Joint Press Conference, COAG

09 Aug 2019
Cairns, Queensland
Prime Minister

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, In regards to recycling, you’re heading off to the Pacific Islands Forum next week. Australia has received some criticism in regards to climate change. Is this something you are hoping Australia can take to that Forum to show Australia has got an eye on the environment, it has got [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I think it's certainly relevant to the discussion we have with Pacific Island leaders. I mean, that is, of course, separate to the other issues that we engage with them on matters of climate change and the significant investments that we make in assisting our Pacific Island family of nations able to deal with the impacts of climate change. And we have significant... hundreds of millions of investments in those projects and other mitigation works that are undertaken throughout the region. And so no, I think the two things do go together and I think they do demonstrate the commitment that we have to a cleaner blue in the Pacific. 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

MINISTER: Well look, I think we've got to take this one step at a time and how quickly we're able to move to that waste not being exported is really going to be a function of the plan that comes back to us from our Environment Ministers. There is already various levies in place and funds that are held at state levels which are there to support the development of and capability of our waste management industries. I mean, New South Wales certainly has those arrangements in place, as do other states and territories. And so it is about building that industry capability, but it is also about ensuring that we've got the pull through from the users of recycled and converted waste. Now, that can be road base, sure, and we are the biggest purchasers of infrastructure and the builders of roads in the country. But equally, it can be the conversion of bio waste into energy and that is by a waste which is actually held in landfill. So there's a range of emerging and new technologies. We've got several CRC that are working this area. We’ve got the CSIRO which is specifically referred to today in the Communique. So there is the work on the science, but there's also the work on the economics because we want to be able to see this change introduced in the way, I think, as Michael described it as an opportunity, not as a cost. This should not have to cost us more - in fact, hopefully costs us less. And for all of that we're creating jobs in a future industry which is waste recycling and reuse collection also need to stress that we need to think about how we're generating waste at the same time. And there are a range of issues there as well which I'm sure will come back as part of the strategy. But, you know, this stuff won't change unless you say there's going to be a point in time where we are not going to be able to put this stuff on a ship and send it off to someone else. So we've got to start thinking about what we're going to do when that happens. Now, I would like that date to be as soon is practicable and I think that is a view shared amongst all leaders here today. But it's got to be done in partnership, in consultation with industry as Premier Berejiklian was keen to point out and she's absolutely right. We want this to be a seamless change, but it's going to be a change.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: No I don’t think it would be. I think it could happen a lot sooner than that.

JOURNALIST: Premier Berejiklian, you’re [Inaudible]

PREMIER BEREJIKLIAN: Yeah look, just to stress. What we signed this morning was a commitment in relation to freeing up infrastructure dollars to put back into those communities that are currently suffering. So if we can do a better job in actually increasing water storage and capacity, that's going to help our communities into the future. And so that was what we signed up to and that was something I was glad to sign up to because it will have a positive impact on the communities in New South Wales that are currently suffering the most. Because the more water we capture through better infrastructure, the better we can distribute it in the appropriate way. Secondly, there was an acknowledgement from my colleagues that all states have to pull their weight when it comes to the plan and certainly we will increase and continue to ensure transparency so that all communities are absolutely clear on what each state is doing in that regard. The objectives of the plan itself are not in question - it's how we deal with the plan given the current stresses on New South Wales and other parts of the Basin that are covered and certainly New South Wales today reiterated our position in relation to the extra work we're doing in an aspect of the plan with Victoria that was agreed to last week and we reiterated that today. We reiterated the fact that we need to acknowledge the contribution that New South Wales and other states make to the plan and that every state has to do its bit in maximising its own water capacity issues to ensure that the burden is evenly distributed.

JOURNALIST: The apprenticeship and traineeship numbers are at a ten-year low. Numbers have almost halved, I think, since 2012. How committed are you to increasing those numbers?

