WEDNESDAY, 20 SEPTEMBER 2023
SUBJECTS: National Reconstruction Fund; Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
SHARON CLAYDON, MEMBER FOR NEWCASTLE: Thank you, everyone. It's such a delight to be able to welcome Prime Minister Anthony Albanese back to Newcastle and indeed back to Varley today. I just want to begin with an acknowledgement of country. We’re gathered today on the lands of the Awabakal and Worimi peoples. And I've got to say, in the wake of last weekend's fantastic turnout in support of a Yes campaign, I feel more energised than ever now and look forward to those conversations with Novocastrians over the coming weeks into what will be one of the most historic votes Australian citizens are facing very long time. But it is a real pleasure to have Prime Minister Albanese back with us. This is a site, as is our city in our region, that plays a really critical role in terms of manufacturing for this nation and shaping the future of our nation. And so, initiatives like the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund are vitally important to workers in our region, to companies like Varley, who are showcasing, you know, excellence in manufacturing wherever we go. So, on that note, I think that things like the National Reconstruction Fund are a really important building block to start with, it really builds on top of already key important investments that the Labor Government has made here in Newcastle. The $100 million into the renewable energy precinct at the Port of Newcastle, $16 million into the new skills centre for the University of Newcastle, getting hydrogen ready over at Orica and Origin. These are the focus of Government looking forward. And regions like ours are just so well poised to benefit from all these important reforms. You know, we've got a highly skilled workforce, we've got an abundance of resources, we've got energy smarts galore, we've got just fabulous rail import infrastructure. We are well poised to take advantage of all of these amazing opportunities. And I'm so thankful to be part of a Government that's got its focus on these matters now. And on that note, I'm handing across to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: One of the things I said in the lead up to the election is I wanted a future made in Australia. There is nothing we can do that is more important than make more things here. And this decade will determine whether Australia moves forward or whether we stand still and the world moves past us. And projects like the National Reconstruction Fund are designed to do just that. I remember a few years ago, a NSW Liberal Premier saying that we couldn't make trains in Australia, that's why we had to import them. Well, we did import trains. They don't fit through the tunnels, they don't match the stations. And here of course, we also have to fix up some of the trains that are used to cart our resources because they're the wrong size. And that's one of the works that is taking place here at Varley. Here we can make things more. And this company, of course, is interested not just in manufacturing of rail but also in renewable energy and the prospects that it has going forward. I think we have an incredibly bright future if we seize it. Our plan is to deal with the cheaper energy that will come with the transition to renewables, to deal with making more things here, using that cheaper, cleaner energy, but also training Australians for those jobs. I met a couple of young apprentices today, including the first female apprentice here on site. That's a great thing and that’s why, in addition to the other measures we're doing, we promised 180,000 Fee-Free TAFE places this year. We not only have met that target, we've exceeded it. There's now above 220,000 people, including people here being trained as fitter and turners, there's people being trained in the care sector, there's people being trained in construction, and making sure that they can have great futures. Whether they be young people in their first job or whether they be people retraining. So, I want to pay tribute to the workers here at Varley and to the management who combined producing things that help Australia. They're creating jobs, but they're creating activity here as well. We know from the pandemic that we were left vulnerable and we know that there could be other pandemics, there could be other international shocks. There's a range of reasons why national economies have to be more resilient. It's absolutely my commitment. And one of the fantastic things that we saw here as well this morning is the craft that are being exported to Indonesia to help with their police operations. They're being exported to the Philippines. It shows we can make things here. Not just make things here for the domestic market, but we can make things here for the international market. That's good for Australia. Good for jobs. It's good for our economy. And I thank everyone for the warm welcome here today. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Has the Australian Government received briefings that there was an alleged assassination of a Sikh in British Columbia by India?
PRIME MINISTER: We don't talk about security briefings from Five Eyes, as part of the Five Eyes group.
JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to your Canadian counterpart about it, Justin Trudeau?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I do have discussions with Prime Minister Trudeau, but one of the things that I do, unlike my predecessor, I don't send out text messages, I keep those discussions confidential. Justin Trudeau is a friend of mine. He's a fine Prime Minister of Canada. I was pleased to engage with him at the G20. He has expressed his concerns about this on behalf of the Canadian Government. And the Australian Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, has also expressed concerns.
