Press Conference Questions - COAG Leaders’ Meeting

09 Jun 2017
Hobart, Tasmania
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much. Now we have time for some questions.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: Well it would certainly work, there is no question it would work and we are looking at it, giving it very favourable consideration. But all of the Governments here assembled will consider the report very carefully and we will be providing our responses to it and consulting with each other as we do so.

I would say this about the clean energy target mechanism. It has a number of virtues, very strong virtues. One is that it is technology agnostic, so it does provide incentives for lower emission technologies, not simply incentives for zero emission technologies it would be or for renewable technology which is what the current Renewable Energy Target does. So that is a great strength.

The other strength is that it is a system that is administratively familiar. So it would follow on from the Renewable Energy Target and industry, kbusiness is used to it.

So I think it has a lot of merit and as I say we will look at it very favourably but we will be considering it carefully, considering the Finkel Review with the care and respect which the hard work of the panel warrants.

JOURNALIST: You have tightened rules on parole regulations here but have you missed an opportunity to tighten our terror regulations? [Inaudible] It seems the can has been kicked down the road until we convene again and talk about terror again. What change can we explain has taken place today to keep Australians safer?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the jurisdictions have agreed to a very significant change in the approach to parole and bail. In fact it is consistent with recent changes announced in New South Wales. Where a person has had an involvement with or support for connection with violent extremism, there would be a presumption that they would not get bail or parole.

I believe that is an important change and it is one that I thank the Chief Ministers and Premiers for agreeing to.

In terms of security at airports, we have very elaborate security measures at all of our important places of civil infrastructure including our airports.

We had a discussion today and a presentation from the acting Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police about that and the way it operates, for example, at Melbourne Airport between the AFP and the Victoria Police.

This security is very tight. It is taken very seriously and it is reviewed all the time and it would be a mistake to suggest that our security arrangements are inadequate. I can assure you and the Australian people that we have the best police, security and intelligence services in the world. They work night and day to keep us safe and they have disrupted a dozen plots, terrorist plots, including one which would have seen an explosive detonated in Federation Square outside St Paul's Cathedral just before Christmas. They have disrupted those plots because they work so seamlessly together.

We have heard today from the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, from the Director-General of ASIO, from the Cyber Security Advisor and the Director-General of ASIO, all of those leaders in our agencies and in our battle against terrorism, all of those gentlemen have presented to us today.

JOURNALIST: Mr Andrews, can I just follow up on that. You said this morning if we think this issue starts and ends with parole, then we are wrong and I say we are dangerously wrong to think that

PREMIER OF VICTORIA: I think it would be dangerously wrong to think that.

PRIME MINISTER: But nobody does, If I may say so, nobody suggests that it does.

I mean lets be quite clear about this, since I have been Prime Minister, and through COAG, I thank the leaders of Governments here for their cooperation.

Since I have been Prime Minister, we have introduced post sentence detention for people on terrorism charges. That was a first.

We have changed the law to allow the ADF to target terrorists in the field, whether they are in a combatant role or not.

We have provided over $300 million in additional funding to the AFP to give them the additional capabilities to respond to these threats.

So all of these jurisdictions, my own and the State and Territory jurisdictions are working together tirelessly to upgrade and enhance the security we provide.

It is not - I said this this morning and I want to say it again, this is not a case of set and forget. You have to keep on the balls of your feet, constantly reviewing and preparing to upgrade, renew, advance, improve our security measures.

So I am sorry for interrupting you, Daniel, but I don't want anyone to be under the impression that there is any complacency here.

We know these challenges go well beyond parole, they go well beyond bail. It is a complex challenge we face, but we are up to it because we are clear-eyed and we are resolute.

PREMIER OF VICTORIA: Yes, I couldn't agree more. As the Prime Minister indicated, it would be wrong for anybody to underestimate the commitment that every government across Australia has to making the changes that are necessary to keep our citizens safe.

The Prime Minister made some comments earlier on in his opening remarks about us being as agile, being as nimble as those who would do us harm and that means, despite how proud we can all be of state-based police forces, the Australian Federal Police, ASIO and our other partners, we should be proud of those people.

I visited two who were very seriously injured in hospital this week, I can tell you we can all be very proud of them.

