Doorstop - Williamtown NSW

07 May 2021
Prime Minister

SENATOR HOLLIE HUGHES, SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES: Well, how good is it to be here at Newcastle Airport today. The Hunter region is such a dynamic area and we're seeing this part of New South Wales really leading the post-COVID recovery, and it's absolutely fantastic to have the Prime Minister here with us again in the Hunter region. If I can just first acknowledge though the Prime Minister, obviously, and David Gillespie, Member for Lyne, as well as Dr Peter Cock, General Manager, CEO, sorry, of the Newcastle Airport, as well as Kirby Clark, the Chair. I'd also like to welcome and acknowledge the support and attendance here today of Ryan Palmer, the Mayor of Port Stephens, one of the beautiful areas set to have a tourism boost, as well as an export industry boost thanks to this upgrade. Representatives from Newcastle Council, as well as Andrew Macdonald from Chair, the Chair of Destination Port Stephens, Kent Warren, Chair of Newcastle Tourism Industry Group, and Bob Hawes, the CEO of Hunter Business Chamber. This is a great announcement today and I'm so excited to be here to see as we bring civil aviation together with the Defence industry and ensure that the future for the Hunter region's incredibly bright, and continues to grow as a lead destination in New South Wales. If I can hand over now to David Gillespie. Sorry, the Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you very much Hollie, Senator Hughes, it's great to be here with you and everyone, and I join in acknowledging all of them as we gather here today for this important announcement, which I'll come to in just a second.

But before I do that, I'm also here today and will be for the first time chairing the National Cabinet right here in the Hunter. So that's a first for the Hunter, and I'm pleased that, able to be able to have the facilities here to do that today. Obviously at National Cabinet there'll be some important matters discussed. Yesterday, the National Security Committee of the Federal Cabinet met to consider the restoration of repatriation flights of, after the 15th of May. We received advice from the Chief Medical Officer, who is here with me today, and a couple of points I need to make.

First of all, the pause that we put in place for travellers coming back from India is working. The medical advice we have and the evidence that we have in our quarantine facilities, in particular up in the Northern Territory, is showing that the number of cases there is moving back to more manageable levels and will be at a level by the 15th of May to ensure that, as planned, we will be able to return to having those repatriation flights from India, from the 15th of May. There'll be no change to the biosecurity orders that we have put in place, which were put in place to run till the 15th of May. That biosecurity order is working exactly as it was intended to, and that will remain in place with no change until the 15th of May. The National Security Committee of Cabinet has, has confirmed that it will have done its job by then, and as a result we see no need to extend it beyond that date. So the original decision to put in place that biosecurity order until the 15th of May has proved very effective and it will run its full course until that time without any change.

What we will be doing is receiving our first repatriation flight into the Northern Territory as part of the charter arrangements that we have with our airlines to bring back those first people from India at that time. There'll be three flights, we envisage, in the course of May going into the Northern Territory, bringing back the most urgent of cases, as that's worked through by our High Commissioner and our consular officials in India. We have some 900 people listed as vulnerable as part of the group that we have registered in India, and our charter flights will be focussing on them.

In addition, there will be rapid antigen testing put in place for everyone getting onto those flights. The challenge we've had, in terms of previous arrivals out of India, has been the higher incidence of infection that we were seeing in those arrivals and the stress that that was placing on the quarantine system, whether at the national resilience facility that we fund to the tune of some half a billion dollars up in the Northern Territory, or elsewhere around the country. So I'll be advising the premiers and chief ministers of that decision this morning and then we'll be working on the many other matters that we need to attend to.

The Government has made no decision yet on the restarting of normal commercial flights from India. We will take further advice on that next week. I will consult with the premiers and chief ministers today as part of that National Cabinet meeting. And the National Security Committee of Cabinet will consider those matters further next week and in the weeks ahead. But what's important is that the biosecurity order that we have put in place has been highly effective. It's doing the job that we needed it to do and that was to ensure that we could do everything we can to prevent a third wave of COVID-19 here in Australia, but also to ensure that we can put ourselves in a stronger position to bring Australians, Australian citizens, Australian residents and their direct families, home safely to Australia. This has put us on a much stronger footing to do that in a sustainable way. And so other matters we will discuss with the National Cabinet today.

