May 9, 2013

Transcript of Joint Press Conference – Prime Minister & Minister for Local Government – Brisbane, 9 May 2013

PRIME MINISTER: We have gathered today to make a very important announcement which is on 14 September, when Australians go to vote in the Federal election they will also be asked to vote local government referendum.

They will be asked to vote yes to recognise local government in the Australian Constitution.

Our Constitution is 113 years old and it doesn’t recognise the level of government which people deal with every day for services that are so important to their lives.

We want to change that and we want to recognise in the Australian Constitution that local government is important, it is important to communities, it is important to the nation and I will be asking Australians on 14 September to vote yes to communities, yes to local government.

As a Federal Government we are very proud to work with local governments around the nation.

We do that in a wide variety of ways but to just take some examples, on more than 6,000 occasions we have worked with local governments to develop projects that local communities need; local infrastructure which makes such a difference to communities.

It might be a new library. It might be a refurbishment of a very grand city hall but projects around the country that change the way communities can live because they’ve got better facilities.

On 16,000 occasions, we have worked with local governments around the country to develop roads infrastructure, our Roads to Recovery program, making a real difference to the way people can move around their local community.

They are just a couple of the ways we work with local government but as a Federal Government, we well and truly recognise that this is an important tier of government that has the faith of local communities and that local communities turn to each and every day for services and support.

This referendum will be presented in a bipartisan spirit.

The Leader of the Opposition has indicated he is prepared to support such a referendum.

We took this as a promise to the 2010 election and now, here in 2013, I will be asking the nation to vote yes and to get this done.

MINISTER ALBANESE: Thank you Prime Minister.

Look, it is very good to be here, particularly to be here in the here in Brisbane City Council, the Hall we just went to was in part refurbished with a modest contribution by the Federal Government to Brisbane City Council.

Brisbane City is of course also the place that sees the largest ever partnership between a national government and local government with the Legacy Way project.

I was here with the Lord Mayor two weeks ago for the breakthrough of that project.

There is a natural fit indeed great partnership between infrastructure and transport in my portfolio that I have had since 2007 and local government that I had during the first Labor term and that I now have again because right throughout the country, the Federal Government partners with local government on infrastructure and transport projects to make a difference to local communities.

The benefit of that is that the decisions are being made at the local level. Not by some bureaucracy in Canberra; being made by local communities through their local representatives determining what their priorities are.

That’s why it is important that this referendum, which we are asking people to vote yes for on 14 September, is carried.

It recognises the reality of modern Australia – the reality in which local government has long ago moved beyond just being rates, roads and rubbish.

Local government that’s engaged in childcare, that’s involved in a range of service provisions.

We want to recognise that whilst making sure that we have got the process right.

In 2010, the Federal Government as part of this commitment provided money to the Australian Local Government Association so they could consult with their membership and their communities about a way forward.

That consultation process has led to an expert panel on Constitutional recognition, to a Parliamentary Committee that tabled its report in March and we are now in a position to move forward in a way that I think should see very broad support across the political spectrum and across the community for this change.

The change will not impact the relationship of local government to state governments.

It will recognise, of course, that local governments are creations of state governments and are still responsible to and accountable to those state governments.

But a modest change but an important one to ensure that our Constitution, our most important document, reflects the reality of modern Australia and that’s why we will be campaigning for, across the spectrum a yes-vote on 14 September.

LORD MAYOR QUIRK: Thanks very much Prime Minister and Minister Albanese, to the President of the Australian Local Government Association and Queensland President as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, local government has long sought Constitutional recognition.

Today, we thank the Prime Minister and the Government for bringing this referendum on.

It is a pleasing outcome where you see both Government and Opposition prepared to support a referendum put forward to the Australian people.

As Minister Albanese just said, it is recognition of the reality of Australia today.

We are a three-tiered system of government and local government, closest to the people, provides a very, very important part of the functioning of our orderly life within Australia.

So we welcome the announcement today and we obviously offer our full support to this referendum and the Constitutional recognition of local government.

