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Transcript - 24283

Joint Doorstop Interview, Devonport

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: 13/03/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24283

Subject(s): Freight Equalisation Scheme

Location: Devonport, Tasmania

BRETT WHITELEY MP:

Welcome everybody and any day that the Prime Minister is in Tasmania is a great day, but today is one of those phenomenal days that I think will go down in the history of the Tasmanian economy as a game changer policy that I’ll leave for the Prime Minister to announce in a moment.

Can I just say on behalf of the Tasmanian team, which includes my good friends and colleagues – Eric Hutchinson and Andrew Nikolic and the Tasmanian Senate team – we’ve been working very, very hard on this since we were elected and it’s just a day which we can hardly hold our emotion to describe how we feel about this decision for Tasmania. It’s also a pleasure to have here at the front with us the Premier of Tasmania who no doubt will share this excitement.

And without any further ado it’s an absolute honour to welcome to the north west coast of Tasmania the Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much.

Brett, it is great to be here. It’s always good to be in Tasmania, but it’s particularly good to be here on the north west coast. It’s good to be here with you, with Andrew Nikolic, with Eric Hutchinson, with the Premier Will Hodgman. I’m also here with my colleague, the Minister for Industry Ian Macfarlane, Senator Eric Abetz, the Government Leader in the Senate, Senator Richard Colbeck who is of course the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture and our Whip, David Bushby. So, this is the Tasmanian Liberal team, the Tasmanian Coalition team, delivering for jobs and exports here in the great state of Tasmania.

I have long said that Tasmania is one of the most beautiful parts of Australia. It's a great place to visit, it's a great place to live, it's got to be a great place to work as well. And that's why I've said again and again and again that we need to have a strong economy, as well as beautiful national parks in Tasmania. It needs to be just as good a place to invest, to employ, to export, as it is to visit and to live and that's exactly why we have this important announcement to make today – that the Freight Equalisation Scheme which the Fraser Government introduced, which the Howard Government improved, is being further improved by the Abbott Government today.

The Freight Equalisation Scheme will now apply to everything that goes out of Tasmania by sea. It will apply to everything that goes out of Tasmania by sea, whether it's going just to the mainland or whether it’s going to the mainland and beyond, it will attract the Freight Equalisation Scheme.

This is a $200 million investment in exports and jobs in Tasmania. So, I know these are tough fiscal times, they really are tough fiscal times and federal dollars are limited but we are prepared to spend – if it is going to help our economy – we are prepared to spend where it is an investment in more jobs, in greater productivity, in greater production and this is going to be very important for the future of Tasmania as an export state.

It's great to be here with the Addison family, they've been on this property for five generations. I want to thank David Addison and his team for making us so welcome. Charlton Farm Produce is already being exported to Europe and to Asia, and thanks to the announcement today, it will be so much easier for the great exporters of Tasmania to compete on the world stage. So, I'm very, very pleased to be here.

I'm pleased to be standing yet again shoulder-to-shoulder with my friend and state parliamentary colleague the Premier Will Hodgman and over to you, Will.

PREMIER HODGMAN:

Thank you Prime Minister. Ladies and gentlemen, to my parliamentary colleagues, can I say on behalf of the state of Tasmania how delighted we are at this game-changing policy announcement from our federal colleagues.

It's true to say that we've been working collectively and collaboratively on how we can further strengthen our export capacity, how we can strengthen a scheme that has for so long provided great benefit for Tasmanian business, but has had some shortcomings; they have now well and truly been filled. The state government has in fact since Opposition been advocating for an extension of the Scheme and we've been doing so in partnership with our federal colleagues. When I talk to people about the state team working collaboratively and cooperatively with our federal colleagues, it's to deliver good outcomes just like this.

It was fantastic to be with the Prime Minister just a few weeks ago when there was a significant announcement with respect to our infrastructure, to supply farms with irrigation water. And today this is another significant boost for our economy which Tasmanian business will greatly appreciate. It will help sustain the growth in our economy which we're now starting to see return to Tasmania. It will further boost confidence which is now at the highest levels across the country here in Tasmania and it will support one of our great competitive strengths: that is our export sector, particularly those who produce Tasmania's fine products.

So, we are very pleased to be here today to acknowledge the significant contribution by the Federal Government. We had a meeting this morning, a Joint Economic Council meeting, between the state and federal governments and it's all about working together to deliver good outcomes and to work cooperatively and constructively and this is a further example of that. I want to acknowledge the work that’s been done by the Tasmanian Liberal team, the House of Representatives and also the Senate for some time on this and acknowledge the significant contribution in Tasmania's economy and a firm commitment that we will continue to do our bit here in the state to kick-start our economy and to strengthen our economic base.

Thank you, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much, Will. Ok, do we have any questions?

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, can you outline what Tasmanian producers, what subsidies they will be to receive in international exports?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, essentially the existing Freight Equalisation Scheme continues, the passenger scheme continues, they continue as is, but for containers that are going beyond Melbourne to places overseas, they will get $700 per standard container. So, it will be a flat rate which accepts, at least in respect of the international scheme, it accepts the Productivity Commission's recommendation.

