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Transcript of joint press conference: 12 December 2007: Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices, Brisbane: COAG meeting; Bali conference; Garnaut report; Indonesian vsit; sexual violence; Tongan murders.

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12 December 2007


Subjects: COAG Meeting; Bali Conference; Garnaut Report; Indonesian Visit; Sexual Violence; Tongan Murders

PM: Last night and this morning I spoke with the Premiers and Chief Ministers and have indicated to them that I’d like to convene a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments on Thursday 20th December.

This morning I discussed with Premier John Brumby of Victoria the possibility of holding that first meeting of COAG under my Prime Ministership in Melbourne, and Premier Brumby has kindly agreed.

The reason I have done this just before Christmas is so that we can get cracking, start work, sleeves rolled up on a very big agenda for the Commonwealth and States and Territories for 2008. What I’m signalling firmly, strongly today is it’s time for the buck-passing to end and it’s time for the real work,

with sleeves rolled up, to begin.

The agenda of work that we’ve set for ourselves will be significant and will touch families right across our country, as well as the economy.

First item for us on the agenda is health and hospitals and how we go about reaching agreements between the Commonwealth and the States on the implementation of our pre-election commitments concerning elective surgery waiting lists, concerning the establishment, or re-establishment, of the public dental program, as well as the proper provision of aged care beds. Also, we must deal with the question of primary health care, preventative health care.

These are huge challenges for the nation. They affect budgets, they affect families. They affect out wellbeing as a nation and this is a very substantial agenda of work.

There deep systemic questions concerning long-term funding and concerning the long-term delivery of health and hospital services in Australia and this, therefore, must constitute agenda item one for the Commonwealth and the States and Territories when we meet next Thursday.

Agenda item two goes to education and it goes to the proposed implementation of the programs that we put to the Australian people prior to the election. Computers in schools, Trades Training Centres, Asian language education, the development of a national curriculum in four key subject areas through a properly constituted National Curriculum Board, together with other deep needs, systemic needs, across the education and training system.

Item number three: Climate Change and Water. Two immediate challenges on the climate change front are as follows: the harmonisation of the Federal and State systems when it comes to the mandatory renewable energy target that we have set and States and Territories have differently set in the last 12 months or so.

Secondly, on Climate Change, the fact that the States and Territories have already agreed upon their own emissions trading regime must now be harmonised with the work which has been done by Professor Garnaut in the development of a national and integrated emissions trading regime as well.

Item number four, and I indicated this long and hard during the election campaign, is the need for a full frontal assault on business deregulation. I’ve long been of the view that business in this country

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has become over-regulated. The business deregulation agenda has long been on the national reform agenda of COAG but has essentially been stillborn. There has been very little progress achieved. I’m signalling that this must be a core area of work for us because the business community is now excessively burdened by the quantum of regulation which is undermining creativity and enterprise out there in the private economy, as well as the non-complementary nature of regulatory frameworks between the Commonwealth and the States, creating additional unnecessary costs for business. This, again, will be a key item on our agenda.

Infrastructure as well. Prior to the election we foreshadowed the establishment of Infrastructure Australia. We will work closely with the States and Territories upfront on an initial audit of the overall national economic infrastructure stock before identifying priorities for future investment.

Then housing. There is an acute problem when it comes to housing, housing affordability, but also in areas of public housing, community housing, and the homelessness problem afflicting so many across our country today. Labor put forward specific proposals on this prior to the election. Most of those proposals involve key work with the Commonwealth and the States and that’s why it must be on this agenda as well.

So, health and hospitals, education, climate change and water, business deregulation, infrastructure and housing are key agenda items which we’ll put forward at this critical meeting of the Council of Australian Governments in Melbourne on Thursday week.

We see this very much as a strategic discussion between the Prime Minister, the Premiers and the Chief Ministers. And a departure from previous practice, we’ll also be inviting the Treasurers of the States and Territories, as well as of course, the Commonwealth, to attend as well. It’s my strong view, if we are to drive a program of national reform through calendar year 2008, we need the central agencies of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of the Treasury working hand in hand. Similarly across the States and Territories, the State Premier’s Departments and State Treasuries working hand in hand so that the central agencies of government drive this reform agenda together.

There will be a strategic discussion with the States and Territories. The States and Territories may well, in the course of the next week, suggest additional items for discussion as well.

The outcome that I want from the meeting in Melbourne next Thursday is this: to agree upon a concrete, practical program of work for calendar year 2008 in these critical areas of national priority. That, I think, is the right step forward. It’s important we agree upon that program of work prior to the Christmas break so the preparatory work can get underway during the course of January and February so that we hit the beginning of next year with as much preparatory work being done by our officials as possible.

