SA Liberal State Council AGM

26 Sep 2020
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, John, I'm pleased to be right here right now, here in South Australia. I've been busting to come to South Australia and there's a lot of other Sydneysiders who'll be right behind me. Thanks for the wonderful decision made by your Premier. It's going to be an $800 million dollar boon for South Australia because of the economic leadership and health leadership of your premier.

So it's wonderful to be here. It's wonderful to be back here in South Australia. It's wonderful to be here with you, Steven, and you, John. And I'll come back to that in just a second. But before I go any further, can I acknowledge that the indigenous peoples and their elders past, present and future. Can I also acknowledge any veterans who are here with us today, any sitting members of our defence forces who are here with us today and say to them thank you for your service to our amazing country.

Can I also welcome all of my colleagues who are here today of course led  ably by Senator Simon Birmingham, who is taking on more and more responsibilities in the federal leadership team and has provided a great stewardship of the South Australian team since our re-election at the last federal election, he is ably joined in my Cabinet by Anne Ruston who’s been an absolute find in bringing her into the Cabinet and the role that she performs on the expenditure review committee, as we've worked over these many months now towards this Budget. And Anne it's it's great to be working alongside you in that capacity, as she has one of the hardest jobs in the government as Social Services Minister. I should know I used to do it. And it's a tough job and particularly at a time like this but you blend the compassion with the responsibility I think incredibly well. And so congratulations. The whole team is pretty much here today, James Stevens is here, Tony Pasin’s here, Nicolle Flint. I'm still, every single day I come back to South Australia I just think how well Nicolle did in last election and how amazingly she was supported across, right across the South Australian division. So long as Nicolle Flint is the member, we will be a government. And that is how important her role has been and the work she’s been doing particularly in, as a member of the whip’s team has also been very important in these rather extraordinary times. My good mate Rowan Ramsey, we came into parliament together and it's great to be continuing to serve alongside you, David Fawcett is here, of course, as he always would be. David's a dear friend, and it's great to have him here for my first opportunity to welcome Senator McLachlan to be here with us as a Senator, as part of my team and it's wonderful to have you as part of the team.

But to you, John. Thank you for your very kind introduction. No wonder I like coming back to South Australia so often with those sort of generous introductions. But, John, thank you for the tremendous work you have done, not only for this state, when you served as Premier, and not only for our country, when you served so ably overseas in New York and Los Angeles, but you've come back and you’ve served the Party and for all of us, and I know John would understand this deeply as well, and Steven, all of us who have had the great privilege to serve in our parliaments around the country whether here in South Australia or federally, we know we only have that opportunity, as John Howard always used to say, because of the gift that is being provided to us by the members of our party and we're very appreciative of that. And so John's commitment to serve in this phase has been tremendous and has yielded a South Australian Liberal government, a South Australian Liberal Premier, it has yielded a federal election victory as well. And to bring those two together and also Steven and I can stand before you here today as Premier and Prime Minister. John, you've been a key steward of that. And you know, about as many people know, I enjoy my NRL no one knows what that means when I'm here in South Australia- you'll get to know, the State of Origin is coming, thanks to the Premier and you'll be able to enjoy what, and you may get an insight as to why I like the game so much. But, you know, when you see a good player on another team and you've got a hiring round coming up, you like to see that you can secure that player for your team, and at a federal level to be able to be able to have John now serving as federal President is tremendous. I think it's great for us. His experience, his deep love of the party right across all elements of the party is well understood here in South Australia. And it's the way John, you’ve brought the South Australian division, I think, together here which was so critical to Steven’s victory. And that remains always within any political movement, you've got to keep everybody together. And that's a big task for us all the time. And we are succeeding in that task here in South Australia, we are succeeding in that task federally. And I know John is exactly the right person to lead our federal organisation as we go into the next election. So thank you very much John I appreciate you taking it up.

