4RO Breakfast with Aaron Stevens
AARON STEVENS, HOST: We welcome the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese to the program this morning. Thanks for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning. Good to be with you. And it sounds like another beautiful day in Rocky and surrounds.
STEVENS: It sure is. A few things to discuss this morning and I’ve had input from listeners this morning. I mean, these are the things that everybody’s talking about. Can we start with cost of living? Petrol at the moment in central Queensland is up above $2. I know it’s dearer in the southeast corner of the state, so we can see the price of fuel about to rise even further here in CQ. Cost of living is tough at the moment, Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: Cost of living certainly is. And that’s why we’re doing what we can to put that downward pressure on inflation. And we have a three part plan, one is that essential targeted support. Whether it’s cheaper medicines, cheaper childcare that began on September 1, whether it be the additional assistance for over five million Australians who benefited from an increase in payments last week, whether it be the tripling of the bulk billing incentive for Medicare that will make an enormous difference for health care, for primary health care that people need in the regions and in the cities. We are doing all of those measures as well as, of course, our energy price relief plan –
STEVENS: Is it going to have an impact soon? Because is there light at the end of the tunnel for us?
PRIME MINISTER: There is. If you look at inflation, it peaked at the end of last year and the trend has been going down. We had a bit of a blip in the figures that were released just this week, but the trend is in the right direction and what we want to do is to make sure we continue to provide that relief. But the other thing we’re doing is we have turned around the budget with $100 billion dollar turnaround. $78 billion was the forecast deficit, instead of that, we produced a $22 billion surplus. Now, that’s a massive turnaround due to discipline from the Federal Government. And what that does is take pressure off inflation, sends a message to the Reserve Bank when it comes to issues of interest rates, so that’s the second measure that we’re doing. Cost of living relief, responsible fiscal and budget policy, and the third is the work that we’re doing on supply chains. So, we had promised 180,000 fee free TAFE places to get those skilled workers that’s putting pressure on inflation going up. We have delivered over 220,000 places this year. We’ll have 300,000 from next year. We had an announcement with our Full Employment White Paper just this week, which included our TAFE Centres of Excellence. We understand that those pressures in terms of the labour market are really important in supply chains. And the other area that’s important as well is our National Reconstruction Fund. Making sure that we give support for new industries, for new jobs to transition to be created in areas like agriculture, fisheries and forestry, in areas including defence support, in areas including our energy transition, in areas related to advanced manufacturing. All of those measures, so a three pronged attack – cost of living relief, responsible budget policy, and dealing with supply chain issues, all designed to put that downward pressure on inflation that’s so important.
Now, international oil and fuel prices, of course, one of the problems that we have is that we’re not resilient enough. We need an economy that works here, a future made in Australia. Remember, the former government had its fuel reserves in the Gulf of Mexico, for goodness sake. We are so dependent upon those international movements so that when you have something like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has fed through into higher prices, which is really putting pressure on people. We understand that, but that’s why we’re really trying to address all of those measures, including our measures, of course, when it comes to supply chains. Part of that is our housing policy that we’re rolling out in partnership with state and territory governments as well.
STEVENS: All right, fingers crossed. A few things I want to get through here. In the last 24 hours, you would have heard about the battery storage facility fire that we had in Bouldercombe. Do the issues around battery storage and lithium batteries concern you?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, any fire is a bad thing, but we know, for example, that petrol vehicles are eighty times more likely to have fires than electric vehicles. The Swinburne University of Technology has found that we know that this is an issue, but I well recall visiting, and your listeners would certainly recall the power station at Callide, there near Bilo, having a fire in 2021 that knocked out energy supply for half a million people, and that had an enormous impact. So, some of the scare campaign that I’ve read about saying this means all renewables are all bad, is just wrong. This fire is, of course, of concern, any fire is. And it’s unfortunate that it’s occurred, but my understanding is that the authorities are dealing with it appropriately to keep people safe, and that is an appropriate action.
