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Source: Prime Minister of Australia

Senator the Hon. Eric Abetz: It’s my privilege to be able to welcome the Prime Minister of Australia to Hobart this morning. The Prime Minister has been a great friend of Tasmania over many years and he has been able to deliver many projects for our state and has been intimately involved in delivering such things as the extension of the Hobart runway, the Hobart City Deal and, of course, he’s here to address the Liberal Party State Council. It was great to see the Prime Minister walk across the water as he came, albeit on a bridge. But we have great confidence in the Prime Minister. It’s good to be with Rob Pennicott as well, who many years ago used to feed me fish and chips when he had a shop at Kingston and I had a little legal office next door. It’s good to be in Hobart with the Prime Minister and on behalf of the federal Liberal Party, Prime Minister, a very, very big welcome to you.

Prime Minister: Thanks Eric. Well, it’s great to be here with Premier Gutwein as well. We’ve been working so closely together throughout his premiership and of course, Will Hodgman before him. And so, Peter, I just want to thank you for the tremendous partnership that we’ve had together as we’ve dealt with the biggest challenge our country has seen in generations, not just here in Tasmania, but all around the country. And so it’s great to be here with you today, Peter, to make some important announcements. And Jonno Duniam, it’s also great to be here with you as well. You’re doing a tremendous job for the tourism industry, regional tourism all around the country and the forestry sector as well, which is, of course, so important here in Tasmania.

But today, Peter and I are particularly here to make some important announcements. The Hobart City Deal, which saw investment, whether it’s in the Antarctic facilities and investments that we have here in Tasmania or the road investments. A key part of that deal was an international airport for Hobart and that’s what we’re here to announce today. The Commonwealth, as part of that agreement, is committing just around $50 million to put in place the border protection and other services and support that are necessary to get international flights happening here in Tasmania. Now, I can tell you, it’s great to be back in Tasmania. It’s great, Peter, for Tasmania to be open to those of us from the northern states and particularly out of New South Wales. And I’m pleased to be one of the first Sydneysiders to be here after it’s opened up and I’d been encouraging people from all around Australia, those who now can come to Tasmania. I know we’ve got a little bit of a way yet still to go with Victoria, but Tasmania is opening up safely, and that means it will be able to safely remain open. And this is really important as we go through COVID that we have the confidence to open up and then stay open because that gives Rob and all of the businesses here in Tasmania the confidence that they need to stay open, to put people and staff on, to invest in the equipment that they have and expand their businesses and take advantage of the opportunities that are coming. The comeback in Australia is absolutely underway, but that didn’t happen by accident and it won’t continue to happen by accident. That’s why you’ve got to think of the next challenge and the next issues to address. And here working with Premier Gutwein, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Now, of course, it will be some time before we see international arrivals from all the rest of the way around the world. But right now, Kiwis can fly to Australia in those states that have those arrangements, and that will be true here in Tasmania and this will only build. And so we believe it is important to take those steps to actually get ahead of the curve and make sure that Tasmania and Hobart, in particular, are in a place to receive those visitors when that happens. So we welcome that partnership, Peter. And I think it’s going to be fantastic. The more planes we see in the air means more jobs on the ground. And that’s what the Hobart City Deal was designed to deliver and the announcement today is the follow through on that announcement with former premier Will Hodgman.

