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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 17492

Transcript of joint press conference, Canberra

Photo of Gillard, Julia

Gillard, Julia

Period of Service: 24/06/2010 to 27/06/2013

More information about Gillard, Julia on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 07/12/2010

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 17492

PM: I'm here with David Bradbury, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, to make an announcement relating to a Commonwealth loan arrangement with New South Wales for the asbestos-related victims of James Hardie.

Can I start by saying that when I was a young solicitor I learned at first hand the cruelty of asbestos-related diseases for Australians and their families. This is a very difficult circumstance that Australians families in their thousands have had to confront - knowing that they were exposed to asbestos, the long wait to see whether or not that would cause a disease that then, of course, meant such tragedy for families.

We've seen great Australian heroes like Bernie Banton fight against this cruel disease and fight for compensation in the full gaze of the Australian public, and I believe many members of the Australian community watched, particularly, Bernie Banton's fight with a great deal of sympathy and concern.

So, today with David Bradbury I'm here to announce that the Commonwealth has signed off a loan agreement with New South Wales for up $160 million. This money will be directed with matching New South Wales Government contributions as necessary into the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund. This was the fund set up in 2005 to be the source of money to deal with asbestos-related claims for victims of James Hardie.

People would recall the debates at the time; that we wanted to ensure that victims had certainty; that they would be able to make their claims and there would be a source of funds for those claims.

Now, in making this loan available to the Government of New South Wales to be drawn into the fund with matching contributions from New South Wales, we are giving certainty to James Hardie asbestos victims that there are funds available to meet their claims.

Now, this in no way overrides the moral or legal obligation of James Hardie to continue to make contributions into the fund, but the profitability of James Hardie has been affected by the global financial crisis and that has affected its ability to make contributions into the fund in recent times.

So, to give families certainty at what is an incredibly difficult part of their lives, we have determined to make this loan arrangement available. The loan will be repaid to the Commonwealth - it will be repaid in full to the Commonwealth - but it will be available now to give families certainty.

I'll turn to David for some comments and then I'll make some comments about another matter.

PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY BRADBURY: Thanks very much. It's good to be here with you, Prime Minister, to announce that earlier today I signed a loan agreement with New South Wales of behalf of the Commonwealth, and under that agreement the Commonwealth will be making available an amount of up to $160 million to the New South Wales Government. As and when funds are drawn down by the New South Wales Government under that loan agreement, those funds will be paid into the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund and the New South Wales Government will make payments that are at least matching and potentially of a greater amount into the compensation fund.

The purpose of this loan is to assist New South Wales in being able to ensure that sufficient funds are made available in that compensation fund to give victims and their families, victims of James Hardie-related asbestos injury, to give them the certainty and the peace of mind of knowing that their compensation claims will be paid and paid in full.

For many of the victims this means that they will be able to receive their compensation payments whilst they're still alive, and whilst no amount of compensation can ever give back to these victims and to their families that which this brutal disease has taken away from them, we do believe that it is important for the Government to do what we can to assist and to ensure that the victims are able to have those payments made to them in full.

As the Prime Minister indicated, there is in place an agreement between the New South Wales Government and James Hardie, and under that agreement there is a specified formula that requires James Hardie to make certain payments into the compensation fund. Now, that formula is linked to the performance, the profitability, of James Hardie, and as James Hardie's profitability has declined in recent times as a result of the impact of the global financial crisis, those payments have in some cases not been required to be made, and that is certainly the case in relation to 2009, although in 2010 James Hardie did make a payment into the fund of approximately $72 million.

The funds that can be drawn down and matched, drawn down under the loan agreement and matched by the New South Wales Government, will provide sufficient funds in the compensation fund to ensure that the liabilities, the compensation payments required to be made over the coming three years will be provided for and that of course is not taking into account any additional and future payments that James Hardie makes into the fund.

The loan agreement, as the Prime Minister indicated, is required to be repaid in full by the 30th of June 2020 and the loan is being made available with an interest rate that is equivalent to the Commonwealth's cost of borrowings. This measure has been included in the 2010-11 Budget and has no net impact on the fiscal balance.