PRIME MINISTER: We're very committed and I'm not just committed to increasing the numbers for the numbers sake. You can train a lot of people, but if you’re not training them to actually do a job then what's the point of that? And I think this is one of the fundamental issues we've got to address in our vocational education and training system and all states and territories who sit here have got great projects that are happening and other projects that can learn from what others are doing and what we want to ensure is that we've got a system that employers can have confidence in. Because it's training people to do the things that they need them to do in their businesses and it needs to be agile, it needs to be modern, it needs to be up to date. It can take you twelve months to change a qualification in this country. I mean, that's not agile and that needs to be improved. I want and we all want, students, whatever age they are. They could be 21, they could be 61 and going through a career change, or 41, or whatever age it is. And I want them to have confidence that that system is going to help them with their future intentions and their future careers. And I want mums and dads to be confident about the choice of their kids for a trade, for a technical or skills-based education. It is not second prize. It is whatever the prize is that that student is looking for and that young Australian or older Australia is looking for and to help them achieve their goals in life. And I think there are some very serious issues that we need to address as a team here to ensure that's the system that we're moving to and that's what we agreed to do today. That type of a system is the system that we want to see in the future. Now, the Joyce Review that I commissioned prior to the last election, and there were several initiatives that came out of that including the National Skills Commission which is being stood up and was funded in the Budget, that Joyce Review from the Commonwealth's point of view provides a very good blueprint as to how we can take that forward. But we also acknowledge today all states and territories are in different phases of this process and all have different needs. So it's not a matter of the Commonwealth doing it or the states doing it. This is a shared project and a shared responsibility. You need the tactile nature of South Australia, for example, understanding what particular needs they need addressed for the economy that they're building, which is different to what it is in New South Wales. There's no question about that. And on top of that, you've got the difference of regional areas where the cost of training someone might be a lot higher than it is in a major metro area. And we need to understand those differences and ensure funding models reflect that. So it is a huge job. But just throwing a whole bunch of money at it and saying you want to put more people through the system doesn't solve the problem.

JOURNALIST: Premier Berejiklian on this topic, you talked earlier in the week about how you want to see VET and universities treated the same. There is no mention of university education in the communique here, only VET. Are you happy with that language? 

PREMIER BEREJIKLIAN: Yeah, I mean my colleagues also go to the fact with what we all had violent agreement on which is that vocational education and training is equal to other forms of tertiary education. And if we want to be a nation that has the right skills for our existing industries, but also emerging industries, we need to have that in a good strong position. And in New South Wales, as I know in other states, there's a natural conversation now occurring between universities and TAFEs and that is something we’ll encourage at a state level. And I always, when we talk about education post-secondary school, we should be talking about universities and TAFE in the same breath because the options available should be of equal quality, of equal opportunity and equal accessibility to the community.

JOURNALIST: Premier McGowan, you mentioned yesterday that you were concerned about comments that were made by Liberal MP Andrew Hastie in regards to China. Did you raise those concerns to the Prime Minister in the course of today or overnight? Last night you were having dinner. How would you characterize the current situation in Hong Kong and what would you say if there was to be a situation where China was to use military force in that area?

PREMIER MCGOWAN: Well, the Prime Minister and I have lots of discussions and obviously China is one of those very relevant to Western Australia because a quarter of our state's economy is dependent upon our state's trading relationship with China. So that's probably 300,000 jobs is dependent upon it and we export as a state over $60 billion worth of products to China and we import $4 billion from China. So obviously, Australia's trade position is very dependent upon that relationship and in particular iron ore, oil and gas, agriculture and the like. The strongest relationship essentially is between Western Australia and China and half our state's exports go to China. 40 per cent of the nation's exports actually come out of Western Australia and as I said, half of that is to China. So obviously I'm very sensitive to the relationship. I thought Mr Hastie's comments yesterday were completely and utterly unnecessary and inflammatory and he has not done his state any good service because obviously thousands of his own constituents jobs depend upon this trading relationship. Now, I know there's some disquiet about China and lots of people perhaps don't appreciate or support the relationship, but it is in our national interest that we have a strong relationship with China or else thousands of our citizens will be out of work and our national income will go down very significantly. In relation to Hong Kong, well obviously it's a bit outside my area of responsibility, but clearly I'd like to see that matter not result in any violence or repression.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I thank everyone for their attendance here today. Can I particularly thank my colleagues and can I once again, Premier Palaszczuk, thank you very much for hosting us all here today in Cairns. It's been a great place to come, I think, as a group and demonstrate our commitment to the north of Australia, particularly here in North Queensland, and I also thank you on behalf of the Commonwealth for the tremendous working partnership we've had in addressing the floods in North Queensland. It has really been a tremendous partnership and I'm sure all of those in North Queensland have appreciated as well. Thank you all very much.