Joint Remarks, COAG

09 Aug 2019
Cairns, Queensland
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Welcome everyone. Can I start first of all by thanking Premier Palaszczuk, particularly the city of Cairns for their tremendous welcome to COAG. It’s great to have these meetings in regional Australia, and it’s particularly good to be having it here in northern Australia and indeed North Queensland. It’s always such an encouraging thing when we come back to northern Australia and particularly to Cairns to see the incredible changes that have been taking place in Cairns and the infrastructure that’s being developed and the services and particularly the growth we’re seeing in the tourist market which is very important to this part of the country. So can I commend Premier Palaszczuk and all Queenslanders for giving us such a warm welcome to this meeting and I will throw to Premier Palaszczuk in just a moment. 

Can I also thank all of my colleagues who are here today - as well Chief Minister Barr who had to return to Canberra - for the teamwork that has been on display amongst Australia’s leaders today. And to be able to focus on the issues of very practical importance to the everyday lives of Australians and the spirit of which people have come together to focus on the things that we can agree on, the things that don’t separate us, and the things that genuinely we can work very well together on, both in this meeting and indeed the last one we had in Adelaide. I think there's been a real spirit of cooperation that I very much want to thank all Premiers and Chief Ministers for. There's no doubt there are things from time to time between the Commonwealth and states and territories and indeed between states and territories where there'll be differences of view. But I can assure you at this gathering, once again, there has been a strong focus on the things that we can agree on and take forward. 

So whether it's a cleaner environment - and I'll speak about that shortly - getting people home sooner and safer, strengthening our economy in particular by making sure that we're removing some of the burdens and some of the bureaucratic obstacles that can delay projects and major investments that are so important for jobs, and connecting communities all around the country with important infrastructure. I mean, what you see represented here are the biggest infrastructure spenders in the country and all governments represented here have very significant infrastructure programs and the Commonwealth is participating in all of those and getting those projects on the ground sooner to ensure that they can support both our economy and the connectedness of our communities is very important. 

On top of that, we spent quite a bit of time today and last night talking about one of the really big challenges that our country faces, and that is in a modern economy ensuring that Australians are trained for the jobs they have today and the jobs they'll have in the future. Now, that isn't just in the high technology areas. It is in, in particular, the areas of human service delivery in this country. Whether it's aged care or caring for people with disabilities. These are strong growth areas for jobs in our economies all around the country and ensuring that we have training programs, packages, oversight of those updated credentials and that it is incredibly responsive to the demands of employers in the future. These are high-level issues that we've agreed on today and agreed a programme of work to go through - particularly our skills ministers - to ensure that we're getting people trained for the jobs that they are doing and will be doing and that employers need to grow their businesses and grow our economy. The skills agenda is one that we all feel very passionately about and one that I know we're going to continue to work very closely together on. We spend over $7 billion a year on that agenda and we want to make sure that that money works harder for all Australians.

On important social issues we all share the goal of going towards a to zero policy on suicide in this country. It breaks the heart of every single member represented here, and I know for all of those listening. We all know a story, and whether it's of a veteran, a young girl in an Indigenous community, whether it's a 47 year old male living in one of our suburbs and one of our big cities. The issues of isolation, issues of family breakdown, relationship breakdown, mental illness, the impacts of the drug and alcohol addiction. All of these issues - homelessness and so on - contribute towards this very serious curse that is on our country and we're all very committed to breaking this by ensuring that we have mental health as a national priority. And that just doesn't mean the clinical support which is provided on mental health. But all of the many other conditioning factors and contributing factors that can trigger, make worse, or in the worst of all certain situations, lead to an Australian taking their own life. And so this is an area of great agreement. There is lots of projects and work going on across all of our jurisdictions. We have a Royal Commission going on in Victoria presently, the Commonwealth has committed over $700 million in our most recent Budget and this is a shared area of responsibility, but also a shared area of passion to ensure that we work together to break that curse. 

Another area where we have worked together on for some time now is the National Action Plan to address domestic violence and violence against women, and the Fourth Action Plan agenda was agreed today. That builds on those plans that went prior to this plan. Of course, there is well over $300 million dollars in support coming out of the Commonwealth model and the states are similarly stumping up to address this issue. And so we're pleased to take that forward again and there was a good discussion about how we take that agenda now into a fifth national action plan in the future as we implement this current one. 

