Australian Prime Minister Press conference – Eugowra NSW

Prime Minister

: Well, good morning, folks, thank you for joining us here in Eugowra. And it’s terrific to welcome the Prime Minister back to Eugowra fulfilling that commitment that he made, that he would visit again and see for himself the progress and hear the issues that local residents have. The rebuilding and reconstruction process here in Eugowra has been a long and hard road. And as you can see, by walking and driving around Eugowra, that work continues. We have had significant progress like Max and Kay, look at their place and the progress that has been made right here, compared to what this place looked like, on the 14th of November 2022, it’s a world away. But a lot of hard work went into getting this house in the wonderful state that it is. And you can see that work continues all around Eugowra. And it has been made more difficult by the fact that there’s been a lot of troubles with insurance companies around this region. And that is something that the parliamentary inquiry into the insurance response to the storm and floods of 2022 is currently looking at. That inquiry will be visiting Eugowra, and also Molong in early May. So we look forward to that spotlight, being shined on all of those issues. And I think it’s really important that the Prime Minister comes and sees for himself what’s happening here on the ground. The communities of the Central West, I think are very appreciative of the $50 million that has been provided for by the State Government and also the Federal Government, that money will be put to good use. I have to say, just as an opening comment, though, that it has become clear to the local representatives who are on the committee and looking at how that money will be distributed, that more is going to be needed. So we would ask that the State and also Federal Governments keep that in mind as they head into budget season. Sorry to put that out there so early PM, but there is still real need in this area. And I think the communities of this region would be very grateful for some further funding, because the $100 million that has been made available, is appreciated, but more is going to be needed. But it is, as I said, a privilege to welcome you here today. And I really appreciate you for doing that commitment that you gave to the parliament and to me that you will come back and see for yourself the progress of the rebuilding and reconstruction efforts. So thank you.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much Andrew, and a special thanks to Max and Kay for having us in their home, their beautiful home here in this beautiful town of Eugowra. It looks very different from when I was here in late 2022. This was the community that had been devastated by these floods. The floodwaters now would have been up to here, up to my neck at that time. And the devastation where we had properties that were moved, literally blocks, hundreds of metres. We had, of course, a tragic loss of life here in Eugowra and that pain doesn’t go away. But what we see is, at the worst of times, we see the best of the Australian character. Whenever I have been in communities that have been affected by natural disasters, I’m struck by the extraordinary capacity of Australians to show their resilience, to show their determination, to look on the bright side, to be positive, but also Australians to help each other out in the worst of times, showing that best of the Australian character. Max was telling us about how, during the floods, he met people who were here volunteering from Forbes. At the time, Forbes was itself underwater. They weren’t in a position to help there at that stage until the floodwaters had receded, so they’d driven to Eugowra to help people in their time of need. They’re extraordinary stories. They’re stories that are repeated here. They’re repeated in Lismore, repeated in the Gold Coast and more recently there and in Far North Queensland. They’re stories I’ve seen in Fitzroy Crossing, in the Kimberley in Western Australia. I’ve seen around Rochester in Victoria and in Northern Tasmania and in the Riverland in South Australia. Tragically, we see far too many of these disasters than we would like. But we respond, we help each other out, because that’s the Australian way. And I’m very proud that my Government has partnered with the Minns Government in New South Wales and before them, the Perrottet Government in New South Wales, to provide assistance. We’ve provided, since the floods in 2022, some $600 million, if you look at the areas around New South Wales and other communities. We have provided, just last week, we announced a $25 million community assets program. That’s for the four local government areas around here, for local government to put in applications, to fix local parklands, to fix local community assets. It might be a local community building, it might be fixing some local roads, local parks, to provide that assistance. We’ve provided $40 million between us, $20 million each between the Australian Government and New South Wales Government for the Resilient Homes Program, something that benefited this home here. And I see people here from the New South Wales Reconstruction Authority, and I thank you for the work that you have done, because it has been absolutely critical. I know that in the discussions I’ve had with Premier Minns that we’re determined to do what we can to assist communities. I thank Andrew Gee for hosting us here today. He asked a question in Parliament, ‘would I come back?’ I said, ‘you bet I will, I promise to come back before the end of March.’ And we’re getting close to it. And so I’ve made some, it’s pretty short notice for these visits and as a result of that, Kevin Beatty, the Mayor, I spoke with him this morning. He’s a great advocate for this local community, of course, as well. And we’ll continue to work with him and with others. This is about providing assistance for Australians where they need it, when they need it, and we’ll continue to do what we can to provide that assistance. But stories like this, seeing Max and Kay back, living in this fantastic home, they’re really proud, as they should be, of what has been achieved here. And I’m proud to be Australia’s Prime Minister on days like this, when you see what great people Australians are, how resilient and tough they are, how they bounce back, how they’re so positive. It’s a great privilege and honour each and every day to occupy the position that I have. Happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, it’s pretty widely recognised that $40 million housing package that covers the Central West probably wouldn’t cover Eugowra, let alone the whole region. Will the Federal Government commit to more funding?

