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Transcript of joint press conference: Gladstone,Qld: 27 May 2011

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Transcript of joint press conference, Gladstone FRI 27 MAY 2011

Prime Minister

PM: Thanks David and I’ll just say a few things and the Premier might say a few words too and then we’ll be very happy to take your questions. I’m very pleased to be here in this beautiful Queensland sunshine with the Premier of Queensland and of course with David for the launch of this huge development here in Gladstone on Curtis Island.

This is a $16 billion project, it’s going to mean 6,000 jobs, that is great news for Gladstone, it’s great news for Queensland, it’s great news for Australia and I’ve been very, very pleased and privileged to have the opportunity to be here for the opening and to launch this project.

This project is an example of what is happening in the Australian economy today. We are an economy in transition, we’re in transition from the global financial crisis to an economy that is coming to full capacity and full steam. We are an economy that is going to be defined by the resources boom mark two, we’ve got an unprecedented investment pipeline in front of us: $360 billion of investment and we’ve seen part of that investment today.

That means that Australia can look forward to a future of opportunity. We want to make sure that that opportunity is spread right through the country and that opportunities flow to people who haven’t had the benefits of being in the workforce before.

We also want to make sure that people get the skills they need so that they can move through and get better opportunities in our workforce and I’m very pleased that Santos, with its partners, has been investing in and will continue to invest in scholarships so people can get

those all important additional qualifications. Congratulations to you David for that.

This is also part of Australia and the world moving to cleaner energy sources. LNG is a cleaner energy source and as we transition our economy from being a high emissions economy to a clean energy economy LNG will be an important part of our future and an important part of the world’s future.

We will be driving that change to a clean energy economy by pricing carbon and we will be looking towards the cleaner energy sources of the future and LNG will be one of those sources.

As I said when we were on Curtis Island, I’ve had the opportunity to talk about this project around the world. When I was recently overseas in Japan, in South Korea and in China all of

the talk was of Australia’s ability to supply the energy sources of the future and particularly in South Korea there was direct talk about this project. So people around the world are looking at Australia, they’re looking at this project, looking at this development and we are very pleased to be able to talk about the prosperity it will mean here in Queensland, here in Gladstone.

So it’s great to be able to be here today, I’ll turn now to the Premier for some comments and we’ll take any questions.

PREMIER BLIGH: Thank you. After a very tough start to the year for Queensland it’s just terrific to see this major project going full steam ahead. It’s a project that means jobs and prosperity for every Queenslander. We’ll see great investment and job creation here in

Gladstone and right across central Queensland and into the south west, into the Darling Downs area, but the spinoff and ripple effects across the whole economy can’t be underestimated. We’re seeing contracts now going for supplies, materials and labour right across Queensland. It’s a very exciting time as the Queensland economy recovers from our disasters and we see this project full steam ahead, on track, on course.

I congratulate Santos and all the partners and I look forward to seeing the investment that this project has promised for some time now begin to become a reality on the ground, creating new opportunities for young Queenslanders in a brand new clean energy industry.

This is part of Queensland’s involvement in a lower emissions energy future, not just for our State but for the entire Asian region, so it’s a very exciting moment in a big and exciting project and we look forward to seeing it continue to proceed as planned.

PM: Thank you. Happy to take some questions. We’re getting some background noise as well which is fabulous.

JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee that the carbon tax won’t affect any jobs in this industry or the coal industry?

PM: Can I say the carbon price is about driving a clean energy future and what have we looked at today? We’ve looked at a project that is part of that clean energy future. LNG is a cleaner source of energy, a $16 billion project, 6000 jobs, all part of that clean energy future.

Now I know that there have been some wild and inaccurate claims made about Gladstone as part of a continuing fear campaign by the Opposition. Gladstone is a place that is going to be part of this clean energy future; $16 billion of investment in this project by Santos and its partners is spelling that out to the local community. We’ve got work to do with those who, like David and others in the industry who represent LNG in this country, and we are working through with them in close consultation as we design carbon pricing. But if you work from

first principles, carbon pricing is about us moving to a clean energy future, we are talking about that clean energy future with this investment here today.

JOURNALIST: Earlier this week the Premier asked you not embrace any radical policies on the coal industry (inaudible) what can you tell the coal industry about how you see their future?

