Prime Minister – Transcript – Press Conference – Rydalmere, NSW

Liberal Party of Australia

MARIA KOVACIC, LIBERAL CANDIDATE FOR PARRAMATTA: Hello, everybody. It’s lovely to see you all today, I’m Maria Kovacic, and I’m the Liberal candidate for Parramatta. It’s great to see you all here at Thales, an advanced defence manufacturing business right here in Western Sydney. We do some amazing work in Western Sydney and this is a great example of that. This organisation employs over 500 people and deals with 150 suppliers globally. So thank you and welcome, and I would like to introduce our Prime Minister, the Honourable Scott Morrison.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you very much, Maria. It’s great to have you here with me today and to be our Liberal candidate for Parramatta and congratulations. Maria, I was a bit enthusiastic last night, Maria, when I was talking about you on an interview. I said you were the Western Sydney Business Woman of the Year. Well you were a finalist. I know that. But more importantly, for 20 years, Maria has been a keen advocate for women across Western Sydney, having been a co-founder of Western Sydney Women and Western Sydney Executive Women. But more importantly than that, again, Maria has been running her own business, and she’s been helping so many people across Western Sydney into their first home and into their homes through her mortgage broking business. And so it’s great to have you as part of our team and for you to bring that experience and you wouldn’t be a Liberal candidate for Parramatta if you weren’t firmly on the Eel’s team as well and where you’ve been involved as a board director on women at Eels. And I want to thank you for what you’ve been doing for the women’s rugby league, particularly here in the Parramatta Club.

Today is an important day because overnight we’ve issued a statement as the AUKUS Partnership. The AUKUS partnership, as you know, was put in place by our government, together with the United States and the United Kingdom as an important partnership that would massively upscale our capabilities in terms of our own defence and bringing a strategic balance within the Indo-Pacific region. Now, of course, everyone knows the biggest part of that program was the nuclear powered submarines, and that’s the first time that that technology has been made available by the United States to any other country since the United Kingdom had it in 1958. So this was the most significant defence agreement that Australia has entered into since ANZUS 70 years ago, and this enables us to keep ahead and stay ahead of the many challenges we’re facing with security in our region. Now the other things that are a part of AUKUS, even more significantly than in some respects, especially in the near-term, is the work we’re doing on advanced defence technology. And here at Thales this is what they do. They are world leaders right here in Parramatta, in the sonar array technologies that they develop, not just for here in Australia, but all around the world. And that is a demonstration of Australia’s defence industry capability. Now what we’ve announced overnight is that hypersonics and the various technologies that surround hypersonics are very much a part of what the AUKUS partnership is striving to deliver, not just in Australia but in the United States and the United Kingdom as well. Working together, the best technologies, best defence industry, the best of our Defence Forces, ensuring that each of our capabilities is being realised and that goes along with artificial intelligence and quantum.

All of that is incredibly important for Australia’s defence, but it’s also an incredibly important part of our economic plan. Now our economic plan is about getting taxes down and cutting red tape. It’s about investing in skills and infrastructure. It’s about reliable and affordable energy. It’s about moving into the data digital economy and being a top 10 data and digital economy by 2030. It’s also about making things here in Australia, making important things here in Australia like they are making here at Thales with 500 employees, right here in the heart of Parramatta. And so there is a clear link between Australia’s economic security and our defence security. And they come together in projects like this. The AUKUS Partnership and the industry and the jobs and the thousands and thousands of jobs, the research and the development, bringing the best minds to work on the biggest projects. And that’s what the AUKUS partnership delivers. That’s what an economic plan that delivers for Australia is all about.

Now, I mentioned our economic plan in the first point in that plan, and that is about ensuring that we keep taxes low. Now we’re getting almost to the very start of the official campaign here in Australia for our Federal Election. And yesterday, the Labor Party through their Shadow Treasurer, announced that they would take the speed limit off taxes. I put the brake on taxes, I put the limit on taxes on when I was Treasurer, and that was based on clear advice from Treasury and working out that we needed to ensure that taxes did not rise in this country, which would slow down growth and would cost jobs. I said it at 23.9 per cent of our total size of our economy, and that is an incredibly important safeguard. It is a guard rail to ensure the taxes don’t get out of control in Australia and as revenues rise that we don’t take more out of the economy than we are allowing it to put in. It’s a very important budget tool. It puts discipline in the budget, and Jim Chalmers wants to let taxes rip, he wants a no limits tax policy. We know what they did at the last election – $387 billion worth of high taxes. Now we’re going into this election and Labor wants to take the tax cap off. They want to let it rip. They want to have a no limits tax policy. We told you that these are the sorts of things that Labor would do. Why would you want to get rid of the tax cap if you didn’t want to increase taxes? I think it’s pretty clear.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, it’s pretty obvious you’re campaigning here, you’ve even got your campaign buddy Ben Morton back here. Are you calling the election tomorrow?


