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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 24370

COAG Press Conference, Canberra

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: 17/04/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24370

Subject(s): Meeting of the Council of Australian Governments.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, everyone. We’ve had a good and strong and constructive meeting of the Council of Australian Governments today. We’ve obviously had the opportunity of welcoming to their first COAG meeting the new Premiers of Queensland and Victoria and the new Chief Minister of the ACT. So, Annastacia, Daniel and Andrew, welcome to your first meeting of COAG and, Troy, welcome to your first meeting of COAG as well.

Our proceedings today were preceded by a breakfast with Ken Lay and Rosie Batty to talk about domestic violence, to explore some of the tragedy which hundreds of thousands of homes are subject to and I want to say thank you to Rosie, in particular, but also to Ken for the work that they have already done and will continue to do in this area.

And then after 9 o'clock we were lucky enough to have, to help our discussions, members of the expert panel who are assisting the federation reform white paper – John Bannon, the former premier of South Australia, Alan Stockdale, the former treasurer of Victoria, Jennifer Westacott and Dr Doug McTaggart – all members of the expert panel to help us with that discussion.

I'm very conscious of the fact that for the next 12 months or so, Australia has an election-free zone and that should give us an unusual window of opportunity for significant structural reform if we are prepared to grasp that nettle. Now, that's a test for us, individually and collectively, and let's see how we go, but I've got to say that I have a strong sense from the discussions that we had last night and today that we all want to give it a go. We all want to give it a go. We would like to be part of that group of heads of government that did take our country forward as a federation rather than simply accept that what we're doing now is just about as good as it gets.

We are prepared to look at a whole range of issues, not just funding issues, but also structural issues and questions about who does what, because none of us would say that the current federation is perfect. Yes, it's strong and it's functioning – we wouldn't be the great country that we are if it weren't – but we can always do better and plainly there is much to our current federation that is suboptimal and let's see how we can work together to try to bring it dynamically into the 21st century.

Of course, for this to happen we will have to be prepared to leave partisanship at the door. Eventually, all of us have to put partisanship back on again, but for the purposes of our discussions of reform of the federation over the next few months, we will have to leave partisanship at the door and one of the outcomes of today's meeting is an agreement to have what I believe is probably a first, a COAG leaders' retreat without officials, but we will have the benefit of the expert panel to help us, so a COAG leaders' retreat to discuss this whole question of fundamental reform of the federation.

As well as us leaving partisanship at the door, I guess for the wider community, particularly for the commentariat, it will be important to focus on the things that really matter rather than the things of merely passing interest which all too often dominate daily debate.

Now, as well as these big long-term questions, we also dealt with three urgent and pressing issues. The question of domestic violence obviously has been on our agenda, particularly since the beginning of the year. We do want to have a national campaign to bring home to all of us just how wrong, just how evil this is. Yes, we also want to try to ensure that we have a national Domestic Violence Order system, we want to have a national set of benchmarks for intervention against perpetrators and we want to tackle the problem of online oppression of women and children as well.

Ice, obviously, is a growing national scourge and without the Commonwealth attempting to dictate to the states and the territories what their response should be, we will have a national task force to supervise a stocktake of what the different jurisdictions are doing in this area and what seems to be working best so that the different jurisdictions can take these up if they choose.

And finally, on counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism, all of our agencies are working together very effectively – very, very effectively indeed. I think the cooperation between state and federal police forces, between all of our police forces, ASIO, where necessary, ASIS, has never been better and more effective.

But, as well as dealing effectively with those determined to do us harm, it's also important to try to ensure that the mindset which is susceptible to the death cult ideology is tackled as well and we have to drain the swamp, if you like, of extremism as well as ensure that the nasties hiding in the swamp are dealt with whenever they're tempted to emerge.

And, to that end, we will have a further special COAG discussion, most likely in July, the day after our leaders' retreat, to deal with the fundamental reform of the federation.

I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that the GST was discussed. That discussion was pretty constructive and pretty collegial. Notwithstanding a fairly vigorous public debate on this subject of the last few days, there is an agreement that the whole question of the GST and its distribution should be handled by the federation white paper process.

I should say on behalf of the Commonwealth that we're certainly prepared to consider a range of options, including the possibility of putting a floor on GST contributions, but again, I stress anything that's ultimately done in this area would have to be done in consultation with the states and territories.

But again, I want to stress that this has been a good and constructive COAG. All of the COAG meetings that I've been involved in as Prime Minister have been good and constructive and given the importance of the issues that we've been wrestling with today, I am particularly pleased at the spirit with which the meeting was conducted.