Now, the other thing which has been great is Tasmania has been a great partner around the National Cabinet table, not just dealing with the challenges that we have in Tasmania, but the national challenges that we have. And one of the big challenges we have at the moment is to ensure that we’re able to get Australians home. Tasmanians home to Tasmania. Queenslanders home to Queensland, Western Australians home to Western Australia, wherever it happens to be. And we’ve got about 6,600 just over weekly capacity of people being able to come back into Australia now, which has been steadily lifting with this support and partnership with the other premiers and chief ministers. And I welcome the fact today that we’ve entered into an agreement for around 450 Australians to be able to return here through Tasmania as part of that effort and where we can go further than that, then we will and we’ll work closely with Tasmania. Premier Gutwein was very quick off the mark in our last meeting to say that Tasmania will be prepared to do their bit as part of the national effort and we really appreciate that, Peter. And the arrangement that we have, very similar to the arrangement we have with the Northern Territory government, will enable us to get more Australians home. Since the start of the crisis, over 400,000 Australians have come back to Australia. That’s a lot of people that have come back to Australia and we’ve assisted some 30,000 Australians on 66 flights back to Australia over that period of time. And this has been a consistent and constant effort. We put around $60 million in a hardship fund to support Australians who are still overseas and to enable them to come back and we’re making steady progress on getting more and more Australians home, particularly vulnerable Australians. So I want to thank Tasmania for shouldering that burden as part of the national effort and it’s been a great privilege to work alongside Premier Gutwein, with Peter as part of the National Cabinet. He’s made a very constructive, very constructive contribution and he sort of came in basically as the National Cabinet started and has quickly moved into that space and done a great job for Tasmania and a great job for Australia. So on that, I’ll hand over to Premier Gutwein. Thanks.

The Hon. Peter Gutwein, Premier of Tasmania: Prime Minister, thank you, and if I could also acknowledge Senator Abetz and Senator Duniam. The regional minister for tourism and I’ve been working very closely with in terms of the Hobart International Airport. And as he said, he’d throw the kitchen sink at it and he certainly has done over time. And also, I just want to acknowledge Rob Pennicott. Rob’s a quintessential Tasmania tourism operator. Started small, has built a business that is sustainable, one that is world class. And every time I meet Rob, I feel that I’ve learnt something more about the art of tourism because he has his finger on the pulse. His people are excellent. His business has on offer the best of Tasmania. And so if you’re in New South Wales or in Queensland or South Australia or the Northern Territory or WA and in coming months, Victoria, get down here and have a look at what’s on offer because it’s fantastic. And the work that has been doing over the years is something that needs to be shared across the nation.

I want to thank the Prime Minister for the Commonwealth’s contribution. Obviously, in the City Deal, it was framed up that one of the key aims and projects that Deal to end up with an International Airport here in Hobart. We’ve been working now for a couple of months on this particular matter and I’m very pleased in terms of the Commonwealth’s commitment to enable interim arrangements to be established at the Hobart International Airport. And I would hope that this will come online sometime early in the new year, towards the end of January, and certainly within the first quarter that we will have the international footprint established and that we will have flights coming from New Zealand. We’re already engaged and in final stage negotiations with a carrier. And at this stage, that would bring with it around 130 flights over the course of a year, some 26,000 to 30,000 visitors would be the capacity. So it’s a fantastic opportunity for Hobart. It’s a fantastic opportunity for Tasmania and we’ll continue to work closely with the Commonwealth Government on this issue. As part of our contribution, we’ll be providing a $10 million investment towards a $17.5 million investment in the interim facilities. This will stand Hobart Airport in good stead to become the international gateway for Tasmania.

Also I want to just touch on the repat flights, the mercy flights, bringing Australians home. I’ve always said at National Cabinet and I’ve said publicly that Tasmania will do its bit. We offered financial support if that was necessary, on the basis that we weren’t in a position to take flights. We are now in a position to take flights and we just had the very successful experience where we have brought internationals into the state as part of the Antarctic expeditions back. More than 100 have been quarantined here safely and successfully. We’ll work with the Commonwealth in terms of bringing three flights over the coming months to do our bit to ensure that we can bring Australians home. We’ve worked closely with public health, with the deputy state controller to ensure that we have all the systems in place and will receive ADF support to ensure that we can do that safely for Tasmania. Importantly, those who are returning to Tasmania or to Australia via Tasmania will be tested and have a health check before they get on the plane and, importantly, will be in quarantine and will receive testing through that period before entering our community.

So I just once again want to thank the Prime Minister for the support that he’s provided under the City Deal. That’s a real demonstration of state and federal governments working closely together to get outcomes for our communities, importantly, an outcome that will benefit the entire state. And once again, I do want to acknowledge Senator Duniam’s work in assisting us in terms of the efforts that he’s put in to ensure that we can bring this to fruition. I’ll hand over to Senator Duniam now to make some comments.

