PRIME MINISTER: Good morning everyone, it’s great to be here with Minister Karen Andrews and it’s also great to be here with Peter Schmigel from the Australian Council of Recycling. It’s great to be here at the Downer site which is doing something absolutely amazing about Australia’s future. What I am holding here is asphalt and 83 per cent of this is recycled materials.
Now, the challenge we have as a country is to make sure this makes up more and more and more of our the asphalt used in this country, and that more and more of our waste that we’ve seen collected here around this plant is being converted for reuse, commercially done for reuse. And to create the jobs that come with that recycling. For every 10,000 ton of materials that we divert from landfill into these sorts of recycled uses, that creates a net six jobs. We currently export one and a half million tonnes of waste of plastics and glass and paper offshore every year. Now, as you know at the meeting of Chief Ministers and Premiers last week, we agreed that we’re going to put an end to that and we’re going to put a date on the end of that. But what we will be doing between now and then is ensuring that we have a plan between state and commonwealth governments to ensure we can scale up the scope of activities that we’re seeing here right across the country so there is the capability to take that waste. And whether it’s turning into asphalt or whether it’s turning into plastic benches or turning it into energy that that is the capability our country has.
We’re going to be taking away the easy options over time and we’re going to be facilitating the commercially viable sustainable options for the future which can see our waste be reused. Because it’s our waste and that means it’s our responsibility in terms of how we deal with it. Now, that will make sure that we’re doing our bit to make sure plastics and other recycled material isn’t finding its way into our local waterways and into our oceans. But not just here, but elsewhere around the world. I’ll be heading off to Tuvalu tomorrow as part of the Pacific Island Forum and we’re already working with Pacific Island nations to reduce plastic pollutions in their oceans. We have about a $60 million dollar program running currently. We’ve got a $100 million which is going through the CFC to ensure that we’re focussing on commercial options for recycling that particularly deals with things like glass and paper and plastics.
Today we’re announcing a program which I’ll ask Karen to talk more about which is putting $20 million into the research and collaboration piece with businesses to ensure we’re identifying new technologies, new opportunities to enable commercially viable recycling enterprises and projects to get off the ground. Government’s role, as we discussed with Premiers and Chief Ministers last week at COAG, is actually to fill the gap often on the knowledge base. If a company like Downer here who has invested considerable amounts to get this plant up and running over several years and is excitingly looking to do a similar plant up in Queensland and they are to be commended for taking that initiative.
But the research piece that has to be done across a whole range of these recyclable materials is one that government can step into. But it’s one we have to do in partnership with business, it’s one we have to do in partnership with the scientific community to ensure that these new applications are reliable and can be proven. It’s not up always to the companies to go out there and provide those guarantees. We can assist by ensuring the guarantees are there about the integrity of this material by ensuring we’re doing the research and the science work as well to prove this up.
The other part of the piece is, you know, we are the biggest client for road pace and asphalt, together with the state governments, of anyone in the country. And as we discussed last week with Premiers and Chief Ministers- what we do about procurement, what we do about the specifications that go into the things that we buy as governments can have a massive impact on the pull-through and providing the certainty that is necessary for the commercial sector to be making the investment which leads to this.
So this is part of a coordinated plan to change these numbers – 12 per cent of our plastics are recycled in this country. That is a figure that we have to change for the future and that is a figure we can change. We have the wit, we have the companies, and we certainly have the waste. It’s just a matter of ensuring that we have a scaled-up capability to convert that waste into these commercial uses and that that becomes the norm in the future. So it’s a concerted effort between state and federal governments and local governments. It was also good to have feedback from the Australian Local Government Association last Friday as well because they’re a big player in this as well. We want to see this done affordably. We don’t want to see this lead to increased costs – in fact, we want to see it lead to reduced costs because of the important scientific work that is done, the collaboration that has achieved. So this is part of a big plan. There are a few issues that are raised more with me by kids than plastics in the ocean. I know mine do, on a daily basis, almost, and so it’s exciting for our kids. But more importantly, it’s exciting for our economy because it means a cleaner environment and it means more jobs. Karen, tell us about this great program.
THE HON. KAREN ANDREWS MP, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Thank you Prime Minister. The $20 million that we’re unlocking today will certainly go towards supporting our environment because we’ll be looking at what we can do with waste recycling, but specifically it will target work that we can do for plastics recycling. So the cooperative research centre projects are short-term projects, they’re for a maximum of three years. There’s matched funding of between $100,000 and $3 million that will go to industry and researchers and research organisations through collaboration to look at what we can do to increase the recycling that we are doing here, to look at opportunities for us to use recycled materials in many more applications that we currently do.
