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Television Interview - Flashpoint WA

Press Conference – Karratha | Prime Minister of Australia

SIMON TROTT, RIO TINTO: I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, this amazing country that we’re on, the Ngarluma people and acknowledge also their elders past and present. Rio has been operating here in Dampier since the 1960s, and over that time we’ve exported around seven billion tons of iron ore. One of the things I love about my job is the opportunities that it creates, the opportunities for people though employment, the opportunities for business, the opportunities for the society here in the Pilbara, and also right across Australia. It’s an absolute privilege to have the Prime Minister, the Minister for Resources with us today – thank you very much both for coming along.
MADELEINE KING, MINISTER FOR RESOURCES AND NORTHERN AUSTRALIA: Thanks so much, Simon for having us here at Rio Tinto’s Dampier Port Operations. Thanks to all those at Rio Tinto who have enabled this visit on a beautiful Sunday afternoon here in Dampier. What we know is that the iron ore industry is the backbone of Australia’s economy. The resources sector of Western Australia employs nearly 160,000 people, of a total across the whole country of 250,000 people working day in, day out on long shifts, doing good work for this country in the resources sector. So I’m really proud and pleased to have the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, here today in Dampier, the economic backbone of Western Australia and therefore, Australia. So I’ll hand over to you. Without any further ado, Prime Minister.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, thanks very much, Madeleine. And thanks Simon and Rio Tinto for hosting us here today. It gave me an opportunity to once again see firsthand the operation that is so vital for our national economy. During the pandemic, it was the WA resources sector that was absolutely critical for keeping our national economy going. And as I was standing in the cabin there today watching the iron ore go into the hull of that ship, what I was also watching was funding for schools, funding for hospitals, funding to keep our national economy going that comes from this sector and comes from the hard work that’s done by people here in the Pilbara, that is so vital. Something like seventeen thousand permanent employees here at Rio Tinto in Western Australia, including some three hundred and sixty apprentices and trainees. And everyone I spoke to today seems to have worked for this company for twenty or thirty or forty years. It says something about the commitment that this company has had to Australia and the work that they do that is so vital for our national economy. I think often in the eastern states they take this work for granted, take the economic activity, the revenue for granted as well. I’m here to say that we shouldn’t do that. We need to make sure that our resources sector continues to have a prosperous future. And when you look at the growth in new resources like lithium and others that are in abundance here in the West, you also see the opportunity that is there from the growth in the new economy, not just in terms of resources, but also in value adding. We’re a country that I want to see make more things here. I want to see us continue to export our resources but wherever possible value add – create jobs in advanced manufacturing here. There is no reason whatsoever why Australia can’t be making batteries given the resources like lithium and copper and nickel and others which are here in Australia. So one of the things that we’ll be doing with our National Reconstruction Fund is a $15 billion fund, looking at how we can support the resources sector here, how we can support high value manufacturing, how we can support critical minerals as well going forward. This is a great industry for Australia. It’s a highly skilled industry as well and we’re also looking at ways in which we can improve that. The 180,000 fee free TAFE places that we allocated, with 19,000 allocated to Western Australia, we’ll have more to say in this three day visit to Western Australia. I’m someone who doesn’t have an annual visit to Western Australia, it’s more like a monthly visit, on what is my fifteenth visit as Prime Minister since May of last year. And I’ve been not just to Perth, but I think it’s also important that I’ve travelled to Albany, to Kalgoorlie, to Karratha, to Dampier, to Port Hedland, to Fitzroy Crossing, to Broome, right across this great state that produces so much wealth for Australia. Can I make some further comments about a tragic incident that has occurred on Melville Island, north of Darwin. Defence have confirmed that an aircraft incident occurred on that island earlier today. The aircraft was involved, a US aircraft was involved in Exercise Predators Run 2023. The initial reports suggests that the incident involves just US Defence Force personnel, that there are no members of the Australian Defence Force involved in this incident. Our focus as a government, and as the Department of Defence, is very much on incident response and on making sure that every support and assistance is given at this difficult time. We will provide more information when appropriate. We obviously want to make sure that any information that is provided is absolutely accurate. And we’re also very much focused on providing that practical assistance on the ground. Happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: Any word from US officials yet?
