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Transcript - 24179

Joint Press Conference, 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: 07/02/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24179

Subject(s): Regular international flights in and out of Townsville

Location: Townsville, Queensland

EWEN JONES:

Thank you very much, everyone, for coming here. I’m probably the happiest person in Australia, let alone North Queensland today. I have my Prime Minister, my Deputy Prime Minister and the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, here to make a very special announcement for North Queensland about a Government that is getting on with the business of government.

So, if I could hand straight over to the Prime Minister, and thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, thanks so much, Ewen. It is great to be here with the Deputy Prime Minister, with the Foreign Minister, with the Local member, Ewen Jones, to make a very important announcement. The announcement that I’m pleased and proud to make is that from 1 March, we will have, here in Townsville, the customs, the quarantine and the immigration officers to ensure that international flights can be received by this airport.

I said on day one of the Abbott Government that we wanted to be open for business; that we were under new management. I also have been saying for years that this country needs to develop the North; that the North is not the last frontier, it’s the next frontier, and this marvellously brings together both of these themes.

We will be open for business here at Townsville Airport for international flights and we certainly are going to help to make Townsville another gateway to Australia.

So, I’m really, really pleased with this announcement. This is very good news for Townsville, it’s very good news for Queensland and it’s a sign that this is a Government which is getting on with business every day. We are getting on with the business of building a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia.

I’m now going to ask the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister to add to these remarks.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much, Tony and Julie and particularly Ewen and ladies and gentlemen. It’s certainly an important step forward for Townsville that these facilities – these border protection facilities – will now be available in Townsville to receive and farewell international aircraft arrivals and departures. This means that international services can begin in Townsville.

There have been expressions of interest from a couple of airlines in actually commencing services, but it’s been a barrier that there were no border protection services available. The cost of providing these services is obviously substantial, and when it seemed to be too hard, Ewen fought long and tenaciously until the problems were resolved. Ewen simply didn’t stop bringing delegations from Townsville to Canberra and wherever it needed to go, because he knew this was important for his electorate and he knew it was important for North Queensland.

Now, we don’t actually have formal applications yet from any airlines to operate services into Townsville, but the fact that these essential support services are now available will certainly attract the attention of airlines and we have had positive responses from a couple of likely operators into Townsville, and I hope, therefore, the services can commence into this city as quickly as possible.

The other thing I want to say is as Transport Minister, it’s easy for me to designate an airport as an international airport and it doesn’t cost me very much, but I want to particularly compliment customs and quarantine and immigration and the policing services who do have to devote resources for this task and, in particular, the innovative and creative way in which they’ve looked at ensuring that we can provide these services. We accept that there won’t be multiple daily services from day one, that we’ll have to provide arrangements that meet the regular arrivals, because you’ve got to build the business up and there’s been a willingness now from these agencies to ensure that we look at innovative ways so that the services will be here as required and then we can provide more and more as the number of services continues to grow.

Tourism is important for North Queensland and Northern Australia. This announcement today is an important part of our Northern Australia strategy – our determination to build the North and to ensure that it’s able to achieve its true economic potential. Making it easier to travel in and out is a key part of building the economy of the North.

So, thank you, Ewen, for continuing to press and pursue this issue. We know that this announcement today is the gateway to a new era of prosperity for the North.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well said, Warren. Julie?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Thank you Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the indefatigable Ewen Jones, the Local member. I’m absolutely delighted to be here today as Foreign Minister, because this announcement is a milestone in the life of Townsville, Northern Queensland and, indeed, Australia.

When we came to Government, we said we’d take a new approach to foreign affairs, and that was one of economic diplomacy, which meant that we would ensure our assets, our diplomats, our posts overseas, all our effort in foreign affairs and trade would be directed to increasing trade and investment between countries overseas and Australia. Just as traditional diplomacy sought the goal of peace so economic diplomacy seeks the goal of prosperity.

So, we arranged to have tourism brought into the portfolio of foreign affairs and trade, and that included Tourism Australia. It’s now within our Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio and this is paying dividends. In the 12 months to September 2014 – that is from September 2013 to September 2014 – almost seven million international visitors came to Australia. That was an increase of 8.2 per cent over the previous 12 months and we are determined to ensure that the number of international visitors to this country increases because it translates into jobs for local people, jobs for our economy.

