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Transcript of press conference: Queanbeyan: 1 December 2021: anti-trolling bill; select committee; online safety; COVID-19 variants and National Plan; Australia's first mRNA vaccine; Commonwealth Integrity Commission; National Accounts



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The Hon. Scott Morrison MP Prime Minister

TRANSCRIPT PRESS CONFERENCE QUEANBEYAN, NSW WEDNESDAY 1 DECEMBER 2021

EO&E…

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's great to see you all here this morning, and can I thank Winston at Headspace and all the Headspace team here in Queanbeyan, and can I thank them for the tremendous work they do supporting young people right across the country. Headspace is a great Coalition innovation, and it's been helping young people for a very long time and has provided us really with the guidebook as to how we can be more broadly addressing mental health issues right across the country, they take a holistic approach to the health, mental health of young people. They look right across all the various things. Are they getting work, are they getting support and the various treatments that are available to them, and they really try to treat the whole person, all the influences that are coming in on their lives. So I really want to thank Headspace. It is a world leading initiative and when I travel around the world, when I have to, I'm always so proud when people ask me about Headspace in Australia and how big an impact it has had in supporting the mental health of young people.

I want to thank the parents and kids, who have been able to join us this morning to talk about this really important issue because it's what everyone around kitchen tables, around the Christmas table this year, all of these things, these are the things as parents and families that really do go to some of our deepest and most significant concerns. You know, the online world is changing every single day. It's rapidly changing. And as parents, and as communities, as families, it's hard to keep up with it. And it's hard to have confidence that always that you can be safe online. It's important for young people. It's important, particularly for women who are some of the most targeted for attacks and abuse, trolling right across the country. But it doesn't stop there. It affects all people right across the community. And if it hasn't directly affected you, you're in the minority. But you know someone who has and particularly if you're a grandparent or it could be your niece or your nephew, your son or your daughter. And so we know this is an issue of significant concern. And over many years now, we've been standing up as a government to the digital companies, the big digital, big tech companies. And we're saying something very simple. You built it. You make it safe. And if you won’t, we will make you. And that's what we've been doing for these many years now. We've been working hard to make sure, and I particularly want to acknowledge that Paul Fletcher as the Minister for Communications, who's done a terrific job in ensuring that the rules that exist in the physical world must exist to protect Australians in the online world as well.

Now, last Sunday, as you know, I announced that we're introducing the anti-trolling bill. Now that is a bill which is going to do something really important. It's going to unmask those trolls who pretend to be someone else or someone who it doesn't even exist and are there and are preying [sic] upon our kids and our family members and harassing and stalking in the most cowardly way. We are ripping the mask off those trolls to protect Australians online. We want the online world to be safe so we can have all the benefits of the online world but protect Australians from the terrible abuses that can take place there.

And as I said, we've taken many steps already. The world's first eSafety Commission, take down provisions, the issues dealing with terrorist content. But we must keep going further because the online world keeps changing. And so the online trolling and bill legislation, draft legislation, we're releasing today and we want to hear from Australians about their experiences, but not just on those measures.

Today, we're also announcing a Select Committee that I've asked Lucy Wicks, my dear friend from the Central Coast, Member for Robertson, who has had a passion in dealing with these issues and the need for people to be safe online, particularly women and kids, and to ensure that we can have the proper protections in place. And they're not only going to hear from you about this legislation, but we also want to hear from you about the many other things that go to online safety. How the measures that we've already got in place are already working and how they can be improved, how the big tech companies use your data and how that impacts on you. We want to hear about the things that can make our online world safer, and we're all parents here as ministers and as Members of Parliament, and we want to make sure it's safer for all of our kids. So I want to thank you Lucy for taking on this job, and we're going to be reporting back by the time we get back to Parliament because that anti trolling bill is coming back into that parliament and I expect to see it passed because we need to do this to keep our online world safe. The rules in the real world have to be the same in the online world. There are few issues, frankly, that as people come together around the Christmas table this year. These are the issues that I know keep you up and worrying about the environment in which your kids are growing up. And this is one of the most important things we can do to keep Australians safe. And with that, I'll ask Paul to make comments and then David. And of course, Lucy.

THE HON. PAUL FLETCHER MP, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS, URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE, CITIES AND THE ARTS: Well, thank you very much, Prime Minister. It's great to be here with you at Headspace in Queanbeyan, with David Coleman, your assistant minister, doing so much great work on mental health, with Lucy Wicks, who's going to be chairing this very important select committee. As you've said, Prime Minister, from the time we got into government in 2013, we've been very focused on this issue of keeping Australians safe online, particularly women and children. We know this is an issue of great concern to parents and families all around the country. We've just had a really good discussion with a group of local parents and children about the ways that each family seeks to keep their children safe, but there's no doubt this is something parents are concerned about. What do I need to do, as a parent to keep my children safe and how do I make sure that these services that my children are using have safety features built in. The community expectations about safety being met. So we've done a lot in this space. We established the eSafety Commissioner in 2015 and just this year we passed a tough new Online Safety Act, which will take effect from January next year and our eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant will have even stronger powers. But we are not stopping there, and this select committee is a very important opportunity for the parliament to hear about the concerns and perspectives and experiences of parents and families across Australia about how social media, how Big Tech is impacting the lives of all of us.