PRIME MINISTER: I think Australia has an enormous opportunity to bring things back here. If you look at the sort of developments we were talking about earlier just a while ago, if you look at areas like hydrogen and green hydrogen, no country is better positioned than Australia to benefit from that. We have the best solar resources in the world. We have a great opportunity to take advantage as well of the mineral resources that we have. Now, fossil fuels helped power the Australian economy in the 20th century and they continue to have a role. But if you look at the resources that are in great demand around the world, whether it's cobalt, copper, nickel, lithium, we produce more lithium at the moment than any country in the world. Lithium is what you need for batteries. The auto manufacturing sector is changing, and auto manufacturers in North America, in Europe, in Japan, in Korea, they're not looking at the internal combustion engine. They're doing research about competition to get ahead of the game in electric vehicles, in hydrogen powered vehicles, in all of this research. Not just passenger vehicles, but heavy vehicles, they're looking at electric planes in the future as well. They're looking at a whole range of that research. Now, we are positioned not just to provide export potential for those resources, but to use those resources to make things here. And that's what I want to see. We know, we were talking before about a company up in southeast Queensland, Tritium has produced the fastest electric vehicle charging stations in the world and manufacturing them there. We can do more. Australia's always been really good at R&D, at innovation. What we haven't been good at is commercialising those opportunities. I want to see that happen. That's why we are really very focused on manufacturing in this country. That's why we're focused on training Australians for those manufacturing jobs.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we're doing and what we have done is have an extensive consultation program. There were many, many submissions to it. There were, I think, 17 different community consultations. As a result, some of the projects has been changed, it's gone from 10kms offshore to 30kms offshore, it's gone from, I think it was 2,800 square kilometres, it's gone down to 1,800 square kilometres. But there are at least another three points in the cycle in which people had the opportunity to put their views. The fact that Chris Bowen was there consulting people, says about my Government's approach, we consult, we work with communities to make sure that we get that support. This, at the end of the day as well, is of course, a potential of enormous jobs, not just in construction, some 3,000, but 1,500 on an ongoing basis. And that is important for us. So, we'll continue to consult, as Chris Bowen was doing yesterday, and continue to engage. That's appropriate.
PRIME MINISTER: That we're doing exactly what we said we would do before the election. We said we would have an independent review. We've announced that today, with Mr Varghese looking after this. We know PFAS has been a big issue for a long period of time and the former Government just kicked the can down the road. My Government is responding. We'll have an independent review and we'll look at its recommendations. One of the things that it will look at is how do we use some of the land around Williamtown, where I landed a little bit earlier, as well as around Oakey in Queensland and Tindal in the Northern Territory, the three sites that have been significantly impacted. How do we make use of the productive land to make sure that we achieve a positive outcome? That's what the review is looking at, and I would encourage people to participate in that process.
PRIME MINISTER: What we're prepared to do is have an independent review and not pre-empt it. That's why you do a review, to get that feedback. We want to look at what's the best way forward. We're not kicking the can down the road. We're acting. We've only been in Government for a bit over a year, and if you look at what defines my Government, you go back, you look at the commitments that we made, we act on them. Including whether it's PFAS, whether it be the National Reconstruction Fund, whether it be for child care, whether it be the increased support that kicks in today. Five and a half million Australians will benefit from increased payments today. Here, if you look at the child care policy that we committed to in the election campaign, some 28,000 families in this region, in the Greater Newcastle region have benefited already from our cheaper child care plan that came in on July 1.
PRIME MINISTER: Look, Cathy Freeman is a great Australian. And it's not surprising that Cathy Freeman is a strong supporter of a Yes vote in this referendum. And we need to do more than just cheer our Indigenous athletes and our Indigenous champions. What we need to do is listen to them. And whether it's Cathy Freeman, or Timana Tahu, or Johnathan Thurston, or Michael Long, or Eddie Betts, or Greg Inglis, they are all saying, please vote Yes. We have gone 122 years without recognising the first Australians in our nation's founding document. We are diminished by that. John Howard said in the lead-up to the 2007 election, when he promised a referendum on Constitutional recognition, he said it was unfinished business. And indeed it is. We have an opportunity on October 14 to get this done. It's the fair thing to do. It will just put First Nations people in our Constitution and recognise that the great history of this land didn't begin with European settlement in 1770 or 1788 when Captain Cook or Phillip arrived here in this country. It goes back some 65,000 years, that should be a source of pride. And secondly, it's asking for an advisory committee. That's all the Voice is, an advisory committee that has no power except the power of its ideas. But we know that when we listen to people, you get better outcomes. And that's what this is about. And I hope that people listen to Cathy Freeman's very clear and unequivocal plea for people to vote Yes.
