Doorstop - Rockhampton, QLD

04 May 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: It's great to be here at Beef Week, something I've been looking forward to doing for many years. Michelle has invited me up here, both as Treasurer and now, of course, as Prime Minister. 

It's great to be here just to simply say thank you to the people of the beef and cattle industry across Australia for the tremendous job they have done for Australia, particularly over the last 18 months. 

During the course of COVID, it has been our agriculture sectors, our resource sectors, our primary industries in this country that have done so much of the heavy lifting economically for our country and they've been going through hard times as well before the pandemic. I've met people here that I've met after floods, through droughts and to see them here with more of a smile on their face than usual. It is a very welcome sight, and for the industry to be celebrating its own success and its perseverance, I think is a tremendous thing. And it's good to be able to say thank you to them for the great job that they're doing. But the best way that we can say thank you and to support the industry, as we've supported Beef Week here, is to be doing the things on policy that supports their success. It's been great to see here at Beef Week how this sector is taking such strong steps forward whether it comes to technology, whether it comes to how they manage their pastures, how they're contributing to the broader emissions reduction task, how they're contributing to jobs, how they're contributing to the success of our exports. But that performance of the livestock industry, just like with the grains industry, depends very much on what we do as a Federal Government, as a Commonwealth Government to protect the bio-security of this country. Border security has many elements to it, and you've heard me speak about border security on many occasions over a long period of time. But a key aspect of border security, how we keep our borders secure is to protect our livestock industry and how we protect our grains industry across Australia. $66 billion industry all depends on how well we keep the border secure from pests and from disease. There's some 2.5 million containers that came through this country last year, 19,000 commercial vessels, 60 million mail items that come through. Some 35,000 pests and diseases detections put in place by our border agencies and our quarantine, that's a fantastic job. But the risks continue to be out there and they're ever present.

And that's why today, we're announcing $371 million in additional investment in Australia's ring of steel on our border security for our agriculture industry. I'm going to ask Minister Littleproud to take you through the details of that, but these are very practical measures. They come on top of the significant investments that we put in last year's budget in this same area and that backs in also significant freight assistance that we've been putting into the industry, over $600 million to ensure that products continue to get to market from our world class producers. That $371 million covers things like new 3D x-rays and screening, as David says, boots on the ground and paws on the ground when it comes to detection dogs and others, which are keeping a secure agricultural industries. It is also involving the partnership between the states and territories in the Commonwealth because should there ever be a breach how we deal with any outbreak within the country is also incredibly important as the further rings of containment. We've seen how important that is in COVID. It's the same when it comes to African swine flu or lumpy skin disease, or any of these types of things, which can be absolutely devastating to our agricultural sector and particularly our beef and cattle producers that we see on display here. So we're very serious when it comes to border security on all the elements of border security.

And I want to commend David Littleproud for the great job he's done in leading the Government's efforts when it comes to border security and keeping our borders strong for our farmers, for our producers. I also want to thank Michelle Landry for the great leadership she has had for the cattle industry here in central Queensland, the resources sector more broadly and it's great to be here with you, Michelle. David, you've done a terrific job up here in Queensland, and it's great to be with you as well. And to Scotty Buchholz , he's as big as this show, and it's tremendous to be with him. He's a great advocate for the beef industry here in Queensland. And one of the things Scotty did with the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, which David won't mind me saying I'm sure, is as when we went into the pandemic they kept the trucks running across Australia. Between those borders when they were getting shut down, it was Scotty, it was the Big Mac, as I like to call him, Michael McCormack who was out there keeping those trucks running, keeping the stock running from state to state. And that kept Australia running, and the people who did that more than anyone else were our primary producers. So with that, I'll pass you onto David.

THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, DROUGHT AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Well, thanks PM and can I say the investment that we're announcing today is another investment in Australia's security. This takes our investment in Australia's biosecurity since October last year to $1.25 billion. That's how serious the Australian Government is about protecting brand Australia, protecting those beef producers that are here today, making sure that we are using the cutting edge technology we need to, to make sure that we are keeping those pests and diseases out. There is a congestion of them sitting in South-East Asia that are threatening and are evolving, and we have to evolve our efforts with them.
And that's why the package that we're putting out today will go to evolve our biosecurity measures to make sure that they're fit for purpose, and fit for the future. It's also about working with the states and part of the money is about making sure we can run a national exercise whereby we can, we can simulate a outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease or AFS across the country and make sure that our state counterparts are able to work with us to ensure that we can lock it down as quickly as we can. We can trace it and we can protect as many producers as we possibly can.

It's also about the more boots and more paws on the ground. We've increased the number of dogs in our quarantine centres right across our ports and airports. And we're also making sure we're putting more men and women out there detecting, making the detections. But also the scientists, it's important to understand we are able to be able to do the science quickly to identify the threat. And that means that we're then able to make real time decisions about how we're going to address that threat. But we're also now engaging for the first time in real technology that is going to give us increased capacity of being able to look at more parcels, more bags, more containers. 3D x-rays where we are now the first nation in the world to crack algorithms that will now be able to look at every port that comes to an airport, every parcel that comes through our mail centres, we'll be able to actually identify where there is organic matter. And in fact, we're going to take it to be able to identify whether there is any lives animals in it as well. We'll be then working with Border Force to make sure that we can use this technology to share so that we'll take the biosecurity risk, they'll take the risk to our nation with guns and contraband. So these are practical solutions about getting value for money to the Australian taxpayer, using the technology we need to continue to invest. And we're also working on our screening program and working with other nations so that if someone wants to come into this country, we will know what's in their bag before they even get here, and we will then act accordingly.

Our biosecurity is predicated on intelligence and technology. We need the intelligence to understand what's coming into this country, and that's making sure that we can understand what's coming in parcels, but also people's bags. And we'll also be going back and looking at the containers. We will be going into over 8.5 million containers that need to be checked, a percentage of those will have to be checked over the coming decade. And so we need to know where they've been beforehand. So we're not just looking at the trip they just made, we're going deep back into their history and their life to make sure that if they happen to be in a paddock in Africa some four or five years ago, then we know that that poses a risk to Australia and then we will obviously put the resources in to make sure that we can protect it. But what we're also saying is that to everybody, you all have a responsibility. And if you don't declare, we're going to square up with you. And in fact, we've already cancelled 14 visas of people who have failed to declare products in their bags and they are not welcome back to this country for three years. We have also increased the penalties from $444 to $2,664, and we now have legislation in Parliament for importers who also have a significant responsibility in this, in taking their fines from $400,000 odd dollars to over a million dollars, and the privilege to stay at Her Majesty's pleasure for up to 10 years.

We are taking this seriously and we need to understand the threats that biosecurity posed to not just agricultural but our environment. A foot-and-mouth disease would cost us around $52 billion and beef at this event would basically be non-existent for years to come. So these are the extreme measures that we're prepared to take and we're going to send a very strong message, not just with our dollars, but also our actions in making sure everyone understands that they have a responsibility if they don't declare we're going to catch you and we're going to come after you.

PRIME MINISTER: Happy to take some questions. I thank Bryce Camm for the wonderful job he’s done for Beef Week. This is really a showcase event and everyone at Meat and Livestock. And also was great to see Fiona Simpson from the NFF coming up from New South Wales. It's great to see the industry coming together. It really is tremendous to see them. Okay, happy to take questions. Let's start on the announcement and then we'll go from there.

