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Transcript of press conference: Parliament House, Canberra: 29 April 2009: troop deployment in Afghanistan; COAG; welfare; tax bonus payments.
Prime Minister of Australia
Press Conference Parliament House Canberra
29 April 2009
Subject(s): Troop deployment in Afghanistan; COAG; Welfare; Tax Bonus Payments
Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to make a substantial statement on our future military commitment to Afghanistan. Today, I will outline Australia’s proposed future military and civilian commitment to the campaign against terrorist forces in Afghanistan. In my National Security Statement to the Parliament last year, I indicated that Australia stood ready to play its part in regional and global security efforts that would strengthen the security of Australia, including security against terrorist attacks against Australians.
We have a proud history of engagement in regional and wider security efforts, and in the men and women in the Australian Defence Force, we have an asset of truly global quality to support us. For some time now, leaders in many partner nations have been grappling with how to deal with the problems that confront us in prosecuting the campaign against terrorist forces in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Australia has two fundamental interests at stake. First, we need to deny sanctuary to terrorists who have threatened and killed Australian citizens. Second, we also have an enduring commitment to the United States under the ANZUS Treaty which was formally invoked at the time of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
Afghanistan is a place that has served as the training ground for global terrorism for a decade. More than 100 Australians have been killed in terrorist attacks in recent years, many of which were perpetrated by terrorists who have trained in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
We must not allow Afghanistan to once again become the unimpeded training ground and operating base for global terrorist activity. Nonetheless as US President Obama has stated recently, allied forces at present are not prevailing in Afghanistan. If allied forces fail in Afghanistan, there is a grave risk that the world will see a return to the intensity of terrorist activity emanating from that country prior to 2001, 2002.
On the ground, our troops have been making a supreme effort and significant sacrifices to deny Oruzgan to terrorists. Under difficult circumstances, they have been making headway. Australian Special Forces have disrupted Taliban efforts in training and recruiting new fighters. An Australian mentored Kandak, as battalions are described in Afghanistan,
supported by Coalition forces, is now becoming increasingly operational and effective. And the Mentoring and Reconstruction Taskforce has delivered several major infrastructure projects in Oruzgan Province. The sacrifice of our troops on the ground means Australia must insist on the very best civilian and military strategy from the international community.
Australia concurs with the United States that the current civilian and military strategy is not working. If anything, security in Afghanistan is deteriorating. On 27 March President Obama cleared a new plan of US action, both civilian and military, aimed at redefining the mission in Afghanistan and outlining a new strategy to realise that mission.
We also have engaged with partners at the 31 March meeting on Afghanistan in The Hague, where nations gathered to chart a new way forward for combined efforts in Afghanistan. We have also of course engaged deeply with our allies in Washington.
President Obama has defined the new mission in Afghanistan as, and I quote him “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future”. Australia concurs with this mission.
It intersects with our own definition of our own mission within Afghanistan, which is as follows: Strategic denial of Afghanistan as a training ground and operating base for global terrorist organisations; second, stabilisation of the Afghan
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state through a combination of military, police and civilian effort to the extent necessary to consolidate this primary mission of strategic denial; and third, in Australia’s case, to make this contribution in Oruzgan Province in partnership with our allies, with the objective of training sufficient Afghan National Army and police forces and to enhance the capacity of the Oruzgan provincial administration in order to hand over responsibility for the province in a reasonable time-frame to the Afghans themselves.
Realisation of the third element of this mission statement would create the basis for the withdrawal of Australian combat units. Australia’s current force in Oruzgan does not have with it sufficient training elements to build Afghan military and police capacity within a reasonable time frame in which to base an exit strategy. That is why it is necessary to build upon our existing training capacity.
Consistent with President Obama’s redefinition of the allied mission in Afghanistan, the United States has increased its forces from 21,000, by 21,000 from 38,000 to nearly 60,000 and has requested allies to provide additional civilian and military resources to prosecute this mission. The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy Poland, Spain and Turkey and many other partners have also agreed to send more troops to Afghanistan.
