Press conference - Sydney, NSW

23 Dec 2022
Sydney, NSW
Prime Minister
Christmas; Floods; Tropical Cyclone Ellie; Fijian election; Renewable Energy; Andrew Gee; Papua New Guinea; Indigenous Voice to Parliament; Gas; Hobart stadium; China

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon. I did want to wish everyone a very safe and happy festive season going forward over the next few days. I also wanted to wish those people of faith all my best wishes. This is an opportunity where many Christians will renew their faith in the birth of Jesus Christ that we celebrate on 25 December. This era, though, is going to be also very difficult going forward. We have floods expected to peak in South Australia between Boxing Day and New Year, and preparations are underway between state agencies and the Federal Government. I continue to engage with the Government of Peter Malinauskas and local government in South Australia to make sure that people stay safe. I do say that people should heed the warnings of the SES. If it is flooded, forget it. It is simply not worth the risk and we see too much tragedy as a result of people thinking that it's okay to take a risk. I did want to also refer to the announcement that we're making today with New South Wales - a further $182 million in flood assistance, in particular the Back Home Grants of up to $20,000 will help families in places like Eugowra and I want to thank people like Kevin Beatty, the local mayor who's made very strong representations. On top of that, we have up to 16 weeks of rental support payments for flood-affected households and the $59.4 million program for Central West Caravan and Modular Housing Program to secure medium-term housing and extend the At-Home Caravan Program which is being rolled out. In addition to that, we have $8.9 million for targeted residential property assessments. This package is aimed at 17 of the most highly impacted Local Government Areas around the region, in particular in that Western and South-Western New South Wales region. And my government will continue to work with state and territory governments and local government at this difficult time. In the Northern Territory as well, I did want to note the potential impact of Tropical Cyclone Ellie which made landfall in a remote part of the Northern Territory. So whilst this is a time for celebration, it's also a time many people will find difficult. At this time of the year, people will go through a reliving of the difficult period, whether it be the loss of loved ones, many people do feel isolated. This is an opportunity for people to reach out to their neighbours, to reach out to their communities and to make sure that no-one feels alone at this important time.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about the prospect of civil unrest in Fiji given the uncertain election result there? And would Australia send troops and police if required?

PRIME MINISTER: Australia, of course, welcomes the democratic process that has taken place in Fiji. It's been an orderly process and we stand ready to work with whoever forms government in Fiji. That has some way to play out. It has been an important part of our democracy as people get the right to vote and then what happens in many countries, it takes some days or, indeed, some weeks to form a government given that no single political party has a majority as a result of that democratic process. Fiji is an important nation. I was very pleased to attend the Pacific Island Forum there earlier this year as Prime Minister. Fiji will remain an important partner of Australia and I look forward to working with the elected government of Fiji.

JOURNALIST: The NSW Government has just announced an emissions target of 70 per cent by 2035. Does the Federal Government welcome that target or is it too ambitious?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we await to see the detail of that announcement. But I do note that throughout Australia, there are people across the political spectrum who understand that taking action on climate change is also an opportunity. It's an opportunity to create jobs, it's an opportunity to boost our economy, particularly in our regions. And the announcement that we made this week, a joint announcement between the Commonwealth and the New South Wales Government, $4.7 billion from the Commonwealth and 3.1 from the New South Wales government, to boost transmission. You need practical programs that make a difference. We're working with governments across the spectrum, across Australia. We also have agreements in place in Victoria, in South Australia, in Queensland, in Tasmania, of course, with Marinus Link. And what we see is that it's only Peter Dutton and the Federal Coalition who have actually gone backwards, they've actually gotten worse when it comes to climate change action since the election.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Andrew Gee's decision to leave the National Party over its stance on the Voice to Parliament?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is quite an extraordinary political development with Andrew Gee making the decision to leave the National Party and to become an independent in the Federal Parliament. Of course, that leaves the Coalition one vote shorter, back to the mid-50s now, in terms of their representation. Andrew Gee has made a decision that is his alone. I respect that decision. We will work with Andrew Gee as an independent as we do work with crossbenchers, but people across the Parliament. And I want to work with all Members of Parliament to promote the Voice. Andrew Gee has made a principled statement about his commitment to constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, but also a constitutionally recognised Voice to Parliament.

JOURNALIST: How concerned should Australia be about the Chinese-funded military hospital in PNG? And could that assist China with developing a military base there?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I'll be visiting Papua New Guinea in January. I look forward to that visit. We had scheduled a visit with our friends in PNG, COVID got in the way of that unfortunately. But I'll be travelling there in the second week of January to Port Moresby and also to Wewak and I'm very much looking forward to that visit with Prime Minister Marape.

JOURNALIST: On the Voice to Parliament, do you think that all parties should give MPs a conscience vote on this issue?

