THE HON. CHRISTIAN PORTER MP, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Welcome everyone and welcome PM. PM, we’re now standing on the biggest project in the history of the Main Roads Department in WA. Over $1 billion, 80 per cent funded by the Commonwealth, in fact in one of your earlier Budgets. When this is completed, as we were informed this morning, we’ll be able to travel, or anyone in Perth, will be able to travel from the point that we’re standing on to Darwin, without a traffic light.
For my electorate, what it means, for all the good people of Ellenbrook, is that they will be able to drive in the outer suburbs of the city of Perth with 16 less traffic lights, 21 less speed changes and we get rid of two railway crossings. We estimate that that will reduce the travelling time by about 20 minutes or 50 per cent. So, for the people of my electorate, this is just an amazing project. It’s also a project which has created 5,500 direct jobs in construction. When it’s completed, it activates an entire an employment hub where the road trains assemble and disassemble. We've already had Linfox and others buy land out there, the employment has already started. So saying this project is huge is an understatement PM and you're very welcome here. Thank you very much.
PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you very much Christian. It's great to be here with the Attorney and of course the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann and our Small Business Minister the irrepressible Michaelia Cash and Dean Smith as well as the patron Senator and Senator from Western Australia for surrounding electorates.
This is an exciting place to be. When we talk about congestion-busting, economy-growing, freight-linking infrastructure, this is what we're talking about. Our Government has been in this show for some time. As Christian was just saying, over $800 million invested in an 80-20 arrangement here and working in very good partnership, as Mathias knows, with the state Government, to deliver this important infrastructure for Western Australia.
It's great to see the Western Australian economy starting to bounce back. It's great to see the optimism. It's great to see the spirit that is here and I'm looking forward to seeing more of that over the next few days while I'm here. It's that great enterprising, entrepreneurial spirit which is the reason why I've always believed very strongly that WA needs to have its’ own fair share of GST.
It was a great win for West Coast on the weekend. But there had already been a very big win for Western Australia when it came to our Government's commitment to ensure a fairer distribution of the GST. Now, last time I was here, I said I was very open to the idea of legislating our Government's fairer GST deal. Today, we're announcing that we will be proceeding to legislate that deal when Parliament returns. I'm pleased to hear that the Leader of the Opposition says he's on a unity ticket with this. Well, we'll wait and see, I hope it's true. He says he's on a unity ticket with our plan. I'm sending the full legislation to him today and it's already been sent, I understand, to the state and territory Treasurers who are also meeting this week to consider a whole range of issues as they do from time to time.
But our GST plan is about ensuring a fairer share, to ensure the important services - the schools, the hospitals, the law enforcement, as well as the infrastructure and the other important projects - can get underway to support the strength of the West Australian economy here and all around the country. As I said, as an eastern states Member of Parliament, it's important to deal with this issue of the GST because it is a national issue. It's not just important to fix the GST for Western Australia. It's important that this system, the fair-go principle, which underpins how we distribute the GST, means a fair go, also for Western Australia, but all the states and territories. We've got a more than a $1 billion guarantee a year, ultimately in this program, which means all states and territories are better off under our plan. So that's why I'm looking forward to that plan being legislated so the certainty is there in what the Commonwealth, what the Federal Government puts in to top up the GST pool, so all states and territories are better off. So Western Australia knows that the floor on the GST is there and it's hard law. And on top of that, that the formula is changed. We were for a change to the formula. The Labor Party was against a change to the formula. We believe that the formula needed to change and our legislation will make that change law, which will give everybody the certainty they need to get on and do what they need to do at a state and territory level, to provide the essential services that all Australians rely on.
There was only one other topic that I wanted to talk briefly about today and that is the continuing worsening situation in Indonesia. This is just a terrible tragedy and as I said yesterday, I've been in direct contact with President Widodo about this. Australia stands ready to assist as is needed. But I think it's important that all of our empathy and thoughts are with them in what must be a most horrific time for them. The Foreign Minister is working closely with her counterpart in Indonesia to correspond with any assistance which is necessary. But right now I think, as a good friend of Indonesia, it's important that all Australians, I think, continue to show their strong empathy and support, which President Widodo indicated to me very clearly that they have very grateful for.
JOURNALIST: Just on the earthquake if I can pick that one up. In Aceh there was a military, a sizeable military contribution. Is that what is being considered here? Are we anywhere along the path to committing?
PRIME MINISTER: There's been no request made as yet, so we're standing ready to assist with any request that may come. But at this point, we are having some contingencies in place, but at this stage, they haven't been initiated.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in terms of the GST, I believe back in July that you said that the legislation may not be needed. So, what's changed in that time?