One of the most practical areas where we can work together though is for a cleaner environment. And I don't think there is a community you will walk into today or a young child that you speak to who won't tell you about the problem of plastics coming through our waterways, ending up in our oceans. And you know, there's an implied promise that when you take that plastic bottle and you put it in that little plastic bin that it's not going to end up in the ocean somewhere or in a river somewhere or in a landfill somewhere. People think it's going to be recycled. But only about 12 per cent of it is. And so what we agreed to do today was to request our environment ministers. We're laying it out very clearly that there will be no export of plastics and paper and glass to other countries where it runs the risk of ending up floating around in our oceans. Whether off the Great Barrier Reef, which we know there's strong evidence of that, or anywhere else. And so by making that clear and agreeing to work together with a plan as to when that ban can take effect, working with industry to ensure and consulting them closely to ensure that we have the capacity in place of our waste and recycling sector to reuse, to collect, and also to reduce our waste in these areas as well, with the consumer activity, then that means we can have a very serious impact on this outcome. 

Now, we all have different responsibilities when it comes to dealing with waste. But it's our waste and it's our responsibility. And that's why I think setting a very clear path forward as leaders that we do not want to see this go into the ocean. We do not want to see it go into our waterways and we'll do everything that was in our remit to achieve that goal I think is a very important outcome of today's COAG meeting and one that I would hope would give Australians all around the country a degree of confidence and satisfaction that when we get together in forums like this we get stuff done. So on that point, I'm now happy to pass over to my colleagues and our host Premier Palaszczuk. But before I do that just let me make one more remark and that is to thank Dr Parkinson, the Secretary of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, who's been around this gathering for a very long time who will soon be retiring. On behalf of all of us, Martin, thank you very much for the great work you've done for the Australian people. Thank you.


Premier Palaszczuk. How good is Queensland?


PREMIER PALASZCZUK: How good is Queensland, exactly. 

PREMIER BEREJIKLIAN: You’re going to have to say that to all the states.


PREMIER PALASZCZUK: Except you can't say that during State of Origin. Prime Minister, look, thank you and Premiers and First Ministers, it's absolutely wonderful to host you here in Cairns. And can I commend the Prime Minister in actually taking COAG for the first time ever outside a capital city to a regional city. But not only that, to the north of our state and I know that the people of Cairns have been very excited for months and I know that everyone is enjoying themselves. In fact, we saw the tourists wearing their thongs, going on the boats to Green Island and out to the Great Barrier Reef this morning as we were coming here. And today's work has been really, really good. 

I just want to comment on a couple of quick things because I know some people have to catch planes. But I think the Prime Minister's comments about doing more about how we reuse our waste and our plastics is so important for our environment, sitting here on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, over 2000 kilometres long. It's something that we should be…. it's our national treasure and it's something that tourists come to see from all around the world and that's why we're putting in place in Queensland a Resource Recovery Fund of $100 million. We want to attract investment here to look at how we can recycle more. 

Secondly, we know there are huge challenges across the nation and here in Queensland as we look to what are the skills that we need for the future. We've identified 139 skills and what we're saying to employers is that we will pay your training component if you put on an apprentice. I want to see 60,000 apprenticeships here in Queensland over the next four years. And for the work that's happening at the Commonwealth level, looking at those needs across the nation, we have to remember that regional Queensland is also really important and we have different skills demands, depending on what the industries are across Queensland.

And the final thing I wanted to say is that in relation to just to the south of us in Townsville in the north west we have cooperated very closely when it comes to issues around natural disasters and recovery. And there has been a lot of issues with people there in terms of mental health and I really commend the Commonwealth, working with all of the states and territories, about tackling issues around mental health and also for the collaboration that we've seen. Nothing is more important than people and ensuring that people get back on their feet after a natural disaster. In Queensland, unfortunately, we've seen our fair share of natural disasters. But I know that when we all work together, we work the best, and that's at a local, state and federal level. 

But once again I just want to thank everyone for coming and I know that there are some issues in the southern states as they're battling some fierce winds and storms. I just want to pass on my best to all the people in those states because you're always with us when we go through troubles up here.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Premier. We might go to the Australian Local Government Association and I think just walk down the tables is probably the easiest way to do it. So thank you David.

ALGA PRESIDENT DAVID O’LOUGHLIN: Thanks Prime Minister, and delighted to have you put plastics and reducing waste and recycling it on the agenda, on the national agenda. Certainly, councils across the country have been asking for national leadership for some time on this topic and it is a great example of how three levels of government can work together to really make a difference and it's fantastic how to discuss today. Local government is at the coalface of collecting and sorting waste. We've got households right across the nation who do their best to make sure that they sort their waste out at home, put it in the right bin, and their confidence of late has been dented when they found out that their recycling is not being recycled as well as they'd hoped. So we're hoping that this measure puts it firmly on the Environment Minister’s and the states and ourselves as well as a national government that we need to do better and we must do better. There's a lot of opportunity in this space. There are a lot of jobs that can be created onshore here in Australia to recycle this material to get it into hot mix, to get into the spray seal, to get into road base, to create high-value products. And we as governments, all three levels of government, need to be part of the solution. I'm told that if all government-specified plastics as part of the mix for hot mix and spray seal on our roads - we are one of the biggest spenders on roads in the nation - collectively that we could use as much as half of the plastics waste being generated today. It’s a huge part of the solution, as is reducing the creation of plastics waste, as he is eventually reducing the importation of plastics waste. So it's a great agenda item and congratulations Prime Minister for putting on the agenda. Thank you. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Premier Hodgman. 

