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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 23697

Joint Doorstop Interview, 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: 02/08/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23697

Subject(s): Launch of the Government’s Green Army programme to improve our environment

Location: Sydney

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s terrific to be here on the banks of the Georges River to officially launch the first round of Green Army projects and one of them will be here on this spot. It will be one of a number of Green Army projects that will help to revitalise and to rejuvenate the Georges River catchment.

The Green Army has been a Coalition commitment at the 2010 election. It was a commitment again at the 2013 election and today the Green Army starts its march towards a better environment for all Australians. That’s what the Coalition is concerned to do: to build a better Australia; an Australia that we will leave to our children and grandchildren in better shape than we found it.

I regard myself as a conservationist – always have, always will. There can be no more practical conservation measure than this Green Army work here and, increasingly, right around our country.

The Green Army brings together our greatest assets – our people and our land – and it brings them together to ensure that our future environment is in as good condition as it possibly can be. This is what characterises the Coalition: practical, sensible, down-to-earth measures to deliver a better country for ourselves, for our children, for our grandchildren and I’m very, very proud of this particular initiative.

I know that the local members here are also very proud of it – Nick Varvaris, David Coleman, Craig Kelly – but a particularly proud parent of the Green Army today is Greg Hunt, the Environment Minister. Greg has done an outstanding job for the Coalition. He is the personification of a practical environmentalist who wants to make a difference, not just to strike a pose, who actually wants to produce a better environment, not just to engage in the kind of posturing which all too often some environmental activists have engaged in over the last few years.

So, I’m really pleased and proud to be here with Greg Hunt and, Greg, I might ask you to speak to the Green Army.

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER:

Thanks very much, Prime Minister. The Green Army is on the march to improve local environments and to provide young people with opportunities for the future. It’s as simple as that. It’s about projects around Australia in local communities which will help improve river banks, revegetate, encourage threatened species’ recovery, shore up sand dunes, be engaged in the health and rehabilitation of both urban and rural landscapes, and then secondly, it’s about ensuring that young people have training and work skills and opportunity.

Today, we’re really announcing two things. We’re announcing our five national providers – Conservation Volunteers Australia with an extraordinary heritage, Landcare Australia Limited and Manpower are there, we have Campbell Page, we have Workskil Australia and we have Job Futures Australia. It’s a great group of people with an incredible history of working with young people and the environment. Greening Australia is also part of that mix, so a tremendous group.

And secondly, it’s 196 projects around the country. So, we’re announcing 196 projects. They are things such as this Georges River Recovery Plan which starts with eight projects this year, another six projects next year and it’s working on cleaning up the local environment, giving young people opportunities and, at the end of the day, leaving things better for 20 and 30 and 50 and 100 years.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ok, do we have any questions?

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, 157 Tamil asylum seekers originally brought to the Australian mainland have now been sent to Nauru for processing. Are you confident that it’s safe to send families and indeed children to Nauru?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m happy to take that question, but before we deal with issues like that, we might just sort out any Green Army issues because this is a very important initiative that we announced today and that starts today. The Green Army is on the march from today. It’s the largest environmental workforce Australia has ever mobilised for land care, so I think this really is quite an important subject and I hope there might be some questions on it.

QUESTION:

How does the Government intend to recruit the Green Army?

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s a very good question. What we want is young people aged between 17 and 24 who have a passion for the environment, and I believe there are many, many, many tens of thousands of people out there who want to do the right thing by the environment, who want to leave our country better for future generations of Australians and who would like our environmental commitment to be enshrined in practical good works, not just in gestures and words.

So, Greg and I are appealing to highly motivated youngsters who want to do the right thing by our country to sign up for the Green Army, because it’s six months of good work, of good comradeship, that you can come back and look at in the years ahead and say, “I did that for my country”.

QUESTION:

Aren’t the participants getting paid a lot less than the minimum wage, and do you think that you’ll find it difficult to entice people to take part?

