THE HON WILL HODGMAN MP, PREMIER OF TASMANIA: Firstly, can I welcome you all here today and thank our hosts, the beautiful west coast of Tasmania for providing an absolutely stunning Tasmanian day and a wonderful way to welcome our Prime Minister to the state. So to Scott, fantastic to have you here for today and tomorrow and to be able to talk about Tasmania now and importantly what we intend to do together to keep our state performing as strongly as it is economically and also to continue to make Tasmania as a great place to live, work and play.
To Mitch Fifield and to Richard Colbeck, Ministers here today as well, fantastic to have you in the state and a great opportunity to talk about how we are connecting a remote part of the state with the rest of the world. Not withstanding Tasmania’s geographic challenges, it is absolutely essential we are connected to the rest of the world, that we continue to showcase all we have to offer here and give Tasmanian businesses the chance to be competitive in a competitive, global environment. The progress of the NBN rollout is obviously a significant piece of infrastructure to support that.
Can I just say before I ask the Prime Minister to make some comments, that over the five years that we’ve been in government, or close to it, the Tasmanian Government has worked very closely with our federal counterparts. Tasmania’s best interests are best served by having a Coalition Government working collaboratively with the Tasmanian one. Of course, we will always stand up very strongly for our state and pitch a very strong case for Tasmania and if you look at the recent track record of what the Commonwealth has done to support our shared objectives, whether it be improving our health services, investing in critical infrastructure, sustaining the rapid growth and prosperity that surrounds our tourism industry, this is all illustrative of a shared objective and a common sense of purpose.
So yes, we have a new Prime Minister but it is very much business as usual and certainly I know from my discussions today with the Prime Minister there will be a continuation of the work that’s underway, a focus on what’s important to Tasmanians. Not political sideshows, but actually focusing on improving services. Health services, education standards, keeping Tasmania’s economy as one of the strongest-performing in the country and making sure that more Tasmanians have the opportunity of a good job or to advance their prospects. These are things that we have a very shared commitment to continuing to deliver on and I’m delighted to welcome you here to the beautiful island state, Prime Minister and invite you to make some comments.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much Will, it’s great to be here. How good is Queenstown, particularly on a day like today? It is absolutely gorgeous and it’s wonderful to be here with the Premier and of course my colleagues. And we are here to talk about the significant fulfilment, the honouring of the promises that our Government has made here on the west coast. And in the drive over from Strahan today, the Premier and I had to opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues and flying up from Hobart earlier today. And we’re here to honour the commitments that we made on the NBN. Back in 2016, we said we would be investing $14 million and there was a plus $4 million commitment also from the State Government to ensure that we could be hooking up exactly what we’re hooking up today.
When you think about more remote parts of Australia, you probably think about large, open expanses looking out as far as the eye can see. But there are other parts of the country like here where we are on the west coast of Tasmania, which also deal with the challenges of remoteness. If you’re running a business, if you’re running a motel as you’re seeing here, or if you’re running a graphic design business, or if you’re running an accountancy practice - whatever your business might be - or you’re simply at home and you know you want to be able to access education resources for your kids, or if you want to access tele and e-health services, all of these things, when you’re living in a remote part of the country, are very dependent on the NBN services that are being delivered here. Now, across Tasmania we’re over 99 per cent in terms of connected up now, in terms of what’s available to people. Two thirds of Tasmanians in those households are now connected up. That is going to radically change what is happening in these communities. I mean what we’ve seen here alone in terms of the increase in speeds I think has really been a shot in the arm for the local community here. We do know, for example, that in areas that are connected up to the NBN, women in business is growing twenty times faster than is occurring in other parts where the NBN is not connected. The establishment of home-based businesses, the independence that that provides for households and for families who can have the choices to live in wonderful parts of the country like here in Queenstown and have the same level of services and the same opportunities that exist elsewhere in the country. So we’re really excited about that.
I’m also here to say that our Government is honouring its commitments that we made in the most recent Braddon by-election. $700,000 going into the Mobile Black Spots program, that is going to be rolled out here as well. That is going to support some 4,000 residents across the west coast here. It’s also going to be very good for tourism as well, with the international and other visitors who are coming through this part of Tasmania and throughout this region. Investing in those services is very important.
So as a Government that is working together closely with the Hodgman Government, to ensure a strong economy for Australia, a strong economy for Tasmania, will is absolutely right. The partnership between his Government and our Government has got unemployment down. It’s got jobs up, it’s got investments in infrastructure, in hospitals, in schools. All of these things up and that’s a result of the really strong partnership that exists between the Hodgman Liberal Government here and our Government in Canberra as the national government. And that’s going to continue and we’re going to work closely together on our infrastructure projects, on our health spending, on our education spending, to ensure that Tasmanians get the guarantee of the essential services that they rely on. Whether it’s Medicare, whether it’s university, whether it’s affordable medicines, all of these things are supported by a stronger economy. Without a stronger economy, you can't deliver them. And that’s what the Hodgman Government has been able to do here in Tasmania, it’s what our Government has been able to do over the last five years and this has all meant very, very good news for Tasmanians.
