempt to stymie cheaper medicines failed in the Senate on Thursday is good news. Halving the costs of medicines on top of the reduction in cost for medicine that we introduced on January 1. Here for the workforce, cheaper child care,1.2 million families, including ones in this region, will make a difference. We have worked with the Queensland Government to deal with the energy price spike that occurred as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and that is making an enormous difference, particularly for low-income earners and people who are social security recipients. Our Energy Price Relief Plan, $3 billion to make a difference. Fee-free TAFE here is an enormous difference. At a facility like this, what we need to do is to train young Australians or retrain people because of the changing nature of the workforce into new jobs. Fee-free TAFE, 180,000 places this year, 300,000 beginning next year. All of these changes are aimed at cost of living. Now, we need to also address issues such as housing. We have our Housing Australia Future Fund stuck in the Senate. We want to get that through. We want to produce more social and affordable housing here, but we also want more private sector investment in housing so we reduce dependence on the fly-in fly-out workforce in towns and cities like this. The quality of life of families is much better if people live where they work. And we know that that is the case. That is something that Bob Katter is really passionate about and he has raised with me today and we will take back to our Housing Minister, Julie Collins, as well, as a direct result of this visit.

Journalist: Prime Minister, the letter that Cheng Lei issued to the Australian people talks about how she hasn't seen a tree in three years, that her bedding is taken out once a year, in the sun, to air. Are you concerned for her welfare?

Prime Minister: I certainly am, and Cheng Lei should be released. This is three years too long. We have made those representations, we will continue to make those representations, as we do constantly stand up for the rights of Australian citizens, and Cheng Lei is an Australian citizen. She is someone who does not deserve this treatment, and she is someone who should be released. We have made that point at the highest levels. We will continue to make that point whenever Australia meets with China. And it is important that her human rights, as an Australian citizen, be respected.

Journalist: How often do government officials have contact with her?

Prime Minister: We have, since we've come into office, there has been increased contact with Cheng Lei, hence the reason why you could read her letter to the Australian people. It is a very passionate plea to be reunited with her children and her family.

Journalist: Can you confirm if your Government will honour the $180 million in federal funding for the Hughenden Irrigation Scheme that the Morrison Government promised?

Prime Minister: Yeah, we have now received the business case and that is being assessed by our Water Minister, Tanya Plibersek, and that is being assessed in a proper way. We always want to make sure that there are business cases for projects that require significant investment. I have visited Hughenden on a couple of occasions. I've been there to see the Kidston Project that is progressing. I've been to see Big Kennedy and Little Kennedy. I've spoken with the Mayor there on a number of occasions, most recently at the Australian Council of Local Government meeting that we re-constituted and we will continue to work through that issue with the proponents.

Journalist: You have talked about your desire to have a public holiday if the Matildas win, but small business says it is a bad idea and it will cost them. Do agree with their concerns?

Prime Minister: Well, I do note that there were concerns expressed when we had the public holiday for the sad death of Queen Elizabeth II, and some said that that was something that would cause economic disruption. What that did, of course, was lead to increased economic activity in a whole lot of businesses, particularly small businesses, and it actually benefited a whole range of those businesses. Look, these decisions that are for state and territory governments, but the Matildas are inspiring an entire nation, is what it happening, and I certainly wish the Matildas all the best this afternoon at five o’clock at Suncorp. The whole of Australia will be watching the Matildas and cheering them on. And what we are seeing here is something that isn't just good for the health of young Australians to encourage them to play in a physical sense, which, of course, it is. The inspiration that the Matildas are providing, particularly to young girls, but also to young boys, the will encourage them to play team sport. Team sport is good, you learn how to win, you learn how to lose, you learn how to cooperate with your teammates. You learn something else as well, that the team is more important than any individual. And I think we've seen that. Sam Kerr was our flag-bearer at the Coronation. She is a great Australian, and I certainly hope that she gets a whole lot of game time at five o’clock. But for people who said that the Matildas couldn't win without Sam Kerr, quite clearly that has not been the case, and the two goals that they scored in the round of sixteen were just extraordinary, and if we see two goals like that at five o’clock, I'm sure we will be talking about the Matildas playing in the semi-final, but I wish them well at five o’clock.

