Transcript of Joint Press Conference, Adelaide
24 May 2014
Joint release with:
The Hon. Tony Abbott MP
The Hon. Jay Weatherill MP
Premier of South Australia
The Hon. Stephen Mullighan MP
South Australian Minister for Transport and Infrastructure
Fast-tracking the North-South Road
Corridor; Budget 2014
Prime Minister: It's very good to be here at the South Australian Traffic Management Centre with Premier Jay Weatherill, with Ministers Briggs and Mullighan and with local members as well because it was Andrew Southcott and Matt Williams who have been urging me consistently to do what we can to get the North-South Road corridor completed as quickly as possible and certainly within a decade.
As all of you know this has been a tough Budget but as well as a Budget for saving, it's also been a Budget for building. Building medical research in Australia and earlier this morning I was at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute to talk about the world-leading medical research fund that we will have as a result of the Budget.
Here I am with Premier Weatherill and Ministers to talk about the additional $450 million that as a result of the Budget is going into the North-South Road Corridor.
Some time ago the Coalition advocated the Darlington upgrade. The Premier has been very keen to see the Torrens to Torrens upgrade and of course in October shortly after the election, I proposed that we should get on with both. That's exactly what's happening, thanks to this constructive co-operation between the Commonwealth and the South Australian Government.
Everything that Government does is about trying to ensure that people live better. Sometimes we have to make tough decisions but even when we make tough decisions, they are about trying to ensure that people live better. There are few things that we can do to help people's daily lives more than try to ensure that the traffic flows faster, that the traffic flows better, that we can unclog the clogged arteries of our nation, unclog the clogged arteries of our great cities and this is why this North-South project and the particular projects that we announced today are so important.
Jay, thank you so much. This is a very good partnership and it's great to be with you today.
Premier Weatherill: Thank you.
We welcome the Prime Minister to South Australia in relation to this announcement and, of course, his Ministers and the local members of Parliament that are here today as well as my Parliamentary and Ministerial colleague.
This is a very important project for South Australia. The north-south freight corridor also has very important commuter purposes and it is a corridor that we need to free up. That's why it's an essential priority for us and that is why we have committed so many resources on this corridor over the last decade.
One of the central themes for us in the last State election was to keep building South Australia and infrastructure projects of this sort will unlock the future prosperity of South Australia. So, we welcome this contribution from the federal Government. There is plenty of opportunities and time and reasons to advance criticisms of the federal Budget, but this decision is not one of those things.
This is a very positive element of the federal Budget. We support it fully.
I want to pay credit to the traffic engineers who have- in a relatively short period of time—been able to come up with a viable project which will yield the benefits which we think are important, but also at a cost which is affordable for both the Commonwealth and the States.
So now the next thing is for us to get cracking with the community consultation so we can settle on the final design and get busy with the building of both of these important elements of South Road—the Torrens to Torrens section and the Darlington Upgrade.
Prime Minister: Do the Ministers wish to say something? Jamie?
Jamie Briggs: Thanks Prime Minister, thank you Premier and Steven as well.
It has been, I think, a terrific example of the federal and state government working together in the interests of all South Australians.
This is a nearly $1 billion commitment from the federal Government to build both these projects. It achieves the commitment the Prime Minister made in October to get both projects done, to end the stand-off, if you like, between one project over another because they are both important projects.
We want work to begin on both projects as quickly as possible. Just like today in Sydney we are releasing the expression of interest on the first stage of the WestConnex project. We want to be a Government that not only makes these announcements but a Government that has bulldozers on site and people employed building the infrastructure of the 21st century and with the Prime Minister at the helm leading the way, delivering infrastructure we will have a stronger Australia.
Prime Minister: Stephen?
Stephen Mullighan: I would like to echo those comments. I welcome the approach that my ministerial counterpart Jamie Briggs has played in these discussions. This will unlock a significant economic benefit for South Australia and support in the vicinity of 850 jobs every year and see freight move much more easily and much more quickly through our streets and it will be fantastic for the long-term prospects of economic activity in South Australia.
Prime Minister: Thank you so much. Do we have any questions?
Question: Christopher Pyne said he is willing to compromise on the higher education changes. Do you agree with that?
Prime Minister: I'm mostly here to talk about the roads announcement obviously. I don't want to get into too much party political controversy, standing shoulder to shoulder with Premier Weatherill. I don't want to invite that kind of argy-bargy, so to speak.
I just want to make this crystal clear. We stand by our Budget commitments and we are not going to surrender our Budget commitments because they are absolutely necessary for the long-term economic strength of our country. I know some of them are difficult. I know some of them aren't particularly popular, but governments aren't elected to make easy decisions. Governments are elected to make necessary decisions. Governments aren't elected to squib decisions—governments are elected to make them.
Sure, I know that we have to put many measures into the Parliament and obviously there is a process of negotiating that then takes place. This Government stands by the Budget measures we are determined, as I said time and time again before the election, to bring the Budget back under control and the only plan to do that is the plan that the Government put forward in the Budget the other week.
Question: So, you are not willing to even reduce any of those measures?
Prime Minister: We stand by all our measures. We very carefully consider them. We weighed up the pros and the cons. We looked at all the various arguments and we believe that these are the most effective measures at this time under these circumstances to get ourselves from a situation of debt and deficit stretching out as far as the eye can see, to getting all of that under control, to get us to a situation where we are no longer borrowing $1 billion every single month just to pay the interest on the borrowings.
Question: What about your own Party support? Are you confident you have got that?
