Press Conference - Kingston, Canberra

07 Sep 2022
Prime Minister
Announcement on cheaper medicines; Cost of living relief; October budget; Property declarations; Payout to former Coalition Government staffer; Treatment of Cheng Lei; Relationship with China; Defence partnership with South Australia;

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, this morning we've heard from Greg, whose son has type one diabetes, about the difference that the reduction in pharmaceutical costs will make to his life and to his family, by reducing the cost from $42.50 down to $30. This will make a real difference to families who are doing it tough. We recognise the cost of living pressures which are there, which is why during the election campaign, at the campaign launch in Perth, I committed an incoming Labor Government to this measure, and today we'll be introducing into the Parliament, legislation to ensure that measure can take place. This will make an enormous difference. I want to thank the pharmacy here at Kingston, but also pharmacists in general for the work that they do, particularly during COVID. Our pharmacists are one of the centres of local communities, they provide health advice, they provide health care, they make a difference to their local communities in engaging with their customers who become family members. I know that my local pharmacists do an extraordinary job and right around the country that is the case. I want to thank Trent for his strong advocacy that he's done over a number of years. We met with the Pharmacy Guild a number of times to talk through these issues, to come to the position that we did. And this is a practical difference, which will make a difference to cost of living.

MARK BUTLER, MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thank you, Prime Minister. This is one of Labor's key election commitments that will slash the price of medicines for millions of Australians and improve their health at the same time. We know that household budgets are under unprecedented pressure, and the Bill that we'll be introducing this morning will ensure that for general patients, the maximum price for medicines will be slashed by almost one-third from the first of January 2023, from $42.50 down to $30. So for a person filling one script, or say two scripts per month, they will save up to $300 per year. For a family that might have three scripts at the top rate, they'll be saving $450 per year, almost $200 million will be going back into patients pockets as a result of this measure every single year. And we expect 3.6 million Australians will benefit from this measure from the first of January. But it's not only good for household budgets. This is also good for the health of millions of Australians, because the ABS has told us that almost one million Australians every year go without filling a script that their doctor has said is important for their health, because they simply can't afford it. We've been told by pharmacist after pharmacist of stories of patients coming to them with multiple scripts and asking for advice about which ones they really need today, and which ones they can go without. Often they'll be taking the script that provides them more immediate relief, for example, a pain medication, but going without a script that is important for their longer-term health, and that is just terrible for public health. I really want to thank the Pharmacy Guild, Trent Twomey, the national President, for their strong advocacy of this measure, which is a measure squarely in the interests of Australian patients.

TRENT TWOMEY, NATIONAL PRESIDENT, PHARMACY GUILD OF AUSTRALIA: Thank you, Prime Minister, and thank you, Minister. This is something that's real. This is something that is going to help up to 90 million Australians, not at the end of a Financial Year when you put in your tax return, but pay-check to pay-check, week to week, and we live in a very lucky country. We live in a very rich country, and Australians shouldn't have to decide which family member they can afford to treat, which month or which medication they go without. So whether it's Greg and his son, Simon, this morning, that have type one diabetes, or whether it's somebody that's on a blood thinning medication to prevent them from having a stroke, or whether it's somebody who's on the expensive, preventer puffer from asthma and is overusing their cheaper reliever puffer. This is something that's going to take a real meaningful first step to returning the principle of universal health care to Australia. And you know, there's no use accessing a GP if you can't afford then to go and see your pharmacy. And so I just want to thank the Prime Minister and the Health Minister, this is the first time in 75 years that medicines will go down instead of up on the first of January so gentlemen, thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much Trent.

JOURNALIST: Two questions. In relation, you've got a policy out today that is in relation to encouraging Baby Boomers to move out and have a better system for their pension basically in relation to deeming rates. Now you own three properties yourself, nothing wrong with that, but they're listed as residential in Canberra, then you've got investments in Sydney and the family home, given the debate about housing affordability, are any of those properties empty? Are they tenanted? Are you getting rental income for those properties?

PRIME MINISTER: I've sold my Canberra property. I have a home in Sydney that I am in the process of moving things out of, I haven't made a decision about that yet, and I have a rental property in Sydney.

