Press Conference - Perth

05 Jun 2022
Prime Minister

PATRICK GORMAN, MEMBER FOR PERTH: I'm Patrick Gorman, the Member for Perth. And I'm not just welcoming the Prime Minister to Perth, we've got the entire Labor team here to welcome Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister of Australia, here to Perth. Anthony has been here many, many times. But this is his first visit as Prime Minister of Australia. And it's so good to be joined, I'm not going to name them, and it's really special that Anthony is here on Western Australia Day long weekend. Like many West Australians this weekend, he's going to go up somewhere near Bali for the weekend. But he's got some important work to do here, and it's important work to do overseas, continuing to strengthen our relationships with our close neighbours, which is very important for all West Australians. I'll hand over to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much Patrick. And it is great to be here in Western Australia on the Western Australia Day long weekend. Last night I was able to catch up with Premier Mark McGowan, a good friend of mine for a long period of time. And we had a very enjoyable dinner, we discussed issues of concern to Western Australia in the lead-up to the meeting that I'll hold at the end of next week with the National Cabinet, which will meet in Canberra. I'll be hosting a dinner at the Lodge next Thursday night and then there'll be a meeting on Friday in Canberra of next week, so in 12 days’ time, to be clear about that. It is great to be here. This is my fifth visit to Western Australia this year, which isn't bad given that I wasn't able to come for half of this year. But I made a commitment as Leader of the Labor Party that I would come to Western Australia 10 times a year. And I repeat that commitment as Prime Minister, that I will endeavour to be a regular visitor here, not just someone who drops in when there's an election campaign, but spends time here, because I want to be the Prime Minister for the entire country. I visited four states yesterday. It was a busy day. And today, after we leave here, I'll be visiting Jakarta as a guest of President Widodo and then the following day visiting Makassar as well, in eastern Indonesia. It is important that we recognise that Indonesia isn't just Jakarta and Bali. It is a vast archipelago. It is an important nation to our north, the largest Muslim country on the planet in terms of population. And I'll be visiting with Don Farrell, my Trade Minister, and Penny Wong, my Foreign Minister, Ed Husic, the first Muslim Cabinet Minister, sworn in just this week, and our Industry Minister and also Luke Gosling, the Member for Solomon, who played an important role from Opposition in identifying the advantages that we can have in engaging with the countries to our north on trade and economic relations. Today, though, this morning is about celebrating these fine men and women behind me. Later today, in an hour or so, we'll be having a barbecue to say thank you to the volunteers who did so much. Labor Party parliamentarians, whether they be the Prime Minister or the newest backbencher, stand on the shoulders of the true believers who make the phone calls, who knock on the doors, who advocate for the cause of Labor. And they argued the case for change and Australians voted for change at the election on May 21. And change is what they're getting. There is a new Government in town in Canberra, but a new Government governing for all Australians, whether they voted Labor this time or whether we'll seek to get their vote next time around. I am determined to govern for all Australians and to make sure that we end the conflict fatigue, that we lower the temperature, whereby everything the former government did, and I've seen some of it through the briefings I've had already as Prime Minister, everything was always about the politics. I want it to be about the national interest, not short-term political interests. And they’re the measures that we’ll put in place in the lead-up to Parliament resuming on July 26. And when July 26 comes, I'll be welcoming the following people from WA: Patrick Gorman, of course, in Perth, Josh Wilson in Freo, Matt Keogh in Burt, Madeleine King in Brand, Anne Aly in Cowan, but joined by Tracey Roberts in Pearce, Zaneta Mascarenhas in Swan, Tania Lawrence in Hasluck and Sam Lim in Tangney. But also in the Senate, Sue Lines, Glenn Sterle, of course, Patrick Dodson, who is not here, and of course, Louise Pratt, and of course, where is she, she’s behind me, we are really, really hoping Fatima Payman is able to join us as a senator going forward. I want to work with Western Australia. When I was the Minister for infrastructure, we did the largest ever road project in WA, Gateway WA, we widened the Great Eastern Highway, we did the Perth City Link project uniting the Northbridge precinct with the city, and the urban development project that is one of the best that's ever been done in this country. We funded projects including the Great Northern Highway, North West Coastal Highway, the railway line to the Port of Esperance, Kalgoorlie infrastructure projects, right throughout WA. And we will have, in the next year as well, I can confirm, and we'll have dates soon, for a Cabinet meeting in Perth, but also a Cabinet meeting in Port Hedland over the next 12 months. I want to make sure that we continue to engage with West Australians. I always enjoy my time here. It's an important part of the nation. And indeed, during the pandemic, the success of Western Australia in keeping our economy going was absolutely vital during that period. So I say to Mark McGowan and his Government, but more importantly to the people of Western Australia, we appreciate the sacrifice that you made during that difficult time in order to keep each other safe but also it had benefits for our national economy. I'm happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: A question on defence if I may. Just this morning, the Department of Defence has announced that an RAAF Poseidon has intercepted a Chinese J-16 fighter jet. Could you give us any more information on that? I believe it took place in the South China Sea. And how serious was the threat to the Australian aircraft?

