Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

Transcript
13 Dec 2018
Prime Minister
COAG outcomes; Population management; Commonwealth Integrity Commission; Special envoys; Malcolm Turnbull; John Howard; Christmas plans
E&OE

BEN FORDHAM: Thank you very much, there’s Bernice. This is Scott Morrison, Prime Minister, good afternoon.

PRIME MINISTER: G’day. Bernice is far more interesting, you should have stayed on the line, mate.

FORDHAM: Well I didn’t want to brush you.

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER: I appreciate that. But how good is she?

FORDHAM: She’s fantastic. You have just been raised in a conversation with Mick Fuller, the NSW Police Commissioner.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, good bloke.

FORDHAM: Because, once upon a time when you were neighbours, according to the Commissioner, and I think this has been confirmed, you used to bring his bin in. When he’d leave the bin outside, the wheelie bin outside, and he was too lazy himself to bring it in, you would collect his bin and wheel it in for him. True or false?

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER: That’s what good neighbours do. That’s what they do. Mick is a great bloke and that’s the Shire way.

FORDHAM: How come you don’t do it anymore?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I don’t take the bins out anymore.

[Laughter]

FORDHAM: Why?

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER: Because I haven’t even found where they are yet.

FORDHAM: Ah of course, at Kirribilli House.

PRIME MINISTER: At my place, Jen would be home for often than not to take the bins out as I’d be travelling or something.

FORDHAM: Hang on, hang on, hang on. When you say my place, you mean our place?

PRIME MINISTER: No, no, when I lived in the Shire.

FORDHAM: Oh OK, I’m just clarifying there.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s very true Ben, and you’re right to point that out.

[Laughter]

Often neighbours would do that for each other, mate. I think that’s done in most parts of the country and Mick’s a good bloke.

FORDHAM: Well if you really loved him you’d be driving from Kirribilli House back to the Shire just to make sure the bin was in.

PRIME MINISTER: Fair point, I think that’s a fair point.

FORDHAM: Well I’ve just realised, we’ve got blokes from the Shire in charge of the NSW Police Force and in charge of the country. That’s not bad.

PRIME MINISTER: Well mate, it’s an amazing place down there in southern Sydney, what can I say?

FORDHAM: There are all sorts of problems at the Sharks though, maybe you need some of those leaders in charge of the Sharks?

PRIME MINISTER: Well yeah, that is a bit troubling. They’ve got to work all that out, I just sent a text to Flanno the other day just seeing if he’s alright, like you do when friends of yours are under the pump a bit. So look, I don’t know where all that’s going, I don’t know enough about it. But I know fans would be a bit troubled and concerned, but hopefully everything will be alright. We’ll see.

FORDHAM: Do you feel like you’re under the pump at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER: Nah mate, I just love doing the job I’m doing. We’re getting through everything and we’ve had a strong week. I was just down with all the Premiers yesterday agreeing how we can better manage population and $1.25 billion extra into hospitals and community health, particularly on mental health and things like that. So we’re just getting about the job and coming into Christmas, obviously everyone is looking forward to spending some time with family and hopefully your listeners will and they’ll have a safe time together. It’s a lovely time of the year and I’m also always remembering this time of the year that people will be feeling that little bit more lonely and isolated. So I think it’s important people keep an eye out for that. And particularly our troops overseas, we wish them well too.

