Press Conference - Tomago, NSW

04 Mar 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much Mark, it’s great to be here today, it’s great to be back in the Hunter. It’s tremendous to be here of course with Minister Andrews, and Senator Hughes and I want to thank them for the work they’re doing here on the ground.

Australia is leading the world out of the global COVID-19 recession. That’s what yesterday’s National Accounts confirmed once again. Growth of 3.1 per cent, over the course of the year, through the year only down 1.1. Now if I’d said that a year ago, the idea that the Australian economy would be down 1.1 per cent through the year that would have been absolutely devastating news and indeed the impact of that is certainly been felt here in Australia, that’s why we’ve provided such unprecedented support. But when you compare the impact of the economic shock of COVID-19 across the world and more importantly how we’re coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, then this is something that Australians have achieved in a remarkable way.

As a federal government, as a Commonwealth government, we've been very pleased to play our role in that comeback. It's certainly on. And as we move through the gears again, as we gear up the economy and we get into the next phase, it's an exciting time for Australia. Our economic recovery plan is not just about providing the immediate support - as we have over these many difficult months. It's also about the rebuilding that is going on now and the building for the future. Which is what you're seeing right here. In the Hunter, they're building the future on this site with lithium-ion batteries. When I think of all the regions of our country, it's very hard to consider a region that will benefit more from the economic policies we're putting in place than the Hunter. When I reflect on my last few visits here to the Hunter,

firstly, the gas-fired recovery and how we need to address the energy needs of this important sector - then to be here for the Joint Strike Fighters' maintenance program occurring over at Williamtown, and the defence industry that is being built here and expanded here in the Hunter. And to be back here again today to launch the Resources Technology and Critical Minerals Processing Plan Pathway, the priority roadmap for our manufacturing strategy, once again we find here in the Hunter those investors, those partners, whether they're in the CSIRO, the University of Newcastle, coming together to make the reality of manufacturing here in Australia for the future - just not for the present.

I've been here before looking at the skills development that is being done and the training that is occurring here under the programs we're putting in place, providing the workers for the places that we're standing on right now. As Mark was saying to us, when I asked him before - Why here, Mark? He talked about the skills. He talked about the university. He talked about the CSIRO. He talked about the partnerships. He talked about the opportunities. And here they are in the Hunter. And that's tremendously exciting to see that our manufacturing strategy that we set out in last year's budget - some $1.3 billion specifically going into these partnership grants that driven by these roadmaps developed up together with industry, will see critical areas like critical minerals processing, making the batteries that will power the world's economy into the future. And it's not a new issue for us. For some time now, our government has been working closely, whether it's been the United States or Japan or other parts of the world through our partnerships, about how we can fill in the supply chains around critical minerals and rare earths. It has been a keen topic of our national-level discussions. It is a sovereign and strategic priority for Australia to ensure that we are hard-wired into this supply chain around the world. And a supply chain that Australia and our partners can rely on. Because these rare earths and critical minerals is what literally pulls together the technology that we will be relying on into the future.

So, preserving the industrial base that has been so successful here in the Hunter, but also giving it a future through these types of initiatives. I'm going to ask Karen Andrews to make a few comments on that strategy in a second. But there are a couple of other matters I'm sure you understand that I need to address.

First of those is the AstraZeneca vaccine, as you know, has arrived in Australia. The Minister for Health announced that a few days ago. I can now tell you that the batch testing for the AstraZeneca vaccine that has arrived has been completed and it’s being distributed to the states and I understand that the first of those vaccines will be administered in South Australia tomorrow. That's welcome news. The next phase of the receipt of those vaccines that we were able to secure from overseas, supporting this first phase of this rollout of the vaccine rollout across the country. Let's not forget, though, that 50 million doses of the

AstraZeneca vaccine will be made right here in Australia, in Melbourne. And we took the decision to have the sovereign capability to do that because we did not want to be, over the course of our vaccination program in Australia, overly reliant or dependent on supply chains from somewhere else. So we did it here. We built it here. And we are one of the few countries in the world that have that capability. And so, while these initial doses of AstraZeneca that have come in from overseas have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and now batch-tested, will be rolled out. And that commences from tomorrow. What will follow that is, ultimately, the approval of the manufacturing process here in Australia for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will launch the next very significant phase of the home-grown vaccination of Australians for COVID-19.