PRIME MINISTER: Well back then, the Labor Party were all over the place on this issue. They didn't even support a change. I didn't want to get us into a situation where this whole process could have been disrupted by people playing political games. As you've seen in the Senate, as Mathias knows better than anyone, as Michaelia and Dean know as well, I didn't want to see the important changes we were making to the GST get disrupted by those games in Canberra.
But given the Labor Party says they're going to support our plan, well, that means that we can go forward with legislation and we can lock it in and we don't have to go through any alternative arrangements.
JOURNALIST: So is this a bit of a tactic to put pressure on the Labor Party?
PRIME MINISTER: Well there shouldn't be any pressure, he says he's on a unity ticket. So, well, let's see what he says. But if he's on a unity ticket, in my book, that means that you turn up and you vote for the unity bill.
JOURNALIST: Will it be comforting to have it off the agenda come the election time next year?
PRIME MINISTER: It’ll be comforting for Western Australians to have the certainty that they have got a legislated GST fair deal. I think that that’s something that they've been waiting a long time for. I've known that and again, I want to thank the people of Western Australia, as well as my colleagues, who when I was Treasurer, gave me the time to work through this issue. It was a long process and Western Australians were very patient as we did that. But I think their patience has been rewarded with an arrangement, a new set of mechanisms for distributing the GST, which is fair to Western Australia, but it's fair to all states and territories.
I mean, a deal does not get better than this for all states and territories when they all end up being better off as a result of the change. So we look forward to support for that legislation as it moves through the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify, you're legislating the floor and the allocation?
PRIME MINISTER: The floor, the allocation and the change to the formula, the transition period and how the transition period is broken up over those six years. It's the whole package I outlined back at the end of June as Treasurer, the whole package is in law.
JOURNALIST: Will you make that commitment that the package will, sort of, look the same even if you did come across any problems passing the legislation?
PRIME MINISTER: There should be no problems, Labor should support the plan. They said they were on a unity ticket with the plan. We’ve made no secret about our plan. It was set out in our response in some detail. So it's there, we are simply legislating what I announced back in June, 100 per cent.
JOURNALIST: Can we just ask you, Malcolm Turnbull has made some comments in relation to something about "ghosts”, that Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd continue to be, haunting ghosts I think is the term he used?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, I'll leave all of the ghosts in the past I think, that's where ghosts best remain.
JOURNALIST: Including the former prime minister?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, we’ve got a new generation of leadership now in the Liberal Party, our Government has done a good job for Australia, particularly on our economy, on ensuring that essential services that Australians rely on - because of that strong economy - can be guaranteed. We're keeping Australians safe. We're keeping Australians together. That's what we're doing as a Government. That's what we've done as a Government and we'll continue to and that's where our focus is. I know others will go off on some tangents in commentary, but that's not our focus.
JOURNALIST: Would you rather that the former prime minister just zipped it? Just zipped it up?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, I talk to Malcolm quite regularly actually and we keep in touch. I was very pleased that recently he was able to represent Australia at my request, at the recent United Nations forum that I understand they were running there. So we really appreciated his involvement in that. He's shown a preparedness to continue to do things like this where there's an opportunity to do so. I want to thank him very much for continuing to serve his country in that way. I mean, he's no longer in politics, he's made that pretty clear and he's not interested in offering political commentary. But he still has a lot to offer the country and I have no doubt that he will make a big contribution in his post political career.
JOURNALIST: Should Abbott leave Parliament?
PRIME MINISTER: He's running in the next election, he's running for Warringah. He's out there right now in remote and regional Australia, working on one of the most - and in Western Australia, you know this better than most states - one of our most intractable problems we have; that is to ensure that we get and keep Indigenous kids in school. I mean, here in Western Australia, I'm visiting one of them tomorrow morning, the Clontarf program. Born and bred here in Western Australia. In fact one of our late colleagues, Don Randall along with Gerard Neesham had been very involved in the formation of the Clontarf program. That program is in high schools now in my electorate in southern Sydney and doing a tremendous job. Getting young Indigenous kids in school and keeping them in school all the way to Year 12, that's what Tony Abbott is working on, so I'm glad he's running again.
JOURNALIST: Don’t you think he’s your version of Kevin Rudd?
PRIME MINISTER: Tony Abbott is Tony Abbott's version of Tony Abbott and he's out there doing what he's passionate about and what I've asked him to do; that is to get Indigenous kids in school and keeping them in school. Come on, I mean, isn't that a great job to be doing?
