Press Conference - Australian Parliament House, ACT

28 Oct 2020
Prime Minister

Prime Minister: Good afternoon, I am joined by the Attorney-General to make announcements about appointments to the High Court. After the Attorney met with the Governor-General this morning in Executive Council and Cabinet considered this matter last night. After an extensive process, which I’ll ask the Attorney-General to talk you through. But first of all, can I say to all of those in Melbourne in particular and across Victoria again congratulations and I hope you enjoy being out and about. I know you have been waiting a long time for that and I would just encourage you to as you open safely, that’s the way to remain safely open into the future. But I am sure it has been quite a day and quite a late night for some down there in Melbourne I completely understand that. And I just encourage everybody to continue as we open up, to do that, conscious of the various other restrictions and other things that remain in place. And we will continue to make strong progress there in the weeks and months ahead as we work towards that Christmas deadline, which the National Cabinet has given strong support to get open by Christmas. Of course with the exception of Western Australia.

Also, can I note today is the national Memorial Day for Fire and Emergency Services and earlier today a memorial service was held here in Canberra and this is I know, a very important day for all Australians, but particularly for those who have lost loved ones through their service to the community. And if you would just indulge me, I would like to just read the names of those 14 people who have lost their lives and remember this morning those 14 responders. Phillip Bell, Ian Long, Robert Panitz, Geoffrey Keaton, and Andrew O'Dwyer, Sam McPaul, Colin Burns, Ian McBeth, Rick DeMorgan Jr, Paul Hudson, Bill Slade, Mathew Kavanagh, David Moresi, and George Baldock. We thank them for the incredible service to our country, some of them came from across the seas to be here at our moment of greatest need, and we remember them and we think of their families who deal with their loss every single day. Earlier this year on Australia Day I actually went to the memorial service, some of you may recall with my daughters on Australia Day, and I encourage those particularly who live in Canberra or those who are visiting Canberra to take a moment and go and visit that memorial. It's a very moving place I think for all Australians.

Can I now move to the issue though that has led to us joining here this morning. This morning the Governor-General accepted the advice of the Government to appoint the Honourable Justice Simon Steward and the Honourable Justice Jacqueline Gleeson as the next Justices of the High Court of Australia, they will fill the vacancies that will arise upon the retirements of the Honourable Justice Geoffrey Nettle AC on 30th November this year, who will be replaced by Justice Simon Steward, and the Honourable Virginia Bell AC, on the 28th February 2021, who will be replaced by Justice Gleeson. I want to thank Justices Nettle and Bell in advance of their upcoming retirements for their many years of judicial service to the Australian people. I will ask the Attorney to speak to both of these appointments and as well as the process we have gone through exhaustively to arrive at this decision on these appointments. The High Court is one of the most important institutions of our democracy. And every Justice appointed to it carries a significant burden to uphold the laws of our land. I congratulate Justices Steward and Gleeson and I wish them all the best for their very important service. Attorney.

The Hon. Christian Porter MP, Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations: Thank you, Prime Minister and I join with the Prime Minister in congratulating the Honourable Justice Simon Steward and the Honourable Justice Jacqueline Gleeson as the next two Justices of the High Court of Australia. I and the Cabinet are incredibly confident that Justice Steward and Justice Gleeson will make very worthy additions to the High Court bench, they are both outstanding judges, they have been outstanding barristers, they are outstanding members of the legal and broader Australian community. Just a very brief summary of the process that leads us to this point. The process has been about six months and starts with a statutory requirement upon myself as Attorney-General to consult with all of the state Attorneys-General, behind the state-based consultation sits a whole range of state-based bar associations and law societies and a range of groups. Those bodies are also consulted with by me on a Commonwealth level as well as heads of jurisdiction across Australia. So it is an exhaustive and extensive process, and the two appointments have emerged from that very long and extensive process with the legal community I think, noting throughout the consultation that both have absolutely impeccable records and skills for the High Court.

