Australian Prime Minister Radio interview – 6PR Perth Live with Oliver Peterson

Prime Minister

: Joining me now live at nine past three is the Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese. Good afternoon.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good to be with you, Oly. It’s great to be back in Perth.

PETERSON: And I’ll come to Premier Li’s visit in just a moment. But on those points from Michele Bullock, she said today the Reserve Bank has warned that, quote, “recent Budget outcomes may also have an impact on demand.” So, is high Budget making the RBA’s job harder?

PRIME MINISTER: No, well, we’re certainly not making the job harder. We’ve produced two Budget surpluses in a row and we’ve deliberately designed our cost of living measures, such as our energy price relief plan, our cheaper medicines plan, cheaper child care, to put that downward pressure and moderate inflation. And that’s why we’ve seen inflation go from a figure with a six in front of it, to a figure with a three in front of it. We have halved inflation since we came to office and part of the reason why that has occurred is no doubt the fact that we turned a $78 billion deficit into a $22 billion surplus last year and this year we’re headed for another surplus. And that has been a product of hard work, making sure that we get the balance right. We know that people are indeed doing it tough. We want to provide that cost of living support and that’s why every Australian in 13 days will get a tax cut. That’s why we welcome the Fair Work Commission granting an increase in the minimum wage and award wages. And that’s why we’re providing that energy price relief for every household.

PETERSON: Do you need to be careful of other state governments, make sure you’re not contributing to inflation. Do you take the message from the Reserve Bank Governor, potentially rein things in?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we certainly have been careful. You might recall, Oly, that the Government that we replaced, the Coalition, didn’t deliver a single surplus in the nine years they were in office. Every year, massive deficits, including $78 billion they left us with. Now to turn $78 billion deficit in a $22 billion surplus is the biggest fiscal turnaround that we’ve seen in Australian history. A $100 billion turnaround. That takes hard work. It takes really responsible decision making and to not do what we have been urged to do by some prior to those budgets, of just splashing money around in order to get short term political hits. What we’ve done is be very cautious, be very measured and be very responsible in what we’ve done. But to make sure as well that on the tax cuts, instead of just helping some people, we’re helping everyone, but with the same amount. So, that figure of $107 billion over the four years had been taken into consideration by Treasury and by the Reserve Bank. And that’s why, when we made that decision, the Reserve Bank Governor said that she did not expect that it would have any impact on inflation because it had already been taken into account.

PETERSON: What’s been achieved here in Australia and Perth today on Premier Li’s visits?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it is another step in the stabilisation of our relationship. We have restored an extraordinary amount of exports. Timber, coal, of course, our wine exports, our meat products, barley, all now going into China, that’s worth more than $20 billion a year. China’s the destination for 75 per cent of Western Australia’s exports. Now, it will make an enormous difference. Today we’ve had further discussions about lobster. We want to see rock lobsters going to China as well, to help the seafood sector.

PETERSON: Will they overturn that ban?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we certainly hope to see that in coming weeks. So, we had constructive discussion today at the lunch as well. I might note that the Australian Chinese community, at the lunch, that was held at The Westin, served lobster and that wouldn’t have been missed by our guests from China as well, as a subtle way of just reminding them of how good the product here is in WA, as well as, of course, WA wine which is now on the tables of Beijing and Shanghai.

PETERSON: Is it a bit odd, though, all of this rolling out the red carpet? You speak of the trade relationships being restored and the smiling and the waving, because there’s still a number of irreconcilable differences here. Foreign interference, cyber hacking, Australians in jail in China, the intimidation of our armed forces, freedom of the press. I mean, look at what the Chinese officials tried to do yesterday, blocking the Australian journalist Cheng Lei at your press conference in Australia’s Parliament. So, I mean, how do you smile and shake hands with the perception of a bully?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we do have differences and I’ve said we should cooperate where we can, we disagree where we must. So, I, for example, raised the incident with Cheng Lei directly with the Premier and told him that, in our view, that was clearly unacceptable, that officials tried to block the camera view. Frankly, that was unacceptable and not appropriate behaviour. We do have differences. We have different political systems, different values, but we need to work those things through. There is a lot of conflict in the world and it is always a good thing to have dialogue, to have constructive discussion, including areas of difference. And we certainly raised all of the issues where Australia and China have differences, but we shouldn’t allow those differences to solely define our relationship. There are also some positive elements, including the decision on visas to China. The announcement that was made. The return of Chinese tourism means as well additional jobs in the hospitality and tourism sector here in Western Australia, indeed, throughout our entire nation. And the visit of Premier Li, of course, is a part of that. It will have been broadcast back to more than a billion people in China. That’s essentially an ad for Australia. The visit that we had in Kings Park, it’s a remarkable vista over this beautiful city of Perth, over the Swan. And that is an ad to all those people in China saying, ‘come to Australia’. And with that comes economic activity.

PETERSON: Premier Li, in front of that WA business leadership gathering at the Chamber of Commerce event, said, quote, ‘our market’, that is China’s, ‘is a super sized market and it’s irreplaceable’. I mean, does Australia just have to do as we’re told, Prime Minister, and not rock the boat? Not saying critical about China publicly and we’ll be fine. Is that basically what he’s saying?

