Television interview - Sky News Afternoon Agenda

15 Dec 2022
Prime Minister
Government's Energy Price Relief Plan; cost of living; energy; renewables; manufacturing; Wieambilla shooting; gun reform; Australia's relationship with China; Australia's role in the Pacific; Robodebt Royal Commission; Voice to Parliament; Government's a

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Prime Minister, thanks for your time.


GILBERT: When Alan Carpenter established that gas reservation in WA, we heard many warnings from the gas industry. Do you see the complaints from the industry that we're hearing today now in a similar light to what was seen in WA all those years ago?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm certainly confident that we've got the balance right. This is a very modest package of a modest intervention that's required because of the extraordinary circumstances. And we did see industry, at the time, say that was a wrong decision by the Carpenter Government. The truth is that WA is in a stronger position today because of that visionary decision that was made.

GILBERT: He says it's ridiculous that we don't have a national reservation, that no country with our resources allows unfettered access without putting some aside for domestic use. You're open to that now, aren't you?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you can't rewrite wrongs that have occurred in the past. That's one of the issues that we're dealing with here. You have existing contracts that we were determined to not interfere with. You have sovereignty issues that we were determined to not create as well. So, we had to fashion a reform based upon not having unintended consequences of damaging our trade relationships, for example. So, we've done that. But one of the things that we're looking at in the future, for example, with New South Wales, with additional projects, is making sure that is for domestic purposes. And I know that that's a position that shared across different levels of government and, of course, across different political views as well.

GILBERT: Is there a risk, though, that it might, the move that we see today, it might chill investment or supply?


GILBERT: What's your argument against that?

PRIME MINISTER: Because the truth is that a $12 price on gas, a ceiling, if you like, is something like 96 per cent of gas contracts, deals that were done in 2021, were for under that. And the average price was under $10. And so, the idea that somehow this decision today will inhibit investment, if the investment was good prior to 2021, based upon that price, then the higher price that's allowed, by this temporary measure that we've put in, should do nothing whatsoever to inhibit investment. And I'd say to the sector as well, they want to be careful that they're not talking themselves down. Because there are big opportunities for future investment. We welcome future investment. We need to deal with issues of supply. But we had 10 years in which the failure to have an energy policy meant that four gigawatts left the system and only one returned.

GILBERT: What do you mean, though, by saying they're talking themselves down?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, if you go out there and you say, 'Oh, this will inhibit investment, this will create issues for us going forward', then you're essentially talking down your industry. And I see no reason, there's nothing in this legislation that should require that sort of conversation. We saw it before the industrial relations legislation, Kieran, where some were out there saying it would immediately result in all this chaos and dysfunction. The legislation passed, the world's gone on, it has dealt with things. Just like the world dealt with the Carpenter Government's reforms that were put in place. And, frankly, they'll deal with these reforms as well in a constructive way.

GILBERT: The Greens are claiming a win on the electrification of homes, that policy area. Weren't you're going to do that anyway?

PRIME MINISTER: We, of course, have always been talking about the need to ensure that people can use electrification process and therefore then use renewables to drive down emissions. That's a part of greater efficiency. Of course, there's nothing mandated in this. It's about giving people the opportunity to have greater energy efficiency in their homes, therefore, reduce power bills at the same time as they are reducing their emissions. So, this is something that we'll look at and work across the Parliament in the lead-up to the Budget next year. But I must say this. That the minor parties, and the crossbenchers, were all prepared to be constructive. All engaged. Whether it was Adam Bandt, or Bob Katter, or other independent Senators and Members. The Opposition, having failed to put in place a policy for 10 years, today voted for higher power prices. They voted to defend the interests of big corporations making massive profits without any recognition that there is a responsibility to manufacturers, to households, to deliver for their interests.

GILBERT: Are the Australian people more open to an intervention like this in the energy market than say, when the former Labor Government tried to deliver that mining tax and copped all the flack? Do you think there's been a shift in sentiment?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they know what's happening in the world. There's been an invasion of Ukraine by Russia that has led to a massive spike in global prices, it's led to a massive increase in global inflation. Now, countries around the world are having to deal with this. In the United Kingdom, the Conservative Government there have brought in, essentially, a super profits tax that they are then using to rebate households and businesses in the energy sector. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. And the idea that we could just sit back and do nothing, which is what the Opposition wanted us to do, is irresponsible. That would have seen manufacturers and households be hit. And I was somewhat stunned, frankly, that Peter Dutton and the Opposition were prepared to vote today for higher power prices for both businesses and for households.

