Doorstop interview, Fairbairn
Topics: TPP; Nauru; Wentworth by-election; Australian embassy in Israel; Ian Kiernan;
Prime Minister: This is one of just thousands of businesses around the country that are going to be able to benefit from the TPP new trade deal that has been brought together by our Government. I particularly pay tribute to both the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Steven Ciobo as the Trade Minister and this process goes back some way. It’s a process our Government was very committed to. When others said this couldn’t be done, our Government continued on and made sure we could connect Australia to half a billion consumers around the world and some almost $14 trillion worth of economies that are there that we can now access. And so we come along, we talked to Alex and to Charlie, and here they were starting a business back in 2013. Within two years, they were exporting into Singapore and now they have plans to go further afield to places like Japan and this arrangement opens up more opportunities for them.
We’re in the business of making small businesses, small family businesses larger businesses. And we make them larger by ensuring that we can keep their taxes low, that we invest in the infrastructure and services that are necessary to support those small and family businesses, that we ensure that they have access to the trade agreements and the markets that are out there where their quality products, their hard work will get the reward by ensuring that they can get into those markets and they can see their businesses grow. That’s how you run a strong economy. By backing in Australian businesses, backing in their investment, backing in their vision, backing in their passion to see what they do and what they love, being able to take it as Alex said, the world is the limit. And these agreements help them achieve those goals.
So today in the Senate we will be one of the fourth country out of the TPP-11 to be able to ratify this agreement. It’s a big, important day for businesses all around the country, and it’s the product of a Government that gets it. That understands that you need a plan to grow your economy because when you do that, you can guarantee the essential services that all Australians rely on. This is what pays for schools. This is what pays for hospitals. This is what guarantees Medicare. This is what delivers extra funding for headspace and MRI machines and all of these things. It is the engine room of Australian business which Pialligo Estate Smokehouse captures and personifies. A business of just around $2 million in turnover, going out there and growing, making things happen and I congratulate you both, Alex and Charlie, in what you have been able to achieve. I’m going to hand over to Birmo and he’s going to talk a little bit more about the process and we’re happy to take some questions.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much PM. Well today, we trust the Senate will pass the enabling legislation that will allow Australia to be one of the first six countries to bring the Trans Pacific Partnership into fruition, into reality this year. And that’s going to be so important that this agreement comes into effect this year because that’s going to give the maximum benefit to our exporters, to our farmers, businesses who rely on access to international markets for their goods, for their services, to be able to bring income back here to Australia. By ensuring that this agreement comes into effect by the end of October, there will be tariff reductions, not just on its commencement but also then again on the first of January next year. It’s that double effect that maximizes the benefit and that’s the reason why we have been so determined that Australia is part of the first six countries in terms of bringing this agreement into reality.
The benefits, the benefits across the economy are widespread. We will see a lift to our national income, projected by independent analysis from John Hopkins University of $15.6 billion in terms of our national income being greater by 2030 on an annual basis. That’s extra money and extra taxes, as the PM says, that can be invested in our schools and hospitals. But it all comes about because of businesses like this one. Businesses that we invest in by supporting our farmers by taking high-quality farm produce. Who value-add and then who take a punt in terms of export markets, and that punt they take is backed in by our trade agreements to give them better access to those markets, make their goods more cost-competitive because of lower tariff rates. Our Government, our Government over the last five years has delivered in terms of agreements with China, Japan, South Korea, the TPP, with Indonesia. We continue negotiations on a range of fronts. All of that is about helping our small and medium sized businesses to be able to get the best possible access to new export markets so our farmers and businesses can create more income and more jobs for more Australians.