Yes, there are lots of things that we disagree on, because we all have different perspectives. We have different organisational and institutional perspectives, different philosophical perspectives, but the great thing about government in this country is that the fundamentals matter more than the accidents and if I might for a moment quote my friend and mentor John Howard, the things that unite us are always more important than anything that might divide us.

So, thanks to my head of government colleagues and over to you, Mike.

PREMIER BAIRD:

Thanks, Prime Minister. I agree absolutely with the Prime Minister in terms of his comments. The discussion today was very constructive. Yes, there were some robust moments, as you would expect, but it was an honest discussion and I think what you saw was a group of leaders that come together and really have an opportunity that I think is unprecedented.

Three things I want to touch on. The first is on the matter of federation and the discussion and the opportunities that we have over the next six months. Everyone agrees we need to grab it with both hands and make the most of it. So, we do have a period to make a difference, not just for this generation, but the next generation and that is something we're all taking seriously and everyone is united on ensuring we achieve a great outcome.

There's no doubt in that process that the focus is very much likely to be on health and education. Other things will be considered, but that will be a focus and we need to ensure that the services are delivered and the focus is on both patients and students. What are the best we can do for our patients and students? What are the outcomes we can achieve that is best for them and delivered in the most efficient way? In that context there's been a lot of discussion around funding and what is important is there is an acknowledgement that the funding gap must be addressed, but it will be done jointly between the Commonwealth, between the states and the territories.

We acknowledge there is a challenge, but we acknowledge it is one we are prepared to meet head on, ensuring that the cost curve comes down, services are indeed maintained and enhanced. It can be done, it is a challenge, but it is one that we're up for and we're very excited about the opportunity and there was an overall consensus that we don't want to just tick the box on this. We want to be bold and we want to be open to every possibility we can to make a difference for future generations.

The second point I want to make is again about – the Prime Minister touched on – reducing violence against women. I think we have an unprecedented opportunity here to make a real difference in this area. It doesn't stop at the state boundaries, it is clearly a problem across this country and bringing us together there's initiatives across various states and territories where we are making a difference, but coordinating that, getting best practice and not just allowing things like DVOs across borders, sharing information with agencies, but more broadly what strategies can we implement that are making a difference collectively across the country?

And I think what's most important in this is that every single one of these leaders are standing up and saying to our states and territories and our communities and community leaders that we have had enough, that this is something that must stop. And this is something that we are absolutely determined to deliver on. And I think – again, Rosie Batty today was inspirational and her words resonate deeply and what we want to do is ensure we turn words into actions and those actions deliver results and I think we all take that very seriously and as an incredible opportunity.

The last point is the counter-terrorism I want to highlight. Again, I couldn't be prouder of our agencies and the Prime Minister touched on this. What we have seen over the past few weeks and months – they have prevented attacks, they have worked together. I think that we are seeing an unbelievable amount of cooperation and yes we can do more, but we're very proud of what we're seeing. Again, part of the emphasis going forward is yes, prevention has to come into the equation. Can we do more in terms of working with communities ensuring issues such as the radicalisation of these youths? What programmes can we run? What focus can we put on it? And really that's the next stage of the counter-terrorism measures. So, a very good meeting and obviously a pleasure to be here.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, Mike.

Well, look, I might just ask my colleagues physically if not necessarily philosophically on my left to speak very briefly and then we'll go to the right. So, Daniel, starting with you.

PREMIER ANDREWS:

Thanks to the Prime Minister and to colleagues for what's been a really constructive meeting. Very quickly from my point of view and from Victoria's point of view, I want to congratulate the Prime Minister and colleagues for a really principled statement around family violence. This is the number one law and order issue in our nation. This is a national emergency and today we have all proudly stood up and said that we as government leaders, we as leaders in this nation know and understand that more of the same policy will mean more of the same tragedy and we're not prepared to settle for that.

Now, we're approaching this in different ways and each of us are doing good work. The notion of, through the Prime Minister's leadership, coordinating at a national level a campaign that's about raising awareness and ultimately saving lives, that's something that all of us should be very proud of and I thank the Prime Minister for his leadership on this issue.

It will be a campaign, and it's not just about violence as such, it's about a much deeper and broader issue and that is the way we view women – particularly the way men view women. I’ve long thought and I think we all can agree that outcomes for women are all too often the product of attitudes toward women. This campaign is going to be really important and we look forward to being involved in rolling it out and leading not only a debate, but much better policy outcomes right across states and territories.

