Doorstop - Hobart, Tasmania

Transcript
16 Feb 2018
Prime Minister
Tasmanian jobs; Poker machines; Barnaby Joyce; Ministerial standards; NT Royal Commission
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks very much. It’s great to be back in Tasmania. We’re here with John McVeigh, the Regional Development Minister, my Regional Development Minister. We were talking today about the strengths of Liberal Government federally and in Tasmania. Great financial management.

WILL HODGMAN – PREMIER OF TASMANIA:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

There it is. That’s what Will Hodgman has done; got the state’s books back in the black.

What about jobs growth? 403,000 jobs created in Australia last year, the strongest job growth in our history, 16 consecutive months of jobs growth. Again, that’s the strongest since we started counting them back in 1978, so 40 years.

What about Tasmania? What about the jobs here? They are looking pretty strong.

PREMIER OF TASMANIA:

Yeah, look I’m thrilled that Tasmania has now got the second lowest unemployment rate in the country. 10,900 jobs have been created since we came to government. 10,000 were lost under the former government so we’ve been able to turn that around.

I think it has been a great demonstration of the state and Commonwealth governments working together, working with the private sector and investing in Tasmania's great competitive strengths and opening the state for business. We’re now seeing the results of that four years on.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s the result of strong economic leadership in Tasmania, in Canberra, delivering the jobs and growth that we promised. A slogan certainly, a couple of years back, but now a real outcome. This regional jobs investment package here in Tasmania of $27 million, John, 50 projects. The one we are talking about here today, as Rod described, brings together everything that we are working to ensure; more jobs, better-paid jobs and at the cutting edge of technology.

Rod’s got, this is an amazing newsprint mill, paper mill here in Boyer. It’s 77 years old and it’s obviously, we’re not consuming as much newsprint as we used it and we have seen the way, we have witnessed the way in which the plant has moved to coating papers. Phenomenal technology we saw there, it’s very exciting technology.

But biochemicals are also a great opportunity. What a phenomenal achievement of Australian technology - and we credit Norske Skug’s partners Circa, the biochemical company - working together to be able to take forest residues and turn that into a clean, green, industrial solvent, replacing toxic solvents which have higher risks and which of course are made through fossil fuels and petrol and oil and so forth.

It is a terrific, outstanding example of Australian technology. This plant is going well, small-scale. Can it develop into a big commercial plant? There is a feasibility study underway. We are providing half of the cost of that, the $3 million cost to that. So what you could have here - what we expect to have when the feasibility study is complete and everyone is very optimistic about it - is an export industry that is clean, that is green, that will be in global demand, that is a world’s-best technology and is happening right here in Tasmania.

The jobs of the 21st Century are not somewhere else, they’re right here. They’re right here because of the cooperation between the companies, between the Tasmanian government, the Federal Government and above all, the brilliance and dedication of Australian scientists and engineers.

So I’m delighted to be here with John McVeigh and my federal colleagues, my senate colleagues here, with Will and his colleagues. This is a great day for Tasmania, a great day for jobs and a great day for Australian innovation and science.

So Will, why don’t you wrap things up?

PREMIER OF TASMANIA:

Thank you PM and federal colleagues for being here today with the state team. To be at this wonderful iconic Tasmanian business and it is wonderful to see such great innovation, enterprise, meet some wonderful workers and to be a part of a collaborative effort to continue the resurgence in our great forest sector and put Tasmania at the cutting edge at the front of the pack when it comes to innovation and development in this great island state and to celebrate the fact that Tasmania's economy is one of the strongest performing in the country.

Our unemployment rate is down, it’s the second lowest of any state - equal second - and that is a significant thing. When we came into government we pledged to bring our unemployment rate down, get it down to the national average and we achieved that.

We said we’d create more jobs, 10,900 more jobs now than when we came into government. Under the former government the unemployment rate got as high as 8.6%. We did inherit a billion dollars in deficits, net debt approaching $400 million, we wiped both those off the balance sheet.

The benefit of this, the reason why it’s so important is that we are able to invest in essential services, into our policy to take education and health to the next level, but also to partner with the Commonwealth and the private sector to create more job opportunities for Tasmanians.

