Transcript - Press Conference Humpty Doo

SAM McMAHON

All right, great to be here this morning. I’m here with Simmo from Arnhem Earth Moving. We’ve got some very exciting announcements. I have with me the Acting Prime Minister of Australia, Michael McCormack, the Minister for Northern Australia and Resources, Keith Pitt, and Minister for pretty much everything, including Infrastructure, Eva Lawler. We’ve got some very exciting announcements concerning funding for infrastructure development in the Northern Territory, something I’m very, very passionate about. Some announcements regarding road safety, another passion of mine and something that’s vitally important. We know that we’ve had a couple of very tragic fatal accidents recently, so anything that we can do to improve road safety is important for Territorians. And also, vitally, these announcements are going to drive private investment in the Northern Territory and jobs. So very, very pleased to be able to be making these announcements here today. And I’ll hand over to Minister Lawler.

EVA LAWLER

Thank you very much. Eva Lawler, Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics. Our government is determined to make sure that the Northern Territory is the comeback capital in Australia. Our focus is around jobs – around economic development. We want to see jobs for locals in the Northern Territory. I’m very pleased to be here today working with the Federal Government around these announcements.

So, first of all, there’s two big announcements from my perspective. One is around infrastructure dollars for roads in the Sturt Plateau area. That is about opening up those roads, those areas, to economic development. So whether it’s an oil and gas industry – but it’s also industries like the cattle industry in the Northern Territory – those roads are beneficial to the community as well. So we welcome dollars that go into roads in the Territory.

In the Territory, about 70 per cent of our roads continue to be dirt, so any dollars that we can gather that we can work with the Federal Government around strengthening, widening, improving our roads in our remote communities, in our remote areas in the Territory that benefit locals but also benefit the economic development of the Territory are gratefully received by me as Infrastructure Minister but also our government.

So that’s the first component today – is around those dollars that are going through the Roads of Strategic Importance that we’re going to be rolling out. And the aim is to roll them out as quickly as possible so we can get local jobs, we can continue to be that comeback capital.

The second component of the announcement today from my perspective is around road safety. Again, we have our Towards Zero Road Safety Plan. We want to see – and that is our goal – to have no deaths on Territory roads. We do not want to see Territorians injured or killed on our roads. We know how tough it is to get to that zero road deaths. So I welcome the money that’s going into road safety in the Northern Territory. Again, whether it’s barriers on highways, whether it’s providing alerts, whether it’s new culverts, whether it’s strengthening and widening, all of those dollars are gratefully received because they’re about saving lives in the Northern Territory.

Senator McMahon also spoke about some early work that we’re going to be doing, some preparatory work around the Wishart – sorry, around the Tiger Brennan Drive-Berrimah Road intersection. So for Darwin people, people in the Top End, they will know that in January 2020 we lowered the speed limit on that crucial intersection. We’ve seen multiple deaths on that intersection. Even in 12 months with the red light cameras there we’ve seen about 11,000 fines given out to people who continue to speed through that intersection. Absolutely a risk for Territorians when we talk about road safety.

So some of those dollars around road safety are going into that early work, that preparatory work, the design works to have a look at an overpass for the Berrimah Road-Tiger Brennan intersection. So, again, the Northern Territory Government is very, very happy to partner with the Federal Government around making sure that Territorians are safe, that we achieve that zero deaths on our roads target. Thank you.

KEITH PITT

Well, it’s great to be back in the Territory here with the Acting Prime Minister, Senator Sam McMahon, Eva and everyone else. But most importantly we’re here with Simmo, Simmo from Arnhem Earth Moving. And Simmo’s a local business with a local team and the announcements we are making today will help businesses just like this one that not only provide jobs in the Territory but provide confidence to industry. So today I am launching the Beetaloo Strategic Basin Gas Plan. This is the first of series of five right across the country to bring more gas resources online and to provide more gas for manufacturing to help drive jobs. This is the first one. It’s in the Territory.

