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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Brisbane, QLD: delivering for Queensland; Gateway Project; energy; Inland Rail; LNP women



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THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP PRIME MINISTER

TRANSCRIPT

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Doorstop with Tim Nicholls MP, Leader of the Queensland LNP and Luke Howarth MP, Member for Petrie Brisbane, QLD

SUBJECTS: Delivering for Queensland; Gateway Project; Energy; Inland Rail; LNP women

E&OE…

LUKE HOWARTH MP - MEMBER FOR PETRIE:

Good morning ladies and gentleman. I’m Luke Howarth, Federal Member for Petrie and it’s wonderful on the Gateway Upgrade North Project with the Prime Minister of Australia, the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull and the Queensland Opposition Leader, the Honourable Tim Nicholls.

This project is very significant for the north-side of Brisbane. Back in 2013 when I was campaigning for Petrie this was a Federal Coalition election promise and now some four years later we are seeing it as a reality.

Just last Friday we opened this overpass bridge behind us which is important infrastructure for the north-side residents that head off to the tip on the weekends and so forth, with the BCC waste management area just down the road.

This project is very significant. Not just this project but the federal government has been investing in a whole range of projects - some $2 billion just in the last few years with the Moreton Bay Rail Link and the Rothman Roundabout and new overpasses all around the area. And this is significant for Queensland because it is just such a fast growing area. And this is just one project. We are seeing the results of this project in better movement and better transport for local businesses and residences but we’re also seeing jobs created. In the last 12 months the Federal Coalition Government has seen 325,600 jobs created through Australia and in Petrie that is very significant.

PRIME MINISTER:

Luke, it is great to be here with you and Tim. Luke, you are a powerful advocate for your community. You can see the $914 million of federal money going into this $1.1 billion project here.

Now this of course was negotiated between the Coalition Federal Government, LNP government in the state back when Tim was the Treasurer and what that has resulted in the great work that is being done here and it will be completed so the team from Lendlease were telling us by the end of next year. So that’s fantastic. It is on budget and ahead of time. That is great work.

As Luke described, we are investing billions of dollars in infrastructure in Queensland, including in this part of the state, this part of the city which Luke represents up in Petrie but right across the state we are investing over $15 billion in infrastructure. That is a massive investment. This of course is a very big part of it.

What this is all about is easing congestion, improving safety, fewer accidents, ensuring that people spend more time with their families rather than stuck in traffic.

It is also a big job creator. 4,300 jobs created by this project, by this work behind us here, 4,300 jobs and many more to come. That is a very big commitment.

It is one of the reasons why jobs and growth, which was our slogan during the election last year, you all heard it probably more than you would have enjoyed, but nonetheless it is not a slogan, it is now an outcome. It is a real outcome.

As Luke said, 325,000 jobs created in the last year across Australia, 80 per cent of them full-time. 95,000 of them here in Queensland.

We are seeing strong growth here in this state. That is driven by investments in infrastructure but also by ensuring that we are backing family businesses, small and medium businesses. That is the heartbeat of the Queensland economy.

We have reduced company tax for small and medium businesses. This year businesses with turnovers up to $25 million, next financial year going up to $50 million. They are overwhelmingly Australian family businesses and they're getting that extra incentive to invest and to employ, like the company I was with yesterday with Trevor Evans, Nutradry. They are benefitting from the tax cuts so they have got more money to invest in that business. It employs 23 people, vitally important and there are thousands more like them.

One of the big challenges for that business is the price of energy and in particular gas.

We have seen due to the failure of a previous state Labor government and federal Labor government allowing big exports of gas without any attempt to protect the domestic market and we have seen what's happened there - big rises in gas prices making it unaffordable for business and families.

We are taking the strong action to ensure that Australian customers, whether they are business or families, come first and there will always be enough gas for Australians.

So that's our commitment, supporting Queensland, supporting jobs and growth - not just a slogan, an outcome. A real outcome and delivering.

Tim, how important - you remember this project.

TIM NICHOLLS MP - LEADER OF THE QUEENSLAND LNP:

I do very well.

PRIME MINISTER:

You were there when it was set up.

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Tell us about how it was set up and the importance of it to Queensland.

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

Thanks PM. You are absolutely right. This is a terrific project that shows just what can be achieved when you have a state government that is prepared to work with the federal government to deliver these projects.

A $1.1 billion project that had languished for years that we actually managed to get off the ground, get a commitment from our federal counterparts and actually see the work occurring here and supporting.