JOURNALIST: From a couple of my colleagues in Canberra, Prime Minister, Queensland has received almost half of the amount of hospital funding, I think, it was announced on Friday by the Health Minister. Is that because Queenslanders are getting sicker or because you’ve got a raft of marginal seats up that way?
PRIME MINISTER: No, the health funding formula is pretty straightforward and there are reconciliations done on those from year to year, we're just following the normal process.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you've taken responsibility for the Great Barrier Reef Foundation?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I and my colleagues. We all –
JOURNALIST: Do you concede in hindsight that if would have been better if it, that claim, had gone through a proper tender process?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it did go through a proper process. I want to stress this; what I’ve said about that matter is that we knew that the position in 2017/18 - Mathias Cormann and I - had improved and that gave us the opportunity to actually make the biggest investment in the future of the Reef in one go. Now, had we not taken that decision, I think it would have been a lot more difficult to do that over a number of years. So we took the right financial decision when it was brought to us that the Environment Minister at the time, Josh Frydenberg, wanted to make this investment in the reef. We worked out the best way to do that financially. Now, that's what Treasurers and Finance Ministers do. I mean you don't do it in a way which is going to blow the Budget and undermine your other fiscal objectives. Do you it in a way where you can deliver on the objective - which we are doing and have done - by making sure that we’ve made this very big investment in the future of the Reef. At the same time, doing it in a way which doesn't impair the Budget over the longer term.
So if you ask me, it seemed to be like pretty good common-sense in how you manage the finances and ensuring that is now in place to support these projects into the future.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull said that he was behind 51 to 49 in the published polls but actually ahead by four points in the internal tracking polls across all your marginal seats. What are your thoughts?
PRIME MINISTER: I expressed my views on that yesterday.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about the controversy over the ABC chairman? Do you think, given what happened last week, it would be appropriate to maybe consult with Labor before appointing the next Chairman?
PRIME MINISTER: No. There's a process for appointing chairs and board members to the ABC. We'll follow that process. The elected Government makes appointments to these boards. I'm sure if they have suggestions, they'll make them, but the Government runs that process.
As I said on the weekend, the ABC has got to stop talking about itself and get back to work and do its job. That's what people expect of them and I think when it comes to the issues that are really of burning interests to Australians, it's the drought, it's jobs, it's electricity prices. It's all of these things. That's what they're focused on.
You know, the ABC is a very important institution, but frankly there are a lot of other issues out there that I think are really burning through kitchen tables as topics of conversation, than that one.
JOURNALIST: Perhaps another one from my Canberra colleagues about resistance to antibiotics? What is the Government doing to manage patients who are resistant to antibiotics?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, I think that they can take that up with Greg, I'm sure that he’ll give him an adequate response.
JOURNALIST: Are you going to hang around, there's a parade for the Eagles sometime this week. Does your agenda fit into that?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, I'll let them celebrate their win. They've had a great win. I was there on the weekend and you know, it says something, doesn't it? You can be behind in the first quarter by a fair way.
But what matters is where you are when the siren sounds! Even if that means that you've got to put in a pretty amazing kick from right on the boundary line there, that was an amazing kick, I've got to say. I mean West Coast missed a few that they probably should have got a lot easier, but to kick that one from that boundary, was an extraordinary effort.
So it just goes to show that when you have someone who is in front of you and they think they've got it all sewn up, you never know, do you?
JOURNALIST: So are you Dom Sheed or Adam Simpson in your team?
PRIME MINISTER: I don't look like either of them, as you can see, plainly. But I thought it was a great game on the weekend. You know, I'm not an AFL fan - I mean, I appreciate the game - I was there to see the Roosters knock over the Storm last night and that was another great contest. We've had the women's codes as well having their grand finals and the Broncos won that game against the Roosters in the NRL. So it's great to see. This is a great time of sport for Australia. I hope everyone is enjoying it, as I said at the North Melbourne breakfast. You know, with these things, Australians can just sort of forget what's going on for them right at that moment, when they get taken up in the game or the contest that they're interested in. They can forget their daily cares maybe just for a little while, get caught up in the moment. So if you're going out to the parade, enjoy it. Have a great time. I think it's part of the resilience and I think the great recovery and resurgence we're going to see here in the west, not just when it comes to football, but when it comes to the economy and the state really coming back strong.
JOURNALIST: And Cronk, were you impressed with his performance?
PRIME MINISTER: He was a real general last night, Cooper and he showed a lot of courage. I think as one of the papers said, they were the icebergs last night, like the Bondi icebergs down there at Bondi Beach. They were a clinical outfit and they did an extraordinary job, it was quite a display. I don't think anyone would have beaten them, even my Sharks wouldn't have beaten them last night.
Great, thanks very much, good to be here.