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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 23497

Joint Press Conference, Sydney

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 16/05/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23497

Subject(s): Funding agreement to fast-track construction of WestConnex

Location: Sydney

PRIME MINISTER:

It is terrific to be here with Premier Mike Baird to sign the Memorandum of Understanding with the New South Wales Government which will enable WestConnex to be fully built much faster than would otherwise be the case.

As I have often said, it is my hope to be known as the infrastructure Prime Minister. I certainly would like Mike to be an infrastructure Premier and I think with the level of cooperation that we have got between this Commonwealth Government and this State Government both of us will be able to make an enduring mark on the great state of New South Wales. By making an enduring mark on the great state of New South Wales we make a mark – a mark for the better – on the whole economy of Australia.

We're building WestConnex. We've got a major infrastructure plan for Western Sydney. We've got NorthConnex starting soon and of course the Pacific Highway will be duplicated from Newcastle right through to the Queensland border by 2020.

These are all massive benefits for the people of New South Wales. They're massive benefits for the economy of Australia and they show that while the Budget this week was a Budget of saving – it is also a Budget of building. We are moving money from short-term consumption to long-term investment. We are building the economic strength of our nation so that everyone will be better off in the years and decades to come.

It is great to be here with the Premier. It's great to be here with my ministerial colleague Jamie Briggs and also with the New South Wales Road Minister Duncan Gay and with our local members because this is a very good day for the people of Sydney and for the economy of Australia.

PREMIER BAIRD:

Thanks Prime Minister. It is a privilege to be here with the Prime Minister.

We've obviously articulated some concerns in terms of the federal Budget but like any family, you can have disagreements, you can come back together on the things that you unite you and this is a fantastic announcement today.

Part of this federal Budget delivers an unprecedented infrastructure investment across this state and we've heard for many years; we've heard words, we've heard hopes, we've seen maps. Well, the difference between then and today under this Prime Minister and this state Government – that's determined to come alongside them to build the infrastructure the community wants – is that it is now finally happening. So, it's a great opportunity for this city and we welcome wholeheartedly the infrastructure investment.

What you see in the WestConnex project is a huge opportunity. The bring-forward of money that we've signed today, the $2 billion enables both the M4 and the M5 parts of the WestConnex project to be started at the same time and completed by 2019. That is an incredible opportunity and if you look at the broader benefit- 10,000 jobs and more broadly across the NSW economy $20 billion in economic benefits. At a local level- think about it. As the congestion is removed and freed up and more capacity provided on the WestConnex; local mums and dads getting to their schools and to their shops – well the pressure is taken off local roads as well.

At every turn this is a great announcement for this city, it's a great announcement for Western Sydney, it's a great announcement for NSW and I'm delighted to join the Prime Minister – together with the Infrastructure Minister and the Roads Minister and the local members – in announcing this incredibly important day for the people of New South Wales.

PRIME MINISTER:

Do we have any questions?

QUESTION:

Why is it a loan? Why aren't you paying for this?

PRIME MINISTER:

The important thing is to get it done and we have been talking to the New South Wales Government very, very intensively over recent months and this is the most cost-effective way of getting it done quickly.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, Mike Baird said you kicked him in the guts on health and education. Are you going to say sorry now you're next to him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Mike and I have had some discussions about this. We've had private discussions as well as public discussions. We work together very closely as is obvious from today's announcement. I know that there was some things in the Budget that the premiers liked – there were other things in the Budget that the premiers would prefer weren't there. But all of us understand that we've got to do things more efficiently. We've got to do things more effectively and there is a process going forward to resolve these matters.

There's a federation white paper. The federation white paper is going to be a very constructive and collegial exercise. The steering committee that will be running the federation white paper will be chaired by the Secretary of the Commonwealth Department but the Directors-General of all the Premiers’ Departments will also be on that steering committee to make sure that we go forward together to make our federation work better.

QUESTION:

Is that about a GST extension as John Howard has been talking about?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it's absolutely premature to be talking about the outcomes of the process. Let's begin the process before we start speculating on what might come out of the process but I am confident that what will emerge from this process is not only a better federation but better run, more effective public schools and public hospitals.

QUESTION:

Why did you pre-empt the process by saying you would rip $80 billion out of health and education?

PRIME MINISTER:

We were simply being up-front in the Budget, in the same way that we were up-front pre-election. We always said pre-election that yes, we would honour the former government’s deals for the forward estimates but we weren't going to be committed to pie in the sky promises that would never have been delivered for the out years, because what the former government – the former Labor government – did, basically was booby-trapping the Budget with a whole lot of unsustainable, undeliverable, unaffordable spending commitments. Now, they're all gone. They're all gone. This is a nation that will henceforth live within its means because the families, the people of Australia know that governments- no different from families and businesses - have to live within their means.