STEVENS: Why aren’t we looking at nuclear? We’re investing in nuclear submarines, be nice to see one operating out of Gladstone, by the way, out of central Queensland. So that’s okay but nuclear power isn’t?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, because the market says that it doesn’t work. Show me an investor that’s prepared to invest in nuclear, which takes a long time to come on, which is the most expensive form of new energy, and it’ll be taken seriously. Every ten years there’s an inquiry where someone pops up and says, how about nuclear? And there’s an investigation. The last one done, I remember, under the Howard Government did one, and then one at the beginning of the Abbott Government, you had it rise up again and it never proceeds anywhere. It’s a cul de sac that doesn’t lead anywhere. After the former government had 22 energy policies and didn’t land one, what we actually need is practical measures with real investment from the private sector that’s prepared to undertake it and to upgrade our grid up to the 21st century. So, nuclear works in many countries where they have a nuclear industry. In Australia, you cannot find any serious investors who are prepared to undertake it because it doesn’t stack up compared with the alternatives of renewables. And that is why the direction of the country is going that way. And that’s what all of the energy experts say.
STEVENS: But you’ll be well aware of concerns about the wind and solar farms, that they’re actually doing more damage to the environment than they’re actually supposed to save.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, there is a need to make sure that community consultation and these measures are got right, but I’ve never seen a solar farm that caused grief for a local community. I travelled up to, just a fair way north of you, but if you look at Big Kennedy and Little Kennedy and the projects that are around Kidston and around that northwest Queensland region. The communities there are incredibly excited because what it’s brought is jobs and activity there, and you have a range of projects. We do need to make sure that community consultation has got right and we do need to make sure that, like with any project, that you look at the environmental impacts of it and that’s something that there are provisions, both state and federal, to make sure that happens.
STEVENS: What about suggestions, and I mean I haven’t seen this for myself, but we’re hearing that koalas are being killed in their own habitat to build some of these solar farms and to build these wind farms?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, suggestions like where? I have not heard that that is the case, that people are out there killing koalas. I have not heard that. Of course, koalas are precious animals. They are one of the very wonderful assets that we have in this great country of ours. And I certainly have not heard that suggestion. But some of the response here from people associated with the former government, who sat back and watched our energy grid not be fit for the 21st century, who sat back and watched four gigawatts leave the system and one gigawatt come in, seem to be obsessed by opposing any of the transition that is occurring globally. That is occurring globally, not just in Australia. One of the things about Australia is we have an enormous potential. We have the best solar resources in the world, for example, bar none. There are projects like Sun Cable that will take energy produced in Northern Territory, where there’s a lot of space in the central Australian region to export it to Singapore and to Indonesia. We have an enormous prospect and we know as well that climate change is real. We had just this week here in Central Queensland, of course, a drought forum done in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and the National Farmers Federation. Because of, in part, we’ve always had drought and extreme weather events in Australia from time to time, but what the science tells us is that those events are more often and more intense. They said that would occur and that is precisely what we are seeing playing out. I mean, I spoke on Tuesday in Parliament House, we brought all of emergency management – bushfire brigades, people involved from departments, emergency services personnel to Canberra from every state and territory, to war game out the coming summer because of the threats that are there because of the weather conditions that we’re facing. We’ve just had the hottest July on record in Australia. We do need to acknowledge that climate change is real. We do need to respond, including by reducing our emissions. But the good news is that that presents an enormous economic opportunity for Australia because we do have a competitive advantage compared with so many of the other nations.
STEVENS: Prime Minister, I do want to get to the Voice. Obviously, opinion is split on this. This week you actually said, if the referendum does fail, at least we’ve started the conversation. Is that raising the white flag?
PRIME MINISTER: Not at all. I’m very hopeful that the Voice will be carried. I think that when people look at what the question is, it’s a very clear, simple question. It is to recognise Indigenous Australians as the first Australians in our nation’s founding document, that’s the first thing. And the form of recognition they’re asking for is just a non-binding advisory group. There’s nothing scary about having a group of people who can just give advice on matters that affect them. And the reason why you would do that is because you get better outcomes. I mean, if I’m going to make a decision about Central Queensland and about what is occurring in the local community there in Capricornia, it is better if I actually talk to people there on the ground rather than bureaucrats in Canberra making decisions – and that is all this is. It doesn’t change the decision making process of the Parliament and the powers of the Parliament, it won’t be a funding body, it won’t be run programs, it is just non-binding advice. And I believe if we do this we will get better outcomes because we know that the programs that work for Indigenous Australians, whether it be the Indigenous Rangers program, or whether it be community health programs that have that local input, or whether it be Justice Reinvestment programs. We know the ones that work are the ones that ask and involve Indigenous Australians. And that is why there’s nothing to fear here. And fear is a powerful emotion, but it doesn’t lead you anywhere.
