Press Conference - Parliament House, Canberra

27 Mar 2023
Prime Minister
Safeguard Mechanism legislation; Climate action; Voice to Parliament referendum; Aged care reforms; Energy price relief

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: After a wasted decade under the Coalition, today is a very good day indeed. A great day for our environment, for jobs, and for the economy. A good day for manufacturing, but a good day as well for all those who voted for a government to take action on climate change last May. The fact is that we, in Australia, have seen the devastating impact of climate change. Whilst Australia has always suffered from natural weather events, the truth is that the predictions of the science that we would have more extreme weather events and they would be more intense has unfortunately played out. In the time in which I have been Prime Minister, we’ve dealt with bushfires, we’ve dealt with flooding, we deal with the impact ongoing of climate change. And that's why we need to be a part of global action. The Safeguard Mechanism is the vehicle to achieve our commitment for 43 per cent reduction by 2030. And that is a precondition as well for our engagement in the region and the world. We need to act on climate change. We can't afford to continue to engage in conflict in this place in order to try to get the perfect outcome. And I'm pleased that the crossbenchers, in particular the Greens Party, have held a press conference, I understand, and indicated their support. I want to thank the crossbenchers who have engaged constructively. It says a lot about the state of the Liberal and National Parties in 2023 that in spite of the election result, they have excluded themselves from any participation. They're the observers of Australian politics rather than the participants. I believe that we have a responsibility to participate and to achieve real solutions, to achieve real outcomes, to protect our manufacturers, to grow our economy while we're dealing with emissions reduction. We have a huge opportunity to be a renewable energy superpower. We have an opportunity to take advantage of the fact we're in the fastest growing region of the world in human history. And the transition that we're seeing is a global transition. It is a challenge, but it's also an opportunity. And I want to pay tribute to the work that Chris Bowen has done in working to achieve this outcome. There are still some discussions to be had, but they're constructive discussions, and people across the crossbenches and in my party are determined to make sure that we do better, that we turn away from the 10 years of denial and delay and inaction. 10 years in which we saw 22 energy policies announced and not one of them delivered. That's why today is a good outcome and why I congratulate my minister on his leadership in negotiating and having discussions. I had some discussions as well last week with members of the crossbench and this Parliament is working as it should to achieve better outcomes.

CHRIS BOWEN, MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Thank you very much Prime Minister. The Albanese Government gets things done. And nowhere is it more important to get things done than in the area of climate policy after 10 years of denial and delay. Today, we're a big step closer to passing the Safeguard Mechanism reforms through the Parliament. We’re also, therefore, a big step closer to achieving our targets of net zero and 43% by 2030. The alternative would have been to walk away from 43% as a country and limit our ambitions to 35% which was never an acceptable outcome for the Albanese Government. Now, we always said we'd be happy to engage with the crossbench on suggestions and amendments which were, one, in keeping with our election mandate and, two, in keeping with our policy agenda. And the things that I'm announcing today meet both of those tests. And it's very clear from Mr Bandt's press conference that there are things that he asked for that we haven't agreed to because they weren't in keeping with those two tests and he'll continue to campaign and talk about those things but we'll be getting on with the job of implementing this package. They’re also informed, these changes, by eight months of consultation, three rounds of consultations and discussion with the broader crossbench which, as the Prime Minister indicated, will be ongoing. Really they do two things – they strengthen accountability, transparency and integrity of the scheme, and secondly, provide extra support for those strategic manufacturing industries that are so important for our economy and so important for our transition as well. Just in the interest of time, as the Prime Minister said, I have to go into the House to make sure it passes the House in a few minutes. I'll just run you through the top lines very briefly. Of course, I previously announced the Government, had previously announced, $600 million of support for safeguard facilities. We’re also announcing an extra $400 million for those key strategic industries for the transition, to ensure their ongoing presence in Australia as a sovereign capability, steel, aluminium and cement. In addition, for manufacturing, as well as the 3% revenue test for a reduced baseline, producing a new test based on the cost of abatement as a percentage of profit, or its EBIT, which will support manufacturing. Also, we’re making clear our intention in the Act that aggregate covered emissions must reduce over time, expressed as a five-year rolling average, to take into account any short-term fluctuations. If the cap, in terms of pollution, if the advice to me is that it would be exceeded, then I must consult on my policy options and as the minister of the day, either amend the rules or take any other policy action available to the government at that time. In addition, we've already announced our plans to reform the EPBC, so that new projects would have their emissions reported publicly, where any such proposal comes forward that would be fed into the safeguard mechanism as well. In addition, in relation to ACCUs, we will require the publication, this is about transparency, the publication of all covered emissions for facilities baselines, use of safeguard credits which will be created under the Bill, and methodologies used by ACCUs and also any facility which uses more than 30% of ACCUs for their abatement will have to provide a report why they're not doing more onsite abatement. That's about transparency and accountability. We'll amend section 33 of the Research and Development Act to remove it as an opportunity to subsidise coal and gas extraction. In keeping with the previous Government’s policy, we will require scope one emissions for Beetaloo to be offset in terms of the Pepper Inquiry and new gas fields which fill in existing facilities will be required to be zero reservoir carbon as part of their development. That's a condition which is international best practice and has been Australian best practice for many years. I want to thank the Prime Minister for his leadership and support in this process. I want to thank my ministerial colleagues, particularly the Treasurer, the Industry Minister, Ed Husic, and Minister Madeleine King, and thank Mr Bandt and the Greens for their strong engagement. The Albanese Government, a Government of grown-ups which get things done.