In the development of this important Commonwealth-State agenda during 2008, I also look forward to extensive discussions with the business community and other groups and peak bodies across the Australian community for critical input to these important decisions for the nation.

Happy to take your questions.

JOURNALIST: This huge agenda, is it just one day (inaudible)?

PM: This is a day’s agenda, a strategic discussion. But the objective is not to produce a policy agreement in each of these areas on day one. The objective is to outline a program of work for 2008. This will necessarily involve convening a series of high-level task forces under the chairpersonship of the Prime Minister, Treasurer, Premiers and Treasurers in order to produce the outcomes which the nation expects of us.

As I said at the beginning, it’s time for the buck-passing to end. It’s time for the real work to begin. I don’t for the life of me expect that this is going to be an easy job at all. There are so many entrenched difficulties, entrenched prejudices in Commonwealth-State relations going back more decades than any of us can count. But the time has come to turn the page on that and to open a new page in the serious substantive reforms of the Federation. I’m determined to do that and determined to elaborate a concrete program of work. So, if I’ve got one outcome in mind for Thursday week in Melbourne, it’s this: to agree on a program of work and a timetable of work for calendar year 2008.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you expecting much resistance from the States? Will there be goodwill there or are you going to sort of use this meeting as an example to exert your authority over

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the States?

PM: I’m a strong believer in cooperative Federalism. Remember, my own background in public administration is from the States, and this State of Queensland. I worked as this State’s senior representative on a COAG steering committee of officials for nearly five years.

So, if we’re to reform the Federation, if we are to engage in substantive micro-economic reform, if we’re to reform key areas of service delivery which affect working families right across the country, particularly in the health, education and housing spaces, then we’ve got to do it cooperatively. That’s

the way in which you deliver a real outcome.

As I say, the time for buck-passing has come and gone. The time for real work has come and must begin now. I think the Australian people are tired, just sick and tired of all the excuses which their politicians have served up for so long as to why progress can’t be realised in these critical areas of public policy need.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on Chris Bowen’s comments on jail terms for petrol company directors who collude on prices, do you think a five-year maximum sentence is a strong enough message to send, considering a court would, obviously in most cases, impose a lesser term?

PM: Well, our policy, long-term, has been for the criminalisation of cartel-related offences. On the detail of that, I’ll let others comment on what may constitute an appropriate range of criminal offences and a range of appropriate criminal sentencing which might occur within that framework. The key departure from the past is criminalisation. It’s a serious business, it affects the whole economy, it affects so many people’s lives, and therefore, we must, as a nation, take a hardline when it comes to cartel-type behaviour.

JOURNALIST: Will you leave open the option of longer sentences, though?

PM: I’d defer judgement to the officials and the line Ministers responsible in this area. As I said, the line in the sand for us is this becoming a criminal offence in the future.

JOURNALIST: In relation to your Bali visit, will you agree to the climate change target?

PM: Well, the purpose of the Bali meeting is to agree on a Bali roadmap for the next couple of years, within which countries then embark upon long-term commitments. The challenge for Bali is to make sure that everyone enters onto the same page for negotiations over the next two years. And that is the critical challenge which lies ahead of us. I don’t underestimate the difficulty that this will involve. But as I said before, I’d much rather be a leader from Australia around the negotiating table, being part of the global solution on climate change, not just part of the global problem.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Well, understand this, that there are a range of processes still to go through. First and foremost within Australia, we have the Garnaut report which is not due to report until the middle of next year. That’s an important and sober way to consider appropriate interim targets for Australia and we will wait, as is appropriate, for the conclusion of that report before we start making any determinations along those lines.

Secondly, the figures that you talk about are those which have been arrived at on the basis of the deliberations of technical officers. They reflect where the science stands. National governments have not accepted those across the board as targets for themselves at this stage, nor targets for themselves collectively at this stage so there’s a way to go with all of this.

Key thing is this: what’s the objective of Bali? The objective of Bali is to start the process of negotiations for the next couple of years to bring about a real outcome to deal with excessively dangerous climate change. Australia has taken its head out of the sand and it now wants to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.

JOURNALIST: So, if Australia wants to be a leader on climate change, why don’t you actually agree to an interim target? And won’t Bali be seen as a failure because countries such as Australia won’t actually sign up to targets, interim targets, at this stage?

PM: Step number one from the Government of Australia has been to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. We

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hadn’t done that before. Step number two is to be fully around the negotiating tables in Bali, to be part of the negotiating process. Step number three is to agree on a negotiating timetable. We believe that we can make constructive steps forward in each of those areas.

