JULIE BISHOP: I am delighted to be in the Northern Territory with my Cabinet colleague Senator Nigel Scullion. We are hosting a delegation of around 70 Ambassadors and High Commissioners from 70 nations and we are showing them the very best that the Territory has to offer. This is a huge opportunity for the delegation to see business and investment opportunities, tourism, education, research. We have visited the buffalo and cattle breeding research centre. We have also been to mango, banana, tropical fruits research centres. We have shown them the delights of crocodiles in the Adelaide River. Shortly we will be going to the Defence Barracks and explain our defence industry capability. Then later we are going to Inpex to see the LNG, offshore LNG processing and demonstrate how Australia is an energy and resources superpower. We are also going to Charles Darwin University. So far there have been a number of connections made. The Ambassadors are deeply interested in the top end of Australia and we've seen some suggestions that there be research collaborations and obviously there will be a great deal of interest in more trade and investment. We see Darwin as the gateway to Asia, the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific is the most dynamic, economic and strategic area in the world today. Darwin is exquisitely positioned to take advantage of its location.
Secondly, Nigel and I are very pleased to confirm that the Turnbull Government has put forward a proposal that will fix the uncertainty and unfairness in the GST. Under the proposal announced by the Treasurer today all States and Territories will be better off. There will be a floor so that no State or Territory suffers the fate that Western Australia has in recent years when our share of the GST went to 29 cents in the dollar. There will also be a bigger pool. The GST pool will be enlarged through Commonwealth contributions and we are going to ensure that each State and Territory has certainty to provide funding for essential services, schools, hospitals and education. The transition period will go over eight years but this is a big win for every State, every Territory providing certainty and stability to our GST system.
NIGEL SCULLION: Thanks very much Julie and can I just say thanks for selecting one of the most exciting places in Australia to take a delegation of representatives from around the world who are just so interested in the Northern Territory. I have a great empathy for those people in the Territory who know we are two hours from Singapore and five hours from Sydney. It is just fantastic to talk to our northern neighbours as if we are part of one region. We share the same climate, we share the same opportunities but we have so much research, so many very clever north-Australians who are doing remarkable work and we are prepared to share that as part of our responsibility for the region. It is just such an exciting trip. It is exciting to see so many people getting in touch with each other saying "Wow. We're doing this here, who do we talk to, how do we share this knowledge we've got".
We have had a fantastic time and as you say, I am also very excited today – and it's interesting we represent both of the jurisdictions who are most affected by GST. For every dollar the Territorians provide in the GST we get $4.50 plus back and Julie, for every dollar they spend in GST they get 29 cents back. Now, we are all rumbling for more, but I think that I am just so proud to be part of a Government who has decided to take this on, who has decided to have a go at fixing this intractable process. Clearly, the formula was fine when it started but we needed to get a formula and a process that made it fair for everybody. That's what it is about. It is about fairness and having the confidence that we can actually have budgets going into the future. So, we will now be able to have an oversight of about eight years so that the State and Territory Treasurers will be able to see exactly where they are going and they will be able to plan for that. I know that the Territory is going to be better off in this but most importantly we are going to be better off because we don't have the volatility year-to-year about budgets.
I think it has been a fantastic trip, thanks very much for that Julie, it's great to be here to be able to confirm that we have had so much leadership from the Federal Government.
JOURNALIST: Minister, are you satisfied that the Government's plan on GST carve-up is going to satisfy West Australia's long-term GST woes?
JULIE BISHOP: I feel very confident that this proposal is fixing the problems that have beset Western Australia over recent years. Western Australia wants us all to have a fair go, but they also want our State to be recognised for being a powerhouse, driving export income. As Nigel said, when Western Australians were getting 29 cents out of every dollar they were generating in GST the whole country knew that was unfair. That is why the Turnbull Government commissioned a Productivity Commission to look at the matter. The Productivity Commission Report confirms that it was inequitable and it was affecting Australia's economic growth nationally. Now we have come up with a proposal that gives Western Australia a floor of 70 cents in the first few years and then up to 75 cents. We have changed the formula so that it is fairer and much more stable and we have also topped up the pool so that it is a much larger pool for distribution. I think it ticks every box. It really does achieve the fairness and equity and stability that we were hoping for when the GST was first introduced by the Howard Government.
JOURNALIST: If you're not raising taxes, where is the Government going to find this $7 billion?
JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government has been driving economic growth. We are making the economy bigger. That is why we are reducing the rate of corporate tax because that stimulates growth, more investment. It attracts more investment from overseas. We are lifting the burden off regulation, of business so that business can drive economic growth. The size of our economy is getting larger and that is why we are in a position to top up the GST. But the States and Territories will now have certainty they can plan their budgets to fund essential services – hospitals, schools, police and the like. No more passing the buck to the Commonwealth. They are getting far more money – far more in their budgets – under the new GST proposal.
JOURNALIST: In terms of this trip itself, what sort of needs to happen now to capitalise on bringing these people up to the Top End?