So it’s great to be here with you Will, but of course Richard my Tasmanian colleague and our senior representatives from Tasmania, but also Mitch, who has been on this project of rolling out all around the country and it’s tremendous to see that.
One last thing, on this internet for Tasmania, on the NBN, 1,870 extra businesses are expected to be established by 2021 as a result of this investment. Now you just think about the jobs this means for Tasmanians, think about those small business who will also benefit from our lower taxes. Whether it’s the instant asset write-off or the 25 per cent corporate tax rate for businesses with less than $50 million in turnover. Those businesses are being supported by the services, the infrastructure and a better tax environment.
So if you’re coming to Queenstown, you are going to see the difference, you are going to feel it. And particularly, because I promised we said we’d do this Will - Unconformity, it’s on in a couple of weeks here in Queenstown. As an ex-tourism person, always happy to sell the message for tourism across Australia.
Do yourself a favour, do yourself a favour get to Queenstown and enjoy Unconformity. Good on cheers. Mitch?
SENATOR THE HON MITCH FIFIELD, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well can I thank Bernie and Julia for having us here at the Gold Rush Inn. What we are seeing here at this business is what we are seeing around Tasmania and around the nation; a business that a week ago was only getting speeds of one, two, three megabytes per second, is now is averaging speeds of about 46-47 per second. And the order is already in for 100 megabits per second package from their retailer. It’s now up there? Bernie has just advised me that the 100 megabits per second package that they’ve ordered has just come through, so that’s good news.
But this really is a moment to acknowledge a community on the west coast that came together, that said that they wanted to see the NBN delivered in a different way. The Tasmanian Government and the Commonwealth Government have come together to see that happen. The great news is that for Tasmania, the project is 99.7 per cent complete. When Zeehan comes online, Tassie will just about be done. So Tasmania will be the first state that will be construction-complete for the NBN. Nationwide, the NBN is on track to be completed by 2020. We already have the NBN available to more than 7 million premises nationwide. More than 4 million premises have already taken it up. The reason that it will be completed by 2020 is because we wanted to ensure that Australians received the nationwide benefits of the NBN as soon as possible. Because of our approach, Australians will have the NBN six to eight years sooner than would have otherwise been the case and at $30 billion less cost. And why that’s important is because our approach will the Australians pay $500 a year less for the internet, than would have been the case under the approach of our predecessors.
So this is a good day for Tasmania, it’s a good day for the west coast and it’s also an opportunity to acknowledge the work of the community here and also Phil Vickers the Mayor, who along with Richard Colbeck and the former Liberal member Brett Whiteley, really championed the community cause. So today we have a tremendous opportunity for businesses and residences to be able to connect to the rest of the world. It shouldn't matter where you live, you should be able to do your business and stay in touch with family and friends.
SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK: Thanks very much. Welcome everybody, great to be here and PM it's great to have you here in Queenstown on the west coast of Tassie as part of your first visit here as Prime Minister. And particularly to be here to demonstrate that what we’ve been saying to the community in Braddon over recent times is that we as a Government will deliver for this community and that’s exactly what we are doing today.
At the 2016 election we said that we would make a commitment of $14 million, joined with $4 million from the Tasmanian Government to bring fibre to the node services to the west coast and it’s being switched on today, or this week. To hear the reaction immediately from the community about the difference that it’s making is just fantastic. So not only did we say we are going to deliver, but we are actually delivering, and it’s great to hear your commitment again today, Prime Minister, that all the other commitments we made in the Braddon by election will also be delivered, particularly the $700,000 to assist with backhaul and mobile services to the west coast, which we know will make a big difference and will be a game-changer in the context of mobile services to the west coast of Tasmania.
So thank you Prime Minister. It’s great to have you here to do that. And can I also say to NBN, thank you for the work that you’ve been doing in actually managing the rollout of the service here on the west coast. It’s been great to work with them, they have been really diligent and working hard to get the services delivered. We talked this morning, about the 50 megabit per second services being delivered to the hotel, the order being in for a 100 megabits per second and it’s already being delivered. I mean you can’t get much better than that.