And just as Eva said, I want to see the Northern Territory with a comeback worthy of a State of Origin team. Absolutely we want to see more jobs, a stronger economy, more opportunities, and we are here to ensure that we can bring the gas resources of the Beetaloo online, earlier, faster, safer, providing jobs sooner than was expected. So the expectation is that we have put forward a funding to bring exploration to the Beetaloo Basin earlier than it would have been. So we have $50 million on the table to help drive that exploration and that confidence. The Beetaloo Basin – once that resource is firmed up – is expected to be one of the best basins in the world for gas condensate. If we give business confidence and we give that confidence earlier than they normally would have had, that will drive those jobs faster.

Now we are targeting 2025 to see gas from the Beetaloo available into Darwin, into that infrastructure to connect across to the East Coast, and we’ll continue to work with not only industry but the Territory government. So with today’s announcement about to be made by the Deputy Prime Minister and Acting Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, this will basically bring up almost $300 million of investment to drive the Beetaloo Basin. They said it couldn’t be done. We are delivering. We want to see those jobs earlier and sooner. We want to see those jobs driving the Northern Territory economy, and we want to see those jobs driving businesses just like Simmo’s, just like this one here at Humpty Doo, because that opportunity is for Territorians and it’s for all of Australia. The sooner we can get this gas online the sooner we can have more confidence for manufacturing to come back onshore, which is more jobs for Australia. That is what I am focused on and that is what the Deputy Prime Minister and Acting Prime Minister is focused on. I know it’s what the Northern Territory is focused on and, in particular, Senator Sam McMahon, who’s driven me absolutely mad to make sure that this is the first basin plan delivered. And that is exactly what we’re doing. So it’s available at industry.gov.au today, and I’ve had great feedback from industry. They are keen to get going. We want to see this exploration activity in this dry season, and we want to ensure that that gas is available for all Australians for their benefit, because it is the Commonwealth.

And I believe there’s some local questions for me before I step back?

JOURNALIST

Yes, minister. Just a couple of questions about the Harvest Trail collaboration trial. How far will something like the funding announcement for fruit and vegie growers go in helping fill the need for pickers in regional Queensland?

KEITH PITT

Well, what we know is that right across the country there are challenging conditions in terms of sourcing seasonal workers in agriculture. The loss of the backpacker work force, as we all know, driven by COVID and the lack of international travel has had a significant, substantial effect on those horticulturalists, on agriculture in particular and in terms of the seasonal workforce right across the country. So we’ve announced a million dollars for that trial as part of the Harvest Trail. It’s being put together, but still a good thing. We know that places like Bundaberg fruit and vegie growers and funding also into the Northern Territory and Victoria and elsewhere to help Australians get themselves into agriculture. And I’d say to every Australian that’s out there looking for work, this is not just about picking jobs. There is a career for you in agriculture. Whether that is in maintenance, whether it’s working in packing sheds doing that maintenance, whether it’s administration, truck drivers, fork lifts, machinery operators. There is work there for you. It’s available right now and we’re encouraging all of you to take up that opportunity.

JOURNALIST

And, minister, was a report of $30 million lost due to the worker shortage in Queensland alone, is a portion of $1 million enough to help?

KEITH PITT

Well, look, I think that $30 million is an underestimate. The feedback I’ve had not only from my community but right around the country in my ministerial roles has been that farmers have been stepping back in terms of their production and their planting. I think that will come to fruition in coming weeks and months in terms of availability, particularly on fresh fruit and veg. But we want to ensure that every Australian who’s out there that needs to be employed can take that up. And we’ve got up to $6,000 available for relocation assistance for Australians to move into an agricultural job, up to $2,000 for those who hold work rights or visa holders to do the same thing. And I’d say to everyone that’s out there are: there is a home for you in regional Australia and there is job for you in regional Australia. I encourage you to take it up.

JOURNALIST

There have been some complaints that the cost of living actually outweighs the wages that are being provided for people going out there. What’s your comment to that?

