Australian Prime Minister Television interview – Beef TV

Prime Minister

Welcome back. You’re watching Beef TV live from the beef capital. And here from the bush capital is the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. Thank you for coming on Beef TV.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Great to be here. What a fantastic event this is.

CROTHERS: A nice weather change?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s a bit warmer than Canberra. Let me tell you, the frost has started in in Canberra in the morning already and the fog drifting in. So it’s very different to wake up pretty early this morning, I’ve got to say, and the magnificent sunrise over the river and it’s just beautiful blue skies here.

CROTHERS: Yeah, it’s always a cracker on the Fitzroy. Good to hear you haven’t come empty handed, even announced $519 million for the Future Drought Fund. Is this new cash?

PRIME MINISTER: What it is, is a new commitment, changing the way that the Future Drought Fund operates. We had a national forum last year and then we had a consultative committee set up including chaired by one of the heads, or former heads of the NFF, and we consulted extensively. And what we heard was that the Future Drought Fund’s great for responding to drought but sometimes if you get ahead of an event, that makes more sense. So allowing this funding to build resilience, not just of individual farms but of communities as well, is what this funding will be used for. It will start from July 1, it will be in the Budget next Tuesday, and it’s been really well received because that hard work of consultation has come through.

CROTHERS: Now it’s a bit warm here today but it was a bit frosty last night. I saw you got a bit of frosty reception on live export when it came to the compensation claims for the class action. Why can’t we just get this resolved?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we should. The former Government was there, you might have noticed, of course we all noticed, I noticed the hard way, for three terms and didn’t get it done, didn’t settle. We’ve got an offer on the table for the settlement. We want it to be resolved as soon as possible. This is of course a legal matter. Tracy last night I think gave a very good speech. She’s a strong advocate and she spoke really well about the difficulties that people have gone through now for well over a decade now, we want it to be resolved.

CROTHERS: There’s a long way between where they are and where you guys are at. You’ve been offering $250 million without costs or interest. They want 500 plus costs and interest, which can be up to around $900 million we’re told. So there’s a big divide. When can we expect that will be resolved? We know you’ve asked for a delay.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they’re legal processes that we’ll go through.

CROTHERS: Isn’t it just more settlement now?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, and those negotiations will take place. And with respect to Beef TV, they probably are best not to take place live on TV. We want to resolve it. We’re committed to a resolution and I hope that happens as soon as possible.

CROTHERS: Beef producers will say live export underpins the entire industry and that’s why it’s so important to them. They’re having a look over the fence that WA at the moment when it comes to sheep, which is obviously, your Government has committed to ending live export there. They’re telling me that producers are looking to start shooting their animals because that’s what it’s come to, throwbacks to the market crash of the 90s. Are you comfortable with that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don’t want to see any farmer undergoing hardship. The only political party that’s called for a pause in the live cattle trade is the LNP. That’s the truth of the matter. When we had the issue with Indonesia, what my Government did was work with the Indonesian Government. I personally spoke with President Widodo. We engaged with industry to ensure that the industry and the trade could continue through some pretty simple measures like having people wipe their feet as they come through an airport from Bali, that’s not onerous.

CROTHERS: But with sheep though, they’re having a look there at what’s going on. They’re going, “first it’ll be them, then it will be us.” Are you comfortable with what’s happening with sheep at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the industry of course, you’ve raised two separate issues. There’s nothing that the Government is doing that is causing sheep to be put down. That is not anything to do with the Government. The Government does have a position of phasing out of the industry.

CROTHERS: And beef have nothing to worry about?

PRIME MINISTER: No, absolutely not. They’re very different industries. The life sheep industry, they’re smaller animals, there are, it is more difficult to achieve positive outcomes, they’re longer journeys as opposed to the journey to Indonesia and to Asia in our region. The industry has done a fantastic job of making sure that animal welfare is looked after whilst it’s a very successful industry. We, as I said, the only call for a pause of the live cattle trade was made by the Opposition during that issue in Indonesia. We made sure, our bona fides, are there for all to see. And the work that we’ve done and will continue to do with industry is there as well. On the live sheep trade, we’ve said that there needs to be a phasing out of the industry. We need to look at a transition. We need to look at what support can be given to industry. We need to set down timetables including how you have a transition and support for that as well. One of the things that’s happening in the market is that the size of that live sheep export industry is going down as the increase in lamb exports, in products, sheep products, has been increasing. So it is an industry that’s changing. It’s one that we want to work with industry on. We’ll have announcements not too far away on that. But it’ll be characterised by providing support for that transition so that jobs can be maintained. And so that producers can continue to earn a living.