PM: Well I’m not sure that’s exactly what the Premier did to be frank but she’ll be able to clarify that herself, but there was obviously some statements made earlier in the week by Senator Christine Milne about the future of the coal industry, the Government disagrees with those statements, we made that disagreement very, very clear through the relevant Minister, Martin Ferguson, and subsequent to the Government making its reaction to those comments very, very clear, the Premier made her statements.

So of course we are a country that will have a future with coal, we are country that will have a future with coal seam gas and we’re seeing part of that future here today. We will work to get the balance right including the environmental balance, and this project here today is a great example of that. An approval given by the Federal Government, 300 conditions, and Santos and its partners determined to do the right thing by the environment and the right thing by this local community. So this is a sustainable project in every way at every level.

So of course coal is going to be part of the energy mix for the future but we will be moving to cleaner and cleaner energy sources, the investment that we’re talking about today is part of the movement to those cleaner energy sources. That’s what we’re seeking to achieve through carbon pricing, it’s obviously a great investment and good news for a place like Gladstone and for the rest of Queensland.

I’ll turn to the Premier.

BLIGH: Yes I’m happy to confirm that my comments were in relation to the proposals from Christine Milne that we would not approve any further coalmines and further that we would shut down the LNG industry. My view: just simply preposterous, they would spell economic and social catastrophe for Queensland and the national economy and our Government will be actively pursuing the LNG industry because it is a cleaner form of energy, but we will continue to work with the coal industry because frankly coal is going to be a part of the world’s energy future for some time to come. The transition is important, starting the transition now is important, but you can’t have a transition of one day, you have a transition of decades and you plan it and you get it right.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister how much cleaner is LNG (inaudible)

PM: Well it is a cleaner energy source on emissions, there’s no doubt about that, and so it’s going to be part of the way our country transitions and the world transition to a cleaner energy future.

JOURNALIST: How much (inaudible)

PM: Well I can get you all the statistics on emissions I think you’d find depends a fair bit on sources and usage but if you want all the facts and figures we can do that for you, but compared with, for example, the dirtiest forms of power generation of course LNG is a cleaner source of energy for the future and that’s why it will be part of the way the world transitions and our economy transitions to a cleaner energy future, and that’s good news. I know so much of what has been said about carbon pricing comes from the continuing negative campaign from the Opposition, but today I want to offer some words of reassurance to the Australian people. We will be a nation that prospers as the world moves and we move to a clean energy future. We’ve got an abundance of resources that will enable us to do that, our resources in LNG are part of it, our abundant sunshine, our access to wind and tidal

power, to geothermal, our investments in innovation to drive cleaner usage of coal, all of these things are things Australia is good at and will be increasingly good at in the future. So a clean energy future is building on our comparative strengths.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any concerns about (inaudible) this project?

PM: Yes we want to make sure that we keep feeding Resources Boom Mk II with the skilled workers it needs, with the workforces it needs generally and also working in partnership on the infrastructure that Resources Boom Mk II needs. As we said at the time of the budget we’re moving in a transition from the days of the global financial crisis to days when our economy will be at full capacity and what that means is it’s hungry for workers, it’s hungry for skills, it’s hungry for infrastructure and we’ve got to feed that hunger. Now I want to make sure as we feed that hunger that we are spreading opportunities to Australians. I’ve said before it is not satisfactory to me that I meet with employers who say, ‘I need more workers, I need more skilled labour’ and yet there are parts of our nation where youth unemployment rates are in double digits. So we’ve got to make sure we’re doing everything we can to spread opportunity and to get people, young people and older workers, access to the opportunities that are flowing from the Resources Boom Mk II, but we will also need to work with companies for appropriate forms of skilled migration which is why the budget contained, for example, our new arrangements for enterprise migration arrangements that are purpose specific to work to get skilled workers where we need them.

So we’ll be training Australians first and also working with companies to access skilled labour as necessary on top.

JOURNALIST: Opposition to the coal seam gas industry is becoming, is either growing or becoming more vocal in western Queensland and northern New South Wales. What are your views on the concerns of farmers and other small communities out there?

