Doorstop: Fyshwick, ACT

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The Hon Melissa Price MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for Science and Technology

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26 August 2020

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ZED SESELJA, SENATOR FOR THE ACT: Welcome, great to be here in Fyshwick at Datapod, thank you to Scott and Adam for hosting us, they are part of a growing and vibrant defence industry here in the ACT and as we invest in the defence of our nation, it is great that we see the flow on for jobs right around the country but I’m particularly pleased, right here in Canberra. It's great to have the Prime Minister, Minister Reynolds, Minister Price. And thank you again to Scott and Adam from Datapod for hosting us and showcasing your amazing technology. But with that welcome, I'll hand over to our Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you, Zed. It is good to be here this morning and I want to thank Adam Scott for inviting us here to be here today and all the team, we had the opportunity to meet these systems engineers. It's great to see them being trained and being here on the job when it comes to important defence equipment. Not only does Datapod obviously supply the Commonwealth government through the defence forces, but they also have contracts in many other sectors, the utility sectors, they’ve come out of the mining sector and they’ve applied their know how, their knowledge, their expertise, their technology. And they are applying that to these unique products that help us in deploying all around the world wherever we need to be. And data and its storage and its management is a critical element in what our defence forces do. And so it's wonderful to see how that's being done here. And Australia's best and brightest minds and very young, bright minds as well being applied to this task, is exciting to see people finding those jobs and those careers as we continue to develop and grow our defence industry in the manufacturing, advanced manufacturing sector.

But today is all about jobs. Today is again about the JobMaker plan, doing everything we can as we grow out of the COVID-19 recession to ensure that we keep Australians in jobs, and we keep businesses in business. And one of the key areas we are doing that is ensuring that how we're spending money in the defence industry, how we're procuring, how we're managing our defence estate, how we're providing enterprise grants to support the development of new technology that will keep people in jobs, 4,000 jobs and $1 billion dollars of brought forward expenditure, more reservists, more reservist hours, estate management works done in every effort from Jervis Bay, to all around the country as particularly up in the Northern Territory, in the works of almost $200 million dollars being there.

What we're doing is we're ensuring that we can keep Australians in jobs. The JobMaker plan, whether it's what we're doing with over $2 billion dollars in skills investments together with the states and territories, the work we're doing in industrial relations, the work we're doing in energy, bringing forward infrastructure, all of these things, are part of our plan to ensure that we keep Australians in jobs, and jobs is the key focus of our government as we seek to grow out of the COVID-19 recession.

I'm going to ask the Minister for Defence to speak about the capability and the other elements of this announcement that will support our defence forces, in particular the reservist announcements. Then I'm going to ask Melissa as the Minister for Defence Industry to talk about how our defence industry plans are supporting our JobMaker programme and supporting keeping people in work. Linda?

SENATOR THE HON. LINDA REYNOLDS CSC, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well, thank you very much, Prime Minister. Several months ago, I asked the Department of Defence and the ADF to look for projects during COVID-19 that would accelerate capability development, that would accelerate our infrastructure projects around the nation, and that would employ more reservists, but also ensure that we support the 70,000 jobs around our nation in the defence supply chain. And there is no greater example of that than the Datapod seen here today in the ACT. They are an example of extraordinary Australian innovation, and they provide a critical capability in deployed data centres, not only here in Australia for the ADF, but also overseas. And they're a great example of a company who started in the mining sector, providing these services in very harsh and dusty conditions which we now use around the world. So this project is all about enhancing defence capability, but it's also about jobs. And as we've seen here today with Scott and Adam and their team of young systems engineers, in mechatronic systems design, they are developing the next generation of these technologies. And I couldn't be prouder. And can I say, during COVID, the ADF had to adapt very quickly to working at a new movie business as usual in COVID. We also had to make sure that our defence industry, which supports our capabilities, was also able to operate in new ways during COVID. And again, Datapod is a great example of that. So I'll now call on Minister Price to talk a little bit more about the jobs and the capability we’re providing.

THE HON. MELISSA PRICE MP, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: Thank you. Good morning, a great morning to be here at Datapod. Over COVID-19, Defence and the government have worked hard to ensure that we've kept the wheels of defence industry turning. One of the ways we did that was by paying invoices early. To date, we’ve paid nearly $10 billion dollars to defence industry contractors early. What that has meant, I'm quite sure, is that we've saved thousands of jobs, especially for those companies who don't have a lot of defence work and in the non-defence industry. They've been able to keep their staff employed, pay the bills, keep the wolves from the doors. And we're very proud of that initiative. Various aspects of this recovery programme I'm particularly pleased about, one relates to more funding for skilling and we've met some fabulous examples today of young innovators. So more money to make sure that our defence industry has the skills that it needs to ensure that our nation has the defence capability. One other aspect that I'm really pleased about with respect to the recovery programme is nearly half a billion dollars for more funding through our infrastructure and estate programme. What we've learnt over COVID is that if you're a subber, you’re a plumber, you're a tradie that lives close to a base, you've been given an opportunity to prove yourself. And I have no doubt this extra half a billion dollars investment in infrastructure, especially around those local bases, will make sure that we support the local industry, the local tradies. This is very good news for them to make sure that they have opportunities to employ more Australians. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister yesterday-

