Thursday 27 February 2020
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Australian PM - 20 days ago

Doorstop - Townsville, QLD

PHILLIP THOMPSON OAM MP, MEMBER FOR HERBERT: Thanks, everyone, for coming. I’d like to welcome the Prime Minister back to Townsville. It s always good to have the PM come visit and I d also like to welcome Jenny Morrison and my beautiful wife, Janet Thompson. And I think it s important to acknowledge both our partners, because people often say that behind every strong man, there s an even stronger woman. That may be the case, but I know in speaking on behalf of them as well, that our wives don t stand behind us. They stand beside us and everything that we do, we do as a team. And I just think it s important to acknowledge how strong our spouses are for the difficult job of being in Parliament we’re always being away.  So we ve had some good announcements in the veteran community, which you would have seen around announcing a commissioner as well as a family advocate. We re also announcing something that s very important in the veteran space and that s looking at how people transition and how people transition successfully and transition into employment, but also having that one on contact whilst people are leaving the Defence Force. Now, we’ve heard today out at Warfighter Cafe, we had a big group of veterans there with a range of different needs, injuries, illnesses. Just different people. We heard some of the stories about how they ve transitioned out, what they think some touch points were and one of those was linking to people and not feeling like a number. To be able to speak directly to a case manager or having that kind of soft fall from the outside where you go into employment. Because when you re in defence, you re in your tribe and you re a part of your family. And when you leave defence, sometimes you feel like you lose a bit of your tribe or your family. So having case workers and case managers and targeting our at risk veterans to have that support, to have that view and guidance into meaningful engagement, more meaningful employment is something that I know from firsthand experience is not just an idea. It s a brilliant package and it s something that I m fully behind and all the veterans that were there today are fully behind.  Now, it s also important to note that this time last year, we were flooded. This, where you’re standing today, had been flooded and we ve just been inside talking to people who have been flood victims, people who have helped out business communities and having a conversation with me and the PM about where we were and now where we are and where we’re going. And I think it s extremely important that the PM is up here listening to people and not just having those conversations, but having the dialogue of where we are and who we are as a resilient community. Because our community, it didn t matter what colour political shirt you were wearing, no matter who you were in the street, the doors were opening and people were helping one another. The military was out in their vehicles, on boats, so were the police, the SES, Team Rubicon and the Fire Service and everyone pitched in together to help each other. We are a resilient community and I’d like to thank the PM for coming up and welcome him back into Townsville. PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Phil and it is great to be with you and Jenna, mate, congratulations for the new addition on the way. It’s tremendous news always, a great message of hope. A couple of things I wanted to talk about today. Obviously, it’s very important to be back here in Townsville today. But before I do that, as you know, it has been our Government s total focus in relation to the Coronavirus to ensure that we are doing everything we can to ensure Australians are kept safe. We re doing everything on the best medical advice to protect their health and well-being, whether here in Australia, most importantly, and where we re able to assist those who have found themselves in difficulty overseas. Yesterday afternoon, the Chief Medical Officer reported to the National Security Committee of Cabinet, which I convened yesterday afternoon and provided us with advice in relation to the second flight that we are putting into Wuhan. That at Christmas Island the configuration and the composition of the accommodation at the Phosphate Hill and construction camp sites does not suit the purposes of quarantine because of the inability to properly segregate and manage the population in that facility. So it is simply a configuration issue. And so with that advice, we will be moving to the contingency plans for overflow that we ve been working on at the same time to ensure that we re prepared for things such as this when they present and I ve spoken to the Chief Minister Michael Gunner this morning and we re in contact with him through the Home Affairs Minister yesterday after we came that decision we’d be using a mining camp facility in the Northern Territory near Darwin and we are now working through the consultation phase with local community and others about the implementation of those arrangements. That has been assessed by the Chief Medical Officer, it is also being assessed by the Australian Border Force to be able to stand up those facilities. My advice is that that is progressing extremely well and we will be able to continue to go down the path of our planning for the second assisted departure flight. And again, I want to