PRIME MINISTER:

You were very persuasive. You got us to pay 80 per cent of the cost. A very persuasive man.

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

And a good deal as well. It is not hard to sell Queensland, PM.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is not. It is not.

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

So there you go.

PRIME MINISTER:

The LNP advocates, whether they are federal, like Luke, or at the state level like you, are the most powerful champions for this state.

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

Exactly.

This is a great project and it will see those jobs have been created and continue to be created.

But PM, also not just this project that is important because this is my patch as well and I know what the traffic is like on the Gateway every day and it makes life and travel easier for people on the north-side, but also the biggest inland road project in Australia, the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, the $10 billion Bruce Highway Action Plan that sees the vital eastern artery being built.

What we saw outside of Rockhampton with the flood proofing outside there on the Yeppoon plains and the Townsville Ring Road - those are the investments that we were able to put in place with our Coalition colleagues in order to be able to deliver better roads, and hopefully in the future better dams and water supply as well. And, obviously, to look at our future for energy because power prices here in Queensland with a 70 per cent increase in the wholesale power price are crippling small businesses and families throughout the state.

We also look towards the infrastructure that we can build in order to help relieve that pressure that families and businesses are feeling here in Queensland.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's right. Well, thank you. And it is very well said on energy, Tim, because as we know, the two big generators in Queensland belong to the Queensland Government - CS energy and Stanwell have got such a huge share of the market. They have been able to use that market power to bid up electricity prices and basically line their own pockets at the expense of consumers.

Some of the big customers, you, raised the issue, we raised the issue, Josh Frydenberg and I raised the issue and the ACCC got onto it and that forced the State Labor Government to give a direction to Stanwell in the first instance to stop the practice of what they were doing, exploiting their market power to bid the electricity price up so they could extract a maximum dollar out of consumers, whether it was businesses, putting them at risk or indeed families who were feeling the squeeze.

The reality is that the goal must be affordable and reliable energy. Everything we are doing, whether it is getting people discounts on their electricity bills today, whether it is dealing with gas, whether it is dealing with stopping the poles and wires companies from continually using the courts to appeal the regulator's decisions on what they can charge, whether it is putting in long-term infrastructure like Snowy Hydro, you know, pumped hydro of course is the way you can get the massive storage that you need to make renewables reliable.

You have got in mind a coal-fired power station in North Queensland and we wish you every good wish with that. Australia should have a state-of-the-art high-efficiency low-emission coal-fired power station. We are the world's biggest exporter of seaborne coal so we have a got a vested interest in that.

But it is not an ideological issue. It is not coal versus renewables or gas versus coal or wind versus solar, it is all of the above.

What we need is leadership on energy, which I am providing and my government is providing, which is based on engineering and economics. The days of ideology and idiocy, which is what we have had from Labor, have left Australians paying far too much for their power and with a power system that is not as reliable as it ought to be. South Australia being the worst case.

So engineering and economics is what guides us and the goal is affordable and reliable energy. That is what we are focused on.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, There is a lot of your cabinet here in Queensland this week and today especially. Is there any reason behind that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Beautiful weather and great company.

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

Beats Canberra doesn’t it PM?

PRIME MINISTER:

Beats Canberra this time of year. I was asked yesterday, Tim, one of the reporters said are you hear because of rumblings about a state election? I said well I’ve been here eleven times this year and every time I am here there is rumbling about a state election.

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

Exactly.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there is always rumblings about a state election.

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

Indeed, indeed.

PRIME MINISTER:

So anyway, we will see.

JOURNALIST:

Will we see you more over the next few weeks?

PRIME MINISTER:

You will see plenty of me, you will see plenty of me. If you start complaining, I'll take note. But I haven't had any complaints so far.

JOURNALIST:

You were with Trevor Evans in Brisbane?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, that is right.

JOURNALIST:

You are with Luke in Petrie, what other marginal seats are you going to?

PRIME MINISTER:

I will be with Bert van Manen later today and then later this afternoon I will be with Andrew Wallace and Ted O’Brien on the Sunshine Coast and we’ll be looking at the work on Bruce Highway there tomorrow and tonight we are doing ‘Politics in the pub’.

JOURNALIST:

Can you tell us about the Inland Rail project and the benefits that will bring and what the new announcement is today?

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much. Yes, part of the alignment has been announced to Gowrie and this will take into account the Wellcamp industrial precinct around the new airport there.

