Press Conference - Melbourne, VIC

12 Dec 2019
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you everyone for joining us today. I’d like to deal firstly with the matters regarding the New Zealand volcano tragedy, as well as the national disaster, the fires that are occurring across the country.

If I could first start with the issue of the terrible events that have been unfolding in New Zealand this week. I've been in contact with Prime Minister Ardern over the last few days, including again this morning. I want to start by just extending our deepest sympathies and concern and love to all of the families and all of those who have been affected by this. And it's obviously added to by the uncertainty and the frustration in being able to gain access, obviously, to the volcano and the Prime Minister has confirmed to me again that it is still a very dangerous place and that is obviously hampering the recovery effort but, of course, we have to be mindful of the safety of those who would be undertaking that recovery effort. But we know, with quite a number of persons still on the island understood to be deceased, that we will just have to be patient, while circumstances are continually reviewed, that will enable getting access to the island.

But just to confirm for you a number of processes that are in place at the moment and where people are. I can confirm, and as you know it is our practice only confirmed the names of those who are deceased once we have gone through two processes. One is an identification process, and also one involves engagement of the families and I can confirm that Jason Griffiths passed away yesterday in New Zealand. He had been evacuated and he passed away with family members present yesterday. And we send our deep sympathies to all the family and friends of Jason.

We will have within the next 24 hours, only 1 Australian who will remain hospitalised in New Zealand. We have already completed 5 medical evacuations to hospitals in Australia, there will be another 7 evacuations of Australians back to Australian hospitals over the course of the next 24 hours. Sadly there are 10 further Australians who are missing and presumed deceased. That is the total of the 24 Australians that I noted recently, the other day, who were caught up in visiting the island on that day. There are also 4 permanent residents who we have been able to identify have been caught up in this, these events. There is one who continues to be hospitalised, there are two who have passed away in hospital, and a further one permanent resident who is missing and presumed deceased.

In the days ahead, there will be worse news. Based on what I’ve just relayed to you. I want to thank all of those who have been involved in supporting the families and the friends of those who are missing and presumed deceased, I want to thank all of those who have been working in the New Zealand hospitals and those burns units providing the amazing care and support and I want to thank our Defence Forces for the role that they have been playing in evacuating those Australians in hospital back to Australia where they can be closer to family and where they can get the ongoing attention and care they will need. They will have difficult rehabilitations as a result of their injuries in many cases. I want to thank again Prime Minister Ardern and New Zealand Police for the cooperation there has been between New Zealand authorities and Australian authorities, and commend Minister Payne for the work that she’s done together with High Commissioner Forsythe and our Consul-General in Auckland for the great work they’ve been doing in assisting with the effort which is quite a considerable one in ensuring people are kept informed. We know there are frustrations with information, in these circumstances you can never have enough information when you are concerned about the safety and the wellbeing of one of your loved ones. DFAT and our officers there are doing everything within their power to provide as much information as they can.

In the days ahead there may be the opportunity for that recovery operation to be in place, and when that occurs there will be the very grim task of identification and the further news that will follow from that.

So I thank people for their patience, I would continue to urge caution and sensitivity in the way that these matters are reported and, of course, we will continue to confirm information when we're in a position to do so. But our thoughts and our love go to all of those family members and friends who are dealing with this terrible news and the anxiety for those who are not yet to be able to get a formal confirmation of what has occurred to their loved ones.

More broadly, as this is a difficult week, as fires burn around the country. We have severe fire danger ratings today in New South Wales, in the Northern Territory, in Queensland, and in Western Australia. Of course, the worst situation is in New South Wales, where there are 130 fires that continue to burn across the state. Total fire bans have been issued for three fire areas today and more than 2.7 million hectares have been burnt since the start of this year, and during the 2019-2020 bushfire season, with a fire perimeter totalling some 19,235 kilometres. Five evacuation centres are currently activated. There are 36 local government areas in Queensland today, where there have been local fire bans issued. There are emergency warnings in Western Australia and there is one fire that is on a watch and act basis. The Government has been working closely, as part of the national coordinated effort, to address the national disaster of these fires.

Now, I'm often asked about the issue of declaring a national disaster. As many Australians would know - and the disaster categorisation is actioned by state governments. That's what occurs under state legislation. Of course, this is a national disaster. We all understand that. And in the states, there have been various declarations that have been made which activate particular actions and powers and authorities to respond to those and that includes the actions and coordination of federal authorities.

