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Address at the National Press Club and Q&A - Canberra

1st February 2017  |  Comments  |  Transcripts

E&OE…

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much. I acknowledge we are gathered on the land of the Ngunawal people and we honour their elders, past and present.

Last week we celebrated Australia Day and around the country 16,000 people from 150 nations chose to become one of us. Like us - holders of the highest office in a democracy – citizen. Partners in the most successful multicultural society in the world. A beacon of harmony in the midst of diversity, founded on a deep tradition of mutual respect in a world of rising intolerance.

Enterprising, optimistic, resilient, compassionate and egalitarian.

In the great race of life, there is no better place to get ahead, realise your dreams, than here.

And nowhere, if you stumble and fall behind, are you more likely to get a hand up.

Few people are as prepared to have a go, take a risk, start a business as Australians. As Liberals and Nationals, we are determined to foster and reward that spirit. My Government stands for opportunity and security; the opportunity to get ahead and to get back on your feet when times are tough, built on a foundation of economic and national security.

Enabling Australians to do their best - not setting limits, not telling them what is best.

We believe in creating opportunities, but we also believe in that helping hand. We advance Australia fair. We are a generous and compassionate people. A fair go and a hand up if you fall behind, the essence of mateship that is deep in our Australian DNA.

This is reflected in our generous means-tested welfare system and highly progressive income tax system. We are a fairer, more equal society as a result.

The test therefore for every policy and every decision of my Government is this: does it create more opportunities for Australians to do their best?

Now our economic plan answered that question, emphatically.

With export trade deals that are expanding the opportunities for Australians to sell their products and services into the fastest growing markets of the world, at the same time as they reduce the cost of everyday goods, putting more money back into the hands of households.

Our Innovation and Science Agenda ensures we have more kids studying science and technology, and more research and investment in the technologies of the future.

All creating new jobs and more opportunity.

Our Defence Industry Plan not only delivers the capabilities our that ADF needs, it provides the high tech platform that reboots advanced manufacturing, delivering thousands of new jobs and unprecedented opportunities.

And our business tax cuts enable small businesses, family businesses, to invest more, hire more and compete with the rest of the world.

So it’s about creating more jobs, sustainable jobs, higher paying jobs.

We have lived through a remarkable era of prosperity, as we know, fueled by a once in a generation mining construction boom. But we must never become complacent.

New challenges abound and the competition for capital and skilled labour is fiercer today than at any point in our history. We cannot retreat into the bleak dead-end of protectionism.

We must compete aggressively to export our services in education, health, engineering, tourism and more, and we must pursue even greater access for our agriculture and our manufacturers.

Political opportunists want us to turn inward, and revert to higher barriers to trade and investment. But they are doing nothing more than playing on the fears and hardships of those in the community who feel they have not shared in the benefits of globalisation and technological change. They offer the false promise that subsidies and trade barriers, under the banner of Australian first, are the answer to protecting jobs.

But we have seen that film before. And it’s not a pretty one.

Whatever other countries may think, it is very clear that for Australia, more trade means more exports, which means more jobs and more opportunity.

Our big export trade deals have dramatically expanded the horizon for Australian business, large and small, regional and metro.

Those who oppose our export deals are really calling for less opportunity, diminished prosperity and fewer jobs.

We pursue even greater global access to the global economy because it is good for jobs, good for investment and good for Australia. Its putting our national interest, our true national interests first. Because it creates more opportunities and jobs for Australians.

Of course, we want 24 million Australians, buying Australian. But we also want 7.4 billion people around the world buying Australian.

Why would we want to limit opportunities at a time when demand for ‘made in Australia’ has never been stronger?

Beef from the Darling Downs is being served in the restaurants of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, wine from the Barossa Valley is being purchased in the bars of Tokyo and macadamias from the Northern Rivers are on the supermarket shelves of Seoul - cities each with a population larger than Sydney and Melbourne combined. Australians, in communities across our nation, are benefiting from these opportunities.

That is why - although disappointed by America’s withdrawal from the TPP - we continue to work to open more markets for our exports, with negotiations underway with India, Indonesia, the European Union and in due course, the United Kingdom.

Now when we talk about opportunity and jobs, lower taxes - in particular lower business taxes - are of critical importance.

87 per cent of the jobs in Australia are in the private sector. You don't get more jobs, higher wages or more hours by taxing the businesses that employ Australians more.

Without a competitive business tax rate, Australia will be less able to attract investment. And without investment, there will be fewer jobs.

The reality is that we are part of an intensely competitive global economy, and other countries have been cutting - and will continue to cut - their company tax rates. We cannot afford to get left behind and let Australian jobs go offshore.

Cutting business tax will create more opportunities, overwhelmingly benefitting small businesses, family-owned businesses that are the lifeblood of so many communities in our regions and in our cities.

