Virtual Press Conference

  • Transcript
Subjects: Queensland tourism package; COVID-19 vaccination rates; Re-opening international borders; French submarine deal; Net-zero emissions by 2050.
25 September 2021

Dan Tehan: I'd just like to welcome you all and just say how thrilled I am that the Federal Government and the Queensland State Government has been able to work together to put together another package for the Queensland tourism industry.

Obviously, the Queensland tourism industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, by the closure of the international border, by the closure of the state border, by lockdowns in various states. It's been a very tough time for the Queensland tourism industry, and this package is designed to assist it as we look to get to that stage where we can open our country up again to international tourists and we can open our country up again to all states and territories. In particular, we can have those loved ones and families reuniting and hopefully reuniting around Christmas, which would just be wonderful.

This package, which we're announcing today, it has two components. It comes out of the $600 million which has been allocated to the Queensland Government by the Federal Government. It will help those large iconic businesses, there's $30 million for those large iconic businesses, like the theme parks, like the big cruise operators up in far North Queensland, so there'll be 30 million for them — grants of up to $4 million. And then there'll be a second round of our SME program to help those small, medium sized, larger businesses to be able to get through until we can really restart and reboot the tourism industry. Those grants are $15,000, $25,000 and $50,000, depending on eligibility.

So, I must say that I'd like to thank, in particular, the Queensland Tourism Minister for the way he's worked with me as we've put this package together, which shows that the Federal Government and the Queensland State Government can work together to deliver for the Queensland tourism industry. I think this will be warmly welcomed by the Queensland tourism industry today, this much needed assistance — as we seek to hit those vaccination rates of 80 per cent where we can begin to open our country up again.

Happy to take any questions.

Journalist: Dan, Eliza from Channel 9. The Prime Minister says once 80 per cent of Australians are vaccinated, stranded Aussies will be able to return home in droves. Are you confident the States will commit to restoring the inbound passenger caps at previous levels, and can you guarantee that stranded Aussies will be able to return to any State by Christmas and quarantine at home?

Dan Tehan: Look, we want to work with the states and territories to make sure Australians can come home for Christmas. The way we're going, we're going to hit that 80 per cent vaccination rate which means we can implement the National Plan, and all State and Territory leaders have signed up to the National Plan. We've hit today 50 per cent of the national double vaccination rate, so we're heading toward that 80 per cent mark and we'll continue to work with the States and Territories.

Tourism is so important to our national economy. 660,000 jobs in our tourism industry. Not only that, we want to make sure that for Australians, that ability to be able to travel within our country and for Australians to be able to return home for Christmas and see families and loved ones. So, we'll continue to work with states and territories to get the best outcome we can for Australians and for our tourism sector.

Journalist: But you can see that states like WA and Queensland are likely to not be welcoming in overseas arrivals and letting people quarantine at home, is that then a contravention of the National Plan by those states?

Dan Tehan: We want everyone to implement the National Plan, and we'll continue to work with states and territories to see that happen. Obviously, the way the National Plan works is we need that 80 per cent vaccination rate, and as individual states and territories hit 80 per cent themselves then we implement the National Plan. So, at this stage it's likely that New South Wales will be the first state, or Tasmania will be the first state to hit that 80 per cent mark and then we'll look to implement the National Plan. We'll work with states and territories to do that.

I think all Premiers, all territory leaders understand how Australians want to be able to move again, especially with the loved ones, especially to have those families reunited, and reunited for Christmas.

We've got a trial of home quarantine taking place in South Australia. New South Wales want to look at home quarantining as well. So, all the steps are being taken. The planning is taking place and our hope is that we will be able to implement the National Plan by Christmas at the latest.

Journalist: Is there enough evidence yet that the home quarantine trial in South Australia has been successful, and as you mentioned other states like New South Wales and Victoria are starting to talk about trialling it there, but is it time for every single state to get on board and implement home quarantine?

Dan Tehan: It would be wonderful if every state and territory began to trial it like they are in South Australia. The early indication out of South Australia is that it's working and it's working well. So, the more states and territories that can get on board for trialling home quarantine the better because, in the end, that's going to be the best way we can bring, in particular, all those Australians who want to return for Christmas —bring them home — and do so in the numbers that we want to see those families reunited around the Christmas table.

Journalist: Minister, Steph Dalzell here from ABC news. I was just hoping, could you clarify whether Australia will support the TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccine? Medicines Australia says Australia has yet to settle on this. Why do they think that?

Dan Tehan: Let me be very clear. We've said that we would support the TRIPS waiver, I've said it publicly on numerous occasions. What we're trying to do now is build consensus for an outcome at the World Trade Organization on something that's called trade and health, the trade and health agreement, whereby we would look to maximise the production of vaccines globally so many countries can get access to as many vaccines as they need, and we're working very cooperatively with other countries to achieve that outcome.

Journalist: How do you balance the need for countries to get access to cheaper vaccines and protecting the research and science that has gone into creating a vaccine?

Dan Tehan: Well, that's why these negotiations are complex. That's why you have countries where we have different decisions when it comes to what sort of waiver should be put in place and that's what we're working through very constructively at the World Trade Organization in Geneva. This is where Australia can really play a role because we can bring countries together and build consensus to get the outcome we need to lift that level of production that we want to see when it comes to vaccines, but also to make sure that substantial investment that goes into R&D to develop vaccines is also protected. That's why these negotiations are complex, that's why we want to play a productive role in getting that outcome.

