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Transcript of press conference: NBN Training and Discovery Centre, Sydney: 24 August 2013: Syria; Small Business Package; National Broadband Network; NBN Innovation Fund; polls

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Campaign Transcript


24 AUGUST 2013

E & O E - PROOF ONLY _____________________________________________________________

Subjects: Syria; Small Business Package; National Broadband Network; NBN Innovation Fund; Polls. _____________________________________________________________

PM: The Government has been watching carefully recent developments in Syria, and responses from across the international community, including with our ally, the United States. I have noted carefully what President Obama has said, as this recent event is one which he and the Government of the United States is viewing with grave concern.

The Australian Government views this development with equal concern. Yesterday, I spoke with the Secretary-General of the United Nations about actions in the Security Council. The Secretary-General and I discussed the role which of course we are playing in the Council on this most important question before the international community at present. This goes to whether chemical weapons have been used, if so, who used them, and furthermore, could they be used again. These are serious matters for the entire international community.

Furthermore, this morning I have spoken with the US Ambassador to Australia, Ambassador Bleich, I have also spoken with the Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department. As a result of those discussions, I have agreed with the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department that later today I will go to Canberra and be briefed by our national security officials on unfolding developments and work with officials on any possible and appropriate Australian response, depending on the nature of the brief concerned. We are still establishing the facts. We have, together with the United States, grave concerns as to what has occurred here. But, as I said yesterday, it is important that we establish all the facts first and in a calm and considered way respond as appropriate. Consistent with the Caretaker Conventions, I will, of course, request the Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department to make equal national security official briefings available to Mr Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, as is appropriate.

These are troubling times in the international community, and we need to focus carefully and squarely on unfolding events and as they affect Australia's core national interests.

Today, we are here to talk further about the Government's initiatives in relation to small business. Small business is a cornerstone of the Australian economy - more than 3 million of them. Three million of them who are out there providing employment for about five million Australians on a daily basis. In recent days, we have been speaking very much in detail about how we assist small business by removing as much red tape from their backs as possible. We have done that in terms of superannuation, with extended use of the superannuation clearinghouse for small business. We have done so in relation to Government providing a clearinghouse mechanism also for Paid Parental Leave payments. And yesterday I indicated changes in terms of the Business Activity Statement obligations for small businesses now with a change which makes it easier for a total of more than 1.135 million small businesses across Australia to deal with the GST compliance obligations.

The reasons we are doing all of this is to make it easier for small business to go out there and engage in economic activity, build their businesses, build them into medium businesses and some of those to be built into big businesses, earning income for their families and, of course, building the overall Australian economy. Of course, one of the other pillars that small business can rely upon in the future will be the National Broadband Network and I'm pleased today to be joined by our candidate here in North Sydney, Peter Hayes, but also Ed Husic, the Parliamentary Secretary for Broadband, himself a champion for what broadband can do for the business community, particularly small businesses in regional areas and outer suburban areas like Western Sydney. This is a liberating technology.

The bottom line is whether it's upload or download speeds, both are important for small businesses to be able to operate in locations right across our country, to find new markets, to move information and, on top of that, also to be able to do their businesses better and to boost productivity. The single, greatest driver of productivity for small business and business in general for the decade ahead will come from the National Broadband Network. In ways we haven’t imagined yet, but it’s bit like imagining how an economy could become more productive if we had a system of motorways or a system of highways, or a railway network when none exist. You’ve got to have to have them first before the productivity yield comes in. The same with the National Broadband Network.

It's been exciting today also to see how this affects all businesses, not just in cities and in regional centres, but also in remote locations as well. I'm proud of the fact that we are putting satellites up, which are going to provide the opportunity for people in the most remote parts of Australia to have access to the National Broadband Network for the first time. Liberating people who live out the back-of-Bourke, so that they can participate in the economy and the national economy more fully. That's why one of the things that we of course will be unfolding is this, This is designed to be a guide, a tool, for small business and other applications around the country. The whole point is to turn this into your pathway to a more productive business for the future. That's what we want - make it easier for businesses. If you don't have the information super highway coming into your business in the future, you're going to be at a disadvantage. If you've got it coming into your business premises in the future, you are going to be at an advantage

relative to so many countries around the world but, critically, on the same level as other businesses right across Australia. This is part of the future.

