Press Conference - Collaroy, NSW

20 Feb 2021
Prime Minister

JASON FALINSKI, MEMBER FOR MACKELLAR: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for coming to Collaroy today. I'd like to thank the prime minister and the minister for coming to God's country. As you know, we saved Christmas this year for the rest of Australia by going into lockdown. And ever since then, we've been inviting people, we've been having people come back to our beaches and it looks like we have a few more today. And so thank you, Prime Minister and Richard, for being part of those, that group. One of the reasons that this is God's country is because we have the most number of surf lifesaving clubs of any area in Australia and the work that surf lifesaving does both here and around the country and indeed in many parts of the world, to make sure that people can come to beaches and swim safely and have a day out safely is extraordinary, the sense of community that they bring to those places in which they operate. We've seen here on the northern beaches during our lockdown, where we had 70,000 people in one day going to get tested for COVID. And the reason for that is volunteer groups like Surf Lifesaving, where everyone knows they're not just doing it for themselves, they're doing it for the rest of the community and for everyone else around Australia. And I want to thank my community for being part of that, the community that I'm proud to represent. And Prime Minister, I especially want to thank you for coming up here today to make this important announcement. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Jason. I'm also joined of course by Minister Colbeck and Senator Bragg, but importantly Graham Ford who’s the President of Surf Life Saving Australia, who's a Bronte boy as we know, he and I have known each other for many years. You might ask as the local member for Cook, why I'd be coming all the up to the northern beaches today to make an announcement about surf lifesaving. And that's true. We have also the finest surf lifesaving clubs of anywhere in the world down in the Shire. 

And it was great to see so many young kids from the shire today. But the reason I wanted to come here today is I wanted to thank the people of the northern beaches, as Jason and I were speaking during the course of the summer break. And I have on a number of occasions now expressed my appreciation to the tremendous response and patience of the people of the northern beaches that not only kept themselves in their own communities safe, but in doing so they were keeping the rest of the country safe. And I know it was a very tough period for the people on the northern beaches. And working through that, over a time when you would have wanted to be here with your family and doing the things that families and friends do over the summer. And the people of the northern beaches put that aside and did what was right for their country and for their community. And so it's, I think, very fitting to be here and saying thank you to the people of the northern beaches Jason. Here at a surf lifesaving club, because I know from my own experience that there is nothing that is more central to a community that lives along the coast of this amazing country than our surf life saving clubs. They are not just a place where 173,000 dedicated members come to and provide a service to their local community they are the very beating heart of the community itself, from the young nippers and the families that come around those, the social events that occur as a community here in this club and at so many other places, the way our surf lifesaving to bind and knit our communities together I think is extraordinary. 

Of course, there is the athleticism and the competition and the healthy lifestyle message that goes along with being a member of a surf lifesaving club. But on top of that, the values that are taught at surf lifesaving clubs, the respect for each other, the respect for community service, the respect for training and the discipline that goes with that is teaching our young people a tremendously important lesson. So I want to say thank you to those more than 173,000 members of our surf lifesaving community and the over 300 surf lifesaving clubs, some are large like this some are small, like down at Burning Palms,  in the Royal National Park, very small clubs. They've got a great mud pass team, by the way, Graham which I'm sure you know. But they all do their bit and we want to help them do their bit even more. 

Recently, we've already committed over $20 million dollars to support the surf lifesaving community, doing the amazing job they do, looking out for all of us when we come here for a day of leisure with our families. And today, we're announcing a further $9.7 million dollars. And that is going to two very important parts of what our surf lifesaving community does. Firstly, it helps them with the gear that they need. I just went through, I don't think I was with the gear steward, but the gear steward I'm sure would talk about the importance of the equipment they have to help save lives. And I saw some of the new equipment they've been using, which they've got from the United Kingdom, which certainly helps with their training in preparing for rescues. This gear is very important and clubs will be able to access up to $10,000 dollars a year in getting the gear they need to keep you and your family safe at the beach. But the other thing we're doing today as part of this package is we're investing even more in the training. When you see those men and women out there in the red and yellow, of course, you want to know that they've been as trained as best as they possibly can to assist you if you find yourself or your family members in trouble or friends down at the beach, and the training, the time that goes into training and clubhouses like this is even more often than what goes into standing on that beach each day when they're on patrol. And so we need to give them more support on the training, the tools that they need to train and to ensure that their trainers are of the best possible standard. And I'd say our trainers are the best surf lifesaving trainers of anywhere in the world and sets the standard. So I'm very pleased to be able to be doing this today. I'm a passionate believer in the surf lifesaving movement here in Australia. I think it is quintessential to who we are as Australians because it's about community, it's about service, it's about lifestyle and it's about values. And I'm happy to back that every single day of the week.