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, the Greens say that half of proposed new coal and gas projects can't happen due to the absolute cap and the Beetaloo Basin project will be unfeasible. Have they achieved a major hit on fossil fuel projects by stealth? And Minister Bowen, how will you use your powers when that absolute cap is being approached, and how will you mediate between new fossil fuels or other industries?

MINISTER BOWEN: Well the policy we’ve agreed to is exactly as outlined by me a minute ago. In terms of the facts, we always wanted aggregate pollution, absolute pollution, to come down. That's why we’re creating safeguard mechanism credits to incentivise that. It's appropriate that that be represented in the Act, and if for whatever reason that cap is being approached, the obligation on me is then to publicly consult, to amend the rules if I regard that, safeguard rules, if I regard that as the best approach or to take other policy actions. Others can, you know, reach conclusions about the implications. In terms of your question Paul about how I will act, I will act according to the advice and the best policy available to the government at the time and I'm sure future ministers of the day would.

JOURNALIST: In terms in amending the rules, does that mean through legislation and that, does that allow future ministers the ability to actually just say, ‘well we don't need to follow these rules, we'll make it easier for (inaudible)?’

MINISTER BOWEN: As has always been the case, some of the changes will be encapsulated in the Bill, which we'll amend in the Senate, others will be encapsulated in the regulation which will reflect the announcements we're making today and I'll release when the final drafting is ready.

JOURNALIST: Won’t this force up power prices by killing off investment in essential transitional projects, particularly in gas?


PRIME MINISTER: No, in a word. We have, we have had discussions, to be clear, not just with people in this building, but people outside this building. Whether it be the manufacturing sector or whether it be the gas industry. You will note, hopefully pretty obviously, that the demands that were placed on us of ruling out future projects, are ones that we said we wouldn't agree with, and we haven't.

MINISTER BOWEN: The Prime Minister is 100% right. I’ve got to go to the House in 30 seconds. Last one.

PRIME MINISTER: If it's to him about this.

JOURNALIST: Does the cap place an effective ban, Minister, on new coal and gas though?

MINISTER BOWEN: The cap means that the Government's policy objective, which we'll seek to implement and will implement, is a reduction in aggregate emissions across all facilities old and new as we’ve always said.

JOURNALIST: The gas industry is almost certainly going to say that this is going to create more shortages, they were saying it before, there’s some restrictions, will this create shortages in the gas market, are you confident we have enough gas?

MINISTER BOWEN: No, I mean the gas market is as has been outlined by the Statement of Gas Opportunities, recently, we recognise that. That's why we resisted and rejected calls to ban new gas. This is international best practice. It's quite appropriate.

JOURNALIST: Is there room for certain new coal or gas projects under that?

MINISTER BOWEN: The situation is as I have outlined. I really need to get to the House or the legislation won't pass.

