Doorstop - Sunset Park Materials Recovery Facility, New York City

25 Sep 2019
New York City, United States of America
Prime Minister

ALISTAIR FIELD, CEO SIMS METAL MANAGEMENT:  Good morning everybody, my name is Alistair Field. I’m the Chief Executive Officer of Sims Metal Management, headquartered here in the United States, but an Australian listed company. Today we have the privilege of the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Morrison, joining us here in our Brooklyn facility here in New York. This is a contract we have with New York City to manage all their recycling. So a lot of the technology that we deploy here is something that we’re very proud of and we’ll extend through some of our global operations as well. Mr Prime Minister, welcome sir.

PRIME MINISTER:  Thank you, thank you Alistair. It’s a great thrill to be here. This is an Australian company that started 102 years ago with a bloke from Sydney and a wheelbarrow, and here they are, the biggest recycler of waste in the United States - and arguably the technology and the size of this plant possibly anywhere in the world. They are leading the way and they’ve been doing it a long time.

What I get excited about when I come and see this is that this is the sort of technology, this is the sort of scale of operations which means that, if we can get this in place, as we’ve seen it in other, less scaled forms in Australia, then that promise of when you put that little plastic bottle or you put the other waste that you put in the recycling bins, that it actually gets recycled and that it doesn’t go to landfill.

I mean, Sims is doing some amazing things. They are big in Australia as well. About a third of their total turnover is based in Australia and the rest is around the world. There are many countries around the world taking their process engineering, taking their systems, and realising the promise of a truly circular economy.

Today, when I speak to the United Nations General Assembly, this is an issue that I’m going to be focussing on, and the other global environmental challenges we face and the action that we’re taking. But what we’re seeing here, I think, is truly exciting, and it is truly achievable because it is commercial, and it’s a partnership between the public and the private sectors. I mean, up to about two thirds of the revenue that is generated here doesn’t come from the contracts they have with governments, it comes from the products and the revenue streams that are generated by selling that outside of this facility.

And it’s also about jobs. The circular economy, you’ve seen the scale of this plant, you’ve seen the scale of the technology and the investment that goes into this. This is a big business. This is a big economy supporting business. But it’s also making this city a very clean city in terms of how it is recycling its waste. I mean it’s said if you make it here, you can make it anywhere and it seems it’s certainly making it here in New York, and that means that this type of technology, this type of plant offers, I think, real scope and hope in terms of what we can achieve for our circular economy in Australia.

There are many environmental challenges that we face, and we need to take action on all of them, but this one for Australia, in a highly urbanised society, one where our waste is our responsibility, these are the commercial solutions that we need to have in place. And this will be a centrepiece of our focus, not only on our domestic environmental agenda, but on our international environmental agenda.

Waste management, the security and the protection of our oceans, particularly preserving their environmental integrity. All of this is a big part of Australia’s outlook on the world, and we have an enormous contribution to make as Sims is demonstrating right here, right here, in the great big city of New York.

JOURNALIST: Prime minister, as we’ve seen-

PRIME MINISTER:  Just on this one, we’re going to take some questions together on the facility, and then we might excuse Alistair.

JOURNALIST: So you’ve seen here this facility and you’ve been to the Pratt plant in Ohio, if Australians have this technology and the ability to do it on this scale, how come they’re not doing it in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I think one of the reasons is that you’ve got some of the incentives in the wrong place. I mean, let’s not forget there are some things where we are leading in Australia. I mean, the way we collect waste in Australia is actually quite efficient. We have a lot of big private companies who do that in Australia, that’s not actually the case here, that’s something they can learn from us. But one of the challenges I think is getting the scale of operations in Australia and that is what we are going to have to work closely with State governments and the Commonwealth to ensure we can achieve this scale.


PRIME MINISTER: Some of you would be familiar when I was last out in the Dow plant in Sydney, I mean they have 87 per cent recycled bitumen.  Now one of the things we are looking at there is the procurement practices of our road building agencies, to ensure that they are incorporating recycled asphalt into their procurement in the tens of billions of dollars that we are spending on roads. Here is about getting the partnerships right. But you might want to comment on how it has worked here.

ALISTAIR FIELD: Obviously, any contractual arrangement with a city government has to be mutually beneficial, I think that is one of the aspects for us, we work very closely with New York City and in the times that we have ebbs and flows and commodity cycles, there has to be an understanding of how our business can manage through those cycles. We have seen instances here in the US and throughout the world where that has not worked. So that’s a really key arrangement and our commercial arrangement with business and government.