It follows the existing rail alignment as far as possible. It is the most economic, that is to say the least - well, they are all expensive - we are committed $8.4 billion to the Inland Rail.

You know, the Inland Rail is interesting. It was first talked about in the 1890s. My government is getting on to build it. That is the difference. When you talk about projects, you have got to actually get on and actually build them. So we are getting on with that.

The alignment will be - again it is the most cost-effective Darren Chester has described it. It obviously goes across a flood plain but the engineering measures and design will take all of that into account so it doesn't adversely affect property owners or environmental interests by changing the way water flows.

JOURNALIST:

I think property owners are protesting today saying it will impact them?

PRIME MINISTER:

They have expressed concern, that is true, but the design of the railway embankment or viaduct will be configured so as to ensure that it doesn't create the sort of problems that often happened in the past.

I mean have seen them in many places where you get days gone by, big railway embankments built without having much regard to the impact of water on the landscape and water builds up behind the embankment, you understand all that.

JOURNALIST:

And how will this benefit the Queensland economy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, look, this will add billions of dollars to the Queensland economy. I mean, creating a corridor of commerce direct from Melbourne-to-Brisbane, through inland Australia, through Victoria, through New South Wales, through the Darling Downs, down into Brisbane, it will adds billions of dollars to the Darling Downs economy alone.

This is a massive piece of nation-building infrastructure. People have always known it should be built but my government is the first one to actually put the billions of dollars to work to build it. That is the difference.

JOURNALIST:

What are you thoughts on Annastacia Palaszczuk as a leader and a as potential-

PRIME MINISTER:

Vote for Tim, that is my thought. It is all relative.

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

You should ask me that question. Don't ask the Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Vote for Tim and Deb. Tim Nicholls and Deb Frecklington - that is the team I am backing.

JOURNALIST:

PM, do your visit helps Tim Nicholls prospects or hinders?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm sure it helps. We are very supportive of the LNP in the state election, which will be soon I understand. It is really important as you've seen to have an LNP government in Queensland that will work with us constructively, not engage in slanging matches, work with us constructively to get things done. I mean, this project here is the result of cooperation between an LNP government in Brisbane and a Coalition Government in Canberra. That is what we want to see more of.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, does it really matter which government is in power though? Shouldn’t you spread the money equally not matter what the state is, no matter what the political denomination?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s a partnership you see. We put 80 per cent of the money into this project but you’ve got to have a cooperative partner in the state government.

You know, Tim talked about water infrastructure. There is a lot of opportunity for more investment in water infrastructure to create thousands of jobs, billions of dollars of additional economic activity but

we struggle with the Labor Government because they don’t like dams because they’re dominated by an inner left, an inner city, green left ideology.

LUKE HOWARTH MP:

Then at the local level up in my electorate of Petrie, in this year's Budget we have got the money on the table for the Deception Bay overpass and what do we get from the State Labor Government? A study for another 12 months.

What we need is action both at the federal and state level.

And it’s not just at the local level, but it’s with our Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund which we’re being frustrated with as well.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Rod Sims says gas companies are selling gas overseas [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, I read Rod's speech yesterday and I talk to Rod Sims a lot, including just recently this morning.

The gas shortage is a real problem that is why we are taking this unprecedented step of restricting exports.

What we are working on now is getting all the information including from Rod and the advice from Rod and the ACCC about the scale of the restrictions that need to be put in place. We’ve got to make sure that we get it right. The market has already responded. Wholesale gas prices have come back quite considerably. So we're getting some of the benefit, but the actual mechanism will go into effect on the 1st of January. So we have until the 1st of November to actually set the levels of the restrictions. We’re making sure that we get all the market information and advice before we do that.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister the ACCC says [inaudible] price hikes [inaudible] wrong to blame gas companies and green schemes?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me unpack that. Particularly for retail customers, the largest single part of your bill is the network costs. That's the poles and wires basically. That is why, and the companies have gamed the system. They have continuously appealed against the rulings of the energy regulator to the Courts and have generally succeeded in getting substantial increases - many billions of dollars, $6.5 billion in additional costs to consumers over recent years.

So we’re abolishing those rights to go to the Courts to appeal against the regulator because the electricity companies’ position was quite unique.

Water, for example, doesn't have that right, neither did the telcos.

So this is a much better approach. So, we're dealing with that.

