Prime Minister – Transcript – Press Conference – Kalgoorlie, WA

Liberal Party of Australia

MR RICK WILSON MP, MEMBER FOR O’CONNOR: Ok, well, thanks, ladies and gentlemen, for turning out today. It’s an absolute privilege and pleasure to be hosting the Prime Minister in Kalgoorlie today – Kalgoorlie-Boulder, that should be. Kalgoorlie, as you all know, is an iconic mining town with a, steeped in history in the mining industry. And as the Prime Minister has made the point several times today, it was the mining industry that kept this country afloat over the last couple of years. So it is a real, as I say, privilege and pleasure to invite the Prime Minister here today to say a few words and perhaps discuss some of the initiatives that we have going ahead for Kalgoorlie. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you very much, Rick Wilson. It’s it’s, Rick, it’s great to be here with you again. And Slade, it’s also great to be here with you today, and you’re certainly no stranger to Kalgoorlie, either. And Rick, I want to thank you for the leadership that you’ve showed for the Australian resources industry. You have, in your entire time in the Parliament, you have been one of the most, if not the most active voices standing up for the resources industry because you understand just how important it is, not only to O’Connor, not only to the Western Australian community, but to the national economy. And so the resources industry always has plenty of knockers, and particularly from the Greens and and and their sympathisers, frankly, in the Labor Party. But you are someone who’s always stood up strong for the resources industry because you know the jobs that it delivers, you know the important income that it generates for Australia. Without the resources industry, you can’t pay for the pension. You can’t pay for hospitals. You can’t pay for the $2.6 billion in additional GST that comes to Western Australia as a result of the fairer GST deal that you were a key part of us securing as, when I was Treasurer and, of course, as Prime Minister.

Our resources industry here in Australia has been always incredibly important, but particularly over the course of COVID, it has been our resources industry, and especially here in Western Australia, that has kept our economy going. Australia’s economy has come through stronger than all of the G7 advanced advanced nations – stronger than the United States, stronger than Italy and France and Germany, and all of these countries, and Canada, also a strong resources country. But Australia has come out even stronger, both in having more jobs, with unemployment now at four per cent, and a stronger economy.

Now, the resources sector has kept Australia going and the resources sector will keep Australia going into the future. And they form such an important part of our economic plan for a strong economy, for a stronger future for our country. And today we’re announcing that a number of initiatives which go to further supporting not just the resources sector, but the community that actually drives the resources sector, particularly here in regional Western Australia.

Because, you know, Australia isn’t just our eight capital cities. Australia is much more than that. And in the future, our regions are going to play an even bigger role, whether it’s here in the resources sector around Kalgoorlie, when you go up to the Pilbara, what’s happening with hydrogen, but particularly what is happening with critical minerals and rare earths. In critical metals and rare earths, the Government, our Government, has taken a leadership position, not just here in Australia, but globally, working especially with our Quad partners in India, in Japan and the United States. But further afield with Europe and Korea and other countries, to ensure that we can invest and we can facilitate the development of major producers of rare earths and critical minerals here in Australia to support the global industries that depend on them. And so they don’t become dependent on other supply chains and that they can have a sovereignty of supply chain to support the development and processing of the many products that depend on rare earths and critical minerals.

And so today we are announcing that the $1.165 billion Kalgoorlie Nickel Project, which will produce cobalt-nickel ore which will undergo a process to produce Mixed Hydroxide Precipitate. This is used as a raw material in growing the international battery market. This will be given Major Project Status to ensure that the approvals and the investment can flow.

Now, this is so important for the resources industry. Our Government has always sought to facilitate investment in our resources sector because we know how important it is to Australia’s future. You can’t pay for things like the Henderson Wharf upgrade. You can’t pay for submarines. You can’t pay for warships. You can’t pay for hypersonic weapons and all of these things unless your country is earning, and the resources sector is critical to that earning of this nation.

Now, as a Government, we sought to streamline the EPBC Act to ensure that we could get decisions faster and more certain to guarantee investment. And that was a project we took forward with the Premier of Western Australia Mark McGowan. Mark and I, through the National Cabinet, were able to convince all the other premiers and chief ministers of the need to ensure we streamlined approval processes, a one touch approval, for EPBC Act approvals. Now that was especially important for the resources industry. So, State Labor Government supported it. State Liberal Government supported it. Our Government led it, and the Federal Labor Party opposed it.