I do want to reiterate the point that Minister Albanese made, is that we do not see, out of this change to Section 96 of the Constitution, any alteration to the powers of the state governments.

The state governments will remain responsible in terms of the performance of local government and indeed, local government will remain responsible to the states and accountable to the states for our performances.

That will not change.

But it is recognition that the nature of government in Australia today is that of a three-tiered system and we welcome the announcement today.

AUSTRALIAN LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT, FELICITY-ANN LEWIS: Thanks very much Prime Minister and Minister Albanese and to my local government colleagues.

It is fantastic to be here today, as the Minister has already said, we have had a long process of engagement with our local councils across Australia for a long period of time talking about what we need to do to ensure that we can have the surety and the assurance of funding payments coming from the Federal Government into local communities.

As others have said, there are a vast range of programs which regularly and have done for many years receive payments to provide vital infrastructure and programs and services within our community.

That’s what this referendum is all about.

It is about securing funding, ensuring that the relationship between the Federal Government and local government can be maintained this way.

I look forward to a bipartisan referendum campaign, ensuring that other Greens and independents who have supported this to this point get behind it.

I’m urging everyone in our local communities to engage with their councils to find out what this is about so that people are very clear and understand fully the need for this to go ahead so we can get this finally resolved and we can move forward with an assurance we can continue to operate as three functional levels of government.

I am not going to recap on the issues others have mentioned, they have been captured thoroughly.

Just to get across the message, we are wanting to ensure our local communities can continue to receive the funding they need for the vital programs and infrastructure which they provide to each and every one of you in your communities in Australia today.

Thank Australia Prime Minister for this announcement.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you to everyone. Can I say thank you very much to everyone for coming along and lending their support for what is the start of a campaign to vote yes.

And I’d particularly like to thank Minister Albanese and his predecessor Minister Crean for their work in bringing us to this point.

JOURNALIST: Councils will obviously want to run a vote yes campaign for this proposal; will there be any federal funding a campaign such as this?

PRIME MINISTER: Questions of funding the yes case and indeed the alternative will be worked through.

But we are here today to advocate a vote yes to communities, yes to local government.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: That’s correct. The referendum, the proposal for change, would not change the ability of state governments to legislate for local government, including legislating amalgamations.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: No we didn’t. This is a proposal that has been very much advocated by local government but understanding the continuing role of state governments.

JOURNALIST: Why has it taken so long?

PRIME MINISTER: As Minister Albanese has announced, we have had a very meticulous process here including an expert panel, including work by a Parliamentary Committee that involved all sides of politics.

We believe that meticulous process was necessary because this is a big thing to do, to change a Constitution, so you want to do all of the work and do it very carefully.

JOURNALIST: Barnaby Joyce says it is too little, too late and you’re setting it up for failure.

MINISTER ALBANESE: Look, Barnaby Joyce has said that he supports this referendum.

What he has to do, therefore, is to change a habit of a lifetime and go out and actually be positive and say what he says he supports.

Say yes to this referendum.

You can’t actually say that you support something and then nitpick at the sides.

What we have done is consult properly with local government.

We have had proper processes including through the Parliament of which the Coalition have certainly been engaged in and indeed the National Party members such as Michael McCormack was one of the strongest advocates on that committee to ensure we went forward at this election campaign.

I was the Minister in 2010 at the ALGA Conference that went along.

I spoke also at the ALGA Constitutional Recognition Conference in Melbourne that was held at the end of 2009.

This has been a meticulous process gone through.

It’s also the case that, of the 550 or thereabouts local government and shires throughout Australia, over the next four months, they have an opportunity and certainly talking to them they are very keen, to go out there and campaign in their local communities to ensure that there is a positive result.

Tony Abbott, I’ve had personal conversations with about this, I have spoken to state premiers and territory leaders, there is a positive recognition that this change is important, that the time to do it is now and that is why an appropriate time in terms of minimising costs, is to do it in conjunction with the federal election on 14 September.

Because we know the certainty of the date as well, there is another added advantage in terms of the campaign that local government will play.

It is simply about saying yes to local communities.

I urge Barnaby Joyce and everyone else to get on board, go out there and campaign in a positive way.