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, I can. I was briefed on this during the week by the Department of Defence and also we had other briefings through the appropriate bodies, the National Security Committee and other agencies. I can confirm that on May 26, a RAAF P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese J-16 fighter aircraft during what was a routine maritime surveillance activity in international airspace in the South China Sea region. The intercept resulted in a dangerous manoeuvre which did pose a safety threat to the P-8 aircraft and its crew. The Australian Government has raised our concerns about the incident with the Chinese Government. The Department of Defence has for many decades undertaken maritime surveillance activities in the region and does so in accordance with international law, exercising the right to freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace. We are concerned about this incident. We have expressed those concerns through appropriate channels. I won't make any further comment.

JOURNALIST: But did that aircraft take evasive action?

PRIME MINISTER: I won't be making further comment on it, other than to say that in the Australian Government's view and the Defence Department's view this was not safe, what occurred, and we've made appropriate representations to the Chinese Government expressing our concerns over this.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on China as well, their Foreign Minister overnight has actually made a comment that the tense relations with Australia are because there is a political force that insists that Australia must view China as a rival instead of a partner. What do you make of this statement? (Inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER: We have strategic competition in the region. What we need to do is to make sure that we have competition, recognise that it’s there, without catastrophe. And I certainly seek peaceful relations with all of our neighbours, recognising the challenges, though, which are there.

JOURNALIST: What's your message to President Widodo about the attitude you'll take in the region to China and also your response to East Timor signing these deals with China in the last couple of days?

PRIME MINISTER: On the latter, we will be having discussions with our Timor-Leste counterparts over the coming days. We've been reaching out and so have they. We haven't, as yet, been able to have a one on one discussion. But Australia has good relations with Timor-Leste. I expect that to continue into the future. José Ramos-Horta is a former constituent of mine. He's a friend of mine over a long period of time. I've known Mr Ramos-Horta in his capacity when he was living in Petersham in my electorate during a different time. So I'm confident that we can have good relations going forward. My discussions with President Widodo have been very cordial and positive. We had a good discussion on Friday. We've met, of course, in the past. I look forward to the next couple of days. I thank him for going out of his way, and his Government, to welcome us so soon in the Government’s period in office. They have gone out of their way to put this in place. I look forward to our bilateral leaders’ meeting tomorrow. And we will also, of course, be having discussions with the Secretary-General of ASEAN. And those discussions reflect the priority that we have on Southeast Asia. We announced during the election campaign additional aid for Southeast Asia. We also announced a particular envoy and other measures to assist our relations. My Government is determined to have better relations across the Indo-Pacific region. That's why you've seen us very early on have two visits from Foreign Minister Wong into the Pacific. That's why I not only attended the Quad leaders’ meeting on the day that we were sworn in as Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, with Foreign Minister Wong, why this early visit with a very high level delegation from Australia indicates to our Indonesian friends the importance that we place on that relationship.

JOURNALIST: Indonesia is holding a G20 presidency but that summit in Bali threatens to be overshadowed by the attendance of Vladimir Putin. There was talk of countries boycotting it, your predecessor said he'd feel uncomfortable sitting around the table with Putin. What's your attitude to him attending the G20?

