Press conference - Canberra

03 Feb 2023
Parliament House, Canberra
Prime Minister, Premier of New South Wales, Premier of Victoria, Premier of Queensland, Premier of South Australia
National Cabinet meeting; Joint Statement of Intent supporting Voice to Parliament referendum; Health reform; Strengthening Medicare Taskforce Report; Closing the gap; National security and firearms; Local government; Housing; NDIS

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Can I thank the premiers and chief ministers for what was, once again, a very collegiate and collaborative meeting, where we worked together as a Commonwealth, with states and territories, and today as well, we added local government in the national interest. Today, all First Ministers, in recognition of our commitment for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as Australia's first peoples, and also with a Voice to Parliament being enshrined in our Constitution, re-signed, recommitted and signed up to a Statement of Intent to secure a successful referendum in the second half of this year.

On health reform, the National Cabinet has agreed that this is the first priority issue for 2023. We will meet again in late April and consider further measures on top of what we already have been doing as a National Cabinet, and the work that different jurisdictions are doing, along with the Commonwealth, including noting the $100 million investment in primary care pilot program that we have begun to roll out, and the Urgent Care Clinics that will be up and running by the end of this year. We also noted an update by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority on their work being undertaken by Robyn Kruk, looking at health professionals and how we can get more efficiency in the system. We all understand the challenge that is there for improving our primary health care networks, how that interacts with the hospital system, and there's absolutely a commitment to work on policy outcomes as the starting point. What is the right policy, what is the right structure, rather than looking simply at allocation of funds. We know that the key, going forward, is to better integrate the systems, so that patients are what it is all about, better healthcare, and we know that the earlier the care is provided, the cheaper that care will be as well. And that is a common position which we have, and we'll be prioritising that throughout 2023, again, with the next meeting being in late April.

Today, we received the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce Report, that has within it really practical measures going forward as well. On energy, the First Ministers noted the recent agreements that have been rolled out with the Rewiring the Nation program of the Commonwealth, the $20 billion commitment we're rolling out in cooperation with state and territory governments. We know that part of the key to fixing the energy system is fixing the energy grid, bringing it into the 21st century. And that's what the announcements that we have already made in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and other announcements are coming as well, all about, for example, Snowy Hydro, great idea, but nice if you plug it into the grid. So that is a starting point as well. In addition to that, the treasurers will be meeting next week, just finalising the details of the National Energy Bill Relief plan. This isn't going to be a one size fits all, because different states and territories have different systems and starting points therefore as well.

We heard from Pat Turner, the lead convener of the Coalition of Peaks, came to talk to us about closing the gap. It was a really constructive discussion. All of the state and territory jurisdictions agreed that Pat Turner would address their cabinets respectably around the country this year, to talk about whole of government at the state and territory level responses, to closing the gap in service provision. Also as well, we agreed to re-sign the national agreement that was signed in 2020. Any updates that are required as well, we'll report back on that.

Following the tragic events in Queensland that we saw with the murder of the police officers, we heard from Premier Palaszczuk firstly about the circumstances there, but we also as a result of a discussion that we held last night, agreed to invite the Director-General of ASIO, Mike Burgess, along, to talk about the rise of right-wing extremism in particular, the so-called sovereign citizens, and other issues as well, and we had a high-level national security briefing on that for the premiers and chief ministers. I reiterate that the Commonwealth will always make available our senior national security advisers to state and territory governments, to deal with the challenges that are there of keeping people safe, and protecting our internal security issues as well right around the country. It's quite clear we need to do better in cooperation between jurisdictions when it comes to firearms. That was part of the issue that has been identified in Queensland, and we agreed we'd report back by the middle of the year through, the Attorneys-General Ministerial Council on the options to implement a National Firearms Register, and it's agreed that that would be a necessary measure.

We heard from the President of the Australian Local Government Association, Councillor Linda Scott, on the priorities for local government, in particular the challenges that have arisen because of natural disasters that we have seen in recent times, tragically too many of them in too many places around the country. National Cabinet reaffirmed we value the work that local government is doing on the ground there. We also had a discussion about housing, and first ministers discussing the National Housing Accord that has been agreed to by the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments, the Master Builders Association and other organisations, including how we mobilise funding, including of superannuation funds into the supply of housing. We all know that supply is something that needs to be addressed, in addition, it's noted the improvements that are being made, and will continue to need to be done on issues such as affordable and social housing, as well as emergency housing. National Cabinet was very constructive. We got a lot done today in a relatively short period of time. And it is symptomatic, I think, of the way that we have functioned together as a National Cabinet, making sure that states and territories are prepared to put aside their own interests, in terms of clearly advocating for their states and territories, but also how can we get better outcomes as a nation. And I really appreciate, and I want to acknowledge the work, and the cooperative nature of states and territories. So I am happy to, or we are happy to answer questions.

