Australian Prime Minister Radio Interview – 4Ro Rockhampton

Prime Minister

: The pressure is on for the Prime Minister and the Government. The Prime Minister will be in Rockhampton today. We’ll hear more about that in just a moment. But at a time when there’s been a change in direction on tax cuts. Australia Day, the pressure is on with Australia Day and we had that conversation yesterday, let’s see what the Prime Minister thinks about your stance to leave everything exactly where it is. And we’ve also got a forum happening in Rockhampton today that will address renewable energy. So, it’s a pleasure to say good morning to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good to be with you, Aaron.

STEVENS: You are in Rocky today. Tell us why.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ll be looking at the further work on the Rocky Ring Road. This has been talked about, of course, when I was the Infrastructure Minister, we did some of the planning work more than a decade ago, but now it’s off and running. So, I’ll be there with the Minister, Catherine King, but also with the Queensland Premier, Steven Miles, about all the work that is going on. This is such an exciting project. It will create hundreds and hundreds of jobs. It will divert around 2600 heavy vehicle movements every single day away from the CBD there of Rocky and away from suburban roads. And that’s good for productivity, it’s good for reducing travel times for the freight industry, but importantly as well, it makes local roads safer for families and for workers getting around every day.

STEVENS: You know that the funding is still being questioned, whether it’s there or not.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s all there. My Government committed a further $347.5 million in our last Budget. This is a major project. It will cost more than one and a half billion dollars. The funding wasn’t there from the former Government. It was massively underfunded. We want to make sure that it’s going and indeed it is.

STEVENS: What is the significance of yourself and the Premier visiting that site today?

PRIME MINISTER: We think it’s a priority. I know that the members of the Premier’s team there, Barry O’Rourke and Brittany Lauga, both have been regarding this as a priority project. We’ll be joined by the Mayor as well, Tony Williams. And of course, this is an important project for the local community and it’s an example of the work that we’re putting in. As a result of the work that we’ve done, every jurisdiction will receive additional funding for infrastructure compared to the last Budget, including an additional $3.1 billion for Queensland.

STEVENS: And completion date?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, completion date is as soon as possible. We want to get on with it to make sure that it gets done efficiently. It’s one of the reasons why we’ll be talking with people today about that. We know that this has been spoken about for a long period of time. When I was the Minister, we got to do all of the work on the Yeppen Floodplain, the approaches to the south of Rocky there, which have made an enormous difference. And this will make a very big difference. I think that way back, Kirsten Livermore the former Member, really drove the impetus for this to occur, and it is, of course, 80 per cent federally funded, this project. So, I really look forward to being back in Rocky today.

STEVENS: Good to see you. And looking forward to seeing you a little bit later on. Yesterday morning Prime Minister, no doubt you were a little bit concerned about some of the displays on Australia Day, and I put it out there yesterday to our listeners, whether it’s time to change the date of Australia Day. It may surprise you, maybe, that overwhelmingly people want to leave it exactly the way it is.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, we have no plans to change Australia Day. The thing about Australia Day is it is controversial with some people, and I respect certainly the views of many First Nations people. But from my perspective, it’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the full 65,000 years of our history, the fact we share this continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth. But that also, over the last 200 plus years, you’ve seen significant migration following the establishment of the colony there in New South Wales. And you had, of course, first British and Irish convict migration, some people coming by choice, some by force. But then in recent times, in the post war period, of course, we’ve had a magnificent growth in multiculturalism, and that has changed Australia. But people have been brought their own cultures to Australia in order to seek a better life for themselves and their kids. And it’s an opportunity for us to reflect on all that we’ve built here. I think Australia is the greatest country on earth. Australia Day is an opportunity for us to reflect on how we’ve got to where we are now, but how we can become an even greater country as we move forward.

STEVENS: But isn’t it a concern that the celebrations and that in inverted commas, are overshadowed every year by the protests and by the conversation?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think some outlets look for outrage in the lead up to every Australia Day. I think that culture wars is not what I’m looking for. It’s unfortunate that people look to try to cause division. I thought that the call, for example, to boycott Australia’s largest employer, Woolworths, with 200,000 people, employed there. If everyone boycotted it, guess what, 200,000 people lose their jobs. I thought that was an extraordinary call that was made. We need to respect the fact that people have different views. But I myself was really honoured to be at the Australian of the Year Awards, to be at the citizenship ceremony that took place on the foreshores here in Canberra on Australia Day. It was a wonderful event and I think that those Australians of the year, including a couple of Queenslanders, got gongs as well there in the awards, was a fantastic and inspirational evening. Just hearing those stories, those great Australians, whether they be volunteers or Young Australians of the year, where Emma McKeon was successful, the wonderful researchers in melanoma, those wonderful doctors who’ve saved so many lives already. Dr. Scolyer was, I think his speech, together with Dr. Long on the evening, were just inspirational and a big message about sun safety and about all of those issues going forward.

STEVENS: Absolutely, Prime Minister. Obviously, the pressure is on the Government and your credibility has taken a whack in the last week over the tax cuts. Are more people going to benefit with the moves that the government’s made?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they certainly will benefit. We’ll deliver a tax cut for every Australian taxpayer, not just some. And in the Capricornia electorate alone, 59,000 more people will get a bigger tax cut. Over 80 per cent of the people living in Rocky and surrounds are going to get more money in their pocket in July, and that average is over $1,700 more. That makes an enormous difference. Now, we know that economic circumstances have changed since 2019. We know that particularly low and middle income earners are under real financial pressure. And so when you have that evidence before you, you have to listen to people. And that is what we have done. This is a change of policy, it’s a change for the better, and we’re doing the right thing for all of the right reasons. And Australians can trust me to be prepared to make difficult decisions, not the easy decision. That is the priority that I have, putting people before politics.