We will begin by cutting company tax, to 27.5 per cent, for small and medium businesses with a turnover of less than $10 million.

That means a small Australian business will be able to invest more, hire more and increase wages.

Years of research - much of it commissioned by the previous Labor Government - has revealed a less obvious but very important fact: company tax is overwhelmingly a tax on workers and their salaries.

If we had a 25 per cent business tax rate today, full time workers on average weekly earnings would have an extra $750 in their pockets each and every year. Now none of this will come as a surprise to Labor who supported – in the past – but now oppose, a cut to business tax.

We want to make it easier for Australian businesses - for small and medium businesses - to invest, to hire and to grow.

Our focus is on creating opportunities, more opportunities, for Australian businesses and more jobs.

But while we want to lower business taxes, I can assure you that we do not accept self-help approaches to tax reform and our continued efforts to stamp out corporate tax avoidance continue with the Diverted Profits Tax legislation, one of the most advanced and some would say draconian measures of its kind, in the world. It will impose a 40 per cent penalty on profits earned in Australia and transferred offshore and will apply from 1 July this year to all large multinational companies.

By making sure everyone pays the right amount of tax, we can better afford to invest in the important services and infrastructure that Australians deserve.

Now there is no better way to provide Australians with a lifetime of opportunities than through education. And I know from my own experience what great teachers can do. I am the product of great teachers, and now I’m the father, and Lucy is the mother of a very dedicated teacher, another great teacher. And parents know too.

With kids heading back to school this week, parents are telling me the most common question at school pick up is: “what teacher did you get?”

My commitment to great teachers in great schools for all Australian kids is not a political soundbite, its heartfelt.

If you listened to the Opposition, unions or much of the media, you would think that the only thing that mattered was how much money the Federal Government spent on schools.

Now the truth is we invest more money, record amounts, in schools, every single year. Each and every year into the future. But not enough attention is paid to outcomes.

Over the last decade, Commonwealth school funding increased by nearly 50 per cent in real terms, but student outcomes actually declined. How can it be that funding is increasing, but results are going backwards? So our focus must be, at all times, on improving outcomes.

That includes implementing our measures to improve teacher quality. We want more great teachers in our schools and this year we’ll be seeking a new deal with the states, that ensures the massive amounts of investment by governments and parents deliver better results – the better results that our children deserve.

A quality education is the very foundation for a lifetime of opportunity.

Now balancing the Budget can sound a bit prosaic - something to satisfy the tidy instincts of the bean counters. But it is a profound moral issue.

The longer we live beyond our means, the more deficits we run, the billions more that we borrow, the more we put at risk the living standards and diminish the opportunities of our children and our grandchildren.

Now we’re making progress, but there’s still much more to do. Since the election we’ve secured over $21 billion of gross improvements to the Budget result. We’ve outlined an achievable, growth-friendly plan to return the Budget to surplus.

We’ve shown a commitment and a preparedness to reach compromise that is in the national interest. But again, there is still much, much more to do.

We’ve already set out $13 billion in further Budget savings and over the coming year, we’ll continue to work with the Opposition and the crossbench to find a way forward, to deliver those savings.

After all, we cannot leave it to our children and to their children to clean up the mess of this generation, simply because we failed – indeed refused – to live within our means.

In the same spirit, politicians must be accountable for their use of taxpayer dollars.  

Coming into politics after a lifetime of business, I found the term “entitlements” rather inappropriate.

Politicians’ travel and other expenditures are business expenses and they should be spent prudently and cost-effectively. The Australian people are entitled to expect that politicians spend their money appropriately and feel let down when politicians have not. After all it is their money, not ours, and we should spend it more frugally than we would spend our own.

That's why I announced the biggest reforms to the management of parliamentarians’ expenses, in more than a generation.

These reforms speak to the very heart of our Liberal and National values - transparency, accountability, integrity. The new system will be overseen by an Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority and politicians’ expenses will be released publicly, every month.

Another important step in rebuilding public confidence in our political system is donation reform.

Overseas events - as well as those here in Australia - have shown us that the Australian people must be confident that our electoral process is free from foreign intervention or interference.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is examining this complex issue, but I believe Australians expect us to ensure that only Australians and Australian businesses can seek to influence Australian elections, whether via a political party, an activist group like GetUp or an association or a union.

Such accountability is even more important when we consider the cost pressures that most Australian households face today, including in health, in child care and in energy.

We keenly understand how many families are just managing right now; the cost of everything seems to be going up much more than wages. So this year we will be asking the Senate to support our child care reforms. They will deliver the highest rate of subsidy to those who most need it.  A family on $60,000 a year would pay around $15 a day per child for care.

When Parliament resumes, we will introduce a new bill that combines our child care reforms with the phase-out of the Family Tax Benefit supplements that will pay for them. We’ve been holding constructive discussions with the Senate crossbench to ensure that we can provide a strong safety net, but deliver more affordable flexible and available child care.