Now, we were up-front about it before the election that we weren't going to be bound by Labor's pie in the sky promises in the out years. The first of the out years comes into the forward estimates in this Budget and we've been up-front in the Budget.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader's prepared for a double dissolution election. Are you prepared as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

We're going to get on with governing. We're going to get on with governing and we are confident that one way or another we will be able to negotiate the various Budget measures through the Senate and into practice. That's what good governments do; they focus on governing and responsible Members of Parliament in minor parties and Independents, they work with the government of the day to try to ensure that the government's policies can be implemented.

QUESTION:

So, the co-payment, is that one thing you're prepared to negotiate over?

PRIME MINISTER:

We believe in a price signal and it's interesting last night we had Labor Members of Parliament saying that it was somehow unconscionable to see a co-payment. Well, how can it be alright to have a PBS co-payment, how can it be alright to pay a few dollars when you get your script filled at the pharmacist and not alright to pay a few dollars when you go to visit the GP? And how can it be unconscionable for this Coalition Government to propose a co-payment and not be unconscionable for the Hawke government when it actually implemented a co-payment back in the 1990s?

So, I think what we saw last night was a Labor Party which is in denial about the debt and deficit disaster that it created. This Government has a plan to fix Labor's debt and deficit disaster. Labor obviously has no plan to fix the disaster which it created.

QUESTION:

Mr Baird, last night Bill Shorten called the removal of $80 billion worth of funding for health and education ‘incompetent, unconscionable and underhanded’. You'd agree with that, wouldn't you?

PREMIER BAIRD:

There's not much I agree with Bill Shorten about. Can I say when we came to government three years ago, I opened my file as the incoming Treasurer and it said, ‘Congratulations, you are Treasurer of New South Wales’. What the second line should have said, ‘Commiserations, you are Treasurer of New South Wales’. We inherited a fiscal mess; an unsustainable budget position, rising debts, expenses reaching to the moon. Action needed to be taken and that's what you're seeing from the federal Government. The federal Government, both the Prime Minister and the federal Treasurer, they have a job to do to get the Budget back onto a sustainable path for the future of this nation and we absolutely support them in that initiative.

The questions that we have raised in relation to health and education in particular, we will be coming together and we'll be putting forward proposals to the Prime Minister and the federal Treasurer on working that out together. And I've been very heartened to receive a call from the Prime Minister to say exactly that. He wants to listen to concerns, wants to work together and I'm very confident we'll be able to do that.

QUESTION:

So, is the budget still a kick in the guts?

PREMIER BAIRD:

Oh well, it's a real challenge. The long-term position in relation to the finances, particularly in relation to health, is a long-term challenge. But what I have said today is that I am absolutely heartened by the Prime Minister who is willing to respond and engage in a constructive discussion on how we fix it. Coming together – you can achieve much more coming together – and I'm very confident that's what will happen.

QUESTION:

Will that urgent meeting with other premiers still go ahead? Earlier in the week premiers were saying that an urgent meeting will be convened. Will you still have that urgent meeting?

PREMIER BAIRD:

Yes, I mean the premiers will be coming together. I mean, it's a significant challenge to all of the state finances and we want to be constructive, we want to present ideas and proposals to both the Prime Minister and the federal Treasurer and we will do that.

QUESTION:

Well, two days ago you were asking the federal Government to tell you which services would they like New South Wales to cut. Has that changed?

PREMIER BAIRD:

Nothing's changed in terms of the concerns. We have a long-term challenge for the state finances, not just here in New South Wales but across the country. What we need to do is work the way forward. How do we do that? Well, we'll come together as the state premiers are doing. We'll constructively put ideas to the Prime Minister and the federal Treasurer. I have no doubt that we can come through this together.

QUESTION:

Why do you think there shouldn't be a co-payment on a trip to a doctor, a hospital when the Prime Minister thinks there should be a co-payment on a trip to a doctor or a GP?

PREMIER BAIRD:

I mean that's our position. We will be considering and obviously watching events as they unfold. But I mean, you can have a difference between the federal Government and the state government. We're in a position that we’ll monitor the impacts on the emergency departments and others. It is part of the broader discussion that we want to have on health.

QUESTION:

Presumably people will just turn up to hospitals in increasing numbers?