Now the third point I need to address today is the press conference, statements made by the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, yesterday. These are harrowing events. And for the family of the woman at the centre of these issues, as the Attorney-General commenced his remarks yesterday, my heart can only break for anyone who has lost a child, and the issues surrounding that and the way that this matter is now being addressed in the public domain. This must be a harrowing time for her friends and for her family. And I don't want to do anything that would seek to add any further, any further difficulty for them. Christian Porter, the Attorney-General, has made it very clear in his statement yesterday that he has rejected absolutely the allegations that have been made. That is the same rejection that he made to me last week. In this country, there is a lot at stake. If you don't go too far from here, you will find countries where the rule of law does not apply. And you will be aware of the terrible things that can happen in a country where the rule of law is not upheld and is not supported, in whatever the circumstances. The rule of law is essential for liberal democracies. And we weaken it at our great peril. And it can be hard at times. And I understand, particularly under these circumstances, it can be hard to understand just how important that principle is in how we deal with these, the most sensitive and the most traumatic and the most personal of issues. But we must reflect on that principle, because it is that principle that undergirds our democracy itself. The presumption of innocence. The investigation of allegations involving criminal activity by competent and authorised bodies. That is, the police. And to act in accordance with the decision of those bodies and, indeed, the courts that deal with any allegations that are taken forward for prosecution. That is our rule of law. It is something that every single citizen of this country depends upon - and that is the principle upon which I seek to support, to ensure the good governance of our country. And so, as traumatic as these events are, that principle must continue to guide us, and it will certainly continue to guide me and my government as we deal with these very sensitive issues.

On related matters, I can tell you that, earlier this week, we put in place new arms-length arrangements for additional support to be provided to people who work in the parliament. That is a counselling process and service that is available to people who find themselves in the situation needing that. That is a major change to the way this service was previously delivered by the Department of Finance. We've put those arrangements in place now. There are other inquiries when we’re, that I hope we'll be able to finalise with the opposition and other parties - the terms of inquiry on the other matter. I don't think we're too far away from that but I did not want to wait for those additional and more effective support services to be put in place as soon as possible, and they have been operating now for several days.

So I'm going to hand over to Karen now, if you could give us just that patience. I'm sure you'll want to return to those issues, and I'm happy to address them. But I'd ask, that at first, we deal with the announcement we've made today, and then I'll ask Mark and his team and they'll stand aside and then I'm happy to deal with the other matters. But, Karen?

THE HON. KAREN ANDREWS MP, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Thank you, Prime Minister. And we are here today to release the National Manufacturing Roadmap for Resources Technology and Critical Minerals Processing, and to announce that funding for that program is now open. Now the Prime Minister announced a $1.5 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy in October last year. Some key parts of that were naming National Manufacturing Priorities for Australia. This is the first time that this has been named, ever, by a government. What we have determined are that there are some priorities for manufacturing here in Australia where we have comparative or competitive strengths. So, so far, we have released the roadmaps and opened funding for space, and also for medical products. So, today is the opening of funding for resources technology and critical minerals processing.

Now there are two streams of funding that are open for that today. The first one deals with the commercialisation of good ideas. Now this is not funding to come up with the good idea - this is funding it to commercialise that good idea. And that's exactly what we have seen here today with Energy Renaissance. They have worked very closely with the university, they've worked very closely with CSIRO, they're now at the stage that their product is commercialised, it's ready to be manufactured, and to be manufactured at scale right here in the Hunter. The second stream that is open today is the stream that will enable and support our businesses to be able to enter international supply chains. So, to become part of global supply chains for other countries right around the world.

In terms of resources technology and, specifically, critical minerals, Australia has a very long history of being a resource-rich nation where we have done extraordinarily well at digging that product out of the ground. The path that has been missed is the value-add. So, whilst we are very good at digging the product out of the ground, we ship it overseas, it's processed overseas in many instances, and we pay an extraordinary amount of money to purchase that material back in a different form, here in Australia. As a government, we want to change that we want to do more of the value-add here in Australia. Resources technology is an area where we are already world-leading, but there are significant opportunities for us to expand that even more. To look at how we can recover more of our material from waste that exists. With critical minerals, we have an abundance of critical minerals here in Australia. We have incredible stores of lithium. At the moment, we aren't processing that to any great extent here in Australia. But we want to make sure that, through our critical minerals processing roadmap, that we are setting a pathway where Australia can recover the maximum amount of lithium, and that we can then look at how we can value-add to that and, specifically, looking at how we can build the battery industry right here in Australia.