The Hon. Jonathon Duniam, Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries and Assistant Minister for Regional Tourism: Thank you, Premier. And that is great to have the PM here today on a typically glorious Tasmanian spring day. The most beautiful parts of our country and the best kept secrets are in regional Australia, in the far flung corners of our nation. And that’s why I’m proud as punch today to have the PM here in a far flung corner of our nation, Tasmania, to showcase a great tourism operation here at Pennicott Adventures. This is a great business, doing great things here, employing many locals, over 100 Tasmanians who are employed in the tourism industry. Regional tourism, the tourism industry generally, is the lifeblood of so many regional communities across this country and it has been especially hard hit through the COVID pandemic and all the flow on implications, the lockdowns and restrictions and the like. So the support that’s been shown by the Morrison Government, through JobKeeper, various stimulus programmes and importantly also the Regional Tourism Recovery Fund, where Tasmania got over a quarter of the funding awarded across the country, $13.5 million out of a $50 million fund. But we will be working in partnership with the state government and with industry to identify programmes and prioritise projects that will help the recovery for regional tourism in this state, really turbocharge our rebuilding effort in this industry. That’s on top of the $100 million out of the Building Better Regions Fund, which is allocated to regional tourism infrastructure. There are some great support initiatives there, but I cannot underscore how important tourism is to our regional communities. One in 10 Australian jobs in regional communities is in the tourism industry. Up the east coast of Tasmania, six out of 10 jobs is linked to this industry. So to have the PM here today to welcome the announcement of the flights from New Zealand to again show his confidence in our tourism industry is a wonderful thing and thank you, Rob, for having us here at your wonderful business today.

Robert Pennicott, Pennicott Wilderness Journeys: Look, I want to sincerely thank the state and federal government for their stimulus packages that we’ve received and many, many thousands of businesses around Australia have received those. Without those, we’d be in a holding pattern. We would have lost most of our staff. We’d have lost all of their knowledge. So now we’re at the time that we’re coming out of the COVID restrictions. We really welcome the announcement on the international airport and we’re going to welcome the Kiwis in big time. The whole of Australia, we are open for business. I’m only one business in Tasmania. There’s thousands. It’s a great place. By the 1st of December, we’ll have you guys from Victoria as well. But for every other state, we’re open now and looking forward to the next six months of rebuilding. And hopefully in two years we’ll look back, have a beer and think, did that really happen?

Prime Minister: Well, I look forward to that, Rob, I look forward to that very much. Some 16,000 businesses here in Tasmania were assisted by JobKeeper, over $800 million of support, which has kept businesses in. Jenny and I came down last night and we had the opportunity to enjoy a number of the tourism and hospitality businesses here in Hobart last night and met a lot of people and to talk to restaurateurs and those in the hospitality industry. This has been an absolute lifeline. So happy to take, why don’t we take some questions on the announcements today. I have no doubt there’ll be other matters that you’d like to raise and we’ll get to those. And I’m sure the Premier similarly on the issues at a state level and we can deal with those as well. But any questions on the matters of the announcement today?

Journalist: Prime Minister, just with the mercy flights, what does it mean for Tasmania? Will the federal government be funding hotel stays or what is the federal government actually…

Prime Minister: We’re meeting our costs involved in setting this up. There is ADF support as well and the normal arrangement that is are in place for other returning travellers where they meet with the costs of accommodation and things of that nature, which is handled through the State Government, in the same way that other quarantine arrangements have been working for people coming to Tasmania for some time. So you’ll see very little difference to those arrangements. And it’s very similar to what we’re doing in Howard Springs and in the Northern Territory. This is additional capacity and what we’ve been seeking to do to get more Australians home is to lift the capacity in those more established ports where flights normally go to, in Sydney and Perth and Brisbane. But what this is is demonstrating that we know that we need to supplement that, and these are three flights between now and the end of the year, and we have no doubt that we have the ability to keep expanding that and do more there, perhaps sooner, to fit in with the broader plan.