PRIME MINISTER: What we’ll do is, no doubt there’ll be further applications, but it has made a positive difference. And we’ll continue to work with the different levels of government. We’ll continue as well, as this inquiry is about, to make sure that the insurance companies do the right thing, do the right thing as well, and provide support. So, we will continue to examine any applications which come in. There are budgetary pressures, of course, on government, which is why we have proper processes. We don’t walk around with cash. What we do is we have proper processes, proper assessments and then provide support. But I make this point, that when I was here and we came in here via chopper, last time I arrived, we had government services on the ground within days. And the support to individuals that we provided was provided far faster than it used to be, as has been the case whenever there’s been a natural disaster. The Government has got and government services, and I pay tribute to Bill Shorten as the Minister, to make sure as well that there’s immediate assistance given to individuals.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you agree with the Law Reform Commission’s recommendations that staff and students at religious schools shouldn’t be subjected to discrimination based on their gender identity and sexuality?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, all Australians should be treated with respect, but that’s a Law Reform Commission document. We’ll respond in due time. What we have is we’ve got legislation, two pieces of legislation. We want that to be pursued through the parliament to ensure, one to amend the Sex Discrimination Act, the other to introduce legislation about religious discrimination. It includes measures for anti-vilification provisions as well, consistent with our long held view about respect for people, regardless of who they are, their sexuality, but also respect for people to be able to have religious liberty and to express their faith. We have reached out. I’ve made it very clear from very early on in this process, in the meetings that I’ve had with faith leaders and others, that this needed to be, needs bipartisan support, because I don’t want this to be an issue in which we go through the old culture wars. I think Australians don’t want to see the culture wars and the division out there. I want this to be an opportunity for unity going forward, and that’s why we’ve provided the legislation to the Opposition. Previously, the Opposition were briefed on this and we’ve said as well, we’re happy to engage across the parliament on all of these issues.

JOURNALIST: So, your Cabinet’s seen that draft legislation?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah. Obviously, that’s the way Cabinet works. So, the Cabinet has gone through these processes over a long period of time. I think it’s in the order of ten inquiries, more than ten, since 2016, about these issues. There have been more than 70,000 submissions to inquiries about these issues. I think it should be possible to move forward with reform, but if that is not possible, then the maths in our parliament, we don’t have a majority in the Senate, so we need the support of either the Liberal National Parties or the Greens political Party in order to advance this issue.

JOURNALIST: So, if your Government doesn’t get bipartisan support on this legislation, how are you going to protect these children?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it doesn’t get carried without bipartisan support. That’s the maths.

JOURNALIST: What are you going to do?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that’s the maths. If you’ve got any ideas of how we change the composition of the Senate between now and the next election, let me know. But that’s the maths of the Senate. It’s as simple as that. That you don’t get support without having either the Greens plus other votes, independents and crossbenchers, or without the Liberal National Party. That is what we’re dealing with. That’s the parliament that the Australian people voted for. I respect that. That’s what we have to deal with. So, we’ve put forward, our legislation is there. We’ve given it to the Opposition. We await their response. I hope that they’re constructive.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Max and Kay are two of the lucky ones to be back in their homes. What do you have to say to the many other residents of Eugowra and the Central West who are still in temporary housing and perhaps feel left behind?

PRIME MINISTER: Sure. Look, it’s tough and my heart goes out to people. My Government is doing what we can in partnership with the State Government, in partnership with local government, in partnership with the reconstruction authority. We continue to recognise that there are people who are still doing it tough. I’m on the ground here. I’ve been to this seat now three, four times. This isn’t a Government held seat. I believe that my job as Prime Minister is to look after every Australian to the best of my capacity. And I’m here today to hear firsthand. I talked with the mayor this morning and we’ll continue to engage.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned you talked to the mayor this morning. Why isn’t Kevin Beatty here at the moment? And anyone from council?