KEITH PITT

There’s no better place to live than regional Australia. That’s why some 30-odd per cent of Australians live in the regions and help drive Australia’s economy, whether that’s through agriculture, whether it’s through resources or other means. There is an opportunity for you now. If you want to talk about cost of living, I’m happy to compare a house in Bundaberg with a house in Sydney or Melbourne. If you want to look at the cost of capital to get yourself into a place which has got five bedrooms and a couple of acres, if you can have two cats and a dogs and a couple of horses and three motorbikes and four cars, it’s in regional Australia. You certainly can’t do that in a capital. And I think for every business that’s out there that doesn’t want to find themselves locked down in the future there’s a home for you in the regions. And I think that’s being taken up in enormous numbers right now.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

A bit of 80s music happening in the background there – Money for Nothing. But, indeed, there is a lot of money – $173.6 million going towards road infrastructure in the Beetaloo Basin. And I’m delighted to be here with Senator Sam McMahon. What a fighter she is for the Northern Territory. And when I became Acting Prime Minister when Scott Morrison went on holidays – much-needed and well-earned break – I said I was going to come to the Northern Territory because Senator Sam McMahon asked me to. Asked me to do so, of course, at every opportunity. And Keith Pitt and I love coming to the Northern Territory. We are no strangers here. We are no strangers because we know, as Eva Lawler has said, that the Northern Territory is going to form a part of that puzzle to get Australia recovered from COVID-19. The Northern Territory is going to play a big part of that. Eva Lawler described it as COVID capital. Well, indeed, it can be, just like the rest of regional Australia can be.

And I say and pay tribute to those Northern Territorians, to those people in regional Australia, who’ve done the right thing, whoever been their best selves through this crisis. And it has been a crisis. It’s been a global pandemic. It’s caused such heartache to so much people.

We’re here at Arnhem Earth Moving and Mechanical Pty Ltd run by Anthony Simpson. Good bloke. He’s had this business since 2008, employs 30 people. He’s taken advantage of JobKeeper and good on him. He needed that. He said that it helped him to keep certainly his civil workers, his civil construction workers, still connected to his business. He’s a go-ahead bloke. He wants the best for not just the Northern Territory, not just Daly Waters, not just Humpty Doo but for his workers and for the community that his business serves.

And it is a small business that does serve the community, whether it’s building local government roads, whether it’s building Territory roads as overseen by Eva Lawler, or whether it’s, indeed, partnering with the Commonwealth, which is one of the announcements we’re doing today. $173.6 million for the Beetaloo Basin. You’ve heard Keith Pitt describe how important that is going to be as we emerge through COVID-19, as we have a gas-fired, a gas-led recovery, not just from, of course, COVID-19, but all the other economic shocks that our nation has suffered in recent times.

And I appreciate that, you know, it’s been tough. We’ve had drought, we’ve had bushfires, we’ve had floods and, indeed, COVID-19 has taken such a toll on our economy. But the nation’s building back. The Territory is building back and it’s good to be here with Billy Yan and certainly Gerard Maley, the Deputy Leader of the CLP here in the Territory because they know, as Lia Finocchiaro knows, that the Territory can and will and must play a big part in this recovery.

So I’m delighted. I work well with Eva Lawler. I appreciate we’re not on the same political side, but I tell you what, we are on the same side when it comes to building infrastructure. And we talk regularly about what the Territory needs and wants and expects and demands and deserves as far as road infrastructure is concerned. Whether it’s the Carpentaria Highway, the Stuart, indeed, the Outback Way. It’s that sort of delivery that we’re putting in place, whether it is the Beetaloo Basin road infrastructure upgrades that are going to be so needed to get the project that Keith Pitt has announced here today and talked about in recent weeks, whether it is, indeed, those road safety upgrades that Eva was mentioning earlier. We will, as the Commonwealth Government, as a Liberal-Nationals Government, partner with the Gunner government to get things done, because that’s what people want. That’s what people demand and that’s what they deserve.