So this is an enormous opportunity. The grant funding is open for the first round for four weeks. There's already been a high level of interest in this. There are three more priority areas to go. And we will be releasing those over the next few weeks. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: So questions, if you have them, on the manufacturing initiative today, or the Hunter, for that matter?

JOURNALIST: Prime minister, [inaudible] Port of Newcastle later on, [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: I want to ensure that the Newcastle Port can deliver all the services that this region needs for it to be successful. There are some processes currently underway. That are addressing those issues. The Treasurer announced those a little while back. I know they've been well received here. And I want to see those followed through. But let me be very clear about the outcome I want to see. Whether it's the port here in Newcastle or the port up in Townsville or wherever ports may be, I want to be able to, in Gladstone, I want these ports to be able to service the regions as fully and as competitively as is possible. That's what I want to see. I want to see the Port of Newcastle working for the Hunter, and I'll be working to that end.

JOURNALIST: Does that mean you'll be imposing a federal solution to the ACCC action against New South Wales ports, or will you be cooperating with the New South Wales government on that?

PRIME MINISTER: It means that I'm going to allow the process, obviously, that the Treasurer has instigated, to continue its process. And I would hope that it would achieve an outcome similar to what I've just outlined. But that's a matter for them - it's not for me to intervene in that process. But I'm just telling you, as a Prime Minister, and to the people of the Hunter, I know what's needed here. And that's a Port of Newcastle that works for the Hunter. Because when that happens, the Hunter's able to do more for Australia.

JOURNALIST: Does that mean you're committing the government to resolve the issue around the compensations paid to New South Wales ports?

PRIME MINISTER: It means the objective that I've set out.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] gas plant [inaudible] BAE, what’s your vision for the Hunter in 10-12 years time [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm standing on it. I want to see more of this. What I'm excited about when I come up here to the Hunter - I meant what I said. All the things we're doing. Whether it's in skills training, whether it's in energy, whether it's in supporting manufacturing, whether it's expanding our trade markets. I really can't nominate a region that would benefit more than the Hunter from all of these things. In so many ways, the Hunter is the model case. And I want to - if it works in the Hunter, I know it's going to work for Australia. And that's why I'm coming back so often. Because I'm seeing it work. I'm seeing the collaboration between universities, science agencies, investors. I'm seeing the passion, I'm seeing the commitment. And I'm just keen to ensure that I'm working with the Hunter to remove any obstacles that could be in their way, because I can assure you, a policy problem solved here in the Hunter means it's going to be a policy problem solved elsewhere in Australia. Because these are the regions that I particularly want to see go ahead into the future. And so, whether it's making lithium batteries or continuing to make aluminium, or the processing works that will occur here, or the training or the science exploration, the medical products - all of this, I want to see it happen. And I know if it's happening in the Hunter, I know it's happening in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Three times in six months do you, you're in the Paterson electorate again. Do you support Brooke Vitnell as a Liberal candidate in this election?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I will allow the party members to make those decisions. And I'm sure they'll make a very good decision.

JOURNALIST: No captains pick on that one?

PRIME MINISTER: I will allow the party to make their call.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Lex Greensill’s supply chain finance company is teetering on the brink of insolvency and has applied for protection under Australian law, he says there are 7,000 jobs at risk. Some here, in Newcastle, some in Whyalla, are you being briefed on this?

PRIME MINISTER: It's not a matter I can comment on today. No.

JOURNALIST: Have you had any contact with them?

PRIME MINISTER: It's not a matter I can comment on today, but I'm happy to follow up the matter after, through my office.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you’re here to talk [inaudible] resources [inaudible] jobs, [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: We're the first government to actually go to the step that so many others haven't over a long period of time in getting to the settlement that we have. And we're going to continue working through that process and delivering on those commitments, and many other commitments we've made on those issues. There is also continues to be an enormous amount of scientific work that is being done around this, which we committed to undertake. So we're just going to continue to commit and follow through on what we've said we'd do.

JOURNALIST: Matt Kean [inaudible] New South Wales government [inaudible] two days ago, dissatisfied [inaudible] do you think the government, the Commonwealth government should do more?

PRIME MINISTER: I think we should honour the commitments we've made, and continue to follow the process that we've been engaged in over a long period of time. And we will continue to honour the responsibilities that we have here as a federal government, as we have been doing.

JOURNALIST: Will that [inaudible] around the place?

PRIME MINISTER: I've made my comment.

JOURNALIST: How concerned are you about warnings from Kerry Schott that these coal fired power stations will be gone by 2030?