Now, you’ve heard from the Prime Minister about recycled plastic, hard plastic, soft plastic, and also glass being used in roads and in fact a one kilometre stretch of road with two lanes can use up to 500,000 plastic bags in its production along with other materials. What we want to do in Australia is build the industry research and collaboration and connections and make sure that we are looking at innovative ways to recycle and to build our waste recycling industry here in Australia. So this is an industry of the future. It’s much more than just the process of recycling the material. There will be jobs in many areas, including design, including the production process and then in after-production processes. So it’s an opportunity for people from all walks of life to be part of waste recycling and that industry here in Australia. So if you’re interested in the jobs of the future, waste recycling is going to deliver that to you and with more recycling waste in Australia, it is going to generate three times as many jobs through recycling plastics.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Karen, Pete?
PETER SCHMIGEL, CEO OF AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL OF RECYCLING: How good is it to have a recycling Prime Minister? The announcements made last week and the leadership shown by our Prime Minister will have a transformative effect on the recycling industry. If we succeed in keeping that material in this country recycled here, remanufactured here, we’re looking at about 5,000 additional jobs in this industry on top of the 50,000 that exist already. The elements of the announcement by the Prime Minister, by COAG and by Karen today are exactly right. We want a hand, we need investment in technology and infrastructure like Downer has here in Western Sydney – Western Sydney being the largest region in the country for recycling jobs. That’s exactly right, and the other side of the coin that the Prime Minister absolutely rightly underscored is buying recycling. It’s one thing to collect things, it’s one thing to put things in your bin. It’s a whole other story to actually go out there and make the roads out of recycled content, to make packaging out of recycled content. We need both the supply and the demand, the push and the pull. The Prime Minister’s leadership, COAG’s decision last week was exactly that right note for our recycling industry.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Pete. Happy to take questions. Let me tell you why I’ve become so worked up about this. When I learned about that 12 per cent figure, I got really angry. Because tell our kids and we tell ourselves that when you put that plastic bottle in the separated bin, that there is a promise they’re coming back saying well this is going to get recycled, it’s going to be reused somewhere. And that promise is being broken to people.
So it doesn’t matter whether you’re the biggest environmental warrior there is or you’re at the other end and you’re just going about your day. Everyone is doing that and I think that promise to them is being broken. And we’ve got to keep that promise, and that’s why it’s so important that we take these initiatives and this is what has really fired my Government up about it. It’s just a very practical thing that we should do and it should be commercial. It shouldn’t have subsidies from now until the end of time, but there will be a need to ensure that this can get to a scalable, commercial capability and once it does that, they’re off and running. And that’s where we want to be. OK. Happy to take questions on this first because Pete’s with us and then Pete will standamongst all the other luminous vests. And happy to take questions on other issues. We’ve been very comprehensive it would seem Pete.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister would you recommend people planning a trip to Hong Kong, cancel those arrangements?
PRIME MINISTER: Well they should be informed of the travel advice which the Foreign Minister and DFAT have provided, and as you know we’ve made some changes to that recently so people should always check with the travel advice which is updated regularly, and whether any changes to circumstances that warrant further revisions to that travel advice then they should be taking note of that.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister are you concerned about China flexing its muscle on the unrest in Hong Kong, there’s been a notable escalation of the rhetoric talking about the protesters as showing signs of terrorism?
PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s certainly not the rhetoric that I would certainly use to describe those events. And of course we’re concerned particularly because of the number of Australians, residents and citizens that are in Hong Kong both on a long term basis and on a short term basis, it is one of our most busy consulates and so our consular role there at the moment is very heightened and they’re very active. I mean they were out at the airport just the other day and providing support and assistance to people. And our mission there will continue to do that. And- but as always my view is one to seek to de-escalate things, to encourage the Chief Executive of Hong Kong to be listening carefully to what people are saying in Hong Kong and work towards a peaceful and calm resolution of what is a very serious issue.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that the cancellation of flights shows that the situation is escalating?
PRIME MINISTER: I am concerned like I think anyone is. But the response that you take to any of these difficult situations is always one of calm, always one of measured response, always one of providing practical assistance to our own citizens and residents who are in need of our assistance and we’re doing that. And to seek that those who are in authority in Hong Kong, the administration there in Hong Kong, to be able to deal with the matter peacefully and to resolve it in a positive way.
JOURNALIST: How concerned are you that journalists have been targeted. A lot of injuries to the face, and the types of gas being used to quell the protesters?
PRIME MINISTER: I’m concerned like everyone is about these events, and I’m keen to see them de-escalate.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on another matter- infrastructure Australia says the nation needs to spend 200 billion [dollars] on infrastructure every five years to keep pace with population growth, are you confident your government doing enough on that front?
PRIME MINISTER: Well on the report that was released today I think it’s worth noting, that it predated the 2019-20 budget which had $23 billion specifically, extra in projects including 160 congestion-busting projects which for example includes 30 commuter car parks in the city- in Melbourne itself. And so there has already been a significant addition in terms of what the Commonwealth has been doing to the information that that report was based on.
