Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

30 Apr 2021
Prime Minister

Ben Fordham: PM, good morning to you.

Prime Minister: G’day, Ben.

Fordham: Is this a loophole?

Prime Minister: It was one that became apparent to us on Wednesday and it was closed off at about seven-o'clock Wednesday evening. That flight that those cricketers were on managed to get away just before that. We had information on Monday that that wasn't possible. I'm advised there is a 14-day requirement when someone goes into Doha, but that wasn't being applied to transit passengers. Now, that was different from the advice we had on Monday night that came to our attention. We acted, we had it changed on Wednesday night. And we'll be taking some more action there regarding transport of transit passengers today and I'll be speaking to the premiers about that and when we meet at National Cabinet.

Fordham: So you're confident that you'll be able to close the loophole or that involves some discussions with people in other countries like Qatar?

Prime Minister: No, no. We've already directly dealt with the airlines in Qatar. And so those transit passengers, the airlines advises, are no longer coming through from Doha. The other places they were principally coming from were Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. And our advice is that those routes are closed off, as I said earlier in the week. And Doha was another of those and the advice we had on that wasn't fully correct. So when we got the additional information, we took that action and I proposed to take further action today, which would be done under the Biosecurity Act.

Fordham: OK, I know you've got National Cabinet today, as you mentioned, and the vaccine rollout will be a hot topic today. Numbers have jumped from one million to two million pretty quickly. So you must be happy with the recent progress?

Prime Minister: Yeah, once we got the GP's online and more than a million of those vaccinations of the two have been done by GPs. In fact, yesterday was the biggest day of GP vaccinations, over 60,000. That was their biggest day and that will continue to grow from the 3rd of May. The states and territories will use their distribution arrangements and our GP respiratory clinics for people aged over 50 and on the 17th of May, that will be done through GPs as well. So, look, this is just a matter of just continuing to keep those clinic doors open, booking the jabs, getting them through. I mentioned the other day, my mum's had it and my mother in law has had it as well. I was speaking to a number of people at the function I was at last night and they were getting their bookings in place. So, look, I think people are just getting on with it and when there's medical advice that we receive, we're being very transparent and advising the public about that. But our GPs, Ben, they’re the heroes of this, they're the ones who are answering the questions that people have and they're taking care of their patients and then getting them vaccinated.

Fordham: Just on that advice, Prime Minister, the blood clots, we've seen a few people die from blood clots after getting the AstraZeneca jab. Are you confident it's just a coincidence?

Prime Minister: Well, the Therapeutic Goods Administration make those calls and their advice to date, and they're investigating those issues now. They have not advised of a link and they're the right ones to give that medical advice and they are the best medical regulators in the world.

Fordham: Those cheap flights that you announced, we've had 300,000 flights go to Queensland and just 1,400 to New South Wales. Now, when we blew up about this at the time, we were told the new routes were coming. But six weeks on, we're still waiting to hear some more. Can we expect some news on that front, PM?

Prime Minister: I mean, the programme was really about getting people to more remote locations where people don't drive, Ben. I was up in Darwin a couple of days ago, 50,000 of the flights went to Darwin. Now, these are places where you couldn't drive in a couple of hours from Sydney, from or Melbourne or Adelaide or Perth. And it was in those more remote communities, those far flung communities, which really had a much higher proportion of their economies determined by tourism. And having been there and getting the feedback from particularly up in North Queensland and those heavily dependent tourist and destinations will benefit from that. Over, I think, 660,000 of those flights have gone out. There's nothing stopping states and territories, if they want to see more, they can go to the airlines and they can fund half price flights themselves. I mean, there's nothing stopping any state and territory doing that.

Fordham: Sure. You know, though, that the New South Wales tourism operators felt like they've been ignored, that there was only that one flight route going from Melbourne to Merimbula. Only 1,400 passengers took up that offer and the Minister did tell us at the time that there would be more routes added. Are you now saying that that won’t be the case?

Prime Minister: There were more routes added across the country and it's been a very successful programme that's supporting the tourism industry. I mean, there's six million people who live in and around Sydney. That's a big population base to move across New South Wales within a drive. There are, you know, parts of the country that aren't in that sort of a drive. And it's not a competition between the states and territories. It's not that type of a programme. It's targeted, and it was particularly targeted to support those remote and further afield tourism destinations so heavily dependent in their economy, not just in their tourism industry, but in their economy on international tourism. And it's had a very positive effect in those places.

Fordham: There've been some angry exchanges between Australia and China of late. And this week we've heard warnings out of Canberra about the drums of war beating. Now we know we need to be prepared. But is that kind of talk helpful?

