Speech by Malcolm Turnbull at His Final Press Conference as Prime Minister of Australia
August 24, 2018
Well, good afternoon.
It may surprise you on a day like this, but I remain very optimistic and positive about our nation’s future. And I want to thank the Australian people for the support they’ve given me and my government over the last nearly three years. We’ve been able to achieve, as a progressive government, as a progressive Liberal coalition government, enormous reforms and very, very substantial achievements. You know, the foundation of everything you do in government is a strong economy. And we have delivered, as we promised, jobs and growth. You may have heard that before. We’ve got record job growth in Australia last year. We have strong economic growth, 3.1%, as you know, higher than any of the G7 economies. And that has enabled us to do so much more. Despite the minority position in the Senate and the one-seat majority in the House of Representatives, we’ve been able to deliver substantial taxation reforms, much more than any – many of you, probably any of you, thought possible – substantial personal income tax reforms, the biggest in more than 20 years; tax reductions for small and medium businesses, overwhelmingly Australian, family-owned businesses. We have also been able to get on with the job of important historic infrastructure. I’m very proud that we are under way with Snowy Hydro 2.0, I know sometimes my opponents in the Labor Party say that I’m not committed to renewables. Well, I tell you we’re building, and we’re going to build the biggest single renewable project in Australia since Snowy Hydro 1.0. So, I would say that is a substantial commitment. Plus, we’re getting on and building the Western Sydney Airport, the Inland Rail. And we’ll build a railway to…from Melbourne out to Tullamarine – so many other big infrastructure projects, and we’ve been able to do it because of strong economic growth.
We’ve also taken a different approach. I have been a reforming Liberal Prime Minister. Of course, you know, one of the many difficult political challenges that we face, particularly in the Coalition, has been the issue of marriage equality. Now, we have delivered that. Same-sex marriage is legal. We went through a postal vote, as you know, which was hugely successful, again, much more successful than many thought, and we have delivered that historic reform, a very substantial one. We’ve also established a national redress scheme for the victims of child sexual abuse. We’ve provided record support for mental health services and indeed for health services right across the board, whether it is hospitals, Medicare, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. None of those things could have been done without the strong economy that we’ve delivered. Childcare reforms also have been once-in-a-generation reforms. But I have taken a different approach as a federal leader, as a federal government, to the way we engage with cities. As you know, historically, federal governments played a limited role, a sort of ad hoc role, with cities and very often, you had federal government, state government, local government often moving in roughly the same direction but being a bit like ships in the night. The City Deals Program has been a real innovation – a very, very welcome reform and working very well, enabling [for] the first time to see federal government money systematically going in to work in partnership with communities so that you agree on what your vision is and then get on and do it.
I want to say also that keeping Australians safe is obviously the single most important priority of government. I have had outstanding ministers in that area, particularly Marise Payne, the Defence Minister, and the Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, and we have embarked on the largest investment in our defence capabilities ever in peacetime. And of course, it’s not simply a matter of ensuring that our men and women in the ADF have the capabilities, both to give them the force they need and to ensure that they are safe in all of the circumstances they’re engaging in. But it also is part of an agenda to ensure that defence industry, these advanced industries, provide the lead, the opportunities, to build the Australian economy. It is all part of our economic plan. Clearly, as Prime Minister, I’ve had a great deal to do in terms of our international agenda. We’ve been able to secure again a reform or an achievement that many people thought was impossible, which was the Trans-Pacific Partnership, when Donald Trump pulled out of that, everyone thought it was dead. I was mocked, as you know, by some for…for keeping at it. But we managed to secure the TPP-11, Trans-Pacific Partnership continued. And the fact that it has continued not only creates export opportunities for Australians, but it also provides a foundation for a trade deal for the U.S. to re-enter at some point in the future and for others to do as well. We’ve also…of course, I was able to secure and then maintain the resettlement deal with the United States for refugees on Manus and Nauru. That…that was a challenging exercise, to maintain that, but, of course, hundreds of refugees are now being resettled without providing the incentive for the people smugglers to get back into business again and maintaining that strong border protection has been critically important. We’re also able…I was also able to ensure that when the U.S. put tariffs on steel and aluminum, on countries right around the world, Australia was exempted from that. Again, a great example of the way in which I have sought always to stand up for Australian jobs, Australian workers and our industries. We’ve been able to ensure that we could bring back the rule of law in the building sector with the Australian Building and Construction Commission. That was a…obviously one of the double dissolution triggers, but again, many thought that was impossible, but we’re able to achieve it.
So there’s been, I think it has been…it’s been a challenging time to be prime minister, but I’m very proud of our record; I’m very proud of my government, my ministers’ record in achievement. So, I want to thank them. I want to thank all my colleagues. I want to thank my staff. But, you know, above all, I want to thank my wife Lucy for her love and support. I want to thank our children, Alex and his wife Yvonne, and our daughter Daisy and her husband James. It isn’t easy being either married to or the child of a politician, let alone a prime minister. And often, children get attention from the media and others that they, frankly, don’t deserve, in terms of, you know, people wanting to sort of have a crack at their father by going after them. So, it’s been…it’s been tough on them at times, but I want to thank them for their solidarity and loyalty and love. Our grandchildren, of course, are a great joy. I…I look forward to spending some more time with them and with Lucy. But finally, I want to thank the Australian people for everything they have done for me. They…it has been such a privilege to be the leader of this great nation. I love Australia. I love Australians. We are the most successful, multicultural society in the world, and I have always defended that and advanced that as one of our greatest assets. We must never allow the politics of race or division or of setting Australians against each other to become part of our, you know, political culture. We have so much going for us in this country. We have to be proud of it and cherish it.
Now, I suppose I should say something about the events of the…of the last week or so. Look, I think you all know what’s happened. There was a determined insurgency from a number of people both in the party room and so backed by voices, powerful voices, in the media, really to, if not bring down the government, certainly bring down my prime ministership. It was…it was extraordinary. It was described as madness by many, and I think it’s difficult to describe it in any other way. In the party room meeting today, I was impressed by how many of my colleagues spoke or voted for loyalty above disloyalty; how the insurgents were not rewarded by electing Mr. Dutton, for example, but instead, my successor, who I wish the very best, of course, Scott Morrison, a very loyal and effective Treasurer. I want to thank him and, of course, for his great work. But above all, I want to thank Julie Bishop. She is a very dear friend. We’ve been friends for over 30 years, which we sometimes wonder whether we should remind people of that, but nonetheless, she’s a very dear friend. She’s been an extraordinary Foreign Minister – I would say our finest Foreign Minister. And she has been a loyal deputy and just a great colleague and friend. So, I thank Julie very much. As you know, she’s stood down as the deputy and she’s succeeded by Josh Frydenberg. And again, I wish Josh all the best. He’s been a very loyal and capable minister. So, that is what I have to say to you today. I’m happy to take some questions. No, no, hang on, hang on, one minute. You can’t all talk at once and I’m going to – given that I’m about to no longer be the Prime Minister, I’m going to ask Laura Tingle to ask me a question.