QUESTION:

This is not a Work for the Dole project. I want to stress this – it’s an environmental traineeship, that’s what it is. So, wage rates range from about $10 an hour to about $16 an hour. It’s a training allowance. It’s the same sort of money that people would get if they were doing any other traineeship in any other field.

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER:

I’ll just add that over the course of a fortnight, young people, depending on their age and qualifications, will earn between $600 and $1,000. That’s more than the previous Green Corps – more than the previous Green Jobs Corps – and it’s even stronger than Newstart and Youth Allowance. So, they not only earn the funds, but most significantly, they get the work skills and hopefully they’ll come out of it with certificates and occupational health and safety training, first aid training, and having achieved something.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ok, you might just want to summarise the question on Nauru?

QUESTION:

Sorry, Prime Minister. With 157 Tamil asylum seekers being sent to Nauru for processing, are you confident that it’s safe to send families, and particularly children, to Nauru?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, absolutely, I am. I am very confident that it’s safe to send people to Nauru, but if we are interested in safety, and we must be, the safest thing to do for everyone is to stop the boats because as long as the boats keep coming, the drownings will keep happening. That’s why stopping the boats is not just a question of securing Australia’s borders, it’s not just a question of recognising Australia’s sovereignty, it is actually a humanitarian crusade to stop the boats, because if we stop the boats we stop the deaths and that’s what every decent person should want. My fear with some of the work that’s been done by The Greens, in particular, by some people in the Labor Party, by some of these law firms, is that unwittingly – I’m sure they’re not doing it deliberately – but unwittingly, they are giving aid and comfort to the people smugglers. They are giving aid and comfort to a trade in death, because that’s what it is. When you think of it, some 50,000 people came illegally by boat to our country during the life of the former government and we believe that at least 1,200 deaths occurred associated with that horrible, vicious trade, and that’s why the best thing we can do from a humanitarian point of view is to stop the boats.

QUESTION:

Have you been given any indication as to why not one of the 157 asylum seekers wanted to talk to Indian officials in this case?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, Scott Morrison may well be making a further statement on this today and I’ll leave that to Scott to deal with, but I just reiterate the point I make: do not give aid and comfort to the people smugglers. I say to everyone involved in working with the boat people in question, be careful – please be careful – that you do not unwittingly give aid and comfort to an evil trade; that you do not encourage a trade which kills people, because that’s what people smuggling does – it kills people. That’s why we want to stop it and stop it now.

QUESTION:

Just to clarify, why were the asylum seekers originally sent to Western Australia and not Nauru to begin with?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, Scott will be saying something about this later today, but we had an understanding with the Indian Government that those of them that had Indian citizenship, those of them who had long-term Indian residency would almost certainly go back to India but the Indian officials did have to interview them as you’d expect – a perfectly reasonable request from the Indian Government, and that’s why they were brought back to Australia, to facilitate this process. For all sorts of reasons, that process was unable to go ahead and I’ll let Scott deal with the whys and the wherefores of that. That’s why they’ve gone to Nauru, but I make this final observation: don’t come to Australia illegally by boat because even if you get here, you’ll never stay here. No one who comes to Australia illegally by boat will ever get permanent residency of our country.

QUESTION:

Can I just briefly ask you about MH17? Are you relieved the team has been able to enter the crash site finally?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, it is good that overnight we’ve had for the first time large numbers of Australian and Dutch police on site, large numbers of investigators on site, who’ve been able to begin a thorough, professional search and I can report that more human remains have been recovered, more belongings have been recovered. They will be taken to Kharkiv for repatriation to Holland and eventually repatriation around the world.

I salute the professionalism of all of the Australian officials and indeed the multinational team involved, but particularly the Australian Federal Police personnel, the Australian Defence Force personnel, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade personnel who have done this work. It is difficult. It is dangerous. This is a high risk environment. We believe that the importance of the task justifies the level of risk, but nevertheless, I want to salute everyone on what is a very important Dutch-led police humanitarian mission to claim our dead, to honour their loved ones.

