Interview with Alan Jones, 2GB

13 Mar 2020
Prime Minister

ALAN JONES: The Prime Minister's on the line. Prime Minister, good morning. 

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Alan. 

JONES: Well done in very difficult circumstances. Can I just begin with a negative though, people are emailing me this morning and on the line, a little indignant that welfare recipients will get $750. And there are workers out there saying, look we're doing it really tough. And they're wondering what they get. How do you answer that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's what the whole stimulus package is about. It's about keeping people in business. The reason we're putting these payments out there, which includes 2.4 [million] aged pensioners, it also includes people on family tax benefits, they’re people who pay taxes, there’s 180,000 or thereabouts of those who are impacted by this. But it's going to veteran's benefits, carers, Commonwealth seniors health card holders, farm household allowance recipients. It's a very wide, wide ranging payment, but it's entire- designed for people to spend in the economy because that's what supports people's jobs. The $25,000 for small and medium sized businesses, 690,000 of them that's designed to support their cashflow, to keep people in jobs and the investment allowance. The instant asset write off. These are designed to get people investing, to keep people in jobs. So I want to keep people in jobs, Alan. And -

JONES: I know. I know you do. 

PRIME MINISTER: If I keep people in jobs, that's what's best for them. 

JONES: Yeah, now just on that, keeping people in jobs, I mean I'm broadcasting from Souths Juniors, now there is a mood out there where people are saying, don't go out there, don't go anywhere. Shut this down. Don't meet in gatherings. And so here we've got a stack of people here for the broadcast. Well if that's the case, well, the bloke making the pies is out of work. The bloke making the sandwiches is out of work. The bloke selling the drinks are out of work. The people who are here are out of work. You've been saying life get on as usual. Is that still the advice?

PRIME MINISTER: It is, look I’m sorry to say that to the Bunnies fans down there at South Juniors this morning, but I'll be out supporting the Sharks on Saturday night. I’ll be out there -

JONES: Well, that’s your problem.

PRIME MINISTER: I'm sure it’ll be a great game. But look, unless there's health advice and we haven't got that health advice to this point, where those sorts of things have been cancelled and those sorts of things, and you know people just should go about what they're doing. Go to work, but exercise common sense, the sort of common hygiene practices. I mean, if people have been in contact with someone who's been in an affected area or you know, you're in the middle of having a test and you’re self isolating, fair enough - you shouldn't go to the footy on Saturday. But otherwise, I think it's important for our economy and just our general wellbeing Alan, that people sort of get on about their lives, you know, keep calm and carry on is the saying -

JONES: I know. You've been saying that for a week, but nonetheless, the people out there saying, oh, we might have to close down this and we might have to close down that. And we might say the football matches will be off and something else will be off. And this is not the positive mood that we need here to address the problem.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've got to maintain our positivity. I mean, we'll, all the Premiers we’re all  meeting today out in Parramatta, with the Premiers, Chief Ministers and myself, and they’ll all take the best possible medical advice. If that were necessary to protect people's health, then they would make a decision along those lines. But we don't have to get ahead of all those sorts of things. We should just continue to conduct ourselves rationally and sensibly supporting each other. That's what I said last night in my address to the nation. We're gonna get through this Australia, and we're going to get through it together. And it takes all of us, neighbours, friends, doctors, nurses, teachers and everybody, Prime Ministers, radio broadcasters, you know all of us, just doing our thing, supporting each other. And as you said, rightly in your introduction, and I said that to big business. You know, supporting their suppliers, paying them early. And I've got to say, I was very thrilled with the response. Telstra, Andy Penn, they’ve put in place casual leave payments for casual workers who are affected by the virus. Good for them. That's exactly the sort of leadership I was asking for from them, and I'm pleased to see that from them. Alan Joyce has been terrific over at Qantas, even the big banks, which I'm a bit critical of from time to time. They passed on, in full, the rate cuts that came from the Reserve Bank and I asked them to do that and they responded. So - 

JONES: You might have a word with Andy Penn about getting, you might have a word with Andy Penn about getting some landlines up in the bushfire-damaged areas. There are people down the South Coast that just don’t have any communication at all -

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’m happy to do that. Happy to do that.

JONES: Yeah, Telstra have been very poor on that. Look, a very critical point that you made, and I’ll just repeat it here, because people were ringing about this yesterday, and I just want you to reinforce this. You've said that casual workers who've contracted the virus or have had to isolate themselves will be eligible for a Newstart welfare payment while out of work?

PRIME MINISTER: Correct. Yeah. And we're waiving the waiting period that would normally apply to that as well. What will apply is of course the assets test, that if people are sitting there with lots of money in the bank, like anyone else they, like if they were going on Newstart in that environment, their assets test would still apply. But yes, if you're a casual employee, there is that, it has been called the sickness payment. It'll be called the jobseeker payment, but that is what they'll be eligible for and that's built into our system. And so yesterday we waived the waiting period so they could get access to that. 

JONES: Right, apprentices?

PRIME MINISTER: Apprentices, 117,000 being supported through wage subsidies, paying half their wages for companies less than 20 employees. This is, this was one I'm very passionate about. Getting young people into work, I can't think of anything more important than that. Get a young person into work by the time they're about 22 or 23, you know what they don't do? They don’t spend a life on welfare. I learnt that when I was Social Services Minister. Getting young people into work is so important. And I don't want to see apprentices in small businesses losing their jobs because of the difficult time small businesses will face over the next six months. So yeah, that backdates to the 1st of January. And you know, my nephew, he's a plumbing apprentice. And he works for a wonderful small business down in the Shire, Wazza, and they do a great job. And I just am so impressed by small businesses who take on apprentices, particularly in, you know, in our suburbs and our regional towns and rural areas. Good on them. And they are one of the first people I looked at to back.