Now it’s not just there where they’ve sought to frustrate the resources industry. We also knew it was important for new resources projects to have greenfields site enterprise agreements and industrial relations arrangements to get these new projects up. So it’s not just the capital investment, but the ongoing operations. We sought to legislate that. We took that forward. We had support from those at a state level, but we did not have support from the Federal Labor Party, motivated also by the Greens.

Another area which is so important to the resources industry was the work we did on occupational licensing, which meant that sparkies and the many other trades could move on their ticket between state jurisdictions and not have to pay multiple fees and licence fees and not have to gain additional certifications. These are the practical things that help your resources industry. Do we get support from Federal Labor for that? No, we didn’t. They opposed it. And when these things went to a state level, we had even the Victorian Labor Government, supported by the Victorian Greens, voting for these changes in their State Parliament. But Anthony Albanese and the Greens at a federal level voted against it.

So this is the real choice when it comes to the resources industry. A government, in my Government, a Liberal Nationals Government that supports the resources industry by doing the things the resources industry needs to go forward, and that includes giving Major Project Status to the major Kalgoorlie Nickel Project.

But the resources industry also needs healthy communities to support it as well. And that’s why I’m really pleased to be here today to be announcing $36 million over four years to establish two new University Departments of Rural Health in South West and the Goldfields region of Western Australia.

Now, the addition of these two new University Departments will result in around 3,000 additional placement weeks per year at full implementation, and that’s up to 500 more students gaining rural clinical experience. The key part of our Rural Health Strategy to get more particularly, not just doctors, but allied health professionals, as is so important – so the midwives and and psychologists and others – that work in teams to ensure the health of regional communities, is you’ve got to train them here, you’ve got to train them here. And so when you can get the students, like we’ve seen some of the students here, come from whether it’s Perth or other places and study here, then they get to understand and get connected to regional communities.

Because, as I said, Australia is not just the eight capital cities and territories. It’s the broad expanses of our rural and regional communities that deliver so much wealth and wellbeing for our country. And so we need to ensure that we’re getting people trained in our rural and regional communities, particularly in the areas of health.

But as we learned today, it’s also an opportunity for those in remote communities, particularly Indigenous Australians, to be able to come to a place like Kalgoorlie and to be able to get trained here so they can be going back to their remote and regional communities and be serving the wellbeing of those as well.

So this is a great initiative, and I want to thank you, Rick, for the great work that you’ve done here on the ground. Nola Marino as well, who’s done a great job. Melissa Price, who’s been a great advocate for rural health initiatives right across Western Australia. I’ve got a fabulous Western Australia team here that understands what’s needed in our resources industry, but in the communities that also drive those, those communities.

So two big announcements here, particularly for the Goldfields region. But more broadly, I think it says a lot about what our Government believes in the future of our resources industry and the communities that actually realise that resources opportunity for Australia. Did you want to, would you like to say something today?

MS HARLENE HAYNE, VICE-CHANCELLOR, CURTIN UNIVERSITY: I’d just like to say thank you, and I’d just like to underscore the Prime Minister’s words that obviously Curtin University is very, very committed to the rural and regional area that we are in right now, and we have a long history of producing professionals for the mining industry. But those professionals also need to be supported by a very strong health workforce. So we are very, very grateful to have the opportunity to train allied health professionals alongside our rural doctors right here in Kalgoorlie. So thank you very much, sir, and I’m sure the future mining students behind me will be thanking you as well, because as they choose, as they choose to settle here and raise their families, they will also be the recipients of outstanding health professionals. So thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. They’re a good crew. Questions. Lanai.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if the changes to the EPBC Act are so important, would you bring them to Parliament on the week of March 29? And also Penny Wong, Kristina Keneally and Katy Gallagher have all confirmed they’re going to Senator Kimberley Kitching’s funeral. Will you go to Senator Kimberley Kitching’s funeral?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me deal, first of all, with the issues you’ve raised on the EPBC Act. We’ve tried to move this many times. The Labor Party have been crystal clear. I mean, I challenged them to support this last year, last year, and they’ve consistently opposed it. When we come back for the few days that we have, we’ll be moving very quickly on important Budget legislation. Labor have had their chance to support this legislation and and a re-elected Morrison Government will be pushing this again. And hopefully the Australian people, particularly the Western Australian community, can send a message to Anthony Albanese that he needs, and the Labor Party needs, to wake up to the needs of the resources industry that supports so many jobs here in Western Australia. He can’t just come to Western Australia and think he’s going to get ticks for just showing up. He needs to show up with an understanding of what Western Australia needs.