PREMIER HODGMAN: Thank you, Prime Minister and colleagues, and it's a delight to be here with you all today and to remind ourselves of the beauty and the power of our federation and coming together at a COAG that no matter where you're from, the size of your state or what part of the country in which you live, we're all equal. We all have the same issues and challenges that confront us. But there is more that brings us together than divides us. And it was at this point the last time we met that I'd hoped we would again come together and I want to congratulate you, Prime Minister, on your re-election, and to note that a lot of what your government was doing and is doing now very much aligns with Tasmania's priorities and the things that are important to the people who live in the island state. And that includes ensuring that our economy continues to remain strong. Because now Tasmania's economy is one of the best performing in the country, and with that brings some challenges. Skills shortages amongst them, and we've got a number of initiatives that are designed to bring more people into our economy and to support Tasmania's strong, prosperous economic conditions. But we need to get more people with that skill set and it is a matter of national importance. 

Similarly, our energy and our environment, two of Tasmania's great assets. So to elevate both of those to the national level and to position Tasmania as Australia's renewable energy battery is an important economic opportunity for Tasmania, but also an important environmental one for our country, as indeed is reducing the impact of waste in our community. So I do strongly welcome the elevation of those issues to the national agenda. 

As I do as Tasmania's Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence. I appreciate the collaborative effort that we are taking as governments across the country to deal with that. And similarly in mental health and supporting people who are vulnerable through better collaboration and support services across the country. I think that is a very positive thing for us to focus so much of our time on. 

So can I just compliment you PM for what is, I think, one of the most collaborative COAG meetings I've attended - and I must say I've attended more than anyone else at this table and it was…

PRIME MINISTER: Long may you continue.

...a positive thing and they typically are. But your leadership in bringing us together on these matters which there is a shared priority and with the sole objective is just getting on and doing it. That's what people expect from us and I think that's what we've delivered. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Will. Premier Berejiklian.

PREMIER BEREJIKLIAN: Thank you, PM, and thank you to colleagues. It was, I want to echo, a very constructive meeting today and from New South Wales perspective there's just three things I want to highlight. Firstly, to thank the PM and our state colleagues for acknowledging the deep drought impacting New South Wales as we signed an agreement today through the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to provide infrastructure funding to communities to ensure water capacity moving forward into the future and I look forward to ongoing discussions in that regard. 

Secondly, a reiteration and confirmation of states being able to work with the Commonwealth even more closely moving forward in relation to infrastructure priorities and delivery and that's a very positive move that all of us accepted. 

And thirdly, commend the PM and our state colleagues for putting VET skills and industry at top of mind. The future of jobs in our states and nation is critical not just in existing industries but also in emerging ones and we need to make sure our education system at a tertiary level in vocational education and training certainly meets those challenges. So I want to echo the issues raised by those who've already spoken and thank the PM and all the state Premiers and First Ministers for a very constructive meeting. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Gladys. Premier Marshall?

PREMIER MARSHALL: Well thank you very much, Prime Minister. I'm here representing South Australia but also as the chair of the CAF which is, of course, the Council for the Australian Federation. And it's fair enough to say that the CAF agenda and the COAG agenda is very, very much in alignment at the moment. The issues which were discussed at the CAF are transferred directly into the COAG. We feel very much supported by the Prime Minister and the agenda of COAG that we can raise issues in a respectful way and they're dealt with. We also want to... I personally want to thank the Prime Minister for the two side meetings that have occurred during COAG. First of all for northern Australia, but more in particular for my state, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan side meeting that was held and I thank all of the people that attended that meeting. We had a full complement of people today. There was a reiteration of our commitment to that Plan, but there's also a coming together and understanding of our very difficult conditions right across our country at the moment with dry conditions and in fact drought conditions in much of the country and we need to be working together at this difficult time so that we can implement that Plan, but do it in a way which is going to be respectful for communities all along the Murray-Darling Basin.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Steven. Premier Andrews?

PREMIER ANDREWS: Thanks very much PM. Can I say that this has been one of the very best COAG meetings that I've attended in the last five years. So I thank the Prime Minister and my colleagues for the tone of the meeting but also the commitment to getting things done. Nothing is more important than us taking real action or setting up processes that will lead to real action in good time to support the people that we are here to look after. Whether that be through ensuring that every Victorian, every Australian gets the skills they need for the job they want. Without that, we can't keep building the infrastructure that we've all been elected to get on with. And the same extends to a whole range of social policy improvements as well. Whether it’s taking action on family violence, mental health reform, the rollout of the NDIS. Workforce and skills are central to that. So I want to thank the Prime Minister and colleagues for acknowledging just how important vocational education and training is. We can do better in this space and I'm very confident we will.

