Press Conference - Yarwun, QLD

21 Jan 2021
Prime Minister

Ken O’Dowd MP: Well, good morning, everybody. It's a pleasure to have with me today the Prime Minister who spent quite a bit of time in the last few days in northern and central Queensland. Welcome you to Gladstone today, with him is Keith Pitt, the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia. Also the Managing Director of Northern Oil, Mr Tim Rose. It’s a pleasure to be out on this site. You know, this site is the most modern plant in the world, in the world for recycling of waste oil. In this plant, they recycle waste oil. Take all the impurities out of the oil and return it back to base stock. So this is a great success story and it has a great future in Australia, the number one recycling plant in the world. There are other overseas countries who are looking at this plant to duplicate it in the other countries where they want to go into the recycling of oil. But with that, I'd like to hand over no to, two exciting announcements we’re going to make today, the Prime Minister so I’d like to hand back over to them over the him for the announcement thanks to. Thanks.

Prime Minister: Thanks Ken, it’s great to be here again with Keith Pitt, always good to be here with Keith Pitt and Ken and Shirly and it’s been great catching up with a lot of people last night here in Gladstone and Tim, can I congratulate you, too, on the amazing, the amazing development of this world class, world leading facility here for oil recycling here in Gladstone. You know, this is probably some of the most important industrial real estate anywhere in this country. It's a long way from where many Australians live. But I can tell you what happens here, impacts on all Australians. And it's very important to understand the value of that to Australia and its critical importance to Australia going forward. 

But before I make a few other comments, I just wanted to start off by congratulating President Biden and Vice President Harris on their inauguration in the early hours of Australia this morning and to wish them all the very best. Australia and the United States are the best of mates and the best of allies. We have been through everything together over a very long time. And this is a relationship between Australia and the United States that has been stewarded by Prime Ministers and Presidents of all political persuasions for a very long time and to the great benefit and the great success of both countries. And this relationship is even more important today than ever before, certainly at any time since the end of the Second World War. And I appreciate the sort of very warm sentiment that we're already getting back from the Biden Administration and the many challenges that we have to work together on, both within our Alliance, both more broadly in multilateral fora with like minded countries, whether in the Quad, the G20, G7 plus, the OECD. There's a lot of work for us together, whether it's on climate, on energy, on international security, and importantly, regional security here in the Indo-Pacific and the great partnerships we have with the South Pacific nations, with the South East Asian nations, in ASEAN. These are all the big issues that President Biden and I will continue to address together as Prime Ministers and Presidents always have. But I particularly warmly congratulate Vice President Harris on her inauguration. That is an historic moment and one that I think as a father of daughters, you can only celebrate. And I wish her all the best in her very important duties as well. 

Turning to today, though, here in Australia gas is key to the COVID-19 recovery. It's the key to jobs, it's the key to a manufacturing industry here in Australia and heavy industry here in Australia that will underwrite our economic fortunes for generations to come. We are now well into the transition of energy future, not just here in Australia, but all around the world. And as all countries recognise, including in the United States, where they've demonstrated most significantly, gas is a key, if not the key transition fuel to ensure that we can make a transition to a net zero economy into the future. And we can do it while at the same time maintaining the heavy industries and the jobs that are so important, both here in Australia, especially in regional communities, as well as right across the country. Got to get the gas, has been my message. And getting that gas, it's important to partner with our big LNG exporters. Australia leads the world together with only a very small handful of countries in exporting of LNG, and that market is becoming even more competitive. And no one does it better than Australia, but it's also important that Australia gets the gas as well and that Australia pays a price for gas that is commensurate with what is happening around the world. And that's why the agreement that we extend now with the three big LNG exporters will ensure that uncontracted gas gets offered to Australians at comparable netback price opportunities to ensure that Australians can benefit from the significant gas reserves of this country. 