And so thank you again to all the northern beaches clubs, and there are a lot of them up here Jason, there's heaps of them up here and they're all great clubs and they all do a great job. But to the I think of 314 there is around the country. Thank you to all those, and particularly the ones that I'm involved with down in the Shire they've had a difficult time over COVID. 

And just before I pass over to the Minister. During COVID, it's been community groups like this that has got us through to where we are now. And so I'm really looking forward, as I said yesterday, to the vaccination programme formally starting on Monday, that will formally get away on Monday. And we'll be sending the clearest possible messages about the importance of that vaccine, the safety of that vaccine. That vaccination means that as this year progresses, the normality of life that we enjoy as Australians, which includes coming here, getting together as part of the community, getting out there and our great Australian environment, and particularly on these amazing beaches that we have all around our coastline, we want that to return to normal, that vaccination is the pathway back to that normal. And so I just want to continue to encourage, I'll be leading by example on that front. And it's important that we all engage with that process, understand the information, become informed from the from the true sources, from the authorised sources, the best medical experts in the world here in Australia designed this programme, running this programme to keep you safe and to ensure the Australian comeback in the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Richard? 

SENATOR THE HON RICHARD COLBECK, MINISTER FOR SENIOR AUSTRALIANS AND AGED CARE SERVICES: Thanks, PM. Thanks, Jason and Andrew, good to be here with Graham, who was sharing some time in Parliament House just a couple of days ago, this is a really important announcement, as the prime minister has said, it provides additional capacity over and above the relationship that we already have with the surf lifesaving movement around the country. And in just simple practical terms, rather than being able to access up to $5,000 dollars a year, a club can now access up to $10,000 a year for their gear and that will make a big difference. It's been a very, very tough summer, as we've seen over recent weeks. So this is an important announcement. But I see it as also being very timely. 248 deaths last year, lives lost around our coastline and as the Prime Minister said it is really a part of coastal life, and as a senator for Tasmania where the water's colder and you've got to be a bit more intrepid to go in it's still an important part of life. And I was talking to some friends the other day, they were often to Clifton Beach for the state championships that weekend and they were really looking forward to their participation in their community sport and their community events, so the additional capacity with respect to the kit that they need, the prime minister talked about being so important, but also that training and the the the equipment that supports the training. So, at an important time where we've had a really, really tough summer, some additional capacity and support for the surf lifesaving movement, I think is really important. It's timely and it will make a really important contribution to all of these communities that we see up and down our coastline, around our coastline, around the country. Those 314 clubs, over 170,000 members are very, very important, and move within the context of our community cohesion and as the prime minister sais, as we come out of COVID and as people flock to our beaches as we're allowed to move around the work that they do becomes even more important and the lives that they can support and save are obviously, being able to save those lives is a really important thing for the families of those who have supported. So really good to be here. Thanks for having us on [inaudible]. 

PRIME MINISTER: Graham did you want to? 

