Press Conference – Parliament House, Canberra

BARNABY JOYCE: The Prime Minister has taken off. I made sure that he washed the dishes and mowed the lawn, and he told me I had to feed the chooks. It's really important that we understand the processes of government and Australia continues on. It's great to be able to announce today that we will have a further $183.6 million of further support for the aviation sector, around about $120 million of that goes to the international carriers, Virgin and Qantas, to make sure that they have the capacity to keep their international flights going. This is crucial so that as COVID finishes, we get the process of getting tourists and getting people moving happening as quickly as possible to bring money back into our nation. On top of that, we have a further $64 million, which is going to the airports to help underwrite the costs that overwhelmingly are placed on them by the Government itself, that underwrite those costs of being a major player in dealing with the same customer traveller base that we have to bring to our nation to get the show rolling again. I also want to show that we are driving ahead on the Inland Rail. Only a matter of a week or so ago, we heard about the billion dollars to get ourselves from Whetstone up to Gowrie and the Queensland section to finalise the discussions around that corridor. Today, it's the Narromine to Narrabri section, 306 kilometres, a $1.2 billion build and we are starting that process. Greenfield lines in a crucial section of the Inland Rail. Then we've got the further 101 kilometres to go from around about Northstar up to Whetstone, that's another $1.2 billion build. And what we're showing you there is that we say that we are going to get on with the job. We're going to drive this agenda through. And that takes us back to the Stockinbingal sections, about 37 kilometres there, and we've got the land acquisition done. We're going to the second EIS and hopefully that will start a process in around about the second quarter next year. We are saying that we're preparing this nation for what it needs to do to get commercially back up on its feet after the COVID pandemic. And we are showing that we are making this nation economically stronger. Driving one of the largest investment projects in the history of our nation, which is the Inland Rail, the largest currently being undertaken by this nation is the Inland Rail, something that will bring decentralisation, grow Parkes, grow Narrabri, grow Toowoomba, grow Goondiwindi, help at the bookends of both Brisbane and Melbourne. We've also put the money on the table for the business case to go from Toowoomba down to Gladstone. And this is the business that continues on, continues on all the time. As other issues that are happening, such as nuclear submarines, I know the questions you're going to ask me about the French and I know the questions you're going to ask me about Christian Porter, I'm ready for that. But what is more important is that we are driving ahead with this nation, making sure it's stronger, making sure we're ready to get back on our economic feet. And now I'm going to go to whole range of questions that have absolutely nothing to do with what I just said.

JOURNALIST: On Christian Porter, you said this morning on breakfast TV that you think he'll be back. Do you mean that you think will be returned after the next election, or that he'll be back on the frontbench?

BARNABY JOYCE: I think the first thing is to the people of the electorate of Pearce, that I know that Mr Porter will be back now making sure that the people in the electorate of Pearce understand that he is their champion. Mr Porter is an incredibly intelligent person. He's been an incredibly capable minister both in the West Australian state parliament and in Federal Parliament. He's had a bad day at the wicket, there's no doubt about that, and that issue has been dealt with, he has stepped down from the Cabinet. Now his contract is with the people of Pearce and he will be back there honouring that contract and making sure the people of Pearce have the capacity to make a decision, which I hope is favorable for him at the next election. But I'll leave that to the people of Pearce. My own recommendation is that he is an incredibly capable politician. And as such, a capable politician is allowed a process and has a time and commentary. As I've said, you'll go over to the corridor of the nearly dead over there, stare at the Comcars coming in and out, you'll have a bit of time on your hands, but you can use it effectively and I'm sure he will.  If he does it effectively, I believe he should be given another chance at some future time in a senior role.

JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to him since yesterday and did you pass that on?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yes, I have.

JOURNALIST: Can you explain why a gift of hundreds of thousands of dollars from mystery donors is not good enough for a minister but is good enough for an MP?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yes, because as a minister, you are an appointment by the Prime Minister. And that is why you have the ministerial code of conduct. The ministerial code of conduct is not a discussion about legal or illegal, it's a discussion about what the Prime Minister believes is acceptable to be a minister. Now, Mr Porter has not done anything illegal. If he had, the police would be here. He has not done anything illegal. So now, he is no longer a minister. Now the contract is from his employer, which are the electorate of Pearce and the electorate of Pearce will make their decision. And as I said before, sometimes from a distance, the clarity is better than the middle of the fog in this building. I have somewhat of a sympathy that if someone has to defend themselves in this building, and any allegation can be thrown at you here, and because you were in a place of high profile and high effect, to defend that allocation costs an awful lot of money. And then you have to make a decision, whether you defend it, or basically suffer the consequences of an assumed guilt or otherwise. He has done nothing illegal. If he had, it wouldn't be the circumstances of the Prime Minister that would be dealing with it, it'd be the police. He hasn't anything illegal, so it's up to the people of Pearce.

