Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he will “shirtfront” Russian President Vladimir Putin over the shooting of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.
Abbott made his comments at a media conference at Caval Ridge Mine in the Queensland electorate of Capricornia, held by Michelle Landry. He defended and praised the coal mining industry.
On Putin, Abbott said: “Look, I’m going to shirtfront Mr Putin – you bet I am. I’m going to be saying to Mr Putin – Australians were murdered and they were murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian supplied equipment. We are very unhappy about this. We accept that you didn’t want this to happen, but we now demand that you fully cooperate with the criminal investigation, and if the criminal investigation identifies suspects that you have some influence over, they’ve got to be produced and justice has got to be done.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also took aim at Putin. He said the Russian leader should not be welcomed to the G20 and he had no interest in meeting him.
- Listen to Abbott (14m – transcript below)
- Watch Abbott (2m)
- Listen to Shorten (12m)
Transcript of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s media conference at Caval Ridge Mine in the electorate of Capricornia in Queensland.
ABBOTT: It’s great to be here at the Caval Ridge Mine. It’s terrific to be with the local member, Michelle Landry. I want to thank the partners here, BHP and Mitsubishi, for making myself and Michelle so welcome. The opening of this mine, a $4 billion investment, will produce five and a half million tonnes of coking coal a year. It created over 2,000 jobs in the construction phase. It will sustain more than 500 jobs in the production phase. It will add $30 million to the Moranbah local economy, and it will also add tens of millions of dollars every year to the wider regional and statewide and national economy.
This is a sign of hope and confidence in the future of the coal industry. It’s a great industry and we’ve had a great partnership with Japan in the coal industry. Coal is essential for the prosperity of Australia. Coal is essential for the prosperity of the world. Energy is what sustains prosperity and coal is the world’s principle energy source and it will be for many decades to come.
So, I’m here to affirm my faith and confidence in the coal industry. One practical way of affirming my faith and confidence in the coal industry was the abolition of the carbon tax, the abolition of the mining tax, and one of the things which we know would happen if there were to be a change of government at the next election is that the carbon tax would come back and the mining tax would come back. So, if you want to sustain the coal industry, if you want to sustain the jobs, if you want to sustain the towns that depend upon the coal industry, you’ve got to support the Coalition because we support coal, we think that coal has a big future as well as a big past.
It’s great to be here with Michelle, the local member. I want to thank her for the support that she’s consistently given to the coal industry here in Capricornia. I know she’s incredibly excited about the Caval Ridge Mine that opens today and I invite Michelle to support these remarks.
MICHELLE LANDRY: Thank you, Prime Minister. It is fantastic to be here today and to have the Prime Minister here acknowledging how important the coal industry is for Central Queensland. I’m a huge advocate for the coal industry. We’ve had our difficulties with the downturn in the mining industry and the loss of jobs, but this is a step in the right direction. I’ve also been having meetings with Adani and GVK, so I think it’s fantastic that we still have these major mining organisations that are interested in Central Queensland.
One of the things I have been discussing with the Prime Minister is also about dams and major infrastructure projects. So, I’m keen to see places like the Connors River Dam go ahead, which is just outside of Moranbah. It would be essential for the agriculture industry and also the coal mining industry. Some of these major coal organisations obviously need water, and so I think it’s an important thing that we really need to do.
So, I’d just like once again to thank BHP for putting this on today. I think it’s fantastic that we’ve got such a wonderful project here right on my doorstep and thank you, Prime Minister, for attending.
ABBOTT: Thanks, Michelle. Ok, are there any questions?
QUESTION: Prime Minister, you talked about supporting the industry and giving it the right mechanisms to do that and expand – obviously in the past we’ve had the China coal tariff announced. What will your team be communicating to China about that, particularly in what that does to Australian producers?
ABBOTT: We support lower tariffs, we support freer trade. Obviously, we’re disappointed that this tariff has come on. We think that it’s inconsistent with the general direction of our trade and China’s trade, but what it does do is highlight the importance of the free trade agreement which we are working towards with China. Negotiations for a free trade agreement with China were started by the Howard Government. They went nowhere for six years under the former government. They’ve been accelerated under this government and I very much hope we can land them at or before the G20 in Brisbane next month.
QUESTION: Is the tariff a bargaining tactic, do you think?
ABBOTT: I don’t want to speculate. I just know that it’s important to get tariffs down, not up, because tariffs act in restraint of trade. Tariffs are a long-term employment inhibitor. If you want more trade, you need lower tariffs, and more trade means more jobs.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, what do you think of the 100 per cent fly-in-fly-out policy here at Caval Ridge?
ABBOTT: It’s important to have arrangements which work for investors and to have arrangements which work for staff, and fly-in-fly-out works for some people, it works for some mines; it doesn’t work for other people, it doesn’t work for other mines. If you look at BMA’s mines, they’ve got eight mines here in this region – six of them have local staff, two of them are fly-in-fly-out. That’s a reasonably balanced situation and as I understand it, the economics of this mine worked with fly-in-fly-out, they weren’t going to work on a different basis, and I want this mine to go ahead. I want this mine to go ahead, and if it’s going to go ahead it’s got to have economics that work.
