TREVOR EVANS MP – MEMBER FOR BRISBANE: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to Hendra in the great electorate of Brisbane. We are very excited to have the Prime Minister here in Brisbane and in Queensland today.
We are at the business Nutradry and we are here with the owner Brent Duggan and we’ve been talking about energy prices. This is a great Brisbane business – the sort of business that this government is thinking about as we tackle the problem of energy prices. This business faces an energy bill of about $500,000 a year and predominantly that is actually due to its gas bills, not its electricity bills. So we’ve been talking about the strong actions this government has been taking to rein in the price of gas.
Over to you Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much. And Brent, thank you so much.
BRENT DUGGAN – CEO, NUTRADRY: Pleasure having you here and thank you for taking the time to come and see us. It has been a great pleasure.
PRIME MINISTER: It has, it has.
Now Brent has got a business that employs, as Trevor said, 23 people. It is a family business, belongs to him and his wife and his family, but also all the employees here are part of the family. And the reality is that energy, gas, principally, it their third largest overhead. So as the price of gas started to go up, Brent could see his business and the viability of his business and the jobs of the people that work here under threat.
Now, what we were experiencing was a real shortage of gas on the east coast of Australia.
How could that happen? We've got lots of gas in Australia.
The reason was because, as you know, under the Gillard government which Bill Shorten, Blackout Bill was a minister, they allowed gas to be exported from Queensland without any regard being had to the needs of the domestic market - whether it's businesses like Brent's or whether it is a household, a family or whether it is a huge industrial concern - and what that meant was that more gas was being exported at the expense of the domestic market.
So I've taken the strong action to limit exports to ensure that there is always going to be enough gas for Australian businesses, for Australian families, and that strong action for any government, but particularly for a Liberal government that clearly we want to have as many exports as we can.
So we've taken that strong action, unprecedented action on our part, in order to protect Australian jobs and the affordability and reliability of energy. That is our commitment.
Of course it's only one of the things we are doing.
Many people in Queensland and of course around Australia are benefitting from getting discounts on their electricity bills because of the strong action we've taken with retailers - $3,4,5,600 a year - that's real money for families.
We've also ensured that we are abolishing the right of the energy companies, the owners of the poles and wires, to keep on using the courts to challenge the rulings of the regulator on what they can charge for those poles and wires. Again, that will save over time billions of dollars in costs for consumers, whether they are families or businesses.
And in terms of the long-term, of course, we're making the big long-term investments you need that will make renewables reliable in Snowy Hydro 2.0 which will be the biggest renewable energy project, the biggest hydro project built in Australia since Snowy Hydro 1 which was a long time ago.
So we are getting on with the job of ensuring that energy is affordable and reliable for all Australians.
And we are doing that because our policies are based on engineering and economics, not the ideology and the idiocy that had been the hallmark of Labor policies. And that's why Bill Shorten is rightly called Blackout Bill because Labor policies have put our energy, both its reliability and its affordability at risk.
JOURNALIST: Queensland LNP and the Federal Coalition both support a coal-fired power station in North Queensland. If Tim Nicholls came to you and asked for funding for that, what would be your response?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, if Tim Nicholls becomes premier - and I hope he does - and he decides to build a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland, and I think that would be a very worthwhile project, then it would be very eligible for funding from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund which is a federal government fund. So it would be a very worthy candidate for that.
JOURNALIST: Do you support it being built in Far North Queensland? Wouldn’t it be more viable from a financial purpose to build it lower down?
PRIME MINISTER: Again, it is a question, it would be a question for the state government.
The Government of Queensland, as you know, owns two large generator companies - CS Energy and Stanwell - so they are in the business of electricity generation.
And I have to say that until recently, the Queensland Government generators were gaming the market and forcing prices up, until Josh Frydenberg took strong action with the regulators to draw that to the Queensland Government's attention, and of course their conduct has been changed.
I mean, government electricity generators should act in the public interest, not try to game the market to maximise their profits.
JOURNALIST: Will the infrastructure fund sign off on any funding agreements while the Barnaby Joyce eligibility decision is before the High Court?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund considers projects - it has an independent board, so it considers projects independently. But plainly a new power station in North Queensland would clearly be infrastructure in northern Australia, so it would absolutely tick those boxes.