To Steve Marshall, it's a joy to be with him. Steven has become a very, very good friend over many years now. And we enjoy serving together in the National Cabinet. We enjoy spending time with each other. And I always get charged up when I spend time with Steven. He's passionate about South Australia, whether it's space, or whether it’s Osborne, or whether it’s getting money for the Adelaide Zoo. Whatever it happens to be, if it's about South Australia, he lights up like a Christmas tree every single time. And it's just hard to avoid, and be affected by that incredible optimism and enthusiasm that Steven shows. And that, I think, has really lifted South Australia back. Not just economically, but more broadly, and to hear those migration figures Steven that is a big day, when you cross- when you cross that, I remember when Will Hodgman, who had that similar challenge in Tasmania, bringing Tasmania back, the day when he saw those figures turn around and look where Tasmania's going now. And South Australia is doing exactly the same thing under your leadership Steven so, there's plenty more for us to do, and I was particularly pleased to hear about those skills figures as well and we're doing even more on that.

We are, of course, in a extraordinary time. None of us, I think when we went to the last election in May 2019, could have imagined what 2020 would have become. There was something circulating on social media. And it was talking about that film Back to the future when the doc said to Michael J Fox’ character, as he sat in the in the delorean, he said, whatever you do, don't set it to 2020. And sadly, that has been our experience this year. Not just here in Australia, but all around the world. It has been a hard and a tough year, like, few, we’ve ever known. We have known tougher years in this country. But you've got to go back a fair way. You've got to go back to the Second World. We’ve got to go back to the times of the Depression. Now, these times are not as hard as those times, but it has required the same sort of resilience and response that was characteristic of those times. To give you a sense of the scale of this, of course, we've seen almost a million people around the world lose their lives, we've seen over 800 Australians fall victim to COVID-19. We see a global economy that is going to fall by around, has fallen by around 6 per cent. The GFC, the Treasurer tells me, the world economy fell by about 0.1 per cent. So we're talking about a 6 per cent fall in our global economy. That gives you some sense of the scale of what the world is dealing with at the moment, and what we are dealing with right here.

In Australia, we have had a 7 per cent fall in our size of our economy in the June quarter. The last time we saw a fall of not even that magnitude, the largest fall prior to that was just around, just over 2 per cent in 1974. So we are dealing with a set of conditions at the moment, which means you can't do government as usual. You can't do politics as usual. And our government, as has the South Australian government, have understood that. We understand that during this time of course, you have to have an unprecedented response. You have to question all the things that you do and you have to stay very focussed on the objective you're seeking to achieve. And as Steven has rightly said, that objective has two components. It is to save lives. And it is to save livelihoods. It is the twin crisis, of the health challenge and of the economic challenge. And I was proud of Australians when I was able in the recorded address that I gave the United Nations General Assembly, which aired this morning, to be able to talk about how Australia, as John has referred to, that we are doing better than almost every other country in the world. When you put those two things together. Because it's not just about having low numbers of cases. There are other countries who have lower cases, but they are also countries who have had an even more devastating economic impact. That’s not what success looks like. Success does not look like only having success on the health front or the economic front. You have to balance both of these things. And I think Australians understand. And I think Australians have been enormously understanding of the context and the challenges that we are facing. Of course, Australians don’t want to see, and I don't want to see higher levels of debt, and bigger burdens. But the times we all understand and require such a response. The failure to provide one, is unimaginable. And that is what led our government so quickly and so forcefully to respond in the way we have. 

It is built on a platform of a COVIDSafe health plan that ensures that we can suppress the virus and the work that Steven referred to with the National Cabinet has been critical to getting all of those elements in place. It hasn't always gone exactly to plan and there have been massive setbacks. The situation in Victoria an obvious example. But that said, even with those setbacks, the success we've had in suppressing the virus compared to other parts of the world has been extraordinary. Now it is built on ensuring that internationally we secure those borders. It was built on ensuring that we maintain COVIDSafe behaviours. The social distancing as you're practising here today and the hand hygiene and the distance rules between us and all of these things, that habit has been very important. And the challenge for us is, whether here in South Australia, as South Australia, continues to open up, as in other places, is that we don't lose that. Because losing that could have quite serious ramifications. And we must remain vigilant.