JOURNALIST: Is this something you can imagine a Voice providing advice on and would a Voice provide advice to the Greens as they would the Government or is it purely for legislation like this? How would that work?

PRIME MINISTER: Of all the very strange questions I have been asked about the Voice, that's up there. You know, the Voice is about matters that directly affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That's what it's about. And people shouldn't look for, on the Voice, distractions. They can if they want, they can ask all sorts of things about whether it will, you know, give advice on who should play five-eight for Souths this week, but that is not what it is about.

JOURNALIST: But isn’t emissions something that Indigenous people care about?

PRIME MINISTER: That is not what it is about. The Voice is not about defence policy. It's not about foreign affairs policy. It's not about these issues. The Voice is about issues that directly affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

JOURNALIST: You’ve got the Greens across the line on Safeguard, the Housing Affordability Future Fund, have you, the Greens are saying they’re still worlds apart with you on that. Are you prepared to negotiate on that or is that a take it or leave it proposition?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we're always prepared to have discussions in the Parliament. The Parliament that's been elected, people are entitled to put forward their views. But I make this point – if people think that it's a great idea to say that they support more investment in social housing, but not back a $10 billion fund that will build more social and affordable housing, then good luck having that argument, and I'm quite happy to have that argument between now and the next election. Because some of the rhetoric about the Housing Australia Future Fund seems to think that this is in place of everything else, including the Commonwealth-state housing agreements that happens between the Commonwealth and state governments, that it's in place of the other things that we have announced as well in the housing sector. It's not. It's additional, and I think some of the rhetoric that I have seen is rather strange really. I support increased investment in social and affordable housing and I call upon the Parliament to do the same thing.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, at the National Press Club you did flag an openness to looking at the term ‘executive government’ in the Voice constitutional amendment, potentially removing it, potentially changing it?

PRIME MINISTER: Did I say that?

JOURNALIST: You flagged an openness to look at it.

PRIME MINISTER: Did I say that? Did I say that? I'm not going to be verballed.

JOURNALIST: I’m wondering after your consultations with your Referendum Working Group last week, do you remain open to looking at changing or removing executive government or are you now of the view that it must remain in the wording?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm not going to be verballed on what I said. What I said at the National Press Club was very clear – I went to Garma, and for a long period of time, I have said that these are the draft words. We’ve been, that was last July, we're now towards the end of March. I'm yet to see, and correct me anyone here if I'm wrong, I'm yet to see a single word offered of suggested amendments from my Garma speech, from anyone in the Coalition, or indeed anyone across the Parliament. Not one. Not one additional suggestion from any Member of Parliament. Now, we'll introduce the legislation this Thursday. The legislation is the Government's position. People will be entitled to put forward submissions. But if you have a look at, and I don't want to single out the Fin Review for too much praise here, because Phil will get too excited, but have a look at the pieces that were in the Fin Review on the weekend from a fellow called French and a woman called Twomey. They know a bit about the law and they know a little bit about the Constitution. One of them was the former Chief Justice of the High Court. The other one is probably Australia's leading academic on constitutional law. Their positions were very clear.

JOURNALIST: PM, you’ve talked a lot about the desire to get bipartisanship and you’ve even talked about given Mr Dutton space to arrive at a position. Wouldn't releasing the Solicitor-General's advice be a small price to pay for the possibility that the Coalition could come on board for what is a big change?

PRIME MINISTER: Are you telling me that it's your view, I know it's a, we'll do a two-way here. Are you telling me it's your view that if we release that advice, then they'll change their position?

JOURNALIST: Well, I'm asking wouldn't it?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm asking if you were me, if you were me, would you think that there is any sign, that in any of the times in which Peter Dutton has been asked a question about the Voice to Parliament, that have been any sign other than that he is not, well, any sign other than that he is undermining a support for Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people? I'm awaiting it. I’ve had seven meetings with him. He's met with the Referendum Working Group. There are no signs. And he was a member of a government that did not release any Cabinet papers or advice to the Cabinet in the nine years in which he was a member of the Cabinet.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on China. Senator Ayres is planning to go to China and discuss the trade sanctions?

PRIME MINISTER: He is going. He’s not planning, he's going. I’ve signed the papers.

