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Doorstop with the Prime Minister and Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science

2 February 2017

Subject: Coal and renewable energy, phone conversation with President Trump, US Refugee Deal, political donations

E&OE

Joint doorstop with the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP and Mr Rob Sindel, Managing Director CSR

PRIME MINISTER:

It is great to be here at Viridian. We inspected the float glass line. It is a great example of Australian manufacturing, a great example of Australian technology. Rob Sindel is the Managing Director of CSR, the owners of this plant and he’s described to us how critically important it is for his business and the jobs, the men and women that work here, that they have secure and affordable energy.

Absolutely critical. Every day, we hear the same story. The jobs of Australians depend on affordable energy. Right around the country.

What we have seen, as you know, is state governments pursuing massive renewable targets. The State Government here wants to have 50 per cent renewables. We have seen a coal-fired power station in the La Trobe Valley, Hazelwood, close down. We have seen an effective ban on gas exploration onshore in Victoria. Offshore gas reserves are starting to decline.

What Rob’s operation here is facing is higher and higher prices for gas. What that does is put more pressure on his business.

Now, we have got to stop this. We need to ensure that Australians can get secure, affordable energy and that we meet our emissions reduction targets. We need a practical, clear-eyed approach to energy. I set out the way to do that in my speech yesterday - it is a vital national priority.

We’ve got to strip Labor's left-wing ideology away from this issue and focus on outcomes and that means, secure, affordable energy for Australian families, for Australian businesses and, of course, for great industry and plants like this one here.

So I'm going to ask Arthur, the Minister for Industry, to say a few words and then we'll invite, Rob, our host to make some observations about how this issue of gas availability and affordability is vital for his industry.

MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY, INNOVATION AND SCIENCE:

Thanks very much, Prime Minister. We’ll hear from Rob in a minute but I want to thank the Prime Minister for the focus he put on energy in his speech yesterday because this is affecting families, small businesses, regional communities, as well as, metropolitan areas. We need to get energy costs under better control. The Prime Minister yesterday set out a plan to do that.

I'm here today because part of my remit is to talk to people who use energy, particularly businesses, as the cost of energy ultimately will flow through to the consumers, they flow through our ability to export. It means it affects jobs, it affects our cost of living, it affects our standard of living.

It's very important for me in my new role to get a feel for what businesses are going through and the challenges we face working with the states to get greater availability in this case of gas, but more broadly, affordable energy, secure energy in a way that reduces our greenhouse gas emissions. Rob has done a great job showing us around.

ROB SINDEL:

I just wanted to thank the Prime Minister and the Minister for joining us here today. It is a wonderful facility we have here in Victoria. It's the last glass float plant in Australia, but it's a highly mechanised and highly automated plant. I think the media and others often think of these industries as sunset industries, they aren't. They're actually well-paid, highly mechanised operations run by a very dedicated group of people who are around us here today.

The point that the Prime Minister and the Minister made is absolutely right - affordable energy is absolutely essential. Not only for consumers, but for businesses in Australia. And that affordability is reflected in supply and what we need to do in Victoria, and particularly in New South Wales, is open up new supply sources of gas for plants like this.

The gas cost at this plant increased by over 100 per cent in the last two years. That's been driven by a lack of supply. I want the Federal Government and state governments to work together to ensure that these issues are faced up to and they're addressed in a constructive and timely manner. Thanks.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks, Rob. And that's our commitment. So any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, talking about gas, will you include domestic gas reserve employment if current gas

reserves aren’t sold to Australians first rather than being sent overseas?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have seen some steps taken in Queensland in that regard. We're certainly open to discussing that with the states. The most important thing first is to get access to more gas, full stop. We have a shortage of gas available for the domestic market on the East Coast. We have got an availability problem, and we’ve got, as Rob has described, a very big affordability issue.

JOURNALIST:

Can’t you talk to businesses that are currently drilling the gas and ask them to sell it to Australians first?

PRIME MINISTER:

At the moment, there is not an overall domestic reservation policy and the industry, historically, has always been opposed to that. The most important thing is for us to have more gas available all around Australia. And what we have is in these two big states – in Victoria and New South Wales – we’ve had for political reasons, effectively, a stop on gas onshore gas development, particularly here in Victoria.

JOURNALIST:

Did Donald Trump terminate his phone call with you early out of anger?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve seen that report and I'm not going to comment on the conversation, other than to say that in the course of the conversation, as you know and as was confirmed by the President's official spokesman in the White House, the President assured me that he would continue with, honour the agreement we entered into with the Obama administration with respect to refugee resettlement.

JOURNALIST:

Was President Trump upset with parts of the conversation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks for your enquiry, but I'm not going to comment on these reports out of the United States about the conversation.

JOURNALIST:

But not the details Prime Minister, but I think the Australian public would be interested in your relationship with our most important partner. Did he hang up the phone to you earlier than you expected?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to comment on these reports of a conversation. Australians know me very well. I always stand up for Australia in every forum.

JOURNALIST:

Reports are citing things like he said it was the worst conversation that he had for that day, and he asked you if you were going to try to export the Boston bombers, do you have a comment on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to comment on a conversation between myself and the President of the United States other than what we have said publicly. You can surely understand the reasons for that. I appreciate your interest, but it's better that these things - these conversations are conducted candidly, frankly, privately. If you see reports of them, I'm not going to add to them.

JOURNALIST:

What do you say to Australians that are going to be reading this report right now about our special relationship with the US that seems to be undermined by Donald Trump's language towards you and the fact that he may have hung up the phone to you after 25 minutes?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can assure you the relationship is very strong. The fact that we received the assurance that we did, the fact that it was confirmed, the very extensive engagement we have with the new administration underlines the closeness of the Alliance. But as Australians know me very well - I stand up for Australia in every forum - public or private.

