Interview with Paul Culliver, ABC Capricornia

04 May 2021
Prime Minister

Paul Culliver: My guest this morning is the Prime Minister, good morning to you.

PRIME MINISTER: Paul, it’s great to be here in Beef Week, it’s great to be here in Rocky.

CULLIVER: I understand this morning you’re making a funding announcement in regards to our biosecurity for our agriculture sector here for beef. What is it?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s right, $370 million being invested in the ring of containment, which is particularly on things like African Swine Flu we've dedicated funds for that. 3D x-ray capability, other screening, both onshore offshore, national preparedness programs that we're doing in partnership with the state and territory governments, because we need to understand that our quarantine officers do an amazing job at the border. But in the event that something were to happen, then we need to make sure that what happens on the other side of the border, our side, the domestic side, that states and territories are in a position to step up there as well. So it's a significant package. It comes on top of what has been almost around about a billion dollars of additional investment in the last 12 months. In last year's budget, we had a further investment in biosecurity support. But on top of that, there was also the international flight freight assistance measures, over six hundred million dollars, which was there to ensure that our producers kept connecting with the rest of the world. So biosecurity: an important part of border security. And for our livestock and grains industry, essential that we keep that ring of containment as strong as we can make it. And Dave Littleproud, our Agriculture Minister, he's been championing this. He understands that the platform that you need for a successful export industry in agriculture is biosecurity.

CULLIVER: We're obviously here at Beef 2021. A big topic, of course in 2021 for the agricultural industry is sustainability, is sequestering carbon. Meat and Livestock Australia obviously have an ambitious target to become carbon neutral by 2030. Given that the beef industry is very keen to showcase that and be recognised for that, can you guarantee that there will be no carve out for agriculture if indeed a target is set for emissions in the future?

PRIME MINISTER: We'll make further decisions and plans as the course of the year unfolds. But what I do know is the agricultural sector has already played a massive role in what we have achieved to date. I don't know if your listeners know, but Australia has already achieved a 19 per cent reduction in our carbon emissions since 2005. Now in Canada, that figure is zero. In New Zealand, it's not much better than that. Here in Australia, we have already reduced emissions by 19 per cent. We beat our Kyoto targets and we're on track to beat our Paris targets as well. And the agricultural sector has played a huge role in that. And there's been a lot of discussion here with the technology about how carbon sequestration not only achieves emissions reduction goals, but also increases the productivity of the producers themselves. And so what I'm excitingly seeing here is an embracing of that agenda, an embracing of the benefits of that for producers all around the country. So you know, the reason we achieve these targets in Australia is because we know if we work in partnership with whether it's the agricultural sector, the industry sectors and the resources sector, when we do that in partnership, we get the job done and we're getting the job done.

CULLIVER: Yesterday, you may have seen Queensland's Deputy Premier Steven Miles appear to come short of calling you the C word yesterday. He then insisted it was a slip of the tongue. Were you offended by those comments?

PRIME MINISTER: I've learnt a long time ago not to get offended. It doesn't get you anywhere in politics or anywhere else. But I think that's for him to explain, not for me. But he's got to get his facts right. He said that I was at a fundraiser. I was at home watching Shrek the Musical with my daughter in Sydney. So he can't even get that right. I think he probably just needs to step up his act a bit.

CULLIVER: An issue that in fact, we've had some comments even coming through this morning of course, the Biloela family, the Tamil family from Biloela on Christmas Island, over three years now. In fact, even Ken O'Dowd, the LNP member for Flynn, has expressed sentiment that the family should stay. Fifty million dollars reportedly spent so far on their incarceration and legal fees. Is it time to have them come home and live in Biloela?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the court processes that they're engaged in and the appeal processes they're running their course and we'll just work with the law.

CULLIVER: There is ministerial discretion. The Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews with the stroke of a pen, could bring them home. Why is that not happening?

PRIME MINISTER: Because we're following the appeal processes that they've initiated in the court processes that are underway. And we'll continue to do that. And that's what we've always done right across the board.

CULLIVER: How do you justify the costs, 50 million dollars of incarcerating them in this time?

PRIME MINISTER: Well as I said, there's a legal process in Australia. There are policies in Australia and we don't customise those for any one individual. What we do is we ensure Australia's border security and border protection laws are put in place. And Australia has very, very strong borders. And I think Australians have always supported that.

