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Source: Prime Minister of Australia

PRIME MINISTER: Well welcome everyone, and particularly welcome to Premier Andrews. It’s good to have you join us in this way Dan and I appreciate you making these arrangements given the isolation that I’m now in day 3, all going well. It was good to see you also earlier this week when I was able to get down to Melbourne and talk over many many issues.

And the reason we are here together today is because of a very important issue that the Premier and I have been working together on as have our Ministers, for a protracted period of time. And of course earlier this year, as COVID-19 hit and frankly just before it, in fact the night before I think it was Dan, before we had the COAG meeting out in Western Sydney, these were the very issues we had been discussing together. But since that time there has been quite a lot that has occurred. And that has meant that these important announcements about the Melbourne airport rail link and the and the first phase of the Geelong faster rail projects, we have taken some further time to ensure the issues around the route and private sector proposals and other matters were able to be progressed and resolved, to bring us to the point where we’re at today. 

Both of us, I’m sure, would like to have been in the position to be making this announcement many, many months ago. But I commend you Dan and your team for the way that we’ve all been able to work together to get Victoria up and standing again, and which means that we can get on with things. And the Premier and I have always had a very strong relationship, particularly when it comes to delivering infrastructure and world class infrastructure in Victoria. And these projects, I think, are shining examples of that. 

Today, we’re, you already will know, that we’ve both committed $5 billion dollars to deliver the Melbourne airport rail link, also that we’ve committed $2 billion dollars to realise the first stage of faster rail between Geelong and Melbourne. These are vital projects that both connect a growing part of Victoria and Geelong, but also one of the key national projects connecting Melbourne Airport to Melbourne’s CBD itself and to do so in a way that will reduce travel times for that important connection to less than 30 minutes. 

Now, none of that is new because we’ve made those announcements before to work together to those ends. And the 11,000 jobs that are created by these projects combined. What is important is we’ve been able to settle on that route. And I thank all of the team in Victoria for the way they’ve worked through what are incredibly difficult issues where you do have to balance up, how it’s built, how much it costs, the best way to deliver on the objectives that we have, with all of these projects, whether it’s the faster rail in Geelong where we would both agree, we’d like to shave even more time off that journey. But you have to get on with, what you can deliver on the ground. And we’re both very committed to doing that and working together to ensure that projects meet both of our objectives and the significant financial commitments that we’re making in partnership on this programme. 

So slashing travel times, busting congestion, opening up the opportunities that are there, particularly in Victoria, in linking both a growing and thriving part of Victoria to the CBD, as well as, of course, the long overdue link between the Melbourne CBD and the airport. These are the sorts of projects which combine together through our investment some $14 billion worth, are the types of projects which will drive our economy nationally and at a state level over the next decade and then set up further opportunities beyond that.

We often talk of productivity and what it means to see higher wages in the future. Well, critical infrastructure that makes our cities work better for the, for its residents and its citizens is exactly how you achieve that. And these are the big flagship projects that we both feel very passionately about. 

So, again, Dan, thank you again for the partnership. Looking forward to getting on with it. The intention is that we get this underway in 2022 and there’s still a lot of work to go between now and then. But it’s great to reach this next stage and I’ll hand it over to the Premier. 

Thank you, Dan.

THE HON DAN ANDREWS, PREMIER OF VICTORIA: Thank you very much PM and at the outset, can I say on behalf of all Victorians, thank you for the partnership, that is how we get more things done and we can get them done faster. 

Today’s all about building the transport system that Victorians voted for and creating the jobs that Victorians need, whether it be the airport rail link, which in many regard- in many ways perhaps should have been built decades and decades ago, but has fallen to us to get on and get this done. And because we’re equal partners, because we’re working together very closely, we’ll be able to deliver the jobs and that direct link, that heavy rail direct link that has never, ever been there. In terms of Geelong, faster rail. This is a really exciting project and I’m really pleased to be able to confirm that in our Budget next Tuesday, we will match the $2 billion dollars billion that your government has put forward. So it’ll be $4 dollars billion, an equal partnership so that we can get the travel time from Geelong into Melbourne down to 50 minutes. That’s a 15 minute travel time saving by building new track and the route is 8 K’s shorter. So it’s about more trains more often and more people getting from Geelong to Melbourne and Melbourne to Geelong much faster than they otherwise would. 