JOURNALIST:

Just on coal, are you really - is the Government really going to put taxpayer funds into building new coal plants and would it not be better to leave it to the market?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let me make this point. At the moment we have a range of policies affecting energy - the Renewable Energy Target is obviously a big one. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation provides finance to clean energy projects. A project that did involve coal that had the effect of reducing emissions would be or should be eligible for finance, but whether it stacked up, whether it had the appropriate private sector backing is another matter.

See, part of the problem we got into here is the way in which energy policy has been turned into an ideological battlefield.

Let’s be quite frank, the men and women who work here want secure affordable energy. They're not interested in some kind of ideological battle that demonises one form of energy supply or another. We have got to be agnostic. There are many ways of generating energy. There are many ways of doing it. And they all have different characteristics.

Now, renewables are great and their efficiency is improving. Costs are coming down. That's fantastic. But you know something - the wind doesn't blow all the time and the sun doesn't shine all the time.

So you have got to be able to back them up. How do you do that? Well, you’ve got baseload power, or do you? Are you going to allow all of your baseload coal-fired power stations to close down one after the other? Is that Labor's plan? It appears to be. They don't have any plan to secure our future. Or do you back them up with gas? But hang on - Labor Governments at the same time as they're pushing for higher and higher levels of renewables are stopping the development of onshore gas and as a consequence gas gets less available and more expensive.

So what about storage? Nothing going on there either. I'm taking the lead there. We need more storage. We need more pumped hydro storage. We need more battery storage. Storage is something that we'll back-up and provide real sustainability to variable renewables like wind and solar.

So the point is - the solution - there is no silver bullet here. The solution is a rational, all of the above approach to energy policy.

The goals of which are security - you have got to be able to have reliable power. Affordability - you got to be able to pay for it. Households have got to be able to afford it, businesses have got to be able to afford it and stay competitive in a global market. And yes, of course - we have to meet our emissions reduction obligations. That's the trifecta. There are many elements to this but the single most important thing is to take the ideology out of it, look at it like practical, clear-eyed, hard- headed men and women who want to get an outcome for Australian families and Australian businesses.

JOURNALIST:

The White House press conference has just written a statement to our correspondent at the ABC in the US - the President is still considering whether or not he'll move forward with this deal regarding the refugee deal at this time. He's considering doing it because of the long and good relationship we have with Australia. We know you received personal assurances from Mr Trump, and we know the US-Australian officials are continuing to work on the deal. But if the deal is locked in, why is the White House continuing to issue contradictory statements?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can only say - as I have said before - that I received the assurance that I did from the President himself. That assurance was confirmed by the President's spokesman in the briefing room of the White House. And our officials, our respective officials, are continuing to work on the implementation of the arrangements. That is the position.

JOURNALIST:

So this statement came out after your conversation with the President. Do you think something might have changed?

PRIME MINISTER:

My business is being the Prime Minister of Australia. That's my job. My job is to defend the national interest of Australia and to defend the interests of Australians. You may wish to speculate about policies and politics in Washington. That's not my role. My job is - today and every day - to stand up for Australia and that's what I do.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, in hindsight, would you have handled the issue of your personal donation to the Liberal Party differently?

PRIME MINISTER:

As I have said yesterday, I have been a regular and generous donor to the Liberal Party and it's a good cause. I commend it to you actually. Certainly we're standing up for Australian families and businesses, like this one here. I'd commend it to you.

JOURNALIST:

How much over time have you donated to the Liberal Party?

PRIME MINISTER:

I couldn't give you that figure off the top of my head, but the amount I contributed in the course of this current financial year is the number I set out yesterday on 7.30.

JOURNALIST:

Is it the biggest donation you have ever made?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, it would be the largest, yes.

JOURNALIST:

What do you say to people who might say you bought the election with your donation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, let's be quite clear about this. Let's be quite clear about this. I have put my money where my mouth is. I have contributed my money, my after-tax money to the Liberal Party, standing up for the values that I believe are critically important for Australia's future.

I can't be bought by anyone. I'm not a wholly-owned subsidiary of the CFMEU, like Bill Shorten. I'm my own man. And Bill Shorten hates that. He hates that. He goes out there every day and he attacks me for having done well, paid tax, made a quid, bought a nice house. He hates that. And he calls me Mr Harbourside Mansion. Well, he has lived off trade unions or governments all his life. He's never built a business. He's never invested, he’s never created a business like this. He’s never created jobs like this.

Now, I believe in investing. I believe in jobs. I believe in building the economy that employs the vast majority of Australians, 87 per cent of Australians work in the private sector. Every single policy we have will deliver more investment and more jobs. That's why we stand up for affordable energy.

That's why we stand up for big trade export deals.

Now, Shorten doesn't like any of that. He wants to run the politics of envy. My contributions to the Liberal Party were made out of my after-tax dollars.

The contributions that the CFMEU made, by the way, and they own Bill Shorten, he does their bidding. Let's not kid ourselves, he does their bidding, they own him - those contributions were pre- tax. So effectively that was, in effect, a tax subsidy given to their donations. We were massively outspent in the election campaign by a combination of Labor, the unions and organisations like GetUp! You all saw that. You could see it was obvious how many more ads there were for supporting the Labor Party in the election versus our side. We were massively outspent. They had a big financial advantage and I'm proud to be able to say that I'm my own man. I can't be bought. I don't belong to anybody. I'm my own man. I put my own money backing my values and my Party because we were standing up then, as we stand up today, for the policies and the values and the direction that Australians need to prosper today and in the years ahead.

Thanks very much indeed.