But we owe it to them and the people that count on us to always look to improve.

That is why I am so very pleased we will build on what we have achieved today at a special meeting in just a few months’ time.

That is very important and I am sure the community will look closely at what we deliver out of that meeting.

And I think we do have to have courage to make some difficult decisions and as the Prime Minister said, we are equal to that and it would be simply wrong to underestimate the resolve of every Australian Government to keep the Australian people safe.

JOURNALIST: Was today a wasted opportunity?

PREMIER OF VICTORIA: No, I wouldn't say that.

JOURNALIST: To go ahead and make some of those moves now rather than wait for a couple of months?

PREMIER OF VICTORIA: Well look, you achieve whatever you can at each meeting and the good news today is that we have achieved some things and we have reconfirmed we need to come back, do some further work.

I am for instance very proud to say in my state, we are doubling the size of the Special Operations Group. I have raised some issues about the need for us to all do more to support the Australian Federal Police and the Prime Minister's agreed that part of the work we’ll do in coming weeks and months will be to discuss that issue and how that relates to airports or other settings.

It is always important, not just to reflect on those elements that are good and going well. We need always to strive to improve.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how would these laws apply to the Brighton gunman, (inaudible) ASIO watch list (inaudible) how would it be used to punish him in these circumstances?

PRIME MINISTER: Well if this change had been in place, it is very hard to see how he would ever have been given parole.

The man who, the murderer, the terrorist murderer who killed the receptionist at the serviced apartments in Brighton had a very, very long record of violence. He had a long record of involvement in terrorism activities. He had been charged as you know, he had been acquitted. This was a matter of public knowledge, this was not secret intelligence. It had been admitted in the course of the trial that he trained with a terrorist organisation in Somalia.

With the changes that we have agreed to implement today, it is inconceivable that he would be given parole. I think, like many Australians, I am amazed that he was given parole at all but that was a decision for the Victorian Government's Parole Board.

What this change will mean is that where people do have, have demonstrated or shown support for terrorist organisations or have had a connection, and it could be that Mr Khayre's connection was very public and very blatant, if you like. …Mr Khayre's connection was very public and very blatant, if you like. There could be many other examples where it is less well-known or it is the subject of intelligence. But what we need to do, is where we have the opportunity to keep people who are a threat to Australians off the streets, we do. Believe me, every day that a man like that is off the streets, it is a better day. It is a better day because if he is behind bars, he can't kill Australian citizens in the way he did.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister just briefly, on the subject of the bail, can you please expand on how that would work? What do you mean by presumption against bail? [inaudible] Can you give specificity on that?

Secondly, when it comes to ASIO and its briefing of parole boards, isn’t it the case that they currently do, in some States, already do that? [Inaudible] as the head of the Parole Board said on radio earlier this week, how is this a substantive change?

PRIME MINISTER: It is a very substantive change. The Premier of New South Wales has made a similar change in her State recently, she can perhaps comment further on it. But clearly if there is, say, someone who has that connection, there is a presumption they will not be given parole, then that makes the burden, the challenge of overcoming that presumption, very high indeed.

So it is a very clear signal from the Australian people through their Governments, that this is an issue that parole boards and courts granting bail and those others who grant bail, have to take very, very seriously indeed. It’s a very clear signal.

In terms of the way intelligence is shared, as I explained earlier, through the Joint Counter-Terrorism Teams, the JCTTs, there is the closest cooperation already between state police, AFP, ASIO and indeed other Federal agencies. Again, I thank the first ministers for agreeing to this today.

I think a useful addition to that, is to include appropriately security-cleared officers from corrections services as part of the JCTTs to ensure that that joining-up of intelligence is even greater.

The critical thing – and I was talking about this in Singapore the other day, the principles apply internationally as much as they do domestically - in the battle against terrorism we need to be more collaborative, more connected and more engaged. Intelligence is the key. We talked today a lot about hard security; bollards and barriers and protecting crowded places, whether it is malls or sports stadiums, concert arenas, all of these.  A lot of work has been done and is being done on that. But the most valuable element we have in the battle against terrorism is information and intelligence.

