Doorstop interview - Quilpie, Queensland

THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD MP, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, DROUGHT, AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Well, thanks for coming. It’s great to be back at the Tully family- can I thank the Tully’s for having us again back here to their property just outside Quilpie. Can I thank the Prime Minister who, his first visit after ascending to the Prime Ministership was to this family property to see the drought. The drought was gripping this part of the world as it gripped most of the country. The Prime Minister made it a priority by coming and seeing it firsthand, understanding the trials and tribulations, but also the hope of these people. And we've now got hope, we've had rain. The federal government has proudly put over $10 billion dollars worth of commitments into the drought programmes and that's for our national drought strategy being for the here and now, giving families support in the here and now through the farm household allowance, giving them some dignity and respect to put bread and butter on the table every day. Also through interest free repayment free loans, to give them the support to get through those hard times. We've also had our second pillar, which is supporting the communities that support these families, making sure that their economic distress is also addressed through the Building Better Regions funds which the Deputy Prime Minister has administered, or the drought community programme being administered by the local government, having local solutions, supporting these communities. And we also look to the future we’re the first government said we need to look for the next drought. The next drought starts the very first day after it finishes raining. And you have to prepare for it and the $5 billion dollar Future Drought Fund is up and going. And $100 million dollars of that is being spent as we speak. And next year's $100 million dollars is being planned as we speak as well. And we've also had the Deputy Prime Minister who’s been passionate about water infrastructure, plumbing the country, investing in the smarts of this country to make sure that we empower our farmers with the tools to be able to continue to produce the best food and fibre in the world. So I'm glad not only to have the Prime Minister, but to have the Deputy Prime Minister with me who has been passionate about this as I have, Scotty Buchholz the Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Transport, who has bitumened a lot of this country by getting out and getting on the road and seeing it. And to Senator McGrath, can I say who is the member for Maranoa while I'm not here. He's done a sensational job in sitting at kitchen tables and getting the real stories of real people like the Tullys. That is what we are here for. Is to address the real concerns, the aspirations, the hopes, not just of Steve and Annabell but their next generation. The story of agriculture is just [inaudible]. We've lost too many generations of young people in the regional and rural Australian agriculture. Our story is a positive one and this is testament to it, this family is testament to it. And this government will stand with them. So Prime Minister, thanks again for coming. It's a real testament to your commitment to people right across regional and rural Australia that you continue to make this a priority.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, well David thank you, and particularly to Steve and Annabell and the whole Tully family. It's great to be back here with you, with the DPM- with Michael, who we've stood here together, David, just over two years ago, a bit beyond that in fact. And we looked out at this place and it looked a little bit different back then, in the paddock behind us over here I remember Steve showed me a photo of what it used to look like. When we came last time it was as dry as what is underneath us right now. But at one time it was grass up about here Steve, that’s about right. And what struck me when I first met Steve and Annabell and the family was just how resilient they were, some 6 years into the drought and they're still in drought - there are 41 local government areas here in Queensland which are still in drought. But the comeback here is well and truly underway. Steve had I think around about 5,000 head of sheep here at that time, well below half or more of the carrying capacity here on this property that's been in their family for generations. And they're coming back now, up around 7 - 8,000 now, carrying some from other stations around the place and, and on their way back. And they're diversifying, bringing in goats and they're finding their way through. The dog fencing, which we spoke about last time we came, is making a huge impact here. It's ensuring that the finance flows. These are the practical things which Steve and Annabell and so many of the heroes of our drought have been doing to get Australia through and to get these regions and rural communities through. We're very pleased, the DPM and I and the whole team that’s here, Scotty and James, that the things we've been doing have been backing them in to achieve them. Whether it's been the work through the drought communities programme, through local government areas, particularly here in Quilpie, who backed in the broader dog fencing initiative and ensured that it went right across the shire area here. And so together, all the stations and properties around here have become more resilient. The investments they’ve made in the water infrastructure, you know in the Tully [inaudible] they’ve continued to sow in and as a result they are now looking for [inaudible] more optimism than I encountered when I was here a couple of years ago, and that's a tremendous encouragement, I think, to all of us around the country. This past year, the country has gone through an incredibly tough period of time through COVID-19 but that toughness was no stranger to the Tully's and the many families in rural and regional communities across our country who have been enduring the drought for many, many years. As we come up here today and we visit more of these communities it's great to see the comeback underway and it's great to see how the hope and the optimism that they sewn in to this property and in so many towns and regions like it across Queensland and across Australia, they're starting to see the benefits of that. So we're pleased that those programmes have been working. We're pleased that the delivery on the ground, which has been helping kids to stay in school, the psychological counselling and support which has been so important to to help people get through these difficult times, the practical things like fences and on farm irrigation, or water infrastructure and things of that nature. All of it making a practical difference, but the main ingredient has been the resilience and has been the resourcefulness and has been the optimism and hope of the people themselves. So it's great to be back here, Steve and Annabell. It's great to be here with the kids as well. And I’m glad they’ve had a summer back here at home and to be able to see what's happening, and I really do love that whole new water park thing you’ve got over there Steve, I think that the people down at Roadshow will come and take a bit of a shot of that, I think you never know what you might see at theme parks around Australia. So it's great to be here. I’m going to ask Michael McCormack to say a few words and then Steve Tully’s going to tell you a bit about what the last years have been like. But I do want to leave you with this. While things have improved, there is still a long way to go. And I think that's the story of our country. Things have improved. We are getting through this together, but there is still a long way to go. And that's why the plans that we've got in place to support that recovery, to aid that comeback, are still so important. Michael?