JOURNALIST: Just on the health issue, emergency departments are just under dreadful pressure all over the country, here in the ACT and other places, waiting times are massive. Is the basic message from today's meeting to people who are spending hours and hours at these places, that's just how it's going to be for the rest of the year, there's no quick fix to this?

PRIME MINISTER: Not at all, we're taking action now. Just last week, I was in Tasmania, signing an agreement with Premier Rockliff for the rollout of our $100 million program, it was $8 million from the Commonwealth, $5 million from Tasmania to make a difference to GP service provision. We all agree on what some of the issues are. Part of the issues are people are turning up at emergency departments because they don't have other options. We need to improve primary healthcare. We need to improve access to GP services. We need to make sure that people who are aged care residents who end up at ED departments can get the care in their aged care residence when they're not acute health issues. We need to work, as part of the NDIS process and disability care reform as well. There are many people who end up in hospital who should be receiving services in other forms. So the task is to continue to talk about the bigger picture reform, but also for that not to be, not to sit back and wait, we're investing right now. In Perth on Wednesday, very deliberately in the lead-up to this meeting, we signed, or we called for the expressions of interest for seven Urgent Care Clinics. That's about so that if your little boy or girl breaks their arm, they don't need to go to an emergency department, there's a mid-tier, if you like, for urgent care that's not an acute care, that's not an emergency, life-threatening situation, that you can get that healthcare on the ground. Now we want all of those Urgent Care Clinics to be up and running by the end of the year. There will be three in WA, up and running by July 1. That's the agreement that we have with the WA Government. And so we're not waiting, we are acting, but we are also recognising that these are complex issues that require whole of governments to provide a solution.

JOURNALIST: You said in your preamble there that the Strengthening Medicare report that you've got, that we haven't seen yet, has some very practical measures in it. Are you able to act on any of those measures before you next meet in April or are they the kinds of things that everyone needs to agree to?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, we intend to act on them. The Strengthening Medicare Taskforce isn't just the minister going away. It's been worked through in consultation with the health sector and we intend to act.

JOURNALIST: Is there a political impasse between you and the Opposition, given that the details that they're asking for are ones that you say will be nutted out by the Parliament after a referendum, if successful? And If I can ask the New South Wales Premier a similar question, can you share, or give some light to any lobbying efforts you've done behind the scenes with your federal counterparts, given that you're in support of the Voice and we have everyone in support of the Voice, there seems to be enough detail for you and your government but not for the Opposition Leader?

PRIME MINISTER: Can I say firstly, my door is open. I'm up for as broad agreement as possible. This is a reform that should be above party politics. It has been for state and territory governments. This is about two things: recognition and consultation. Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our Constitution, in our nation's birth certificate. And that they should be consulted. There should be a consultative body, that's all it is, for matters that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. And that is what this is about, that is what the referendum vote is about in the second half of this year. Dom?

DOMINIC PERROTTET, PREMIER OF NSW: Look, I don't see it as a political issue. This is an issue that we agree with, in principle, and it should be above politics. It should be a moment which unites the country, doesn't divide the country. And that's been my position from the outset.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask your reaction to South Australia's bid to have Sydney's New Year's cricket test brought to Adelaide, what's your message about that?

PERROTTET: A five day washed out test in Sydney is much better than a five day test in Adelaide. Because at the end of it, you've spent five days in Adelaide.

JOURNALIST: Mr Malinauskas, what do you say to that?

PRIME MINISTER: There goes the collective spirit.

PETER MALINAUSKAS, PREMIER OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Look, we've got a pretty good track record of hosting major events in South Australia, and it's something we're pretty keen on. Obviously, we were rapt that the AFL chose to have the AFL Gather Round in South Australia over New South Wales. They looked at the evidence and the facts, and they decided accordingly. And we hope that Cricket Australia might one day do the same.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you agree with the IMF that co-payments and means testing should be introduced to the NDIS to make it more sustainable in the long-term? And to the state and territory leaders, you're currently covering about a third of NDIS costs and that will drop to about an eighth in ten years unless a new agreement is struck. Are you willing to increase your share of the cost burden for the benefit of the scheme and its participants?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, we are examining the detail and the operation of the way that the NDIS is operating. And clearly, part of that, as Bill Shorten has indicated, is that the cost burden is increasing at an extraordinary rate. We want to make sure that there's bipartisan support for the NDIS, that was one of the things that the former government I was a part of was very proud to introduce, but I think there is support across the Parliament. But we will look at ways, look at ways ourselves and certainly we are, of how it can operate effectively to ensure that the people it was designed to support get the support that they need.