I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the New South Wales Government, to acknowledge the trade union movement, the ACTU and Unions New South Wales for their contribution towards ensuring the victims of James Hardie-related asbestos disease have been able to obtain some justice.

I also wish to take the opportunity to acknowledge and to thank the many asbestos-related advocacy groups. As the Prime Minister indicated, most well-known amongst them has been Bernie Banton and the various groups that he has given voice to. Without the advocacy that they have provided and without the support of the New South Wales Government and the union movement then the compensation payments that are currently being paid to many of these victims would not have been made available.

So, this is an important initiative. What we are doing today, in having signed this agreement, is to formalise and to confirm the arrangements that were entered into between the New South Wales Government and the Commonwealth Government last year in the forms of a Heads of Agreement, and we certainly look forward to working closely with the New South Wales Government to ensure that payments are made to victims in a prompt and appropriate fashion.

PM: Thank you. We're happy to take questions on that matter, but before we do I would like to make some comments about one other matter.

Mr Michael Taylor, the Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, has today announced his resignation from that position.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Taylor for his work. I am a very big respecter of people who put their time and energy into public service. Mr Taylor has done that and he's done that in circumstances where it wasn't easy. And Mr Taylor has shown, I believe, a great deal of persistence and openness in attending forums at regional communities, where often he was dealing with people who were angry, or distressed, or confused about the nature of the reforms and he has worked through with those individuals. So, I'd say to Mr Taylor that my thanks as Prime Minister and the Government's thanks go to him for the work he's done as Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

As Mr Taylor makes clear in his letter of resignation, he has a particular view about the meaning of the Water Act and the way in which the Murray-Darling Basin reforms should occur. Particularly, he believes that the overriding outcome that should be sought from these reforms is the environmental outcome.

As Prime Minister my view is that we must optimise across the environmental, social, economic areas of work. That is the aim of these reforms; is to ensure we've got a healthy river; we've got food production; and we've got viable regional communities. We want to optimise across those three areas - healthy rivers, food production and viable regional communities.

I believe that when the Water Act first went through this Parliament under the then Howard Government and under the oversight of the then Minister Malcolm Turnbull, that the aim was optimising across these three areas. The Government will continue to see these reforms with optimisation across these three areas.

The Government will appoint a replacement as Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and our reform programme will stay on track. As people would probably be aware we are at the stage where a guide to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has been published. There have been consultations about that guide. During the course of next year a draft plan will be published and there will be further consultations and the ultimately our Minister, Minister Tony Burke, will sign off a plan and bring it to the Australian Parliament.

At the same time as that work is happening through the independent Authority, the ministers involved - Minister Burke, Minister Crean and Minister Ludwig - will be out there consulting with regional communities and the Parliamentary Committee, led by Tony Windsor, will also be out there consulting with regional communities. So, the reform program here is on track and that is the forward work program for 2011.

We've got one chance to get water reform right. This is an area that people have talked about for a long period of time. Now we need to get it done.

We've got one chance to get it right and getting it right means optimising environmental, social and economic outcomes and that will be the reform work we will do in 2011, so that for generations to come Australians will be able to see that we've got healthy river systems, we've got food production happening in this country and we've got viable regional communities in which people make their homes and make their lives.

I'm very happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, has your view changed since Adelaide, during the election campaign, on the Murray Darling, because if I, I'm going off my memory, but, which isn't the best sometimes-

PM: -Hey, fragile source.

JOURNALIST: Sometimes. But if I remember what you said correctly in Adelaide, during the election campaign, you only spoke about environmental outcomes and you basically promised to buy every litre of water that was necessary to restore the Murray-Darling, to the environmental outcomes for the Murray-Darling, so has your position now changed to take in social and economic matters?

PM: As the year draws to a close I don't want to get into a debate with you about quality of recollections on the year that's been, but I can say to you very clearly that the election commitment I made is that the government will do what is necessary to implement the Murray-Darling Basin plan.

We have been in market buying water. We are buying water from willing sellers and the commitment I made in Adelaide was when we have the Murray-Darling Basin plan we will implement it and that will require further water purchasing from willing sellers.

