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Transcript - 23217

Press Conference with General Peter Cosgrove AC MC, Parliament House, 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: 28/01/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23217

Subject(s): Appointment of the Governor-General

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s my great pleasure and honour to announce that Australia’s next Governor-General will be General Peter Cosgrove.

Peter Cosgrove has been a decorated platoon commander in Vietnam, the commander of international forces in East-Timor, Chief of the Australian Defence Force and an Australian of the Year.

Throughout his life he has demonstrated a commitment to our country and a commitment to service.

He has given service of the very highest order to our country.

I am confident that in this new role he will continue to deliver to a grateful nation, leadership beyond politics.

With his wife, Lynne, who I welcome here today, I am confident that Peter will discharge his responsibilities with vigour and with integrity.

I can’t think of a better way to start the year and I can’t think of a better person to do this very important job.

I should also pay tribute to the outgoing Governor- General, Quentin Bryce. The Governor-General has discharged her duties for more than five years now with grace and distinction. I salute the work that she’s done. I wish her and her husband Michael well after they leave office at the end of March. But, I am very confident that in General Peter Cosgrove we have a worthy successor as the 26th Governor-General of Australia.

General Cosgrove.

GENERAL PETER COSGROVE:

Well, thank you, Prime Minister. I am truly humbled to have been asked to take up one of the great constitutional offices of our democracy.

My wife Lynne – I’d like to borrow her, Prime Minister, over here, if I can – I’m going to talk about her a little bit so she needs to be close. We’ve been blessed with three grown up children of who we are enormously proud. We’ve had a wonderful life and during the military service, we’ve also had great good fortune within that special community of the armed services.

There was a year, a while ago, when I had the opportunity to travel widely within the community when I was Australian of the Year and I thought that that was a wonderful experience. And I thought that having had all that good fortune, that was indeed a full life and I’ve been truly honoured and very humbled by the invitation from the Prime Minister to take up this office.

We all note that the centenary of World War I commemorations will soon be upon us and those will continue until 2018 and I have no doubt that these indeed will be a special part of our social landscape over that period. But, I want to be very clear that I will do my very best to be a Governor-General for every part of our Australian community; for all manner of community enterprises and ventures and events.

The Prime Minister, in honouring me in this way, also on behalf of the Government and the Parliament and the people, salutes the men and women of the Australian Defence Force. I’m glad to read that into some part of this appointment, because they are truly a wonderful part of the national fabric and I do say, of course, I’ll hope to visit them in their bases and where they’re working elsewhere, but only as part of my duties in the wider community.

When Adam Goodes – a tremendous selection as Australian of the Year – was announced, my mind went back to that time in 2001 when I was accorded that enormous privilege. It gave me then the opportunity – the excuse, if you like – to travel widely within this nation and to gain insights into the strength and spirit of our communities, far and wide, large and small, rural and urban. That initial understanding gained then, that first will guide my start to this great office.

With the Government’s blessing, I hope to visit widely and often and I hope to meet as many of my fellow Australians as possible.

In all of this, I will once again rely on that wonderful woman standing on my right who has been my great comfort and support for the last 37 years.

I’d like to join the Prime Minister’s tribute to Her Excellency the Governor-General and to Mr Michael Bryce. They’ve been a tremendous couple. They’ve discharged their duties in a way totally admirable and I hope that I can follow in the great footsteps that she’s placed upon the national landscape.

To finish, ladies and gentlemen, my approach to this job will be, of course, as I’ve approached all those times when I’ve been asked to serve Australia: it will get my total commitment, all the energy I’ve got, good humour and with an unfailing optimism that this is a great nation which will only get better.

Thank you, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well done, Peter. Thank you. Congratulations. Congratulations, Lynne.

I’ll take some questions, General Cosgrove will take some questions and then the Governor-General designate will withdraw and we’ll take a few general questions, if there are any.