It has and will remain the number one priority for a re-elected majority Liberal government because it gives Tasmanians their best opportunity in life. It gives people more reason to stay here. More people are coming to our state as our population grows and Tasmania's economy, I’m proud to say, is not only one of the strongest in the country but it has the highest levels of business confidence of any state so we have achieved a lot over the last four years, a lot of it done in combination with the Commonwealth and Federal Government and we look forward to continuing that on March 4.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well done, well said. Any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Should Barnaby Joyce resign Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Could we have Tasmanian questions first. Then we can - hang on, please you were first.

JOURNALIST:

Did you agree to be part of the pro-pokie propaganda last night at the Foreshore Tavern? There was a photograph of you taken at the Foreshore Tavern.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I was there... I was there, I was proud to be there.

JOURNALIST:

Did you agree to be part of the pro-pokie propaganda that's been put out by the Premier?

PRIME MINISTER:

Will is standing up for Tasmanian jobs, for thousands of jobs in the hospitality sector. We are joined together in our determination to ensure that there are more jobs and better jobs here in Tasmania and of course right around the country.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister do we need tougher controls on poker machines? This is something that you had a look at some years ago, you did a survey. Do we need tougher controls?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you’d have to ask Will about his views, about the position in Tasmania. But the focus that we have at the federal level, frankly, is on the online space because of our telecommunications authority. We have increased regulation there, but the gambling universe is a very large one, particularly because of the internet.

But the regulation of pokies is obviously a matter for the state premier.

WILL HODGMAN:

It is highly recognised regarding that, we do have some of the toughest regulatory protocols and processes in place. Nick Xenophon no less has acknowledged that Tasmania has nation-leading harm-minimisation regulations for our gambling industry.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister if it’s a state issue, why were you standing alongside a paid lobbyist in pro-pokies David Foster last night?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I was in the bar at the pub with Will and a lot of people who were determined to protect Tasmanian jobs by voting Liberal and encouraging others to vote Liberal. It was very good to be there, we were in the public bar of a hotel. There are many Tasmanians who are determined to protect their jobs and their friends’ and their families’ jobs by returning the Hodgman Liberal government.

JOURNALIST:

Do you believe that thousands of jobs will go if poker machines are removed from pubs and clubs?

PRIME MINISER:

Well Will?

WILL HODGMAN:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, yes I don’t doubt it. It would be a huge change to that industry. That doesn’t seem to be in doubt.

JOURNALIST:

So you’d like to see poker machines remain in some of Tasmania’s poorest communities?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, the regulation of poker machines is a matter for the state government.

JOURNALIST:

So you don’t have a personal position on it?

PRIME MINISTER:

You know what my position on it is? That Tasmania has a Government that has the responsibility to regulate poker machines. I am standing next to the Premier of Tasmania and you really should be addressing questions about state regulation to him.

JOURNALIST:

On a federal issue, should Barnaby Joyce resign?

PRIME MINISTER:

So we’ve moved on to that, have we? Look, Barnaby Joyce has my confidence as Deputy Prime Minister. He is the leader of the National Party. He's obviously made an error of judgement, I talked about that yesterday. He recognises that, he has apologised for that, he is taking some leave and he is considering his position with his family and his wife, his children and he is spending time with them and obviously, setting up home with his partner. They are expecting a baby soon.

So Barnaby has got plenty to reflect on, but the reality is errors of judgement were made, he has acknowledged that. He has apologised for that.

JOURNALIST:

Barnaby is doing a press conference at 11.30, do you know what he expects to be saying?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t know what he’ll be saying.

JOURNALIST:

How do you define sexual relations? What’s the definition of it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that’s pretty obvious.

JOURNALIST:

How do you expect to police this ban in your new code?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, let me be very clear about this. Nobody, surely, seriously believes that it is a good thing or a desirable thing or an appropriate thing for ministers to be involved in a sexual relationship with somebody who works for them, one of their staff in their office.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Please, just let me finish. These matters - as I said yesterday - have been treated as private, personal issues are a very long time in Canberra. I make no comment about other parts of the country. The time has come to draw a line in the sand and what I have done in the amendments to the ministerial standards, is set out my values and my standards that I expect my ministers to comply with henceforth.

I am not interested in going back into history or archaeology of what may or may not have happened in the past. From yesterday in fact, but certainly from now, ministers must not have sexual relations with their staff.

Now that is the standard. That’s what must be complied with. Again, this is in many respects a very big cultural change in terms of the way Parliament’s culture has operated. We all understand that. So this is a time of change, a time of recognition. I make no comments about standards in the past, practices in the past. I’m talking about right here, right now, today and that standard is very clear. It’s black-and-white, it’s a bright line and I expect it to be complied with.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Sorry? The difficulty is, you are all shouting at the same time. I tell you what we’re going to do, we’ll three more questions on Barnaby Joyce, we’ll go to you, you and you.

