Australian Prime Minister Radio interview – 4RO Rockhampton Breakfast

Prime Minister

Anthony Albanese, hello.


STEVENS: Thank you for your time again from. From sunny Central Queensland, it’s beautiful outside.

PRIME MINISTER: It’s always beautiful up there. So, I’m looking forward to coming up during Beef Week, having another visit to Rocky. It’s always a good occasion. And there’s no bigger occasion, of course, than Beef Week.

STEVENS: Well, we’re all broadcasting live there for the entire week, so come and say g’day and have a chat, won’t you?

PRIME MINISTER: We’ll have a chat there, for sure.

STEVENS: Prime Minister, I’m going to hit you up straight up off the top this morning. Hopefully you’re driving to Rockhampton when you come up for Beef Week because we need a favour. Central Queenslanders need a favour. We need to fix this Bruce Highway. We need to fix it once and for all. We need to stop the patch up jobs. We had a bit of rain on the weekend, we had 100ml, but it just completely wrecked the highway. It’s opened up again. There’s cracks bigger than cars between Mount Larcom and Mackay. It’s dangerous, it’s costing lives. And the worst thing is this is the road that our future is driving on. This is the road that all the industry trucks are on. It’s the roads carrying the wind turbines, it’s the roads carrying the solar panels. We need to do something about our Central Queensland highways.

PRIME MINISTER: Indeed. And we’ve got a $10 billion commitment to upgrade the Bruce Highway. The work that was done when I was the Minister was the first significant work that was done on the Bruce. The Howard Government spent $1.3 billion over 12 long years. We spent $7.6 billion over the six years in which we were in government. And projects like the Yeppen Floodplain that made an enormous difference.

STEVENS: It has.

PRIME MINISTER: But projects to the south of Rocky. And indeed, I was very pleased on my last visit there in January to turn the first sod on the Rocky Ring Road, which, of course, is now under construction. I put money there for the planning work way back in 2012 in the Budget when Kristen Livermore was the local Member there. And we provided funding to sort out the plan. But then nothing happened for 10 years. But now it’s underway. And it’s a $1.7 billion project. $1.2 billion of it is from the Commonwealth. And it will take away some 17 traffic lights, so make an enormous difference. But I know from experience, I did a number of drives. As you might recall, I was locked out of NSW. I did three trips. I drove from Cairns all the way down to Brisbane. On another visit, I went from Barcaldine down through Emerald into the Rocky and then south. So, I did a number of visits to travel the highway. So, I know firsthand the issues which are there. And my Government is determined to work with the Queensland Government as well and work with local government to get it done.

STEVENS: What’s going wrong here, Prime Minister? Because we know the money’s being spent and we’ve seen these roads that I’m talking about, some of them are less than five years’ old. They’re just not being done right the first time.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s a problem when that occurs. Of course, there has been an extraordinary amount of rain. And rain impacts on roads. That’s the truth. And so, we need to constantly be dealing with maintenance and those issues. One of the things that my Government has done, and it’ll be confirmed in the Budget, is to double the roads to recovery funding. So, all those feeder roads that are run by local councils there, including the local council there at Rockhampton, it will receive double the funding for local roads that are so important, as well as looking after our national highway.

STEVENS: Our argument here in Central Queensland, Prime Minister, is it rains on the Sunshine Coast too, but look at their roads.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there shouldn’t be a distinction between the two places. We did an enormous amount of work, I know, has been done around Gympie and around that section of road that actually had the worst road toll figures of any section of road in Australia. But we’ll continue to work constructively to make a difference. I look forward to seeing the progress that’s there on the Ring Road now that construction is actually underway.

STEVENS: We’ll talk more about it when you come up for Beef. Tell us how the future made in Australia plan works.

PRIME MINISTER: Look, that’s critical. What it’s about is the fact that we’re in a global competition. So, this isn’t about the old protectionism, it’s about a competition for new jobs and new opportunities. So, we need to make sure that Australia is in a position to take advantage of the resources we have under the ground and up in the sky to manufacture more things here. We can do that with clean energy powering advanced manufacturing, making more things, particularly in Queensland, that stands to really benefit. We had, on Monday of this week, we had the electrolysers launch for manufacturing there in Gladstone. And that will make an enormous difference. Rio Tinto are looking at how they move to more sustainable aluminium production. They want to, in the future, produce green aluminium there. What that will do is secure their future and secure those high-paid jobs. When it comes to agriculture, we have the best, most pristine agriculture in the world. We can build on that. How do we build yields? How do we use science to improve the productivity and output in our agricultural sector? In defence, where, of course, you have very significant assets there in Central Queensland. That’s an opportunity as well to make more things in Queensland and indeed right around Australia. I was in Ipswich last week, where the Boxer heavy vehicles that are used by the Defence Force in Australia, but also, of course, Germany. It’s a German company, Rheinmetall are producing these Boxer vehicles there at the plant in Ipswich. It’s employing many hundreds of Australians directly, but thousands indirectly as well. A billion dollar contract with Germany. So, a German company producing vehicles in Queensland and then importing them back into Germany. That shows what we can do. And we need to make sure that we prioritise this. This is an opportunity. If we don’t get it right, then the world will move past us.

STEVENS: What about the accusation that it’s diverting investment from other productive parts of the economy?

PRIME MINISTER: No. What this is doing is attracting global capital, attracting investment here, including from superannuation funds. And it’s producing a return. We don’t want to compete on everything. Where we want to compete, though, is where we have a competitive advantage and where Australia’s national sovereignty is at stake. That is what we need to do. That’s why we’re investing, for example in the pharmaceutical industry as well. With mRNA vaccines being manufactured by Moderna there in Victoria. We can’t afford to sit this out because if we do that, what we’ll be doing is saying goodbye to jobs. So, this is really important that we value add wherever we can. We have enormous advantages, but we can’t take it for granted. And that’s why we need to be engaged with business, with the private sector, to be a catalyst for that investment.