We all know this is a national disaster and we knew this was going to be a very tough fire season when we went into this season. We also know that there are many contributing factors that relate to these fires. The drought is obviously - and the dryness of the bush is the biggest factor and we all know, as I acknowledged earlier this year in February, that climate change, along with many other factors, contribute to what is occurring today. But let me be clear about this - climate change is a global challenge. Australia is playing our role as part of this global challenge. In fact, today, I can tell you that emissions from Australia are lower today than at any other time than before we came to government. In fact, they're around almost on average 50 million tonnes lower per year now than they were under the term of the previous government. And we'll continue to meet our commitments when it comes to Kyoto. We will over exceed on Kyoto by 411 million tonnes. We have our Paris targets, which we are absolutely committed too as well. And Minister Taylor has been in Madrid in recent days working through those commitments as part of those global undertakings that we're involved in. We're also working closely with our Pacific family, both to join in the actions that we're undertaking, as well as significant investments we're making in terms of climate change resilience within our region.

So we are taking action. But what I've noticed on the ground in terms of these fires is that the way that it has brought Australians as a community together. Certainly these broader global issues are relevant. But at times like this, Australians must come together. I know as a Sydneysider - I'm here in Melbourne today - I've lived all my life, pretty much, in Sydney, and the haze that has come from those fires, I know has been deeply troubling to Sydneysiders. It's been deeply troubling to families and kids, who've never seen this before. And I can understand that is deeply unsettling to a lot of Australians, particularly those who are living in Sydney. But I want to reassure, I want to reassure Australians, that the country is working together, the country is coming together to deal with the firefighting challenge that we have.

Today, we have announced a further $11 million that we're putting into the aerial firefighting fleet. That is on top of the $15 million that we already put in on annual basis. This has been done as a result of the engagement we've had with the states and territories through that nationally coordinated process. Recently, we had a meeting of the state and territory ministers with Minister Littleproud, to deal with what the additional needs were. There are increasing cost pressures on some of these aviation assets and there is also the need to have the ability to concurrently deal with multiple fire threats around the country. So we have responded to that advice that has come up from the fire chiefs. The decision was not taken recently. It was taken over the course of preparing for the midyear update and in response to the requests that had been made.

The Commonwealth, the Federal Government, is responding to all of the needs that have been presented to us by our state and territory authorities. We have over 200,000 registered firefighters in this country. That is an enormous, an enormous national resource, which we value greatly. They are supported for their equipment and needs by our state and territory governments. And that is where that support is provided. And they deal with the Commonwealth for broader nationally coordinated efforts.

I also want to stress that our Defence Forces have been actively engaged in supporting that firefighting effort for months, for months. I was in Canungra a few months ago, where there were fires up in Queensland, and we were there in the operation centre, in the Canungra base. That's where the Blackhawks - I think it was Blackhawks at the time - were operating. I'm happy to stand corrected on the precise nature of where those helicopters were operating from, conducting night flights at other times during other fires, providing assistance and developing fire breaks, providing the catering and logistics and airlift support, working in closely as part of the operation centres that are fighting these fires. So I want to assure Australians I know that it is troubling and it is concerning, but what we must do is focus on the coordination of the effort, getting the resources where it needs to get to, while the loss of homes and certainly the loss of life has been very distressing, I can assure you that if it were not for these nationally coordinated efforts, particularly since the Black Saturday fires down here in Victoria, and what has been learned from that, thousands of more homes would have been lost in these fires and I fear many more lives would have been lost as well.

So I know it's concerning, but I would encourage Australians to come together, to provide that support that we're all providing, governments at all levels, local governments, state government, Federal Government, communities, all working together to support that firefighting effort, and we all have a role to play and I'll finish on this. I want to thank again the employers who are enabling those firefighting efforts to be put in place by our volunteers. And they are making their commitment through enabling those firefighters to be out there in their community and I thank them very much for their sacrifice in this great national effort. Happy to take questions on those matters and then we'll move to the other matter which I'll ask the Treasurer and the Minister for Communications and the Arts to join me.

JOURNALIST: We’ve seen firefighters have to crowd fund to get breath masks to fight fires. Do you think Australians really care whether the Federal Government or state government really fund that? Shouldn’t a government step up and fund those, that equipment?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I've been seeking to get some validation of those reports and they're matters that I've raised directly through my office with the New South Wales Government. Of course, that type of equipment is provided by the state government and I would expect that these sorts of needs would be met out of those resources and they should be. I have noticed that over the course of these fires, and on social media, there have been lots of things - I'm not necessarily talking specifically about this - but there are lots of things that are said and one of the issues that I've engaged with when I've gone into these incident response and control centres is what they often have to do is counter a lot of the misinformation and a lot of the commentary that has been provided on social media which can cause unnecessary anxiety in communities. They actually have crack teams which are actually just dealing with countering misinformation on social media on fires. That's why I encourage people, when you're dealing with issues of fires, best to go to the confirmed sources, which are through the various state government agencies and that brilliant Fires Near Me app which has been operating in New South Wales and keeping many people safe. So every single resource that has been sought from the states for fighting these fires, we have been meeting and we will continue to do that through the nationally coordinated approach.