Now, this arrangement is only one of many parts about getting the gas strategy and one that is part of our broader JobMaker plan. And that's involving the support of the transmission and pipeline networks, the Wallumbilla hub producing those gas hubs, which can provide greater certainty and stability in pricing and supply of gas around the country. But it's also about this agreement and it's also about getting the gas up from underneath our feet to ensure the prosperity and jobs of Australians. And to that end, I continue to welcome the recent decision by the New South Wales government, supported by the federal government, of getting the gas there in western New South Wales. That gas is critical to our manufacturing plan, which I announced last year. These arrangements are critical to getting the price of gas down. Our manufacturing plan is based on ensuring that we get more competitive and better priced access to gas as feedstock, particularly for our industrial producers around the country here, Tim tells me it's around about 80 per cent of his final energy demand here, 80 per cent. That's a big part of your overhead. And as we saw in the United States, through their gas revolution, they see- they saw a manufacturing renaissance in the United States off the back of their gas revolution. And we want to see the same thing happen here in Australia. And that is part of the path to net zero carbon economy here in Australia. We want to achieve that. And we're working hard to work out when that can be achieved by- not through taxes, but by technology and the smart innovation of companies and researchers and scientists here in Australia as part of our technology roadmap. And one of those is Tim’s business here. We're standing in an oil recycling business, best in class, in fact, leading the world. And this brings together two of our great ambitions and strategies of the government; both to ensure that we are keeping heavy industry going in this country, but we're operating in a circular economy and what they've been able to achieve here and where they're moving in biofuels. This is a Sub-Zero emissions plant and business we're talking about here. You can get it done and you can get it done through smart investment and technology, not by lumbering on taxes, on jobs and the Australian people. 

So they’re our plans, later today, Ken and I will be turning the sod on the School of Manufacturing up here in Gladstone, and that goes with the School of Mining down in Rockhampton. And getting the skills is an important part of our manufacturing strategy, and that means getting the skills into industries like the one we're standing here right now. So congratulations, Tim. I'm very excited about Australia's future this year. And getting the gas is a huge part of it.

And I’ll hand you on to Keith Pitt.

The Hon Keith Pitt MP, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia: Thanks PM. Well, it's great to be back in the heart of industry here in Gladstone, Ken O’Dowd country, better known as the bulldog in the parliament. His bark is as bad as his bite, I've got to say. But once again, we're here at a local industry delivering local jobs off the back of Australia's resources, and in particular, that key consumable, which is gas. You know, the Commonwealth has a plan to deliver more gas into the market at a competitive price. We want all of our businesses to be internationally competitive. And the gas price is a key part of that, as is the electricity price. So another tool in the toolbox, the signing of the heads of agreement between the Commonwealth and the three Big East Coast gas exporters. What that deal does is ensures that all uncontracted gas is first made available to Australian domestic consumers before it is exported at a competitive international price. More gas means lower prices. And as I've said, this is just one part, one key, one tool in the toolbox, along with the ADGSM, the domestic gas safety mechanism, which I as minister can activate if there is a shortfall. Now, that hasn't been necessary in the past. I don't expect it to be necessary in the future. But it is a tool which is there and available. We add that with the five key strategic basin plans we are developing, the first one being the Beetaloo in the Northern Territory, which is now well advanced. And in fact, we were in the Territory just last week committing another $170 million dollars to road infrastructure that goes along with $50 million dollars to support exploration in the Beetaloo, to firm up that resource and business will do the rest. Quite simply, confidence is what drives these types of projects and processes. We know the world is watching Australia very closely. And I want to ensure, as the PM does, as Ken O'Dowd does, that we continue to deliver Australia's gas and resources for Australian users and maintain our reputation internationally as a reliable supplier of energy and resources right around the world. So we are focussed on ensuring we can bring manufacturing jobs back. We can maintain manufacturing jobs in places like Gladstone and the fundamentals of business remain the same, consumables and your input prices being competitive, skilled and available workforce- technology that's leading the world. All of those things are available not only in Gladstone, but right around Australia and in particularly here at Northern Oil. And it's been great to come and see it again first hand. And I thank Tim Rose, we might ask you to make a brief comment as the local CEO, Australians producing some of the best technology that's recognised, that’s sought, that’s looked for to be delivered to overseas markets, to some of our competitors, but once again, in the interests of the environment and keeping that balance right. And that is exactly what we are striving to achieve when it comes to gas in this country, a balance between producers and manufacturers and making sure we get that balance right. And we have. 