JOURNALIST: If the yes vote is successful, how long will it actually take to change the Constitution?

MINISTER ALBANESE: It’s changed. The people control the Constitution. The people vote and if the people vote for it on 14 September.

We know that Constitutional change in Australia historically has been very difficult.

This has been put before the Australian people twice before and it has not been successful.

But on those occasions, it did not have bipartisan support.

This proposal does have bipartisan support.

It has been worked through in a very constructive way to ensure that the concerns of state and territory leaders have been addressed in terms of the relationship between local government and state government.

So I see no reason why every Australian political leader across the spectrum shouldn’t be out there advocating a yes vote on 14 September and that local government certainly right across the nation will be advocating a yes vote on 14 September.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you think this is the most pressing Constitutional issue for consideration?

PRIME MINISTER: I think this is an important Constitutional issue or I wouldn’t have given the commitment in 2010 for change and we wouldn’t be here today announcing it.

I think it is important to local communities that they have local government there recognised by the Australian Constitution, that our Australian Constitution catches up with the reality of how people engage and intersect with government today.

That reality is that people look to their local councils for a wide variety of services. It is the most immediate form of government for people.

It is the one where they feel the really direct nature of the relationship and given that I think it is important that the Australian Constitution reflects it.

JOURNALIST: Why is it more important in terms of timing than putting the question, say, of Aboriginal recognition?

PRIME MINISTER: On the recognition of our Indigenous peoples, we are also working on that and working on it very carefully and working on it with Indigenous leaders.

We want that proposal to go to the Australian people at the time that Indigenous Australians believe is right after there has been a comprehensive community education campaign.

We took counsel from Indigenous leaders about whether or not it was appropriate to move at this stage to the referendum.

The advice we received from many of our most senior Indigenous leaders was they didn’t think the time was right, that they wanted further time to do work in the community, to get a real ground swell of change here like there was for the 1967 referendum.

We are working with them, including resourcing their efforts.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: This is about recognising local governments role. Decisions are made by federal governments and by state governments and by local government themselves which goes to their available resources.

As Prime Minister, I’m very proud that we have I’m worked strongly with local government and will continue to do so in the future, including making available resources that have made a real difference for community lives.

JOURNALIST: Labor is fighting for its political future. How do you expect politicians to devote time to this or is it just a fait accompli?

PRIME MINISTER: Each and every day Members of Parliament are out in their communities talking to them about the issues that matter and talking to them about individual constituent matters.

If you look at a Parliamentarian’s time, and you might want to talk to a few about what their day consists of, it consists of working with individuals who might have issues that they need their local member’s help on.

It consists of working with the local government; Members of Parliament inevitably spend a lot of time working with their local councils.

It consists of being out there with local community groups, going to local schools, and to local health care services and out there doing the kinds of things people more directly recognise as political campaigning particularly as we move to election day.

Across the broad sweep of what local Members of Parliament do, I think that they will have the opportunity working with their local councils to support the yes case.

JOURNALIST: F3 to M2, the front page reports that there is going to be some money in the budget for it, is that right?

MINISTER ALBANESE: I can certainly confirm that we’ve been in discussions for some time with Transurban and with the New South Wales Government about progressing the F3 to M2 issue.

We’ve had $150 million in our budget since 2008 to progress that issue.

Certainly the discussions have not concluded.

There are ongoing discussions about this important road.

But we also established two years ago the Infrastructure Finance Working Group that is looking at ways in which we can facilitate private sector input into infrastructure given the constraints that are there on government finances.

It looked at a number of models. Obviously one of those models could apply for the F3 to M2.

It is a case that in last year’s budget, we announced money to progress the F3 to M2 but also to progress other Sydney motorways particularly those that would have a benefit in terms of productivity and freight.

The F3 to M2 is a missing link Sydney’s road network.

The F3 to M2 is particularly important for freight down the whole corridor between Brisbane and Melbourne, but it’s also particularly important for those commuters who live on the Central Coast or the Lower Hunter as well as dealing with the difficulties that are created at Pennant Hills Road and in other areas where the F3 ends fairly abruptly when it comes to traffic congestion.