In terms of the airport rail link. And just as you and I both noted many, many times, and I think many Victorians have noted, this has been talked about for decades. The fact that it’s going to become a reality because of our partnership is is a proud moment and a very important moment, because what we’ve done is we’re going to build this in a uniquely Victorian way, connecting the airport via the Metro Tunnel, a project that is transformational, fully a year ahead of schedule, taking people where they where they want to want to go, those new metro tunnel stations in the heart of the city where people work or people live, and of course, because this connects directly out the busiest train line, the Cranbourne Packenham line direct to the airport, that’s the busiest train line to get from home to the Melbourne airport without having to change a train. Every other metropolitan line will only have to do one change and they’ll find themselves at the airport. This is really, really important for jobs, for productivity, for congestion on our roads and fundamentally doing the things that we said we would do. That’s what Victorians want. That’s what Victorians deserve. And I’m very grateful and very pleased to have such a strong partnership between my government and yours. That’s how you get things done. 

Just in terms of the Geelong faster rail project, if you’d spent $2 billion on your own or if we had spent $2 billion on our own, there’s no way that we would deliver this sort of outcome. Because it’s a four billion dollar shared effort, and a true partnership. We can create the jobs and we can deal with one of the fastest growing regional cities anywhere in the nation. And we can also provide for that inner western and even outer western corridor on the western edge of our city, one of the fastest growing parts of our country as well. So this is a really important day, exactly what people voted for. In fact, more than that and exactly what we need right now and into the into the future. So I think there’s been a technical briefing already this morning I think PM, but I think it’s probably best if we if we go to questions now and I’ll do my best to answer any of those technical questions that people might have. 

PRIME MINISTER: OK, well, let’s do that. I understand we’re going to start with the press room down in Victoria first. 

JOURNALIST: Premier Reid Butler from Nine News here, the Sky Bus takes 22 minutes and this service will take half an hour and be completed in 10 years. Could it be faster, do you think? 

PREMIER ANDREWS: I think it’s about making sure that you’re taking people where they want to want to go, and the fact of the matter is that very few journeys start and end at Southern Cross Station. That is to say, very few people want to begin or end their journey down at Southern Cross Station and then have to get a tram or another train to where they want to ultimately go, because this connects the airport to the metro tunnel all of that, so whether it’s the park fill precinct for the cancer centre, the Royal Children’s Hospital, University of Melbourne, all the way down into the centre of the CBD, all the way down to the shrine at Anzac Station and that st kilda road precinct. This is this is the best of both worlds. You’re getting to the centre of Melbourne, quicker. You’re using a service that simply isn’t available now and you’re getting where you want to want to go rather than everybody having to hub through Southern Cross Station. We don’t think that’s the best outcome. 30 minutes is still a very a very, I think, a very, very efficient service. And of course, it’s giving people an option they don’t have at the moment. Some people might continue to use a Sky Bus type service. Some people might still drive their own vehicle and use long term and short term parking. Some people might get a cab, but many people, many, many people will now be able to use a rail option that’s been talked about for decades, but it will be delivered because of the partnership between our government and the Commonwealth. 

PRIME MINISTER: And let’s not forget the international travellers, too. And they will be coming back. They will be coming back and hopefully we’ll see that next year. But those international travellers have an expectation of world class cities that such infrastructure would be in place. And it’s exciting that that will now be realised for Melbourne. 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] from Seven news, just wondering how long you anticipate the Geelong rail will take to complete?

PREMIER ANDREWS: Yeah it’s a little bit, I’ll start and the PM might want to add to this. Obviously, we’re going to have construction underway in 2023. And this is in some respects, a simpler project than Melbourne Airport, because it’ll be done above above ground, but it has to be done right. So it’s just a little bit longer for us to be able to put an end date on this. But we’ll certainly be underway in 2023 and you’ll see various milestones throughout ‘21, ‘22 will be out to market and we’ll be within the ground, as it were, in terms of 2023. So it’s simpler, the Metro Tunnel or Melbourne Airport rail, but it’ll be done as fast as we can possibly do it. And it’ll mean instead of taking 70 minutes to get from Geelong to the city, you’ll be there in 50. That is a really significant travel time saving and one that I think will see more and more people on the train, not on that very busy Geelong road. And it’ll allow us because we’re building brand new track, and separating the services will be able to run more trains, which means more people can get where they want to go and get there faster. And of course, 2,800 jobs is a really good outcome, too. 