QUESTION:

Why wait until next year to bring this into effect?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there's always a certain amount of logistics involved and we think that this is a very good thing to do and it will come in then.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, I understand that the industry was asking for about $25 million, the group that you met with in early February. Why have you gone from 25 to 50?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we decided that given that the average rate for the existing Freight Equalisation Scheme was about $700 per container. That was the obvious amount to use for this new international scheme.

QUESTION:

Would you like to see the subsidy continue beyond four years?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's there for four years. Obviously, once these things are in place, they have a tendency to stay in place, but it’s there for four years. Let's see how things go. There are a lot of things that we want to do over the next four year, one of the things that we’d like to do over the next four years is thoroughly reform coastal shipping more generally because the arrangements put in place by the former Labor government have really hurt Tasmania in particular. For instance, some of the big exporters like the Bell Bay smelter have really suffered as a result of the changes which the former government made to shipping, and funnily enough a scheme that was supposed to boost Australian ships and boost Australian coastal employment has actually produced fewer ships and fewer jobs.

QUESTION:

Mr Hodgman has a plan for $33 million for an international shipping service. Does your scheme cover containers that will go on that service straight to Asia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, our scheme covers everything that goes across the Bass Strait to Melbourne, whether it stays on the mainland or then goes beyond, but there's no reason why what we announced today can't be entirely complementary with anything that the state government does.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, have you seen modelling or estimates on the number of jobs in Tasmania a Freight Equalisation Scheme change is likely to bring, over time?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we're confident based on our discussions with the Joint Commonwealth State Economic Council that this is exactly what the exporters of Tasmania needed. Dale Elphinstone, the most prominent businessman in the state, chairs that Council along with myself and he and his fellow business members have been absolutely adamant that the best thing we can do for Tasmania is give the export industries of Tasmania a boost in this way.

I'm very pleased that just over the course of the last few weeks I've been able to come to Tasmania first to commit a very substantial federal contribution to the second tranche of the irrigation scheme and today to boost Tasmanian exports in this way and it's precisely because you've got a government in Canberra which is serious about Tasmania and open for business and a government in Hobart which is open for business, that we've got Tasmanian unemployment down from over eight per cent in September 2013 to about the national average, about 6.5 per cent today. There have been 9,000 new jobs created in Tasmania since September of 2013. I’m told there are as many job advertisements in Tasmania as in South Australia these days and I’ve got to say that retail sales are up, tourism numbers are up, confidence in Tasmania is at the highest level in years and this is designed to build on that big foundation.

QUESTION:

How strong, Prime Minister, was there a pushback from the economics ministers about this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think that’s sheer speculation – sheer speculation. I was at the meeting of the Commonwealth State Economic Council this morning and the most enthusiastic supporter of this particular announcement is the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, because he wants to see more jobs in Tasmania. He wants to see an economically stronger Tasmania. None of us want to see Tasmania as a burden on the federation. We want to see Tasmania as a big asset to the federation and that’s what this is all about.

QUESTION:

Was there any discussion today about the reallocation of the grant that was going to Cadbury?

PRIME MINISTER:

The short answer is not much. We were happy to make that announcement during the campaign. We wanted to make it happen. For all sorts of reasons, the original proposal couldn’t go ahead, so it’s now off the table. In the last few weeks we’ve made almost a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of additional commitments to Tasmania which is a great demonstration by this federal government of our faith in Tasmania and our determination to do the right thing by Tasmania and let’s see what happens in the months and years ahead.

QUESTION:

That will money will still come to Tasmania, Mr Abbott?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to get into specific detail about where exactly a particular quantum might end up, but between now and the middle of 2016 I’m sure there’ll be a whole range of measures and initiatives that will be taken and one thing I’m determined to do is to ensure that Tasmania is an economy as well as just an environment.

QUESTION:

Do you expect it will be used again to subsidise a business, though? Was there concern within the Party about doing that?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s interesting that you should raise this whole question of subsiding particular businesses. I was at Vodafone earlier today because there’s been a very significant expansion of Vodafone’s operations in Tasmania, in part because of a $4 million grant by the former government to Vodafone. Now, in return for that $4 million grant, Vodafone invested $12 million and their employment in Tasmania has gone up by about 300 to over1,000 – making them one of the largest private sector employers in the state.

So, while direct grants to commercial operations should be the exception rather than the rule – they should be an absolute rarity – sometimes, depending on the circumstances, it does make sense and it made sense for the former government to make a $4 million commitment to Vodafone. It was supported by the Liberal Party at the time. We’ve seen tangible benefits as a result of that particular commitment and I’m sure had the commitment to Cadbury gone ahead, had the original proposal stayed on the table, there would have been similar benefits.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, Glenn Lazarus has quite the Palmer United Party. Will this further splinter the crossbench and make it harder for the Government to negotiate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let’s finish dealing with questions about Tasmania and then if there are other issues, I’m happy to get on to them.