Justice Steward will commence on 1 December and replace the Honourable Justice Geoffrey Nettle AC who retires from the court at the end of next month. The appointment of Justice Steward to the High Court continues what has been a remarkable stellar indeed career for one of Australia's leading legal professionals. It was noted when he was brought into the Federal Court that he took silk in 2009 just 10 years out from law school being the first person in his graduating class to do that. He was appointed in 2018 to the Federal Court of Australia where he has demonstrated exemplary judicial skills and achieved wide recognition as a leading expert with speciality areas in taxation and administrative law and I have no doubt that his years of experience both at the bar and on the bench of the Federal Court will provide invaluable skills for his new commission as a Justice of the High Court.

With respect to Justice Gleeson, Justice Gleeson will commence next year on 1 March replacing the Honourable Virginia Bell AC who will retire from the court on 28 February 2021. Justice Gleeson was appointed to the Federal Court in 2014, she is held in obvious and very high regard by all the members of the judiciary and the legal profession. She was appointed to the Federal Court following a diverse legal career both at the bar and as a solicitor. In fact the diversity of Justice Gleeson's expertise across a number of civil jurisdictions in both public and private practice has served the Federal Court incredibly well and will no doubt be a major asset to the High Court going forward. Her appointment to the High Court represents yet another very significant achievement in an already distinguished career. I should note, and it’s not really possible to appoint her Honour Justice Jacqueline Gleeson without noting that she is the eldest daughter of former High Court Chief Justice Murray Gleeson. That places her in a rather unique position. I am told that is a first in common law countries. I might pause very briefly and say I note that because it is notable.

But looking through the CVs of both Justice Steward and Justice Gleeson, their families have played an enormous role. Parents nurturing people, partners and children supporting people through their career and there has been a long history of broad family support for each of these two very fine Judges to have been nurtured to the point where they can provide the sort of skills and impeccable track record that they bring to the public service on the High Court. I’d just like to close by taking the opportunity, of course, to thank the Honourable Justice Nettle and Justice Bell in advance of their upcoming retirements for the remarkable service they have given the Australian people through the High Court.

Prime Minister: Thank you. Let's take questions on the appointments first. I'm happy to move to other issues.

Journalist: Mr Porter, just a question I have asked at all of these for the last 20 something years, in my old state of South Australia it has long been a grievance that state has never had a High Court Justice in 117 years. Was anyone from that state considered as part of this process and is there anyone there in the pipeline in the next few years?

The Hon. Christian Porter MP, Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations: It weighed very heavily on my mind and the mind of Cabinet. And the consultation process we went through starts with a long list and as you will see that list becomes shorter with each iteration. But that is something that has played on Cabinet's mind and there are always people from all over Australia geographically considered in that list. But there are future appointments obviously, but that did play very much on our mind. 

Prime Minister: I will also point out and the Attorney made this point to Cabinet last night, this obviously frees up a number of appointments in the Federal Court and that provides the opportunity to create a further pipeline of others who can be considered into the future.

Journalist: Prime Minister first, your initial reaction to the incident at the Doha Airport? We also know that women from other countries were subjected to the examinations. Have you spoken to other world leaders about the investigation and also what is the official message that has been sent to the Qatari government?

Prime Minister: We find this unacceptable. That has been the official message and conveyed very clearly in the investigation because it is unacceptable. I mean, it was appalling. As a father of daughters, I could only shudder at the thought that any woman, Australian or otherwise, would be subjected to that. So I think you can be confident that those messages were conveyed very clearly and at the time and more recently. In addition to that, we expect to see the result of that investigation very soon and that will be shared with us, that has been assured to us by the Qatari Government. So it is important that wherever travellers are travelling, that they are able to do so free of those types of incidents. And we will continue to ensure that we support Australians in all those circumstances both here and when travelling overseas.

Journalist: Prime Minister, why are we waiting for the results of the report before we decide what action to take and what action can you actually take to ensure this never happens again?

Prime Minister: Well, you rightly raise the fact this occurred not in Australia it occurred in Qatar, it occurred in a set of circumstances that were also quite awful. We are talking about the death of a child and that is a very distressing incident as well. But what's important is that the international norms and rules as people move through international airports and move between countries that we are able to do that in a way where certain standards are upheld and so I think it is important, given we have been given the assurances by the Qatari Government that we will be provided with the results of their investigation and I think it's important that we can look at that before making a further response. There is no doubt in the mind of whether its Qatari Airlines or the Government about Australia's strong objections and views about this and I think those views are shared widely, and so we will make a further response. Not our first response a further response once we have the opportunity to see the results of that investigation. 

