Press Conference - Parliament House, ACT

05 Dec 2019
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning everyone. Earlier this year after the election, I sat down with all of the heads of the public service, after the election and I spoke of what my expectations were. I spoke of how at the last election it had been a victory for all of those Australians who are going out there, working hard every day, pursuing their honest, decent aspirations. And that our job as a government with the support of the public service was to deliver for them. I then spoke during the course of the last six months with them about important guideposts that should direct the public service, about how they can support the government to do their jobs.

That they were to operate on the principle of respect and expect. We respect absolutely the professionalism and the dedication of our public service in the important roles they provide. But they should expect from us clear direction, and we should continue to expect from them being able to discharge their duties in that incredibly professional way they do. I talked about having a very strong focus on the delivery of services because that's what government is there to do. I talked about ensuring there was a keen focus on the implementation of policy, not just the development. The success of policy is not recognised in its articulation, but its delivery. Its implementation. Anyone involved in business will understand that it's the execution of your strategy that matters, not just having one. I want a public service that's very much focussed on implementation. I talked about the line of sight between every single person who works in the government and in our public service and the Australians they're serving and making sure that they could see to that Australian that they were seeking to support. Whether it's a brief, they're preparing research, the policy they’re developing, services they're delivering on the ground and ensuring that could be done efficiently and keep Australians connected to them in the work they do each day. I talked about the need to use the digital technologies and the data and the information that we have as a government to better inform on how we implement and how we develop and deliver on policy. And of course, I talked about the need for the at the institution of the public service to continue to be honoured, it's fearless and frank advice and the important place it plays in our democracy.

And I said at that time that I’d be making further changes to the public service and there will be further changes still that we'll announce once we complete the Thodey review response. And we're still waiting on some final advice on that. And I'll make some further announcements about that next week. I understand. But today, what I'm here to do is to announce changes to the structure of the Australian Public Service. And earlier today, the Governor-General approved my recommendation to reduce the number of government departments from 18 to 14. To ensure that services that Australians rely on are delivered more efficiently and more effectively, Australians should be able to access simple and reliable services, designed around their needs. Having fewer departments will allow us to bust bureaucratic congestion, improve decision making, and ultimately deliver better services for the Australian people.

The new structures that I'm announcing today will drive greater collaboration. It will break down the silos. It'll ensure that important policy challenges in which different parts of the public service are working on, can work more effectively on together. It means better integration in key areas like education and skills and the delivery of regional services. The changes we made effectively on the 1st of February 2020, four new departments will be established. First, the creation of a Department of Education, Skills and Employment and that consolidates the current Department of Education and Department of Employment Skills, Small and Family Business.

This is about having a continuity from the day you walk into school to the day you walk into a job and beyond, and ensuring that in your job and over your life, we understand that there is a continuous education. Education doesn't start and stop when you leave school. It goes on over your entire life. Learning happens in the workplace. Skills development happens in the school. It happens at university, at TAFE and vocational training. It's a lifelong activity. Well into senior years. And I want a public service agency department that is focused on that continuity of policy and service delivery and engagement with the states.

Second one is the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. I've talked about now for some time that I want a very practical environmental agenda. And there is no section of our country that relies more on our environment than our agricultural sector. Our water policy, all of this is so intrinsically linked by how we address the environmental challenges that we have, not just as a country, but as a globe. And by integrating, I believe, the excellent scientific and other work that is done by the Department of Environment and the programs that they have and connecting that with the work that has been done in water and agricultural policy. And a great example of that, its national soils day. The work that needs to be done to enrich and enhance our soils and what that means for the productivity of our agricultural sector, emissions reduction and all of these issues, I think combined together, very importantly, how we manage our land and our water and our sea and the resources that are there. From an environmental perspective impacts so much on our agricultural prospects.

And those departments will be brought together from the Department of Agriculture and the Environment functions from the Department of Environment and Energy, there'll be the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, and that will consolidate Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and the energy functions from the current Department of the Environment and Energy. That would also include the emissions reduction functions as well. Small business functions from the current Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business will also be taken into that Department. And this is about bringing together all the various different parts of our industry - resources, energy, small business that impact each day on the operations of our Australian economy. At a microeconomic level.

Microeconomic reform is a big part of our economic reform story. Much of the work that has been done in business deregulation and deregulation more broadly will fall into these areas and will be supported by the programs which are about getting people's energy costs down. Ensuring that the access and use of science and digitization technologies and all of these things can become all part of the supply chains that exist in the Australian economy. This is a very economic focused department. We will also add to the functions of the Department of Infrastructure. It will be now known as the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. It will merge, it will take together, I should say, the current Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development and it'll add to that the functions of the Department of Communications and the Arts. This will ensure, particularly in the area of communications, you're getting a strong synergy between what's happening in communications policies, communications, infrastructure delivery and regional Australia.

