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Television Interview - Flashpoint WA

Press conference – Adelaide | Prime Minister of Australia

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much for joining me. And I want to thank the good people of Adelaide for the welcome I’ve had over the last couple of days. I was in Norwood yesterday, talking to people about the referendum on October 14. And this morning, after I appeared on FiveAA, I took a walk through Rundle Street Mall and walked here, talking with people again about the issue of the constitutional change that we are putting forward for the Australian people and why we will be an even better country on October 15 if Australians take the opportunity to vote Yes to recognise First Nations people in our Constitution. But also, to give them an advisory committee so that we can get better outcomes, better efficiencies, avoid the waste that’s occurred for too long with money not going to the right places to make a real difference on education and health and housing and life expectancy and other areas where there remains a significant gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

I want to say as well that I announce today that on Monday I’ll be bringing the entire Federal Cabinet to Adelaide for a meeting on Monday afternoon. I’ll be visiting Whyalla on Monday morning with the Premier of South Australia, Peter Malinauskas. And I want to bring the whole Cabinet here, as I have been doing around the country. I want to make sure that my Cabinet understands that everything doesn’t happen in Canberra, that we need to get out there and about. And that’s been something that has characterised my Government – engaging with people in local communities. And Premier Peter Malinauskas will address our Cabinet as well about issues surrounding South Australia. And I’m really enjoying the positive partnership that I have enjoyed with Peter Malinauskas and the South Australian Government going forward.

Today, we have an announcement of the COVID Inquiry – that is important that is take place. We said before the election and I’ve said since, given the enormous dislocation, the stress, the, of course, loss of life, the economic impact of the pandemic, it is appropriate that when we reached a certain period, that we would have an inquiry. It’s a commitment that I made before the election. And one of the things that we’ve been doing is ticking off all those commitments that we have made. Yesterday, five and a half million Australians enjoyed an increase to their payments, for the first time an additional 65,000 single mums got access to the Single Parenting Payment, making these changes, making a difference. We are making sure that we deal with cost of living pressures.

But of course, Australians will recall, will never forget, what the country went through in 2020 and 2021 in particular. It was a time where Australians joined together. They made sacrifices to help each other. They sacrificed some of the normal activity that would go on. And it was a very disruptive period in our lives. But we got through it. And we got through it in a way that was positive in most respects. But we need to examine what went right, what could be done better, with a focus on the future. Because the health experts and the science tells us that this pandemic may well be, indeed, is not likely to be the last one that occurs. So that’s why better preparedness is very important. So the inquiry that we’re announcing today will look at as well, the more than twenty inquiries that have already happened by people like Dr Peter Shergold and other inquiries that have occurred across states and territories and the Commonwealth up to now. Bringing them all together in a consolidated way, but also look at new information which will occur.

One of the things that I want to do from the lessons as well is to ensure that we’re positive, that the process of learning from the pandemic is constructive, rather than destructive. One of the things that didn’t help during the pandemic was the sort of activity like when the Federal Government supported Clive Palmer’s legal case, rather than supported Mark McGowan and the actions that the WA Government were taking. But we need to make sure that this is forward focused and consider all of the Commonwealth responses to the pandemic.

The terms of reference for the Inquiry include: Key health measures, including COVID-19 vaccinations and treatments; key medical supplies such as personal protective equipment and public health messaging; broader health supports for those impacted by COVID-19 and lockdowns including mental health and suicide prevention supports and access to screening and other preventative health measures; financial support for individuals; the support for industry and business; assistance for Australians abroad, including assisted return to Australia; and governance and national governance mechanisms, including the National Cabinet and the way that it functioned, and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

An independent panel has been appointed to conduct the Inquiry. And I’m very pleased and I want to thank the three individuals who have agreed to be part of this Inquiry. They have vast experience in public health, in government and economic expertise, and Minister Butler will go through some of the credentials which are there. The panel members are Ms Robyn Kruk AO, an outstanding public servant, a former head of departments, including Health in New South Wales, Federal departments, someone who has great expertise at the Commonwealth and the state level of the way that the public sector and the public service operates. Professor Catherine Bennett, an epidemiologist and expert who will bring in that health expertise. And Dr Angela Jackson, someone who has an expertise in economics, someone well credentialed to be able to provide input to that.

