Opening remarks, Council of Australian Government Press Conference

09 Feb 2018
Parliament House, Canberra
Prime Minister


Well thank you all very much. We’ve had a very, very productive COAG meeting. The 45th meeting of the council of Australian Governments.

The meeting began and was enriched by the contribution of the delegates from the Special Gathering of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, which has been going on in Canberra over the last few days.

It demonstrated our shared commitment to do things ‘with’ and not ‘to’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They have a very pithy insight into the right approach, originally described to me by Chris Sarra, who was one of the delegates.

We had a very good discussion. We heard very clearly the desire for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be equal partners in this work. The desire to have real skin in the game, as we seek to refresh the Closing The Gap targets and that means accountability and opportunity. That the focus should be on a strengths-based approach that enables Indigenous people to thrive, not just survive.

We were reminded that we have made gains and efforts to date have improved the lives of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. But plainly we have not been able to achieve as much success as we would like.

We need to work harder, particularly in remote areas and ensure that we achieve higher quality outcomes. There was strong agreement about the need for better data and reporting and to hold us more accountable for achieving progress and that includes jurisdictional targets - that is to say targets that are referenced to states and territories, not just national targets - with a more granular focus that forms part of the refreshed Closing The Gap agenda.

Now, we met last night at the special gathering, all of us First Ministers and we heard the need to get the refresh of the Closing The Gap target right. Following feedback from delegates, we’ve agreed to extend the timeframe for concluding this refresh consultation to October this year.

Now, we have to work diligently but respectfully and this should allow us the time to do both.

The special gathering has provided its communique, which is on the public record and the priorities, as you will have noted, include health, housing, economic development and many more.

COAG acknowledged that there is no higher responsibility for adults than keeping our children safe. Keeping our children safe, ensuring they have the best start in life to realise their dreams, is amongst our deepest responsibilities as Governments, parents and for some of us, grandparents.

The Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, as we know was the product of five years of hard work and courageous work for all those involved.

Now, I'm pleased that all the jurisdictions have agreed to respond to the royal commission's findings by June this year.

As you know, we have a task force underway in the Attorney-General's Department dealing with the Commonwealth's responses and that will be done by the June date.

We also considered the Royal Commission into the protection and detention of children in the Northern Territory and that also has lessons for us all around early intervention and preventing children from entering into the youth justice and child protection systems.

We discussed the issue of bullying and cyberbullying. This is rightly described as a scourge. As the Premier of Queensland said in our meeting, the arrival of the smartphone and the internet enabled by the smartphone, means that the bullying does not stop at the school gate. It follows the child home, back home into their bedroom. The amplification of bullying in the cybersphere is something that has is unprecedented in all of our history. There are so many heartbreaking tragedies and all of us are familiar with the tragic death of Amy Everett and as I think I said earlier today, Lucy and I have spent some time with her parents and her sister. All of us assembled here and many people watching this press conference, will have had similar experiences with loved ones and family that have faced the consequences of this shocking bullying.

Mutual respect is a key value that we must ensure our children have, whether we are parents, grandparents, big brothers and sisters, friends, uncles, aunts, grandparents, teachers.

It has no place in Australia, we will take every step to reduce the incidence of bullying, whether online or offline, eliminate it wherever we can. We had an excellent presentation from our eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman-Grant. I think all Ministers would agree, that she was informed, passionate and demonstrated and described the way in which the Australian Government, the Commonwealth Government, has a world-first office - an eSafety office - with powers that are unique. We're the first in the world to have to powers to force social media platforms to take offending material down. There's civil penalty powers and it is a single place of help for people facing bullying and unsafe practices online.

We're going to continue our work together on this. Again, I want to thank the Premier of Queensland for bringing this to the agenda. It's one that the Commonwealth has been taking the lead on in the cybersphere - as we should, given our telecommunications responsibilities - but it is a very big task. As Julie Inman-Grant said, we have to do much more to engage parents above all, to make sure that they are more aware of, more alert to, what their children are doing online and that their kids talk to them when they are being bullied.

Now, we also discussed schools. We discussed, of course, the Commonwealth's new Gonski 2.0 school funding arrangements, which are putting substantial additional funds into schools on a national, consistent, needs-based model, for the first time ever in the history of the Commonwealth. We look forward to receiving David Gonski's Achieving Educational Excellence in Australian Schools report shortly. We considered the work that has been commissioned from Susan Pascoe and others on early learning and we're looking forward to finalising a national schools agreement by September.

Now in terms of health, we agreed to settle long-term hospital funding arrangements this year. The Commonwealth has put forward a generous offer that provides stability and certainty and I'm pleased to report that New South Wales and Western Australia have today signed an agreement, the heads of agreement that will see an additional $9 billion and more than $3.5 billion flow into their state hospital systems over five years from 2020. I look forward to other jurisdictions securing additional funding in coming months. This deal is underpinned by reform agenda that will improve patient choice and health outcomes for all Australians in particular across regional and remote Australia.

On a separate matter that affects Victoria and New South Wales, we've had productive discussions outside COAG on our proposal to take full ownership of Snowy Hydro by acquiring the shares held by New South Wales and Victoria. Today the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Victorian Governments have reiterated our intention to progress the transaction. Discussions are continuing to confirm the final valuation and associated terms of the deal. We hope to complete it shortly.

I should also note in conclusion that early this morning the northern Australian first ministers and the Commonwealth held a discussion about the progress of development spending across the north especially in roads and water and on Indigenous economic development.

So it's been a very productive COAG.