Just very quickly, obviously ice and countering violent extremism, we've made some important progress in those areas as well. And just finally from my point of view, I'm really very pleased and very proud that the communique and the meeting sees the Commonwealth really strongly affirm that the maximum local content, the maximum Australian involvement in our defence manufacturing task is really very, very important. It's critically important, particularly for states like ours as we transition out of the automotive industry. A long order book, so a continuous build and lots of opportunities for Victorian and Australian businesses to be part of that manufacturing task. I'm really pleased about that. That's a great statement of leadership from the Prime Minister, as well.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, Daniel. Annastacia?

Premier Palaszczuk:

Thanks, Prime Minister. I want to agree with the previous speakers. This has been a very constructive debate that we've actually had today. I think we all recognise how important service delivery is. Families, especially, recognise that we need to make sure that we deliver the best possible healthcare and we provide the best possible standards of education, no matter where people live in Australia. So, to have a further discussion on reform is very essential and very crucial as this is going to place huge budgetary impacts on our budgets in the years to come.

Secondly, in relation to domestic and family violence, this is a community issue. As leaders we can set the parameters, but it needs a community response. We need to make sure that everyone is aware that any form of domestic and family violence is simply not acceptable. I was welcomed today to sit down and hear Rosie Batty's personal story, but her story is not different to thousands of other women and we need to make sure that through this awareness campaign that we also have the necessary service delivery agencies out there to cope with the number of women that will come forward from that awareness campaign.

The other issue that we raised and discussed informally was about perhaps looking at domestic violence specialised courts. It was a recommendation from the Dame Quentin Bryce paper that was delivered to the Queensland government and something that I think that we can explore further in terms of having a holistic approach and being more sensitive to the issues surrounding women going through domestic and family violence.

Thirdly, I just wanted to touch on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This is a fundamental reform – fundamental. Thousands of families out there are waiting for this insurance scheme to start. But we are already paying a Medicare levy for this and we want to make sure that it is smoothed over a number of years and I welcomed the Prime Minister's decision today to look at providing some flexible arrangements around this. I also welcomed the Prime Minister's decision today to give consideration for Queensland also running a pilot service in relation to the roll-out of this scheme.

But can I just stress, these are issues that Queenslanders are talking to me about, but also talking to other states and territories about. We need to look after our most vulnerable. That is the people with a disability, but also our vulnerable women out there and as a sign of a society, if we are prepared to put these issues at the forefront of our agenda and tackle it from a national and state perspective, but also recognising it needs a community response, as well.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, Annastacia. Jay?

PREMIER WEATHERILL:

Thank you, Prime Minister. I think Australians want their leaders to provide a vision for them which they can get behind and support. So much of the public discourse has been about cuts and about politicians arguing with each other.

This COAG was a welcome change from that sort of approach. We believe that most Australians simply want a secure job, they want schools for their kids, they want to be able to be cared for when they're sick and they want to be safe and secure in their communities. These are basic human demands that they expect us to deliver on.

We made some important headways in relation to each of those issues at this discussion. We now have, I think, a good discussion about what quality healthcare and quality education services can look like. We also know they're the most affordable services and we can also have an honest discussion about if there's a gap between what that costs and what we're raising, that can be dealt with through the processes that we've set up.

We've also had a good discussion about jobs. There's a couple of very important issues in front of us at the moment which are stalling jobs. We've lost a car industry. We don't want other industries to go the way of the car industry. There is a risk that our defence sector will go that way. We now have a commitment to a continuous build in the ship building sector. There is some important additional decisions the Commonwealth needs to make, but that is a vital first step, because that's at the heart of all the productivity challenges that face our defence industry.

We also have a joint position of states and territories to ask the Commonwealth to quickly resolve the impasse in relation to the Renewable Energy Target. In South Australia alone we have $4.6 billion worth of projects which are stalled awaiting the resolution of that question.

So, all of these things taken together we think can amount to a powerful vision for the future of South Australia. I just want to add my support for the important decisions we've taken today in relation to violence against women. Men need to accept this is an issue for them and all men need to stand up and add their voice to saying that violence against women is utterly unacceptable and it doesn't spring from nothing. It springs from an attitude to women. It springs from disrespect. We heard today from Rosie Batty that this is a continuum. It starts with basic disrespect and progresses to violence.

That's what we're standing up and saying is wrong.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, Jay. Andrew?

CHIEF MINISTER BARR:

Thank you, Prime Minister and thank you colleagues for what's been a very constructive meeting. The ACT went into this COAG with a view to want to ensure jobs for our city. So, I was very pleased to hear from the Prime Minister that the worst appears to be behind us in terms of Commonwealth sector, public sector job losses.