The panel will consult widely and will invite submissions from members of the public. They’ll be supported by a taskforce within my department, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, so that you have a whole-of-government response to provide research and administration assistance. And we’re asking that the Inquiry report back within a year. If they can do it sooner, all the better. But we’re giving a 12-month time frame for that to occur. We want to make sure that its recommendations are fully understood and that we prepare. We know a lot of what we need to do as a result of the pandemic. One of things that I’ve stressed is we need greater economic resilience, we need a future made here in Australia. We’re vulnerable for shocks like a pandemic, and there could be other shocks as well where some of these recommendations could be relevant. Be they the issue of cyber security or the issue of international conflict as well. We need a future made in Australia. We need to be more resilient. We need to be more prepared for this in the future. And that’s precisely what this Inquiry will be aimed at.

MARK BUTLER, MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Thank you, Prime Minister. As the Prime Minister said before the election, we promised that there would be a deep and thorough inquiry into the nation’s pandemic response. It would be extraordinary not to, given the depth of impact that this pandemic has had on our country over the last four years. We also said though, that the response would take place after the worst period of the pandemic had receded. And we wouldn’t start an inquiry while our health systems, our governments, were still focused used on pandemic management. While COVID is no doubt still with us, the impact of COVID right now on the community, on our health system, is at the lowest, really, through the whole three and a half years. Certainly, the lowest on our health system since Omicron emerged about 22 months ago. So we are certain that now is the time to start this Inquiry.

As the Prime Minister said, this will be a thorough Inquiry. The panel will have 12 months to consider all of the elements set out in the terms of reference, which have now been published on the Prime Minister and Cabinet Department website. The three members of the panel that the Prime Minister has already named have a very broad range of experience, skills and expertise, that will allow us to deal with the very diverse range of issues that confronted us through this pandemic.

As the Prime Minister said, Robyn Kruk AO is one of the leading public servants. She has run the New South Wales Department of Health, one of the biggest health systems in the Southern Hemisphere, as well as a Federal department and was inaugural CEO of the National Mental Health Commission when that body was established more than a decade ago. She is really an outstanding public servant, respected right across the political spectrum at state and federal level. She will be supported with the epidemiological expertise of Professor Catherine Bennett, who holds the chair in epidemiology at Deakin University, and will be a face very familiar to members of the Australian community as a very regular and trusted commentator on the pandemic, right through the last three and a half years, explaining the intricacies of this virus to Australian members, often at a period where the community was understandably, very, very frightened. She will be a wonderful addition to this panel. And as the Prime Minister said, Dr Angela Jackson is a very widely renowned economist with a particular focus on health economics, which will allow her to bring that important economic frame to the Inquiry as well. The Inquiry will be encouraged to engage with all stakeholders and members of the public very broadly, right across the country to think about this response in its broadest and deepest sense. Now, unquestionably, is the time to learn the lessons of our response to this pandemic, learn what we did well and make sure that we build that into the response of future pandemics. But also what we could have done better and make sure that when the next pandemic strikes, which it will, according to all of the health advice, that we do better in those areas. Importantly as well, this will help us build the Centre for Disease Control, the CDC, that the Prime Minister promised before we were elected last year, as an important part of the infrastructure for our pandemic preparedness and response. This will be a very, very important part of our preparedness for the next pandemic. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Will the appearances be voluntary or will the Inquiry ask people to attend, particularly state leaders?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I should imagine that everyone will want to participate in this. I’ve seen some of the commentary this morning, that I find pretty extraordinary, although consistent, I guess, with the way that they operate, that the Coalition have criticised this before they’ve seen the terms of reference. The Coalition are addicted to saying no to everything. And that’s why, I think, the Coalition of yesterday have been turned into the No-alition of today. This should not be a source of conflict. This should be a coming together in a constructive way to learn the lessons which have been done from the pandemic. And that is the spirit in which its operating. This is an independent panel. They’ll decide the process in detail. But there will be submissions and input from stakeholders as well as from individuals.

JOURNALIST: Given it’s not a Royal Commission, can state leaders be compelled to give evidence or can they say no?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the idea that, this at starting point is, how can we force someone to do something? How can we get conflict? Is completely contrary. It’s completely contrary to the spirit well.

JOURNALIST: Can they say no?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, which state leaders? Premier Marshall was the leader here in South Australia, there’s been a change of government.

JOURNALIST: What about Dan Andrews?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there’s been a change of government in two of the states. And at the time of the pandemic there were three Liberal Premiers in states and three Labor Premiers. This should not be a source of conflict. Part of the lesson of the pandemic is that Australians need to work together. Australians did work together at the community level, at the household level, at the neighbourhood level. And the idea that this should be subject to political bickering is not what the objective is here. That’s old politics.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: Well, which state leaders?