JULIE BISHOP: The delegation is very keen to find more opportunities to invest in the Territory, certainly very keen to see businesses. Tomorrow evening there will be a showcase of industry and business leaders from across Darwin and the Territory and there will be connections made. They all represent countries from around the world so I can assure you there will be messages and texts and cables going back to their home countries setting out the possibilities, the opportunities of investment and doing business, trade, commerce, tourism, education, research here in the Territory.
JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee there will be no cuts to national partnerships with States?
JULIE BISHOP: I'm sorry, guarantee?
JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee there will be no cuts to national partnerships with States?
JULIE BISHOP: In relation to the GST? The GST is about increasing the amount of money that is going to the States. In any event the GST is growing because our economy is growing. What the Turnbull Government has done is added a top up to the GST pool so that the whole pool will be larger so there will be more funds to be distributed according to a new formula which is fairer and more certain and takes out the volatility we have seen over recent years.
NIGEL SCULLION: I think your question goes to, where is the money going to come from, but the efficiency that Julie has spoken about, we are getting much more income through taxation without putting on. We are making sure that international businesses are paying their share of tax. We have gone after them hard. That is why we have managed to – our tax has been increased so we are able to make these investments because of the efficiencies, because we have ensured the efficiencies reach out to those organisations who should have been paying tax and were not. So much of our capacity to be able to do these sort of things, to make these investments and equality come from the efficiency dividends from ensuring we are taxing everybody – everybody needs to pay their fair share.
JULIE BISHOP: That is what competent economic management is all about. This is what appropriate tax reform is all about. We are for lower taxes. Labor is for higher taxes. We want to see greater economic growth and more jobs and that is what we are achieving.
JOURNALIST: One of the things, Nigel, that was put to the Productivity Commission was about addressing the issue of indignity and the rising number of indigenous people in Victoria and New South Wales and how that was affecting Indigenous people in the Northern Territory. Why hasn't that been addressed by the Productivity Commission?
NIGEL SCULLION: I think this is a solution that addresses all of this. There were so many vagaries about the growing number of people who are deciding that they are an Indigenous person and (INAUDIBLE). There was an issue about all of the GST funds that were appropriated because of our Indigeneity in the Northern Territory weren't actually going to Indigenous people. All of these matters. This is a formula that provides equity and provides a long vision of and a long forecast for the State and Territory Treasurers. All of that, and all of those sort of conversations are now in the rear vision mirror because they used to affect it on an annual basis. From a Territory Senator's perspective I still aspect the Northern Territory Government to be able to answer the question, if you are getting all this extra money from the Commonwealth Government based on Aboriginal people, why aren't you spending it? I am going to continue to hold this Northern Territory Government to account on that and I again call on them to provide some transparency about where those funds are spent. But this new formula will provide a level of confidence with many years to come so they can always see – and this is all about planning – but can I say from the Territory perspective, we just got to stop being a mendicant state. The way that the Northern Territory Government goes about this is that they've got to have a larger hand and put it out further. What we need to do to grow our population is to actually have a strong economy to grow our economy and make investments in the Territory so we get a better share of the GST. That is the whole idea. So, I know we are all a bit depressed with the current Government and its economic incompetency and I call on them – if you want to get a better cut of things, you need to be in the action, you need to know how to drive an economy. We've just invested $550 million in housing. There is a $500 million injection into construction in Darwin around Larrakeyah – that is a billion dollars just like that. That is what the Commonwealth does and we are investing in people and we are investing in the Territory – that is the sort of investment that has got to go to the Territory. We need to see more action in that regard from the Territory Government.
JOURNALIST: Will that be considered, this issue of indigeneity, will that be considered in top-up payments or however the Government plans to balance out the GST now, will the specific disadvantage of aboriginal people in the Northern Territory who's situation is far different to people who might be in Parramatta or in Fitzroy, will that be taken into consideration when that…?
NIGEL SCULLION: The floor plus top-up arrangement takes all of those matters into account. You will be able to make adjustments that is still fair across the board but takes into consideration the particular circumstance in each jurisdiction.
JULIE BISHOP: There will be more top-ups to both Western Australia and the Northern Territory over the first few years of our new formula. Then there will be significant injections of funds from the Commonwealth. You will recall of course, that the GST is collected on behalf of the States and Territories. For the first time the Commonwealth will be injecting new funds from the Commonwealth Budget into the GST pool. So this means that there will be permanent increases in the size of the GST which will be increasing in any event. This is a breakthrough reform and the Turnbull Government had the courage to do it and the economic confidence to implement it.
JOURNALIST: In terms of that accountability for where the money goes, should there be an audit of all of that money and is the Commonwealth in the position to force the Northern Territory Government into that sort of (INAUDIBLE)?