We also need to roll up our sleeves and work on long-term funding plans for our schools and our hospitals and we now have a process in which to achieve that. In relation to the domestic violence issue, the ACT convened a special meeting of our domestic violence prevention council to inform our discussion here today. The recommendations there were particularly focused on the need for the campaign to target behavioural change and for it to recognise both regional, cultural and relationship differences. So, there must be a focus on non-English speaking background households. Those from Indigenous communities but also those in same-sex relationships. They can't be overlooked in this context.

Finally, the ACT continues to be a national leader in economic reform and we continue to be the tax reformers in this country abolishing insurance taxes and stamp duties. We look forward to further discussions on the White Paper there. I've also asked for a continuation of public debate in relation to the Harper competition reviews and that will be brought back to the next COAG meeting. The ACT intends again to take a national leadership role in relation to these important economic reforms if we are to fund the services that this community and this nation needs. We must be at the forefront of economic reform and the ACT will continue to lead the nation in these areas.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks Andrew, Troy?

MAYOR PICKARD:

Thank you Prime Minister. This is my first COAG meeting and I'd like to thank the Prime Minister, the Premiers and the Chief Ministers for warmly welcoming me to COAG for local government.

There were two issues of specific relevance The first relates to the reform of the federation. The local government played an important role in delivering local infrastructure and services and we look forward to making a constructive contribution to the reform of the Australian federation through the White Paper, in particular strengthening the relationship between the three levels of government and ensuring appropriate funding aligns with responsibility.

The second issue relates to counter-terrorism and whilst this is predominantly an issue for the Commonwealth, states and territories, local government plays an important role through community engagement and indeed many councils across Australia are actively engaged in the community, identifying young people at risk of radicalisation and I've encouraged the Premiers to work with local government so we can jointly tackle this terror threat.

Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, Troy. Colin?

PREMIER BARNETT:

Well, I must have been at a different meeting; that’s not quite my recollection. The elephant in the room is GST and that's what this COAG has been significantly about. You've probably heard me before, so I'll spare you the story, but I just want to make a number of brief observations.

The first is it is not the Premiers, it is the Commonwealth which distributes the GST on the advice of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. The Premiers have no role. We can bicker and argue but it's to no effect.

Western Australia feels very poorly treated under the recommendations that have been made to the Commonwealth Government. And just to give one example, and a different one maybe. When the GST started 15 years ago the pool was $24 billion of GST collected. For the coming financial year it will be $57 billion. During that time the payments to Western Australia just in raw dollars were $2.3 billion in 2001. For the coming year they'll be $1.9 billion, so the actual numbers of dollars for Western Australia has declined despite the massive increase in the pool. If you allowed for inflation, probably payments to Western Australia have been halved. Every other state has had a doubling or trebling in its GST payments. That is grossly unfair and what I sought out of this meeting was the situation for Western Australia would get no worse. That's all I ask for.

Western Australians only received back 38 cents in the dollar for every dollar of GST they pay. Every other State gets in the 90s or sometimes well over 100 per cent return. I've said for a long time that Western Australia accepts it's the most prosperous state and the fastest growing state and I've always said we acknowledge that we're willing to support some of the, I guess, weaker economies, particularly Tasmania and South Australia.

The situation today is that $3.75 billion in this year will be taken off Western Australia and given to the other states in the following proportions: $500 million to Tasmania, $750 million to South Australia, $600 million to Queensland, $142 million to the ACT and $1.7 billion to the Northern Territory. You can understand why I'm angry, you can understand why Western Australians are angry. So, what I sought was it would get no worse. That the share, the 38 cents in the dollar share that we got would not fall to below 30 cents as recommended by the Grants Commission.

I want to thank the Prime Minister. We had a good discussion yesterday and I think for the first time we've got a Prime Minister that actually comprehends the impact on Western Australia, comprehends how unfair it is and is showing a willingness to try and do something about it. That's I guess to be resolved. There have been some discussions as to how the Commonwealth might, not assist Western Australia, but ensure that our share doesn't fall below the 38 cents it is.

So, I'm sorry Prime Minister, but that was for me the issue and this will be an opportunity where I've got to say I was disappointed in my state colleagues. They had an opportunity to show some willingness to actually achieve some reform and it wasn't there. So I don't know how we're going to reform Australia and modernise it when we can't tackle an issue which is so inequitable and also has the effect of penalising success and rewarding weakness or failure.

You know, I think the comfort I take is that the Prime Minister's indicated a willingness to try and assist so we don't get worse off over the next couple of years and I do genuinely appreciate that. The other point is that there was at least some discussion about a future floor and the discussion was around a future floor at 50 cents in the dollar once Western Australia has got above that level, which we will do in due course. I think it's a highly destabilising situation.

The Grants Commission dates from the 1930s. It was meant to provide equality and it was meant to provide stability to finances here in Australia. It's actually exacerbating the cyclical swings. It's dysfunctional, its time is up. I can't make that decision, only the Commonwealth can in the future.