JOURNALIST: When are you doing it, on the weekend then?

PRIME MINISTER: The election will be called soon enough, and it’s going to be a very important election. Because, you know, over the last couple of years, Australians, rightly, have been focused on getting through what has been a very tough period for this country. They’ve been putting their kids through home-schooling as they’ve gone through lockdowns. They’ve been trying to keep their business open. They’ve been trying to keep their livelihoods in place. Many of them have contracted COVID themselves. But yet we have one of the lowest rates of COVID fatality death rates of anywhere in the world, saving 40,000 lives. But Australians have been working hard to get through this very difficult time. And now there is the opportunity before they make a very important decision at the next election, an election which is going to determine the strength of our economy, the strength of our national security, how we can keep Australians safe. Now is not the time to be taking a different direction. Our strong economic plan has seen a $100 billion turnaround in the last 12 months as a result of ensuring that we brought our economy through the pandemic, and we’ve made it strong so we can launch into the future and have a stronger future based on the success of that economic plan.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve copped some criticism from the New South Wales and Queensland governments today on flood assistance. Now New South Wales, this $112 million, we spoke about it yesterday. You said you have to be in a position where it’s a one in 500 year flood before the Commonwealth half funds it. I don’t really understand that, if your house is flooded, your house is flooded, so maybe you can explain that? And Queensland, just on Queensland, the Queensland Treasurer says today you didn’t chip in on the $700 odd million that they’d announced and he says, “It is clear the Prime Minister’s made a political calculation. He’s decided he doesn’t need flood victims to vote for him, so he has nothing to offer.” Now you just spent $8.5 billion dollars on temporary cost of living measures on payments out the window. Is it politically that smart not to provide this flooding assistance so close to an election?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me deal with those issues in turn. First of all, in New South Wales, we’ve committed $2.1 billon to the New South Wales flood response, $2.1 billion. And $1 billion of that has already been paid to flood victims already. And we have also engaged with the New South Wales government on significant 50/50 cost sharing arrangements on the many programs that they’ve done, over a series of programs, and as I made very clear yesterday, for the additional support that goes above and beyond all of that for the most affected areas, far and beyond we’ve seen in any floods around the country. Of course, we’re going to continue to support those particularly acute areas. That’s what we’ve done. $2.1 billion, $1 billion already out the door. So when state governments have spent as much as we have on supporting flood victims, then I think they can be critical. But when they still have not yet gotten even the money out the door, when we’ve got $1 billon dollars here in New South Wales, I think that speaks for itself. Now in Queensland, let me be very clear about what we have done in Queensland already. Already we have some $360 million, which has been able to be paid directly to people, $375 million, I should be clear, $360 million on the disaster recovery payment that is already being paid to 311,838 Queenslanders. A further $15 million has been paid to 13,731 Queenslanders for a total of $375 million already in the pockets of Queenslanders who desperately need it. That funding is 100 per cent from the Commonwealth Government. State Government doesn’t put in a cent to that. On top of that, we have committed $130 million extra to replanting, restocking and farm infrastructure extension of those grants, 100 per cent funded by the Commonwealth Government. On top of that, there is a $279.25 million, which is our share in the first more than half a billion joint funded projects that we have done with the state government in responding to the floods. Now on top of that …

JOURNALIST: This is about people …

PRIME MINISTER: I’m sorry, and I’m sorry, I mean, you’ve asked me what the Commonwealth Government is doing to support flood victims in Queensland, and I’m telling you …

JOURNALIST: I’ve actually asked why you’re not stumping up this …

PRIME MINISTER: No, but what I’m telling you is that we have committed and already paid out over $375 million, 100 per cent funded by the Commonwealth. Queensland …

JOURNALIST: So that’s enough?

PRIME MINISTER: No, that’s not what I’m saying. And more payments will be made under those programs, which are 100 per cent funded by the Commonwealth. See, there are shared responsibilities in how this is done. We fund things like the income support payments, which, and the state governments don’t have to put in a cent to that. We fund other programs, such as the $130 million, which we’ve extended, 100 per cent funded by the Commonwealth. And then there are the shared programs we do together.