There is also the COVIDSafe vaccine. We’ve committed $1.7 billion dollars to ensure that every single Australian as well as those in our Pacific family of nations for whom we have a special responsibility, will be able to get access to the vaccine. Whether that's the Oxford vaccine through AstraZeneca or the vaccine that's being worked up through the University of Queensland and CSL. We're also part of the COVAX buyers club, that’s effectively what it is, to ensure that we're taking positions and that the ability to access other potential vaccines that are being developed all around the world. Having a plan for the vaccine, of course, as part of our COVIDSafe plan, and then, of course, there is the work we've done on our practises on COVIDSafe to ensure that we can open up Australia. To ensure that we can do that in a safe way, we have to build the hospitals’ capacity, whether it's here in South Australia or elsewhere in the country, so that the virus will not overwhelm, we believe if it were ever to break again, that is very important. We have put in place the testing and the tracing and the outbreak containment, which will become very important, particularly here in South Australia, as South Australia rightly opens up again, and New South Wales my home state, I think, has led the way in the testing, tracing, process of being able to ensure that they have been able to remain open. And at the same time be able to suppress the virus under many extreme circumstances I should stress, and I know Steven has looked closely at the way that NSW and has worked closely with Gladys Berejiklian to ensure that they are all on the same standing and that will become important.

But it was also about ensuring there was an economic lifeline provided to Australians. See, our response now is to ensure that having put in place the strong health disciplines which we must maintain, our focus also must now be focusing on getting the jobs back, getting the businesses open again, getting Australians livelihoods back. And their lives. We cannot allow the virus to tell us how we live. We have to live with the virus. That’s the key. And that can be done and it can't be done in ignorance and denial, it can’t be done thinking, oh, it's not real or it isn't there. Of course it’s there. Go to Europe, go to the U.K., go to other parts of the world. You can't pretend it's not there. It's there. You've got to have smart policies and programmes to live with it, which is what you're doing here, which is what has been done in so many other parts of the country. And when you have that approach, you can get the jobs back. You know, since the virus hit, and the pandemic began, we have now pulled back some 400,000 more jobs that were lost. And that's on measured employment. It's even bigger when you take in to those who whose hours were reduced to zero. Still technically employed, that figure’s 760,000. 60 per cent of the jobs lost and those jobs that reduced to zero hours have come back in just the last few months here in South Australia, it’s 69 per cent of the jobs lost since the start of the pandemic are back. It's 70 per cent in New South Wales. These are tremendous results. The jobs are coming back, but we've got so much more work to do. So in providing that lifeline that we did through JobKeeper and JobSeeker, through the cash flows, all of these things. Some $3.3 billion dollars here in South Australia alone on JobKeeper. About another $1.6 billion dollars on cash flows support to businesses to keep them going. All of this meaning that they could get through the most difficult parts of the pandemic and be there on the other side to open their doors again and bring the hours back, to bring people, this was to plan. This is the plan to provide that stability and support and certainty at a time when most Australians had never known a time of greater uncertainty. And that has been done at great cost. But necessary, targeted, temporary, proportioned, principles based. To ensure that Australia could weather that storm.