Australia has therefore decided to increase its medium term contribution to Afghanistan, not as a blank cheque but with the explicit objective of training Afghan forces so that responsibility for Oruzgan province can in time be handed over to the Afghans themselves.
The Australian Government has no interest in Australian forces being in Afghanistan for a day longer than is necessary. That is also why it is necessary to be absolutely clear about our mission and the earliest basis for an exit strategy.
To reduce the threat of terrorist attacks on Australian citizens in the future, the Australian Government has decided to increase our Defence Force commitment in Afghanistan. A measured increase in Australian forces in Afghanistan will enhance the security of Australian citizens given that so many terrorists attacking Australians in the past have been trained in Afghanistan.
The additional commitment will comprise the following: around 100 additional troops to form two further Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams joining the one team we already have in Oruzgan.
By increasing our training teams, we will significantly increase the ‘through-put’ of Afghan National Army trainees. The aim is to deliver an ANA, that’s Afghan National Army 4th Brigade in Oruzgan, ready to provide security in the Province as soon as they are able to assume those responsibilities.
The Afghan National Army 4th Brigade would consist of a brigade headquarters, three infantry Kandaks - the equivalent of three battalions - a combat support Kandak, a combat service support and garrison Kandak, as well as a highway security Kandak. The total size of the Afghan brigade will be approximately 3,300 personnel.
Furthermore we propose to increase the logistic support forces and force protection elements necessary to sustain our operations in Oruzgan Province with a further 70 soldiers or so. Further, to provide an engineering construction team of approximately 40 personnel to assist in the extension and upgrade of the critical Tarin Kowt Airfield and camp facilities.
Furthermore, increase the number of embedded planning and staff officers to approximately 70. These embedded officers will be placed in United States or Coalition headquarters where operational and tactical decisions on the employment of Australian forces will be made, thereby ensuring we have a direct input and oversight of the involvement of our forces.
There are in these additional forces I have listed, no additional formed combat units. Our aim is to train Afghans to take a proper role in their own security and the primary role of the new units will be training. The new units will have the ability to defend themselves, given the nature of operations there and given that training of Afghan units will inevitably involve
operations with the ANA forces in the field. Nonetheless I emphasise that the principal purpose of the additional forces is training.
The new commitment, like our existing involvement, will be under the United Nations authority of the Afghanistan mission, approved by the UN Security Council. I have asked the Chief of the Defence Force to take every practicable measure to ensure that our troops are supported in every respect for the task ahead of them. I have asked him to make sure in particular that our forces have the training, skills and equipment they need to protect themselves and do their important work in Afghanistan.
At the core of our strategy is the plan for Afghans to take a greater role in their own security. They must be trained and prepared. That is why, in addition to the reinforcement of ADF training teams that I have indicated above, the Government will also contribute around $55 million per annum to the Afghan National Army Trust Fund to further contribute to an effective ANA force in Oruzgan Province. Again our objective is to transfer security to the Afghans as soon as practicably possible.
Separate from the commitments set out above, Australia will also provide short-term military support to assist with security for the Afghanistan elections in August, for eight months. About 120 additional troops, an infantry company, will deploy to
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cover short-term security requirements of the elections scheduled for August and provide force protection for training teams immediately after the election. This company, which has a combat capability, will return to Australia following its eight month tour of duty.
We are as I said before, in Afghanistan for the long-haul. Ours however is not an open-ended military commitment. We must move with clear purpose to train Afghans to provide for their own security, thereby countering the insurgency and denying terrorists a haven for their training and operations. As our training effort in Oruzgan comes to a point of completion, we will then be in a better position to reassess what further contribution we might make. While our military contribution is not open-ended, by far the longest haul will be our civilian commitment to the country and the people of Afghanistan.
There is a real need to balance our significant military commitment with a strong economic development effort. Security, particularly in Southern Afghanistan, remains a key challenge to delivering an effective civilian contribution. To this end, we will increase our civilian efforts in terms of governance, reconstruction and development assistance.
Since 2001 Australia has committed $600 million for aid, capacity building and reconstruction, which includes a pledge by the Government in June 2008 of $250 million for development and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan over the next three years. We will also be increasing the number of AusAID officers in Afghanistan, who will work with other donors to support reconstruction, capacity-building and development efforts.