FORDHAM: You mention COAG, how are you going to balance that? I know that this is probably going to be a difficult balancing act but I mentioned on the show yesterday that South Australia and Victoria are saying no, no, we don’t want to slow things down, we want just as many as we’re getting or more in terms of migrants. And then you’ve got Gladys Berejiklian saying I want to halve it. Is there a way of doing that so you can satisfy Gladys in New South Wales and also satisfy Dan in Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s the whole point. I mean, it’s like rainfall - there is no such thing as average rainfall around the country. There is no such thing as average population growth. It’s different in every city and the needs are different in all different parts of the country. So what we’re doing with our migration program, and I think I’ve hinted pretty clearly that it won’t be as large next year as the cap has been in the past, because it is running under the cap quite consistently now. But we’re going to make sure we get the people where we need them and where the pressure is on in places like Sydney and I’ve got to say in parts of suburban Melbourne - I’m surprised Dan is keen to see more and more people piling into Melbourne because that will just put more pressure on their standard of living - but we just want to work closely with the states. You can’t do these things in isolation. I mean, they build the roads and they manage the schools and the hospitals. We’ve got to connect up how you deliver all that with what you’re setting your migration program at.

FORDHAM: When you say you’re surprised that he wants more migrants in Victoria, do you reckon he’s got it wrong or do you reckon he’d know his state well?

PRIME MINISTER: Well you’ve got to rely on the states to make those calls. I mean, if that’s his call, you know, I’ve got to respect his call on that. But at the same time, we will at the end of the say… the Commonwealth sets what the migration program is. We’ve got to manage our temporary migration program. For every extra ten people you get in Australia each year, four of them are temporary migrants. So they’re students or long-term visas on tourism and things like that. Just under four of them were born here and two of them are permanent migrants. The key thing that’s driving population growth for these temporary migrants, so that’s what we’re trying to manage together and make sure that we’re sending them to the places that they’re needed most. And Gladys made the good point that she’d like to see regional universities and some of the students go out into regional areas which is good for those towns.

FORDHAM: Sounds like you want to give a bit more power to the states on this issue.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I just want to listen more to them. I mean, we have to make the ultimate decision - and I will - but what has been missing, and I found this when I was an Immigration Minister too, there just wasn’t enough feedback coming back from the states and territories about where the choke points are, where the pressure points were. And we need to know that stuff, and they’re the ones who run it. So it made sense for us to get together and have this new framework for sorting this out.

FORDHAM: Was it feedback that led to your change of heart on a Federal anti-corruption commission? Because once upon a time you described it as a fringe issue, you have confirmed today that it’s going to be a reality. Was it feedback or was it satisfying other parties, what was it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we’ve been working on it since January. I mean, it wasn’t an issue that I was pressing as my top priority when I took over as Prime Minister.

FORDHAM: Sure.

PRIME MINISTER: I knew it was something I had to resolve by the end of the year. My top priorities were drought and small business, getting taxes down and that’s what we’re addressing, and health funding. But it was on the list to get done by the end of the year and we’d had the work that had been going on and Christian Porter as the Attorney-General kept bringing that forward. But what I have never been interested in was the sort of kangaroo court type arrangement which we’ve seen in this state for too long where it’s only ever used - well it seemed to only be used - for people to have a shot at each other…

FORDHAM: It’s a sledgehammer.

PRIME MINISTER: You know, as either settling commercial vendettas, political vendetta or personal bureaucratic vendettas. Now, what… and you’ve got to make ensure you have a commission that has teeth, and ours will, and powers and resources, but the idea is that it is an investigative body. It goes and finds out whether the claim is actually fair dinkum. And if it is, send it to the DPP, press charges and prosecute.

FORDHAM: You mention the drought, I’m wondering how Barnaby Joyce is doing as the Special Envoy on the drought and how Tony Abbott is doing as the Special Envoy on Indigenous affairs. Because there was some who were warning you when you made those appointments, look Barnaby and Tony are going to cause trouble for you.

PRIME MINISTER: No not at all, they have been great. I mean, Tony gave a speech in the House of Representatives before we rose and he has set out some really good agendas there for how we keep these kids, Indigenous kids, in schools in remote areas. We’ve already been addressing some of those housing issues and some of those remote communities being identified and some money being flowed towards that. I mean, he was making the really good point that we want teachers to go into these remote areas, not to get some sort of leg up and promotion or some extra pay, this is premier league teaching, is his point. And you need your best teachers out there because this is hard core, hard work. And we need to look at ways we can get those type of you know, those teachers who see this as a vocation and a calling, to go and be in these places and change the lives of these kids. I thought that was a good point. And Barnaby has worked closely with us on the drought summit and just at the moment, we are continuing to work on getting this household farm assistance paperwork and bureaucratic burden down and that was the last meeting I had with him, that was about ten days ago. So both of those guys have just got about it and got to work and I really thank them for the work they’ve put in.