But it hasn't just been about cushioning the blow. It's also about the recovery. It's also about the fight back. It's also about the road back and that road back has been supported. And you will see more in the Budget just over a week's time where the Treasurer has been doing an absolutely outstanding job. That road back is about businesses getting access to credit, the businesses that have gone through a difficult time are not dragged under through arcane insolvency laws. It's about business being out to get back because we're seeking to reduce the red tape on how they operate, whether it's on the EPBC Act or many other issues. Getting major projects going. This this road back is all about making sure that businesses can do business more easily for one simple reason, to put people back into jobs, as the Treasurer said the other day, our recovery is about jobs first. Everything else will serve that goal. Jobs come first and for jobs to be there, businesses have to be successful. They have to be able to operate, they have to be able to not just survive, they need to be able to thrive and expand. And that's why it's so important that our plan is not just about cushioning the blow, not just about providing the comforting support of record levels of income supports. It's also about the process of boosting and stimulating demand through infrastructure projects. And the skills investments that the premier and I have been- 15,000 additional places under JobTrainer this year alone. That's just this year. A key part of our recovery plan.

But then there is the longer term, because we just don't want businesses to recover. We want them to grow into an environment in our economy where they can succeed and be more competitive and be able to take on the rest of the world. And win. And that means you have to continue to address things like skills. It means that you have to address the infrastructure challenges that Australia is involved in. And so whether it's the Flinders Link project, some $141 billion we have there, the $750 million going into the Darlington upgrade project, slashing that daily commute. Or the $145 million for shovel ready projects throughout South Australia, including North South Rail Freight Project. And $867 million dollar non-stop, six lane Northern connector, to finalising the design of the $231 million Ovingham level crossing removal project. All of these projects are essential to our growth into the future. But, including there are two areas that I wanted to focus on particularly, here in South Australia you understand the importance of ensuring critical sectors are successful. Whether it’s the defence industry in which we work closely, or whether it is the space industry which the Premier and I are wildly excited about. It is tremendous to see what's happening. These are critical sectors and there are so many others, n advanced manufacturing, which provides great opportunities here in South Australia. And we want to see those realised. The ag processing, they all have great opportunities as part of Australia's recovery and rebuild for the future. And there are two projects we've been working on to aid that. The first of those you have heard a lot about recently with the energy minister, Angus Taylor. For manufacturing, and advanced manufacturing to work here in Australia, in the future, it must have access to reliable, affordable energy. It has to. Andrew Liveris, Former head of Dow in the United States, very successful manufacturing chief executive in the United States. When he came back to Australia and he is advising us working with Karen Andrews, and other Ministers, he said, you've got to get the gas. You’ve got to get the gas. Because you don't get the gas, you can’t get the manufacturing jobs, if you’re up in Elizabeth and you're looking for jobs in manufacturing. You need gas. Gas does two things. It's a feedstock, it is an important source of reliable power generation and it firms and makes viable as the transition continues, our renewable energy sector. It is the link. It is what enables us to go forward with an ambitious plan around that advanced manufacturing sector in this country. That will bring income and that will also bring jobs. But to do it, you have to make the decisions about how they're getting access to affordable energy. And gas is a central component of that. It forms part of a longer term, as we said, technology roadmap, which involves hydrogen and many other important technologies which need to be developed to ensure that we can make steel, that we can make aluminium in this country, and that we can build things with it. But without that reliable, affordable energy, that won’t happen.

We remain committed, as always, to the important targets that we have set, that we have met when it comes to emissions reduction, and you don't, as Alan Finkel has said in today's press, you don't have to lose jobs and close industries to lower emissions. You can do both. And we will do both. And we will demonstrate how that can be done, that you can make things in this country and meet those commitments at the same time. Now, as you know, not everybody agrees with us when it comes to this. Here in South Australia, their leading South Australian, or one of them- although I suspect there’s contention over that too Simon, is Mark Butler. Now Mark Butler does not believe that gas has a role to play in the future of Australian Industry. It's an extraordinary position for him to have taken. I would have thought in South Australia more than anywhere else where that sort of thinking forced the lights to go out in South Australia. That he wants to remain stuck in the dark. Where Labor’s energy policy is. Now, there are other views in the Labor Party. The Member for Hunter, understands that this is what's necessary, but I don't think he's winning the argument. Not when he's referred to as the idiot from Hunter by one of his own shadow cabinet colleagues. That is not a healthy debate that's going on inside the Labor Party when it comes to energy. They are torn and they are riven and they are divided. By contrast, our government is unified on this. We all understand the need for reliable, affordable energy. We all understand the need to ensure that we're moving to a lower emissions' future. And that these two, with the right technology can be achieved. And that's why the energy minister has made it clear. It's about technology, not taxes. It’s about technology, not taxes. We can meet these challenges, as Australia always has, as we have faced up to the challenges we've had here, as we have addressed COVID and bushfires and so many other things. We are a resourceful, innovative people. And we can make this Australia, by pursuing that kind of approach.