GILBERT: Let's move on. And the shocking events in Queensland this week, one of the perpetrators of that atrocity apparently had a gun licence in New South Wales. It's not clear how much, if any knowledge, that Queensland Police had of that. Shouldn't there be immediate access in terms of gun registries, who's got licenced guns and whatever across borders? Would you look at changes in that area if need be?

PRIME MINISTER: There's an investigation which is ongoing, of course, Kieran. And today, we've had a condolence motion in the Parliament. A very solemn moment in the Parliament. And over coming days, of course, we'll continue to mourn as a nation the two police officers, but also the neighbour here who lost his life. And these tragic events have impacted everyone in that local community. They've impacted everyone in the family that is serving police officers and their families. But also, I think, across the Australian community. We will examine any issues which arise out of this tragedy. We will do so in a coherent and constructive way.

GILBERT: John Howard, one of your predecessors, undertook significant gun reform after a major tragedy. Would you look at further tightening gun restrictions to ensure that our world's best practice continues in this area?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, John Howard deserves a great deal of credit, along with Tim Fischer for the reforms. But also, of course, I was a part of the Labor Party, the Opposition at that time, that gave its full support to the reforms. We'll allow the investigation to take place. Any recommendations that come from it, we would certainly be prepared to examine.

GILBERT: Next week marks the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic ties with China. We saw a recent delegation of Australian MPs to Taiwan. Has that caused any speed bumps in the relationship?

PRIME MINISTER: No, there have been delegations before of Members of Parliament, backbench Members of Parliament. This wasn't a Government to Government visit by those MPs. I think that this year has seen a better relationship, clearly, with China. What we've said when I met with President Xi in Bali was that we would continue to look at measures to move forward together. It is in our interest to have a better relationship with our major trading partner. But it's also in the interest of peace and security in the region to have dialogue. What I've said about China is that we should cooperate where we can, but be prepared to disagree where we must. And we will always, of course, stand up for Australia's national interests.

GILBERT: Will you seek to go to Beijing early next year, if possible?

PRIME MINISTER: We, of course, will examine any invitations which come in. But we've already had meetings at the leader-level. I, of course, also met with Premier Li. And we have had meetings between our Foreign Ministers and our Defence Ministers. So, that makes a big change from the previous term of Parliament when there was no contact, not even phone contact. And that's not a healthy situation.

GILBERT: The Foreign Ministers held and conducted a bipartisan delegation to the Pacific over the last week. Has your Government stemmed the tide of rising Chinese influence in the Pacific?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we've been about is reassuring the Pacific that we want to remain the national security partners of choice. And that the Pacific as a family, we need to look after our own security in the region. So, the visit, led by Senator Wong, the Foreign Minister, has been really constructive, as have the other visits. Senator Wong has now visited more than a dozen nations in the Pacific. Patrick Conroy has visited. I, of course, attended the Fijian Pacific Island Forum meeting. I've had contact and welcomed Prime Minister Sogavare, but other leaders including the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands. We will have further visits next year. What we want to do is to re-establish the exchange, as well, with people from the Pacific, parliamentarians coming here, but also us travelling to there. And bear in mind as well, we had a comprehensive package we took to the election of increased support for the Pacific to enable their economic growth. But also, the entry fee for credibility in international relations in this century is action on climate change. My Government has credibility. The former Government didn't, and therefore alienated many of our neighbours. And those relationships are important.

GILBERT: On a few other matters, the Robodebt Royal Commission, it was obviously an incredibly flawed scheme. I don't think anyone really argues against that now. But when you see a former Prime Minister in the dock being grilled, is that the new normal? A new Government, former Prime Minister cops a grilling at a Royal Commission?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this, of course, had tragic consequences. There was more than a billion dollars cost to the Australian taxpayer as a result of a scheme. That wasn't legal. That was flawed. And that had real human consequences for people. And of course, it is appropriate that there be a Royal Commission. And it's doing its work. It was something we committed to. And bear this in mind, that for year after year after year, after the former Government was notified that there were issues over whether it was the legitimate program, they continued to deny that, they continued to attack the Labor Party for daring to be critical of the scheme. And that was, of course, before you had this massive payout at a great cost to taxpayers. So, it is important that it be examined and that people will be held to account.