We are working with the state government, working through these issues. They are not finalised yet.

We are working also with Transurban where we have had constructive discussions.

I met with the Transurban board as early as a couple of years ago about progressing these issues.

Further announcements will be made when they’re finalised but there is no doubt that this is an important road for Sydney and it is important that infrastructure development be progressed in terms of dealing with traffic congestion in Sydney.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect a toll to be introduced to fund the road?

MINISTER ALBANESE: Those details would be up to the state government.

The Federal Government doesn’t impose tolls on roads. Those are a matter for state governments.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, did you speak to the sandwich thrower today?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I think, to be frank, the reporting of it has all got a little bit silly.

I went to Marsden State High School yesterday; I got a fantastic reception, lovely kids, very excited that I was there, lots of wonderful shouts of support and kids just very, very full of energy and very excited to see me.

My recollections of being there are always going to be of a wonderful event with a lot of excited kids.

JOURNALIST: Did you speak to him on radio this morning?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I didn’t have a chat to him. I was on a radio station that also spoke to him.

I met yesterday the principal of Marsden; Alan Jones is his name, the principal of Marsden.

Obviously there is more than one Alan Jones in Australia; this one is the principal of Marsden.

He is a great leader of that school. He has actually introduced at that school ways of getting kids engaged in vocational education and training so they end up with a trade qualification.

That is an Australian leading model.

As for matters of management of the school, I will leave it to the school principal.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] will that be your last trip overseas before the election?

PRIME MINISTER: I am going to PNG later today and I will be there for what is a fairly short visit but an important visit.

Papua New Guinea is the nation closest to Australia. We have got great historic ties and also the outlook for the future that we share.

We want to see Papua New Guinea grow and develop. I am looking forward to that trip.

As for any other future travels, details will be confirmed closer to the time as usual.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: I expect the Opposition to be negative so, you know, business as usual from their point of view.

JOURNALIST: Will you be talking to Prime Minister O’Neill about the death penalty in Papua New Guinea?

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll be speaking to Prime Minister O’Neill about a wide range of matters. I have met Prime Minister O’Neill on many occasions.

I know him well. He has obviously had an election during this period.

I have met with him before the election and spoken to him since the election.

We will canvas a broad range of issues. Australia’s opposition to the death penalty is well known.

JOURNALIST: There is an article by Rick Morton in the Australian today about the no-advantage claims and what they may do to asylum seekers. What do you have to say on that?

PRIME MINISTER: We are pursuing recommendations and advice that we received from Australian experts; former Chief of the Defence Force, expert on refugee matters, a foreign policy expert.

I think it is to be regretted that the negativity of the Opposition has stopped us fully implementing that report.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Eric Roozendaal has resigned from the NSW Parliament today, are you pleased to see the back of him?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s a matter for New South Wales.

PRIME MINISTER: Can we go back to Marsden State School [Inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: I had a great day at Marsden yesterday. I got to meet some wonderful kids very excited to see me and full of very supportive words.

I really enjoyed the visit and anything to do with school management is a matter for the principal Alan Jones who is a wonderful bloke, leading a good school and making sure that that school offers vocational education and training to those kids in an Australian leading model.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned to see people in Australia left without any financial support because of the no-advantage change?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I think you are confusing a few things there, to be frank.

The no-advantage principle that arises from the Houston Review is about saying that people shouldn’t get an advantage because they travelled to Australia by boat that the waiting time that they get for a resettlement opportunity is the same amount of waiting time they would have had if they had not got on that boat.

The no-advantage principle is about sending a clear message that if you get on a boat, all you do is risk your life and pay a people smuggler; you don’t get an advantage from doing it.

The matter you raise is a separate matter and that separate matter is, if people have made an application to be considered as a refugee and that application has been properly rejected, and we do have thorough processes here, if people’s claims have been rejected, then they should return to their homeland and obviously that’s what we want people to do.

In those circumstances, for Australia, it is not a question of support for these people; it is a question of them going back home.

Thanks very much.