So a significant day, Prime Minister. You’ve brought high speed internet to the west coast and the last time I was here we didn’t have sunshine, so you’ve brought sunshine to the west coast as well. It’s great to have you here and I look forward to the conversations that we’ll have as a team, state and federal, over the next weekend for our State Council. Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Tasmanian government has been adamant that it wants to see a “no worse off” provision for GST reforms. Why won’t you support that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we’ve got is a better off guarantee. We’ve got a better off guarantee of over $1 billion of additional investment in the GST pool which is indexed forever. Which means $112 million extra anticipated for Tasmania over the next eight years. That’s borne out by the independent work which is done by the Productivity Commission, on the figures that they worked up and based on the analysis that we’ve also done with the Tasmanian Government which they participated in. But we’re going to continue to work constructively with the Tasmanian Government.
As the Premier and I have been discussing today, what we're committed to as a Prime Minister and Premier is to guarantee the essential services that Tasmanians rely on. On their schools, on their Medicare, on their hospitals. And our guarantee is our record on that. We have been delivering that as a partnership, both in Tasmania and nationally for the benefit of all Tasmanians and we’re going to continue to deliver on that.
This is a package where we’re investing more. More than, at its peak and onward, over $1 billion extra goes into the GST pool, which is shared around all the states and territories to ensure that every state and territory is better off. Now we’re the only ones planning to legislate that additional investment into the GST pool.
Bill Shorten is not making any such commitments to Tasmanians. He wants to legislate just a 75 cent floor and that’s it, with no compensation, with no additional investment for Tasmanians. He will leave Tasmanians high and dry. We’re committed to making and legislating the additional investment in the GST pool, from outside the GST resources, to ensure that every single state and territory is better off.
There were a range of other recommendations that were made in the Productivity Report which we will work very closely with the Tasmanian Government on and we will work through the implications of those. They’re not part of the legislative package and that’s where we’ll be able to ensure that all the issues that are important are covered off. But we’re working very closely as a team and I want to thank the Tasmania Government for the strong input there has been for this process.
JOURNALIST: Will you agree to the amendment put forward by Peter Gutwein?
PRIME MINISTER: I haven’t actually seen an amendment. What we’ve got to be careful of is that, you know, if you’re upgrading to digital, you don’t keep running an analogue service forever, do you? This is the issue where we’re looking to make the GST system fairer. We’re adding additional resources into the GST pool to make sure that every state and territory is better off. So that’s a better off guarantee of more than $1 billion a year and when you do that and you make the change to that system, you upgrade. And so we’re upgrading the GST, we’re upgrading the GST for the states and territories and all states and territories, based on the independent work done by the Productivity Commission demonstrates that all states and territories are better off.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister yesterday [inaudible] redesign, just on the GST, if there needs to be a redesign because we failed to foresee an iron ore mining boom in Western Australia, don’t any changes need to take into account the possibility of a second boom?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we’ve done is ensured – that’s why we’ve put the extra money into the pool. See, the problem with the GST before was you had a fixed pool. So if you changed the formula then there’s pluses and minuses. But if you put more into the pool, then that washes it out. That’s how the system has been designed, to ensure that into the future any possible impacts that are reasonable and credible will be dealt with by the bigger pool. See the problem in the past is that the argument has always been about trying to carve up the same sized pie. And what we’ve done as a Government is made the pie bigger. So what you end up getting is bigger, because the pie is bigger and it hasn’t just been what we’re doing with the addition more than $1 billion indexed forever that we’re putting into the GST pool; as Will and I were discussing on the way here, the changes that we’ve already made to the GST to include digital transactions, to include low-value threshold goods and to remove that threshold, those and other amendments on the black economy are delivering an extra $6.5 billion alone, in just the next four years into the GST pool. So this is the healthiest looking GST pool we’ve seen for quite some time, as a result of the changes we’ve made as a Government. And you know what it means? It means more money for the states to invest in schools, in hospitals, in police, in infrastructure, in services, in all of these things. So under our Government, under the GST we’ve been ensuring that more resources, more support is being delivered to all states and territories.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Stuart Robert has charged taxpayers $2832 for his home internet connection in May. Should the Finance Department be investigating this?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ve asked the Special Minister of State to look into this and report back to me.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe it’s unreasonable though? That’s a fairly hefty internet bill.
PRIME MINISTER: Well I’ve asked the Special Minister of State to look into this and report back to me.
JOURNALIST: At face value, does it pass the pub test?
PRIME MINISTER: Well again, once I’ve heard from the Special Minister of State then we’ll take the next step.
JOURNALIST: How do you think voters will feel about an MP paying or spending $90 per day for their home internet connection?
PRIME MINISTER: I think they’d want an explanation and that’s why I’ve asked for one.
JOURNALIST: On the [inaudible] are you excited to climb the Harbour Bridge?