JOURNALIST: Christian Porter claims the signed document shows the allegation lacks credibility. Do you think the story should have not been published in the first place... [inaudible]?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’m not going to try and make myself some discerner of the minutiae of all that has gone back and forth in Christian Porter's issue. I look at it from a broader scope and I say a person should be able to defend themselves. Everybody, you, anybody, people watching this, you should have the capacity to be able to defend yourselves. Sometimes in this game, the cost of that just makes it prohibitive. So you either get supported or you don't defend yourself and therefore you accept the consequences of not defending yourself.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that Mr Porter in the future deserves a chance to return to the frontbench - would that not have to go hand in glove with handing the money back, given that the shadow of the perceived potential conflict would still remain? And on that, the Prime Minister has said he's open to any advice to clarify the ministerial standards, indicating that that would actually make it less likely that Porter would ever be able to return. So is it the case that [inaudible]...

BARNABY JOYCE: I note that the parliament when it sits will probably consider it in regards to privileges. We'll probably see then what further deliberations they have. As I said, repeating myself somewhat, is that he hasn't done anything illegal. It's a decision, therefore, for him. I speak on behalf of his competency, his intelligence. This has been not a good day at the wicket for him, there's no denying that. But every person, I think in the Australian ethos, and I suppose I have to say I'm an example of that, after a period in Coventry, your career, if so desired by your colleagues and the people of Australia and your electorate, goes on.

JOURNALIST: Are you mindful or worried about anything that they may be taking similar retaliatory action against us outside of the EU FTA negotiations?

BARNABY JOYCE: I understand how there's a sense of umbrage to the French. I understand that they would be disappointed. I understand also that what the French have: liberty, fraternity, equality, is at the core of what the French believe in. And as such, they would understand that it is our right to protect ours. That we have a duty to protect ours. And we have a duty to create a deterrent because we want peace. We want peace. We create this platform for peace, so that we're substantial enough and working with our allies, the United States and England and the AUKUS process, so that we don't ever have to take that terrifying tragic step, which we never want. I'll also note, and I said this morning, that Australia doesn't need to prove their affinity and their affection and their resolute desire to look after the liberty and the freedom and the equality of France. We have tens of thousands of Australians, who have either died on French soil or died protecting French soil from the countries that surround them, in both the First World War and the Second World War. And I never expected they came at a price because the price of those families, the tragedy of those deaths, is without price. It's without cost. And the French, more than anybody else, would understand that our number one responsibility and the change of circumstances, the circumstances at the initiation of the submarine called the attack class contract, and the circumstances we see ourselves in now are different. We have to deal with the circumstances that are before us and we wish that was not the case

JOURNALIST: Is it your view that the French were as blindsided by this decision as they claim to be, or is it the case that they expected this was coming?

BARNABY JOYCE: I can't speak for the mind of others. But I think the Prime Minister made his concerns abundantly clear in conversations he had with the French. People say you should have been more open. The reason we have a National Security Committee is because it's secret. Otherwise, it would be called the Parliament. As Deputy Chair of the National Security Committee, we have to make deliberations in absolute secrecy on behalf of our nation. And that's what was done. And we know that as soon as the formative outcomes as decisions go into a wider forum, then they're everywhere. What's the purpose of that? No matter what happens, there comes a time where someone's going to be bitterly disappointed. I understand the disappointment of the French, but first and foremost, my views and the views of my colleagues, is the protection of the Australian people, that your children, your grandchildren grow up with the same liberties and freedoms that you take as a birthright and many times we don't even, you don't even, stop to think about.

JOURNALIST: The Ambassador to Australia from France today said it was between one and four hours, is that fair enough to give them that amount of notice, or should it have been longer?

BARNABY JOYCE: No matter when the more formal process of notice happened, that's when the story would have got out. No matter when it happened, there was going to be a sense of immense disappointment, we understand that. Once more, we must focus on what is our number one task. And that is, even if there's a sense of people being disappointed, our job is to protect you.

How would you describe the threat from China [inaudible] doing a lot more now rather than in 20 years?

