Press conference in Rockhampton, Queensland

Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese MP 
Premier of Queensland, Steven Miles MP
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Federal Minister for Emergency Management, Senator Murray Watt


E&OE TRANSCRIPT
PRESS CONFERENCE
ROCKHAMPTON
TUESDAY, 7 MAY 2024

SUBJECTS: Beef Australia 2024; Future Drought Fund; Senate Supermarket Inquiry; Unsafe and Unprofessional Interaction with PLA-Air Force; Live Cattle Class Action; Hamas-Israel Conflict; West Australian Brothers Tragedy; Bruce Highway.

BRYCE CAMM, BEEF AUSTRALIA CHAIR: Ladies and gentlemen, can I welcome you all to Rockhampton, the nation's beef capital, here to celebrate Beef Australia 2024. It is my great pleasure as Chairman of Beef Australia to welcome the Prime Minister of the nation, Honourable Anthony Albanese, here today. Your ministers, Minister Watt for Agriculture and Minister King for Northern Australia. It's also great to have the Premier here today, the Premier of Queensland, Steven Miles and your Agriculture minister, our good friend of Beef Australia, the Premier of Beef, the Minister of Beef, Minister Furner. Ladies and gentlemen, day two here in Rockhampton. A cracking day for people's day yesterday, over 33,000 people through the gates here at Beef Australia to celebrate the entire Australian beef community and everything that is so proud to celebrate. We have a number of international visitors here again, over 650 delegates from around the world here with a particular interest in this sector, in this industry, and it's high quality Australian beef that we export to the world. So it's such a privilege to have the Prime Minister here with us today, and I welcome him. Thank you.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much, mate, and thank you for the very warm Central Queensland welcome that we've all received. It was a cracking night last night, I can confirm that we had beef for entree and for main course last night with over 600 of our closest friends, all there at the basketball court here in Rocky. And this morning we woke up to an absolutely stunning day that is as wonderful as this industry is itself. This is a celebration of all things beef. It's an opportunity for us, including those of us who live in our cities, to pay tribute to the role that farmers play in going literally from the paddock to the plate, as the saying goes. Making sure that Australians know that what they get on their tables at their family dinners at night is a product of hard work of our agricultural sector and of our farmers. And in particular this week is a celebration, of course, of all things beef. There's also a really serious side to it. As Bryce said, this is the first time since 2018 that international visitors have been here at Beef Week. We know that seventy per cent of Australia's beef that's produced is for export. What that means is jobs here, but it also means economic benefit for Australia. Whether it be the very important live cattle trade or whether it be meat products that are exported right around the world. And one of the things that struck me last night is how optimistic the producers are. Optimistic about volumes, but also optimistic about price going forward as well. It's anticipated that exports next year, financial year, could be worth up to some $12 billion. That's an extraordinary achievement of this industry. And it's an industry that we've been determined to work with. To work with when challenges have arisen, such as Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in Indonesia, where we worked, including personal discussions I had with President Widodo. The changes that we made that were sensible changes, worked through with industry. Things like people coming back from Bali just wiping their feet on a mat, something that's not onerous, but something that made sure that this vital industry was kept open. Now today as well, we have a really important announcement of $519.1 million of the Future Drought Fund to be allocated for resilience. We held a forum last year that had input from the sector in how can we improve the way that the fund operates? And we know that the fund is important when events occur to be able to assist with recovery. But what we also know is that the science tells us when it comes to climate change, there will be more extreme weather events and they'll be more intense. Whether it be floods, whether it be drought, or whether it be cyclones. So what we need to do wherever possible, where it's appropriate, is to invest in advance to build resilience, to work with the farm sector to make sure that spending a dollar today can save not just $5 or $6 down the track, but can also minimise the grief that farmers feel when they go through a drought situation. And that's why I pay tribute to the work that Murray Watt’s done as the Minister to work this through. This funding will be included in the Budget next week. And just finally before I hand to the Premier, this is the largest ever investment by a Federal Government in Beef Week, $6 million I announced here some two years ago. This is an investment that is producing a significant return. The benefit here in Rockhampton of this event this week will be over $100 million. But it's more than that, that's $100 million directly into this economy. But the benefit when it comes to globally, as a result of that international engagement. Last night I spoke to domestic producers from Queensland, from the Northern Territory, from right around Australia, but particularly here in Queensland. But I also spoke to people like a gentleman from Indonesia, who's one of the major importers as well, about the importance of this industry. So the benefit of this Commonwealth investment will be replicated many times over. And just a final just thank you for the very warm Central Queensland welcome that we've received here. I'll hand to the Premier, and then we'll hear from Minister Watt as well.

