Press Conference Terrigal, NSW

16 Dec 2021
Prime Minister

Ms Lucy Wicks MP, Member for Robertson: Well, hello, everyone. We did it. Our community has been hoping for the day that has come today, with the Prime Minister here in Terrigal, and I do want to welcome the Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison, together with my colleagues, the Member for Mackellar Jason Falinski, a staunch opponent of the PEP-11 project, and also, of course, our Liberal candidates for Shortland Nell McGill, and and Paterson in Brooke Vitnell. It's fantastic to be here today. It is such a significant announcement for our region. Our community has been so united in its voice, in its opposition to this project, and so today is a very important day for our community. But I just have to say, we did it. Prime Minister. 

Prime Minister: Well, thank you very much [inaudible]. Just before I start, you may wonder why I’m wearing a mask and all these sort of things over the last couple of days. Just on the way here I was advised that I’m, of a casual contact, as I understand it. Took advice from the Chief Medical Officer, took a rapid antigen test before turning up here today. And so just exercising all the proper precautions. I’m probably the most PCR tested and rapid antigen tested leaders of any government anywhere in the world, I suspect. And and of course, the test was negative, but just following the proper precautions, as you would expect me to do.

But before I make remarks about the PEP-11 decision, the events that have occurred today in Devonport in Tasmania are just shattering. They they are just unthinkably heartbreaking, and young children on a fun day out, together with their families, and it turns to such horrific tragedy. At this time of year, it just breaks your heart. And I've just been speaking to Premier Gutwein. We've been in contact over the course of the morning since we’ve learnt. He's on his way there now. He'll be standing up later. And we do have one confirmed fatality. And further reports will be given during the course of the day. And I just want to say, on behalf of Jen and I, to the parents and the family and friends and all who were there, the other young children who were there and witnessing these events, I just pray that you’ll have great family around you and great friends. And that you’ll be able to come through this horrific tragedy. And we'll be staying in close contact with with the Tasmanian Government, and providing whatever support is necessary, that they have all the services and support that they need there. And and I’ll be speaking to the Premier later today and and taking further advice from him. So just a terrible tragedy. Unthinkable. A horrific accident, a freak accident, that will leave families completely devastated.

But to the reasons why we're here today, and that is to announce that after careful consideration, the Government has taken, through my own decision, the first step to formally reject an application for the Petroleum Export Permit, known as PEP-11. This is located primarily in Commonwealth waters off the New South Wales coast, between New South Wales, sorry, between Newcastle and Wollongong, and it covers an area of some 8,200 kilometres.

The Government has advised, I have advised the New South Wales Minister Paul O'Toole, as the joint authority partner, and the National Office Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator, of our decision, of my decision, of our intention to refuse the application. Now, NOPTA, as the regulator, will give the applicant 30 days, which is the process, to this notice of intention to refuse the application, and the New South Wales Government has also, I note, recommended refusing the application for the licence that was originally granted by the previous Labor Government.

The refusal of the application, I want to stress, is based on the following reasons: the Government and I, in particular, has given consideration, of course, to the high levels of community opposition to the application, which is not only here at this magnificent beach here in the Central Coast, in Terrigal, but going all the way up through to Newcastle, all the way down through the beautiful beaches of Palm Beach and all the way down there to Manly, and then across, down to my own neck of the woods, down there in the Shire, and even further south to that.

We’ve listened carefully to that. As the Prime Minister, you have to get the process right and you have to consider all the other factors that are involved to make a proper decision. And I want to thank people for their patience here along this stretch of the New South Wales coast, because it's important that a government has the experience to know how to do these things properly.

And in addition to those issues, of course, I can advise the Government is not satisfied that the applicant is able to raise sufficient funding required to progress the work program in a timely manner and in the timeframe of the permit conditions. There have been issues of previous compliance with other conditions under the licence, and the Government does not agree with the reasons listed by the applicant for the extension and that there is insufficient evidence to meet the criteria of force majeure. 

And, so, I have taken that decision directly as Prime Minister, and I've done that because these decisions, I think, scan over many areas of government’s, of the government's operations, and I have taken advice from a number of departments on this matter.

