SENATOR SAM MCMAHON, SENATOR FOR NORTHERN TERRITORY: Welcome, everyone. My name is Dr Sam McMahon, I’m a Senator for the Northern Territory. It gives me the greatest of pleasures to welcome our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, here today and Minister Price, the Minister for Defence Industry, here to RAAF Base Tindal. Particularly important for me as this is my home town. So thank you very much for making the trip and thank you very much for what you’re about to announce and I’d like to hand over to Wing Commander Tim Ferrell to welcome you to the base.
WING COMMANDER TIM FERRELL: Thank you, Senator. Good morning. It is an honour today to welcome Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister Price and Senator Sam McMahon to RAAF Base Tindal, the Air Force’s premier frontline base in Australia for this major announcement. Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Wing Commander, and thank you for your service and for the service of all of those who serve here, not just at Tindall but right across the country and right around the world where Australia’s defence forces do Australians proud every single day. Here at Tindal, we look at what’s behind us which is the sharp end of the spear, but at the end of the day, to put one of these in the air and particularly as we move towards the Joint Strike Fighters to put those in the air, requires an enormous capability, a lot of people, well trained, tremendous technology. The partnerships that have to exist with our alliance partners and, frankly, with the local community as well where our bases are all around the country but particularly here. Today it’s been wonderful to get a good tour around that capability that puts our Air Force personnel in the air and that puts Australia in the position to be able to put in place our strategy to keep Australians safe for a stable and secure Indo-Pacific.
RAAF Base Tindal plays an incredibly important role in Australia's efforts to ensure a stable and secure Indo-Pacific, working particularly with our partners in the United States. And what that enables us to do is keep Australians safe, at the end of the day. Now, what we're investing in here today is a further tranche of the significant investment that’s part of our broader defence plan. $1.1 billion is going further into the RAAF Base Tindal here to ensure that it has the facilities, it has the airstrips, it has the support arrangements in place that will support the placement of the Joint Strike Fighters here and the broader exercises that we're able to undertake with our alliance partners. That as our forward north base when it comes to our air capability at this scale. This is an incredibly important facility and it's been a great privilege and a great honour to be here today with both Sam and with Melissa to see the great work that is being done here. But importantly, how the incredible investment that has been put in place by our government is being put to work. There are some $200 billion worth of investments to back up our commitment defence in this country as a government. We will hit our two per cent of GDP mark in the next budget. That's what we promised we'd do and we've hit it several years ahead of what we set as our original target. What that is saying that we back our defence forces to do the job that we've asked them to do and that job is to protect Australians, to defend Australians, to ensure that our interests are able to be pursued in our region and that we can support a stable and secure Indo-Pacific region, that when we work with our partners and our allies we can step up and we can do our part. And it's a great statement of pride in Australia that wherever we go, wherever we do whatever we do, we can do that holding our heads high that we have a defence force that is equipped and is capable and enjoys not only the broad and overwhelming support of the Australian public, as we saw when the defence forces have come to their direct assistance through Operation Bushfire Assist, but the full support of an Australian government that understands what they need and is prepared to put the commitments down to ensure they can have what they need.
You can't do this unless you manage your economy well and you can't do it unless you are committed to managing the government's finances well. The fact that we've been able to bring the budget back to balance, the fact that we've been able to turn around the terrible deficits of years past and we've been able to do that, while at the same time committing funding like $1.1 billion here in Tindal and the broader defence industry program that is creating jobs all around the country. I mean, the new Joint Strike Fighters, when they come to Australia, not only will they be doing a great defence job for our nation, but they will be equipped with componentry and panelling and various other components of their aircraft, which will be built here in Australia, using Australian technology. Melissa Price and I have visited some of those plants around Australia where those components are being built and those jobs are being created. So it's about jobs why I'm here today. But even more significant than that, it's about the security and defence of Australia, and that is the Australian government's first priority, the defence of our country, and to ensure that we're stepping up the mark and ensuring our defence forces have what they need to do the important job which we've given them. Whether that's here at home, as we've seen most recently through the Black Summer fires or whether it's overseas where our deployments are in place and being able to take part in the defence relationships and alliances that are so important to Australia's security.
So it's a privilege to be here and I want to thank all those who welcomed us here today and thank them again for their service. Melissa is going to talk a bit more about how this is really delivering for industry.
THE HON. MELISSA PRICE MP, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: Thanks, PM, and it really is a great pleasure to be here. I just want to thank Lendlease and congratulate them for the excellent way in which they have managed this $495 million contract. But what excites me most of all is the amount of Australian industry content, and a lot of that is from Territorians. So a big shout out to those Territorian contractors who've been able to contribute to this project. We're advised that the Australian industry content, the local content, is around 64-percent, over $200 million worth of contracts going to Territorian companies, enabling them to test their capability, but also improve their capability. So congratulations to them and we've seen a lot of what they've been able to achieve on display here as well. Included in that over $200 million is also $27 million that's also gone to Indigenous contractors as well, so, you know, they will only grow with respect to the amount of money that we're investing here in the Territory. In addition to this project and obviously the $1.1 billion project that the Prime Minister has referred to, there's a whole raft of other projects dotted right around the territories, new training facilities and, of course, for the Larrakeyah Base of nearly $500 million there as well. So lots of opportunities for Territorian defence industries, good opportunity for them to test and also to build their capability. As the Prime Minister says, it's about the defence of our nation. What I'm excited about is more defence industry jobs. Thanks very much.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Melissa. So happy to take some questions. Let’s start with the announcement on these projects and the issues here at Tindal and then we can move to other matters if you would like.