STEVEN MILES, PREMIER OF QUEENSLAND: Thanks so much, Prime Minister, and it is great to have you here in Rockhampton. Rockhampton of course is the beef capital of the world, and that's why every three years we hold Beef Week here. Beef 24 might have only just started, but we're already planning for a bigger and better Beef 2027. That's why yesterday we announced we were doubling the Queensland government's contribution to Beef 2027 to $4.5 million. That's twice the contribution we've made to this fantastic Beef 2024 event. But it's an investment in the future of this event, in the future of Rockhampton, in the future of our beef industry. Because planning for the future of our beef industry also means planning for drought and for drought resilience. And so we very much welcome this half a billion-dollar commitment from the Australian government, from the Albanese government, towards supporting our producers to be more drought resilient. We know more droughts will come and so the more work we can do to prepare and prepare resilience, the better we can prepare all of our agricultural industries. And the person who has put this together, I understand, is Minister Watt.

MURRAY WATT, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Thanks Steven, and to be fair, a few other people had a bit to do with it as well and we'll hear from one of them shortly. Thank you very much, Prime Minister, for coming to Beef in your incredibly busy schedule. I know you will literally be crisscrossing the nation in the next couple of days, but it means a lot to Queenslanders, and particularly Central Queenslanders, to have both the Prime Minister and the Premier here in town to celebrate one of the biggest agendas and the biggest events on the national agriculture stage being beef. Thanks again to Bryce and all the organisers, I know it's literally taken three years of work to get to this week. You've done a tremendous job and everyone can have a look around and see for themselves how important this is. Just to back in what the Prime Minister has said on drought, this is a record investment from a federal government, from the Future Drought Fund. We are investing more in drought resilience than any government in Australia has ever done from the Future Drought Fund. And as the Prime Minister said, the reason we need to do that is that too often in the past governments have waited until droughts have happened and then put forward a chaotic, urgent response that hasn't dealt with the underlying problems and we want to change that. We've changed it in the way that we approach disaster management, by investing more in resilience. And we're now changing it in terms of how we approach drought, by being much better prepared for drought into the future. That over half a billion-dollar investment will do really practical things. It will help farmers learn what they can be doing on farm to make themselves ready and make their income streams ready for future drought. I've seen for myself some of the fantastic work that the Future Drought Fund has funded to date. Growing drought resilient feedstocks for our livestock industry, sharing climate science with our farmers so they know how to get better prepared. And importantly also, working with local communities to build social resilience. Because as the Prime Minister said, we often think about the impact on farmers, and that's obviously important, but it also devastates social communities as well. And this investment will go a long way towards that. Every day that a farmer wakes up is a day that's closer to drought. And unfortunately, we're already seeing drought happen in Western Australia, Tasmania and other parts of the country, and that's why it's important that we get cracking with this investment. This money will be available from the 1 July this year. We're really looking forward to working with farmers and communities to get it rolling. I might now introduce someone who actually knows this stuff better than me, Brent Finlay, who is the Chair of the Future Drought Fund Consultative Committee. Brent is also a former President of the National Farmers Federation, and he knows firsthand what these investments will mean to farmers and rural communities. So thank you, Brent, for joining us today.

BRENT FINLAY, CHAIR OF THE FUTURE DROUGHT FUND CONSULATATIVE COMMITTEE: Thank you, Minister, and thank you, Prime Minister. Thank you for your support for the Future Drought Fund. The ongoing support for the work that we're doing in preparing Australians agriculture, rural and remote communities, regional Australia, for the next drought. And we know in this country they roll in way too often. And with climate change, the severity, the length of, and the depth of the droughts will come faster. This announcement today allows the Future Drought Fund to keep continuing its great work in investing in rural and regional communities, investing in the landscapes in which we farm, improving water retention in those landscapes, preparing them for drought, but also in the farm businesses that actually the farmers need to be profitable, they need to be able to run a business that can continue to produce food and fibre for this country and also for our export markets. So today is a great announcement. Thank you, Prime Minister. Thank you for your ongoing support.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, mate. Thank you. We're happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Supermarket Senate Inquiry reports this afternoon. Are you going to listen to their recommendations and what are you doing to support farmers?

PRIME MINISTER: What we've done is to support that Senate inquiry. Obviously, I don't know what's in the Senate inquiry yet, but of course, we always give proper consideration to committee inquiries. We, of course, have already heard from Dr Emerson and his report, which has provided some important input to the government. And in addition to that we have the ACCC inquiry. The question before the government will be, one of the big questions will be, whether the voluntary code of conduct should be transformed into a mandated code. We know that there are two objectives here. One is to make sure that farmers get a fair deal for their work. The second is to make sure that consumers get a fair deal at the checkout. And we're determined to deliver on both.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask a couple of questions?