We see way too much tragedy on our roads and that’s why we want to build better roads, not just for the road safety aspects but, indeed, to help businesses like Simmo’s. To help businesses like his not only get the roads built but to help the trucks get through, to help the tourism and all those other aspects. We visited a national park. And I know Bill’s responsible with his shadow minister role for national parks, and we visited the Charles Darwin National Park this morning with Gerard Maley, and we saw just how good a destination point that is. So whether it’s tourism, whether it’s business, whether it’s infrastructure, whether it’s mining resources or, indeed, agriculture, we are building better roads to get people to those places so that we can build the Northern Territory, so that we can get things done, so we can improve road safety outcomes, so that we can address the freight task. And when it comes to resources and agriculture, I tell you what, they have led the way through COVID-recovery and they will continue to do so.

JOURNALIST

What projects have been funded by the NAIF in five years with the NT? Do you think this is adequate, and should there have been more effort to develop [indistinct]?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’ll get Keith to add to my answer, because he is the minister responsible for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund. But as the minister – I want to say for the Northern Territory, he is the Minister for Northern Australia, but I tell you what, that title might as well have the Northern Territory in it as well because he’s up here so often, he’s talking about it so often, and he’s driven, as he said, by Senator Sam McMahon, who always wears the carpet out into Keith’s office, into my office and bangs, you know, her fist on our table to make sure that the Northern Territory gets not just its fair share but more than its fair share as far as funding is concerned.

And I know Keith has made certain adjustments and certain tweaks to the NAIF. I know through Barry Coulter and others the Northern Territory is going to play a big part in that facility, in the future. And I know that the changes that we’ve made to get more money out the door is going to see us – Keith and I and Sam – go to the Prime Minister and demand even more money in future budgets, in future MYEFOs to ensure that we get that done. But I’ll get Keith to just add to those remarks.

KEITH PITT

Thanks very much. Well, firstly, $600 million is nothing to be sneezed at in terms of loans to drive jobs and the local economy. Just not far away at Humpty Doo’s name sake, Humpty Doo Barramundi, world famous provider of barramundi for table fish right across Australia and markets internationally. That’s come about through now two loans through the NAIF. $150 million for Charles Darwin University’s upgrade in the middle of Darwin and there’s more to come. We have $2.6 million remaining in the NAIF to be allocated and changes I announced just before Christmas will now provide the opportunity for commonwealth to be an equity investor, just under 50 per cent, a non-controlling interest, for projects up to $100 million with $500 million of the NAIF’s available loan to be put towards that equity position. Now I think that will make for an enormous change in terms of the appetite not only for the NAIF but for local businesses and that will continue to drive jobs across the north. And, as I said, $600 million is no small thing.

JOURNALIST

Mr McCormack, so three government-facilitated flights to Brisbane had their fees covered because of the new international arrivals cap? Why didn’t the government ensure that all of those Australian travellers would definitely return home before the cap was reduced? Have they been short changed?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We’ve done everything we can to bring as many Australians home as possible. And we’ve 443,000 Australians return home since March 13 when Prime Minister Scott Morrison first implored, encouraged and told Australians to come home because of this global pandemic. And certainly since September 18 we’ve brought home more than 71,000 Australians. It’s difficult because, of course, there are quarantine measures in place and there are quarantining that, of course, the states run. The states have jurisdiction and control about how many quarantine places they can have.

I do commend New South Wales because New South Wales has had the bulk of the quarantining returning Australians. They’ve put them through, of course, and New South Wales has led the way in that regard. They’ve taken more than half of the quarantining returning Australians. So we have reduced the cap. Yes, we’ve reduced it by half, or the states have said – and we’ve complied and we’ve worked with them through the National Cabinet process. But all the way through, all the way through, we’ve taken the best possible advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, through Brendan Murphy firstly, through Paul Kelly, who’s followed on his great work, in that regard. And we’ll take the best advice, the best medical advice, from the health experts. We’ll apply that to the states through the National Cabinet process and the territories of course. We want to, of course, see as many Australians come home, whether they’re staying at Howard Springs, whether they’re quarantining there or through those Sydney hotels. We want to see as many Australians coming home as possible.