PM: I think as we’ve done with this project, in a very different setting of course, on Curtis Island, but as we’ve done with this project, you work to get the environmental considerations and the balance right. What happened here is that an approval was given with 300 environmental conditions and Santos and its project partners were enthusiastic about working strongly to make sure that the environment was properly sustained. We need to take that kind of spirit and working through to get that kind of balance to projects in other places.

So, to people who I would say who are concerned, I would say there are proper environmental approval processes that we work through. We are particularly providing some resources to study things like water flows and water management on the Liverpool Plains. That’s appropriate so that that science can feed in to the environmental assessments as project proponents come forward.

JOURNALIST: So you’re not rushing in you approval and do you have any concerns about the impact on the Artesian Basin?

PM: Well, I’m not going to agree with the premise of a question that suggests that we deal with these projects differently with other projects. Major projects that raise environmental issues under our environmental legislation always get dealt with carefully. That’s whether they are coal seam gas projects or projects of another kind, we always work through on environmental issues in a careful and methodical way. That’s been done here, that’s

appropriate and Santos and others obviously themselves are driven by a desire to make sure that the environment is treated respectfully and sustainably.

PREMIER BLIGH: I might just add there, if I can just add on that. The two approved LNG projects here in Gladstone were subject to environmental assessments that took over two and a half years. They are possibly the most rigorous environmental assessments done between State and Federal Governments ever in the history of our country and they are subject

between them to more environmental conditions than have ever been imposed on any major project. So, they are in fact subject to stronger environmental assessments and conditions than have ever been foreseen.

I think the other thing that alarms people sometimes about this industry is simply the fact that it’s new and people worry that that means that we don’t know a lot about it. The reality is what’s new with this project is that we are exporting coal seam gas to the world. Coal seam gas is not new in Queensland, we are using it right now to generate the power that’s driving homes and businesses in Gladstone and every other part of Queensland.

Almost 15 per cent of Queensland electricity supply right now is supplied by coal seam methane gas, so it is something that we’re using already, we’ve got quite a bit of experience in it and we understand a lot about this form of energy. So as it grows for export purposes we’ll be monitoring it very,very carefully.

JOURNALIST: A Queensland farmer had a gas leak on his property last week (inaudible). Is it time to say that farming and coal seam gas (inaudible)?

PREMIER BLIGH: What we’re seeing is coal seam gas projects and farming go together in a partnership right across the south-west of Queensland. The company concerned last week was an exploration permit, it doesn’t have a project approval and we’re currently investigating that particular incident.

If you actually look at the number of companies, the number of farmers and the number of projects that are now operational, I think it’s fair to say that the safety record is a very strong one. But where that is breached, anywhere anytime, we had compliance officers on site within 12 hours, we’re investigating it and just as we do in every other form of energy, which also is subject to breach of compliance by companies from time to time, we will be looking to throw the book at them if that’s warranted.

JOURNALIST: Will you look at throwing stronger penalties at these people, considering this is the fourth one on that farm?

PREMIER BLIGH: We’ve recently improved the entire access regime for companies going onto farms and those companies that breach are now subject to very strong fines and this company will find itself, if we establish that they have breached any of the requirements, they’ll find themselves in a lot of trouble.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if Jenny Macklin can’t reach an agreement with the States and Territories on the pre-commitment on pokie machines, will you draft legislation next week to make it happen?

PM: Well, the meeting that you speak about is in progress as we’re standing here, so I’m not going to assume what’s going to come out of the meeting. I think everybody is concerned when they hear stories of their fellow Australians, people in their suburbs, in their towns, who have put all of their pay packet into the pokies, all of the family savings into the pokies.

Australians don’t want to see their fellow Australians under the pump because of problem gambling. So, that’s as Prime Minister, the problem that we are trying to address, a meeting is in progress right now with Jenny Macklin as the Federal Minister, meeting with her state counterparts, so I’ll leave it to Jenny to announce what comes out of the meeting, given it’s in progress right now.

JOURNALIST: If that’s unsuccessful do you think that you will personally have to step in?

PM: Look, let’s not make any assumptions. Jenny Macklin’s at the meeting and when there’s something to say about what’s happened at the meeting, she’ll say it.

JOURNALIST: Premier, Is your Minister going to dig in and insist on voluntary pre-commitments?