Tim Rose, Managing Director Northern Oil Refinery: Thank you. Look, we draw waste oil from anywhere between Darwin and Adelaide, everywhere east of there, there are 48,000 pick up points all around the country that we've got to collect that oil from and bring it back to here. It's quite a massive logistical challenge. And but we do it, we do it every day, 400,000 litres without stop 24/7. And to do that, you need plants like this. And when you've got plants like this, you also need gas. So I fully endorse all the comments that have been made up to now because it's just critical to this sort of infrastructure. 

Prime Minister: Congratulations, $100 million dollars of capital right here, the last 6 years it’s very impressive. Greg?

Journalist: Prime Minister, manufacturers and the AWU say you’ve squibbed it on price controls, putting price controls in this agreement, why are there not specific price controls?

Prime Minister: Because we're a market economy. And what we want to see is the market operate well here. And we don't want to put a floor on the price. We want that price to be able to go where it needs to go, which will be driven not just by what's happening here in Australia, but the price pressures, which is putting pressure down on prices. I mean, we don't want manufacturers in Australia to be quarantined from lower prices and the market forces that are happening in the international gas industry will mean that that's where the pressure is coming. And the whole point of this is I want manufacturers to get lower gas prices. And that's what this, that's what this mechanism that's what this set of arrangements have already been supporting. And when you combine it with the strategic basins policies, when you combine it with the transmission and the pipelines policies, when you combine it with what we're doing here to ensure that the first offer on uncontracted gas gets to Australians on the netback price arrangements, then that is the way to drive a sustainable market into the future. You know, governments don't have to get involved in everything. You know, we can't have an economy that's run by the government. You need to have an economy that's run by people who are investing their own money and making decisions about where they can get that return. That's what Tim’s done here, done it all here in Australia, $100 million dollars is standing behind us right here. And he's made that a reality.

Journalist: Is a $4 gigajoule price, is that doable? That’s what’s been called for my Andrew Liveris, producers say it’s completely un-doable, what’s your view?

Prime Minister: Well, look, it's a great aspiration to have and Andrew said that to me in the many conversations I've had with him. And when I sat down with Andrew as we were going through the co-ordination commission's work, the COVID commission's work that fed in so heavily into our manufacturing strategy, he said, if you can't get gas prices down, then you know, everything else you try and do in the manufacturing sector is going to be held back. And so that's why the gas plan is such an important part of our manufacturing strategy. So, sure it’d be great to get there where, where, where it gets to ultimately, the market will determine. But I think, you know, if we're all working to strive to get those prices down, then the sort of mechanisms we're putting in place here. I think, you know, if that is doable, then this is how you do it. 

Journalist: If not $4 then I guess what are you anticipate a price will be?

Prime Minister: Well, I'm not going to speculate on it, all I know is the things that we're doing is putting downward pressure on the prices. That's what we can do. What happens next is how that plays out in the marketplace. But what we're doing is putting pressure downward on prices. And that's what the purpose of the government policy is. 

Journalist: A similar agreement 2017 saw about a $5 figure drop per gigajoule, I mean that’s a pretty big cut to the price, do you-

Prime Minister: Well and we welcome that. And there are many factors that are driving gas prices, I mean, right around the world, see I've been puzzled at the pushback we've had politically and otherwise on our acknowledging the critical role that gas plays as a transition fuel in our economy. I mean, what's their alternative? To sit on our hands for a decade or two? That's not how you get there-

Journalist: [Inaudible]

Prime Minister: Well, that technology isn’t going to deliver what gas can deliver in the next 10 years. 

Journalist: So it’s not ready?

Prime Minister: So, you know, that all has to be developed. That's what our technology roadmap is about. But you don't sit on your hands while you're waiting for something else to turn up. We don't just tell everyone here to shut up the shop and go home and come back when some other technology is ready. You've got to keep the show on the road. And we're going to live as a generation in a transition energy economy to a net zero economy into the future. And we want Australia to be prosperous through that transition, not for Australia to go out of business during that transition, for the jobs to go. And the whole world gets this, because they are all looking for gas and they are all looking to plug into the gas, whether it's us, whether it’s in Russia, in China, the United States, all around the world, they get it, we get it. And I’d call on others to get with it to.

Journalist: Tourism and transport forum has a report out today suggesting that the domestic border closures cost the tourist market $7 billion dollars and if JobKeeper isn’t extended for that industry would lose 318,000 jobs including about 100,000 in Queensland. Doesn’t that show that they domestic tourist market can’t keep going and we do need some sort of JobKeeper or new replacement programme after March?