THE HON MICHAEL MCCORMACK MP, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Thank you Prime Minister, as Liberals and Nationals we don't set and forget. When the Prime Minister came out here with David and I back in August 2018, we saw a landscape vastly different than what we're witnessing today. Dams two thirds full, now there’s a few green shoots on what was once bare earth. I'm really pleased to see Steve and Annabel Tully. I'm even more delighted to see their three children, three of their five children because they are the future. It's the kids who are the future of regional Queensland. It's the kids who are the future of these places, because Steve and Annabell, they can set it up only so much. We want these kids to be able to have a reason to have the hope to stay, to build better regional communities. That's what Scott Buchholz and I are all about, that's what James McGrath and I are all about, that’s what David Littleproud and I are all about, that's what Scott Morrison and the nation are all about. And that's why we're investing heavily in water infrastructure, $3.5 billion dollars. That's why Scott Buchholtz and I yesterday were up in Rockhampton announcing $289.6 million for better roads, safer roads for Queensland. Scott and I were delighted that 92.3 percent of that money is going to regional Queensland. Steve and Annabell, they are the heart and soul of regional Australia. We want them to be their best selves. And that's what we put in the programme under the Drought Communities Programme, under the dog fencing and under the Building Better Regions Fund, which is now open - open to local governments and others to apply for that money. $200 million dollars. $100 million dollars of which is set aside for tourism. We saw in Longreach today, we spoke to the mayor there. We heard just about the visitation numbers, 98 percent of whom are Australians. And we want more Australians, through COVID of course, they can't travel overseas. But they can visit their own country, they can visit the fabulous sites and destinations of regional Queensland and regional Australia. So that's what we're all about, not setting and forgetting, but providing hope, providing the investment. I was really, really pleased to hear Steve and the Prime Minister, talking about how often they’ve shared messages and photos from August 2018 till now. And I'm sure that will go on because the Prime Minister is one who doesn't set and forget, and none of us do in the Liberals and Nationals. And that's why we're back here today and that's why we're delighted to see the progress made. But there's still a long road to go. With that I’ll ask Steve to add to those remarks.