Journalist: Peter Dutton says the Coalition Government would fight for Constitutional recognition for Indigenous people. Does his position damage the prospects of the referendum this year?

Prime Minister: Well, Peter Dutton was part of a government for nine years. We've had, when it comes to the Constitutional referendum that will take place in the last quarter of this year. This isn't something that has come in a vacuum. This is something that came after a long process of consultation. It begun under John Howard, progressed under Julia Gillard, then Tony Abbott established a Referendum Advisory Group, that he established when he became Prime Minister. It is the process that led to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, that one-page document agreed to in the First Nations Constitutional Convention, held in 2017. You then had a report established after a Parliamentary Committee, chaired by Julian Leeser and by Patrick Dodson. A Committee established by the Government under Tom Calma and Marcia Langton which produced a report that went to the Morrison Government not once but twice. Scott Morrison, before the 2019, said that there would be advance. I was there at the Garma Festival in 2019 when Ken Wyatt spoke about a Referendum taking place. Nothing happened. Nothing happened. The idea that Peter Dutton is going to advance this issue after he presided over a process in which he pretends that this is just arisen in recent times is quite frankly, is disingenuous as some of the questions that have been asked in the Parliament over the last two weeks. I say this, there is an opportunity to get Constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people this year, and if not now, when? If not now, when? The idea that having done absolutely nothing to advance actually having a Referendum and then after indicating that they support Constitutional recognition and they will legislate for the Voice, they are then running a scare campaign about the Voice. The contradictions are there for all to see. And I think it is really unfortunate because this is a lost opportunity. I support the gracious request of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be recognised in the Constitution in the form in which they've asked. This is simply an advisory body that can do good and can do no harm, one, their power is the power of its ideas. This will give respect to Indigenous Australians. It will lift up all Australians, make us feel better about ourselves when you acknowledge the fullness and richness of your history. And it will also be recognised by the world, will be watching what happens as well. It will be a sign that we are a confident, mature nation going forward. I note as well, and I congratulate Mark Speakman, the Leader of the Coalition in New South Wales, the Opposition Leader, for his very clear statements that he will be voting ‘Yes’ and supporting ‘Yes’ in the Referendum campaign, following on from Dominic Perrottet's support for a ‘Yes’ vote in this Referendum campaign as well. There were people during the Republic Referendum who said, ‘Oh, I don't particularly like this model. I will wait for the next vote.’ That was last century. It is 2023, we are still waiting and there is no vote on the horizon. I say to Australians, this is an opportunity. Don't miss it. There are people including the Premier of Tasmania, Jeremy Rockliff, including now the Opposition Leader in New South Wales, Mark Speakman, including all of the Labor Party Premiers and leaders throughout the nation. But importantly, as well, business leaders, the Business Council of Australia, the union movement, sporting codes, including the Football Federation, the AFL, the National Rugby League. People like to name one great North Queenslander, the great Johnathan Thurston, is there in the ‘Yes’ pamphlet explaining why for him this is really important going forward. You have every single major faith group in this country calling for a ‘Yes’ vote, calling for reconciliation. It is not too late for Peter Dutton to say, ‘I'm going to try and argue against the Prime Minister on health or education or some other issue.’ Don't use this issue to cause division. Don't use this issue. It is something that I have pleaded with him on. I’ve put the case very strongly. And I thought there was hope when he appointed Julian Leeser as the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians and the Shadow Attorney-General, given Julian's position on the record of more than a decade. And yet that, of course, ended up with Julian Leeser going to the backbench in order to fulfil the principled position that he has. I say to Australians, have a look at what the vote is about. Have a look at what the vote is about. It's just about recognition, and then listening to Indigenous Australians so that we get better results. Thanks very much.