JOURNALIST: To the state and territory leaders, are you willing to increase your share?

DANIEL ANDREWS, PREMIER OF VICTORIA: I think in the first instance we want to see the work that Minister Shorten and the new Federal Government are doing come to its conclusion. Ultimately, all of us I think have a shared interest in the NDIS operating the way that it was supposed to. It was properly designed, it was properly funded and it has not been properly supported for almost 10 years. We've got a new government, the authors and the architects of the NDIS, who are absolutely determined, along with all of us, to make it work the way that it was supposed to. The other thing too is we often talk about costs, we should not lose sight of the benefits of this scheme as well. This is about changing lives and saving lives. And if you want to be completely economic about it, the benefits from everybody being able to reach their full potential and participate to their full extent that they choose to, they flow first and foremost to the Commonwealth Government, through income tax and through other mechanisms. This is not a cost, it's an investment in being a fair place, a decent place and I want to congratulate the Prime Minister and Minister Shorten for the leadership they have shown already and they can count I think on all of us as partners.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if you can just give us an update on where National Cabinet is on some of the major issues in health reform – fifty-fifty hospital funding, whether the Medicare rebate should be increased, use of allied healthcare, pharmacies issuing prescriptions, some of the practical things that mean something substantial to people?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, we are working through the issues of the health system and the way that it operates, to make sure that patients are at the forefront. So the starting point of our discussions isn't about dollars and shares of funding. We just heard an example of the NDIS, where there's a different share of funding operating. It is, how do we maximise the benefit to patients from every dollar that is spent in the health system? That's the starting point, putting patients at the front of it. The Medicare Taskforce has some really practical reforms that have been adopted today, but so too are the other measures that were included in the October Budget, included in the primary healthcare pilots, of how that interaction between primary healthcare and the hospital system can produce better outcomes for patients is what we are doing.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you talk about putting patients at the front and getting patients earlier care to make it cheaper for them. We know that bulk-billing is on the decline, people are sometimes paying up to $100 just to see their GP. Will you consider increasing the rebate? And Premier Perrottet, you said this morning that you wanted today's meeting to culminate in a roadmap to a better national health system. Do you feel satisfied that you've achieved that today?

PERROTTET: I do. And I think, just to Mark's question earlier as well, at the next National Cabinet, there will continue to be a substantive discussion on the practical measures in relation to better integrate the primary care health system and the public health system run by the states and territories. Areas like pharmacies and giving greater opportunities for medications and prescriptions, Urgent Care Clinics. I agree completely with the Prime Minister, and I think the discussion we had today, it's not about dollars and cents, it's about what is the best health system possible? Let's put patients at the centre of that system, integrate the networks better and in a more efficient way and then work out the funding arrangements off the back of it. If you start with funding, you won't get an outcome. And I think today, the discussion on a range of issues in respect of that, I think everyone here's on the same page. And I think going forward, with the fact that healthcare is going to be the number one issue for National Cabinet for the next 12 months, I think we'll bring positive outcomes.

JOURNALIST: PM, you mentioned right-wing extremism and sovereign citizens. Could I ask for an update on the terrorism law reforms that Clare O'Neil has flagged previously? And if I can ask I guess a more personal reflection, what's your concern specifically about right-wing extremism, sovereign citizens and to the Queensland shooting, do you consider that an act of domestic terrorism?

PRIME MINISTER: On the work that Clare O'Neil is doing, I'm always cautious to talk publicly about national security issues before they have gone through proper processes. But that work is certainly underway and is substantial. I think the fact that the states and territories last night – this is revealing something that isn't confidential, it came out of the discussion we had last night, where Premier Palaszczuk was due to report today on the national firearms issue. I attended, of course, the funeral service of the victims who were murdered. It was one of the most moving things that I've done in my life. And I think that when you have people who are on the frontline every day, our police officers murdered, these young people, a young man and young woman, potentially as well, one other wounded, the catastrophic premeditated, calculated murder that occurred there on the basis of a warped ideology, then it requires us to do what we can to keep the citizens we all represent safe. And so hence the report this morning from Mr Burgess, that went into, it was a high-level briefing, it went into details that I won't go into here, but we know that the threat is real and tragically, we have seen the consequences of it.

