Interview with Allison Langdon and Karl Stefanovic, Today

19 Nov 2020
Prime Minister

ALLISON LANGDON: After a busy 24 hours in Japan, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is back on Australian soil and he's in quarantine. 

KARL STEFANOVIC: He joins us now from the Lodge live. Prime Minister good morning to you, thanks for your time, appreciate it.

PRIME MINISTER: G'day Karl, g'day Ally.

STEFANOVIC: You would have landed back in Australia and been aware of the difficulties facing South Australia right now I’m sure like the rest of us. It's a terrible time for them, isn’t it. What would you say to them?

PRIME MINISTER: I would thank them first of all, for their patience and I would thank them for their cooperation in South Australia. I've been in touch every day with Premier Marshall and obviously with my own medical team and the Health Minister and the decision that's been taken in South Australia is to get ahead, stay ahead and make sure this is a very temporary intervention, a precautionary one. There are some uncertainties in terms of how the virus is operating there. The suggestion of another strand, or strain I should say, of that, so this needs to be got on top of. That will avoid a much longer lockdown, as we've had seen sadly in other states. So I understand the decision that's been taken. We are giving them all the support we can. I really do thank South Australians for their cooperation and their patience and hopefully we will see these lifted in a few days time and we will have been able once again to have dealt with a further outbreak.

LANGDON: How confident are you though that these restrictions will be lifted in six days?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm reasonably confident and the Premier is in a better position to comment but this was intended as a precaution, to ensure that what we have seen occur in the last couple of days, we could stay ahead of that. They have thousands of people who have gone into isolation, they have reacted very quickly, the testing, the tracing all of that is operating and operating well. This should see us, I think, move through the next few days and then hopefully return to the situation as it was. So I'm reasonably confident about it but it’s a pandemic, it’s a virus that sets its own rules. There seems to be some new rules here with this possible other strain and that means that we have to be especially cautious.

STEFANOVIC: Given all of that, WA and Queensland have shut their borders to South Australia. It seems to me that there are some states, namely those two, who just don't listen to you. Is that frustrating?

PRIME MINISTER: All the states and territories, all the way through this, they're responsible for public health in their states, Karl. As a result, they will make their own decisions. The Commonwealth Government is in no position to direct states as to how they will respond. So they have to take responsibility for their own decisions but the fact is in Australia that our coronavirus response has been the strongest of any country in the world and so while there might be the odd disagreement, I think we have to step back and look at what is happening in Australia and I can tell you, having just returned from Japan which is one of the better performing nations, all of them would envy Australia's experience and how we are handling this. But South Australia has dealt with its own border issue by treating itself as a hotspot and cutting itself off for a few days. Northern Territory has had a hotspot policy running for many, many months. They will list places for a short period of time then they’ll take those restrictions off. I think that's always provided a good model. New South Wales has always pushed through. South Australia is a smaller economy than New South Wales, I should stress as well. The implications in New South Wales, if they were to go down similar paths, would have a far greater impact on the national economy. But for South Australians, hang in there, tough it out over the next few days. I know the Premier would not have done this lightly. I know he hasn't and I know he will move quickly as soon as he can to ease those restrictions off as soon as he believes it will assist the state's public health response.

STEFANOVIC: So you have got no problem with the borders being shut in some states?

PRIME MINISTER: This happened in north-west Tasmania early on in the quarantine. I have always said that where you get, and early on in the Victorian lockdown we were moving to try and constrain what was happening within those suburbs. There are no hard and fast rules across all of these things, Karl. It's a pandemic, it's a virus, it moves and you have got to be responsive, you’ve got to try new things and stay on top of it and that's what we are all seeking to do. I’ve got to say, Australia's results when you look across the country compared to the rest of the world and what is happening in Europe and the United States and many other cases, that's why Australians in larger numbers are looking to come home and that of course, puts even further pressure on our systems.

LANGDON: All right, just back from Japan and this historic defence pact. Beijing says that we will pay a price for that. Are you worried?

PRIME MINISTER: I have seen that unofficial document that's come out of the Chinese Embassy. Look, Australia will always be, we'll be ourselves. Of course we will set our own laws and our own rules according to our national interest. Not at the behest of any other nation whether that's the United States or China or anyone else. We make our laws and our rules and pursue our relationships in our interests and we stand up with other countries, whether it be on human rights issues or things that are occurring around the world including in China. We will continue to do that in accordance with our values. Now, if that is the source of tensions between Australia and China well, I can assure you Australia will continue to be ourselves. We'll continue to act in our own national interests, pursue partnerships like the one we have been able to just do together with my partners, pull together with Japan, a very important relationship for Australia. We both see the world very similarly and that relationship, I think will only strengthen stability and peace in the Indo-Pacific.