thank Qantas for their great assistance in pulling that together, as well as the Chinese government for the arrangements they have been able to support us to put in place. I would also stress this to all of those who are still in mainland China, in particular, the travel ban is in place, but obviously not for Australian residents, Australians and immediate family members. And if you are there, then there are still commercial flights coming out of China to mainland China, to Australia. And I strongly suggest you avail yourself of those because the government cannot guarantee that similar types of assisted departure arrangements would be able to be put in place in the future, either into mainland China or again to Wuhan. I thank all the consular officials who have been doing such an amazing job in Wuhan, in Hubei Province, to ensure the successful undertaking of these assisted departure flights. But here we are today, here we are in Townsville. The reason I m here today, apart from making an important announcement regarding support for veterans, is a year ago we were standing in floodwaters here, those who were here at this facility a year ago. I was here around this time and I was here with Phil and we saw the devastation on the ground and we saw the amazing response that came from the community here in Townsville. The tremendous support that came from the ADF, particularly out of Lavarack Barracks. And at the same time, across the range, I saw the complete devastation that we saw across North Queensland, out to Cloncurry, Julia Creek through the Hughenden and all of those places. And the reason I m standing here today is to say it s been a year and I get it, that when a natural disaster hits and the cameras move on, that we re still here and we re still rebuilding and the rebuilding work is still taking place here in Townsville, as it continues to be taking place right across the Northern Queensland. And the response effort that has been delivered by Commonwealth, state and local governments, by community organizations has been extraordinary. And it carries an important message for all of those communities who have been so devastated by bushfire most recently, but also by the ongoing drought, that where these disasters hit we provide the immediate response and recovery operations and then we know that this goes on for years and years and years. Well over $100 million in disaster recovery payments were paid right here in Northern Queensland and in particular, an incredible direct cash support that was coming through this community and the many other small business grants and all these sorts of programs that were put in place that are now being put in place in other parts of the country as a result of these terrible bushfires and the assistance that has been provided for drought. This has been a comprehensive effort and we know you ve got to stick in there for the long haul. I m so encouraged that I’ve come back here today and I ve listened to people and their stories. They know they’ve still got a long way to go, but they’re as committed today as they were a year ago and there s a message of hope in that that when the community comes together, stays together, works together, then it is able to create that future for their community. And that s very much what we re seeing here in Townsville. I particularly want to thank Shane Stone, and his recovery flood agency, which has now extended to drought that we launched right here in Townsville and the work that they ve done not only to support the community here, but right across Northern Queensland and in the affected areas and the graziers and farmers and those who are affected so terribly by those floods a year ago. It has never left my mind, never left my mind, as nor will the bushfires and the drought. I m also here today to announce something very important. As Phil said, early this week, we stood together and we announced the National Commissioner for Veterans Suicide Prevention and we announced the family advocate. And it was pleasing today to meet with so many of Phil’s, in some cases, former veterans he served together with, his former Defence Force colleagues, but also many others. And just to share and hear their stories and to receive their very positive feedback on this announcement and get some good feedback on how that can be established and that the cases that it s going to need to look into originally- initially, I should say, and that s around 400 or so cases they are planning to look at and that will cover a broad range of these horrible circumstances to ensure we learn the lessons. But importantly, it s about the future and ensuring that we know that this is a future problem. It s not a problem in our past. It very much continues to be an issue that we need to address in the future and these arrangements will help that. One of the things we ve been doing now for some time is to be supporting veterans as they ve come out of the defence forces. And we know  they exit the defence forces in a broad variety of circumstances. The vast majority go on to make amazing contributions. Our veterans aren’t broken, they are the strongest amongst us and they have the biggest contributions to make, as Phil himself has demonstrated in his own life. And the program we ve announced today is to recognise that in just over $10 million worth of funding, we re supporting two important programs. One is a transitional support for employment, which will provide that assistance to veterans up to the age of 30. It was previously provided to younger veterans as they come out and we re extending that program up to the age of 30, which will provide them that support to help them get and find their career and move on into the next period of service. Maybe not in uniform, but certainly a great service to the community. The other is to recognise that there are more vulnerable individuals who come out of the defence forces and need intensive case management support. And working with Veterans Affairs, we re able to identify those who need that support and the funding we ve announced today, around $5 million, is going to ensure that every single one of those who identified gets that intensive case management support.  