I want to be very clear, though, that while we've taken what I think is a very sensible, a very balanced and well-considered decision here in relation to this particular application, we also believe, as a Government, that the gas industry has an important role to play, right across the country, in supporting our pathway to net zero emissions, and to also keep electricity prices down and keep jobs in place with reliable, affordable energy, which is so critical to jobs all the way up this coast, and particularly in Newcastle and the Hunter region, in particular. We are moving forward with our gas-fired power plant at Kurri Kurri. We are going forward with our gas-fired recovery. We are investing more than $220 million in new funding as part of the Beetaloo Basin Strategic Basin Plan. We have lent in and have provided $15.7 million to support gas field trials in the North Bowen and Galilee Basins. So this isn't about being for or against the resources industry. This is about making a sensible, practical, balanced decision, taking into account all the factors that are necessary.

And I do want to thank my team here, and they’re all represented here. And I extend that to also Trent Zimmerman, as the Member for North Sydney, and Dave Sharma, who's the Member for Wentworth, who represents many of the beaches that I grew up on. You know, I have a keen sense of what it's like to live in places like this and how important this ocean environment is to us all. It's why I'm such a passionate advocate about getting plastics out of our oceans and out of our waterways, and the export waste ban that I put in place after we were elected to ensure that we can take greater care of these amazing environments that we love so much. But it's important we do that in a balanced way, and we can ensure that the people who rely on the resources industry can continue to do so with confidence. So, this is a balance, and this is a sensible decision, because at the end of the day, I want to protect this, but I also want to protect people's jobs.

And today we have had tremendous news, that in the jobs figures today, there were 366,100 additional jobs. That's what I call shaking and baking the economy. That's what I call shaking and baking those jobs. That's what we're doing as a Government. We're growing our economy. We're focused on making good, sensible, certain, practical decisions to support industry in this country that protects our environment, that keeps growing jobs. The unemployment rate has fallen to 4.6 per cent again, and we now have 186,000 thousand more jobs today than we did before the pandemic started. Australia is a jobs machine, Australia is forging ahead, and we are looking forward to a strong and confident economy going into the new year. We’ve maintained our AAA credit rating. Two of the agencies have taken us off the negative watch. We've been able to continue to invest in the important infrastructure and the essential services that Australians rely on, because that is what a strong economy does. It's all about jobs and protecting those jobs. It's about protecting the incredible lifestyle we have in this country. And in our response to COVID, that is what we've also been working so hard to protect.

And I thank Australians as we now, today we will go past the 90 per cent double dose rate across the country. An extraordinary achievement for Australians. We will also today go past the one million booster doses already administered in Australia. Those boosters, I want to continue to encourage people to come out and get those boosters because that is our best protection against Omicron. I know people may still be concerned about Omicron, we're taking it incredibly seriously. The Government has taken important steps to keep people safe, but at the end of the day, our own health is our own responsibility. And that's why I'd say, Omicron will be here in this country. It is already here. So do the right thing by your own health and get vaccinated and get your booster shot. If you feel uncomfortable about going out in other public spaces, well, you can choose to stay home, you can choose to wear a mask, you can choose many things to protect your own health, but they’re your choices, and we have to be careful about imposing our choices on others.

I've said that governments have done a lot interfering in people's lives the last couple of years, and that's been necessary. But the time has come for people to take responsibility also, and not have the Government being able to tell them what to do and looking after their own health. That's what living with this virus looks like.

Now, I know that's a lot to cover in this press conference today, and I thank you for your patience. But I want to thank particularly Lucy Wicks, who I'm here with today, who has been such a strong advocate on this issue, on PEP-11, together with Jason and the whole crew, and it's, and with Brooke and Nell who are here with us today - our candidates up in Paterson and there in Shortland. We work together as a team. You want to get things done, then you need members of your local area who are in the Government to get them done. And one of those, in addition to Lucy, is, of course, Jason Falinski, the Member for Mackellar, who will say a few words.