JOURNALIST: With regards to agriculture, what reassurance can you give to cattle farmers that the Budget will incorporate drought funding? I mean, here in central Queensland we haven't had much rain all summer.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, I will ask David to add to this. But we have consistently been supporting our farmers through the drought over many, many years now. And just because we've seen rain in many parts of the country, which is welcome, we know that there are still parts of the country that are still impacted by drought including here in Queensland, the flood and drought assistance program, which Shane Stone leads has been there working with people on the ground all throughout the drought, and particularly in response to those floods we had up here in Queensland. And those supports will continue and we will continue to stand by our farmers, whether it's with drought whether it's with flood or whether the many other disasters that befall them and of course, to protect them from the biosecurity risk as well. But, David, as the Minister for Drought, I'm sure would like to add.

THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, DROUGHT AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Yeah well thanks, Prime Minister. And the drought is ongoing. In fact, your very next drought starts the very first day after it stops raining. And that's why the Government created our three pillars drought strategy, supporting in the here and now, through farm household allowance, making sure that we can put some dignity back into these families that are doing it tough that don't have income so they can put the bread and butter on the table. Making sure we also in our second pillar support the communities that are supporting these farmers because the drought extends past the farm gate into the communities that support them. We're putting stimulus into those communities and those small businesses to give them the opportunity to get through it. And we were the first Government to look to the future in understanding the next drought starts the very first day after it stops raining. The five billion dollar future fund, we're already paying down the hundred million dollar dividend that has been legislated. The other mob said trust us, we'll just keep it there. But what normally happens when the other mob gets in is they get a Treasurer that runs out of money pretty quick and all of a sudden then think it's easy to take it out of the agriculture industry, out of the drought fund, a hundred billion dollar dividend and reduce it. So we've legislated it. That hundred million dollars must be spent every year. And Brent Finlay is doing that. So these are the measures that we are saying that will be ongoing because we understand drought is part of the landscape of Australia, since we first put a till in soil. We won't take our foot off the accelerator on that. But we're also working to look at our packages, over 24 programs that we put out, we are making sure that they are fit for purpose, and I've asked the NFF and all the peak bodies, agriculture bodies around the country to come together and look at that nearly 11 billion dollar envelope that has been committed by this Government to be looked at and to see whether it's actually working the way that they expect and to make sure that it's fit for the future. Those are the practical steps that we are making drought will be there for time in memoriam and we will be there with them. This Government will stand shoulder to shoulder with our farmers whether it be drought, fire or flood or anything else in between.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] what’s on the horizon for Central Queensland?

THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, DROUGHT AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Three and a half billion dollars that was announced in the Budget that's all about water infrastructure. We are ready to dig holes and plumb the country. It is illegal for the Prime Minister and I to pick a shovel up and dig a hole in this country. The Constitution clearly says, the ownership of our resources belongs to the states and we respect that. We're not running away from our responsibility. We're going to cut the check. We're going to say if you want to come and do it we'll cut the check. And in fact of the last 20 dams built since 2003, 16 of those have been done in Tasmania. They have plumbed their state because they have been bold and courageous and they have partnered with the Commonwealth to make sure that we are plumbing that state. The opportunity is there for others. New South Wales is looking to build some dams, we are working up here in Rookwood. But there's an enormous potential in northern Australia if the Queensland Government will come with us. When you think about agriculture reaching 100 billion. It will be in the north of our country. That is where the development can take place. Our southern systems are mature. There are only incremental growth that we can get in our production systems in the southern parts of Australia. But our northern Australia is where the opportunity lies. And that's why we made the commitment of cold hard cash. We just need someone to come and get it. It's not hard. And we just want to see D8s and excavators digging them up now because people are sick of the talk, they just want to see some diesel boom.

JOURNALIST: Where would you like to see the next dam built in Queensland?

THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, DROUGHT AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Well, on the Member for Maranoa, I'd love them to start at Emu Swamp. We've already committed 47 billion dollars, but we can't get the State Government to give a tick of approval to get the excavator moving. The cockies are down there putting in 23 million dollars of their own money and the State Government, god bless them, have only put in 13. That's okay, but just give us the approval, get out of our way and start digging. 

