Press Conference Penshurst, NSW

Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

The Hon. David Coleman MP, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention: Well, good morning, and it’s terrific to be here at Penshurst Girls High, this morning. I want to thank Principal Noeline Ross and all of the staff and the girls who we had a great discussion with just a few moments ago with the PM and and Erin Molan about some really important issues around social media and kids mental health. As the PM’s Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, I’ve been very concerned about this issue for some time. We have seen significant increases over the past decade in prevalence of mental health issues in kids and young people, particularly girls, where there have been escalating rates of mental health issues. And while social media isn’t the only reason why that’s occurring, there’s no question it’s a part of the problem. And so the action that the government is taking in this area is very important. We know that we can’t trust the social media companies to act in the best interests of children. So we’re going to force them to. That’s what’s needed. They’ve had more than a decade to sort these issues out. They haven’t done it. And it is so important that government takes strong action in this issue, in this issue, which is not just an issue in our country but around the world. And we are leading the world in this area and will continue to lead the world because there is no more fundamental responsibility for government than protecting the mental health of kids. So it was great to be here today. Thanks to this school and thanks to the girls for their great wisdom and their understanding of the complexities of the world that they face. And we really appreciate them having us here today. Thanks, PM.

Prime Minister: Well, thanks, David, and thanks also to Erin for being here today. She’s been a real champion of this issue. She’s used her own experiences, I think, to be a great advocate on this very important cause. Kids growing up today frankly have a lot harder than we did. My generation, every generation, it’s different. And the biggest change between when my generation grew up and these young girls growing up today, it’s hard to go past the impact of the digital world and digital media and social media and the impact that has had on our society for better and for worse.

And this is such a high priority for us. It’s a high priority because we care about the mental health of our kids. We care about the quality of our society and the way that people deal with each other in a kind way to ensure that we can make our country stronger. And for our country to be stronger, all Australians have got to be stronger, and that means particularly their own mental health. And that’s why I’m very, very pleased with the work that David Coleman has done. Has a great plan for his local community here in Banks, which he’s always performed so strongly on. But equally, as both a parent and as an experienced Minister, he’s applied his skills and talents working with Paul Fletcher and so many others to ensure that we’ve been taking some very serious action on these issues regarding social media. There’s always lots of issues that we need to address as a government, but I struggle to tell you an issue that is probably more important than families today. As we go into this Christmas break and families come together, I have no doubt this will be one of the things they talk about as parents sit quietly with their siblings and aunts and uncles come together and grandparents and others. I can tell you when you talk about your kids growing up in today’s world, this is one of the things that concerns you most. And I can tell you it concerns me greatly and the impact it has on the mental health of our young people in particular, and particularly on young women, not just young girls, but young women as well. And women, frankly, of all ages who are so often the target of the abuse that occurs online. So this is a very important issue for us, and we’re going to keep taking action.

And I want to really want to thank you, Erin, for the work you’ve done to raise awareness of this issue. You’ve been very brave like so many women have been brave. And speaking to the young women here today, young girls here today and to hear about what they do to try and keep themselves safe, looking after each other. But it was also great to hear their confidence in themselves and who they are and not allowing others to bully them and having confidence in their own futures and how they see themselves. That was tremendous to see. It was really encouraging. So, you know, Australians are strong, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to do everything we must to keep Australians safe. We’re a strong, resilient people, but our government is taking actions to keep Australians safe, and that importantly means online so it can be a safe place for all Australians. I’m going to ask Erin to say a couple of words on those issues. As you know, we’ve got the new laws coming in next year. Lucy Wicks is leading a conversation with Australians right across the country over the summer break. And so she can come back and tell us what additional needs to be done in the draft legislation that we’ve put out. So I’m really keen to hear from Australians and talking to Lucy over the course of the summer break so we can make these laws as strong as we possibly can to keep Australians safe online. Then I’ll say a couple of other issues about Beijing Olympics and these things, and then we can take questions. But Erin.

Ms Erin Molan: Thank you. Thank you very much to all of you for coming here today. Thank you, Prime Minister, very much. Not just for today, but for your support throughout all of this. Thank you, David, as well for all that you’re doing online and in the mental health space. This is something that I’m very passionate about and have been for a very long time. I’ve been subjected to some pretty vile things online and I think it’s really important whenever I talk about this to make very clear, this is not about stopping people online, disliking me or stopping people being critical of things I say or things that I do. That is part and parcel of the world I live in, and that’s life. This is about stopping people who cross the line. And I think the thing that, that initially I struggled to understand when it came to things that I would receive in the online space. If it was happening in the real world, there would be absolute consequences for those actions. Laws existed to protect people from criminal acts in the real world, but online it just seemed to be an absolute free for all. And we now no longer live in two separate worlds. We move seamlessly between the online world and the physical world, and we need to have protections in place and that’s what this legislation does.