PRIME MINISTER: Sure.

JOURNALIST: First on the incident with the Chinese helicopter. Do you see that having any impact on the impending visit of the Chinese Premier later this year? And secondly, in relation to Beef Week. There's a lot of talk here –

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll answer the first and then I might come back, mate. On the incident that we have reported on, we have made very strong representations at every level to China about this incident, which we regard as unprofessional and unacceptable. Australian Defence Force personnel were going about their job. Their job in international waters, but also in international skies, to support the United Nations in the sanctions that they have against the North Korean regime. That is part of Australia being good global citizens and Australian Defence Force personnel should not be at risk whilst they're doing that. So we have a very clear position there. We do have communications with China. That includes visits and the Chinese Premier will be here in June. We will make our position clear as well in discussions, as we do. One of the things that had broken down over a period of time was any dialogue. Dialogue is important. It's always, always important to have avenues of communication, and that's why we've used all of those avenues of communication to make our position on this incident very clear.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, second question, PM. There's still a lingering frustration and in some cases anger in this community about the unsettled class action from the 2011 live cattle export bans, and I understand it's been kicked into next year now a resolution. Do you not see it as a matter of urgency for people up here to have that settlement?

PRIME MINISTER: I certainly do, and I note that that's been raised by the Chair of NAFF, who's raised it very strongly about all governments. This has been around for a long period of time. The former government refused to settle, and one of the reasons why this is in legal issues of where it is, is because of that failure to settle. I might ask Murray to make some comments on this as well. But we understand the pressure which is there, and we want to see it resolved. But the only political party that's called for an end or a pausing of the live cattle trade in recent times since my government was elected, is the LNP under Peter Dutton that called for the pausing of the trade during the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak that occurred in Indonesia. We worked with industry to make sure this trade stayed open. That was my government's approach, and it made a difference, and we rejected the calls of Mr Dutton and Mr Littleproud at that time.

MINISTER WATT: Thanks Prime Minister, that's exactly right. The legal case that is underway, and I've had many conversations with farm industry leaders about this and individual farmers who were affected by that decision back in 2011. Obviously our government is willing to settle this case, but of course we've got to think about taxpayers' money and spending it wisely. So far, the Commonwealth has put an offer on the table to settle this case of over $200 million. That's a significant amount of money of taxpayers' funds. And before any increase could be considered, we've got to think about whether that is a wise investment of taxpayers' funds. We understand that those who went through that experience with the live cattle ban back in 2011, it's been very damaging, financially, mentally, emotionally. Of course we'd like to have this resolved. But of course in any legal case, it takes two parties who are willing to settle, and hopefully in the months ahead, that'll be able to happen.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the flare situation. You mentioned communication with China. Will you be raising that incident directly with Beijing and will you be raising it when the Premier comes in June?

PRIME MINISTER: We have raised it with Beijing, and we always raise areas of agreement and also areas of disagreement when we had that dialogue.

JOURNALIST: This happened after you sought cooperation with countries like the Philippines. Do you think this is an act of Beijing in trying to intimidate Australia to keep us out?

PRIME MINISTER: The circumstances of this, I can't speak to the motivation of what's occurred here. I can say though, that it's unprofessional and unacceptable. That's our position very clearly.

JOURNALIST: If we can just pivot to Gaza for a second, Israel looks –

PRIME MINISTER: Okay, around the world.

JOURNALIST: We’ll probably come back to Australia. Israel looks to be proceeding with the ground invasion, despite Hamas declaring its accepted the ceasefire offer. Should Israel reverse course?

PRIME MINISTER: We've said very clearly, the Foreign Minister has said that we do not support the intervention into Rafah, that we're concerned about the humanitarian impact. Palestinians were told to move south in Gaza towards Rafah. The concern which is there is for a loss of innocent life, and we've made our position clear, as has the United States, as have all of our partners. Five Eyes partners such as Canada and New Zealand as well. We want there to be a sustainable ceasefire. We want, the hostages should be released immediately and unconditionally. That should occur. There is no role for Hamas to play in the future of Gaza. But we also, very clearly, support a two-state solution, along with our like-minded countries.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, have you spoken with the parents of the two surfers who tragically lost their lives in Mexico, and what is your government doing to protect Australians?

PRIME MINISTER: This is a terrible tragedy, and my heart goes out to them, to having to identify these wonderful young men. And they have been traveling in Mexico, we've been dealing with them through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I've indicated that I wish to speak to them at an appropriate time of their choosing. This is a tragic incident. And to all of the family and the friends of these young Australians, I think the whole of Australia's thoughts are with you at this difficult time.

