John it’s great to be here this morning, to be here with you and say thank you to your constituents for providing you with that strong support we saw yesterday. We’ve been able to thank them and they’ve just shown enormous affection for you. Of course, they’re only human, you’re a very loveable guy.
But this has been a great affirmation of John as the Federal member for Bennelong. We’re here again, to say thank you to the people of Bennelong for supporting John, for supporting the Government in this very, very hard-fought by-election.
John had to take on a very, very powerful campaign from Labor. There were lies. There were attempts to divide the community. You know, this is one of the most multicultural communities in Australia. We are the most successful multicultural society in the world and it was sad to see the Labor Party attempting to set people against each other.
But the people of Bennelong have the good sense and the wisdom to once again provide their support to John Alexander and we’re here to thank them for that and to say to them, in all humility, we know what you want us to do. You want us to get on and deliver on the strong economic leadership, the great services, health services, schools, the great efforts that we’re making in infrastructure. You want us to get on with that and deliver it, and that is what we are doing.
John Alexander is part of a team that is delivering for the people of Bennelong and indeed for all Australians. How do you feel today John, did you get some sleep?
JOHN ALEXANDER OAM:
I was so wired I couldn't turn off and I woke up at about a quarter to five this morning. It’s going to take a while to wind down, but this morning at Putney which is my local shopping area - I know a lot of people and one of my neighbours dropped in and said “hi’ – it’s really that moment of elation when you get selected to play Davis Cup for Australia, or win a seat. But immediately there is the responsibility of delivering. You have a great responsibility but I really see this as a time where our party has united and it is a rebirth and we are on a very, very positive track. Well done Malcolm, it’s great to be on your team.
Well John, it’s great to be on the same team as you and here we are together. Well, any questions?
Mr Alexander, you’ve been criticized already over an anecdote or joke that you told last night about your disability parking sticker episode. Do you have anything to say about that? There are people that are calling on you to apologise.
JOHN ALEXANDER OAM:
Look, you can be mischievous with your interpretation. What I was saying was that nobody that doesn’t have the right, or really deserves a parking sticker should take it. You can be mischievous, but if anybody has been offended, I apologise. The point was that nobody should take a disability sticker who shouldn’t have it or doesn’t deserve it and really need it. In that area, whether it’s working with Ryde Rehab, or Achieve Australia or in our efforts to develop the Bennelong Gardens concept to provide employment and actually ownership of business, no-one has done more for people with disabilities than I have.
Prime Minister, Labor has said that those remarks were offensive and that … do you agree with that?
John has already said that for those people who were offended, he apologises.
John is a great Australian with a big heart. He respects everybody in his community and he shows real leadership, particularly in the area of disability services and of course, we are rolling out the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Unlike Labor, we are setting out to fully fund it.
Again I would ask Labor and the Senate, in particular the crossbench to support our increase to the Medicare levy, which will enable the NDIS to be fully funded.
Prime Minister, during the campaign Liberals repeatedly said: “You don't need to vote for Kristina Keneally, because she is going to Canberra anyway as a replacement to Sam Dastyari”. Would you welcome Kristina Keneally as a senator in Canberra and do you acknowledge she actually might make quite a good one?
Well we respect every member and every senator regardless of which party they’re elected for. So if the Labor Party chooses to send Kristina Keneally to Canberra, she will get the same respect as every senator does.
I’ll just tell you, that is one of the reasons why with only 29 seats in the Senate, we‘ve been able to get so much legislation through; because we respect all of the senators and despite the predictions of the press gallery from time to time, we’re able to secure the passage of legislation.
So, respect; that actually is the foundation of our success as Australians, as Australia, as the most successful multicultural society in the world. Mutual respect, there should be more of it.
A few weeks ago John Barilaro wanted you to resign by Christmas. But you’ve since won New England, Bennelong and legislated same-sex marriage. Do you think he is looking a bit silly now?
Well I think he’s reconsidered those remarks himself.
Prime Minister you mentioned respect, neither you or Mr Alexander acknowledged Kristina Keneally in your victory speeches last night. Do you think that is a sign of respect, or to use a sporting analogy, ‘good sportsmanship’?
Well, we were there with our supporters and we talked about the people of Bennelong. The focus last night, as today, is on the people that John serves, the people that I serve as Prime Minister.
We’ve had a by-election in Bennelong. The people of John's community have spoken and we are paying our respect to them and thanking them for their support. This is about them.
You know, people often ask politicians questions about personalities and are naturally focused on personalities. The personalities that John and I are focused on are our fellow Australians. Here in this by-election, over 106,000 citizens on the roll in Bennelong and of course all of their families and other residents.
How do you take this momentum forward Prime Minister? It’s been a very tough year for you you’ve had 24 Newspolls and although you haven’t necessarily wanted to focus on that, the media has for good reason. How do you take that and take this momentum forward? How do you think that will change in 2018?
What we have done this year is deal with a number of very difficult issues which have been around for a long time and have been almost impossible for the political system to resolve.