So that is why we have to make sure we reach out and gather it as assiduously and efficiently as we can and then it is shared with the people that need it.

Gladys, do you want to say something about parole?

PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: I do, just of the parole issue, it could very well be the reason why the person was behind bars was not for an act of terrorism. It could have been a different offence. But if since being imprisoned, or else even for their activity before prison had then links to terrorism, if that had demonstrated any activity or area of concern, that would then negate their ability to seek parole, even if that wasn't the offence for which they were sentenced.

So it’s really important to know how broad that is and New South Wales announced it as part of our justice package a couple of months ago, but we have now brought the timing forward as to when we will implement it. I am pleased other jurisdictions are also in a position to support that. I think it will have far-reaching and positive consequences in terms of minimizing, as much as possible, letting people out who could cause harm to others.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister back on the clean energy target, Barnaby Joyce said today he would support a clean energy target if it allows new coal fired plants to be built. Labor's Mark Butler says you can't have a clean energy target that defines clean energy as including coal. How confident are you that you can get this through your Party Room?


JOURNALIST: On a deal with Labor, [inaudible] clean energy target?

PRIME MINISTER: Lets be clear, under the clean energy target mechanism proposed by Dr Finkel, there is no barrier to building a coal fired power station. Under his approach, there is a benchmark that would be set, an emissions level and new generation which came under that, would receive, depending on how far they came under it, a portion of a certificate.

So if there were zero emissions, they would receive a full certificate, if they were half that benchmark, perhaps a gas plant or clean coal coal-fired power station with carbon capture and storage, they might receive a portion or half of it. It’s proportionate. But that’s an incentive for new generation, it doesn't prevent somebody building a new coal fired power station. So that is a very clear point and Dr Finkel made that point to us this morning.

JOURNALIST: But a new coal-fired plant won't be built without an incentive.

PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you for your opinion on that but others would differ. Time will tell. The point is, there is nothing in the clean energy target that would prevent a new coal fired power station being built. It would provide an incentive for lower emissions technologies, however.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there is a number of wind farm proposals for Tasmania. Some that hinge on a certain [inaudible] where is that project at? Has the Finkel report pushed that second [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you for raising that, I am delighted you have raised that. I think there is an enormous opportunity for Tasmania in Australia's energy future. The combination of probably the best wind resource in Australia - although I think Jay Weatherill may argue about that from South Australia - but Tasmania has an extraordinary wind resource. Plus of course, the massive hydro resource in Hydro Tasmania gives the opportunity with pumped hydro - which as you know is technology we are strongly supporting and which is clearly called for - gives the opportunity for Tasmania to become a battery for the rest of Australia.

Now, obviously you would need more connectivity, more transmission across Bass Strait. We are looking at all of that. There is ARENA, the renewable energy agency which is working with Hydro Tasmania and the State of Tasmania as we look at all of those opportunities. I think If you look at the energy future, it is clear that we are transitioning to an energy future where energy sources of generation are much more distributed. So they’re not just all centralised and they are more variable. So you have more wind and more solar. A big part of that - and this is one of the points that Alan Finkel writes about in his report - is providing the firming power or the backup or the storage. Of course it can be provided in different ways.

So you can see the trend is very much in the direction of having more storage, more pumped hydro storage. Of course that, combined with Tasmania's great wind resource and it does have very high capacity utilization factors here, I think that is very positive. Will, do you want to talk about it?

PREMIER OF TASMANIA: With the Finkel Government fund, who would fund the building of the [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: Certainly it is being looked at, it will be looked at by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in the normal way. But infrastructure like that would be commercial, economic infrastructure. There are a number of ways that it can be financed, including by the private sector.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you touched on the idea of a GST floor again. Is it not the case that any floor would disadvantage smaller States like Tasmania and they would get a lower share?

PRIME MINISTER: No - and I think we might just wrap it up - but the whole point of the floor is that you have –

PREMIER OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA: I am happy to stay by the way.

PRIME MINISTER: The idea of a GST floor is to set it at a level, at a time when states' shares have normalised, if you like. I mean what’s happened in Western Australia is unprecedented. Then that means that nobody actually loses out at the time, but you give a degree of security, confidence, integrity if you like, in the system going forward.

Thank you all very much.