Mr Jason Falinski MP, Member for Mackellar: Thank you, Prime Minister. Thank you all for being here today. Well, I have to say this is what good policy looks like. It’s not about political stunts. It's about a long, hard road of making sensible and rational arguments as part of a team. And in doing that, we have managed today to make a decision, which I thank you Prime Minister for, which protects and preserves this coast, not just for the people of the east coast of Australia, but for those who will follow us. And that is what Government is all about, making sure that we leave this world better than the one, than when we found it when we entered it. And there will be, and I think as John F. Kennedy said, success has a thousand forebears and failure isn’t awful. Well, today there will be a lot of people who will claim credit for this. But the front groups are funded by people who inherited a lot of wealth. Their rationale for running so many candidates who claim to be independent against Liberal members like Dave Sharma, like Trent Zimmerman, has been that we cannot deliver on policies like this. Well, today we have shown that it is through hard, difficult discussions inside the Government, not flopping pieces of legislation on the table in Parliament in the, in the House of Representatives without consultation, that leaves the taxpayers of Australia potentially open to compensation worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But by following process, we have managed to save this coastline, not only for the people who live here today, but for the millions who will follow us. And so I say to those who are running against people like Dave Sharma and Trent Zimmerman, your entire rationale for doing that today has been undercut, because what they have shown is that they can deliver on policies for people today, that you are not able to do. So I want to thank the Prime Minister. I want to thank the Government. I want to thank Lucy Wicks who worked hand in hand with people to get this done. But this is Parliament. This is politics at its best, because it is when you put policy above politics that you put people first. And that's what this announcement is about today. Thank you.

Prime Minister: [Inaudible] They’re the Voices of Labor, the Voices of Labor. Ok, happy to take some questions … Local people first.

Journalist: Ok, Prime Minister, the [inaudible], we’ve called NOPTA this morning and they say that the process hasn't gone to the joint authority, as yet. When will that actually go to the joint authority and when will that 30 days for the proponents start?

Prime Minister: Well, that is imminent. I mean, I signed off a letter in the last couple of days, and that has gone to Paul O’Toole, it’s also gone through to the agency, and they will start that process imminently, and I would expect that to be completed certainly by the end of January, and I would hope well before then.

Journalist: You always said with regards to PEP-11 that the ultimate decision was with the Resources Minister Keith Pitt. It's taken a long time to get to today. What's been the main sticking point and is, does he support this decision that you’re announcing today?

Prime Minister: It’s a decision of the Government and I decided to take the decision as the Prime Minister, which I'm authorised to do, and I did this because I wanted to ensure that we took a whole of government understanding of this decision and to take into account all of the factors. And that's why I thank all of those who’ve felt so strongly about this issue for their patience. And it was important that I methodically worked through the proper process to make the ultimate decision and take all the necessary advice that I had to take and then form a decision. And so I appreciate that has required patience. And I’ve made comments about this and those comments were exactly as I, as I felt about the situation. But Prime Ministers have to do more that. Prime Ministers who are experienced in these roles need to ensure that they follow those processes, which I have done. And so here we are today. We've got to take the time to get it right, and I was ensuring that we did that, and I wanted to send a very clear message to people right along this coast about the priority I put on these decisions and getting the balance right on these decisions, as Prime Minister. And as Jason has just rightly said, it has been our 

members and our candidates, at the end of the day, working on behalf of their communities. That's how you get things done. People can shout out the clouds all they like and they can show pony all they like. But the hard work of government is done in the Government, not outside.

Journalist: Prime Minister, this electorate has received $14 million in grants funding, whereas up in Dobell it’s only received $2.4 million. Can you honestly say that the Coalition’s allocation of grants funding is fair and ethical? 

Prime Minister: All I can say is that when we make a commitment to do something, we do it, and all the commitments that the Member for Robertson, the Member for Mackellar, the Member for Cook, where we have stood and where we have made commitments, we meet them. And that's the electoral process, and we've been very transparent about that. I've seen the selective analysis that has been done, it doesn't cover all the programs. I also say this, that it's important that we support communities that have been affected by natural disasters, most particularly drought. I mean, the reason so much money has gone to support electorates that are held by Coalition members substantially is because Coalition members hold the seats in rural and regional areas that have been so comprehensively impacted previously by the drought, and so I’m not going to make any apologies for supporting drought-affected  and flood-affected communities, and I'm always going to deliver on the commitments that I make on an election, which is exactly what we have done.

Journalist: But those electorates that did not vote for the Coalition and non-marginal. Are they being punished, are the voters there being punished for voting Labor?

Prime Minister: No. Well, I can tell you, if they support our candidates, the commitments I make will be delivered. 