JOURNALIST: A Senate inquiry heard yesterday, Australians are paying seven per cent to 10 per cent more for flights because of your Government’s Qatar Airways decision. Will you reverse it?
PRIME MINISTER: There are more than 50 airways that fly into Australia. Qatar can fly into Canberra, they used to fly into, where I was this morning, they used to fly into there. They haven't brought back their flights yet. I note the Coalition members and some of their rhetorical position on this. Qatar applied for increased flights in 2018. Nothing happened until 2022, when they were granted seven extra flights. There are applications from countries all the time for increases in their air services agreements. We're coming back from a pandemic where we have increased announcement of flights. Qatar could have extra people by changing the aircraft that fly in, as Emirates announced just last week when they also announced additional flights. I mean, some of these figures, are just ones that, if you look at how many airlines operate into Australia, how many flights there are, then people can draw their own conclusions here.
JOURNALIST: Catastrophic fire day yesterday, El Nino is declared. Have you been meeting with fire chiefs about these clear threats that this summer and even hold?
PRIME MINISTER: We had the head of the Emergency Management Australia address our entire Cabinet just weeks ago and Murray Watt is convening a meeting on Tuesday in Canberra, as well, of experts. It's something, as well, that we've raised at the National Cabinet level, given the need for coordination across different levels of government. We are continuing to examine what more can be done. But my Government is not complacent about this. We know we've just had the hottest July that has occurred. We know that the period, here we are in September, was pretty warm in Canberra this morning, let alone Newy. And that says something about the fact that the science is in on climate change and we are facing potentially a hot, dry summer. So, we are being vigilant. And that's why Murray Watt has already convened meetings with the Emergency Management Ministers, that's why my entire Cabinet have been briefed on these issues, and that's why we'll be having a further meeting on Tuesday.
JOURNALIST: The Newscastle Voice rallies that were held over the weekend and right across the country, what's your message to those people?
PRIME MINISTER: To continue to put that positive message out there. These are Australians marching for the fair go. And I've been coming to Newcastle for my whole life. Newcastle has always believed in the fair go. They look after each other. That's what this is about, recognising that Indigenous Australians have these gaps in life expectancy, in so many areas. It's not like there hasn't been enough funding going to the area. It just hasn't reached the people who need it. During the pandemic, at one stage, people might recall, there was enormous concern about a catastrophic outcome in Indigenous communities. When that changed was when power got given to local communities and people listened to what was happening on the ground, about the rollout of vaccines and about what was needed to keep people safe during the pandemic, rather than a one size fits all from Canberra. And that's just one example. Justice Reinvestment programs in Bourke is another, health programs in Cape York, education programs in Arnhem Land that are seeing young Indigenous Australians going to school. You get better outcomes when you talk with people and when you listen. One of the reasons why I've been a consistent visitor to this wonderful part of Australia is to hear firsthand about what the issues are in Newcastle, in the Hunter Valley. And if you just sit in Canberra and decide that, you won't get as good an outcome. And I think that the fact that 200,000 people plus marched right around Australia in regional cities like Newcastle, in capital cities right around the country, but in smaller regional towns as well, in places like Merimbula, and Queanbeyan, and Orange, and other parts of regional New South Wales, says a lot about how passionate people feel. And this has been around for a long period of time, and I say this, if not now, when? And that's acknowledged by the fact that Peter Dutton and the Liberal Party are saying they support a Voice but legislating one well, if it's such a bad idea, why are you legislating for one? One, why is that your policy? And then they're saying, if it goes down and Peter Dutton's elected Prime Minister, we’ll give you another referendum on a different question, that Peter Dutton has acknowledged no one has actually asked for. So, we need to get this done. Australians have an opportunity to get this done. There is only things to be gained. There's no loss here. It won't impact on most people's lives directly. It just may make lives better for Indigenous Australians. And they deserve nothing less. Thanks very much.