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Transcript - 24218

Joint Doorstop Interview, Livingstone, Northern Territory

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: 21/02/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24218

Subject(s): Cyclones in the Northern Territory and Queensland

Location: Livingstone, Northern Territory

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s terrific to be here in the Territory on what is a very, very exciting day for the Northern Territory.

Before I get to the reason why we’re here today, I should simply note that large parts of Australia – here in the Territory and also in Queensland – are still being ravaged by these major cyclones. Adam will have more to say about the cyclone here in the Northern Territory in a moment, but I do want to confirm that the Commonwealth has entered into the standard Natural Disaster Relief and Recover Arrangements with the Territory to ensure that these are properly funded and we certainly also stand ready to do everything we possibly can to assist the people of Queensland. I've now been speaking with the Premier to assure her of the Commonwealth’s readiness to stand behind the relief and recovery efforts in Queensland as well.

This is a very exciting day for the Territory, and I'm so pleased to be here with Adam Giles, the Chief Minister and Natasha Griggs, the Member for Solomon. This is the biggest private sector investment in agriculture in Northern Australia for many a long year. It's a sign of the new hope that has returned to agriculture in Northern Australia under this Coalition Government in Canberra. We all know that just a few years ago, the live cattle trade was virtually closed down because of an absolutely crazy action by the Gillard government. I'm delighted that the live cattle trade is booming again thanks to the efforts of Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and others.

I'm also really pleased that thanks to the Free Trade Agreements put in place by Andrew Robb under this Government, that the prospects for our agricultural exports, particularly our beef exports, have never been better. Soon, thanks to these Free Trade Agreements, there will be a zero tariff on Australian beef exports to Korea, a zero tariff on Australian beef exports to China and a much reduced tariff on Australian beef exports to Japan, which is our largest beef export market and all of this means that Australian cattle producers have got a magnificent opportunity to export our clean, great produce to the wider world. There is so much that we can do for the wider world and what we do for the wider world in beef is obviously immeasurably boosted by the opening of this fine facility here near Darwin today.

As I said, I'm going to throw to Adam for a few words and then to Natasha and then we will take questions.

CHIEF MINISTER GILES:

Thanks very much, Prime Minister, and thanks for coming to the Territory to officially open the AACo abattoir here at Livingston. It's a sure sign of positive investment to see an abattoir of this nature being constructed; an abattoir that can take 300,000 cattle per year, sending bulk beef into Asia, in partnership with the Free Trade Agreements that have been established as the Prime Minister just said.

I think it shows a sign of maturity as a nation from a Northern Australia perspective and a sign that business confidence is returning to the nation, but particularly Northern Australia and the Northern Territory. This facility will see 300 additional jobs, fantastic investment to date and thank you for the partnership with the Federal Government.

We have also jointly announced today the partnership with the natural disaster relief funding. That is essential funding that can go towards those communities and individuals who are displaced or affected by Tropical Cyclone Lam here in the Northern Territory. Those payments will start to be made by – facilitated through the Department of Children and Families at the earliest convenience on site in location in places such as Goulburn Island, Milingimbi, Gapuwiyak, Ramingining and Galiwin'ku. The Department of Children and Families are currently making the initial assessments about how to undertake delivery of those receipt payments.

I can give an update on the cyclone itself – Tropical Cyclone Lam – which now is downgraded to a tropical low. We are looking at standing down the incident controller in Katherine. We haven't received as much rainfall as we expected. So, the threat of flooding in the Katherine region has dissipated to a significant level. So, the incident controller will be stood down by police very soon. We do ask people to be mindful of any change in weather conditions that could present themselves.

The warning around Beswick, we had a warning of 7.7 metres of the river flooding. That has now increased eight metres as at an hour and a half ago. We encourage residents at Beswick to be mindful and to be safe and put in place your flood kits so that you put the interests of yourself and your family and the community as first priority.

In regards to some of the damage to date, the assessment teams arrived at 8:30 this morning at Galiwin'ku, Gapuwiyak, Ramingining and Milingimbi to undertake those assessments. There was no power in each of those locations. Galiwin'ku now has about 75 per cent of its power back on. We anticipate by the end of today, just about all power should be back on at Galiwin'ku. The sewage system at Galiwin'ku which initially looked like being off for a week, now appears to be about 75 per cent reconstructed and all things going well, by the end of today, sewage should be back up and running at Galiwin'ku. We will be able to provide a further update as things come to hand. That is how things are progressing there.

At Milingimbi, there is still the slight damage that has been caused at Milingimbi such as the barge area, but we believe power will be restored today at Milingimbi and the same at Gapuwiyak, although Gapuwiyak currently has 75 per cent power restored but 10 to 15 houses at the base camp is going to have a bit of a difficulty in getting that repaired today because of the fallen power lines, the fallen lines but we are working to get that undertaken.

