Doorstop at Pacific Island Forum

Transcript
09 Sep 2016
Pohnpei, Micronesia
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

Good afternoon.

As you can see, we are here in Pohnpei committed to the security, the stability, the prosperity of the Pacific. Australia has always been a strong and committed partner for this region. All of the countries here, we work with closely all the time. That's why I'm here with the Senator, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, building those strong personal relationships that underpin that very, very long commitment of partnership.

We have had discussions about challenges of climate change. As you’ve seen I have made an announcement about additional support there to build resilience in the region. We've had discussions about illegal fishing and the need for nations of this region to be able to stop it. Of course, that's where the provision of the patrol boats, particularly the new Pacific Patrol Boats are so important. We are also providing additional support in terms of aerial surveillance, so that the illegal fishers can be identified. Of course, in terms of building the prosperity of the region and its economic resilience, the ability for Pacific Islanders to work in Australia, the seasonal labour program that we have that's been uncapped, this is particularly important to enable them to get that experience in Australia and, of course, send remittances back here.

So right across the board, we're providing considerable support but it is one of real partnership. It's one that respects the independence and the sovereignty of the nations of the Pacific but recognises that those people-to-people links are the most important ones and, at our level, at the ministerial level, it's important that we're here too, making friends - catching up with old friends, making new ones and building that strong relationship that's so important for our prosperity and the prosperity of our region, the prosperity of our neighbourhood.

JOURNALIST:

You mentioned a substantial amount of funds to help with climate change mitigation and disaster relief. Can you give us an idea as to a dollar amount on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

We announced its $300 million over the next four years, $80 million of which is additional funding. $75 million of it goes specifically to disaster relief. It goes across a very wide range of projects. Connie could give some more examples. Many of these nations are very small. You know, you go from Papua New Guinea with nearly 8 million people to Tuvalu with 11,000 and there are smaller states than that – Newey has even less.

So it’s a very wide range. It goes from engineering works to protect against inundations and cyclones, to early warning systems. Water is a very big issue here particularly on the atolls and so providing additional rainwater catchment tank systems in other words, is also a very important part of it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister did someone argue here that what Australia should do is cut deeper into its own greenhouse gas emissions? That’s certainly been argued before.

PRIME MINISTER:

There is no doubt the world needs to significantly reduce its global emissions. The good thing for now, is that at least we have a global agreement. The mitigation - if you think about the climate challenge in two parts, there are many facets to it but let's look at two. In terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, everyone has to play their part and that has to be done globally, it has to be a global effort. The good thing is we do have a global agreement. Australia has a commitment, as you know, which we are sticking to, which we'll meet. I imagine those commitments will be increased over time. If they are, as part of the global community, we will meet them. So that's one side.

On the other side, the adaptation and resilience is very much a local issue. You've got to be able to make sure that a particular island, a particular location, a particular city is protected against the consequences of more storms, higher sea levels and higher temperatures and so forth.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that going nuclear was the best option to go emissions-free. Do you agree with his assessment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven't seen what Mr Abbott said but the reality is that if you want to address climate change and the need to reduce emissions, you need to have an all-of-the-above strategy. There are many means of doing this. Australia has access to abundant fossil fuel resources including the great transitional fuel and gas. It also has access, of course, to some of the cleanest coal in the world. It also has access to abundant renewable resources of wind and solar and all of the technologies associated with making renewable energies more effective are there now and are developing all the time, particularly battery storage. You'd know from your own state of South Australia how critical, what a game-changer storage will become.

All of these things are on the table and nuclear energy has always been something that is available to Australia but it is enormously expensive – a very, very big cost and given all of the other opportunities available to Australia, while I don't have any ideological or philosophical objection to nuclear power - it does provide by recollection about 20 per cent of the world's electricity - it is going to be a very hard case to make that it's economically viable in Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister one of the issues facing the forum is its criteria for membership, a discussion this week about whether French Polynesia and New Caledonia should become full members. What does Australia think about expanding to include the French territories as full members of the forum?

PRIME MINISTER:

We will certainly be discussing that tomorrow with the other leaders in the leaders' retreat.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister was there a money figure put forward to you this morning or previously leading up to the forum as to how much these islands are saying they need to properly combat climate change?

