Australian Prime Minister Press conference – Mackay, Queensland

Prime Minister

My name is Nita, I’m a Labor Senator for Queensland. I’m very a proud representative of regional Queensland in particular. So I’m very pleased to be back here in Mackay today with the Prime Minister and with Mayor Greg Williamson. Congratulations on your recent re-election, Greg, it’s fantastic to be with you today. We are here to support regional Queensland and to create more jobs in regional Queensland. And that’s exactly why we’re here at this Pontoon, a fantastic opportunity to show off what can be achieved when we all work together, three levels of government, and support local industry. I’m really excited about the revitalisation project behind us that we’ll hear more about in a second. Particularly, you know, I had my morning walk here this morning. It’s a beautiful part of the world, and I think Greg and his team have done a fantastic job over the last couple of years making sure that not only is this a place where people have a job, but also it’s a place where people want to live, because it’s all about liveability in our regional towns like Mackay. So, can I thank the Prime Minister for being back in Queensland. You’ve spent an awful lot of time here recently and that’s because we have some really fantastic things to talk about, particularly in our regions. This is a big and important week, and a busy week for you, PM. So, thank you for making time to be with us here in Mackay today.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Nita, and thanks for the work that you do as a Senator representing particularly regional Queensland, and I do want to join with you in congratulating the Mayor, Greg Williamson, on his re-election. This project is a great example of something that shouldn’t have been needed. But for too long we have taken our magnificent waterways, whether they be our rivers or ocean fronts, for granted. What we need to do when possible is maximise the community benefit for it. And this revitalisation project will open up the riverfront here. We can already see that tourist boats can use the pontoon here, which previously there just wasn’t a place for them in the centre of the city to be able to moor, in order to boost the attractiveness of people using this magnificent wide, on a great day, it’s a beautiful blue river here in Mackay. This is just one of the projects that the Federal Government have funded, both past and present. The Mackay Ring Road, something that was begun when I was the Infrastructure Minister, is well underway as well. Something that will make an enormous difference, taking those heavy vehicles off local roads. In addition to that, the levee project just down the river here is almost complete. That levee project is an exciting project, it’s part of something that I announced prior to the election. It’s a commitment that we made to make sure that we don’t wait for flood events and bushfire events. That where possible, we invest early in remediation efforts. Recognising the fact that we are having an increased number of extreme weather events, particularly here in Queensland. I have visited, unfortunately, flooding events further north here as a result of cyclones on two occasions, as well as on the Gold Coast and in the Hinterland as well. So this levee project as well, I look forward to coming back here and opening that very soon.

Secondly, when it comes to Queensland, just a short time ago I was here at the Queensland Media Club speaking about a Future Made in Australia. My government wants to make more things here. I want the Australian economy to be more resilient. For us to take advantage of the resources that we have under the ground and in the sky to make more things here, because that is a key to our national resilience. We know that during the pandemic the problems that can occur if trade is cut off. Queensland, and particularly Queensland regions, are ideally suited to value add when it comes to agriculture, when it comes to resources, when it comes to the defence industry, to make more things here. The boat that is down here on the riverfront was made here in Queensland. It’s an example of how we can boost manufacturing here by boosting jobs, making our economy stronger as well. And in addition to that, that will be a focus of our budget as well as cost of living. Where, of course, every single Queensland taxpayer, because every Australian taxpayer, will get a tax cut as a result of the decision that we made at the beginning of this year and the legislation that has now passed the parliament. It will be a central focus with $107 billion of cost of living relief through those tax cuts in our budget in just a couple of weeks’ time. I’d ask the Mayor to make some comments and then we’re happy to take questions, but also welcome the local federal member Andrew Willcox, who is here with us today.