Journalist: Is your advice, that the baby is dead?

Prime Minister: I don't have any further information on that, I can’t confirm either way.

Journalist: Given the seriousness of this situation, would you have expected that the Foreign Minister would have picked up the phone right away to her Qatari counterpart?

Prime Minister: The Australian Government made its views very clear at the time and since as we should have and we have.

Journalist: A short time ago, the Qatari government issued an apology if they caused any distress to the passengers impacted by the search. Even if we do get that report, what more can the Australian women whose rights were so seriously violated actually expect in terms of a further apology or compensation, even legal action, given the diplomatic nature of the event being overseas?

Prime Minister: As I said, we will consider all of these options once we have the opportunity to review the investigation.

Journalist: Prime Minister, thousands of Australians might be going to Qatar for the World Cup in 2022. What assurances will you be seeking from the Qatari Government that it has not only a full and transparent inquiry but that you can get assurances that nothing of the sort ever happens again?

Prime Minister: These are the assurances we are seeking and this is why the investigation is so important and any further response which we would be making in response to that investigation. And it is not just people going to a World Cup. We have 15 per cent of those Australians who are coming home at the moment are coming back on Qatar Airlines. They are actually providing a pretty important role in getting Australians home. So we need to continue to manage both of these issues because I know they are of great significance and importance to Australians all around the country. So we will continue to take a very strident approach on this. We are appalled by what occurred as anyone would not just as an Australian but any traveller would. They should not be subject to these invasive procedures.

Journalist: Prime Minister, Australia’s major trading partners Japan, China, the EU have all moved towards a net zero emissions target. Why is Australia so reluctant to adopt a target and are concerned about our future exports?

Prime Minister: No I am not concerned about our future exports and my discussion with the Prime Minister last night was a very positive one. We speak quite regularly I think this was our fifth conversation this year. They are not all formal discussions some are more formal than others and there are many other informal exchanges between myself and the British Prime Minister on any number of issues. The key focus of our discussion last night was actually on the UK free trade agreement and our commitment to get that moving as quickly as possible. Those processes are already under way and we both committed to continue to play every strong message to our negotiators to get this done and to get it happening as soon as it's able to be done under the arrangements that the UK is currently constricted by and to have an ambitious free trade agreement with the UK. We are not looking for any ordinary agreement here, we are looking for a real ground-setting arrangement here with the UK and I believe that in what the Prime Minister said to me last night. Comprehensive, across-the-board, the sort of thing we have been able to achieve with the United States and other places. That’s what we talked about last night. So I'm not concerned about that. The other point I would make is when I have discussed this with the British Prime Minister before and last night. See, Australia, we’ll set our policies here. We’ll set them. Our policies won’t be set in the United Kingdom, they won't be set in Brussels, they won't be set in any part of the world other than here. Because it's Australian’s jobs, it’s Australia's economy and it’s Australia's recovery from the COVID-19 recession that matters to me and my Cabinet and the decisions we take. I'm very aware of the many views that are held around the world but I tell you what, our policies will be set here in Australia. And no one understands that better than the British Prime Minister, given his recent election on the issue of Brexit. So he totally understands Australia's sovereignty when it comes to making these sovereign decisions about our future. And the commitment I gave to Australians was that the targets we set the plans we make I will explain, I will detail, as I did at the last election and could demonstrate how we would get to our commitments for 2030. I demonstrated how we would already going to exceed the commitments we made for 2020 and what other further commitments that we would make I would only do where I can be very clear with the Australian people about how that would be achieved. One thing the British Prime Minister and I agree on is that achieving emissions reductions shouldn't come at the cost of jobs in Australia or the UK. It shouldn't come at the cost of higher prices for the daily things that our citizens depend on. It's about technology, not taxes, is what we talked about last night. And that's not just important in terms of how we continue to transform our own economies to lower emissions, it's also important about how we achieve the gear change globally in developing countries. See, if the technologies don't exist that make sense for developing countries to adopt and make part of their economies, guess what is going to happen? Emissions are going to go up and up and up. In developed economies, they will come down as ours indeed as I was able to say last night had fallen 14 per cent since 2005. 1 per cent is the fall in New Zealand and 0 per cent is in Canada. Our record on this speaks for itself. We are achieving it and when we make commitments in Australia's interests, then we will meet those commitments as well. But what the Prime Minister and I agreed last night was to form that partnership on technology. To ensure that these technologies won't only work in Australia and in the United Kingdom but they can work in India, that they can work in China, that they can work in Vietnam, that they can work in those countries which will have rapidly rising emissions over the next decade. And that's important. If you want to bring down global emissions and deal with climate change, you don't just have to do it in developed countries, you have got to make sure developing countries have access and are able to take on technologies which we can develop, which sees them have a lower emissions future. Otherwise, you're not really making a lot of progress.