So far, Australia has been responsible for the following: constructing the Tarin Kowt Eastern Causeway and other vital road bridges; redevelopment of the Tarin Kowt Provincial Hospital; construction of the Afghan Health and Development Services Training Centre; upgrading the Yaklenhah Health Clinic; supporting the Tarin Kowt Waste Management project; constructing the Tarin Kowt Boys Primary School Redevelopment; upgrading the Tarin Kowt Boys High School; supporting the Trade Training School; distributing around 6,800 metric tons of emergency wheat; supporting the Afghan Red Crescent Society to provide emergency aid for approximately 50,000 displaced persons; and delivered Mine Risk Education to over 4,000 people.
And furthermore, in partnership with the World Bank, assisting in the construction of over 60 schools and we have delivered over 40 community infrastructure projects that improved water supply and sanitation.
Our people have been very busy in the field, doing good civilian work in the Province for which we have responsibility.
We will deploy an additional Australian Federal Police training and advisory team of approximately ten officers to train and advise the Afghan National Police. These civilian efforts will help ensure, for each military success that we have, that success is appropriately reinforced through policing efforts and development assistance that strengthens, also the local economy.
In order to support a successful outcome to the Afghan elections due in August, in addition to the infantry company, we propose providing a small team of civilian monitors to oversee the technical aspect of polling in Oruzgan. This adds to the $8 million in assistance we already provided to support voter registration in the election process.
Coalition partners agree on the need to make a greater effort to address the challenge of terrorist training operations across the Pakistan border in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The porous nature of the frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan means that problems with their source in Afghanistan have made their way into Pakistan.
To make the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan effective, we and other partners need to engage diplomatically more deeply with Pakistan.
The Government will continue to work with the Government of Pakistan and encourage Pakistan to act on the problems of terrorist training and operations within its borders. This is vital work. Maintaining the viability and integrity of the Pakistani State - a country of some 175 million people - is of vital interest to Australia.
But importantly, our engagement with Pakistan is not limited to the challenge of security. Australia will work with Pakistan across a range of fields including through a significantly increased development assistance program and through trade.
Australia is a founding member of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, and recently announced a significant increase in our assistance to Pakistan to deal with its internal challenges.
We want to help strengthen Pakistan, improving the lives of its people and engaging with its government to play our part in rolling back the threat of militancy and terrorism. We stand ready to assist the Government of Pakistan to meet these challenges.
To help coordinate and drive this new level of effort, the Government has decided to appoint Mr Ric Smith as Australia’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr Smith will work closely with the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan and with the representatives of our allies and partners, including Ambassador Holbrooke of the United States. Our Special
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Envoy will ensure that Australia’s new commitment is integrated into the broader international effort and that Australia’s mission in Afghanistan is being implemented within a reasonable timeframe.
To conclude, we cannot ignore this cold hard strategic fact: less security in Afghanistan means less security for Australians. Handing Afghanistan back to terrorist control will increase the threat to all Australians.
This commitment that we have announced today is not a blank cheque but is focused on training the Afghans to manage their own security, thereby allowing Australia to bring our military combat operations to a close. The successful training of the ANA over time is our exit strategy for Australia’s combat units in Oruzgan Province.
Today, I have announced an increase in our troop commitment from 1100 to around 1550. We will also increase our police training presence as well as our governance and development assistance efforts.
I have discussed this additional commitment with President Obama last week, following extensive deliberations by the National Security Committee of the Australian Cabinet. Cabinet yesterday, full Cabinet, endorsed this commitment.
As I make these further commitments today, I am acutely conscious of the fact that I am placing more Australians in harm’s way. And I fear that more Australians will lose their lives in the fight that lies ahead.
I am also conscious of the price already paid by Australian service personnel in Afghanistan. I am conscious of the terrible toll on families and loved ones of the ten Australian personnel who have died and of the many who have been wounded. I am also conscious of the impact on our wider Australian community.