Prime Minister: Well, I think it's too early to make those calls. And that's why when we've made calls on these things. We've always done it based on the best information at the right time. And I'd also say that when it comes to the impact of the domestic market here in Australia and the impact of border closures domestically, of course it's had that cost. I mean, I've pointed that out for months and months, and that's why it's always had to be the judgement of the Premiers to to make the judgement call, to get the balance between the appropriate protection of the public's health and the necessary functioning of their domestic state economies. 

I mean, to raise the issue of the impact of the cost is fair and it's right. But equally, you know if there'd been a repeat over these last months, over this last month of what occurred in Victoria with the second wave, then I'll tell you what, the impact would have been far worse. So, you know, there's two sides to that coin, and that's what managing COVID is all about. It's about managing risk. And there are costs involved with all of these decisions. And as Premiers and I as Prime Minister, as we have regularly sought to do, you've just got to try and make the best calls on the best information that you have. But, you know, equally, businesses have got to make calls themselves about what they're going to do. I mean, the next year, I believe it's going to be better than last year, but it's still going to be a challenging year. And individual businesses are going to have to make decisions about how they're approaching that. And what we've sought to do is create as much certainty as possible about what the support arrangements are. We've set them out right now and we're making those transitions. I think Australians would agree that taxpayers money can't be used endlessly to run the Australian economy. That is not a sustainable way forward. That just piles up debt. And we've got a lot of it now that was necessary to do. But I, my approach on these things is every dollar you need to, but not a dollar you don’t have to. You know, you've got to get that balance right for the taxpayers. And I think that's been the right balance we've struck. 

Journalist: As you said the businesses need that certainty, they need to start planning ahead. Don’t they need to know whether there will be supports in place after March [inaudible]?

Prime Minister: Well, at this stage the settings are as I've set them out and people should work on the basis of those settings unless they're reviewed. 

Journalist: And that's that JobKeeper will end in March, they won’t get JobKeeper after March? They should work on that basis?

Prime Minister: Well the settings we’ve set out for a long time, Greg, and we haven't made any changes to those.

Journalist: [inaudible]?

Prime Minister: Sorry?

Journalist: Will there be a review to that? Potentially extended it, if businesses are saying-

Prime Minister: Well, the assumption that is being made is there are not other things being done in the economy to drive the growth that supports businesses coming out the other side. And as I've stressed at many press conferences now, for months, the same dire predictions were made when we cut JobKeeper back and cut JobSeeker back. We were going to go off the edge of a cliff. It was going to be the end of Australia's recovery, 450,000 businesses stepped off JobKeeper, and more than 2 million Australians got off taxpayer support. 

More jobs were created. The JobMaker hiring credit is putting more Australians, particularly younger Australians, back into work and onto apprenticeships. There's work that is continuing to come out and build in Australia, particularly in regional areas, particularly in regional areas. There are skills that are needed in places like Gladstone. Kenny was telling me, we're going into a big maintenance year up here in Gladstone over this next 12 months. And that means, you know, those mining camps are going to be full of people coming in to do the services work here in Gladstone. And they're going to need a lot of those skills. So there's going to be more work in Australia in 2021. And we need our economy to get back on its own feet. And everything we're doing from infrastructure to lower energy costs to the skills reforms we're putting in place, the changes to industrial relations that we need to get in place when parliament returns. All of that is going to get Australians back into work. That's what we're for.

Journalist: On, international travel would you foresee a situation where it's a gradual reopening, more bubbles for example, [inaudible] bubbles in the Pacific [inaudible] could there be bubbles with other nations in Asia with low COVID cases, is that the likely way forward? 

Prime Minister: Well, we've been working to a Pacific bubble for many months now, and the premiers all know that because they've been briefed on it at National Cabinet by the chief medical officer, and the chief medical officer and the health team have been assessing the COVID risk in Pacific countries now for many, many months and have reported back to the premiers about those issues. And the news is pretty good across the Pacific. And it's largely COVID free pretty much, except in countries like Papua New Guinea. The challenge is, though, is that the health systems in those countries are obviously different to what it is in Australia, and the testing regimes are not what they are in Australia. That's to be expected. So that does create a bit of uncertainty that we have to be mindful of. But it has been our policy, just as it was, you know, we were the first as a federal government to be talking about opening up travel to New Zealand. We were able to convince states that that was a good way to go. I think that shows our track record that where you can do it, we'll do it. And I think particularly with the Pacific, I would love to see that because the remittance income that goes back to those Pacific countries is very important to them for their economies and for the seasonal labour that we need here in Australia it's also very important. So, you know, there's no new idea about a Pacific bubble. That was something the Commonwealth government has been working on for months. And the states know that very well. 