Journalist: You were reported to have told your party room last week that you would go full term. Will you make that commitment here, is there any chance at all of an early election?

Prime Minister: My view hasn't changed Andrew, and as it hadn’t changed when you raised it with me last time. But you’ve been sticking to your line. 

Journalist: Under your tax plan in the Budget passed very speedily, people who are earning $90,000 and less will actually have more of their income going to the tax office from July next year than what is happening right now. Are you considering any extra help for those low and middle income earners?

Prime Minister: There have been a number of stimulus measures that we have put in place, as you know, in response to the COVID-19 recession. They have had an impact, whether they have been the $750 payments on two occasions, there are two further payments of $250 coming for those on welfare. There is a stimulus payment injected into the tax changes that were made this year which saw a doubling up of the tax cuts in that one year and that was there as a stimulus measure and I think it has been important to target those measures to low and middle income earners in the course of the recovery. Now, we have lower taxes for all working Australians into the future and those plans are legislated, we brought forward elements of those plans as you know in the Budget. If there is a need for us to consider other stimulus measures as we move forward into next year's Budget or indeed even if that were necessary as we went into the mid-year update and, of course, the Government would consider that I think on every single occasion. From the day I came out here with the Treasurer and we announced firstly, firstly, the doubling of JobSeeker and then the JobKeeper arrangement the single largest income support measure that this country has ever seen which has saved livelihoods and it has saved lives. I mean, one of the most pleasing aspects of when I had the opportunity before Parliament came back to go up to Queensland, the number of Queenslanders that I was able to speak to for whom JobKeeper was the difference between being unemployed and employed, the difference between having hope and having no hope, the difference between their business that they are owned remaining open and having to shut. I mean, JobKeeper was the biggest game changer that has enabled Australia to pull through this COVID-19 recession. We are not out of the woods yet, there is a long way to go and we have demonstrated on every occasion that where the need is there, where we believe that can make a constructive difference then we will make the decisions that are necessary to back Australians in.

Journalist: Prime Minister, you’ve got 34,000 Australians trying to get home. Gladys Berejiklian has raised concerns today that she has taken far too much of the load of hotel quarantine. She is asking Queensland to pay the bill, is she right or is this all getting a bit silly now and when should the international arrivals caps be lifted?

Prime Minister: It is something we raise at every National Cabinet meeting and as I said after the last one just last Friday, we were able to get additional capacity out of Western Australia and Queensland and I appreciate that. We will continue to bring those Australians home through all the channels that we have, including the eight chartered flights and where there is a necessity for more of those that will be done as well. The arrangements that the states go into in terms of the cost of quarantine, they’re matters that the states handle and I will leave that to them. One of the reasons we are examining the different options for quarantine, one of the reasons that we allowed quarantine free travel from New Zealand into Australia was to free up those very places and that has been quite effective. The next big, I think game changer in that area will be for Victoria to open up to international arrivals for people to come back, the Victorian Premier has not given me a commitment on that yet but they are considering those matters now and I hope that won't be too far away, because there are a lot of Victorians who want to come home.

Journalist: Prime Minister, on the SAS war crimes allegations, a former Army Commando has told Sky News that SAS members feel hogtied and are being tried by media allegations about what has gone on in Afghanistan. What commitment can you give about how unredacted this Inspector General report will be when it is finally released and that these SAS soldiers are given an ability to clear their names?