But Australia will not bow to the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan. And we will continue to stand by our American ally in confronting this threat because failure to do so would only compound the terrorist threat to Australian, American and other nationals at home and abroad. I’m happy to take your questions.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) Do you have benchmarks built into the Australian commitment now, are you satisfied that the Americans have sufficient benchmarking? If not, is it meaningless to say we’re not giving an open cheque (inaudible).
PM: The importance in the statement I have made today Michelle, is to clearly define the Australian mission, a mission concerning strategic denial, a mission concerning, providing the necessary support to the Afghan state to make to strategic denial possible, and thirdly, the application of that mission to our responsibilities within Oruzgan.
Therefore, for the future in benchmarking, it goes to the pace and intensity of the preparation of the Afghan National Army Brigade that I referred to.
This will take some time. The reason we are adding extra training units is because we need to train more Afghans now and do it more effectively.
Training an Afghan Brigade is a large mission. It is a large task. But that is now explicitly the benchmark to which we are attaching ourselves.
Secondly, to reinforce that with appropriate training for Afghan Police within that province, so that they can assume policing responsibilities in areas where the security footprint has been extended. And thirdly, to enhance the civilian capacity of the provincial administration of Oruzgan.
All three of these sub-elements of the mission, being necessary to do in order to reach the benchmark which justifies the withdrawal of Australian combat units. That is a very specific set of benchmarks.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you accept that the only lasting solution to Afghanistan, and indeed neighbouring Pakistan, is some sort of political settlement? Maybe with elements of the Taliban, but certainly with the desperate, disparate rather, and more extreme elements of those two countries?
PM: An effective long term strategy for Afghanistan involves at least three elements. One, the military strategy to which we just referred.
Two, the civilian assistance strategy in order to boost provincial administration, particularly across the country, and I refer particularly to the province for which we’re responsible.
Thirdly, a diplomatic strategy. A diplomatic strategy involving all those elements who make up the total security policy equation. And that means, that part of my remarks before concerning a deeper engagement with the Government of Pakistan.
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I noted carefully what President Obama has said about the need to engage all elements, in order to bring about a long term effective political and diplomatic solution. I agree with him.
It is an integrated strategy which has the best prospect for success here, covering off the diplomatic, the political, the civilian aid component, and the military effort at its core.
JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, you use the words reasonable timeframe, I think three times, twice in relation to a handover. Clearly the idea is important to your understanding of planning and of benchmarks. What is a reasonable timeframe for a handover?
PM: Our judgment on that Tim is that the best way of explaining that to our forces in the field and to the Australian people is to attach that to the benchmark of the training of this Afghan National Army Brigade and the associated elements of police and civilian infrastructure within the province.
I cannot tell you specifically which day and month that task will be concluded.
What I can say to you is that this is a clear cut benchmark to which we are moving.
It will take a lot of effort. It will take a fair bit of time. But I don’t wish to mislead people about the precise length of time it will take.
There are always setbacks in the field in reaching the training targets to which I have referred. But the strategic mission is clear.
To handover responsibility to the Afghan National Army, police and civilian administration as early as possible, so that we can bring our combat units home.
JOURNALIST: More on the timeframe, Cabinet must have considered the range of possible amounts of time it takes to train a 4th Brigade of the ANA in Oruzgan. Can you not say in general terms about any precise dates of the timeframe?
PM: In our multiple discussions over a considerable period of time, we’ve been acutely conscious of what level of Afghan National Army presence you need to provide adequate security for the province long term. How many battalions make up that brigade and the training effort necessary to raise those battalions at a level of effectiveness over time. And the support elements from police as well as capacity of building within the provincial administration.
We also had many discussions about the setbacks which occurred. And if you looked at the evolution so far of the training effort involving Afghan National Army forces across the country, there are many models to look at, positive and negative.
That is why we believe it is much better to be clear cut about the fact that this is going to take some time, hopefully a reasonable timeframe to produce this outcome in raising this brigade.
But what I know for a fact is this: until that brigade is raised, with the appropriate support elements, then we cannot provide a basis upon which to transfer security to the Afghanistan National Army and to the provincial administration, as a basis for the withdrawal of Australian combat units.