In regards to Goulburn Island Warruwi, power didn't go out at Goulburn Island Warruwi. So, much of the infrastructure is still in place from an electrical point of view. I understand that people's food and water in terms of essential supplies will be in a position that when people come back, that supply will be good enough for people to continue with. The assessment team is there at the moment and we believe the repatriation back to Goulburn Island Warruwi should be able to commence in the next few hours with plane loads starting to take people back to Goulburn Island and we will be able to provide a further update in that regard very soon.

I can advise at Galiwin'ku, a barge has just landed at Galiwin'ku, providing food and supplies – essential supplies – for the residents at Galiwin'ku. Tomorrow a barge will be arriving at Ramingining and Milingimbi, providing water supplies and then on Tuesday, food and water replenishments will also be supplied in those areas.

I was advised that there had been no serious injuries or fatalities. I've just been updated that there are two injuries, one a 12-year-old boy who we believe has a fractured arm, not as a result of the cyclone and a nine-year-old child also in Galiwin'ku who has an electrical burn as a result of post-cyclone attempts to rectify some of the works in the community. Still trying to get more information, but both of those children have been evacuated from Galiwin'ku and are currently on their way to Darwin for further medical treatment and we will be able to provide more information about that when it comes to hand.

I will hand over to Tash to say a few words.

NATASHA GRIGGS MP:

Thank you. I would just like to say it's wonderful to have the Prime Minister back in the Top End. This is his fourth visit to the Top End since becoming Prime Minister and as I've said to many people, the fact that anyone comes to visit us in the Top End during the wet season is a sure sign of their commitment. Prime Minister, we know how committed you are to the Top End and indeed developing of North Australia.

Today, with this facility is a wonderful day, as others have said. It shows that the development of North Australia is well underway and I'm really pleased that both the Northern Territory Government and Federal Government are working together to make sure that the development of North Australia is actually a reality after all these years.

It was also wonderful to have the Prime Minister visit with defence families this morning as well and I know that he was very well received and it was just wonderful that he could spend the time to do that.

So, thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ok, do we have some questions?

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, have you ever raised the prospect of Australian troops on the ground in Iraq with our military officials?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we have had lots of discussions on lots of different subjects, but it's been absolutely crystal clear from the beginning that there was no plans to put Australian combat troops on the ground. I read an article in the paper this morning and I must say I thought it was absolutely fanciful and I rang the Chief of the Defence Force to ask him about it and he's as mystified by it as I am.

QUESTION:

You never suggested it to any military officials?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we have lots of discussions about lots of things all the time, but the idea that I would propose a unilateral dispatch of a large Australian force to another country is just fanciful – simply fanciful.

QUESTION:

You didn't suggest it at any time with any military officials – unilateral action?

PRIME MINISTER:

The story is false. It is false, it is fanciful. I've spoken to the Chief of the Defence Force about it and he is as mystified by this as I am.

QUESTION:

Why wouldn’t you say that you didn't have that conversation at all about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

The story as reported is false – it is false. I have lots of conversations with lots of people at lots of different times but the idea there was a meeting in late November where I formally asked for advice and formally suggested that a large Australian force should go unilaterally to Iraq is wrong – just wrong. What I am very happy to talk about, though, is what we actually are doing in Iraq. What we are doing in Iraq is operating with the full support of the Iraqi government in conjunction with our partners and allies to disrupt and degrade the Islamist death cult. Now, we sent our forces to Iraq; there is up to 200 Special Forces there on an advise and assist mission with the Iraqi special forces. There is an air contingent involving, at the moment, six Super Hornet strike fighters, an AWAC aircraft, a refuelling aircraft, and they are doing excellent work. I think they have flown so far some 550 combat missions over Iraq and they are doing very good work. That's the work that we are doing in Iraq, it's good work and we will continue to stand with our allies and the people of Iraq to fight this death cult which has produced a new dark age in much of northern Iraq and Syria.

QUESTION:

So, Prime Minister, can you rule out ever sending troops into Iraq unilaterally?

PRIME MINISTER:

Australia does not act unilaterally in the Middle East – we do not act unilaterally in the Middle East. We work with our partners and allies to meet threats to our vital national interests and to the vital national interests of our friends and partners. That's what we do.

QUESTION:

Has a unilateral [inaudible] been raised in Cabinet?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, absolutely not. As I said, the story that I read today was fanciful, absolutely fanciful. I rang the CDF, as you would expect, because if any such discussions had ever taken place, surely they would have taken place with the CDF and he is as mystified by this as I am. And I note that apparently there was no attempt made to contact him and certainly there was no attempt made to raise with my office this issue of 3,500 soldiers being unilaterally committed to Iraq.

QUESTION:

So in those many conversations you’ve had with many people, that was never raised?

PRIME MINISTER:

This idea that Australia would unilaterally send a very large contingent to Iraq, without the consent of the Iraqi government, without the co-operation of our allies is just nonsense.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, did you ever have that conversation?