JOURNALIST:

You’ve set the standard, looking forward into the future, how do you expect to police it.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s like any standard, clearly it is a signal - a very clear signal, a statement, in fact - of the standard that I expect to be followed. Like any of these standards, obviously you expect people to comply with them.

You’re asking me how can you be sure people are complying with them? Well, how can you be sure people are complying with any of the standards? You have to rely on the integrity and the commitment of the ministers and I think it is important, particularly given the context, to be absolutely clear.

JOURNALIST:

Have you spoken to Barnaby Joyce this morning Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I have not.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

If a minister is having, has a sexual relationship with one of his or her staff, that is not a private matter, right, henceforth, right now. These were matters regarded as private in the past and sometimes they emerged into public view of course. But let's be very clear; going forward, a minister who breaches that standard, is not engaging in a private act. This is very, very clear. We have to live our values. We have to live our values.

People expect a high standard from us as ministers, as leaders. That standard - you may well say it’s a pity you have to write it down, it’s a pity you had to spell it out - well, I believe it needed to be spelled out and it has been. So it’s very, very clear.

JOURNALIST:

How terminal is your relationship, your working relationship with Barnaby given your comments yesterday, particularly your suggestion that he should consider his position?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Barnaby has been considering his position and I don’t think there is any question about that. But I have not called on him to resign. I have not asked him to resign. He has to form his view on his own circumstances. He’s got a lot to reflect on given what’s happened and I just say again, he has made some big errors of judgement and he acknowledges that. Barnaby is not refuting that. He acknowledges that and he has apologised to his wife and daughters, and of course to his colleagues. He has to then work out how he proceeds henceforth.

JOURNALIST:

When were you aware that he was having an affair? When were you made aware of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Barnaby did not come into my office and say that he was having a sexual relationship with somebody in his office -

JOURNALIST:

When were you made aware and were you aware when you praised him at the New England by-election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, when you’re talking about somebody who is having a sexual relationship of this kind - and this is one of the reasons why they should not occur - the only way you can be certain that the relationship is of that character, is if one or other of the parties to the relationship actually tells you. Ok? So there are a lot of rumours around Parliament House at any given time, I hope most of them are wrong by the way and no doubt many of them are. But -

JOURNALIST:

So were you aware of the rumours when you lauded him? His leadership and so on, you lauded him, yet you knew there were rumours he was having an extramarital affair and maybe other [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

There was actually a frontpage article in The Daily Telegraph prior to that, around the time of the by-election, referring to that. I'm not going to go into the private discussions between me and Barnaby Joyce other than what I have said; that he did not come into my office and say: “Malcolm I am having an affair with this woman,” he did not make a statement of that kind. I think that - again - the lack of clarity I suppose, about relations of this kind is why you need a bright line.

I might say, I am very disappointed that the Labor Party has not - at least not when I last checked - given this change their support. I mean it would be extraordinary if Bill Shorten were to go to the next election on the basis that he would delete that provision from the ministerial code, so that there was no prohibition on ministers having relations of that kind with their staff.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister hen were you first made aware of the rumours about Barnaby Joyce?  Did you ask him directly if they were true when you found out?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I can't recall when I first heard rumours, but I can say to you that he did not say to me that he was having an affair with this woman.

JOURNALIST:

Did you check when you heard these rumours?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to go any further than that. It is the responsibility of ministers to comply with the standards and if a matter of this kind touches on the standards, then it's their responsibility to advise me.

JOURNALIST:

Can I ask why the ban only applies to ministers and their own staff? Why not all staff and all MPs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, I'm going to review the code overall. But I wanted to make the change now that was very, very clear, because the problems that arise with a minister - we talk about ministers, but this can apply in other contexts - when a minister is having a sexual relationship of that kind with someone who directly works for them, it's a workplace issue.

I’m not trying to moralise here, I want to be very clear about that. I mean there are moral issues obviously, so that’s why I make it clear this rule applies to ministers whether they are married or single. Right? But it clearly creates problems in a workplace. So this is a workplace issue, it's about workplace respect.

