PREMIER OF TASMANIA:
Firstly, can I thank the University of Tasmania, Professor Peter Rathjen for hosting us this morning. I will soon talk a little about what has been a very productive and useful discussion between Tasmania’s government and our Federal Government. But before I do so, I just want to say on this day when Tasmania and indeed the nation will be feeling a great sense of grief at what happened 20 years ago, we come together today to demonstrate that while we still remember the victims, their families, the impact it had, not only here in Tasmania, but across the world, we also reflect on how far we have come, and it's true to say, from the worst of times, there were some positive outcomes. We remain committed, the Tasmanian government that is, with our counterparts, the Federal Government, to ensure that we do whatever we can, to make our communities as safe as they can be, and that includes through some of the world's toughest gun control laws.
In relation to our meeting, and I'll ask the Prime Minister to talk a little more about some of the outcomes, can I just say, I welcome the opportunity to sit down with the Prime Minister, and Federal colleagues, and my Treasurer, to work through some of the opportunities that our State has. We are going through a period of great growth in our economy. We have had the highest level of growth in six years. Business confidence still ranks amongst the highest in the country. Our unemployment rate has come down. There's tremendous opportunity for our key sectors, and our key competitive strengths, but the best way we'll get outcomes is by working together collaboratively with our Federal colleagues and getting outcomes, as has happened under previous meetings of this Council and indeed today. So I want to thank the Prime Minister and his colleagues for coming to Tasmania for continuing this important process, this council, which brings together not only Governments but some key industry and community leaders to make sure that Governments are doing their bit to keep Tasmania on the right track and heading in the right direction. Prime Minister.
Well thank you very much Will, and can I say how pleased we are to be here in Hobart today. Lucy and I are here today with many of our Federal colleagues, in solidarity with the people of Tasmania, as we remember the shocking crime 20 years ago at Port Arthur. As the Premier said, the worst of times bring out the best in Australians. The solidarity that was shown, the leadership that was shown by our Prime Minister, John Howard, ensured that we have had, and have, the toughest gun control laws in the world, and we are committed to ensuring they remain just that. We are committed to ensuring that our National Firearms Agreement becomes stronger, and that Australians remain, so far as we can ensure, safe from gun crimes, like the shocking events at Port Arthur. Can I also say that we recognise that guns that are used in criminal activities are more often than not illegally obtained, and often illegally imported. We are taking strong steps following recommendations from the State and Territory police ministers, because we work together seamlessly as one federation, in dealing with the threat of guns. We are moving to increase significantly the penalties for illegal importation of firearms.
Our collaboration and our commitment is utterly unwavering. Australia has the toughest gun control laws in the world, and we will continue to keep them that way. And I know that I speak for every Premier and Chief Minister, and every Minister, in making that commitment. Now, the Premier welcomed us to JCTEC, Joint Commonwealth Tasmanian Economic Council, a very good meeting between Government leaders from Tasmania and the Commonwealth Ministers, leaders of business, academia, the university, here on their premises. A very good constructive meeting. We are all committed to ensuring that the stronger economic growth that Tasmania has enjoyed in recent times, will continue, and be stronger still under your leadership, Premier, and that of your colleagues. We have seen the enormous boost this State has had from the big free trade agreements, the Coalition Government has negotiated, particularly the Japan, Korea and China free trade agreements.
The Premier and I were in China only a few weeks ago and the enthusiasm for Tasmania remains very strong. President Xi's visit to Tasmania is still subject of discussion and, indeed, Lucy and I when we had dinner with the President and his wife discussed the joys of Tasmania and Tasmanian exports at some length. So we are seeing strong growth there. Can I say that we will continue as the Federal Government, continue to invest in vital Tasmanian economic infrastructure, over a billion dollars in transport infrastructure, and, indeed, substantial investments in irrigation, as you know. Water is the source of life, and the more we can irrigate Tasmania, the stronger that agricultural production will be, the bigger and more valuable those exports will become.
Of course, transport infrastructure, economic infrastructure, energy infrastructure, are all linked.
Can I note our very substantial investment in the Midland Highway. Can I note, too, the rapid progress of the NBN under my Government here in Tasmania. There are right now about 140,000 premises in Tasmania that can access the NBN and the NBN will be completed in Tasmania before it's completed in any other State in Australia.
So it is moving ahead rapidly as you can see if you look at the weekly progress reports on the NBN's website. It's a very transparent operation in that regard.
Now Tasmania's faced very severe challenge in terms of energy supply with the breakage in the Bass Link interconnector. The Premier and I have discussed how that is being repaired at the moment but we believe it's important, that the time has come to look very carefully at the feasibility of a second electricity interconnector between Tasmania and the mainland.
We have agreed to appoint Warwick Smith, the former federal minister and colleague of ours, to lead that feasibility study. He'll be working with Greg Hunt’s Department of Environment - Greg Hunt is here, the Minister for Environment - the Industry Department, Tasmanian Government, and most importantly the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, because this, an interconnector, we believe, has the potential of being a very substantial economic asset in which our Clean Energy Finance Corporation could invest.
The work will be undertaken immediately. We expect a progress report shortly and a final report later in the year. Now this has got an energy security dimension which is critically important. If you have two links, obviously if one is broken you are not completely cut off. But there is the potential for enormous additional investment in renewable energy in Tasmania.
I want to acknowledge my colleague Brett Whiteley and Eric Hutchinson, who have been powerful advocates for the opportunity of providing that additional connection, which will then draw substantial additional investment in wind energy in Tasmania, and, of course, as we are discussing with the Minister Greg Hunt, just a moment ago, the combination of hydro power, which is dispatchable at any time, and wind, enabled - would enable Tasmania to deliver on a much larger scale, dispatchable renewable energy right across the nation.