JOURNALIST: Have you updated the register? Because last time when you put your register, and I looked at it only a couple of weeks ago, you actually listed that Canberra property?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, it was sold, keep your eye on the market, Sam.


PRIME MINISTER: If you wanted to do a day by day analysis, so it was sold at auction a couple of weeks ago.

JOURNALIST: And just quickly, in relation to the payout to Rachelle Miller at $650,000. Given that both of those Liberal frontbenchers say that essentially nothing happened, what's the money for? And when were you informed about it?

PRIME MINISTER: That's something that is up to those people to explain. This is a significant amount of taxpayers' money, and I heard about it when I read about it.

JOURNALIST: But why is it not a matter for you? I mean, it is taxpayers' money. Does it concern you that that money may have been paid out if nothing happened?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think there is a need for an explanation. And those who are privy to the arrangements, which I am not, should give that explanation.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Solomon Islands has accused Australia of trying to influence its lawmakers by offering to fund elections when the bill to amend the Constitution is still before the Solomon Islands Parliament. What's your response?

PRIME MINISTER: Well look, we want good relations with our Pacific neighbours. And I'm very much looking forward to hosting Prime Minister Sogavare. I'll be hosting him at the Lodge for dinner in just a few weeks' time in October.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you told the Government party-room yesterday there'll be difficult decisions to make in the budget coming up, just to confirm, were you referring to I guess the end of measures we already know about like the petrol excise and that sort of thing? Or are you flagging future, further difficult decisions that we don't know about yet?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it is what it is, I was just being straight with the party-room as I've been straight with the people of Australia. We've inherited a trillion dollars of Liberal Party debt. When interest rate rises, so do the repayment costs of that Liberal Party debt. What that means is that we can't do everything that we would like to do. We've already foreshadowed as well, that will be going through line by line, looking for the waste which was there from the former Government, looking for their largess and these funds that were established just for political purposes, not for the national interest. So we will be doing that. I look forward to Jim Chalmers delivering the budget next month.

JOURNALIST: Should Australians has been preparing for tough decisions to come up with difficult cuts like that?

PRIME MINISTER: I've answered the question.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on cost of living. Most Australians are probably looking at the end of September, when the fuel excise will come to an end. Will the cost of living relief measures coming in the budget match the relief most have enjoyed with the cut to the fuel excise?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you'll have to wait for the budget in October. Of course, I'm not here today to pre-announce the budget. What I'm here today to do is to say that this Labor Government is putting in place this measure which will make an enormous difference to millions of Australians, to their out of pocket costs, to their health as well, as Mark said. One of the things that really struck me when talking to pharmacists, including Trent, he's a pretty good advocate this bloke, I've got to say. When you hear stories about people coming into pharmacies, with multiple scripts and asking for advice about what can be delayed, or what medicine that they need, then that can make an absolutely enormous difference to their lives. There are so many drugs that are required, that if you miss them out for a day, you might or mightn't notice, and it builds up. After two days, three days, four days, it has a real impact. You know, I have to have one pill a day. If I have it, no problem. If I don't, then after a short period of time, just for reflux, a really simple medication, diagnosed, ended up here in Royal Canberra Hospital before it got diagnosed, with a very simple medication, fixed, no problem, no cost to the health system, a good thing. People have to rely upon their relationship with their pharmacists and their relationship with ensuring they get the drugs that they need based upon the advice from their doctor. This decision today that we're announcing that will be introduced into Parliament will make a difference.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Chinese Ambassador to Australia says he's been trying to get Australian journalist Cheng Lei access to her family. What can you tell us about this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is something that should happen. Cheng Lei should have access to her family. Australia continues to make representation and we have a very strong view about her treatment, and we'll continue to make representation. There's been no transparency in any of these processes at all. And the Chinese Government needs to do better.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Ambassador has also flagged diplomatic research, he suggested that he's trying to create an atmosphere to allow a sideline discussion for you and the Chinese Premier at the G20 in Indonesia, is that something you are open to?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm open to dialogue with anyone at any time, particularly with leaders of other nations. It's a good thing if there is dialogue, and certainly, if such a meeting took place I would welcome it as I welcome dialogue with leaders throughout the region and throughout the globe.