PRIME MINISTER: Just before we get to that, also today, of course the JobMaker- JobKeeper legislation is obviously coming in to be incorporating the changes that the Treasurer and I made some time ago. I can also announce today that we've reached an agreement with the Tasmanian Government. And that is that the pandemic leave disaster payment will also be now made available in Tasmania after reaching that agreement with the Tasmanian Premier and we welcome that cooperation with Peter Gutwein and the Tasmanian Government as we’re working with states and territories all around the country in our COVID response.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, yesterday you pointed to failures in Victoria on contact tracing, testing and quarantine, who is accountable for those failures? Is it the Premier?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, all I was basically yesterday was the leader of the opposition seemed to have a blind spot on what had occurred in Victoria. And I mean, I don't think those issues are in great dispute. There has been significant failures there in the areas that you’ve highlighted. And that has of course contributed significantly, overwhelmingly, almost entirely I’d have to say to the community outbreak that we’ve seen. I said earlier this week in the House, that this virus probes for weaknesses. And where those weaknesses are found then it results in what we've seen in Victoria. Now, I have no doubt that the Victorian government feels as strongly about this as I do, in terms of the impact it has had on the people of Victoria. They are now subject to these most horrendous restrictions that are regrettably necessary, as I said at the time. But where- we can't ignore what has occurred in Victoria of course it's happened. I'm not seeking to get into any blame game here at all. I mean, I work constructively with the Victorian Premier, but where there are issues that need to be raised then I’ll of course raise them with him and I've done so consistently and that's done in the spirit of the partnership that is necessary to work through a crisis. You don't agree on everything, but you certainly discuss everything.

JOURNALIST: But won’t there be consequences Prime Minister where both you and the Treasurer take shots at the Victorian government and its Premier on the floor of the parliament. The cohesion of National Cabinet comes to the fore, doesn't it? Under that pressure?

PRIME MINISTER: No I think that analysis is exaggerated. I mean all I simply did yesterday was draw attention to some basic facts that I think are well understood. I think for all Australians and particularly all Victorians, I wasn't seeking to direct any blame anywhere. I was just basically calling out what was the simple facts. I mean, we can't ignore the fact of what's happened in Victoria, and I don't believe the Victorian Premier is ignoring it either. That's why we're working together to deal with the consequences of what has occurred in Victoria. I do find it strange, though, that Anthony Albanese has a complete blind spot. He must be the only person who doesn't understand what's happened in Victoria. I can assure you, Victorians do. I'm not a Victorian and I can work that out. And he's not one either but he needs to do a bit more work to understand what's been going on down there, because he doesn't seem to know and I feel terribly for what Victorians are going through. I know that the announcement that was made by the Premier the other day about that extension of the additional 12 months, I’ve raised our concerns with the Premier about that. I did that directly. I know others have, I know other Labor figures have. And I think it's important to dispel any uncertainty and get clarity around that issue. I think people are concerned that lockdowns would extend for another 12 months. Now, we've received many calls through offices right across Victoria, including in my office as well. There was great concern that that would occur. Now, of course, I don’t think that's what the Premier was suggesting at all. But in these times, we've got to be very careful about the announcements that are made. And I welcome the fact that he was clarifying that yesterday.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Michael Sukkar’s now blaming one of his former electorate officers for using taxpayer funds for political purposes. Should, shouldn’t Minister Sukkar be responsible for what happens in his own office?

PRIME MINISTER: Well these matters have been referred by Mr Sukkar himself to the Department of Finance and that’s the appropriate response. That’s where-

JOURNALIST: Have you had a discussion with him about this?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I’ve been dealing with COVID crisis. I’ve been dealing with getting people back into jobs and the matter’s been referred to the Department of Finance. I don't think Australians would want me distracted by those issues at all.

JOURNALIST: But are you confident he hasn’t been involved in any misuse of taxpayer-funded staff?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, allegations have been made and the matter’s been referred to the Finance Department by Mr Sukkar himself.

JOURNALIST: On jobs Prime Minister, there are reports from the UK this morning that Tony Abbott has picked one up with Boris Johnson's government as some sort of trade envoy-

PRIME MINISTER: A good hire! I think that's a good hire.

JOURNALIST: The question that arises from it, would he, on your reading, have to register as an agent of foreign influence under our transparency scheme?

PRIME MINISTER: I'll leave that to the Attorney-General to sort out. And I'm sure if there are things, if there's paperwork for Tony to fill out, I'm sure he’ll get that done. But well done, Boris. Good hire.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, today we'll be hearing from China's deputy head of mission in Canberra on China and Australia, where to from here. Where do you think things go from here?