PRIME MINISTER: I’d agree with that. And simply add that one of the issues we were dealing with before we went into COVID-19, when we would discuss the schedule of projects in Victoria, not just rail but road and others, was I think we Were at the Monash upgrade announcement Dan and getting our head on the ceiling in terms of the capacity and the capability on so many of these projects. Well, that’s a very strong sign of the incredibly ambitious infrastructure programme we have. And it’s not just the regional rail projects down into Geelong, of course, but there’s the $320 million for the Shepparton rail line upgrade. There’s the $208 million for stage two of the Warrnambool Rail line upgrade. There’s $292 million for the Barwon Heads Road. And so there’s a lot of projects going on, both federally supported and state initiated and state only. This is a lot of work that’s got to get undertaken over the next decade, but that will underpin the economic recovery out of COVID-19 and then sustain it. And delivering the workforce for that is also a big thing that the Premier and I also spent a lot of time focussing on.

JOURNALIST: Timna Jacks here from The Age. This is a question for the PM and the Premier. Both of you had indicated in the past that dedicated airport rail tracks would be needed between the city and Sunshine. You had $7 billion dollars on the table from a private consortium to build it. The upgrade would have delivered really fast airport rail services and Geelong Services. Why did you not go with that option? 

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll leave that one to you Dan, because you guys did the work with the private proponent.

PREMIER ANDREWS: Well Timna, we’ve had a team of transport experts and finance experts working through the market led proposal that had come forward to us. And we’re very grateful to the private sector for coming to us with innovative ideas. But you’ve got to work through these things in a really painstaking way. You’ve got to work through methodically. And the fact of the matter is that what we’re putting forward, what the Prime Minister and I have agreed to build, will be will be built at less cost to the taxpayer. I think greater value, it’ll be done much faster. And it allows us to take people where they want to go. Those five metro stations at the busiest train line so you can be in Packenham and get to the airport without having to change trains. That just makes sense. The other thing, too, that, this is $10 dollars billion. That’s not a small project by any stretch. But the difference in the cost to the Australian and Victorian taxpayers is, well, more than $7 billion dollars. So you can have money on the table. But if the overall project cost is indeed more than that, then they’re the very fine judgements that we’ve had to make. I’m not being critical of that part of the private sector for coming forward. We’re very grateful to them and I would be very confident that we can continue to work with that particular group. We thank them for all that they do. And I think there will be many, many opportunities for us to work with them. But you just got to work through these things in a very a very careful, a very methodical way. And when your transport experts and your finance experts are saying we think we can make better use of existing, that is to say, the soon to be completed Metro Tunnel connect people where they want to go, do it quicker and have better value for taxpayers. That’s pretty hard to say no to. That’s why we’ve said yes. And that’s why we’re going to get this thing done and we’ll be in the ground underway by the end of 2022.

JOURNALIST: Premier Alex from Channel 10 here, obviously, Victoria needs these jobs immediately. How many of those jobs will be actually starting in the coming months? 

PREMIER ANDREWS: Well, I think Alex it’s important to acknowledge that this is one project, the Budget that will be delivered on Tuesday will have many more projects, both large and small. Some of those begin almost immediately. For instance, the $5.3 billion in social housing that I announced last Sunday, the first contracts, the first tenders, sorry, will be out to market in just a couple of weeks time. So we’ll be employing people literally within weeks. Some projects to take a little bit longer. But it’s both employment and stimulus right now, but it’s also about sending a message to that part of the market, large and small construction companies that they can they can establish themselves, they can invest with confidence that there’s a pipeline of work. And confidence is everything in terms of economic activity and building that that’s sentiment that this is a place where things are happening. This is a place where things are getting built. This is a place to invest. I don’t think we can overstate just how important that that is so, look, this is a mix. Some things from very small school upgrades. They employed people literally within weeks of the of the funding being made available. Other projects take a little bit longer, but these jobs are very important and confidence in this market arguably has never been more important. You’ve got to give them an order book. And that’s what we’ve always done. And this just adds to it. And yes, it creates some some pressure to find the right the right staff to find enough companies. That’s why the partnership the prime minister and I have on skills and particularly TAFE and training. That’s why that’s so, so important also. 