Of course, the internet is a wonderful educational, scientific, economic, cultural, social resource. No question about it, but it has to be safe. That is not negotiable. And that's why this select committee that Lucy Wicks is going to chair will be so important so we can hear all these perspectives. Lucy, of course, a parent, she's also a former executive in the telecommunications sector. She brings a lot of highly relevant experience. This is the parliament doing what it ought to do, dealing with an issue of great concern to Australian families.

PRIME MINISTER: David. David's been working on all of our mental health policies and suicide prevention strategies.

THE HON. DAVID COLEMAN MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH AND SUICIDE PREVENTION: Thanks, PM. Well, there's nothing more important than the mental health of kids. Literally nothing more important. And we have seen in recent years concerning trends in youth mental health. We've seen significantly increased rates of prescriptions of antidepressants to children. We've seen significant growth in appointments in the Medicare system for children as compared to adults and a range of other concerning trends. And when we look at why that's occurred, there are a range of reasons. But there's no question that this issue, which concerns parents so much about the impact of social media, is a significant part of the issue. Headspace's own surveys of young people have found that young people have nominated the impact of social media as the number one reason why youth mental health is getting worse. It's a very, very significant issue, and the truth is that the social media companies have had more than a decade to address these issues about youth mental health, and they have failed. They have not taken the steps they should have taken to keep kids safe. And there are some very concerning things that happen on social media and the way those platforms can direct children to very concerning content. That's why the government has done so much in this area through the Online Safety Act, so many other areas. The Online Privacy Code, which we recently released exposure draft legislation on, which will require social media platforms in the future to act in the best interests of children. We know that we can't rely on social media to act in the best interests of children, so we're going to force them to. And this inquiry that Lucy is doing will further explore these really important fundamental questions about how we hold social media to account, how we keep kids safe online through further measures. Because there is nothing more significant than this issue, and it is central to the concerns of so many Australian families, and we're very, very focused on ensuring that the social media companies are held to account because, you know, it's not the sovereign nation of Instagram, it's the sovereign nation of Australia, and we will continue to stand up for Australian families in this area.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, David. Lucy?

MS LUCY WICKS MP, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR ROBERTSON: PM, thank you for the opportunity, this is such an important issue that is so dear to the hearts of all of us here in Australia. I was thinking about when I moved home just recently, a few weeks ago and a couple of kids came up to see me at night at my front gate. They heard I'd moved in and they wanted to have a bit of an impromptu chat. There were two things they raised with me. One was the fact that the local council had removed their bike racks that they'd set up behind my house. And they wanted those back. The other was social media and the importance of keeping people safe online. And so, Prime Minister, this inquiry is going to be incredibly important, I think, to parents, to grandparents, to those of us who have had an experience on social media that has left an imprint that should never be left in anyone's life. Unfortunately, too many of us have a story to tell, and the age at which those stories get told is getting younger and younger and younger.

We want to do all we can to make sure that the stories that perhaps have happened in the past are not the stories of the future. This inquiry is going to be incredibly important, I believe, to be able to make sure that all Australians, whether you are five or six or perhaps 106 using social media or Facebook or a way to be able to connect with family and friends. We want you to raise to use your voice, to tell your story, to give us your perspectives on how we can help make social media a safer place where we can make sure that online experiences are safe and you will have perspectives, you will have ideas. That we want to be able to bring forward and to be able to help make a really strong report to be able to contribute to the parliament next to you. Prime Minister, I thank you for the opportunity for doing this. I hope that out of this, we can also look at exploring some of the tools that are available, particularly for parents in terms of online safety. I know that's a world that I'm grappling with at the moment, and my 12-13 year old son seems to be much more ahead of it than I am, and I'm always sort of playing catch up. But you know, this will be an important avenue to be able to explore those things as well as the role of Big Tech. And the stories that so many of you have, I have no doubt are going to be a very powerful platform for us to be able to explore what we can do. So I thank you Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you, Lucy. So Australia, the conversation our government wants to have with you over the Christmas and summer, parliament may be rising this week, but we'll continue working on the issue, we want to be working with you over summer on how we can make the online world safer. So we look forward to hearing your stories through the committee process that Lucy is going to lead, and we’ll bring that homework back over from the summer break. We'll keep working away and we'll start the year next year, making the online world safer, particularly for women and children.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the Jenkins Report, just hours after it was released and you told the Party Room that it was sobering and that people should read it, a Coalition Senator apologised, accused of growling at Jacqui Lambie in the Chamber. In any other workforce that person would potentially be fired. How serious are you about accountability, and do you insist that all Members read this report?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, yes, and that’s exactly the instruction I gave, and I would, I would expect all parliamentary leaders to be seeking to uphold those standards. I’ve been in the Parliament a long time. Just last week, the interjections that I hear in the Chamber coming across. I mean, these are things that all Parliamentary leaders continue to have to uphold the standards of, and I expect that of my team. And I was very, very disappointed about that act, extremely.