PRIME MINISTER: I think that's highly unlikely, for a number of reasons. The first of all - I mean, those that don't have a life that go beyond 2030, they're positions that are known. And so I don't think she's necessarily just referring to that. But I've been in Japan recently, I've been to many places where the demand for what Australia produces continues. And that will be the case for some considerable time into the future. Some considerable time into the future. The rate at which coal-fired plants are being built in China and other parts of the world - I mean, that's a reality. And so I think Australia's contracts and Australia's participation in that trade - if it wasn't Australia, it'd be another country that was doing that. That wouldn't change any emissions outcome, but it would mean the removal of jobs in Australia. And so I've never seen that as a particularly smart thing to do. So, look - the world, over time, is moving to a different energy economy. That's true. People here in the Hunter understand that, as they do down in the Illawarra and other parts of Australia. But that transition is taking place over quite a period of time. And the government is working hard to ensure that we both maintain the industrial base - particularly of regions like the Hunter - while, at the same time, fostering and investing in the transition in the future. That's what we're seeing right here today. That's what we're seeing right here today. And that's why I'm so pleased to be coming back so often - because I see the real world of that change that takes place over decades done in a way here which I think is really, at the end of the day, concerned about the livelihoods of people who depend on these industries.

JOURNALIST: The UK Energy Minister told Matt Kean she'd like to see more ambition from the Australian Federal Government on emissions reduction. Do you think, going to Glasgow, you need to bring a stronger commitment?

PRIME MINISTER: I've outlined that our commitment is to get to net zero as soon as possible and preferably by 2050. And I’ve also said that that shouldn't be done at the expense of regional Australia and ask regional Australia to carry that burden on behalf of others who are in, you know, northern Sydney, in metropolitan areas of northern Sydney, or in southern Sydney for that matter, or anywhere else. I'm very conscious of the change that is going to take place over many decades, and Australia is playing its part. I mean, we have reduced our emissions by 19 per cent since 2005. You'll be aware that, in New Zealand and Canada, that figure was 0 to 1 per cent. So that's what's being achieved in Australia. We have the highest rate of household solar anywhere in the world. In the world. So, Australia is making gains here which are often unappreciated. We're very committed to being part of the future energy economy, but I'm not going to sell out regional Australia to do that. I'm going to ensure that we get there through technology - not higher taxes. Not higher taxes. Technology is the way to get to where we need to get to. And the technology that is going to be built right here, by Mark - right here - is how you get there. If you want to get to that goal, then you need to be doing what we're doing right here. Backing in manufacturing industries that actually are part of that future energy economy while, at the same time, finding lasting solutions to support the livelihoods of those who are engaged in heavy industry. That's what I'm going to be doing this year.

JOURNALIST: Do you support the extension of the petroleum exploration licence of the coast of New South Wales?

PRIME MINISTER: We're talking about the one down on the...

JOURNALIST: Between Port Stevens and Sydney?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, yeah. No.

JOURNALIST: You don't support the extension?


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, we're looking at climate change and all sorts of things here. You're talking about more resources. Will those resources be taken out of the earth in a way that protects our environment and saves vulnerable species?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course, yeah.

JOURNALIST: We've got Brandy Hill Quarry that’s endangering koalas and other things happening here in the Hunter that have residents concerned. We have a vulnerable population of dingoes at Tea Gardens Hawks Nest. I just wanted to know what the government's position is on that?

PRIME MINISTER: If, I read recently a book, a friend of mine sent me a book by David Attenborough. I don't know if you've read it. I'd encourage people to read it - I think it's a very interesting read. And he makes a very important point. As serious as issues around climate change and these things are, he points out that, at the end of the day, what actually supports the planet is ensuring that we maintain and support biodiversity. That is his fundamental point. And there are a range of things you need to do to address biodiversity. That's why we have the EPBC Act. That's why the Department of Environment puts in place the initiatives and regulations that sit around, whether it's mining operations or many other types of activities, to support biodiversity. That's the purpose. Biodiversity is essential for life on this planet. That is absolutely true. It's been the case forever. And our policies are designed to try and support that biodiversity - but do so in a way that ensures that we support the livelihoods of Australians around the country and to support the transition of our economy, which will continue to occur, but do so in a way that protects and supports the very heavy industries that we've had in our regions for a long time. And those heavy industries will continue to adjust and change over time. Everyone who works in them understands that. It's not all changing tomorrow morning. But it is an evolving process, it’s a gradual process, which is moving at a pace which supports the livelihoods and the economy of regions like the Hunter but, at the same time, meets our overall objectives which are environmental, as well as economic and, in particular, supports biodiversity.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can I ask - have you spoken to the Attorney General since his press conference yesterday?