GREG WILLIAMSON, MAYOR OF MACKAY REGIONAL COUNCIL: Thank you, PM. Well ladies and gentlemen, great as it is to have the PM in town, you might be asking why does a PM come and open a Pontoon on the Pioneer River? Quite simply because this is the first stage in a massive revitalisation of this area. For the last hundred years, what you see on the southern bank here of the Pioneer River has been locked away because this was the warehouse section of Mackay. This is where Mackay grew up. So the public hasn’t had access to this area for a very, very long time, and now this is the start of it. So what you see here will be a critical component into opening up our area of this beautiful Pioneer River, one of the only two blue water rivers on the eastern seaboard. This is the start of our multi-million dollar program to actually open up the whole of the riverbank to the public. And that’s a liveability thing, that’s a tourism thing, that’s an ability for us to actually showcase this beautiful river. And so PM, thank you for being here to open the Pontoon and I hope that we’ll probably come back to you for a little bit more money shortly about the rest of it, and I hope we can invite you back to open the successive stages as we go down. But this is a great day for us here in our city, in our environment, for the whole region, because celebrating this river is a great stake in the ground for liveability and tourism in our region. So PM, thanks for being here.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Mr Mayor. Happy to take some questions, maybe on this firstly if there are any. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: So this area is quite heavily populated by homeless people as well. Some locals don’t want to come here because of that. Is there anything in the works to help out with that situation?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course, we are investing massively in housing through our Housing Australia Future Fund, through our Social Housing Accelerator, through our negotiations, which we’ve taken place at the moment over the Housing and Homelessness Agreement between the commonwealth and states and territories. We have seventeen different measures, worth more than $25 billion when it comes to housing. But one of the things that will assist an area like this, we know from experience, is that our capital cities and indeed many of our regional centres just haven’t valued our waterfronts, and that’s because of the way that development has occurred. Development has occurred a lot of the time with factories along the waterfronts, using the waterways for waste and not valuing the pristine nature of a community like this. One of the reasons why I’m so supportive of local government and of funding community infrastructure through local government is that you get local priorities established. And you, of course the Mayor hasn’t disappointed me by putting the bite on me for additional funds as occurs. But by doing it through local government, what you do is you get that community priorities established here rather than in Canberra, and that’s a good thing.

JOURNALIST: Just in terms of this project, what’s next as well for council?

MAYOR WILLIAMSON: Well as you know, we’re opening up the whole river, right down to the river to the fishing, sorry the, what do we call it? The boat ramp. Thank you. Thank you, Belinda. That’s what you have a Deputy Mayor for. So, right round to the boat ramp. So, from here down to the boat ramp, public access is what it’s all about. So there’s a lot of projects to come. Projects about involving private enterprise as well and getting the people back connected to this riverfront. And so we’ve got a lot of public realm components to go between here and the boat ramp and so there’ll be many, many more millions spent. But it’s a long-term project and we can’t do it all as a council, we need the federal and the state governments involved in it.

JOURNALIST: And what will you be asking for next time?

MAYOR WILLIAMSON: You want a quantum? No, I wouldn’t be game to put the Prime Minister on the spot with the quantum right now. But this is multimillion, many, many year project to go right down to the riverfront and round the front, down to Binnington Esplanade.

JOURNALIST: Mr Prime Minister, just a question. When will the Federal Government be signing off for crucial road upgrades for the Goorganga Plains so that every time it rains up here it doesn’t flood and cut off people in the Whitsundays?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’re going through our budget processes now, including the bids that have put forward, been put forward by state and territory governments. We await Queensland’s priorities and we’ll be negotiating those, that work through. But my government has invested, we kept all of the funding that was in the Budget. Many projects were underfunded so there had to be a recognition that you can’t half fund a road, that you need the appropriate funding in there. But we’re also looking at new projects. We’ll work those issues through.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned funding for Stage Two of the Mackay Ring Road. Is that money committed and when can we see that work happening?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the work is happening right now on the Mackay Ring Road. Indeed, today there was a possibility that we would go there, but we decided to come here because of the importance of this revitalisation project. That’s a project that began funding way back when I was the Minister and we began construction. So it’s been going for some time now, for more than a decade. But it was a very significant project and we want to see the entire project completed.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what changes is the government willing to make to pass reworked misinformation laws?

PRIME MINISTER: So, we’re now beyond local things, but happy to take that. We’ll examine whatever’s necessary, but we think, we’ve had this out there now for a year, now surely there is now a recognition that misinformation is a problem on social media. I attended a very moving ceremony last night at Bondi Beach, and it’s a tragedy that six Australians lost their lives last week in what was a senseless act of violence. But it’s also the pain of many people has been exacerbated by what occurred on social media – the broadcasting of violent images that have no place. Social media has a social responsibility, and in addition to that of course, we know some of the misinformation, including naming some innocent bloke as the perpetrator, is just extraordinary that that occurred and that that was replicated. We need to recognise that, and social media has a responsibility. By and large, people responded appropriately to the calls by the E-Safety Commissioner. X chose not to. They stand, I think, I find it extraordinary that X chose not to comply and are trying to argue their case. We know, I think overwhelmingly, Australians want misinformation and disinformation to stop. This isn’t about freedom of expression, this is about the dangerous implications that can occur when things that are simply not true, that everyone knows is not true, are replicated and weaponised in order to cause division and in this case, to promote negative statements and potentially to just inflame what was a very difficult situation. And social media has a social responsibility.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just a couple of issues. First, you’re heading to PNG. How concerned are you about China’s attempts to further ingratiate itself up there in PNG? And secondly, what’s your response to these stories this morning putting you in the frame for the defunding of roads around the Western Sydney Airport?