PREMIER BAIRD:

Well, I mean, let's wait and see. Let’s wait and see.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, last night Mr Shorten said, among other things, that yours was a Budget that goes out of its way to create an underclass. They're fighting words, aren't they?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that's the problem. Labor wants to have a fight; it doesn't want to come up with constructive solutions for the problems that Labor created. And this is the problem. The Labor Party is in denial about the debt and deficit disaster that it created and sure, there are lots of things that have happened in this Budget that many people would prefer hadn't happened. But when you've got $50 billion of deficit this year, when you've got debt and deficit under Labor's policies stretching out as far as the eye can see, when you've got debt peaking at $25,000 for every Australian man, woman and child – you've got to act decisively to turn the country around. The point I keep making is that eventually you don't control debt – debt controls you.

Everyone in this room who has ever had a mortgage, who has ever had a credit card knows that eventually if you let it get out of control you don't run the debt – the debt runs you. And that's the problem. That's the Budget emergency that has been confronting our country. Labor was incapable of facing up to it, the Coalition, as before, will once more rise to the challenge of addressing the nation's finances.

QUESTION:

How can you say you stand here and say you’re upfront with the Australian people and bring in the changes you did the other night?

PRIME MINISTER:

We were very clear before the election that the cash splash with borrowed money had to stop and we were very clear before the election that the school kids' bonus would go, that a whole range of other payments would go because they were simply unaffordable. We get into Government, we see the full state of the books - Labor was telling us before the election that the deficit would steadily decline -what we discover is that 2017-18 you've got a double-dip deficit. The deficit starts going up again to $30 billion in 2017-18. We have had to take very strong measures, which mean that in 2017-18 instead of a forecast deficit of over $30 billion under the policies that were announced the other night, it should be a forecast deficit of just under $3 billion.

QUESTION:

The Medicare co-payment is not even a revenue raising thing, is it? I mean, it will go into medical research but it's more about changing people, the way people go to doctors and not over services, isn't it? So, why didn't you say that before the last election?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a long-term structural reform. We are quite properly putting some modest price signals into the system and the money that will be raised as a result of that is going to be reinvested in long-term health benefits. I'm pleased that you raised this because the medical research fund that we are creating – the world leading medical research fund that we are creating – builds on one of the great strengths of the Australian nation. We have an absolute cavalcade of Nobel Prize winners in medicine, starting with people like Howard Florey, perhaps the most impactful Australian who has ever lived when it comes to the lives saved, the hundreds of millions of lives saved all around the world as a result of his discovery of penicillin. That's just the start. We can do so much for ourselves and for the wider world in terms of inventing the cures and the treatments of the future with this fund. This is a visionary element in what was otherwise a tough Budget.

QUESTION:

Why wasn't it announced before the last election? If it’s so good people would have loved it and voted for it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, sometimes you don't have all your good ideas at once.

PREMIER BAIRD:

It can happen after the election.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s right.

QUESTION:

Did you have this idea before the last election?

PRIME MINISTER:

We certainly had the idea of making the health system work better but like most people, your thinking evolves and develops as your circumstances change. We had a lot of good ideas before the election – we're doing them. We've also had some further good ideas since the election - we're doing them. I suspect between now and the next election our thinking will further evolve and you will get more good policy and good ideas from the Coalition.

QUESTION:

Campbell Newman's come up with what he thinks is a good idea today. He said he's hopping mad about the cuts and he's talking about states getting a percentage of income tax – what do you say about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm very happy for Campbell to be thinking of various proposals which Queensland may well bring to the federation white paper process. But what I'm on about is lower, simpler, fairer taxes. That's what I'm on about. I'm on about a federation that works better so that the good schools and the good hospitals that Australia needs and deserves can continue to be delivered far into the future. Look, I'm not interested in picking fights – I'm interested in finding pathways forward. What I'm not going to do is be bound by the pie in the sky promises of the former government. Yes, Commonwealth spending on public schools and public hospitals will continue to grow, but it will grow at a sustainable rate, not at the completely unsustainable and unaffordable rate that we had under the former government.

QUESTION:

Premier, could we get one question to you about Sunday – about Sunday looking forward? What message will you be taking to the premiers on Sunday?

PREMIER BAIRD:

The premiers will come together with the concerns that have been raised and I don't back away from those concerns – they are genuine. As the Prime Minister articulated, we have to look at what we do in relation to long-term health and education funding in this nation. We will be bringing those concerns together. We will be doing it in a constructive way and we'll ensure that each state and the nation is stronger on the back of it. But the agenda will come together out of genuine concern and as I've said, the Prime Minister and the federal Treasurer are listening and open to the responses that we put forward and we look forward to doing that on Sunday.

[ends]

Transcript - 23497