And final area, is in industrial relations. Now that has enabled us through the COVID period to get together union leaders, business leaders and put them in a room. My expectations of this have always been measured. And there's still some, there is still some time to go and some progress has been made and progress may well still be made. And I do want to thank the ACTU and Sally McManus for the role that the ACTU has played in coming to that table. How thankful I will be, we'll see, in terms of what comes out of that process. But there has been a good faith engagement and I welcome that. But if you forgive me for being a Sydneysider for one second, what is going on at the moment at Port Botany is an absolute disgrace. While you've got the leadership of the ACTU starting to sit down with businesses in Australia to try and find a way forward, as to how we get people back in to jobs, the MUA over in Sydney is holding the country to ransom with extortionate claims which has seen ships backed up, out at sea, trying to get to port, trying to bring things into our country at a time when we are in a COVID national recession, the worst elements of the union movement and the militancy of the MUA is on display. They’re not picking a fight with the government. They're picking a fight with farmers. They're picking a fight with Australians who just want to get household goods into their home. And at a time when Australians have been tightening their belts and looking after each other, the MUA just wants to look after itself. And I'm so disappointed. It's not anger. It's just disappointment. There are other elements of the union movement who are seeking to do the right thing. I commend them for it. And I'll give them the shout out and they deserve it. But when we see that sort of militancy and selfishness at a time of great national crisis, I can only denounce it. That is not the future direction of this country. That is not the path we want to go down. And I think it is incumbent on the union movement to call this out. At the end of the day, it affects our national supply chains right across the country. And it's not okay. And it should not be done. And I hope that they will see sense and they will be pulled into line by their other colleagues in the union movement because it is, it is drawing down, I think, the reputation of the union movement at a time of [inaudible].

But let me finish on a more optimistic note John, I better do that. Australia has done so incredibly well. So incredible well over these many months. And I'm so proud of Australians. I’m proud of South Ausrtalians. I'm proud of Victorians who had to go through an enormous amount over recent months, but they’ve stayed the course, they've kept their heads down. They’ve found their way through and they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know they just want to be out again. I know they want to be going about their lives again. What happened in Victoria was a reminder that we can never be complacent about the health, the systems that we have and we must remain vigilant or we could go into that space again. But what I'm inspired by, is the continued resilience of Australians through this crisis, it has enabled us, it has empowered us. When I look at what we've been able to achieve as a country and I look at what has happened in other parts of the world, they look at Australia and they say, I want what they’re having. And they’re right to. And we’ve shared so much of what we’ve done with other countries around the world. And so, as I said to the United Nations General Assembly today, Australia, although we had been hit by this, like all other countries, we've been able to cushion that blow. But more importantly, we're fighting our way back. We want to see that occurring in all the other countries of the world. Because unless the globe can move forward, then that will also hamper Australia's progress.

Now, Senator Antic is here as well today, I didn’t see him on the way in so I want to acknowledge him here today it’s great to have you here of course as part of the team. But in concluding, can I thank all of you for your passionate support of our great Liberal cause, I hope you feel that in the governments that you've done so much to see elected at both a state and federal level, that you can sit there today feeling in every measure an equal partner in the work of our governments. You are part of the work we do, you've enabled the work we are doing, and you encourage us on to deal with the challenges ahead.

Thank you all very much.