PRIME MINISTER: Well Australians, those are two very distinct issues. Australia has the closest of relationship with Papua New Guinea. The fact that Prime Minister Marape and I will be walking part of the Kokoda Trail together, from Kokoda to Isurava, to pay tribute to Australians and Papua New Guinea citizens as well, who stood side by side to defend our respective nations. It was a different system at that time, of course, it says a lot about how close that relationship is. We’ll be paying tribute to the courage, the endurance and the sacrifice which Diggers made in World War Two. ANZAC Day is a sacred day for Australians, but it’s also a day that’s commemorated in Papua New Guinea, and our relationship is very strong. The fact that the Foreign Minister visited PNG last week, he visited Australia a few weeks ago, I don’t regard it as anything other than business as usual. China seeks to improve its standing in the region. We know that that is just a fact that we are dealing with. But I am very confident that PNG has no stronger partner than Australia, and our defence and security ties have never been stronger as a result of the agreement that Prime Minister Marape and I signed at the end of last year, and this visit just cements that.

With regard to Western Sydney, every single dollar that had been allocated to infrastructure in NSW is still in the Budget and more. We are continuing to invest in NSW infrastructure, including billions of dollars in Western Sydney, including in the airport, in the Moorebank Intermodal that I opened just weeks ago, as well as in roads, as well as in rail around Western Sydney. We’ll continue to engage constructively with the NSW government on all of those issues, as we will governments right around the country. Previously there was an under allocation for infrastructure projects around the country, with massive blowouts, with lots of announcements going back to prior to the 2013 election by the coalition, the 2016 election, the 2019 election, for things that simply had no funding allocated for them. And you can’t build a road on a media release, you need proper funding in order to actually get things done. And my government’s determined when it comes to infrastructure, to get things done, and you’ll see that again in the Budget in May.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just back to the PNG trip. Do you have a personal connection, or have you always had a personal desire to walk Kokoda?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, Kokoda is the stuff of legend. As a young Australian, we all learnt at school the legendary status of those brave soldiers who fought against the odds at Kokoda. They were outnumbered, they were outgunned when it comes to the capacity of the Japanese, the number of forces that they had there. But they showed bravery and courage which has been recorded and held the line, including at Isurava, where we’ll be on Anzac Day. It’s an extraordinary effort and something that every Australian should be proud of and we should all give thanks each and every day. We should all give thanks to one of Australia’s greatest Prime Ministers, John Curtin, who stood up to Winston Churchill and brought the Australian Defence Forces home to defend our country, rather than to continue to be engaged in conflicts that were far away from Australia. That was a courageous decision. It was the right decision and history records that. And this week is an opportunity for us to pay our respects and to pay tribute to the brave Australians who defended our nation.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Australian Defence Force today has a very well-established recruitment crisis. Will you discuss with Prime Minister Marape options to allow Papua New Guineans to serve in the ADF?

PRIME MINISTER: Already there’s very close relationships between the Australian Defence Force and the PNG Defence Force. Recently, on my visit to Papua New Guinea, I met both the Australian Defence Force and PNG who were there working together side by side. And the Defence Force Arrangement that we have allows for an embedding of PNG Defence force personnel for training and for other reasons with the Australian Defence Force now. The interoperability that’s occurring between our two defence forces has never been stronger and certainly I know that Prime Minister Marape is very proud of that effort and some of the people who will be walking with us this week, are Australian Defence Force personnel as well as PNG personnel who are based obviously there together in PNG.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Queensland’s been pretty tough territory for Labor federally, you’re here in Mackay, which is in Dawson, tough seat for you to win, but it’s also got a local Labor MP, a state Labor MP. Do you see Queensland as a land of opportunity for the next election, which could be within a year?