NIGEL SCULLION: I don't think we should be forcing. We've asked them and they have notionally said that they will do, you know, a small area of their investment, they are happy to have a look at it. But the Productivity Commission has also indicated that it would be really useful to find out where those funds go. I agree with them. I don't like anyone forcing the Territory to do something but Territorians themselves are calling for more transparency about where this money is being spent.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Northern Territory Treasurer Nicole Manison will be satisfied with the new GST arrangement?
NIGEL SCULLION: What I understand – I have been out here on the beautiful Adelaide River – but what I understand Nicole has indicated that she will have a close look at it. Look, what has been offered to the Treasurer of the Northern Territory Government, if you think you're better off under the old arrangements, that is cool. You can stay under the old arrangement. But our message to Nicole Manison is you've got to grow your own economy. You have got to invest in Territorians. You have got to invest in the Territory. You have got to make sure that your regulatory regime gets out of the way of jobs, building jobs and building growth. I think that is the fundamental. This is always a conversation about mendicism, when is the Commonwealth going to give me more – it is always someone else's fault. We are a bit embarrassed, us Territorians. What we want is this Government to get on with business. Now, two years after a moratorium on some of the greatest opportunities for them to make their own income stream, eventually we are getting on with that but we need to hurry up. Territorians have an expectation that we will see a bit of action from this Government rather than a handout.
JOURNALIST: Minister, are you disturbed by the revelations that there have been a second nerve agent attack following the one in Salisbury?
JULIE BISHOP: We are deeply concerned that the nerve agent Novichok has been confirmed as being present in this latest incident after the Salisbury attack earlier this year. We are deeply concerned about the matter. I have spoken to the British High Commissioner on this delegation and it is too early to speculate on where it came from but it is chilling to think that it is the same nerve agent that was responsible for the Salisbury incident in the UK earlier this year.
JOURNALIST: The Australian Government has offered help to the Thai soccer team stuck in the cave?
JULIE BISHOP: Indeed. The Australian Government is providing more support to assist in the rescue of the 12 young Thai soccer players and their coach. The rescue mission is reaching a very critical stage. At this point the Thai Naval divers have provided the boys and their coach with food and water and medicines however it is still not known how they will actually be able to recover them. We are now sending more Australian Defence specialists and we are also sending more Federal police specialists. We are also providing crisis rescue support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We now have about 11 or more people assisting in this very critical rescue.
JOURNALIST: Donald Trump is planning to meet with Vladimir Putin in the next 10 days. Do you think Russia can ever really build a trusting relationship with the West while things like the Novichok scandal in Britain continue?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia is deeply concerned by Russia's behaviour over the bringing down of Malaysian Airlines MH17. We have called upon Russia to accept State responsibility for its role in the killing of 298 passengers and crew aboard MH17 in 2014. We also have sanctions on Russia for its illegal invasion of Ukraine and its illegal annexation of Crimea. Add to that its support for the Assad Regime which has been held to have used illegal biological and chemical weapons in Syria. Add to that the Salisbury incident where a Russian manufactured nerve agent was detected and we now have the most recent incident. Russia is a great concern to Australia. Its behaviour over a long period of time has deeply troubled the West. I don't believe that Russia should be reinvited back to the G8. Russia should not be rewarded for its bad behaviour.
JOURNALIST: Labor has committed to ending live sheep exports if elected. Cattle exporters in the NT are nervous they might be next. Does the live cattle trade have bipartisan support?
NIGEL SCULLION: Certainly Territorians know all too well what happened when the Labor Government in Canberra decided for some odd reason that they would close down farms and send families broke, they would put such an intense circumstance over right across the (INAUDIBLE) in the Territory, the mental health was just so significant. The hire across this demographic. It just caused so much hurt and it was such a clumsy move. What we have done, we have ensured through a whole range of processes, because we care about our Australian animals – there is no doubt about that – we care about our Australian animals but we can have a more sophisticated approach rather than closing. We need to ensure that the welfare of those animals is maintained, clean here and the market, until they provide meals for people in other parts of the world and we will keep doing that but it is such an unsophisticated approach. We will close the trade – it is playing to a very small demographic of individuals who, when closing the trade, it doesn't affect any of them. It affects farmers across Australia, it affects our market, it affects our economy. I can tell you the best way we can ensure to continue to have a more sane approach to managing our exports is to not support the Labor Party. The Labor Party are for closures and not and we won't and can't come here, but you need a far more – and I think the public have a right – to have a more sophisticated solution to these things. We now have returned the live cattle trade to Indonesia. We have a far more sophisticated way, we've worked with the Indonesia Government. This is a delegation that shows respect for other countries rather than the Indonesian Government actually opening the paper in the morning and reading about the closures. That is not how we do business. There is a far more sophisticated way to ensure that the welfare of our animals and the welfare of the farmers and the welfare of our markets and our economy, rather than just closing something.
We will never support the closure in the same way that Labor are proposing. It is just a lazy, lazy policy. It is a three word policy that will hurt lots of people and to have an alternative party in Australia that just don't care about people in the bush, that don't care about our markets, and just don't care about the economy is just, frankly, pretty sad.
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