Journalist: And more broadly outside of the Pacific, countries like Singapore with low cases, is that something [inaudible]?

Prime Minister: I think that's a bit tougher, Greg, at the moment. But look, you know, you just deal with, what you don't do in a crisis is speculate. What you do is you just act and you make decisions on the information when you think it's in the best form it’s in to make those decisions, I’ll leave the hypotheticals to the journos. And I'll just focus on the facts and the decisions I have to make.

Journalist: Speaking of, quarantine camps here in Gladstone, there’s been a bit of a hotly, a hot discussion at the moment. A lot of federal members are saying that they don’t support it whereas the Deputy PM came out and said that he did support Calliope for example, if that was to happen I mean would the federal government commit to bolstering the health services? 

Prime Minister: Well, look, this is a proposal from the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, that I haven't seen the proposal yet. I'm not aware that it has even come forward to the federal government. I spoke to the Labor mayor here last night. He didn't, he hasn't seen a proposal yet either. I mean, Kenny and I've been talking about it and Keith, and I spoke to a lot of people overnight as well. And I think there are clear concerns here in Gladstone for a lot of, you know, quite sensible reasons. I mean, many of those were things we had to work through in the Northern Territory. But the way Michael Gunner dealt with that is he went and sorted that on the ground with the local communities, provided the assurances, brought forward a proposal that we were able to support ultimately. But he did the groundwork. And I tell you, I mean, for something like that to be even considered, I think the Premier would have to get the local Labor mayor on board for a start. And I don't think that's happening at this point. I think they've got some quite genuine issues that they're raising. 

Most significantly, I think, is the point that Ken has rightly raised, which is the point around so many people coming into Gladstone over this next 12 months, coming to do the big maintenance works. Now, we can't afford, there's not a great risk tolerance there, because that work needs to happen and if you imagine that went through in such a critical year for this region, I think there are also concerns that people up here don't want to see Brisbane's issues dumped on those in the north. I think you hear that a bit about a few issues up here. And they want to see that, they have issues around what it means for local health. These are all very legitimate questions. And I think any proposal the Premier would want to bring forward, I think they would have to square those off with whether it's, you know, the local members here in Ken, and I know is very happy to engage on those issues. But I'm sure the local Labor mayor too I mean, he's not on board yet. So I think that's a bit of a way to go.

Journalist: What was your conversation like with him about issues regarding Calliope camp, what did he say to you?

Prime Minister: I just told you, I mean, that's, they’re pretty much the same issues. I mean, he didn't raise the issues around the maintenance works, I mean Ken was more across that but- I had, there would have to be some sort of net positive for Gladstone I would have thought. We were talking about seasonal workers. And if there was, I mean, I was talking to one of the producers around here last night. Who does one of the biggest on farm quarantine operations. And, you know, if there was additional seasonal workers that were perhaps coming through something like that, which had a direct benefit to this region, rather than just transferring a problem from one part of Queensland to another, well, maybe that might be something that the locals could see some value in. But look, it's not really for me to get in the middle of this. It's a proposal that the Queensland Premier, I understand, is going to put forward. But having been up here and done a bit of listening. There's a few questions that I think are going to have to get squared away before that can go too much further. 

Journalist: And just on US politics, will the new US president, Joe Biden, be easier and more reliable to work with than his, than the previous President?

Prime Minister: Well, regardless of who is in the White House or whoever's in the Lodge, it's always been a good relationship. And because it's just, it goes beyond the politics of any one country. And I can tell you, you know, as a Prime Minister and I know this would be keenly felt by Presidents, you understand that responsibility and that stewardship responsibility to work together for both countries interests. You know, we look to the United States, but we don't leave it to the United States. And that's why I think we're so respected as a partner by the United States, is we do our own heavy lifting in the relationship, whether it's been in defence or intelligence or security or indeed the important humanitarian work we do around the world. I mean, President Biden and I share a lot of views when it comes to issues of energy technology, carbon capture and storage, the role of gas in our economies. I mean, we're talking off the same song sheet there. So I think already there's a fair bit for us to get together on. And later this year, certainly at the G7 plus where I'll be with him, but we'll see the interactions we hopefully will have well before then. There's a lot for us to get on and do, as I said at the outset in my remarks. So I'm looking forward to that. But the relationship is very strong. And as always, with this relationship, it's best days are still ahead of us. 