Six years ago I held up a laptop and said I wanted one of these to be the tool kit, the new tool box, for Australia's young people for the future. That's why we laid out more than a million computers across the secondary school system in the last five years or so. This is the next stage - to make sure that through the digital revolution and through applications like this, not just our young people, but all our business people, big, small, medium, and other applications in the health and education sector are entering the digital age, boosting productivity, boosting growth and providing jobs for the future. To support that, we, of course, want to make sure that there is going to be a good application of these technologies in the small business sector.

If the Government is returned, we’ll create a $10 million small business NBN innovation fund. This will offer grants to developers of NBN applications that lift small business competitiveness and cut costs. These new applications would be free to small businesses. We want to get behind small business, to turbocharge them for the future. The NBN is an economic game changer, and of course, under our Government we would provide those connections, not to the exchange, not to the hub, up the street, but to the home, to the premises, to the business premises as well. And bear in mind that many effective small businesses start on the kitchen table out the back with a laptop open and a connection. That's where so many of the great enterprises are going to be built in this nation in the future. Furthermore on small business, we are into the overall action of making it easier for small business to work. Also if the Government is returned, we will appoint a small business adviser to the Fair Work Ombudsman. We will also create a Small Business Consultative Council as a subcommittee of the National Workplace Relations Consultative Council to give small business a stronger voice. And, we will provide $200,000 assistance to fund these council of small business organisations of Australia, to undertake research and increase their advocacy on behalf of small business across Australia. These are smaller initiatives, but they are important in the overall fabric of what we are trying to do. Because I believe passionately in the future of small business in driving Australia's economic future. Our job in Government is not to tell them what to do. Our job in Government is to enable them to do it with the new technologies of the 21st century, and that’s why we’re proud of these announcements today. Before I take your questions, I'm going to ask our Parliamentary Secretary for Broadband, Ed Husic, to add to my remarks and then we'll open it to Q&A.

HUSIC: Thanks, Prime Minister. What we have already seen is that businesses that move more in the digital space are twice as likely to be putting people on and hiring, and also we are seeing really positive things happen with their revenue, where annual revenue might be up 20 per cent. This is a big deal for businesses, small businesses, particularly in regional areas, particularly in parts of Sydney that I represent out in Western Sydney, seeing them healthier and operating healthier, is a big deal. But we also know that there is a bit of reluctance from small businesses getting engaged and this, in terms of what the Prime Minister has announced, will open the door for them to step from an analogue world to a digital one, to be able to hire more people, have a healthier bottom line, and improve the viability of local communities that want to see more small businesses in their area. We have got to be ready. We have got a big challenge ahead of us. Worldwide, data is expected to grow between 2009 and 2020 by 4,300 per cent. So we need a good network in place that can make sure we can deal with that and you can see some of the drive in

that data production here today. Where, for example, a person at home, who needs medical assistance, wants to be able to get onto a video-link, to be able to operate diagnostic equipment and get help when they need it, this is what the NBN will allow. Faster upload speeds, the faster download speeds, and be able to handle the range of things we want to do. So, we want to be able to see that across the community, but particularly in terms of small business. What's been announced today will be great news for getting smaller business more engaged in the digital space.

PM: Thanks very much, Ed. So, my concluding comment is just this - if you value broadband, then you must vote for the National Broadband Network. And, therefore, you must vote for the Government's return. It's pretty basic. With us you get a first-class, world-class broadband network. High speeds, affordable, universal access. The alternative offers none of that. Over to you.