FORDHAM: What about Malcolm Turnbull, is he still in the picture, does he still offer bits of advice from the sidelines?

PRIME MINISTER: I haven’t heard from him for a while. He’s left Parliament, he’s left politics, and I respect that and I wish him and Lucy all the best for Christmas and this time they’re spending with their family and good luck to them. And you know, good for them, I wish them only the best things and I’ll always treat all former Prime Ministers with the courtesy and respect both they and the office deserves.

FORDHAM: But do you lean on each other? Does he lean on you with advice or do you lean on him for advice?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh no, I wouldn’t say that. But I spend a bit more time talking to John Howard.

FORDHAM: You speak to Mr Howard quite a bit, do you?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course.

FORDHAM: You’d be mad not to.

PRIME MINISTER: In the same way I used to talk to- when I was Treasurer, I used to talk to Peter Costello quite a bit and John as you know as he is the elder statesman of the Party, but you know he did the job for eleven years.

FORDHAM: How often do you reckon you speak to him?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh I talk to him every week or two, yeah. But sometimes it happens just a bit more often than that. We’ve had them around for dinner and Mrs Howard is just lovely and so I’ve had a long-standing relationship with John Howard.

FORDHAM: Is he on the payroll?

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER: No, no.

FORDHAM: Well I’m happy to negotiate on his behalf.

PRIME MINISTER: Are you? Fordham Management.

FORDHAM: Well I mean he’d be worth a bomb.

PRIME MINISTER: He is a tremendous bloke. But look, I've had the opportunity to meet with a number of people that you have the privilege to do in this role. I had a really good catch up with the former Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who he was in power as a centre-right person like myself. And he was an outstanding Prime Minister of Canada and we - he’s written a great book actually - we spent a bit of time talking about these things. So part of this job is to lean on people who have done it well before and to learn from their experience and try and ply that. And that’s what I’m seeking to do Ben. I know I’ve got a big job ahead of me, mate. I know we’re behind but I tell you what mate, I’m going to fight this thing for the people I believe in every single day.

FORDHAM: You sound energetic. What are you doing for Christmas?

PRIME MINISTER: A family Christmas, which is just the best. I haven’t seen my girls for a little while so I’m looking forward to seeing them soon, and Jen. We’re just going to have a lovely family Christmas and for those of us who have had the blessing of family, it is just the best thing on earth and I just feel terribly for those who don’t and I hope in some way that we can give them some cheer this Christmas as well.

FORDHAM: Realistically, how long will the phone go off? How long can you say, “Righto, you know, you know what, I’m here with the family, I’m with the girls.” The phone is off for the next, what, week? Day? Hour?

PRIME MINISTER: There will be a period where I officially stand aside and Michael McCormack will be the Acting Prime Minister for about a week.

FORDHAM: Right.

PRIME MINISTER: And that’s when you can really do that. I’ll take a short break for that to come back for the Pink Test with Glenn McGrath which will be great, here in Sydney, and it will be great to support that tremendous event. But no, there will be a bit of time for that then and hopefully for the family’s sake it’ll slow down a bit. But they understand Ben, they are very supportive of what I’m doing. You do anything in public life as a family and as a team and I’m just blessed by the wonderful family I have and particularly Jenny who is, you know Jen, you’ve met here, she is just amazing.

FORDHAM: You sound like you’re in a very good space at the moment. You’ve got a big year ahead and I hope you get some time with the family over that break and we’ll talk to you in the New Year. Merry Christmas.

PRIME MINISTER: Good on you mate, all the best. Take care.