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Transcript - 24462

Joint Doorstop Interview, Townsville

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: 17/05/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24462

Subject(s): Budget 2015

EWEN JONES MP:

Thank you everyone for coming and thank you Tony Abbott for another visit to North Queensland. The last time he was here we opened up flights to Indonesia to help make Townsville that international city.

This time it’s about one of the great Budgets of my lifetime, about developing the north of Australia. This is about the road for the Hann Highway, this is about cattle movement, this is about agriculture. But more than anything this is about a Government – from a federal level – that’s prepared to back the north – $5 billion worth of concessional loans to build that stuff that we need that may be just on the cusp of being done but can’t quite get there for that normal infrastructure spend.

This is what this Government is all about and trying to do and I think this is the great positive that we can take out of the Budget. A lot of governments have stood up there and a lot of prime ministers have stood up there and said this is important and we’re going to develop the north. At last, we’ve got a Prime Minister and a Treasurer and a Minister for Trade and Investment that are out there not only talking the talk but walking the walk.

So, thank you very much, Tony, for coming up. It’s been a great visit, the Cowboys are winning and I’ll hand over to you!

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much. Thanks, Ewen.

Ewen, it is great to be here in Townsville. This is my second trip to Townsville in a couple of months. Last time I was here to talk about ensuring that Townsville is once again an international airport, that we do have flight in and out of Townsville to Asia. And today, obviously, I am here as part of the Budget campaign, but the great news in the Budget is the $5 billion worth of concessional loans for Northern Australia.

This is the best Budget ever for Northern Australia. It’s also the best Budget ever for small business. But what we want to do is try to ensure that Northern Australia is encouraged to reach its full potential, so we’ve got the $5 billion worth of concessional loans which is all about making marginal projects, viable projects. There’s also already been the $100 million that we’ve committed to beef roads in Northern Australia and our commitment to get the Hann Highway finally fixed.

So, I’m really pleased to be here with Ewen as part of our commitment to let Australians know that our best days are ahead of us and one of the reasons why our best days are ahead of us is because this is a Government which takes Northern Australia seriously, that wants to do the right thing by the small businesses of Australia. Small business is our economic engine room. We want to help the people who are having a go for our country.

QUESTION:

On concessional loans, can you tell us a bit more about how they’re going to be chosen? What the project will need to meet?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are looking for proponents to come forward with the projects that they think are goers and obviously, we are hoping to make the difference between what might otherwise be a marginal project and make it a viable project. I expect that some of the people who come forward will be councils, some of them might be state and territory governments, but a lot of them I hope will be people in the private sector who want to get on with creating jobs and investing in the opportunities that are here in Northern Australia.

QUESTION:

When you’re analysing the proposals will it have to create a certain number of jobs [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let’s see what projects come forward. Obviously, if we’ve got more than $5 billion worth of proposals, we’ll have to look at those sorts of criteria. But we made the announcement on Budget Night; it’s about five days since then, let’s see what proposals come forward.

QUESTION:

City leaders here in Townsville are concerned there wasn’t enough detail in the kind of proposals to put forward. How can you ensure this city that they’ll get their fair share and cities across the north as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m just about to get a briefing on some of the exciting new proposals for Townsville and obviously this is precisely the kind of thing that could potentially benefit from these concessional loans.

QUESTION:

So, you’re having a meeting about the proposed stadium and convention centre. Can you talk about the Federal Government’s commitment – possibly – in the next few years?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, again, let’s have the briefing and then we might be in a better position to say more. But what we want is a specific proposal. Now, the Premier wrote to me a little while back asking for a federal contribution. At the moment it’s not quite clear what the precise proposal is and it’s not quite clear how solid any state government commitment to it is. But we want to develop the north. As I said, we’ve already put money down, we’ve put the $100 million down for the beef roads in Northern Australia, we’ve put the commitment down that we will finally fix the Hann Highway and on Budget Night there’s $5 billion worth of concessional loans for northern developments. So, we’re fair dinkum. Let’s see what the state government and others can come up with.

QUESTION:

On the Hann Highway, how much money will be required to fix that road or how much money is the Government willing to spend on that road?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, again, what I’ve announced is our determination finally to fix it. The specific details will be in the Northern Australia white paper which should be released next month.

QUESTION:

The Northern Australia Infrastructure Audit outlined a number of priorities for the north. Is that really going to inform the white paper and if that document said something was a priority is that something your Government is going to commit to over the coming years?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t say that everything in the infrastructure report will be done immediately, but I was very pleased to release that report in Cairns about a week ago because this is a report about the potential and that’s what we want to invest in. We want to invest in the great potential of Northern Australia because already something like 50 per cent of our exports come from north of the Tropic of Capricorn and increasingly the north of this country is the place where the development must go.

QUESTION:

Over the years there’s been a lot of talk about a base load power station up here in North Queensland. Does that seem like a project that might be desirable under this $5 billion?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let’s wait and see what proposals come forward and what we’ve done is we’ve said to everyone who has got an idea, what you now need to do is construct a business case – a serious business case – because with these concessional loans, we have the prospect of turning what is currently marginal into something which is viable.

QUESTION:

And who decides – is it a Cabinet decision or is it a group of people?

PRIME MINISTER:

What normally happens is that we get the proposals, they’re assessed, sometimes we get outside advice, sometimes we’ve got the expertise in-house to do it. There’s an infrastructure committee of the Cabinet. So, it depends very much on what the particular proposal is. But there are well established processes in place for making these kinds of decisions.

QUESTION:

Could a stadium potentially qualify?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it depends – it depends.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, a question from Canberra – does the Government or do you intend to endorse a parliamentary inquiry into the iron ore industry?

PRIME MINISTER:

What we want to do is get to the bottom on claim and counter-claim about what’s happening inside the iron ore industry at the moment. Obviously, iron ore is an incredibly important industry for our country, it’s our principle export. Obviously, if the iron ore price is high that’s good for government revenue; if the iron ore price is low, government revenue takes a hit. So, the iron ore price impacts on our country in many, many ways. The profitability of the big iron ore companies is important for investment, it’s important for employment, as well as for company tax revenue, which then goes to the government and helps to fund services.

So, it’s important to get to the bottom of this. That’s why I think that an inquiry could make sense, but what we don’t want is a witch hunt against any particular business. I’m full of admiration for what companies like Rio and BHP have done. I’m very conscious of the fact that Rio and BHP are our largest corporate taxpayers. I want them to continue to flourish, but I also want a level playing field, I want to ensure that there’s no predatory behaviour, I want to ensure that everyone is able to compete freely in an open market.

QUESTION:

So are you yet to decide on the actual inquiry? Are you definitely going to have one or you’re not sure yet?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is something which is being considered. It’s something which has been proposed by people in the Parliament and certainly I think it’s important that we do get the facts and one good way of getting the facts is to have a parliamentary inquiry. But if we are going to have a parliamentary inquiry, it’s got to be one which is well-chaired, with the right terms of reference and as I said, the last thing anyone should want to do is take sides in commercial disputes. The last thing anyone would want to do is have a witch hunt against an industry which has been so incredibly important to our success over the last decade or so as a nation. So, what I’m interested in is getting to the facts – that’s the important thing.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript - 24462