So, the aim here is to get the plan. The plan needs to make sure we are optimising environmental, social and economic outcomes and we will implement the plan.

The promise I gave is in sharp contrast to the promise that Tony Abbott gave. He said he would implement the draft plan within two weeks, I think it was, of being elected. That is, he didn't want to talk to regional communities, didn't want to have any consultations, he didn't want to ask people what their views were. Well, I believe this reform is a fundamental one, it's a big one, but it's one where we should have people with the opportunity to have their voices heard and that's what's happening now.

Yes, Lyndal?

I did say Lyndal. We've got some civility in the shade.

JOURNALIST: Mike Taylor, in his letter, seems pretty clear that he believes he was acting in accordance with his obligations under the Act. Given you've had differing legal advice, would you seek to reconfirm or get new legal advice, because presumably the last thing you want, the last thing, presumably you don't want any questions of legal certainty over the final deal when it's done?

PM: I'm completely confident about the legal advice we have received. I'm completely confident that the Water Act is requiring optimising across environmental, social and economic outcomes. As Prime Minister, leading this Government, that is the reform agenda that we want to see delivered in 2011. It will require the independent authority to continue its work and then it will require the relevant Minister, Tony Burke, to bring the plan to Parliament.

Yes?

JOURNALIST: Why should the Australian taxpayer bailout a company which not only produced products which killed people, and what confidence do you have that the Government won't be in the same position in 4-5 years' time if the American housing market doesn't recover, which is the main source of James Hardie's revenue?

PM: Well, no-one is bailing anyone out. What we are doing is making arrangements so that families who have had a family member diagnosed with a fatal disease like Mesothelioma, a cruel disease, know that they've got certainty that there is a fund they can turn to for their justifiable compensation claims.

I don't want families under that kind of stress to also be anxious about what is going to happen with funding their compensation claim.

It was recognised in 2005, when these agreements were struck, that it wasn't in the interest of claimants to have James Hardie go under. What was in the interests of claimants was to have ongoing arrangements, a source of funds to meet claims. We're in a circumstance where, under that agreement, James Hardie's profitability was always going to be a factor taken into account in its ability to put money into this fund. Clearly, in global financial crisis circumstances that has had an impact in its profitability, hence the loan arrangement we have announced today.

The Commonwealth will be repaid the loan arrangement and families will get certainty in the meantime.

Yes?

JOURNALIST: Your Government's cuts to funding for the Tasmanian forestry industry, do you accept criticism that that'll cause the Tasmanian forestry accord to completely collapse?

PM: We're not cutting anything, so the premise of your question is entirely wrong, I'm afraid.

What the Government has said, what the Government's announced, is that as a Government we want to facilitate the historic agreement entered into by the stakeholders in Tasmania being brought to life. What's happened here is that industry, unions and environmental stakeholders, many of whom had been fighting each other for 20 years, have sat around a table and struck an agreement about the future for Tasmanian forests and the future for industry in Tasmania.

Now, for that agreement to not just be words on a page but actually to be in the real world and make a difference, for that agreement to come to life, it requires the Tasmanian Government to step up to some responsibilities; it requires engagement of the Federal Government, and yesterday we announced the manner of that engagement. It will be through a jointly appointed, empowered facilitator - an individual who will work with the groups that have signed this agreement to now take the next steps.

Paul Bongiorno?

JOURNALIST: Thank you very much. By the sound of it, Mr Taylor was pushed. Will you be looking for someone to replace him who shares your view of the Act, and anyway, won't the result of the Victorian election make it virtually impossible to come up with a national plan for the Basin?

PM: First and foremost, Mr Taylor has resigned.

Second, I am optimistic about achieving the reforms that we seek. I think Australians are saying to the Federal Government, and they will also be saying to state governments, that this is a reform the time for which has come. I think Australians will judge very harshly any leader, any government, who lets this reform moment go by, and let's remember in this parliament this is a bipartisan reform - started by the Howard Government, Malcolm Turnbull as Minster, being continued by the current Government, with optimising across the three areas: social, economic and environmental.

