Q&A at the National Governor’s Association Winter Meeting

25 Feb 2018
Washington, USA
Prime Minister
International and Trade


We hear a lot about disruptive technologies. How do they reshape economies together both at the national and subnational level?


Well thank you very much. I think government obviously has to lead by example. It is very critical that we do that. I think we need to ensure that everybody understands that in this age as, I've said of change which is unprecedented both in its scale and its place it's worth reflecting on that. You know, how so many of the technologies which have been so transformational are yet so recent. It's the scale and the pace of change it has no counterpart in our history.

So that means given that reality and that environment we can't change. We have to make sure that we make it our friend. In other words we have to make volatility our friend not our foe and that means that clearly. The job you start when you get out of school or college may not be it for the rest of your life may not be there in 20 years time.

So you've got to be able to keep retraining, reskilling that is a critical point. We have to ensure that growth and the advantages that we get from technology do not leave individuals or regions behind. I think that has got to be the key focus but we have to recognise the tenor of the times in which we live and even if we don't like them recognise we can't change them and say how can we work this to our advantage?


Thank you Mr Prime Minister. Governor Bullock has the second question.


Thank you. Mr Prime Minister, picking up on exactly where you're ending and that's transformative technologies, create so many opportunities for our states and our nations. But there's also challenges both socially, economically and security wise. How's Australia, addressing some of the challenges be it workforce or be it some of the things that are happening everywhere on the one hand we have transformative technologies but on the other hand there are folks that feel like they been left behind.


Well thank you. There's no substitute for strong economic growth. That's the first point. I said the pace and scale of change is without precedent but there have been obviously big technological changes in the past. You know if we go back to 100 years ago when our soldiers were fighting together in France, the very large percentage of Americans were engaged in agriculture.

I'm not sure what the percentage was but a very substantial percentage in that period. Nowadays, it's only a few per cent, as it is in Australia, that's come about because of technology.

So all of these changes occur that you need to have strong economic growth to create the new opportunities. This is where frankly trade has been very important as the Premiers here know particularly Annastacia Palaszczuk from Queensland and Mark McGowan from Western Australia.

We had a huge commodities boom, you know once in a generation I think you said, Premier from Western Australia, Mark McGowan, you said it was a once in a lifetime. Well, maybe, hopefully you'll have a long life and you'll see another one. But the point was however that that caused the great boom and then there were big transitional adjustments there. Some regions were hit very hard.

Having said that because of the opportunities for all of the free trade agreements we have created, we've seen stronger growth in our regions and that has been I think that has been one of the features that has perhaps cushioned the impact of what otherwise would have been a very hard landing.

So having many strings to your bow, having a diversified economy is particularly important.


I have the second question and with regard to President Trump he's started a national conversation with regard to infrastructure and I think I speak for all of the nation's governors when we all appreciate the fact, and the Premiers, that infrastructure is a constant challenge with regard to mobility and safety for our constituents. I know that given that's a conversation in Australia as well. How do you work with the Premiers with regard to infrastructure and what is the approach that is happening in Australia.


Well I'm sure all the premiers and Chief Minister's will agree. The Federal Government works with them on infrastructure entirely to their absolute satisfaction. Never have a complaint.

In fact, as I said last night we have meetings every couple of times a year called COAG meetings - Council of Australia Government Meetings between the Premiers and Chief Ministers and the Federal Government and we find these meetings so much fun that we decided to go on this trip together and hang out even more.

Let me answer that question in a way that I think you may find helpful. Firstly, our Premiers and Chief Ministers have an enormous experience in this area. I'm just looking directly at Gladys Berejiklian the Premier of New South Wales. There is an enormous infrastructure boom going on in NSW, the NSW Government and of course her predecessors, Liberal Premiers Mike Baird and Barry O'Farrell really set in train a big infrastructure commitment in New South Wales, which is of course where Lucy and I live as well.