But here in Newcastle, it's an exciting day. It's great to be back in the Hunter - $66 million dollars will be announced in the Budget on Tuesday night by the Treasurer to invest in widening the runway here and various other works here at Newcastle Airport, to ensure that we can take larger flights here in Newcastle and we can back in the future of the Hunter for the considerable potential that this region has. This decision will see works, subject to it going through the normal parliamentary processes, starting in August and completing in 2022. What this will mean is jobs. We're advised by Newcastle Airport that some 4,400 jobs, half of them in the tourism industry alone, others reaching out across the region here in the Hunter and more broadly. And what is exciting about this project is our commitment to it backs in, what I know, is the great level of confidence and belief about where the Hunter is going. This is part of our plan to support the Hunter region realise its potential. We are seeing jobs here in the Hunter. This will add more jobs in the Hunter and this will be the backup that is needed for the commercial side of the industry, the commercial side of the region, to really realise its potential.

I particularly want to thank the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack for his leadership on this project, and I want to thank Michael. We were talking to Penguin Air here before, Pelican Air here before, for the great work that they have done in keeping their pilots, their crews and everyone in jobs. And that's been supported by the facilitation programme that the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack put into place. So I want to acknowledge his leadership here today, his support for this project, and his broader support for the aviation industry that has kept planes in the sky, which means we've been able to keep jobs on the ground right across the COVID pandemic, as we will going into the future.

It’s a seven and a half metre extension on either side of the runway, just to give you the details, that will allow twin-aisle planes to land, such as the Boeing 787, the Boeing 777, the Airbus A350. These aircraft can carry between 251 and 382 people. The runway works will maximise the benefits of works already completed for the terminal, to upgrade the international arrivals and departure processing facility. We've also committed some $3.8 billion, I should say, more broadly, to supports in the aviation sector since March of 2020. This will also support the works that are underway here and the projects and programmes that are being run in our Defence industry here, with the F-35s and other operations at Williamtown. So this is a win win win. It’s a win for the commercial aviation industry. It's a win for the Hunter and it's a win for the Defence operations that we run here from the Hunter, and I’ll ask now David to speak on behalf of the Deputy Prime Minister.

THE HON. DR DAVID GILLESPIE MP, MEMBER FOR LYNE: Thank you, PM. We might just wait a few seconds. Another mighty Pelican Air arriving at Newcastle. Thank you, PM. It's my great honour to be here with the Prime Minister and Senator Hughes, but also, as PM mentioned, Michael McCormack couldn't be here. But it is a great announcement, not only for the increased capability for RAAF Williamtown, it is going to be a real turbocharger for the broader Hunter economy. The region that I represent sees this as their, not only their regional airport but their departure point for international travel, and extra international tourists will therefore be able to come here. Travel times, freight costs will shrink, as a result, for all the regional primary producers and food processors in the Hunter and northern New South Wales. The commercial growth, the corporate interest, manufacturing, all the industries in aerospace that will want to co-locate in Astra Aerolab, will now be turbocharged. I've worked very closely with Newcastle Airport, Ryan Palmer and Newcastle Mayor as well, to lobby for this wonderful project. And without further ado, the people of the Mid-North Coast and the Hunter region and northern New South Wales thank the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and Michael McCormack for making this project go forward. My constituents will love this announcement, as well as all the other people in the broader Hunter region. So I would now like to introduce Peter Cock, the head of Newcastle Airport. Over to you Peter.