PRIME MINISTER: We don't need to in the Labor Party because everyone in the Labor Party is of a common view. A Voice to Parliament is not a radical proposition. It's a gracious offer to recognise and give respect to Indigenous Australians, to show that we as a country are mature and that we enhance the way we see ourselves, as well as a country that wants to reconcile with First Nations people. But it's also about the way that the world sees us. This is very important, that the world sees that we're a mature country who can come to terms with our past, who can give respect to Indigenous people, and who can recognise the great privilege that we have of sharing this continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth. Andrew Gee's statement is one of principle. I look forward to working with him. But I look forward with members of the National Party, members of the Liberal Party, members of the crossbench across the board who want to recognise this, who see this as an opportunity to unite our nation. That's what it should be. This should not be an issue of partisanship, And that's why we have very deliberately reached out, just as First Nations people have reached out as well. This is not a Government proposition. This is a proposition from the Australian people - a gracious offer which should be accepted. I'm pleased that Andrew Gee will be campaigning for a 'yes' vote. But I say to members of Parliament as well: don't miss the opportunity to be a part of enriching our nation and making us even stronger in the future.

JOURNALIST: Should the Coalition give a conscience vote to its MPs?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's not up to me to determine what the Coalition parties do. I would just say this: that this is a very generous offer of Indigenous Australians. It is not another chamber of Parliament. It is subservient to the elected parliaments of Australia which is why the details of the Voice will be the subject of legislation in the Parliament and subject to that legislative change by the Parliament of the day. This is a very simple proposition, that we recognise Indigenous Australians in our Constitution and, secondly, that they be consulted about matters that directly affect them. It's not a decision-making body. But it is appropriate that where matters affect the education, health, life expectancy, incarceration rates, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that we will get better outcomes if we consult them.

JOURNALIST: Gas projects are being put on pause after the price cap was put in place. Your government thought this was a bluff. Does this prove there will be less investment with price caps?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it doesn't at all. What it proves is that there's an ongoing media campaign. The truth is that there is no impact on new investment of any proposition that went through the Parliament. The cap on prices of $12 for gas is time-limited. It does not apply to new projects. And people are very aware of that. So given that the average price of gas was under $10 in 2021, and 96 per cent of deals were for under $12, then if an investment made sense in 2021, it certainly will make sense in 2023.

JOURNALIST: On a stadium in Tasmania, what is your impression of the business case for a stadium at Macquarie Point and what is the timeline for it?

PRIME MINISTER: That documentation is being examined by our Department of Infrastructure. I had a constructive meeting with the Tasmanian Premier yesterday. We'll examine the detail. We, in the past, have put $50 million into Macquarie Point way back in 2012. And since then there's been very little progress on that site. I think this needs to be viewed, though, as how will it transform urban development in that beautiful part of Hobart, in that beautiful state of Tasmania? So we see urban development and cities policies as being very important and that's the context in which we will examine any proposal and we will do that.

JOURNALIST: Would you go to Beijing while Yang Hengjun and Cheng Lei are incarcerated?

PRIME MINISTER: We are engaging constructively with China. There has been a marked difference in the engagement that has occurred this year compared with the previous term of the Parliament where there wasn't a single phone conversation, let alone a meeting, between any minister in the Australian Government and any minister in the Government of China. Given that China is our major trading partner, that is obviously problematic. We'll continue to engage diplomatically, without a loudhailer, including on issues where there are differences and continue to make representations on behalf of Australian citizens.

JOURNALIST: Senex is an expansion to get more domestic gas in the market. It's been paused. That's bad for supply, isn't it?

PRIME MINISTER: These are decisions that companies may or may not make, but they are not based upon any changes in terms of what was agreed to last week. We're working constructively with the gas companies on a Code of Conduct. But if you have a look at what has occurred around the world, in the last week: we have had price caps put on throughout Europe, in the United Kingdom a very large tax has been put on gas production as well as other fossil fuels with rebates to households and businesses. What we have done is put in place a very modest proposal and I note that in New South Wales, as well as Queensland, a cap on coal has been introduced. Here in the New South Wales Parliament, it went through with the support of the Liberal Party, the National Party and the Labor Party. That is what leadership looks like. Once again, Peter Dutton has shown just how out-of-touch he is. If he thinks it's acceptable for gas companies to be charging prices based upon an international price, because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he might think that he wants to stand up for them, I want to stand up for households and businesses, including Australian manufacturers who cannot sustain global prices that have increased by multiple times while the cost of production have not increased. That's the key here, there has been no increase in the cost of production here in Australia and yet there was massive, in some cases, a quadrupling of prices that were being offered to customers. That's unacceptable. That's why the Government intervened, because extraordinary times require extraordinary measures and I'm very pleased that not just the Commonwealth Government, but state and territory governments all agreed through the National Cabinet on an appropriate course of action. Thanks very much, and I wish everyone a very, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And I do say it these times as well: if you are driving over the next 48 hours, please drive safely because it will ruin not just one Christmas, it ruins every Christmas when tragedies happen at this time of the year. So, please, take your time. It's better get to your destination safely and bear that in mind. Thanks very much.