JOURNALIST: He is going, paving the way for Minister Farrell to go later on.


JOURNALIST: But we’re also seeing after the AUKUS announcement, we’ve seen some hostility out of Beijing. They're still muscling in the Pacific, just recently they conducted a feasibility study on a strategic airstrip in Kiribati. How is that relationship looking? Can we still, are you still hopeful that trade sanctions will be removed sooner rather than later given the fallout from AUKUS?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there have been some changes to the impediments that were there in our trade already. That has occurred. And so there is progress, but we, I’ve made very clear we'll cooperate with China where we can, we'll disagree where we must, and we'll engage in our national interest. Now, it's a good thing that Tim Ayres, as the Assistant Trade Minister, is going to China. It would be a good thing if Minister Farrell goes as well. It's a good thing that governments are talking, dialogue is always a positive thing to occur in our region and throughout the world.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, back to your answer to Tom’s question, is it now your position or your belief that Peter Dutton likely won't back the Voice to Parliament referendum?

PRIME MINISTER: People will make their own assessment. You're the commentators.

JOURNALIST: How damaging will that be if there’s not bipartisanship?

PRIME MINISTER: You're the commentators. I seek bipartisanship here. This is about two things and two things only. It’s not about, you know, it does reflect on our international relationships, but it's about two things. It's about recognising First Nations people in our Constitution and then it's about that they'll be consulted on matters that affect them. That's what it’s about. Nothing more, but nothing less. And the Australian people will be given the opportunity to have a say towards the end of this year. And I sincerely hope that the Australian people support "yes" and I hope that it receives the unanimous support of this Parliament. But that's something that I can only be open, which I have been. You know, part of the debate that I’ve had an engagement with people in this room has been, "why aren't you more prescriptive?" The reason why we weren't more prescriptive was to give people the space to come on board, to make a suggestion, to say, "oh well, if this happens, we'll be more supportive." We changed our position on the pamphlet going out. Why did we do that? Because we wanted to show that we were prepared to do something, even though I personally, if it was up to me, just me, it's not a preferred position. It's not about imposing my will. It's about providing support. I was one of the least important people up here last Thursday. You know, it's about these people who have fought their whole life for just a bit of recognition in our Constitution and justice and to be listened to. Not because they want to engage, because they want to make a difference. It's about practical outcomes. We know that outcomes will be better when people are consulted.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, last week, your Aged Care Minister conceded that you won't reach your election commitment of having 24/7 registered nurses in every aged care facility by July. One, do you have any sense of when you will reach that target, and given at the time during the campaign when you made that commitment, the sector and others were warning it was unachievable, do you think that you were potentially putting too much pressure on the system to meet that July 1 deadline?

PRIME MINISTER: I won't apologise for being ambitious. The aged care sector that we inherited was one that had major problems with it. Can you solve those problems, you know, can you solve them easily? No. But we're setting about through Anika Wells, we have legislated, some of our first legislation, to achieve that and we'll continue to work towards making a difference. We want that to happen as soon as possible.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on another issue. Across the country, swimming pools are turning down their temperatures because they're worried about the rising electricity and gas prices. What is your message to some of those that are, you know, taking those kind of measures and even considering closing or reducing some of their hours? And will there be any support for them in the Budget?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll make our budget announcements in May. But we have global energy prices and global inflation. I had a very positive meeting with President Obama this morning in Sydney, talking about the global economy and what was occurring. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as the supply side constraints when it comes to the pandemic, have meant that there is upward pressure on energy prices. That's something that we have engaged to deal with. We did the price cap on gas and coal along with the state governments. And we also have $1.5 billion that we'll have in the Budget of support for individuals and support for businesses going forward through our Energy Price Relief Plan. That's something that was opposed by the Coalition. They're against any support for individuals, households or businesses who are dealing with these challenges. My Government will continue to deal with the challenges that we confront. Mine is a government that deal with the immediate issues that are before us as we did when we were first elected. I remember standing here with Chris Bowen, there were issues of supply, there was talk of, you know, lights going out in the middle of last year just after we were elected. We got through that. We dealt with the immediate challenges, but we also always have our eye on the medium and long-term. That's what today's announcement is about. That's what the safeguard mechanism is about as well. Thanks very much.