GILBERT: As we look to the new year, a big event will be the referendum on the Voice. Respected Jesuit priest and lawyer, Frank Brennan, Father Frank, asked recently, 'Can we design a Voice which doesn't mean you're going off to the High Court every second day?' What do you say to some concerns that the Voice could end up being susceptible to legal challenge and ended up being more than originally foreseen?

PRIME MINISTER: I'd say that we have done that. And that's why the best legal minds in the country have come together to assist in crafting both the question that will be asked, but the proposed constitutional change as well. It's very clear that the Voice will be subservient to the Parliament, subservient to the legislation that will govern the structure of the Voice. And that has been worked on by, as I said, the best legal minds in the country, which is why I'm very confident that when Australians vote, they'll have an opportunity to do something great for the country, to advance Reconciliation, to promote respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but also respect for ourselves as a nation, of acknowledging the great privilege that we have of sharing this continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth. And it will also have an impact on the way that Australia is seen in the world as well. We will be seen as a country that's mature enough to recognise the fullness of our history and the fact that it doesn't go to 1788, it goes back at least 60,000 years.

GILBERT: Can the referendum be successful in the face of political division? Do you think you'll secure this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm very hopeful that Australians who are optimistic, Australian who are generous, will accept this gracious offer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There were five years spent in the lead-up to the Uluru Statement coming out in 2017. Five years of extensive consultation. Since then, it has been another five years in which we know, for example, that Ken Wyatt, the former Minister in the Morrison Government, took on two occasions a more than 200-page document about the structure and operation of the Voice to the Morrison Cabinet. So, there's been a lot of discussion, a lot of detail to make sure that this has got right. But essentially, it will do just two things. One, it will recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution, which is important. And secondly, it will say that when issues affect directly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, they should be consulted. And we know that will have a practical impact. Because when you consult people about issues that affect them, about their education, their health, their housing, their life expectancy, justice issues, then you'll get better outcomes if you're consulting rather than just seeking to impose things on any section of society.

GILBERT: Prime Minister, I know we're almost out of time. But would former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, make a good Ambassador to the United States?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I'm sure whoever is chosen as the Ambassador to the United States will do a terrific job. Arthur Sinodinos is doing a good job at the moment. And he's the bloke who has the job. I met with him just a couple of weeks ago.

GILBERT: Now, coming into Christmas and the New Year, no doubt you'll get a chance to pause and reflect on 2022. It has been a huge year for you, hasn't it?

PRIME MINISTER: It's been a pretty big year. It's been a year, of course, dominated by an election and then the consequences of an election. No one can say we haven't hit the ground running. The election was 21st of May. By the 23rd of May, I was off to meet with President Biden, Prime Minister Kishida and Prime Minister Modi to talk about security in the region, to talk about our joint action on climate change, to rejoin the international community on those issues. And since then, we've set about implementing the agenda we took to the election of cheaper child care, cheaper medicines, having the National Reconstruction Fund, making more things here, action on climate change, including our 43 per cent target, the Respect@Work recommendations, ten days paid family and domestic violence leave, the changes to lift wages, where we immediately, of course, put in a submission that was granted for a higher wage for those on the minimum wage. It's been a big year. It's been a year where we've delivered on the commitments that we had. And we've also changed the way that politics operates. We've been more inclusive. We've had debates extensively in the Parliament. We've brought together unions and business through the Jobs and Skills Summit to talk about a way forward for the nation. And we've reset our international relations with our neighbours, whether it's our relationship with Indonesia, the visit of Prime Minister Kishida here from Japan, the increased engagement with the United States, plus, of course, resetting relations with countries like France. So, it's been a big, busy year. I do look forward to having a little bit of downtime over the break. But I do want to take the opportunity to wish you and your family, but all your viewers as well, a very Merry Christmas. For those people of faith, a holy Christmas as well. And I wish everyone a good new year. And stay safe on the roads as well. It can be a dangerous time.

GILBERT: Well, Prime Minister to you, and Jodie and Nathan as well, Merry Christmas. And we appreciate your time today and throughout the year. Thanks for talking to our viewers.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Kieran. It's always been good to chat with you over the year. And I hope you get a longer break than I'm going to get.

GILBERT: Rest assured on that. Appreciate it.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Kieran.