PRIME MINISTER: This was done on short notice. The nature of my diary and my job is it’s pretty busy. And we looked at various dates. We had tentatively, to be honest, we lost a Senator last week. I’ve attended a number of funerals in the last fortnight, three that weren’t scheduled. When that happens, when your Prime Minister, your diary gets thrown out. And so I accept responsibility, not the Mayor. There’s no criticism of him at all. He would have liked to have been here and that is why, I’m not sure where he is, but I accept that people have busy diaries. But I needed to get here when I can and this was a gap in between sitting weeks in Canberra. And so I was able to come on relatively short notice. Mr Gee only pointed out to me, I wasn’t aware that there’s this car event here in Eugowra. I’m going to go have a look at some cars after this as well. But I gave a commitment. When I give a commitment to attend somewhere, I do my best to fulfil it. And we have had, last week, I was in six states, if you count territories as well. So, I did Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales, ACT, South Australia and Northern Territory. That’s the nature of my diary. So, I accept responsibility for the fact that the Mayor isn’t here, but he’s engaged and we had a good chat this morning. I’ve met him a number of times now and he’s a very strong advocate for this community and he’s going to pop into Canberra sometime in coming weeks to see myself and Senator Murray Watt, the Minister.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you satisfied with the Queensland Government’s handling of the 2013 Olympics preparation? 2032 sorry.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, well, they’re a bit late if it’s 2013. Look, hosting the Olympics is always a complex issue. I’m from Sydney and I remember that there was criticism in the lead up to the Sydney 2000 Games. Considerable criticism, you know what, it was a ripper of a time. I have friends who left Sydney during those games and rented their places out and who regret it because it was such a fantastic time to be in Sydney. The Brisbane Olympics will be a cracker. It will be great for Brisbane, it’ll be great for Queensland, it’ll be great for Australia.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what kind of message do you think it sends to China that we host their Foreign Minister for talks on Wednesday and then sign defence agreements with the UK related to the Pacific on Thursday?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we cooperate with China where we can, but we engage in our national interest. It will be of no surprise, the AUKUS arrangements, I think they’d probably heard of it beforehand, we’re progressing. That’s important for us. That’s about our national interest and ensuring that our defence is as strong as it can be. But we want a peaceful, secure and prosperous Indo Pacific. That includes building up both our capacity but also our relationships. We’re building up our capacity in terms of our economic strength, our national resilience across a range of areas, including in national security. At the same time we’re building our relationships, whether that be our traditional allies, including the United States and the United Kingdom, or whether it be the important relationships that we have in our region. Whether that be the relationship with China, in hosting the Foreign Minister here this week, we had a very constructive dialogue. That’s a good thing. I look forward to hosting Premier Li, my counterpart, in our annual leaders’ talks in a few months time, later this year. So, we’ll make an announcement about that date at an appropriate time. But as well, just two weeks ago I hosted the ASEAN leaders in Melbourne. That was a great success, bringing the leaders of the Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia and other nations to our country and hosting them in what was a very successful visit. So, we are engaging in our region. We see that is where Australia’s future lies in terms of our economic relationships. And I’m very pleased that over a period of time we’ve seen the economic relationships with China improve. We had impediments to our trade that were costing more than $20 billion a year. Wine alone, wine exports, and we’re not far and there’s some good wineries around this region, around this bloke’s electorate. You don’t get too many wineries around Grayndler, but you do get them around the electorate of Calare, and that’s a fantastic thing. Those exports are worth $1.1 billion a year when those impediments were put in place. We’ve had an interim report and I look forward to the opening up of that trade pretty soon. It’s due by the end of March, so it’s due by the end of next week.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, with regards to the supermarkets inquiries, you’ve mentioned in the past that you’d like to see more retailers come from overseas to create more diversity in the market. How is that going to help rural and regional towns in Australia, where it may not be economically viable or attractive for those retailers to actually set up so, people in those communities are still left with the big retailers?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I do want to see more competition and one of the things that the ACCC are looking at, there are four key themes. One of them is the role of independent and smaller supermarkets as well – their access to goods and supply chains, how they can play a role in increasing competition. My position is pretty simple. That is, I want to see our suppliers get good prices and value for the work that they do, the hard work, our farmers. And I want to see, though, people at the checkout get good value as well. Where there is a lot of anger, and I understand it in the community, is when they know that farmers are getting less for the products they’re selling to the big supermarkets because of the market power they have. And then people at the checkout, aren’t getting any value of that – that’s just going to the operators of the supermarkets. So, that disjuncture, which is there, is something that the ACCC is addressing, there’s a Senate Inquiry and also there’s the work of Dr Emerson, looking very explicitly at whether the voluntary code of conduct needs some mandated factor in there.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Liberals are picking their candidate this weekend for the next Federal election in the seat of Gilmore on the South Coast. Labor currently holds the seat by only 370 votes. Will you put your support behind Fiona to retain the seat?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, absolutely. Fiona Phillips is a great local member, and I’ll say something’s happening on the South Coast, which is that you can go from essentially Wollongong there, when you cross over into the – I’m not sure what seat the national park’s in, no one lives there, but you go from the electorate of Cunningham to the Victorian border and you don’t hit a Liberal Party member, Federal or State until you hit Victoria – where you hit a National Party from the minority group in the National Party, when you hit Victoria. The South Coast is one that is served incredibly well by Fiona Phillips and by Kristy McBain. What we’re seeing there is people change their views. We have the first Labor Member for Bega in maybe forever, I’m not sure, I know it’s a very long period of time. And Labor, of course, won the electorate of South Coast and at the last election under Chris Minns’ leadership. Fiona Phillips is someone who is delivering for that community. She’s delivering in roads funding the upgrades to the Princess Highway. She’s delivering as part of a Government that this week saw now in the last month the unemployment rate fall from something with a four in front to something with a three in front. An amazing drop – 4.1 to 3.7. We had over 100,000 jobs created in one month, what we are seeing now, and Fiona Phillips will be out there campaigning about the fact that real wages are increasing, inflation is decreasing, jobs are being created, every person in Gilmore will get a tax cut. And what we have from the Liberal Party is once again, I mean this bloke Andrew Constance, you know he was a State Member – he left the State seat and caused a by-election. He tried to run for pre-selection for Eden Monaro and got in a fight with John Barilaro, and in the end neither of them ended up running. Then he tried to run for Gilmore and ran unsuccessfully. Then he’d been rejected by his own Party not once but twice for the Senate. Rejected once for a bloke from the eastern suburbs of Sydney which is where a bloke who’d lost the seat of Wentworth not once but twice was put in the Senate over the top of him. In spite of the fact that he had the endorsement of Peter Dutton, who doesn’t seem to be able to deliver anything at all. There’s one thing that’s certain about Gilmore. I bet you they select a bloke, because they’ve selected a bloke in Cook. They seem incapable of recognising that 50 per cent of the population are female and that the parliament should represent the people. So, they go in Cook, they’ve selected some bloke who ran for Bennelong last time around on the North Shore of Sydney, was unsuccessful. He’s now been selected to Cook and moved in after the pre-selection. There was a very competent woman put herself forward for Cook but of course was rejected. It is extraordinary that the Liberal Party will go backwards after the next election on the basis of gender, given they’ve already selected a bloke to replace a woman in Forrest. They’ve selected, there’s only blokes standing to replace Karen Andrews in McPherson. They had an opportunity to select a woman in Fadden and chose a bloke. They had an opportunity to select a woman for the Senate and chose a bloke from the eastern suburbs of Sydney. They had a chance in the Dunkley by-election to select a woman, they again selected a bloke, and on that night where they seemingly tried to claim victory after they lost that by-election they stood up and kind of endorsed him to run again. So, I just think the Liberal Party have a real problem in not recognising what’s required in 2024 and what people expect.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what do you make of the boat capsize off Indonesia?