So, I am somewhat dissatisfied and disappointed, but I do thank the Prime Minister for at least a preparedness to try and deal with the situation and I must say, previous prime ministers were not willing to do that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, Colin. Will?

WILL HODGMAN:

Yes, it's true to say the GST was clearly part of our discussions over the last two days and I represent a state that's economy is growing, that's showing significant signs of increased activity and confidence in the direction that our state is heading, but very much with a lot of work to be done. We are a state that proudly will accept its fair share of the GST and strongly fight for it demonstrating our capacity to improve our economy and to earn that right.

I also come here as one of a number of equals, part of a system that has served the nation well, one that is based on fairness and equity, one that's based on people in my state having the same access to services that are available in Colin's, but also a system that is fundamentally underpinned by an independent body and if we tinker with that, or if we took the path that some suggest and interfere with that independence, then it compromises not only the nature of our GST and its distribution, but the nature of our federation.

We're here having a conversation about the future of our federation and our federation would have been undermined if any other decision had been made, but to maintain and preserve the integrity of that independent process. So, I welcome the decision. I also welcome the opportunity for us to explore ways that we can improve our federation into the future, but that needs to be done outside the annual argy-bargy that comes with the GST distribution. The political bun fight serves no great purpose, but that conversation can and should occur within the confines of a process that's been established by the white paper and which we will contribute to actively.

In addition to what we consider to be a positive outcome on the GST, there were a number of other important developments that have been mentioned by my colleagues. I, too, want to note significant commitments by all leaders to addressing critical issues for our community like family violence and violence against women. I personally am delighted to see such enthusiasm amongst all of us to embrace what is a national ill of the gravest proportions and there was uniform commitment to not only increase awareness, but to do our bit to remedy this issue and to put in place adequate services for the victims of these crimes.

There are also important commitments to addressing issues such as the ice epidemic and to understand how we can best respond to that as well as importantly ensuring we are doing our best to provide great service delivery in terms of health and education outcomes which are of great importance to us all.

So, I look forward to the next phase of the debate about the future of our federation. All states and territories will be equal parties in that and I think it's true to say that what this week has demonstrated if nothing else is whilst there are certainly things we can perhaps improve, and we should always be open to that, I think it's demonstrated that we need to adhere to an independent determination made by the Commonwealth Grants Commission that is about fairness and equity.

PRIME MINISTER:

Adam?

CHIEF MINISTER GILES:

Prime Minister, I want to say thank you very much for what you've done at COAG. There were two items of interest for myself coming towards COAG today: one was about domestic violence, one was about the scourge of ice in the Northern Territory and around Australia.

I wasn't looking forward to coming to COAG and hearing some state jurisdictions complaining about lack of funding from previously signed up national agreements. I was looking at what we can do to support Australia going ahead and I've got to say in those challenging times, particularly in light of conversations around GST, I think the Prime Minister has done a tremendous job.

I'm particularly excited to see a new strike force between the Northern Territory and the Commonwealth Government looking at ice in the Northern Territory and what we can do in a cross-border role to stop ice coming into the territory and the challenges of that potentially getting out to remote communities.

I think the leadership on domestic violence is to be commended and I don't know of any other Australian leader who's provided that direction and leadership before in regards to domestic violence and I'd say, Tony, well done on that. To some of those jurisdictions who showed concern at a national campaign on domestic violence because it may raise demand on services and show cost issues, I think is the wrong approach and I think everything we can do to support women and others in domestic violence situations we should be doing and the leadership that's required from us around this table and all around the nation to better respect women and young girls I think is really important and that will lead to a reduction in domestic violence going ahead.

I think, Colin, you showed your passion there in regards to GST, so congratulations and I think you provided a bit more of an adequate reflection on some people's concerns in the room. As a substantial net receiver of additional GST revenue in the Northern Territory, my challenge is to make sure that we build the economy of the territory so that we have a lower receipt rate of GST and provide a greater level of contribution to the national economy. That takes a long time for us to start to do that, but that's the direction we're heading and the Northern Territory economy is continuing to grow.

But in the conversation of federation, which will in the future come around in the leaders' retreat, that's both an opportunity and a challenge for the Northern Territory – an opportunity for us to take more responsibilities, an opportunity for us to help drive our economy going ahead, but a challenge in how we might take health and education, but particularly land rights and administration of parks such as Uluru and Kakadu so we can open them up, drive economic reform and be greater GST contributors in the future so that people such as Colin in Western Australia don't have these challenges going ahead.