JOURNALIST: What's your thoughts about Tony Abbott's threat to cross the floor?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I would say this - we are all absolutely of one mind in the Coalition in ensuring that Australians have affordable and reliable energy and that's because our approach to energy policy is based on engineering and economics, not on ideology and idiocy.
And the reason I say ideology and idiocy, it is not just the left wing ideology that you see from Annastacia Palaszczuk when she says she wants Queensland to have 50 per cent renewables without any idea of how to get there, without any plans for backup or storage - there were no plans at all. In other words, she basically wants to repeat the South Australian experience and visit that on Queenslanders. And we know what happened there with the terrible blackouts and the most expensive and the least reliable energy in Australia. But it's also idiocy on the part of the Labor Party, like this business with the gas. Why would you, how could you seriously allow gas to be exported from the east coast without paying one moment's of attention to the many warnings that were received by the Labor Party in government, that it would push up prices and result in tight supply?
So, they were warned about that. You may remember Mark Butler - he was a minister also in the Gillard Government - he said they weren't warned. Do you remember that on Insiders? When Barrie Cassidy asked him, he said he wasn't warned. And then finally he owned up to it and fessed up. His confession was late in coming but-
JOURNALIST: What's this got to do with Mr Abbott and my question?
PRIME MINISTER: The point is that everyone in the Coalition, of which Mr Abbott is a member, are united on ensuring that Australians have affordable and reliable energy. That is our commitment.
JOURNALIST: Mr Abbott says it’s unconscionable for a government elected to dump the carbon tax going further down the renewable energy path. Is that a fair comment?
PRIME MINISTER: Again, I'm not going to run a commentary on other people's remarks.
We have a Renewable Energy Target, as you know, which runs out in 2020.
It was amended and legislated in 2015, while Tony was prime minister.
So, it's part of the law. And we are committed to that. That is there. It's there. It's, you know, part of an Act of Parliament.
What we are considering at the moment is the arrangements we put in place after 2020 to ensure affordable and reliable energy, and, of course, to meet our emissions reduction obligations, under the Paris Agreement.
JOURNALIST: Are you getting sick of these interventions by Tony Abbott?
PRIME MINISTER: Look - the only thing I'm focused on in this energy space is ensuring that businesses like Brent's have got affordable and reliable power. And when the 23 workers here go home to their homes, to their families, they can afford to pay the power bills there, that the gas is affordable, the electricity is affordable, and, indeed, that when they turn on the air conditioner, it comes on, that it's reliable.
JOURNALIST: Surely, though, you would find it difficult to move forward, to get your message across, when Mr Abbott, who promised no meddling and no sniping constantly does so? Is he actually helpful to the Liberal Party?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, I’m focused on being helpful for Brett. This is the bloke I want to help. We’re looking out for him and we’re doing everything we can to support his business and the families that his business supports.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, your blitz, as it's being called, this three day run into Queensland, is suspiciously timed around the same time that there's been rumblings about the Labor Party calling a state election here. Will you be campaigning here with Mr Nichols and is there anything to read into your time in Queensland?
PRIME MINISTER: You know, I have been to Queensland 11 times this year and there’s always rumblings about a state election in Queensland. So you could time any visit I have here with discussions about an election.
But, that's a matter for the Premier.
And Tim, you know, I look forward to working with Tim as Premier of Queensland if he wins the election. I'll certainly be supporting him in the election campaign, if or when Annastacia Palaszczuk finally decides to call it.
JOURNALIST: Will he be joining you in a couple of the events over the next couple of days?
PRIME MINISTER: We haven't got plans to work to be together on this visit, but I see him all the time.
We talk a lot, we have a good relationship and we have been in discussions.
You mentioned the idea of a high-efficiency low-emission coal-fired power station in North Queensland. I've talked to Tim about that.
I mean, I've argued for a long time that Australia would benefit from having a state-of-the-art ultra-efficient low-emission coal-fired power station, not least because we are the largest exporter of sea-borne coal in the world.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister isn't Tony Abbott challenging your authority when he says the party room will have to save your Government from itself over the CET issue? He’s challenging your authority isn’t he?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, look, can I tell you, the government is focused on delivering the right outcomes for Australian families and businesses and that means affordable and reliable energy.
I'm not going to be distracted from that, from that goal. That's my commitment. That's my job.
JOURNALIST: Why do you think spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars on a coal-fired power station is a good investment?
PRIME MINISTER: Well let me just correct you - the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund makes loans, right? So, it's an investment fund and it is set up in order to invest in infrastructure in Northern Australia.