JOURNALIST: So they’re just whingers, are they? They’re just whinging, the state governments?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think we’ve seen over some time now a real politicisation, and it’s very unfortunate, a real politicisation of natural disasters. When this, when the Queensland Government, who has responsibilities in the projects that they’ve outlined today, they are all Queensland responsibilities and we think they should do that. And if they were to make those investments, they would probably approach what the Commonwealth has already invested in the Queensland flood response. So I don’t think people, frankly, are that interested in the politicking between state governments having a crack at the federal government when it comes to flood response. What I know is we’ve already turned up and we’ll keep turning up with the things that we’re responsible for and state governments will get on with the things they’re responsible for. The requests they’ve made under these programs go outside of the scope of what the normal arrangements are for flood responses. And so that’s where state governments have to step up. Now, as I said, it took around a billion dollars, just shy of a billion dollars that the Commonwealth has already committed and $375 million of that already paid to Queenslanders. So we’re turning up. We’re there. We’ll keep doing our job. I’m not looking to get into any disagreement with the state government, but they’ve got their job to do and I encourage them to do it. We’ve got our job to do and we’re going to keep doing that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on local manufacturing, you mentioned how important it is to have it here. In regards to the AUKUS submarine build, can you guarantee other than the nuclear reactor that it will be built in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’re working through all of those issues. And that is certainly our intention to maximise all of that. Of course it is. But it’s also the paramount goal is to ensure we get that capability as soon as we can, and it’s in the best form that it can be working with our partners.

JOURNALIST: Was the prospect of going to the High Court play into when you were going to call the election?


JOURNALIST: Was the prospect of going to the High Court play into when you will call the election?


JOURNALIST: The hypersonic missiles, when will we see them? Why do we need them? Is it because we’re worried China will invade us? Is it because we’re worried China will invade Taiwan? What are we seeking to prevent or seeking to arm ourselves for?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that’s all, I think very clearly set out in the long range strategic plan that I updated two years ago. And you would be very aware that a key part of that plan is ensuring that Australia has long range strike capabilities, now these missiles, hypersonics, are one of the fastest developing areas of missile technology. And while Australia, together with our partners and allies, have very sophisticated and very advanced forms of defence, hypersonics, are an area where we’re looking to significantly upgrade our capabilities. They’re part of modern warfare, just like cyber, is part of modern warfare. That’s why we put $10 billion into the REDSPICE program in this Budget to ensure that we can deal with the disabling impact that can come when we have cyber-attacks. That’s the most significant investment that’s ever been made in cyber warfare. But when it comes, offensive and defensive, when it comes to hypersonic missiles, they are one of the key technologies of combat in the future, and the long range strike capability is a critical part of our defence as set out in the defence strategic plan.

JOURNALIST: Is it your belief, in the next decade, China will invade Taiwan and if they were to do so, would Australia be at war with China?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh look, I don’t engage in that sort of inflammatory rhetoric, Andrew, because it’s not my job to put Australians into a position of concern. It’s my job to build our Defence Force capabilities, working with our partners and AUKUS is the best example of that, but so is the Quad, to ensure that we can protect and defend and avoid any of the sorts of scenarios that you were talking about. That’s why we do these things. We do these things to keep Australians safe, we do these things to bring balance and strategic certainty to our region. And that’s why we work with so many partners in the region, and we engage in this as an effort to achieve peace and stability, not the alternative. The reason we invest in all of these things is to create a peaceful environment and a stable environment in our region, not one driven by conflict.

JOURNALIST: More leaked texts today from Gladys Berejiklian. She has not denied that they came from her. Why were you under the impression that she had?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they’re not more, they’re the same things that people were going on about before, so there is nothing new in that. And look, Gladys said herself that she has no recollection of that, in her own discussions with me, given the nature of the language she said she would be, she would be very surprised. So look, I should have said she didn’t recollect them [inaudible] she denied them. And all I know is I haven’t seen them and and that’s not her view about the way we work together. And I think she’s been very clear about that.

JOURNALIST: You made a series of appointments at the last minute. At least your ministers have, you know, Pru Goward, Don Harwin, a lot of Liberal people, Michael Mischin. It looks pretty cynical doesn’t it? You’re about to call an election, and a whole bunch of Liberals get these government appointments, I mean …

PRIME MINISTER: We make appointments all the time, Andrew. I mean, you know, we appointed Gary Gray as the Ambassador to Ireland. We make appointments regularly and Labor people have been appointed to the exact same positions that you’re talking about over the course of our term. These people are qualified for the jobs. They’ll do a great job and I look forward to them doing a good job. That’s simply why they’ve been appointed.

JOURNALIST: Are you calling an election May 21, because you need as much time as possible to come from behind in this race?

PRIME MINISTER: I said we’d run a full term. And I said we’d run for three years and that’s what we’re doing. I’ve been upfront with the Australian people. There’s been plenty of people speculating on election dates with great certainty, up until now, and they’ve been proved wrong time and again. I always said you get elected to do a job. We’ve been doing that job, keeping our economy strong, and that’s what creates a stronger future for Australia. What I’ve noticed today is that the Labor Party announced a policy last week. They one had one to announce last week – it fell apart after four days, there were 200 separate policies in the Budget last week, they are all making Australia stronger, particularly dealing with cost of living pressures now and ensuring a stronger future for Australia. It’s great to have the team, Maria. Thanks very much.

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