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Transcript of joint press conference: Darwin: 28 February 2014: Northern Australia White Paper; Martin Ferguson; Operation Sovereign Borders; Qantas; the Government's commitment to repeal the carbon tax

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JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE, DARWIN Friday, 28 February 2014 Darwin Prime Minister Subjects:

Northern Australia White Paper; Martin Ferguson; Operation Sovereign Borders; Qantas; the Government's commitment to repeal the carbon tax. Tags:

The Hon. Adam Giles MLA E&OE PRIME MINISTER: It’s wonderful to be here in Darwin, it’s great to be here with Natasha Griggs the local Member and also with Adam Giles the Chief Minister. I want to thank the Chief Minister for making myself so welcome. I want to thank Natasha Griggs for all the hard work she does on behalf of her constituents. I am here today to formally release the Terms of Reference for the Northern Australia White Paper and to announce that the Chief Minister, the Premiers of Queensland and Western Australia have agreed to join a Strategic Partnership for northern development which will drive the outcomes from the White Paper process so that we do make the most of this very important part of our country. Northern Australia has so much potential. It has so much potential. Anyone who's been coming up to Darwin and Townsville and Cairns and Mackay as often as I have been, anyone who's been to Alice Springs as often as I have been over the last couple of decades knows how much has been achieved, but there is so much more that can be done if we make better use of our water resources, if we make better use of our people, if we get rid of the red tape and the green tape which is still holding back development and if we compliment all of that with appropriate infrastructure. During the election the Coalition committed to put $70 million into Tiger Brennan Drive here in Darwin and we committed to a total of $110 million towards the new Palmerston Hospital. These are important, tangible short-term commitments to the people of the north. We want to back that with a strategic vision that will help to make Northern Australia one of the great contributors to the extraordinary economic developments that we see to our north in our region in China, India and elsewhere. It's great to be with the Chief Minister, it's great to be here with Natasha Griggs. I probably should complement Natasha on the lobbying she's done to ensure that Alice Springs is included in the work of the White Paper and the task force, that's very good. I also want to thank and congratulate the Chief Minister on everything he's done to promote jobs and economic development here in the Territory. Adam, do you want to say a few words? CHIEF MINISTER GILES: Thanks Prime Minister, for making your way up to Darwin to launch the Terms of Reference for the White Paper. We're looking forward to the Green Paper coming out in a couple of months. I think what that will do is spell out a blueprint for moving forward in regards to Northern Australia. What we know from the Northern Territory point of view is we are around 150 years behind in terms of infrastructure that will enable us to develop the north and we are looking very positively to working with both Tony Abbott, Campbell Newman and Colin Barnett in setting that strategic framework about how we get the infrastructure in place so we can develop the Northern Territory and Northern Australia which will produce the jobs of tomorrow for the kids of Australia. QUESTION: Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd of course famously weighed into this whole Northern Australia debate during the election campaign himself and was talking about special taxation zones and the like. Is something that you'd specifically rule in or out within this framework? PRIME MINISTER: There are some forms of tax concession which would be under constitutional prohibition, but obviously if it's constitutionally acceptable, and there are some things which are constitutionally acceptable, there’d be no reason why it couldn't be looked at by the White Paper. I don't want to pre-empt the work of the White Paper, I don't want to pre-empt the work of the Northern Australian Parliamentary Committee chaired by Warren Entsch,