Prime Minister: Thanks very much Simon, and again congratulations. Happy to take some questions, let’s start with the TPP-11 and then we can move onto other political issues. Well it seems the press corps is thrilled to see the TPP-11. Can I tell you, I remember when the TPP-11, which now become…when the TPP was then made known. I was Treasurer at the time and I was actually in Germany on some G20 business and the number of countries that came to us and said, “Are you still going to push ahead with this? Are you really going to keep going with this? Isn’t it a waste of time?” And I said, “Absolutely.” The Prime Minister was saying at the time. And I can’t underscore enough how this agreement demonstrates our Government’s commitment to expanding our trade markets. It’s pretty easy to walk away from these sorts of things, and we saw the opposition um and ah over the China free trade agreement, we saw them actually parody this agreement. Parody what we’ve been able to achieve. And I think that says to every small and family business out there, every business out there, that when it comes to trade, we’ll back you in every time. We won’t walk away, we will always stand up. Australia is an open, trading nation, exporting quality products and services all around the world. We know that, we get that, we’ll back it in every single time.
Journalist: What about the genuine fears that people have though that some of the exports have been their jobs over time with free trade agreements?
Prime Minister: Sorry I couldn’t quite hear…
Journalist: What about the genuine fears some workers have that some of the exports they have seen over time have been their jobs?
Prime Minister: Well we’ve created over a million jobs, Chris, over a million jobs…
Journalist: But there are genuine fears about some of these trade agreements.
Prime Minister: Over a million of these jobs have been created over the last five years, and over the last twelve months, more than 100,000 jobs have been created for young people. And so my message is that our Government’s plan to lower taxes, to expand markets, to invest in infrastructure, to transition from industries that weren’t able to be able to keep up like our vehicle industry. But to expand what we’ve seen in our defence industry in supply chain, and our new medical industry plan which is out there creating jobs in the medical industry. Everything from instruments to clinical testing. All of this is driving an economy that is growing faster than the biggest developed countries in the world today. So when you invest in these agreements, when you invest in lower taxes, when you invest in infrastructure, when you invest in technology and in science, which is what our Government has been doing, that gives you the edge that makes sure that Australian companies continue to have the edge, and when you’re opening up the markets for them to go into. That’s how 1.1 million jobs get created, that’s how 100,000 young people get a job in Australia, the strongest job growth in youth jobs in Australia’s economic history.
Journalist: On the issue of resettling refugees to Nauru, isn’t the Government grandstanding if they can’t guarantee that New Zealand will accept the ban on resettling…
Prime Minister: All we’ve simply said is there’s been a bill in the Parliament since 2016. That’s the Government’s bill and it’s not supported by the crossbenchers, it’s not supported by the Labor Party or Greens. I have simply made that observation. That’s all.
Journalist: We understand the crossbench has asked for a briefing as a matter of urgency, will you be providing a briefing?
Prime Minister: We would, I’m wondering what’s taken two years to request one.
Journalist: Is the Government hoping to bring that bill on for a vote sometime this week?
Prime Minister: There is no support for that bill at present.
Journalist: There is leaked polling that suggests that Kerryn Phelps is on track to win Wentworth this weekend. Will this be a reflection on your leadership?
Prime Minister: What we are seeing in Wentworth is not a usual contest. What we have got in Wentworth is a three-cornered contest, the Labor Party of course and indeed the Greens, there’s four corners to this square because both the Greens and the Labor Party’s vote has completely tanked in Wentworth and that means the Independent is running second and the electoral maths of Australia’s preferential system means that that is when you can see other candidates come over the top of the leading candidate which is Dave Sharma and win the election. That’s the simple electoral maths and that is what it would reflect now. There is no doubt that people in Wentworth, events of several months ago for many of them, they found that a very big issue and I understand that. But what I would urge them to do is a) look at Dave Sharma. Dave Sharma is a great candidate. Dave Sharma has an enormous amount to bring to the Australian Parliament. His experience, his insights, his wisdom and his sheer intellect which is quite impressive. On top of that, it’s about maintaining the stability and certainty of the policies that I’ve just been outlining to you. There are 29,000 small businesses in Wentworth. They’re 29,000 small businesses that our Government has been backing in through all the policies we’ve been able to not just announce but implement. There’s 60,000 people who will be benefitting from the legislated tax plan that our Government was able to put in place for personal income tax. And for young people in Wentworth, looking out over the next decade, I remember the decade that I walked into, it would have been a similar one that Simon walked into, when we left university. I mean, that was the decade which began with recessions and it was a pretty tough decade back then in the early ’90s. The decade that those young people are going into as a result of the economic policies that we’ve put in place means they can look forward with confidence and they can look forward to a tax plan which means the better they do, the more they put in, the more they get to keep for themselves and invest in their own futures. That is what we are delivering for people. And that is what is at risk when you allow Bill Shorten, through an Independent, to get one step closer to putting up your taxes and putting everything else at risk.