JOURNALIST: Is this an acknowledgement of the concerns about the rise of China in the region?
PRIME MINISTER: This investment was set out in the Defence White Paper of 2016 and an understanding of the world in which we live and the need to ensure that we play a positive role in supporting the stability of the Indo-Pacific and the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific. That's what these investments are about, peace and stability. And because with that comes prosperity. We are investing heavily also in our economic relationships in the region and for that to be realised, for those jobs to be realised, for those improvements in the livelihoods of Australians to be realised, that needs to be done off a platform of peace and stability in our region, which is what Tindal's all about.
JOURNALIST: Is the Australian government in negotiations to host B-52 bombers permanently in the Top End?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't go into those sorts of issues at press conferences like this. But what I can say is that we're equipping these facilities to be able to have the maximum advantage of the relationships we have with our alliance partners, and to conduct the exercises which we are routinely conducting with them and this will be an important staging point for those exercises.
JOURNALIST: PFAS contamination has been a big concern for the local community, what assurances can you give to the local community other than [inaudible] will take place now this base is about to expand?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're currently in a mediation process, which you're probably aware of, with communities that have been affected by this around the country and I think those mediation processes are best assisted by engaging them in good faith, which are and we will continue to do that. And the fact is that's what our government has been doing. I mean, previous governments have just kicked that can down the road. Our government hasn't, we've stepped up and we're engaged in mediation with those communities now.
JOURNALIST: You’re announcing more than $1 billion here today and just up the road, Katherine has one of the highest rates of homelessness in Australia. Are you guys going to help out with that at all?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have been. Soon after becoming Prime Minister, I included an over $1 billion dollar, 10-year program on the remote and indigenous housing support here in the Northern Territory. As Treasurer and as Prime Minister, we put an additional $270 million into the Northern Territory budget so they can do their job, which involves housing in the Northern Territory. So we've been providing that budget support to the Northern Territory now for some time and we’re continuing to do that under the GST arrangement, which I was able to include and we were able to legislate. So, you know, it's not a question of one or the other. It's a question of doing both and we're meeting our commitments to both.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just maybe make a comment, if you like, about the importance of the north, because in terms of defence, it's a lot of money and it is focussed on the Top End.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'd make two points about the north, and Melissa you might want to make one as well given your electorate actually takes in large part components of northern Australia. Northern Australia is incredibly important to Australia's economic future and these investments that we're making here, 300 direct jobs, but as we have learnt through a project of half that size, we've already completed, thousands of employees through contractors and others have been part of these projects. So economically, these projects are really important to northern Australia. This is a big investment in northern Australia. And as you heard me say in my remarks earlier, what these companies are able to demonstrate by working on projects and environments in conditions like this. You know, when I'm sitting down with leaders, as I was just recently with President Widodo, I mean, they're building a whole new capital in Indonesia at the moment in difficult climates and difficult trades and Australian companies have the technology and wherewithal and expertise and experience to play important roles in these projects in metropolitan areas and remote areas all throughout the Indo-Pacific and particularly southeast Asian region. So demonstrating our economic capacity and performance here is important. Strategically, though, northern Australia has always been important. That's why Tindal was here in the first place, and that's why we are doubling down again, as we said we would in the Defence White Paper, to have that very large staging capability that we have here at Tindal for our air capability. And having some of the JSFs coming and being based here is important, but to base them here is not a straightforward exercise. It needs significant investment in all the support arrangements on the ground to put these planes in the air to keep Australians safe and to ensure we can play that positive role for regional peace and stability and security. So northern Australia is always, you know, in the top of the agenda for Australia's defence and Australia's strategic security.
JOURNALIST: Just on some other issues, if you like, two confirmed cases of coronavirus amongst those brought from the Diamond Princess today. Can you guarantee that everything is being done to make sure the people in that Howard Springs community, that area around the quarantine, is safe?
PRIME MINISTER: The Chief Medical Officer has already spoken to that precisely, I understand, up here in the Territory. All of those who came from the Diamond Princess, as the Chief Medical Officer said, were all tested before they left and they were tested again when they came to Howard Springs. So I want to thank, particularly on this occasion, it was Nicole Manison that I was directly liaising with before we entered into the arrangement to bring those passengers, Australians who are in need of our support, to bring them home and to put them into a proper quarantine facility, which Howard Springs is really proving its merit on that front, just as the Christmas Island facilities did. And so we have the best people in the world who are working in those quarantine facilities on these types of issues. Those who have been found to have contracted the virus are medevaced back to their home states for their hospitals to receive the treatment there where they have those facilities. And we've had great success so far in those facilities and we have 15 confirmed cases prior to this and 10 of those cases involved people who have actually gone through the virus and now have gone back into the community and they've been able to overcome that virus. So, you know, we have the best treatment facilities anywhere in the world to deal with this. In fact, earlier this week, I was down at the facility at Dohertys in partnership with Melbourne University, where they were the first to both grow and share the genetic code and sequencing for the coronavirus. So this is an area where we have great capability and I think that capability provides the assurance that I think people are looking for.