JOURNALIST: Jason Falinski is backing Matt Kean's call for practical and ambitious action on climate change. Isn't this is a sign members of your Government are dissatisfied with the current response?

PRIME MINISTER: No. I know that all of my Government is focused on taking action on climate change. Because we should be. And we are. What is a pleasing thing is that, as Minister Taylor has been there at the recent meetings in Madrid, that we have being able to talk about exceeding our Kyoto targets by 411 million tonnes of carbon emissions abatement. And we have targets and we're meeting them. We have new targets for 2030 in Paris, which we've kept to and we're committed to and that we will meet and we are committed to taking action on climate change. What I would say, though, is that, as I think scientists have observed, and we should recognise, is that climate change is a global issue. Australia is 1.3% of global emissions and in New South Wales I think it's less than 0.5% of emissions, and so any suggestion that the actions of any state or any nation with a contribution to global emissions of that order is directly linked to any weather event, whether here in Australia or anywhere else in the world, is just simply not true. We take action as part of a broader global effort, which Australia is doing. As I said, our emissions reductions, our emissions that are generated in Australia, are around 50 million tonnes lower on average under our government than what we inherited. So we are taking action and we should take action and we will continue to take action and that's what our government is committed to.

JOURNALIST: Which hospitals are taking burns victims from New Zealand, and how many victims per hospital?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there are hospitals across, they're in New South Wales. They're also in South Australia. I don't want to go into the details of those hospitals, because I want to protect the privacy of those persons who are receiving that treatment and the families that are providing support and visiting them. There have been cases where, frankly, there has been media interest in hospitals, seeking to gain access to hospitals. That's already occurred in New Zealand and I wouldn't want to see a repeat of that here in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Just back to climate change, the New South Wales Government will reportedly increase its greenhouse reduction targets. Are you open to doing that at a federal level?

PRIME MINISTER: We have our commitments. We've always been very clear about our commitments. We have a positive program on reducing emissions and we have a positive program on growing our economy and we are achieving both of those.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the American Ambassador says that Chinese agents are operating on Australian soil. How prolific are the activities of Chinese spies and agents in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as I was only announcing with the Minister for Home Affairs, Australia is leading the world in terms of ensuring that we have the right safeguards for countering foreign interference from wherever it might come. And indeed, jurisdictions, including the United States, have been incredibly impressed and this was the subject to some of the discussions I had when I was in the United States at the regime we've been able to put in place, both in terms of our laws, our agencies, our intelligence, our resources. No country is better equipped or better resourced or better and able to deal with any of these types of threats that Australia has. And we're staying with... we're ensuring we're staying ahead of the curve on these issues. We understand the threats and they come from any number of sources and it's important that we have the regime in place in order to deal with that and we do.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the question of bushfires and climate change, going back to Matt Kean’s comments. He has said this is not normal and doing nothing is not a solution. Why do people…

PRIME MINISTER: Sorry, I couldn’t hear the rest of the question.

JOURNALIST: The point is, this is not normal.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, I heard that.

JOURNALIST: The rest of the question is why do people in your own party think the Coalition is doing nothing?

PRIME MINISTER: They don’t think that. I don't think that's what the Minister in New South Wales has said. And I think it would be wrong to mischaracterise his comments in that way. The New South Wales Government is pursuing their policies. The Commonwealth government is pursuing ours. We took those policies to the last election. I remind you, that is a 26 per cent reduction. And that's the global commitment we've made for Paris. We made. In fact, it was the Labor government that made the commitments for Kyoto. And when we took over back in 2013, we were seven hundred million tonnes behind in our projections when it came to meeting those Kyoto 20 targets. And now we will exceed them by four hundred and eleven million tonnes. Now, I would say that is actually getting a lot done. And we will continue to get a lot done through our climate solutions fund. We will continue to work to reduce our emissions, as we should. But what we cannot say, what no one can say is those programs of themselves are in any way directly linked to any fire event. I know because I'm a Sydneysider and I know how unusual it is to see that haze across my city. And I know how distressing that has been, particularly for young people who wouldn't have seen that before. And so that is why I think it is important to have a sense of calm about these matters and calm on the basis of information which says Australia is reducing our emissions, Australia is taking action. Australia is getting results. And it's important that at a time like this of natural disasters that Australians focus on coming together and not seeking to drive issues of conflict and issues that can separate Australians at a time when we all need each other.

JOURNALIST: On the emissions targets, there's a chance that Australia use of carryover credits will be ruled out at the next COP meeting. What's your back-up plan to bring emissions down if we don't get to use those carryover credits?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, I think the way you've presented the issue is incorrect. Because the issue of carryover credits that’s been discussed in Madrid has actually been about trading credits with other nations, old credits. And that is the issue that concern has been expressed about in Madrid and that does not apply to what Australia's practice is. Australia is in the enviable position, unlike most countries, where we actually have exceeded on our targets. It's a bit like saying that if you get ahead of your mortgage, it doesn't count. Australia has got ahead of its mortgage on emissions reduction and our commitments that we made for Kyoto 2020 and we're ahead of that and I think that's a good thing and what we inherited was, we were well behind on the mortgage when we came to government when it came to Australia's carbon emissions. We've got ahead of it now and I think that's great and it's my ambition to ensure we continue that trend.