PRIME MINISTER: Not at all. Well, we’ve done that. I said at the luncheon yesterday that our differences won’t be solved through silence. We need to be prepared to talk about them, and I certainly have spoken about them both privately and publicly, and we’ll continue to do so. But that’s not a reason to say that we won’t engage. We have differences with a range of nations who we have relations with in our region and indeed throughout the globe. What’s important, though, is that dialogue occur. It’s important that we set up mechanisms so we can talk issues through. No talkies is not a way to solve differences. That’s a way to spiral downwards. And in today’s global community, what we need is more understanding, not less. And understanding comes by having that dialogue, being honest and upfront, including about our differences, but also in areas where we are in agreement, where we can cooperate, on our economy, on addressing issues such as climate change. We have very much complementary economies as well and that means that the relationship between us is an important one.

PETERSON: Did you get a guarantee from Premier Li that China’s military will allow Australia’s military safe passage when they encounter each other in the region?

PRIME MINISTER: Certainly I indicated very clearly that the incidents with the helicopter off HMAS Hobart and the issue with HMAS Toowoomba were unacceptable. Premier Li raised the issue of military to military communication, which will be important as well. I gave a speech last year at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, which is the most important defence conference held in our regional, about the importance of military to military cooperation and communication between the United States and China. We know that during the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the United States, there was communication and a phone set up so that we didn’t have accidents occurring and so that people could make it clear what was going on. Now, we will continue to engage in navigation activity in accordance with the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. We’ll continue to uphold, as we were there in the Yellow Sea, uphold the sanctions that are held against North Korea, we’ll continue to engage. The South China Sea is an important waterway for international trade and we will continue to express our very clear view and indeed to have appropriate patrols and passages through, to make sure that we are showing, not just by words but by deeds, how important that is for international trade.

PETERSON: So, has Premier Li’s visit been worth it? And is there now no more tension between our two nations?

PRIME MINISTER: No, look, there are differences, we have different political systems, but it is worthwhile to engage. Just as my visit to China last year, which commemorated 50 years of activity between our nations, was important. This visit coincides with ten years since the former Coalition Government, it was the Abbott Government that signed up to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and Free Trade with China. That has led to benefits for both countries. But it doesn’t mean that there will always be agreement with different political systems. We’re a democracy, China is not. And I think that is just something that needs to be acknowledged and recognised. We need to uphold our values. But what my Government has done is to be able to stabilise the relationship without making any concessions for our values over things such as navigation and over human rights, of which we raise those issues. Cheng Lei, of course, who people tried to block from the Chinese Embassy, and it was entirely inappropriate and it was rude what occurred, and frankly, just counterproductive from the Chinese side. It just drew attention to the fact that Cheng Lei was there. She’s a journalist in Australia. She has every right to have been there and to fully participate and she did. The idea of standing in between a camera and a journalist is quite clearly just inappropriate.

PETERSON: Prime Minister, one more issue before I let you go. Will you extend the time on the inquiry into live export? Because only 400 submissions of the 11,000 have been processed and it shuts this Friday. More than 57,000 people have now signed the keep the sheep petition. Do you concede you might have miscalculated the backlash here?

PRIME MINISTER: No. It’s interesting, the term that you use, ‘keep the sheep’ in favour of actually not keeping the sheep, but those sheep leaving Australia’s shores. It’s live export. It’s not ‘keep the sheep’. And we clearly have a position where we’ve given four years notice. It’s as a result of a very clear policy that we took to not one, but two elections. We had an extensive process as well, an inquiry before we determined the date on which it would occur. And bear this in mind, Oly, that the sheep meat industry is worth a lot of money, billions of dollars. The live sheep industry is worth $80 million. And the compensation that will be provided in order to ensure the industry can adjust its worth over $100 million is on the table as part of that process. Now, there have been substantial debates about that. There’s been inquiries, indeed, I think it’s a Senate inquiry or a Joint Parliamentary inquiry is occurring into the legislation. But that follows years of debate on this issue. And I think every, every, public poll that has been shown, shows that Australians want to see the jobs that will be created by value adding here. I’ve spoken a lot about a Future Made in Australia and more jobs can be created if we actually process the sheep meat here without having the impact on animal welfare that the live sheep industry has had. And we know earlier this year there was the incident with the ship that was unable to land in the Middle East, that had real issues again, which drew again the attention of the Australian public to that issue. We have the best lamb and mutton in the world and we want to have the best animal welfare standards in the world as well.

PETERSON: Politically, though, if you don’t get the WA votes again, you could be out of The Lodge. So, you don’t think closing down the live sheep trade will harm your re-election chances?

PRIME MINISTER: I think that if you look at the support that we’re giving, $107 million on the table to assist producers, processes and the whole supply chain with this transition, for an industry that is worth less than the transition money that we have on the table, then I think that overwhelmingly, Australians want this industry to end. And that’s why the campaign isn’t saying, “keep live sheep export,” it’s saying, “keep the sheep.” How are the sheep being kept? If they’re being put onto these vessels for weeks in conditions which have seen real concern about animal welfare and real loss of the jobs that can be created if we value add, as overwhelmingly our sheep exports, our lamb and our mutton overwhelmingly isn’t in the form of live sheep, it’s in the form of the product, which is the best in the world. And it’s a product we can be very proud of and farmers can be very proud of the role they play in producing that product.

PETERSON: Prime Minister, thanks for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Oly.

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