QUESTION:

You mentioned that remains had been recovered from the crash site. Can you provide an update on the number of bodies that have been found at the site at this point?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I can’t give that kind of detail. Look, as anyone who’s familiar with these sorts of recovery operations would know, this is not an easy task, precisely identifying people and precisely stating at this stage exactly how many have been recovered and exactly how many might still be out in the field. I just remind people by way of possible parallel that after the Bali bombing it was I think some three weeks before the first victims were identified. I think it was some five months before the last victim was identified and brought home.

So, this is a harrowing time for the relatives of the victims – an absolutely harrowing time for the relatives of the victims – and I think every Australian’s heart goes out to all of the families of the 38 Australians who have been murdered. But, it will be a long and slow process and I expect that our officials will be on site for a week or so yet and that’s assuming nothing goes wrong, because it’s a large area that does need to be searched. It’s in the order of 50 square kilometres. We’ll do it as quickly as we can, as safely as we can. We’ll get our people in, we’ll get cracking, we’ll get our people out, but even if there are no further interruptions it will take us at least a week to get the job done.

QUESTION:

The focus of the task seems to be on recovering possessions and remains at this point. When will the focus turn to gathering evidence?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, remains and possessions often have an evidentiary value in a circumstance like this, but there will be a whole range of investigators on site, including forensic investigators, and there is a forensic team that is now assembling evidence and in good time will no doubt have more to say, because it is important to bring the perpetrators to justice. This is an infamous crime – it’s an infamous crime, it’s an unspeakable evil that’s been done here and it’s very important that we do whatever we humanly can to obtain justice for the dead and their loved ones.

I should also say, though, that at least over the last couple of days we’ve had full cooperation from the Ukrainian Army and Government, as you’d expect, but we’ve also had respectful cooperation from the separatists on site. So, so far at least, people are being as good as their word.

QUESTION:

Fighting in the area was continuing overnight, though. If the situation does escalate, is it your preference to arm our officers or to pull them out?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s not our intention to arm our personnel on site. That’s not our intention. We think that the best way to complete our mission is as an unarmed police-led humanitarian mission and that’s the way that we want it to continue. Yes, there was some fighting in the area. I believe there was quite heavy fighting within 30 or 40 kilometres of the site, but the site itself has been peaceful on these last few days and let’s hope that it continues that way.

QUESTION:

There’s been a fairly disturbing story on the last 24 hours about a Thai surrogate mother who gave birth to a baby boy. A West Australian couple reportedly found out the boy had Down Syndrome and left the boy in Thailand. Does this story concern you, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I’ve only seen some media reports and look, it’s an incredibly sad story. It’s an incredibly sad story and I guess it illustrates some of the pitfalls involved in this particular business. It’s a very, very sad story and I hate to think that a child could be abandoned like that.

QUESTION:

What can the Government do to assist that baby and the surrogate mother in Thailand?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, this is not something that I have been briefed on. It’s just something that I have become aware of through media reports, and let’s look at things and see what might be possible.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, Galarrwuy Yunupingu has questioned why you haven’t attended the Garma Festival in Arnhem Land this weekend?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am going up to Arnhem Land in a few weeks’ time to fulfil the commitment that I made to Galarrwuy at the Garma Festival last year. You might remember that Galarrwuy made me very welcome on his land this time last year and for my part, I committed to spend my first week in a remote indigenous community in Government, should we win the election – which we did – on his land and he was very generous in accepting that offer and in a few weeks’ time I’ll be going up there to fulfil that commitment.

We’ve got up there at the Garma Festival, the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion, the Parliamentary Secretary, Mr Tudge. So, the Government is very well represented up there. The Chairman of my Advisory Council, Warren Mundine will be up there. Marcia Langton who has been Andrew Forrest’s right-hand in the preparation of the Forrest Review, she’s up there. So, a lot of good people are there and I’m looking forward to being up there myself in a few weeks’ time.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript - 23697