Now, I know there are days in Question Time when we see the Leader of the Opposition in his usual negative mode. It can be hard to diagnose that this is a bipartisan reform, but it is bipartisan in its generation here. We need to work with state governments to deliver it. I think people will judge state governments very harshly if they let this reform moment go by.

Yes?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minster, timber workers say they need an assistance package of about $200 million. They say your, I think, $22 million dollar package isn't enough. Have you got any plans to deliver some more money?

PM: Well, we've got the engagement that we announced yesterday here for bringing the agreement to life, and I do want to say to all stakeholders, as a Federal Government, no-one should expect a blank cheque here. No-one should expect us to be there just listening to claims and then responding to them.

What we need is we need a process that gets the stakeholders to work on delivering the agreement. We also require the Tasmanian Government to step up to its responsibilities here and to access revenue that it can access to be put into this task, so we require the Tasmanian Government to step up.

We pointed yesterday to the fact that the Federal Government already has some money allocated in the forward estimates for forestry-related issues in Tasmania and that's the source of funds that we are looking to. We want to take a prudent, disciplined approach here - and we will.

Yes, Phil Coorey?

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about the revelations today about Craig Thomson's past - are you concerned about any implications that may flow from that information today?

PM: Well, I'm not going to comment on a legal matter that's in train. What I would say is that Craig Thomson is very valued member of my team. He completely rejects out of hand these allegations. Consequently, there is a defamation action on foot and where there is a defamation action on foot before the courts I'm not going to be drawn into commentating on it.

Yes?

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) how prepared is Labor to fight a by-election if it comes to that?

PM: I didn't hear that first part?

JOURNALIST: How prepared is Labor to fight a by-election?

PM: I know it's drawing to the end of the year but I'm not sure that we've moved into flights of fancy rather than reporting news. What we've got on foot is a defamation action where Mr Thomson completely denies the allegations that have been made against him.

Kieran?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Opposition is calling on you to confirm whether or not the advice Mr Rudd gave to Hillary Clinton last year is formal Government policy. Why won't you do that, and as we come to the end of the year, on a separate tack, what's the morale like in the Cabinet?

PM: Well, firstly on the issues yesterday, on the statements yesterday of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Julie Bishop, they have been rightly criticised by foreign policy experts today, outside Government, as cheap and irresponsible and that's what they are.

The Government is not going to be commenting on the contents of or alleged accuracy of any cables involved in this WikiLeaks process. Anybody who is asking us to do that is playing cheap politics rather than looking to the national interest.

Yes, Phil Hudson?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned flights of fancy. Today it's been revealed that a former senator under the gold pass scheme, in just two years took 147 flights costing $116,000. Is that really a good use of taxpayers' money? Are you going to shut down the gold pass scheme?

PM: I think we've got to give the prize for the most tortured word association of today, but fairly well done on that word association.

Look, I've seen that these matters have been reported in today's newspapers and that the story is authored by one Phil Hudson. I've seen that and I will be briefed on this individual matter.

I'm not in a position to comment on the individual matter now, but I will say about the question of how parliamentarians' entitlements are dealt with, that my view is it is best if these entitlements are dealt with independently by a tribunal independent of parliamentarians, that they set fair rules and that people then adhere to those rules.

I understand that there are public questions about the use of entitlements by people who were politicians. I think there's some things that need to be considered in this debate. I've said before and I'm happy to point to it again as an important example, I am the successor in the seat of Lalor to Barry Jones. Barry Jones, today, is still invited the attend conferences and events around the country associated with science. He came into this parliament famous for Pick a Box. He left this parliament famous for his passion for science and there are people around the country who still want to hear him speak and have him involved in their events because of that passion for science-

JOURNALIST: -(inaudible) for a week.

PM: Look, I believe that there's some balances there we've got to strike and I think it would be unfortunate if a figure like Barry Jones couldn't attend a school event in New South Wales to promote science. So, how you get the balance right, I think these things are best done by independent tribunals.

We'll just go, we haven't, Latika hasn't had a question.

JOURNALIST: Thank you, Prime Minister. Following on from Friday, your comments when you said the WikiLeaks case was illegal, what Australian laws do you think Julian Assange has broken?

