Interview with Michael Bailey, 4RO

21 Jan 2021
Prime Minister

Michael Bailey: We finally got the Prime Minister, and Kenny O'Dowd, talking about gas and of course, that's going to be the recovery for Queensland. Good morning to you, team. How are you?

Ken O’Dowd MP: Good morning Michael, good morning listeners.

Prime Minister: G’day Michael.

Bailey: Yeah, mate look, I tell you what, it's terrific, Prime Minister, that you spent overnight in Gladstone. Hope the locals treated you well? Did they?

Prime Minister: Yeah they did, we had a great reception here last night, was great to be here with Ken and Shirley. And I even got down to the local Gladstone pool yesterday, late yesterday to get my laps in and caught up with the next sort of, next tribe of Olympians that are going to come out and win medals having been trained here locally in Gladstone, they were pretty impressive. I got to say. They were whizzing past me.

Bailey: That wouldn't be hard, really would it?

Prime Minister: No it’s not that hard.

O’Dowd: Don’t be cheeky Michael.

Bailey: Now look, the gas fired recovery, this is what it's all about because looks like the coal fields are starting to turn. And I know that BHP want out of some of their mines. We really do have to think hard about the future, don't we?

Prime Minister: Yeah well we do and there are a lot of things driving that, many of those forces are well away from here in Australia. You know, we are entering this quite a significant transition period with energy and gas is going to play a huge part in that transition, not just here in Australia, but all around the world. And Australia is one of the biggest producers of LNG in the world, we're market leaders. No one does it better than us. And that's an important, but particularly important up here where we are in Gladstone. But ensuring that gas where we're a world leader is also flowing well into the Australian domestic market. I mean, it's 40 per cent of final energy demand and manufacturing. You want to have a strong manufacturing industry, which is what we want- then you've got to get gas into those manufacturing enterprises and you've got to get it at reduced prices. And that's what this agreement is all about. It's about guaranteeing that all of the non contracted gas gets offered to Australian domestic industry first. And they get it at the netback price, which means that we're getting gas at the comparative prices to what people are getting it for when it goes overseas, mainly out of here, out of Gladstone Ken.

O’Dowd: Yeah that’s right.

Prime Minister: I mean, we're sitting here overlooking exactly where it all comes from. And it's an amazing sight, the scale of the industry up here. And what we're doing today is about ensuring that heavy industry, whether it's up here in Gladstone or anywhere else, is getting the backing of getting the gas.

Bailey: Now I know a couple of gas executives have said it's nigh impossible to offer cheap gas because of the world supply. How are you going to make sure that we do get a good price?

Prime Minister: Well, what it's about is bringing together the domestic price of what's called the netback price of what's going overseas and so it’s making sure that Australian manufacturers and other users here are getting the same opportunities as those overseas are, and letting the market drive those forces. Now, I've no doubt that there will be, you know, energy companies and others who will want to set a sort of a floor on that price and they'll want, you know, government control and all these things to shore up their positions. But that's not what this is about. I mean, there's a strong market for gas around the world, and Australian gas users, particularly manufacturers, should get the benefit of that competition and the lower prices that comes with that. So this is about removing those obstacles out of the way to make sure that that gas can flow to Australian businesses and create Australian jobs.

Bailey: Yeah look, I believe in a free flowing market appeal, but, you know, like at the moment, Japan and other areas are having the coldest, coldest time and gas prices have gone through the roof and they are sucking up all the gas that they can buy. So does that mean in Australia we have to actually pay more because they want to keep warm?

Prime Minister: No, no, look that’s, there is a global surge of gas on the market. It's happening all around the world. There's more gas reserves being found around the world all the time. And, you know, simple economics, as supply goes up, price comes down. And that's what this arrangement is all about. And we have great relationships with the very countries you are talking about and whether it's with South Korea or Japan or other parts of the world where we have the respect of being a great producer and supplier and that the other nations can rely on. And I just want the situation that Australians get the same opportunity. And that's what this is delivering. I mean, this follows on from earlier agreements that we've had. And particularly I was involved in when I was Treasurer, and we’re continuing that on, but it's not the only thing. I mean, the work we're doing on the Strategic Basin Plans, particularly in the Beetaloo Basin, and the work we're doing on other regulation, pipeline transmission, all of these sorts of things, Wallumbilla Hub,  and all of this- very important for the future of gas in Australia. I said it, you know, this was a key part of our recovery plan from COVID-19 was to get the gas and to help that fire up our economy and in particular manufacturing. I mean Ken and I today will be visiting that school of manufacturing and mines with their campus down in Rockhampton, as well as up here in Gladstone, both of those- so that is really supporting the people of Queensland. And that's all about making sure we've got the skills for people who are going into these critical sectors. I mean in many, in some universities today. I mean, people who are going to study mining and engineering degrees are treated a bit like pariahs. And I think that's rubbish. And we should be celebrating them. I mean, these are the people who are going to be driving prosperity in our country for a long time to come.

