Interview with Alan Jones, 2GB

Transcript
28 Feb 2020
Prime Minister
E&OE

ALAN JONES: The Prime Minister is on the line from Canberra. Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Alan. I’m in Sydney this morning I got back last night.

JONES: Oh, Sydney. 

PRIME MINISTER: Came home to see the girls and Jen.

JONES: Good on you. Now, you've announced this emergency response. Congratulations, by the way, on the way this is being handled. It does appear, though, notwithstanding everything that is happening, this is a virus, which I think as Professor Mackay has said may be here with us for some time?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes. That's, I think, that's the truth and that's the advice we're getting. And this is not like SARS and MERS, which happened some time ago. It's behaving in a very different way. How it transmits in the community between people is much more prolific than we saw in those areas. I mean, the actual disease, the virus itself is it is not as aggressive, it's not as severe as SARS and MERS. But because it has getting to more and more people, it is taking more lives. I mean more lives have already been lost to this coronavirus, than SARS and MERS combined around the world. So that means you have to be very proactive, which is what we've been doing, but we're not immune from it. But we are well-prepared. And what I announced yesterday with Greg Hunt is we're getting more prepared to stay ahead of this to ensure that if we get cases here in Australia and it starts transmitting within Australia, then the plans are in place to deal with that, to slow it down to ensure our health facilities can cope. As I also said yesterday, right now there are 15 cases which people have been discharged. There are 8 cases from the Diamond Princess. One of those is in a more serious condition in Western Australia we learned today, but in the rest of the community, you can go about your business.

JONES: I think there's a very good points that you made yesterday. So keep going, go, whatever you're doing. I think you made that point yesterday. Keep at it. I mean, I just made that point myself earlier though to put this in perspective. I mean, more than 900 Australians died from the flu last year.

PRIME MINISTER: That's true. And you sometimes do see that. But as I said, this virus is about 10 times more severe than the flu when it comes to its rate of mortality. Now, that's, that is significantly less than what SARS and MERS were. But as I said, it moves more quickly. That's why we moved early to contain the virus in Australia to make sure it wasn’t coming in. And that was very effective. And Dr Brendan Murphy who’s worked closely with Greg Hunt and I, he moved about 10 days out before the World Health Organization and said no, we need to move on this right now. So we were right there with him. He's giving us the same advice now about preparing for the next stage. And so what we're doing here,

JONES: So to add to that advice, if I could just repeat the point you made, yesterday because it is important to add to that advice, you have said yesterday, children can still go and play with their friends down the street. You can still go to the concert. You can still go and get a Chinese meal. You can still do all those things, you can still travel internationally. So you've got to reduce the temperature haven’t you a bit?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah you do. I mean, and there are some places, I’m saying there's a travel ban going to China. But apart from that, there are no other I mean, people should always check the travel advice wherever they're going, there are reasons why you wouldn't go to other places which have nothing to do with. So you'd follow the normal process. So we don't want people to be alarmed by this. We want them to be assured that Australia I mean, Australia is very well protected on this. Our health system is the best in the world. What we're doing is actually very similar to what the United States is doing. They've also had good success there, New Zealand and Australia have been working closely together as well to ensure we have similar systems in place so Australians are well-placed.

JONES: Yes. And just on that emergency response to just amplify that, because I want to come to this other point that you made yesterday about quote, very significant economic implications, which is most probably a very major issue. But in relation to the emergency response plan, you're basically saying that would give sweeping powers to federal and state governments to contain the virus and they would have the powers to do whatever was necessary to respond to that.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, that's the short form of it. That's right. Right now, what ministers are doing, Greg Hunt is meeting with the state and territory ministers today. This plan has already been agreed by those ministers. So they're working through practical aspects of it this morning together.

And that's looking at their capacity for surging, their capacity for quarantine facilities, how it applies more generally in the community. And what we want to know over the course of the next week or so is what the gap is, if there's any gaps that need to be filled. So, I mean, you don't want to be doing that once or if, that the you know, the virus is transmitted in Australia, you want that all ready to go. And that's what we're doing. I also asked the education minister, while we have no advice, which is suggesting any particular risk for schools or anything like that, he's going to be doing the same thing with education ministers and of course, Peter Dutton will be engaging with all law enforcement and other agencies to ensure that, you know, the plans are in place there to make that work as well.