JOURNALIST: In light of all the bushfires you're talking about, how can you say it's great that we've achieved this, when it's clearly not great.

PRIME MINISTER: You'd have to be clearer. I don't understand your point.

JOURNALIST: OK. Do you acknowledge that the bushfires are linked in some way to climate change?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course I have, I have all year.

JOURNALIST: OK, well how can you declare as great our achievements so far in view of what's happening around the country?

PRIME MINISTER: What I'm saying is that Australia is meeting and beating our emissions reduction targets and our emissions are around 50 million tonnes lower on average over the term of our government than what we inherited. We need to reduce emissions and that's what is being achieved. What I've also said, John, is even that achievement, even that achievement, cannot be directly linked to a reduction or an increase in the risk of bushfire in Australia, because climate change is a global phenomenon. And to actually link those two things - which I don't think its right to do - as the question sort of implies - I think is to misconstrue it. Of course we should be taking action on climate change as part of a global effort, and we are. But that global effort has, and those global results more broadly, are contributing to greater risks of events like this. That’s why we'll continue to take action and particularly do it in concert with our Pacific family, and build their resilience as well, as we are doing in this country. The fires are of great concern. We have seen many fires in Australia before and there have been plenty of reports about the history of these things in the past and I don't need to remind Victorians about that, because what's been more than a decade, but the wounds are still very real here in Victoria for those catastrophic events. But as always, Australians must band together and we must focus on the effort that needs to be put in on the ground now and that has my absolute focus and the focus of all the Premiers, leading states, that lead the response. I'll be seeing the New South Wales Premier tomorrow. I'm seeing the Victorian Premier this afternoon about a number of issues and my reason, amongst many, for being in Victoria today. And we'll work closely together. That's the assurance I'm seeking to provide Australians. I know it is upsetting. I know it is concerning and particularly when you're living in a city which has a haze that some may never have seen before. But I want them to be assured the country is working together. Australia's amazing volunteer resource is being drawn on and heavily, but it is always overcome. Australians are overcomers and we're unifiers.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what are you hoping to get out of your meeting with Daniel Andrews this afternoon? His Government’s just presented their mid-year economic update and they’re calling on more stimulus from the Commonwealth, to do more to boost economic growth here in Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I look forward to discussing further projects that we can carry forward. I mean I announced just recently over half a billion of projects that we're bringing forward. We'll have further discussions about everything from Melbourne Port Rail and a range of those projects. Indeed, there are some that we would still like them to bring forward. And the Minister for Urban Infrastructure, Alan Tudge, my Melbourne eyes on this Melbourne problem, has only this week- in recent days I should say, met with Jacinta [Allan] and they're progressing issues of projects there. We're enjoying, I think, a very productive partnership on infrastructure with the Victorian Government and I look forward to continuing that in my discussions with the Premier this afternoon. We've brought forward $3.8 billion worth of infrastructure projects into the forward estimates. $1.8 billion this year and next year. So that's effectively over the next 18 months and we've got $9 billion of additional investment going into the National Disability Insurance Scheme this year and next year. We've got $6 billion extra going into hospitals and schools, this year, next year. $2 billion extra going into aged care, this year, next year. The Commonwealth is putting a significant investment - and that's not to mention the big investments we're making in defence procurement all around the country which has been incredibly important in regional areas as well where those projects are being managed. We'll continue to do that and I look forward to his suggestions because each time we've sought to bring projects forward, he's been very cooperative and I hope he will continue to be and as I’m sure he will be when we meet later today!

JOURNALIST: Will you bring up the East West link? And the money you’ve still got –

PRIME MINISTER: Our commitment to the East West link remains but the Victorian Government don't wish to pursue that project. So I think we're at a bit of a stale mate on that, but our commitment remains.

JOURNALIST: If they won't pursue it, will you unlock that money for other projects?

PRIME MINISTER: People know the accounting treatment of those funds. It would be new funds if that project was to commence.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister just on climate change, you said there's a global effort, but Australia ranks last in the world on climate policy in a new global index. Isn't that an indictment of your Government's response?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I completely reject that report. We don’t accept that.

JOURNALIST: You don't accept the report?



PRIME MINISTER: Because I don't think it's credible.

JOURNALIST: It's not credible?

PRIME MINISTER: No. OK, I might move because I’ve had my Minister’s –

JOURNALIST: I want to ask one more question.


JOURNALIST: You sort of said that young people in Sydney hadn't seen a haze like that over the city before. Do you remember that in your history?

