GAVIN PEARCE, LIBERAL CANDIDATE FOR BRADDON: G’day everyone I’m Gavin Pearce the Liberal candidate for Braddon and I’m honoured this afternoon to welcome back to Braddon the Prime Minister and also today, Senator Michaelia Cash on a blustery day in Braddon. I was just speaking with the Prime Minister not long ago and wind is not only good for a hard-hat but it’s also good for generating electricity. The Prime Minister is right behind Braddon, he understands that we’re not just an exporter of the world’s best agricultural and horticultural products, we’re not just the exporter of wood chips and other forestry products, but we’re also makers and we’re also innovators. In order to do that, we need manpower and we need skills, we need innovation. So that’s what the purpose of today’s announcement is. So without further ado I’ll hand over to the Prime Minister now. Prime Minister welcome to Braddon.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much Gavin, it’s great to be here at Ulverstone and it’s great to be here with another great employer here in Tasmania. This is a business that builds things, this is a business that has fixed bridges, built roads, repaired rail lines and has been working hand-in-glove with Tasmanian hydro in what is and will be in a much more significant way in the future, the Battery of the Nation, through the partnerships we’re putting together with the Tasmanian State Government, with Will Hodgman.
Last time I was in Tasmania we were announcing the Marinus Link Project, working together on the Battery of the Nation project, to build this very significant project into the future and to make it work. Yes, we have to have the Marinus Link interconnector, which we announced funding for, to develop the business case and move forward on that project. Yes we need the vision of the Tasmanian State Government to actually take the Battery of the Nation project forward. But what we also need is the workforce and the companies and skills to build this project.
Today, we’re announcing $17 million for a Tasmanian-specific skills program which will work outside the existing skills partnership we have with Tasmania, to identify and develop all those additional skills that are needed in quite specific areas, to make this project a great success. We aren’t just committed to supporting the interconnector, we’re committed to working together with Will Hodgman and the State Government here and the businesses and construction industry here in Tasmania, to make this project a reality. It's incredibly important for Tasmania.
As Gavin said, this is a part of Australia in northern Tasmania that is well-known for agriculture, well-known for tourism, well-known for it’s forestry industry, we support all those industries incredibly strongly. But it is also known for these civil works and it’s also known for the great work that will be done in building this Battery of the Nation.
So the Budget we announced last week was all about creating skills. 80,000 new apprentices and I am joined by some apprentices here and we have been meeting apprentices all around the country. 80,000 new apprentices in key skill areas and that is picked up in the new investment we’ve made in last week’s Budget, it’s picked up in the Skilling Australians Fund which we commenced in the Budget last year and the partnership agreement we have with the State Government. The $17 million we announced today goes above and beyond that, to make sure Tasmania has the skilled people it will need to make this Battery of the Nation project a reality. So we’re really excited about it and every time I come here to talk about this project, I get another sense of it’s great potential and how it’s reaching out and touching the economy of northern Tasmania and how good that is for jobs.
Since we were elected, unemployment has come down in Braddon. It has come down and it’s going to keep coming down. 1.25 million jobs around the country is what our economic plan is going to continue to deliver. Tasmania has been the turnaround state. Population growth is actually moving forward now and for that economy to keep going forward, it needs projects of this scale and this size and the investments in skills and in young Tasmanians and Tasmanians right across their working life, to be given the skills to be a great success. So I’ll ask Michaelia Cash to speak a little bit more about that and then we’ll take some questions on that project and anything else you’d like to discuss.
SENATOR THE HON MICHAELIA CASH, MINISTER FOR SMALL AND FAMILY BUSINESS, SKILLS AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION: Thanks Prime Minister and it’s fabulous to be back in Tasmania, in northern Tasmania in particular with our candidate for Braddon Gavin Pearce. I was here recently and it was all about a small business announcement, we had a small businesses in Tasmania and we were talking to the thousands of small businesses in Tasmania about the policies that we’ve put in place to back them, whether it’s lowering their taxes, or increasing the instant asset write-off.
Today we’re back in Tasmania and we’re talking skills - the skills that our businesses need to ensure they can undertake the work we need them to undertake and employ more Australians.