PRIME MINISTER: Okay, I'm happy to move to those. I just want to check that... I'm very happy to move to them… I-

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can I just clarify the response that you gave regarding PEP11, Keith Pitt is currently considering an application to extend the offshore gas exploration license between Port Stephens and Sydney, are you saying that you don’t support the extension of that license?

PRIME MINISTER: I am. Pretty clearly.

JOURNALIST: That will make some of our tourist operators very happy.

PRIME MINISTER: It's going to make me very happy. I think that's the right decision.

JOURNALIST: Will you be pushing Keith Pitt to make this decision soon?

PRIME MINISTER: It's a matter the government's working through, but I'm happy to answer the question - you asked me what my view is. I've told you fairly plainly. I tend to be a fairly plain-speaking person.

Okay, why don't we move to those other issues? Thank you very much, Mark. It's great to be here with you today and congratulations on everything you and your team are doing. I'm looking forward to be back here in October. That's it. Good on you. Thank you very much. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if I could ask, have you spoken with the Attorney-General since his press conference yesterday? And are you still confident he can continue as AG once he is back?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, I have, and yes, I am. I spoke to the Attorney yesterday and I'm pleased that he's taking some time to get support to deal with what has obviously been a very traumatic series of events, as you'd appreciate. He's getting that support, as well as the support of his colleagues, as he takes that time. I'm looking forward to him returning to his duties once that period of leave is completed.

JOURNALIST: Did you believe his account of events that he said yesterday?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, my judgement is based on the report of the police. That's the point I was making before. They are the competent and authorised authorities to make the judgements about any such allegations. And they have made their conclusions. And that's - as people have said in similar occasions in the past - that's where the matter rests.

JOURNALIST: So you’re ruling out an inquiry, independent inquiry?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course. Because the police have dealt with this matter and given us their understanding of these issues and their status and, as has been the case on other occasions, that's where the rule of law completes its process.

JOURNALIST: There have been some criticisms of the national broadcaster's coverage of this scandal. Do you have any concerns about the way it's been covered?

PRIME MINISTER: That is not my concern. That's not my issue. My issue here has been to try and deal with what has been a very traumatic series and sensitive series of issues now going over several weeks, but particularly this one. And my concern is for those directly impacted, particularly the family and the close friends who I'm sure - and there are- you've seen the reports about the different views there - and also others who have had allegations made of them and their mental health situation, which is in good shape. But it's important that people under any of these sort of stresses take the opportunity now to ensure that they can take the space and be in a position that they can return to their duties as soon as possible.

JOURNALIST: It does appear that he might be considering retirement, do you think that he will come back after his leave?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, I do. And no, there's been no suggestion of that whatsoever. He is quite, he is looking forward to coming back and to resuming his duties. We, you know we have a lot to do, and we are doing it. It's demonstrated by what we're doing here today. There are many sensitive and difficult issues we're dealing with as a government. I began this week revealing to the country the Royal Commission into Aged Care's findings and their report. Whether it's that - just this week, we have had the royal commission in Victoria into mental health, I’m looking very much forward as the Premier and I have been discussing now for many months, how we can work together to put in place a better state-federal model in dealing with mental health. There is the significant issues of managing our energy economy, of getting our manufacturing sector going, of rolling out our infrastructure programme, of most significantly rolling out the COVID vaccine and keeping Australians healthy and safe as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic and restoring the jobs. I mean, our government is getting on with a lot of very, very important tasks for the Australian people. These matters are very serious. And we have addressed those matters in accordance with the rule of law, and we hope with sensitivity and respect for those who have been most traumatically affected by these events.

JOURNALIST: Have you had a chance to read that dossier yet Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the dossier was provided directly to the Federal Police. On the Wednesday evening when I spoke to the Attorney-General, we had not received the dossier at that time. We were aware that such an anonymously provided set of documents had been provided to other members - in particular, Celia Hammond, as well as Senator Wong and Senator Hanson-Young. Now at that time, I had not received - my office had not received - those documents. But we were aware of the contents of those documents, because I contacted both - well, had a discussion with Celia Hammond, and she advised me of its contents and that she'd provided them to the Federal Police. So I spoke to the Federal Police Commissioner, and we had a discussion about the contents of that material, and he advised me of the process that they were following, and then I spoke to the Attorney-General about these matters, and he rejected the allegations very specifically - very clearly, I should say. I received it in the office - not I personally - it came to my office on Friday afternoon. I was in Sydney. It came to Canberra. And so I instructed that the materials immediately be sent to the Federal Police, which they were.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] allegations?