Prime Minister: Yes, I am. I obviously understand that a number of the measures announced in the Budget are quite ground breaking, if you like. They are not measures that have previously been contemplated at the top levels of politics. It takes people quite a long time to come to terms with this and I'm sure that all members of Parliament have been talking to people in the community, some of whom are anxious and concerned about various Budget measures. But I'm also very confident my team absolutely understand the iron necessity of getting the Budget back under control, of ensuring that we not only play to our strengths; which is what our road announcements do, what our medical research announcements do, but we also live within our means. This is a Budget which scales back short-term consumption spending to boost long-term investment spending and that's what this road announcement today is all about.
Question: What about income tax cuts before the next election?
Prime Minister: Every Government wants to, over time, reduce its call on the taxpayers and the commitment that I took into politics was to deliver, as far as we could—responsibly—lower, simpler, fairer taxes. We want responsibly to deliver lower, simpler, fairer taxes and that is what we intend to do in the medium term. Now, what we need to do is get the Budget back under control and that's what these measures, these difficult and at times unpopular measures do. They do what is necessary to get our Budget back under control.
Question: If you are not budging on the Budget, why are ministers and backbenchers asking to make compromises?
Prime Minister: I'm not sure that's, in fact, an accurate description of the position. We know various that Budget measures have to go into the Parliament and get through the Parliament but we believe in this Budget. We believe in this Budget. There are some tough measures here—I absolutely accept that. But we cannot go on as a nation in a fool's paradise thinking that we can pay our mortgage on the credit card. We just can't continue to do this. This Government is determined to start the clean-up as quickly as possible and that's what this Budget was all about.
Question: Did you know going into this you might have to make some compromises on some measures to get them through Parliament?
Prime Minister: As everyone who leads a Government, including the Premier, understands you have got to negotiate your legislation through the Parliament—including in the case of the Commonwealth and all states bar Queensland—of the Upper House but we believe in this Budget, we believe that the measures in it are absolutely necessary for the long-term strength of our country and we intend to get these measures through.
Now sure, we will talk to the appropriate people in the Parliament at the right time, but these measures are necessary because if we don't have these measures, and no-one has put forward any credible alternative we will go on continuing to borrow $1 billion every single month just to pay the interest on the borrowings and that's not a sustainable situation.
Question: You don't have control over the Senate and both this one and the next are vowing to block these measures—so, what option do you have other than to horse-trade?
Prime Minister: I am confident that independent and minor parties in the Senate will engage constructively with the Government on the Budget. I am confident that the Government will, in the end, get the Budget through the Senate because, let's face it, there have been many governments over many years that have had to negotiate Budgets through the Senate. The only time that wasn't successfully done…in fact I think it's always been successfully done. That was a different bill in 1975.
Question: Kevin Andrews has said that young people should be prepared to do any job. Do you believe some young people are turning their noses up at certain jobs?
Prime Minister: If there is a job available, you don't really have the option of failing to accept it if the alternative is life on unemployment benefits. A condition of receiving unemployment benefits in this country under both Labor and Liberal governments has been that you have got to look for work and you have got to accept any work that you can reasonably do. Now, people have no right to hold out for the job of their dreams while they are on unemployment benefits. They have to accept any job that they can reasonably do that is offered to them. Frankly, that is the least that people should be prepared to do under those circumstances.
Question: Do you agree with Treasury analysis that families won't be up to $6,000 a year worse off?
Prime Minister: I should make it clear; that is not Treasury analysis—it is not Treasury analysis. It is analysis done by the Government, based on the figures that the Treasury gave us in the Budget—but it's not Treasury analysis as such. It's Government analysis. It was done in response to analysis that the Opposition did based on some NATSEM figures. Now, I am confident that the analysis that the Opposition put out is misleading in some respects. It's mostly based on the school kid's bonus withdrawal. We were very upfront with people before the election that the school kid's bonus was going because it's a cash splash with borrowed money.
Question: Will you release detailed Treasury modelling if you are worried about misinformation from the other side?
Prime Minister: We have released very comprehensive analysis in the Budget. The Budget contains very comprehensive analysis of what people in different circumstances will receive as a result of the Budget changes and the interesting thing is how much people will continue to receive notwithstanding the Budget changes.
For argument's sake, if you are a sole income household with one child under six and you have a private income of $30,000, you continue to receive almost $19,000 a year from the taxpayer. If you are a sole income household, a single income household with one child under six and $90,000 worth of private income, you still receive more than $6,000 from the taxpayer under the Budget changes.
This is a generous country and it will continue to be a generous country notwithstanding the Budget changes. What the Budget changes do though is slow down what was an unsustainable growth, an absolutely unsustainable growth in Government spending.
Question: Prime Minister, did you deliberately switch your itinerary to avoid any clashes with university students?
Prime Minister: No, I did not. Again, let's look at the higher education changes—the higher education changes are about liberating our great universities to compete effectively with the rest of the world. Our higher education sector is an outstanding sector that was being held back by too much bureaucracy and too many rules. We have unshackled them and that's a very, very good policy. It is very innovative policy. It is bold policy but it is necessary policy if we are going to play to our strengths as a country. The point I really must make is that every single student going to a university is covered or continues to be covered by fee help so you are not going to have to pay a cent up front and as a result of this Budget non-degree courses, sub-degree courses will attract fee help and as a result of this Budget—if you are doing a trade, if you are an apprentice, you get these trade support loans. So, there is innovative new policy for a whole range of people, which I am absolutely confident is going to make our higher education system stronger and it is going to help the people of Australia.