Prime Minister: Look, these reports, of course, I mean, people have been reading those. His comments about the media are for the media to respond to, not the Government to respond to. We don't decide what media reports about these issues. That's on your side of the table. But the reports are troubling and the claims are exactly why this process was set up. Now, the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force is conducting that enquiry to determine whether there is any substance to those rumours and allegations relating to possible breaches of the law of armed conflict by members of the Special Operations Task Force Group in Afghanistan over the period of 2015-16. This is a very serious inquiry. It's done by people who are highly skilled in handling what are very sensitive matters and I have no doubt that they're very aware of the careful way they need to conduct this inquiry. I mean, the Attorney might want to add to this. But the Government, the inquiry, the Defence Forces and the Defence Department are taking this incredibly seriously. And the issues you raise in managing the justice and fairness for those who have had accusations made about them in the public domain and those being published and printed in the media raises those complexities. And it will be managed as best as possibly can using the what are transparent processes, but also very official processes to get to the truth and to deal with the truth. Christian?

The Hon. Christian Porter MP, Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations: Justice Brereton has been dealing with this matter for several years and obviously this matter will proceed in stages. But the next stage is the release by Justice Brereton of his report. Justice Brereton determines when and how, because that is an absolutely arm's length investigation from executive government. So he will make determinations on those matters you've raised. But I think that you can expect to see a very, very detailed and substantive report.

Journalist: Prime Minister, is the recession over?

Prime Minister: We won't know that until December, which is when the national accounts figures for the September quarter will be released. And until then whether technically that's the case or not, I know Australians are still hurting. And so I didn't need the numbers from the national accounts to tell me that JobKeeper was needed. I didn't need that. I knew Australians were hurting. I knew what the impact was on our economy and we acted and swiftly and at a scale this country has never seen before. And so the national accounts will say what they say. But what I know is in the many months ahead, there are businesses that are still not open again. There are people we still need to get back into work. I mean, that's the reality. That's the reality. And I'm focused on policies that deal with the reality of the economic challenges that we have ahead. And as much as we welcome what has occurred in Melbourne overnight, it's still a long road back and there's going to be some deep scars there, economic and people's mental health. And these are going to have to be healed and it's going to take us some time to achieve that. And so I can assure you, I'm in no doubt, the Treasurer is in no doubt, the whole Cabinet is in no doubt of the massive task that we still have in front of us, both on an economic basis and on a health basis and I can tell you one of the first things, and it was an extensive discussion actually, that Prime Minister Johnson and I had last night was about COVID and he went out of his way to congratulate Australians and Australia on the way that Australia has been able to weather this terrible storm. We know what's happened in the UK and, of course what's happening across Europe as he recounted to me as well. I mean he himself has suffered directly, and so he understands just how important the success Australia has means. He knows what it looks like when it doesn't go that way and the hurt and the cost and the pain. Now, in Australia we've been able to avoid the worst of that but that doesn't mean we haven't been hit. We have been hit hard and so we will continue to respond each and every day in the interest of all Australians. I’ve got time for one more because of the bells. John.

Journalist: Prime Minister, on ASIC, do you have confidence in the organisation? And also, it’s stood aside Chairman James Shipton, who you appointed as Treasurer and do you believe there may need to be a broader restructure of the organisation’s operating model, as many in the government and business community believe?

Prime Minister: Well, the appointment, I was Treasurer at the time. The Minister responsible at the time was Kelly O'Dwyer, as you know, and she was in Cabinet at the time, of course, that I had a role in that process, as did the Prime Minister at the time, and indeed as did Cabinet. As we have today and in the recommendations that had been brought forward by the Attorney-General which we support strongly and there's an investigative process underway that is appropriate there and I don't think it's helpful for me to be offering commentary about that while that's underway. I don't think that's fair to those who are involved and I'm pleased that those processes are in place. When issues like this and there are a couple of other issues like this at the moment, people have been stood aside as they should have been. Inquiries are underway as they should be and then the recommendations that come from those inquiries need to be addressed. That's how you deal with these problems. That's how I’ll always deal with these problems. That's how you run a Government. Thank you.