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Doorstop interview

11 May 2017

Interviewer: 
Media conference

Subject: Legislation to amend native title legislation; extended Senate sitting times; possible impact on proposed Adani Carmichael mine; future of Fairfax Media; passing of Mark Colvin

E&OE

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Look, we have a very important piece of legislation in the Parliament today, it's a piece of legislation to amend our native title laws to make sure that Indigenous Australians and traditional owners can have their views reflected on what they want to do on their land. Until earlier this year, the law was interpreted to mean that a majority of registered claimants were needed to make decisions, to reach agreements, to register agreements. After that decision was made, there was uncertainty of whether those agreements would be able to continue and some that had been struck in the interim could be registered.

So, we acted at the time through the Attorney General, my colleague Nigel Scullion, the Indigenous Affairs Minister, we consulted with a range of Indigenous groups, the National Native Title Council, the Australian Labor Party and other Members of Parliament to see what we could do on this issue.

We have all agreed on the changes. Last week a meeting of the National Native Title Council and all the Indigenous representatives agreed on the changes that we need to make to make sure that Indigenous Australians are masters of their own domain: that they have, just like every other Australian, the right to say what they want to do on their house, on their land, on their property. We need these changes to be made.

The National Native Title Council has said to us that they want them made urgently. Bill Shorten, the leader of the Opposition, has written to the Prime Minister saying he wants them done as soon as possible. So what we are trying to do this week, we are trying to do, is just respect the views of those traditional owners to deal with these as urgently as we can.

Now, this morning in the Senate, we tried to move a motion to extend hours so that we could deal with these issues tomorrow. We could sit one more day and make sure we make these changes in the interests of traditional owners and Indigenous Australians. Now instead, instead, the Australian Labor Party refused to support that. They refused to support one more day of work. Every other Australian in this country, every other Australian, will have to work tomorrow. Tomorrow's a working day, it's not a public holiday, it's a working day. But according to the Australian Labor Party, they don't want to work tomorrow. They don't want to work in the interest of traditional owners. They want to have a day off and maybe go play golf or enjoy their Friday arvo drinks. But they don't want to work in the interests of Indigenous Australians to get these laws passed and get them done.

Now, I want to make clear that we did not, and there is no suggestion that we are intending to guillotine or gag the debate in the Senate. We're happy for debate to occur on this. We're happy for other Senators to put their views forward. All we are saying is let's work at doing it, let's work a bit of overtime. Let's work a few more hours in the interests of traditional owners and the interest of jobs in our country.

And that brings me to the fact that if we don't make these changes there are thousands of jobs that are put at risk in Australia. I think the Australian Labor Party is putting a huge question mark over thousands of jobs in Australia by not wanting to work on a Friday like every other Australian has to do. There is the risk that investment in this country will be delayed, deferred, and may not happen if we can't be seen to appropriately and quickly deal with these issues as they arise. There are investments in the Ord, there are investments in the Kimberley, agricultural investments, where people want to expand agricultural production, irrigation, but they need this framework to strike the land use agreements to do that.

There are investments in aquaculture. Yesterday, we just approved a major project in the Northern Territory to build an aquaculture facility that could produce 1,500 jobs. They need certainty in the national native title laws to strike an agreement. And of course there is the Adani Carmichael Mine which could produce thousands of jobs for Australians. That is certainly under question now because the Australian Labor Party won't work a few hours of overtime.

The Adani project and Adani Australia said only last week that they want to make a final investment decision in a few weeks' time. That they want to make a decision to get thousands of jobs going in this country. That they want to finally – after seven years of delays and deferrals and waiting for government approvals – want to hit the button and start jobs happening in a matter of months.

But now, because the Australian Labor Party are too lazy to spend another night in Canberra and work a few more hours, those jobs will be called into question, that decision – that final investment decision – could be deferred and delayed or would be if we do not change these laws could be deferred. And who knows what might happen. Who knows how long the trust of Adani and the patience of the Adani Company India has with continuing to have to wait for certainty and approvals here.