BARNABY JOYCE: The threat's from a whole range of places. We don't really want a threat from China. We don't want to provoke anything. We want things to settle down. But there's no denying the actions that have happened in recent times, whether it's the South China Sea, whether it's northern India, whether it's issues with the Uyghur minorities, whether it's the expansion of the Chinese platform and such things as the hypersonic glide satellites, production of aircraft carriers. They have around 70 submarines, just so people know, we were talking about eight. They're got 70 that are there. That is their right to defend themselves and that is their right, but we're living in a world that's different. And on top of that, you've got the actions of Russia. And on top of that, you've got the actions of Iran. We have a more unstable position. But this time, it's not in Europe on the other side of the world. This time, it's in our part of the world. It is here. We just want peace, we want peace, we want peace, but to have peace - si vis pacem, parabellum - if you want peace, you've got to be substantial enough to not be worth the fight, and that was Vegetius.

JOURNALIST: On international travel, the airlines have been saying they need urgent clarity on measures like incoming passenger caps, how are they going to handle potential red or green flights going forward. They can't just can't just flick a switch at 80 per cent vaccination and start international travel again. What level of engagement have you had with these airlines? Some are saying they feel they've been cut out of the conversation. Do you expect that travel will resume at 80 per cent vaccination?

BARNABY JOYCE: The process of the Doherty studies is that once we get to 80 per cent of two innoculations, then naturally enough, we've got to say when do we start opening up, if it's not then. The studies show that we have a greater capacity to manage the health consequences then than at an earlier stage. But the world is opening up, the world is moving on. Australia has to open up and move on as quickly as possible.

JOURNALIST: What practical steps have been taken to allow that?

BARNABY JOYCE: There's discussions that go on continually between our other partners. I've noted the other day, the Singaporeans talking about wanting to open up to Germany and Australia. These discussions, inevitably, are going on continually. You see that Qantas, they're not foolish, they're opening up. They must believe there's a market there to open up into. And that's precisely what we want. I say to, not that they'd really care what I say, but to Western Australians and Queenslanders, in the end you won't be locking people out, you'll be locking yourself in. The world has to move on. The Australian economy has to move on and we can't wait. Unfortunately, you can't wait for those who decide not to get vaccinated. People have a right to say, 'The vaccine is not as accessible as I wish. I want to get vaccinated and I can't. That's a fair enough statement. But I believe by around the end of October, you'll have more vaccines than people who want to get vaccinated, you'll have chemist shops, you'll have GPs, you'll have clinics, and in that instance, if you don't want to get vaccinated then that's not our problem anymore. We can't wait around because the cost of it to the Australian taxpayer is so much that somebody, somewhere has to pay this money back. And so as soon as we start paying that money out, the better it is for all of us.

JOURNALIST: Barnaby, George Christensen has said that the actions of some police in Melbourne against freedom protestors not only contributed to violence, but were actually violent and that they should be arrested. Do you as acting Prime Minister support those views and are you still trying to lobby him to run again at the next election?

BARNABY JOYCE: That issue has passed on unfortunately because they've had now the pre-selection and Andrew Wilcox will be running for the seat of Dawson. I support any person in this building to speak their mind. That's what we're here for. We've just talked about what we wanted to protect, that those freedoms and rights we have. I always find it interesting we talk about how important it is to protect them and the next minute you have someone saying you've got to stop a person speaking. I can't control George, nor do I want to. I can have a discussion with him and I can explain my difference of opinion on some things. On some things I'm completely on board with George. But I don't believe we should be arresting police. I think police have had an absolute hell of a time trying to deal with this. I don't think police want to be out there basically policing the Australian citizens and COVID. They want to move on as well as quickly as possible.

JOURNALIST: Have you asked him to tone down his language on social media?

BARNABY JOYCE: I've had discussions with him and they remain private. But a person's views in this building are sacred, even if you don't agree with them. People are cogent and the capacity between their ears allows them to say, 'I heard what you said and I don't believe it, or I think it's absolutely rubbish, or I'm considering it'. But if you say that the power of a person, or one member of parliament is stronger than the power of a whole range of doctors and a whole range of other views, then then that's just implausible. I respect your capacity to think the issues through and every person watching this, I respect their capacity to think the issues through, and what they know they get in this building is the challenge of ideas. Some of them are right off the edge, and some of them are more closely aligned. The Australian people, it is their right to hear the open and free discussion that emanates from this building.