MR STEPHEN TULLY, BUNGINDERRY STATION: Thank you, Scott, very much for coming. It's great to see you back here with the seeds of recovery underway, because I would hate to have you thinking that, you know, we live in a place of, of dirt, not only of dirt, of dust. Because the horizon on that day was just dust as far as you can see, and now we've got the classic crystal clear air. We wouldn’t be here without the fence. We sat down and we had to think about what we're doing. And there was government funding available for the fence, and we built the fence primarily just the family. 130 kilometres of it. That has allowed us to be happy, profitable and positive, even though we've just hit average rain once since then. We are viable, we are continuously adapting to whatever conditions are thrown at us. We believe we have a great future and we are continuously looking to adjust what we do to allow to further drought proof our properties. That’s what [inaudible] to Scott today, and the rest of today, just throw around ideas of what we can do by spending a little bit of money in the right spot, and setting us up to have a very prosperous future and underpinning what happens in a drought. So we don't have to come back here in a disaster when everything is terrible and we are more adaptable to it. That's a never ending process and we look forward to the future. That gives us confidence, that gives the banks confidence, and that gives the kids confidence if they ever want to come back here. That’s my underlying message here.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks. Well, happy to take some questions?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Brendan Murphy said yesterday that he doesn't expect international travel this year. Do you agree with him? And if so, will there be more support for the tourism industry and travel providers?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I’ll ask Michael also to comment on this, first of all, as we have worked through the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, we've dealt with the information in front of us. We’ve worked with the experts that we have to put in place the best responses. And in doing that, whether it's been JobKeeper or JobSeeker, or the vaccination programme that we're moving towards, testing and tracing programmes, quarantine and all of these things, the decisions we've taken around international borders, all of it has been based on the information and advice that has come through. And the same will be true when we make decisions over the course of this year, particularly when we get to the other side of vaccines having been introduced in Australia, about what will happen with international borders. Now at the moment, that is the Secretary of Health’s assessment, but we'll see how things play out over the course of the year. I mean Michael McCormack makes a very good point. And as you know, prior to being in politics, I've worked in the tourism industry. The domestic tourism industry accounts for about 70 to 80 percent of the overall tourism industry in Australia, thereabouts. It varies by region of course, some areas of the country are more dependent on international tourism than others. But the bread and butter of the tourism industry in Australia has always been the domestic tourism sector. And in this unusual time, Australians who are big overseas travellers are increasingly in a position and will want to more and more and more see their own country. So that's going to have it's obvious impact. The net import effect of tourism in Australia now, being spent in Australia is not only supporting domestic tourism in this country as the country, we work hard to try and keep open, but it is also finding its way into retail spending and other things and keeping that money within Australia. We've demonstrated, I think, over the course of this pandemic, our commitment, whether it's to the tourism industry, small business owners, the hospitality sector, the arts sector, the manufacturing sector, businesses right across the country, we’ve demonstrated that we're serious about ensuring that Australia gets through this in the best possible way. And so our record speaks for itself, where we need to make targeted investments, proportionate, commensurate with the challenge. Well, we've done that. That's been our way of doing things. And so we'll assess those things as we go forward. As we have up until this time, we don't make big promises. We just get it done and we make the decisions about what's necessary after working closely with those in the sector about what is needed. So that's how we'll continue to approach this.

JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten this morning said-

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll let Michael make a few comments on it as well.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Just on international travel, of course, we want to see our international flights resume as soon as possible, but we also want to make sure that we continue to have the health outcomes here in Australia that we've had, we've been the envy of the world when it comes to health outcomes. That’s because we have followed the best advice from the health authorities, from the health experts all the way through, we will continue to work through the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, take their advice, take the advice of Professor Paul Kelly, who's of course the chief medical officer and, of course, working through the National Cabinet process. I spoke to Alan Joyce yesterday. He's obviously concerned and they opened up the bookings from July. And of course, they're keen to see international flights resume as soon as possible as are we, as are we. And of course, we've got the vaccine coming out, rolling out from next month. We'll address these situations as they occur from week by week and we’ve done that all the way through, we’ve done it successfully and we’ve kept Australia safe.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Bill Shorten suggested just on that issue that JobKeeper- would be a good idea to keep JobKeeper for that industry specifically going past March. Is that something you would consider doing a targeted continuation of JobKeeper for this industry?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, one thing I've noticed is the federal Labor Party have tended to play politics both with the pandemic and the recovery. What we will do is we’ll just make the best decisions for Australia based on the best information. We'll target it, we’ll ensure that it’s well thought through. We won't be making commitments ahead of anytime that they would be needed. And we've done that all the way through. We heard the same calls from Labor last time, we changed out of JobKeeper at the end of September and what did we see happen? We saw 450,000 businesses get themselves off JobKeeper and more than 2 million Australians no longer needing taxpayer funded support. Federal Labor said, we're going to go off a cliff. They said it was all going to fall apart. And that's not what Australia needs to hear. What Australia needs is what we've been seeking to do and that is bring Australians together. To provide the support where it's needed, to do that carefully because it's all taxpayers money and we invest it carefully and wisely and proportionately and we work with those sectors to make sure it's done in the most effective way. So I'll let the federal Labor Party engage in the politics of the recovery and I'll just encourage the economics of it.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, would you be willing to consider regional support packages like JobKeeper for areas like Cairns which have been traditionally more reliant on international tourism?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, I'm not going to pre-empt or fly kites on these things, I don't think that's fair to people, we’ve been always upfront with people about what we're going to do, when we're going to do it and how we're going to do it. And I think that has given the nation a lot of confidence. And so it's not for me to speculate. It's for me to make sound decisions in the country's interests. And that's what we've been doing for the past year. You know, last night I was on a call, as I regularly am with many other leaders last night, the Prime Minister of Israel, the Prime Minister of Norway, and a number of others, Greece, Denmark amongst this group, and Austria that we’ve met with regularly. And to hear what is occurring in Europe, that breaks your heart what they're going through. And it's just reinforced I think the thankful position we are here in Australia with the choices we’ve made and the way that Australians have reacted and supported Australia to come through this, is a great testament to this country and it's being noticed by people around the world. They wish they were us. They really wish they were us. And that is a testimony to the Australian people. But I think also to working together with the states and territories in a very bipartisan way, with the Labor premiers, the Liberal premiers, we’ve all worked together to try and do our best to make the best decisions at the right time. And we'll continue to do that.

JOURNALIST: In your conversations with Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence, did you have- did you raise their support for Australia in our somewhat difficult relationship at the moment with China, our China relationship?

PRIME MINISTER: Our what sorry?

JOURNALIST: Was the China relationship discussed? And their support for Australia in that somewhat difficult relationship?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I was pleased to be able to talk to Vice President Pence this morning and Secretary Pompeo yesterday. I've worked very closely with both of them in particular, along with the Treasury

Secretary Mnuchin and the former Defence Secretary Esper. And they have been a key part of how we've managed that relationship over the last many years. And the cornerstone of that has been an understanding of just how important Australia and the United States are to each other, how shared we are in our outlook about things in the world, the threats to that and how we can work positively together to deal with those in both of our national interests and with those of many other like minded countries. So it was an opportunity to thank both Secretary Pompeo and Vice President Pence for the very constructive way that they've supported that relationship and the very open way that they've engaged with me as a Prime Minister and previously with Secretary Mnuchin as a Treasurer. And so we spoke about how important that relationship is now, probably more important than ever, and really welcomed their offers of the engagements they've had with the incoming administration, which, you know, I welcome the fact that despite all the terrible things we've seen there happen, there is been that positive engagement between them and those who are coming in after them. And there is a handover. And one of the things that will be handed over from the current administration, to the new one this week, is the stewardship of that very important relationship between Australia and the United States. As Prime Minister, I have the privilege to steward that from Australia's perspective. The incoming President, President-elect Biden, will join me in that stewardship. And it's incredibly important for our region. It's incredibly important for Australia's interests. And I say it's very important for the United States interest as well.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect the Biden administration to defend Australia as strongly when there are disputes with China is what the Trump administration did?

PRIME MINISTER: I would expect there would be a continuation of those policy settings that have so favoured the Australian alliance. And that's not new. It's been happening for decades. The alliance between Australia and the United States has known many stewards sitting on both sides of the table as Presidents and Prime Ministers. They've come from all sides of politics. But the one thing that has always brought us together has been our understanding of how strategic and significant the relationship is and the best in that relationship is, as I said to Vice President Pence this morning is still to come.