JOURNALIST: I asked about state leaders.

PRIME MINISTER: Which state leaders? Well, the others? Marshall? Look, this is not –

JOURNALIST: Dan Andrews is still in the job, could he say no if he was being asked to give evidence?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, why do you say Dan Andrews? There are six.

JOURNALIST: Because you pointed out that there’s been a change of government in others.

PRIME MINISTER: There are six. Well, there’s been a change of Premier in WA. There’s been a change of Premier in Tasmania as well. There’s been a range of changes being made. This isn’t aimed at conflict. This is aimed at people being able to participate. And I raised this at the National Cabinet. And all of the Premiers and Chief Ministers welcomed this approach of a constructive way of looking forward. There have been 20 inquiries already. And what it’s aimed at is looking forward for how we get better preparedness in the future.

JOURNALIST: Why not a Royal Commission?

PRIME MINISTER: Because I promised one Royal Commission as Leader of the Labor Party, that was into Robodebt. And that has reported and has been effective. One of the things we’ve learned about Royal Commissions is that they can roll on, and on, and on, for year, after year, after year. We’ve learnt that, with the Royal Commission into veterans’ issues has been extended. We are still having a Royal Commission into the treatment and disabilities issues that has been going for some period of time. There have been 20 inquiries already. What we want to do is to bring together that information and to consolidate that. What are the findings of the inquiries that have been held? There’s been a commission, for example, already in my state of NSW, into the Ruby Princess. There’s been a range of inquiries. What we want to do is to get the information consolidated and get those recommendations about how we better prepare in the future.

JOURNALIST: Why the rush to get it done in the year then? Especially if there has already been 20 inquiries, wouldn’t a Royal Commission get to the bottom of it, once and for all?

PRIME MINISTER: No one promised a Royal Commission. I see the attempt by the Coalition to somehow say that that’s the case. And I find it extraordinary, but completely consistent. Before legislation is introduced, quite often, the Coalition will come out and say they’re against it. They vote against everything. Now they’re saying they’re against this, before they’ve even seen the terms of reference. I find that extraordinary. Well, what do you think a Royal Commission could do that this couldn’t do? Nothing. This will be an inquiry that will hear from stakeholders, that will get input, that will report within a year. Because a lot of the work has already been done. There have been 20 different inquiries.

JOURNALIST: Wouldn’t the concern be that an inquiry will only give us select information, a Royal Commission would allow us to compel past leaders and current leaders to give us all the information that we need?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, a Royal Commission is usually presided over by a judge or someone with a legal background. What we have here is an Inquiry that is led by a leading public servant who understands the way that the public sector works, at Commonwealth and state level, a leading health expert, Professor Bennett, and a leading health economist in Dr Jackson. That’s the information that we need going forward. And Australians need to look forward on this. There are a range of opinions, and certainly I find the Coalition’s argument that we don’t want to concentrate on the issues of the former Government, I’m not quite sure what people think the incentive is for a new government, like the one I lead, to not go back. But we’re determined to actually make sure, and that’s why we have an Inquiry led by three appropriate people. And that is the form that we’ve established.

JOURNALIST: You said that Royal Commissions can go on for years. Robodebt was a quick one. Is there a reason why that process couldn’t be applied?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’m not quite sure why the, we are doing exactly what the Inquiry, I just pointed out that Royal Commissions are usually led by judges or former judges. They look at things in a particular way. What we want to look at is, what are the economic impacts? That’s why we have an economic expert. What are the health impacts? So, we have a health expert. And what are the governance issues? And the issues both Commonwealth and state? And this is a positive move going forward. This is perfectly consistent with what governments like Singapore have done, to look forward.

JOURNALIST: So will border closures and the length of lockdowns be looked at?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they can look at whatever they like. That’s the point of an independent inquiry, is that these three people who have served, Robyn Kruk has served governments of all persuasions for a long period of time, she has a lifetime career in the public service. I can’t think of anyone better to chair this Inquiry. Professor Bennett, would be known to people who followed the pandemic. And Dr Jackson is an outstanding health economist, who’s well credentialed to do this.

