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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Wynyard, Tasmania: 25 October 2013: Government's economic growth plan for Tasmania; Simplot Australia; Government's commitment to upgrade the Midland Highway; one stop shop for environmental approvals



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PRIME MINISTER

25 October 2013

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MP JOINT DOORSTOP INTERVIEW WITH THE HON. IAN MACFARLANE MP, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY, MR. WILL HODGMAN MP, LEADER OF THE TASMANIAN LIBERAL PARTY

AND MR. BRETT WHITELEY MP, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR BRADDON, WYNYARD, TASMANIA

Subjects: Government’s economic growth plan for Tasmania; Simplot Australia; Government’s commitment to upgrade the Midland Highway; one stop shop for environmental approvals.

E&OE……………………….……………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s terrific to be here at Haulmax. This is a successful, local Tasmanian manufacturing business. I was very proud to be shown around these operations by Dale Elphinstone, one of Tasmania's most successful citizens today.

The great thing about this particular plant is that the trucks that are coming out of here go all around the world and one of the trucks that I was looking at this morning, manufactured here in Burnie, in a few months’ time is going to be in northern Canada. Just goes to show what Australian manufacturing can do, what Australian manufacturing still is and what Australian manufacturing might be under the right policies.

It's very important that, as well as trying to boost our economy generally, we do everything we can to take Tasmania from the back of the pack economically to an economic leader here within Australia. Tasmania has great people, it has great potential and the new Commonwealth Government is determined to do more to realise the economic potential of Tasmania.

We have made some important commitments to Tasmania. There’s the $38 million to upgrade Hobart airport, there's $400 million to upgrade the Midland Highway, there's $24 million to help create a world class Antarctic research centre here in Tasmania, there's the Major Projects Agency to be based in Launceston. Then of course there's the Commonwealth Tasmania Economic Council involving myself, the Treasurer, the Premier and Dale Elphinstone as the most successful businessman here in Tasmania.

Our mission - and we will not fail - is to ensure that we get the economy of this great state going again. Tasmania needs to be more than just a national park. It needs to be more than just a beautiful place to visit, a lovely place to live. Tasmania has to be a terrific place to invest, to do business, to make things and that's what the incoming Commonwealth Government is determined to do.

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It's a pleasure to be here with Will Hodgman, my friend and state parliamentary colleague. It's a pleasure to be here with Eric Hutchinson - sorry, with Brett Whiteley! Eric's down the road. It's a pleasure to be here with Brett Whiteley. Eric and Brett and Andrew Nikolic are our new members here in Tasmania. We had a very good result right around the country but we had an 11 per cent swing to the Coalition, to the Liberal Party, here in Tasmania. It shows Tasmanians want change. It shows that Tasmanians are ready to embrace development, to embrace a strong economy and that's what the new Commonwealth Government is determined to lead.

I'm going to ask Brett to say a few words and then I’ll ask Will to say a few words and then I’ll take questions.

Brett?

BRETT WHITELEY MP:

Thanks, Prime Minister. It's an absolute honour to have the Prime Minister here in Braddon. Your first visit, Prime Minister, since assuming office and we're so proud to be associated with the team and it's just great to be here today to see the Prime Minister reaffirm his commitment to the rebirth of the Tasmanian economy. That's why we put out a Tasmanian growth plan. That's why we put so much work into it. That’s why we asked for the input that we got and just to hear the Prime Minister of Australia reaffirm that commitment today I think should be a tremendous positive message to the people of Tasmania: that our intention is to be reopened for business.

So, thanks Prime Minister for coming.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks Brett. Will?

WILL HODGMAN MP:

Can I join in welcoming Tony back, this time as Prime Minister. It’s fantastic to have you back in the state after so many visits during the election campaign and I think Tasmanians warmed to your ongoing interest in our State and your plan to make sure Tasmania's economy is moving in the right direction. That's entirely consistent, of course, with what we offer the Tasmanian people when we go to our election in March of next year.

I think it's really important for Tasmanians to understand that not only does the Federal Government have a strong plan for Tasmania's economy, Tasmania's alternative government has the same thing. I think it's important for governments to work cooperatively and to work constructively to deliver good outcomes. I think it's a disturbing thing to find the current Premier and her Ministers being so critical and so antagonistic of this new Federal Government that has a mandate and a plan to deliver for Tasmania.

I would urge Lara Giddings and her colleagues to work constructively, to put politics to one side and to start working on delivering the best outcomes for Tasmanians - that is, growing our economy and creating jobs in this state.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ok, do we have any questions?