In terms of the green schemes, they do have a cost but it is a relatively small cost, that’s true. But gas is the biggest single factor right at this point in time. The reason for that is that the electricity price is set by the last generator to come into the stack, by the, you know, that last megawatt hour of production and that is invariably gas. It is peaking power, right?

And the increase in the gas price, has increased the cost of electricity.

Every dollar a gigajoule of gas, the wholesale price of gas, is equal to another $10 a megawatt hour in electricity.

So you'd have another, add $6 to the wholesale price of gas, you are adding $60 to the cost of electricity.

That is why we have been acting so strongly to bring it back.

JOURNALIST:

Have you also considered building a coal-fired power station, not just in Queensland but somewhere else?

PRIME MINISTER:

Tim and I talked about a Healy Plant in North Queensland. Tim can say more about that.

If Tim becomes Premier, he said he would welcome the construction of one in North Queensland. There’s a lot of support for it up there.

We have a Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund that Luke mentioned earlier and that's got money, concessional finance available for infrastructure, so it would be ideally suited to support a project like that.

We don't have plans to build a coal-fired power station ourselves but we are of course, on the other hand shareholders of Snowy Hydro, which is a government-owned company, belongs to the federal, state, New South Wales and Victorian Governments, and there is a very big project, the biggest single renewable energy project in Australia's history since Snowy 1, we’re getting started on that now - that’s Snowy Hydro 2.0. That’s a massive project.

You will have seen a lot in the media today about pumped hydro. I have been talking about that for a long time. That is the key to making renewables reliable. If you have wind and solar, wind doesn't blow all the time and sun doesn't shine all the time. Okay, that’s not a criticism, it’s a fact.

How do you back it up? You can back it up with gas - very expensive. You can back it up with batteries - they don't have enough capacity, at least now days. Pumped hydro is the way you get the large-scale storage to back up renewables.

It’s a very important part of the energy mix and it’s something that the left of the Labor Party completely overlooked as they were pushing out renewables. They overlooked the fact that they’re intermittent.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, speaking of the renewable energy mix, do you think we have it right in this country? Should there be more renewables?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s a question of how you plan it. It isn't an issue of renewables versus coal. A lot of people try to dumb this down into something like that. It is a question of ‘all of the above’.

All of these technologies have a role to play - whether it is coal, whether it is gas, whether it is wind, whether it is solar, storage is critically important. You’ve got to take an approach based on engineering and economics. If you want to have a lot of renewables in the mix, you’ve got to have a lot of storage or backup to support them.

While the cost of solar and wind are coming down considerably, they’re getting cheaper than ever, it’s only cheap power when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

So my criticism of the Labor Party on energy is really as much about incompetence as anything else. They have allowed a left ideology to say ‘renewables good, coal bad’, but at the same time, they haven't had the wit to recognise that you have got to plan for the storage and the backup to keep your grid stable. So what's been happening is you've had intermittent renewables pushing out dispatchable baseload coal-fired power. That is what has created a lot of the problems.

So my job and Tim's job, when he is premier of Queensland is going to be to ensure that we maintain affordable and reliable power.

This has been too politicised, there has been too much ideology and not enough competence. You have got to focus on the engineering and economics. You’ve got to keep the lights on and people have to be able to afford to pay the bills when they are on.

Tim, do you want to talk about coal in the north?

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

Absolutely. Lauren, what’s happened here in terms of Queensland is that the network costs make up, as the PM has said, about 50 per cent of the power bill.

What we saw under Labor was 10 years of gold-plating of those networks and in doing that they got enormous returns. We in fact had Andrew Fraser, the Treasurer in the Bligh Labor years writing to the Federal Government saying you have to allow us to get more money back on our investment, otherwise the state is going to go broke.

So they locked in those huge power prices. What we’re subsequently seeing, because we took about $6 billion out of that gold-plating that the networks were doing, what we’re subsequently seeing now is that generation costs start going through the roof here in Queensland. Those generating costs have gone up by 70 per cent for the wholesale price of power. That's why we wrote to Rod Sims and the ACCC saying that we believe these government-owned companies under the direction of Labor are gouging families and businesses.

The real impact of that was brought home to us yesterday. A small butcher shop that I visited back in Bundaberg about two months ago actually had to close down because of the increasing power prices.

That's the real impact of Labor's gouging and their secret tax on your bill when you get it every month or every quarter.

JOURNALIST:

How do you feel about the government boosting the tourism sector and going quite hard on that lately? What would you do differently as premier?