PRIME MINISTER: We will be making further statements later today. Obviously, this is an incredible incident. I’m unable to give further information at this time. We do follow protocols at a time like this, and the Australian Defence Force are cooperating with our friends in the United States Defence Force to make sure that we provide every assistance possible.  
JOURNALIST: Are you able to confirm Prime Minister whether people are still unaccounted for?
PRIME MINISTER: We will make a statement at an appropriate time about that, as I said. This is a difficult incident, we’re responding fully, and our priority is on providing every assistance possible.
JOURNALIST: The Voice campaign has had a couple of blows in WA. The WA Nationals withdrawing their support for the Yes vote. WA Liberal leader, Libby Mettam also withdrawing her support for Yes vote, both of them blaming the WA Heritage Laws that have now been rescinded and saying they can’t trust Labor to implement it. What do you say to that? Is that political point scoring or is there genuine concern about what the Voice will look like?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s more about the internal dynamics between the Liberal Party, the National Party and the leader of the opposition is about those dynamics. One of the recent times when I was here in WA I was somewhat stunned that they were having leadership ballots in a party that had been reduced to so few people. I think this is an issue that should be above politics. It’s a very clear question that is being asked of the Australian people. I’ll be making an announcement later this week about a timetable consistent with what I said more than a year ago now. But this will provide for just three things, recognising First Nations People in our nation’s constitution. Secondly, allowing an advisory group, the Voice, to enable Indigenous Australians to be listened to on matters that affect them. And thirdly, the point of that is to get better results from Indigenous People. We know that the Closing the Gap targets, only four have been met or are on track. And if we do things the same way, we should expect the same results. This is about getting better outcomes for Indigenous Australians. It is overwhelmingly supported by Indigenous Australians.
JOURNALIST: The polling isn’t looking good. Realistically, do you think that West Australians can be convinced to support this Voice?
PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely I do. And what I know is that Western Australians, whether it is companies like Rio Tinto and the entire mineral sector, like the Business Council of Australia very supportive because they know that this is also about Australia’s reputation and the way that we’re seen. Whether we’re a mature nation who can come to terms with the fullness and richness of our history. It’s being supported by every faith group here in Western Australia, and around the country. It is being supported by sporting organisations, including the AFL. And the feedback that I have from people who’ve been here and who’ve been out there door knocking is that when people are put to them what the question actually is, they respond very positively. This is a very gracious request from Indigenous People just to be recognised and to be listened to through the Voice. And if the Voice is bad idea, then why is it that Peter Dutton and the Liberal Party nationally are saying that they will legislate for a Voice? That is what they’re saying, that is what their party room decided, which undermines the contradiction which is there.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve praised a number of times the Liberals who do support the Voice. Do you think that that’s actually helpful to Liberal supporters who are then seeing other others within the party, change their minds? Are people able to separate their politics in an election from the fact that this is a referendum?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, quite clearly, people like Julian Leeser and Bridget Archer, the New South Wales Liberal leader, Mark Speakman, the Liberal Premier of Tasmania, he’s the only one who’s actually in office, are all supporting a Yes vote in this referendum. This is something that should be above politics. This is something where, a bit like the apology, when it happens you won’t be able to find anyone in ten years putting their hand up and saying that they were glad that they opposed it, because this is only upside. There is no downside to listening to people on matters that affect them.
JOURNALIST: What’s being done to shore up support among regional West Australians now that Nationals have removed their support?