STEVENS: But the question remains that just only days before announcing those changes, you were saying there wouldn’t be changes, and now we’re looking at the same situation with negative gearing.

PRIME MINISTER: No, I said that we hadn’t changed our position, and we didn’t until the Cabinet made that determination last Tuesday. But what we have had is week after week, month after month, a call to do more on cost of living. Now, we’ve done an enormous amount on cost of living. We’ve had our energy relief plan, we’ve had cheaper child care, cheaper medicines, Fee Free TAFE have benefited 300,000 Australians. But this package is aimed squarely at middle Australia. It means that for the average worker they’ll get double the tax cut. And for the average working family, with both people working, they’ll get more than double. So, this is about the right decision based upon the facts that are before us right now, and it is the right thing to do. And I note that the Coalition have said at one stage last week they changed their position during the week. They came out and said that they would reverse this tax cut and that would mean increasing taxation for 12 million Australians, is what they said they would do. Now, it’s not clear what their position is this week, but that was certainly their position last week.

STEVENS: Well, the latest is that plenty of people are supporting the Government’s move, so it looks like it might all go forward. I’m interested, Prime Minister, on the next move. I mean, times are still tough. There is still a lot of concern. What is the next move to help out Australians being pressured by cost of living?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have our Budget in May. We’ll continue to look at measures to provide assistance. We have been very consistent about rolling out support across a period of time and even measures such as the price cap, for example, that we put on gas and coal in order to put pressure on those energy prices for people. That’s made an enormous difference. That isn’t something that we envisaged that we would be doing, but it has been successful. What we need to do is to look at ways, though, that will put that support for cost of living without putting pressure on inflation. Because if inflationary pressure is put on, then anything that you do becomes counterproductive. So, that’s the criteria that we have and that’s why the measures that we’ve put forward on taxation are revenue neutral. Because, Treasury and indeed the Reserve Bank have confirmed that that means that they won’t have an impact on inflation, which is a big task that we have had. We inherited when we were elected in the March quarter of 2022, the inflation rate was 2.1 per cent, the highest that it’s been in a very long period of time. And that, of course, led to the first of the interest rate increases and led to the pressure that was on, in part because of the fiscal irresponsibility of the former Government that ran the biggest deficit in Australian history, the second biggest deficit in Australian history, and the third biggest deficit in Australian history. Now, we’ve turned that into a surplus that’s substantial and that is the first surplus in 15 years.

STEVENS: We’re going to have to turn it around, Prime Minister. There are plenty of people who have never witnessed it this tough.

PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely, which is why the Government has a responsibility to act. And we are acting. We are acting based upon the facts that are before us. We’re acting to put that downward pressure on inflation, but we’re also acting to give people cost of living relief, which is why our tax measures are so important and why they should be supported across the parliament.

STEVENS: While you’re in town today, the LNP are coming together for the Transport and Resources Committee Inquiry into the Energy, Renewable Transformation and Jobs Bill 2023. Public hearing being held in Rockhampton today. There remains a backlash against the move towards renewable energy, particularly here in Central Queensland, where the mining industry and resource industry is so important. Is this perceived push there, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’ll be in Townsville before I’m in Rockhampton, announcing the $70 million hydrogen hub. And that will lead to hundreds of jobs there in North Queensland. The shift to renewables will create thousands of jobs, particularly in regional Australia. We’ll continue to export our resources there from Central Queensland. That’s a good thing. That brings income to Australia. But at the same time, what we know is that the cheapest form of new energy is renewables. And we also know that through measures such as developing a green hydrogen industry, we can create the jobs of the future as well. That will sustain not just this, but future generations as well. This is an exciting time where Australia is blessed with not just the resources that we’ve had under the ground, the resources that will power this century. Resources like vanadium and copper and cobalt and nickel and lithium, and many of them, of course, located right there in Queensland. So, Queensland has an enormous opportunity and one of the things that, one of those areas and opportunities is in the hydrogen industry. And that’s why today’s announcement that I’ll be doing with Chris Bowen in Townsville is so exciting.

STEVENS: Why does it have to happen so quickly? Why the immediate push? We don’t have the infrastructure in place to handle some of these moves.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Queensland has a vital role in our nation’s transition, there’s no question about that. The project that we’re announcing today and our funding will create 200 direct jobs for local trades, as well as 300 ongoing jobs. That’s just one project. One project that will produce initially 800 tonnes of green hydrogen per year, ramping up to 3000 tonnes for domestic supply, but most importantly, eventually 150,000 tonnes for export. This is one of the six hubs that we have put in place all of them in regional Australia, in Gladstone, in Queensland, as well as in Townsville. So, to your north and your south, you have quite exciting projects where by 2050, the hydrogen industry could be adding $50 billion to our GDP. $50 billion. Now, that is something where we need to recognise that globally there is competition, there’s a race on for who can position themselves to take advantage of the shift that is occurring globally around the global economy. So, this is quite exciting. So, countries like Korea and Japan, for example, which have been traditionally the main importers of the resources that have come from Central Queensland there, they’re looking at green hydrogen and how we can get that engagement there. And so we need to recognise, make sure, that all communities are brought with the private sector on this journey. But there are huge opportunities and it would be remiss of Australia to sit back, as we did for ten years previously, and just miss out whilst these changes were occurring.

STEVENS: Prime Minister, I look forward to you visiting Rockhampton today and moving that ring road forward.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Aaron.

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