FiveAA Mornings with Matthew Pantelis

15 May 2023
Prime Minister
Strengthening Medicare; AUKUS; Budget 2023-24; China trade; Housing; Gas

MATTHEW PANTELIS, HOST: We'll just go firstly to the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, who is in Adelaide today and apparently making his way out to the northern suburbs. Prime Minister, good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Matthew. Good to be with you, and it's great to be here in Adelaide on this rather beautiful day.

PANTELIS: What brings you to Adelaide?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm headed up to a medical centre up at Elizabeth with Matt Burnell and Mark Butler. We're talking about our plan to strengthen Medicare that was in the Budget last Tuesday, including tripling, of course, the bulk-billing incentive for GP visits, the largest ever investment in bulk-billing in Australia's history. And then after that, I'll be with Tony Zappia. We're going to the North East Vocational College, and there we'll be talking about our plan for skills, 300,000 additional fee-free TAFE places on top of the 180,000 we had in our last Budget, that has seen already 13,000 people doing fee-free TAFE, getting their apprenticeships started, really making a difference there. And of course, here in Adelaide as well, that stands to really benefit from the AUKUS program and our plan for subs here to be built. We have some 4,000 additional university places to deliver STEM graduates that will be so important as well. We're going to need 4,000 Australian workers just to design and build the new infrastructure for the new submarine construction yard here in Adelaide, that I visited there at Osborne last time I was here with Premier Peter Malinauskas. So, it's a busy day here in Adelaide, but I'm really looking forward to being here and to engaging with South Australians about our Budget.

PANTELIS: So, the Budget, are you disappointed with the reception it's had where some well, half the people, most voters in fact, believe the various measures are inflationary, could leave people worse off?

PRIME MINISTER: No, look, if you have a look at the full table there of the way that budgets have been received over more than a decade, it's higher than it was last October, and it's at the same rate, gets the same rating, as the last Budget of the Morrison Government, where you had billions and billions of dollars splashed, of course, in order to try to secure political support prior to the election. So look, we think it will stand the test of time. This is a Budget that has invested in primary healthcare, is investing in skills, is investing in what Australia needs, as well as, of course, producing the first forecast Budget surplus in 15 years. And the way that we're providing cost of living relief with our $14.6 billion package is designed to put downward pressure on inflation. And Treasury estimates that our plan for energy price relief will actually reduce inflation by three quarters of a percent, because instead of splashing cash, what we're doing is reducing the bills by working with state and territory governments and working with energy retailers.

PANTELIS: All right. But a lot of work to do in trying to convince people that it's the way forward, though, surely?

PRIME MINISTER: There's always work to do. And we are out there campaigning right around the country, informing people of what is there in the Budget. And of course, some of that relief in the form of changes being made to single parenting payment, increase in rental assistance, the $40 per fortnight increase in JobSeeker. The other measures which will come in on July 1, cheaper child care for families, but making pharmaceuticals cheaper as well, through our measures to allow for 60 day scripts rather than just 30 days, will literally halve the price of those people who have to go and get those regular medicines for conditions like diabetes or heart conditions. In addition to that, the investment we're making in primary healthcare with our urgent care clinics and this bulk-billing incentive will make it easier to see a doctor and cheaper to see a doctor as well.

PANTELIS: I want to talk about China and trade, and South Australian Minister in your government, Don Farrell, who has been in China over the weekend to try and patch up that relationship and get some of the bans on Australian exports to China lifted. That seems to have gone nowhere. You talk of the subs, is that the new stumbling block in the relationship with China?

PRIME MINISTER: I believe it has gone somewhere. Where it's gone is with dialogue. The first step towards getting understanding and getting agreements is to have dialogue. And it is a very positive thing that our Trade Minister, Don Farrell, a great South Australian, was up there spruiking the benefit, which is a mutual benefit, for Australia and China of removing any impediments that might be there for trade between our two great countries. Now, we have already negotiating through on barley, we've had a lifting of the impediments when it comes to coal, but we want to see those impediments for areas like wine and fresh seafood to be lifted. That's in the interests of Australian producers, but it's also in the interests of China. It's in the interests of its economy and its consumers. We have great products. And of course, here in the great wine state of South Australia, there's nowhere better, there's no better quality wine produced anywhere in the world as value for money than right here in South Australia. Whether it be at the medium-range end, we don't produce any bad wine, but medium, or whether it be at the high-end. And that's a product that I'm sure would be welcomed by Chinese consumers, which is why it was so successful. So, the first step is that dialogue. We hadn't had dialogue, we didn't have Trade Ministers visiting our major trading partner. And bear this in mind, that the trade with China is worth more than the trade combined with the United States, Japan and South Korea. They are an important relationship for us. And we are working cooperatively wherever we can, we'll disagree where we must, but we are engaging in our national interests.