There have been instances too where some Australians who are in foreign lands have actually got a ticket and then not presented themselves at the airport. And that, of course, also places difficulties, and we can hardly blame governments of any political persuasion, whether it’s territory, state or, indeed, the Commonwealth Government for that. But we’re getting as many Australians possible home. There are, of course, some heart wrenching stories of Australians wanting to get home and haven’t been able to do so. But we’ll continue to work through them through DFAT. And I say to those Australians: register your interest with DFAT. We are looking after vulnerable Australians first, and we’re making sure that we get as many home as quickly as possible.

JOURNALIST

How can you say you’re looking after vulnerable Australians when these flights were [indistinct]?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Sure and, look, we are endeavouring to do our very best. It’s not always easy. There will be people impacted. There be people inconvenienced. I appreciate that. But it’s not easy to get every single Australian, of whom there are generally at any given point in time – COVID or not – a million people overseas. So it’s very difficult to get them home all at once through the quarantine restrictions and numbers and limitations that are in place.

JOURNALIST

Minister, you mentioned earlier that businesses like this were supported by JobKeeper. We understand that JobKeeper and JobSeeker are due to end in March. There are some worries that tourism and travel are still going to struggle. Will the government consider targeted support for these businesses?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ve had the $1 billion Relief and Recovery Fund. A lot of tourism operators have benefited through programs in that. We’ve got the $200 million Building Better Regions Fund which has just opened. And we’ve got $100 million – half of that – dedicated to tourism industries hard hit by COVID. So we want to, of course, have these tourism operators be there best selves. But those businesses which have been on JobKeeper, they want to have the cash coming through their till such that they don’t need to have that assistance. They want to be back, bouncing back, as quickly as possible. The measures we’ve put in place, whether it’s through the aviation sector, $1.3 billion through sector wide assistance to the aviation industry to get inter and intrastate tourism through the RANS and through the DANS programs, whether it’s through the targeted tourism assistance through the BBRF, I just mentioned, or through the relief and recovery fund or other measures that we’ve got in place, we will continue. The Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg and I, and of course the Prime Minister Scott Morrison will continue to make sure that we provide and we monitor the situation and assess and talk to people, like Simmo. I mean, that’s why I’m here on this – I went to north west New South Wales and northern Queensland. Now I’m in the Northern Territory and later this afternoon I’ll go to Hobart and Launceston. Not to talk at people but to listen to them, to their requirements, to their requests, to their asks. I speak to a lot of businesses. They are very thankful of the assistance that we’ve put in place as far as JobKeeper is concerned. They have said – I’ve given up counting how many business people have said – that has saved their business. That has actually kept their workers connected and engaged with their company and they are very thankful of it. But they wanted to get back such that they don’t need that level of assistance. They want to get back on their own two feet and stand up and make sure that they have the profits. Small business is the engine room of the economy. Keith knows that. He talks about it all the time as far as those resources small businesses. That’s why we’re helping and preserving and protecting and boosting them through the Beetaloo Basin announcement. We don’t just want them to survive; we want them to thrive, and that’s what we’re doing.

JOURNALIST

The government’s own estimates have warned that the Beetaloo Basin development is about a quarter of the country’s emissions annually threaten the Paris agreement targets. Have you got a plan yet to offset those emissions?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ve always got a plan. We’ve got a minister, in fact, dedicated to ensuring, along with his other responsibilities, to making sure that we not only meet and beat those international obligations that we’ve said. And we will. And we always will. And we’ve done very well in that regard. But what we don’t want to do – and this is what the Greens way is, this is what the Federal Labor’s way is – is to shut down business, to shut down farms and factories to meet some sort of target that, you know, to reduce global warming and reduce global temperatures. Well, our way is to make sure that we do the responsible thing internationally, do the responsible thing by our own people and through the measures that we’ve done while at the same time not closing down farms and factories which will be helping through COVID-recovery, which will be helping our nation to employ people. Many people are unemployed at the moment. Many people have lost their jobs for the first time. Many jobs in regional Australia are just crying out for those people to be connected up. And I say to those people again – as I’ve said every day this week as Acting Prime Minister – there are jobs in regional Australia. There are jobs in the Northern Territory just crying out for you to come out here and have a go, have a look, take up that opportunity. It mightn’t be your forever job, but, I tell you what, it will be a good job, you’ll meet lots of friendly people and these communities are big enough in which to get a good cup of coffee and small enough to care.