Remember in the case of Iraq that is the points at which we finally reached in Al Muthanna Province.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) Australian people might be running out of patience with regard to Afghanistan, Mr Rudd?
PM: I think this is going to become progressively an unpopular war. I accept that for the reality that it is. I am also seized at the fact that we have a responsibility to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a training base again for terrorists to go out and kill more Australians. And that we have a responsibility to our American ally consistent with our Treaty obligations.
JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, will the police be involved in a similar training role to the army, in that they’ll be embedded with Afghan Police, and will they be armed?
PM: On the question of the precise elements of the police deployment, we’ll have a further statement to make. We are working that element of it through with our friends in Afghanistan.
Already, we have some limited police elements on the ground working at the staff level, with our partners in the Afghan National Police, as I’m advised. We will expand that mission.
As to its detailed characteristics, I would prefer to rely upon a subsequent statement we will make once the finality of those administrative arrangements are in place.
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JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned $55 million a year to a trust fund for the Afghan National Army, can you tell us what that will be spent on, is that going to salaries, is it hardware, how will that be spent?
PM: All of the above, because in our discussions with our American friends, it is quite plain that this is a way of providing, let’s call it, an underpinning resource base to raise not just the force in the province for which we are responsible, conjointly, Oruzgan, but also to raise the necessary strength across the ANA nationwide.
There has been a lack of resources to do this up until now and certainly in my discussions with the Americans, including most recently on this particular subject, Secretary Gates of the US Defense Department, that this was a necessary part in the overall plan, a generic pool of funds, contributed to by allies and partners of the United States as well as the individual training efforts that we are putting in on a provincial basis.
Both are necessary in our judgement to get to the end point, which is to train sufficient Afghan National Army personnel to transfer security responsibility to them so that our combat units can be brought home.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) You are going to be meeting the Premiers tomorrow in COAG, just wondering if you could give us an idea as to your agenda for that and secondly, the extent to which -
PM: (inaudible) more peaceful than Afghanistan.
JOURNALIST: The extent to which the global recession is hampering your efforts as you outlined in the election campaign to use COAG to drive some major structural reform in this country.
PM: Matthew I take the view that, I may have said this not long after we assumed Government, is that COAG is a workhorse of the federation and that is the enduring long term tasks of microeconomic reform don’t disappear because of a global economic recession, they continue to have to be prosecuted.
And in fact, when we look forward to a time of global economic recovery, it is going to be important to ensure that that reform agenda hasn’t fallen by the wayside.
So those reforms will be front and centre to our deliberations in Hobart as well. Some of them will be by way of progress reports on what has been done so far. Others will be by way of commissioning further action.
The second point I would make is, COAG as a workhorse for the federation also means us working together to make sure that we are providing the best support for people who at present, for our fellow Australians who are finding it difficult to get a job, who are in danger of losing a job, or who have lost a job.
You heard me speak recently in Melbourne on a speech which I described as a ‘jobs and training compact with Australia’.
To make that work, particularly a compact with young Australians, we need to be working as one, with States and Territories, and that is so much part of the agenda which we have before us in Hobart tomorrow.
So on those two sets of practical areas, we have a job of work ahead of us in Hobart. There will be further meetings during the course of the year. Some of these meetings may be more or less spectacular than others, but we intend to drive a long term economic reform agenda forward, as well as immediate responses to deal with the jobs and training imperative brought to us courtesy of the global recession.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) commentators will say that we should be committing more troops to Afghanistan, that we should be looking to take complete control of the Oruzgan Province ourselves and that we should be committing more than you are committing today. What do you say to that?
PM: We believe that we have got the calibration of our response right. I mean I have had long, long conversations with Angus and with Duncan and with Stephen and with Joel and with their respective American counterparts. And we think we have got the balance about right here.
Remember, we are in one province primarily, Oruzgan. And I take seriously our responsibilities there to provide a basis for an exit strategy over a reasonable period of time for Australian combat units.
The logic flows from one point to the next - and I will take your question after another one over here - is that if that is the mission then it means you have got to train more people.