Now, tourists are sourced from all over the world, but in particular from New Zealand, from Indonesia, from South-East Asia, from China, Japan, Korea. This is our neighbourhood, this is our region and we want to attract more of the increasing consumer class in Asia to Australia for tourism. But, tourists also bring with them others – their family and friends – they have a great experience in Australia and they will tell others – third party endorsement is very powerful. Students will come here to study, businesses will come here to invest and, so often, a visit as a tourist is what triggers that kind of deeper engagement with Australia.

So this means, for Townsville – and congratulations to Ewen for raising this at every opportunity – this means for Townsville an increase in the number of people who will be employed here. Townsville is a huge city in terms of Northern Australia and it’s the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the wonders of the world, and more and more tourists will want to see this beautiful pristine reef that the Australian Government has invested so much in to ensure that it is preserved for evermore.

So, I couldn’t be more delighted with this announcement, because this gives airlines the opportunity to bring more international tourists to Australia, more visitors to Australia. That means more jobs and opportunities in this country.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ok. Well thank you so much, Julie, and a popular announcement.

Now, do we have any questions? We might start with Townsville Airport questions, because I think the local people deserve to hear more about this announcement.

QUESTION:

You’ve talked about the innovative ways you’ve addressed the border protection services. Can you go into more detail in terms of how you’ve addressed them?

PRIME MINISTER:

We want all our agencies to work constructively together so that this country is genuinely open for business. We don’t want to see government in silos; we don’t want to see every agency protecting its own patch, worrying about its own interests. The national interest is really the only interest that counts and I’m delighted that rather than find ways to say no, all our agencies have been working together to find a way to say yes. I just want to stress what an extraordinary agent for beneficial change Ewen Jones, the local member, has been here. He has been absolutely indefatigable when it comes to knocking on doors and making sure that we’re all working together for the benefit of Townsville, Queensland and Australia.

QUESTION:

So how much will be the Government be subsidising those costs?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are going to cover the costs initially from our standard operating budgets, because there’s always some flexibility in our standard operating budgets. Once the numbers of international flights build up, obviously then different arrangements will need to be entered into. But, the point is that from 1 March, international flights will be able to land here, because the services to deal with their passengers will be available.

QUESTION:

Is the offer for that subsidy, if we don’t get flights from March, is it going to stand all the way through until December if someone signs on in December?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, that’s correct.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

Clearly, we won’t be making arrangements to put people here until aeroplanes are going to land. So, we’ve said that we can make those arrangements from 1 March, but clearly, we’ll put the staff in place to meet the first arrival whenever that might be.

EWEN JONES:

Can I just add here that the important thing here is that what the Government wants to do is let the market decide whether we can be a fully international airport. If we went into a full cost recovery right from the word go, then the Government is deciding where the opportunities are and that’s what this Government is not about. We’re about opening up doors, and if we can see some benefit down the road, we will back people. We’ve had the Prime Minister’s office, Deputy Prime Minister’s office, Julie’s office, Andrew Robb’s office, Joe Hockey’s office, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have all been involved in this and never at any stage has anyone said this can’t be done. What we have tried to do is to recognise this is not an explicit election commitment; we had to find the money, we had to find the way through.

So, all the way through – and I see Trish O’Callaghan there and Tracey Lines from Townsville Enterprise – these guys have been backing us all the way through with this and getting down to Canberra, but this is about a Government that gets it, that understands what has to happen in this space and that we’re not the ones who decide who wins and loses – that’s what the market does and that’s what this Government does. We back the market.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well said.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, speaking of winning and losing, you’ve had 24 hours now to hit the phones. Are you confident of defeating a spill motion on Tuesday?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm very confident that this Government was elected to end the chaos and the disunity of the Labor years. This Liberal National Party – this Coalition – is not Labor and we are determined to give you, the Australian people, the certainty and the stability that you voted for. That's what you voted for at the last election and that's what we are determined to deliver and that's why, despite some distractions, I am just getting on with government. The Deputy Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the local member, we are all here to get on with government because that's what the people of Australia deserve.

QUESTION:

But you’ll face a vote and that’s of your own Party’s making. Are you confident you will defeat the spill motion on Tuesday?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's important to focus on the issues at stake and Australia has always been a stable country with stable government. There was this eruption of instability during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years and the last thing anyone wants is to see a Government in this country turn into some kind of 'Game of Thrones'. That’s the last thing that anyone wants and that’s the last thing that this Coalition is going to deliver.