PRIME MINISTER: I do remember hazes from the past. I do remember Sydney being ringed by fire in my lifetime. I remember as a young fellow being down at the beach and seeing smoke all around as I looked back out from the surf across the sand and I've seen it before. Maybe not quite the haze that I saw on Sydney Harbour. But, you know, we've seen terrible fires. I remember, when I was a kid I remember the Blue Mountains, the big fire back in the late seventies. And I remember the convent just out of Lawson, which was lost I remember on that occasion. And those fires were horrific. Absolutely horrific. We've seen what is, I think, concerning about these fires and we've seen fires come early in the season, too. When I was out at Wilberforce on the weekend getting an update on the mega fire just north-west of Sydney and speaking to the Commissioner when I was out there and speaking to other locals and I asked them about that and they said, yeah, we've seen early fires before. The challenge is that these fires have been now going for some time and that is causing a lot of fatigue. And I know that has the keen attention of the commissioners on how the firefighters are getting their rest periods. And that's why we appreciate the supplementary resources of people coming out of New Zealand and Canada and the United States and in those states that aren’t facing the extreme conditions that the New South Wales, in particular, and Queensland. We're getting that wonderful support. I mean, this time last year, it was New South Wales firefighters going to Tasmania and that's the wonderful nature of this coordinated effort and that's what I'd stress. There is an extraordinarily coordinated effort between all of our fire chiefs, between all of our state and territory resources. There are established protocols for making requests, acting on those requests, whether they're fiscal or whether they're resources or people or airlifts or defence force engagement. All of this is happening. All of the things that you would expect indeed to be happening is happening. And and we thank all of those for their amazing effort in addressing the great risk, which is a natural disaster. Of course it is. And we will continue to respond to it on the basis of it being exactly that.

So I'm going to ask now if I could be joined by the Treasurer and the Minister for Communications and the Arts. We would like to make a statement on our response to the ACCC report in relation to digital platforms and I want to thank the Treasurer and the Minister for their significant work. And I also want to thank the ACCC and Rod Sims for the great work the ACCC has done.

The global economy, the world is changing because of the revolution that is taking place with the digital economy and digital technology. At a recent speech I gave to the Business Council, I talked about the digital economy and how I want Australia to be in the leadership pack, if not even at the front of that pack, when it comes to our success in the digital economy. And that means we need to modernise our regulatory environment. That means we need to understand the digital economy and the operation of digital platforms in our economy and in our society in a way better than any other jurisdiction. I want us to be the model jurisdiction in the world for how we are dealing with digital platforms, social media platforms, and I have a simple rule and that the rules that exist in the real world need to exist in the digital world. If it's a wrong thing to do in the real world, then it's a wrong thing to do in the digital world. And you would have seen that over the course of the last year, the Government and I have been taking a lot of action in this space, whether it's to deal with e-safety in the protection of children when it comes to what occurs on the Internet, whether it's the response that we led following the terrorist attack in Christchurch, which we took to the G20 and got the world's biggest economies to agree on the need to send the digital platforms a clear message that we cannot allow the Internet and the digital world to be weaponised by terrorists. 

What occurs in consumer law, what occurs in competition law, what occurs in taxation law should occur in the digital world as much as occurs in the real world. And so that's what guides us and for Australia to be successful as an economy in the next decade we need to be leaders in this space. And that means our regulatory environment needs to be agile. It needs to be targeted. It needs to be effective in a way that at once it protects the very important things that we must protect from privacy to the safety of our children at the same time as realising the benefits to our economy that comes from these digital technologies. So we want our cake and we want to eat it when it comes to digital in Australia. We want the benefits and the public and our economy and our companies have every right to expect the protections that they would otherwise have in the real world. 

So it was as Treasurer, I commissioned the ACCC to to undertake this work. This work done by the ACCC is world's best. The number of people from around the world who have raised with me the excellence of this report and the insights that it contains into digital platforms done by the ACCC I think is a testament to Rod Sims and his team and I'm very proud of the work they've done. So it's now for us to then take their work and bring it forward. And key to that is building further the capability of the ACCC to be a world leader in this space in terms of how regulations should be structured to get the twin outcomes of protections and economic supercharging from this technology, as well as the commercial arrangements that need to be fostered between our traditional and new media that exists to enable the benefits to be realised. The regulatory environment and the deregulation that potentially needs to occur to get a level playing field and the protections that need to be in place for people's privacy in this new world. We have regulation and systems that were written for an analog economy, and I want Australia to be one of the most, if not the most, successful digital economy in the world.

So our response is all about that. That means jobs. That means incomes. That means an income for Australia, which supports the essential services Australians rely on. We must be successful in this digital world. We can't be afraid of it. We can't pull the doona over our head and pretend it's not there. We have to deal with the challenges it presents and the opportunities that are there for us to take. So I'll hand over the Treasurer and the Minister for Communications and the Arts to run through our response. Thank you, Josh. Thank you very much.