PRIME MINISTER:  And, we have got to put an end point to this as well this is why we announced with the State and Territories, we are putting an end to the export of Australia’s waste to other countries. Now we’ve learned some important things this morning about how we need to structure that and a key issue when you’re doing these things is the standards in which you set. Making sure you are being compliant in a regional and more broadly global setting, and ensuring that there is still the ability for products that come out of plants like this to be sold and to generate revenue streams. So we are learning a lot about this and but actually making it clear by an end date, you are not going to be able to send it off shore. By ensuring that we have clear directions about what you can and can’t put in landfill then that will create the incentive that will create, I think, the spark for commercial solutions to then have value. I mean if you could just more cheaply, chuck it in the ocean or dig a hole and bury it under the ground, then, you know, people are going to do that. But if you can’t do that, then these solutions become very, very commercial.

JOURANLIST: Prime Minister, two pronged question, Alistair have you had any government help, tax breaks or anything like that with the setting up of this plant? And if so, is there something that the Federal government should consider in the way of providing some sort of financial incentive for companies--

PRIME MINISTER:  -- or state

JOURNALIST: Or state -- to ensure that this type of facility helps with our environment?

ALISTAIR FIELD: I think part of what the Prime Minister was also alluding to is the actual aspect of managing waste where it is generated, and part of that means those councils and those states need to be supportive, particularly in terms of land. New York City owns this land, but the actual infrastructure and the cost of the capital we provided, so I think that arrangement or that type of arrangement is really important if you want a sustainable operation going forward.

PRIME MINISTER: And the discussion I had with the states at the last meeting of COAG was a very enthusiastic one, I think there’s a real willingness to identify the things that can facilitate this sort of commercial activity.

Many of the levers are in the hands of the states when it comes to what they can access in terms of land, but also the energy costs in Australia are higher than they are here, and that needs to be addressed. And one of the exciting things about waste management is that waste management can generate its own energy, and plants like this can potentially become – can become -- fully energy self-sufficient through the recycling of the waste, and converting that through gasification and other processes into energy.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Pacific Nations, particularly have called on other Members here at this summit to commit to limiting global warming to 1.5-

PRIME MINISTER: As we’re going to move on, Alistair – thank you Alistair.

ALISTAIR FIELD: Thank you sir.

PRIME MINISTER:  Mate it’s been great to be here. And that bloke from Sydney with his wheelbarrow would be very proud of what you’ve achieved.

JOURNALIST: Still tied into this. I mean, do these kind of projects help achieve that? And what’s Australia’s position on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees?

PRIME MINISTER:  Well we make our commitments and we keep our commitments, in fact, we better our commitments when it comes to addressing climate change and the targets that we’ve set. That will be clear from the 2020 results.

I mean, when I entered Parliament – I entered Parliament in the 2007 election and that was about Kyoto – and here we are, meeting and beating Kyoto, and there is lots of concern about whether we would do that, there was lots of anxiety about that, but you know, we met it, and we’ve beaten it, and that’s what will happen in Australia. So, this is a key point I’m going to be making in my national statement today. Australia has a strong track record of delivering. There will be very few countries who are members of the UN who will be able to stand at that podium today and talk about beating their Kyoto commitments by 367 million tonnes. So, Australia’s got nothing at all to apologise for and everything to commend the actions that we’ve taken and the results we’re getting.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there are reports in China that the Chinese government believes that the US and Australia are being selfish in suggesting that China should self-declare as a developed nation. Is it selfish?

PRIME MINISTER  Australia’s view is based on our national interests on all of these things and that’s what guides our own comments, our own discussions. But I’m very enthused and encouraged by the Foreign Minister’s comments in the last 24 hours, which have recognised, I think, the way that Australia has been sensibly addressing the broader relationship issues around our comprehensive strategic partnership. There’s even editorials in the ‘People’s Daily’ that say similar things. So I think there are far too many data points now that are out there to ignore, that Australia is actually managing our great and powerful friends very well, both, through our significant and long standing alliances as well as our strategic and comprehensive partnerships.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’re coming to the end of your trip and have had a pretty remarkable few days here in the US. Two questions: firstly, was there anything surprising or anything that you found that you’ve learnt that you didn’t know beforehand, that you found potentially surprising? And secondly, going forward, with what’s happened over the last few days, how’s that going to springboard the country and the relationship?

PRIME MINISTER: Well one thing that has never gone from my mind while I’ve been here is the hardship that is being faced in our rural and regional communities due to drought and the second I touch down, I’ll be taking off again and heading out to drought affected communities in Australia. And so that has been very close to my thinking and I’ll make a few remarks about that today.