QUESTION:

In regards to the freight scheme, is it likely to drive down the prices of Tasmanian produce on the mainland, encouraging more mainlanders to buy Tasmanian?

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s what the original Freight Equalisation Scheme was designed to do: to make Tasmanian produce more competitive on the mainland. This will make Tasmanian produce more competitive on the world stage and businesses like this which are currently exporting to Europe and Asia will obviously get an additional leg-up as a result of the scheme that we announced today.

QUESTION:

And just another one on the Cadbury funding, do you have any idea how long it might take to decide where that money ends up?

PRIME MINISTER:

As I said, we’ll be making announcements from time to time in respect of Tasmania. As well as the additional quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of support that has gone to Tasmania in the last few weeks, as you know, there was a $400 million commitment to the Midland Highway, a $38 million commitment to Hobart International Airport, I think it was a $25 million commitment to the Antarctic Research Centre. We’re making a very wide range of investments in economic infrastructure in employment-boosting projects here in Tasmania all the time.

QUESTION:

Is this a reward for the Tasmanian team sticking so closely behind you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no, this is a sensible commitment to jobs and investment in Tasmania and it is a recognition, I’ve got to say, of the work that our Tasmanian members and senators have done. You’ve got Senator Colbeck over there, the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, you’ve got the Leader of the Government in the Senate, you’ve got the Whip, you’ve got these three great local members, for Bass, for Braddon, for Lyons. All of them want to do the right thing by the people of Tasmania, but so does the national government. So does the national government. I mean, we want Tasmania to be a very vigorous part of our Commonwealth and this will help Tasmania to be an economically as well as a culturally and socially vigorous part of our Commonwealth.

QUESTION:

How do Tasmanian onions taste raw?

PRIME MINISTER:

Better than any other onions I’ve tasted in a long time!

QUESTION:

Do you have any comment to make on Glenn Lazarus and his decision to quit Palmer United?

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s a matter for Senator Lazarus and it’s a matter for Mr Palmer.

QUESTION:

Do you think it will make it easier to get your legislation through the Senate?

PRIME MINISTER:

I never underestimate the challenges of getting legislation through the Senate because we’ve got a feral Labor Party which is in lock-step with The Greens. You’ve got a Labor-Green coalition which is determined to say no, even though it was the Labor-Green coalition that got us into the fiscal mess that our country has been in.

So, you’ve got a Labor Party which was incompetent in government, which is destructive in opposition. They’re doing their best to sabotage this Government’s attempts at budget repair, but as the Intergenerational Report made clear, we are already about half way there. Labor’s debt and deficit going forward has been halved thanks to the measures that this Government has not only put forward but has actually passed through the Parliament. So, there’s a long way to go and we’re not going to shirk the task, but a lot’s been achieved already.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, how close do you believe the Government is with the renewables sector on a deal for the RET?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is really more a subject for the Industry Minister and the Environment Minister who have been closely dealing with the Labor Party and others on this. We are inching towards an agreement, as I understand it. Certainly, it’s important that we do get an agreement that will give certainty to the renewables sector and, at the same time, avoid upward pressure on power prices.

QUESTION:

There’s been some criticism in the Financial Review and from the Business Council of Australia on Christopher Pyne’s research funding threat. Do you stand by that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you know, the best thing we can do for research in Australia is liberate the university sector – that’s the best thing we can do for research in Australia, and this is why all of the Vice-Chancellors are so much in favour of the reforms that we want to get through the Senate. So, Christopher Pyne – good on him – is working very well and closely with the crossbench senators because, again, we’ve got the Labor Party trying to sabotage a reform which more and more senior Labor figures support. We saw the former premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie, who was a candidate for Labor at the last federal election come out today and say that these reforms were a no-brainer.

So, look, as always, the Labor Party is standing in the way of sensible reform. We’ll work with the crossbench, but the best thing we can do for research in this country is let these reforms through and liberate our great universities to be the best in the world.

QUESTION:

Is Malcolm Turnbull undermining you by holding events today with Liberals that supported a spill?

PRIME MINISTER:

I really encourage all of my frontbenchers, particularly those with a high public profile, to get out and about in marginal seats. I mean, that’s what I’m doing today…

BRETT WHITELEY:

And you’re welcome, PM! And Malcolm’s welcome any time, too.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s right, and I’m sure the invitation’s in the mail, isn’t it, mate?!

Look, I’m really pleased that Malcolm, that Joe, that Julie Bishop, that Scott Morrison, all of our high profile ministers are working with all of our members and senators because, let’s face it, it’s a tough job to govern this country. It’s a great honour, it’s a great privilege, but it’s a hard job when you’ve got to repair the budgetary disaster that was created for us by the Labor Party and The Greens and I’m just pleased that all of my frontbenchers in the parliamentary off-weeks are out campaigning.

Thanks so much. Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript - 24283