THE HON. JOSH FRYDENBERG MP, TREASURER: Thank you, Prime Minister. It’s a pleasure to join you and the Minister here today. The digital world is the new frontier and what happens in the digital world affects everything we do from our personal interactions to our commercial relationships and the companies that have come to dominate the digital world are among the most powerful and valuable in the world. More than 17 million Australians use Facebook every month. More than 90 per cent of the searches online are using Google. And we know that in the Australian online advertising market, excluding classifieds, for every $100 that is spent, $47 is spent with Google, $24 with Facebook and $29 with the other parties. And it was in this context that the then Treasurer and now Prime Minister commissioned the ACCC to conduct this groundbreaking review, a review that made a series of recommendations, 23 in total, across better consumer outcomes, competition law, privacy and media regulation. 

Now, that report, as the Prime Minister said, is world-leading and we want to stay ahead of the game and ahead of the pack. So I just want to touch on two particular recommendations that we are accepting that are within my portfolio. The first is that we will be setting up a dedicated unit to focus on the digital platforms, within the ACCC. Now, we are allocating $27 million to this task and this unit will monitor the sector. It will enforce the rules and it will conduct further inquiries as directed by the Treasurer. And the first inquiry is into the adtech market, the advertising online market, which is the technology that determines the advertisements you see online and this was a particular recommendation of the ACCC. The second recommendation that we will be accepting in my portfolio is that we will be requiring the digital platforms to enter into a voluntary code with the media companies. Now, this code will cover such things as how revenue is shared, how content is accessed and presented, as well as getting forewarning about changes to algorithms that go to how the content is ranked online. The Government will be seeking an update from the ACCC on the development of these voluntary codes by May and we are expecting that a voluntary code will be entered into by November. If no voluntary code is satisfactorily entered into, the Government will move forward with a mandated regulatory outcome. 

So the companies are on notice. The Government is not messing around. We will not hesitate to act. And what we are seeking to do here with the acceptance of a number of the recommendations in Rod Sims excellent report is not only to minimize the harm but to maximize the opportunities for all Australians and for the economy as a whole.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Paul Fletcher. Thank you, Paul. 

THE HON. PAUL FLETCHER MP, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS, CYBER SAFETY AND THE ARTS: Thank you, Prime Minister. Thank you, Treasurer. Of the ACCC’s 23 recommendations, one that's of great importance within my portfolio is that we move to harmonise media regulation. Now, as the ACCC noted, this is a big job that needs to be done in stages. But fundamentally, the point they're making is that we've got a set of businesses that are using technology that's been around for a long time. And we've got a new set of businesses that are using much newer technology, competing for the same audiences, but facing very different regulatory environment. So we've committed that we’re going to commence a staged process towards an end state of platform mutual regulatory frameworks covering both online and offline delivery of media content to Australian consumers. 

Now, the ACCC, as I mentioned, noted that this is a big job and it needs to be done in stages. So we've committed that our first stage is going to focus on two issues and work on these two issues will commence in 2020. The first is developing a uniform classification framework that would operate across all media platforms. The second comes to the question of Australian content. We're going to examine the extent of Australian content obligations on free to air TV broadcasters, and that includes drama and children's content, and whether there should be Australian content obligations on the new subscription video on demand or [inaudible] services. And we're also going to look at other aspects of the policy framework to support Australian film and TV content. We'll be asking the Australian Communications and Media Authority and Screen Australia to prepare an options paper for issue early next year and we'll use that then as a basis for consulting with the industry. I've mentioned these first two key issues that we’ll kick off with. In the next stage we seek to look at other issues, such as the regulation of advertising but we’ll say more about the timing of that next year. But I'd envisage that that work would be getting underway as well before the end of next year. 

So very significant recommendations by the ACCC in terms of our media regulation and we're announcing a staged programme in response to that with two areas that we're focussing on initially on classification, Australian content. 

PRIME MINISTER: Questions on this matter?

JOURNALIST: The ACCC is right now suing Google… taking them to court. Google and Facebook have repeatedly shown that they're not prepared to follow laws in our country or other countries. Is a voluntary code really going to cut it?

PRIME MINISTER: Let me make two responses to that. First of all, as a country, we have already acted and demanded their attention when it comes to terrorist content and we have led the world in that and I can assure you that that has got their attention. When it comes to getting them to pay tax, and in particular abolishing the low-value threshold for large platforms, for Amazon, and you'll recall Amazon said they were going to leave the country, never to return. They are back within months. And we held firm when it came to standing up to those companies, as we have on keeping our children safe, dealing with the threats of terrorism on the Internet and indeed, as it will be in this case, ensuring that our companies get a fair go in the digital economy. And as the Treasurer said, our preference is for them to sit down and work out these new commercial rules between them, which would be binding upon them once the code has been established. But I want to report back in May and I want to see how it's going and I want this thing done by November. But I can assure you the backstop is there. If I don't think this thing is tracking and the Treasurer doesn't think it's tracking and the Communications Minister, a mandatory code will happen. 

