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Television Interview - Flashpoint WA

Radio interview – ABC Perth Mornings

MITSOPOULOS: Well, this morning you’ve announced $3 billion through loans and equity investments to modernise our electricity grids. What sort of projects will this apply to?

PRIME MINISTER: What this is about is providing support for private sector activity, but by changing the commercialisation, essentially, of projects. We need to upgrade the grid so that renewables can fit into the grid, simply. Our energy grids were built for a time where solar panels were things on pocket calculators, not powering households and industries. And so independent of government through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, we all look at concessional loans and equity investments here in WA of up to $3 billion. We know that the two grids, the North West Interconnected System as well as the South West Interconnected System, has been identified by AEMO, by the Australian Energy Market Operator, as being potentially great beneficiaries of making sure that renewables can not only occur, but that they’re plugged in essentially, is what a grid does.

MITSOPOULOS: Do you have priority projects?

PRIME MINISTER: We will do them at some arm’s length. There have been projects identified, for example in the Pilbara they’ve had a Pilbara Industry Roundtable already. That was a significant initiative led by the WA Government here, it included major companies. We need to decarbonise industry to get to Net Zero by 2050. And so the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, an independent board, that will not only look after where the investment priorities will be, but we know that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has actually produced a return to government as well over a period of time. It’s been a great success, one that was established under the former Labor Government more than a decade ago. And it is overseeing the Rewiring the Nation Program, which is a $20 billion program that’s been rolled out right around the country to make sure that our energy grid is fit for purpose for the 21st century.

MITSOPOULOS: Twelve minutes past nine, I’ve got the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese on the phone. Let’s talk about Qantas. Do you think it’s acceptable that Qantas and Jetstar still have about half a billion dollars worth of flight credits and these are from flights that it cancelled?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they need to look after their customers and there’s no question that that needs to occur. When people have made bookings in good faith, then they need to either have that money returned or they need to be able to use those bookings in order to make future flights.

MITSOPOULOS: So, have they been too slow in returning that money? I mean they’ve been accused of using that money as interest free loans, if you like.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that customers should, in my view, be given a choice when they purchase a product that is not used, they should be given a choice in order to do that.

MITSOPOULOS: There is some suspicion, Prime Minister, about your Government’s decision not to allow Qatar to have an extra twenty-one flights a week in and out of the country, and that your decision was influenced by Qantas. Can you just explain why you made that decision? Because there is accusations that you’re trying to protect Qantas’ profits and some of your Ministers also hinted at that.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I didn’t make that decision, the Transport Ministers have over a period of time, as the former government did exactly the same thing some years ago when Michael McCormack was the Minister. There’s nothing unusual about air services agreements that are agreements which are country to country. And when I was Transport Minister, there were a range of proposals put forward that weren’t agreed to because Ministers need to make the assessments at the time. And importantly, as well, the agreements provide for access to the gateway airports. One of the things that we did in the Aviation White Paper way back in 2010 was to incentivise flights to the non-gateway airports, which are for Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. And that led to more flights to Adelaide and to other centres as well. So, that is what the agreements apply for. And the same thing applies for Australian airlines wishing to fly overseas. There are limits on the access arrangements, except for countries where there’s open skies agreements, like in the United States.

MITSOPOULOS: But did you ask Catherine King exactly why she made this decision and if there was any influence from Qantas? Because everybody seemed to back the decision to give Qatar more flights except Qantas.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is business as usual. As I said, when I was the Minister, there were a range of non-approvals given as well, based upon the evidence which was there. It’s a decision for the Transport Minister. She’s made the decision just like Michael McCormack made the same decision when he was the Transport Minister.

MITSOPOULOS: But where’s the evidence that more competition wouldn’t reduce airfares?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Australia, we have the most open aviation system in the world. Bar none. Bar none. The way that aviation occurs is there are agreements between nations. When I was the Minister, we tried to get access to Europe and we had meetings with the then European Transport Minister, Tajani, nation states control who comes into their country, basically has access, and Australia has the most open aviation system in the world. One of the things that I did as Minister all those years ago was get access to Virgin Airlines to be able to fly to the west coast of the United States. Now, Singapore Airlines has wanted to get access to that going back at least twenty-five years and hadn’t been granted that access. There are a range of agreements made and there is nothing whatsoever unusual, just as Australian airlines need to have agreements and can’t fly to where they want, when they want. That’s the nature of the global aviation system. As I said, Australia has the most open system in the world. We have more than, one hundred airlines have access to Australia and that’s been a very positive thing.

MITSOPOULOS: There is a perception, Prime Minister, that you are too close to Qantas or your Government is too close to Qantas. Now, we know every MP, and I appreciate they have for many years now being offered a spot in the Chairman’s Lounge. There are reports that your son has also been offered a membership there. The word Yes is on side of Qantas planes. Are you too close?