But in summation, Tony, I think you've done a great job on domestic violence and the ice front, so I look forward to working with you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, Adam.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, you’ve been telling us strongly for a week that the distribution of the GST was a matter solely for the states. We've again heard Mr Barnett today contradict that saying it's a Commonwealth matter. Have you changed your mind, or do you stick to your line?

PRIME MINISTER:

The fundamental facts, Michelle, about the GST, are that it is a tax which is raised for the states so that the states can direct it towards their funding responsibilities. So, the money that is raised by the GST is for the states. They collectively own it and collectively it's up to them to decide how it should be distributed. Now, I accept that in the end it's Commonwealth law that governs this, but part of the compact under which the GST was established was that nothing would change without the consent of all the states and territories. So, that's the way we need to go.

Now, I've said all week that I can absolutely understand the position of Western Australia. Yes, Western Australia has done very well out of mining royalties over the last few years, but right now they're being hit by a big drop in mining royalties at the same time as they're getting a very sharp drop, a sustained sharp drop in their GST revenue. Now, we can argue about what might have been the case five or six or 10 years ago, but here and now, WA has a big hit on its revenue and I suspect that any Premier in that position would be arguing his or her state's case and my job as the national leader is to try to find a way forward here and the best way forward is for this matter to be considered as part of the federation reform white paper process. But, I do think we should be prepared to consider, as part of that, putting a floor under the GST return so that no state might get less than a certain amount – 50 per cent has been nominated as a possibility. I think we should be prepared to consider that. I'm not saying that it's going to be accepted, but certainly, it should be considered.

In the end, we have to conduct ourselves as a nation so that all of us can be confident that we are getting something out of this national exercise of ours. I'm very conscious of the fact that as Prime Minister, my job is to keep the team together. Not always easy, but nevertheless, that's my job.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, just on still on the GST, do the current relativities stand for the next financial year as these Premiers frame their budgets? And the bilateral discussions that the communique says you're having with Western Australia, does that contemplate a one-off grant from the Commonwealth? What does that contemplate and what timeframe are you looking at?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure. Yes, the relativities certainly stand for the next year or two, no doubt about that. I'm going to continue to have bilateral discussions with Western Australia about all the issues that are affecting the West just as I have bilateral discussions with the other states and territories about the issues that are important to them. There will be no free gifts for any state or territory – no free gifts for any state or territory – but nevertheless, there are lots of things happening in the West which on a standard government-to-government basis we, the Commonwealth, may well be able to assist with and that’s what I’ll be talking to the West Australian Government, the West Australian Premier about in the days and weeks to come.

QUESTION:

Just in continuation to Premier Barnett, would you be happy with short-term assistance in the form of a bring forward payment as mooted by the Prime Minister and the Federal Opposition Leader until your floor is raised, or are you still looking for something more substantial?

PRIME MINISTER:

Phil, just to correct you, I haven't talked about simply handing over $300 million to a particular state. What I've talked about is us entering into – the Commonwealth entering into – the sorts of arrangements with Western Australia that the Commonwealth from time to time enters into, with all of the states and territories to deal with issues of concern and to deal with the kinds of projects and issues that we jointly cooperate on and that's what I'm talking about.

There's a lot of infrastructure that is happening and that might happen in Western Australia that we can look at doing. That's what you'd expect a sensible Commonwealth Government to do with a state which finds itself in a particular position and that's certainly my intention. But I do stress I have considerable sympathy for Colin in the predicament that he finds himself in today. But we do need to resolve this issue in a way which is ultimately fair to everyone, and making changes on the fly to GST distribution arrangements which have been around for quite a long time now is not my idea of optimal government.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, the communique refers to the issues of growth funding for health and education to the long-term. Just to be clear, do you now acknowledge that the Budget decision last year put the states in an unsustainable long-term financial position? And secondly, under what conditions might you be prepared to provide funding above CPI in the long-term?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the Budget decision in respect of schools and hospitals funding last year was the position that we had taken into the last election. Going into the last election we said that we would stand by the Rudd-Gillard government's funding allocation for schools and hospitals over the then forward estimates period, but beyond the then forward estimates period, we weren’t going to be bound by it. Of course in last year's Budget what had previously been without the forward estimates, came within the forward estimates. So, the last year in the forward estimates was not governed by the arrangements that were put in place by the Rudd-Gillard government.