PETER COCK, CEO, NEWCASTLE AIRPORT: Thank you, David, and thank you, everyone. I have to pinch myself. I think if I was 10 years’ younger I'd jump and click my heels, or do something like that … That’s right. Prime Minister, thank you. Having wide body aircraft come in and out of this location will change the lives of the people of the Hunter forever, for the better. This is truly a cathartic project. I'd like to thank our local members, Dr David Gillespie and Senator Hollie Hughes. Hollie, I keep, I almost say the patron saint of the, of the Hunter, but it’s actually patron senator. So, but I think that's a Freudian slip. I would also like to thank the RAAF. I think that the assistance that have been given throughout this project has been enormous, and it wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for the guys over the other side of the runway. I particularly like to thank Group Captains Peter Cluff and Ron Tilley. Huge achievements like this are never one organisation or one part. We had every organisation has in some way contributed, from down in the Central Coast right into Armidale, and every membership organisation. What the PM didn't know is this was a full-court press and this was, this was going to succeed. As a region we were really behind this. Newcastle Airport is already the second international gateway into New South Wales, Australia's most populous state. This has given us the chance to dream and have a vision. We're now thinking Singapore. We're now thinking the Middle East. We're now thinking the US. All these have become possible. The Prime Minister's announcement has unlocked potential of this region, the 4,500 jobs, the $12 billion of economic activity. They all add to the confidence this Government has in the Hunter region. The benefits of this will be increased connectivity. So it's felt by the local people, being able to travel internationally much more easily, and international tourists. And as has been made mention, the freight activity shouldn't be underestimated. The new jobs and the new industries that this will create, [inaudible] in our region, we probably don't even know what they are today. But this will enable them. This is a very future, forward looking project. But finally, my biggest thanks goes to the people of the Hunter region. Without your help and assistance, this project never would have happened. The speed with which the people have come back post-COVID shutdowns has blown us away. The confidence of people of our region show in our airport by our new routes and existing routes actually gives us strength. This has been a four-year effort. The strength we get from the way the people use this airport has, just keeps us going, sustains us. We exist to be the airport the region deserves and we know our region deserves to have the world at its doorstep. Finally, once again, thank you, Prime Minister. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Peter. Jobs, jobs and jobs, up, up and away. Okay,  happy to take some questions on particularly the announcement, and obviously on the other matters, but let’s start particularly while Peter is with us for questions that relate to the announcement today.

JOURNALIST: A question for Peter, actually.


JOURNALIST: How, how much extra noise is this going to create for communities around here?

PETER COCK, CEO, NEWCASTLE AIRPORT: The wide body aircraft are often more modern, and so more modern aircraft actually produce less noise than older aircraft. So we already have the ability to fly in additional aircraft, and in some ways a bigger aircraft with more people means there’s less actual movement. So there's noise contours across the site that are being worked up with the RAAF, so it's well within those noise contours that have already been published.

JOURNALIST: Are there going to be any additional impacts on the surrounding communities?

PETER COCK, CEO, NEWCASTLE AIRPORT: Yeah, they'll be able to fly internationally easily. Their children will be able to get jobs. The economic uplift will be amazing.

PRIME MINISTER: Other questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there was a suggestion that you were going to announce the Kurri Kurri gas project today. Can you give us an update about what the Government's intentions for that are.

PRIME MINISTER: Well when we’re in a position to make further announcements on that then we will.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, just a related question. Last time you were here you indicated that you didn't support the extension of gas exploration licence PEP 11.


JOURNALIST: Have you seen or heard anything since that time to change your mind on that?

PRIME MINISTER: No, not at all, that is firmly and absolutely [inaudible].

JOURNALIST: So, onto the Kurri Kurri gas plant, given the Tallawarra plant has been approved in the Illawarra, what impact will that have on any potential approvals of the Kurri Kurri plant?

PRIME MINISTER: Those matters are being considered separately, and I welcome the Tallawarra announcement. I think that's a great contribution to the task that we have to replace the capacity that will be lost as a result of Liddell. But the Energy Minister Angus Taylor and I know what the task is, and that means there's a lot more that still needs to be done. And that's what will be guiding our decision on Kurri Kurri. And as I said before, when I was here in the Hunter earlier in the year, this is about ensuring we have a gas-fired recovery, and that's what the Hunter needs. And I can assure you we'll be taking decisions consistent with that, and when we’re in a position to make further announcements on those matters, then we enthusiastically will.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, good morning. [Inaudible] from Sky News.


JOURNALIST: With the 900 vulnerable Australians that are hoping to return home, are you aware of any vulnerable, sorry acute health cases in India at the moment of Australians?

PRIME MINISTER: No, that advice hasn't been provided to me, but at any given time, anywhere in the world, we have lists of vulnerable Australians, and those cases are worked on with our medical professionals and, and with our posts. And we seek to provide whatever support we can in those circumstances. Where, it has been our task now for many, many months. We have already facilitated the return of around 20,000 Australians from India, and this has been a big task. And that task will commence again on the 15th of May and it will be done so safely, safely. There was a great risk when we put the border security arrangement in place through the Health Minister that we would have undermined our medium to longer term capability to bring people home. And so it was the smart, sensible, wise and compassionate thing to do to put the pause in place to ensure that it was done in a way that would have the right effect, so we'd be able to safely resume repatriation flights. So that is what the task was. That is what it's doing. The biosecurity arrangement will remain in force unchanged until the 15th of May, as it was designed to do, and then we will commence those repatriation flights again.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] people returning from India ...