JOURNALIST: You’ve got the 20 inquiries previous to this, is there anything then, in terms of the terms of reference (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: It’s a practical way, we’ve taken the advice of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet that consulted with other departments, including, of course, the Health Department. We have published the terms of reference. But the independent Inquiry can look at the full gamut of issues. That’s the point of having an independent inquiry. We haven’t chosen to do a government committee or a Party-political process. What we’ve chosen is independent inquiry to be run by three eminent Australians. And the independent Inquiry will be able to run their own show. They will report back within a year. Because it’s reasonable, as well, that we have time frames. One of the things that we did do, to point to the Royal Commission on Robodebt, what we didn’t do is kick the can down the road with Royal Commissions that were announced under the former Government that are still running into another other term. I think that accountability means that you announce an inquiry, you then have a report, you then have a response. That’s what we did with the Royal Commission in Robodebt. That’s what we’re doing with this Inquiry.

JOURNALIST: If it is uncovered that (inaudible) 

remains, does that potentially open to the door up to compensation?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I’m not going to pre-empt an Inquiry that we’re announcing this morning. What it’s about, though, is very much, and I think Australians will want it to be, concentrated on what can we do better in the future, how do we get better preparedness? That’s what we need to do here. Because, I, like other Australians, there wouldn’t be too many Australians who would put their hand up and say, ‘We saw what was coming in 2020.’ I’m sure there are some people in this building, could put their hand up and say that because they’re health experts and scientists, but I think that it was a difficult period for the entire world to go through. And one of the things, obviously, that the Inquiry can look at, if they so seek to, is comparative issues of how things operated in different countries.

But overwhelmingly, can I say this, overwhelmingly, Australians did a remarkable job of getting through what was a very difficult period. And I pay tribute to the essential workers, our nurses, our carers, our child care workers, people in the aged care sector, our truck drivers who kept food being delivered to supermarkets, our emergency services personnel, all the people who during that pandemic did an extraordinary job, during what was a very difficult time. But it was also a time where, in terms of the public service, did a remarkable job as well. I think that Scott Morrison did the right thing by convening the National Cabinet. That was a good decision. We did, I believe the Federal Government got it right, in making an early call on the pandemic. There are a range of things that we did that were very good. But what can be done better in the future, is the objective of having an inquiry. That’s why you do this. We’ve been preparing for this announcement for some time. And we’ve got it right.

JOURNALIST: Can we move onto migration. Business groups are concerned that 120 to 150k threshold is too much to pay and want it brought down to 98k. What do you say to that?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m sure that that a lot of people would like different changes. We, I think we’re getting it right. We need to deal with skill shortages in the economy. One of the ways that we’re dealing with that is in skilled migration. But in addition to that, we have done 180,000 Fee-Free TAFE places that we announced to be delivered this year. Another example of a promise that we’re delivering. But in this case, we’re more than delivering because there’s upwards of 220,000 places have been filled. And in Newcastle on Tuesday, I met a young machinist, a fitter and turner, at the Varley manufacturing sector there in Carrington, who are getting their apprenticeships started in areas of skill shortage. The first female apprentice that has been employed at that facility, that’s been around for four generations, a part family-owned company that’s been around for 100 years there. So, we’re dealing with the skills issues in a way that is appropriate, working with business, as well as making sure that Australians, whether it be their first job or another worker that I met there, doing again, becoming a fitter and turner is someone, an older worker who’s re-training, because we know that the labour market does change. But we know in areas like that, they’re going to grow into the future. And that’s why we’ve created as well, Jobs and Skills Australia, that will advise and make sure that we don’t find ourselves in the circumstance of having skill shortages for year, after year, after year, without action being taken. That we look at what are the jobs that will be needed in one year, five years, ten years? How do we prepare for that? How do we work with universities and TAFE? We know the big growth sectors will be in the care sector and also in areas of the traditional trades. And we’re dealing with both.

JOURNALIST: Sam Newman in a podcast has urged footy supporters to boo the Welcome to Country, saying that Australians are sick of it. What’s your reaction to that?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m not inclined to give Sam Newman any additional publicity, which I’m sure is the objective. Australians are respectful. And the activity that occurs is enhanced. It didn’t occur when I was first going to the footy or going to other activities. Showing respect costs nothing. It enriches all of us.

JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton called for a second referendum if this one fails on October 14. What’s your view?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I find Peter Dutton’s response quite extraordinary. He has called for a second referendum, then a few days later said no one wanted a second referendum, and then this week has reinforced that he does want a second referendum. We have an opportunity to move forward on October 14. This is an issue where there has been bipartisanship for a long period of time. John Howard went to the 2007 election saying there should be a referendum them on Constitutional recognition, saying it was unfinished business in our Constitution. And indeed it is. Australians have an opportunity to do the fair thing on October 14. I think Australians are fair. It is fair that we recognise our history didn’t begin in 1770 or 1788 or indeed 1901. It goes back some 65,000 years. That should be, and I believe is overwhelmingly, a source of great national pride that we share this continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth. What people are being asked to do is to vote Yes to that recognition and Yes to an advisory committee that will have just the power of its ideas. A gracious request from Indigenous Australians. And I sincerely hope that Australians vote Yes on October 14. 