Just finally on that point, we have to change the way TAFE and vocational education and non-university pathways are viewed. This is a first-class option, not anything less than that. I make these points a lot that the infrastructure in Melbourne and across Victoria is being built by TAFE and VET qualified people. I'm very proud of them and I think that the words we've settled on today, the process, the action that we've taken indicates that all of Australia's governments are proud of the work that our tradies do and we want to see more and more of them, as well as others that are qualified through that vocational education and training pathway. 

Just very quickly, can I acknowledge the great opportunity we have as well through the spirit of cooperation and agreement. A very good discussion last night. All of us are doing good things to make a broken mental health system better, to support some of the most vulnerable in our nation at their most vulnerable time. We can, of course, do more and we can do better. And there's a great commitment out of today's meeting and a long discussion last night to share best practice, and perhaps in so doing find a new way to talk about health. Rather than quarrelling and arguing maybe we can find a much more positive way to engage on funding our hospitals better and supporting those who need those services most. In the end, PM, thank you so much for what's been a really fantastic meeting.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much Dan, I appreciate that. Premier McGowan.

PREMIER MCGOWAN: Thanks, Prime Minister. Firstly, thanks to Annastacia for inviting us here to Cairns. This is my first ever visit to Cairns. I'm very impressed and I do like the idea of COAG being held outside the capitals and so I look forward to next year to hosting COAG in a regional West Australian location so that we show our appreciation, in particular, of regional Australia. But also, you know, regional Australia also gets the feeling that we are connected to people from the regions. From Western Australia's point of view, three issues I wanted to mention are one, we raised the issue of regulatory approvals, in particular, Commonwealth regulatory approvals through the EPBC Act and making sure that they were more efficient and quicker so that we can get on with the job of building essential infrastructure and creating jobs in the states and also making sure that Commonwealth… other Commonwealth legislation aligns with the states and we can get on in particular and make sure that mining titles are preserved and protected across Western Australia. 

Second point, coastal erosion. As you might be aware, we have various communities in Western Australia deeply affected by sea-level change as a consequence of climate change. The group agreed that we can refer this to Environment Ministers for scientific analysis and report back. In the future, it would be fair to say the Commonwealth is reluctant to do more than that. But I do think that coastal erosion and in particular the impact on houses, roads, rail, communities across Australia will grow as an issue, particularly as sea-level rise occurs and I suspect in future years the Commonwealth, states and local governments will need to reach accommodations and agreements around those things. 

The third thing, I was very pleased the Prime Minister put the issue of waste on the agenda. It's one of the most important issues in our community - in fact, in the world. If I was to ask my ten year old daughter what she cares most about are two things - cruelty to dogs and secondly, you know, dolphins, whales, turtles, marine life being impacted by plastics. Obviously. Ten year olds are going to be voters before we know it and so young people care deeply about these issues and people at leadership levels in government taking these issues up is very important. So getting Australia leading the world in trying to remove disposable plastics from our waste stream so we don't poison and kill creatures in our oceans and terrestrial life across Australia is very, very important and I want to be a part of that. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Mark. Our ten year old daughters share a lot in common. 

PREMIER MCGOWAN: That's right.

PRIME MINISTER: Chief Minister Gunner.

CHIEF MINISTER GUNNER: Thank you, Prime Minister. We are meeting in north Australia, that part of our country which is closest to the rest of the world. For perspective, from Darwin, the capital of the north, it is quicker and easier to fly to Singapore and Shenzhen than Canberra. And when you fly south, you fly over 20 odd million people. And when you fly north, you fly over hundreds of millions of people. It's why the north is the natural place for export. It's why developing our north, growing our population here, investing in infrastructure here and making sure our first people are front and centre of that is crucial to our nation's future security and prosperity. The developing the north agenda is coming to the end of its first five-year action plan. We have agreed that the next five-year action plan will start being developed in Katherine later this year. This is crucial. We see, as a very important project in developing our north, a new ship lift for Darwin. The Territory Government’s position, the Australian Government’s position remains unchanged on this. There will be a ship lift built and I'll be meeting with the NAIF later today to advance the due diligence for that. 

I want to thank the Prime Minister for his leadership on waste. I will be taking lead on this with our environment minister in the Northern Territory. We want to see waste not as a problem but as another person's treasure, opportunity, to try and find as many jobs as possible in how we deal with this and the challenge the Prime Minister has set us. Finally, but just as importantly, along with our economic challenges we have got shared social challenges and other First Ministers have touched upon this. I just want to thank my colleagues for agreeing that the next summit on reducing violence against women will be hosted in Alice Springs. Thank you.