JONES: Right. Cash payments to small and medium businesses between $2,000 and $25,000?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah. What this does and no-one has to apply for it, there’s no assessment. There's, you don't have to ring anybody. It will come through your BAS in April. And so if you're employing people as a small and medium sized business, up to $50 million, depending on the size of effectively your income tax payroll, you will get a grant up to $25,000. And that's just designed to give you a cash boost in your small business to help you get through.

JONES: The instant asset write off?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we've supercharged this from, it's currently $30,000, any item you buy for $30,000 for a business up to $50 million, you can write off immediately. We're going to supercharge that to $150,000 and for businesses up to half a billion in turnover. And that's designed to ensure businesses keep their investment plans in place over the next, certainly over the next three months, and beyond to six months. And that will keep the wheels turning and keep the businesses getting prepared for the other side, because that's an important part. There is another side. We've got to remember that, this is a virus, it runs a course. And then once the virus passes, I want Australia to be in the best possible position to bounce back. And so investing in that new equipment, which can be vehicles and as you’d know, we have seen, thankfully, some rain in important areas and and a lot of farmers going to put in a winter crop. How good is that? And they're going to need to get some equipment and supplies and various things. And these these measures will help them too.

JONES: Just in three areas, as I've been talking about. I mean, you take the abalone fishermen in Tasmania and the lobster fishermen. I mean, 90 per cent of their orders go to China, their boats, they're all out of work, and then you've mentioned a billion bucks to the tourism sector. Where do these sorts of people fit in to the announcements that you've made in the last 48 hours?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the examples you've used are good ones, and whether it's the crayfish fishermen over in Geraldton in Western Australia or also the abalones, I was talking to Peter Gutwein the Premier down there last night about this and there, or up in North Queensland with tourism operators. We've put it together a billion dollar fund. That will do a number of things. We're already waiving all the marine park fees and the national park fees that the Federal Government is responsible for, that helps those tourism operators in those places. But also Alan, the sort of things that we've done in the bushfires, and thank you for your acknowledgement of the changes we made to those small business payments this week, in specific areas that have a much worse impact, like the types of examples you've talked about, we'd be looking to provide the sort of support that you'd normally provide in a sort of a disaster area, but where those details are not yet locked in, that will take a bit more time to get that right. And the Premiers and I were discussing it last night. We're gonna talk about it again today. But that is quite targeted support. I'd call that less stimulus. I'd call it more about supporting the very affected areas, particularly in specific locations, to how we help them through and get them back on their feet. Because you say, I mean, they can't help it, that the Chinese restaurants up in Beijing are not ordering crayfish. I mean, that's… they will again.

JONES: That’s it. Just on the deeming rates, because what we’re trying to do, on the deeming rates, the announcement -


JONES: ...and that's excellent. But can you say should there be two kinds of, you've been the Treasurer as well, should there be two kinds of deeming rates? I understand why you've kept the deeming rate above $51,800 at 2.5 per cent, because there are other instruments of investment, which most probably are earning fairly attractive returns. But for the, we don't want elderly people going into risky investments. So they stick their stuff in the bank and they're still going to have to pay 2.5 over $51,800 and they can't earn 2.5. Shouldn't there be a different deeming rate for orthodox bank deposits?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the deeming rate provisions do exactly what you said. I mean, the lower rate is the cash rate, 0.5. And it's, we've aligned it with the cash rate. And so we dropped that this week down to 0.5. The upper rate, which is 2.5 per cent, that means your investments would be getting 200 basis points above the cash rate. Now, I wouldn't call the sort of investments that would be achieving that, I really wouldn't be calling them risky Alan. We're talking superannuation type fund investments now -

JONES: No, but I'm talking about people who stick their money in bank deposits and the bank, because they think that's safe. And so they're on, they're paying 2.5 per cent and they're struggling to earn 1.4?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'd be encouraging them to talk to their financial advisers because I think they can, they can do better for themselves and not be taking on the risks that they fear they might be. And I think if they get good financial advice, they'd find themselves in a position to be doing better than that.

JONES: Just on interest rates, we've now got several central banks around the world with interest rates minus, and on interest rates when they’re minus of course, the depositor pays the bank. Do you think our Reserve Bank is on a mission to lower interest rates to go below zero? The International Monetary Fund is openly talking about central banks needing to go to minus 4 per cent in a recession. In that circumstance, of course, the depositor would be paying the bank. Where do you think this is heading?

PRIME MINISTER: I'd be very surprised if we saw that situation in Australia, Alan. And based on my long-term, not just short-term, more recent discussions with the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Australia is in a stronger position than that. I mean, we're 0.5 on the cash rate. The Reserve Bank Governor has talked about having a bit more room there, but not a lot. And the heavy lifting that needs to be done now has to be done by fiscal policy, by the Government, and that's why we announced what we did yesterday. So the, the important message to listeners is that the Reserve Bank and the Treasury and the Government, we are working very closely together on this. So I remember many years ago, you know after the GFC had well passed and all that spending - 

JONES: There’s only two people that can stop you, one is the speaker and the other’s Alan Jones. We've got to go, unfortunately to the news PM. There are other things I'd love to raise, but we, perhaps we can talk again next week?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course. Thanks Alan. All the best.

JONES: Thank you so much for your time you too.