JOURNALIST:

Will they be required to make declarations then?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they are required to comply with the code. You know what? We’re not actually asking very much, I’m not asking very much. Ministers have, you know they are well paid, they have big jobs, big responsibilities, lots of status. I'm just saying that they should not do something which we all know is wrong or inappropriate or undesirable. Call it what you like, it’s not conducive to a good and healthy workplace. That’s why there needs to be a clear rule.

That is a standard that I am setting out clearly and I suspect most people would have regarded that as not needing to be said. I’ll just take one more.

JOURNALIST:

Julie Bishop said she would be willing to postpone her travel plans to be acting Prime Minister. Did you talk to her about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I did speak to Julie earlier in the week and I have been in touch with her. But she has a program that is - and thank you very much for asking this - she has a program which has three days of meetings in the United Kingdom. She goes to Hungary, I think and then to Slovenia. She has meetings with half a dozen foreign ministers, the Prime Minister of Hungary, the President of Slovenia, it's a big program. The role of Acting Prime Minister is essentially a titular one, I don't stop being Prime Minister when I'm overseas. I continue doing all my work.

So to ask Julie to cancel a whole week of important diplomatic engagements didn't seem to me to make much sense.

Mathias is in the country and he is the next in the order of precedence and so it’s just a better use of everybody's time and resources to do that.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister are you suggesting that Barnaby Joyce has misled you at any stage? Has he done that?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I am not suggesting that at all. You asked me a question about it and I’ve said to you that he did not volunteer to me that he was in a sexual relationship with the staffer, Ms Campion -

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

The responsibility is for ministers to comply with the standards. Now, the allegations that have been made about Barnaby breaching the standards - which have not been made out, and you saw Labor's effort in the House - those allegations do not relate to him having an affair with the staffer. Right?

They relate to other matters, the rental or the availability of an apartment in Armidale, for example. You’ve heard all that yesterday.

It's not my job to go around and investigate every rumour and spend a lot of time doing that.

But I want to be very, very clear now, going forward, that relations of that kind are not to be had between ministers and their staff. Now look, it's a pity that I've got to do it. I think truthfully, it’s long overdue. I think it's an important cultural signal that we’re going to have workplaces in parliament that are respectful, that is very, very important. Because there is clearly a power imbalance between the boss, the minister and the staff. It’s not appropriate. Again, I'm not moralising, it’s not my job. I’m just setting out a good 2018 workplace practice in a standard and you’ll find that many other businesses and enterprises have very similar rules and have had for a long time.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister you said it’s not your job to investigate every rumour. Is it really not your job to check that your deputy was having an affair with one of his staffers, given the ramifications we’ve now seen?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, I don't want to go into private conversations with Barnaby. I can just assure you and say to you - he’s made this clear himself in his own statements - he did not come into my office and say that he was having an affair with this lady. Of course it's now very much a matter of public knowledge, but that's the case and always I guess with these things, you hope that people will manage their personal lives in a way that does not cause disruption, whether it is to their workplace or their marriage. Sadly, that was not the case here and Barnaby’s marriage has split up.

I want to say in conclusion, talking about unhappy events, many marriages break up and the circumstances are always very sad. But of course the really sad thing for Natalie and her and Barnaby's daughters in particular and indeed for his partner, is that all this is played out in the public eye because of his position as a leading politician. That again, is why we should have a very clear rule and a very clear standard. Okay.

JOURNALIST:

What do you say to the Northern Territory Chief Minister who [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there was a Royal Commission as you know. This is talking about the Northern Territory in case you didn’t hear the question. There was a Royal Commission which was jointly established and funded by the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory. It's made a large number of recommendations in respect of the Northern Territory. It’s made a smaller number in respect of the Commonwealth.

We have accepted - I believe - all but two of those, one of which really relates to the conduct of royal commissions in general. We expect the Northern Territory to implement the recommendations that go to the heart of its responsibilities as a territory government, which in this respect are the same as they are for a state government.

JOURNALIST:

Will you match the Territory government's $50 million commitment to replace Don Dale?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Northern Territory Chief Minister seems to take the view that because there was a Royal Commission, the recommendations of the Royal Commission that relate entirely to the Northern Territory's jurisdiction and responsibility, should be half-funded by the Commonwealth.

The Northern Territory has adequate resources to deal with this. You might note the observation in the Royal Commissioner’s report that resources, or lack of them, was not the problem. There was plenty of resources, or if not plenty, there were adequate resources, the problem is how they’re spent. So that was the conclusion of the royal commissioners.

Thank you all very much.

[ENDS]