As the Prime Minister said, this is a $17 million investment specifically in Tasmania. We want to ensure that young Tasmanians have the skills that industry tells us they need, so that they can bring projects like the Battery of the Nation to life. So this $17 million investment is part of our energizing Tasmania investment. We’re going to work specifically with the Hodgman Liberal Government and industry to identify the priority skills needs for Tasmania. We're then going to ensure that young people wanting to study in these priority skill areas, are able to do so without any upfront fees. That’s going to be on average around $4,500 per young Tasmanian, a cost they’ll no longer incur. We’re also going to ensure that they have up to $1,000 to pay for their non-tuition costs, for example books that they may need. So this $17 million is all about ensuring the Tasmanian Government and the Tasmanian people have the skills they need to ensure that this project, the Battery of the Nation, can come to life.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much Michaelia. This is part of our plan for a stronger economy. Australia is the best place to live and to raise a family, but our future depends on ensuring we continue to build our economy - to secure our future and to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on. The health system here in Tasmania is dependent on a strong economy.
Higher taxes don’t solve that problem, that just slows the economy down and means you’re not in a position to fund affordable medicines and things like that in the future. Higher taxes has never been the answer to any problem. The answer to ensuring we can deliver the health services, the education, the things Tasmanians rely on, is for Tasmania to stay on the great path it’s on under the Hodgman Government, that is making their economy strong and is going well. We are backing them in, it’s a great partnership.
JOURNALIST: Is this dependent on the federal election result?
PRIME MINISTER: This is in the Budget, this is in the Budget papers and the funding is there. The only risk to this would be a Labor government that would reverse it. But this is a decision that has been taken and it’s in the Budget that was handed down last week.
JOURNALIST: These funds will only be available for people wanting to go into specific skills, it won’t be for all trades?
PRIME MINISTER: The Skilling Australians Fund – Michaelia might want to speak to this as well – that is already funding the additional training arrangements for the traditional skills and things like that. On top of that, we also have the apprenticeship program we announced, the half a billion dollar skills package in the Budget last week, which goes to a range of different apprenticeships which will also, I think, be of great input here in Tasmania. But what we’re announcing today goes above and beyond that. It goes to these broader-ranging skills and to ensure there’s zero fee participation and to ensure we can invest and recruit those Tasmanians to come and be part of making these great projects a reality.
MINISTER FOR SMALL AND FAMILY BUSINESS, SKILLS AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION: In Australia, it’s not a “one size fits all” country, the skill needs in Tasmania given the Battery of the Nation project, are fundamentally different to my home state of WA or even up in Queensland. So this is all about ensuring that as a Federal Government, we’re working with the Tasmanian Government, so the Tasmanian people, young Tasmanians in particular, have the skills that industries here in Tasmania say they need to ensure that projects like the Battery of the Nation absolutely come to life.
JOURNALIST: What skills specifically are they for Tasmania, that are lacking here?
MINISTER FOR SMALL AND FAMILY BUSINESS, SKILLS AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION: This is done through our national partnership agreement with the Tasmanian Government that will commence in 2020. Those skill will be identified by sitting down with industry and with the Tasmanian Government and seeing what skillsets are required. So it could be a project management skill, it could be in building and construction, it could be an entire course, it could be one or two units that a person needs to up-skill and continue undertaking the job they’re doing. But that’s something we’ll be working out with the Tasmanian Government and in particular with industry, because industry themselves know the skills they need.
PRIME MINISTER: It’s a very customised plan. We have a plan to keep our economy strong and we have a plan to keep the Tasmanian economy strong. We have a Tasmanian economy plan of which this is a key component. The Battery of the Nation is a very important part of Tasmania’s future, particularly for northern Tasmania. But not only that, it’s about keeping our traditional industries strong. It wasn’t that long ago we were here together, talking about what we were going to do with our forestry industry up here in northern Tasmania. So we have a very clear plan to keep the Tasmanian economy strong and I could not hope for a better partner in achieving that than the Premier Will Hodgman.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] allocated for a second interconnector?