Prime Minister: Well, that's not what I've been saying. Our defence forces are there to secure peace. They're there to secure a free and open Indo-Pacific and we work particularly with our US allies on that. I was up at Darwin at Robertson Barracks the other day where the Marines trained together with Australian forces. And we've just upgraded $747 million, all the training fields and bases that they operate up there in the Northern Territory. That's there to secure a stable region, a peaceful region, and we make a very positive contribution to that. So that's what we're doing. We updated and upgraded our strategic defence position last year and we've taken some decisions since then to ensure that our defence forces are in the best possible position to protect and defend Australia's national interests.

Fordham: Just on Australia's national interest, is the Port of Darwin and Port of Newcastle under review when it comes to the long term leases held by Chinese interests?

Prime Minister: Well, firstly, on Port of Darwin, Port of Darwin was leased by the Northern Territory government. There was no involvement of the Commonwealth Federal Government whatsoever. Under the law as it was back then, states and territories could privatise those assets and they didn't have to go to the Federal Government. Now, as Treasurer, I changed that so that wouldn't happen again. In relation to the Port of Darwin, if there is any advice that I receive from the Department of Defence or intelligence agencies that suggest that there are national security risks there then you'd expect the Government to take action on that, and that would be right. The same would be true in relation to the Port of Newcastle, which was privatised by the New South Wales government. Now, what I understand is going on up there is there are some disputes involving one of the big mining operators up there. So I think that has a bit more to do with a bit of commercial toing and froing. And certainly there has never been anything presented to me at Newcastle Port regarding any problems with Australia's national security interests.

Fordham: I'm trying to work out whether Newcastle would have come under the Foreign Investment Review Board or whether they were looking into those things back then or whether that would have been the Treasurer at the time. It might have been Joe Hockey?

Prime Minister: Joe was the Treasurer at that time. My advice is that it was probably covered under the arrangements, which I said, but I wasn't Treasurer at the time and happy to check that for you.

Fordham: The ASIO warning today that we should expect a terror attack on Australian soil in the next 12 months. Have we been made aware of any specific threats, do you know?

Prime Minister: No, look, the terror threat level hasn't changed. It's probable. But that's to reinforce and the Director-General yesterday, I think, was just reinforcing again, that this is not a threat that's gone away. This is not something because there are many other issues that I think people are reading about and that that threat is something that has moved away. And we continue to be incredibly vigilant on all of those things. We've been very effective in our operations as a result of 61 direct counter-terrorism operations, we've managed to charge 133 people. We've put some $2.3 billion extra into what we're doing, some 51 terrorists are now behind bars under our Commonwealth terrorist laws and people like Benbrika and others, they’re remaining behind bars under our continuing detention order laws. So we've always taken this very seriously. We never take our eye off it. There's always a risk and we always need to remain very alert.

Fordham: You’d be aware, PM, that there are more allegations of inappropriate behaviour today against the Liberal MP Andrew Laming. You instructed him to undertake empathy training. Were you aware at the time that it was only an online course?

Prime Minister: Look, at the time he said he would arrange to undertake appropriate training. As you know, Andrew has also advised that for some period of time now he's been affected by ADHD. Look, Andrew is not running for the LNP at the next election. The LNP have made that decision. And in the meantime, I expect him to serve his community that elected him on many occasions and to do that job between now and the election.

Fordham: Is that what you expected, though, when you said empathy training, that he was going to do it online, tick a box routine?

Prime Minister: He undertook to me to be correcting and changing his behaviour and getting help for that and I know he has been doing that. I mean, I haven't seen the exact course that he's undertaken. I mean, there's been a few other things that I've been a bit focused on.

Fordham: I'm sure.

Prime Minister: But that was his undertaking to me and I would expect him to be taking that very seriously and correcting his behaviour and as a member of Parliament.

Fordham: Just lastly, Prime Minister, were you surprised by some of the reactions to your speech at the Australian Christian Churches National Conference? There were comments that you made about your faith, and there seem to be some people reacting in a way where they were shocked or surprised. I didn't think it was a big secret that you're a man of faith.

Prime Minister: We have Christian talks to Christians about Christian things. I don't think that's really a newsflash, but I have been, I suppose, disappointed about how some of that has been mischaracterised. Ben, people of faith, Christians particularly in accordance with my faith, we just feel that, you know, whatever you do every day, you do as part of your Christian service. Some suggestion that, you know, I was saying something other than that, I mean, most Christians who, you know, would be aware of that. We all feel it's part of, whether you serve as a prime minister, whether you serve as a journalist, whether you serve as a police officer or a nurse or teacher. We just see that as part of our faith that, you know, you're there doing service as part of your Christian faith. And for that to be mischaracterised by, frankly, others who should know better, I'm disappointed. But there's no suggestion about anyone other than the Australian people deciding who runs this country.

Fordham: I know you've got a busy day. Good luck at National Cabinet. We'll catch up soon.

Prime Minister: Thanks a lot, thanks Ben.

Fordham: Prime Minister Scott Morrison joining us live on the line.