JOURNALIST: It's over two years since you first commissioned the ACCC report. Your Government has been looking at it for six months. A lot of the decisions are to take for more reviews over the next 12 months. When is his country going to see action on this issue?

THE HON. JOSH FRYDENBERG MP, TREASURER: Thanks, John. As you would know from your own company, they had an opportunity to put in a submission. So we actually held a public consultation process. So I don't know if you’re speaking for your own company's experience, but I know that they said... they wanted to have the opportunity to comment on this final report. It was an 18 month report and as you know, we are leading the world and by now moving to this voluntary code and, indeed, as the Prime Minister has indicated, possibly a mandatory code. We do need to go through that process because we are driving evidence-based policy. This is properly considered. These aren’t knee jerk reactions, these are getting the best and the brightest minds that the ACCC has brought together to produce a world-leading report. And when you are talking about putting in place state of the art regulatory frameworks, you need to get it right. 

JOURNALIST: Who will lead the ACCC unit?

THE HON. JOSH FRYDENBERG MP, TREASURER: Ultimately, it is accountable to Rod Sims as the head of the ACCC. Now, he already has put together a pretty strong team who worked on this report and he'll continue to work to build it. But it ultimately is under his leadership.

JOURNALIST: Treasurer, can I just confirm, are you accepting all 23 recommendations and does this mean the digital platforms can be subject to the same laws of defamation contempt that the mainstream media is?

THE HON. JOSH FRYDENBERG MP, TREASURER: We're not accepting all the recommendations and we've set out in our response which ones we're acting on immediately, which ones we're engaging in further consultation on, which ones we know want. There's a couple in Paul's area where we're not moving forward, so I'll let him explain it as well as this issue in relation to defamation.

THE HON. PAUL FLETCHER MP, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS, CYBER SAFETY AND THE ARTS: Let me pick up the question about defamation. Work in that space is being led by the Attorney-General and he's working with his state and territory counterparts, recognising where primary responsibility for defamation law sits. So that's the work stream that our Government has underway on that front, working with state and territory governments and attorneys general. And in relation to one of the areas that we've chosen not to take up the agency's recommendation, well, that was a recommendation for effectively a code governing takedowns in relation to infringement of copyright. I think we consulted widely with industry on views about that particular recommendation, I think it is fair to say there was certainly strong agreement as to the nature of the issue and our Government is certainly concerned about whether the digital platforms are facilitating content being displayed which infringes the copyright of owners, be they Australian media business and Australian creators or others. But the view we got quite strongly from many across the sector was that they didn't feel that particular regulatory tool that was recommended, was fit for purpose. 

PRIME MINISTER: But that was for traditional media operators. 

THE HON. PAUL FLETCHER MP, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS, CYBER SAFETY AND THE ARTS: Indeed. And so we certainly recognise that remains an issue. 

PRIME MINISTER: The principle is what I outlined at the start and this is what all of this is working to. It's not about trying to regulate a sector, because, as you know, my Government is about deregulating the economy where we can and getting rid of unnecessary regulation. As I said, as part of our economic plan at the BCA speech I gave earlier this year. This is about ensuring and a whole new area of our economy operates on the same rules as the physical economy. So whether it's defamation, whether it's copyright, whether it's these sorts of issues, we have to work to establish the same norms and the same expectations and the same requirements in the digital space that applies in real space.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, President Trump responded angrily when France introduced higher taxes on Facebook and Google. Do you expect any blowback from the White House to your response to the ACCC inquiry?


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve said that this information had caused you some issues in getting the right information out on bushfires. Obviously, that was part of this inquiry. Has this gone far enough to tackle fake news?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the problem with fake news is that when it's put out there in the first place and that's the problem of digital platforms and things like this, that people can gravitate on that. And it's important that that is extinguished by getting the right information out there. So in the case of the fires, that's required a very proactive effort from our agencies. And this is why it's important that you have, you know, the rules that govern the real world also governing the digital world. It's not an easy thing to do because it's an evolving technology. In my engagements around the G20 table, but more importantly, with the digital platforms that have sought to engage with that process that we commenced, and it commenced many years ago when we started championing the role of ensuring multinationals pay their tax and digital platforms, digital companies have been offenders in this area, quite significantly. And so I've been dealing with this issue back as a Treasurer through to now and what's important is that you've got to work with these companies because they're basically inventing this economy every single day. And they can't operate like they're out in the Wild West and the rules don't apply to them. They can't operate on a business model which is the absence of any sort of regulatory world that applies to them. That is not a reasonable expectation on their part and my invitation to them has been to work with us because one way or another, we're going to put this in place. I'd rather do it with you so we can make sure we get the advantages of the digital economy while also getting the protections in place. And look, I've met with a lot of them recently when some of their most senior executives have been out in Australia, I've also met with them when I've been in the United States and I think that's changing. But to go to an early questioner’s point, it changes because governments say we're not going to put up with this and you're going to have to come to the table and increasingly, I'm finding that they are doing that, but they've got a bit more distance to travel.