Bailey: Look, I quite agree with your Prime Minister, Kenny O'Dowd, what about the cattle properties and farms? When people come on and start fracking, are they happy or unhappy or are they getting a good deal as well?

O’Dowd: Yes, most farmers that I speak to and that's all of them, there's about 500 properties between here and the Surat basin that have some sort of gas infrastructure on their properties, whether it be pipelines, or wells or pumping stations, look during the drought times it was a godsend for them, some guys that I know were pulling out $150,000 dollars a year, which pays for a lot of hay, Michael, to feed their cattle. So they're very happy. I haven't heard of the fracking issue for sometime, it was around a lot you know, when you were in Gladstone, and I was in Gladstone at the start of the gas development on Curtis Island, but no it doesn't seem to be an issue. The companies have addressed a lot of the issues that were raised originally. You know, the brackish water and the tracking, those sort of things have disappeared. And, of course, the companies have taken a lot of work in R&D to solve those problems.

Bailey: Look, that's great news, talking with Kenny O'Dowd, the federal member for Flynn, and, of course, the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Hey ScoMo, a lot of people are concerned because we still got a lot of tourism industry in our region and they're bracing for the end of March with the payments cutting back. And, of course, some pundits are saying we're going to have a huge spike in unemployment. Is that giving you concern? Have you got a plan B?

Prime Minister: Well, we've been monitoring it very closely, and we’ve been making decisions step by step, we don't get too far ahead of ourselves. They said the same thing when JobKeeper and JobSeeker scaled down at the end of September, and the same thing at the end of December. But what we saw after the end of September is 450,000 businesses come off JobKeeper. We saw more than 2 million Australians who had income support courtesy of the taxpayer through JobKeeper, come off that support. And so the Australian economy is strengthening and the plan is to ensure we keep doing that. Now you can't do that unless you're going to continue to back in as we are, the hiring of people. Which we're doing with the job hiring credit, the JobMaker hiring credit, I mean, that picked up where other initiatives have left off, the infrastructure rollout continues, the HomeBuilder programme. I mean, that's $18 billion dollars that is going into the residential construction industry. So, and of course, the support for heavy industry ensuring they get the energy that they need to buy them up as well to create the jobs. And that's really important up here. I mean, heavy industry has a future under a Liberal National Coalition Government, it has a future because we believe in the things that need to be done to keep those heavy industries in place while at the same time dealing with the transition that is underway when it comes to issues of energy and climate.

Bailey: But these people in tourism, they're battling away because, let's face it, no fly in, fly out for 12 months for international terrorism. I mean, that's pretty scary. And you can only take so many caravan trips per year. But we Aussies seem to be doing that on a regular basis now, supporting the locals?

Prime Minister: Well, look, it cuts both ways because while international travel isn't coming in, international travel isn’t going out from Australia, and we actually- I mean there's that there's a deficit when it comes to Australian spending overseas and overseas spending in Australia. And so that money that is not going overseas right now- and I've been talking to a lot of those operators, particularly as I mean, I've been down in Quilpie, I've been in Longreach, I've been out in Cloncurry and Winton. And what we're seeing is people are doing that, with Australians holidaying at home because they have to.

This is a great opportunity for the tourism industry to be able to be taking that up and even I was talking to accommodation operators are seeing more of that, particularly in regional parts of Queensland and in Queensland it's been mainly Queenslanders seeing Queensland. And that's great. And as those borders open up domestically, which is very important. I mean, that is frankly going to be of greater assistance in the short term than anything else. And that will see more Australians particularly getting on planes flying up north and other parts of the country. And that will be providing necessary, you know, a different set of clients than the tourism industry normally would have. But we're going to take it step by step. I think we've demonstrated that we've been prepared to step up where targeted, proportionate support is needed. We've done that in the past. And I think our track record speaks for our self. I mean, JobKeeper and all of these things. I mean, it was necessary at the time and to the extent it remains, has remained necessary, we've kept it in place. But you can't run your economy on taxpayers money forever. I think Australians understand that.

Bailey: Yep correct. Now, can you take off your Prime Minister's hat and just become ScoMo the larrikin, How was it- how did you feel going out west and actually seeing the green stuff this time?

Prime Minister: Well, it was very moving. I’ve got to tell you, I got a bit emotional because it was just over two years ago I’d just become Prime Minister. The first thing I wanted to do was go out and speak to drought affected farmers. And so we went up to the Tully’s property just about an hour and a half outside of Quilpie. And it was just desolate. It was. And it was depressing.

Bailey: I remember the photos, it was just heartbreaking.