When I first started talking about this and it took me a fair while to talk about it, because I found it quite embarrassing early on until I understood that this is actually a reflection on them, not on me. The correspondence I got was in the thousands, and what really hit home to me was a letter I got from a year three teacher talking about the fact that the first three hours of every lesson in the morning was not geography, was not English, was not maths. It was dealing with the fallout from the night before’s online behaviour, dealing with the fallout from what these kids were subjected to online the night before and that terrified me. Really terrified me. So this is not about me. This is about making the world a safer place for our kids. And the government from day dot was so supportive of this. They understood immediately that this was a big issue. This was not about reality stars not wanting people to dislike them or write mean things. This is about making the online space safer, not just for kids, but for all Australians. So to hear the girls today talk about things they’re already doing that that are really incredible to talk about struggles that they have to talk about how their parents can better support them has been really eye opening. We’ve got this legislation in place now. Now we want to hear feedback from people to make it as good as it can possibly be. So I thank the government for their support. Incredibly, I thank Australia for their support. The amount of correspondence I receive regarding this area is so overwhelming. I don’t get talked to about football anymore or anything else. It’s about this online space because parents, there’s almost nothing they care about more than the mental health of their children, and that is at risk. But this legislation will help lessen that risk, and that’s a wonderful thing. Thank you.

Prime Minister: Thank you. Thanks Erin. So, on some other issues, it will come as no surprise that the Australian Government will not be sending any official representatives to the forthcoming Winter Games in China. For some time, people have been very aware that we have been raising a number of issues that have have not been received well in China, and there’s been a disagreement between us on those matters. We have always been open to meet with the Chinese Government to talk about their concerns, whether it’s their concerns with our foreign interference legislation or other foreign investment rules where Australia takes a very strong stand, standing up for Australia’s interests. They’ve been very critical of Australia in our efforts to ensure that we have a strong national defence force, particularly in relation most recently to our decision to acquire nuclear powered submarines. But of course, the human rights abuses in Xinjiang and the many other issues that Australia has consistently raised. We have been very pleased and very happy to talk to the Chinese Government about these issues and and and there’s been no obstacle to that occurring on our side. But the Chinese Government has consistently not not accepted those opportunities for us to meet about these issues. So it is not surprising, therefore, that Australian government officials would therefore not be going to China for those games. Australian athletes will, though.

Australia’s a great sporting nation and I very much separate the issues of sport and these other political issues. They’re issues between two governments and I would like to see those issues resolved, but they are not resolved. And Australia will not step back from the strong position we’ve had standing up for Australia’s interests and consistent with that position, obviously it is no surprise that we wouldn’t be sending Australian officials to those games, but our athletes will be going. And I also want to wish the IOC all the very best for the games. Australia will host the 2032 Summer Olympic Games in Brisbane and we’re very committed to that. The Australian Government has been, will be more involved in these Games than any other games. In fact, those games would not have been secured were it not for the direct role that our government played in securing those Games together with the Queensland Government. And it’s been a very good partnership. So I want to wish the IOC all the very best for those Games. I want to wish all the athletes a very successful Games and the officials who make this great, this great sporting spectacular and particularly those to those Aussie athletes and all of their families. And because just like with the Summer Games, it’s going to be a lot more challenging for them. Not all, everybody will be able to be there together and share in those moments, and so much will be done of it over online. And that will be exciting, just like it was for the Tokyo Games. And we want to wish all of our athletes all the best and thank them for their perseverance in their training as they’ve gone through these difficult periods leading up to, up to these games.

And finally, we’re looking forward to the Ashes getting underway. It was good to wish the boys all the best last night and we’re really looking forward to them continuing to inspire the nation in what should be a great Ashes series. And as for the fifth Test, I’m in the Tassie camp. I think it’d be great to see Tasmania share in this Ashes series. The reason for it not going to Perth are well understood and I’m looking forward to the Sydney Test. I’m looking forward to the Adelaide Test. I’m looking forward, of course, to the Brisbane Test and the Melbourne Test. And for there to be one in Tassie, I think would be great, particularly as the Afghanistan Test obviously didn’t proceed for clear reasons. And I know they’ll put on a great show and it’d be great for Tasmania. But that’s a matter for Cricket Australia, but a prime minister is allowed to have opinion on it.