Journalist: You've mentioned the jobs figures today and we've looked at Budget forecasts. Is that all dependent upon the pandemic staying under control? I mean, we're seeing numbers increase rapidly in New South Wales again at the moment and lockdowns.

Prime Minister: Sure. I mean, that is a very relevant issue, of course, to the outlook. And that's why I think it's incredibly important, as we continue to manage this pandemic, that we keep a cool head and we ensure that we are approaching each challenge in a calm and certain way. What is not helpful is stop go, flip and flop. What's helpful is clear, decisive action, sticking to a course, taking the best advice, taking the community with you, allowing people to make sensible choices, to get vaccinated, as we encourage people to come forward and get their booster shots. There’s over two million Australians who are now eligible for that booster shot, which has been brought forward to five months, and we are every, every week reviewing that interval period with ATAGI for those booster shots, and if they choose to take it forward to four months, well, we have a million vaccines right now in the, in the distribution system, particularly in pharmacies, all around the country. So if you're eligible, please go and get that booster shot. But the important way to ensure we keep the jobs and we keep the confidence continuing to build, is that we must keep a cool head. We must understand that case numbers now, in the phase we are in in managing this pandemic, are not the issue. The issue is how many people are in ICU. I was speaking to the New South Wales Premier Dom Perrottet yesterday. There are just over 20 people in ICU at present. And so even though there are rising cases, as we have seen in Victoria where they have had over a thousand cases a day now for many weeks, and their hospital system, because of the good planning and partnership that we have in place, is holding up to that very strongly. And the same is true here in New South Wales. So my simple message to Australians is to go about your lives, enjoy the summer, exercise the common sense precautions that you would. If you're feeling uncertain, then it's not compulsory to go out. It's not compulsory not to wear a mask, either. And as I have done today, sensibly, on the basis of being a casual contact, that's what I've done today, and hopefully that means I can go back to what I was doing yesterday. It's just about being sensible, living with the virus, living confidently with the virus, living together with the virus. That's what will keep the jobs coming. That's what will keep the certainty coming. That's what will keep Australians safe.

Journalist: Just regarding the booster program, the AMA has criticised it, heavily criticised the program, saying it's unaffordable for some GPs, and supplies are running out in some places. Is the program being bungled at this critical moment?

Prime Minister: Not at all. As I've said, we've got ample supply of vaccine. There's a million of them out there right now. From time to time, the providers will raise issues of the the costs and and the support, financial support, we're providing, as they have throughout the pandemic. And I thank them for the way that they have worked with us as part of this program. The interval I wish to stress of the duration between when you've had your second dose and your booster, it set on the basis of the advice of ATAGI. It is not set by politicians. And I want to stress that we're seeing some decisions made in the UK. Note, a) They are dealing with a situation where their second doses were a lot earlier in the year and they are also in a winter period, as opposed to where we are here. And as I said earlier this week, we have to ensure that we manage the pandemic the Australian way, for Australian circumstances, based on Australian vaccination rates, Australian data. We have ample supply of vaccines. We have 9,000 points of presence out there right now, and encouraging people to get those, to get those booster shots. And if you haven't had your second dose yet, then please go and do that as well.

Journalist: Will you consider a boost in funding for the pharmacists and GPs to assist in their roll out of the boosters?

Prime Minister: Well, what we're seeing is the booster program continues to be rolled out by the pharmacists, and enthusiastically, and we're always considering these issues, as we have throughout the pandemic, and we appreciate the incredibly strong support we've had from the Pharmacy Guild in all of those things, and the practical issues that we deal with on that is something we'll continue to discuss with them directly.

But, on that basis, can I thank again you Lucy for having us here today. Brooke, it's great to have you here, coming down from Paterson, and Nell, it was good to be up there with you in Shortland a little while ago. And I know this will be great news for people in the Hunter, but also the fact that we're continuing to lean forward for reliable, affordable energy in the Hunter, which is so important for those jobs. And Jason, as a fellow Sydneysider and at, where we like to think we have the best beaches down in the Shire and the northern beaches, well, we, that's the one thing we will only argue on, but on these issues, we are absolutely rock solid together, and great work on ensuring that we follow this through as a very effective local Member. Thanks everyone.