GRAHAM FORD, PRESIDENT SURF LIFESAVING AUSTRALIA: Okay thank you Prime Minister, and Minister, and Jason and Andrew, this is a very special day for Surf Life Saving, as the prime minister said we've had a lot of challenges over the period of COVID. And the increase in finding that's going to our clubs, doubling the amount of money that we're going to receive for the equipment funding is so important. The Prime ministers just had a look at the equipment shed, there's so much equipment we need to protect the people when they come down to the beach and so on behalf of the 314 clubs, I thank the prime minister and the government for your generosity. I would also like to just say that the vocational education funding was initiated by the prime minister three years ago. And over that three year period Prime Minister we've given 25,000 national vocational education awards. Which is a significant achievement for our organisation. As the Prime Minister said, yes we see the surf life savers out there today, they seem to be standing around, but the amount of training that goes in to ensure that they are rescue ready to go and rescue someone who gets into trouble is an extraordinary contribution, not only for the trainers, but also the assessors. over the last year our surf life savers rescued 11,000 members of the public.11,000, our 47,000 volunteer patrolling members. They also conducted 1.6 million preventative actions, and 68,000 first aid treatments. As the prime minister said, we're there on the front line looking after the public, ensuring that they are safe. And finally, I'd just like to say that we have a programme which we run, which is called Our club is your club, in other words, our clubs sit here, we are very grateful that we have the good locations we have, but we also are part of a community and our communities are inside our club, we have a Silver Salties programme where we bring people from around the area, perhaps at my age Prime Minister to become part of our club, join in the club activities and that's been funded by the Australian government. It means they don't have to go out and do their Bronze Medallion but they could they could just be part of an amazing community. So on behalf of Surf Life Saving Prime Minister, thank you again we are very appreciative for all of the efforts that we saw [inaudible]. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, why don't we just quickly or at length if you'd like, deal with the announcement made today and then Graham's obviously available to answer questions on that and then as always happy to move to other events of the day that you'd like to raise.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, didn't have any questions on the announcement. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm pleased to see there's strong support for the announcement today and it's well received. Thank you Graham. Thank you very much. Thank you for being with us here today. Happy to take other questions on other matters. 

JOURNALIST: You spoke just there about, you know, the importance of authoritative, trustworthy information right now, given the vaccine rollout and pandemic, I saw one of the Facebook executives was apologising today about inadvertently blocking health and emergency services. Do you think it is enough that they apologised, are you angry about how this has happened, could they face legal action? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well look I expressed I think very clearly my views about this over the last few days. What I'm pleased about is that Facebook is back on the table, they're back at the table that's what we want to see. We want to work through this issue. And so I welcome the fact that they're back engaging with the government as they should. And those actions were completely indefensible. I appreciate the apology that's been provided, but my job now is to ensure that we get on with those discussions and that we bring them to a successful conclusion. The Australian government's position is very clear. People would know the strong support that has been provided internationally for Australia's position. In many ways. Well, in every way, Australia has led the way. When it comes to this issue, as we have on other occasions when it comes to the tax treatment of goods that Amazon were selling in Australia. Or the display of violent extremist material on social media platforms, we led that charge together with New Zealand, particularly Australia, through the G20. And so we're no strangers to taking the lead on this. And so I'm pleased to have both had the international, the strong international support that has come forward. But I'm also pleased that Facebook has decided, that it would seem to tentatively friend us again and and get those discussions going again. 

JOURNALIST: Has Facebook opened itself up to a class action by removing charities and health organisations? 

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I'll let legal minds go over those issues. My focus, though, is to get this issue resolved positively, to ensure that the protections that we want to put in place, to ensure that we have a free and democratic society here is supported by an open news media can continue. That's a very important part of who we are. And I think this is what has motivated me and my government to do this. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what's your initial reaction to the story that a second woman alleges she was raped by the same man who accused of assaulting Brittany Higgins? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm very upset about those circumstances, and particularly for the young woman who, I don't know who that is. And nor do I need to know who that is. That is a very distressing event. I can only say that at all times the ministers who had knowledge of this incident that took place at Parliament House at all times sought to have that matter taken up by the police and for it to be investigated by the police. I welcome, very much welcome the fact that that is now occurring. That has always been what we sought to encourage. And I'm glad that that investigation is now once again underway. 

JOURNALIST: At what point was your office made aware of these second allegations? 

PRIME MINISTER: I read about when they were in the media. 

JOURNALIST: On the first alleged incident has Phil Gaetjens finished checking which of your staff knew and when? 