JOURNALIST: On the question of Syria, the UK Foreign Secretary says that he is of the view that the Syrian regime is responsible and it was chemical weapons. Is he right and, furthermore, do you consider this a suspension of your campaign?

PM: As Prime Minister of the country, I have a responsibility to draw to the attention of the Australian people major events of an international nature which affect our national interests. I formed the judgment that this represents one such event. We are still working the detail through. William Hague's statement reflects the analytical conclusions of the British Government. We are in consultation with our friends and allies around the world as we speak, and, as I said, having spoken about this now at some length with the Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department, and with the US Ambassador, the next practical step is for formal national security briefings to myself and other relevant Ministers which will occur in Canberra later today. Calm, sober, response means taking the information available at hand first, analysing precisely and carefully what has happened here, and then carefully considering appropriate responses, not to be rushed in any of this, but to be properly considered in all of this.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is it very Machiavellian of you to have leadership negotiations with Bill Shorten under the cover of the Midwinter Ball earlier this the this year?

PM: I haven’t - I don't know what you are referring to. If there is an article in today's press which someone referred to earlier today, I haven't read it and I’ve got no comment to make on it.

JOURNALIST: Did you meet with Bill Shorten on the night of the Midwinter Ball?

PM: I met Bill yesterday actually.

JOURNALIST: What do you think about Tony Abbott launching his big campaign launch in your hometown of Brisbane?

PM: It's the same as what he did in 2010. Sorry, you were looking at me?

JOURNALIST: Just on Syria, will the - will Australia be advocating that the UN Security Council take intervention - sanction intervention, international intervention in Syria, and did you have a meeting with Bill Shorten on the night of the Midwinter Ball?

PM: First of all, I don't intend to go over any of those events. I haven't read the article concerned, so I won't comment on it. On the question of Syria, let me make it very plain. We believe that this is an important question for the country. It's important for it to be considered in all its detail. And, I'm not about to make any rushed or rash judgments about what the country should do next. We take our alliance obligations seriously, we take our caretaker conventions obligations seriously, but my first responsibility, as Prime Minister of the country, is to make sure that these matters are being attended to thoroughly and carefully. That's why I've consulted with the relevant officials, both the US ambassador, the secretary of my own department and yesterday with the Secretary-General of the UN. On the UNSC itself, the United Nations Secretary-General yesterday, in fact I think not long after him, said that he was about to issue a statement. That statement was a formal request to the Government of Syria for full access to the UN inspectors in Syria, in Damascus, to have unfettered access to where these events occurred and unfettered access in terms of any other material relevant to their negotiations. One of the debates we are having around the margins of the Security Council right now is the possibility of the council itself involving a vote of all members fortifying the request of the UN Secretary-General with a formal Presidential statement of the council itself. That may sound to some like arcane diplomatese, but what it means is a resolution of the council reflected through a Presidential statement by the current President of the council to reinforce as a voice on behalf of the council, the existing call by the UN Secretary-General himself for full cooperation from the Syrian regime. So on the question of the diplomacy, that's where it next falls.

JOURNALIST: Do you regard this as a temporary suspension of your campaign?

PM: I regard it as a necessary practical step to make sure that we are fully briefed on developments. I have sought during the course of the last 24 hours to remain across these things. But given these matters involve highly sensitive reports, it's the advice of the secretary of my department that I travel to Canberra to be more fully briefed and I intend to do that.

JOURNALIST: What is the Government going to do to get the situation on Manus Island back on track, given that the problems that appear to have happened with the suspension by PNG?

PM: If you are referring to the - I think it's correspondence reported in one of the papers today - was that your paper?


PM: The truth of that matter is that that correspondence is a week or so old, and based and a statement overnight by the PNG Foreign Minister, I think you'd be aware of the fact that all those matters had been dealt with and agreed on already. That's old correspondence.

JOURNALIST: Would you rule out military intervention if it was sanctioned by the UN or the US?