Journalist: Prime Minister, are you sorry that Erin Molan didn’t run for Eden-Monaro and the fact you are after such star candidates and that you’ve recently been in Banks, Reid and Wentworth, your own seats, on this campaign before the campaign, does that show you are worried about your election prospects?

Prime Minister: No. What it shows is I want to ensure that we have the best opportunity to put the best people possibly forward as part of our team. I’ve got an incredibly strong team and Erin and I have worked on these issues before and I know she has a great passion, I think, for making Australia a stronger nation. And so it’s only natural that I would have expressed some interest in Erin putting herself forward. Erin may want to make her own comments, I’m sure she does. But you know, this is all about people’s individual choices and what’s right for them at any particular time. Whenever Erin would decide to want to enter public life in the political arena, I think she’d make a great contribution as so many have the opportunity to do. I was just really impressed with the way that Erin showed such strong leadership on this issue. It’s an issue that I care passionately about and we share that together, and I think she has the wherewithal to make a real great contribution in Australian political life. But the timing of that is a choice for her, not for, for me or the government or anyone else. You know, politics is a hard business and it’s a very tough business. It’s it’s very demanding and one of my golden rules is, if you know, if you’re not ready to come in, then that’s that’s not the right time for you. And I’ve always respected those decisions. But Erin, did you want to say anything?

Journalist: [inaudible]

Ms Erin Molan: Are you talking to me? Yes. Sorry, Andrew. First of all, thank you very much for those really kind words. Absolutely. At some stage, absolutely. I think first of all, it’s a real honour to even have interest in me doing that. I’m very passionate about making a difference. I think from my first day in television, I’ve tried to do a lot of work for different charities and organisations that I’m passionate about. The timing for me is more the issue than any desire or inclination to get involved and help. I’m, it’s been, well, well-publicised, I’m now a single mum with a three and a half year old and I think the job that I do now is pretty taxing in that regard. And my biggest thing in life is I never want to look back in regret not spending the time with my daughter that she deserves. And now my situation has changed a fair bit. So down the track? Absolutely. You know, I look at my dad and how passionate he is about this country and what he’s done for this country, not just in political life, but prior to that in the military. And there’s nothing I consider more important or more worthy of recognition than people who are willing to serve their country in whatever capacity that is. So absolutely down the track and very honoured to have been asked and really flattered to have been considered. Timing for me right now, not right, but down the track, hopefully absolutely.

Journalist: Prime Minister, are you concerned that backing in Gladys Berejiklian in Warringah before ICAC comes back with its findings, that there could be a time bomb there, if there is an adverse finding from that?

Prime Minister: Well, it’s a simple proposition. Do I think Gladys would have a significant contribution to continue to make in Australian political life? Yes, I do. I think she was an outstanding Premier. I think she was an outstanding Treasurer and an outstanding Transport Minister, and she has been one of the, you know, strong female leaders in our country. And so do I think that she has more to offer to Australia in that regard? Of course I do. And if she wished to put herself forward, then of course I would welcome her. That’s simply the point that I’ve made. Now, that’s a decision for Gladys, ultimately, and she may choose not to go ahead here, I suspect, but that’s a matter for her, and I’ll respect her choice. But when the issue was considered, do I think that she would make a continued strong contribution? Of course I do, and I think I think people right across New South Wales would agree with that. So I don’t find it surprising. I don’t find it surprising at all that if you had someone of Gladys Berejiklian’s calibre wishing to go forward that I in any way wouldn’t be anything other than welcoming that. But if she doesn’t wish to, I equally respect that decision. I know it’s been a very difficult time for her in recent times. She has suffered terribly in terms of things that have been aired publicly, and I think that was, that was just awful, awful to watch. Terrible. And so I can totally respect that if she didn’t want to go ahead, then that would be totally her choice about what she wants to do and the contribution she wants to make going forward.

Journalist: Just on the Winter Games, is the government worried at all about the economic or political pushback from the Chinese Government for joining the boycott?

Prime Minister: Well, I think that would be completely and utterly unacceptable, and there’d be no grounds for that whatsoever. I’ll always stand up for Australia’s interests and what Australians believe is right, and we are living in an uncertain time. The world in our part of the Indo-Pacific is uncertain, and that requires leaders to be strong and stand up for Australia and stand up for the things that we believe in and not take a step back and so, I won’t be taking a step back here. I’ll continue to stand strong as our government will for Australia and everything that we believe in and the role, the positive role we see for a free and open Indo-Pacific. And there are no compromises on that, nor should they be.