So when it comes to honouring our veterans, those for whom their eternal vigilance has been our dividend of peace, then we need to show that same eternal vigilance for their health and their welfare and their wellbeing and this is what these programs do. I m pleased to be announcing them here in Townsville, in this defence community, in this veterans community and then a veterans community that demonstrated its value when they were in uniform, but also have continued to do that each and every day. Thank you. Happy to take questions on these matters or on others. Actually why don’t we start with veterans and Coronavirus of course before we go to politics. JOURNALIST: Coronavirus first? PRIME MINISTER: Yep. JOURNALIST: So how quickly will that facility in Northern Territory take to come online? PRIME MINISTER: We have a plan for that return flight to be returning to Australia in a matter of days. The advice I have is that we will be able to stand that facility up within that time. JOURNALIST: This is the Inpex Facility that houses 3,500 people, is there any plans to bring any more facilities online or should that be enough? PRIME MINISTER: Well, at this stage that my advice is that that will deal with the immediate requirements, but we ll continue to identify other contingency options, if indeed that becomes necessary.  JOURNALIST: Adjacent to that facility there s a school, are you guys confident there s going to be no chance of the virus escaping? PRIME MINISTER: Well, that s my advice. And that s why the Chief Medical Officer is up there today and he and the Health Minister will be making further announcements confirming these arrangements in more detail today. And that is the consultation for implementation that s going on at the moment. I want to thank Chief Minister Gunner and his Health Minister for the close work they re doing with the Federal Government as we work through those details. But it s very cooperative that it is absolutely possible to put those sorts of assurances in place in the way that these facilities are managed. JOURNALIST: A Qantas flight today that was coming back from Wuhan originally is now back in commercial use and passengers have already taken that particular jet. Is it safe for that jet to be back in operation?  PRIME MINISTER: It wouldn’t be back in operation, Qantas wouldn’t have it back in operation unless it was meeting all those standards and requirements. JOURNALIST: So the passengers aboard that jet can feel totally safe.  PRIME MINISTER: That s what Qantas has assured. JOURNALIST: Given what’s happened on the Diamond Princess in Japan, are you considering stopping cruise ships coming into Australia? PRIME MINISTER: No, that is not under advice at the moment. No one has recommended that, that those Australians who are on board that vessel a number of additional cases have been confirmed of Australians on that vessel, which is up in Japan, they re getting consular support, they re being transferred to medical facilities in Japan, as the other two were, and there are quite a number of other Australians on board that ship who are in quarantine on that vessel. JOURNALIST: How many people will be on that flight next evacuated to Darwin? PRIME MINISTER: I cannot confirm those numbers for you at the moment. Those issues and the confirmation of the manifest and the process for embarkation is one that is also jointly managed by the Chinese government and there are checks that are also done at that stage but the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and consular officials have been working through that manifest and those who will be getting on board that plane. JOURNALIST: So no timeline at this stage? PRIME MINISTER: Well, at this point on, I m not confirming those arrangements because we are still looking to confirm the arrangements for the quarantine and where they go when they disembark. But I m confident, based on the advice I ve received, that we’re going to be able to stay with the original timetable and we re working through those final details today.  JOURNALIST: On the Commissioner, a lot of veterans would still prefer a Royal Commission purely because of the transparency, because it would be public, rather than, as you said, that the commissioner role would be more private. Do you understand the veterans concerns that it won t be as public and transparent, given it s not going to be a royal commission?  