JONES: Right. I'm being inundated with letters, correspondence from people facing economic consequences of drought, bushfires and coronavirus. I note that, if I could just play one of the callers here to give you a bit of a flavour. I've got hundreds of these now this is a marina and of course boats, tourism and it's the south coast so there’s bushfires there. Then there's the coronavirus. This is one of the callers earlier this week.

CALLER: We employ local people and we just haven't had anybody coming through the door, we’re open, but no one to be open for.

JONES: How many staff do you normally have at this time of the year?

CALLER: Six to seven staff running

JONES: and how many now?

CALLER: We've just got the door open with one.

JONES: How do you pay the bills when no one comes through the door?

CALLER: It's coming out of savings from a business partner and myself and it was interesting to read, we thought on the 14th of January. Our bank, the Commonwealth Bank, wrote us applications now open for bushfire recovery grants, we're offering up to $50,000 per grant, fund expected to exceed 10 million. So you hit the link and where does it go? Straight out to Centrelink. And by the time you finally get through it all, if you're not burnt. No help at all.

JONES: That's the issue here. I note that you're saying in relation to putting all these things together that you've asked the Treasurer and the Treasury Secretary, Stephen Kennedy, to work on economic strategies, your words, that are targeted, modest and scalable. People are really suffering in tourism industries, education industries, bushfire. What are you saying to those people?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you're right in some of these areas and they've been hit with a triple whammy, as you say, drought, bushfires and coronavirus. And it's different in different places, depending on what industry you’re in I mean, one, I mean, obviously, tourism has been hit. Obviously, the education sector has been hit. But the other thing that's been hit, Alan, is that we have, we get so much of, you know, inputs and things like this to other businesses. I mean, builders, they're going to have issues accessing particular products to put in houses and things like that. So it's an economy wide impact, but some more intensely affected than others. Now, let me just go to the bushfire issue. I met, I saw Andrew Constance last weekend and we had a conversation. And then I caught up this week with Andrew Colvin and David Littleproud, the minister. And we're taking another look at the small business assistance program. It is right. I mean, traditionally in relation to any natural disaster, there has to be a direct impact on the business. That's what's always been in place, whether it's the floods in north Queensland or fires anywhere else or cyclones or things of that nature. But we're having a good look about how we can sort of rebuild in these places and build back better. And that includes how we might look at changing the way we're delivering that support. So we'll be working closely with the New South Wales government.

JONES: Could I just make a plea to you, just make a plea to you, and bring it right back, forget you’re the prime minister, to your own family, just Mr and Mrs Morrison. And they've got two kids and they’re young kids. And suddenly you have no house. Mrs Morrison's got no clothes. And you don't have a dining room table, you don’t even have a porridge plate. You don't have a pair of shoes to put on. They've put you into a caravan area. But there is no water, nowhere to wash your feet, nowhere to have a shower. Now, at the moment, there are hundreds of these people. The children are traumatised because mum's trying to explain to them what's happened to their house and will they ever have a house again. And they've got a mortgage payment to come in. The bank is at them. And these people, you're talking business, and what's been done in businesses is terrific. And I know you're accelerating that, and that's great. But I'm just concerned these people are writing to me, the mental health issues are enormous. One family has written to me, two autistic children and the father is just desperately, saying I don’t know are we going to survive all of this? They keep asking questions. Shouldn't we know, haven't, I’ve asked this before, an inventory of who these people are, where they are, because the public have given a billion, I've seen you, stand in the parliament. And I said on this program, I'm sure the prime minister's sincere. We've given $2 billion dollars. But these people are saying to me, we haven't seen any of this.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the disaster recovery payments we've put on Alan, they've gone to over about 115,000 people and we know who all of those are and we're happy to share those details with charities as well as we've been seeking to do so our disaster recovery payments, have gone out very quickly, there are a range of other payments that have been able to make their way out as well. Primary producers in particular, that's a very important one as people are rebuilding fences and rebuilding sheds and getting the generators going on the dairy again. I mean, they are they're very important.