Now Australia’s health care system is world class - the envy of many countries - and my Government is safeguarding it for our children and our grandchildren.

Contrary to Labor's lies, we are strengthening Medicare, to secure its future and the right of every Australian to access quality health care when they need it.

We are continuing to deliver record levels of health funding. There are more GPs than ever. Bulk-billing is at record levels, and people have access to more medications, many at much lower prices. We are putting people first by delivering more personalised and coordinated care with our HealthCare Homes and mental health reforms.

In 2017, a new focus on preventive health will give people the right tools and information to live active and healthy lives.

Now ensuring more Australians can afford to buy a home is a very high a priority. There are no quick fixes or silver bullets. We need more dwellings. We need better transport - road and rail - because distance is measured in minutes, not kilometres.

That’s why our initiatives to encourage the states to fix their planning laws and make it easier to get development approvals, and get building, are so important. As are our City Deals, a key objective of which is to deliver more and more affordable dwellings, in absolute numbers and particularly in the supply of affordable housing.

Big projects like our Western Sydney Airport will play a very significant role, as will the planning reforms. There will be a lot more to come on housing in the course of this year.

Now energy bills are also making up an increasing proportion of household budgets.

If you doubt the central importance of energy security, pay a visit to South Australia, as I did when I visited Port Lincoln on the weekend.

The tuna fishermen and seafood processers there have been hit by constant power failures, massive price hikes and, to rub salt into the wound, the need to invest more in more diesel generators, to provide the backup when the South Australian grid fails next time.

But the problem goes well beyond South Australia. We have an abundance of coal, gas, sun and wind resources, not to mention uranium. Yet our energy is among the most expensive in the OECD.

States are setting huge renewable targets, far beyond that of the national RET, with no consideration given to the baseload power and storage needed for stability.

South Australia - now with the most expensive and least secure energy has had its wake-up call - one storm blacked out the entire state.

But Labor snores on, heedless of what awaits the rest of the country if Labor governments and would-be governments continue their mindless rush into renewables. This is not good enough.

Australia should be able to achieve the policy trifecta of energy that is affordable, reliable and secure and that meets our substantial global emissions reduction commitments as agreed in the Paris Climate Change Treaty last year. And all governments and industry must work together to achieve those three goals. Security, affordability and emissions reduction - that's what we need to achieve.

Families and businesses need reliable and affordable power. Nothing will more rapidly de-industrialise Australia and deter investment, more than more and more expensive, let alone less reliable energy.

Bill Shorten's energy plan, whether it is a 50 per cent RET by 2030 or double our Paris emissions reduction target by 2030, is a sure recipe to deliver much more expensive and much less reliable power.

In Victoria, the closure of Hazelwood will cost the state 20 per cent of its electricity generating capacity. Yet the Victorian Labor Government supports a 40 per cent renewable target and opposes all onshore gas development - conventional and unconventional - while Victorian gas reserves are beginning to decline as exploration fails to replace production.

Increasing gas supply in Australia is vital for our energy future and vital for industries and jobs.

But state bans on onshore gas development will result in more expensive and less reliable energy and, without gas or substantial new forms of energy storage, where will the firming power come from, to support intermittent renewables like wind and solar?

Now, we're willing to sit down with the states to determine the right incentives to enable desperately-needed, sustainable onshore gas development.

Energy storage, long neglected in Australia, will also be a priority this year.

Last week at my request, ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, agreed to work together on a new funding round for large-scale storage and other flexible capacity projects including pumped hydro.

I've also written to Alan Finkel, asking him to advise on the role of storage and pumped hydro in stabilising the grid.

Large-scale storage will support variable renewables like wind and solar. It will get more value out of existing baseload generation and it will enhance grid stability. We're going to get on with it.

Now, turning to coal. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal. We've invested $590 million since 2009 in clean coal technology research and demonstration and yet we do not have one modern high-efficiency low-emissions coal-fired power station, let alone one with carbon capture and storage.

So here's the current picture. Old, high emissions coal-fired power stations are closing down as they age, reducing baseload capacity. They cannot simply be replaced by gas, because it's too expensive, or by wind or solar because they are intermittent.

Storage has a very big role to play, that's true. But we will need more synchronous baseload power and as the world’s largest coal exporter, we have a vested interest in showing that we can provide both lower emissions and reliable base load power with state-of-the-art clean coal-fired technology.

The next incarnation of our national energy policy should be technology agnostic. It’s security and cost that matters most, not how you deliver it.

Policy should be all of the above technologies, working together to deliver the trifecta of secure and affordable power while meeting our emission reduction commitments.

Now, this isn't an abstract issue. Higher electricity prices mean more pressure on household budgets and businesses and that's why energy will be a defining debate in this Parliament.