PRIME MINISTER:

The conversation or the advice or the briefing which was reported in the paper today is simply false. If I may say so, there is a terrible tendency right now on the part of journalists to pick up rumour, to exaggerate it and then publish it as fact. There is quite a bit of stuff in the paper today which is simply fanciful, absolutely, utterly, simply fanciful. I know how my Government works. I know how meetings are conducted. I know who says what to whom in these meetings and there is a lot of material in the paper today which is fictitious.

QUESTION:

Let's be absolutely clear, you have never suggested that unilateral action?

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely. How often do I have to say it? The story in the paper today is simply false. It is fanciful, I think it's fanciful, when I rang the CDF to ask him if he had any idea what this might all be about, it was as much a mystery to him as it is to me.

QUESTION:

It’s a pretty damning article. Why would someone leak this information against you? Who is trying to damage you, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

You can't leak something that never happened. You absolutely can't leak something that never happened and I think just at the moment there is a little tendency on the part of journalists to pick up rumour, to exaggerate it, to beat it up, to further exaggerate it and then publish it as fact. Really, I think people should be very wary about taking too seriously stuff which is claimed, which no-one is prepared to put his or her name to.

QUESTION:

Are you saying the article was fabricated?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm saying that the story is fanciful, absolutely, completely and utterly fanciful and this is the last question I'm going to take on this subject because I think we've given it a good thrashing. When I read it, I thought this is fanciful, when I called the CDF to ask him about it, it was as much a mystery to him as it was to me.

QUESTION:

Do you feel like The Australian newspaper is out to get you?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I absolutely don't. What I would rather focus on is not reports in the paper today. What I would rather focus on is what this Government is doing to keep Australia safe. Yes, we do have a significant commitment in the Middle East to disrupt and degrade the Islamist death cult. But what I will be talking about on Monday is what we are doing to ensure that our nation is not just safe abroad but safe at home as well. There are a whole lot of issues that I will be addressing in my national security statement on Monday. But one of them that I will be addressing is the fact that for too long, we have given people who don't have this country's interests at heart, the benefit of the doubt. For instance, up until November of last year, some 57 Australians are known to have gone to the Middle East to join the Islamist death cult, fully 55 of those had previously been on welfare. This is not good enough – this is not good enough. If you are fit enough to go overseas to fight for a terrorist organisation, surely you should not be abusing the welfare system back in Australia. So, there are a range of things that I will be announcing on Monday which are designed to ensure that this country is not being taken advantage of by those who don't have our best interests at heart.

QUESTION:

Has Peta Credlin ever sat in as chair of the Expenditure Review Committee?

PRIME MINISTER:

Totally false.

QUESTION:

Has she ever stepped in to lead the meetings?

PRIME MINISTER:

Totally false.

Now, as people who have been in meetings that I chair know, I will often invite contributions from around the table. I will invite my Ministers to contribute, I will invite officials to contribute, sometimes I will invite staff to contribute. But this idea that anyone other than myself or occasionally the Treasurer chairs Expenditure Review Committee meetings is simply false.

QUESTION:

Did she ever describe the Barack Obama as the lamest of lame duck presidents?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to get into a kind of running commentary on claims that may have been made about what might have been said in particular context months and months ago. What I want to say is that I stand by my team, I stand by my Cabinet colleagues, I stand by my parliamentary colleagues and I stand by my staff. We are getting on with the Government that the people of Australia elected us to provide and we not only see today examples of the good that this Government is doing with the Free Trade Agreement which has helped to stimulate the investment, this $100 million-plus investment in the Northern Territory. But as you know, the boats have stopped, that means that people are no longer dying at sea. The carbon tax is gone, that means that $550 a year more is in the pockets of Australian families. The mining tax is gone, so Australia's reputation as a good place to invest has been secured. Just over the last few days, we announced a $60 million investment in new water storages in northern Tasmania which will be very good for agriculture there. We announced an arrangement with the ACT Government for asset recycling where the ACT Labor government has actually privatised important assets to invest that in economic infrastructure. We've sorted out the deeming rules to try to ensure that part-pensioners have more money in their pockets. So, every day this Government is getting on with its job and frankly, I think if there was less interest on the part of people like yourselves on insider gossip and there was more interest in what's actually happening to help our country, all of us would be much better off.

QUESTION:

You mentioned 54 fighting fit people from the Middle East who’ve gone to fight with the death cult that you talk about. Does that suggest – and you’ve talked about them being on welfare before they departed our shores – is there going to be some sort of crackdown on Middle Eastern people and their access to social welfare?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have a colour blind system. We have a system which treats everyone equally. That's as it should be, that's as it always will be as far as I'm concerned. But what we won't do is allow people to take advantage of our decency and generosity as a people. And already, measures have been put in place to ensure that the system can't be ripped off. I'm really pleased with what Senator Marise Payne as the Minister for Human Services has been doing. I'm really pleased with the work that Scott Morrison as the new Minister for Social Services is doing. Our system should be a good and generous system, but people have obligations when they make use of our system and I want to ensure that those obligations are taken seriously.

Thank you so much.

[ends]

Transcript - 24218