PM: Look, the foundation stone of this WikiLeaks issue is an illegal act. The foundation stone of it is an illegal act. Information was taken and that was illegal, so let's not try and put any glosses on this. It would not happen, information would not be on WikiLeaks, if there had not been an illegal act undertaken.

JOURNALIST: But that happens with whistleblowers leaking information often. That doesn't necessarily mean the person who then brings that information to the public light has committed an illegal act, does it?

PM: The Australian Federal Police is going to provide the Government with some advice about potential criminal conduct of the individual involved. People would be aware that there's also the issue of a warrant relating to an alleged sexual assault in Sweden.

What I would say about the publication of the WikiLeaks information is it's grossly irresponsible and anybody who looks at the pages of newspaper and sees that things like critical infrastructure lists are being put on WikiLeaks would as a matter of just common sense understand how grossly irresponsible this is.

JOURNALIST: So, Ms Gillard that relates to the law in another country, the actual giving out of the information. The question, I think, was about Australian law. Have you had any preliminary advice from the Federal Police, and they've had now some time to give such advice - why is it taking so long?

PM: I haven't received advice yet and obviously our Federal Police go through thorough processes before providing such advice, but I've been asked about this matter a number of times and I want to be clear about my attitude to it: the foundation stone is an illegal act that certainly breached the laws of the United States of America. The individual involved, there are potential matters arising from Sweden and the warrant there. Then, of course, we've got the Australian Federal Police looking to see whether Australian laws have been broken and then we've got the common sense test about the gross irresponsibility of this conduct.

Yes?

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) is reforming the telecommunications sector-

PM: -Say again? I missed the first few words.

JOURNALIST: You're Government is reforming the telecommunications sector. Fred Hilmer, who's something of an expert on competition, as I'm sure you agree, has today said that you are in fact re-regulating the industry. First of all, what did you make of Mr Hilmer's comments?

And I guess as a second question, 47 per cent of Australians are willing to pay extra for electricity prices to take action on climate change. You've got the Greens, I guess, dragging you, as we all know, towards putting a price on carbon by early next year. How are you going to balance the demands of the Greens with the desires of the Australian people who don't want to pay more for electricity?

PM: Well, once again I'm not accepting the premise of the second part of your question, it's wrong, and on carbon pricing what I will be saying to the Australian people as Prime Minister is that it's in our interests, in the interests of Australians, to get our economy ready for a low-pollution future.

As Prime Minister, I am guided each and every day about what's in our national interest. What's in the interests of Australian families? It's in their interest for us to have a low-pollution economy in the future.

Australians are rightly concerned about electricity prices. They've seen big increases, and in part they've seen those big increases because we've had a decade of underinvestment in base load electricity generation, partly as a result of uncertainty about carbon pricing.

Well, as Prime Minister I am not going to allow the next decade to be the same as the last, meaning Australians will face ever-escalating electricity prices and the risk - the real risk - of black outs in peaks period of usage.

That's why as Prime Minister, working with Minister Combet, we are leading the debate for how this country should price carbon. I'm not going to pretend that it's easy - it's not easy - but it's a necessary reform: the future of our economy; dealing with questions like electricity supply; future of Australian families, and we will be working in 2011 to deliver an agreed mechanism for pricing carbon.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Oh, sorry, and on Professor Hilmer, I've seen today's comments. I believe that the reforms that we brought to this Parliament and secured through this Parliament, despite the bitterness and negativity of the Opposition, are important reforms for telecommunications, for the telecommunications industry, important reforms for competition. They are ending the vertical integration which has created Telstra as an absolute gorilla in the market. We will have NBN Co providing fibre and retail competition on the basis of it - good for Australia. We need this technology for our future - good for competition, pricing, services, and innovation.

Mark, we'll take the last question.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, given your previous portfolio, will you be intervening personally in the national curriculum negotiations, and given that New South Wales is questioning education plans and Mike Taylor is questioning some of the water plan, are you confident that 2011 will still be a year of delivery?

PM: Absolutely confident, and on national curriculum Minister Garrett has the matter well in hand.

Thank you.

Transcript 17492