PRIME MINISTER: The other point I’d make, the National Cabinet, when looking at the economic recovery from COVID-19, has been working quite hard to try and coordinate, align our economic support activities. The state governments and territory governments are the ones who build the infrastructure. We obviously support those projects through our funding arrangements. And so getting the scheduling of that all right, I think is pretty critical. And I’d agree with the Premier that there are projects and investments that both governments are making, which impact right now. But then there are the longer term investments which build for the future. And our response to COVID-19 is both. It is about the here and now, but it is about tomorrow and the future. And that’s why I would welcome, particularly the announcement the Premier’s made about the social housing investment in Victoria. That is something state governments do, welcome that, that what we do is support through the first time loan deposit scheme and in particular the Home Builder programme, which has seen tens of thousands of homes built as well. So when you combine these things together, which is what we’re seeking to do through this cooperation, then you’re delivering jobs now and into the future. 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] And my question is probably mostly for the premier but the Prime Minister, might want to say something as well, with the Geelong project that’s budgeted for about $4 billion dollars. Could you explain why that’s $4 billion dollars, which is a much more simple project compared to the airport rail, which is about $10 billion dollars, and do labour shortages, labour costs and material cost contribute to any of sort of the pressures around this?

PREMIER ANDREWS: Oh look they’re certainly different projects and whilst you might say that the Geelong faster rail project is simpler than airport rail, or metro tunnel, it’s not simple by any means. So we’ve gone through this and and worked very hard to get as close to the done a lot of work to to get that number, that $4 billion dollar number. That is our estimate. We’ve got to go through a detailed planning process, got to go through detailed design. Of course, we have to go to the market and see what what what bids we get back. It’s not a simple project, but it’s a critically important one. Those travel time savings will really change the personal experience and the productive experience for so, so many people. This is not just a faster service. It means because we’re separating the tracks and building a new piece of track, we’ll be able to run more services. So that’s more and more people. Instead of cramming people into less train services to get from Melbourne to Geelong and vice versa, we’ll be able to run more trains more often and they get there faster. This is an absolutely fantastic project. It isn’t simple. It’s simpler than some, but it’s by no means simple and it has to be done right. And that’s what we’ve done, a power of work to get us to this stage that we can both commit the $2 dollars billion each, but there’ll be many more milestones, lots more planning. And and when we when we get to all those points will be more than happy to share some of that work with you. I don’t think labour shortages are a contributing factor at this stage. We think we can get this done, but we’ll, for instance, will come back to you with when we think it can be finished. It’s a little bit uncertain at the moment. That’s not a bad thing. It just means we’ve got more work to do. Let’s do that work rather than guessing it, guessing at things.

JOURNALIST: Premier Reid again from 9 news, just a quick question on the Australian Open, there’s reports this morning saying that it could be pushed back a week or even into March or April. What is that a possibility that the event will be postponed? 

PREMIER ANDREWS: Well, look, I think there’s been lots of reports about Australian Open tennis. I would simply say to you that we’re working very closely with our TA, their in turn working very closely with their global partners, their broadcast partners, sponsors. This is not a simple issue. What was very important yesterday was to confirm that from the 7th of next month, we can have flights return to Melbourne, our Hotel Quarantine System reset will be set up at that point. This will, this is not a simple thing, though, to have many hundreds indeed potentially well, more than a thousand athletes and others who support them, media being here for a very important event that has to be done safely has to be done right. I’m very confident that we’ll have we will have we’ll have an Aussie Open in the early part of next year. The exact timing of it, the exact arrangements we put in place, they’re not settled yet. As soon as they are settled I’ll be more than happy to share with you. But I wouldn’t read too much into some of the reports there’s a lot of people doing a lot of talking about these things at the moment while they are talking, we’re getting on and doing the work so that we can have one of our most significant major events, not just for our state, but indeed for our whole nation, happen as close to normal, as normal as anything can be COVID normal as possible. 