PRIME MINISTER: We’ll be out there campaigning, of course. The National Party don’t dominate regional Western Australia. There are Labor members, I think the local member here, I’ve met last time I was here, is a member of the Labor Party. And I’ve met him here and up in Port Hedland, similarly. And this is something where people will make up their own mind, every Australian. You have the same vote that I do as a Prime Minister. And I just encourage you, like everyone else, to read what the question is, to look at the three points that are there. The first says, in recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australia’s first peoples – pretty straightforward, all there. And then the three points says, there shall be a Voice; the second is, what will it do? It says a may give advice, may give advice on matters that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People; and the third is the parliament shall determine the composition, functions, procedures of the Voice. That is what is before. And I must say that the Liberal Party are saying the same thing, that they will legislate. And I assume that the National Party is saying the same thing as well.
JOURNALIST: Politics aside, do you agree there is genuine concern and confusion about how the Voice will be enacted?
PRIME MINISTER:  The Liberal Party is saying they’ll legislate it. We’re saying if the if the referendum was carried we will legislate it, and it will be subservient to the parliament. There’s been a lot of misinformation put out there. And it is a very clear question, recognition, listening, an advisory group that isn’t binding, doesn’t change the power structures of the way that parliament functions. An advisory group in order to get better results. We need to recognise that 122 years after Federation, if not now, when? If we do not recognise First Nations people in 2023, we are the only country in the world that is a former colony that does not recognise the Indigenous People, the First Peoples. Every other country does it, Canada did it last century, New Zealand did it the century before, other countries have all done it. This is unfinished business, and I sincerely hope that Australians, and Western Australians in particular, vote Yes when they have the opportunity later this year.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the issue of skilled migration. Business in WA has said the state is more dependent on skilled migrants than other states from the East Coast. I’ve spoken with a lithium miner who says they need one thousand workers next month. That’s an industry that you want to get off the ground. Yet the government has, the Commonwealth has cut the allocation of State –
PRIME MINISTER: The Commonwealth has not cut the allocation of skilled migrants.
JOURNALIST: So the Premier’s wrong?
PRIME MINISTER: The Commonwealth has not cut the allocation of skilled migration through the system as a whole. It has not. We are in fact having a review of migration to make sure that we fix the system that was broken. The one that we inherited was broken. We’re not seeing skilled migration given the emphasis that it should be done. We’re not seeing people given that permanent pathway. We’re also, under the former government, we weren’t getting people trained for jobs as well, which is why we’ll have more to say about TAFE tomorrow. But we allocated, and I launched the campaign here. Training nineteen thousand West Australians was what we envisaged would happen. We’ll make some announcements about how that’s gone over the next couple of days. But fee free TAFE is about addressing this as well, giving Australian see opportunity. But we also recognise that migration has an important role to play, and that’s why we’re fixing the system.
JOURNALIST: But specifically, overall intake reduced from 10,000 to 2500. WA’s intake has reduced from 10,000.
PRIME MINISTER: That’s not the migration system as a whole. That’s not the way that the skilled migration system works. What has happened is we are fixing skilled migration in this country. And part of that will be making sure that the system, which was broken, because of, we made some announcements today, if you look at the announcements we’ve made today about people who were coming here under visas to supposedly to get training, but it’s not working, not getting the skilled migrants that we need. We are making sure that the system works effectively. That is what we’re putting in place.
JOURNALIST:  Was it appropriate for cadets at ADFA to be told not to wear their uniforms on Friday because of the Wear It Purple Day event and did Commanders overstep the mark?
PRIME MINISTER: Defence has responded to that issue.
JOURNALIST: Just on your fifteenth visit to WA. You’re very proud of being a frequent visitor to WA including regional WA, but you’re back to Perth now. Is three hours in the Pilbara enough to see the social issues that are evident in regional WA at night. Why not stay overnight?
PRIME MINISTER: Because I did an event for Telethon, and I’ll be going to a fundraiser for Telethon for kids tonight. It’s a long standing commitment that I had. I have been to regional WA on a number of occasions. I took the entire Cabinet to Port Hedland. Tomorrow, the entire Cabinet will be in Perth. I asked you to compare my fifteen visits with the three previous Liberal Party prime ministers and see if their entire decade adds up to fifteen. Thanks very much.

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