PRIME MINISTER: It is a massive opportunity to increase Labor’s representation. I’ve been in, I was in Gladstone last week. I visited in recent times, Mount Isa, Cairns, Townsville, Mackay now, Gladstone, Rocky. I’ll be back in Rocky for beef week in a couple of weeks’ time. I see that there is a huge opportunity for us, but most importantly as well, I see Queensland as the key to the government’s policy agenda. Because when we speak about a Future Made in Australia, there is no state that is better positioned to benefit than Queensland because it’s the most regional of states. And the states that can benefit from manufacturing are Queensland and WA, in particular, have enormous starting points that are of benefit. We see that in places like Maryborough, where the rail manufacturing in Maryborough has led to a revitalisation of that entire town. Where Gladstone, the announcement that we made last week, the hub of high value alumina together with the transformation of the Rio Tinto aluminium plant, together with Orica and ammonia, together with the hydrogen projects that are being promoted there in that town by Fortescue, including the electrolysers. We see an enormous opportunity in Queensland for advanced manufacturing and certainly some of that is occurring here in Mackay as well that I’ve been to in the past. So we think a Future Made in Australia will be well received here in Queensland. And the alternative, of course, here we see from Peter Dutton is to use places like good waterways for nuclear reactors. He needs to say where they are going to be. The nuclear reactionaries who have taken over the LNP need to say where will the nuclear power plants be, who will fund them, what’s the timeframe and what they’ll do to fill in the gap that will be there with the closure of coal fired power plants, which are scheduled regardless of who’s in government in coming years. Previously, the former government funded the proponents of the Collinsville coal fired power plant. That was while not doing anything about renewables and the transformation that’s needed. They pretended that there was going to be a new coal fired power plant near here in this region. It was never stacked up. The market was never going to back it, it was never going to be financed. Just like nuclear reactors don’t have any financing.

JOURNALIST: The US has again passed a bill to force TikTok owners to divest and set a deadline for its sale. What sort of precedent does this set, and is that an option that the Australian government would at all consider?

PRIME MINISTER: We have put in place restrictions on government phones when it comes to TikTok. We think that’s appropriate. We have no other plans for further restrictions when it comes to TikTok.

JOURNALIST: So, one of the most contentious issues for Labor up in the region is the pumped hydro project. We’re just thinking, do you think that the public and Queenslanders should be able to read the report handed down mid-year about the pumped hydro scheme so that there can be greater transparency regarding Labor’s green vision for the future?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course, there will always be transparency. At the moment the Queensland government have a hydro project, it’s part of their energy and jobs plan and we know this will be a very large hydro scheme in order to power this region. The Commonwealth as yet have not received an application, if we do there will be the environmental process of consideration, and part of that is community consultation, so that will occur. Before any project goes ahead there will be, of course, on all major infrastructure projects, there will be differences of opinion. It’s important that people have the opportunity to put those views forward and prior to any federal consideration that under our laws is a part of that process.

JOURNALIST: In keeping with the pumped hydro scheme, there has been a number of Q&A sessions held with residents of Eungella. They’ve raised issues in regards to the impact on the endemic species, the increase in land valuation, the pressure on land, the mental strain as well on the residents. Is that, the focus of green energy, they’re raising this concern that it might not actually be that green. Is that something that you are considering that could be a potential impact on the outcome of this project?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have not received an application yet, so if we do, there will be a proper environmental assessment and part of that will be community consultation where people will be able to put forward their views.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there was flood funding announced for Queensland this morning. Why has it taken this long to get funding for the flood prone areas?

PRIME MINISTER: I was in Cairns, in flood prone areas, and the funding was flowing within days. We had established a government services office. Bill Shorten himself went up to Far North Queensland and visited those centres. The funding flowed very quickly from the Commonwealth, whether it be for individuals or for small business. And in addition to that, I witnessed firsthand Defence Force personnel and other Commonwealth assistance was on the ground, as well as Queensland assistance being on the ground as well. I am between weeks of visiting places like Holloways Beach that was washed away, was successfully, the village, if you like, I guess on the waterfront there was cut off in two. In remarkable time, it was established back and that community brought together again as one.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the opposition is indicating they will be continued to pursue the governments compensation payments to Brittany Higgins, in light of Justice Lee’s finding last week that she made some untrue claims. Would it be in everyone’s interest to have a transparent review of this payment?

PRIME MINISTER: The judge found last week that Brittany Higgins was raped. In amongst all of the commentary, a judge found that a young Liberal party staffer was raped in a Cabinet Minister’s office, just metres from the Prime Minister’s office. I think frankly, in terms of victims here, that’s an extraordinary finding. And these other measures are done at arm’s length from the government, which the coalition know full well, full well, because of previous payments to previous staffers of the former government that were done when they were in office. I was Leader of the Opposition then, we didn’t question that because we knew what the process was. The Finance Department and the authorities do this at arm’s length without any political involvement. I do ask people to remember what the key point is here, which is that a judge has found that on the balance of probabilities, a young woman was raped in a Minister’s office. Now I’m pleased that under my government, we are working in a bipartisan way to implement the recommendations of the review that was undertaken in terms of the Jenkins report. We’re doing that in a systemic way, and there’s support across the parliament for it. Because all women and indeed all people should be safe at work. That is the principle that’s really important here. Thanks.

/Public Release. View in full here.