PRIME MINISTER: Well, it s better than a royal commission. That s why we re doing it. A royal commission looks back into the past and what we re establishing is a national commissioner with the powers of a royal commission to compel witnesses and that s a very important power, independent of the Defence Force, of the Department of Veteran Affairs, with an ability to look into every single case and not only to work with the coroner on that in terms to be able to identify what has occurred, but also to make recommendations in relation to policy more broadly. But that commissioner will also be able to look into cases more broadly of attempted suicides and be able to learn from those to better inform government policy to ensure that we re saving lives. I believe this will be far more effective in saving lives. I’m about saving lives when it comes to preventing suicide.  There will be an annual report at the very least from this commissioner and there will be close workings with the families and others who have been directly impacted and the hard questions are going to be asked and I ve make sure of that the commissioner asking the questions will have that legal authority to ask them and compel the answers. We need to get the answers here so we can act on the truth of what has occurred. And I have no doubt the commission will be given the teeth to do just that. There s a lot of different views on this topic. There are veterans who are very opposed to a royal commission. There are veterans who are supportive of it. But I must say that since we ve announced this, and Phil you may want to comment,  particularly on who you’ve been talking to up here, there s been a widespread support for the direction the government is taking and we appreciate that. And we will be listening very carefully about its implementation as well. We ve got to where we are, which is better than a royal commission, because it has the powers of a royal commission. It goes into the future permanently. I mean, this is a legacy for generations into the future of veterans. And that s much better than a point in time inquiry which goes for 18 months. There s been lots of royal commissions and lots of things and they have their place. But this is an ongoing issue and I want something in place that is ongoing. Phil, did you want to comment on that? PHILLIP THOMPSON OAM MP, MEMBER FOR HERBERT: Yeah, thanks PM. I stood up with Prime Minister, Minister for Defence and Minister for Veterans Affairs for this announcement. And there is no way I would have stood up if I didn t believe in my heart this is going to be something that is far better than a standalone royal commission that will be finished in 18 months, two years, and then carry over at a later time, get a report and everything s done. This is something that ll be ongoing and working closely with the veteran community. I ve put it on, you know, my social media , I’ve put it out there to everyone. I ve been taking calls since the announcement from people that aren’t my way in politics whatsoever, and that s a good thing. And one thing that I want to stress to everyone is your job, the public s job, is to keep me accountable and to keep what I ve said truthful and the ministers and the PM. So it doesn t matter what colour shirt you wear, and we have support from crossbenchers as well as people in the Labor Party and this is great. Because this isn t about politics. It isn t about political point scoring. It s about saving lives. It s about understanding where touch points were and what s the things that have happened in the past to better put in solutions and preventative measures into the future. The veterans we spoke with today, the majority were very positive and they have tough questions. Good. That s good. You should have tough questions and you should ask the tough questions to myself and to the Minister and to the Prime Minister because that s your job as a community is to keep us accountable and make sure that we re doing what you, what the people want. And in the veteran community, the majority of the people that I ve spoken to and that contacted me are very supportive. And I look forward to working closely with the commissioner, the family advocate, and of course, the Minister who is now in Cabinet, which is great for the veteran community. And, you know, the PM s door s always been open to his members of parliament and to pretty much everyone. So we ll be speaking a lot about this and doing what s right for the community. JOURNALIST: PM, do we know, do we have a timeframe of when the commissioners get on the ground? We have a short list of people that could the commissioner? PRIME MINISTER: We’re working through those details and we’re going through a proper selection process to do that. JOURNALIST: How do you plan to deal with Barnaby Joyce if he or any of his supporters threaten to cross the floor? PRIME MINISTER: When a member makes a decision on how they would vote in the parliament along the lines you’ve mentioned, they do so on the basis of a long-held conviction or position or as it was a matter of principle of policy. That s something that s afforded to every Coalition member of Parliament, and I have no doubt that that sort of decision would never be exercised in a way that would be anything other than based on a very important point of principle or policy, so, you know, I have that same respect for every single member of the Government team. I m sure government members would only ever act in that way. JOURNALIST: How can the Government have a sports grants program designed at promoting women in sport that doesn’t have a public tender process, an application process, rules or guidelines? PRIME MINISTER: Well, the applications for the program you’re referring to were four times oversubscribed were made, the Minister made the final decision and that was set out in the guidelines that she would and it’s been able to deliver important facilities all across the country and those who have received that support I know have been very appreciative of it. JOURNALIST: In Western Australia $57 million was spent on swimming and there are, you know, why was there money not spent on ensuring women had appropriate change room facilities? PRIME MINISTER: Well, there were 60 projects making sure that women had appropriate change room facilities. That s 60 projects across the country. That s fantastic.  