More broadly, what I’ve been enthused by and encouraged by, is the confirmation that Australia’s economy is seen as strong, performing, stable, reliable and a great place to invest. That is highly respected here in the United States. Yesterday, I had the opportunity, both before and after meeting with you all yesterday afternoon, to speak to the biggest investors in the United States who are the biggest investors in Australia, and they all see Australia the same way. A place of stability, certainty, of good governance with a pro-business, pro-growth agenda which will be supportive of the investments that they would want to make and continue to make in Australia. So, we are seen, I think, in the global economy as a very safe port in the storm and I think that’s always been one of our strengths.

The third point I’d make, is that, it was reinforced to me just today here with Alistair, and as we were talking to others yesterday, that we’ve just got to keep working hard to get our energy costs down and I keep coming back to this issue of gas and looking at all the alternatives on the table. We can’t railroad ourselves out of cheap energy in Australia, we’ve got to make sure that we’re meeting our environmental commitments getting that balance right and ensuring that our businesses have access, whether it’s the gas feedstock or lower energy or micro-grid operations or any of these sorts of things, to make sure that they can compete globally. It’s tough. It’s a tough climate and I think there have been a lot of lessons.

But Australia and the United States have a wonderful security relationship, alliance relationship, but particularly being here in New York and in Chicago, we’ve also got a fantastic economic relationship and investment relationship.

JOURNALIST: PM, prosecutors in Bulgaria have detained Australian Jock Palfreeman, can you, have you had any…


JOURNALIST: Prosecutors in Bulgaria have detained Australian Jock Palfreeman, even though he’s been granted parole. Do you have any information at all on what’s happening there?

PRIME MINISTER: Nothing that I can comment on here publically.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you mentioned that the 2007 election when you came in was fought on Kyoto, what does it say that here we are five election cycles later, still arguing about Australia’s climate action. Does it show there’s been failures on both sides, both governments?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don’t think we are arguing. Everyone agrees that we need to take action on climate change.

JOURNALIST: But what action?

PRIME MINISTER: The action that meets, that we meet our 2020 targets and we meet our 2030 targets. And that we have a three billion dollar climate solutions fund, a policy for meeting our 2030 emissions reduction targets, that I took to the election and we were successful at that election. So the argument is no longer about whether you need to take action on climate change, that argument is settled in Australian politics, in terms of the major parties. The issue is, how governments responsibly manage and balance those commitments to secure Australia’s future. And that’s what our government is doing, and I believe we’ve got the balance right and I think at the last election our opponents inability to explain their policies and the impact of their policies on everyday Australians, I think got the response that I would have expected to get. See, we’re quite transparent about this. We say what we’re going to do, we put the policies in place to achieve it and then we achieve it. And you know what? We better it. Now I hope we better it on 2030, I hope we better it.

JOURNALIST: PM, just on energy prices, you say you went to Parliament in 2007. Acknowledging that energy prices have almost doubled in some places around Australia since then…

PRIME MINISTER: They did double under Labor, that’s true.

JOURNALIST: No, but they’ve increased under you as well…

PRIME MINISTER: No, I’ve got to correct you on this. They came down by 500 per household after we abolished the carbon tax.

JOURNALIST: And they’ve gone back up…

PRIME MINISTER: And then they’ve risen back up since then. That’s true, so I don’t disagree with that. But your point about electricity prices doubling – that happened under Labor.

JOURNALIST: I put it to you though, but, do you agree that both sides of politics have actually failed voters, failed Australians because of the rising cost of electricity?

PRIME MINISTER: I think there is more work to be done, and it’s a constant challenge. But I think that one of the things that we also have to acknowledge that the Commonwealth Government is not the primary agency of government that actually impacts on electricity prices. We all know that it’s the State Governments that who basically are in charge of the assets and resources access that principally determines these costs and the cost of the system and the utilities and so on. And the poles and wires and how they manage all those things. But they also determine whether you can get gas out from under people’s feet. Now the reason electricity prices are as low as they are in the United States, and particularly down south, is because of access to gas, we’ve got heaps of gas and it’s being kept under people’s feet. So that’s something we’ve got to change.

JOURNALIST: But there’s not much you can do about it, is there Prime Minister, as you say, it’s up to the states?

PRIME MINISTER: No we need the states to change those rules, that’s true.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you spoke about transparency a minute ago, can we be transparent about two things in relation to climate policy? Will Australia update its commitment under the Paris agreement next year before the COP in Glasgow, which is part of the Paris process?

PRIME MINISTER: We have our commitments and we are sticking to those commitments

JOURNALIST: Will be updating them?

PRIME MINISTER: These are our commitments and these are the commitments we’ve set.

JOURNALIST: So it that a no, sorry, just so I understand you correctly?