Journalist: Are you concerned about the Israeli Embassy announcement affecting trade relations with Indonesia?
Prime Minister: Pardon?
Journalist: Are you concerned about the Israeli Embassy announcement affecting trade relations with Indonesia?
Prime Minister: Well I will let the Trade Minister respond to that. But as you know there’s been quite a number of direct communication between myself and President Widodo as well as between our Foreign Ministers and with the Trade Ministers. And the Indonesian Trade Minister has made it very clear on the public record that that is not an issue of concern to them. Simon?
Simon Birmingham: Well PM, I think you’ve just highlighted the key point there. Yes, every reasonable level our Government has continued to engage with Indonesia, as you would expect. But the thing that the media and the public should be aware of is that Indonesia has made clear on the public record that our agreement with them is on track, the finalisation this year. That is what we are working towards, that is what they are working towards and we continue to undertake that work.
Journalist: Prime Minister Indonesia goes to election next year though. Don’t you think it is possible that your decision could become a flashpoint and your deal could become a flashpoint in an election like that?
Prime Minister: Well I think Simon Birmingham has just addressed the second part of your question in relation to the trade agreement. They have made that fairly clear. We have a very good relationship with Indonesia and one that enables us to have direct communication on these issues and I was pleased by the warm exchanges I had yesterday with President Widodo which looks through all the other noise and all the other recording and all the other analysis and just enables two leaders to directly engage with each other and be able to make very clear the positions and the reasoning behind those positions. And I think that’s productive. Several weeks ago, as you know, when I was up there that was actually my first outing on international affairs. Going to Indonesia in that first week, that was an important meeting, it was an important relationship to maintain and that remains so today. My other exchanges with the President over the last few weeks have particularly focused on what we’re doing in Sulawesi, what we’re doing to support the Indonesian Government and how quickly we were there to provide whatever support was needed, whenever it was needed, at their invitation. So this is a relationship that spans many different elements, and it’s a relationship that we continue to build upon. It is a relationship of friendship, it is a relationship of trust, it is a relationship of communication that is ongoing. It is not a one-dimensional relationship, it is a very comprehensive relationship and that’s the strength that enables neighbours and partners to have different views on things from time to time. And Australia is a sovereign nation. We are allowed to engage in conversation, we are allowed to do that. We are allowed to raise issues that we think are worthy of discussion that are important to Australian citizens.
Journalist: Do you concede thought that there is a risk that there could be some diplomatic backlash, maybe not from Indonesia, but from other countries around the world based on your considerations?
Prime Minister: Australia is a sovereign country. We’re a sovereign country. We’re allowed to talk about these issues. And you know, when you raise issues from time to time, which may have been seen to be taboo in the past, and of course there will be others who express different views. But Australia is an independent, sovereign nation. We’re allowed to talk about this, we’re allowed to. And I’m not… I’m going to stand up for Australia’s right to be able to talk about these things and we will talk about them in a respectful and an engaging way. That’s why we started yesterday by being very clear with the vote that went through the UN General Assembly this morning and we voted no and there was only a few of us who voted no and everybody know where we stand. People know where I stand on these issues because I like to be fairly upright and forthright and upfront with people. And that’s why I did what I did yesterday so people know my thinking on these things. It’s Ok for Australia to be able to be able to just go out there and initiate conversations in a respectful way and be able to work within all of our existing relationships.