It’s also good to know that since we came to government under Labor we went from around 6 and a half billion to 10 billion a year in investment that has been made at a Commonwealth level in this type of infrastructure. In addition to that, there was the population strategy which we released last April before the election, before that, was in March which actually brings together a planning framework with the state and territory governments which was again reviewed at the meeting of Premiers and Chief Ministers last Friday. So what the report calls for is obviously continued, and upgraded investment in infrastructure. The government’s doing that and we’re doing it cooperatively with state governments.
One of the key issues again we discussed last week and I’ve been doing bilaterally with each of the premiers is to ensure that the projects that we’ve committed to, in many cases these are projects we are 100 per cent funding particularly the smaller congestion-busting projects in our cities that we can get on with them and we can get them done. The money’s there, the money’s there to get on with it and that’s exactly what we’re seeking to do in cooperation and in partnership with the states. But it also calls for an integrated way of managing population growth and that’s why we’ve made the changes to the way that our visa program works, particularly our temporary visa program and our pathway to permanent visa programs to ensure that we’re putting the population where it is needed, not where it adds to further pressures whether it be on infrastructure, schools or other hospitals, other important services. So the report is right to stress those solutions. And the government is also right to continue to implement those solutions as we’ve demonstrated that we have.
JOURNALIST: The infrastructure report warns that the cost of playing catch up means that the costs of public transport and roads will double. Are you concerned about that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well one of the reasons why we’re starting to see some cost pressures in the infrastructure sector is because we’re building so much, and we really are starting to hit our head on the ceiling if not already there, when it comes to the very significant range of projects that are being delivered, particularly in Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales. But I’ve got to say in Western Australia where there has been some spare capacity following the come-off the mining investment boom a lot of that spare capacity was going into those big projects we’re doing in Western Australia.
But those pressures are already there and present on the east coast of Australia. And that’s why you know we can always invest in infrastructure and must, but we’re now at that point where we’ve got to ensure that the contracting that we’re doing in our infrastructure programs is making better use of our Tier 2 and Tier 3 contractors. I mean there isn’t a lot of big Tier 1 contractors that operate in Australia and most of them are overseas-owned and we want to see a lot more of those Tier 2 contractors involved in these in these works. Now a good example of that is what the NSW Government is doing on the Pacific Highway and they’ve been breaking those contracts down and we’ve seen an increased percentage of Tier 2 contractors getting that work. Now that not only has the capability building objective fulfilled, of lifting the capacity of those companies up but it means more of the jobs and more of the local skills-building is happening at a regional level on infrastructure projects which aren’t just in the cities but they’re all way across the country supporting local regional economies.
JOURNALIST: In light of this infrastructure report though do you think the government projects go far enough, or what would you like to see?
PRIME MINISTER: Well we’ve got a $100 billion 10 year program. We’ve lifted the average annual spend from six and a half billion under Labour to ten billion under our government. So we’ve had a 50 per cent increase, and more, in what we are investing as a government in infrastructure and we’ve put in place the population management practices and frameworks to support that. So that’s what’s required. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what we’ll keep doing.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, this morning you announced $500 million in aid for Pacific nations regarding climate change consequences. Is it not two-faced to promise that amount of money but then support Adani which will produce 4.6 billion tonnes of carbon into our atmosphere?
PRIME MINISTER: Well. Australia’s going to meet its 2030 Paris commitments. Australia’s going to smash its 2020 commitments when it comes to meeting our emissions reduction targets. So Australia meets its commitments, and we will always meet our commitments. And that is a point that I’ll be making again when I meet with Pacific leaders. So Australia is doing its bit and it’s doing it in I think in a very effective way. And that includes by the way I should stress, work that we’re doing in terms of reducing the emissions of waste in this country that are- that have been a big contributor.
One of the key things through the- what was the Emissions Reduction Fund, now the Climate Solutions Fund was actually investing in projects which was reducing the emissions from landfill. And that’s been a big part of our success in meeting those 2020 targets and 2030 as I’ve said we will meet in a canter as well. The investments we’re making in the Pacific go beyond the $300 million that we’ve already invested up until 2020. Now, these are projects that we’re investing in which are things like roads and bridges and climate mitigation works in these Pacific countries and also to assist them with developing their own energy sources which can be home grown, home-delivered, which improves the viability of their local economies. So I would describe these as very practical projects. These aren’t, you know, this isn’t cheques that we’re sending off to some remote fund in Geneva to spend who knows where. We stopped that practice. What we do now, with the investments we make in the Pacific when it comes to supporting them deal with a changing climate is to help them with the mitigation and resilience works which are needed in these islands and those needs are very real. And so we’re turning up, we’re showing up. So what’s Step Up is all about in the Pacific it’s about showing up with this type of support. I mean, we invest already about one and a half billion dollars – just shy of that – in overseas development assistance to the Pacific nations. That is the biggest provider of development assistance of any country in the world. And so when it comes to our commitment to the Pacific, they will find no greater family or friend than Australia.
QUESTION: So will Australia then accept climate refugees in the future if we’re their biggest friends?
PRIME MINISTER: We will continue to support the Pacific. Thank you very much.