We're determined to help families and businesses by making electricity affordable and reliable.

Labor's policies mean higher power prices and energy insecurity. The battlelines have been drawn. It's clear that the Coalition stands for cheaper energy. We are approaching this issue clear-eyed, pragmatic and objective.

Labor's approach is driven simply by ideology, heedless of cost or the thousands of jobs that it will destroy.

Now, regional Australia is vast. No one city or town is the same as another. Many parts are thriving, others are doing it pretty tough.

But there is one common denominator - the resilience, confidence and enterprise of regional Australians and we're backing our regions with infrastructure, with new and open markets and job opportunities.

We can't succeed as a nation without our regions succeeding.

Trade is delivering more jobs in the regions.

The NBN and our mobile black spots program is improving communications.

And our massive infrastructure programs, including the Pacific, Bruce, Midland Highways, inland rail and many others are conquering the tyranny of distance.

Above all and in every way, we're working in partnership with regional communities to give them confidence in the opportunities of the future.

Now, just as regional job security is vital for our nation, national security is the foundation of every freedom we enjoy.

No peacetime government has committed more resources to national security than mine.

Our modernisation of the Defence Force, in particular our shipbuilding plan, will create thousands of new jobs and a sustainable, internationally competitive defence industry.

Our defence industry investment program is truly a historic national enterprise. Our expansion of the capabilities of our security and intelligence services gives them the means to defend us in the 21st century of terrorism and cyber warfare.

And we have secured our borders.

In contrast, Labor outsourced our migration program to people smugglers. 50,000 unauthorised arrivals, 1,200 lives lost at sea, a shocking, tragic policy failure.

Thousands of children were detained in more than a dozen new detention centres.

The system was broken.

Since 2013, Operation Sovereign Borders, an initiative that began under Prime Minister Abbott and that I've reinforced, has stopped the boats and restored integrity to our borders.

The children are out of detention. Labor left thousands of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island.

We're working with other countries, including the United States, to resettle them.

But our message is clear - if you try to come by boat to Australia, you will not succeed. You will not settle here.

Our success as a multicultural society - the world's most successful multicultural society - as an immigration nation, depends on the public's confidence that their government controls their borders. And now we do.

Now, everything we do as a government is designed to make your lives better, safer and more prosperous; generating new jobs, improving childcare, keeping power prices down, improving the performance of our schools.

The opportunity to receive a world-class education.

The opportunity to start and grow a business.

The opportunity to find a good job.

Creating more opportunities underpins everything that we do as a government.

And opportunity is built on security - job security, economic security, energy security, national security.

Our Australian values - enterprising and egalitarian, have a go and lend a hand - they're as right today as they were a century ago.

Today, together, believing we can do anything, determined that our greatest days are ahead of us, we will deliver a brighter future for our children and our grandchildren and generations to come.

Thank you very much.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

We will go to questions from the floor, from our assembled journalists and if I could impress upon my colleagues that perhaps they might limit themselves to one question each. The first question comes from news.com.au.

MALCOLM FARR:

Malcolm Farr, from news.com.au. Thanks for your address, Prime Minister. May I go to something you touched on, which was the failing confidence of the broader electorate in the political system. I don't know if you saw a poll by ReachTEL two weeks ago that found that something like 85 per cent of voters thought there was some form of corruption within federal politics, which is quite alarming.

Might part of the repair process be to make the declaration of political donations more timely and more transparent, so people can see almost immediately who's giving money to whom, including, of course, your own donations?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, well Malcolm, I would have no objection to that. It is being looked at by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I think you would find that the reason that donations are disclosed in the way they are is historical and administrative, and obviously in the 21st century - just as with parliamentarians' expenses - the closer, the more timely any matter of public importance, any public information that can be disclosed more promptly or in as close to real-time as possible, should be. I've got no doubt that's one of the matters they will be looking at.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Those declarations came out this morning and everyone was waiting to see what you might have given. Of course, you can elect to tell us. It appears your donations to the Liberal Party fell outside this particular year and we won't see it until next February. So will you tell us now what you donated to the Liberal Party in the last election?

PRIME MINISTER:

My donations to the Liberal Party have been regular and generous and I would encourage others to do the same.

(Laughter)

And they've always been disclosed in accordance with the law.

LEAH CRAVEN:

Leah Craven from Network Ten. You spoke about working with the United States to resettle asylum seekers but there seems to be a lack of clarity coming out of the United States this morning about the deal to resettle refugees from Manus Island and Nauru. Are you concerned that President Donald Trump is having second thoughts?

PRIME MINISTER:

As you've heard from the President's own spokesman this morning, the Trump Administration has committed to progress with the arrangements to honour the deal, if you like, that was entered into with the Obama administration, and that was the assurance the President gave me when we spoke on the weekend.