So this has the potential of being a very big, significant economic investment and a big economic opportunity for Tasmania.
So we are very pleased to be here in Tasmania. It's a sad day, it's a very sad day, but it is also a very important day of national solidarity when we recognise the sympathy that we have and the love that we have for the victims and their families, but also the quiet pride that Australia responded so courageously in such a united fashion, with such great leadership from my predecessor, John Howard, when he instituted the toughest gun control laws in the world.
The National Firearms Agreement is a great tribute to the leadership and a reminder, as I said at the outset, that very often we see the best of us, the best of Australians, we achieve our best in the worst, in the toughest times.
Did you have any discussions with the Premier about Safe Haven Enterprise visas, the state government is very keen to take more on, there hasn’t been a great flow, do you anticipate that will ramp up soon?
We did have a discussion about additional visa classes and I don't know, Will, if you want to say some more about that. But certainly that was one of the matters discussed at the JCTEC.
PREMIER OF TASMANIA:
Yeah look, certainly, we have put our hand up as the State to take our fair share of an intake of refugees and asylum seekers, and also we have established a Safe Haven Enterprise visa hub and we were one of two jurisdictions, the other being NSW, two Liberal Governments to say we want to take a lead role. The advice I have received from my Federal counterparts is that there are significant processing issues. We would like the intake to increase more rapidly but needless to say it's a matter for the Federal Government to determine in very difficult, sensitive circumstances, where there are heightened levels of security risk and community concern about these matters, they need to be processed appropriately.
Prime Minister, will you back your support for a second Basslink Interconnector with funding?
Well, as I said earlier, this is a feasibility study, so it will be looking at the economics of a second interconnector, and we believe it is very likely to have real commercial viability. There are a number of ways in which we could support it or indeed the private sector can support it, but an obvious avenue is the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which is established for precisely this kind of investment and they'll be looking at it very closely as well, as part of the study.
We previously heard that a second interconnector across Bass Strait would take up to ten years, do you think if it is thought to be feasible, that time line would be sped up?
Well, the interconnector should be built as soon as it is found to be economically commercially feasible.
Prime Minister, do you support the University of Tasmania's proposal to move the Launceston Burnie campuses into the centre of the city?
That's really a matter for the State Government and the universities. I don't know, Premier, if you want to comment on that.
PREMIER OF TASMANIA:
You know we do. The role of the university in Tasmania's economic and social future was very much a key element of today's discussions. We strongly support the move. The Federal Government are working with us as well, to make sure that we are best placed to increase Tasmania's educational outcomes, to work in collaboration with the University. We have struck an historical agreement to work together. They are a key partner. And also to understand what courses they might offer, what role they might play in providing greater skills in education for Tasmanians, to lift what is one of the things that's holding our State back, and that's less than adequate educational output. We'll continue to work very closely with the Federal Government, including with the Minister, Ministers, Richard Colbeck is here somewhere I think as well, on that front.
There he is, Richard Colbeck, the Minister himself, is there, Senator Colbeck. Can I just say to you, this is clearly a huge opportunity for Tasmania. The opportunity for a greater investment and greater appeal internationally for its educational services, the University of Tasmania is a world leader in many fields. It has a significant foreign student component but it could be higher, it could be significantly higher.
We see education - let's be very candid about it, education is one of our biggest exports. And it is a big opportunity for Tasmania. So we are very strongly in support of any developments that will see UTAS and Tasmania more generally, and education providers in Tasmania more generally, better able to bring those export dollars here to Tasmania to drive its growth and its participation in this stronger 21st century economy.
Given the Government has been working for many weeks on contingencies for the PNG High court
decision, why isn't the plan ready to go now that the Manus processing centre is closing?
Let me make a couple of points. Firstly, none of the people currently residing at Manus, none of the detainees there, will come to Australia. They will not come to Australia. That is absolutely clear and the PNG Government knows that, understands that very well. It is critically important that we maintain a strong Defence against the people smugglers. We have got to be very clear-eyed about this. That detention centre at Manus was set up by Labor. Its residents there, the detainees there, are the consequence of Labor's failure to maintain the strong border protection policies that they had inherited, but then discarded. They’d inherited them from John Howard in 2007 and then against our urgings, and my urgings as Opposition Leader at the time, they abandoned them.
And we saw what happened. 50,000 unauthorised arrivals. Deaths at sea, thousands of deaths at sea. Now, what we have done is we have stopped those boats. We have restored the security of our borders. There are no children in detention in Australia. There were thousands when we took over from Labor in 2013. 13 detention centres in Australia have been closed because of our strong border protection policy. Now, we are seeking to ensure that the people detained at Manus can either settle in PNG as they have the opportunity to do, or in third countries, but they will not come to Australia. I want to be very, very clear about that.
I look forward to discussions with the PNG Government, but there will be no transfer of those individuals to Australia. Because to do that would send a signal to the people smugglers to get back into business, and that is utterly unacceptable.
Our borders are secure, because we are strong, and we have to be strong - a strong Australia is a secure Australia, and by stopping the people smuggling we have stopped people drowning at sea. We can't be - we cannot be misty-eyed about this. We have to be very clear and determined in our national purpose. If we want to have secure borders, if we want to ensure that women and children are not drowning at sea, put into leaky, dangerous boats by criminals and gangsters, by people smugglers, then we must have secure borders and we do and we will, and they will remain so, as long as I am the Prime Minister of this country. Thank you very much.