Journalist: Just on that note, do you see muscling up to China as being to your political benefit, you just painted yourself there as the strong government in terms of China. How does that play in seats like Banks and Reid, which have large numbers of Chinese Australians?

Prime Minister: I’m doing it because it’s in Australia’s national interests and it is the right thing to do. Full stop.

Journalist: George Christensen laughed about hotel quarantine [inaudible] concentration camps, what do you have to do to be kicked out of the Coalition?

Prime Minister: Well, I thought those comments were appalling, and I’ve spoken to George directly about them. I think they’re absolutely appalling. George is not a candidate for the LNP at the next election, and I think George should quietly go into retirement.

Journalist: Two Coalition members have now appeared in U.S. shows that are riddled with conspiracy theories. Are they undermining public health measures in Australia?

Prime Minister: Well, I don’t think it’s a good idea to promote what they’re saying by constantly drawing it to people’s attention. I’m not seeking to do that. I don’t agree with them. We are going into the end of this week where we are going to be very close to hitting 90 per cent double dose vaccination around the country. And hopefully by the end of the week, every state and territory will have gone past the 80 per cent double dose vaccination mark. That is an extraordinary achievement for Australians, and I’m very proud of Australians, that we have one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID. We have one of the strongest advanced economies coming through this pandemic and we now have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. That’s what we set ourselves as a goal for this year and we’ve achieved that and we’re very pleased to have had the great support of the Australian people to get to those marks. And so it means the crowds are back at Bathurst. The crowds are back at the Gabba and perhaps the crowds will be there down in Tassie as well.

Journalist: On December 15, do you think it’s likely that skilled migrants, will that hold, will you let them back in?

Prime Minister: I look, I think all of the information that we’re receiving points to that, it was a pause. I again commend the South Australian Government on their decision to keep moving forward. I commend the Queensland Government on their decision to keep moving forward. The Australian Government will keep moving forward, and I think that’s really important, we’re looking through the front windscreen, not through that rear vision mirror. We’re looking confidently forward to the future in Australia in 2022. 2022, I think it’s going to be a very strong year for Australia.

Journalist: Prime Minister you’ve spent the morning listening to kids talking about their [inaudible] cyberspace but we’ve also had a lot of reports about foreign actors trying to fight with us in cyberspace. How concerned are you that the next war will be next conflict will be an asymmetric one, not fought on the high seas but in server rooms, and in cyberspace. What is Australia doing about that?

Prime Minister: Well, first of all, I’d say the threats that Australia faces in the cyber world are not limited to state actors, and I’d, I’m not making any comment on the, on the source or origin of the reports today, but I would stress that it’s not only state based actors that engage in these activities, but criminals too. With ransomware and things of that nature. And in this particular case, what I can say is that the Australian Government took early action in engaging with those who were directly under threat, and we were able to ensure that the worst of those scenarios did not eventuate. So it was the early action of our cyber authorities that avoided a bad outcome there. And I want to thank them for the great work they do. We do know that cyber threats to Australia are real, both in a defence sense, but also just in a civil space as well. Criminal actors are in this space and they’re looking to take advantage of Australians, Australian businesses and what’s really important, particularly with the new laws that we will pass, we believe when we come back in February will further strengthen that around critical infrastructure. So we’re investing heavily in cyber security, heavily in cyber space, and the AUKUS agreement itself highlighted, particularly the technological areas in these in these domains, to ensure that our partnerships with the United States and the UK can mean Australia can have the best possible defences when it comes to those cyber threats.

But I stress it’s not just state actors, it is also criminal actors. And that’s why it’s so important that Australian businesses listen carefully and take the advice of our cyber security agencies. They do a tremendous job. Australia is one of the world leaders in this space, and that’s why we could enter into an agreement with the United States because they know how good our people are in this space. And that was one of the attractions for working with Australia because we complement one another with the United Kingdom and we are pacesetters when it comes to cyber security. That doesn’t mean the threats aren’t great. They are, they’re significant. And that’s why we’re so focused. It’s just another area where we’re working to keep Australians safe.

Journalist: The Telegraph reported it was China and they were looking to shut down the power station. You just spoke about non-state actors. Can you confirm it was the Chinese Government?

Prime Minister: Well, I was very clear, Andrew, that I wasn’t drawing any conclusions about the origins of this, and nor would I, nor would I. Okay, thanks very much.

/Public Release. View in full here.