MARK KENNY:

Mark Kenny from The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. John Howard tried - I'm going to your speech actually and to your business tax cuts - John Howard tried valiantly to convince people that making it easier to sack people would lead to more jobs and to growth in the economy. It was a difficult sell. You're now trying to convince people that cutting company tax cuts will lead to lower taxes for people, lead to more jobs and better economic growth. Is that a difficult sell for you? Is that the big agenda item for this year, to convince people of that difficult sell? And how is progress going with that with the crossbench?

PRIME MINISTER:

Mark, let me put it this way: this is actually a pretty straightforward proposition. If you want to have less of something, tax it more. You know, what happens when you increase tax on cigarettes? You get less smoking. That's a fact. The government gets more revenue, too - the Treasurer is smiling - but you get less smoking. So if you want less of something, increase the tax on it. If you want more of something, lower the tax on it. If you want more investment, you lower business taxes and you will get more investment.

I mean, this was obvious to Peter Costello and John Howard. It was obvious to Paul Keating. It used to be obvious to Bill Shorten, he gave a very fine speech in the Parliament a few years ago extolling the virtues of cutting company tax. Chris Bowen wrote a book about it he was so committed about the need to go to 25 per cent. It is not rocket science, believe me.

The question is, the debate is one of affordability, invariably. The problem that you have as a government, and I’d say this, as a nation, is that capital is very mobile. It is very, very mobile. Capital is much more mobile than people are. If you have an uncompetitive tax rate, companies will allocate their capital to markets where they can get a better return. Australian companies will do that, and they'll move. But given that so much business is multinational, you can imagine what the investment decisions will be.

Imagine if we were at a point where the company tax rate in comparable countries was half of what ours is. Does anyone seriously think that that's not going to be relevant when decisions are made about where to invest? And if you get less investment, you get less jobs. You know, that's why lower business taxes are good for jobs, because companies invest more, they grow more, they hire more, they're able to pay their employees more.

But look, it is really a competitive issue. Now, you can make the case, if you're on the left of the political spectrum, you can make the case that company taxes should be higher rather than being lower. You can make that case. But you can't make it in a bubble. We are in a competitive environment and the arguments that Keating advanced for lowering company tax years ago are the same ones we advance today.

As I said, it is not rocket science. If you want more investment, then improve the return on investment. You can do that by lowering taxes on business and if you get more investment, you get more jobs. That's for sure. And that's what we're about, more jobs and more opportunity.

PETER JEAN:

Peter Jean from The Advertiser. Mr Turnbull, unsurprisingly my question is on power prices and the reliability of supply.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

PETER JEAN:

I was interested in what you had to say about coal.

PRIME MINISTER:

Does your anxiety drop now, that you hear it's less likely that the lights will go out?

PETER JEAN:

Oh, infinitesimally!

(Laughter)

Prime Minister, just to follow up what you said about coal. You said we need to be technology agnostic, but do you see that modern range of coal-fired power plants as being an essential part of the mix into the future?

PRIME MINISTER:

No-one has got a perfect crystal ball, but every analysis that is done, whether it's by the International Energy Agency or other similar groups, forecast a role for coal long into the future. And there are new coal-fired power stations being built around the world, many of them of that very advanced type that have much lower emissions, because they operate at much higher temperatures. Many of them would have emissions levels that are half, if not less, than the emissions from some of our oldest power stations. So, yes, the answer is, coal will have a role to play for many decades into the future.

At the same time, renewables, the cost of renewables, solar in particular, and wind also, is dropping because of technology improvements. The advances in solar have been really very considerable. I think certainly much more than was forecast when I was the Environment Minister all those years ago. But you do have this fundamental problem that the wind doesn't blow all the time and the sun doesn't shine all the time and you need to have that baseload power.

Now, storage is a big part of it. We have really underdone on storage in Australia. There are only three significant - and only one of them is really substantial - pumped hydro storage schemes in Australia and it's something you would think - you know, frankly, it is an indictment of governments and state governments that have been pushing more and more renewables into their grid - that they would fail to take into account the fact that if you're going to have a large percentage - this applies to your state in particular - if you are going to have a large percentage of variable renewable energy such as wind, you've got to be able to back that up. Now, that's either going to require storage or it's going to require gas-fired power. The challenge there, of course, is availability of long-term contracts, it's very difficult to come by, but of course cost. I touched on that in my speech. So storage is a big part of it.

But I want you to understand that I came into politics at the ripe old age of 50. I'd spent my whole life in business. I approach issues very objectively, very pragmatically. My interest is in results. I am not a political hack. I am not a political animal in the way that some of my, perhaps some of my rivals on the other side of the chamber are. The way I look at it, you've got to have an ‘all of the above’ strategy. You've got to say, what do we want to achieve? We want to achieve affordable energy. We want to achieve reliable energy. It has got to be reliable, as you know. How can you have an industrial base if you can't rely on the energy, your electricity supply? And we've got to meet our emissions reduction targets, which we will do and we are doing in accordance with our agreements.