Now the final point I'd like to make is that every one of us agree on this. The Australian Labor Party agree on the changes. The Queensland Labor Government has been calling their colleagues desperately to say this needs to happen. Then all the National Native Title Council and their representative bodies, as I said, agree on it. We all agree on it. The one thing, the only thing we are not agreeing on is whether or not we work on Friday like every other Australian. I think we should work for Australian jobs. I think we should stay here as long as we need to make sure that Australians can have a job and a future for their children.

But the Australian Labor Party aren't standing up for workers today and Bill Shorten can't talk about jobs tonight if he's not going to back jobs in the Senate today. I don't want to hear him talk about jobs tonight, because he's not backing them today. He's not backing his party in to back Australian jobs and Australian projects that will produce them.

QUESTION:        

If you're here saying that everyone's agreed on it, surely that gives the investors the certainty you're saying that they need for these jobs?

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

Well, there are other issues involved here. So the Indigenous land use agreement that Adani has struck with the majority of the registered claimants in the area, I should point out that that agreement, those negotiations went to a meeting of the Wangan & Jagalingou peoples last year in Maryborough and it was voted in favour 293 to one, 293 to one in favour. That agreement has been registered but not – sorry, has been proposed, has been submitted, but not registered – and it's currently under challenge in the Federal Court.

The hearing in that decision is scheduled for the time between us leaving this week and us being back in the Senate in four weeks' time. And if that agreement is struck down based on the old law – based on the law we want to change and we all agree we're wanting to change – that could potentially spell months of delays for the project. And it's just obvious to anybody that the more delay, every day we delay is another day a Queenslander can't get a job. Every day we delay is another day where, honestly, companies in India will be looking at this country thinking can they invest in here, can they have the certainty, because we have a Parliament that won't stick around for one more day to make things clear?

QUESTION:        

So Senator Canavan, can I just ask? Does this ongoing impasse over native title amendments put the Carmichael coal mine project into jeopardy?

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

Well I have spoken to Adani this morning and I certainly think the actions of the Australian Labor Party – FederalAustralian Labor Party, I should make clear – have called into question this project, are putting a big question mark over these jobs and over this project, because they cannot make clear where their views are on this. I mean, we sometimes get Australian Labor Party Members of Parliament saying they support the mine, sometimes they say it doesn't stack up.

They're all at sea on this and they just need to come clean. They just need to come clean, do they support the jobs in North Queensland? Do they support the workers in Whyalla who will be having their steel built – Adani will have their steel built in Whyalla – and support those jobs. That's all we're asking. Just be upfront with the Australian people and tell us what you think. None of these games, none of these saying we can't work for a few more hours. Just tell us what you think and vote that way in the chamber.

QUESTION:        

Senator, isn't it partly the Government's fault? You've had five weeks of no Parliament. You could've negotiated a procedural deal with Labor over that period. And you also brought in last-minute amendments to the bill today. Isn't it partly your fault?

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

Well that's actually not correct. Those amendments were introduced earlier this week and they were done in consultation with the National Native Title Council and other representative bodies. And the Australian Labor Party have been involved in all of this consultation for the last few months and we have had an agreement with the Australian Labor Party that, one, they would support this bill. That's been my understanding that they support this bill and all its changes. It's the contributions of the Australian Labor Party so far on this bill have indicated that.

And number two, the Opposition Leader has said to us, has written to the Prime Minister saying, that he would like these bills to be implemented as soon as possible and happy to facilitate their progress. Well, they're not standing behind the commitment they made to us five weeks ago when we didn't deal with it then. We had every expectation that we'd be able to deal with it this week. It was a short week in Budget week; it was always going to be a challenge. But what we're saying is, if we don't have enough time today and we've still got potentially some hours to go, but it's probably not going to be enough, let's just sit tomorrow as well and get it done.