PRIME MINISTER: I want to see the Hughenden irrigation scheme going, I'm passionate about this project. I think that going to really open up that part of the country and provide some great opportunities. There is no short of places we want to dig some holes here. But as David Crisafulli knowns we need a state government that's going to work with us to do just that. Now we're working with the Queensland Government, you know, we're working on many other projects we'd like to see a bit coming back the other way to ensure we get these dams built. 

JOURNALIST: What have you learnt from walking around Beef Week? You’ve gone around to a lot of different stalls, you have met a lot of different people and what have you heard from the people here?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I've been inspired, that's my first message. I've been inspired by the resilience and the resourcefulness of people and just listening to their stories about what they've been doing over these last few years in between Beef Weeks. The struggles they've had, but some of the success they're now having. I think one of the things that really does excite me though, is the amount of attention that is now going into the technology side of this business and a realisation of the data analytics and the various tools that are available to the livestock industry working with quite extreme environmental challenges and really harnessing the use of technology to get on top of that and then using the data to make their farming methods even more productive. That's what will keep them at the leading edge of the world. And I think that's tremendous and how that relates to pasture driven soil carbon, and speaking to MLA abut that today and the level of interest that there is from the livestock industry wanting to understand how that works. And what's driving it, business, commerciality, improved pastures, better profits, stronger herds. That's what's driving that interest in these areas. And I'm just pleased to see it because it shows innovation. It shows passion. It shows vision.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: I'm confident that this sector and the Australian industry more broadly will achieve anything it puts its mind to, and they are certainly putting them onto this.

JOURNALIST: How was the steak last night?

PRIME MINISTER: It was beef cheek last night and steak this morning, it wasn’t bad. It was a bit early for a steak for me but I tell you what, if it was like that every morning I wouldn't complain. I got a few good tips on the cooking  so I will take that back with me.

JOURNALIST: On India, Prime Minister. Is it possible that you might overturn the biosecurity measures by the end of the week?

PRIME MINISTER: As I have said all the way through from the outset, we will constantly review them. It is in place until 15 May, that is what the biosecurity order signed by the Health Minister is. We need that time. That is our advice, to ensure that we can prepare for the repatriation flights that we hope to start soon after the 15th of May. But we will take the health advice on that. We are already seeing at Howard Springs the number of confirmed cases starting to come off. That is what we want to see over the next couple of weeks. In the last flights that we saw come in, we had one in eight, one in eight of those who arrived had COVID. See the challenge we are facing here is not just the rampant spread of the pandemic in India, but it has been the accelerated rate of where we have seen infection of people coming from India. Now we didn't see that same high rate of infection in those flights coming at earlier times. And so that is what has sparked the concern from our health advisors and from the Government. And so that is why we have taken this temporary pause to ensure not only have we prevented those direct flights from coming for the time being, and they're only direct flights going into Sydney, but also the chartered flights for those next two weeks and preventing people coming through third countries. Because if we hadn't done that, then we were at risk of having to shut off the flights from Doha and from the Emirates and from other places, even potentially out of Japan. And that would have prevented other Australians coming home. And so it was a practical decision, made on health grounds, it is temporary, it is until the 15th of May. We will review that over the course of this week, we will review it again over the course of next week, as we do with all of our decisions. The biosecurity law enforcements that have been in place have been there for 14 months. The same rules apply to prevent people from going into remote Indigenous communities. They would have faced exactly the same fines and potential arrangements for those sanctions as is being applied here. But the extremes of those sanctions haven't been applied in those circumstances. It is there to support a policy decision of the Government to stop a third wave in Australia. We can't be complacent in this country. As I said this morning just because we can put 100,000 people in the G to watch a game of footy on ANZAC weekend doesn't mean that this pandemic is in any way shape over. The pandemic is raging. And so my Government will take the steps necessary and the actions necessary to protect Australians so we can also bring more Australians home safely.