PRIME MINISTER: We are keeping with the commitments we have set, and you know why? Because that’s what I took to the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: And on the 2050 strategy, I asked you this in Chicago, in the PIF communiqué Australia signed up to a communiqué that says nations will develop in 2020, a 2050 strategy, will Australia do that?

PRIME MINISTER: We said that we would assess that as part of our statement and we will assess that as we have said we would do, but my priority is meeting 2020 and 2030. We will look at the broader context, but honestly our focus is on meeting the commitments that we’ve set, by keeping the commitments that we gave to the Australian people, and we will meet those and I hope we beat them. Just as we have been able to beat our 2020 commitments and there will be a lot that happens over the next 10 years. I would hope that over that time, with the technological advancement and many other changes that will take place, is that we won’t just meet our 2030 commitments, I suspect we will hopefully be able to do better than that.

But, what makes these things happen is frankly not people meeting in rooms, it’s what governments do. I mean, here in the United States, their emissions trajectory is also falling, and they’re not even signatories to these arrangements. They’re seeing a transformation and a transitioning of their economy which is influenced by many things, not least being the supply of gas, and replacing a lot of the coal fired generation that occurs in the United States.

So, we can all get very excited about what happens at global summits, but what is actually more important is what happens on the ground. Whether you build the world’s largest pumped hydro project in the southern hemisphere, which is what we’re doing. Whether you actually have a climate solutions fund that runs reverse options to reduce emissions, that’s the stuff that matters. People can say whatever they like at the United Nations, and they often do, but at least Australia when we say it, we actually do it.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to the Pacific neighbours though who have said quite personally as friends and family, which is how you describe them, that they need more from Australia. What do you say to them when you say no, what do you explain to them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I don’t, I don’t say no. Because I mean this is one of the misrepresentations that are out there…

JOURNALIST: Well they’re asking for a 2050...

PRIME MINISTER: And what I’ve found when I’ve sat down with Pacific leaders, is they’ve been quite surprised when I’ve told them that our emissions per capita is at 29 year lows. That we have the highest investment in renewables per capita of any country in the world. And when you put the next two together, it’s about the same, in fact just a little bit less than us. See what I’ve found in engaging with neighbours, and even here, is often times the criticisms that have been made about Australia are completely false and they’re completely misleading and people have had a prejudiced view about what Australia is actually doing. They get their information now, where do they get their information from? Who knows? Maybe they read it, maybe they read it. But from what’s come out in the media and other things like this, how they get their information…

JOURNALIST: No, no, don’t do that…

PRIME MINISTER: All I am saying is when I’ve spoken to them, they’ve been surprised to learn about the facts about what Australia has been doing. I’ve had those conversations as recently as when Frank Bainimarama came to Australia. Or when the Prime Minister of Samoa was. Or in Papua New Guinea, or in other places. They are very pleased to learn, and they are also very pleased to learn that we’re putting $500 million out of our aid program, into actually addressing the resilience and other issues associated with climate change into the Pacific.

I’m not writing a $500 million cheque to the UN, I won’t be doing that. There’s no way I’m going to do that to Australian taxpayers. What I’m doing to do is make sure we make our commitments out of our overseas development assistance so that money gets to those projects quicker and in a more transparent way. I think Australian taxpayers deserve that, rather than just generically writing cheques to funds here in New York, or in Geneva, or anywhere else.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a highlight? Do you have one stand out moment in your trip?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I’d say this. Standing on the South Lawn of the White House and to be able to reflect on more than 100 years of being a sure and steadfast ally to our largest and most significant alliance partner, and to talk about my confidence about how we can do that for another hundred years, that goes well beyond any Prime Minister or President, it speaks to the deep relationship that we have with the US. A relationship that has produced $1.7 trillion in investment in both of our economies, that actually ensured that Australians can live peacefully in our region. I always say when I come overseas, that it’s about the safety of Australians and it’s about the jobs of Australians. 1 in 5 jobs. And this is a big relationship when it comes to jobs in Australia and whether that’s jobs in the agricultural sector, in the technology sector, in the space sector or anywhere else, and it’s about the safety of our service men and women who serve alongside our American allies.

So standing on the South Lawn of the White House and to be able to talk about that record of relationship and the fact that Australians carry their own weight and I’ll be making those same points today at the United Nations. We do our share of the heavy lifting, whether it’s on the peace and security of the world, particularly in our own region, or whether it’s to confront the great global environmental challenges through the sort of practical steps like we’re seeing here, an Aussie company here in New York doing this. Or whether indeed the successful actions we’ve taken on climate change and will continue to do. Thanks very much.