And you have got to train more people and raise the brigade that I spoke to before in partnership with our Dutch partners and others, we are going to have to get cracking to make sure the training occurs. And that is why the overwhelming emphasis of what I have described here today goes to that enhanced training effort.
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JOURNALIST: On the question of timing, are you saying that the military cannot provide an estimate, a broad estimate if not a precise one of how long it would take to train (inaudible).
PM: What I am saying Michelle is that life experience in Afghanistan suggests, for every two steps forward you take, there is a step backwards, and that is particularly in relation to the training effort. Let’s just be realistic about this and look at the experience of so many of our fellow combatants in Afghanistan in their training efforts.
I am not going to mislead Australians about how complex and challenging that is. It is. But what I want is clear cut mission statement as the end point we want to get to, which is to raise that brigade.
That is why I detailed this constituent battalion formation before and the other elements of the necessary effort we need in order to secure long term, a long term exist strategy. These are concrete benchmarks.
JOURNALIST: Sorry to interrupt you Mr Rudd, but essentially -
PM: Sorry to have interrupted you before (inaudible)
JOURNALIST: Essentially this is drawing the line under the length and extent of our commitment to Afghanistan, you are basically saying we are definitely not going to be replacing the Dutch when they leave Oruzgan and so essentially, there is going to be no more, no further deployment of combat troops.
PM: As I said before, this deployment of ours, this additional deployment of ours has as its overwhelming emphasis, an enhanced training capability, with a strategic mission in mind, raising an Afghan National Army Brigade, because it is brigade strength which is necessary to transfer security in the province and to provide a basis for the exit of our own combat units.
I think the logic of that is pretty clear cut. In terms of the future disposition of the deployments of the Kingdom of Netherlands and others, and the United States, obviously those are matters for continued deliberation between Governments.
Our mission is as I have described it.
PM: What I said before Bonge was, I defined clearly what the Government’s mission in Afghanistan is, in three points. I said in third point it reflected precisely what we proposed to do within the Province, and the constituent elements of that, which go to the Brigade, which go to police support elements and which goes to enhancing provincial Government capability, so that you can turn around at a point and effectively say, here is an effective transfer of responsibility.
That, I believe is the responsible course of action. That is what we are embarked upon. And the overriding mission here again is to ensure that in our part of Afghanistan, for which we are responsible, that we are executing a proper and considered strategy of strategic denial for terrorists so that they no longer have Afghanistan as a safe haven or as an operating base for terrorist attacks against Australian citizens in the future.
Let us never forget what happened in Bali. Let us never forget the murderous attacks which have happened elsewhere in the world. And let us never forget that a large slice of the terrorists responsible for that were trained in Afghanistan, when it was an open running field of operations for terrorists from terrorism central.
JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd just on another topic, there has been renewed calls in recent weeks for Australia to rethink middle class welfare, I know you won’t comment specifically on what is in the budget in two weeks time but can I ask you philosophically, do you share the view that Australia has over time been encouraged to have something of an entitlement mentality where even people in households that are earning pretty healthy incomes, feel like other taxpayers should be giving them (inaudible)
PM: We are in a nation where everyone has got to pitch in and do their bit. As I have said before this will be a very, very tough budget, framed under the toughest set of global economic circumstances any Government has faced for three quarters of a century.
That is just the reality that we face. As for the detailed elements of the answer which you seek indirectly, they will be reflected on Budget night.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) some of the tax bonus payments is being sliced off by tax agents?
PM: Well our interest is out there making sure that pensioners, veterans, carers, families, are getting the payments that we provide in order to provide short term economic stimulus to support the 1.5 million Australians who are out there working
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in the retail sector.
I regard that as important work and I get pretty upset if anyone gets in the road of that. Our objective is a huge slice of our Australian family, out there, working in shops across the country - and their jobs are really important.
We are also going to kick in with stimulus, medium term stimulus, with the biggest school modernisation program the country has ever seen. And we will be kicking in with longer term stimulus to the biggest infrastructure project since we have seen since the Snowy and before the Snowy, with the National Broadband Network.
Operating at all these three levels, we are providing stimulus and I will be pretty disappointed if anyone is getting in the way of any of that.
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