QUESTION:

General, can I ask your approach to the role? Are there issues in particular that you will want to speak out on? Will you be more reserved in comments on issues you’ve previously spoken out on? How will you approach the job?

GENERAL PETER COSGROVE:

You’re no longer a private citizen in the Office of Governor-General and I think your responsibility is to shine light but not to generate heat. I think you’ve got to listen a lot and take in everything that you see, but you’re not a participant in the political process. One of the great strengths of our democracy, is that there is a tremendous opportunity for the vexed political issues – the challenging ones – to be ventilated through the elected representatives of the nation. And I think the Governor-General, as I heard a very eminent predecessor say, was more likely to hold up a mirror; to reflect the nation to itself. If I can do that, then I’ll consider I’ve discharged that part of the office adequately.

QUESTION:

[inaudible]…your views on the monarchy and a possible future republic?

GENERAL PETER COSGROVE:

I’ve been labelled as a ‘staunch this’ and a ‘staunch that’ and a ‘closet something else’ in relation to all of these issues. I would say I’m a very staunch Australian. The will of the people is always the overriding governor of what my responses will be. I’ve served a particular system since I was a lad and if the Australian people retain that system, that will be my guiding light, and it is now. If they ever change at some future time, then the will of the people will prevail.

QUESTION:

General, I think you touched on a risk that you might be seen typecast as the military Governor-General for a period in which there are going to be a string of important military commemorations. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

GENERAL PETER COSGROVE:

I just think it’s a natural feeling that people have that if you’re an ex-General and you’ll be turning up at, you know, War Memorial functions and I’ll do all that too. But it’s a very wonderful society; it’s pluralistic. The military is a very small proportion, albeit a precious one, of our community and I’m going to make sure that, well my wife and I will make sure that we visit widely. I mean, I’d love to go with Adam Goodes out to the indigenous communities. I was talking with the Prime Minister about that yesterday and if that suits his programme, I think it’d be a wonderful thing for Adam and I to go to see some of the stressed indigenous communities to see what their conditions are like.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, was one element of your decision to select a military man the fact that we have commemorations coming up over the next four years?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I just wanted to pick the person who I thought was the outstanding candidate for the job and Peter Cosgrove’s whole life in the military and subsequently made him the outstanding candidate for the job. I cannot think of a finer person for this job and I’m delighted that the Queen was happy with the recommendation and I’m delighted that General Cosgrove has accepted.

QUESTION:

General Cosgrove, are there any particular issues that you will be championing during your period as Governor-General?

GENERAL PETER COSGROVE:

Look, I think I’ll read the papers and watch the television, listen to the radio and get the vox-pop from you sorts of folks as to what the issues are that are embedded and of interest or concern to the community and you hope to go on a voyage of discovery. But I want to point out that, by and large, acting as I have in the past within the community, I’ve seen the tremendous spirit value of our community. Frequently they want to hear that their efforts are observed and valued and that’s a great role for the Governor-General.

QUESTION:

General Cosgrove, will you and your wife be looking forward to moving into Yarralumla or will you perhaps take the example of the PM and make Sydney your base?

GENERAL PETER COSGROVE:

Look, the seat of the Governor-Generalship is in Yarralumla and that’s where we’ll be.

QUESTION:

General, will you be concentrating your travel – you mentioned the need to travel within Australia – do you see yourself travelling more within Australian than overseas?

GENERAL PETER COSGROVE:

I think for sure, yeah. I mean you’re Governor-General of Australia, not a Foreign Minister. I think that from time to time if the Government thinks it’s useful you might go, but I think the vast majority of the Governor-General’s duties will lie within our shores.

QUESTION:

General Cosgrove, what went through your head when you were first offered the position?

GENERAL PETER COSGROVE:

Well, some of you may recall that I’ve said over the years I didn’t see myself as a Governor-General and I thought wow, somebody else does. But, look, if you foresee that there’s a call to arms, so to speak, as an old soldier you just get on with it.