JONES: So I know you say that, but do you know that that is happening? You can't be monitoring all of this. That's what you want the money to be spent on. But see, there's the mayor of Bega Valley I mean a desperate situation down there. She’s asked by the bureaucrats to drive to Canberra to make the case for money, why aren’t the bureaucrats going to Bega Valley to see her?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's exactly what Andrew Colvin has done. Andrew Colvin has been all over the south coast. He's been in East Gippsland down in down in Victoria. He's been up in Queensland. He's been over in South Australia. The National Bushfire Recovery Agency was set up for that very purpose, and they've been engaging extensively in all of those communities. I mean, I know that because I get the reports from Andrew about the money that's going out now that the small business one is obviously, what, the issue with small business, is this is that many of the places where the fires were, they didn't go right into the towns so the businesses directly, didn't get fire damage where they've had other things that have disrupted supply and things like that, then sometimes that's taken into account. But there's been a hit on the town, which has obviously hit those businesses and that’s and that's not falling in the normal categories for how disaster assistance is applied. And that's what I was talking to Andrew about last week. That’s what Andrew...

JONES: Well that is a big, you’re quite right, the house hasn’t been burnt down, the business hasn’t been burnt down, but they're still suffering, you’re quite right.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s right. So we're looking at how that can be better supported for those businesses that believe that they can build back, that they will be there next year, the year after that, the year after that. We're looking to see how we can support them with their plan to get their business back on its feet. 

JONES: Right, Albanese, Albanese, zero carbon dioxide emissions scheme?

PRIME MINISTER: Well he's got no plan for it. And that's the big problem. The big problem, there are four countries can I tell you who have worked out a plan for zero by 2050. They're the Marshall Islands, Switzerland, Suriname, and Norway. Four countries who say they've got a plan to meet a 2050 zero carbon target.

JONES: But did you, have you caught this thing overnight? The UK Court of Appeal has accepted arguments from environmental groups in the court that a third runway at Heathrow would jeopardise Britain's ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And it says, this was illegal for the government to approve a third runway because it failed to take into account the impact of a third runway on Britain's commitment under the Paris agreement. I mean, this is mad. 

PRIME MINISTER: This is the madness. This is the madness. This is why I've said all along my task, jobs, keeping electricity prices down and ensuring that key industries, particularly those in rural and regional Australia, are not affected by any of these types of things.

JONES: Can I puncture your balloon and make your morning a little bit miserable? Because I've got a document in front of me here from the New South Wales government, and I think many people in your parliamentary party are on the same wavelength. Quote, The New South Wales government is committed to an objective of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. How's that any different from Labor?

PRIME MINISTER: Well A, they’re a state government, not a federal one, and they don't have international emissions reductions target. And we've just put in an arrangement with the New South Wales government to get gas out from under the ground, which is going to, I think it was 70 petajoules, 75 petajoules, which is going to have a big impact on getting electricity prices under control, get them down and ensure we have a continuity of reliable power in New South Wales. And that's the arrangement we're working on with New South Wales. But for us as a Commonwealth government, as a Liberal National government at a federal level, the reason we haven't embraced this target, Alan, is because no one can tell me how you can do it and at the same time, protect jobs, keep electricity prices down and support industries and particularly those in rural and regional Australia.

JONES: Well I can recommend to you the piece I wrote in the Telegraph on Tuesday. I know you're very busy, but if you read that, you'll find out what zero net, zero carbon dioxide emissions is going to do to the economy.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I’ll just go through it just quickly. I mean, Labor is saying, well, you can't get there and you can't use gas because they're against fossil fuels. You can't get there and use hydrogen if you do it by anything else other than wind by windmills. They've got no position on nuclear that will help them get there. They don't want coal fired power stations to keep running. So how on earth is this thing supposed to work? This is why it is just such a mindless commitment by Anthony Albanese.

JONES:  And the Court of Appeal, I'm glad you said that. Absolute madness. I suppose we could say, Prime Minister, the road to hell, economic hell is paved with green intentions. Thank you for your time and thank you for what you're doing. We'll talk again soon.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks a lot Alan, all the best.