JOURNALIST: What's your view on possible compensation for the university and tourism sectors in relation to this?
PRIME MINISTER: The coronavirus’ impact is right across the country, unlike a natural disaster that you might see with either cyclone or of course, a bushfire or flood, it can be very specific to parts of the community. But the coronavirus is affecting, you know, family restaurants in Box Hill. It's affecting seafood producers up in north Queensland. So it's having an effect right across the country. On the tourism side, that's why the investments we've already made, initially made, as a result of the bushfires that will also have a great support in getting Australians to travel more domestically to provide some additional demand for tourism operators, remembering that the overwhelming majority of the tourism industry in Australia is domestic, it's not international. This is an issue that's impacting many countries, all countries around the world. Australia is not immune to that. We're working with some particular projects at the moment with the education sector. The Education Minister will have more to say about that, if in a position to finalise some of those arrangements and let's not forget that our universities are well capitalised. They're very successful organisations. They have quite a lot of money in the bank to be able to deal with these sorts of shocks. They are successful organisations that do put things aside for a rainy day. In this case, the impact of a global virus. The timetable that they need to meet and to ensure they can have students in place, we still have a number of weeks still ahead of us on that front. But we're watching the development of this virus on a daily basis and we're learning more and more about it every single day. As I said at the press conference yesterday, we have seen a bit of a levelling off of the growth on transmission in mainland China and we are seeing some parts of the country less affected than other parts of the country. So as we learn more, that can inform the decisions we make going forward. So we've kept all options on the table. We're working with the sectors that are most affected. But we can't pretend that a virus of this nature doesn't have an impact. Of course it does. And the Australian government or the taxpayer, I should rightly say, is not an insurer for these things. It can provide important support and I would hope that we can get ourselves back on a path to the other side of this virus. As we saw with the SARS and MERS, I think it was an 11 per cent fall in national tourism visitation in one quarter, which was then followed the next quarter by a 16 per cent increase. The Reserve Bank and others have indicated that over the course of a year, you will see some of these impacts depending on how they progress hopefully smooth out. But there's no smoothing it for those who are affecting it right now. Right now, I know it's hurting them very much and that's why every decision we are taking on the travel ban and the arrangements that have been around those bands we're taking very carefully. But I've got to say, even in those countries where they haven't had bans, like in the UK and in Canada. I mean, a) they didn't have anywhere near the volume of traffic to Australia that Australia did, so it's not apples and apples, you know, the comparison. But they have also seen very significant drops in travel to those countries because of people not leaving China as you'd expect to be the case.
JOURNALIST: Anthony Albanese has now set a zero net emission target by 2050. Does your government have a plan to announce a specific reduction target?
PRIME MINISTER: Anthony Albanese doesn't have a plan. Anthony Albanese doesn't have a plan to meet a 2050 target. He can't tell you what it costs. He can't tell you what industries will be affected. He can't tell you how many jobs will go. He can't tell you how much your electricity prices will go up. And he can't tell you whether he's even going to put a tax on it. So this is a bloke who doesn't even have a plan for 2030, let alone 2050.
JOURNALIST: Do you have a plan for 2030 or 2050?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, we absolutely have a plan for 2030, 26 per cent emissions reduction, 12.8 per cent emissions reductions since 2005, meeting and beating our Kyoto targets this year, this year, by 411 million tonnes, which is about 80-percent of Australia's annual emissions, 50 million tonnes on average less under our government per year compared to the previous government. We've got $500 million down on a hydrogen energy strategy. We've got billions of dollars down on the Snowy 2.0 project for pumped hydro, which is renewable power into the system. We've got money down when it comes to the MarinusLink interconnector between Tasmania and Victoria. We've got money down on the Battery of the Nation project. That's a plan. A plan is all of these investments that actually reduces your emissions, keeps the lights on, sees electricity prices fall by three-and-a-half per cent, has one of the highest rates of renewable energy investment anywhere in the world. That's what a plan looks like.
JOURNALIST: Are you still considering net zero as you told Pacific Island leaders last year?
PRIME MINISTER: I gave a commitment to look at that issue and consider that issue in that statement and I stand by that. But I'll tell you what I'm not going to do. See, Anthony Albanese is just as much the Bill you couldn't afford today as Bill Shorten was before. Bill Shorten couldn't tell you when he had a 45 per cent emissions reduction target what it would cost, what the jobs loss would be, how much it would put up electricity prices, whether he's going to put a tax on. Anthony Albanese is just Bill Shorten 2.0 when it comes to not being able to explain to you the cost of his policies. Thanks, everyone.