QUESTION:

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Earlier today Simplot announced that they would stay open here in Devonport, for the next three years if it can remain viable. Will the Federal Government commit any funding to ensure that that happens?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm going to ask Ian Macfarlane to add to this answer because Ian has been down here in Tasmania to talk to Simplot, amongst other people, and it's very important that we do talk to the major businesses and the major employers of Tasmania and right around Australia.

What's really encouraging is that Simplot have agreed to continue their operations here in Tasmania, at least for the next three years, without government subsidy. I think they are expecting the Government, both nationally and locally, to deliver a better business environment and that is what we are determined to give them by abolishing the carbon tax, by getting red and green tape down.

One of the problems - which Ian might like to elaborate on - that they’re wrestling with there is a massive increase in their water charges because the local authorities have decided that they have to have an extraordinarily rigorous system of water quality. Now, we want good water quality. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. But if we are going to insist on the purity of a mountain stream, we won’t have the business and we won’t have the jobs. We’ve got to be reasonable. We’ve got to understand that there is a price to be paid for everything and we have got to be prepared to pay the price of having viable manufacturing industry here in Tasmania, for the benefit of Australian consumers, for the benefit of Tasmanian farmers and for the protection of Tasmanian workers.

But Ian, you might like to add to that?

MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY:

Thanks, PM. As you know, I’ve already visited Simplot’s plant in Bathurst. I’ve already had extensive discussions with Simplot. I this morning visited the plant here in Devonport. As well as that, I’ve had discussions with the AMWU who came to my office on Wednesday in Canberra and discussed the things that they were prepared to do and what that highlights is that the long term solution for the likes of Simplot here Devonport and the corn plant in Bathurst, which can be long-term viable, is that everyone gets involved in getting the solution.

So, as the PM said, we need to get rid of the carbon tax because the electricity costs on this plant here, through its refrigeration system - and remember it freezes everything, sometimes twice - so we need to make sure we get our electricity charges down, we need to make sure that local authorities aren't over-charging for water, where their water charges are going from $800,000 to $2.5 million, that's just not going to allow that business to be competitive. We need to make sure that the State Government’s involved, that we get rid of red tape. It is about getting a long-term solution. So, we're not going to consider flying in, as the Labor Party did, hurling out some money and shooting through knowing the business won't be there in six months’ time. We’re about long-term solutions. I’ve told Simplot that we’ll work with them and the rest of the food processing industry over the next 12 months to get a long-term answer.

QUESTION:

No direct federal funding?

MINISTER IAN MACFARLANE:

Look, I’m not ruling anything in or out. I've started a process. It's two weeks into the process. At the end of that process, everyone will know exactly what needs to be done and who is going to do it.

PRIME MINISTER:

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And just on that subject, we are not going to run down the road waving a blank cheque at people. That's not the way that a responsible, adult government behaves. It’s not prudent responsible management of taxpayers’ funds. What we need to do is to create the right climate for business to survive and to flourish. That means getting taxes down, that means getting red and green tape down, it means trying to ensure that there is a stable, predictable, certain regulatory environment without sovereign risk.

Now, if we can do all of those things, the creativity of Australians generally, but Tasmanians in particular, will do the rest. We can grow the cleanest, greenest food here in Tasmania. We've got great soil, we've got an abundance of water, we've got terrific people. If government creates a level playing field with the minimum of interference, Tasmanians will do the rest.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, as part of the federal election campaign run by the ALP, they pledged $10 million to vegetable growers. Now a lot of the points in the plan that was actually funded were also established in your economic plan for the state as goals that they would like to reach to improve productivity and profitability. I guess my question is - we've seen a lot of talk about the industrial aspects of the issues confronting Simplot, what about the agricultural issues?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, again, I’ll gladly defer to Ian on some of the specifics but there were a number of grants that were made by the former government as part of the forestry readjustment package. We committed to all of those grants and, in addition to the various grants that the former government announced that we were prepared to commit to, and I think a big, long list was published by the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday. There is, as I said, there’s the $38 million to improve Hobart Airport, there's the $24 million to the Antarctic Research Centre, there's the $400 million to the Midland Highway, there's the long-term jobs scheme to try to ensure that people who've been long-term unemployed get a hand into work. So, there are a lot of things that we're committed to.

What we aren't going to be doing in the years ahead is running around offering special deals for failing businesses because that's not the way to get the economy right in the long run. The way to get the economy right in the long run is to get taxes down, to get regulation down, to have a stable, consistent approach by government to business so you don't have sovereign risk issues. That's the way forward because that will unlock the creativity of the Tasmanian people.