PRIME MINISTER: I am, I’m very excited. I suspect he’s going to get up there a little quicker than I will, as well as the other athletes who will be going up there. You know, I think I’ll be puffing a bit by the time I get to the top. I suspect my daughters would get up there a bit quicker than I could and if they could take my place, I’m sure they would. But look it’s a great thrill having the royals come out. I mean, they’re so great and I think wherever they go, they just fill people with hope. They just fill people with hope and they make people feel better themselves and what the Prince has done with the Invictus Games is nothing short of inspirational.
But the only thing more inspirational than him, are the athletes who will participate in these Invictus Games. So look I’m thrilled as to get a guernsey to be able to climb up the Bridge with the Prince and the other Invictus Games athletes. I think it’ll be a great visit to Australia and I think right across the country, not just in Sydney but here in Queenstown, up in Townsville, over in Bunbury, I think people will have a bit of a look in. They’ll have a bit of a giggle at me puffing and panting all the way up the top, but I’ll get there. My brother is a paramedic so you know, I might have to take him in tow.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister have you spoke to Stuart Robert about this?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ve spoken to the Special Minister of State. I’ve spoken to the Special Minister of State.
JOURNALIST: The Vice President of the US is calling Chinese Navy action in the South China Sea “reckless harassment”, do you agree with him? Will you commit Australia to join an international freedom of navigation fleet in the South China Sea?
PRIME MINISTER: What I will always do and what Australia will always do is act in our national interest. That is always, I think to deescalate situations and to use our influence and our relationships in the region to ensure continued prosperity for our region. We will always take a calm and measured approach to these issues, engaging with all of our partners, both in the region and more broadly.
JOURNALIST: Just back to the royals, you’ve got three meetings with them. Is it too much prime-ministerial time, when they’re not heads of state?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, it’ll be in Sydney, I’m a Sydney boy at the end of the day and we’re happy to participate as we’ve been asked to in the programme by the Palace. These programmes get put together over a long period of time. They haven’t been just put together over the last six weeks I can tell you, there’s a lot of work that’s gone into this. But what it’s really about and what I think they would want it to be very focused on, is the Invictus Games and Sydney’s hosting of the Invictus Games. This is a big deal and it’s a big deal for those athletes and their families. I’m sure the prince and the princess would very much want the focus to be on those athletes and their courage and their service and their inspiration.
JOURNALIST: The US and the Netherlands have now followed your suit in condemning the Russian cyber-attacks, are you pleased with that?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes, I am.
JOURNALIST: Any elaboration?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I am, because you’ve got to call this stuff out. When you’ve got countries acting contrary to the international rules, of law, the international community has to call it out. That’s what we’ve done and I welcome the other nations who have joined us and the UK and others who have already done that. That’s how you make the world safer, when we act together to call out this sort of behavior. It’s not on.
JOURNALIST: Are you open to having some discussions with West Coast mayor Phil Vickers about the Battery of the Nation Project?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I’m glad you’ve asked about the Battery of the Nation project. Will and I are off to see what is a potential part of the Battery of the Nation. I’m very excited about this project. I think it’s a cracker of a project and we’ve invested, already, in working up business cases and feasibilities around a lot of these projects for pumped hydro and we’re going to have a look at one of those very soon.
This is an enormous opportunity for Tasmania and energy and getting electricity prices down is one of the big focusses of our Government. Tasmania is so well placed, I mean this is not just a renewable powerhouse – which it is and can be for the country, particularly for south-eastern Australia – but on top of that, it’s dispatchable power as well. This is what I call fair dinkum power; stuff that works when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. Now, the sun is shining on us today in Queenstown but that’s not always the case. It’s important that we have both the reliable energy supply, as well as the renewables and dispatchability actually go together. I think it’s an exciting project, a really exciting project. But Will, you might want to talk about it, because we share that passion.
PREMIER OF TASMANIA: That’s right. I’m really thrilled to be able to have another really positive discussion with the leader of our nation’s government about the shared vision that we’ve established to transform Tasmania’s energy status as the nation’s battery. It will take a lot of work and a lot of work has already been done to understand the opportunities and we’ll go to one such place where there is an identified potential pumped hydro storage option, which will be part of that network. But also, I think it’s a really encouraging thing to hear that our vision of not only perhaps a second interconnector and further wind and renewable developments taking place here in Tasmania, entirely constituent with a national government’s energy agenda and energy vision. So this is in my view one of the single greatest opportunities for Tasmanian and it is a great example of a very practical Commonwealth working with a delivering state Government that realizes this potential, the opportunity and what we’ve already invested, that will take Tasmania to the next level and put us in our rightful position of being the nation’s battery of renewable energy.
PRIME MINISTER: So let’s not forget – because we’re going to have to go, because we’ve got to go look at that – unconformity.com.au 19-21 October - new cultural experiences at the edge of the world. Get online and get yourself to Queenstown.