So that's what you've got to do and you've got to go about it in a practical, clear-eyed and objective way, stripping the ideology out of it. So, yes, coal does have a role in the future. But here we are, $590 million spent on clean coal, trials and demonstration. Biggest coal exporter in the world. You'd think if anyone had a vested interest in showing that you could do really smart, clean things with coal, it would be us, wouldn't you? Who has a bigger interest than us? We are the biggest exporter. Yet we don't have one power station that meets those requirements.

So that's something. Now how that is developed, how that occurs, will depend obviously on a lot of factors, not least of which is the shape of demand in the electricity market. But we really need to strip the ideology out of this debate. This has got to be all about Australian families and Australian businesses, making sure that they can keep the lights on and, when they're on, they can afford to pay the bill. And yes, of course, we meet our emissions reduction targets.

CHRIS UHLMANN

Just very briefly, if you were going to be completely agnostic about energy, you wouldn't have a Renewable Energy Target at all would you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you, that is a good question. Did I ask you to ask that?

(Laughter)

The Renewable Energy Target was never intended to be perpetual. The Renewable Energy Target was designed, and all of these renewable energy programs were designed, to act as a pull-through of technology, to provide accelerated demand on the assumption that that demand would result in more investment in those technologies and that the technologies would improve and costs would come down. A lot of people would have been sceptical about that at the time, but whether it's a coincidence or not, the reality is that the levelised cost of electricity from renewables has considerably declined. So that has been the result. That's particularly true with photovoltaics, as I'm sure all the solar panel owners among you have discovered.

KAREN MIDDLETON:

Prime Minister, Karen Middleton from the Saturday Paper. On the issue of restoring public confidence in the political system, when you challenged for the leadership of the Liberal Party, you said how important it was to take the people with you and explain better your policy positions. Yesterday, here at the Press Club, your opposite number the Opposition Leader said something similar, he said unless leaders were better able to explain, persuade, reason and argue, that they risked creating a vacuum that would allow prejudice and extremist views to flourish.

Now, I look at the political system now, the political landscape here and abroad, and it might suggest that this could already be happening. So my question to you is, what are you going to do differently this year to connect with those Australians who may be aren't watching this broadcast because they're so disillusioned with major party politics that they've already switched off on both you and Bill Shorten?

PRIME MINISTER:

I've set out our commitment this year to focus on delivering the opportunity and security that Australian families need to get ahead. I've always set out to explain what I'm doing, explain policies. Sometimes, distinguished members of the press gallery have criticised me for explaining at too great a length, in fact. So explaining has rarely been a deficiency. But you are right, politicians have to be good explainers, I think that's very important.  It's a complex world and there's plenty of anxiety out there and very rapid change. The truth is, the tenor of our times, perhaps even more so, is change of a scale and pace unprecedented in human history. That makes people very anxious, or many people very anxious.

It’s important for leaders to provide clear explanations, to lay out the facts, not to engage in the sort of dishonest scares that Mr Shorten specialises in. He certainly will get the chutzpah award for his efforts yesterday for complaining about scares and populism. He is developing into quite an adept in that line of work.

But what we’ve got to do is explain what the situation is, set out what the challenges are and set out what our approach to it is going to be. Look at this issue of jobs, let’s deal with that, just as a good one. Every single element of our National Economic Plan is designed to encourage investment. Every single element of it. You could say it won't encourage enough, or it won't encourage as much as you think, or you could be doing more of this or less of that, but you've got to give us credit that everything we're doing is designed to promote investment. Look at the Defence Industry Plan. This is a gigantic investment in Australia's future, not just delivering the capabilities the armed forces need, but building a sovereign defence industry capability we have not had for generations. That's going to build thousands of jobs and, of course, as it has done in other countries, permeate through the whole economy.

Business tax cuts, we've talked about that. The infrastructure we're building, everything we're doing, the big trade deals, everything we're doing is delivering more investment and more jobs. 100,000 more manufacturing jobs last year, the ABS reported. You know, haven't seen anything like that for a while. So we're seeing real progress.

Now, our opponents - I ask you -which policy do they have - just one - which would encourage investment? They want to have higher taxes and more regulation. There is nothing in their programme that would encourage any Australian business to invest, and a lot of measures that would discourage them from doing so. So to come and talk about jobs, let alone 457s, as the Olympic champion of issuing 457 visas when he was in office, what Mr Shorten fails to do is point out any plan that will encourage investment, that will encourage employment.