The observation I've made is that if there was a proposal for a new power station in Northern Australia that would clearly constitute infrastructure that would be eligible for a loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund.
But they are loans and part of the charter of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund is that the loan has to be commercial. It can be at concessional rates and concessional terms, but it has to be commercial, in the sense that the directors of the fund have got to be satisfied that the loan will be repaid.
So, it isn't a source of grants, if you know what I mean.
JOURNALIST: On the refugee deal, you took to social media to update the nation on the deal with the US.
PRIME MINISTER: Yes.
JOURNALIST: For the benefit of those people without social media can you give us an update on what’s going on?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes. Well, as you know, we have been working with the United States for some time now, following an agreement whereby some of the, a number of the refugees on Nauru and in PNG, they are offering places in the United States to around 25 people on each, both in PNG and in Nauru. So around 50 in total.
Obviously, we welcome that as a sign of the strong relationship between the United States and Australia.
I want to thank the United States and President Trump for honouring that commitment.
The work with Homeland Security will continue with their interviews and their vetting and we look forward to others being considered for resettlement in the United States.
JOURNALIST: What are your plans for the other hundreds of people though that are not going to the US? What is going to happen to them?
PRIME MINISTER: It's yet to be determined how many will go to the US, that's the first point. So, it's a continuing process.
JOURNALIST: So, is it 50 initially and then more to follow?
PRIME MINISTER: 50 is the first number that are going to the United States, that's correct.
How many others in addition is of course a matter for the United States' own vetting procedures.
But as you know, we have an arrangement with the US. The US Government is complying with that arrangement and they're reviewing and vetting applications from people who want to settle in the US.
The one thing that I want to be very clear about is that none of these people will settle in Australia.
I want to be very, very clear that the arrangement with the United States is a one-off. It is available only to people who are presently in PNG and on Nauru.
Any others who seek to come to Australia with a people smuggler by boat will be turned back. They will not settle in Australia and they will not be eligible for resettlement in the United States under these arrangements.
The road to Australia is closed for people smugglers. We have secured our borders.
The people on Nauru and in PNG, as you know, were placed there as a consequence of the colossal failure of the Labor Party. They failed to keep our borders safe. They undid John Howard's strong border protection measures which worked and we had 50,000 unauthorised arrivals and at least 1,200 deaths at sea.
Now, we've stopped the boats and we're going to keep them stopped.
What we're seeking to do is, obviously, wherever we can to assist people on Nauru and on PNG to resettle if they are refugees. But they can't be resettled in Australia.
As far as those people who have been found not to be refugees, they should return to their country of origin.
JOURNALIST: Beyond the deal with the US then, what other options is the government considering? What other countries is it looking to?
PRIME MINISTER: Well as you know, we have an arrangement with Cambodia, and we'll always look at other options.
JOURNALIST: That's been highly unsuccessful though? Six people have gone and most of those have returned to their home countries. So beyond Cambodia, what other countries?
PRIME MINISTER: We'll continue to seek opportunities for resettlement, but I want to be very, very clear that the people on Nauru and in PNG will not be settled in Australia.
I want to be very, very clear that the people smugglers' road to Australia is closed.
If you get on a boat with a people smuggler, who says he can get you to Australia, he is lying to you. He cannot, he will not.
Our borders are secure and the boats have stopped and will stay stopped.
JOURNALIST: Considering the political situation in Cambodia at the moment though, do you believe that is a safe and viable option?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, I'm focused on ensuring that we keep our borders secure.
We have an arrangement with the US which, as we've just described, is seeing a number of people being resettled there.
We welcome that and we thank the United States Government for their support and their commitment to the arrangement we've entered into.
But above all, the most compassionate thing we can do is keeping the boats stopped.
The only policy - and we know this from experience, you may say we know it from bitter experience - the only policy that works is the strongest position on border security. That is very clear.
So we are a compassionate nation, we bring in a lot of refugees, but we decide which refugees come here.
We will not ever, as the Labor Party did, outsource our refugee policy to people smugglers. That's what Labor did and we paid a terrible price for it and above all, the 1,200 at least who drowned at sea, they paid a shocking price. They lost their lives because of people smugglers.
The only way to stop the people smugglers is to say, “if you try to come to Australia by boat, you will not succeed. The way is barred”.
Thanks very much.