I would not have taken the decision to proceed with the ratification of Kyoto unless, as Prime Minister of Australia, I was determined that Australia show leadership in this area. I intend to show leadership in this area and it will be done on the basis of sober, careful decision-making on the way through.

And as I said prior to the election, when it comes to the determination of our targets, they will be driven by the outcomes of the Garnaut report which Labor had the foresight to commission six months before this election.

JOURNALIST: Will you now be tempted to ask Professor Garnaut to fast-track that report?

PM: This is a very complex area of work. Had the previous Government actually commissioned similar work in the past, then we wouldn’t be starting from behind the 8-ball. The fact that we, as an Opposition, in June of 2007, had to commission Professor Garnaut, cadged together the resources of the States and Territories and their Treasuries to working behind Professor Garnaut to begin this work says, I think, something about our foresight. This is a very complex piece of work, it will take him through until the middle of next year, but I’d say that this dovetails entirely with the timetable of negotiations which has been foreshadowed for Bali which occurs over the next couple of years.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) coal is so vital to our economy, you’ve got some pretty tough decisions to make.

PM: Well, look carefully at what, for example, Professor Garnaut had to say himself today abut the future of the coal industry. Carbon sequestration has a rich future. One of the impediments that we face right now when it comes to properly developing carbon sequestration is the absence of a carbon price. Why don’t we have a carbon price? Because the previous Government fiddled while Rome burned and didn’t establish a national emissions trading regime with a carbon target in order to

determine a carbon price. It’s practical steps like that which make it possible to accelerate the commercial application of carbon sequestration technologies.

I am an optimist, a real optimist when it comes to the future of that industry, an optimism driven by my many discussions with the resource majors about the current state of sequestration technologies. The key missing ingredient is a carbon price.

And the second is how do you actually further encourage the development of the technologies which currently underpin the sequestration process.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: I’ll be having bilateral meetings with a range of people, including the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. I’m looking forward very much to that to review, in overall terms, the Australia-Indonesia relationship. I place the highest priority on Australia’s relationship with Indonesia. We are not just neighbours. We are partners in so many common challenges, not least of which is the common challenge of dealing with regional terrorism. I’m also a great optimist in terms of the future of the Indonesian economy and the opportunity to expand our business cooperation between the two countries, and I look forward very much to that meeting.

In addition to that, I’ll be meeting with the President of the World Bank, Bob Zoellick, who is an old friend of mine, previously Deputy Secretary of State in the Untied States, and prior to that, US Special Trade Representative, and we’ll be discussing how our future commitment on increasing Australia’s level of official development assistance, overseas development assistance, will dovetail with the World Bank’s program into the future.

On top of that, I’ll be meeting with my old friend, Al Gore, and we promised to have a celebratory drink together.

JOURNALIST: When will you be returning?

PM: When will I be returning? I will be returning at the end of the week. I think that’s the safest thing to say at this stage.

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JOURNALIST: Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson, said he’s written to you to try and get Greg Hunt, the Coalition’s spokesman on Climate Change, Environment and Urban Water, to actually go on this delegation, saying that when Anthony Albanese was invited on a Coalition delegation 12 months ago. What’s your response? Will he be able to go?

PM: That’s the first time I’m aware of that so I’ll just have a look at it.

JOURNALIST: Regarding the gang rape of a 10 year-old girl (inaudible)?

PM: I’m disgusted and appalled by the reports that I’ve seen in today’s newspapers on this case. I’ve noted carefully the statements by the Attorney-General of Queensland on this matter. As I understand the Attorney-General’s position, he is examining the case further and I await carefully his determination on that.

My attitude to violence towards women and children, including sexual violence towards women and children, is one of zero tolerance. It always has been, it always will be. And I await the further deliberations of the Queensland Attorney-General.

JOURNALIST: It’s been suggested that the judge said the nine year-old consented (inaudible).

PM: I’m horrified by the case as reported in today’s paper. I’m horrified by cases like this involving violence, including sexual violence, towards women and children. My attitude is one of zero tolerance. And I await the further deliberations of the Queensland Attorney-General.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: I think the appropriate thing to do is to await the further deliberations of the Queensland Attorney-General. This involves complex matters of law and I await his further deliberations.

JOURNALIST: Four Australian men are facing murder charges in relation to the Tongan (inaudible)?

PM: On the details of that case, I’ll defer to the Foreign Minister and ask him to comment further. Of course, we as the Australian Government, consistent with past practice, provide consular assistance to any Australians incarcerated abroad. But on the details of these cases in Tonga, I’ll defer to the Foreign Minister. Thanks very much.



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