Journalist: Just on the submarine deal, have you spoken to your French counterpart yet since Australia walked away from that deal?

Dan Tehan: No, we've put in a request for when I travel to Paris for the OECD meeting, for us to be able to sit down and discuss the issue. That remains an open invitation from myself to my counterpart and, look, I'll be in Paris next week and my hope is that we'll be able to sit down and discuss these issues. So, it's an open invitation for me to sit down with my French counterpart and be able to explain the decision that we've taken. The decision that was taken is in our national interests, which is about protecting our sovereignty, about our security and I would like to be able to sit down and work through that with my counterpart. Obviously, there's disappointment in France with the decision. We can understand that but we also want to be able to explain why we've taken this decision, which is absolutely in our national interests.

Journalist: Minister Tehan, it's Lisa Visentin from the Sydney Morning Herald. Can I just pick up on that? It's been reported that your French counterpart has declined — rejected —that invitation to meet with you. What does that mean in terms of going forward with the French and that alliance? And what other European nations are you talking to in order to secure the FTA with Europe?

Dan Tehan: So, I spoke with our Ambassador in Paris last night and I said to her, please reassure the French that I'm very keen to sit down with them and have a discussion about the decision that we've taken with regards to the submarines and that that remains an open invitation. And we've also reached out to the EU Trade Representative, Valdis Dombrovskis, and I'll be meeting with him, most likely, in Paris at the OECD meeting and have further discussions with regards to the free trade agreement.

I spoke with our Ambassador to the European Union last night as well about that and that meeting has been confirmed, and I’m looking forward to sitting down with the EU Trade Representative to discuss our trade agreement, which is in the interests of both Australia and the European Union, in particular it enables the European Union to get that foothold into the Indo-Pacific which is so important given now that the economic weight of the world is in the Indo-Pacific.

Journalist: But can you clarify, Minister, whether the French Trade Minister did in fact decline the offer to meet with you?

Dan Tehan: Look, what we've seen is that there has been a report that he will decline that invitation. But when I saw that report what I did was I spoke to our Ambassador in Paris and just said please just send that invitation, it's an open invitation, I'll be more than willing to sit down and talk to my counterpart and work through this decision.

Journalist: Minister, can I ask quickly on net zero. There are still National MPs fervently opposed to a net-zero target by 2050. If you don't have a commitment from the National Partyroom by the time Parliament sits again in mid-October, will the Government press ahead with a commitment anyway to avoid international embarrassment at the COP summit in early November?

Dan Tehan: Look, we're working with those issues internally. I know that the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the leader of the National Party have been in discussions. There have been discussions within the Liberal Party, within the National Party, we're working through these issues. And there are serious issues that we need to look at and address as part of our commitment, or the commitment that will be made. We've got to make sure that we do everything we can to protect our agricultural sector. We've seen New Zealand [indistinct] the agricultural sector. So, in any planning in what we do we've got to make sure that we do have a plan which is implementable and will look after those important sectors of our economy which will drive growth into the future. One of those sectors, in particular, is the agricultural sector.

So, we'll continue to work through these issues as a Coalition to make sure that we reach an outcome which is very much in our national interest.

Journalist: Minister, Chloe Bouras from Network 10. We've heard that Steve Irons has decided to retire from federal politics. Given his retirement, the controversy surrounding Christian Porter and WA's fondness on a state level for Labor, do you think there's real trouble for the Libs heading into the Federal election?

Dan Tehan: Can I just say to start with that I wish Steve Irons all the very best. He's been a wonderful Member of Parliament. He's been a great friend. In particular, we've been able to have a very frequent game of golf together and he's very passionate about his golf and I think he's represented his community incredibly well in very difficult circumstances over a number of [indistinct]. I wish Steve all the best. When it comes to the next election, obviously Western Australia will be like any other state or territory, we'll be doing everything we can to put our case to the Australian people on why we need to be re-elected. It will be all about our performance and our plan for the future. I'm absolutely positive that when it comes to Western Australia and the other states our plan for the future will see us re-elected. But that's the job that we've got between now and the election, to make sure that we put that [indistinct] to the Australian people.

Journalist: Minister, if you don't mind, Lisa Visentin from the Sydney Morning Herald. What are your European and US counterparts or any other countries telling you about Australia's reluctance to lock in this net zero by 2050 target, and do you agree with the comments by the Treasurer yesterday that, you know, we would be viewed as a laggard in the world on this issue if we don't lock this in?

Dan Tehan: Look, I've had very positive discussions with my European counterparts, especially on emission reductions and the role that Australia can play helping Europe reach their emission reduction target. For instance, Germany imports 70 per cent of their energy and they're very much looking to Australia as a supplier of hydrogen. In that regard they want to build a partnership so that we can provide liquid hydrogen to help fuel those industries in Germany. They're very keen to work with us in partnership, as other countries around the world are.

And so, I've got to say I'm very committed to working with — whether it be Singapore, whether it be putting a clean energy agreement together, my counterparts in Europe. I'm putting the case as to how we have to work cooperatively, how a technology-based solution will get us there and we'll continue to work through our plan as to how we can get to 2050 — zero emissions by 2050 — as soon as we possibly can. But that plan will be very important and how we set it out. As I've said before, making sure we take into account — it's very important for industries, like agriculture, it will be absolutely vital as we reach that point of getting to net zero by 2050 as soon as we possibly can.

Thank you.

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