Journalist: There was a concern for the Hobart Airport earlier this year that if international flights were to open up, that the Airport would be required to meet the costs of recruitment and training. Is that still the expectation?

Prime Minister: Well, we are providing our more than $50 million of support to ensure that we can stand up the services that are necessary at the interim facility, and the state government as you’ve heard have made their announcement about what they’re doing in investing in the infrastructure as well. So this is a very positive announcement for the airport. Very positive for Tasmania as well. But most importantly, it’s the follow through on the Hobart City Deal. And we’re seeing that, as Eric and Jonno would know right across Tasmania, but particularly here in Hobart, it was an important deal that was struck to invest here in Hobart, in particular, as we’ve made big investments up in the north and other parts of the state. And so this is following through on those commitments we made before the last election.

Journalist: Kiwis can come here. When will we be able to go to New Zealand?

Prime Minister: That’s a matter for the New Zealand government and the arrangement that we have is for New Zealanders to be able to come and spend their money here, and Australians are able to spend their money here too. And we think that that is great for the tourism and hospitality industry, in particular, and especially here in Tasmania. So, what other countries do and enabling Australians to travel to other places is a matter for them, and this isn’t a reciprocal arrangement, but I think that we’ve got the good end of the stick here. I think Kiwis who come to Tasmania will certainly get the good end of the stick when it comes to the wonderful experience they’ll have here.

Journalist: There is a perception, I guess, that New Zealand and Tasmania are quite similar. Obviously, Tasmania is the better place.

Prime Minister: I agree. I agree.

Journalist: But what kind of studies have been done, Prime Minister? How viable is this route, do you think?

Prime Minister: Well, I’ll let Peter speak to that.

The Hon. Peter Gutwein, Premier of Tasmania: I’m happy to. We’ve engaged with a carrier now for some months and they are very positive in terms of the market appetite for Tasmania. In fact, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised, in fact, how positive they are. As a government, we will provide a level of underwriting and provide a degree of comfort. And I’ll go into those matters more once the deal is actually inked. But the positivity has been palpable in terms of the appetite for New Zealand for this option.

Journalist: And the theory, I thought, was that the state government had committed $15 million to infrastructure upgrades in the Hobart Airport. Why has that number gone down?

The Hon. Peter Gutwein, Premier of Tasmania: The totals and the initial thinking was that it was a $15 million upgrade, which we indicated that we would provide some assistance. The estimate now is $17.5 million, and we’ll be providing $10 million towards that and the airport will be providing $7.5 million. Now, I’ve been in touch with the Airport CEO this morning who was ecstatic in terms of the steps that we’re taking and the fact that this announcement has been made today. And so we’ll continue to work closely with them and that we’ll be welcoming in Kiwis as soon as we can.

Journalist: And in terms of having it up and running by January 2021, my understanding is we have to do accommodation for Border Force officers, is that right? How will that work?

The Hon. Peter Gutwein, Premier of Tasmania: Look, in terms of the arrangements with Border Force, we’ll obviously have some Border Force that will travel into the state, but those arrangements are being worked through at the moment. What our focus is, is ensuring that the interim arrangements at the airport itself in terms of the infrastructure necessary to meet passengers and planes is in place. And that’s being worked through its final stages at the moment.

Journalist: And will the AFP be flying in and out as well?

The Hon. Peter Gutwein, Premier of Tasmania: We’ll work through those arrangements. Obviously, what we’d like to see in Tasmania is a permanent AFP presence and Border Force. But those matters, as we step cautiously through this, will all be ironed out.

Journalist: While you’re standing there, Premier, a lot of Tasmanian businesses are relying on JobKeeper. Will you be talking to the PM today about an extension of that programme?