Prime Minister: But what amazed me was the optimism and spirit of the Tully's. And Steve Tully pulled out a photo of what the paddock next to that the station property used to look like. And it was grass up to your knees. And it was just hard to imagine, given what I was looking at when I was there, a couple of days ago and it's about up to my ankles now, that grass- a bit more. And so they're not out of drought yet, like 41 other- 41 local government areas across Queensland. But they're on their way back. And, you know, they're able to, they're building up their herds again, which is great. I mean, Steve, I think it's gone from about at its bottom about 5,000 he’s now back up to about 8,000. And he's on his way to 12,000 and he's got some other agistment stock on there at the moment. So whether in the drought affected areas of Quilpie and all around Longreach and all those parts, or then coming further up through to where we were up in Cloncurry, and Julia Creek, and those places, McKinlay Shire and others which were just smashed by those terrible floods and to see them rebuilding. I mean, it's just tremendous to see the resilient spirit of Australians. They're just incredible.

Bailey: Yeah I love the story where Steve said that he asked for money, you know, to actually build a fence to protect the stock and that actually saved his arse as he said, quote unquote?

Prime Minister: As he said it, it's very practical stuff, at the end of the day. And you've got to go there and listen to people like Steve to understand. That's, I mean, that's the job in so many cases. It’s why Kenny does such a good job. You say, have you spoken to the farmers? Yeah, all of them. And that's what you've got to do. And so when Steve raised this issue of the dog fencing, I mean, their stock was getting decimated, the lambs and the ewes decimated by these dogs. And there's no easy way to put these fences in by the way, it's a lot of work. But so we partnered in that programme. There's also the pest and weed management stuff we did all across the district. And we did that in partnership with the Queensland government, too. And I recognise that. And working with them, I mean, in these crises, there might be a few words that go astray here and there between premiers and prime ministers and all the rest of it. But at the end of the day, we have been working very closely together. And I do appreciate that.

Bailey: Look the drought, as you say, is still on, because you like, if you live along the coast, it's nice and green. Sometimes it gets a bit brown, but you only have to go an hour inland. And people like I just had a phone call from Tex this morning saying Michael, stop saying there's no rain. We need it. We need it. We need it. And he’s only an hour away. It just sort of breaks your heart.

Prime Minister: And even where there is I mean, and the Tully’s were saying this to me as well, even where there is rain and they've had a bit you know, the property next door has not. So, you know, and they're very sensitive to that. And so it's while it's been great to see an improvement, we're not there yet. I mean, things are a lot better in New South Wales than they were. I mean, things were very bad there, too, but not for as long as they were in Queensland. I mean, Queensland, all these Shires have been in drought for 8 years. And but, they’ve you know, they're pushing through. And, you know, it's pretty impressive to see how people do that. It's really impressive.

Bailey: The resilience is just amazing. Prime Minister, thank you very much for actually touring Queensland. Thank you very much for staying in Queensland, Gladstone, they treated you well. I'll just leave with one final question. What is what is going to be happening to us in 12 months time? And can you see a light at the end of the tunnel? Should we be worried all the time or just get on with life and enjoy every day above ground?

Prime Minister: Well, that's the plan. What you’ve just said. You know, that is the plan and that's the nature of Australians, you know Australia Day is coming up. And I think it is a time to reflect on the fact that while it has been a pretty tough period, you compare where we are to other countries around the world and we're very grateful to call, and privileged to be able to call Australia home wherever we are in this incredible country. We're going to keep growing the economy, that come back is coming, you know, we're getting through COVID better than almost any other country in the world. We're doing the things that are that are needed to support the jobs and the industries that have, you know, that we must ensure have a future here, whether it's up here around Gladstone or anywhere else, and whether it's, you know, the resurrection of the livestock industry after the floods. And, you know, we're doing the things that make that happen. And so, yeah, I'm mate, I'm always an optimist. But, you know, you've got to choose to be optimistic. You can, you can take solace in grievance and, you know, let that take you over. Or you can be like the Tully’s and look forward, see the light and just keep smashing it out each day. And that’s what we do.

Bailey: Yes, soldiering on, soldiering on. What do you think about Cricket Australia not saying, you know, the Australian you know, cricket is on Australia Day is just January 26? I mean what's going on?

Prime Minister: Look, I think a bit more focus on cricket, and a little less focus on politics would be my message to Cricket Australia. I think that's pretty ordinary. But I mean, you know that's what they're putting on their press releases. I just, that would be my view.

Bailey: Yeah don’t worry, I mentioned it earlier this morning, and everyone is just shaking their head in disbelief. It really is just amazing how- well, I think there’s a bit of a backlash about the whole thing, really-

Prime Minister: Well look, I hope they listen to that and I think they should.

Bailey: Yeah I hope so too. Prime Minister, thank you very much, Kenny O’Dowd, thank you very much. Enjoy the rest of your time in Gladstone and enjoy Australia Day.

Prime Minister: Absolutely, Happy Australia Day too. Cheers.