PRIME MINISTER: I find it rather bizarre that a Prime Minister of Australia is, the suggestion that we engage with Australian industry, we engage with Australian industry in the transport sector, the resources sector, the retail sector, across the board. That is what we do and that’s something that governments of all persuasions have done over a long period of time. When I was the Transport Minister, we saw the development of aviation into the competitive model that Virgin, of course, had some issues for a while there, but we had a competitive model that was very successful with the two full service airlines and then two budget airlines as subsidiaries and that has served our country very well.

MITSOPOULOS: Okay, so do you know then, how many foreign operators and flights were in Australia pre-COVID and how many now?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don’t have that figure in a radio interview in a car on the way to the airport. No, I don’t. What I do know is that the aviation sector was impacted substantially by COVID and it is in a recovery phase.

MITSOPOULOS: Perception is everything, I think you’ve been around politics long enough to know that and I just wonder if you can justify accepting a free membership to the Chairman’s Lounge and do you see how that leads to a perception of a conflict of interest?

PRIME MINISTER: Every member of Parliament, every Member of Parliament is offered that across the political spectrum –

MITSOPOULOS: But the same would apply to them. I could ask all of them the same question. The perception is that there is potentially here conflicts of interest.

PRIME MINISTER: It’s all declared. Also have access to the Virgin Lounge, also have access, if I fly on Rex out of Sydney Airport as well.

MITSOPOULOS: In your latest changes to industrial relations laws, you want to close down a loophole with labour hire firms. I just wonder how tightly you’re going to define who this will apply to? Will it be just labour hire firms or could other businesses be caught up in this as well?

PRIME MINISTER: No, well, people will see the legislation when it’s tabled next week in the Parliament. We’ve been consulting and we’re continuing to consult with business with unions to make sure that we get it right. So, people will have the opportunity to see the legislation in full when it is moved in the Parliament next week.

MITSOPOULOS: How will you define the same job? Like, how do you measure who gets the same pay as everyone else? I mean, these are the kind of issues that concern industry and business.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s right. And I’ll be happy to talk with you about it when the legislation is before the Parliament next week. But common sense applies here. This isn’t about providing restrictions. What it is about, though, is that if you have someone working side by side with the same experience, with the same skills, doing the same tasks in the same workplace, and one of them is on an enterprise agreement and the system is being used to undermine that enterprise agreement, then that’s where issues are raised. And we have been talking through those issues with employers, but also with unions, because we want to make sure that wages are lifted over a period of time. We want to make sure that collective bargaining occurs in a way that boosts productivity in the interests of both employers and employees. We are looking for a win-win here and that is what we are putting forward.

MITSOPOULOS: The Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese is my guest this morning on ABC Radio Perth and WA at twenty-two past nine. Prime Minister, if we can talk about the Voice for a moment. You’re announcing the referendum date tomorrow in South Australia. Why has it taken so long to settle on a date?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it hasn’t. It will be given lots of time in advance. My Government has a big agenda. One of the things that we’ve said is we would have a referendum and a year ago I announced a timetable that included tabling legislation and moving it in the House of Representatives in March. Once the question was settled upon, then having a Parliamentary Committee that would report in June. And then under the legislation, the referendum has to be held between two months and thirty-three days and six months from the passing of that legislation in June.

MITSOPOULOS: Most likely to be October?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’ve said very early on, you don’t have long to wait now, just tomorrow. The date will be announced well in advance of when the referendum will be held and people will be able to focus on what the question is. It’s a very simple proposition to recognise First Nations people in our Constitution and then provide for an advisory group, a Voice, so that Indigenous Australians can be listened to, so that we get better results. It won’t have a power veto, it won’t change the way that Parliament functions or who the decision maker is, but it will enable Indigenous Australians to be listened to. And we know that when we listen to people who are directly affected, that’s how you get better outcomes.

MITSOPOULOS: And do you think it will be hard to get a majority of Yes votes here in Western Australia? A lot of undecided people, they constantly talk about being unsure what it is they’re voting for, how it will result in practical outcomes and are quite confused about your messaging. Do you think it could have been sold better here in WA?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s very clear messaging, it’s recognition and listening in order to get better results and we’ll continue to put that. People will be able to and can now look at what the question is being asked. It’s a very straightforward proposition that has only upside and no downside for non-Indigenous people listening to this program, it won’t impact their everyday lives, but it just might make life better for the three per cent of Australians who are Indigenous, who we share this great continent with.

MITSOPOULOS: Finally, Prime Minister, if this referendum fails, how do you think Australia will be viewed internationally? Will we suffer reputational damage?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’m very focused on success. I think it will signal to the world, a Yes vote will signal that we are a mature nation that have come to terms with the fullness and richness of our history.

MITSOPOULOS: And what does a No vote signal? What if it was a No vote?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m focused on the positive and focused on securing a Yes vote, because a Yes vote will be a sign that Australia is indeed proud as we are, I think proud to share this great continent with the oldest continuous culture on Earth. That should be a great source of pride. It’s certainly something that I’m very proud of as Prime Minister of this country.

MITSOPOULOS: Appreciate your time Prime Minister, thank you so much for joining me.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.

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