That’s what our Government has been doing, whether it’s on delivering on the GST that Western Australia needs, but particularly supporting the resources industry, whether it’s changes to environmental legislation to see us get projects up, changes to occupational licensing, which enables us to go and get people in trades to where we need to get them to, or, you know, the simple processes of ensuring the industrial arrangements that we need in greenfield sites that drive investment can be a reality.

Now the Government will be represented at Senator Kitching’s funeral on Monday by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Simon Birmingham. I have some important announcements that I’ll be doing up in Brisbane on that day, and that’s where I will be. I think it’s appropriate for the Government’s representation to be led by Senator Birmingham, who obviously knew Senator Kitching well. I did not know Senator Kitching well personally, but I know many members of the Government did, and they will be there. And we’ve been absolutely mortified by by Senator Kitching’s death. It has been a great shock to not just obviously the Labor Party, but all those who knew her well, and even in those who didn’t know her well. And so I’m very pleased that Senator Birmingham will be able, Senator Birmingham will be able to represent the Government.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Labor’s Senate leadership team has addressed bullying claims made by the late Senator Kimberley Kitching, denying any involvement. Do you believe that there should be an investigation into the claims or is that the end of the matter?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think this is a matter for Anthony Albanese, and I think he’s the one who needs to answer these questions, and he’s gone into hiding. I mean, the first, where is Anthony Albanese? I mean, where is he on this issue? Richard Marles was didn’t answer any questions on this yesterday, either. I mean, there are many questions that have been put here. And, frankly, as soon as things get a bit difficult for the Leader of the Opposition, he goes missing. He vanishes. You know, as Prime Minister, I, as you know, I’m regularly up in front of you and I deal with the hard questions that are put to me and all the many issues we’ve had to deal with over many, many years. You know, if you’re Prime Minister, that’s what you have to do. And he’s got some uncomfortable questions that he needs to answer in relation to the conduct of his own party, but that’s for him to address. These are not issues that the Government have raised with the Labor Party. These are matters that have been raised directly within Labor’s own ranks by and including, I note today, by former Labor Members as well.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you heartened by the fact that your approval rating across four key electorates in WA is 42 per cent, compared to Anthony Albanese’s 28 per cent?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, what I’m heartened by is that what we’re doing in Western Australia is working, because Western Australians are working. What I’m heartened by is when I can come to mine sites, when I can walk into manufacturing businesses in Western Australia, the manufacturing businesses that build the buckets that go on those big mining trucks, and I can see the integration of the Western Australian economy and I can see just how important, as I’ve always known, the Western Australian economy is to our national economy. And this is why the Premier and I do work closely together on so many issues. We both get it, that Australia needs a strong resources sector, both in Western Australia and around the country. And so, you know, there’s a big difference between Albanese Labor and McGowan Labor. They’re not the same thing, and whatever, however people vote at the next election, the Premier will still be Mark McGowan, but Premier Mark McGowan’s approach to these issues is very different to Anthony Albanese as Leader of the Labor Party. I mean, the Labor Party at a federal level, as we’ve seen by them opposing changes that would see more resources projects going more quickly, have opposed changes that would see tradies being able to move between jurisdictions, and opposing the important industrial relations changes that gets more investment in our resources industry. There’s a yawning gap between Anthony Albanese and Mark McGowan, and it’s only getting bigger.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve made announcements around critical minerals here in Kalgoorlie and also supporting regional communities, focusing on creating thousands of jobs through that sector. We’ve got no shortage of, shortages of jobs here at the moment, at the moment. What we do have a shortage of is housing, and there are concerns that with mining companies, through fringe benefits tax exemptions, gives them the upper hand in local housing markets and often squeezes out local families. Is that on the agenda, to look at fringe benefits reform?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, I understand. We’re going, well, we’re about to have a roundtable with many of the mining community leaders here, and I know this is an issue for them and I’m looking forward to having those discussions with them. The 50 per cent exemption that currently applies was certainly an improvement to assist with that. There’s no doubt about that.

But what I would say, and, Rick, you might want to make a few comments about this particularly as it affects your community because, I mean, Rick deals with this every day. He lives this every day in his electorate and he understands it incredibly well. But as a Government, when it comes to our housing policies, we have put more than 300,000 Australians into owning their own home, and the majority of those homes have been homes that they have built, whether it was HomeBuilder, which was actually a huge partnership here in Western Australia that we did with the McGowan Government. We put our bid in, he put his bid in, and it’s supercharged the building of houses here in Western Australia and got more Western Australians into homes.