JOURNALIST: Just a beef question, so beef producers Inaudible. Are you confident that it will pass the senate Inaudible? What should we be doing Inaudible.

PRIME MINISTER: When it comes to the Senate, sometimes when you see the Liberal Party, the National Party and the Greens voting together it's hard to comprehend how this occurs, but it happens pretty regularly. But I might ask our Senate expert who's here, Senator Watt, to respond.

MINISTER WATT: I had a feeling that might come my way, thanks, Prime Minister. So just very briefly a bit of context, in last year's Federal Budget, the Albanese Government made the biggest increase to biosecurity funding that Australia has ever seen. Largely through a significant injection of new taxpayer funding, and also by increasing costs on importers, because of course they pose a risk every time they bring something into the country from a biosecurity perspective. Those two things, increasing taxpayer funding and charges on importers, were things that the former Coalition Government was never prepared to do. It took a Labor Government to actually deliver sustainable biosecurity funding for this country for the first time. As part of that package we also did decide to introduce a very small levy on producers - cattle producers, horticulture producers, across the board. All up in that package that would see producers contribute only six per cent of the overall biosecurity funding in this country, with the vast majority contributed by taxpayers and importers. And what that means in practical terms, here yesterday, cattle was selling for about $2000, $2500 per head. What we'd be asking producers to pay through that levy is a bit over $1 per head towards protecting their livelihoods through stronger biosecurity protections. Now of course it's always been our plan to introduce this levy on the 1st of July as a way of making a contribution to biosecurity. There is legislation that needs to be passed in the Senate. We're in discussions, of course, with a number of parties about that at the moment, and I don't want to pre-empt the Senate. But as I say, this is a really important contribution that producers can pay towards stronger biosecurity and protecting their own livelihoods. To me, if we're going to ask the shop assistants, the cafe workers, the roads workers, to chip in a bit more money here in Central Queensland for biosecurity, I think it's only fair to ask producers to pay a very small amount as well.

JOURNALIST: Producers already pay a levy, Inaudible. There’s been a lot of holes poked in the whole thing, so you haven’t really changed anything. Would you, if you think it would be rejected by the senate, would you come back with another policy?  

MINISTER WATT: Well of course it's our intention to see this passed by the Senate, and we'll be working very hard towards that, because we believe that biosecurity needs significant funding to protect this industry and protect the many thousands of jobs that it relies on. We actually have listened to the feedback that we've had from the industry. We've changed the way that we're calculating the levy, we've introduced a new advisory panel about how we spend our biosecurity funding, that again, no government has ever done, and industry has been calling for, for a long time. So we'll keep working with industry about this. But as I say, it's important that biosecurity is a shared responsibility, taxpayers have got a responsibility, importers have got a responsibility, and we think producers do as well.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Murray, last question.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on the Bruce Highway. Do you think it will ever be as good of a quality as the highway between Brisbane and Sydney?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it should be.

JOURNALIST: Can you give us the money for it then?

PRIME MINISTER: It should be. Well what we did, when I was the Minister, we put $7.6 billion into the Bruce Highway, in half the time that the Howard Government put $1.3 billion into the Bruce Highway over 12 long years of neglect. When I was the Minister we built, we announced, planned, built and opened Yeppen floodplain to the south here that used to cut off Rocky every time there was a major flooding event. We fixed it. The LNP did nothing over the previous 12 years. When I was the Minister, we did the planning, when Kirsten Livermore was the local member here we did the planning for the Rocky Ring Road. We lost government, nothing happened for a decade, nothing happened. The LNP did bugger all, is the technical term, over that decade. We came into government, we put the money in, the proper funding in that hadn't been allocated for that road. We put the money in, and it's now under construction, fully funded with Steven Miles and the Queensland Labor government. What the former government did, Rocky Ring Road's a great example, is put in some of the money. You can't actually sign a contract and build a road with half the money. If you go into one of the hat stalls over here, and a hat costs $100, you can't say, I'll give you a $40 and walk away with the hat. Nothing happens. You don't get it done. We get things done as a government. So if you look right up and down the Bruce Highway, whether it be Calliope crossroads, whether it be the Mackay Ring Road, the Townsville Ring Road, the Townsville Port Access Road to take approaches off there, the southern approaches to Cairns. Whether you look at the entire length of the Bruce Highway, what are the big projects that happened under the former government over 10 years? Bugger all happened. It's taken a Labor government, working with Steven Miles’s government in consultation, not getting into arguments, getting things done. Which is why Steven Miles and I turned the first sod and were there for the beginning of construction. The LNP are good at funding billboards in this town talking about the Rocky Ring Road, it’s a pity they didn't build it.