Other premiers have made great achievements as well. So a lot of reservoir of experience there. Historically the Federal Government has made grants, you know just literally written out cheques for contributions to roads. So there are some roads that I was inspecting in Queensland recently in Annastacia Palaszczuk’s state where the Federal Government is contributing 80   of the cost others where it is contributing 50 per cent of the cost and so forth.

But we have to get smarter about the way we invest in infrastructure. We have had a practice which Ambassador Hockey started when he was our Commonwealth Treasurer, Federal Treasurer, of encouraging states to recycle assets and to sell state owned assets.

Dan Andrews from Victoria a reasonably sold a port at a very good price too. And recycle those assets sell them and then deploy the money into new infrastructure.

The State Government is often very well placed to take the construction risk and then having got an asset built and underway, to then be able to sell it to pension funds and superannuation funds that are looking for that kind of reliable return.

But I think we also have to do more to capture value. Now toll roads are fairly straight forward. From a financing point of view. We have a lot to learn in Australia and in many respects the experience in America is very instructive, on how to capture value out of rail. We have to start looking at urban rail generally as a property deal.

And develop the means to capture some of the value or the appreciation of value to real estate that's occasioned by the construction of the rail. Some of your cities have been very innovative in doing that and we've been looking very carefully at that.

In other words we need a lot more infrastructure. We need to be smarter about how we go about it. We need to look at every angle and one of the reasons, that's one of the reasons I've set up a innovative project financing unit in our own federal government getting to make sure that we do everything we can to get the maximum dollar invested. Stretching the taxpayer dollars as far as we can for the benefit of infrastructure right around the country.


Our individual states doubtless each state leader and Governor has a keen or intimate of that state's relationship with foreign countries. For example I know between 2016 and 2017 Australians visiting Montana increased 41 per cent. I'm hoping in 2018 that will double so I'd like to invite you there. But also we know, what our trade relationships are like how much state dollars in Montana both exports we have to Australia and imports. Recognising that trade policy is set at a national level but it's the local communities or the subnationals that really see the on the ground impacts trade policy, how in your perspective can we better help local communities understand impacts trade policy and what this does for us.


Thank you Governor. I think the challenge for us as leaders, as political leaders in particular, is to ensure the lure, the easy lure of protectionism doesn't overtake us. The way we make the case in Australia we just say, "Look at the evidence." You know 403,000 jobs last year. Largest growth in our history. Fact. 16 months of continuous monthly jobs growth, the longest for at least 40 years plus. I don't think we found a period where there's been a long continuous jobs growth. All of that is supported by having bigger markets, greater opportunities.

Now we don't presume to give - we're happy to share our experience, we certainly don't presume to give advice. We're flat out - all of the leaders here. Michael Gunner and Andrew Barr and the Premier's I've mentioned. We're all flat out are managing our own states and territories and responsibilities but you know, we're happy to offer you this. I think you have to just make the case that trade, more trade means more jobs, more investment, more exports.

I mean you look at the Northern Territory's experience, I mentioned Chief Minister Gunner a moment ago, you know the massive investment there and U.S. investment and Japanese investment in the oil and gas business. Particularly in the LNG business has created thousands of jobs and high quality jobs. It's exporting yes, it's trade but you can see the opportunities there.

If you go back to Queensland where I was recently giving a speech in Toowoomba which is a regional city to the west of Brisbane up on the Great Dividing Range - beautiful city - and it is at the heart of the Darling Downs which is a big agricultural area.

There is a new airport recently built there by the private sector, by the Wagner family, and that is now exporting the produce of the Darling Downs to put it on the dining tables of Asia. Some of the best produce in the world. Why we able to do that? Because of those free trade agreements. The TPP will enable us to do more of it.

That's what we've got to do.

So we are a medium sized, open economy. Trade is good. It means more jobs more investment for us and that's how we promote it. But other than offering our example we don't presume to give you political advice.


Thank you so much Mr Prime Minister for being with us today. Before you head back on this long journey, back to Australia we're excited to have you preside over the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the subnational leaders of our two great countries.

So we're going to go offstage as we reset. For that and we'll be back with you in a moment. Please again give a big hand to the Prime Minister.