PRIME MINISTER: Well this is what the business case does. The business case, we wouldn’t be doing the business case on the second interconnector, if we weren’t serious about actually following through and implementing that. What the interconnector business case already - from the work that has been done, - indicates is that it will be a very viable project. But it’s the ‘how and where and at what scale’ and the financing structures that can be used to bring it about and ultimately the participation of other partners, that make it a reality.
But this project will be a goer. It’ll be a goer and will benefit not only Tasmania, it will be a project that benefits all of Australia. I mean Tasmania will be charging up the rest of the nation, Tasmania will be making a contribution here to the rest of the economy. That’s why we’ve been settling those quite specific arrangements for how it would be structured and how the finance would be done, which means that those who would be benefitting from it, carry the financial cost.
JOURNALIST: Mr Morrison I understand that [inaudible] the same [inaudible] so are you going to be funding that?
PRIME MINISTER: That’s the same answer to the question that was just put. We would not be doing the business case and putting investment into the Marinus Link project if we had no intention of then following through with a positive result. There are many different ways you can finance that and that’s what that business case will actually best identify, the best way we can make that project a reality. Because you’re right, it’s not just the hydro project. I mean, there’s are 400K in power just sitting there, which is not going anywhere. We need it to get across the Bass Strait, we need to it power up Victoria. If that would’ve been in place previously, Victoria would not have suffered the brownouts they did recently.
JOURNALIST: Today’s announcement, you said you’d be having a discussion with the Tasmanian Government, so has Tas TAFE been involved in that?
PRIME MINISTER: That’ll be done by the Tasmanian Government, to the extent to which they’ll bring in other partners. That’s up to them, but really it’s about the industry. They’re the ones who are going to build it, Tasmanian Hydro is who we have to talk to through that process, to make sure we’re identifying the skills need. Now the company we’re standing with here today, they’ve already been involved in doing a lot of work with these hydro projects. They’re very familiar with these sites, whether it’s the businesses here or around the state, understanding the people they will need. In many cases, it’ll be people who already working for these company that need to do additional training in other areas, adding to their skillsets. So this really is about upgrading and everybody benefitting from this investment in their skills. We are investing in the people to build the projects, that’s what we’re doing here today, particularly in Tasmania.
JOURNALIST: Just moving on Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER: Before we go into other issues, we’re joined by some great people from VEC, so if we’re going to move to political issues, I won’t draw them into those things. So I want to thank you very much and good luck, thanks for joining us today. Or any questions for VEC?
JOURNALIST: Can I just get a general comment, yeah, what do you think of today’s announcement, how will that help you in the skills shortage you face?
LINCOLN BROWICH, GENERAL MANAGER VEC CIVIL ENGINEERING: I think any investment in training is welcome in the state. We invest heavily in our apprentices and I think we’ve had 200 per cent increase over the last four years in apprenticeship uptake, so any additional funds most certainly allows us to invest in our people and invest in growth. So it allows us to grow our business and working partnerships, with our key partners in the state in key infrastructure projects that we do throughout the nation.
JOURNALIST: What skills do you think Tasmania is lacking?
LINCOLN BROWICH, GENERAL MANAGER VEC CIVIL ENGINEERING: I’d prefer not to go into that.
PRIME MINISTER: They’ll be working closely with us to identify those, thanks very much, thanks for being here. Okay other questions for the day.
JOURNALIST: Malcom Turnbull said you can’t wave off the revelations about Peter Dutton’s private [inaudible] as the bubble and the buck stops with you. What are you going to do?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I’ve spoken with Peter Dutton about this and there are no issues here that trouble me at all. I mean there’s no suggestion that Peter, in any way shape or form, has a sought or been provided with any benefit here. The individual we're talking about had his visa cancelled while he was out of the country, by Peter Dutton's Department. So if the object was foreign interference, well, the exact opposite is what has occurred.
Peter Dutton has been in the vanguard of ensuring that we’ve been putting foreign interference arrangements in place and in the Budget that we handed down last week, there was about $36 million which has been invested in the agencies that Peter Dutton has responsibility for, to counter foreign interference.