STEFANOVIC: PM, there are threatening undertones with this stuff that's come out of the Embassy. They’re saying here, and I said the same thing to Simon Birmingham about half an hour ago, quote "China is angry, if you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy." I mean, that's incredibly provocative.

PRIME MINISTER: My response to that is Australia is not doing that and Australia isn't about to do that. We're just going to keep being ourselves, Karl. I know there's been a lot of discussion about this topic about the relationship and what should Australia do. I tell you one thing we won't be doing, we won't be compromising on the fact that we will set what our foreign investment laws are or how we build our 5G telecommunications networks or how we run our systems of protecting against interference Australia’s way we run our country. We won't be changing any of that and I can tell you, in that list you would have seen that apparently the media and freely elected politicians apparently aren't allowed to speak their minds. We won't be changing that in Australia either. So we'll continue to be ourselves. We will stand up for our national interests but we'll engage with our partners respectively.

LANGDON: The part I was disappointed with, I was really hoping you would be able to control my co-host.

STEFANOVIC: No, the Prime Minister is allowing me to do whatever I want on breakfast television, thank you PM, finally.

PRIME MINISTER: Who has ever stopped you, Karl.

LANGDON: Exactly. But in all seriousness though, Prime Minister, what you are saying is these 14 demands that the Chinese Communist Party has put forward, there is no way you are backing down to any of them. So where does that leave our farmers, our industry, our winemakers, who are being impacted by this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm sure they would all agree that Australia can never compromise our own national interests and hand how we make our laws over to any other country. I mean, that's just not what Australia is, and we would never change to that. We are always open to have dialogue on all of these issues between ministers, indeed between leaders, whether it's on trade issues or anything else. But one thing we have to be very clear about is that our laws are our laws. We put them in place in our national interest, whether it's on foreign investment or anything else. And we will form partnerships with other countries like with Japan, or many other countries in the Indo-Pacific and we will do that in accordance with our interests and theirs and that's for us to determine and we will respect the decisions of other countries, but our values aren't up for trade. Our democracy is not up for trade and our sovereignty is not up for trade.

STEFANOVIC: Look, you've got a very conciliatory tone in relation to the borders this morning, you still want obviously the borders to be open by Christmas.


STEFANOVIC: Given what has happened in South Australia, is that realistic in any way shape or form?

PRIME MINISTER: I remain hopeful and ambitious for it and the Premier himself has said that is why he has done this, so we could stay on track with that. I should stress, this is a precautionary circuit breaking act, it is not because everything else has failed. Everything else is actually performing well on the tracing and there are a few issues, particularly around this pizza shop and also this other potential strain, and once we get better data out of that I'm sure the Premier will be in a better position to make further decisions. But you've got to be responsive when it comes to dealing with this virus. When the Victorian lockdown was put in, I understood that as well. So I have taken a very consistent approach in respecting the decisions of the states, trying to support them in every single way we can. They are as you know, very protective of their sovereignty in their own states on the decisions they have responsibility for and the same should apply equally from the states to the Commonwealth. I'm talking to Steven Marshall every day. I will talk to him again today and as well as with my own health team who are doing everything they can to help them, as are the other states, I should stress.

LANGDON: Just speaking to him earlier too, he did sound optimistic about the numbers we are expecting to hear today so we will wait for that mid-morning. But Prime Minister, day one of 14 days in quarantine for you. How are you going to fill the time?

PRIME MINISTER: It didn't start too well with the Blues going down last night I’ve got to tell you.

LANGDON: Don't remind us.

PRIME MINISTER: That's not how I was planning to kick quarantine off for 14 days but it was another great thrilling decider, and I reckon Addo-Carr would have got there as well. But anyway, that's there for the controversial discussion. It wouldn't be Origin without controversy and I think that’s why we all play but it was such a tight game and it was such a great series, and I'm so glad we had the series. For 14 days, yes, the Government will continue as normal. Right here, we'll be participating in APEC and the G20, European summits, Cabinet convenes from here, talking to yourselves and many others I'm sure. That's the wonders of having the technology that we can do this and that could enable me to go to Japan, which was incredibly important I did, to meet with Prime Minister Suga and to keep that momentum going in what is such a critical relationship for Australia.

STEFANOVIC: Can you do us one favour while in quarantine, can you make us a quarantine curry?

PRIME MINISTER: I can assure you I will, I'll have one or two staff who are quarantining with me as well because that's necessary to keep the show running. I will probably cook them a meal one or two nights, I'm sure they will cook me one as well. 

LANGDON: I was worried what he was going to ask you then, really worried.

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve got the exercise bike, I probably won't be doing the barre classes though, I gave that a go the other day, I don't think that's a strength.

LANGDON: I don’t know, I thought you did a magnificent plie.

PRIME MINISTER: My girls thought it was hilarious, as you can imagine.

STEFANOVIC: You should certainly not do that sort of activity after a curry. Thank you PM, lovely to see you, good luck in the next couple of days.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks guys.