but I do want to stress that this Government is serious about northern development and I do want northern development to be a preoccupation of both sides of politics. I don't want this to be something that the Coalition pushes and the Labor Party forgets. That's why I'm pleased that the Northern Australia Parliamentary Committee is as it should be, a bipartisan committee. QUESTION: How can the Government argue that we've left Afghanistan in a better security situation now because there's more civilians and Afghan soldiers dying now than when we first went in? PRIME MINISTER: I'm not sure that I would accept those figures, but I know, because I’ve seen and heard that while the Australian forces were in Tarin Kowt and Uruzgan province they did magnificent work. We believe that we have handed Afghanistan to its own security forces in much better shape than we found it and we believe that those security forces are well placed to continue the job that Australians and others did there. QUESTION: Can I ask about the comments of Martin Ferguson today basically backing more radical approach to workplace relations? Do you welcome those comments and do you believe that those comments will be, I guess, disseminated amongst Labor today? PRIME MINISTER: Well as is pretty well known, I have a high regard for Martin Ferguson. Martin Ferguson was one of the very serious people for the Labor Party in the parliament and I was personally very disappointed when Martin decided to leave the parliament last year. I think he’s made a very important and valuable contribution to the debate, but what we will be doing is implementing the policies that we took to the election - they include the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, they include significant developmental changes to the existing Fair Work Act and I think that these changes will certainly help to boost productivity in very important sectors and that’s going to be good for jobs and good for prosperity. QUESTION: Are you concerned about the drop in private investment to the lowest level in 20 years and what do you think’s responsible and what can be done to change it? PRIME MINISTER: We need to address Australia’s competitiveness and the best way to make our country more competitive is to get taxes down, to get regulation down, to get productivity up and everything that this Government is doing is about boosting our competitiveness, boosting our productivity. That’s why we’re determined to scrap the carbon tax, to scrap the mining tax, to give every Australian business a less regulation-ridden operating environment, to give businesses $1 billion worth of regulatory cost reduction every year. This is why we’re determined to get infrastructure built, because if you get taxes down, regulation down and the infrastructure - the roads of the future - built, you create a much more competitive economy and you make us much more attractive for investors. Is it any wonder that investors have cooled on Australia over the last few years, given that we’ve saddled them with the carbon tax, the mining tax and a whole lot of environmental and other restrictions? QUESTION: There was a protest this morning against your asylum policy. How’s [inaudible] against the principles of humanity with the death that we’ve seen in Manus? PRIME MINISTER: The death is tragic - any death is tragic and deeply regrettable - but the important thing has been to stop the boats and end the deaths at sea. Let’s never forget that under the former government, we saw well over 5,000 illegal arrivals by boat, we saw $11 billion plus in border protection budget blowouts and tragically we saw more than 1,000 deaths at sea. So, the really humane and compassionate thing to do is to stop the boats and that’s what this Government is doing; we’re stopping the boats. QUESTION: What will the Government be doing with the body of Reza Berati? I understand that there are arrangements to send the body back to Iran. Has that been made possible by your Government? PRIME MINISTER: I have to tell you that I’m not advised on that subject. I imagine that there will be a coronial inquest going on and I dare say that will have to be completed before further arrangements could be made. QUESTION: Who will be heading the coronial inquests? Will we be doing something onshore in Australia, or over in PNG? PRIME MINISTER: They will be matters for the PNG government, as I understand it, but obviously we’ve got our own internal investigations going on as well and my understanding is that the Terms of Reference for our Australian investigation were released yesterday or the day before. QUESTION:

Prime Minister, there appears to be more than a cigarette paper’s difference between you and your Treasurer on the question of a debt guarantee for Qantas, bearing in mind the comments that he’s made before satisfying four criteria as a special circumstance and so forth, and the comments you made in the Parliament yesterday. Have you rolled your Treasurer or are you two talking? Is there some sort of disagreement between the two of you? PRIME MINISTER: If I may say so Mark, this is a game that the media love to play, but in this case, as in most cases with this Government, you’re barking up the wrong tree, mate. Joe and I and Warren Truss have been in very regular dialogue on this issue, obviously, at senior levels of the Government, there’s been very regular dialogue about Qantas and about the airline situation more generally and that obviously is going to continue. Qantas is an iconic Australian business. It has been and should be one of the world’s great airlines and the duty of government is to do everything we reasonably can to take the costs of Qantas and to allow it to compete on a level playing field with everyone else. That’s why we are looking at changing the Sale Act, that’s why we are determined to scrap the carbon tax, because not only is the carbon tax a $9 billion tax on jobs generally, last year it was a $106 million tax on jobs at Qantas. Now, if we’re serious about protecting jobs at Qantas, if we’re serious about trying to give Qantas a fair go, and I am, we would get rid of the carbon tax and we would move swiftly to address the restrictions that the Sale Act places on Qantas. QUESTION: Mr Hockey said that Qantas was a special case, you in turn told Parliament that if you did it for one you’d have to do it for all. There is a difference between the two comments, why is that? PRIME MINISTER: Well no there’s not, because airlines are obviously providing essential services, but there’s more than one airline as we know. I mean there’s Rex, there’s Virgin, there are smaller airlines servicing regional and remote locations. I again make the point that what you do for one business you have to be prepared to do for all like businesses and that's the issue that we face with the request for a debt guarantee or a line of credit for Qantas. What we can do for all airlines is get rid of the carbon tax. I notice that one of the other airlines, Virgin, came out this morning and said that the best thing that we could do for the airline industry right now is get rid of the carbon tax. I would respectfully ask the Opposition to help us to support the airline industry in a very difficult time; it's been a very, very competitive market, a fiercely competitive market. I would respectfully ask the Opposition to help Qantas, to help Virgin, to help Australia at this difficult time by scrapping the carbon tax which the people want scrapped. The only people who want to keep it are the Greens. Why, yet again, is the Labor Party siding with the Greens and against the people? QUESTION: Is it economically viable to have a food bowl in Northern Australia? There have been some submissions to the committee already basically saying that it shouldn't happen. Do you believe that there should be food production in Northern Australia, especially with such, I guess, problems with drought over the last couple of years? PRIME MINISTER: I'm going to ask Adam to add a bit to this because Adam has done a lot of work over the last few months to attract investors in food production into Northern Australia. Look at the way the Ord scheme has flourished. Everyone thought the Ord scheme was a white elephant but over the last couple of decades the Ord scheme has become a very important contributor to agriculture in Australia. Look up and down the Queensland coast - an absolutely magnificent agricultural area. Sure, we've got very serious drought, hopefully starting to break now but we've got very serious drought in western Queensland which has been diabolical for the cattle industry already reeling from the decision of the former government to suspend the live cattle trade with Indonesia. But there is an absolute abundance of opportunities and there are any number of investors, particularly overseas investors, who want to make the most of this great country of ours and we should work with them to make the most of our potential. CHIEF MINISTER GILES: Thanks, Prime Minister. The opportunity for food bowl and other development in Northern Australia is quite significant. Two-thirds of the nation's rainfall falls in the top third of the country. We have to identify the infrastructure to be able to capture that and utilise it but we're already seeing changes under way to make that happen. I've been in conversations with the Prime Minister and the Coalition about how we can move to the next stage of the Ord River. We've recently changed our pastoral act to allow greater horticultural development. We're already seeing foreign investment wanting to come to the Territory on an everyday basis with people pleading to us for investment. I've just returned this morning from Vietnam on a trade delegation where we have started up the live buffalo trade - the first time it's ever gone to Vietnam. That's in the face of two years delay or two years ago when the former Prime Minister stopped the live cattle trade which really hurt Northern Australia. We've got that back up and running to a point where the Darwin Port had the highest numbers of live cattle going over its port last year - a fantastic outcome - and now we've moved to live buffalo.

I expect to see a significant Vietnamese investment announced in the next two weeks for the Northern Territory and I think that these things will continue but the opportunity today in seeing the release of the terms of reference for the White Paper will allow us now to work collectively together with Tony Abbott and my Premier colleagues interstate to be able to set the framework about how we invest in the north in the future. It is about building infrastructure and you'll see the outcome of the food bowl in future years. QUESTION: Prime Minister, Mr Giles said in recent times that he felt there was too much stress, too much focus being put on Queensland in the development plans for the north and that the Territory should be driving that. Do you support that? PRIME MINISTER: I think we've got to develop the whole of Northern Australia and wherever there is an opportunity we should make the most of it. Now, obviously there are plenty of opportunities in Queensland but there are plenty of opportunities here in the Territory - just as there are plenty of opportunities in the Pilbara and the Kimberley regions of Western Australia too. Because of the strenuous representations by Natasha and by the Chief Minister, we are going to adjust, if you like, the boundaries of the White Paper consideration to include Alice because the major Territory centres should all be part of the White Paper process. So, we are determined to ensure that the Northern Territory is a very important focus of this paper. Adam has today invited me and the Premiers to attend a Northern Australia summit meeting here in Darwin as soon as we can, at which hopefully the Green Paper will be launched and I certainly would like to do that pre-Budget. So, I think this is something that all of Northern Australia can welcome. I think this progress that all of Northern Australia should share. [ends]