PRIME MINISTER: I have to make my decisions based on the process followed by the police. See, there is no other alternative for a Prime Minister than the rule of law. There's not another process. There is the rule of law. And the people who are competent to deal with these, to assess allegations of this nature and advise as to whether there is further action to be taken - ie, perhaps to move to try and form a brief of evidence - they didn't form that view or, indeed, if there's a brief of evidence prepared, that should be put to a prosecutor - it didn't even come to that stage. But that is the process. And when that process runs its course, as the New South Wales Police has said it has, then the government must rely on the rule of law.

JOURNALIST: Given the circumstances, though, surely an inquiry will clear the air, we’ve got it would seem almost impossible for police to prosecute this or bring this to a court under the circumstances, surely an independent inquiry would resolve some of the issues though?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don't agree with that. I don't agree with that, because I don't agree with the precedent or the prima facie case for there being such a process. Because that would say that our rule of law and our police are not competent to deal with these issues. And they are competent to deal with these issues. They have reviewed the materials, and they've formed their assessment. There is not some other process. There is not the mob process. There is not the tribe-has-spoken process. That's not how we run the rule of law in Australia. We run the rule of law based on police. On courts. On judicial systems. On rules of evidence. On presumption of innocence. That's how liberal democracies function. And we have to be very careful - very careful - even in traumatic and sensitive issues like this, that we don't fundamentally undermine that principle. Because upon that, our entire system is built.

JOURNALIST: How careful has your Defence Minister been describing, reportedly describing, an alleged victim here as a lying cow?

PRIME MINISTER: I spoke to Minister Reynolds this morning about this matter. A couple of points I'd like to make. First, she has already spoken to her staff and apologised for those comments. So she knows those comments to have been inappropriate and wrong. The second point I make - and I share her view, obviously, about that. The second point, though, is they were made in her private office in a stressful week. And they weren't made in a public place. And nor were they intended for that, that doesn't excuse it, not for a second. And she made the appropriate apologies to her staff and rectified that. The third one I want to be very clear about is she was not making those comments, as she said to me this morning, in relation to the allegation of sexual assault. She was not saying that about that, at all. Her comments, she said to me, related to the further commentary about levels of support provided, and her frustrations about how she felt that they were doing everything they believed in their power to provide support, clearly, over a period of time there was a very different view about that. And we've acknowledged that, and that's why we're addressing the issues the way that we are.

JOURNALIST: But either way, it's an extremely insensitive comment to make given the circumstances. Should she resign over those comments?

PRIME MINISTER: She has deeply regretted them. She made them in a private office. She immediately apologised. Well soon after, I should say. These-

JOURNALIST: She only apologised when it came out in the media.

PRIME MINISTER: That's actually not true. That's actually not true.

JOURNALIST: So who'd she apologise to?

PRIME MINISTER: She apologised to the staff about making what were inappropriate comments, long before it became public. And what is - I would just simply say to people - you know, it's been a very traumatic several weeks for many people. People directly involved by these events who are our primary concern. But equally, there have been others who have been drawn into this. They're human beings. They say things that sometimes they deeply regret. I'm sure that all of you have found yourself, at a time of frustration, perhaps saying things you regret. And I would simply ask you, given the comment was made in a private place, that you offer the same generosity to how you’d perceive something you might have said, and perhaps apply the same standard to Linda Reynolds who, at the time, was under significant stress. She deeply regrets it. They were offensive remarks. She should never have made them. I don't condone them. But what matters is that we continue to address the substance of the issues here, as we are. I'm looking forward to the process which is being set up to get underway. I'm pleased that we’ve already been able to put in more support at arm's length for staff members or, indeed, members and senators who find themselves in a position where they need that counselling and support. It's done through the same organisation that also provides the 1800RESPECT service in Australia. So, that's a good initiative. We've taken action on that. But, of course, I understand the significant interest in these issues. They're very important. We're dealing with them. But at the end of the day, we have to deal with them in accordance with the fundamental principles upon which this country operates. We are a liberal democracy. At this time, I see liberal democracy under threat in so many places around the world. And so I'm going to stand up for liberal democracy each and every occasion, and I think we all, as Australian citizens, have an obligation to do that. Thanks very much, everyone.