Television Interview - ABC 7:30

30 Nov 2022
Prime Minister
Censure Motion against Scott Morrison; Energy Prices; Wages; Voice to Parliament; Julian Assange.

SARAH FERGUSON, HOST: Scott Morrison has rejected the censure today as the politics of retribution. What did this achieve apart from the rebuke of a political adversary?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: This was the House of Representatives declaring that our Westminster System matters. That responsible government matters. In response to the report by the former High Court judge, Virginia Bell, it would have been completely untenable for the Parliament to just say, ‘Nothing to see here,’ given that quite clearly each and every day when the Prime Minister did not indicate publicly what his positions were that he held, that undermined the very nature of responsible government.

FERGUSON: What does it mean when Morrison himself is unrepentant and almost all of his colleagues in parliament rallied around him after he had spoken?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I did find it extraordinary that there was no contrition whatsoever from the former Prime Minister today. Indeed, he continues to argue that he has apologised or reconciled with the people who he himself misled, including the former Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, but others as well. But we had a new argument today, that somehow it was the media's fault for not asking if he held other portfolios at the time. And that's because this situation was so bizarre and so beyond comprehension, this breach of the conventions on which our parliamentary democracy relies, that of course no-one would have asked that question just as I haven't been asked that question, because it wouldn't enter into my mind or the mind of previous Prime Ministers before Scott Morrison to undertake such action.

FERGUSON: Let me move on to the urgent matter of energy prices. It's widely reported you are moving to announce price caps on gas. Can you confirm that?

PRIME MINISTER: No. I don't talk about Cabinet discussions. What is reported that is correct is that we have said we'll take action before Christmas. We will announce what we will do before then. I have a meeting of the National Cabinet next week. Cabinet is continuing to deliberate with departments and we're continuing to talk with industry as well. And earlier on this year, we came to a Heads of Agreement with the support of the ACCC with the three gas suppliers to supply additional gas domestically to ensure 157 petajoules were made available.

FERGUSON: Does that mean that you're planning to do this through legislation?

PRIME MINISTER: There are a range of options available. We will be making announcements when the final determination is made, but there are a range of options available to the Government. We're working those issues through, in order to both put downward pressure on prices for manufacturing in particular, for business, but also to assist households.

FERGUSON: On that question, what are your experts telling you about how much households could save?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there are various models of course which are there. We know that the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in particular has had a global impact. You've seen the rise in energy prices right around the industrialised world, but here in Australia, of course, we are made more vulnerable for that by the decade of inaction because we haven't had the growth in the sector. You had four lots of energy leave the sector for every one that was added to the system over the previous government.

FERGUSON: I want to get a sense of what impact these decisions could make. There's a figure that's been floated of somewhere between $11 to $13 a gigajoule. What impact would it have?

PRIME MINISTER: I won't speculate on the figures that are floating around. What we're determined to do is to undertake measures that put downward pressure on costs, whether that be for business or for households.

FERGUSON: Can you give people some idea of what they can look forward to with Christmas coming?

PRIME MINISTER: We've already seen, by the way, some downward pressure as a result of the speculation which is out there, ahead of the Government’s determination to act. But we are seeing an increase in the costs and that is impacting on households and also on business. We understand the pressures which are there which is why we're determined to do what we can to alleviate some of that pressure.

FERGUSON: Of course, as I said, it is a very complicated question and trying to keep it simple. Since the bulk of power generation on the east coast comes from coal, will the Government also seek to put a price cap on coal?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course there are legal questions and jurisdictional questions that come into play here. And of course, in some cases, the generators themselves are operated with some state ownership. So it varies across the states. The way the national energy market operates, the default market offer of course applies to South East Queensland, New South Wales and into South Australia. So we need to act in what is a complex market, but we need to act in a way that puts pressure, downward pressure on prices to assist households. That is something the government is working through.

FERGUSON: What about the idea of compensation? For example, the Queensland Government have raised that if you do put downward pressure on prices, they will need compensation for the money that they're getting that they're then handing back to households. Are you open to that?

PRIME MINISTER: These are all issues that remain ones that we'll work through. You need a package of reforms and engage across jurisdictions with industry, with the Australian Energy Market Operator, with the businesses that are involved. And that is why if it was simple, then you'd make a simple announcement. We want to make sure that we get it right and make sure there aren't unintended consequences. There are clear decisions that we've taken, including the issue of making sure existing contracts are honoured, including the contracts overseas, and that's very important for Australia's standing internationally.

FERGUSON: The Reserve Bank Governor said there should be more supply available. Is it a problem that New South Wales and Victoria have prevented the full-scale exploitation of gas resources in their states?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we've said that we support the Narrabri Project and that's being worked through, the environmental approvals. But as a starting point, we have made positive sounds about that. That's something the New South Wales Government is working through. I've had those discussions with Premier Perrottet.

FERGUSON: What about Daniel Andrews with his new government? Will you be encouraging him in the same direction?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course, the pressures that are there now won't be resolved immediately in terms of supply. What we need to do is to work, as we have, on issues like Marinus Link, which we have already talked about for six years but not delivered. That will make a major difference in terms of energy supply for Victoria in particular. But there are other projects as well.