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

Tourism of course, was one of the four pillars. We established the Destination Q Forums to get the tourism industry coming together because we can see the need for tourism.

Unfortunately, what we’re seeing here in Queensland is that although we are seeing visitors coming here, we are not seeing them stay as long or spend as much money. That's got to be the key to it. Compared to - I'm sad to say - New South Wales and Victoria, we are not advancing at the same rate.

So I would say here that again the Labor Government, while doing nothing, has seen a massive fail in our tourism.

JOURNALIST:

Would you like to see more of the Prime Minister in the lead up to the election?

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

I'm always happy to work with my federal colleagues. Always happy to work with the Prime Minister. We were up in Emerald together only three or four months ago.

PRIME MINISTER:

We were, that's right.

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

Unlike Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who doesn't want to be seen, apparently, anywhere near Blackout Bill Shorten, I'm certainly happy to be here with the Prime Minister and with our federal colleagues because they are delivering projects like this, throughout the state.

JOURNALIST:

How do you feel about the Premier?

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

Well, I think the only way you are going to see a state grow, you’re going to see a better government here in Queensland, is if you support the LNP.

The Premier has presided over a government that has done very little over the last three years other than see a Transport Minister resign, a Police Minister resign, an Agriculture Minister resign and an Energy Minister, who instead of dealing with the rising price of power, being red-carded under a reasonable suspicion of corrupt conduct from the CCC here in Queensland. That's not good government.

JOURNALIST:

And your thoughts on the Inland Rail project?

TIM NICHOLS:

As the Prime Minister has said, this is a project more than 100 years in the making.

From my perspective, from a Queensland perspective, I look at the jobs and the job security that it will provide.

We've seen the Wagners make that massive investment off their own back into Wellcamp and the airport through there. They now need that connection to go through and that will create enormous jobs in the Surat Basin, an enormous food bowl for Queensland, the Darling Downs.

So for the people of regional Queensland and Toowoomba, this is jobs, job security and better transport, many more opportunities.

So we welcome the investment - the investment that is being made by a Federal Coalition Government that would never be made by Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, have you been briefed about after-hours GP services using unqualified doctors and does that concern you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course, the reports do concern me and the Minister Greg Hunt is obviously very focused on it. He is looking at it, reviewing it very carefully. But any drop in quality of service, any report of that, whether it's right or not, is of great concern, I can assure you that.

Look, thank you all very much. Tim, thank you. Luke, thank you very much.

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

Thanks PM, thank you.

LUKE HOWARTH MP:

Thanks!

PRIME MINISTER:

As you can see, whether it is building the infrastructure here, the road infrastructure that Queensland needs, whether it’s ensuring that Australians have affordable and reliable energy, the Coalition is committed to delivering the leadership, the economic leadership, the responsible, business-like economic leadership that Australians need because that's what delivers the jobs.

That's what has delivered the strong jobs growth nationally and indeed here in Queensland.

It's what's going to deliver the jobs from the Inland Rail.

It's what's going to delivering the jobs here in the Gateway Project.

So I want to thank you all for being here and for your commitment we all share to ensuring that Queensland continues to grow and that those jobs numbers continue to improve with more jobs and better jobs in the years ahead.

Thanks very much.

JOURNALIST:

One more question on your trip to Queensland? Yesterday, you were with the male MP Trevor Evans. Now you’re with the federal male MP, your federal state MP. Later today you’re going to another male MP, then tonight to an event with two male MPs. Would you like to see some more females in the LNP ranks in Queensland?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we always look forward to having, to seeing more women represented in our Parliaments and that is an objective of our Party.

We have great Queensland colleagues, Jane Prentice, you know, I was texting with her yesterday, she is interstate doing great work as the Assistant Minister for Disabilities and of course I was with her only very recently, just after the Budget up here in Queensland.

LUKE HOWARTH MP:

She’s an Assistant Minister, as is Karen Andrews. We've got Deb Frecklington -

TIM NICHOLLS MP:

Deb Frecklington is out there -

LUKE HOWARTH MP:

And out in my area, you’ve got a great team in Kara Thomas, Kerri-Anne Dooley, Tracy Davis who was a minister in the Newman government. So there’s a lot of good women in the LNP and we always welcome more, ladies, if you want to join up.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s right, we need more female candidates. No, that's great. Women hold up half the sky and you know, we would like them to hold up a larger part of the parliamentary seats as well.

So that's good. Okay, thanks a lot.

[ENDS]