QUESTION: But what does it mean with locals out in Moranbah who now have no jobs, given the latest cutbacks they can’t even get jobs down the road from them?
ABBOTT: This mine is going to contribute some $30 million to the local economy, so it’s much better for the local economy that we have this mine than if we didn’t have this mine.
QUESTION: On the G20, are you seeking bilateral talks with Vladimir Putin about MH17?
ABBOTT: Absolutely. Look, I’m going to shirtfront Mr Putin – you bet I am. I’m going to be saying to Mr Putin – Australians were murdered and they were murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian supplied equipment. We are very unhappy about this. We accept that you didn’t want this to happen, but we now demand that you fully cooperate with the criminal investigation, and if the criminal investigation identifies suspects that you have some influence over, they’ve got to be produced and justice has got to be done.
QUESTION: Bill Shorten says that you could have stopped Vladimir Putin coming to Australia if you wanted to. That’s true, isn’t it? If Australia or if the Government decided that he wasn’t coming to the G20, you could have made that decision?
ABBOTT: I’m a bit disappointed that Mr Shorten seems to be playing politics with this issue. He knows, I know, we all know, that while Australia is the President of the G20 this year, we can’t make unilateral decisions. It has to be by consensus and the G20 consensus is that Russia should come. Now, I think that there’ll be a lot of tough conversations with Russia and I suspect that the conversation that I have with Mr Putin will be the toughest conversation of all, but nevertheless, it’s not up to us to determine who is and who is not a member of the G20. I want the G20 to continue. I want Australia to be a constructive and strong member of the G20. I don’t want to be a G20 wrecker.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, sorry, back on fossil fuels, I’m just very keen to know do you agree with the ANU’s decision to divest or blacklist seven resources companies, including Santos, Sandfire, etcetera?
ABBOTT: I think this is a bit of unnecessary posturing, frankly. The important thing for investors is to look for good returns and Australian resource companies, including coal and gas companies, have traditionally had excellent returns and, frankly, I think that that kind of decision lets down the people who want these investors; who want these organisations to get the best possible returns.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader has been out talking about his first year in that role. What have you made of Bill Shorten’s performance?
ABBOTT: I’m not here to run a commentary on other people. I’m here to do what I can to build a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia. I’m just a bit disappointed that the only policy commitment that seems to have emerged from the Opposition over the last 12 months is recommitment to a carbon tax.
Now, let’s be under no illusion: the carbon tax will kill the coal industry in the long run because it will just go up and up and up and it says to Australia and it says to the world that coal is not an absolutely essential source of energy, it’s some kind of environmental villain. Sure, coal is a source of emissions, but it’s also a source of energy and there can be no prosperity without energy and modern power stations are increasingly environmentally friendly and that’s what we should be working towards: a more efficient, more effective use of coal, because that way we get reduced emissions intensity but we also get the prosperity that people right around the world depend upon.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, back on the G20, is it your personal preference that Vladimir Putin didn’t attend?
ABBOTT: It’s not up to me to determine who does and who doesn’t participate in the G20. Russia is a member of the G20. Russia is entitled to attend the G20. I want to be a good and constructive member of the G20. This year we want to be a good and constructive leader of the G20, and if the Russian President turns up he will get – in no uncertain terms from me – Australia’s attitude to what’s been done in Eastern Europe, to the atrocity that has befallen our citizens, and our demand from Russia is that it cooperates fully and constructively with the criminal investigation so that justice can be done.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, there has been a threat issued by ISIL or instruction to its so-called followers saying that there should be any attack they can manage on the western world – lone wolf attacks, anything they can manage – including specifically to any countries fighting them in Iraq and Syria. Does that show that there is an increased risk in Australia’s involvement in trying to combat ISIL?
ABBOTT: We know that the ISIL death cult has declared war on the world. We know that. But they declared war on the world a very long time ago. This death cult wants to kill everyone who thinks differently, everyone who acts differently, everyone who worships differently and that’s why it’s so important that Australia – in conjunction with our friends and allies, including Muslim countries, including Middle Eastern countries – does what we can to disrupt and degrade the death cult at home and abroad. That’s why we’ve got our force in the Middle East, that’s why we’ve upgraded security here in Australia and I want to assure the Australian people that we will do everything we humanly can to keep our country safe, but Australians should live normally because that’s what the terrorists want; they want to scare us out of being ourselves.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, on the reason you’re here, is your Government going to fast-track infrastructure spending to offset the mining downturn in Central Queensland?
ABBOTT: We certainly are going to fast-track infrastructure spending and we are fast-tracking infrastructure spending. Here in the Capricornia area, the Commonwealth is investing more than $300 million in the Yeppen Plains upgrade of the Bruce Highway – the Yeppen Floodplain upgrade of the Bruce Highway. We’re spending $120 million to upgrade the Peak Downs Highway. We’ve just announced an additional $30 million to local councils under the Roads to Recovery programme. So, we are massively investing in infrastructure locally and nationally. There was a $50 billion infrastructure spend in this year’s Budget. It’s the biggest infrastructure spend ever in Commonwealth history and, as I’ve often said, I would like to known as the infrastructure Prime Minister because a very, very important part of a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia are the roads, the other bits of vital economic infrastructure that the country needs.