JOURNALIST

What’s actually in that plan that you mentioned?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

What plan?

JOURNALIST

To offset the emissions specifically –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, we work through these. We work through these all the time. I mean, any plan that we put in place – and I’ll get Keith to add to my remarks – but any plan we put in place to grow industry and to grow resources and to grow agriculture, of course there’s always offsets, there’s always – we ensure that we are going to meet and beat our international requirements as far as reducing emissions. We always do that. I mean, that’s a no-brainer. But I’ll get Keith to add to those remarks.

KEITH PITT

Well, look, thanks very much. Firstly, we have made our commitments to the 2030 target and we will deliver on those commitments. And as we’ve said any number of times, we are on track to meet that 2030 target. If we want to compare to international standards, well, go have a look at New Zealand, go have a look at Canada and compare them to Australia’s performance. We know that our gas industry has the potential to drive jobs in our economy. It’s not Australia’s position to tell other countries how they manage their emissions or how they will meet their targets. We as all of the people watching this broadcast know, as a Coalition Government, when we make a commitment we deliver on it, as Australians would expect. So we’ve committed to 2030 and we will meet that target.

JOURNALIST

You’re launching the strategic plan for the Beetaloo Basin. It’s going to add an estimated 117 million tonnes of CO2 a year. What is in that plan specifically to offset those emissions?

KEITH PITT

Well, firstly, I’d ask who made that estimate. But, secondly, what is in our plan is to deliver those 6,000 jobs for Territorians as soon as we possibly and practically can. And we have said that we have a technology road map in place. We have a plan to meet our 2030 target and we will deliver it.

JOURNALIST

So you’ve got a plan, but there’s nothing in it?

KEITH PITT

Not at all. I have a strategic basin plan to deliver the gas basin at the Beetaloo and that means jobs for the Territory and it means more into the economy and it means the Australian people will benefit from that great resource. And in terms of emissions, we are meeting our Paris agreements, as we said we would and we continually will.

JOURNALIST

Mr McCormack, the CSL has knocked back a Federal Government [indistinct] domestically. How important is it that Australia has the capacity to manufacture [indistinct] vaccine here?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, again, we will take the best possible advice of the AHPPC – the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee – through Paul Kelly. I had a discussion with him this morning about vaccines. We’ve acquired enough vaccines, Astra Zeneca and others, to ensure that we can properly vaccinate every Australian and, indeed, look after our Pacific Island friends as well, as you would expect good neighbours and a good nation like Australia to do.

We will have enough vaccines. We are working through this process. I know that Professor Kelly is having a teleconference roundtable discussion about vaccines this afternoon. These are high-level talks. We are going to make sure we’ve got the right vaccine for all Australians, and it’s going to be rolled out from February.

I’ll take your other questions then I’ll just make another little announcement as far as Tennant Creek this afternoon, which is also exciting. Yes?

JOURNALIST

Defence personnel have been granted an exemption to quarantine at a Darwin city hotel. And now two have tested positive. Why has this been allowed and why isn’t Defence following the same protocols as everyone else and quarantining at Howard Springs?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, as I understand it, these were visiting Defence personnel. I know that Senator Marise Payne and Linda Reynolds are looking into this particular matter as the Foreign Affairs Minister and as the Defence Minister respectively. And we want to make sure – there will be, unfortunately, chinks in quarantine armour. Quarantining is being run by state governments largely across the country, of course, again through the National Cabinet process. Territories and states are working with the commonwealth to ensure the best possible outcomes. We don’t want to see any outbreaks of COVID-19 such as we saw in Victoria last year. We want to make sure that we keep all Australians as safe as possible. And that’s why we are rolling out the vaccine. That’s why we have got tight quarantine regime in place. That’s why we will continue to work with the Gunner Government and continue to work with the ACT Government and all the states throughout the National Cabinet process to keep Australians safe.