PRIME MINISTER: No he hasn't. 

JOURNALIST: Have you got a time frame on that? 

PRIME MINISTER: As soon as possible. 

JOURNALIST: That second woman says that her attack would never have happened if your government had dealt with Brittany Higgins' allegations properly in the first place. Does that argument have merit? 

PRIME MINISTER: I'd simply say this. We at all times, the ministers who had knowledge of this matter and those who in a senior position in the staff that had knowledge of those matters in those offices at all times sought to have this matter fully investigated by the police. Now, that is not something the government can force. We cannot do that. And as a result, it had always been our position to encourage that, and indeed, Minister Reynolds facilitated a meeting with the federal police to enable that process to commence. 

JOURNALIST: Does Minister. Reynolds still have your support to remain as Defence Minister? 

PRIME MINISTER: of course she does. 

JOURNALIST: Once those enquiries are finished could there be any action against senior staff and Ministers? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm going to wait and see what the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet presents so I'm not going to pre-judge that. What's most important is that as a result of these shocking events, which I think have traumatised many, particularly those around the Parliament building and those who work in that area, but I have no doubt that these events will have triggered the experiences of many, young women in particular, but women and men around the country who have gone through similar experiences and that is deeply distressing and I, that is why I'm seeking to try and address this as swiftly,but  as effectively as we possibly can. I'm looking forward to Minister Birmingham completing his consultations with the other parties and the independents, the crossbenchers and others, to finalise the terms of that review that will be independently done. I'm looking forward to the input coming into that process about how it should be done, current members of staff, former members of staff contributing through the processes to ensure that that's done thoroughly and properly. I absolutely agree that there is significant work that still remains to be done in the Parliament House work culture. That is absolutely the case. This has been a challenging issue for many, many years. And I think we would be naive to think that it's not a challenge that other workplaces face all around the country, but I agree the parliament should be setting the standard. 

JOURNALIST: Have you asked your staff what they knew about Ms Higgins claims? 

PRIME MINISTER: Of course I have. 

JOURNALIST: Is there a systemic failure within the Liberal Party itself or it is broader than that? 

PRIME MINISTER: I think we've got a problem in the Parliament. And the workplace culture that exists there. That we must continue to improve. I mean, in my time as a member of parliament now, I have seen improvements over that period of time. The former Prime Minister, and I particularly in relation to the conduct of ministers, for the first time, put the most stringent of controls on ministers, who would face dismissal if they were to have sexual relations with a member of their staff, that never existed before. And that I think set a very strong standard and set a very strong signal. And I was very pleased to support Prime Minister Turnbull on that and I maintained it as Prime Minister. So these events truly do sicken me. They do sicken me, as they should anyone and so what I must do and continue to do, is focussed on ensuring that the needs of our staff are addressed, that they are safe, that those who have suffered the trauma, and horror of events like this in the past, are respected. And that we give every support we can to ensure that the police authorities can take up these matters as discreetly as they possibly can. So as not to discourage in any way, shape or form anyone who might want to bring forward a complaint. This is a very complex issue, I think Australians do understand that. It is very hard to address these issues, I'm very resolved to do so together with all the members of the Parliament. This is an issue that all parties in some way, shape or form have had to deal with, whether it's here in state parliaments, in other places. Members of the media will be very aware of that. And it's true that members of Parliament staff, aren't the only staff who work in that building, too, and live in a very similar culture. And so we've got a big job to do, I'm resolved to deal with it. 

JOURNALIST: What is your message to young women who might want to get into politics and see this and are just horrified by it. What's your reassurance to them about getting involved in the Liberal party or other parties? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well whether they want to be involved with my party, the Labor Party, the Greens or anywhere else where frankly there have been issues in all of these areas before, is that those who are there now will be doing everything we can to make sure that this workplace is as safe as possible, just like I would hope every employer in the country is doing everything they can to make their workplaces as safe as possible. And that is the commitment I can give. And that's what I'll follow through on. I feel very strongly about these issues. I always have. And we must continue to do better.