On the way in here from the airport today, saw a new estate which is being built. We need more homes being built. There is, there is no doubt that in any housing market, whether you’re here in Kalgoorlie or up in Kunanurra, or over in the suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, getting more houses built is what takes the pressure off housing prices. And that’s why our Government has led so much on this issue – whether it’s building those houses with the grants and support that we’ve provided provided during the pandemic, or ensuring that someone who previously would be having to save for a 20 per cent deposit to buy a home, now with our Home Guarantee Scheme means they only need to get a five per cent deposit to get that loan from the bank. And that’s what’s enabled us to get more than 300,000 people into their first home directly – not just their first home, but into a home. Now that’s a big change. And I’ll tell you what it means. I met a young woman in Melbourne who was able to save eight years, eight years on getting into her first home because of that assistance that we provided through the Home Guarantee Scheme. It’s what we promised at the last election. It’s what we’ve delivered. But the challenges in regional communities are also there. Housing is just not a metropolitan issue in our capital cities. It’s a real issue in our regions. But, Rick, did you want to say anything about it?

MR RICK WILSON MP, MEMBER FOR O’CONNOR: Well, certainly in relation to the fringe benefits tax issue, in 2019 the Treasurer initiated a ACCC review of the, sorry Productivity Commission review of the ACCC, the fringe benefits tax arrangements, and unfortunately the the Productivity Commission recommended that the existing 50 per cent exemption be removed. So the Treasurer quickly reassured people across the Goldfields and across regional Australia that that wasn’t going to be progressed at all. So the current situation remains, but it’s certainly something that I’m very aware of and other regional members in the Government are very well aware of.

One of the issues around housing, particularly here in Kalgoorlie, is the availability of land for future developments, and that’s very much a State Government issue. And hopefully the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and the State Government can work on some policies to release more land around Kalgoorlie to increase the housing stock here for people working across the Goldfields.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve just come from the Super Pit.


JOURNALIST: It’s been running since the Gold Rush.


JOURNALIST: Is it fair to say these nickel, the battery minerals announcements, do you view nickel and these metals as the next gold, obviously?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think they go alongside. I mean, what is really exciting about the Big Pit is that it’s it’s certainly got a life out to about 2037. But in talking to the geologists out there, well beyond that, well beyond – another 50 years, potentially beyond that, possibly even more. And so that’s the great thing about the Australian resources industry. The science and the innovation that the Australian resources industry bring to the table with the operation of our mines, and that’s, it’s a great thrill that the Big Pit is 100 per cent Australian owned. That is a massive joy, I think, for all Australians. And so the innovation they bring enables them to extend the life of those mines so they keep on earning. But obviously critical minerals and rare earths – nickel, lithium, all of these and and the ones of names I still can’t pronounce – but all of these are so important, not just for the resources industry, but they’re massively important to our national security and they’re massively important to the relationship we have with like-minded economies like the United States, Japan, India, European economies, which are looking for the security of supply. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt, particularly with the invasion of Ukraine from Russia, the pressures that we’ve faced here in Australia and the coercion that we’ve experienced, particularly Western Australian producers, from China, and other countries in the world have been experienced this as well, that you need a secure supply. You need to be in trusted supply chains. And Australia can deliver for that. So that’s great for our national security, but it’s great for our economy.

I’m just going to wrap it up there, but I just do want to send a shout out on behalf of Jenny and I to Danny and Leila Abdullah. Now some of you in Western Australia mightn’t know them, but those watching back on the east coast will know. They’ve had their baby girl. And this is a great excitement, and I extend to Danny and Leila our great love and affection. Jenny and the girls were there for the baby’s gender revealing a little, a few weeks ago. And for a family that has had so much heartache, to see the joy on their faces, well, it’s inspirational. God bless you guys, and it’s terrific to be here in Kal today. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Did you enjoy your $19 million loaded loader driver, as a loader driver?

PRIME MINISTER: It was quite an experience, I’ve got to tell you. The thing that really impressed me was, you know, these operators on this big machinery, they are highly-skilled. And they do that for five hours at a stretch. And, you know, it’s a tough job, but it requires a lot of skill, and Australia is really good at resources and mining, and and the young people here behind me, the future of our mining industry, they’ll be following in their footsteps and continuing to earn for Australia so we can have a strong economy, which means a stronger future. Thank you very much.

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