QUESTION:

General Cosgrove, what do you think of the suggestion by Warren Mundine that treaties could be brokered with indigenous communities in place of native title?

GENERAL PETER COSGROVE:

Well, look, all these ideas from intelligent and thoughtful people like Warren Mundine are matters for Government. I think my job is to be an avid reader of that, but not necessarily to be opining.

QUESTION:

But they are normally negotiated with the Queen.

GENERAL PETER COSGROVE:

Yeah, well I mean but always through a political process and I’m sure Warren would primarily understand that he needs to start persuading people if his view is to prevail.

Thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, Peter. Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Lynne.

Well, if I could just again reiterate how pleased and proud I am that Peter Cosgrove has agreed to take up this appointment. It’s a very important appointment. The Governor-General has very important responsibilities under the Constitution to serve communities and their members, the length and breadth of our country and also, in the words of Zelman Cowen, to ‘interpret our nation to itself’ and I can’t think of a better person to do the job and I think you’ve just seen strong evidence of why he is going to be an outstanding Governor-General.

QUESTION:

What’s your thinking on the future of SPC Ardmona? Are you tending towards providing assistance to support regional jobs?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, it’s very important that we take seriously the requests that different organisations might put to us as a Government, but in the end, businesses have got to put their house in order. That’s the thing, business has got to put its house in order if it is in trouble and that’s my advice to any business that might be doing it tough at the moment and thinking of approaching the Government: you’ve got to put your house in order.

Now, our job in Government is to try to ensure that the rules and the system is as conducive as possible to good business and that means we get rid of the carbon tax, we get rid of the mining tax, we get regulation down, we try to put in place systems that will get productivity up and if the Parliament wants to try to make it easier for businesses right around Australia to do well in 2014, they would get on with the business of repealing the carbon tax.

QUESTION:

Are you still seeing the Griffith vote as something of a referendum on this question of the carbon tax?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the by-election in Griffith will essentially be – who do the people of that part of Brisbane want to represent them? They can have someone who has been a very distinguished servant of our community the whole of his life; they can have someone who has been a resident in Griffith for most of his adult life; they can have someone who is absolutely dedicated to being Griffith’s representative in Canberra or they can have someone who is going to be Canberra’s representative in Griffith and I think they want a strong local and that’s what I think it’s essentially about up there.

QUESTION:

What is your response to reports of union corruption in New South Wales?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we know – any of us who have followed public life in this country know – that there are serious issues here and what today’s revelations demonstrate is the absolute pressing need for the reestablishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission with full power, full authority, full funding and if the Labor Party is serious about tackling corruption again they will stop standing in the way of the reestablishment of a strong cop-on-the-beat in that particular industry.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, what do you mean by full authority because the CFMEU this morning has said the Government’s just trying to blur the lines between industrial law and criminal law? What sort of authority should that Commission have, then?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Commission should have full authority to ensure that the law is upheld – full authority to ensure that the law is upheld in an industry which has been long marked by lawlessness. James?

QUESTION:

Do these revelations today build the case in your mind for a royal commission as opposed to your pre-election promise of a judicial inquiry and I guess secondly, would your Government consider looking at a cap on political donations in a manner that the O'Farrell Government has enacted and obviously now struck some difficulty with?

PRIME MINISTER:

We won’t be really entertaining the sorts of issue that you've just raised at the end of your question until we've seen the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and I daresay we'll get that sometime in the first half of the year. As for the other question, we made a commitment pre-election that there would be a judicial inquiry into union slush funds and a royal commission is in fact a judicial inquiry and we will honour the commitments that we made pre-election.

QUESTION:

Have you decided on a date? When will that commence?