Journalist: When do you plan on speaking to him? 

Prime Minister: Well, as soon as that becomes possible in the normal scheme of events. 

Journalist: On civics and citizenship testing, sorry for year 10’s, the results is just 38 per cent passed. Are you a bit concerned that students really don’t know enough about Australian, obviously I guess, history as well?

Prime Minister: Well, look, you know, as we've just seen in the United States, you can't take democracy for granted. It's something you've always got to work hard to value and uphold. And that's certainly what we do in this country. And Australia Day is an important day to celebrate that. You know, on Australia Day, it's all about acknowledging how far we've come. You know, when those 12 ships turned up in Sydney all those years ago, it wasn't a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either. And I think what that day to this, demonstrates is how far we've come as a country. And I think that's why it's important that we mark it in that way. It's not about that day so much. It's about how far we've come together since that day. You know, you can't just airbrush things that have happened in the past. I think one of the great things about Australia- and I think we're respected for this is we're pretty upfront and honest about our past. The national apologies that have been put in place shows that we're prepared to deal with our past. But more importantly, we don't allow it to get in the way of our future. And we've got to always remain focused on that. We are such a blessed country. We are such a country that is enabled to achieve things, that is the envy of the rest of the world. And we want to keep doing that.

Journalist: Unemployment dropped to 6.6 per cent, what’s your thoughts on that? What does that show about the economic [inaudible]?

Prime Minister: That's happened is we've been standing here, so I'll get the opportunity to have a closer look at the numbers. But jobs, jobs and jobs, that's what we're about. That's why we're standing here. That's why we've done this arrangement on gas. That's why we've supported the recovery in northern Queensland after the floods. That's why we've stood by farmers through the drought and the livestock industry to ensure that they can rebuild their herds right across Queensland. That's why we've stood by Australians all throughout this pandemic and backed them in, in their decisions and their resilience and jobs is our focus.

Journalist: Speaking of Australia Day, Cricket Australia has said that they’re calling a big bash game on Australia Day, ‘January 26’ not ‘Australia Day’. What's your reaction to their dropping ‘Australia Day’ from the game? 

Prime Minister: Well, it's not cricket, that would be my reaction. Look I think Australian cricket fans would like to see Cricket Australia focus a lot more cricket and a lot less on politics. 

Journalist: Pfizer recently announced it's boosting the number of vaccines it produces this year, has Australia managed to secure any additional doses?

Prime Minister: Look I’m going to leave commentary on Pfizer to the health minister. He’s been involved in direct discussions with Pfizer, including over the course of this last week. And there are a few issues that we're dealing with there at the moment. So I don't want to pre-empt anything that the health minister might say, at this point. But, yeah, I think I'll leave it at that. 

Journalist: Prime Minister, you’ve had great success in this part of the country at the last election. Got some popular members stepping aside, Ken O’Dowd one of them, Warren Entsch as well, do you think that this is going to be a more competitive election in central and north Queensland?

Prime Minister: Well you know Greg, I’m going to leave all that to you and you never know I might be able to twist Kenny’s arm over here, I was talking to Shirley last night mate that maybe I’ll have to recruit Shirley.

O'Dowd: She’d be pretty good.

Prime Minister: But look, this year, let me be really clear about this. We've got a very, very full deck here in 2021. We've got a lot to do in 2021, the economic recovery, the health recovery, the very significant challenges that we have in our region, we’ve got a new President in the White House, the relationships that we're continuing to build up with our Quad partners in the G7 plus, the work of the global recovery, the work we're doing on everything from recycling to manufacturing to energy, all of this. It's a very big year. That's what I'm focused on. I'll let the journalists and others focus on politics. The election’s due in 2022. Jobs are due in 2021. And that's what I'm focused on. Thanks a lot Greg.