QUESTION:

But hasn't that happened?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no. What we had this week was two backbenchers put in a motion for a spill. Now, they are perfectly entitled to do that. They’re perfectly entitled to do that, but this is a strong, united team. It's a strong, united Cabinet that wants to get on with government and the last thing any of us would want to do is to reproduce the chaos and the instability of the Labor years. We are not Labor. We are not Labor and this 'Game of Thrones' circus which the Labor Party gave us is never going to be reproduced by this Coalition – by this Liberal National Coalition.

QUESTION:

Will you allow a secret ballot?

PRIME MINISTER:

In the end, this is a matter for the Party Room, but certainly...

QUESTION:

Because two of your ministers are calling for one.

PRIME MINISTER:

The standard procedure is a secret ballot. In the end it's a matter for the Party Room, but that’s the standard procedure.

QUESTION:

So it will be a secret ballot?

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s my anticipation.

QUESTION:

Are you angry that you’re having to face this – upset, hurt? Surely, it’s a blight on you as leader to have to even face it on Tuesday?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's not about me. It’s never been about me. It's always been, as far as I’m concerned, about delivering good government. I know that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, what they want to see is a Party Room which unites around the leadership team and I certainly think that should this spill motion be defeated, as I expect, I will be taking that as a strong endorsement of the existing leadership team – as a vote of confidence in the existing leadership team.

QUESTION:

Would you expect ministers to resign if they voted against you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm expecting this spill motion to fail.

QUESTION:

Are you concerned by a Seven ReachTEL poll that put Malcolm Turnbull ahead as preferred Prime Minister, though?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm concerned not to do anything to create instability and chaos. I'm absolutely concerned to ensure that this Government is stable and certain because that's what the public elected us to provide: stable, certain, adult government.

QUESTION:

What do you make of an article that suggested you have ‘Rudd-esque’ behavioural traits that have got you into this plight?

PRIME MINISTER:

I would invite people who know me to offer their own views, but the article in question was quite inaccurate.

QUESTION:

There’s been some speculation that the vote may be brought forward to Monday. Would you consider it?

PRIME MINISTER:

As far as is humanly possible, I want next week to be business as usual.

EWEN JONES:

Hear, hear.

PRIME MINISTER:

Next week should be business as usual. Next week should be a Government getting on with what we were elected to do: to clean up Labor's mess, to end Labor's chaos and instability and to build a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia. We normally have a Party Room on Tuesday, so that’s when I would expect this matter to be dealt with.
 

QUESTION:

Have all your frontbenchers pledged support to you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I know my frontbenchers, I trust my frontbenchers. I’ve worked for a long time with all of them. I’m not someone who runs around demanding pledges of loyalty. Loyalty is what people in this Coalition naturally deliver to each other.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, what do you think has gone wrong with your leadership? What would you put it down to that you’re in this position?

PRIME MINISTER:

If you look at the Government over the last 16 months, we have really quite dramatically delivered on our commitments: the boats have stopped, the carbon tax has gone, the mining tax has gone – and these are both very significant improvements for Queensland – we’ve got the three free trade agreements. We really have delivered a great deal over the last 14 months.

Yes, we’ve had some difficulties in the Senate, I accept that, and I'm not dwelling on the past, I am moving forward as indicated in the speech at the National Press Club earlier in the week. What is our focus now is getting on with the job at every level, whether it be ensuring that Townsville can receive international flights and be a gateway to Australia, whether it be a better childcare package with more money in parents' pockets, whether it be a tax cut for small business, these are the things that the Government is working towards and, frankly, these are the things that the Australian people have a right to expect from us. Not navel gazing, not infighting, but a focus on them – on their future, on your future – and that's exactly what we are delivering.

Thank you so much.

QUESTION:

Ms Bishop, can we just ask you if you would support a spill motion on Tuesday?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

I was elected the Deputy of this Party in 2007 and again in 2013 and I understand from my colleagues that they look to me for stability and certainty as Deputy. My role as Deputy is to support the leader, not to change the leader and I don't support a spill motion.

QUESTION:

So you will be voting against a spill motion on Tuesday?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

I certainly will. I support the Prime Minister, I support the leader. That is the role of the Deputy and I've proven since 2007 that that's the role I will play.

[ends]

Transcript - 24179