PRIME MINISTER: We respect the fact that the presidency of the G20 is so important for Indonesia and important for President Widodo. Of course it's the case that people who respect human rights would feel uncomfortable with sitting around the table with Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Putin, of course, attended the G20 meeting in Australia after the downing of the airline that resulted in the death of so many Australians and other international citizens. We have no time for what Vladimir Putin has done in Ukraine. We've made our position very, very clear on that and will continue to do so. I note that President Zelenskyy has been invited to observe the meeting as well, at least by video link, and I think that is an important initiative that's been taken.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in order to get power prices down, don't you need to get more gas into the market? And how will you do that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've been in Government for two weeks. Two weeks. We had nine years of neglect from a government. Remember they used to talk about the gas-led recovery? They talked about that for years. Well, where is it? This is a government that sat on their hands, they had 22 different energy policies and didn't deliver one. They delivered a position regarding a trigger that cannot come into force until January 1 of next year, so won't provide any immediate support. Now, there are two reasons for the pressure that's on the energy market at the moment. One, of course, is international, including Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine and the consequences of that that it’s had on international energy prices. That's beyond the former government's control. But what the former government is responsible for is just a complete failure to lead. I mean, Angus Taylor was a complete failure as Minister. We went along to international conferences and had an embarrassing performance. Two out of the four oil refineries in Australia closed in the last term of the government. This is a former government that had fuel reserves in the Gulf of Mexico for Australia for an emergency. Not in the Great Australian Bight, in the Gulf of Mexico. This was a complete failure. What we'll do is try to address the concerns which are there. That won't be done overnight. My Minister, Madeleine King, as well as my Energy Minister, Chris Bowen, have been in contact with all of the appropriate companies and are working those things through. There'll be a meeting this week with state and territory ministers as well. We'll work on these issues. But the former government has left us with a mess on a range of issues, a trillion dollars of debt across the economy, no energy policy, no plan for the labour market, no plan to grow the economy, and these things can't be changed overnight. Normally, it's the case that after the last time government changed hands in 2013, the new government wasn't sworn in yet. My government has been sworn in, we've hit the ground running and will continue to do so.

JOURNALIST: Western Australia has a domestic gas reservation policy so 15 per cent of gas for exports is used for domestic purposes. Will you be asking Mark McGowan to free up some supplies in WA to help the east coast which is undergoing this gas crisis?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, WA, of course, under the former Labor Government of Alan Carpenter, put in place good policies. That's what a policy looks like. The problem is that we don't have a national energy policy. So we'll work through those issues. WA will participate, as will other states and territories, in the meeting that will be held this week.

JOURNALIST: The Premier last week re-stated that he was opposed to shutting down live sheep exporting. You’ve said it will shut down. Your new Agriculture Minister says it will shut down. Which one is it?

PRIME MINISTER: We decide our policy and our policy is clear. But it's also the fact that part of that policy announcement was that we'd consult with states and territories and we'd also consult with the industry. This is a Government that I lead that will be consultative, that will work with business. There's a new show in town. It's not about dividing Australians. It's about bringing Australians together, bringing Australians together in terms of states and territories, bringing Australians together in terms of farmers and business. And we'll work through those issues in an orderly way. In 2019, we took a policy to the election that was different, that had a timeframe. We don't have a timeframe because we want to work these issues through in the interests of the industry and in the interests of good outcomes. We care about animal welfare. We also care about jobs and industry. We’ll put in place an appropriate mechanism.

JOURNALIST: You've talked about wanting to bring the states and Australians together and yet we have state Labor leaders incessantly bickering over the GST. Are you going to sit them down and tell them to stop that? And secondly, why won’t you commit to a forever deal for the 70 cent floor?

PRIME MINISTER: States will defend their interests. I expect them to do so. States will defend their interests. We have the same policy that the former government put in place. The same policy. There's been no change and there won't be a change.

JOURNALIST: Just on health, we’re seeing issues of ramping right across the country. Before the election, you promised to fix the skills shortages in health. How soon will we actually see that happen and how will that take place?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I refer to previous answers re we’re two weeks into the Government. We appointed Brendan O'Connor as the Skills and Training Minister just this week on Wednesday. I announced Jobs and Skills Australia, that building over there in Perth was the first big announcement that I made. It will play a critical role and it will look at training and upskilling Australians, but it will also look at issues like migration. There is a skills crisis in this country. It's one of the things that we’ve been left. I mean, we’ve been left a bin fire of problems to solve, a bin fire, by a government that had no plan for skills and training, no plan for the economy, no plan to pay down debt. They just had a plan for 24 hour media cycles. This is a Government that will work things through methodically, seeking outcomes, working with states and territories, working with business. I know that there's a skills crisis out there that requires some immediate action. During the campaign, I made it clear that one of the things that we would look at in the short-term was migration issues to solve some of those issues. But we'll also look at our first priority going forward is how do we train Australians for the jobs of the future, and that includes in areas including the health sector. But we also need to address issues including wages and the standard of living. People are leaving the sector because of the pressures that are on. I make no apologies for saying we need to address those issues as well. Thanks very much.