QUESTION:        

Given that the Labor Party is saying that the motion to sit into Friday was sprung on them this morning without notice, has it been poorly handled in the Senate? Could it have gone through if they'd been given advanced notice?

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

Well, so the Labor Party's view here is that we'll only work a bit of extra time if we have more than 24 hours' notice. I mean this is kind of a work-to-rule approach from an Australian Labor Party that doesn't seem to be committed to jobs. I mean, we thought we had an agreement with them to use more time today. That fell over overnight, and so we looked at other avenues to make sure we could get this done this week. We thought we'd be able to do it today, but when that was clearly not going to happen we decided to look at sitting tomorrow as well to make it happen.

We're happy to work the extra hours. Our Senators will do whatever they need to do to provide opportunities for Australians and make sure that we attract large projects like this one to our country that can produce thousands of jobs, that can open up a new coal basin, that can help us build and have a market for Australian steel in Whyalla. That's what the Australian people want us to do, but it's up to the Australian Labor Party whether they want to work as hard as we are doing to try and bring jobs to this country, bring investment to this country, and bring opportunity for all Australians.

QUESTION:        

Senator, when did the Senate leadership decide to bring this motion on? Was it last night? Was it this morning?

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

Well, as I said, last night we were under the impression- I went to bed last night under the impression that this could be dealt with today, the Australian Labor Party would be giving up time.

QUESTION: 

[Inaudible].

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

Discussions I'd had with the Attorney-General and others. Now …

QUESTION:        

[inaudible].

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

Well, those discussion were handled by the Attorney-General. And so we had those agreements and …

QUESTION:        

 [inaudible].

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

Sorry, can I just answer the question … The only people who are now stopping this, that have made a decision not to support it, not to provide more time for this, are the Australian Labor Party and their mates in the Greens. That's what's happened here today.

Of course, at different times, when things change we'll seek to make sure that we have time in the chamber to debate certain matters. This happens all the time. In the last week of Parliament, we had to sit around on the Friday to deal with corporate tax and other issues, and we did that because that's what the Australian people expect. So, what is different about this week? Why this week can't we spend another day here instead of going home early, instead of having, I don't know, Friday afternoon drinks or whatever they're doing?

Let's just stay here one more day – every other Australian has to work – one more day and get this done, give certainty to traditional owners, give certainty to Indigenous Australians, and also help make sure we can bring jobs to our country.

QUESTION:        

It's not just the Labor Party that wasn't supporting the motion – Nick Xenophon's Team didn't either. Have you spoken to him about why he wasn't willing to back the extra day?

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

Yeah, look, I have spoken to Nick and it's unfortunate, I think, I'm disappointed that he hasn't decided to support it either, but I don't … I mean, the two parties that purport to be parties of government, that Bill Shorten tonight will get up and purport to present his case of why he wants to be Prime Minister, they need to be held to account. We're the ones trying to run the show here, and they want to get into our position to run the show themselves, but they're showing through these decisions that they can't be trusted to run the country because they can't be trusted to deal with their own internal conflicts on issues like this.

It's clear to me that the reason the Australian Labor Party can't make this decision – they say they support the bill but can't support the extra time – is because they're massively divided between their green and blue collars on this issue, that they can't come clean with the Australian people, and if you can't even resolve your own internal disputes you certainly can't run the country.

QUESTION:        

Senator, when was the Labor leadership first informed of this motion?

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

I'm not in the leadership of the Senate team, so you'll have to ask and put that question to them, but it was a matter we decided this morning that this would be the best way forward. We made this decision this morning that, look, if we can't have time today to deal with the matter, let's sit around a bit more time and get it done.

QUESTION:        

Just on another issue, do you agree with your colleague Peter Dutton's comments about Fairfax today, that they wouldn't be missed in the media landscape?