PRIME MINISTER: OK, well, we might now take it to Canberra if there’s any questions on the projects that you wanted to raise, particularly with the Premier while he’s still with us, if there isn’t questions on that from Canberra. I’m sure for many bureaus that will be covered off by your Victorian colleagues.

If there isn’t, I might thank the Premier very much for joining in what is a rather unorthodox moment, but in COVID Australia, a far more normal one these days. So thank you very much, Dan, and thank you for the partnership. And we look forward to picking up where we left off before COVID really hit Australia. And there’s so much more to do on so many other projects and and I wish all Victorians well with the Budget coming out and of course, and getting people back into work and seeing Victoria, can I also particularly thank you for the work that’s being done to get the international arrivals happening again. Over a thousand people coming in a week, that will greatly assist us in getting Australians home. And we’ll look at that again after about 4 weeks and see how we go from there. But we appreciate that getting back on well, in the context of today’s statement on the rails, again, that’s tremendous. And the more Australians we can get home before Christmas, the better. So thank you very much. And have a good weekend, mate. 

PREMIER ANDREWS: Terrific. Thanks very much. PM.

PRIME MINISTER: Okay we’ll go to Canberra.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Andrew Green from the ABC, if I can take you to the Brereton Enquiry this week,

PRIME MINISTER: Sure.