CROTHERS: Prime Minister, let’s turn to some issues of the day, the supermarket pricing probe inquiry in the Senate that comes out today. Will you adopt and implement every recommendation in full?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I haven’t seen what it is. So I don’t give commitments to adopt things that haven’t been released yet, let alone with due respect to the Senate, some of the things they come up with sometimes are good, sometimes not so good. You often see a Coalition of the Liberals, the Nationals and the Greens voting together these days for reasons that are often perplexing, it must be said. But we’ll have a look at the report on its merits. We’ve already had the report from Dr. Emerson and we will have the work that the ACCC has done. Our objective is twofold. We want to make sure that farmers get a fair price for their product. And secondly, we want to make sure that consumers get a fair price at the checkout.

CROTHERS: Now we’ve already seen from the quarterly figures released from the supermarket at the end of last week, prices have actually been reduced somewhat. Some would say the political blowtorch has helped that.

PRIME MINISTER: I have no doubt that that’s the case. That there’s been a focus on that. And the outcome is there to see in the data that was released just a week ago.

CROTHERS: So what happens next then? Because once you know these inquiries and the pressure allays somewhat, can we expect to see prices come back up or what actually action needs to occur to ensure that isn’t the case?

PRIME MINISTER: What needs to occur is two things. Firstly, a proper examination of the voluntary code of conduct and whether that needs to be mandated or how it needs to be changed. We’ll examine that and we’ll make an announcement at an appropriate time in consultation with the ACCC. The second thing, it’s clear to me that we need more transparency across the supply chains so that farmers can see what the prices that they’re getting for their goods and how that translates through transport, and then retail as well. So I think that information, being transparent and available, will do a lot to make sure that everyone gets a fair crack here. Because we understand retailers need to operate, but we do need, and I’ve said very clearly the idea that you would have compulsory divestment of, if you have Woolies and Coles in one town, if you force divestment, Woolworths or Coles in that town, I mean, who’s going to buy it? Are you going to end up with one? What are the consequences of that? Including the consequences for farmers because when it comes to producing or when it comes to the retailer buying product, then obviously some scale should be of assistance. It shouldn’t be a negative.

CROTHERS: Couple of quick ones. Budget, you guys are getting get in better nick than what it had been forecast, about $152 billion, was it, better than what the debt was going to be? How do you ensure that you ease some of those cost of living pressures but also guarantee you don’t further place pressure on inflation?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that’s the task before us. And it’s a task that the Expenditure Review Committee I’ve sat in, literally, it might not be hundreds of hours, but it must be close, over many months since MYEFO making sure we address cost of living pressures. And you will have seen some of the announcements that we’ve made. Wiping out $3 billion of student debt, providing support for people to do nursing and to do teaching and other areas of skill shortage. The drought announcement that we’ve made.

CROTHERS: Have your inflation forecasts changed at all?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, in fact, inflation is lower, the annual inflation rate is lower than it was anticipated to be in MYEFO in December.

CROTHERS: But your forecasts are they changed at all?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you’ll see forecasts in the Budget, which wouldn’t have even been settled yet. They’re usually done at the last minute, it’s a week away so that it’s the most up to date. But the forecast in MYEFO was for inflation about 3.75 by the end of the financial year and it’s a 3.6. You know, we inherited an inflation rate, the quarterly rate in March 2022 was 2.1 per cent in one quarter. We turned a $78 billion deficit into a $22 billion surplus. So we’ve been responsible, so you won’t see big cash splashes in this Budget, because that would be counterproductive. What you will see though, is measures that make a difference for cost of living. And of course front and centre of that are tax cuts for every single taxpayer not just for some, making sure that across the board it’s providing that assistance, which has been well received, it must be said. In the first 48 hours, the Opposition said that they would reverse it, Peter Dutton called for an election to be called on it, and then they voted for it, because it’s good policy. That was a gutsy call by the Government but it was the right call done for the right reasons.

CROTHERS: China, obviously more aggression occurring again, are you concerned this will inflame trade tensions?

PRIME MINISTER: We need to make sure that we have a mature response. We’ve indicated very clearly that this is unprofessional and unacceptable. We’ve communicated that very directly to Beijing and through Canberra as well. We’ll continue to do that. But I was asked earlier today, “will that mean that, you know, you don’t talk to the Chinese Premier who is due to come here?” And I said that dialogue is always important. It’s important we communicate, whether that be communicating areas of agreement or areas of disagreement. We know that there are differences between the Australian and the Chinese political system. But it is important that we’re able to have that dialogue to have that communication. Because out of that comes understanding and we know the alternative. The former Government couldn’t have a phone conversation, let alone meetings. But we will, I’ve said, we’ll agree with China where we can, we’ll disagree where we must, but we will engage in our national interest.

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