Same-sex marriage for example, a very divisive issue. Despite enormous opposition from the Labour Party we gave every Australian their say, as I promised at the election. They had their say and the Parliament in a free vote, has legislated it. So we’ve dealt with that.
Energy policy has been a very divisive issue for a long time. We have a National Energy Guarantee which the Coalition has adopted as its policy and you’re seeing widespread support from Labor states, including Labor states, but also from the energy sector. The announcement and the development of the policy has been supported from everyone from the World Wildlife Federation and the ACTU, to the Minerals Council and the Business Council of Australia. Those are very important issues to deal with.
The citizenship saga, which came out of a clear blue sky, no-one saw that coming –
Can I ask how many, many more by-elections do you think you might yet face?
Yes you can, but just let me finish my answer first, mutual respect, remember how important that is. The citizenship issue is one that no-one was expecting. We were upfront about it. Barnaby Joyce referred himself to the High Court. John Alexander resigned from Parliament. Each of them went to by-elections and they’ve been returned.
The Labor Party at this stage, even though they have two people in the House of Representatives who are UK citizens now - neither of them have stepped down - and the risk of by-elections next year falls clearly on the Labor side.
So I think there is a risk there but as I say, I have given up making predictions about what the High Court will say. I’m on a 50-50 success rate, so I don't want it to get worse. But I think they’ve got some real questions to answer in the Court next year.
The North Korea-related arrest Prime Minister. Have you been briefed by the Australian Federal Police on what that entails?
What can you tell us about it?
I have been briefed, I’ve spoken to the Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin already today and I’ve had a briefing on it. As you know from the police, a 59-year-old man has been arrested and will be charged with offences relating to breaking sanctions and endeavoring - by breaking sanctions - to provide economic support for the North Korean regime. These are very, very serious matters.
North Korea is a dangerous, reckless, criminal regime, threatening the peace of the region.
It supports itself by breaching UN sanctions, not simply by selling commodities like coal and other goods but also by selling weapons, by selling drugs and engaging in cyber crime.
It is vitally important that all nations work relentlessly to enforce those sanctions. Because the more economic pressure that can be brought on North Korea, the sooner that regime will be brought to its senses.
So I want to congratulate the Australian Federal Police for their investigative work.
This is a very, very important arrest, the charges that have been laid are of the gravest nature, so I will say no more about the facts of the case. Obviously it will be put before the court.
But you can see that we put the security of Australia first. We have the finest security and intelligence agencies in the world. We give them the laws that enable them to do their job. Those laws are constantly under review to make sure they’re fit for purpose.
I want to congratulate Commissioner Colvin and his team for this excellent work of investigation and obviously now the man involved will be dealt with by the courts.
Prime Minister on Bennelong, does this feel like a bit of a circuit breaker for you, leading up to Christmas?
Well I’m very pleased with the result, I can assure you. It has been a very strong result. Labor threw everything at John Alexander. I mean, you guys covered it; it was a relentless campaign.
The interesting thing though was that they were essentially running the same lies that they ran in the election last year about Medicare, saying we were a threat to Medicare.
We have guaranteed Medicare. We actually passed an Act of Parliament that guarantees Medicare.
Indexation has been restored, but they were still running the same lies here.
So, they had nothing new to say.
Talk about schools? John and I were just talking to a teacher at the shops here a moment ago; $23 billion of additional federal funding over the next decade and for the first time, David Gonski's vision of consistent, national, needs-based funding is being fulfilled. Now, that’s what we’ve done; we’ve guaranteed Medicare, we’re providing the real needs-based funding that David Gonski recommended and substantially more money.
So that message has got through.
But we hear - and we hear it with humility - that the message is, from the people of Bennelong to get on with the job, get on and deliver. We’ve got a lot of work in progress.
Childcare reforms come into operation next year.
Obviously we’ve got more small and medium business tax cuts coming into operation this year.
We are getting on with the job of delivering the leadership, the economic growth that is seeing over 1,000 jobs a day being created.
That’s what secures everybody's future, everybody’s prosperity.
It’s what secures the government revenues to fund Medicare and schools and everything else.
You need to have a strong economy. John made that point during the campaign, he’s absolutely right. So we’re committed to that and we are delivering.
Jobs and growth has been a slogan – still is a slogan, I suppose – but now it’s an outcome as well and that’s the main thing. Thank you all very much, good to see you. There’s just another question on North Korea and then we will wrap it up.
On North Korea, how concerning is it that it has been happening under our noses? No one has been tougher on sanctions than Australia and potentially, could there be others?
Well the answer to your question of ‘potentially others’, yes, there could be. But it’s important for people to know, that if they are assisting the North Korean regime, or they are thinking of assisting the North Korean regime in sanctions-busting, the AFP will find you. They will find you and they will arrest you and you will go to court. If you are convicted, you’ll go to jail for a long time.
We are relentless in our determination to keep Australia safe, whether it is safe from terrorism, international drug trafficking, organised crime and of course the threat from North Korea.
It is the first duty of every Government and my government, to keep Australians safe.
That is what we are committed to.
Thanks very much.