JOURNALIST: Have you had time to reflect on why none of these rumours or allegations had been picked up earlier by the ADF command? Do you think that they were, had their eye off the ball in terms of these allegations? And can you give us an update on the compensation that Australia may be paying victims of some of these atrocities? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think on the latter point, there is nothing for me to comment on on that matter. That is not a matter that’s currently being considered by the government at this stage. My first reflections on this, though, I must say, of course, like all other Australians, the contents of that report are disturbing and distressing. I said that over a week ago when I was with you in the very room you’re in now. And I warned Australians that it would be hard news to hear. But my reactions to that were the same as they were when I was last with you there. And that is to say that we need to ensure that the seriousness of the contents of this report are dealt with under the Australian justice system, by Australians in accordance with our laws. And that’s why we are moving quickly to set up the office of the special investigator and ensure that that is put in place so it can take carriage of those issues forward in a proper process with the presumption of innocence, obviously, which is so essential to how we deal with this matter, our justice system, our rules, our laws, and doing that appropriately. The other element that I’ve been most anxious about is ensuring that all our serving men and women who put on a uniform, all those who’ve served, in no way feel reflected upon by the actions, alleged, of a number, a small number within our defence forces. And it’s important that we provide all our men and women in our services and our veterans with absolute support, they have earned the respect which we rightly provide to them and should. And our support for veterans is incredibly important at this time. And I would remind veterans who may be listening to this that you’re aware of the many services that are there to support you. The other issues that you raise, they’re very good questions and they’re matters that the government, of course, will have to work through as part of the process of absorbing what is an exhaustive report. And they’re legitimate questions and they’re matters that we, of course, we will work through with the Defence Forces for the most important reason that these things don’t happen again, these things cannot happen again. And we’re very, very committed to work, not just with the defence forces, but across the government to ensure that governments can know about these things and can take actions when they should. But ultimately, these are matters that the Defence Force will be addressing through the CDF and the oversight panel that has been established. We will keep that process on the track that it needs to be on and that there’s appropriate accountability there. And I think the issues that you raise will come up in that process as well. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Kerrie Yaxley here from the Nine Network, the CDF said yesterday that this to a degree puts fuel into the can of extremists. Do you share that view? And are you concerned about reprisals against Australians? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we took all the necessary precautions. As I largely indicated when I first briefed the media on this and the process that we’re setting up, we ensured that between that time on the receipt of the report and the announcement of the findings of the report, that we engaged a lot with our overseas partners. I in particular spoke to President Ghani and let him know about how seriously we’re taking these matters and the processes we’d put in place under our justice system to ensure that they were dealt with properly. And he was very appreciative, both the courtesy of that call, but the actions that the government has taken to deal with this extremely seriously. So, look, there are always risks out there, and it’s always important that Australia stays on the front foot to get ahead of those risks. And I can assure you that in our handling of this report that those types of issues were carefully considered and preparations as necessary were taken. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Chloe Bouras from Channel 10, the recommendations in the report also outline granting immunity for some of those involved in these alleged unlawful killings so that essentially they can dob in their superiors. Is that something that the government would support? And how do you think the Australian public would react to that? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the thing about a justice process is you must let it run its course and those that you’ve charged with running that justice process, the office of the special investigator, they’re the ones who need to conduct those enquiries and and make the judgements about how they deal with witnesses and and and what, if any, arrangements they put in place for those witnesses. They are their judgements, it is not appropriate for the government to involve itself in the course of that independent investigation. In that case, any more than it is with any other investigation that the AFP might undertake. And so it would not be appropriate for the government to be making commentary on those matters. It’s appropriate for the office of the special investigator to be able to deal with those issues in accordance with their expertise and Australia’s justice system, and the rule of law. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Jennifer Duke from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, there’s been some reports around this morning about Ben Roberts-Smith. Do you think that he should lose his Victoria Cross? And also, in terms of Kerry Stokes, is it appropriate that the chairman of the Australian War Memorial is bankrolling some of the legal defence of those involved in alleged war crimes? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, in relation to any individual, the government, i.e. the Ministers, myself, we have only received a redacted version of the report. So in relation to any individuals, the government is in no position to offer commentary on what is in that report, as it may or may not relate to individuals. And that is intentional because the justice system is what has to deal with this issue. Not, you know, we don’t want this process dealt with as a media trial or anything else like that. And it’s important that the justice system deals with these very serious issues and in relation to any individuals, then the government would be making no comment on those matters. And I’m not aware of anyone else being in a position to do that either, other than the office of the special investigator and the judgements that they would make about any particular matters that are contained in that report. In relation to others who may choose, for whatever reason, to provide support to anyone in their legal defences. Well, it’s a free country and it’s a matter for them about how they choose to provide support. That is not uncommon in this country. And these matters are extremely serious but let’s not forget, these are Australian citizens who will be going through an Australian justice process. And they deserve all the rights that sit with that process regarding how they should be dealt with. And that certainly would not preclude anyone who may wish to assist them with their defence. And I’m puzzled as to why there might be a suggestion that there should be such a restriction, especially applied to one individual as opposed to anyone else in the justice system. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Josh Butler from the New Daily, on a different topic on robodebt, 400,000 people had money wrongfully taken or claimed from them. Amongst them would be some of the most vulnerable people in Australian society. You’re paying the money back. But considering the mental anguish, distress, some families have linked even suicides to this process, would you consider extra meaningful compensation for these people, for these victims of robodebt? And if not, why not? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we’ve done is we’ve acted on the knowledge that income averaging as a way of raising a debt and let’s be very clear here, that is what this is about. And that practise has been engaged in by governments on both sides of politics for a very long time. And income averaging is, has been found not to be a way of raising a debt that can be relied upon. And the government has changed its practice. And we’ve addressed the situation by ensuring that all of those payments and debts that have been raised in that way are no longer valid. So over $700 million has already been paid out of what we estimate to be around $1.2 billion. And I think Australians would think that would be the right thing to do, to ensure that if a debt was raised improperly on that method that had been in place for a long time, then that would be addressed. And that’s what we’ve done. And as for any other processes that are underway, well I’ll allow those to complete their course. But when it comes to the individuals, I mean, the reason that we provide social services support in the community is because we want to have, we have one of the greatest safety nets of any country in the world. And we should be very proud of that. But we also need systems to ensure that where the safety net is taken advantage of, then governments need to have processes in place to ensure that if there are overpayments or there are debts that they’re dealt with. Now, that is not, that has been a common practise by all governments. And that’s exactly what we and previous governments have sought to do and where it’s found that any one way of raising those debts is inappropriate, then we’ll make the changes as we have. And I’ve made other comments on this in the parliament, which I’d refer you to.

JOURNALIST: The government settled this case though, that surely means that you’ve accepted there’s some degree of wrongness here. These people don’t deserve extra compensation for? You would have heard the stories of of people linking this to suicide, to self-harm, to mental anguish, distress over many years. These people don’t deserve extra compensation?