CULLIVER: Would you oppose Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews intervening ministerially?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's a matter for the Minister. I used to be an immigration minister, and those are matters of discretion. But they're always done as a minister, I think, mindful of the broader policy implications and of any court processes that are underway.

CULLIVER: What do you say to that family who have, they want to make a home in Australia and they just haven't been able to?

PRIME MINISTER: I understand that there are millions and millions and millions of people all around the world displaced people, and for those who are refugees and found to be so. Australia is one of the most welcoming countries in the world. And we've done that through our humanitarian program and we've been taking people out of camps at a per capita rate second only to Canada in the world. And so Australia is a generous country, but we do it through a proper process. We don't do it through illegal entry into Australia.

CULLIVER: The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, your guest here on ABC Capricornia, Paul Culliver is my name. Yesterday David Littleproud, the Agriculture Minister on The Country Hour appeared to threaten ripping up the universal service obligation agreement with Telstra ahead of 2025. You are meeting with the CEO of Telstra this morning.

PRIME MINISTER: I saw Andy last night. We were cracking a whip together.

CULLIVER: How serious is that threat to rip up that obligation?

PRIME MINISTER: We'll just work through the normal commercial processes with Telstra. And we'll do so in Australia's national interests. I mean, we have an excellent relationship with Telstra. We work together to connect the country. We do tremendous things together with Telstra. They're a great Australian company and we enjoy the relationship we have with them.

CULLIVER: Do you share Minister Littleproud's dissatisfaction with Telstra's performance in the region?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I can understand David is always going to be pushing for the best possible deal for people living in regional communities. And that's his job.

CULLIVER: To the topic of India. Look, many people are reaching out, we've heard from many Indian members of the central Queensland community who have heard obviously horrible stories of family members who are over there who have passed, in critical condition. Obviously, we obviously have thousands of Australians stranded over there. Under what circumstances are Australians stranded in India going to be able to begin to come home?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the temporary pause we have on both direct flights into Australia, but also preventing people coming back through third countries. That extends to the 15th of May. This is a temporary pause. We've seen an escalation in the number of cases coming off recent planes that has been far in advance of what we've seen from other countries over the course of the pandemic. And we've got about 85 per cent of the cases up in Howard Springs at the moment originated in India. And we saw the overall level of cases as a proportion in Australia go from around 10 per cent to 56 per cent in just a matter of weeks. So we saw an alarming increase in the infection rate of those travelling from India. And that led us to put in place a pause recommended by the Chief Medical Officer very clearly, that this was a proportionate action and that's what we'll be doing for the next two weeks. What that does, it enables us to ensure that we can to recommence those repatriation flights. And we've already brought 20,000 Australians home from India through repatriation flights registered with our Consulate and High Commission in India. And we've done that through repatriation flights, facilitated flights. And I want to resume that again. But we have to do it safely. I can't allow a situation where Australia is put at risk of a third wave of COVID. That would be terrible for our beef producers. It'd be terrible for our resources industry, it'd be terrible for the regional parts of Australia, not to mention the risk of lockdowns in our major capital cities. You know, we lost over 600 people in the second wave in Victoria. So just because we can put 100,000 people in the in G Melbourne doesn't mean the COVID pandemic's over. I'm not complacent about it. And there are many difficult decisions in managing COVID. This is one of them. A hard decision, not an easy one to make, but I believe it's in Australia's broader national interest. And I look forward to getting more people home from India as soon as we can, but safely.

CULLIVER: And Prime Minister, if I may, just to finish off, you've appointed a central Queenslander, Navy Commodore Eric Young to coordinate the vaccine distribution process.

PRIME MINISTER: He’s doing a great job.

CULLIVER: Well, my question is, how's it going?

PRIME MINISTER: He's doing a fabulous job and I mean, the logistics task, and that's what he's particularly focused on. That's what our Defence Forces do amazingly well. It was another Commodore we sent to help us during the second wave of the pandemic in Victoria. And now our new Commodore he's out there running the logistics of ensuring all those GPs are getting their doses so they could administer them and working with the states and territories. And he's brought great skill and I think calm and a sense of presence to this job. And I really appreciate the great work he's doing for his country.

CULLIVER: Prime Minister, thanks for your time today.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much. Great to be here with you. Enjoy beef week.