JOURNALIST: Do you know of any approaches between his office and the Foreign Ministry or your office?


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on defence capability, last Friday the Government announced it would collaborate on a South Australian workforce plan for projects. Why was a national plan not announced similarly? And more broadly, how will you ensure that local manufacturing can benefit from the advanced tech transfers through the AUKUS agreement?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there are specific needs from South Australia, based as well on the promises that were made by the former Government from its plans that were announced and then abandoned. So South Australia in particular has suffered in terms of employment consequences from the tearing up of the contract between Australia and the French. So there is a need to examine what we can do in South Australia to make sure that we have the skills that are available, and I'm working closely with Premier Malinauskas. He has raised this with me directly, and he's right to do so. And it was one of the positive outcomes that came out of the Summit.

JOURNALIST: Just on Scott Morrison's cost of living crisis. He's obviously gone from an income of half a million dollars a year to a backbencher's salary of $211,000 a year. And he suggested in an interview with Sky News that he will soon be doing some other things as well as being an MP, which he says which many other MPs do. Where's the line? If you're a backbencher, you're skipping Parliament, you're going to Japan, you're taking money for speakers' fees? How much is too much, and is it fair enough that he has a bit on the side?

PRIME MINISTER: I think being a Member of Parliament is a full-time job. And members of the House of Representatives have a great privilege and a great honour to represent their local communities. I've always represented my local community 365 days a year, regardless of what other positions that I've held.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Penny Wong said yesterday that the $18 million grant to the Governor-General's Future Leaders Program will be under review. You've obviously mentioned reviewing a lot of different things. But do you have any concerns specifically about that funding, or the process that led to that program specifically being funded?

PRIME MINISTER: Watch the budget. We're going through line by line, looking for areas of savings in the budget. And all of the former Government's expenditure is under review.

JOURNALIST: Do you have specific concerns about that program?

PRIME MINISTER: All of the former Government's commitments are under review, and watch the budget in October.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you're meeting with the President of Timor-Leste a bit later today, what's on the agenda?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, our relationship. José Ramos-Horta is someone who's been a friend for a long period of time, for I think about perhaps even 30 years ago, José Ramos-Horta lived in in my electorate for a while. Just down the road from where there is the only commemoration of the contribution of the East Timorese in Australia, certainly when it was done at Marrickville Park. It was first, I hope there are others now. The people of Timor-Leste did an extraordinary job saving Australian lives during World War Two. We owe them a great debt. Tom Uren was my mentor, as I think people know, he was captured in Timor by the Japanese. But for so many of his comrades, they were kept safe. The Timorese paid a great price for that. This is an important relationship. I visited Timor-Leste for the 20th anniversary just a few years ago with then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison. So we'll be talking about a whole range of issues which are there. I look forward to a discussion. I'll also be hosting Mr Ramos-Horta at the Lodge on Thursday night. And I look forward there to a one-on-one more informal dialogue of friendship as well. It's important we build relations with our neighbours. So I'll be hosting Prime Minister Ramos-Horta, I'll be hosting Prime Minister Sogavare next month. And I'll also be, later this month, hosting Prime Minister Marape, who I congratulate on his re-election as the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, at the Prime Minister's XIII game versus the Kumuls at Suncorp Stadium at the end of this month. And I've had a chat with Mal Meninga, and I can confirm that Mal Meninga and I will be selecting the team. Mal Meninga will be the coach, and that's a good thing because I'm sure he's a lot better coach than I would be, but I look forward to that engagement as well. So we're back when it comes to engagement in our region. That's the big difference - the former Government dropped the ball, we know what the consequences were.

JOURNALIST: Will you raise the Woodside gas proposal with him? Prime Minister Ramos-Horta has been quoted as saying that his nation will check to see if Chinese support Australian Woodside energy failed to back a gas pipeline between the Timor Sea and his country rather than Darwin?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, a really good idea of how to conduct yourself diplomatically is to have meetings with other leaders from other nations, have those discussions with them about detail, rather than do it through a media event, or through a loud hailer. We have good relations, we will be having a broad discussion, I'm sure. And we're up for a discussion on any topic going forward. Thanks very much.