JOURNALIST

[Indistinct] foreign officials are travelling here with their families and dependents to do training exercises from many countries around the world. Do you think it’s wise to have people coming from around the world for training exercises, especially now that we have a highly contagious strain of coronavirus?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

As long as they do the right and proper quarantining, so long as they’ve also undertaken tests back before they boarded those planes – and that has been put in place after the last National Cabinet meeting. They put in place new regimes as far as travellers who fly into Australia. We’ve got very tight, strict measures in place for testing before they get on planes, tight quarantining measures when they get here. But, unfortunately, this is a global pandemic. And as you’ve just quite rightly correctly pointed out, there is a virulent strain of the particular virus that we also have to address. And I appreciate the role that chief ministers and premiers have taken and made. It’s not popular amongst some people. Some of my own colleagues, indeed. But they’ve done what they think is necessary to keep their people safe, just like the Commonwealth has done what it feels proper to do right across the country.

JOURNALIST

Are there any other facilities in and around Darwin that the Federal Government is considering setting up similar facilities?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, providing that we’ve got, you know, the health experts saying that that facility will uphold the strict quarantining standards, that would be a minimum, we will always look at those things. We’re looking at, indeed, facilities other than just in capital cities such as Gladstone and elsewhere in regional Australia that potentially could provide for more quarantining for more returning Australians, indeed, for more seasonal workers to come from the Pacific and to take up that Harvest Trail opportunities.

JOURNALIST

Will the Federal Government consider changes to the hotel quarantine system due to some of the leakages we’ve seen with this new strain? I mean, will the Federal Government implement some kind of nationally consistent hotel quarantine system?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ve got the hotspot definition in place. But we will work through the National Cabinet process. Again, quarantining is largely the remit of states and territories. They run those facilities. They have jurisdictional control. They’ve got largely the responsibility of that public health outcome. And we work through the National Cabinet process. I know there’ll be another National Cabinet meeting very soon. And I’m sure that will be brought up and discussed.

I just wanted to before – I’m happy to take any other questions, too, but Sam McMahon and I are going to be travelling to Tennant Creek this afternoon. We’ll be there with Steve Edgington, who was the mayor but he’s also, of course, the MLA there. And well done to him. I’ve been very, very pleased to congratulate him on his election here but also to work with him through the Barkly deal to make sure that Tennant Creek can be its best self. But the $325,000 going towards a multi-modal facility, we want to make sure that it has the best transport infrastructure, logistics that it can. And that’s why we’re working through the Barkly deal with Steve, with the Northern Territory Government. I appreciate the support the Gunner Government has said. And I also acknowledge the work that Senator Sam McMahon has done to get the previous wins that the Tennant deal, that  Barkly regional deal, has acquired. But certainly working with the local council, with the Northern Territory and through the Commonwealth through Senator Sam McMahon to build an even better Tennant Creek into the future.

JOURNALIST

The Queensland Premier wants [indistinct] councils to set up hotels. Do you support that idea?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, again, this will be a matter for the Queensland Government. And you know, we need more quarantining. We need also people to be able to take up those opportunities, whether it’s the resources sector, whether it’s agriculture. I mean, we’ve got tens of thousands of less backpackers in Australia than we otherwise normally would have, obviously due to international limitations on travel, on air travel. So, you know, it has been very, very difficult. We’ve worked with states but, again, that is their remit, that is their responsibility. And if Annastacia Palaszczuk feels that will work, it will ensure that we get more workers, whether it’s the resources industry, I know there is on-farm quarantining in Queensland and it’s a shame that the Victorian Government can’t follow that lead and do the same down there given the fact that Aspen has said that it would actually look after a facility in Victoria to get many of those seasonal workers into the Sunraysia, into Mildura, into that area that Anne Webster proudly represents to get that stone fruit picked.