QUESTION:

Can I ask a really brief follow up? Just quickly, I was wondering if you could tell me what kind of timeframe you're looking at for that kind of structural reform, because I'm sure that those growers impacted are keen to know when those costs will come down?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the carbon tax can be off before Christmas - or at least we can have the certainty of the carbon tax coming off before Christmas - if Bill Shorten would be prepared to respect the mandate of the people to the Government at the election. I mean, the best Christmas present that Bill Shorten could give the manufacturers and the workers and the households of Australia would be to let the carbon tax repeal legislation go through the Parliament and that way, from the 1st of July next year, everyone’s power will come down come in price; everyone's power will come down in price. The average household bill will come down by about $150 and obviously businesses like Simplot would have a massive reduction in their power costs.

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QUESTION:

Labor promised $5 million in RDA funding for the Hobart Show Ground and $1 million for Streetscape projects which apparently wasn’t contingent on the election outcome. What's happened with that money?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm sure that that is correct. What we said was with all of those projects that were funded out of programmes associated with the mining tax, because we were abolishing the mining tax we would abolish the programmes and the funding associated with it, unless we specifically committed to it ourselves.

Now I'm sure the government announced funding for the show grounds out of that mining tax related fund. We didn't match it so we're not committed to it. Now that's not to say that in the years ahead, out of one of the funds that we do have, properly funded programmes that we will have, that we can't do something to help, but this particular grant won't be going ahead.

QUESTION:

Can you guarantee that funding for highway upgrades, including the Brooker and Huon and Midland Highways is safe?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I can certainly guarantee that we will spend $400 million on the Midland Highway upgrade because that's been part of our policy since before the 2010 election.

QUESTION:

When will that money start to flow?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it will start to flow from this year. I mean, the money will start to flow - it's not all going to flow in one hit - but it will start to flow basically as the work starts and that's really a matter for the Tasmanian Government.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, why hasn’t the $100 million growth money that was promised for Tasmania been spent yet?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the commitments that the former government made are commitments that the new government is going to keep. The $100 million that was associated with forestry restructuring, the commitments under that particular programme that the former government made, the new government will keep. As I said, we announced during the election that that would be the case. The Deputy Prime Minister put out a press release yesterday that had a whole list of grants that will be honoured by the government and that money will be paid across just as soon as the appropriate paperwork can be completed.

QUESTION:

Have you made any significant changes as to who will get the money?

PRIME MINISTER:

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No. The recipients, as announced, will receive the money.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, what plans have you got in place to fix Tasmania's freight issues?

PRIME MINISTER:

I accept that this is a very serious problem and I had some very good discussions with Dale Elphinstone earlier today and this is obviously an issue for a company like Haulmax which is importing steel and other material from the mainland and from overseas and then exporting from here to the mainland and right around the world. So, look, this is a very significant issue. The Coalition will fully maintain the freight equalisation scheme that was put in place by the Fraser Government and has been maintained ever since by governments of both persuasions. We do have a joint Productivity Commission /ACCC inquiry that will get underway shortly into Tasmanian freight issues. We’ll get that report within a few months and we will make the appropriate decisions based on that report. In the end, though, what we need are strong and viable businesses here in Tasmania because if there are more Tasmanian businesses that want to export to the mainland and overseas, obviously there will be a lot more of an incentive for shippers to come in and help service Tasmania.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, do you have any concerns about the implications for our commitments to international obligations on environmental protection when the environmental approval process has changed? That means that some of the decisions are made at a state level rather than a double up occurring.

PRIME MINISTER:

What I want to avoid is the situation of double, triple and quadruple jeopardy which seems to have been happening in recent times. There ought to be clear rules, clear criteria to be met and if you’ve met them, the project should go ahead. What I want to avoid is a situation where the proponents of projects have met all the rules and then before they’re able to get underway, someone comes in with some new problem that hadn’t been looked at before and the whole process starts again. Now, the best way forward on this is to have a one-stop-shop for environmental approvals with clear rules, high standards, swift assessment, one lot of paperwork, one lot of assessors and that’s what we are working towards. That was a clear commitment that we took to the election. I’ve already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Campbell Newman to move swiftly towards a one-stop-shop environmental approvals process in Queensland. We’re making good progress with some other states. I think this is going to be a very significant improvement for people wanting to invest and create jobs and do business here in Australia.

[ends]