STEVENS: Isn’t it just another layer of bureaucracy? And where does it achieve, where does an advisory group achieve where billions of dollars spent every year doesn’t?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, that’s the whole point. There are billions of dollars being spent and it’s not effective. I’ll tell you an example that worked, when the pandemic hit, originally, the decisions were all being made in Canberra. There was catastrophic predictions about the impact on Indigenous communities. It was only when people went to Indigenous communities and involved them in the rollout of vaccines, in the work that needed to be done, that the situation improved. What you will get, as well as giving people a say, with that, as Noel Pearson has said, comes responsibility. You will give Indigenous Australians responsibility for the outcomes. This is about breaking down bureaucracy, not about additional bureaucracy. This is about efficient spending, not more spending. This is about better outcomes, not the same old system that’s operating now. If people think everything’s working fine, well what exists now is a No vote. That’s what exists now. We need to do better and that’s why Australians should vote Yes in my opinion. It’s up to everyone to make up their own mind, but we can’t continue to do things the same way and expect to get different outcomes. We need better outcomes, more efficient outcomes, we need to save money on programs by actually doing them with Indigenous Australians, rather than bureaucrats in Canberra deciding what’s best for them.
STEVENS: No temptation to split the question? Because we know that most Australians, a majority of Australians, support the recognition in the constitution.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Indigenous Australians themselves have said this. They want recognition, but they want recognition that results in something. That isn’t just symbolism, that makes a practical difference. And that’s why overwhelmingly, eighty per cent of Indigenous Australians, over eighty, will be voting Yes in this referendum. And that is what we have been asked for in the process that was set up under the former Coalition Government. This hasn’t occurred under, this isn’t my idea, this was all set up over the period leading up to the Uluru Statement in 2017 and then the processes that were set up while Ken Wyatt was the Indigenous Affairs Minister in the Morrison Government. Now, the former government said they’d have a vote prior to 2019. They said they’d have a vote in 2016. You can go back to John Howard said he’d have a vote for Indigenous recognition. What I’m doing is making sure that Australians do have the opportunity to have a vote. And I’d ask people and your listeners to have a read of the question, which is there. The constitutional change that’s out there for all to see. That was agreed to by the Parliament, overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives and the Senate agreed on the question that would go forward and voted for that question to go forward to the Australian people. It’s now in the hands of the Australian people. Voting will start, of course, next week and conclude on October 14. And it’ll be like the Apology to Stolen Generations. Before Kevin Rudd did that there was fear campaigns and told of all the consequences which would be there. Peter Dutton walked out of the Apology in Parliament when it was given because of the alleged circumstances which would arise. None of them arose. It was a good thing for the country. It was a uniting moment for the country and a Yes vote will be the same thing.
STEVENS: You’ve been very generous with your time, Prime Minister. Thank you. Just before you go, who wins the Grand Final Sunday night?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I hope the Broncos for Adam Reynolds’ sake, have a crack. He’s an old South Sydney boy and I know Adam well. He’s a great fellow and I think he’s made such an enormous difference to the Broncos in guiding the younger players around. I think that Reece Walsh is an extraordinary player.
STEVENS: A star.
PRIME MINISTER: The Panthers, of course, are entitled to favouritism. I mean, they have so much big game experienced, they’ll be hard to beat. But I just hope it’s a cracker of a game. We’ve seen too many blowouts. I thought last, you could go to bed last game halfway through I think, really. So I hope there’s a close game and I’m looking forward to watching it.
STEVENS: Great to talk to you, Prime Minister. Thanks for your time.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.