I want to ensure that the remote and regional parts of our country are connected. I want to ensure that our regional towns and communities are plugged in and are locked in to the prosperity that can be achieved and will be achieved in our economy in the years to come. Infrastructure, communications, they are the same thing these days. They are actually plugging people in and connecting them in inclusively into the benefits of a growing economy. And it works both ways. Allowing the bush to contribute to the cities, and the cities to contribute to the bush. And getting those connections far stronger than they are today. And finally, the department known as Services Australia, which was formerly known as the Department of Human Services, will be established as a new executive agency. And this will all sit within the Social Services Department. Ten other departments remain unchanged.

I am also announcing today that the remit of the North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency will be expanded now to include drought. The Honourable Shane Stone AC QC will lead the new National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency, providing national leadership and a whole of government response to support our farmers and regional communities as they respond to, recover from, the drought and the North Queensland flood earlier this year.

I've got to say there have been few activities that I've been more proud of in our public service than the work that they have done to reach out and support the regional grazing and other families affected by the droughts in north Queensland. It has been the public service at their best, whether it was in Townsville or across the range, the sense of confidence, encouragement and hope that was given by these amazing people working within that agency led by Shane has been truly inspirational. And the letters I've received from people, from out there in Cloncurry and Julia Creek and in Townsville, just so encouraged by the work they've done. We need that same level of connection between our public service and those being impacted by drought. Not just until it rains, but beyond when it rains as well, as our bush will grow again and our agricultural sectors that have been affected so heavily by drought. We will build and they will prosper again and even in the depth of despair that you often see when you go to these drought affected communities, you can still see the glimmer of hope. And what I'm seeking out of this agency, which will have more people out there, not here, connecting with them on the ground, ensuring that they are fully aware of all the government services and programmes. It's been one of our challenges in the drought. The number of times when I've spoken to people in communities, and they said I wasn't aware that that programme was in place. I wasn't aware that you'd increased the funding for that programme. I wasn't aware that you'd been working on that with the New South Wales government or the Queensland government. It's one thing to have these policies and programs. But as I said, when delivery and implementation is the test, you need to connect to people. And what Shane and his team have been able to do in Queensland I want to see them do across the drought affected areas of this country.

Now, with all of these changes… and that agency will continue to sit within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and it will report to the Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, which is of course, David Littleproud. Now, a consequence of these machinery changes that there will be a movement of change amongst a number of secretaries from departments and there'll be a number of those who will not be continuing as a result of those changes. And there are five and I want to thank all of them. Kerri Hartland, Renée Leon, Mike Mrdak, Daryl Quinlivan, and Dr. Heather Smith. I want to thank all of them for their tremendous service to our country. They have served in our public service over a long period of time. They are deeply respected by their colleagues, by all those who've had the pleasure to work for them. And as a result of these structural changes, that is the only reason why these changes have been made and I want to thank all of them very much for their service.

In terms of secretaries who are continuing in the roles that they'll have, David Fredericks, who is currently the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Energy, will move to be the new Secretary of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and Andrew Metcalfe will be returning to the ranks of the Australian Public Service. Andrew will take up the position of Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. As you know, and as I recall very well too, Mr Metcalf was Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship from 2005 to 2012, and he was Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in 2013. Since then, he has been a partner at EY, and I know he will bring considerable public policy leadership experience and strength to this Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and to the Secretaries board itself.

This brings together some new secretaries who have been elevated in recent times where I've made earlier announcements about that. Simon Atkinson is another one who's just joined the secretaries ranks. This, I think, will give a further drive across these 14 departments. I want to particularly thank all of those who have assisted as we’ve worked through this, particularly to Phil Gaetjens as the head of my department and of course John Kunkel in my office and everyone else who's been involved in working through this and of course, the Public Services Commissioner. This is about getting better services on the ground. It's about getting more focus on Australians in the delivery and development of policy. It's about making sure that I keep my promises to the Australian people, the things I said I would do and I am doing, I want to keep doing and I will keep doing. And I'll be able to better do that with the structures and the changes that we've made and I look forward to getting on with that job. These changes come into effect on the 1st of February next year and obviously between now and then we will move towards those new arrangements.

JOURNALIST: As well as those Departmental Secretaries you’ve named, Prime Minister, how many public servants will find out over the Christmas break they are losing their job and will this necessitate a ministerial reshuffle with these changes?