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

Look, I haven't seen those comments so I'd probably need a quote in greater context to discuss or respond to that particular quote. All I'd say is I think we need to have multiple media sources. I think we're lucky in this country to have a great diversity of media, from the ABC through to Fairfax, through The Australian, Courier Mail, TV. I think it would be a sad day when any of those organisations can't continue. All of them are facing significant challenges, as we know, but there are new forms of media coming up as well and that's a positive. I just want to see as many of those survive in the current challenging environment.

QUESTION:        

Are you happy with the way that the Senate leadership has dealt with the native title amendments?

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

We have done everything we can in the Coalition to consult widely on these issues, to come to a resolution on what is a very sensitive issue. It's an important piece of legislation in our nation's Parliament, it has to be handled carefully, but the fact that we've been able to get all of the representative bodies in the National Native Title Council on one page is testament, I think, to the work the Attorney-General has done. It's not an easy process, obviously, to get all of those groups to agree, but he has worked hard and assiduously in the last couple of months to deliver that result.

We now all agree at a political level as well, but the only thing holding up is this absurd debate about whether we spend a few more hours in the Senate to get this thing done. So that's a matter you're now going to have to put to the Australian Labor Party. We've done all the work, we've reached the agreement, we're ready to go, and we're ready to work harder to make it happen. The only people holding us back now is the Australian Labor Party and Bill Shorten.

QUESTION:        

If it's not passed before the next sitting week, is there a chance Adani could just pull up stumps?

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

Well, look, that's obviously a question for Adani. All I can say is that it does put into question the project. It does mean that they will have a delay in their final investment decision, and Queenslanders just want this to happen. I mean, we've been waiting nearly seven years now for this. It was first proposed in late 2010, the project, and we've been sitting here waiting for these jobs to occur.

I think Adani have shown the patience of Job to sit around this long as the environmental approvals have taken an enormous amount of time, as an error occurred last year, or a couple of years ago now, that delayed their approval even further – not on their behalf, I should say – but they've stuck around. They want this project to happen; they want to use Australian steel; they're going to employ thousands of Australians; it's got its Federal Government approvals; it's got its Queensland Government approval.

What is holding this project up now? Let's just get it going and let's just provide this certainty for investments like this one. Not just this one, because this has real-world impacts too on other investors, particularly in our region who, if they see this and understand that because one of the major parties in our country won't stick around for a few more hours, they'll put it in jeopardy, they'll put at risk billions of dollars of investment. What sort of signal does that send to the rest of the world when we want to attract investment and attract jobs to our country?

QUESTION:        

If this bill was such a priority, why was it put aside for corporate tax cuts in the last sitting?

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

Well, the corporate tax cuts were a priority as well, and the issue there was that not all of the amendments were resolved at the end of last week. Now, we did want to move on that bill in the last sitting period, but we did appreciate that some amendments had come at late notice, some issues had arisen through the Senate Committee inquiry that only was tabled in that week, and so the Australian Labor Party at the time said they weren't ready yet to support them because of those last-minute amendments. But they did give us a commitment that they would facilitate the bill in this sitting week, that they would like to see it through, and they agreed that it was an urgent matter, but they are reneging on that commitment now by not supporting us through this process.

The other issue this week is that those amendments had to go through our party room and through the Australian Labor Party caucus, so we couldn't deal with it on Tuesday. We started the debate yesterday. We do have a short week, so it was always going to be challenging, but let's just deal with the challenge, get it done, get these jobs going, work as long as we have to for the Australian people.

QUESTION:        

Senator, news has just come through that Mark Colvin has just died – a giant of Australian broadcasting. Do you have any words?

MINISTER CANAVAN:  

Well, that is shocking news. Mark was just absolutely on a pedestal in terms of Australian broadcasting and he was a fixture on programs like PM. I remember many years riding home from work or turning on the radio at home, listening to PM, and he always had a very distinctive voice. I'm shocked by that because he still, in my mind, seemed young and it's even a double loss when someone passes on too early and too soon.