JOURNALIST: Michael Slater says you have got blood on your hands because of this ban. Is he right and what do you say to those Australians in India now fearing for their health and their lives?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don't agree with him. And I would just again, thank all of those who are in this difficult situation for their patience and their understanding. I am working to bring them home safely. The great risk of not taking the actions the Government has taken was that we could see the rate of cases that we're seeing come in only increase further and jeopardize our medium to long term abilities to bring more Australians home. So this is a decision that has been taken both in the interests of keeping Australians safe now but also to put us in a stronger position to safely bring more Australians home. So I respectfully disagree with the critics on this one, but the buck stops here when it comes to these decisions, and I am going to take decisions that I believe are going to protect Australia from a third wave and help me to be able to reach out and bring more Australians safely home from places where they are in difficult situations.

JOURNALIST: Have you had the chance to consider Victoria's proposal that has been sent to the Commonwealth for permanent quarantine facilities in Melbourne?

PRIME MINISTER: It is being assessed now. It is being assessed by our agencies now. I welcome the proposal. It is, in contrast to some others we have received, it is a very detailed and comprehensive proposal. I welcome the fact that the Victorian Government understands that, in any facilities when it comes to enforcing their public health orders, which is the quarantine order, that they would be running the operations and providing the support for those facilities to operate. There are question marks as to the investment that the Commonwealth would be required to put in place but we will look at that in good faith. I welcome the fact that the Acting Premier has raised it with us and we will deal with that as a Government. But we’ve all got responsibilities here. The Commonwealth I should stress though, the Halton review recommended that we establish a national resilience facility for quarantine and we have. It is called Howard Springs. It will have a capacity this month of 2,000 people. It is coming at a cost to the Federal taxpayer of half a billion dollars. So I won't have it said that the Commonwealth is not doing its fair share of the heavy lifting when it comes to putting those facilities in place. We have done that. That’s where we will be bringing those Australians home from India. And that goes from 850 last month to 2,000 this month. States are doing their job. They’ve got a 99.99% success rate in preventing breaches in their hotel quarantine. Howard Springs has 100%. I am hoping we can keep that.

JOURNALIST: Just on the investment, are you open to considering the Commonwealth making some contribution to this.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I am not getting ahead of myself basically James. They have submitted a proposal. I am treating that proposal with respect that it should have, because it has been, it is a very comprehensive and detailed proposal. So a lot of effort has gone into it and we will look at it seriously, any of the fiscal issues I am sure we would raise and discuss those first with the State Government. But I am not getting ahead and nothing should be read into that. We will just take it on its merits and will consider it as part of our broader policy position.

JOURNALIST: On biosecurity, why have a law if you're not going to impose penalties?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the sanctions are there. They exist. But they will be exercised proportionately and responsibly. Those sanctions have been in place now for 14 months and we haven't seen the extremes of those sanctions being required. And I think it would be remote, a very remote circumstance, that would see them imposed in these circumstances, but they're imposed seriously because we need to prevent people coming who have been in India, during the last 14 days, because the risk of infection that they're bringing is very high. That’s the medical advice. So I don't want to see them necessarily imposed anywhere because I don't want to see people breaching the rule. And if everybody cooperates, then we can get things in a stronger position and that means we can start those repatriation flights again. I think it hasn't been helpful for these things to be exaggerated. These powers have been around for 14 months and they have been used responsibly and proportionately and effectively and that’s what we are doing now. It’s my responsibility to do everything I can to prevent a third wave in this country. And so I make no apologies for that. And I thank, particularly the Indian community here in Australia and overseas, for their patience and their understanding. They are going through terrible hardship at present and we understand that. That is why we are working quickly to get ourselves in a position to safely bring more of their families, citizens, the residents, their direct family members back safely. We have already brought 20,000 people who are registered in our High Commission and Consulates across India back to Australia through facilitated flights and repatriation flights. So we have been doing the heavy lifting there. I want to get in a position where we will continue that shortly. But we won't be doing it in a way that will risk a third wave and put Australians' health at risk. Thanks everyone.