PRIME MINISTER: A mutually beneficial relationship. That's where it goes from here. We've got a comprehensive strategic partnership with China. It's in both of our interests to continue to support and nourish that relationship in both of our national interests. And that's what Australia has always done. That's what we'll continue to do. But our interests are set out very clearly and consistently and respectfully. And that's the way we seek to engage in that relationship. And we'll continue to do that.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: Well I think the trade that is occurring between Australia and China speaks for itself about the strength of the relationship, that’s what’s ultimately mutually beneficial. But the partnership goes beyond trade and the engagements continue to happen at many levels. And the point is simply this, Australia will always stand up for its own interests. We will always be very clear what they are and we won’t trade them away, we'll just be very clear, respectful about how we engage with all nations, including China. It is an important relationship. It is an important partnership, but it's one that goes both ways. And that's how we will always seek to approach it. But, at the same time, our sovereignty just like theirs I think will be paramount.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on aged care there's been calls for the emergency response centres in each state to be stood up permanently rather than only when an outbreak occurs in a facility. Is that something that you'd consider? And if not are you confident that the current quality and safety commissioner has the capacity to do that preventative work and the powers to enforce measures if necessary?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's a range of work that's going on. This matter was considered by National Cabinet in fact last week. And what was proposed is that you- if in the event that circumstances escalate in any state or territory, knowing, understanding that we don't currently have community transmission in any of the other states and territories, we do already have a set of protocols and arrangements, in particular with Queensland and New South Wales, which have been the states of greater risk, and both in New South Wales and Queensland should we need to go to that next step, what we agreed last Friday was the complete package, the complete operation, frankly, not unlike, you know, a deployable here.

So it's ready to go and ready to establish and it can be initiated by either the Commonwealth or the states. And so that very precise situation that you've outlined was discussed in quite a lot of detail. And we've now got in place that arrangement that that can be progressed should that be needed. And the trigger for that is the medical evidence, the state of the pandemic, should it escalate to the level or move towards the level that we've seen in Victoria, then what we've seen in Victoria is the aged care response centre has been absolutely critical. The circumstances, the terrible events we've seen in four facilities in Victoria are heartbreaking, they're terrible. They're unacceptable. And this, I think, has shocked and deeply disturbed all of us. What, though, governments working together, all of those who are involved in aged care, have been able to do though is ensure that that's been limited to a very relatively small number of centres.

I mean, there's over 2,700 aged care facilities in this country and 97 per cent of those have had no resident COVID infections. Eight per cent of all of those facilities have had infections amongst both staff and also amongst residents. In the UK that figure is 56 per cent, and any per cent is not good. And any per cent we seek to try and ensure it doesn't occur. But I think the relative performance of Australia versus like-countries I think demonstrates that the real effort that's gone into this has prevented what we've seen terribly in a number of centres not spread, to- had the UK results been realised here in Australia, over a thousand centres would have been affected and those critically affected and severely affected, significantly greater. And for everyone who has family or those who are in aged care facilities right now, I would hope that that brings at least some comfort that while there has been terrible events in a few centres, that in the vast majority of cases, those working in those facilities and the supports that have been put around them, the work that's been done by the federal government with our responsibilities and those that have been supported by the state and territory governments, has meant that while there has been an enormous pressure on the system in Victoria because of the community outbreak, the events have been able to contain what has been a very, very terrible threat.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when exactly do you want state borders to reopen, as in your words, “so we can live with the virus”?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as I said yesterday, that is our goal. Australia has-

JOURNALIST: When exactly?

PRIME MINISTER: I know, I heard the question. Australia wasn't built to have internal borders. The federation was not built to be run that way. And in New South Wales and Victoria, I've been directly involved in actually putting one in place, based on the medical advice that was there and the need to take that action. Other state premiers have taken their own decisions over the course of many months and the medical advice for that has to be clear, I think so people understand, because any restrictions we put on Australians, any infringement we put on their liberties, Australians need to be confident that that is a last resort, that all other measures have been pursued before those restrictions come in place because borders do cost. They cost people's livelihoods. They cost people's jobs. And you don't enter into having those borders lightly and nor should you. And you should be seeking on all opportunities to seek to be in a position to lift them whenever you can. And that, of course, will always be directed by medical advice. And that's what should drive our decision making.

We can't live in a zero risk society though in COVID. That is not a liveable, viable option. And so zero per cent is not a threshold for how borders should be managed. We have to, I think as New South Wales has demonstrated, the number of threats to the system that have occurred in New South Wales and their ability to actually get on top of these outbreaks has demonstrated how Australia can live with the coronavirus and at the same time, keep people's jobs, save people's lives and save people's livelihoods. But today we are about doing that exact same thing here by bringing forward a billion dollars through our defence industry investments to ensure that we're keeping people in jobs, wherever- through any programme my government is involved in, we are scanning and searching for every opportunity to keep people in jobs. And the JobKeeper legislation will be in the parliament today. I look forward to it being supported and I look forward to continuing to provide the single greatest ever income support that Australians have ever received in Australia's history. But thank you to Adam and Scott. Great job. And to all the team here and all the systems engineers, you're going to be very, very busy with our defence industry programme. Thanks very much.

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