PRIME MINISTER: On the second point, there are no changes to the ministry or portfolio responsibilities. Neither were any contemplated or that was not what this is about. That remains as I announced it after the election. I'm very pleased, very pleased, with the performance of all of my ministers and the work they've been doing. It's been a very busy six months and I'm very pleased with the appointments that we've made and the way they've been taking to their task over the last six months. In terms of in the public service and the numbers there, this has not being done as a savings measure. This has been done as a structural measure to better align and bring together functions within the public service so they can all do their jobs more effectively and help more Australians. And so department secretaries and others will undertake the normal things that they do in managing their budgets and those who were previously performing functions in the areas they've talked about in other departments will now perform those functions in new departments. This isn't about any cost savings measures. I expect, frankly, all departments secretaries to be realising maximum efficiencies for how they run their departments every single day of the year. That's their job. That's why they're paid to do what they do and I expect them to continue to do that. And whatever decisions they take over the next 12 months, two years, five years, they'll take those decisions. They’re not decisions that the Government takes.

JOURNALIST: Who will be the senior minister in the new Environment and Agriculture Department? Will it be… will the Liberals still be in charge of the environment or will it now be the Nationals?

PRIME MINISTER: The portfolio Minister for the Environment which is Sussan Ley is responsible for the environment and Bridget McKenzie who is the Minister for Agriculture will be responsible for agriculture policy and David Littleproud is responsible for water policy. It's not uncommon for departments to have multiple ministers. They have multiple ministers now. And so the officials that work in these departments respond to the minister that is responsible for those portfolio issues. So who's the senior minister on environment? Well, it's the Minister for the Environment. Who's the senior minister on agriculture? It's the Minister for Agriculture. It should be very plain.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you say this wasn’t done as a savings measure but can you tell us what the Budget impact will be of these changes?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m not anticipating any Budget impact from these changes.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern has said the offer is still -

PRIME MINISTER: I’m happy to move to that, but any other questions on this issue?

JOURNALIST: So you’re saying that no one in the public service is going to be losing their job?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm saying that's matters for secretaries and there is nothing in these changes that is a directive to secretaries about making any changes in those areas.

JOURNALIST: Was the restructure recommended by the Thodey Review?

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll be making a response to the Thodey Review next week. But what we have done here today is consistent entirely with the thrust of the Thodey Review.

JOURNALIST: Does Angus Taylor remain in the energy portfolio as Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course he does.


PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely he does. Why would he not?

JOURNALIST: Why would he be retained?

PRIME MINISTER: Because emissions are falling and I made it very clear in the House the other day the work Angus has done over the last six months to get the big stick legislation through, to ensure that the dodgy late payment fees that are charged by energy companies, they are all gone. I mean, the progress Angus has been making in whether it's in getting energy costs down, stabilising those energy costs, emissions reductions are occurring. Angus will be heading off to the COP25 meeting where he should be next week and he'll be representing Australia there at a ministerial level, as you'd expect him to. So the policy performance of Angus Taylor is not under question.

JOURNALIST: Christian Porter [inaudible] IR…

PRIME MINISTER: He’s got a big brain, Christian.

JOURNALIST: He’s the Leader of the House, it’s going to be a tough job. Is it too much, is there too much on his plate?

PRIME MINISTER: On Christian’s? Too much is never enough for Christian Porter’s capabilities. He’s an outstanding minister and he's demonstrating that on a daily basis. And as I've often said, I’ve got the best lawyer when it comes to Christian Porter. I only wish Anthony Albanese had as good a lawyer as I do because the Shadow Attorney-General is still zero for eight.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, with energy moving in and emissions reduction moving into that economic focused department, as you put it. Is that trying to take some of the ideology out of that issue?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I've never been a fan of the ideology of it. I'm interested in the science of it and the practicality of it and the achievement of the targets that the Government has set. And so much of that is engaged in how you work with industry and how you ensure you get energy prices down and you keep a balance between those policies and our economy. Our Government is committed to taking action on climate change. We are taking action on climate change and we're getting results on emissions reduction. Emissions today are lower than they were when we came to Government. Emissions have fallen for the last two years. Emissions are reducing. In 2020, we will hit our Kyoto 2020 targets and we'll beat them and we'll beat them, I can tell you now, by more than the 367 million tonnes that I've previously advised. Our most recent advice is we're going to beat it by even more than that. Even more than that. So our focus when it comes to climate change and taking action on reducing emissions is a very practical one. And this was a key issue that was considered at the last election. The last election was not a question of whether we needed to take action on climate change. The last election was a question about getting balance in your policies. You don't have to destroy your economy and reduce jobs to reduce emissions. But the Labor Party thinks differently and the Greens think differently. They want economy-wrecking targets. We didn't support that and neither did the Australian people. So my Government will continue to keep a balance of taking action on climate change. Meaningful, meaningful action, which is getting results and ensuring that we do that while getting electricity prices down and ensuring our economy continues to grow. 