Journalist: Louise Pratt reportedly received a call during a raid on the Department of Home Affairs by a staffer. Do you think there is anything untoward going on there?
Prime Minister: Well it’s an independent police investigation and I’ll leave it for the police to deal with that independently of government which is the appropriate process.
Journalist: What advice did you get from the Foreign Minister on the diplomatic implications of moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem?
Prime Minister: Well the Foreign Minister has been part and parcel of this decision and we’ve been working closely together with the Foreign Minister, with the Defence Minister. There was a discussion individually with each of the four NSC Ministers that form up the National Security Committee and as well as a final discussion with all Cabinet Ministers. So this is a process that was worked through those appropriate channels and it’s important that Australia is able to raise issues and talk about issues that are important to Australian citizens. And I think this is simply what we’ve done, we’ve done it in the context of what was a very significant vote in the UN General Assembly and our vote in the UN General Assembly now I think has given broader context by the other issues that I have remarked upon. Not just on the issue of Jerusalem, but also importantly in the issue of Iran, which is another matter of very significant concern and we simply announced that without prejudice we would undertake a review of the Iran nuclear deal. We need to be satisfied that when we’re supporting those sorts of arrangements they’re working in Australians interests and those interests in this case, ensures a peaceful Middle East. And so we will continue to work on those matters.
Journalist: [Inaudible] do you actually have any intention to move the embassy?
Prime Minister: Well as I said yesterday, you begin this process by highlighting why you would open the question up and the reason why the question has been opened up is this was a matter that was raised with me within days of me becoming Prime Minister. Over the last seven weeks I have been working through this issue and what became clear, particularly with the position when I spoke with Dave Sharma, was that this question could be considered in the context of support for a two-state solution. Now up until that time, no one had been making that case. Up until that time, this issue was considered taboo and not able to be discussed because it was seen to be an anathema to a two-state solution. Now, Dave Sharma’s proposal changes that. Dave Sharma’s proposal says no, this can actually help us get to a two-state solution. This can actually help us achieve a goal that the world has been unable to achieve up until now, and it’s been unable to do it frankly for some time. And you know, if you can’t get somewhere by conventional means, and we’re not getting somewhere by conventional means, Australia has always been a country that has been prepared to consider other options that actually achieve the objective of peace and a two-state solution in the Middle East. So Australia should proudly, should proudly be able to say we’re prepared to have those discussions. We’re prepared to consult with other leaders, which is the next step for me. I’ll be going through a series of summits at the end of this year and so for me, they won’t be just a series of grip and grin photos. What they will be are real conversations about the issues that are germane to Australian passions and national interest. And this will be a good opportunity for me to talk through concerns that they may have on this issue, but also to raise this point about how this could be an opportunity to engage in a new conversation that gets us closer to a two-state solution which has eluded us for so long. You keep doing the same thing, you can’t expect a different outcome. We need a different outcome which is the two-state solution.
Journalist: Prime Minister just quickly, Ian Kiernan the founder of Clean Up Australia has died. Could we get some thoughts from you about his legacy?
Prime Minister: Well that is news to me. I have met Ian on a number of occasions over the years I think as most Australians in public life. And his passion for our oceans which started all of this for him and Australia’s coastal lifestyle in particular is something that I think struck a real chord with all Australians. And the thing that I think Ian did more than anything else was just tap us all on the shoulder and say, “Hey, we’ve got to take care of this. This is our responsibility to do this. It’s not government’s, it’s ours as Australians. It’s our beautiful Australia and it’s our job to keep it that way and it’s our responsibility and duty as Australians to do just that.” So for that Ian I want to say thank you. I want to say thank you for what you have done for our country and to his friends and his family and his loved ones, we express our deepest sympathies and our condolences. Thank you very much.