Now, even though under what we did in last year's Budget schools funding goes up 8 per cent, 8 per cent, 8 per cent and 6 per cent; hospitals funding goes up 9 per cent, 9 per cent, 9 per cent and 6 per cent. I accept that with public hospitals in particular there are a lot of cost pressures, I absolutely accept that. I'm a former health minister, I know all about the fact that the medical rate of inflation, the health rate of inflation, tends to exceed the general rate of inflation because all the time we're coming up new and better treatments which are very expensive but if you handle it properly they're cost effective. Now, what we've agreed to do is to have a very holistic look at this which certainly involves looking at the funding going forward, but it also looks at the structures going forward – I want to stress that – it looks at the structures going forward so that we ensure that we get the best possible value for our dollar because we're under pressure.

Sure the states and territories are under pressure for their hospital funding but we're under pressure for our tax take. No-one is volunteering to pay more tax. So, we need to handle this in a way which acknowledges the need for ever better health services but which also appreciates that resources are not unlimited and that's what we want to be able to discuss in a honest way, an honest and candid and collegial way as part of the leaders retreat later on in July.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, on domestic violence, some of the service providers have said creating a national domestic violence order scheme is low hanging fruit.  Why has it taken so long for you all to reach consensus on this issue and can we have a time frame on when we can actually see one up and running?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, in the end, creating a national domestic violence order scheme, it does depend upon every jurisdiction. I would be very disappointed if we haven't got something in place within 12 months given that we've now been talking about it for quite some time. But in a complex federation, I don't want anyone to underestimate the logistical difficulties of making the kinds of changes and putting in place the kind of systems because you’ve not only got to get an agreement in detail as opposed to an agreement in principle which we have, you've got to then get an agreement in detail and you then have got to get systems in place to ensure that if police or magistrates are looking at an issue in Victoria, for argument's sake, they’re aware of what might have been done by police and magistrates in the Northern Territory. So, there's quite a degree of logistics in all of this, but we will get on with it as quickly as we can because you only have to listen to Rosie Batty for 30 seconds to realise that there is an unfolding tragedy taking place in hundreds of thousands of homes right around our country and this idea that any of us should be just going about business as usual in the knowledge that tens of thousands and more are being terrorised in their own homes, it's just wrong.

QUESTION:

Mr Barnett, you had indicated on the way in to this meeting that if you didn't get a satisfactory outcome that Western Australia might not cooperate with the Commonwealth and perhaps other states. What's your disposition leaving it? What would you do?

PREMIER BARNETT:

Well, I think we'll always cooperate on worthy projects and domestic violence, the campaign against ice – we have no hesitation in that example. But the reality is that Western Australia is effectively borrowing money now to make payments, to fund payments, to other states. So, our capacity to join into any relatively large financial commitment is extremely limited. In fact we probably can't do it.

QUESTION:

The two gentlemen either side of you make a small fortune out of gambling revenue, a lot of it from the pokie machines, and Annastacia Palaszczuk your government also makes a fortune out of it. This is the sort of money that's never considered by the Commonwealth Grants Commission, partly because they think that if it would under the current scheme that WA could be further put behind. Isn't it about time that that formula be changed so that a social ill is recognised, that one armed bandits that have polluted Victoria and New South Wales especially and to make sure that if – the fact that Colin Barnett's government and the Labor Opposition are rewarded by not putting them out into the community?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, again, Andrew, this is the kind of issue that can be considered as part of our white paper process. This is precisely the kind of thing that can be considered that way. Certainly, as a general principle I make no comment on gambling revenue but as a general principle you want a process which is fair to every state and territory, in other words, acknowledges the underlying economic and social reality of every state and territory but at the same time rewards the states and territory which are prepared to have a go. It's terrific to hear Adam Giles’ statement that he can't wait for the day when the Northern Territory is a net contributor to the pool rather than a net drawer from the pool, I'm sure Will Hodgman has exactly the same view and I'm sure Jay wants to really rev up the industrial strength of South Australia so likewise South Australia is a net contributor rather than a net beneficiary from the pool.

So that's what we want, we want to see a situation where the more you are prepared to have a go, the better off you are. That's what we want to achieve and that's the kind of...

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] for example in the community?

PRIME MINISTER:

You want to draw me, Andrew, into a discussion of the rights and wrongs of gambling policy in the several states and I'm going to politely decline to get caught up in that today.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, can I ask you about the contribution the continuous naval building strategy could make, have you made a commitment to a continuous naval building strategy or is that just a sort of pleasant words in the communique?

PRIME MINISTER:

We'll have more to say on this subject in the weeks ahead because we have formal announcements to make in the weeks ahead. Obviously what we want to do is to put naval ship building in this country on a sustainable long-term basis and the problem with naval ship building up till now is that it's been a stop-start process and as we are seeing at the moment in Melbourne in particular, you can build a naval ship building capacity but if you don't have an ongoing supply of work, an ongoing supply of reliable work, it's stop-start, it's live-die and that's no good.