PRIME MINISTER:

A specific figure has not been put to me prior to this forum but the amount that we have committed is a very substantial commitment. Australia is the largest single aid donor in the Pacific but, of course, there are many other countries that contribute too and we encourage them to do so.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minster, can I ask a non-PIF question? You are coming up to the anniversary, your wedding anniversary, what would you say is your greatest achievement since being Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Jobs and growth - 3.3 per cent economic growth, what about that? Continued strong growth in jobs. A continued strong transition from a mining construction boom to one that is more diverse. That is the most tangible outcome over the last year. That's what Australians can look at, stronger economic growth despite the downturn in the mining construction boom.

Many economists would have said Australia would have had a hard landing. There weren't many people projecting growth at these levels. Since I became Prime Minister, I have set out with a clear economic plan. I began with an Innovation and Science Agenda, the first one of that kind set out by an Australian government. That was a big confidence boost. We went on to legislate to ensure that multinationals pay their tax. Again, very important piece of legislation. The Labor Party voted against it, by the way. We then went on to demonstrate how we could turn the upgrade in our defence capabilities that we needed - our Defence White Paper - turn that into a rejuvenation of Australian industry. The Defence Industry Plan is one that is filled with a commitment to innovation and cutting-edge industries. Again, building confidence, building jobs, supporting the economy. Then, of course, you saw in the budget the reforms in superannuation, the reforms to business tax. These are all new measures that have been critically important in building that confidence. On the social level, we've got the NDIS rolling out to the full extent. Everyone's signed up now. We've got an innovative, really innovative and substantially increased spending on mental health. We also have announced- it was one of my first announcements - new measures to grapple with the scourge of domestic violence.

Right across the board - it's a long list of achievements. Reforming the voting system in the Senate has been a very important measure. But in the 12 months, or nearly 12 months since I have been PM, it has been consistent steps of reform, all focused on the goal that I set out of ensuring that we make a successful transition from an economy fired up by mining construction boom to one that is more diverse. You don't have to take my word for it. The statistics tell you the story.

Strong jobs growth. Strong economic growth. Stronger than any of the countries in the G7. Growth that would be the envy of almost any of the developed countries around the table at the G20.

JOURNALIST:

Casting further back into your future, you were a former head of the Republic movement – do you think James Packer donating $250,000 to that movement will give it a bit of momentum? Is now the time to start pushing for a 2020 referendum?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m sure all donations to the Republican movement will be gratefully received. I have made a few myself over the years so I'm familiar with that great cause. Of course, I led the campaign for the 'Yes' vote in the referendum.

I think we will know when the time is right. The critical thing with the Republic debate is it's got to be one that is driven by strong popular support. That's why it is really up to the ARM to drive that agenda. Certainly I am an avowed Republican. I'm one of the founders of the Australian Republican Movement and strong supporter of it but it has to have that support so that people sense that it is on the front burner of the political stove, so that people feel it is something we need to address right now.

Any other questions?

JOURNALIST:

On the Northern Territory Royal Commission, Tony Abbott says the Government shouldn't have responded in panic to a TV program – is that a fair comment?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. The Royal Commission is a very appropriate response to what appeared to be a systemic failure in the justice system in the Northern Territory. So appropriate was the response that the principal critique of it that's been made, has been that it should have applied to all of Australia. But there were special circumstances in the Northern Territory that made it appropriate for the inquiry to be focused on the Northern Territory alone, and in particular, because we want to get the inquiry conducted and held and report within a reasonable time frame. If you expand the time frame or the terms of reference of these inquiries, again and again and again, you end up with an inquiry that can become unmanageable, it can go on for many years.

There clearly has been a shocking failure in the Territory and that is why the Territory Government, both before the election and after the election, strongly supports the inquiry.

JOURNALIST:

May I just ask one more question?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, okay.

JOURNALIST:

Thank you. Just harping back to your bilateral with Singapore a few days ago. I am wondering, did you bring up the detention of Australian citizens of [inaudible] during that bilateral? He is currently being held under the Internal Securities Act there.

PRIME MINISTER:

That particular case was not discussed in the bilateral but there has been considerable communication and discussion between our two governments in respect of it.

Thanks very much.

[ENDS]