Everything we have in our plan, everything I've described to you today, and everything that we've been talking about over the last year, is calculated, designed, to deliver more investment and more jobs. That is our commitment. That's the big dividing line between us and Labor. A Government that is constructive, that is building, that is investing. An Opposition that is carping, reaching out to one populist catch cry after another, basically luring Australians into that bleak, dead-end of protectionism and fear. We're better than that. Our greatest days are ahead of us but we've got to believe in ourselves and we've got to invest and if we invest we'll hire more, jobs and more opportunities.

SHANE WRIGHT:

Shane Wright from the West Australian. The writs for the Western Australia election were issued today. Will you be heading to WA to campaign alongside Colin Barnett? Would you encourage Mr Barnett to follow the precedent set by your new Ambassador to Japan, Richard Court, not to direct preferences to One Nation? And given your comments about business tax, the likelihood that Mr Barnett, if he remains in power, will be having to strike a deal with the Nationals, which have a policy of a mining tax - would you encourage him not to go ahead with any policy that would support a mining tax?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you said you could only ask one question - so I'll answer the first one. I will be in Western Australia urging West Australians to support Colin Barnett's fine government.

SHANE WRIGHT:

And One Nation?

PRIME MINISTER:

The preference allocation is a matter for party divisions and in a State Election, it's a matter for the WA division and the Premier.

TIM SHAW:

Prime Minister, Tim Shaw from Radio 2CC here in Canberra. Great speech today, because you talked about opportunity and security. Pat, one of our listeners rang, he runs a works supply business here in the Capital and he says the biggest problem for all politicians in this country is they just don't get small business.

Now, I know you do get small business because you've funded an opportunity for a small business with eight people that grew into a big internet service provider that provided great jobs and great security.

The message from small business today is - the tax cuts you propose aren't deep enough. They're saying it's hard to get paid on time from big business to small business. They want to support the internships and the apprenticeships program and you know that small business is the best channel for those new jobs.

Can you tell us today if Cabinet will make it a priority - I'm delighted Cabinet is here today, and Treasurer - to make it an absolute priority, put small business at the top of your list, reduce their taxes now, not in two or five years, and give them the backing - they built this country, small business. Prime Minister, can you say it today?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, thank you. I am passionate about small business and I am familiar with small businesses. Lucy and I over the years have started many businesses. They all started off small. Some of them didn't become much bigger. That's the path of the entrepreneur. Some of them became big and successful and that's good, and you've mentioned one, thank you for that.

We are absolutely committed to small business. The small business tax cut that we're talking about, we're proposing, would have happened this year. So if the Senate approves our business tax cuts, then businesses, companies with a turnover of $10 million or less will get that cut to 27.5 per cent this very financial year.

And let me explain the rationale behind that. We have prioritised small businesses in the tax cut program and, as you know, they step up - stepping up from ten and then you get after ten years, about ten years, you've got to the point where all businesses are paying 25 per cent tax.

We'd certainly like it to be faster, but of course, again, Scott has got to balance the affordability challenge.

But the reason we've back-ended the larger companies is that in terms of getting the investment response, I know from my own experience in business, working with both small and very big companies, big companies will make their investment decisions based on a longer term horizon, typically. So they will be looking at what the tax rate will be not tomorrow, but what the tax rate is going to be five, six years, seven years down the track.

Our assessment was we could manage affordability better and also get a similar investment response, if we prioritised small business in terms of time and then had the big cuts for the largest companies at the end of the program. So that's the explanation for it.

PAUL OSBORNE:

Paul Osborne from AAP, thank you very much for your speech, Mr Turnbull. You said in your speech, the cost of everything seems to be going up. When do you expect the budget will be in a position to afford broad personal income tax cuts? And won't this become more urgent if, on March 1, that we discover Australia is actually in a technical recession?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not expecting that outcome. We've already delivered a personal income tax cut in the last budget to middle income taxpayers. We've increased the $80,000 threshold, as you know, saved half a million Australians from going into the second-highest tax bracket. As we can afford to reduce personal income taxes we will.

But again, we are in deficit, we have what is, for us, an unacceptably high level of debt. Clearly our opponents - if Labor were in office, they would have bigger deficits and more debt and more taxes, so they would combine higher taxes and higher debt and spending.

But the thing we also have to recognise is, we are a high tax country. Our personal income tax levels are high relative to comparable competitive countries and our company tax levels, as I said, are now very high relative to other countries.

One country that has higher company tax than Australia is the United States, although they have many tax breaks that make the headline rate a little bit misleading, or not indicative of the real amount of tax companies pay, and President Trump, as you know, and the Republican Congress, is proposing to make very substantial cuts in company tax.

That is going to put a lot of competitive pressure on us and that is one of the reasons why we are advocating that the Senate support these tax cuts for companies. It's not because of some sort of philanthropic focus on companies large or small, we're being very hard-headed about this. They are the engines of growth in jobs. The more they invest - the better return they have on their investment, the more they invest. The more they invest, the more they hire, the more they can pay their employees. That has been a proven formula here and around the world and we are in a competitive environment.