The Hon. Peter Gutwein, Premier of Tasmania: What was interesting in recent days, I attended the tourism industry conference, spoke with a number of West Coast businesses that have been beneficiaries of JobKeeper as this programme rolled out. And what was really pleasing to hear was that in terms of their own balance sheet, in terms of their own financial position, that they felt that they were in a better position this year right now than what they were 12 months ago. Now, that’s testimony, I think, to the fact that JobKeeper has worked. But at the same time, it’s testimony to the fact that Tasmanians have done their bit. They’ve been travelling widely, they’ve been spending and intrastate tourism has been quite strong. In fact, one of the strongest post-winter periods that we’ve had. And so many businesses are in much better shape than what they were, than what they ever imagined they would be. And we’ve supported the gradual step down that’s been provided by the federal government. Hopefully, and importantly, what we’re seeing is that turnover is increasing. And now with the borders to other states opening as well, we’ll see more people in the state other than just Tasmania spending, and that will ensure that businesses are able to function and be profitable.

Journalist: So you don’t think JobKeeper needs to be extended?

The Hon. Peter Gutwein, Premier of Tasmania: I think the current taper is right, but obviously I think, you know, for all of us, you know, governments are being nimble through this. But I think with the steps that we’re taking and importantly the health of the country and I just make this point with the Prime Minister here. You know, Australia stands out alone in the world in terms of how it has managed this virus. And importantly, what we’re seeing more than green shoots now in our economy. We’re seeing confidence from Tasmanians and West Australians and Queenslanders and people in New South Wales. And with Victoria righting itself I think the country is going to be in a much stronger position as we move forward.

Prime Minister: Can I just add on JobKeeper, what the Budget does is enable us to do a gear change, and so JobKeeper is and continues to play a very important role. But in the Budget, we sort of move forward with the loss carry back provision. So businesses here in Tasmania that will have losses in this financial year will mean that they can access the tax that they paid in previous years. Talking to Rob before and having some good years coming into the pandemic, paying taxes, and to be able to claw some of that back to offset the COVID losses they’ve had this year is important. The job hiring critics, particularly as it applies to younger Australians, another advantage for businesses, the instant expensing. You know, you can’t stay stuck in neutral when you’re dealing with a pandemic and a pandemic recession. You’ve got to keep moving forward. You can’t stay stuck on the systems that you have. You’ve got to keep moving forward. And when you’re opening up like we are here now in Tasmanian, businesses are opening up again and employing more people, then you graduate from those emergency supports.

Journalist: Just on the US election, it’s now clear Joe Biden will be the next US President. Will you work as closely with him as he did with Donald Trump?

Prime Minister: Of course. I mean, that is absolutely, once the election has concluded and all the votes are counted and it is declared and there is, you know, that has not been resolved yet. But that has always been our approach. See, the Australia-US relationship is bigger than any one individual. It’s bigger than any Prime Minister, any President. I’ve said this consistently and it’s wide and it’s deep and it’s incredibly important. And that’s not just Australia who understands that. The United States understands that as well and that’s what’s always underpinned, I think, very positive relationships between prime ministers and presidents of various backgrounds and political affiliations over a very long period of time. It is our most important relationship. It secures Australia’s position in this part of the world. It provides for our economic opportunities as well. So we will always have a very strong, stable, important relationship with the United States. But we’re respecting their processes. Their institutions are incredibly strong, I have great faith in their institutions and their processes, as I do ours. And so we will trust those, wait for that process to conclude and then get on with the business of the relationship.

Journalist: What’s your response to Anthony Albanese’s call that you should contact Donald Trump personally and tell him that democratic processes should be respected?

Prime Minister: Well, I found it, frankly, a little odd that he would think that Australia should take a different position to every other world leader. I mean, I’ve simply said the same thing that other world leaders have said, and that is we should respect the institutions. We respect the democracy and we should be patient. In fact, Vice President Biden said the same thing, that we should just be patient and that’s exactly what we’re doing. So, look, I think it was a suggestion that demonstrates that he may be seeking to try and import the politics of the United States into Australia. I don’t know why you’d want to do that. It has no impact here in Australia. They have their domestic politics. We’ll leave that to them and to seek to do that and bring it here to Australia I thought it was a bit surprising. But, you know, that’s for him.

Journalist: How does that work? What do you mean seeking to import that, do you mean that style of politics?