PREMIER BLIGH: Queensland is represented at the meeting by the Deputy Premier, who is looking for what we regard as a balanced outcome here, one that balances the need to put restrictions that tighten up the arrangements for those people with a gambling problem, without tightening them so far that those clubs that are the lifeblood of so many communities across Queensland find themselves in an unviable position.

So, the meeting’s in progress. We’ll see what the outcome is.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the former Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Sev Ozdowski, says the Howard Government’s Pacific Solution for asylum seekers at centre in Nauru is a better option than the Federal Government’s asylum seeker deal with Malaysia. He opposed the plan, what do you make of his comments?

PM: Well, I don’t agree. Our approach is a regional approach, working through the framework that was agreed at the Bali meeting. We’ve always said that the solution for people smuggling and movement of asylum seekers by boats, where people so often risk their lives and we’ve seen the tragic consequences of that, that the solution to people smuggling is not a solution that you can impose in one country, it needs to be looked at as a regional problem and we need to find a regional solution.

That’s what we did when we went to Bali, we worked on a regional framework, with countries gathered there and we succeeded in that regional framework, including the authorising of transfer agreements and that’s what the arrangement is with Malaysia - an innovative approach that would take out of the hands of people smugglers the very product that they’re selling.

So, we will pursue the Malaysian agreement. It’s the right thing to do to really send a message to people smugglers that they don’t have a product to sell and to say to asylum seekers who may be thinking of risking not only their savings, but perhaps their very lives,

don’t jump on a boat and risk your life. What you risk is coming to Australia, only to be removed to a third country.

JOURNALIST: What certainty do you have that the Government has control of conditions in Malaysia?

PM: Look, we addressed all of that this week in the Australian Parliament. I announced a joint statement with the Prime Minister of Malaysia about the treatment of asylum seekers who are taken by us to Malaysia under the transfer agreement and their treatment with dignity

and respect and with respect for their human rights.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what are your thoughts on Moranbah being the most expensive Queensland town?

PM: Well, I’m just about to go there, so I’ll be keen to talk to some of the locals and to also have the opportunity to address a conference for women in mining. We want women too to get their fair share of the opportunities that flow from Resources Boom Mark II. So I’m looking forward to it, what I suspect the pressures there tell us is about the huge growth that

is happening here in Queensland, the growth that we’re speaking about today, the huge inward pipeline of investment, the Resources Boom Mark II.

What I think that should cause people to think about is when they hear some of the sillier scaremongering that happens from the Opposition, they should look at what is happening here - the huge pipeline of growth, $360 billion of investment in the pipeline, Resources Boom Mark II moving into full swing, generating jobs and prosperity. Yes, of course that does put pressure on townships that are growing and we want to work with them to meet that pressure.

Here today I’ve had the opportunity to talk to the local council for example in Gladstone about engagement with our Building Better Regional Cities program, which is all about helping with the pressure that comes when you need more housing stock.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) Labor MP’s turning up to parliamentary votes?

PM: Well, the problems this week, as I think you know very well, and were verified spectacularly in writing are problems on the Coalition’s side. I’ve come here to this beautiful Queensland sunshine after a week in Canberra, a parliamentary week, and at the end of that parliamentary week what we’ve seen is a Liberal Party at war with itself, the divisions on display for everyone to see.

Now, the Liberal Party at war with itself might be one thing. What’s even worse is we now know Tony Abbott is at war with the national interest. He’s the most negative opposition leader this nation has ever seen and if you want a source for that ask Nick Minchin.

Even Nick Minchin in the Coalition is challenging Tony Abbott about his relentless negativity and his rejection of everything this Government proposes. So, at the end of the parliamentary week - Liberal Party at war with itself and Tony Abbott completely at war with the national interest.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Malcolm Turnbull was hard done by the Liberal Party?

PM: You’d have to ask Malcolm Turnbull for his view.JOURNALIST: With the arrest of Bosnian Serb Ratko Mladic, what will it mean for Bosnian communities here in Australia?

PM: Thanks for that question and we do welcome the news of this arrest. We welcome the news on behalf of families who have suffered so much and we also welcome what it means in terms of the future stability of the Balkans. We believe that he should be extradited and that proceedings against him should be conducted in The Hague.

Thank you very much.