PRIME MINISTER: We’re resolving the issue by ensuring that the money is paid and $1.2 billion. Now, in many cases, they are debts which may not have actually even been called in, but have been cancelled. And in other cases, payments have been made swiftly and to ensure that those funds can get paid to people as quickly as possible. And let’s not forget that $700 million dollars has been paid at the same time that Services Australia has been dealing with the unprecedented demand of getting people support through JobSeeker in particular, but the many other payments through the worst recession Australia has seen since the Great Depression. And so I really want to commend Services Australia for the way they’ve been able to move so promptly to get $700 million dollars paid out to people. And but the total amount, we expect to be around $1.2 billion.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Kerrie Yaxley again from Nine. I just want to ask you about APEC, the joint statement, can we read that as a positive shift, the fact that there is one in the relationship between the US and China? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think, I welcome the fact that for the first time in a couple of years, obviously last year in Chile, they weren’t able to hold the APEC meeting for reasons, domestic reasons at the time. In PNG I was there and it was a very difficult meeting and they were unable to come to a conclusion on the draft of that text. And so it was good that last night, in the early hours of the morning, I think we finished up at about 2:30am this morning, Australian time, even worse for the Kiwis it was 4:30am in the morning for them. But it was a very positive meeting. And people are very focussed on vaccines and the affordable early access of safe vaccines, not just in developed countries, but in developing countries, we were very focussed on that last night and on the recovery that would, that trade will play such an important role in going forward. I mean, since the Bogor Declaration was made 25 years ago, we’ve seen the average amount of tariffs on goods traded in the region fall from 14 per cent, I think down to 5. That’s a pretty big- that’s a pretty big drop. And I think it says a lot about the success of APEC and that will be important, we had the Malaysian Putrajaya declaration last night, which I think really in many ways refreshed that commitment for APEC to focus on keeping trade doors open. And of course, part of that is making sure we all individually seek to engage with each other, to deal with any issues as they arise, which is a point I made last night. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Andrew Green from the ABC. Is General Campbell the right person to lead this process, given he was in a position of command that failed to uncover some of the allegations we saw in the Brereton report? 

PRIME MINISTER: I have no doubts about the integrity of General Campbell. I’ve worked with him closely over many years, and I thought Australians could see for themselves as he dealt with probably the hardest day for the Defence Forces in a very, very, very long time, and he dealt with it with a lot of integrity, a lot of honesty, I think, a lot of compassion and a lot of dignity. And so, yes, I have great confidence in General Campbell. And I think I think many, if not most, if not all Australians do.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Jennifer Duke from the Sydney Morning Herald again. Are you concerned about the treatment of whistleblowers that you’ve sort of heard about through the war crimes process? 

PRIME MINISTER: I think it’s very important that those issues are addressed appropriately. And again, it’s the Office of the Special Investigator, I think will have a critical role there. But when it moves beyond the role of the special investigator, the Attorney-General’s Department and others, I think have important roles to play there. I think there’s been a lot of courage shown by those who have come forward through this process. That would not have been easy. And I think what that reflects is a deep respect for the values of the ADF and what and the aspirational nature of that. And our Defence Force people more than any, want to hold themselves to a high standard. That is their code, and that’s why we respect them so much. And so we will continue to work, I think, closely through our departments and with the Office of the Special Investigator and the ADF itself to ensure that this process is one that Australians can be proud of. You know, this is a terrible, terribly disturbing, distressing report. But the thing about Australia is, is we’ll deal to it and we’ll deal to it under our law, under our systems, under our justice. And I think that says something about Australia and our defence forces that this is what we do with news like this. We deal with it and it’s hard. It’s terribly hard. And I particularly feel for all of those who have been harbouring and dealing with these issues for many years. And I think of our veterans on this most of all and the things that they must be carrying. And the thing I don’t want to happen is every time they go out into the community, every time that they might be at a remembrance service or something like that, I want Australians to look at them in the eye the same way they used to with nothing more than respect and thanks, because that is exactly what they deserve. 

Thanks, everyone, appreciate your time today. 

MIL OSI News