FERGUSON: Let me go to wages. Phillip Lowe also made an intervention on wages recently, warning about a wage price spiral, if wages are to chase inflation. It's his main job to control inflation. Is he right about that danger?

PRIME MINISTER: We do not have a wage price spiral in this country.

FERGUSON: It was a warning that one may come if wages chase inflation. Is he right or is he wrong?

PRIME MINISTER: People could do a whole range of hypotheticals going forward and he's entitled to put forward his views.

FERGUSON: Do you disagree with him?

PRIME MINISTER: What the Reserve Bank have said for a long period of time is that low wage growth was actually something that was holding back our economy. And if you don't have wages keeping up with the cost of living, then you'll have increased pressure on working families. People watching this program are under pressure. They know that the costs of everything has been going up but their wages haven't kept up. And that's why we've introduced and hopefully tomorrow we'll see the passing of our industrial relations legislation, because my government believes that we should have an economy that works for people, not the other way around.

FERGUSON: Do you expect that new legislation, especially the multi-employer bargaining part of it, will lead to wage rises that do indeed match inflation?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what you will have is enterprise bargaining. I want to see that encouraged and the industrial relations legislation will encourage that to occur. And I want to see productivity lifted. So the way that you lift wages without putting pressure on inflation is to boost productivity. And that is what we want to see, we want to see proper bargaining. What's been happening for a long period of time is that there was an incentive in the system to not actually bargain and not look for win-wins from employers and unions. We want to encourage a system that does just that, whilst at the same time we look after some of the most vulnerable people. We know in areas like aged care and early learning and in some of the industries which were the heroes of the pandemic, wages simply haven't kept up with the cost of living and we need to see a real lift in those wages.

FERGUSON: So those people do deserve pay rises that keep up with inflation?

PRIME MINISTER: People in aged care deserve a significant wage rise because unless that happens, the Royal Commission has told us we won't have a workforce.

FERGUSON: I want to move on to the Voice. No one expected it this week, but the Nationals kick-started their no campaign against the Voice. How damaging was it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that of course was a decision for them. But as I indicated today in the Parliament, for people to say there's no detail out there, the report from Marcia Langton and Tom Calma that was presented, we know, from Ken Wyatt to the Morrison Cabinet on at least two occasions, has very clear outlines about the detail.

FERGUSON: There's no uniform view that the model that you're referring to in that report will be adopted. Do you accept that, that there's still dispute about the model that the Voice will use?

PRIME MINISTER: The model and what it indicates is something that's legislated, that the Parliament will have power over. The thing about the Voice is that it's not a replacement, it's not even at the side. It is subservient to the Parliament. There are two things that will be put to the Australian people in the second half of next year. The first is to recognise First Nations people in our nation's birth certificate, our Constitution, to recognise our history didn't begin in 1788 and it should be a source of pride. And the second is there should be a representative body of Indigenous people who are able to be consulted about matters that directly affect them. Not that we'll have a decision-making power above that or even beside that of Parliament, but that they should be consulted, that they should have a voice.

FERGUSON: But you accept that the method of the way that the Voice will work has not yet been determined?

PRIME MINISTER: Because it will be determined by legislation once the Constitution is amended. And because the Parliament will remain prime. The Parliament will determine, from time to time, the nature of the Voice to Parliament.

FERGUSON: Let me just go back to that question about what the Nationals did. Will you be seeking private talks with Peter Dutton to make sure he doesn't go down the same path?

PRIME MINISTER: I have continued to have discussions with Peter Dutton. I will continue to have discussions with David Littleproud as well. Part of the contradiction here is people saying what precisely will happen in each area as if it is a government decision. I don't want this to be government-led. I want this to be led by the Australian people. The words that I put forward in my speech to Garma were developed by some of the best legal minds in Australia, were the result of a wide range of consultation, just as the Uluru Statement from the Heart itself was product of some five years of consultation processes for Indigenous Australians before the 250 delegates gathered in Uluru in 2017. I will continue to reach out. I want the broadest possible support - unions, business, across the political spectrum, sporting organisations. This has to be something that is owned by all Australians because it is an opportunity to unite us and to lift up the nation.

FERGUSON: Just a quick question on Julian Assange today because you used strong language today. You said: "Enough is enough, it's time to reach a conclusion." What will you do?

PRIME MINISTER: I will continue to act diplomatically and make representations.

FERGUSON: It sounds like you've had enough of the current situation. What can we imagine changing?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we need to bring it to a conclusion. I have said publicly now, more than a year ago as Opposition Leader, I said enough is enough. There was, there is nothing to be served in continuing this issue, given the circumstances which are there. People will have different views about Julian Assange and about his actions, but with regard to his ongoing incarceration while these legal processes occur, I don't see that there is a purpose being served. And I will continue to put that argument forward.

FERGUSON: Prime Minister, thank you very much indeed for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Sarah.