PRIME MINISTER: That is, of course, something that the reports are, that there’s been an occurrence off Indonesia. We have Operation Sovereign Borders in place, so our Operation Sovereign Borders is working effectively, as we have said and as the people operating it have said.

JOURNALIST: Is there any truth to reports the boat was coming to Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Operation Sovereign Borders is in place. And it is unclear, of course – I wasn’t on the boat, nor were you. So, it’s very clear that we have Operation Sovereign Borders in place. When there were arrivals in the Kimberley, we dealt with that very swiftly. Those people aren’t in Australia, they’re on Nauru.

JOURNALIST: Why have the people smuggling trade started up again, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there were arrivals under the former government and people wandering around the north coast of Queensland that occurred. Our system is in place, in spite of the fact that Peter Dutton continues to be prepared to send messages to undermine Operation Sovereign Borders, we’re supporting it and we’re very clear.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister. The Australian Rail Track Corporation says the Government has not provided funding to deliver the inland rail north of the Central West area. Why is this the case and does the Government still see the inland rail as a vital infrastructure project?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Australian Rail Track Corporation and the National Party, frankly, can explain why it is that a project was tens of millions, just an extraordinary amount of billions of dollars over budget. This is something that – remember in 2013, Barnaby Joyce made a big deal out of inland rail being delivered. Now, when I was Transport Minister, we did a lot of the planning work and we provided funding, some $900 million for funding because a lot of the project was about rerailing and was about the existing corridors, straightening the lines to make that possible. They were in Government for almost a decade. They promised that it would be delivered. There wasn’t money provided by them, for it to be delivered. And what’s more, inland rail was never meant to be taken that literally. It was meant to go to a Port – their planning had nowhere beyond Acacia Ridge in Queensland, which is 38 kilometres from the Port. It didn’t go to the Port of Melbourne, it didn’t go to the Port of Brisbane, it didn’t go to the Port of Gladstone, it didn’t go to the Port of Newcastle. There’s been a report, independent, which is a damning indictment of the National Party and the way that they engage, or don’t deliver, on infrastructure for regional people – which is perhaps one of the reasons why, increasingly, in areas like this, you’ve seen independents elected to represent both people in the Federal Parliament, but, of course, in State seats as well, all. And it’s not surprising, given the National Party’s failure, to actually deliver on what they said they would do. Thanks very much.

/Public Release. View in full here.