Prime Minister: No, I just think trying to draw some link between the politics of the United States and trying to inject that in a partisan way into Australia is very divisive and very unnecessary. There’s no dispute in this country about the importance of the relationship with the United States. It’s always enjoyed very strong bipartisan support. And so I don’t know why he’d want to inject some sort of partisan element into this. Prime ministers work with presidents, presidents work with prime ministers. And one of the reasons that works so well is we tend not to interfere in each other’s domestic politics. We have enough respect for each other’s institutions and processes to know that they will look after themselves and we will get on with the important business of the relationship.

Journalist: Is Donald Trump lying when he alleges electoral fraud?

Prime Minister: I’ll just give you the same comment on this matter. I’m just not a participant in the US political process. They have their institutions to deal with all of those things and I’m very confident that their institutions and their processes will address all of that. And we’ll be patient for a final outcome and we’ll work, as we always have, very successfully with the United States.

Journalist: That’s a big play. Do you think there’s some basis to it?

Prime Minister: Well, again, it’s not a matter for Australia. It’s a matter for the United States. And just like other leaders around the world have not sought to buy into those questions, well, I think that’s the wise thing to do. I think the suggestion that Australia or I should somehow involve themselves in the US political process I think is a very unwise one. And I think it’s one that shows a lack of understanding about how these things work. And it’s important to maintain a level head and just wait for the outcome and then work with the president that the people of the United States have elected.

Journalist: But is it a false claim when he says that…

Prime Minister: I’ve already addressed that.

Journalist: Do you have any parting words for Donald Trump?

Prime Minister: Well, again, I’m just going to wait for the electoral process to conclude before I make any remarks on it. Others are welcome to speculate and commentate on that process. But I’m just going to patiently and respectfully await the outcome of that process. I think that’s the mature thing to do. I think that’s the responsible thing to do and suggestions that we should do otherwise, well, I think that reflects on the motivations of those who make those suggestions.

Journalist: The Inspector General’s report, how quickly should those – into the ADF – how quickly should those findings be released publicly and will the government ensure as much information as possible is made public?

Prime Minister: Well, as the CDF has confirmed, he’s in receipt of that report. It’s a very, very serious issue. The government will be taking it very seriously and we will be abiding by all the proper legal and institutional processes that are appropriate. And we will have more to say about that over the course of the next week. And at this stage, though, the CDF has received that report and it goes to highly sensitive matters and it’s important that we run a process here that respects the integrity of our defence forces, that upholds the standards that all Australians would expect of our defence forces and to ensure that people are treated fairly in that process as well. And we’ll be doing all of those things. But this process has a long way to go, and we will work through that thoroughly and with a high level of integrity.

Journalist: What level of information could the public expect?

PRIME MINISTER: We’ll have more to say about that once we make further announcements.

Journalist: Just a final question on China. Is China engaging in economic coercion and how will you mend the relationship if they’re refusing to cooperate?

Prime Minister: Well, first of all, China denies that they’re doing that. So that’s what China has said and I can only, as I said this week, take that at face value. So the suggestion that they have been engaged in that is something that they strongly deny. And this issue regarding a number of our commodities and other exports is, of course, of great concern to the government and great concern to those exporters. The Australian government has been standing by our exporters in ways this country hasn’t seen in a long time, particularly during the pandemic and the international flight assistance. I mean, this is in addition to JobKeeper and the other many supports we provide to exporters. This has been a lifeline to those exporters. So we have shown great support for them. But the technical issues, as they’ve been described by the Chinese government that have been identified, we will have to work to those processes. But to those who make other comments about the relationship, I would simply say this, that Australia will always stand by our sovereignty. We will always stand by our values. We will always be consistent with those. We will never trade them away. And we will maintain the integrity of whether it’s our foreign investment rules or our rules of interference in Australia’s political situations here in Australia or the integrity of our communications networks, all of these things. And we will continue to raise our voice on matters that are very important to the Australian people. And we’ll do that consistently. And so these are things that can’t be traded away. We will work the relationship, importantly for Australia, in a way that is consistent with the comprehensive strategic partnership. It’s an important partnership. We believe it’s an important relationship, but it’s a relationship that will always be based on Australia’s national interest and mutual benefit between Australia and China. Thanks very much.

[End]

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