JAMES CAMPBELL:

James Campbell, Herald Sun. Prime Minister, if I could just return to the West Australian Election. The West Australian division of the Liberal Party is sitting down with Senator Hanson to discuss preferences, which could see a deal that would overturn - be the first time that any division of the Liberal Party of any in Australia has not put her last since 2001. Could you outline for us how her views might have evolved in the last fifteen years that make her any less offensive than she was back when John Howard put her last? And could you explain to us, if you should be spared to lead the Liberal Party at the next election, where will Senator Hanson be on your how to vote cards?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, I thank you for your enquiry, but the decisions about preferences in the West Australian Election are matters for the West Australian division of the party.

JAMES CAMPBELL:

That's not what I asked, I asked [inaudible]. 

PRIME MINISTER:

We deal with all of the parties in the Parliament - including One Nation - all of the parties. We respect every single Member and Senator of each and every one of them. All of them have been democratically elected and we seek their support on legislation and we'll continue to do so. I am not a commentator on the political evolution of One Nation. So frankly, I'll leave that to you.

TIM LESTER:

Prime Minister, Tim Lester from Network Seven. Could I ask you, the Trump White House has asked for a new plan on dealing with Islamic State, at a time where our military progress in the Middle East seems to be pretty good. Do we need a new plan? And are there any circumstances under which a new plan might include a greater commitment of Australian military resources in the Middle East?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have been the second-largest contributor to the US-led anti-ISIL, or Daesh, coalition, as you know. We've got a very substantial contribution there from our armed forces. They're doing an outstanding job. I've been thanked, as, indeed, other Ministers have, particularly the Defence Minister Senator Payne, who is here today - we have been thanked by the Iraqi Government, by the US Government.

The work of those young men and women of the ADF should make us all so proud. They are manifesting the finest qualities of our nation. They're working with our allies in this campaign to eliminate this scourge, this terrorist scourge of Daesh.

We will be engaged and we are already engaged, obviously, with the new administration in Washington. As to what new approaches can be taken - it's a very complex theatre and time will tell what. If new commitments are sought from us, we will obviously examine them carefully on their merits. But we have a very intimate, engaged collaboration, alliance, with the United States, so we're working very closely together.

PHIL COOREY:

Hi PM, Phil Coorey from The AFR. I know the next election is a little way off, but can you commit today that if the Senate gives your company tax package a haircut in the next couple of months and only passes the initial phase, will you keep the remainder as policy and prosecute the case at the next election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me just observe that in the last four or five months of 2016, with fewer seats in the House and fewer seats in the Senate, we got more through the Senate than we had in the previous three years. That is, in no small measure, because of the way I and my colleagues, Ministers and in particular Senators, worked respectfully, closely, constructively with the crossbench, and, indeed, with the Opposition.

We are about delivering outcomes and I've often been asked to foreshadow what our negotiating strategy would be, what compromise we might make, and I understand and indeed respect your curiosity in that regard, but we've found the best way to negotiate with the crossbenchers and other parties in the Senate is to do so frankly and privately and we'll continue to do that.

That is what Parliament is for. Parliament is a place where the people have sent us and they want us to work and deliver outcomes, and we've been doing just that.

As I said, remember, we've got more through the Senate in the last half of last year than we had in the previous three years and some of you expressed some scepticism that we might be able to do that. I can't imagine why. Put those doubts aside, I say. Have more confidence. So we'll continue our approach.

DAVID CROWE:

Thank you, Chris. Prime Minister, David Crowe from The Australian newspaper, thanks for your speech. On the refugee agreement with the United States, the subject of extreme vetting has obviously come up this morning. This was Donald Trump's promise to the American voters before the US election. Is that what he told you in your phone conversation with him on Sunday - that there would be extreme vetting of the asylum seekers? And if that's the case, does that mean that the number that could be accepted by the US could be quite small?

PRIME MINISTER:

The US Government's vetting - security and other vetting is very, very rigorous and always has been rigorous and it's understandable and to be expected that the new administration would want to make sure that it was very, very rigorous. Ours is, too, by the way. Extremely rigorous. With the intake of refugees from Syria - I know there was some criticism that it was taking too long. Well, it took a while because we were very thorough about the security vetting. We don't cut corners or compromise on keeping Australians safe, and the United States Government has exactly the same attitude.

Vetting will always be rigorous and that has always been part of the agreement.

Naturally, the United States Government determines who goes into the United States. The Australian Government determines who comes into Australia. And they will do their own extremely rigorous vetting of people that are the subject, or potentially the subject, of the agreement.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Will you please thank the Prime Minister.

[ENDS]

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