JOURNALIST: Have you spoken with him?

PRIME MINISTER: Not as yet, I only learnt of it late last night.

JOURNALIST: On the COVID variant, Prime Minister, doesn't living with COVID mean you have to live with the variants? Are we going to be changing the rules every time the variant comes in - delaying, pausing, stepping backwards every single time there’s a new variant?

PRIME MINISTER: We shouldn't be stepping backwards and our Government is not doing that. Our Government is having a pause for the next step. Everything we were doing up until now, we are going to keep doing. And the meeting of National Cabinet yesterday, I thought, was a very useful one. We all got on the same page about what this variant means and there was nothing in front of us yesterday that should suggest a step back. Nothing. And it's important that I think we continue to live with this virus

safely, we open up safely, we stay safely open and we keep moving forward. The variant, over this next few weeks, we’ll learn a lot more about it, and I think that will give us the confidence to keep moving forward because that's what we want to do. That's what I want Australians to do, and I want to be there to support Australians to keep doing that. That's certainly where the Federal Government is going and particularly in those states that have had the most difficult COVID experiences in New South Wales and Victoria. But, of course, here in the ACT. There is a commitment to keep moving forward, not going back. That's the way we live with COVID and we live together with COVID.

JOURNALIST: And a big part of that is the new vaccines. Melbourne scientists have developed Australia's first mRNA vaccine. What can you tell us about that?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah. Well, I'm excited about this, because the Federal Government has been one of the partners in this project, which is seeing the development of this new mRNA vaccine science, which will now go into trials, which is very important. mRNA is a very new area and we have already been investing in this area. We are in the final stages of looking at the manufacturing capability, and I've been speaking to a couple of premiers in particular about that, and the partnership we’ll need to make that a reality. This is not just important for obviously what we're seeing happen now with this pandemic. But mRNA vaccines are going to play a more important role in the future of vaccines more broadly - flu vaccines, any number of other vaccines. And, so, we've already invested in this science. We're going to be investing in ensuring that we not only have science, but we have the production capabilities here in Australia, and that's another part of our Modern Manufacturing Initiative, frankly. I mean, medical manufacturing vaccines, this is all part of a Modern Manufacturing Initiative, which is already seeing a million Australians back in work. Under Labor, one in eight manufacturing jobs went. Now we've got Australians back working in manufacturing. I was in Adelaide on Friday, and on Friday I met former Holden workers, now working in a medical manufacturing company - 120 people there - and they're putting the wheels on the machines. That's the, that's the story of Australian manufacturing. It's changing, it's developing, it's growing, and mRNA is another important part of that story.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, overnight European markets went down because the boss of Moderna raised doubts about whether its vaccine, how effective it would be with Omicron. What what information have you received from your own health advisers, and are they concerned about this possibility as well on the back of those statements?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's no information that the Government has which says that the vaccines are ineffective against the Omicron strain of the virus. In fact, the early information that we reviewed yesterday, the indications are that Omicron will be a more mild form of the virus. Now, if that proves to be true, that's a major, that's a major game change in the pandemic more broadly, because just as we saw the Delta variant overwhelm the Alpha variant - there are virtually no cases of Alpha anymore - should it be the case that the Omicron variant is is less, is a more mild form, then that has the potential to overwhelm the more, more severe form. But these things are not yet known. And, so, what I would say about Omicron is you keep your head, you stay calm, you make sensible, balanced decisions, you hold your nerve. We've got a great National Plan which is reuniting Australians, and we will continue to take the best medical advice and get the best medical evidence to make our decisions. And the last night was a, was a good opportunity to review all that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you're also going into the summer asking Australians to trust you to govern after the next election. Given you promised a national integrity commission that hasn't happened, religious discrimination laws that haven’t passed the Parliament, the swathe of infrastructure

projects you promised at the election that haven't been even built or started on planning yet, how can Australians trust you?