STEVENS: Prime Minister, I did open up the phones this morning and asked what sort of questions they wanted me to put to you today. And look, most of them are concerned about the move towards renewables, but more to the point, the rapid move towards renewables and where that leaves us. I had one question asking about the contingency plan for recycling. Where do these wind farms and solar panels leave us in a few years’ time? And what about the security? If they go down, where do we get our power from?

PRIME MINISTER: Part of what we need to do is to look at the circular economy as somewhere where we can make significant gains. That’s quite right. Making sure that we recycle products. That is one area of low hanging fruit, if you like, where we can get productivity gains.

STEVENS: Are we thinking about that now or leaving that to the future? Worrying about that later?

PRIME MINISTER: We’re doing it right now. Tanya Plibersek is doing enormous work on the circular economy and significant gains can be got. What we’re doing also is looking towards the market that’s showing the best form of new investment. And the best form of new investment is where the market’s going, which is in renewables. Renewables with battery storage. Increased use of gas will be important for maintaining the security of supply. But we need to get it right. You’d remember a few years ago, the former Government said there was going to be a new coal-fired power plant at Collinsville. They gave millions of dollars to the proponents of that plant and it didn’t go anywhere. Didn’t go anywhere because the market determined that it wasn’t viable. It’s like nuclear reactors. No one is putting their hand up saying they will invest in them.

STEVENS: But that’s because, right now, they’re illegal. So, it’s a conversation we can’t have.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, that’s not right. That’s not right. People could put their hand up and say, ‘I want to invest in a nuclear reactor’. And that is why, if you remove the impediments that were put in there by the Howard Government, by the way, if you remove them, ‘I’m willing to invest’. No one is. No one is. And that’s why we need to actually get on with this transition, make sure that we get it right, make sure we have that security of supply. And that is why this move by the Government to make more things here, including we do need to make our own solar panels here. At the old Liddell power station in the Upper Hunter, just last, a couple of weeks ago, we were there. AGL have an agreement with a company, Sundrive. They have innovatively produced the most efficient solar panels in the world. I want to see them made there. There’ll be more people employed on that old power station site than were employed when the power station was operating. And of course, it shut down on the former Government’s watch, in spite of the rhetoric that was there. So, we need to look at things as they are, work through the plan that secures Australian jobs, secures our national sovereignty at the same time.

STEVENS: Prime Minister, our Member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, has spoken to us on regular occasions about the plan for the Pioneer-Burdekin Pumped Hydro Project. 12,000 Queenslanders have signed petitions against that. And even though it’s a bit further up the road, I get calls about it all the time, about the pristine part of Queensland that is going to be totally destroyed. It’s not going to go ahead, is it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, those studies are taking place. We do need to have power, of course. And hydro is a very clean form of power that can be done. I do find it a bit passing strange that the National Party talk about the need to have dams and these issues until one is proposed somewhere. So, those plans are being undertaken, of course, by the State Government. And we await the findings of those processes.

STEVENS: All right, just one final question, because we are running out of time. But I had one caller asking about immigration. This is a big issue. We’ve got a massive housing problem in Australia, Central Queensland. We’ve got people lining up to try and get into homes, but immigration continues. We need to put a stop to it, don’t we?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we can’t put a stop to immigration. What we need to do is to reduce the numbers. We inherited a mess from the former Government. And what we’ve been doing is releasing an immigration policy last year, at the end of last year, through Clare O’Neil, of how to get on top of these issues. People were rorting the system, people coming in, not doing real uni or vocational education and training courses, but using that as an avenue in order to stay in Australia for a period of time. So, we are getting on top of these issues. But we did inherit a mess when we came to government.

STEVENS: Isn’t it time just for a pause, time for a rethink?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we’re doing is reducing the numbers, but no government has ever been in a position of saying we want zero people coming here. The university sector, for example, if we just stopped all access for the tertiary sector, that would have a major impact on our economy and a major impact on employment. It’s one of our major exports.

STEVENS: They’ve got nowhere to live. They’ve got nowhere to live.

PRIME MINISTER: And it is an important source of income.

STEVENS: I saw figures the other day that it was something like 40,000 residential properties are made for university students and we’ve got a million coming into, or 100,000 coming into the country. The figures just don’t add up.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you’re right in terms of a reduction. And that is why I pointed towards the changes that we have already introduced that are taking place as a result of us getting on top of the system that we inherited. But the question you asked me was, should it be just stopped down to zero? That isn’t really a tenable position, given some people are partway through their courses that they’ve paid the Australian Government for, or they’ve paid the university sector for, and are contributing to the national economy. So, we want to make sure we’re on top of it. But that doesn’t mean bringing it down to zero and just shutting the borders. We shut the borders during the pandemic. And one of the reasons why there was a spike post the pandemic, of course, was that that’s what happens when the borders open up again. And indeed, the tourism sector as well, which, of course, was stopped from coming. One of the things that has occurred is the return of tourists. Tourists, including to Central Queensland, produce significant income for the tourism operators around Great Keppel and all the wonderful sites that you have there in Central Queensland.

STEVENS: Good to talk to you this morning, Prime Minister. Appreciate your time. Make sure you come and say good day at Beef, won’t you?

PRIME MINISTER: I will do, Aaron. Look forward to it.

STEVENS: Terrific. Thank you, Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, joining us this morning.

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