JOURNALIST

The Queensland [indistinct] proposal is also for returned travellers, not just seasonal workers. The federal government funds the Howard Springs facility for that effort. Would it also fund similar efforts in Queensland?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, look, we will look at it. I’ll get, perhaps, the Resources Minister, because, you know, resources is his portfolio. But, look, we’re always looking at what we can do to assist through the COVID-recovery process. And whether it’s through health outcomes, whether it’s through economic outcomes – I appreciate the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, is standing up later today to talk about our economic recovery to, you know – so that Australians know that this government, this Liberal-Nationals Government have their back. We have all the way through. And the Budget on October 6 was the best Budget for Regional Australia. And Greg Hunt has done a magnificent job as the Health Minister in Australia. And we’re rolling out the vaccine in February. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. And I say to Australians, I say to Northern Territorians, just continue to be your best selves. Utilise that, you know, all those things that you’ve been asked – social distancing. You know, if you’re asked to wear a mask, wear a mask. Do all those sorts of things. Make sure that if you’re in self-isolation or quarantining that you follow the rules, follow the guidelines, and we’ll all get through this together.

JOURNALIST

I just want to talk to you about remote vulnerable communities and the rollout of the vaccine. Some worry that they’ll be left behind during this rollout. How can you reassure them?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I just spoke to Ken Wyatt 5 minutes before this press conference began, and you know, he has done a sterling job as the Indigenous Affairs Minister. We have kept COVID largely out of these communities which, as you say, as you quite correctly point out, are very vulnerable. We will get that vaccine to those communities. We will place then those vulnerable people, those vulnerable Australians, as a priority in the rollout. We’ve always said we will do that. I know Ken Wyatt, who, you know, is a proud voice for Indigenous Australians – indeed, for all Australians – he will make sure that working through the right and proper protocols and processes we will get that out.

JOURNALIST

What’s your reaction to Donald Trump’s second impeachment this morning?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, that’s entirely a matter for the United States of America. But what I would like to see, as I’m sure all Australians would, is a peaceful transition to the Joe Biden administration. Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST

A quick question from Canberra? Thank you.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Canberra doesn’t realise it’s probably 30 degrees hotter here and a lot more humid. Anyway. Fire away Canberra, is it Jonathan Kearsley?

JOURNALIST

Yes, it is.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We love Jonathan.

JOURNALIST

Beijing has reportedly told the owners of $1 billion worth of banned Australian coal to find new buyers outside China. Coal is of huge value to exports. Do we have a bigger problem with China now?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We’re working through very diplomatically with China. Our phones are always open, our doors are always open. We want to obviously have trade markets for our coal, the best coal in all the world. We produce – whether it’s iron ore, whether it’s fruit and vegetables, grain, if it can be produced, if it can be dug up out of the ground, if it can be grown, it’s the best right here in Australia. And China knows that. It’s our largest trading partner, $149.7 billion of trade with China. We, of course, want that to continue. But we will also look for diversification of our markets. As Keith has often said, trade equals jobs, more trade equals more jobs. I’ll get him to complete the answer.

KEITH PITT

Well, firstly, what we know is approximately 70 ships in what’s known as “the stack” are waiting to unload in Chinese ports right now. We also know it’s around $14 billion market, around $10 billion for net coal, $4 billion for thermal. But those are private arrangements between Australian exporters and, of course, buyers in China. And those companies have already got in many cases a diverse range of markets in which to send Australia’s product.

Now my door is always open to my counterpart. We had no official notice of any official position from the Chinese government in regards to Australian coal and other exports. But we’ll obviously continue to work both through diplomatic processes and others to ensure that we can get through this current impasse.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thank you so much.

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