JOURNALIST: Could you give this us a flavour please, Prime Minister, of what Pat Turner said and what she puts forward as the most urgent issues that need to be addressed at the moment in closing the gap?

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Michelle. Well, the first thing is that Pat Turner is such a powerful advocate and just a great Australian. The Coalition of Peaks is of course the peak organisation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled services. And she, like all of us, is expressing concern about the failure of us collectively as a nation to meet the targets that have been set, in closing the gap. I said this week, and it was reported as if it was something new that I said, that all governments need to do better. All governments. This isn't an ideological issue. The gap which is there on education, on health, on life expectancy, on justice issues, in too many areas is not closing in accordance with the targets which are there. But Pat Turner is very determined. She indicated as well that she sees a direct link between constitutional recognition, and respect, and a Voice in achieving better outcomes in the future. And she made the request of state and territory governments that she be able to meet with the respective cabinets, because one of the things that she emphasised was that it wasn't just a matter of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs ministers in different jurisdictions, it requires health ministers to be engaged, education ministers, early learning ministers, to be engaged in these issues. Housing ministers to be engaged as well, she emphasised the importance of housing. Hence why I feel it was pleasing and I hope that she was pleased that immediately all of the jurisdictions indicated that they wanted to have meetings of the cabinet addressed by Pat Turner in the coming year. It was a very, as much as, the challenges are very clear, in my mind it was also very positive.

JOURNALIST: On the audit report into bushfire grants in New South Wales, which are partly federal government-funded, do you think that that was the way that disaster relief should be delivered? Or do you trust the states to deliver such money? And do you agree with New South Wales Labor Leader Chris Minns that the matter should be referred to ICAC?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that disaster relief should be distributed on the basis of need. That's my starting point. And, quite clearly, it shouldn't be politicised. And my government, in terms of how we've worked with all of the state and territory jurisdictions, has done that. We've provided support across the board and, I think if you look at where it has gone, whether it be in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, I don't think I've been into a Labor electorate in that entire time federally that I've been the Prime Minister in making substantial announcements, except perhaps Bendigo, would be the exception to that. We all have a responsibility to deliver where it's needed, not to deliver politically.

PERROTTET: I'll just add to that. We made changes in New South Wales when I became Premier in in relation to grants allocations to ensure that the subjective nature of that would not come into play. That the funding goes to where the need is. And that's what's most important.

PRIME MINISTER: Can I just add on that. I was critical, as Opposition Leader, with some of the former federal government's allocation in the Northern Rivers region, where some of that allocation, in my view, was politicised, and it shouldn't be.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, have you been able to use this opportunity to further progress negotiations with Premier Palaszczuk when it comes to the Olympic Games funding? And same question, Premier Palaszczuk, and could I separately ask if you had much response or reaction from your colleagues when it comes to the GP payroll tax issue and whether there's any grace period coming for doctors there?

PRIME MINISTER: On the first question, watch this space. Premier Palaszczuk and I are both committed to a very successful Brisbane and Queensland Olympic Games. And I have said before that the Commonwealth was committed to that. We have worked these issues through, and what I want to make sure, and I had the experience of living in Sydney, is to make sure that it's not just about the event when it happens and that two weeks or four weeks. It is about leaving an infrastructure legacy that benefits, not just Brisbane but the whole of Queensland. And I am very pleased with the discussions that I've had with Premier Palaszczuk, and we will, some time when it's appropriate, be making appropriate announcements. But I'm very confident that people see the Commonwealth and the Queensland Government working together in the interests not just of Queenslanders, this is an event that will be great for Australia. We have some big events coming up, and I'd encourage people as well to bear in mind that the third-biggest event in the world is going to be held here in Australia and New Zealand this year, which is the Women's Football World Cup. Only followed, only beaten by the men's World Cup and the Olympic Games. Third-biggest event in the world will be held this year at venues right around the country. That will be an exciting opportunity for Australia as well. Annastacia?

ANNASTACIA PALASZCZUK, PREMIER OF QUEENSLAND: I just want to say, the Prime Minister's a very firm supporter of the Olympics in Brisbane and across Queensland. So I look forward to speaking to everyone shortly about that. And secondly, in relation to the amnesty for the GPs on the payroll tax, I raised it at National Cabinet. I said that we are planning and Queensland's committed to doing that amnesty until the middle of 2025. Can I also acknowledge the hard work of GPs in Queensland, they do extraordinary work and I know that they do great work right across the country.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.