I think this is in stark contrast with the Labor Party and Senator Dastyari. Senator Dastyari, or former Senator Dastyari I should stress, had to resign in shame because he had been intoxicated by that interference. So if anyone has any questions to answer on this issue, it’s the Labor Party. The Liberal and National parties have actually put these arrangements in place. So no, I have no concerns and as a result I’m happy to move on.
JOURNALIST: Have you sought an explanation from Mr Dutton?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes, I have and I’m very satisfied.
JOURNALIST: About how he came to be in a lunchtime meeting with [inaudible]?
PRIME MINISTER: Members of Parliament have meetings with people all the time, the suggestion here is that something inappropriate was done. There’s no basis for that whatsoever, absolutely none. In fact, if you look at what actually has occurred in the Government's handling of this individual's case, we cancelled his visa. I mean, I don’t think that was a solution he was looking for, do you? He was seeking as I understand it, to try to gain citizenship in Australia. Our Government not only didn’t provide him with citizenship, we cancelled his visa so he cannot return to Australia. That was done by an agency under Mr Dutton's responsibility. So I think the actions here speak far louder and the actions here are that we’ve acted against foreign interference in this country. Not just by having the laws in place, but by acting on those laws and in last week’s Budget, by investing in the agencies which protect Australia from foreign interference.
By contrast the Labor Party, through the former Senator Sam Dastyari, took this same individual, put him in front of an Australian government logo and ran an ad for him. I mean that’s what I call foreign interference.
JOURNALIST: So what do you make of Malcolm Turnbull’s advice then?
PRIME MINISTER: I don’t make anything of it.
JOURNALIST: Was the Environment Minister ever pressured to get those Adani agreements done, will this free you up in your decision to call the election? And you’re a religious man, does Easter factor into any plans for an election date?
PRIME MINISTER: Let me say a couple of things about the last issue. On Easter Sunday and on Easter Friday and on Anzac Day, the Liberal and National parties won’t be running any political advertisements if we’re in an election campaign at that time.
I understand the Labor Party have said they won’t do it on Good Friday and Anzac Day as well and I think I welcome that. I would ask them to extend that to Easter Sunday. That’s sort of the whole point of the Christian Easter celebration, frankly, Easter Sunday. So I would welcome their support on that as well and I would expect they’d do that in good faith.
On the other matters that you raise, the Environment Minister has made a decision, as I said she would all along, based on the best environmental science advice. She has been waiting to receive that advice from Geoscience Australia and the CSIRO. Both of those organisations, together with the Department of Environment have made recommendations that this further matter that required consent from the Commonwealth, could be considered. She has made her decision on that, consistent absolutely with the environmental science advice and the scientific advice that has been provided by those agencies and her own Department.
Now I note that Mr Shorten is happy to say - while he’s up in central Queensland today - that he’s happy to abide also by the advice of the scientists. I’ll wait to see whether he says the same thing when he’s down in Victoria or elsewhere in the country. I’m not surprised he’d be happy to say that up in central Queensland. But when it comes to the Liberal and National parties, we’re happy to talk about our primary industries in the same way wherever we go around this country; we are for our primary industries, whether it’s in agriculture, forestry, fishing or mining. In all of these places, we know the jobs that they produce and we know that you need to continue to stand by these industries.
So I welcome the fact that Mr Shorten has said, Bill Shorten has said that he will be supporting that decision of consent. But let's see if he can say the same thing in Melbourne, as he says in Gladstone.
I know that the Environment Minister has conducted herself in the way you’d expect her to do, to go through, follow the process to the letter and make sure that before she made any decision, that she was completely satisfied and had all the information she believed she needed to make that decision. Which is exactly what she did and I know Melissa pretty well, she’s a pretty tough Western Australian.
MINISTER FOR SMALL AND FAMILY BUSINESS, SKILLS AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION: Absolutely.
PRIME MINISTER: I’ve got another tough Western Australian behind me and they just stay focused on what their job is and what their responsibilities and their accountabilities are. I want to thank Minister Price for the very good job she’s done in managing her responsibilities and exercising them the way she has. Thank you very much, everyone, great to be here.
JOURNALIST: When are you going to call the election?
PRIME MINISTER: It’ll be in May, we’ll call it in April.