PRIME MINISTER: We've just gone through and are going through the biggest challenge Australia has faced since the Second World War, and we have one of the strongest economies in the world going through this pandemic because of the decisions, frankly, this Government has taken. There are few Australians around the country right now who would not know that the fact that they are able to stay in jobs, that our economy was able to be kept strong, that businesses were able to be saved, that investments were able to be made. There are 217,000 apprentices in trade training at the moment. That is the highest level since records were kept in 1963. We said we would provide those opportunities. Additionally, for universities, 30,000 additional places that came into place this year because we knew school leavers at this time last year and their parents would be concerned about what the future held for them. Well, they’re in university places, they're in, they’re in training places. And you mentioned infrastructure. I was out there with the, with the Minister responsible for Western Sydney Airport. It’s 25 per cent built, 25 per cent built. You know, when Anthony Albanese came into the Parliament when the Howard Government was first elected, he talked about the Western Sydney Airport, he talked about it, he talked about it, he talked about it. And guess what happened? He became the Minister for Transport. He was the Minister for Transport for six years and didn't even dig a hole for Western Sydney Airport. We are building that airport and we are building that infrastructure.

The Religious Discrimination Act has been introduced by me and it is in the Parliament now and is being debated now.

The Commonwealth Integrity Commission, we have 349 pages of legislation, committed funding for that integrity commission, that must look at serious criminal conduct. Now, the Labor Party doesn't support it. They've got a two page proposal. We've got 349 pages of legislation.

So, whether it be on bringing forward our proposal for integrity commission, the Religious Discrimination Act, building the big infrastructure - the Inland Rail, the Western Sydney Airport, working forward together with the Victorian Government on the Airport Rail Link and the links down to to Geelong and all of those projects - all of these projects going ahead, big game changing projects. The Snowy Hydro 2.0 project, which is so important here for the, for the people who live in Eden-Monaro. That project, an incredibly huge project - nation building, game changing. So, I can tell you, we're getting on with it.

A strong economy, one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, one of the lowest fatality rates in the world, and Ms Dempsey, who we know has just lost her fight against COVID. A health worker, a nurse working in hospital in Melbourne. This is a terrible reminder that the challenges that Australians have faced have been so hard and have resulted for some in the worst of all consequences of losing their lives. But, you know, in this country, under the response that we've led to COVID, we have saved more than 30,000 lives, 30,000 lives. We've brought Australia through this pandemic to here, and we're going to take Australia forward and we've got to keep our economy strong.

The National Accounts will come out today, and those National Accounts today will will bring to account the impact of the most recent lockdowns. But what I can say to Australians is those lockdowns are in the rear vision mirror, and the economic impact of those lockdowns are in the rear vision mirror. And if you want to keep them in the rear vision mirror, then it's important that we continue to pursue the strong economic management that our Government has delivered over the course of our entire time in

Government, but certainly since I was elected at the last election, to ensure that we kept our economy strong through one of the greatest challenges our country has ever faced.

JOURNALIST: Going back to Facebook, on Facebook, there's no shortage of inquiries and reports, we’ve had a congressional hearing into this, we've heard countless whistle-blowers, you've heard from families this morning. What can you possibly learn from this inquiry that you don’t already know? And are you not just setting up a show trial before an election campaign?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that's very disappointing that you’ve put it in that way. I’m a parent. I'm worried about my kids online. The parents I've spoken to today are worried about their kids online. You know, Canberra sometimes can get really cynical, really cynical, and this is an issue that is burned in our hearts and in our actions over the course of our Government. And we have stood up to the biggest tech companies in the world. You know, when you're a Prime Minister you've got to have the strength to stand up to those who threaten Australia. You’ve got to have the strength to stand up to the big tech companies. We've done that on tax. We've done that even to protect the freedom of our own media and ensure that media companies could survive through this world. There are many journalists today employed, not just in this town but around the country, who are in those jobs because our Government had the courage to stand up to big tech where other governments didn’t. It was our Government that stood up to big tech after the Christchurch attacks, the massacres there, the terrorist attacks by right wing extremists, that ensured that we introduced laws which outlawed this violent extremist content online. It was our Government that set up the first eSafety Commissioner. It was our Government that ensured that we had the Online Safety Act. It is our Government, which is one of the first in the world, the legislation we released today, which will come into the Parliament when the Committee comes back, which will ensure that publishers, so that digital platforms are treated as publishers and they must unmask the online trolls. So, when it comes to this issue, we've got a strong track record of standing up to those who would threaten Australian safety. And, frankly, it's not just there. To those who would seek to coerce us in the region, we’ll stand up to them. As Treasurer I stood up to the big banks, as Treasurer we stood up, and as Prime Minister, to the big energy companies. I have a record of standing up to those who will seek to threaten Australia's interests, whether they're outside this country or inside this country, whether in the online world or within the real world. And that's the strength that is required to lead this country. Thanks very much everyone.

[ENDS]

Media Contacts: Press Office, (02) 6277 7744 The Hon. Scott Morrison MP, Sydney