JOURNALIST: One of the recommendations in the ACCC report was around sort of changes to the acquisition laws. But one thing, in particular, they pointed out was advance notice on any acquisitions from the big tech companies of local players. What is your take on that? Is that one of the ones that you're not proceeding or will that fall under the new sort of ACCC unit?

THE HON. JOSH FRYDENBERG MP, TREASURER: No, that is actually one that we focused on implementing and and getting more information to the ACCC. There is also some more broader merger law changes that we're going to consult further. But as the Prime Minister has indicated we want to work with the industry, both some of the traditional media companies, as well as these new digital platform companies with the ACCC as being the cop on the beat has been the effective regulator to ensure that our regulatory framework is fit for purpose. This is all about staying ahead of the game. This report has put us in the position, Prime Minister, to be world-leading in this regard. And as the Prime Minister has indicated in a number of speeches and indeed our policies are also capitalising on the digital economy. We want Australians to get the best out of the digital economy.

JOURNALIST: You talk about innovation in this sector. Could you list the amount of innovation we've had from Google in the last two years? 

PRIME MINISTER: What do you mean? 

JOURNALIST: Well, innovation. I'm not sure that we've seen any innovation from Google apart from working out better ways of getting our information and how to make money from it.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'd say that the advance in digital technology, the ability to access information and the ability to turn that information to things of real value is the defining element of the digital economy. And obviously, they've played a huge role in that globally.

JOURNALIST: But I said in the last two years, what?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that has continued, John, as you’d know, and if it wasn't continuing, then the share price would look very different to what it is today if they weren't able to continue to build their models and their products and their services. That obviously has an impact on the global economy. But what I want to ensure, and this is my whole point about technology and you were there at that speech, so you'll know what I said. Australia's advantage in this area is we're good adopters of this technology. We don't have to invent it, although we're capable of it and I'd like to see that. But where Australia will be successful in the digital economy is that we will adopt it and apply it and immerse it into our business models better than any other country in the world. This is why we're close now to completing the first e-commerce agreement with Singapore. This is why that's what we're pursuing in our engagements with other countries around the world. It's the sort of thing that I'll have the opportunity to talk with Prime Minister Modi about and Prime Minister Abe. I'm with them in January. The changing of the world's rules and Australia's rules to position our companies to be immersed in the digital economy is huge. And for small businesses in particular and for regional parts of the country and even for small countries in our region. It's a massive change and so we've got to understand it. We've got to put in place the right protections for consumers and for companies to be able to access it and to deal with imbalances in market power. And, you know, we've seen this through other major iterations of technological revolution in the past, whether it's been from electricity or steam trains, for goodness sake. And this is another iteration of that in the global economy. And on each occasion, countries have had to do their own work, but also work with others to modernise their regulatory regimes. As I said, we've got to regulate and enable a digital economy and at the moment, too much of our settings are on analog and we'll make that switch and we're leading that switch. 

Just on one other issue before I go, to a matter that you raised earlier in relation to equipment for firefighters. Commissioner Fitzsimmons has responded to that issue, I understand, and said he's not sure why they are doing that. “We supply breathing masks,” he says, “to firefighters like they do with all other basic equipment”. That the RFS, I'm advised, provides disposal masks that are certified and fit for purpose. And the P3 masks by design in most cases interfere with the correct fitment of goggles, helmet and flash hood, as it's known, as well as the retaining the metabolic heat by the volume of the firefighters face being covered and this contributes to heat exhaustion. So there's a lot of technical specifications about the equipment that's provided to firefighters. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service, the ones that actually define what that equipment should be, and they're the ones that provide it. And so if you need any further details from the Rural Fire Service in New South Wales, I'm sure Commissioner Fitzsimmons will only be too happy to facilitate an answer on anything further you need. 

And the other thing I should have mentioned, too, in response to an earlier question, I talked about what we're doing with emissions reduction and the discussion that Minister Taylor was able to have in Madrid. The other thing he's been able to stress, I think, very importantly, is Australia is in the leading pack when it comes to renewables investment in the world today. So whether it's on renewables or reducing emissions, Australia is meeting our goals and beating our goals and I think that is something that can be of real encouragement for Australians today as they do look out on that haze, as they do look out on the terrible fires they’re seeing and know that Australia has a plan. We're meeting that plan and in a lot of cases, we're beating that plan. Thank you all very much.