JOURNALIST: Any in Western Australia?  PRIME MINISTER: I can t give you the precise details across every single state and territory. But I know across the whole country there was 60. That s fantastic. JOURNALIST: Some councils also found out they’d been given money through local newspapers. How is that an appropriate use of taxpayer money? PRIME MINISTER: Well, you d have to tell me those instances and I’d be happy to look at those for you. Because I don’t necessarily accept that’s what happened. JOURNALIST: In the Australian this afternoon there were comments from moderate Liberals that said Senate… sorry, you know, Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan could rip Mr Pitt to shreds. Do you think that Mr Pitt is up to the job and do you expect your backbenchers to give him a hard time? PRIME MINISTER: I expect Mr Pitt to do an outstanding job. He ll be Pitt the performer up here for North Queensland in particular, as we talked about yesterday. I mean, this is a bloke who was a sugar cane farmer and he was a tradie and he s an electrical engineer and even better than that, he s a Queenslander and even better than that, he s a North Queenslander. So how could he do anything other than an amazing job? And it s great to have him in the team. I ve known Keith for many years and he s helped me address many difficult problems as a backbencher, as an assistant minister. He s got great capabilities and I think he s going to add some real experience, one, and some real intellectual horsepower and expertise to the tasks that I have given him obviously on the recommendation of the leader of the Nationals, as that is the nature of the Coalition agreement. I think he was a great pick. I think he was a fantastic pick. JOURNALIST: He’s a big supporter of coal and he’ll be working in North Queensland which has the Great Barrier Reef. Do you expect him to fight just as hard for protection of the Reef as he does for fossil fuels? PRIME MINISTER: I expect him to do his job. And I know like I do, I m interested in ensuring that communities up here in Northern Queensland have the industries that support their livelihoods, their jobs, their wellbeing, their futures, their hopes, so they can pay the mortgage, so they can send their kids to school, that they can see themselves living here long-term. And I know that s how Keith feels about all of these things. And, you know, the pristine nature of the wonderful environment people live in North Queensland would be as dear to his heart as it would be to any other North Queenslander. So, you know, I don t see these things as working contrary to those interests.  JOURNALIST: The bushfire affected towns on the south coast are facing a lot of red tape and forcing places to close. What are your [inaudible]? PRIME MINISTER: Our involvement in that program is to pay for it. The rollout of the program, the assessment process, the handling of the applications, that is done by the New South Wales state government. And I d be urging them to move those things as quickly as they possibly can, both for the loans and the grants. The guidelines for those went out earlier this week and there were hundreds of expressions of interest that had come in for those grants. And as I said, in the House of Representatives, this week when I went through all of that, you know, I would be urging the New South Wales government to be able to move on that as quickly as possible. And if there are things that we can do to assist them to make that happen, then I have no doubt that they d be raising that through, particularly Andrew Colvin as the head of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency to ensure if there is any obstacles there that need to be moved from a federal point of view, they would be. But I m not aware of any federal obstacles to that. We re paying for it overwhelmingly as we should and as I promised we would and as we saw here up in Queensland and North Queensland when the floods hit, it was the same process. We supported by funding the $75,000 grants to primary producers, matching grants with zero interest loans for restocking right across the western part of North Queensland. But it was the Queensland government that did the assessments and I think they did a great job, too, by the way. I thought [inaudible] did a fantastic job and they ve been a great partner in delivering the support that the Commonwealth Government put the resources up to pay for. And that partnership delivered a great result, I think, as difficult as that still remains for many of these producers and small businesses. So that s the model which has worked in Queensland and I m sure in New South Wales they ll be up to the job of what the Queensland Government were able to do there and rolling out that support that the federal government has made available through the state government. Thanks very much, everyone.

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