PRIME MINISTER:

The point is that we will honour the commitments that we made pre-election and we made lots of commitments pre-election and an inquiry into a particular union slush fund was certainly one of them.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, what specifically would the ABCC have been able to do in this circumstance that wasn't done?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, when the ABCC was operating, under the former government, as a result of the Cole Royal Commission which I established as workplace minister, we got a much stronger observance of the ordinary law of the land in the commercial construction industry. And this was good for everyone. It was good for the workers, it was good for the employers, it was good for the customers, because we had an estimated $6 billion a year in productivity improvements in the industry. Once you've got a strong cop-on-the-beat, the whole culture of an industry improves and that's the tragedy of this particular industry over the last couple of years with the ABCC emasculated and then abolished.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, could you just clarify the issue there between royal commission, you mentioned the Cole Royal Commission and a judicial inquiry, are you saying that the judicial inquiry would have the same powers of a royal commission with all the coercive powers of a royal commission?

PRIME MINISTER:

Dennis, just to reiterate, a royal commission is a form of judicial inquiry and we did promise a judicial inquiry into the AWU slush fund prior to the election.

QUESTION:

Just on that, is there – given the latest round of allegations – is there scope now to widen the scope of that inquiry that; widen that promise?

PRIME MINISTER:

I obviously have read the papers today. I have been following this issue, as you'd expect over the last few weeks and months. I notice there have been various calls including from people inside the union movement, inside the Labor movement more generally, for a fuller inquiry and the Government will be making appropriate announcements in due course.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, what's your response to the video of Andrew Laming sculling a beer while standing on his head. Is that kind of behaviour beneath an MP or just a bit of harmless fun?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, it wouldn't be how I would choose to celebrate Australia Day.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, how you would characterise the current relationship with Indonesia? There have been strains in the last week or two. Has any effort been made to explain the incursions into territorial waters and have you made any contact with the Indonesian President in the last few weeks?

PRIME MINISTER:

The important thing here is that the Government made a set of very clear commitments pre-election that we would stop the boats and we said that there were a certain range of measures that we would put in place to bring that about. We have fully implemented the policy that we said we would implement prior to the election and I think we've gone almost 40 days without a boat actually getting to Australia. That's the important point to make here. Now, as Scott Morrison and General Campbell announced regretfully a week or so back, unfortunately on a number of occasions inadvertently we did enter Indonesia's territorial waters. We deeply regret that, we fully apologise for it and I think the Indonesians have accepted our apology.

QUESTIONS:

Prime Minister, how can the Navy do that inadvertently? Really, I mean they are highly proficient, maritime operators. How can they not know when they're crossing into another country's waters?

PRIME MINISTER:

On the high seas all sorts of things happen; there are winds, there are tides, there are other things that they're focussing on. I have nothing but total respect for the professionalism of our naval personnel, for the professionalism of our Customs personnel, but even people who are at the very top of their game, even people who are the very best at their job will occasionally make mistakes – test cricketers occasionally drop catches, great footballers occasionally miss tackles and, regretfully, there were a couple of occasions when this mistake was made, but it won't happen again.

QUESTION:

On the Commission of Audit, a lot of business groups have called for a greater focus on tax and revenue measures including the GST. What's your view of the connection between tax reform and the Commission of Audit?

PRIME MINISTER:

We took a commitment to the election that within two years there would be a tax reform white paper and we said that the white paper would deal with the issue of lower, simpler, fairer taxes. We were prepared as part of that white paper process to consider anything that was consistent with lower, simpler and fairer taxes, but the only thing that we will do in this term of Parliament when it comes to tax is what we said we would do prior to the election, and that is to abolish the carbon tax, to abolish the mining tax, to get company tax down. Now, obviously, from time to time anomalies will come up and we'll address them in the ordinary course of events but our absolute commitment is to lower, simpler, fairer taxes. In order to have lower, simpler, fairer taxes you've obviously got to have the most efficient and effective administration and that's why I'm so looking forward in a week or so’s time to getting the interim report of the Commission of Audit.

Thank you so much.

[ends]

Transcript - 23217