PM: We take our international obligations seriously, we take international law seriously and therefore, we take our role in the UN Security Council seriously. One of the reasons I campaigned so long and hard for Australia to become I a member of the Security Council was that we would be in a position to directly contribute to major

global deliberations. That is happening as we speak. On something which affects the lives of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, potentially millions of people across the Middle East and beyond. On the question of what to do about this particular event of grave concern, to use the words of President Obama, number one, to establish fully the facts. I note the statements already by foreign secretary Hague. Secondly, to also properly deliberate on appropriate forms of response. But let us not get the cart before the horse. These things have to be undertaken in a calm and measured fashion.

JOURNALIST: Notwithstanding your comments about getting - knowing all the facts first, CBS is reporting that the Pentagon is preparing for possible missile strikes on Syrian forces. Are you aware of this?

PM: I'm aware of those media reports, yes. I'm also aware of a range of other reports, which I will attend to upon my return to Canberra later today. I don't go into national security briefings as such, and their content in press conferences, -I never have and I never will. But the bottom line is to make sure we are doing everything that is responsible and properly considered, as the Australian people expect of the Prime Minister of their country and the government of their country.

JOURNALIST: Did you say who will actually be briefing you, Mr Warner? Defence?

PM: It's the normal collection of officials from the national security agencies and as I said the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s [Department] is organising relevant officials now. This has been a relatively fast-moving set of developments. Part of my reason for my delay in coming to you this morning was because of that and I emphasise again that, consistent with the caretaker conventions, that Mr Abbott obtain a parallel briefing from the agencies. That is the right and responsible thing to do.

JOURNALIST: PM, are you concerned that you could go by the way of John Howard and lose your own seat? There’s new polls out and also that the Nielsen poll shows that Labor's slump continues?

PM: I'm in the business of fighting an election and fighting as hard as I can, and I will fight and fight and fight for the things I believe in and fight for the families and businesses who depend on getting access to high-speed broadband. That's my responsibility. What the Australian people ultimately decide, in a couple of weeks’ time, is a matter for them. And my obligation, my responsibility, and what I intend to do with full vigour is to prosecute the case as to why questions such as, or services such as provided by the National Broadband Network, should be delivered to all Australians. Why the better for schools plan is the best plan for Australian schools and for all Australians. Why the health and hospitals plan is the best plan for all Australians. Why Australian families should have access to the SchoolKids Bonus; 1.3 million of them. And frankly, if Mr Abbott's priorities are an unaffordable and unfair Paid Parental Leave scheme as opposed to providing high-speed affordable broadband to every household and every small business in the country, I’ll tell you what side of the argument I'm on. So I will fight for what I believe in. More importantly, I will fight for those I believe in as well. Those people, those households, those small businesses, the ones out in Ed's electorate who depend on this being delivered to grow their businesses in Western Sydney in the future.

JOURNALIST: Seeing as you are returning to Canberra to receive these briefings, to you think given that Mr Abbott is an alternative Prime Minister, would it be appropriate that he do the same?

PM: I'm not about to provide Mr Abbott with any such advice. It's a matter for him. My responsibility, as the Prime Minister, is to ensure that all the caretaker conventions are applied. And I intend to do that. I have had previous experience of this in earlier election campaigns, not as leader, but as the relevant foreign policy spokesman for the then Opposition. It's important that these conventions are properly applied.

But my first responsibility as Prime Minister is, one, to inform the Australian people that there are major events unfolding in the international community; number two, that these are of grave concern, both to the Government of the US and ourselves; and number three, to work through carefully the question of evidence as it relates to these matters and to reach our conclusions as to who is responsible for these attacks in Syria, whether further such attacks could occur against innocent civilians, and when you are talking about the use of weapons of mass destruction, potentially, against large civilian concentrations, this is a matter of concern for all decent human beings, and a concern for our future.

Folks, I will leave it there, thank you very much.