So, in conjunction with sensible decisions about the size of our surface fleet, we want to see a steady continuous build of naval warships in Australia. I do make this important proviso; our defence equipment, whatever it is, whether it's small arms, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, submarines, whatever it might be, our defence equipment has got to be absolutely world class equipment, it's got to be the kind of equipment that we would be happy to send our armed forces personnel into battle with or in, and we've got to get it for a reasonable price. That doesn't mean that we're always going to go out and buy the cheapest of everything.

It's got to be world class, it's got to be a reasonable price and within those parameters of course we want to maximise Australian production.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] on what the Prime Minister just said?

PREMIER WEATHERILL:

Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION:

Why?

PREMIER WEATHERILL:

Because it sounds pretty good.

PREMIER ANDREWS:

I’m pretty happy with it too. The best skills, the best people, if we're given the best opportunity to build these vessels, these defence assets right here, and we get a long-term order book then we can deliver the best outcome possible. What the Prime Minister has just said and what is in the communique today is really a big step forward and ship builders in Williamstown in my state, Prime Minister, will be very pleased with that news.

QUESTION:

Can I ask the Premiers and Chief Ministers, if the Commonwealth proceeds with its announced public hospital funding changes, how will you make up that shortfall and would you like the ability to charge patients for hospital treatment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously the Premiers and Chief Ministers can speak for themselves to that question but could I just offer this thought? The changes that we put forward in last year's Budget are four years off, three years off. And we've got a federation reform white paper process and a tax reform white paper process in the intervening period.

So, yes it's, I suppose, all very well to try to think about if this, then what? But what we want to try to do collectively in the next six months in particular is to work out whether it is possible to do things on a more efficient and effective basis, to reconsider who does what and how, to try to ensure that we don't have the health funding crunch that many people fear right now. The important thing is to try to avoid that.

PREMIER BAIRD:

That's what the next six months are about. The acknowledgement from the Prime Minister is a tremendous step because what it says is this is not just an individual state issue, it's not a local government issue, it's not a Commonwealth government issue, we have to do it together and that is – it is a huge challenge. It is the number one challenge to our finances – full stop. Commonwealth and state. So, the only way we can deal with it is come together and what we need to do as part of this process is look at the roles and responsibility; can we do it better, can we do it smarter, take away duplication and can we make sure that we have got the funding to continue to deliver the health care services we do and importantly it has to be patient focussed. This is not an academic exercise. This is about delivering health care in the best possible way to look after our citizens. It's a big step forward.

PREMIER WEATHERILL:

Can I just add that the other insight that's contained in here is that quality health care is also the most affordable health care and we're going through a transforming health process within our own state. It involves making some very tough decisions like closing hospitals, amalgamating emergency departments, having centres of excellence about certain things but the way we've been able to really win the argument about that is to first persuade the clinicians – with the data – that that is in fact true and once they're persuaded about that they become our advocates but this is not easy stuff. Even when we've done all of that we do make very substantial savings, but they're nowhere – they go nowhere near filling the hole that we need to grapple with. So, it shows you the size of the task that's in front of us but we're committing ourselves jointly to that task.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ok, one more question? Tom?

QUESTION:

Funding to do with schools and hospitals, you say you're willing to look at it. If you do and possibly look at increasing it, that was a major structural save in the Budget, yes it's not coming into effect for a while but it was forever possibly, what does that do to the debt trajectory from the Intergenerational Report?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are absolutely determined I want to absolutely stress this – we are determined to deal with the challenges which are our fundamental responsibility and getting debt and deficit under control at the Commonwealth level is absolutely our responsibility. So, we are not going to shirk that challenge. Within our overall responsibilities, obviously we have to try to work within our Federal structures, to ensure that as far as is humanly possible, services are being delivered in the most efficient and the most effective way.

Plainly we can make the health dollar go further, if we are delivering services in smarter more patient-centred ways than in every respect we currently are. Look, at the risk of telling a particular story for the third time, I can remember as the Health Minister being called by the then West Australian Health Minister Jim McGinty and told that he had a great idea to save us money and to shorten his waiting lists by transferring arthroscopies and colonoscopies from the public hospital where they cost something like $3,000 a procedure to day procedure centres, funded by Medicare where they cost about $1,000 per procedure. Now, that causes problems for governments as costs go from one government to another government, but it actually helps patients and it reduces overall costs.

So, as part of this federation reform white paper process, let's look at how we can get more of that kind of thing into our health system so that the cost crunch is minimised and at the same time the overall fiscal burden that all of us are carrying is minimised as well. That's the smart way of dealing with this, rather than trying to hypothesise disasters a few years down the track.

Ok, thank you so much.

[ends]

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