PANTELIS: It does beg the question, though, I mean, everything you say, absolutely right, and South Australian producers, the ones suffering in this breakdown in the relationship over the last few years, but we're spending a lot of money on defence, primarily to protect ourselves against our number one trading partner?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we need to make sure that we invest in our defence capability, but at the same time we're investing in our relationships. And part of that is Minister Farrell travelling to China. Part of that is the Chinese Foreign Minister visiting Australia that will occur in coming months. Dialogue and engagement is a good thing, but it is important that we look after our national security in all of its forms. And the investment in nuclear-powered submarines will not only be good for our defence, it's also good industry policy as well. There'll be spin offs with high value manufacturing being produced here in Australia. I saw that for myself when I visited Barrow, which is the town in northern England where their submarines are built. That's a town that's thriving as a result of what is being done there. And here in Adelaide, you'll see a further, on top of the jobs that will begin or have begun effectively now, in construction, there'll be a further 4,000 to 5,500 jobs created to build the submarines when the program reaches its peak. And of course, those skilled, well-paid jobs will have a spin off as well in other areas of manufacturing, just like the car industry had such a benefit in the post-World War II era in places like Elizabeth, where I'll be visiting today.

PANTELIS: Prime Minister, one of the big issues that comes up on the show, and I'm sure it must come up on talk shows right around the country, is the plan to bring in more migrants. And the Budget referred to the intake of people that we're expecting over the next few years in the hundreds of thousands. What's the plan with housing? Where are we going to put all the people that want to come to this country?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let's be clear here, the numbers that are projected in the Budget are the same numbers that were projected by the former government to be in place last year. That was the population anticipation.

PANTELIS: But this is now your Budget, the numbers, you own them, so there they are. So housing’s the issue. Where are they going to live?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, one of the things that has occurred, of course, is that previously people were leaving the country, and people were coming to Australia. What happened during the pandemic is no one was coming and no one was leaving. So those shut borders mean that for students, for example, that benefit from the Australian economy, they're our second largest export, and our largest services export, are now coming to Australia, but people haven't left. So, you've seen that short-term spike in numbers. On housing, we have our housing accord of a million homes that we're working with state and territory governments, working with the Housing Industry Association, the Master Builders Association. We also have our incentive in the Budget for investment in build to rent, that's already seeing a major initiative, with companies anticipating really stepping up that area. One figure in the wake of the Budget was 250,000 additional dwellings to be built under that scheme. We've got our Housing Australia Future Fund, if the Greens and Coalition would just come to their common sense and vote for the plan there for additional social and affordable housing, then that would make a difference, obviously, to supply as well. And that's on top of the regular Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement that we've rolled over for one year in order to negotiate a long-term agreement. We put $1.6 billion in the Budget for that as well. So, we have a comprehensive plan to boost supply, including our Housing Supply and Affordability Council. That's also in the legislation that's being held up in the Senate at the moment by the Greens and the Coalition.

PANTELIS: Just on the Greens, very quickly, are you going to let them rule the roost on gas? I mean, they want to get rid of gas. You've got business today calling for no more price caps either, moving forward. But the Greens push to remove gas, we were always told cheap, we've got loads of it, accessible, clean, reasonably, in terms of how it burns and everything else, and suddenly it's no good? What are you going to do with gas?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the Greens’ position makes no sense. Gas, of course, is a very important stabilising fuel as well as we use more and more renewables, and nowhere is that seen more than here in South Australia, where you've had that enormous growth in renewables, but gas is playing an important role as the stabilising fuel, as it will continue to do so. Gas can also, of course, play a role in the development of hydrogen industries. So we're seeing, amidst the doom and gloom that was there, I mean, I was in Parliament where when they said that Whyalla would be wiped out. Indeed, Whyalla is thriving. And we can, of course, have a future that is powered by renewables, but also that has gas playing an absolutely central role. The Greens, as they do in so many areas, as they are with housing at the moment, concentrate on slogans rather than actual solutions. It's all care and no responsibility, as a party that doesn't seek to form government. Responsible governments need to govern in order to protect our national economy, to create social justice and to create environmental reform as we transition to a clean energy economy. And that's what my government is doing.

PANTELIS: All right, Prime Minister, appreciate you calling in out of the blue this morning. Thank you. Have a good time in Adelaide.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much. Great to talk with you.