JOURNALIST: Just on Qantas, they haven’t offered international flights out of Adelaide for the decade or so, is this something you’d expect from the national carrier?

PRIME MINISTER: I think they should. Absolutely. And one of the reasons why you have the gateway airport issue that’s been in place for a long period of time, that applies to Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, is so that airlines do fly into and out of Adelaide and the smaller markets, Hobart, Gold Coast, other regional airports as well, including Newcastle and Canberra. And that’s one of the reasons why you have that policy in place. And I think that, I certainly would want to see Qantas fly out of and into Adelaide. I think the national airline should.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve given you a nice little taste there. Well, the Cabinet will take place here in Adelaide. But I’ll also be visiting Whyalla in the morning. And it will be a good thing. One of the things that I’ve made sure, as Prime Minister, is that I don’t just visit the capital cities. So I’ve been to the Riverland with Peter Malinauskas, I’ve been keen to visit Whyalla, I’ve been to Albany, Kalgoorlie, Port Hedland and Karratha in WA.  On Tuesday, I was in Devonport. Yesterday, yesterday seems like a long time ago, I was in Newcastle. I want to be the Prime Minister for the whole country. And regional South Australia is very important. And I’ve been talking with Mali about a visit there and so I’ll be doing that on Monday, as well as being here in Adelaide on Monday afternoon. And I’ll be here in Adelaide on Tuesday as well.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: You’ll have to wait and see. You’ve got a story today. I’m giving you notice. One of the things my Government is doing is, I see other, you know, the Coalition went into Parliament for the last fortnight and asked almost every question about the Voice. Some of which they know the answers to because some of them were just designed to promote confusion. Didn’t ask anything of the Treasurer about cost of living. We had national accounts last week. We have now an unemployment figure released last week, of course, with the three in front of it once again. There have been 18 times that unemployment has had a three in front of it since records began, 15 of them have been on my Government’s watch. We’ve created over 500,000 new jobs since we were in Government, have been created. We’re getting on with the increased payments that were done yesterday, we’re getting on with new industries, including the exciting prospects that South Australia has in green hydrogen. And I’ll be meeting with Premier Malinauskas and industry about that as well. So, we’re very much focused on the economy. We’re focused on cost of living. We’re focused on environmental issues. And Minister Plibersek has announced this week, that we’ve dealt with the crazy ant issue in North Queensland, in a really productive way. We have Ministers out and about every day. Minister Thistlethwaite announcing our response on PFAS around airports and the health issues associated. Mine is a Government of purpose. A Government that is getting things done. And one of the things that we’re doing is going through looking at the commitments that we made across the board, including an inquiry into COVID. And that’s the announcement today. Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST: Is the orange tie a sign your jumping on the GWS bandwagon?

PRIME MINISTER: The orange tie is a sign that, Jodie my partner gave this to me. And it’s my favourite tie. It’s a nice colour, don’t you think? But I I’ve been asked about it in a different context in the past. I think it’s a bright tone, it’s a nice tie. But GWS, certainly they’re on fire. At the moment, they’re in form. I think it would be a good thing for AFL nationally if GWS were successful. So, I wish them all the best on the weekend, but I’m reluctant to say anything too positive standing next to my friend, the former Member for Port Adelaide, it must be said. But you know, at least he can be consoled by the fact that his team made the finals, unlike my team, South Sydney, in the National Rugby League competition that led the competition halfway through and finished ninth. So, I think it will be a really great rest of the final series. And the fact that you have three states represented is a good thing. And I do wish the Giants all the best. But I just hope that the finals live up to what often hasn’t happened in recent years. I hope there’s no blowouts in the next couple of weeks. I want to see really, really a tight competition because my team in the AFL didn’t make the final grade. I’m an interested spectator rather than passionate. And I believe in football, you can only have one team and you stick. And that has always been my approach. Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST: Just on the Medicare Urgent Care Clinics, Batemans Bay was announced just earlier this week. When can we expect to see some here in South Australia?

BUTLER: Very, very shortly. We committed to 50 Urgent Care Clinics being rolled out over the course of 2023. We’ll actually open 58 of them before the end of the year. And the South Australian clinics are very close to a point where we’ll be able to announce them. So, very excited about that. Thank you.

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