JOURNALIST: Will they have to be tested and tested even if, before they get on a repatriation flight or?


JOURNALIST: Okay. So even if they are an acute case, they’re going to be left there, in India?

PRIME MINISTER: Rapid antigen testing is a requirement and a negative test to get on board a flight to Australia. I’m sure that’s what all Australians would expect.

JOURNALIST: Regarding those flights coming back from India, which states need to do more in terms of quarantine?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the flights that we're bringing back that I've announced today will be coming into the National Resilience Facility in Darwin, at Howard Springs. That is effectively the shared Commonwealth-Territory facility that was put in place on the recommendation of Jane Halton when she did her national review of quarantine. She said that a National Resilience Facility, a facility, should be established and it has been at a cost of some half a billion dollars to federal taxpayers. And so I appreciate Michael Gunner’s, as Chief Minister, work in the Northern Territory to enable us to make this announcement today. And working with his team there at Howard Springs, as well as the AUSMAT team, have been doing a terrific job up there. Obviously, I'll be consulting with the states and territories about what they may wish to do and inviting them to participate in how we might repatriate Australians in a way that they believe they're able to assist within. But I'll have those discussions with them first.

JOURNALIST: Last time you were here, you went for a tour of the Port of Newcastle. Do you support the establishment of a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle which, by the way, would complement this announcement?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I support things that create jobs in the Hunter. So where projects are supporting jobs in the Hunter, I'm a big fan of those projects and I always try to clear away any obstacles to job creating projects in the Hunter.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you support or does Australia support waiving the patents for COVID-19 vaccines?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's a matter we're still considering.

JOURNALIST: This is something that could potentially boost global production.


JOURNALIST: Is that something that Australia is going to support?

PRIME MINISTER: I welcome the announcement of the United States, as I did yesterday and any decisions on Australia's part we will consider further through our own process.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you know how many of the 9,000 Australians have tested positive to COVID-19?

PRIME MINISTER: We don't have that information, but that's why they are tested before they get on the flight, and that's a necessary part of these arrangements. This is how you bring Australians safely home on a sustainable basis. And it is a requirement, as it currently is, to have PCR testing before uplift into Australia. That's true in the United Kingdom. It's true in the United States. It's true in Japan. It's true in other parts of the world, Singapore and other places that have people returning to Australia. So the requirement to have a test before getting on a flight is an existing requirement. What we're doing in relation to these repatriation flights is ensuring that we have rapid antigen testing in place as well to give ourselves a greater sense of surety that when we're bringing people back to Australia, we are minimising the risk of COVID cases being brought into the country.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can I just clarify, you mentioned the three repatriation flights through May.


JOURNALIST: Is that going to be enough to deal with these challenges?

PRIME MINISTER: We're going to have to deal with this flight by flight. Flight by flight, and as we have been doing now for over a year. I said we have brought back 20,000 people from India alone. 20,000, that's obviously done within the constraints of ensuring that we have a very sound quarantine system across the country. I remind you that 99.99 percent is the effectiveness of the hotel quarantine system, including the work of Howard Springs in that of our quarantine system in Australia. If I told you over a year ago we would have put in place a quarantine system that had 99.99 per cent effectiveness, I'm sure you wouldn't believe me. But that is what Australia has achieved. That is what Australia has achieved.

That is why Australia is living in a way that the rest of the world largely isn't. And I'm going to do everything within my authority to ensure that we continue to keep Australians safe, that we continue to protect the way of life we're living here in Australia, that we keep seeing the jobs coming back, that we protect the jobs from the incursion of COVID into our communities. And that means that Australians can continue to plan for their future with some confidence in a world that's incredibly uncertain. So they’re the decisions we're putting in place and the decision we've made here today to back in the Hunter, $66 million of funding to support the expansion of this effort through the widening of the runways means that we're not just protecting Australians for the here and now in the middle of COVID. We are building for the future. That's how you secure the COVID economic recovery. That's what next week's Budget is going to be all about. Securing the COVID-19 economic recovery for Australia. And right here in the Hunter, that means $66 million being invested to back the Hunter in with the widening of the runways here and supporting their future plans. Thanks very much everyone.