JOURNALIST: Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has raised the prospect of moving quarantine for returning travellers to mining accommodation. Is that something that you'd be willing to consider at National Cabinet on Friday or consider supporting on Friday? And would you have any concerns about it potentially leading to a threat of COVID in regional areas where they don't have the same testing capacity as in the capital city?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, two points. One, I'm meeting with Premier Palaszczuk later this week when I go back through Brisbane, and I'm sure I look forward to having that discussion. I haven't seen that proposal as yet, but I've always been very interested in positive proposals that have come forward from Premiers about how we can best manage what are very challenging issues. I mean, we already have these types of arrangements up in the Northern Territory. That's how the 20 extra flights that I agreed to and and endorsed and acted on with the Deputy Prime Minister on the weekend, that's in addition, I think Michael to some 90 I think we’ve already arranged and many of those, particularly more latterly, are being made possible over and above the caps because of what we've been able to do in the Northern Territory with the Chief Minister Gunner. So I'm very open to these sorts of ideas and I look forward to seeing the proposal and then we'll go from there. I- Premier Palaszczuk knows that my door is always open to those sorts of discussions and I look forward to having them with her.

JOURNALIST: When you spoke to Vice President Mike Pence, did you ask at all about or did you speak at all about Donald Trump and his refusal to concede the election at all?

PRIME MINISTER: No.

JOURNALIST: Will you be speaking to Donald Trump in the remainder of- before he leaves office?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I have no plans to do that.

JOURNALIST: And your colleagues, David Littleproud, and Michael McCormack here, they've criticised the Victorian government for, accepting tennis players, but not farm workers. What's your view on that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, at the December meeting of National Cabinet, we had a very good discussion about the urgent need for seasonal workers and particularly in Victoria. And the Premier raised a number of issues there. And I know there have been some proposals that have come forward. We'd be very interested in progressing those, but that is very much a matter for the Premier. I mean, here in Queensland, there's no partisanship on this. I mean, here in Queensland, they run an on farm quarantine programme. Now, admittedly, that is not in massive numbers, but I think it's a very innovative way of managing that issue. And so we would welcome constructive proposals about how this can be better managed. The agreement we made at the last National Cabinet meeting, we highlighted the need to have some special accommodations around seasonal workers because of the needs and those needs currently, I mean, David, you might want to comment on this, but I believe are most pressing in Victoria at the moment. they really are. And so we'd like to find a way through on this. We really would. But, you know, the tennis open is going ahead too, these things are not mutually exclusive. And, you know, the rules are there. And just just as you have to abide by the rules of the umpire on the court, you've got to abide by the rules of the health officers when it comes to COVID. And so, you know, you can’t call foul on that. That's a pretty fair set of arrangements.

JOURNALIST: Does it pass the pub test when crops aren't being picked but tennis players are coming in to play a tournament?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's not a choice between the two. It doesn't have to be a choice between the two, you know, we're a clever country and we can manage many things at once. And, you know, I think we can manage a tennis open and pick fruit. We should be able to do that.

JOURNALIST: But we’re not picking fruit?

PRIME MINISTER: Well there is fruit being picked by the way, but we want more of it picked. And that is something I hope that we'll be able to work our way through. And I'm sure it'll get some discussion on Friday.

JOURNALIST: Just for the year ahead, 2021. What can Australians expect?

PRIME MINISTER: 2021, what I'm expecting is that Australians will continue to prove their resilience. They will continue to be optimistic about Australia's future, and they will continue to make plans for how they're going to make that future happen. And what they can expect from me and my government is for us to back them in. For us to share their optimism, to share their passion for their futures and to back them in, whether that's young people or indeed those in advanced age who are looking to change careers with the skills training they need, manufacturing businesses will be able to draw on Australia's manufacturing plans. Those who are looking to get home sooner and safer with the road projects that are being done not just in metropolitan areas, but importantly, as Scotty has been working on with the DPM now for many years, to ensure that the regional and rural roads are safer for people as they move around this country, that our businesses will open up again even more than they have already and that we will see the comeback that began in 2020 move to a whole new level in 2021. But that's going to require all of us to keep working together, to keep believing, to stay optimistic, keep pushing forward, just as the Tully’s have here over the last two and a half years. And way longer than that, they have seen the worst of times here. And now they're seeing better times and there are even better times ahead. And I think that's a good way to look out on the end of 2020. Thanks everyone.