JOURNALIST: Is it your understanding the Member for Chisolm donated $100,000 at the last election or that she loaned the Liberal Party $100,000 and what do you make of her request that the money be returned to her?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's a matter for the Victorian division of Liberal Party. I was a state director a long time ago, that's no longer my job. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on refugee resettlement, do you still want to bring back the lifetime ban legislation and if so, how far should that extend? Should that block a return to Australia by those people who’ve gone to the United States? Should it be restricted to New Zealand? How far should it go? 

PRIME MINISTER: Our policy is set out in the Bill that we've sought to have passed, and that Bill hasn't to date not had the requisite support to pass the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Ardern has reiterated her offer in terms of the refugee resettlement and she said very clearly this morning that any restriction on refugee movements by the Australian government is a matter for your government. So it sounds like she's very much open to this deal being done. How soon would you like to see 150 resettle across the ditch? 

PRIME MINISTER: We've always been very aware of the New Zealand government's offer. And as I said here yesterday and in other places, the Government will continue to implement our policies as we've set them out and as we've decided to do as a government and that's what we'll do.

JOURNALIST: If Labor backs the lifetime ban for that New Zealand cohort, does that make the deal possible, probable, and will you be seeking it? 

PRIME MINISTER: There are so many hypotheticals in that question I don't know where to begin. The first of it was an assumption that Labor would actually support strong border protection policies. And all the evidence I've seen, including yesterday in the Senate where they voted to actually keep Australia's border protection policies undermined by the changes they made a year ago. See, I just don't trust Labor on border protection. I just don't because they don't believe in it. How do I know that? I've watched it for 10 years. I just don't trust them on border protection. They say all sorts of stuff. But I know what they think and I know what they believe and it's not what I believe on border protection. And so I don't trust them, the Australian people don’t trust them.

JOURNALIST: Don't you think it's appropriate to have permanently secret legal proceeding in Australia in 2019?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there are court orders in place restricting the disclosure of information on that matter and the National Security Information Act was invoked to manage the protection of national security information on those proceedings and in proceedings like these. And the Attorney-General has said that the information is of the kind that could endanger the lives or safety of others. 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] to Bernard Collaery and Witness K [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve just answered the question.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the New Zealand deal has 150 people to be taken off offshore detention off the table. It still doesn’t solve the numbers that are held in offshore detention. How quickly would you like to see those remaining people resettled? Has the Government got an aspirational timeline?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it has always been our policy to seek the resolution of that caseload and you will recall this time last year our Government and I, in particular, had played a key role ensuring that we got every child off Nauru. Every single one. We're the same government that got every single child out of detention in Australia. We are the same government that has ensured that medical transfers have taken place where they have needed to be done so on the basis of the medical advice that we have received through our agencies. We're the same government which has ensured that our border protection regime has maintained its security and that we have not seen the deaths at sea that were so common under Labor's failures that while you could never get used to these things, there was a great risk of it and becoming resigned to it. In fact, the previous Labor government had become resigned to their failures on border protection. But as you saw last year, when Labor sought to undermine - and successfully did so in the Parliament - Australia's border protection regime, we didn't blink. We said we will take the first opportunity we can with the support of the Australian people to repeal those laws. And we have. Labor had the shortest window to undermine Australia's border protection laws. And the second that just jarred open for a while in they went, as quickly as they could, to undermine Australia's border protection laws. They couldn't wait to do it and then they did it. And we have shut that down. So our objective hasn't changed and our record speaks for itself. Every child off Nauru, every child out of detention. We've closed the detention centres that Labor had to open. Our record speaks to our objective and our aspiration, and that is to resolve the caseload that's there.

JOURNALIST: Just on the back of the growth figures yesterday and we saw a slide in quarters, what is your message to people over Christmas? Would you like them to go out and spend?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm sure their kids would with Christmas coming up. There's no doubt about that. Look, when we passed our changes to the Income Tax Act, when we provided the tax relief that we promised, my promise was simply this. I want Australians to earn more and I want them to keep more of what they earn. What Australians do with their own money is up to them. They want to spend it? Good for them. If they want to save it, if they want to pay down debt. And what we saw in the national accounts figures yesterday that they substantially decided to pay down their debt. Now, the Commonwealth Government is doing the same thing. This is why we think surpluses are important, because it means you can pay down debt. And what happens when you pay down debt? It means you're more financially resilient. It means that consumers, as a result of the tax relief we provided, are now more financially resilient as they go into this Christmas than they were at last Christmas, which means as they go into 2020, they are in a stronger position. We have made Australians in their economic circumstances stronger by ensuring that they can keep more of what they earn. And what we saw yesterday in the national accounts with the increase in household disposable income and what we saw in the average wage increases that we saw yesterday is Australians being able to earn more. And because of our actions as a government, they've been able to keep more of what they earn. So what they do, Phil, is up to them. The best message I have to Australians is Merry Christmas and 2020 is going to be a great year. Thank you.